Pagan Piety Survey Answers

About this post, “BNPs” and pagan drama:

Well, I was all ready to post this.  Then Sannion declared that piety was going to be the next big pagan brouhaha.  And I was like, didn’t we just do that last month?  So I trashed it.

I love Sannion for the work he’s does for Dionysos, and because many of his poems and essays helped me immeasurably when I first encountered our God.  His projects are hit and miss with me – though I hardly think he has become the evil thing he’s being accused of.  (Hear that?  You need to try harder.)  I admit I enjoy watching him stir up shit, in a voyeuristic way – I’ve got a thing for internet drama and train wrecks.  It’s not something I’m proud of.  

(I actually can get behind this week’s stated purpose for the drama.  I wonder how I’ll feel about next week’s.  Sannion has begun to remind me more than a bit of the Joker explaining how he got his scars.)  

Apparently, though he’s gotten a bit under my skin this time.  And to hell with that.

So I thought WTF?!  And I restored it.  

So I emailed my responses to Elizabeth, but I figured I’d post them here (with some minor editing to accommodate this format.)  Since I’m asking you all to share, it seems only fair that you get to see what I had to say on the subject:

1. Name (real or “Craft name”)

– Agathi

3. Age, gender, geographic location (country, state/province, and/or city).

– 42, F, Northern California

4. How long have you been Pagan/polytheistic?

– 20+ years

5. What is your tradition (i.e. Wiccan, reconstructionist Heathen, eclectic, etc.)

– “Polytheist/pagan with strong Hellenic influence, valuing both the techniques of reconstructionism and personal inspiration ”  Or, just, “eclectic.”

6. Do you have any patron gods/goddesses or deities you are especially close to? If so, who are They?

– Dionysos

7. How do you define your own relationship(s) to the gods? For instance, do you view one or more of Them as your beloved or spouse, or are They more like parents to you? Do you consider Them friends, allies, mentors? All of the above? None of the above? How does this differ between various gods?

– All of the above?  None of the above?  The relationship is fluid.  I consider Them Gods.

Right now Dionysos seems a bit like the really cool kid I had a crush on in high school who occasionally deigned to notice me – but that says more about me than Him.  I’m hoping that relationship will continue to grow and change.  Or more like a really awesome teacher I have a crush on, who will inevitably end up getting fired by the administration for teaching the kiddies all the “wrong” things.

8. How do you define “piety” as it relates to Paganism/modern polytheism?

– Giving the Gods what They are due.  Actively practicing one’s faith.   Understanding one’s place in the relationship.

9. Do you find this to be a useful or relevant term concerning your own relationship with the gods? Is it relevant to Paganism/modern polytheism in general?

– I think piety is a relevant term for me.  I struggle to be more pious.  I think a lot of pagans find it irrelevant and that saddens me.

10. Is it possible to be pious without an established dogma or authority? Why or why not?

– I believe this is absolutely possible.  In the end my relationship with the Gods is between me and Them.  They are the authority.  They’ll let me know if I’ve gone astray.

11. Is there anything you consider impious (i.e. behavior, modes of worship)? Why?

– For me, personally, all the online fan-girly gushing about dates with Loki etc (to use a common example) strikes me as impious.  Not “Godspousery” (<- is that a word?) itself – that’s an intense form of devotion that I have great respect for – but those who act as if they are gossiping about their wonderful new boyfriend.  It makes me question the nature of the relationship, if it even exists at all.

But that’s me looking from the outside.  It would be impious for me to behave that way, but I freely admit I can’t know what their Gods ask of them.

12. Are you for or against the establishment and observance of rules about piety in your particular tradition and/or within Pagan/polytheist religion in general? Please explain your response.

– I don’t have a tradition, so I can’t answer the first part.

As for the second, absolutely against it.  Pagan/polytheist religion doesn’t exist.  Pagan and polytheistic religions are so diverse that to try to have one rule for all would be absurd.  I have no problem with the establishment of rules about piety or, you know, beard length or whatever, within individual traditions.

13. Further comments, thoughts, observances?

– I’m right in the middle of this debate.  On the one hand, I believe every individual’s relationship with their Gods is unique, so I try not to judge it from the outside.  On the other hand, some practices seem so absurd I simply cannot take them seriously.

I see something like Galina’s recent blog post about the elaborate meals she prepares as an offering to her Gods and I applaud her piety and devotion.  And yet I disagree with her demands that we all do the same.  We could all be more pious, yes.  But we are not all cut out to be priests and mystics and to dedicate the majority of our time and resources to religion.  Modern pagan and polytheistic religions need to have room in them for “lay pagans.”  They will never survive and grow otherwise.

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Fangirlishness

Once again, a ferocious debate is raging in pagan blogosphere and I find myself caught in the middle.  I’d like to be a partisan in one of these someday.  It looks like fun – all that righteous anger and willingness to take offense at the slightest contradiction must be really cathartic.

Respect.

Maybe next time.  On the whole “worshiping Batman” controversy, while many bloggers I have a lot of respect for rage on, I’m firmly in the middle:  I see the absurdity of both sides.

This all started, as far as I can tell, with a person saying “I do this thing.  It’s basically the same as what you do, just more modern.”

A bunch of other people responded with “It’s really not the same at all and here’s why.”

This quickly degenerated to “You’re an intolerant meanie!” versus “Yeah, well you’re shallow and vacuous!”

Then some other people, whose practice is somewhat related to the first person’s but really not what anyone was talking about, jumped in with “How dare you call me shallow and vacuous!”

And it all went down hill from there.   Me, I made popcorn and settled in for a fun read.

But it preyed on my mind and in the middle of the night, I decided to write this after all.  *shrug*  I hadn’t done a blog post in awhile and this topic interests me.

Stevie+Ray+Vaughan

Then there’s this guy.

On one had, I am a fangirl, pure and simple.  It’s in my nature to become obsessive about various pop culture phenomenon.  It took me a long time to learn not to be ashamed of that.  I will delightedly spend hours arguing with you about who was the best Doctor (Tom Baker, thank-you-very-much) or the relative excellence of Jimi Hendrix verses Jimmy Page (why bother though?  They’re both freakishly talented.)  I include Hendrix – as well as Jim Morrison, Marc Bolan and many others – among my revered dead.

I have found spiritual inspiration from Neil Gaiman‘s Endless.  When I visualize Ares, he wears the face of Kevin Smith.  When I was younger, before I found paganism, I considered the Force as a religious paradigm.

I have even written Harry Potter fan fic.  (Eep!  Didn’t intend to admit to that one…)

However, I work very, very hard not to be a fangirl about my Gods.  It would be blasphemous to reduce any deity to the level of Lucius Malfoy or John Constantine, even in my own mind.  (As a result, though, I tend to second guess the passion I feel for the Gods.  Something I really need to work on if my relationship with Them is to develop much farther.)

English: The writer Alan Moore Español: El esc...On the other hand, I have no problem believing that ideas and characters from fiction, if given enough energy over time from enough people, or perhaps really intense energy from someone who knows what she’s doing, can develop a life of their own.  They can be magically useful, so why not religiously? Besides, if Alan Moore believes it, it has to be credible!  (Blatant example of fangirlishness provided for your benefit.)

On yet another hand (I have lots of hands) I am a relatively hard polytheist.  Gods are Gods, heroes are heroes, thought forms are thought forms.  They’re not the same thing.  (Well, except Hercules – the hero who became a God.  And Dionysos – who has a grave and could be considered hero as well as Deity.  And…  not making my point really well here, am I?)

The thing is though, while no one believes that Batman or Lucius Malfoy were ever real, living humans, the heroes of ancient Greece were never thought of as fictional.  They are our glorious ancestors.  Even with a modern’s skepticism – (Is that really the grave of Achilles?  Or just the grave of some guy someone decided to call by that name?) – and nervousness about taking mythology too literally, I see that as a major difference.

But in the end, if you’re not practicing my religion, what do I care?  Because it will make “us” look silly in the eyes of those who lump us all together and who will probably never take any of us seriously anyway?

*shrug* I’m a fangirl.  I’m used to looking silly.

But if you say you are practicing my religion and what you’re talking about is extremely different – even to the point of being directly opposed or, at the very least, disrespectful – to what I do or believe, don’t I have the right to say “maybe not so much?”

Does it really all come down to words and titles yet again?  Who gets to decide what a Wiccan is?  Or a Hellenic Polytheist?  Or a Christian?  It’s really easy to say the members of those faiths get to define the term, but that’s begging the question.

G – Gratitude (PBP Week 13)

2011 was a really bad year for me.

I left the job from hell in March, literally for the sake of my sanity.  Our plans for an alternative income fell through, and I spent most of the year dirt poor.  Francis’ old army injury kept getting worse and worse until he could no longer work.  Our house was foreclosed upon.  My depression started spiraling out of control and, because I had so many good reasons to be sad, I didn’t realize what was happening until it had almost destroyed my relationship.

Worst of all, a very dear friend of mine passed over that August.

Yeah, 2011 sucked.

In spite of all that – or rather, directly because of all that – I learned a very important lesson that year.  I learned was gratitude is.

It’s not that I’d never been thankful for kindnesses bestowed on me.  I like to think I’ve always given credit where it was due and was not shy in sharing my appreciation.

But it wasn’t until I had been so thoroughly humbled and was completely vulnerable that I really understood.

When we had no money and I needed to see a doctor, we found a free clinic that operated out of a bus and visited our neighborhood once a week.  I made an appointment, and expected to spend the entire day there, waiting to get help.  In actuality, though there were dozens of people there, the whole operation was incredibly professional.  I was at most, fifteen minutes before seeing a doctor.  The doctor asked me questions and genuinely seemed interested in my answers.  After discussing options, I was given a free prescription and told I could come back if I needed a refill.  I felt that I had been treated with more respect and dignity than in many doctor’s offices that I had paid to visit.

These people provided this kind of service for those desperately in need every single day.

I was grateful.

The night Rena died, a volunteer pastor sat with us for hours while we waited for news from the doctor.  She sat with us and just talked.  Some of it was about Rena – how were we related, what was she like.  Most of it was just chatting to keep our minds off of our worries.  Not once, though we had told her our religion, did she attempt to proselytize or minimize our beliefs.  She talked to us as people of faith, giving our Gods the respect They are due.

When the doctor finally appeared and gave us the terrible news, she sat with us while we cried and, when it was time, gave us a packet of practical information detailing what we’d have to do next.  Then she left us alone with our grief, letting us know we could contact her any time we needed to talk.

I was so touched by this.  I thought it would be wonderful to be able to provide that kind of comfort to people in need, but I knew I would never have that kind of strength.

And I was so grateful that she did have that strength.  That she was there.

When my depression got out of control, I found I was able to visit a county outpatient facility and receive free counseling. When we were so badly off that we couldn’t afford groceries or medicine, several institutions provided help – the Vetran’s administration, the local food bank, county medical assistance, state food stamps.

The depth of gratitude I felt in all these instances, and in several others that year, was unlike anything I had known before.  Possibly because the depth of my need was unlike anything I’d known before. It wasn’t simple thankfulness – which is a wonderful thing in itself. Thankfulness, as I see it is a virtue of the mind.

This gratitude was pure emotion, almost primal. To risk sounding even sappier – it made my heart glow.

When my family was in danger, I found the strength to get us the help we needed.

And I’m grateful for that, too. Grateful to my Gods, because I know I wouldn’t have succeeded on my own. And grateful to Francis, who kept pushing me to find help for my illness.

That year has changed the way I live my life.

Now, when someone helps me though they’ve no good reason to, when something goes well, or I feel warm sunshine on my face, or see a smile in my sweetie’s eyes – I can call up that feeling of pure gratitude. I try to remember to be truly grateful to my Gods for the blessings of this life, and to the people around me who give so much of themselves. It isn’t always easy, I get so absorbed in my troubles that I can’t always see the big picture. But when I do, it makes me feel better.

Gratitude can bring a path to joy into the darkest times.

F – Feminine Mysteries and Fertility Worship (PBP Week 11)

photo: wikimedia commons

[Warning:  this post may be a little TMI for some people.  I’ve been trying to be a bit more open about all aspects of my life on this blog, and it occurs to me that this might come as a shock to some…]

I’ve never felt really connected to the feminine mysteries.

Intellectually, I object to people being categorized by their biology when it is only one aspect of our selves. Mainly though, I just never got what was so great about the things we were supposed to be celebrating. OK, yeah, the ability to bring forth life is a Big Deal.  Obviously.  And I’m sure many women find deep meaning in connecting to the cycles of the moon and the fertility of the earth.

It’s all in those pesky details.

Menstruation for me, at least after the first time which was very much a rite of passage, was usually a painful and often disgusting experience.  The fertility is symbolized was completely unwanted. I don’t do well with children.  I am, I think, a great aunt when the kids are tiny, and then again about the time they reach their teen years, but I’ve always known I am not mommy material.

In my mid-twenties I was diagnosed with large uterine cysts,  and I opted for a partial hysterectomy instead of the more dangerous, fertility preserving, cyst removal.  After that, I had the hormones, but no blood.  (And no cramps.  And no regular migraines.)  I completely lost track of my cycle.

So when I recently found myself lying in bed night after night feeling like I was still living in Phoenix and the air conditioning was on the fritz, it took me awhile to figure out that this is most likely due to night sweats and/or hot flashes.

Fertility, or lack there of, had suddenly imposed itself on my life again.

When I was working on my Dedicant Program for ADF, I had to write an essay on Fertility, one of their nine virtues.

I came to the conclusion at the time that, with over 7 billion people on the planet, the idea of literal human fertility as some kind of moral virtue is ridiculous.  In times and cultures where a large family meant survival it was a different story.  Today, in the West, the virtue lies in controlling one’s fertility – not in having a large family, but in nurturing the family that one has.  This can be expanded to taking care of the world around us.  Nurturing each other and the planet.

Of course, there is also creative fertility – a fertile imagination and the hands willing and capable to see those ideas through to fruition.  Even here, it is not simply the birth of ideas, but the willingness to see them to fruition that is a worthy thing.

In my mind it is this aspect of nurturing, of seeing things through rather than simply propagating, that makes any form of fertility a virtue, rather than mere biological fact or imagination run wild.

Nature and/or fertility based paths that focus in this direction tend to be much more inclusive.  Those that are purely biologically based tend to alienate a large number of people who, like myself, just don’t fit into their simple binary categories.  The union of opposites is a beautiful idea, but in practice it always seems to be imposing a black and white framework on  a grey – no, technicolor – world.

E – Enthusiasm (PBP Week 10)

«Nothing great was ever achieved without enthu...

(Photo credit: ebenimeli)

One of Francis’ favorite things is a little stone plaque with a quote from Emerson.  It says “Nothing Great Was Ever Achieved Without Enthusiasm.”  He acquired it right before he opened his restaurant and has found it very inspirational.

Sometimes he leaves it lying around in places where I’m sure to see it.

My own enthusiasm waxes and wanes.  This is the case for most people, I’d image.  It’s hard to remain at a fevered pitch about any one thing for a long period of time.

Take this blog, for example.  When I first started it, I couldn’t write enough.  I’d have PBP posts done and scheduled weeks ahead of time, plus many additional entries.

Then came the time when my PBP posts got later and later, finally disappearing altogether.  Regular posts became sparse.

Sometimes it’s a case of being bad at multitasking.  I seem to be able to get passionate about one thing at a time.  When I’m focused on my paintings, I can’t bring myself to blog.  When I’m intent on making jewelry, I don’t do either of the others.

But too often, for me, it’s a lack of enthusiasm for anything.  I get overwhelmed.  I start just going through the motions on necessary tasks and completely skipping those that seem less critical.

One of the things I can get very enthusiastic about it my religious practice.  (Interesting etymological fact:  the English word, enthusiasm is originally derived from the ancient Greek entheos, meaning “possessed by a God.”)  This waxes and wanes as well.

On the upswing, I want to live every moment of my life as an offering.  I want to always be doing something for my Gods. In the quieter times, I still want these things – in theory.  I just can find the motivation to actually act on that desire.

One of the benefits of an orthopraxic faith is that one can “go through the motions” and still be doing things right.  Yet, it’s very difficult for me to perform the rites when I don’t feel anything.  I don’t mean not feeling the presence of the Gods – I am incredibly grateful when They do pay a visit, but I hardly expect to get Their attention every time I light a candle.  I mean not feeling anything inside.

Francis often tells me I need to “find my joy.”  I’ve decided that this means that, instead of waiting around for enthusiasm to strike out of the blue, I need to actively cultivate it.

One of the things I learned in therapy for depression is that the old axiom “fake it ’til you make it” can be incredibly helpful.  Acting as if one is happy will, eventually, lead to being happier overall.  In the same way, going through the motions religiously allows one to be open to the Gods, open to being filled by Them, open to entheos.

Meaning:  step one is to get off my backside and do stuff.

I know I’m not alone in this problem.  Do you have down periods in your practice?  Are you able to keep going during these times, and if so, what helps you do this?