Polytheism in Difficult Times

Polytheism in Difficult Times May 12, 2016

12 110 Stonehenge RavenIs it just me or has the polytheist wing of the Pagan internet been awfully quiet lately? I was gone for two weeks, but I wasn’t completely unplugged and a quick scan of the usual suspects doesn’t turn up much.

The easy answer is that polytheism isn’t practiced on the internet, it’s practiced in temples and living rooms and back yards and in the wider world. And that’s true, but it’s not the whole truth. Many of us like to talk and write about our polytheism, and if we’re not talking and writing about it, there’s a deeper reason.

Let’s face it: we’re tired. Tired of fighting with atheists, tired of fighting with racists, and tired of fighting amongst ourselves over the proper balance of devotion and political action in our religions. Many of us are dealing with serious health issues, family emergencies, and jobs that make stressful and unreasonable demands on our lives.

The political situation makes things worse. I don’t know how any reasonable person could not be worried about the potential for a Donald Trump presidency. I thought there was no way he’d come close to the Republican nomination – I’m not going to underestimate him again, or the anger and frustration of his constituency. The recent rash of “bathroom bills” are a last-ditch effort by cultural conservatives to hold on to their illusions of a 1950s America where everyone stayed in their “proper” place. They will lose, but vulnerable people are already being hurt in the process.

Earlier this week, I saw a Facebook friend tell someone on the verge of losing their home to “stop being so negative!” She meant well, but her advice did more harm than good. Real problems don’t go away just because you don’t think about them. Health issues, family emergencies, and difficult jobs can’t be fixed with forced cheerfulness. We feel what we feel, and if we’re tired, overloaded, or scared, then that’s what we feel and that’s where we have to begin.

But we don’t have to stay there.

Care for your soul. Maintain your daily practice, even if all you can do is go outside, look up at the sky, and speak the names of your Gods. Even if those skies are cloudy or filled with storms. Even if the only offering you can afford is tap water. Honor your ancestors – they got through situations every bit as difficult as these. Stay connected to the land where you are – it’s your foundation both figuratively and literally.

Care for your body. Eat good food. Drink plenty of water. Indulge with moderation. This isn’t the time to start a diet or swear off your favorite unhealthy drink, but it’s not the time to self-medicate with sugar or alcohol either. Get enough sleep. If that means you have to tell some people “no,” so be it.

If you’re dealing with health issues, be realistic with yourself about what you can and can’t do, and what you need to do to get better. Modern medicine is a wonderful thing. So is prayer and magic. Use both appropriately – neither is an effective substitute for the other.

Call on your community. Women are told to put the needs of others before their own. Men are told to be strong and silent. Neither of those approaches are particularly healthy. Humans are not solitary creatures – we’re social animals. We get through difficult times through cooperation and mutual support. So ask for what you need. You’d do it for your friends – why do you think they wouldn’t do it for you? Even if there’s nothing they can do, they can listen, and sometimes that makes all the difference in the world.

Remember why you became a polytheist. Perhaps you prayed and Someone unexpected answered. Perhaps a Goddess tapped you on the shoulder and said “you’re mine.” Perhaps you realized that the world is better explained by many Gods of limited power and scope than by one all-powerful God and you decided that following Them was the best way to order your life.

It’s hard to be spiritual when your roof is leaking. If your current situation has dampened your enthusiasm for the Gods, Their virtues, and Their work, it’s understandable. And usually, They understand too – They tend to have a longer and wider perspective than we do. But whatever your reason for becoming a polytheist, it was valid then and it’s still valid now.

The institutions we need to build? We don’t have to finish them – we were never going to finish them in our lifetimes anyway. We just have to do our part and let the next generation continue building. The priestly work? It can still be done. The ecstatic experiences? They’re still available. The communal worship? We just have to keep showing up. Of all the many Pagan virtues needed in the wider world, perseverance is perhaps the most important.

Do the right things for the right reasons and trust that things will work out sooner or later. Denton CUUPS, my local Pagan group, has had a difficult time the past few months. Our Yule circle was canceled after an arsonist set fire to the Denton UU building. Repairs are coming slowly – we’re now hoping to have full use of the building some time in July. Our Imbolc and Ostara circles were done well, but attendance was very low. But we’ve continued our work: our Adopt-a-Spot roadside cleanups, our monthly devotional rituals, and our individual devotions and practices.

Last Saturday was our Beltane circle. We had a beautiful day, a great turnout, and a ritual that was deep and powerful. Since it was Beltane, it started with a Maypole Dance. It was polytheist in structure (invocations and offerings to the ancestors, land spirits, and other fae) but it left the invocation to the Gods open to individual interpretation. It’s not something I would have written, but it worked.

The main working was a rite to reawaken the wildness in ourselves. There was grain to throw in a triple fire, to cast off what was holding us back. There was music playing, and people playing along with drums and rattles. I had a small part in the ritual so I had been shooting pictures, but I put the camera down, made my offerings to the fires, then started moving around the circle.

Beltane 2016 16

It wasn’t long before the presence of a certain Forest God (who is never far away) became intense… and He wasn’t interested in dealing with a dignified Druid. I let go. As did several others. We danced, shouted, and threw more doubts and fears into the fire.

It felt good, and right, and powerful.

After the ritual was over, six people joined our group. As best I can remember, that’s a record for one evening. All of them had been to our events before – this convinced them they want to be a part of Denton CUUPS.

I don’t know if any of our new members are polytheists. As a CUUPS officer, it’s not my job to “convert” them to polytheism. It’s my job to listen to why they’re here, what they hope to learn and do, and then help them find the path that calls to them. If that’s something resembling my polytheistic Druidry, great. If it’s traditional witchcraft, great. If it’s classical occultism or any other Pagan path, that’s great too. As I’ve said many times, there is no creedal test to dance the Maypole, and in CUUPS there never will be.

To my friends who are tired, sick, or overloaded: I hear your silence. Your active, vibrant presence is missed, but it’s never expected. Remember you have a place in our community, and Gods who thought enough of you to call you to Their service. Do what you need to do, and ask for the help you need.

May you be well, and may our community continue to learn and grow in the Way of the Gods.

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