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Purity and Miasma: Part 1 — Divine Love Is More Powerful than Impurity

A word oft misused, a concept sorely misunderstood. Miasma is the Greek word for ritual impurity. I have decided to explore the topic of miasma in hopes of demystifying the concept and making the topic less frightening to the less experienced practitioner.

It being me, I’m not just going to write about my feelings on the subject. I have sequestered 10 quotations from primary sources, 15 journal articles from JSTOR, and 5 passages from this book by the Petrovics and this oft-cited book by Robert Parker. I recommend both books to anyone who wishes to follow along at home.

Both of those books will tell you roughly the same thing: while purity and purification are well attested, references to miasma are sparse, and evidence for beliefs surrounding the concept of baneful impurity are overwhelmingly from Greek Tragedies.

To put that in perspective, imagine what kind of a practice a Christian might have if they reconstructed their practice from the writings of Shakespeare. Playwrights take liberties for the sake of plot. They are not theologians. What they write *is* evidence of how people in their culture thought about the world, but it must be taken with a grain of salt.

I’m going to start with a quotation from the Iliad, as a way of framing this exploration.

But upon Glaucus came dread grief as he heard the voice of Sarpedon, and his heart was stirred, for that he availed not to succour him. And with his hand he caught and pressed his arm, for his wound tormented him, the wound that Teucer, while warding off destruction from his comrades, had dealt him with his arrow as he rushed upon the high wall. Then in prayer he spake to Apollo, that smiteth afar:

“Hear me, O king that art haply in the rich land of Lycia or haply in Troy, but everywhere hast power to hearken unto a man that is in sorrow, even as now sorrow is come upon me. For I have this grievous wound and mine arm on this side and on that is shot through with sharp pangs, nor can the blood be staunched; and my shoulder is made heavy with the wound, and I avail not to grasp my spear firmly, neither to go and fight with the foe-men. And a man far the noblest hath perished, even Sarpedon, the son of Zeus; and he succoureth not his own child. Howbeit, do thou, O king, heal me of this grievous wound, and lull my pains, and give me might, that I may call to my comrades, the Lycians, and urge them on to fight, and myself do battle about the body of him that is fallen in death.”

 

So spake he in prayer, and Phoebus Apollo heard him. Forthwith he made his pains to cease, and staunched the black blood that flowed from his grievous wound, and put might into his heart.

— Iliad, Book 16, 508-529

Follow this train of blog posts until its conclusion and you will be quite satisfied that corpses are ritually impure. You will also be satisfied that purification before prayer is a well-attested practice and a Good Idea.

And yet.

Here, we have a prayer spoken to Apollon, a god renowned for his concern with purity. The prayer is spoken amid corpses and filth. No hands are washed. No ceremony is observed. No physical offering is made. No physical offering is promised.

There is no concern that anyone other than Apollon may answer. Not only does he answer, but he answers with a miracle. He answers, in no small part, because he cares about the outcome of this human war.

No matter what else I may write on this subject, and no matter what else you may read, know this: Hellenic deities are deities who answer prayers. They are beings deeply invested in human life and human societies. They care enough to answer even when the prayer is spoken in the midst of the direst miasma. Caring about human affairs and human opinions is a defining characteristic of this pantheon.

Miasma need not be feared. We need not fear that we will be rejected by our deities in times of need because of our inability to do enough ritual.

Purity, however, is a manner of showing respect, and the more we know about it, the more we are able to do to honor these gods and make them feel comfortable in the spaces we invite them into. It need not involve shaming other people, it need not be coercive or done out of fear. It can simply be adhered to as a way of showing a deeper respect, offering a better quality of hospitality, and expressing our friendship by showing interest in their customs.

 

 

 

 

Is That Person A God?

Apparently, there was a war on Tumblr between Hellenes and Otherkin who believe that they are incarnations of Hellenic deities. It was a while ago. I’m just catching up.

Mostly, the argument went like this:

Deity-kin: We are your gods!

Hellenes: No.

Deity-kin: But we are, tho

Hellenes: Are not!

Deity-Kin: Are too!

Hellenes: Are not!

Reasonable people: Maybe we should just agree to disagree and not waste our time arguing about this.

This was such a fascinating issue to me. It’s really a perfect quandary for philosophical inquiry. The issue begs some essential theological questions which, regardless of what side of this you are on, you’d do really well to ask yourself.

  1. Are deities, by definition, non-physical?
  2. How do we know what/who is a deity? What are a deity’s responsibilities? Who gets to decide that?
  3. Do deities have the right to demand worship?

I’d like to explore these questions one at a time and to opine on them, because that sounds like fun.

Are Deities, by definition, non-physical? (No.)

Can a deity choose to stop being a deity? Are they allowed to quit? Are they capable of incarnating? This is sort of like the “Can God create a boulder so heavy that he cannot lift it” quandary for Polytheists.

If a deity cannot stop being a deity, are they not prisoners of their own apotheosis? If they can quit, then where do they go? Will you really claim that a deity can ride in an ill-fitting, borrowed human form, but not inhabit one that they grew up in?

Obviously, it is possible. Gods take human guise, they tool about in borrowed human bodies, and if they really wanted, they could incarnate. We have myths about deities like Harmonia leaving the world of deities, living human lives, and giving birth to mortal children.

Gods in human form are found in many cultures. The Pharaoh of Egypt, or any other God-King, is an example of this. The Kumari Devi of Nepal is another example. Gods can be physical, living beings.

How do we know who is a deity? (Because they are best able to contribute to their community in that capacity)

There is a problem with saying things like, “the gods don’t have to answer our prayers to be gods.” Sure, that’s true. But if they never answer your prayers, or respond to you in any way, how do you know you’ve got the right number?

Think about this from the deity’s perspective for a moment. Let’s pretend you are a god. Someone calls you. They actually get you, but they are trying to venerate you as a deity of something you find properly loathsome. You try talking to them, but while you are certain they are aware that you are talking, and feel your presence, they persistently mishear you in order to bolster their own belief system.

People stop in and question the person, but the person basically tells them to shut up, and implies that once they are able to surrender to the gods more, they’ll understand.

You can’t ignore the situation because if you do, someone will fill that empty space you left.

You don’t want to hurt the person, and furthermore, fear that any divine punishment may be taken as verification of their incorrect views. They’ll just say that you’re “initiating” them, or that it’s Shaman Sickness. Besides, you’re pretty sure that they’re just confused and fragile, rather than malicious.

Some deities are ok with hurting a single person to prevent spiritual harm from being done to a large number. But most bad stuff that happens to priests is interpreted as confirmation, rather than condemnation. “The gods just like to fuck with us,” or “this is the price of their attention.” Or, “God tests those whom he loves.”

So you create a magical dead-zone around the person so that there would be zero manifestations of you, false or otherwise, with any energy or force behind them. You incarnate any spirits who tried to impersonate you into human form. You make damn sure that, even if this one person had some wrong headed ideas about you, that it won’t spread. The only thing that isn’t taken as confirmation is absence.

Except then, people start making excuses. The gods don’t *have* to show up when we call them. We have to worship them anyway. The problem is clearly with the people who didn’t feel anything. They just need to crack themselves open wider. They need courses in using their psychic senses correctly. People start legitimately doing themselves damage by ripping open their energy body in unnatural ways.

So maybe you just decide to give up on the people misunderstanding you, and bless the people who are hearing you correctly. And then the unwashed, hungry dead just sort of pile in and collect the offering cookies from the people you are ignoring. And people are possessed, and the community leaders declare victory. And if anyone has their consent violated, or gets a really toxic message? Well, that’s just their filter that they need to work through, and maybe they should (insert line of ideological bullshit).

Or, so my deities tell me during their frustrated pacing and ranting.

So long as we have no criteria, any person, no matter how off-base, no matter how unsuccessful they are at connecting with the gods, can claim success, or at least blame failure on other people.

These criteria don’t seem unreasonable to me:

  1. Gods know more.
  2. Gods can do more.
  3. Worship facilitates their contributions to their community.

And so, if a person claims to be a deity, but they have not, as yet, answered anyone’s prayers, nor performed any miracles, nor shown themselves capable of sending omens as deities, then they are equivalent to the dead who show up and eat the offering cookies of a deity.

It’s kind of like the old riddle, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it… does it make a sound?”

If a deity is neither wise, nor kind, nor miraculous… then who really cares?

It brings us to a more essential question: why worship anything at all?

Apollon will always be Apollon, whether he is worshiped or not. His passionate connection to Truth and Nature and various other things assure that. However, unless we invite him to share what he knows and hear what he says on those topics, he cannot fully contribute all that he has to give.

If worship, however, facilitates a physical human’s contributions and makes the community a better place, then that’s a great thing to do. If the community is wasting their time, energy and resources on the worship of a being, physical or non-physical, then that is a poor choice to make.

Which brings us to:

If someone is a deity, do they have the right to demand worship? (No!)

Literally never.

Do you have to worship Jesus? Did you not get the memo that he threatened you with a bad afterlife if you didn’t? Why aren’t you Christian? Are you crazy?! He’s a god!!

I mean… I shouldn’t have to say more, but I will.

I dislike the idea of Vocation, and basically every other Puritan theological belief. However, let’s just start by assuming that a deity can truly call someone to a profession against their will, or even to their own service.

Under such circumstances, you would be incapable of saying, “no.” So, try it. Try saying no. Say “no” early, and often, because it is the surest test of a being’s divinity.

Of course, the ideas of vocation and pre-destination are based upon the notion of a singular, omniscient, omnipotent deity. Polytheistic deities are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Don’t ask Apollon to bake you a cake. Don’t ask Hestia to forge you a suit of armor. Don’t ask Hephaistos to foretell the future. Dionysos isn’t much of a philosopher, and Hera doesn’t know much about metallurgy.

Moreover, even if we posit that the entire pantheon together was collectively omniscient and omnipotent, then what the hell happened in Europe?

To continue the earlier example, Apollon will be a god no matter what. However, not until he has a cultus does he have anyone to actively be a god to. That is the difference between someone saying “I am a god,” and saying “I am YOUR god.”

If you are my god, then it’s because I’m worshipping you. You can no more be a god to a non-participating person than you can be a lover to a non-participating person. If you even try, things get really gross and very rapey very fast. Rape is not sex. Kidnapping is not marriage. Hounding someone is not the same as being worshiped by them.

Communities choose their deities, and how. Historically, they wrote out, deprecated and delegitimised deities all the time. Saying that a community cannot do this is ahistorical. So, no. As much as a deity might like to, they can’t actually make a living by demanding worship. A group of humans has to actively choose them, or their cultus dies out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never Stop Being Offended

I hear a lot from certain friends of mine about how we are “addicted to outrage.” That being offended makes us feel powerful. Many of the stories cited about how people are getting unreasonably offended are told about women, people of color, trans people, people of minority faiths and people with disabilities who “just need to relax.”

No, we should not relax. It will negate our sense of personhood and our inner divinity. Allow me to explain.

At Pantheacon, there was a con-suite ritual which has sparked much thought for me. It is a devotional for Ares, Athena and Hephaestos.

If you follow my blog, you know that I love Ares, and I love Hephaestos. If you follow Greek mythology, you know that they don’t so much love eachother. And it goes a bit beyond mere sibling rivalry, or the rivalry between lovers.

Just as Apollon is a living emblem of masculine beauty, Ares is the pinacle of physical ability. He is called “The sceptered king of manliness” in the Homeric Hymn to Ares.

Heracles might be physically stronger than Ares, and Hermes is certainly faster. But Herakles has trouble with his temper, and Hermes has a brain and body that are often on about two completely separate things.

Ares, however, represents a sublime unity of body and spirit, and control over both. He’s that guy who can always will himself to do one more rep. He is the will to keep crawling when death is almost certain. He is the ability to feel fear and behave in defiance of it. He is also the god you call to crush the evil impulses in your soul. No, I’m serious. Read it:

Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul. Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling strife. Rather, O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death. — Homeric Hymn to Ares #8, Lines 15-17

If you have ever suffered impulse control issues. If your emotions have ever gotten the better of you. If you have ever called it quits because your body was screaming at you to stop. If you have ever known the pain of shouting at limbs (or a brain, or a pounding heart) to do as you will and had them straight up laugh at you. If you ever started to do one thing, and then found yourself ten minutes later doing something completely unrelated. If you have ever experienced a lack of emotional regulation. You understand the gap between spirit and body. Ares does not have that gap.

Hephaestos, by contrast, stands in that gap and sanctifies it, reminding us that we can find beauty and creativity there.

Both of these things are needed. We need to be able to call on divinity to help us do more than we can do. And we need a god to help us love ourselves when we realize our hard limits.

But the relationship between those two gods is understandably fraught. Ares would tell you in a heartbeat that he respects his brother. And Hephaistos will tell you that casual ableism is rampant in the world, and that Ares, with his “no excuses” and “no mountain too high to climb” rhetoric is exactly the embodiment of why. Our culture loves a good story of people overcoming all obstacles without help. It dislikes admitting that not all context accommodate all bodies. It even dislikes admitting that some bodies, no matter how much willpower is applied, can ever be included in a space without accommodations.

Every person suffering from depression who is told that they don’t need medication if they have art or nature or unicorn farts by a neurotypical person, or that they should try yoga for their panic disorder instead of a benzodiazepine knows the feeling of being Hephaistos interacting with Ares.

Every person who suffers from chronic pain or illness and has been told to “just” do that one more thing, or has been interrogated by people blissfully unaware of the struggle about why something didn’t get done, knows that feeling.

Every fat person who has ever been invited to go clothing shopping with straight-size people knows that feeling, too.

It’s being “invited” into spaces where you cannot reasonably participate. It’s the feeling of your struggles being simply invisible, and not because they are hard to notice. It’s being born into a body that society problematizes, even as it gives lip-service to your equality. It’s trying to struggle through spaces and contexts that are harder for you than they are for other people, even as you are told that the playing field is perfectly level.

“It’s perfectly fair, Hephaistos. Everyone has to go up the exact same flight of stairs.”

“Hey, everybody, let’s race to the summit! The slowest off us is a rotten egg! — Oh, come on, Hephaistos, it’s just a game! Lighten up!”

 

We cannot ask him, nor can we be asked, to just “lighten up” about being disrespected for what we can never change about our bodies. To do so is letting go of the idea that we deserve to be treated equally, to be respected, to be loved, and to be included.

 

To pray for the reconciliation of Ares and Hephaistos is also to pray for the perfect inclusion of people who daily experience the gap that Hephaistos embodies. To suggest that there is no animosity between them is to suggest that society has done as much work as it needs to already on recognizing, honoring and accommodating people with physical limitations, visible and invisible.

 

Navigating a Depressive Episode as a Mystic

This post is about the unique spiritual challenges of depression, and how I modified my practice to overcome those challenges. I am not a Psychiatrist. I do not have the letters MD after my name in any way shape or form, but I wanted to take some time to share what helped me, and how this experience impacted my practice.

Backstory: about a year and a half ago, I underwent fertility treatments. It triggered a depressive episode which lasted for the better part of a year. Depression has many different factors which contribute to it. As a person who suffered from major depression in childhood, I already had the predisposition. Apparently pummeling my endocrine system with mega-doses of synthetic hormones wasn’t the best thing for my overall well being.

Depression is not just feeling “down” or “sad” about something. I experienced it as a pervasive exhaustion, a low level body ache that sapped me of my will to do things. It is numbness that dulls emotional reactions and ambitions. It causes difficulties concentrating. It makes you forgetful. It feels like your thoughts are covered in molasses. Things you usually enjoy bring no happiness, beauty is less beautiful, colors are less colorful, pleasure is less pleasurable.

When you are in crisis, it’s the absolute worst time to get cut off from your spiritual source of strength. At that time, you need your gods more than ever (provided that you believe in gods that care about you), and if you are a magician like I am, you need magic to smooth things over until you are better. However, depression can destroy your self-confidence. It can make you feel unworthy of love, or even of help. In short, it can make magick and mysticism difficult.

Because it must be said: part of what I am going to discuss in this post is alternative and magical treatments for depression. If you suffer from depression, or if you suffer from any mental illness, do not stop working with mental health professionals. Depression kills. Especially when people are just starting to feel better, they can become suicidal. Work with your doctors, even if you are pursuing alternative treatments at the same time. Do not discontinue medication except under the care of a professional.

Realizing That It’s Depression

When depression follows an illness, or a course of medical treatments that make you feel ill, it can be hard to discern between “I’m sick” and “I’m depressed.”

That’s because illness provokes a response from your immune system. Immune response can come in many forms, but a very common one is inflammation. When you are sick, or when you have inflammation for other reasons, such as injury, the main thing your body wants you to do is lie still and heal. If you are feeling your usual bouncy self, that’s unlikely to happen. So instead, your body slows down. You feel lethargic and miserable. You want to stay put. And that is exactly what depression can feel like, minus the broken leg or runny nose.

If you feel like you are coming down with a cold, but there is no cold, and it goes on for months, you might be suffering from depression. Likewise, if your feeling of “being sick” persists long after the Doctors tell you that your illness has cleared up, you might be suffering from depression. If your whole body aches and your Doctors can’t find a cause, if you are sleeping longer and waking up tired, there is a good chance that you are suffering from depression. If you’re having persistent chest pains, and your Cardiologist gives you a clean bill of health, that, too, might be depression.

Go see a Psychiatrist. A good Psychiatrist will take an exhaustive inventory of your mental and physical symptoms, and will not diagnose you with something you don’t have. 

Getting Over Your Fear of Psychiatric Medicine

Articles about bad doctors, big pharma, and medication-related conspiracy theories are the clickiest. Particularly in the Pagan community, it’s easy to find memes to indicate that psych meds will destroy your magical soul, and an equal amount of “pull yourself by your own boot straps” rhetoric.

When you are suffering from major depression, you might have no bootstraps to pull yourself up by. 

Doctors are not monsters, and depression is not different from any other kind of physical ailment. So, rather than waiting for the sky to open and for a choir of angels to descend and miraculously cure me, I went to go see a Doctor. And yes, I took psych meds. They were certainly not the complete solution for me, but they did give me some bootstraps to pull on. 

Going on medication for depression did not in any way negatively impact my psychic senses. It did not make me less creative, or less sensitive. If your medication causes you to feel like this, talk to you doctor. Psychiatrists now understand that spirituality has a neurological basis, and you can, in broad terms, say that you feel “less spiritual” or you can say that you feel less imaginative, and they will very often be willing to guide you to a medicine which will impact you less.

Some Pagans and Polytheists do avoid mental health professionals because they fear that they will be medicated just to change their belief system. Few Psychiatrists have any interest in delving into your beliefs or personal life. You get 15 minutes. You relate your symptoms. They make a recommendation for this drug and that therapy.  If your Gastroenterologist suggests that Jesus will cure your IBS, get a new Gastroenterologist. If your Cardiologist recommends Synagogue instead of beta-blockers, fire them. If your Psychiatrist brings up the topic of religion? Run. They are a quack.

Lastly, yes, you can get care even if you have no money and no insurance. Here is a resource list. Especially useful is this service which can help you get free or cheap medication even without insurance. 

Adapting Daily Practice

My usual practice is highly Ceremonial. There are purifications, and invocations, and glyphs and tech and more tech, and procedures and, and, and…

For a while, I withdrew from my practice because I just did not have the spoons. Then, I started to feel badly about myself because I had withdrawn from my practice.

Something I learned early on in my practice was that little actions done consistently added up to more than the occasional monumental effort. So I asked myself: what can I do everyday?

When you are full of energy and activity, and pouring a little wine out for your gods is no big deal, you might have to do a little more than that you express how you feel for them. When the process of locating a clean glass and a corkscrew is a monumental effort, it means more.

To restore connection, and confidence, I started a practice of silent bedtime prayers. These were informal.

“Hey, I’m thinking about you. I haven’t forgotten you. I feel overwhelmed and tired a lot right now. I really wish I had more to say. I love you. I hope you are okay.”

Or sometimes,

“How was your day? If you get a chance, you can stop by and maybe tell me about it. I like hearing about your adventures.”

And,

“I’m going to daydream a bit before sleeping. Want to join me?”

Or even,

“I’m not in the mood to talk. But come sit with me?”

Taking your medication can also be a sacrament — and you ought to be doing that daily. 

Adapting Group Practice

Somehow, I managed to still run group rituals. I’m not sure how. Looking back on it, it seems like nothing short of a miracle. I chalk it up to falling into a weekly routine, delegation, and actually finding the rituals we did to be beneficial. There are a host of things that you can do to modify group ritual to prevent making your depression worse, and some things that you can do to maybe make it a little better. It can sometimes be just enough to help you break even on your spoons. And really, none of them are actually that weird.

Drumming and chanting has been shown to have a measurable, chemical effect on depression.

Libations are an important part of Polytheist practice, but be careful with what you drink, because some choices can make your symptoms worse. Alcohol is a depressant. It may temporarily make you feel better, but alcohol will, in the long term, worsen your depression. Likewise, sugar can make depression worse, so cool it on the fruit juice. Artificial sweeteners are not great for depression , either. Instead, try a nice anti-inflammatory turmeric tea, or maybe coffee, if that works for you.

Gratitude can help ease the symptoms of depression. It actually boosts serotonin in the brain (increasing serotonin is one of the major way drugs help patients with depression and anxiety). If you make giving thanks a major feature of group ritual, everyone is going to feel better — especially those who suffer from depression or anxiety. Also, the gods really seem to like it when you spend time recognizing the good things they do.

Integrating motion into your rituals can release endorphins, and can give your mood a boost. What that looks like will depend upon the individual people involved, but Greeks love processions, and many people are big fans of ecstatic dance, which can be modified for mobility issues and different fitness levels.

None of these things is going to cure you. They are not a replacement for conventional psychiatric care, but every little bit helps.

Taking Stock of the Wreckage

Depression and anxiety lie to you. They tell you that you are worthless, and that no one wants you around. This can impact your filter. 

What is filter? Filter is your internal algorithm for interpreting social cues, behavior and language. Filter is shaped by your beliefs about the world. Things that align with your filter are easier to see, and things which do not align with your filter are harder to see. Culture is a major player, but so are your previous experiences, and even your mood. When you are suffering from anxiety or depression, you may feel worthless, and it may be next to impossible for affirming messages of any kind, whether from deities or humans, to get through. Even if you hear them, they don’t feel real.

This does not mean that every person suffering from anxiety or depression is going to be a terrible medium. It is possible to be pro-active in taking stock of your personal biases, and to frequently ask yourself if your beliefs are justified — but this takes spoons. In my case, I had to start feeling better before I could tackle the problem.

Healthy boundaries take bandwidth that you may not have. 

When I was depressed, I let people interrupt me, talk down to me, cut in front of me, and otherwise de-prioritize me, because I just didn’t have the energy to do otherwise. Imagine my surprise when, as I recovered, I suddenly started to push back on the unfair treatment and the response from these people was outsized — you’d have thought that I was lighting people on fire, for all they were complaining about it!

The same thing can happen with the spirit world. Boundaries and shields are your way of communicating your “no” to the spirit world. In my case, some of these barriers needed to be rebuilt, and I had to put my foot down a second time with some of the lesser spirits that surround me.

Epilogue: I’m ok, now. 🙂

A combination of good medical care, avoiding things that made my symptoms worse, finding a medication that worked for me, eating well, taking my vitamins (D!!) sustainable and affirming spirituality and gradually increasing my activity level all contributed to putting me back on my feet. I am now more or less back to my keyed-up, neurotic, passionate, cantankerous self.

I have also mostly cleaned up the social and psychic mess that this all caused.

If you are suffering from depression, don’t wait to get help. Take care of yourself. Work together with your mental health professionals. Take your meds. Try anything that might help, and if it helps, even a little, then keep doing it. 

 

 

How I Ended Forced Possession in My Mediumship Group

 

In my local area, the problem of spirits and powers foisting non-consensual slavery on people and individuals experiencing uninvited possession is pretty damn bad. I have been exposed to homes of practitioners who have had to ward their homes so strenuously that I couldn’t walk into them without getting a migraine.
I wanted a non-ward solution for a few reasons.
1. Ow ma head.
2. Warding creates a tolerance effect. Think about it like this: you don’t ward because you expect that the random spirits passing through are going to respect your group and your space. You ward because you believe you need wards to be safe. In a sort of pavlovian way, once you’ve been exposed to the idea of wards, you want to put them everywhere. You feel unsafe without them. Just as fast as your mind can concoct the imagined consequences of a lack of wards, the astral responds to your will, and astral stuff happens in the rough shape of what you are imagining.
3. If I call you over to my house, then lock all the doors and windows so you can’t get in, hang up the phone and start talking to you, who am I talking to? Myself. That’s who I’m talking to. I’m talking to myself. I have been in too many spaces that have warded out the actual deities they wanted to invite in and venerate.
4. Energy naturally circulates. Until you cut yourself off from it. So, if you have a bunch of people doing a devotional, and they are all out off from the natural sources of energy outside the circle, they are mostly tugging on one another’s energy. That energetic dynamic, translated socially, is drama. It’s the constant trying to be the center of attention because it is the only thing that feels spiritual or up-lifting. Your aura, until you start monkeying around with it, is a self-cleaning thing. It’s only when you set off it’s delicate balance by jamming unnatural stuff into it, or wrapping it too tightly, that you are likely to get an infection. Purifications are important, but so is cultivating natural stability.
5. How the hell is it that Jews in synagogues raise all that damned power by chanting divine names, and no one ever gets a negative spirit or something stuck to them? They do not cast circles. They do not use wards (unless you count the mezuzah — though I’d argue that it’s meant to simply be a visible reminder of the tribal contract). People roll in and out during every part of the service. Children run in and out of the sanctuary during services and throw candy wrappers everywhere. And everything is fine. The problem has got to be with our expectations.

My Hypothesis: If I Clearly Communicate The Expectations In The Context To All Humans Involved, The Expectations Will Be Respected By Both Humans and Spirits.

I had my community agree to the following community guidelines and rules, shortly after Pantheacon 2016:

Article I. Divine Affiliations

There are three levels of participation in this contract for spiritual beings. The same levels apply for our dead, the fae, certain spirits of place, spiritual familiars, spirits of various types, dragons, and deities.
1. Acquaintance. This means that you are welcome in our working space, but we will not be doing any active spiritual work with you in the context of the group. You may or may not have devotionals hosted for you, and you may or may not receive offerings.
2. Friend. Once you have proven that you can be trusted to respect our boundaries, we will start to do active spiritual work with you, provided that you desire this. This may include slightly higher woo devotionals, guided meditations, and rituals to purify our individual and group connections to you. This level of participation may or may not involve trance, if individuals have that sort of relationship with you.
3. Patron. Once the group has worked through its filter with you, we will begin to work with you more intensely. This might include private or public trance parties and/or devotionals. If you make it to this level, and you are a Greater Spirit (dragon, deity) we will create an initiation for you, or perhaps several.

Article II. Rules of the Road For Spiritual Beings

Entering into our space implies the following agreement:
  1.  You will not harm anyone in the space
  2. You will not force anyone into anything. You will not force people into contracts or agreements. You will not force people into altered states that were not planned during the session. You will not forcibly possess anyone. You will not initiate any sort of physical or spiritual intimacy that was not asked for.
  3. If you are asked to depart from your channel, do so as quickly and gracefully as you can.
  4. You will obey the terms of short-term contracts that are drafted for the purpose of our workings if you signed them.
  5. You will not follow anyone home unless they specifically verbally state that they wish for you to do so at the event you attended.
  6. Don’t make anyone sick. Do not give them headaches unless you are a deity of headaches, or nausea unless you are a deity of puking. Endeavor, to the best of your ability, to prevent and/or fix this sort of thing.
  7. Do not passive-aggressively tolerate a person’s behavior when they are with us, then maliciously “punish” them later. Use your big kid words instead. We are all adults here.
  8. Do not consume foods that your channel is allergic to. Respect their dietary restrictions and taboos. Do not drink if you are riding a person who is in recovery. Do not take any sort of prescription or illegal drug unless it is specifically stipulated in your short-term contract with your channel.
  9. When you are riding a human, you are a guest in their body. You are a guest in our space. Don’t be rude to your hosts. Don’t demean people. Do not reveal embarrassing information about those whom you are riding. Don’t use their body in a way that they do not want it to be used.
  10. When riding a human, you will not delete the entire contents of their memory for the time that you were present. Please do delete from their memory any private conversations you have with other humans. Likewise, don’t go blurting people’s private business to other humans.
  11. Don’t ride the people responsible for monitoring the channel or the energy of the space.
We reserve the right to suspend rules under certain circumstances, but this can only occur if all present agree to it by a unanimous vote. This can happen quickly, if need be.
If you are invited into our space and subsequently fail to follow these rules, we will investigate whether or not you were responsible, or whether the group or individual filter might be at fault. If you are found to be guilty, or if this happens more than three times, you will not be invited back into the group setting.
There are no acceptable circumstances for violating these rules without discussing it with us. If you have reason to request a suspension of the rules, please signal us by “muppeting” (scream and flail). This will alert us to a problem, and we can listen in more detail. If it’s not important enough to warrant screaming and flailing, it is DEFINITELY not important enough to ask us to break the rules for.
As an aside, we have never, not once, even had a *request* that our rules be changed or suspended. As a Universalist Polytheist group, there were Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern, Irish, Gaulish, and Norse deities involved over the course of that year. We worked with deities who are, elsewhere in the community, reputed to frequently violate people’s consent. There was not one complaint of any kind. NOT ONE.
In short: none of the gods had some grand spiritual need to do us harm. All of them were willing to play ball once the expectations were clearly articulated. 

Article III. Rules of the Road For Humans

The humans in the group are also responsible to one another.
  1. Respect no. If, for any reason, a person says no to participating in a ritual, having a particular experience, being touched, or consuming any substance, that “no” will be respected.
  2. Respect yes. We are not here to second-guess each other’s life choices or spiritual paths. If a person is in a consensual relationship with any sort of entity, we must respect that choice.
  3. Be honest. If you are non-amnesiac during full possession, please disclose that to the group. If you are not sure who you are channeling, or whether you are actually channeling, please let us know. We are here to help each other with that sort of thing. If you anticipate a problem with an activity or exercise, tell us. If you are having strong emotions and think they might be coloring your perceptions, tell us.

Article IV. SIGNS OF DISTRESS

  1. If, during a trance session, the body scratches its left wrist with the first two fingers of the right hand, that means that whatever is riding them needs to leave.
  2. If you are feeling overwhelmed by energy and need help grounding, raise your hand.

Results: Problems Extinguished… Unless We Had Guests

For a number of months, we had a stable group with no additions and no subtractions, and we had no problems.

The very first time we added someone new, she began to experience a spirit being pushy about carrying. I scolded the spirit, saying, “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t want to know. But that is how you get yourself banned from this group. Back off, or I might get curious about your identity, and add you to the no-fly list.”

Whoever it was backed off immediately and without hesitation. I had the new person read the contract, and we rolled along without any incident.

Until more new people came in. This time, one of the old-time members was feeling some unidentified spirit push to be carried.

“No.” I told the spirit, “This is not trance mediumship time. We ban people for violating our boundaries.” Again, whoever it was backed off. And so we shared the contact with our guests, too, and the problem, again, ceased.

In other words, when new people brought their old expectations in, it generated problems such as we see elsewhere in the community. The problem is cultural.  

In future, we plan to simply read the terms of service to people right after they walk in the door. 

Conclusion 1: Spiritual entities try to ride humans to get attention and forge relationships. If it is made clear that the group has no qualms about putting spirits, deities and powers on the “no fly” list for certain behaviors, those behaviors will not be evident in the context. 

Conclusion 2: **Whether or not the humans have been made aware of the rules for spiritual beings mattered. New deities did not need the rules read for them so long as there were no new people. New people brought a change in the way spiritual entities manifested. Acculturating the humans profoundly changes the apparent behavior of deities, powers, and other spiritual beings.** IE, this rape culture nonsense is definitely filter.

 

Hermes Wrote This Hymn to Harmonia 

I call to Harmonia, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, patroness of King Cadmus, Goddess of Serpents, exiled dragon of Olympus, draw near, incline to my prayer, hear the words of your humble supplicant:

On a bed of shame and pride were you conceived, where Aphrodite defiantly lay with her love in the presence of her owner, whom Zeus promised her without asking.

All the gods gathered round, and heaped up scorn. Apollon cruelly laughed.
You set her free, and her bride price was returned, assuring freedom to the mighty goddess of love.

For nine months she carried you, pregnant belly unashamed, and when she delivered you — the king saw only a problem.

In your infancy, Zeus promised you, little understanding what you were, and sold you away. With you, the hope of the gods — for on that day, Peace Herself left, and darkness descended in the high mountain. A mortal you married, a mortal you became, and died a mortal’s death.

Heaven and Earth, Sea and Fire, Life and Death had no reconciler. Snakes slithered aimlessly, and the crops ripened out of their season.

Hated, bitter hatred, brewed in the hearts of men, and they fell away, harboring love for an alien god, a god of destruction, a god of annihilation, a god who called up rivers of blood. And it was the blood of the devout, Harmonia, the blood of those dear to all who dwelt on high Olympos.

Dear goddess, your exile was their exile. Your exile was our exile. Your exile was the exile of every righteous soul, every pious man or woman who still honored the gods in their hearts.

Thus did Hermes descend to Erebus, seeking you, but he found no one.

“She has not been through my door,” Persephone told him. “Not Cadmus, either. And I know not what became of them.”

And up to Helios went Hermes, asking if the sun’s all-seeing eyes had spied where Harmonia had gone.

“I saw her die,” Helios replied. “My eyes see only what is upon the Earth. The spirit realm I cannot perceive, though the Sibyls of their people spied dragons, a winged serpent of grey and one of various hues flying over the citadels.”

Hermes disguised himself as an old man, and going in that guise, approached the Sybils.

“Tell me, young ladies — a coin for your troubles! — Can you tell me what became of Harmonia, the wife of Cadmus, the mother of Semele, that Grandmother of the wine god, after she died?”

“What you ask is beyond our ken, clever messenger, son of Zeus.”

And Hermes unveiled, revealing his true self.

“If even those sharp eyes have not seen, there is no one left to ask!”

“Not so,” the Sibyl answered Hermes. “For there is an oracle greater than us who dwells in Cyprus, and she knows the coming and going of all souls, and even sees those who escape the halls of the dead and the eyes of the psychopomp.”

Thus Hermes set off for Cyprus, looking for this oracle.

In Cyprus, finding her, he posed his question again — the woman, stark and aged, with skin like leather and hair like a pile of down feathers answered:

“Blood has fallen, Argeiphontes, ” answered she, “And more blood will surely fall  until Zeus shall bow his head and rest his crown upon the altar of Harmonia.

If it is the goddess of peace whom you desire: you cannot command peace, nor force peace, nor own peace, nor even find peace in death. You must devote yourself, body and soul to the work of peace. Then, and only then, peace will come to you.”

Hermes tipped his hat to the oracle, and set off on a long journey, into the kingdom of the god of annihilation, and in his court made peace. And he devoted himself to peace.

For many long years, Harmonia, did the messenger of gods lay up offerings at your altar. For many long years did he seek you, in the recesses of his heart, and took up your sacraments.

And he calls still, Harmonia. Hear this, the call of the god of diplomacy. Hear this, the call of the god of peace. Hear this, the psychopomp’s earnest prayer:

Holy Harmonia, daughter of love and war, come. Drink this wine. Hear this supplicant’s call. Be present among men and gods once more. Release the bound, free the oppressed, return dead hope to the living gods, and be welcome once more upon the very heights of Olympos.

Answer, and to you I will sing another song.

Sacred Dissobedience 

 

Deity: You seem to be in a good situation, with respect to your household. Which of your gods set you up?

Me: I… Actually you can’t credit my gods with this one. Every last one of them told me to stay away from him. I married him anyway. So that’s all me.

I got to thinking about where I’d be today if I had obeyed the gods on this issue.

I never would have finished college. I’d be living in a place isolated from any sort of suitable pagan community. I never would have learned Kabalah, or Ceremonial Magic. I would have been unable to bring those exegetical techniques to Hellenismos.

I would be struggling with poverty. I might not have access to suitable doctors to manage my health conditions. I would be in pain most of the time, and possibly not even know why.

A core tenet of Consent Culture is that each individual knows their own needs best. The gods may be wise with respect to the world, but they do not know me as I know myself. They don’t suffer what I suffer, they don’t live in my body, or drink my water or breathe my air.

It’s clear to me why they didn’t want me with my current mortal husband: he’s in the way of their aims. In order to spend my time or money on any spiritual undertaking, I need to negotiate with him. He’s an obstruction to them.

I must balance what he costs them with what a lack of him would cost me. When I made the decision to stay with him, I did, in point of fact, ask Hermes what he thought. Though every other deity said my disobedience was hubris, Hermes said, “No. If you think this is right, do it.”

Was he completely pleased? No. But he always defers to my sense of what is best for my situation. That is love: a commitment to do right by the beloved. And for this, I will honor him until I die with the highest of honors.

A core tenet of Rape Culture is that those with power have the right to inflict their will on others. If I was an adherent of rape culture, I would be very comfortable saying that what I need means nothing, and that the gods may do what they like with me, to my detriment or not, because they are gods and I am mortal. It would be no more complicated than that. I would accept that saying no to them invites a risk of violence against my person. If it is what men do to women who say no, I should certainly expect no less from my deities. I should be quieter. I should be less noticeable, if I don’t want this sort of treatment. I should make my offerings when they are due, and never when they are not. I should be no more and no less pure than anyone else around me so I don’t stand out. If pursued, I should demure, give unclear and indistinct answers to avoid their rage at being told no.

THIS. IS. RAPE. CULTURE.

And nothing about it is sacred to me.

Instead, I look out for myself. I take care of myself. Instead of living in poverty, I am financially stable. I have the best medical care money can afford. I live where Pantheacon happens. I have access to large spaces for classes and ritual. I have money to give other Pagans and Polytheists a hand up when they need it. I have vitality and energy, and most importantly of all, time, to do their work. Because the god who loves me committed to working with me, rather than establishing his dominance over me by working against me.

If I had obeyed them, I would have done them no service. Hermes knew enough to trust my sense of myself. But, then again, he has and –I believe– will always go to bat for me. And that investment he made in my personal sovereignty and my right to self determination has paid off for him and his entire pantheon a hundred fold.

The gods have profited because of his commitment to consent culture. They have profited because I disobeyed them.

Remember that the next time someone says, “We don’t have the right to say no.” We always have the right to say no to power. Sometimes, saying no to the gods and following through actually helps them in the long run. Sometimes, resisting the government benefits the entire country in the long run.

Disobedience is sacred.