Recently I was browsing the good Sannion’s blog, and he mentioned something about a polytheist meme that one of his colleagues had posted. Turns out, Galina Krasskova over at Gangleri’s Grove had posted a type of questionnaire to help with interfaith and cross-tradition discussion, specifically to “get the ball rolling” on discussing our own paths and practice. I thought it was a fascinating set of questions, so I decided to try my hand at answering them for myself. These types of probing questionnaires are nearly always helpful to clarify one’s own situation and view thereof, and this was no exception. While Galina is writing a full post for each answer to her 24 questions, I contented myself by condensing them to simple paragraphs unless necessary.
As I read it, Galina’s questionnaire was probably intended more for people in traditions with set names, such as “Asatru” or “Hellenismos”. I don’t really fall into any one category; I work with the Greek gods and am a priest of Hermes, and I work with the saints and angels of God and perform devotion to God as well as the Logos and the Pneuma. My work as a ceremonial Hermetic magician only complicates matters further, so I’m really sorta winging it in my life on my own amalgamating Hermetic path. That said, this gives me all the more reason to try to answer these questions for myself.
- What wealth have the divinities brought into your life?
Oh jeez. The love of my life, a stable job with good pay, continued health, safe travels and journeys, abundant knowledge, good friends, an understanding and loving family that knows to give me space and distance, protection and safety, skill in crafting and engineering (software and otherwise)…it’s hard to list them all. I attribute what successes I have to the gods or to my talent (itself given by the gods) or to my friends (themselves led to me and I to them by the gods). What poverty and paucity I have is from not living my life right according to the gods, or misusing my talents in ways that the gods never intended me to.
- What does your tradition do to increase the power and flow of blessings?
Prayer, right living and right mindsets, ritual to come to know the gods, sacrifice to please the gods, vows and offerings to exchange work with the gods, meditation to know what’s truly a blessing and what’s not or to know what I should ask for and what I shouldn’t ask for, and the like.
- How have the divinities helped you in times of adversity and violent upheaval?
I can’t really say that they have, only because my life has been blessedly free of upheaval. What troubles I have, the gods preserve me with consolation, comfort, and talking things through; they give me aid and luck when I need it, and direction and strength if I call upon it. They’re kind to me, and I honor them for that. My life has been exceedingly lucky at just the right times, just when I need the help, and I thank them by living my life well and making good and proper use of the help they give me. In doing so, this keeps my life free from adversity and upheaval as much as possible, living the life I’m supposed to live and how I’m supposed to live it. The trials they give me are never more than I can bear, and they either exhort me to action or offer me the advice I need to surpass them. I have not yet been through a time when the gods have forsaken me, and I pray I never do.
- What are some of the ways that you communicate with the divinities?
Divination, oracular media, watching for omens, prayer, and simply chatting with them as I would any dear and respected friend. Sometimes they’re always with me and able to communicate; sometimes I have to go to an altar or a shrine where their power is focused enough to communicate clearly. Sometimes I have to go through ritual in order to access them; sometimes I can ping them with a mere thought and they reply. Depends on the spirit.
- If you could travel anywhere on pilgrimage where would it be and what would you do?
Probably Mt. Kyllini in Western Corinth, Greece, birthplace of Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia. I’d like to go mountain climbing there, perhaps find a cave where I can make some offerings in privacy, take some dirt or vines for the place for use in devotional tools and offerings back home, and get a good meal from local restaurants.
- What does it feel like when one receives inspiration from the divinities?
It may not feel like much at all, really. Physically it might be felt like an uncharacteristic gleam in the eye, a sudden temperature change in the body, or a short blackout when suddenly you’re buying something you had no plans to purchase. Mentally, it might feel like a thought or good idea popping into the head, or a dim recollection of something you never knew you witnessed.
- What offerings do you make in your tradition and why?
Depends on the spirit being offered something, really. I always light at least one candle, no matter who I’m offering something to, and almost always burn incense pleasing to the spirit (heather for Dionysus, frankincense for the angels, patchouli for the ancestors, etc.). Burnt offerings have always been held in high esteem, and it takes something firmly out of this world and gives it entirely to the spirits; it’s an efficient way to do sacrifice. Beyond that, I generally make offerings of alcohol, such as wine to the gods or rum to the ancestors, since these are volatile substances with a good spiritual kick in them (in several senses of the word). Devotional acts are also common, such as helping to pick up litter when performing a devotion to land spirit or acts of charity in the name of the saints, since it helps me make a change in the world using my own power and means when material offerings aren’t as needed. Whatever’s asked of me that I can give, I give; generally the spirits don’t ask for anything that would put me in too dire of harm, but when they say “jump”, it’s extraordinarily rare for me to ask anything else besides “how high”.
- What methods of inducing altered states of conscious does your tradition have?
Hm…the two main sources for this in my practice are the Christian-Hermetic tradition and the more blatantly pagan one. In the former, choices are limited: fasting, meditation, and prayer can help build up to a state of ecstasy, though it can be slow-going at times. In the latter, pretty much anything goes, though a loosening of the mind is most easily achieved with wine or rum (or gin). There’s really nothing stopping me here from using drugs or states of trance obtained through relaxation, so anything goes so long as it works. I personally prefer a light buzz from wine or rum along with good-tasting tobacco. I’ve also noticed that drumming has a more powerful effect on me than I thought it would, so anything with a good and steady and (most importantly) loud beat can get me up and out easily, including a 4/4 timed dance song heavy on the bass.
- How does your tradition handle wrathful, savage and destructive divinities?
My first inclination is to reply “carefully”, but who am I kidding? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was straight-up known for being a volcano unfortunately-underendowed Canaanite plains storm god who made a habit out of flooding the world and cursing those who dared eat a banana the wrong way. The apple didn’t far fall from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, either, with his son Jesus, who threw fits in public spaces and chased after economists with whips (which I find kinda endearing) and publicly mocked his followers for being dimwitted idiots (which didn’t change much after the Transfiguration and sending upon of the Holy Spirit). Dionysus, the good cousin to Jesus, had his epithets and images of the bull for a reason, and being the son of another thunder-god definitely knew how to cause chaos and turmoil where he went (and not in the orgiastic and ecstatic way, either). Honestly, the best way to deal with these types of divinities is to either not work with them at all and treat them as facts of life that must be worked with respectfully and honorably instead of conquered, or to placate them when possible and give them restraint and discipline. Mars in Orphic and Roman religion, after all, was both a god of war and a god of agriculture, using steel for swords as well as plows, and by propitiating him with good times (Venus and Bacchus, who could turn that down with sexy-strong Mars?), he would lay down the spear to aim for “gentle works” instead. Wrathful gods abound; they have their place, especially when wrath and “tough love” is needed. I’m not opposed to letting wrathful gods have free rein when it’s called for, but once their objective is attained, it’s time to let the wrath go by propitiation and sacrifice and thanksgiving.
- Have you encountered any obstacles as a result of your religion?
Socially, no. I pass as pagan enough in pagan circles, magicky enough in magic circles, and Christian enough in Christian circles. One of my friends has commented that I have a type of personality and energy behind me that “delightfully meshes with but not of any particular force or religion”. When it comes to devotion, it’s all a matter of fulfilling my duties to my gods and my calling; sometimes it can be difficult, but they’re never insurmountable. Mostly these things involve me going out of my way to show them my devotion, doing something extra besides the usual offering of wine and honor. Of course, wine and candles and incense and altar gifts add up over time financially, but I make enough money where it’s just another expense that I live with contentedly like I would rent or a phone bill.
- What blocks to devotion have you had to overcome?
Time constraints, primarily. Faith is easy, and experimentation too. I don’t need massive funds to maintain my work; a cup of wine here and there, a candle lit, and incense sweetening the airs is all I need to buy, and I can do my devotions on my bed as well as I can any full temple.
- What sort of festivals, memorials or seasonal observances do you keep throughout the year?
Plenty. Primarily, the monthly ritual to Hermes I do on the fourth of the lunar month. I try to do a lunar ritual on the night of the Full Moon if the sky is clear, and a star ritual on the night of the New Moon likewise, but if the weather is bad, I skip it and wait for the weather to be clear on the following month. A few feast days here and there I hold extra prayers or offerings on, but nothing really tied much to the seasons.
- Have you ever found it difficult to uphold your end of a bargain with the divinities?
Not really. What bargains I make, I make sure I can pay off, and I work out my terms of payment with the gods ahead of time before I agree to anything. The only issues I have are with timing, such as vowing to offer a bottle of wine on the day of my return from a trip but being too tired to actually do so; in these cases, I simply pay off the vow when I can and ask if there’s anything I can do to make up for the lost time. Beyond that, though, the gods haven’t asked me (yet?) for anything not in my reach or ability.
- What role does mystery play in your tradition?
Many magicians follow the four rules of the Sphinx: to know, to dare, to will, to keep silent. that final part is about mysteries, things that one has to be initiated into in order to fully understand and reap the benefits of. Most of what I do would, technically, be considered a mystery: the initiations of the planets and elements and the stars, K&CHGA, knowing the abodes of the gods, and the like. Anything that is not apparent, anything esoteric is a mystery, and must be worked towards and into. To simply read or be told of something is just to know about it, but to live and experience it is to be initiated into the mystery. Some things I cannot know or do since I am not initiated into these things; if I’m to know or do them, I seek the initiation, like being baptized first before taking Christian communion or receiving an empowerment before reciting a particular Vajrayana mantra. Initiations and mysteries go hand-in-hand, if not the same hand itself, so it’s pretty important. Plus, if one doesn’t respect initiations and tries to go ahead and do something in the mystery anyway, that only leads to bad, at best cultural appropriation and at worst utter ruin due to hubris.
- What methods does your tradition employ for protection and the warding off of malign influences?
The general rule I’ve found, no matter what tradition I look at, is that no matter how big something coming at you may be, always call on something bigger to come at it. Whether it’s calling on the Almighty to protect one from demons, Typhon-Set to bully the gods into a certain action, or a powerful angel to keep one safe at night, asking for the help of those you work with is the first thing you do. Having an extra set of eyes and hands to watch and guard your back in a world and life where everything is both seen and unseen, front-facing and backwards, is the most useful thing you can do. Building up power on your own and exercising it (daily energy work and physical training), relying on the world around us to protect ourselves (secure locks and strong oils), and the like are also vital to one’s protection. Banishing and cleansing are regular things I do for my living and work area, and I frequently keep up on my offerings to sweeten and propitiate the spirits I work with to keeping me and mine safe, as well as to put a good word in with the other spirits of the cosmos that I’m a cool guy and other spirits should be cool with me.
- What devotional goals have you set for yourself?
Speaking abstractly, more work and action. I’m here to do my work, to do the magic, so to do anything else unrelated to that is me not doing my job. More specifically, I try to learn more about the gods I work with and engage in a deep, ecstatic relationship with those that are proper, or learn about the arts and skills and dedications of their crafts, or facilitate their influences and powers where they’re needed in the world. Even more specifically, this boils down to listening to the gods more, studying more about practices to them both ancient and new, and involving them in every aspect of my life where they’re called for. The converse of this is to get off my ass more, stop dicking around so much on the computer, and using my time more efficiently and effectively.
- What qualities should a leader in your tradition possess?
Spiritually cool (clear-headed, not impulsive, unbiased, respectful, humble), able to communicate effectively (well-spoken and well-written), learned and educated in a wide variety of subjects both spiritual and material, experienced in ritual and crafting, able to improvise, possessing a strong memory, compassionate and empathic (able to deescalate tense situations, crisis manager, understanding of personal issues, perceptive). Just a few things I’d consider important.
- What does fertility mean to you?
Being able to produce anything from oneself. Being a gay man with absolutely no interest in childbearing or childrearing (I would like a child one day, deep-fried), I don’t really have much to contribute to humanity or my family in means of bringing in new humans to the world, the mass of which I’m not a fan of generally. However, there’s a lot more to creation than mere procreation, and Venus (the planet of both) runs very strong in me. Writing, drawing, painting, woodcrafts, smithing, jewelry making, carving, engineering, code development, calligraphy, and the like are all things that require innovation and power to bring into the world; in each case, you’re making something new where there was nothing before. This is the true meaning of being a creator, just as Hermes Trismegistus has prayed: “o light of mind…o life of life…of womb of every creature…o womb pregnant with the Father’s nature…o eternal permanence of the begetting Father”. We all are capable of creating, and we all are capable of being filled with creation; even the most barren and infertile earth can be used to make clay. How we express that fertility, however, depends on our own inclinations, and not everyone is meant for human children.
- How do you incorporate movement into your worship?
Not much. I might make some ritual gestures here and there, such as those for the elements or the planets, or kneel with arms orans before an altar. For other rituals, I might acknowledge the four corners by turning and greeting them, or draw out circles in the around. At free-standing shrines or monuments, I like to circumambulate them clockwise in respect several times before proceeding with anything more. Dancing doesn’t have a large part in my spiritual work, or at least not yet.
- Does your religion help you to be a better human being?
Yes, but how depends on your notion of “human being”. To me, a true human (in the vein of Herbert’s Bene Gesserit) is someone who is fully aware of where they come from, where they’re going, and the divinity within them and in all other things; you can call this a bodhisattva, a prophet, a sanctus/a/um, Ipsissimus, whatever. This requires gnosis and full self-divinity that can only be realized through the Logos and the spiritual transformation that it delivers, but whether that Logos is given through Dionysus or Hermes or Christ or Buddha Shakyamuni is irrelevant, since they all give Logos in their own logoi. Being a “better human being” (kinder, more compassionate, more self-aware, more peaceful, etc.) follows as a result from that.
- Have you ever had dreams or visions sent by the divinities?
Very rarely. Dreams are usually not my thing, and between having shoddy dream memory to begin with as well as not having enough time to sleep comfortably regularly, dreams are generally a poor way to contact me. Visions, on the other hand, are another thing; I’ll often be taken on vision-walks or impromptu scrying sessions when I’m at the altars of the gods or saints, and they’ll show me fascinating things that are often highly pertinent to what I’m doing in my life. Something out-of-the-blue that overwhelms me, though, hasn’t occurred yet.
- What customs are associated with the home and family in your tradition?
Not much. I was raised in a mostly areligious household with very faint Jewish leanings, and we celebrated Chanukkah and Christmas (the latter more for family with no mention of religion). We didn’t do anything else in my family.
- When did it first dawn on you that the divinities are real?
I can’t remember time when I didn’t think they were real. I’ve always had a magical perspective on the world, and the existence of spirits was just a piece to the puzzle that fit in quite nicely early on. As for my own divinities, I pretty much accepted their existence as a truth and fact as I studied the old myths and stories, just as the ancients might’ve. There was plenty of discovery once I really opened myself up to them, but their existence and reality was pretty much never in question.
- What have you inherited from your ancestors?
Besides a bunch of antiques and hand-me-down knickknacks (I can hear them getting all huffy as I call them that, nyeh nyeh), my own life. I literally would not exist without my ancestors, their lives, and their works, so I owe my life and existence to my ancestors. This isn’t just those of my blood and kin, but also of my faith and traditions, so I consider my ancestors all those upon whom my life is based: my blood lineage; Hermeticists, Christians, Jews, pagans; Egyptians, Palestinians, Ukrainians, Russians, Greeks, Romans, Italians, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Native Americans; computer scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, astrologers, geomancers, engineers, and so very, very many more. All of my blood in my veins comes from my family; all of my Works come from my traditions; all of my crafts come from my teachers; all of my thoughts come from my philosophies. More than any single ritual, possession, name, or title, the ability and knowledge of the things I do and can do are the most important and valued possessions I have from my ancestors.
Give the questions a try, yourself. Depending on your path (so much use of that word, “depend”), you might need to write more than me or less than me. I’d be excited to see what you guys say about your own work!