How have the divinities helped you in times of adversity and violent upheaval?

The gods embrace, or perhaps embody, paradox.  While they encouraged me to control anger, they have also helped me to use it.  Control, after all, does not mean suppress or eliminate; paradox and contradiction are rarely that if one looks deeply enough.  There have been times when I have been well-rooted in my anger, willing to stand my ground when I otherwise would not have had the strength, and I have been amazed at the results.

Over the past two or three years I have managed the household finances, and there have been times when money has been tight beyond tight.  When obstacles have become insurmountable, something comes along to help surmount them.  Tax refund.  Inheritance.  Unclaimed funds returned.

And while I have seen some friendships wither on the vine, others have sprung up, stronger than any I’ve had before, supporting my need for acceptance and community in ways I do not expect.

In the past, I gave up on religion when times were dark, because I did not have the strength to believe.  I still lack belief in the dark times, but as I follow an orthopraxic path, all I must do is keep up with my routine, and the gods take care of the rest, whether I believe in them or not.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

What does your tradition do to increase the power and flow of blessings?

I practice Hellenismos, the reconstructed worship of the gods of ancient Greece, or Hellas.  While the variations within that tradition are incredibly diverse, I think it’s safe to say that kharis is universally Hellenic.

Kharis is nicely defined in the book of the same name by Sarah Kate Istra Winter.  While she presents several definitions in the front, the one that is most apt here is from Burkert’s Greek Religion:

“Men live by the hope of reciprocal favour, charis.  ‘It is good to give fitting gifts to the immortals’ — they show their gratitude.”

This is not a quid pro quo deal, where I pay a god a particular price and get a favor in return.  In fact, one day not so long ago I found myself thinking in that fashion, bargaining with a particular deity that I would make a certain offering if a particular event took place as I desired, and I brought myself up short, and then apologized profusely.  I vowed to make the stated offering regardless.

The event I was desirous of did indeed occur as I had hoped, and that’s an important point.  I do not pay my gods for favors, I make them offerings out of devotion or love, or both.  Do we feed and clothe our children to guarantee a nice nursing home placement, or because we love them?  It may seem like a distinction without a difference, but to the gods, it’s written plainly on our faces.

When I approach my gods with offerings and ask nothing in return, I am much more likely to receive the blessings I need, rather than those I want.  Those blessings do come, and they come powerfully, when I pay honor in this way.  It’s a simple system, and it works.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

What wealth have the divinities brought into your life?

Peace.  Acceptance.  Patience.  And a clue.

Peace.  I came to my gods with anger in my heart.  I still get angry, but I no longer feel that it will never end.

Acceptance.  One of the reasons I can see an end to anger is that I now find it easier to accept that some things are just out of my control, and that that means that it’s okay to let them go.

Patience.  I swore I would never have any, but it’s there, and it’s growing.  I doubt anyone in my life can see it, but see acceptance.

A clue.  Apparently, there has been good advice, good information, and good sense surrounding me from day one, but I couldn’t see it — or didn’t want to.  Belief in my gods comes with the understanding that they sometimes dangle useful information in front of me, and I need to be paying attention.  A side benefit of paying attention for the gods is that mortals are pretty damned smart, too.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

A devotional polytheist meme

From Galina Krasskova’s brain comes a devotional p0lytheist meme, a series of questions to be answered, one a day, as an exploration of one’s practice.  Like 30 days of devotion, this one is going to take a lot of thought, a lot of discipline, and a lot of work to complete.

Why the gods don’t want to let me steep in my own brine and do nothing but pickle myself for a few years is beyond me, but as long as they continue dropping these tidbits in my path, I will bend over and pick them up.

Caffeina, give me strength!

A plea for privacy . . . on Pagan blogs

Privacy is not the same as anonymity, which I believe many Pagan bloggers have given some thought to.  Whether or not a particular blogger allows people to comment anonymously is actually just one layer of the privacy question.  There are now many commenting systems that follow users around the internet, and I’m asking bloggers in the Pagan community to consider offering alternatives to them.

What’s the problem?  Blog comment hosting services offer the ability of blog owners to accept comments through social media.  That’s got some sincere advantages, but it’s yet another way for companies to collect data about our habits.

What are these services?  The list includes companies that specialize in comments, and companies that specialize in following you around the internet, like:

  • Disqus (which allows you to log in via other social media services, which is not actually much of an alternative),
  • Google (which has gotten so much creepier in recent years that I stopped commenting on blogs Google controls, and eventually moved this blog to WordPress), and
  • Facebook (which never had an unofficial “don’t be evil” motto like Google used to).

Pagans often have a strong desire or need for privacy, and being asked to use these aggregating services undermines it.

What blogs are using these services?  It might be easier to ask who doesn’t, but let’s be clear:  it’s not always easy to avoid them.  I had to jump through some insane hoops to make sure that my blog, when it was still hosted at Blogger (a Google property), did not force people to comment using Google Plus.  Some platforms don’t give their bloggers any options.  That being said, Pagan blogs that don’t provide an alternative to these services include:

  • virtually all the blogs hosted at blogger.com, a Google property;
  • The Wild Hunt (with a codicil, see below); and
  • The Patheos Pagan channel, plus countless others that I have never read myself.

What are the alternatives? Some believe that one should never point out a problem unless one has a possible solution at the ready, but I disagree.  That silences people who should be part of the process, and in this case, that includes me.  I don’t have an easy answer, but I think we should put our heads together.  Some blogs I have read have a comment form that allows me to sign in with a name and an email address — for example, Gangleri’s Grove, hosted by Weebly.  Perhaps bloggers hosted by creeper services have no options but to leave that host, which is asking quite a lot.  I hope not.

A codicil regarding The Wild Hunt:  Unlike Patheos, The Wild Hunt’s comment section includes an option for “I’d rather post as a guest” by simply putting in a name and an email address.  This is a good start, but I don’t know what Disqus is doing with that information, so it still bothers me.  Better to include OpenID as a way to protect both the blog from spam and the commenter from privacy intrusions.

But blogs services that are self-hosted can make that choice, PaganSquare did.  Yes, you need to create an account to comment there, but that information does not follow you around.  I can protect my privacy, while the bloggers on that site limit my anonymity.  It’s a good balance.

To all Pagan bloggers, from media outlets to those writing in obscurity like myself, I ask you to join in this conversation.  How can we protect the privacy of the members of our community better, without sacrificing too much of our online work?  What systems can we develop to support the creation of alternatives to the big creeper services, for those who prefer to avoid them?

Wikipedia 101: sources, sources, sources

The exciting news that there’s going to be a peer-reviewed reconstructionist magazine got me thinking about Wikipedia for Pagans again.

“Air n-Aithesc:  Our Message is a peer-reviewed magazine that hopes to offer well researched material for Celtic Reconstructionists and others who value the role of academics as much as they value the role of the spiritual in their practice.

The magazine’s main aim is to offer as many resources as possible, from research articles to in depth explorations of how personal experiences fit in with the sources, book reviews, and much more.”

This is going to support a meaningful Pagan presence on Wikipedia more than anything else, hands down.  Why?  Because peer-reviewed sources.  They are the highest echelon of wonderful in the Wikipedia worldview.  To a Wikipedian, truth is not as important as verifiability.

“Even if you’re sure something is true, it must be verifiable before you can add it.”

For an academic, this should not be so hard to grasp:  what’s the quality of your source?  Let’s consider a self-serving example, a mythical article on Wikipedia and Paganism.  As with any article on the site, having sources = better likelihood that the edit (or even the entire page) will stick around.  Those sources could include this very blog post, an article on CNN iReport, one from the New York Times, and something you found in a pile of dusty research journals at the local university library.  So how verifiable are they?

  • My blog post:  not very, because what I write goes live without any other eyes looking at it.  If I cited sources of my own, you can check them out, but blog posts should be taken as opinion and nothing more.
  • The iReport article isn’t much better; per the site itself:  “The stories here are not edited fact-checked or screened before they post. CNN’s producers will check out some of the most compelling, important and urgent iReports and, once they’re cleared for CNN, make them a part of CNN’s news coverage.”  It’s that fact-checking and editing that makes a source verifiable; someone took a look to make sure it wasn’t all made up.
  • The New York Times has editors.  So do weekly papers, but the Gray Lady has a robust staff that is trained to make sure nothing is printed without being checked.  Misteaks happen, but not so often.
  • That research journal is pure, peer-reviewed gold.  Some smart researcher wrote up his or her findings, and then a bunch of researchers in the same field picked it apart for accuracy and methodology.  It’s about as good a source as an encyclopedia could get.

And that’s why I am excited that there is to be a peer-reviewed journal focusing on a Pagan religion, because the scholarship it produces will be tailor-made for using in Wikipedia articles on Paganism.  So much of what we do and experience has not had serious scholarship applied, so it can be challenging to establish notability for the movers in this community, much less the concepts.

Better sources is part of the solution.  More Pagans editing Wikipedia, Pagans who understand the Byzantine structure of the site and its rules, will help more.  There’s actually a page to organize the work already, but it’s dangerously inactive.  That, however, is another bite at the apple.

This post is part of a series on Wikipedia for Pagans, a series of tutorials about and reports on why Pagans should edit Wikipedia.

I can’t hear you, Poseidon; I’m blind!

Despite the fact that I was confused that Poseidon was interested in me, over the years I have found the relationship to be incredibly fruitful.  My perfectionist streak initially made me nervous about disappointing this powerful deity, but in time I swore an oath to honor and serve him.  (If you don’t personally feel comfortable with the idea of patron deities in Hellenismos, you may officially refer to me as “oathbound” to Poseidon, and pay no further mind to how I got there.)  Eager to embrace orthopraxy, I poured libations to him weekly and, in time, every day.

“Stormy Petrel,”a painting by John James Audobon.

My habit of not talking so much about Poseidon stems in part from the fact that he doesn’t talk to me.  Not really.  Two years ago I probably would have said not ever, not how, but that would not have been accurate.  While I did not think I was getting much in the way of divine feedback from this patron of mine, he was indeed talking to me.  I, however, was too blind to hear.

“Blind” is a good descriptor, because it better evokes missing something which is obvious, or would be if one isn’t so distracted by the world as to miss it.  I don’t need a “god phone” to hear what he’s saying, but some quiet attentiveness definitely helps.  This storm kestrel, for example, was surely placed in my image search to make a point.

Last summer my wife and I took a trip to Maine, and got to see some amazing oceanic wildlife.  Earlier today I was trying, with my wife’s help, to recall the name of a particular globetrotting bird we had seen, but to no avail.  So when I began to write this post I searched for free-to-use images of the stormy ocean, and was given a clear reminder that the bird in question was a Wilson’s storm petrel, a bird that goes are far south as Antarctica and much more rarely into the waters around Maine.  The image here is the one that reminded of the bird’s species, and the fact that it popped up is sure sign to me that this particular storm petrel has some significance to me.

Another way that he communicates to me is through bathtub assignments.  Showers clean my body, but the bath cleanses my soul.  I add a three grains of salt, grab some inspirational reading, and sometimes I am struck with such a powerful thought that I have to lay the book down and just digest it.  A couple of times I’ve actually had to get out hurriedly and jot down a couple of thoughts so that I wouldn’t lose it.  This has been going on for awhile, but it never occurred to me that my little simulated ocean might be the ideal place for me to listen.

Listening is something I have learned, by and large, through the time I have spent with the Quakers.  It wasn’t until I stopped forcing the issue, and started to practice expectant listening, that I started receiving . . . understandings, I’ll call them.  I still won’t say that Poseidon actually, literally speaks to me.  He did that only once, and once was enough.  I’m mortal, and a mortal looking upon a god can destroy him; I don’t see that prolonged listening to one would leave me any better off.

So I don’t talk so much about Poseidon, because he works on my life with the patience of an ocean wave and the relentless pressure of a tectonic plate.  I often don’t even notice that he is there, so I don’t speak much of him.  But I should.