30 August 2015

Scary Gods

In recent days I've come to the conclusion that a lot of people don't really know what to do with scary deities.  When I say scary deities I mean Gods that are generally known for being harsh, deceptive, dangerous, petty, violent, or even cruel.  As someone who works, almost exclusively, with scary deities I have rather strong feelings about how these deities should be treated by those that want to work with them. 

This whole thought process was kicked off last month at Many Gods West.  I went to an amazing workshop called "Winning the War," presented by Sobekneferu.  The presentation was about looking at deities whose stories are told by their antagonists and how that has skewed our perceptions of them.  The main ideas boiled down to the necessity of being aware of the cultural filters through which the stories of the old Gods have been passed down to us.  A lot of the villains in our mythologies were actually the Gods of cultures that were antagonistic to the ones that told the stories, and thus were demonized - often for political reasons.  For example, I work with Cailleach who is the rather nasty Goddess of winter and death in Celtic mythology.  However, looking deeper into her history one finds that she was actually the predominant Goddess of an earlier Celtic culture that was conquered by the one whose stories have come down to us.  By being aware of this one can better approach her as she really is (blunt, decisive, unforgiving, but also protective and loving in her own way), rather than as she is often perceived (cruel, nasty, and petty).  As you might imagine, this particular presentation really resonated with me and it's been percolating in my brain ever since.

Since then I've observed some interesting and slightly troubling things about the way some of the folks I've encountered work with such deities.  I've noticed that we Pagans just love to reclaim things that have been shunned by others.  Maybe it's because Pagans and polytheists of various shades tend to be outsiders and misfits to varying degrees, but if something is rejected by "the majority" we tend to pick it up, buff it to a high shine, and make it our own.  In and of itself there's nothing wrong with that, but when it's done without any discernment as to why that thing was rejected or feared in the first place we tend to get ourselves into trouble. 

Some scary deities are scary because their antagonists made them look way scarier than they really are; other scary deities were demonized by their antagonists but are also genuinely dangerous to work with if you're not careful.  A few years ago I went to a ritual that called upon Kali as the great, kind mother who gives succor to us all.  Now, I don't know what version of Kali these folks were working with - but the Kali I know would smack me right in the mouth if I ever neutered her ferocity.  Some deities have earned their reputations.  If you want to work with scary Gods go for it, but you need to set up strong boundaries.  Do not call Loki and Eris into a public circle filled with neophytes without laying out some pretty strict ground rules about how you want things to go (and a reasonable belief that you can actually enforce those rules if need be).  Just because they aren't the abject evil that they're often made out to be doesn't mean they're not gonna wreak havoc upon the unwise and then laugh their godly asses off.  By all means work with scary deities, but don't think that just because somebody badmouthed them that they're really just fluffy kittens with spiked collars.

It really all boils down to this: do your homework before working with scary deities.  Some of them are really quite lovely when you get to know them, others will be utterly terrifying no matter how much they like you (and some are much, much scarier if they like you...trust me on this one).  Take the time to get to know the mythology; learn where the myths came from; think; use your common sense.  Be cautious and take reasonable precautions before trying to work with deities with bad reputations. 

I've had some of the most rewarding spiritual experiences of my life working with very frightening deities.  No, they were not as mean or spiteful as most of their myths would make you think, but they were still scary and would have no problem putting me down like a dog if I pissed them off.  Many, if not most, scary deities did something to earn at least part of their reputation.  Don't demonize a deity just because one faction thinks they're evil, but don't neuter them into benevolent balls of love and light either.  Deities are complex beings with long histories that can be seen from many different viewpoints.  Be respectful of their complexities.  Take the time to really get to know a deity before calling on it.  You'll rarely be sorry that you took the time to know what you were getting yourself into before hand, but you might really regret the lack of that preparation.   

TL;DR - Don't be an idiot.  Do your homework before working with scary Gods.

28 August 2015

Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride 2015

Yes folks, this weekend is Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride 2015!  It's going to be an amazing weekend and I am presenting both days.

  • Saturday 8/29 at 3pm "Conflict Resolution for Magickal Communities"
  • Sunday 8/30 at 2pm "Pop-Up Ritual"
For folks who are unable to attend or just want a little more information on these workshops I am posting the basic information below.

Conflict Resolution for Magickal Communities

Identifying positions vs. underlying interests.
  • Positions are a person's assertion of opinion about what they want.
  • Positions are often "my" statements. E.g. "My way is 'x'" or "I need you to do 'y'."
  • Underlying interests are the needs and desires that motivate people. E.g. Safety or validation.
  • Ask "why"? If there is more than one possible answer to "why do you want that?," then that is not the underlying interest - it's a position.

Check your understanding.
  • If you want to be listened to, you must be willing to listen.
  • Make sure you really understand what is being said - don't assume.
  • Reflect back, paraphrase, and ask if you got it right.
  • Restate what appear to be the most important points to the speaker, not what is important to you.

Validate and respect emotions without buying into them.
  • The experience of emotion is always valid and genuine, even if the reasons they are being experienced doesn't seem to be.
  • Empathize with the speaker's experience, but remain objective.
  • Excessive buy-in (over identification) clouds judgment.
Pop-Up Ritual

The purpose of Pop-Up Ritual is to be a flexible and responsive alternative to formal planned ritual. The point is not to replace formal ritual, but to supplement it and to hone your ritual skills so that you can adapt when things don't go as planned.

  • Know 3-5 different ritual formats from different traditions
  • Keep a Ritual Toolkit
    • Items that represent elements, dieties, spirits, etc.
    • LED candles
    • Smokeless incense, cleansing spritzes, salt water, etc.
    • Duct tape
    • Other fun items that you find inspiring
  • Have a collection of ritual appropriate poetry, evocations, incantations, etc.
  • Have a variety of ritual music on an MP3 player and a set of wireless speakers
  • Be proficient in several quick and dirty magickal techniques that can be deployed in a ritual setting and performed by a group including novices
    • It can help to have a mechanism on standby for the most common magickal needs: healing, prosperity, protection, devotions, etc.
 Before the Ritual
  • Know your attendees
    • What traditions are represented in your participants?  
    • What belief systems? 
    • How able are they?
      • If you've got several attendees with movement impairment, perhaps a spiraldance is not the best idea.  
      • Have you accounted for any sight or hearing impaired attendees?  Etc.
    • Ask them if you're not sure
  • Ask if anyone has any pressing magickal needs
    • If several people have sick relatives it might be time for a healing ritual, if many people are concerned about wildfire then perhaps a weather working would be best, etc.
  • Once you've decided on a goal for your ritual ask if anyone has a particular technique they'd like to use to achieve it
    • Your attendees are your best resource.  Let them be as active participants as they'd like to be (within reason).
During the Ritual
  •  Be flexible
    • Weather, bystanders, and sometimes participants can throw a monkey wrench in your plans.  If one plan seems to go off the rails, just go with another idea.  
  • Pay attention to your participants
    • Your ritual isn't just for you - keep an eye on participant energy levels, attention, and of course safety.  Adapt accordingly.
  • Have fun
    • Ritual is supposed to be enjoyable and satisfying.  Don't take yourself too seriously and allow things to unfold (within the bounds of safety, sanity, and reasonable timing).
After the Ritual
  • Be sure to ground!
  • Set up social time to allow participants to decompress
  • Get feedback from participants.  How else are you supposed to get better?

A previous post on Pop-Up Ritual