Glimpse into my oracular process

I’ve been serving as an oracle of Poseidon since July, and recently a colleague asked me about my process.  There is little which is certain about how such rituals were performed in antiquity; regardless, even if it’s how it happened at Delphi, I’m not planning on inhaling volcanic vapors anytime soon.

Delphi is a location associated with Poseidon, largely before the Apollonian period.  The Pythia needed protection as much as Troy did, and I am of the mind that there is more to the relationship between these gods than the scant myths suggest.  In any case, my work is done in the shadow of an ancient tradition.

I cannot say why it’s the case, but Poseidon did not send me to the books or demand I master ancient Greek to serve as manteis.  I have engaged in ritual possession and deep contact before I walked the Hellenic path, which has helped me gain the discernment to recognize what’s my own voice, and what is not.  That being the case, my training in one sense began close to 30 years ago.  To refine what he needed of me, however, Poseidon sent me to become a Quaker.  What’s relevant of what I have learned as a member of that community is the technique of expectant listening.

On the morning of an oracular session I begin with my usual offerings, then enter the space which my wife is kind enough to allow me to use for this work.  I review the questions for the first time, and transcribe them onto index cards.  I light incense, pour a libation, and settle into worship.  I sometimes use a mild entheogen if I am led to.  Whether I wear my wreath or not varies; my the tradition followed in Temenos Oikidios it is not use in chthonic rites, and sometimes that’s what is asked of me.  Poseidon is a god who stands between, and brings me his word in the manner which suits him that month.

While my Quaker friends may not use this language, I descend into a trance.  They might say I open myself to spirit, which is certainly true.  I use the silence in the manner some use drums or chanting.  As with any spiritual journey, it can take some time to unload the mental clutter and begin the actual work, but when he and I are in harmony, I reach for the first question.

Invariably I have some anxiety when transcribing these questions.  People ask very important things, life-altering things, and I get clutched by a worry that I will lead them astray.  When I pick up that first question in ritual space, however, none of that is present.  I see the question through his eyes, or maybe he sees it through mine.  Sitting before the antique writing desk in the library, my hand reaches for the pen and a response is provided.  Watching it unfold, it seems simple enough.  Just pick up the pen, and write down an answer.

What seems simple takes most of my morning, though, even when there are few questions to address.  In any case, I don’t make appointments for that day to do anything but this work.  It’s something for which I have been trained as long as I have been Pagan, and the fact that this is also simply training for what he asks of me next is both daunting and exciting.

It is an honor to serve.

Mystic South workshops

It is my honor to be presenting this year at Mystic South, rubbing elbows with people far more learned than myself.


On my slate is a workshop and two rituals:

  • Thrifty Pagan Workshop.  Spells, rituals, and prayers around money are incredibly common, but if they work, why aren’t all the people who use them wealthy? Some money magic just doesn’t keep it real because it doesn’t allow space to act in accordance with the will. Perhaps it’s difficult to act accordingly when it comes to money because very little is taught about how to handle and manage money in the first place.In this workshop, learn about the thrift. The word is now mostly associated with discount stores and boy scouts, but as a value it can provide a sound basis for money management and magic alike.
  • American Flag Blessing.  The American flag is a powerful unifying symbol for the United States, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use a boost from time to time. This ritual is intended to bless official American flags in the hope that all who see them will also see what they have in common with their neighbors and others who live in this country. Lore about the flag will also be shared.Participants are encouraged to bring American flags — any that has ever been the official flag still counts as one — for this blessing. Terentios will also accept flags which cannot be repaired for respectful retirement in a Pagan ceremony which will take place later this year as it requires fire, not a good fit with the inside of a hotel.
  • Quaker Worship.  In Quaker practice, no tools, rituals, or leaders are required to commune with the divine. Instead, they gather to worship in silence, which is broken occasionally when spirit moves someone to share a message aloud as vocal ministry. Join Terentios, a “convinced friend,” who will facilitate this deep and powerful form of worship.

Updates on my many gods project

The summer solstice, deadline for litanies to many gods, slipped by without me being able to acknowledge it.  I had just returned from Free Spirit Gathering, for one, and it always takes me a few days to settle back into a routine after a trip.  This is also a busy time of year for me ritually, with an ancestor pilgrimage and the festival of lilies, and the Vigil for the Bulls coming up; why I selected this particular due date is beyond me.

litany-300x235Nevertheless, the submission period is now closed.  There was a flurry of submissions at the beginning, and quickly realized how bloody much work I have bitten off.  I am going to have to write a prayer for each of the gods named, and for some of them that’s going to require education.

What needs to be done soon is the selection of a winner.  I have a post half-written about the divination systems I use and what I might do to determine which of them to use to divine that winner, but it’s languished for over the month for want of my attention.  Since time is the overall theme here, my plan is to take the time to go to meeting for worship and open myself to the gods for an answer.  It’s the most direct form of divination out there.

And, not or

The title of this post is how Anomalous Thracian describes the relationship of the terms “Pagan” and “polytheist” in his life, a concept he reminded me of when I interviewed him about his latest project.  E is unusual insofar as e adopted the polytheist label first, while most of us who consider ourselves both used Pagan before or concurrently with polytheist.  (In this context, I’m using “polytheist” to describe those folks who do not experience their gods as being facets of the One; we have been called “hard” and “devotional” and “immersive” and “traditional” polytheists, but no one term really encapsulates the mindset and also disincludes all others, so expect other adjectives to be proposed as the conversation continues.)  AT recognizes that not all Pagans are polytheist as e understands the term, and that not all polytheists think Pagan is meaningful to describe their path, but they aren’t mutually exclusive.

While I’ve been tentative about the language lest I inadvertently offend, I”m very much in tune with calling myself a polytheist and a Pagan.  The concept of deity is simply beyond human understanding, and any cosmology we construct is going to fall short.  The concepts of “separate” and “individual” may be utterly meaningless to the gods, or their individualness may be so far beyond my own that it would make my brain melt.  How separate (or not!) the gods are from me and each other is far less important than having a cosmology in place so I can relate to them.  I relate to the gods as individuals, but I’ve given up any hope of knowing if that’s the “one true way” or not.  In fact, a good amount of my experience contradicts that worldview, but I’m not about to be confused by the facts once my mind is made up!

Considering how Pagans react to one of our own choosing a different path, I want to be quite clear that I didn’t turn my back on the last 26 years of my faith journey this past Sunday morning.  I also didn’t accept Jesus as my lord and savior, nor did I make a bargain with any particular god that I am going to worship no other before em.  In fact, what happened the other day technically wasn’t something that I did at all.  Rather, it was done when I was in another room.

During its monthly Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, the members of the Society of Friends in my town decided t290px-Quaker_star-T.svghat yes, I was clear to become a Friend, or Quaker, and that they in fact welcomed such a thing.  The decision was recorded as a minute, which will be published in the local Quaker newsletter (which I have edited since the beginning of the year).  The reading of the minute is the only ceremony involved, and I missed it not because it was secret, but because I had committed to teaching First Day School to the kiddies this morning.

Of course, there are likely questions about this.  Because I don’t have frequent readers, and thus no frequently asked questions, I’m going to guess what they might be:

  • Did you just convert to Christianity?  Well, no.  Quakerism was definitely founded by a Christian named George Fox, who preached about the direct connection with deity.  Most Friends are Christ-centered, but they include nontheist, humanist, and even Quaker Pagans among their number.
  • Do they know you’re a Pagan?  I haven’t hidden that fact, but Quakers don’t exactly wear their beliefs on their sleeves, either; for one thing, it would probably not be appropriate to the spirit of plain dress.  I made it a point to mention that fact when I was meeting with a clearness committee about becoming a member.  That led to questions about how I might relate to Friends who were uncomfortable with my Paganness, but I wasn’t asked about those beliefs, nor was it suggested that I should renounce them.  One elder in my meeting (mine!  that’s exciting to write!) said that I don’t have to speak in that language, but I do need to be able to hear it.  Another Quaker I met at a Pagan event called it “listening in tongues.”
  • How does this relate to your Pagan practices, anyway?  Considering that Hellenismos is a religion of spoken prayers, offerings, and outward ritual which I perform daily in solitude, while Quakerism is a path of silent worship in groups, the two dovetail surprisingly well in my life.  I was led to each in times of emotional turmoil.  While I cannot always be sure what voice I am hearing in meeting for worship, I am able to more easily listen to my gods there then when I am pouring libations and reciting prayers as offerings.  In fact, both are orthopraxic, focusing more on the practice than on the belief, and each requires discernment to tell what’s a sign (or message, in Quaker parlance), and what just an interesting coincidence or one’s own desires (the rush to interpret such as a message by a Quaker can be called “notional thinking”) be presumed to be more important than they really are.
  • Didn’t you get a sign from Ares to follow Hellenismos?  And now you’ve gone and joined one of the historic peace churches?  That did happen, yes.  Ares looks over my shoulder as I write, because he’s my gatekeeper god and reminds me of my faith.  Having never been to war, and not seeing any benefit to the enterprise, I can relate to the fact that no small number of the offerings my ancestors made to him were likely to turn war away from their shores, because they wanted peace.  I believe in peace, and there is a long tradition of asking Ares for peace.  I don’t see a conflict here.
  • But are you sure this isn’t just the first step down the slippery slope of betrayal of the Pagan community?  On one hand, I haven’t a clue.  I trust my gods.  I listen to them.  Jesus appeared to me exactly once during my years as a Christian, to tell me that he was cool with me giving him up so long as I didn’t give up the gods.  Ares showed up to tell me that I had done just that, and to pull it together.  This is my path, and I’m going to follow it towards wisdom, betterment of myself, and to serve them the best I can.  On the other hand, ordinary Pagans probably come and go all the time without eliciting feelings of betrayal.  I’m not Star Foster or Teo Bishop, I haven’t made waves, so I doubt anyone would feel personally wounded if I did leave Paganism . . . except for those gods I’ve sworn oaths to, of course.
  • Aren’t oaths a problem for Quakers?  My short answer to this is, “These aren’t the oaths you’re looking for.”  The Quaker opposition is to swearing to tell the truth as in a court of law, because it creates a double standard of truth.  I agree, so far as that narrow understanding of oath is concerned, but oaths signify much deeper commitments than truth-telling, and to reject them entirely is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

So I’ve gone and added another religion to my identity.  I do so with humble respect for the long tradition into which I have been accepted, and with profound thanks to the gods who led me to attend a meeting in the first place.  It may take me a lifetime to express in words what I know to be true:  that this decision allows me to better serve gods and mortals alike.

What are some of the ways that you communicate with the divinities?

Finally, I get to a question that’s a bit easier to answer!  For me, communication is usually asynchronous; I talk to the gods at different times than they speak to me.  I perform devotions to one or more gods daily, which generally involve a libation and an offering of barley, sometimes include reciting a written prayer or hymn, and less frequently the lighting of a candle or an offering of incense.

Replies come in many forms:

  • Signs:  I have a friend who is very good at pointing out the ones I might otherwise miss, such as the eagle we spied last summer or a hawk perched outside of my kitchen window the other day.
  • Silence:  I have mentioned more than once that in the company of Quakers I have gotten messages; their practice creates an excellent environment for this sort of listening.
  • Water:  I receive insights, and assignments in the bathtub just often enough that I use the tub for my mind rather than my body.
  • Insight:  On rare occasion, I will have a full-blown message pop directly into my head while performing devotions.

As with any devotional or mystical path, the key is developing the discernment necessary to know the difference between a sign or message and the machinations of the universe.  I’m still working on that part.

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

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.

Question: are there polytheistic Quakers?

I’ve been attending my local Quaker meeting off and on for a few years now.  Joining in worship, I have had profound experiences, which have both deepened my faith and reawakened my appreciation for paradox.

engraving of Quaker women in plain dress worshiping
Engraving of a Quaker Meeting for Worship
(attributed to J. Walter West)

Nearly everything I know about the Society of Friends, its organization and theology, come from my Quaker Pagan friends.  This certainly gives me a perceptual bias, one that is not universally held.  My limited experience does not qualify me to even comprehend that debate, but I am mindful that I am a guest in this meeting house.

For my own part, I am very pleased that I decided to join the meeting for worship one summer day.  In the silence, I have found that it’s difficult to quiet my own “monkey brain,” as Cat Chapin-Bishop calls the cluttered head, but when I do, I am awestruck.

How weighty Friends do it, I don’t know, but I seek that inner silence with a stern admonition to WAIT.  Sometimes it takes several reminders, and there are days when I just need to decompress and have no chance of success.  On some occasions, though, the extraneous thoughts about imagined snubs and to-do lists fall away, and I become aware of what Quakers call the Light.

The experience is one of understanding, of communication, and of revelation.  Images and insights answer questions that I have lifted in prayer to one or more of my gods, or that I have asked through divination.  Snippets of my life get assembled in different ways, such that new patterns and purposes become evident.  Sometimes, I feel the presence of a particular god, but that’s not the norm.

The idea of pantheist and nontheist Quakers makes a certain amount of sense to me, if one accepts the premise that Jesus is but one of many possible conduits of the Light.  But I’m a polytheist, darn it, and that there Light feels like a different entity to me.

That’s where paradox comes in:  just because I see the gods as separate and distinct beings, doesn’t mean that “all gods are one god” is not also true.  So perhaps the Light is representative of that paradox.  Or it’s a deity unto itself.  Or neither, or both.

So I wonder:  are there Quakers out there who identify themselves as polytheists?

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter Q.