Genital monologue

In the world of pagan and polytheistic fiery online discussions, the latest episode features child pornography, an arrest, public relations, scores of accusations and an unsettling desire to cover your ears and scream “lalala” to pretend something isn’t there. Sannion has been keeping track of it and sharing his own thoughts on the matter (see here and here, for instance). And while I’m usually not in the mood to join what could potentially be another flame war, since that tends to consume time and energy that could be put to better use, I feel inclined to make an exception in this case. It involves more than just bad theology and religious self-centeredness: it’s about abuse, physical and psychological injury and an ineptitude to deal with issues that pagans should frankly be at ease with. So in the spirit of April Fools’ and the Ludi Mercuriales, I’m going to put on a jester’s hat and throw my own two cents into the roaring crowd. A warning, though: it will be a long post.

Kenny Klein, pagan author, musician and priest, was recently arrested for possessing child pornography, a charge he apparently confessed to. Some argue that a collector of such material is not a child molester himself, which is about as logical as saying that a vegetarian can eat meat as long as he doesn’t kill any animal himself. It seems some people fail to grasp the fact that in order to produce child pornography you have to molest children in the first place, making consumption part of the crime. And there’s more: there are also those who argue that everyone makes mistakes and people shouldn’t be severely criticised or punished for them. I can understand that argument if you’re a warden trying to empty a prison complex to turn it into a luxury resort, but otherwise… no! If you make a mistake – a serious mistake! – you’ll suffer a penalty. We can discuss the severity and usefulness of a given punishment, but the fact that everyone makes mistakes does not excuse you from your own and especially not in the case of sexual crimes to which one is a direct or indirect contributor. What this tells me, however, is that some people in the pagan community are more worried about bad PR than with keeping their house clean and that they prefer to defend their own no matter what instead of facing the problems. And in this particular type of problems, they should be better than that. Honestly!

Do you know why the Catholic Church turned a blind eye to sexual abuse within its walls? Because the Vatican has a problem with sex. It’s a sin waiting to happen, a potential highway to hell that should therefore be regulated, restricted and kept to the bare minimum necessary for human procreation. No pleasure, no fun, no beauty. Just put the baby in your properly married wife and that’s it. It’s as colourful as saying that food is solely a matter of nutrients, proteins and carbs, so eat your food pills or Matrix-like porridge and forget about presentation, seasoning, flavour and texture. It’s pure function with no pleasure and the Catholic Church is there to make sure you have none. The Vatican fashions itself as a righteous pussy-sower and cock-blocker, so you can imagine its horror when it was faced with reports of sexual misconduct and crimes. It shatters the self-projected image of the Church, so they did what any dogmatic institution that has a problem with sex would do: sweep it under the rug.

But pagans? You guys are supposed to be at ease with sex! You talk on and on about the union between the God and the Goddess, sometimes explicitly and sometimes metaphorically. You have openly phallic symbols, a festival with a strong sexual background and a tradition of ritual nakedness, even a reverence for the body. Sex should not be a taboo in the pagan world! You should be able to discuss it with the same at ease that restaurant-goers talk about food. And yet when confronted with criminal problems of a sexual nature, you faced it with the same horror and defensiveness as the Catholic Church. Really, pagans? Should I ask if you actually believe in the things you say you believe in? Or are you just putting up a show every time you talk about divine union and the sexual symbolism of Beltane, like teenagers trying to shock their parents?

Now I know it’s not easy to stand up against your own when one of you makes a serious mistake or commits a crime. What will people say of you? What kind of community will you be if you don’t defend your own in times of crisis? But what you should be asking yourselves is what kind of community will you be if, for the sake of PR and absolute loyalty, you let yourselves rot from within. Because pretending problems don’t exist and using shitty technicalities like saying that consumers of child pornography are not actual child molesters themselves won’t get you out of the shit hole: it’s only going to sink you deeper in it. If you want true, healthy loyalty, you will respect those of you who are innocent and victims first and foremost. And you will do that out of loyalty to them, so that those of you who are clean will not be stained by the crimes of the wrong-doers among you. Because if you are unable to dissociate yourselves from criminals, you will be associating yourselves with them. And if, all things considered, you still feel that there are important reasons why you should be grateful to the accused, despite his wrong doings, you will support him as he goes through the punishment for his crimes instead of pretending things didn’t happen or making up foolish excuses as you go along.

Is this a witch hunt? No, pagans, it is constant vigilance, which is a constant need in any group of people. Why? Because there are wrong-doers everywhere. No religion, no community is immune to evil and mistakes. And if you think otherwise and that pagans are somehow purer than the rest, then you are fooling yourselves and going down the same road early Christians did. There will be bad people among you, just as there will be among us polytheists. And the more you grow as a community, the greater the chances that there will be problems and mistakes. The fact that everyone errs should not be an excuse to do nothing and forgive everything: it is the very reason why you should remain vigilant and act when things go wrong! Because they will go wrong at some point and when that time comes you need to act decisively. It’s a matter of trust and trust comes from two things: the knowledge that the people in charge are less prone to make mistakes (also called experience and integrity) and knowing that when mistakes happen, those people will face them head on, honestly and swiftly. You cannot ask humans to be flawless, but you can ask them to be responsible and honest enough to quickly correct whatever goes wrong. If you sweep it under the rug, if you use shitty excuses and downplay things, then you are fooling yourselves and others. And it will come back to bite you. You think mistakes make you look bad? How do you think it will look when people find out you’ve been ignoring problems? If you cannot be trusted to admit your own flaws and do the right thing, how can you be trusted at all? How can others trust you with their work, their money, their children knowing that if things go wrong you will deny it, downplay it and do nothing?

So stop making excuses for Kenny Klein! He committed a crime and he admitted it, which already puts him ahead of pagans who are trying to go around the subject in every way they can and no matter how silly they look. Walk away from him, attend to the needs and loyalty of those among you who are blameless. Make sure next time you act as soon as possible and root out wrong-doers without hesitation. Your leaders and communities will not be good because they are inherently so or because you have good PR: they will be good because they are kept in check and problems will be dealt with as soon as possible.

One last note before I take off my jester’s hat: I may be talking about pagans, but what I said also applies to us polytheists. We must remain vigilant, brothers and sisters. We must be honest with ourselves and others.

Hat off! I’m done!

Going weekly

It’s been almost twenty days since I posted something and there are several reasons for that: academic life, for one, with articles, conference papers and a possible book in the making; also sports, from daily activity to Lisbon’s half-marathon, which took place on this month’s 16th and went very well; and then some ritual activity, namely Minervalia, when I gave my marathon medal to Minerva (She now has four). But when it comes to spirituality, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need more structure. Not in the sense of less spontaneity, but of a greater frequency of ritual.

See, I’m not a priest who lives in a temple and gets paid to perform nothing but religious service. To be a priest, regardless of for how long, you first need training and experience (a lot of it!), enough discipline to strictly maintain your ritual duties and a support system that sustains you through your service. The latter can come from a community (donations or communal funds), but you can also set one up yourself (book sales, courses, personal savings, etc.), both of which cannot be instantly created and most certainly not without a good reason, a lot of work and a good deal of organization. But I’m not a priest, nor will I be one in the near future, because even if I was treading that path, I do not have the necessary training and experience. Not everyone can be a walking window to the divine and those who can will not be one without a cost and a lot of effort.

I’m a layman, one who tries to make as much room as possible for the Gods in his mundane life. I start everyday by greeting or praying to several of Them, I make monthly offerings to some and have at least one yearly festival to over twenty individual deities, plus divine groups (e.g. ancestors) and five heroic figures. And this is what’s scheduled. Libations, adoratios or other quick and easy informal offerings can also be made on a daily basis as opportunity presents itself, be it the sighting of a special bird or a moment of luck that calls for a gesture that says “thank you” or “I hear you”. But these are things that I do as go about my mundane life and sometimes it clashes with my religious life. I may, for instance, have to go on a journey or be abroad on the date of a yearly festival and be therefore unable to perform the proper ceremony. The date may fall on a work day and, since I’m not a full-time priest, I need to work to earn money and cannot simply quit my job. Now, there is nothing wrong with that per se – indeed, it is only to be expected in a layman’s life. It is the natural consequence of a life shared by mundane and religious routines and, as with other instances of shared things, the solution is to be found in compromise. So if I’m away during a festival, I can make a symbolic offering with the vow of performing a proper ceremony as soon as possible; at times, I may skip work on religious grounds, but on other occasions I may have to momentarily change the date. I did just that this month: the Ides of March fall on the 15th, but by then I was already in Lisbon in preparation for the half-marathon, so I made and burned my offerings to Jupiter, my Lares and Penates on the 13th (and consequently celebrated the Nones on the 5th instead of the 7th). But I did this because I have a monthly structure and it is on the basis of it that I work the compromises.

All of this to say that, in an effort to ensure the vitality of my religious practices in the face of mundane life, I’ve decided to start weekly practices. Because it will further consume my time, I’ll be doing it to one god only, though I may expand it in the future. Unsurprisingly, the deity in question is Ingui-Frey, not just because He’s my oldest standing devotion, but also because I’m doing for Him and His kin something that I’m not doing for other gods, which is creating a Latinized cult for Him and other Vanir Powers. And that, besides demanding a right synthesis of two traditions with a modern context in mind, also calls for an open channel of communication, so to speak, which is more easily established if there are frequent offerings, meditation and divination. It is, after all, His cult and as anything new that aspires to become a tradition, it requires divine input as much as it needs human effort.

The choice of the day of the week was almost self-evident: Sunday! It seems entirely appropriate for a bright and golden god who’s also Lord of Elves, the sun being called alfröðull or Elf-wheel in stanza 47 of the eddic poem Vafþrúðnismál. Even the Christianization of the day’s name in modern Latin languages helps: Dominicus, the Day of the Lord, but in this case Lord or Dominus Ingui. So every Sunday, one way or another, I’ll be offering food, prayers or poems to Frey, maybe dance on the fields, bake bread, divine His insight and hopefully keep an open channel with Him.

A poem for Odin

When resorting to Galina’s monthly oracular sessions to contact Freyr a couple of months ago, I promised Odin I would give Him food offerings should be He willing to act as an intermediary. I also promised a poem, which took me a while to write (poetry doesn’t always come easily to me), but I eventually finished it and read it out loud as an offering to Him. And now that the vow is fulfilled, I’m making the piece public.

The wind outside
The chair is soft and the fire warm,
the sun of houses shining in my hall.
There’s food on the table
and wine in my cup,
boar, bread and butter
and the sweat mead of grapes.
The storm rages and the rain falls,
yet in comfort I sit, the lord of my home,
while the wind blows outside.

I heard the unspoken greeting of the guest,
a knock on the door as I sat by the fire.
I saw a wet cloak on a dry stranger
and a bowed head in salute.
I asked him what he wanted,
he answered shelter from the storm.
For an honourable host is a traveler’s friend
and the mighty gods were once merry guests.
So piously I welcomed him as the wind blew outside.

I pulled a chair and took his cloak,
I brought a towel and took his shoes.
I gave him food and filled his cup,
he raised it high and made a toast:
“Blessed are the hosts”, he said,
“and blessed are their housewights”;
Thus we sat, side by side, host and guest,
a pious tribute to the timeless powers,
and he told me a story as the wind blew outside:

“Before the first dawn, before the first dew,
the suckler of Audhumla lived his life-ban.
Enormous, his raven food fed the gaping void
and made the common seat of men:
the sea of wounds filled the land of whales,
the rock of arms pilled the paths of giants,
his helmet-stand raised the hall of clouds.
Then came the shield of heaven and her sister
and thus the kingdom of land was born.”

“Ymir’s flesh begat Durinn’s kin,
the crafty dwellers of Jord’s womb.
Makers of limb bands,
their halls of dwarf house are ever busy.
There the folk of Thorin made man-forms,
images of trees of neck-rings
skillfully carved from forest towers.
And the rulers of stone kept their work,
untouched by life, untouched by law.”

“Then came the sons of Bestla,
three wanderers in the bottom of heaven,
and met Dvalinn’s men by the wide plain of the gull.
In a salt-beaten earth’s bone they entered,
people of Bifrost invited by people of Durinn,
the world’s first welcomed guests.
There the proud shapers of Ymir’s corpse
saw two wooden trees of gold,
untouched by fate, untouched by force.”

“Crafty and caring,
the offspring of Bor dispensed their gifts
and blessed the ash trees of arm-rings:
Vili’s brother gave them breath,
Vé’s brother gave them will,
Odin’s brother gave them senses.
Thus they were born, sons of hospitality,
the dwellers of the kingdom of land,
touched by life, touched by fate.”

He finished his story and smiled,
the guest I’d welcomed in my hall.
He drank his fill and ate his share
and told other tales of time-lost ages.
He never said his name, the Raven-god;
I never asked him, the Spear-Lord.
Yet I knew it, deep down I heard it:
a pious man feels that grim
when One-Eyed looks into your soul.

The chair is soft and the fire warm,
and I sit in comfort, an elder at the table,
joined by sons and their sons as well.
The years have passed, strength has faded,
yet memory endures, the nurturer of men’s souls.
Outside, the wind blows; inside, children gather.
A story is asked by the young scions of Heimdall,
a story is told by the old offspring of Vindhlér:
“Let me tell you of when Odin visited this house…”

For those of you wondering, yes, the poem deals with the creation of the world and the first humans. It’s largely based on Snorri’s work, but the story on the first man and woman is inspired by stanzas 10 and 17 of Völsupá, which may contain an alternative version where mankind is created not from logs on the shore, but from the man-forms crafted by dwarfs and perhaps found in a house by three gods.

A Lady of Flowing Waters

Ara - NabiaOn a stone altar from northern Portugal known as the ara de Marecos, dated from a period when the Romanization of the region was obviously well underway, an inscription alludes to local religious practices. The text, which is not entirely clear, mentions Nabia Corona, Nabia, Jupiter, Lida and a deity whose name cannot be read (only the ending -urgo is visible). It also adds which animals were given to whom and that a sacrifice was performed on the fifth day before the Ides of April, which is April 9th. This is a very rare piece of information in the realm of pre-Christian religions in western Iberia, where primary references to ceremonies and festivities are almost non-existent.

The theonym Nabia or Navia features in other inscriptions from Galicia, northern Portugal, the Spanish region of Estremadura and the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco. She appears to have been the most widely worshipped goddess in northwest Iberia and testimonies of Her cult appear in various sites, from mountain tops to valleys and fountains, in both urban and non-urban settings. Occasionally, She’s given epithets that either connect Her to another deity – as in Nabia Corona, probably linking Her to the Iberian god Coronus (though this has been disputed) – or seem to reflect a local if not tutelary aspect, like Nabia Sesmaca, maybe linked to a nearby castellum Sesm[...], or Nabia Elaesurraeca from the municipality of Sarreaus, both cases in the Galician province of Ourense.

The exact etymology of the name Nabia/Navia has been the subject of debate. It may derive from IE *nau and convey the notion of flowing, an idea reinforced by the names of Iberian rivers, like the Navia, Navea, Naviego and Nabón in northern Spain, as well as the Nabão in Portugal. A connection with the Spanish word nava or ‘valley’ has also been suggested and indeed there may be truth in both possibilities, as valleys can easily be the origin or dominion of rivers and hence allow for a link with water. In the past, it seems She was identified with Diana, since the aforementioned inscription from Marecos is usually interpreted as O(ptimae) V(irgini) CO(ornigerae uel conservatrici) ET NIM(phae) DANIGO/M NABIAE CORONAE or ‘excellent protective virgin and nymph of the Danigo, Nabia Corona’. A connection with sovereignty at some level has also been suggested, based on Her apparent role as a tutelary goddess of several communities, as well as the location of altars to Her on mountain tops and a possible link with Jupiter based on the inscription from Marecos.

Taking all of this into account and coupling it with what little I can gather from pre-Christian religious traditions in my native area (see here), I’ve come to the decision of experimenting with local Powers by focusing on a Nabia Alcobacensis. I stress the experimental nature of this: I may be wrong about the preferred gender and number of local deities of my home town, a doubt aggravated by the fact that I’m not a spirit worker of any sort. Yet a mixture of intuition and rationality tells me that a local form of Nabia is not without substance. This is, after all, a water-rich valley with a nearby mountainous range and what appears to be a very long tradition of lunar cults. A tutelary aspect of Nabia may therefore feel right at home, but time and divination will be the judge of it.

For both practical and symbolic reasons, in choosing a festive date, I kept the ninth day from the Marecos inscription, but move it up one month. Thus I’ll be honouring Nabia of my homeland on March 9th, the time of the first signs of spring, when the rivers are full and the temperatures rising. As for the ritual framework, I’m not sure yet. I’ll probably start by using a basic Roman structure and then go from there to the tune of omens and divination.

Dominus Ingui: rituals (5)

As part of my effort to build a Latin cult of Ingui-Frey, I recently contacted the god Himself in order to get His insight. Of course, not being a spirit-worker, I had to resort to the services of a modern oracle, so I emailed Galina Krasskova, who offers monthly oracular sessions. It seemed the most appropriate option, since she works with Odin and He, like Frey, is a Norse god. I received some answers and, in accordance with what I was told, I’ve constructed a simpler ritual. It’s meant to be less formal, easy to use whenever one feels like honouring Frey, be it with an offering of food, poetry, dance or sex, to name just a few examples; it can even be used to make a vow. It also fills a gap in the rituals I have so far: while the ritus panis is a formal ceremony whereby a bread is shared with Lord Ingui, this new ritual can be used for offerings that are entirely given to the god.

Initially, I thought of naming it after Frey, but it occurred to me that, being a simpler ceremony, it can be used or adapted for ceremonies in honour of other Powers related to Him. So I drew inspiration from the Vanir Themselves and from the rune wunjo, usually translated as ‘joy’, and called it ritus laetus or joyous rite, though the Latin word laetus can also mean fertile, abundant, rich, happy and pleasant – all of which are Vanir things.

Roman dance

Basically, you just need one or more offerings and a bell. Anything else is up to you and the honoured god/dess, depending on how complex the ceremony is supposed to be, what you’re giving and exactly how. Also depending on its purpose, the ceremony can have three or four parts.

1. Opening (Praefatio)
Ring the bell. Utter or sing a hymn or prayer praising the Vanir god/dess you’re addressing before ringing the bell again.

2. Request (Precatio)
This part is optional. If you’re making an offering with no special request in mind, skip it. However, if you want to ask something in particular – aid, a specific blessing, guidance in divination, etc. – state it at this stage and name your offering(s). If you’re making a vow, utter it clearly, saying what you want, what you’re promising in return and what you’ll be sacrificing immediately as proof of your commitment.

3. Giving (Datio)
The act of giving something to a god implies the act of consecrating or making it sacred, i.e. making it property of the deity. That’s what sacer or sacred means: divine ownership! So this is the point in the ritual where you let go whatever it is you’re giving to the god/dess. To that end, present your offering(s) and ring the bell. Then while you declare it clearly (e.g. “I gladly give You…[specifics]… so that I may honour You”), perform a gesture that signifies the consecration: for instance, if you’re honouring Ingui, use a finger to draw an Ing rune over the offering; if it’s meant for Njord, sprinkle sea or salted water over it; if Freya, try rose petals. Depending on how long it takes you to do it, you can also repeat the words, pray or even sing while you dispose of the offerings (e.g. while pouring or burning them).

This ritual can also be used to offer a dance, sex, a race, a theatrical play, etc, but remember: by consecrating your actions, you’re giving them to the god/dess and not to yourself or anyone else! You’ll be using your own body, your own bodily functions and movements, as divine property. If you’re aware of this and feel prepared to do it, go for it: say the words as you do the consecrating gesture in a way you find appropriate (e.g. in the air, over tools, on the floor) and then perform the actions before closing the ritual. However, if you don’t feel prepared, simply pay tribute without transferring the ownership of your actions, much like one would perform something in the presence and in honour of a guest. Just state your intent and invitation in the precatio, make an offering to your divine guest (e.g. food or a wreath like a welcoming gift) and do your thing.

4. Ending (Exitus)
To conclude the ritual, ring the bell and utter or sing a prayer of gratitude. Make an offering to the local spirits, if you think it’s appropriate, and ring the bell one last time to close the ceremony.

A bird from the west

Today, the last day of Parentalia, I once again visited the grave of some of my ancestors. I left flowers and a burning candle, offered them wheat and poured wine on the stone slab. I then went to the outskirts of the city to make further offerings, this time to the spirits of family pets and animals. Dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, birds – all of those whose lives were shared with those of my ancestors and were, in one way or another, part of the household and family.

On the top of a slope overlooking a river, I saluted the Earth by kissing the tips of my fingers and touching the soil. I offered Her a handful of wheat and then gave Mercury Psychopomp a libation of wine, asking both the Earth Herself and the God of the Golden Staff to be my intermediaries. On the ground, as I uttered a prayer, I then poured fresh water, as well as dog and cat biscuits, as an offering to the animal spirits. I finished with two handfuls of wheat, one to the Earth and another to Mercury. It was a simple tribute, no more than a few minutes long, though I may come to make it more elaborate in the future.

As I left, I looked back and saw a large bird flying. It wasn’t around when I made the offerings and neither did it stop on the site. It just came flying from the west and turned around when it flew over the place where I had honoured the spirits of my family pets and animals. And then it went westwards, back to where it came from. It flapped its wings too many times to be a bird of prey and both the neck and beak resembled that of a duck. Considering that and its dark colour, it may have been a great cormorant, though the fact that the sea is ten kilometres away makes me unsure about it. But whatever the species, the timing and pattern of the flight made me wonder: did it have anything to do with the tribute to the animal spirits or was it a coincidence? An omen or just a bird flying? Maybe tonight’s dreams will have an answer.

Honouring the Dead

Parentalia started yesterday and, after the usual morning offerings to my Lares, Penates and Jupiter on the Ides, I also went to a local graveyard and attended the needs of some otherworldly family members. I cleaned the stone slab and flower pot, preparing it for fresh greenery in the weekend, when the almost daily torrential rains are expected to stop and a warm sun to shine. I then poured fresh water over the grave, water I asked Anubis to bless a few days ago during this year’s Cynocephalia, and finally made an offering of wheat and wine, which flowed all over the stone slab and dripped along the edges.

In the next few days, I’ll be repeating the gesture, adding flowers, honey and possibly some music, but I also want to honour my family members who are buried elsewhere, in places that I cannot visit before the 22nd of February. To that end, today I’ll be going to an open field on the edge of the city and pour wine and wheat on the soil. For the earth has taken the bodies of my ancestors, in one way of another, so I ask Her to be my intermediate. I’ll also be pouring offerings on one of the local rivers, in honour of drowned family members, ’cause chances are that, at some point in the past, at least one of my ancestors probably died at sea or on water (sailing, riverside battles, accidents, etc.). Parentalia is also a good time to pay homage to Mercury Psychopomp; actually, I’d say He’s a god to turn to when honouring ancestors who are buried elsewhere or in an unknown location.

I’m also considering doing something connected to Ingui-Frey as Lord of Elves, namely honouring house elves or Byggvir and Beyla on the 21st in preparation for the Caristia. Sort of cleaning the house and getting food ready for the feast on the 22nd, but this is me attempting to integrate a Norse-inspired celebration into a Roman festive calendar, so it’s still work in progress.