Archive for March, 2014

The water that nourishes

Posted: March 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

Sannion wrote, following some discussions we had over whiskeys and cigars here at my new place in the Empire State, about the importance of understanding our roles as guests, and hosts, when we are interacting with the deities and spirits of our traditions. He brings up important pieces often overlooked in our work and discussions, such as the vital significance of the divinities who are not gods or goddesses, such as land-spirits, nymphs, and others.

When we bring [Dionysos] into ritual with us he is essentially our guest. After all, his homes are on Mount Parnassos, Mount Olympos, Mount Nysa and in the underworld as well as all of the temples that have been consecrated to him over the centuries. Even when we give over space in our homes to him by setting up shrines we are still, by default, the owners and maintainers of that property. Setting up a fully functioning temple is an entirely different matter as I’m sure my Thracian Adversary can attest…Therefore as host it is proper that we should demonstrate generosity and devotion as we feast and celebrate him.

This is an important thing that I think a lot of people fail to understand and navigate, primarily because it doesn’t seem to get taught anywhere at all anymore, in either a religious or a mundane context. To name it, we’re discussing hospitality… which is supposedly one of the “big ticket items” in our ancient Polytheisms and Paganisms, and is claimed to be held to in our modern revivals and reconstructions today. And yet, many people struggle with understanding the importance of the foundational concepts such as place, and space, and the importance of non-relative role assignmentwhich in the case of hospitality is assigned not by interpersonal (or even transpersonal) associations, but literally our relationships (or lack thereof!) to the place, space and circumstance in question. I first wrote about this topic in the early winter while reflecting on hospitality of a more human variety, and began to discuss my Polytheism as a relationship with the gods based upon the language and roles of “guestship” and “hostship”. Because a lot of people have their own ideas of what some of these words mean, I want to pause and just reboot the conversation a bit to the basics:

Etymology of “hospitality”

From Old Frenchhospitalite (Frenchhospitalité), from Latinhospitalitas (hospitality), from hospitalis (hospitable), from hospes (guest”, “host). Displaced native Old Englishgiest-líðnys (guestliness), from giest (guest).

Etymology of “guest”

From Middle Englishgest, from Old Norsegestr, replacing Old English ġiest, both from Proto-Germanic*gastiz, from Proto-Indo-European*gʰóstis (stranger, guest, host, someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality).

Etymology of “host”

From Old Frenchoste (French: hôte), from Middle Latinhospitem, accusative of hospes (a host, also a sourjourner, visitor, guest; hence, a foreigner, a stranger), from Proto-Indo-European*gʰóspot- (master of guests), from *gʰóstis (stranger, guest, host, someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality) and*pótis (owner, master, host, husband).

Important to note in the above is the essential interrelatedness of “host” and “guest”. A guest is one who “receives hospitality” whereas a host is one who “receives guests, provides hospitality”, and that these roles are assigned not by the being’s relationship to one another but by their assigned relations to the place or circumstance in question.

If I meet you on the street and we are strangers in “neutral territory”, hospitality does not apply, although other customs of normative behavior and cultured regard for another being certainly will. If, however, you are a stranger to my native city and I, a local who happens upon you with knowledge of your “guestship” in that place, hospitality in a general sense should apply. Certainly if you come to my home, I am your host, and you my guest, not because you are a stranger — for it would be the same if you were a sibling, cousin, elder or deity much beloved! — but because it is my home, and not your home. Indeed, a violation of the reciprocal bonds of hospitality would be if you as guest acted as if the home were your own.

The common expression, “Make yourself at home!” is a misleading and non-literal idiom, in that it can only be uttered from a host to a guest without losing all sense, since if taken literally the guest would then assume hosting responsibilities rather than receiving guesting treatment. It literally means “make yourself comfortable and feel free to forego formal guesting regards”, making it the hospitality equivalent of the military expression “at ease!”, which relates to a position of relaxed stance assumed by a soldier (without moving from place or being given leave to speak). These ideas of formality versus informality are largely lost on our lay culture of couch potatoes and slouchers — the Thracian says while typing from a slouched position reclined into a sea of sheepskins on a hardwood floor, beside an uncorked bottle of whiskey and an emberlit cigar — and yet are essential for understanding the classically intended (and contemporarily essential) concepts of hospitality.

My home is not your home, unless you live here, too. This, then, means that the ancient laws of hospitality are in assumed effect any time that you are present here, without residing here. If you are visiting for a lengthier stay, rather than just a brief visit, it would be reasonable to assume you are to be given your own quarters or space — a guest room, or an office converted to such — in which you can relax from the stresses of hospitality reception and even informal demand. If you are staying in my home, and I cordon off a space for your exclusive use, as such, that space becomes your dedicated space for the agreed upon term of visitation. It would be a violation of my responsibilities of hospitality to enter that space without permission (unless agreements allow for it, such as allowing me access to something stored within that space), and so forth. And, if I enter that space while you are there, I am in a way “your guest”, though you are still my guest in the greater household. It gets complicated.

It is similar with gods and spirits. Sannion continues, from above (emphasis mine):

[W]ith ancestors and land-spirits the situation is reversed – we are coming into their territory as suppliants. In the case of the ancestors we have our whole existence through them – we owe them for the flesh that adorns our bones, the blood that flows through our veins, the traits and culture, the fortune and luck that has been handed down through their line. In the case of the land-spirits they are the place where we build our homes, the soil that produces the food we eat, the water that nourishes and cleanses us and when we go out to the woods or down by the shore of the river or deep beneath the earth in a cave – in these particular places that are unlike any other place on earth – it is them that we are visiting, and we should ever remain mindful of that. As suppliants we should treat our hosts properly and request of them what we desire instead of just greedily taking it. And I think it is proper for a guest to ask a favor of their host for that enhances their stature and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their power. And when applied to spirits, approaching them in such a fashion keeps us mindful of the pervasiveness of their dominion.

We are not John Wayne Cowboys, no matter what our pop-culture Western ideologies might suggest to us as we gaze longingly into our own eyes reflected in the many metaphorical mirrors we raise as edifices to our own grand masturbatory majesty. We are not gunslingers, most of us, and even if we were, the supposed “fierce independence” that is discussed often in literature addressing the modern “cult of the individual” phenomenon, there would still be sanctions and responsibilities levied against (and from) us, and it is the cooperation or rejection of those considerations that would define the expression of individuality. (In other words, to rebel against societal norms, one must first acknowledge that they exist in the first place!)

I have heard urban gardeners supposedly involved in “nature worship religions” ostensibly called Paganism declare that they hold no debt or obligations to the land that they work. They express that their act of tilling soil and planting seeds and harvesting yields from little plotted sections of earth somehow creates an egalitarian relationship of reciprocity and balance and… blah blah blah. Fuck that. If you come into my home and think that marinating a steak you found in my fridge — using marinade you found in my cupboard — somehow entitles you to a sense of independent ownership of said steak, you will quickly find yourself corrected of these assumptions. That the steak is mine to offer or withhold in my home is what makes me a host, and you a guest. If you are a good guest, you might get a good steak; if you are a shitty guest, I’ll fry you some damn eggs and smile just as much while serving it. You’ll still be hosted, but I am under no obligations to pull out the red-carpets for muddy-footed peasants, too ignorant to take off their shoes when they enter my domain. Why should it be any different in the wilds, in the gardens, in the yards, in the forests and in the street where we so ignorantly stomp our feet as we traipse blindly through this world?

We are guests here. That places lawful sanctions and demands against us, things which the spirits of a given place may choose to hold us to strictly — in which case most of us are fucking screwed — or more loosely, as those spirits are our hosts, and they are as possessed of free agency as any other damn or blessed being. At least, it should be assumed, they are as free-willed and autonomous as you.

But often we do not do these things, think these things, acknowledge or move with an awareness of these things. This is shameful, and yet we the shameless masses proceed forward anyway, gayly ignoring the fact that we offend with every footstep through the pristinely imperfected red-carpeted mud of the Earth.

calvin-and-hobbes-christmas-comic-strip-2

 

Sabazios Lives!

Posted: March 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

Hail! Sabazios! Hail! the Serpent-Soldier, who slays Himself! Hail! to the god of the space between all things!

My god Sabazios has been getting all kinds of awesome press this week, and has been present in not a few people’s lives in big and transformative ways recently, in many of His myriad forms.

PSVL shares with us a poetic praise piece:

Serpent Sabazios

Upon his horse, he defeats serpents,
horned and hooded, vipers and pythons,
but upon the earth and within it
he is the Serpent Itself.

He passes, golden, between the breasts
of the initiates, through their hearts,
and emerges below, whether male or female
or neither, from the region of their sexes.

The burrows through the earth he makes
are the trackways to Hades and Tartaros;
the ways he clears through our hearts
are devotion and virtue and good speech.

Thracians have known this for centuries;
Bithynians and Phrygians as well,
Karians and Lykians and far-off Scythians,
Keltoi and Galatians, and even the Greeks.

Through Meroe of Nubia and Egypt,
the Samothracian isles, and ancient Canaan,
through the marbled streets of Rome
and the forests of Gaul and Germania.

From the pristine landscapes of Hyperborea
to the titan-haunted halls of Olympus
the fame of Sabazios as serpent
is older than Chronos and Kairos.

His flitting tongue upon ears
is the beginnings of prophecy;
his venom in the veins
is intoxication and madness;

his coiling around the finger
is mastery of spear and sword;
his trampling underfoot
is the beginning of liberation.

(But is it the hero who tramples him
or is it he who tramples himself?
Only the eyes of a shadow can see it,
can know it with certainty.)

Through the breasts of gods, even,
he has wound his serpentine way…
therefore, for him this day
may offerings and praise be gathered!

 

And over at the Cave of Night we have a piece linking to the above, and praising the God Who Rides in some of his other forms, through Thracian to Samothracian to Phrygian to Egyptian expressions of divine being.

Very soon I will be making some updates to the website that I put up for Him, Sanctus Σαβάζιος, but in the meantime I look fondly on the wooden St. George curio cabinet hanging to the side of this room in my new home, smiling at the image, knowing that it is none other than He who resides within it.

 

Hail! Sabazios!

If Death or Delight

Posted: March 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

To Kotys

by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

 

From the deepest waters your blessings come
from the Baptai who bestow your mysteries;
a great lady, goddess of serpents and songs
who dwells beneath with chthonic kings.

Yours are rites of the senses and sexes
unknown in number, name, or narration;
down steps in a darkened cave they came
to meet you in death in a drowning pool…

But not death, joy in its stead they found
as ecstasy and delight overtook their eyes;
you smiled a serpent’s smile in return
and gave sorrows and sacredness in equal measure.

To you are rites of marriage and conception performed,
your words are prophecy to those who are wise;
the ecstasy of death is a pleasure to your children
when they come to you as you were taken hence.

Strength and peace, Kottyto, I beg of you
to embrace what comes, no matter the fate;
if poison or pestilence, if choking or crushing,
if drowning or debility, if death or delight.

*****

Khaire Kottyto!

Smoke and Hailshowers

Posted: March 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

Back in New England briefly, mobile once more, for equinox tattoo rites and some lighter moving of ritual supplies and antique furniture back to New York. Drove way too many miles today; was on the road for most of the last 12-13 hours… Smoked a cigar in a New Hampshire hailstorm and praised my gods in snow fall. Spring arises, but the reach of Winter is long and its grip firm.

Dreams of torchlit Temples and new beginnings and raven’s wings were the stuff of my coiled serpentine evening, and warm time spent on the road with blessed ally my day.

Its a damn fine Night to be a Polytheist.

Rest in Peace

Posted: March 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

RIP Donald Michael Kraig, author and magician and elder to many many many people in our communities. Please consider donating to help offset the likely staggering medical expenses this year brought to his family, and to help with covering the often equally staggering finances of funerary arrangements and memorials.

We don’t live in a country or time where illness and death are things that can be done on the cheap; please be generous with what you can spare, as these are the sorts of expenses that can pin the loved ones left behind with debt that lasts years. Grief is a natural and sacred and blessed process; debt is not.

I didn’t know Donald well, but we’d met a few times at PantheaCon, and he always recognized and remembered me each successive year, which I was impressed with, given his celebrity. He struck me as a man who genuinely cared, a quality visible clearly in his eyes. Even as he gave lectures and workshops, at least those few that I attended, he had a genuine attentiveness to his audience… not just as “a collective audience”, but to each person who raised their hand or commented or even sat in knowing receptive silence. He looked at them with eyes that saw, and when you’re a presenter who is getting pestered and bothered by so many people at such a frenetic event as PantheaCon, that attentiveness is a noble, noble virtue.

Rest in peace, Donald.

So, last time I talked about shrines and altars and how they’re different sorts of spaces for different purposes, and why it is important and super fucking cool to treat them as such. Now I will discuss two forms of dedicated space in our practices and traditions: shrine-rooms, and Temples.

First, though: I am writing as somebody who built (as in with timber, stone, dirt, tools, and so forth) a Temple which housed my gods for a number of years, which I served (as per the instructions of my gods) as a full-time dedicated Temple Priest. (What that means is that I put roughly 70-90 hours of work into maintaining Temple shrines, procuring and handling offerings at said shrines — there were a lot of them — and performing maintenance, renovation, and changes around the Temple space, facilitating rituals in an active and ongoing way at the behest of my gods, either with other priests or the lay folk who were sent to the Temple, or for the spirits themselves with no other human recognition taking place. I did this in a largely thankless fashion, and not for any recognition or esteem: it is a position steeped in rigorous labor, heightened discipline, profound humility and very little shiny rockstar accolades to motivate you. It is a monastic-esque pursuit, which deletes mundane qualities from your life: no more matinees or days at the park with friends “because you feel the pull to go be social”; what little time you have outside of Temple duties must be divided into mundane self-care (food! bathing! sleeping! sex!) and household affairs (shopping! cleaning up after humans!) and one’s own private devotional practices (which are completely separate from one’s role as a Temple priest.) As Sannion has pointed out repeatedly — he did some Temple service in the past well — for all of the Polytheists and Pagans who bemoan our lack of Temples, very few actually “get” what goes into tending and caring for them. These are not just “kickass places of statues and candles and zomgs social gatherings of hot sexy fellow religionists in flowing robes and strobe lights and fog machines!”, they are the fucking houses of our gods. They are the seat of infinitely complex powers and personalities and the navigating of every single stage of Temple process — from planning and building to maintaining and tending to closing down, if the need arises — is a fucking challenge. And it is one that I gladly took up, and will take up again as soon as I can do so in a good and clean way.

It is NOT my intent to write here a fully scholarly piece, nor is this constructed with citations and references. I do a tremendous amount of research, I own a personal library weighing in at over five-thousand pounds, and I am not a professional academic, nor is it my intent or interest at this time in contributing to the academic field. Others, such as PSVL or Galina Krasskova, who are more deeply entrenched in professional academia, may well wish to offer up the disciplined tones and writings from their respective fields. I am writing as a professional Temple Priest, as a spirit-worker with decades of experience getting swatted around by gods and spirits and learning, very often the hard and painful way, the ins and outs of this shit. I don’t speak as the voice or authority for all of Polytheism, nor am I writing for an audience that already has an established tradition or lineage which has solid, traditional definitions and structures for dealing with these issues. (Which is to say, if you’re part of Tradition-X or whateverthefuck, and you disagree with something I say here? That’s fine. I’m not talking about your tradition. I’m talking about foundational elements and navigational structures which are relevant for people who do not have such a structured tradition at this time, or who may not find themselves welcome or interested in your path.) I’m not trying to dictate what is or isn’t an existing temple in Tradition-X; these are my views, based on years and years of full-time training, study, service, labor and experience.

Before we go further, though, please — if you haven’t already — read Part I of this series on shrines and altars. I feel that it is an important place to begin. Done? Cool. So we know that a shrine is a space wherein a deity or spirit or person or event has been enshrined, versus an altar which is generally a surface for actively doing shit, like devotion or sacrifice. Awesome. Now, from there, I’d like to define what a shrine room is, prior to more deeply addressing the subject of Temples, Temple priesting, and the confusing hybrid term, Temple room. Shrine rooms are relatively easy to define.

A shrine room is a room — gasp! — or an otherwise clearly and physically delineated space (e.g. one that is fully curtained or partitioned off from a greater space, in a non-abstract and physical fashion) which is dedicated exclusively to the devotional practices associated with the shrines which are contained within it. Big leap there, definition wise, no? But let’s parse that out a little bit. A shrine is a space used for enshrining something. A shrine room is a space for containing shrines in a dedicated fashion. That means that a shrine room is not “also a TV room” or “a dining room on Sundays” or “a kitchen, er, because.. hearth..” or “where I store my children’s outgrown clothes! in boxes!”, or “the place I put houseguests so I don’t have to give up my bed when they visit”. A shrine room is a space dedicated exclusively to shrines. There are a few basic exceptions to shit that can get done in a shrine room, beyond holding shrines: obviously anything meant to tend or nourish or engage those shrines is okay, as are festivals or rituals (or altar workings) appropriate to the space and company of those enshrined. Treat each shrine as, at the very least, a window through which that given deity or spirit or collective might be peering through at any given time, and then make sure that what you’re doing in that space you’ve dedicate to Them and Their shrines will not offend. Veil or curtain shrines as needed in order to do certain types of things that those spirits don’t want to see, or will be offended by. Bam. Done. Shrine room in a nut shell. Don’t fuck about, and you should be fine.

There are other kinds of dedicated shrine spaces, like large outdoor shrine complexes (still not Temples!) and they are similar to the kit and process above.

Sometimes shrine spaces have attached shrine priests — not Temple priests, mind, though there’s a lot of overlap in duties, especially in the sense that holy shit there is duty and responsibility involved in that job, because it is a fucking job, not a hobby — and those priests will be responsible for following protocols assigned by either their traditions/lineages or the gods and spirits themselves. Protocols may include the cycles of offerings (and the treatment of “spent offerings” previously given, such as ash or dried fruit or poured libations) for each of the deities enshrined, or navigating issues of purity (if somebody comes to the shrines who is unclean, or behaves offensively). A shrine priest is responsible for everything that happens in that shrine room, period, and that shit is important. Because when you invite the gods into a dedicated space in this way, you are not inviting them into your home — as in an integrated shrine, which might live on a bookcase or atop a breakfast nook — but instead you are giving them their own space in a dedicated and presumably semi-permanent fashion.

If you invite me over to your home to hang out and play some Nintendo and eat some fucking raviolis or whatever the fuck, and you say “Hey, you can throw your coat and bag in the side-room over there and grab a seat on the couch”, that doesn’t make either the side-room or the couch mine. They’re your spaces, used for mixed/integrated purposes, which in this instance include holding my crap and giving me a comfy place to park my road-weary Thracian self. But if instead you invited me into your home to take up residence for a while, say six months or so while I was in the area doing a bunch of sacred work, the space you give me becomes mine for that time. Not in the “I own it, anything goes!” sort of way; there are still agreements and conditions around that occupancy. But you can’t just come in and use that space to hook up with a particularly fashionable bus-driver you met on the way home, because, fuck, those are my sheets. You dick. See what I mean? If you came into a room you’d given me, absent particular agreements/arrangements around that (e.g. your art supplies are still stored in the closet there, and so you have obvious need to access them within reasonable hours/circumstances) it would be a violation. I’d still be a guest in your home, but within that dedicated space, I’d be the host; a specific kind of host, who was still also a guest. Layers and layers, my friends, this whole hospitality thing.

See how that works?

Yeah, it is like that with a shrine room. The house is still yours, but when you put the gods up in a dedicated and contained way like that, you’re making pretty literal agreements and normative contracts with them for the duration of that arrangement. Violation of that shit is a violation of hospitality — which is a really fucking big deal in these traditions and ways of being and living! — and therefore an extreme violation of piety, of devotion, of duty to the gods (as a lay person, as a devotee, as host…) and so on.

So, shrine rooms? They’re important. They’re challenging. You don’t just give up a space in your house to the gods and spirits — although that is the bare minimum for consideration as such a space! — but you take on a specific set of responsibilities, obligations, duties, and disciplined — if organic and sometimes adapting — roles in serving Them, hosting Them, and in turn being a guest in Their space when you step inside. Like a housekeeper at a hotel, your “authority” over that space ended the moment that the deity’s occupation of it began: you are a humble service provider to them at that point, and will remain such, changing sheets and removing garbage and keeping it to Their liking, until such a time as that term of divine occupancy ends. When you’re bringing other people into the shrine room for worship or offerings, your role shifts: now you’re the butler, not the housekeeper, and your job is to be in charge of the guest (granting you authority over the guest, as a “speaker for the place”; but your authority comes with responsibility for their actions, behaviors, piety and so forth). There isn’t anything willy-nilly about this.

So what is a Temple, then, amongst all of these definitions and terms and duties and dedications?

That’s a good question. Let’s begin with a little look at the etymology — though hopefully by now my readers know that I don’t neurotically prescribe to ancient etymologies that have long been applied in a scholarly fashion to cultures not originally part of that definable paradigm — of the word “temple”.

It comes to us from the Latin word “templum”, which refers not to a structure itself, but to specially sanctified, ritually determined and oracularly laid out grounds and boundaries which will contain the structure (which we refer to as a “temple” in English). So, the root of a temple is not a building or physical container, but a boundaried and dedicated space, which would house the structure: this space is determined not by mundane logistics (e.g. “I have a yard! It is 30×30 ft! My temple will go THERE!”) or by financial logistics (e.g. “I HAVE A BILLION DOLLARS I WILL BUY THAT MOUNTAIN AND MAKE IT A TEMPLE COMPLEX!!11!!1!”) or by social/communal need (e.g. “Zomgs, we NEED a TEMMPLLEEE!!!! And by need we really mean want, like, really really want, with boners and stuff…”) or by a need for social/community attentions (e.g. “I saw a Kevin Costner film about corn and balls and shit, and if I build it [a temple] they [a community or some friends I don’t presently have…] will come [all over me]”), but rather by the gods and spirits themselves, as interpreted and consulted by professional and highly trained specialists.

That’s right. Specialists. With training. And professional occupations doing this sort of thing. Not folks with random Tarot decks or precious gemstone runes they bought at Border’s going-out-of-business sale, or some kiddie that really likes to poke scat with a stick and spit out esoteric sounding shit to get the cute boys down the street to pay attention to him and his stick, but actual disciplined professionals with a specialization in exactly this sort of work. (When I built my Temple, I consulted a publicly available spirit-ridden trance-possessory oracle, in addition to many many many layers of divination, performed by myself and other specialists, to determine the specifics and particulars of my Temple, and even if I was permitted to build it at all in the place/circumstances I was presently in. Note: I am a specialist, a highly trained professional, a full-time dedicated priest and spirit worker, and I still consulted other specialists, because no single person “wears all the hats” and has vision for “all the things”.)

Then the construction of the Temple happens. In my opinion — and I admit that this is just my view here — simply dedicating an existing space “as a temple” is not “enough”. Nor is simply calling in divine forces and opening the space to the Other worlds, and the divine places where the gods and spirits dwell, although all of those things must happen, too. (An exception to this would be Temples which are meant to be temporary, such as the Temple of the Morrigan at PantheaCon 2014, or a battlefield Temple erected in a tent to serve the needs of soldiering devotees in times and campaigns of war and military conflict.) A Temple must be raised in some way, and as the timbers, stones, screws, nails, tacks, mortar, or thatched roofing is assembled it is done with the sole intent and purpose of building a fucking house for the fucking gods. This involves prayers. It involves offerings — you think you’re going to build a solid Temple without making offerings to the gods who govern things like building, making, crafting, joining, hammering, cutting…? — and it involves blessings (who wants a Temple made of wood, when it can be a Temple made of blessed wood?) and all of the rites and complex workings and practices are probably going to be ultra-specific to the Powers and pantheons prescribing the process. Because that’s the thing: Temples aren’t built because humans say so, they’re built because the fucking gods say so, and they are built to Their specifications, on Their schedules.

So what makes a Temple different than a shrine room, other than being “built” and having all that (very very important preliminary ritual stuff) going on in the beginning? Well, for starters, a Temple is fucking alive, in my experience as a modern spirit-worker, Temple priest, and roguish Polytheanimist… a Temple is as alive as the gods that it will contain and house, and as literal a being as any spirit. Oh, what, you didn’t think places had spirits? They do. Tartaros, for example, “as far below Hades as Hades is below the Heavens”, as the brazen anvil falls, is both a primordial god and a motherfucking place. He/it are both “deity” and “Otherworldly place”. A Temple is like that: it is a place, but it is in its birthing/conception process also a category of spirit which is largely left unconsidered in our modern practices and religious endeavors. Sometimes the spirit of a Temple is older than the Temple itself, and is an expression of a greater place outside of this world, or even an expression of a specifically dedicated deity within that Temple, while other times it is an entirely new spirit birthed in the ritual process of constructing and fabricating and consecrating the Temple.

The bottom line is that a Temple is a specific thing. A vital thing. A breathlessly, words-are-not-sufficient-at-all sort of thing of pronounced import and severe relevance. But they are also a LOT of work. They come with instructions, sure, but sometimes you really need to search for what those specific protocols and practices are, by asking or just paying close attention as you serve as a priest: sometimes the processes and protocols will be learned over time by fucking up and pissing off the gods who patron that Temple, or by engaging in error with the Temple itself. A Temple Priest is a dedicated full-time position which carries with it very very specific roles and responsibilities, which carry all of that which a shrine-priest must do, plus a whole lot more, because Temples must be woven into festival process and must hold mysteries and for fucks sake they are alive.

And, in my opinion, a Temple is a place of sacrifice. Generally of the bloody variety. You want a place of worship or congregation? Throw up a household shrine or buy some park benches and get a keg of ale. A Temple is a commitment to bend yourself daily, hourly, minute-by-minute to the whim and will of the gods housed within, because that is what you’ve agreed to do by building and tending a Temple, and that will eventually (and in my opinion MUST eventually if not regularly) include sacrifice, of the sort and sundry preferred by and requested by the gods and spirits housed within.

A Temple is not a Protestant Congregation Hall, nor a Parish house, nor a place for meet-ups, mash-ups, hook-ups (well, actually…) or socializing as a community. In fact, lay folk have virtually no reason to ever enter a Temple, except for specific rites, most of which would actually happen outside of a Temple. Who goes in, then? The fucking gods. And the priests who serve them, in a specialized, professional, dedicated fashion.

If your vision of a modern Temple involves a lot of people gathering around inside and buzzing like clubbers at the AWE AND AWESOME of the gods and the TOTALLY RAD space you fucking spunked out into the world, sorry kids, you’re picturing a warehouse rave, not a Polytheist temple.

That isn’t to say that sacred congregations or raving or clubbing or spunking is remotely bad or wrong or not a part of religion. Those are totally all fucking great. Just not at a Temple. Because meanings and things. Those things happen elsewhere, even if they are in celebration of a god or calendric holy day.

So, shrine room: a dedicated space inside of and integrated with a more mundane environment, which is set apart from mundane household things in order to contain shrines in a dedicated fashion, as tended to by a shrine priest (informally or otherwise: if you build it, and don’t assign another shrine priest, you’re it, kids). Temple: very specifically dedicated place whose location, boundaries, protocols and construction is overseen and dictated by the words and will and whim of the gods, which is possessing of an independent spirit itself, which is not for lay folk or general worship at an interior level.

What about a temple room? This is a term I’ve heard thrown around, and have even used myself in several contexts: I would say that it could be a shrine room which is in some way assembled by the will of the gods, moreso than by household logistics, but is still a shrine room rather than a Temple. I would consider it to be a sub-category of shrine rooms. I would also say that its function is meant to mirror that of a Temple proper, meaning that those tending to it do something resembling formal Temple rites and services (such as sacrifice?) again without it meeting the necessary (and specific) requisites of being a true Temple.

There’s no value judgment between integrated household shrines, dedicated shrine rooms, temple rooms, and Temples: these are three or four different types of things, which serve different purposes and each make more or less sense in different circumstances. Period.

I will probably want to return to this topic — specifically about Temples — more at a later time. For now, though, this is just an intro piece for how a Temple and a shrine room are different. Now fuck off, I need more coffee; Irish, this time.

So, I am really fucking tired. Like, I can barely lift my arms, tired. I have bruises on parts of my body I forgot existed, a few poorly broken bones (I’ll try harder next time) and more than one or two torn-and-or-frayed tendon type things, from moving into this new home. My shoulders gave out two week ago (but I couldn’t afford to acknowledge that…) and my knees started locking up again yesterday (after obediently shutting the fuck up for a week and a half or so), and my hips are pretty much done being points of articulation for a while. (Thankfully, the other day I found a nice broad 19th century blackthorn walking cane, with curved rather than cudgel-knobbed hand-rest, which means I can hobble about AND fight some motherfuckers with the best kind of strikes.)

But I digress.

Today I want to write about a topic that has received lots of press all over the place (such as here and here, to show completely random things pulled from Google search results) over the years, and yet still continues to be a point of confusion for some people. The subject of “shrines and altars“, and what one is or isn’t, and the when/whats and so forth seem to still be a source of confusion for many Polytheists, Pagans, and those engaged with various magical traditions. Much of this confusion stems from the use in the post-reformation Christian Church (wherein “altar” is still used, but no long had its original meaning, at least to observers, and so… confusion.)

There is plenty of academic stuff that can be said on this shit, but I have very purposefully crafted my tone here at the Exodus to not have to deal too heavily with academia. Fuck that shit. (Plus, PSVL can probably come up with three thousand words on this subject in a few days to fill you all in from those angles which I just can’t be bothered to.)

The bottom line is that an altar and a shrine are different things. In the Latin language context, there are all kinds of shrines that are also — kind of — altars, for doing things like leaving offerings and burning incense. In the household Polytheist context, absent things like developed intentional architecture and specialized furnishings, fixtures, and wall-niches, I advocate for — and teach — the following differentiations.

A shrine is where you enshrine a being, a deity, a spirit, a person, a hero, or even an event. Example: a shrine to Poseidon might be erected at the docks of a small harbor, to appease the god of the sea. (As a non-Hellenic Polytheist, I have no idea if this is a true or advisable thing. Somebody can probably let me know after the fact around this.) A shrine can be on the floor, on a raised surface, or even recessed into a wall or affixed to a column or post, etc. There are limitless cross-cultural and cross-pantheonic forms that shrines can take, but the key thing here is that they are a place for honoring and dedicating praise and recognition of some kind or another, generally devotional in the case of theistic shrines, to the one being enshrined. You don’t really “do things” at a shrine, other than visit and pray or venerate or think happy thoughts at the “target” of the shrine. In my practice and estimation, pouring basic libations or burning incense, etc, is just fine for “shrine behavior”, but it is not a place for deep engaged “workings” or sacrifices. Shrines can also be made for people — ancestor shrines, or even shrines for those who are still alive and are the subject of living adoration, etc — and for events, such as battles or really great orgasms, and so forth. They can be simple or elaborate; a cast bronze relief set with brass screws into a wall in an intentional enshrinement and dedication, with a bit of a ceremonial process to designate it as such, and bam, you’ve got yourself a shrine. It can be on a tabletop or a shelf, too. Or the floor, in many cases. (Not all homes have tabletops and shelves, but all homes have floors!)

An altar is a surface, generally (but not always) erected or otherwise “put together” for specific active uses and otherwise not left out full-time, except in spaces where full-time workings of that sort are generally taking place. (There’s no reason to not leave an altar out full time, aside from the fact that it serves no purpose when not in use: it is like leaving a lawn-mower in the driveway after your’e done mowing the lawn, or leaving your dinner table all set up for company even after the meal has passed and the company left.) It isn’t a “surface you put spiritual looking shit on”, or a place where you “store your juju schwagg when not wearing it to pick up hotties at the mall”; it is a place where you do specific devotional, sacrificial, or magical workings. It could be a stone that you sacrifice a goat on, or a mat that you place the images, icons or statues of your gods or spirits on when you celebrate them with significant offerings and praises (as with a specialized ritual or festival happening), etc. Sometimes an altar has a shrine on it — e.g. an altar set-up with a large statue of Hekate would be a surface or space of some kind established for magical, sacrificial or devotional active working, and the statue itself would be the “enshrined image”. A place where you put are regularly leaving votive offerings — e.g. shit you are not going to take back or wear or use elsewhere/elsewhen, but are surrendering as offering or gift or sacrifice to the spirit/god — is generally considered an altar, and so some permanent or semi-permanent shrines may have spaces set-up as similarly “permanent altars” for such offerings, but these should be differentiated from main altar places which are used for bigger, less general workings.

Why does all of this matter?

Because in the pre-modern traditions that our Polytheisms, Paganisms and magical traditions are largely derived from (or a continuation of!) really cared a great deal about things like place, space, and the boundaries (e.g. meaning itself, and the intentionality navigationally implied therein!) associated with them.

In my estimation, any authentically lived, fully realized tradition or practice or religion in the 21st century should really concern itself with at least SOME of the things that truly defined the way that these traditions were built in the first place, and acknowledge that maybe those guidelines and principles existed for reasons beyond some silly or naive sense of anything-goes one-size-fits-all eclectic free-for-all.

If you’re short on space and live in a single room or dorm or studio, etc, than you may not have time for shit tons of spaces dedicated. That’s fine. Delineate some fucking shrines. Those can be small, or large, or on the wall or on a shelf… but treat them as sacred dwellings for the ones you enshrine there, which means probably keeping them clean (if such is desired by that being, or indicated by associated tradition, etc) and so forth. I consider household shrines that are a part of the living space (e.g. on top of an entertainment center, inside a bookcase nook, etc) to be integrated shrines; later I will discuss other kinds.

No room for a giant permanent altar? No worries! That’s not actually super historically sound for a household anyway. Need to put up an altar for a magical or devotional working? Great! Get a fold-out table, or a fucking storage bin with a cloth over it, or a mat thrown on the floor. Get creative. Bend your lover over and strap a child-sized billiards (absent legs) to them with bolted on backpack-straps, and throw a cloth over the whole thing. (Make sure they’re not going to move too much — unless you want them to.) Do your work, don’t fuck up, and then close it all down when you’re done.

When space is an issue, sometimes an altar and a shrine will be permanently combined for the purposes of efficiency; that’s generally fine. But a shrine is a shrine, and an altar is an altar, even when they’re connected. If you bend your lover over and strap a pool-table to their back, that becomes your altar, intended for the doing of shit. If you also put an image of a deity or spirit there, that image or deity — and the space it occupies on the billiards-altar — becomes the “shrine”. See? That’s a shrine on an altar on a pool table on a bent over human. When space is an issue, improvise, get creative, but fucking acknowledge the difference as you do between things like shrines, altars, and bent over lovers.

In the pursuit of having consistent use of language — and the above seems to be generally agreed upon by most folks, just rarely ever followed in “out loud” discourse… — and honoring established meaning as a thing we actually all benefit from in pretty profound ways, try’n see what it might look like to correct yourself if you say “altar” when you mean “shrine”, or the reverse.

There are exceptions to the above, which I don’t have issue with. In Haitian Vodou, a “shrine” is actually called an “altar”, and that is completely okay with me (given both the syncretic Catholic nature of the tradition, and the nature of the ritual technologies in play!) and similarly with other traditions. Let me be clear: it is not my intent to attack any tradition which (as above) believes or defines things differently, but rather to offer clear language (which is again fairly universally agreed upon anyway) to individual folks NOT attached to a tradition which already gives them very well defined terms to which it is greatly attached.

If a tradition or lineage is just using words it garnered from mainstream neopaganism or whatever — which is to say, is misusing altar/shrine for no reason other than not knowing that those are different words with different meanings with different functions — than I encourage those in leadership positions in those (newer, probably) traditions to take a look at their lexicon and pencil in some adjustments and tweaks. Seriously; traditions change over time and that’s just fine. If a magical lodge or a local witchy circle or a Polytheist grove or whateverthefuck finds out that they’ve been saying “altar” as a catch-all for when “shrine” would be more appropriate? Change that shit. It’s a mark of maturity in many cases to adapt, grow, and nearly all of our traditions espouse messages of the importance of inner-work and self-development and cohesive growth through facing and embracing the shadow: well, fuck, poor grammar or lazied use of language or decayed regard for meaning is pretty murky, shadowy shit, you fucks. Walk your talk and face and embrace and get back to doing the work with the right words attached. I promise it’ll make you feel a bit more like a big kid.

As with the term “sacrifice“, these words get confusing when they are applied to traditions or practices from outside the linguistic origins that they derived from. But, even so, that confusion can be navigated with just the briefest of nods to things like “meaning” and “intent”. In absence of clear instructions from tradition or lineage, treat a place where you’re enshrining something as a shrine, and a place where you’re doing something as an altar. Proceed and navigate accordingly, out loud and otherwise. Treat them both with fucking respect, even if they’re integrated into your household: don’t enshrine gods of modesty in places where you’re likely to fuck or masturbate or watch Dr. Phil and drink Bud Light, because — especially with that last one — this will make your gods very, very sad. Similarly, don’t throw an altar up in a place that is going to have a lot of foot-traffic during the time that it is up; if it is a temporary working space, and you don’t live alone? Take over the garage or the fucking bathroom for that matter. Bathrooms are fucking great because you can kill and spill and spatter and mash to your hearts content and the spaces are generally designed to clean up pretty well. (Just clean the space beforehand, too, and throw a cloth or curtain up over the shit-can; respect, and such.)

Be mindful and intentional and always fucking reverent to your marrows in the placement and use of your shrines and altars, whether they’re completely separate from one another or stacked on atop the other. Treat them as different spaces, even if they’re only centimeters apart from one another or literally emerging out of one another: space and boundary fucking matter. So does meaning. Acknowledging and navigating this shit, the importance of meaning and delineating different kinds of spaces and so forth, is all tied into the basic foundations of discipline and respect, which are cornerstones of all of our traditions and lineages and religions, whether they’re devotional or magical or whateverthefuck. So, do that shit. I promise, it’s fucking awesome.

Fuck.

*coffee*