My Polytheism

I am sort of fried today. Didn’t sleep well, despite the CPAP; think I’ll have to lay off the coffee so late at night. I thought music would help me write but it just distracted me, and I’m sitting here trying to get my thoughts on the page and making typos every other word and feeling way too hot even though there’s a fan blowing on me.

I have…six and a half shrines in my office right now. Six and a half, because the half one isn’t actually set up yet, but it’s a designated shrine space for a certain set of gods (Elua and His Blessed Companions). The other six are: the Hellenic gods in general minus Poseidon, because geas, the ancestors, Aphrodite, the Otherfaith, Hekate (doubles as my witchcraft altar), and the Three (Brighid, Morrigan, Manannan). I used to also have a shrine to Hestia in my kitchen, but our lack of space has led me to conclude that that is a thing that will have to be put on hold indefinitely.

Also, I try to keep my shrines contained to my office in an effort to remain somewhat in the closet while still practicing. The office door I can close; the living room and kitchen and dining area are all open.

I’m still slowly working on building up a practice that is regular, and meaningful to me. I need to figure out what “regular” means, first off, because I have realized that daily practice is probably something I cannot do right now. Maybe if I eventually get my health stuff sorted out and start feeling better than 100% crap all the time? But it remains to be seen.

Every 20 days I flametend for Brighid as part of the TC Cill, and we also do Group Flamekeeping on the 8 holidays of the NeoPagan Wheel of the Year. Group Keeping is optional, so I don’t always do it, but it’s a nice way of keeping community with other Brighid-kids all over the world. So far that has been the most regular practice I have been able to do, and I’m finally getting to a point where I actually remember it more often than I forget. (thanks, smart phone!)

Meanwhile, I have accumulated gods and spirits faster than I can implement anything for them. I am still navigating the waters of modern polytheism; of walking between the worlds of spirit and flesh and blood.

It is not enough, for me, to relegate my religious life to standing in front of the shrine and saying prayers and lighting candles; I must bring my religious life out into the daylight, integrate it with the rest of my life, even as I stay in the closet as much as I can. When I keep my religious life tied to my shrines and altars, I forget the things religion is supposed to remind me of, and I do not grow or change as I wish to.

My polytheism is honoring the gods and spirits at their holy days, during their festivals, or when I am called to. It is lighting candles, and praying, and doing witchcraft for justice and a better world — for even when the witchcraft I do is secular in nature, it is implicitly informed by my relationships with the gods and spirits. I do not need to call upon them in a working for that working to be affected by them.

My polytheism is relational, a word I have started using instead of “devotional” because I think its connotations are better for what I want to express. Being polytheist for me means being in a web of relationships with beings embodied and not — my relationship with my husband is not disconnected from my relationships with the gods and spirits, just as my relationships with friends are not disconnected from my relationships with family. The web is large and basically a clusterfrack of strings criss-crossing each other until you have no idea, sometimes, how things connect, and it can be hard to navigate — just like any other web of relationships among any group of people.

My polytheism is in the concrete as much as it is in the abstract; I cannot light candles to Naamah and Aphrodite and sing their praises without also supporting sex worker rights; I cannot hail Hephaestus and the Clarene without championing disability rights. To pray to Brighid and Hekate without doing what I can to help those who are hungry, eat, and those who are cold, get warm, begs the question what the hells am I doing praying to them anyway? To profess to be a follower of the Morrigan, Manannan, Brighid, the Ophelene, Dionysos, and more, and to refuse to work towards a world that is safer for my trans and queer siblings? What nerve that would take.

My polytheism is inherently political, because all things are inherently political. You cannot divorce political leanings from religious ones (and this is not the same thing as church and state, so put that strawman away before I set it on fire), and yes, even staying with a “safe default” is a political choice. You might not see it as one, because the default has been default so long. But default is just as political as alternative options.

How can my polytheism not be political? In a world where disabled people are routinely attacked, harassed, even murdered, in a world where people think eugenics should make a comeback when it comes to disabled or yes, fat people (and hi, I’m both!), how is it apolitical to do the Work of a deity in a wheelchair? Of a deity who is fat? Of a deity with prosthetics, or who is blind, or deaf? In a world where trans and queer people suffer daily, how is it apolitical to do the Work of a genderqueer deity? Of a lesbian one? Of a trans goddess? It isn’t. And it isn’t apolitical to erase these qualities of deities, either, so if you’re doing that, you’re making a very clear statement about what kinds of people you value.

My polytheism includes my animism. There is a hazy Venn diagram, perhaps, that includes “gods”, “spirits”, and other beings, maybe some that I’m not even aware of. How I differentiate between a god and a spirit I don’t even really know; I’ve never been able to put it into words. I think I used to see it as a hierarchy, but now I just see it as a…difference. Gods and spirits are the same but different. Maybe the way I see it is gods are more anthropomorphized, or clearer in focus for human interaction, and spirits are hazier, less defined, less human. I think that’s the closest I can get to explaining it. And I’m probably wrong.

So my polytheism includes the gods and it includes the spirits — the land spirits around me, who I try to keep up good relations with even as I keep my practice secret (which is difficult, if people see you making offerings in your yard). With my spirit companion, who I can only sometimes sense because my ability to know has been so dulled lately that it took a long while for me to realize my house was infested with nasties. And yes, it includes those nasties — even if the relationship I have with them is “Get the fuck out of my house and quit breaking my shit.”

Boundaries often need to be set with people of all sorts, embodied or not. Not everyone is nice.

My polytheism includes my ancestors and it includes the cultures I was raised in — Dutch post-WWII diaspora and BC West Coast. I was not lucky enough to be raised in the culture of my own Native ancestors, but being born in Vancouver, I was raised in a culture that included Coast Salish values and stories. Most Vancouver school children are taught the story of how Raven Stole the Sun and brought light to the people, or know that cedar and arbutus are sacred.

My polytheism includes the Heilig Avdondmaal, the Holy Supper I hold for my ancestors on Sinterklaas Day, where I cook hutspot and applesauce and pork chops and fry bread. I honor my ancestors with food and love and communion, and I remind myself that I am “the result of the love of thousands”.

My polytheism is knitting hats for the homeless, volunteering at the food bank, finding ways to be involved in my community. It is swimming in the river, the ocean; it is walking in the woods; it is a campfire with friends.

A person stands on a rock that is at the beach; to the left are mountains covered in greenery, to the right is the ocean. In the distance the sun is either rising or setting, making the sky an orange color.
My polytheism is going to the beach.

My polytheism is prayer and it is swearing; it is sacred and profane. I am flesh and spirit, so my polytheism will always be both. My polytheism is finding ways to help others. My polytheism is knowing that helping myself is a noble goal, for I cannot fill up another’s cup when mine is empty.

My polytheism does not see money as the root of all evil, and it does not punish me for doing what I must to survive in a capitalist system, even as I do whatever small things I can to change that system, or to grow a new system overtop of it. My polytheism does not hold that I am a bad person for not being radical enough, or for being too radical by others’ standards.

My polytheism sees that I am pure, and holy, and perfect, drenched in sweat and covered in dirt, with a broken spine and ill-working wrists and a fucked up knee. I am pure, and holy, and perfect, with a brain that tells me daily how I am not, with flashbacks and disassociation and self-loathing and downward spirals of complete uselessness. I am pure, and holy, and perfect when I am unable to get out of bed and when I want to die because it’s all too hopeless, and I am too tired, and I do not see a way out.

I am pure, and holy, and perfect, because I am imperfect, because I am broken, because I am dirty.

My polytheism does not reject me for being human. My polytheism is human.

All my relations,
Morag

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