How Hard is Your Polytheism?

Over the last however-many years, I’ve observed the terms “hard” and “soft” polytheism becoming less and less useful, both in the larger community and personally. Getting to know the Egyptian deities was a real paradigm-changer for me in that area and while I do still consider myself a mostly-hard, primarily-hard, relatively-hard polytheist, it’s a matter of degree.

On a tangentially-related note, like a lot of kids, I grew up with rocks. Rocks in the field, rocks on the beach. From an early age I collected them, brought them home, played with them, seeing which rocks I could write with and which rocks were best to be written on.

Which brings me, in a round-about way, to my first point. The Mohs scale is a very old and very traditional way of determining and measuring the hardness of minerals. (The ancient Greeks and Romans knew it, although they did not call it by that name.) Basically it involves putting two minerals together and seeing which will scratch which–that which is scratchable being the softer of the two. The Mohs scale ranges from 1 to 10, ten being the hardest; a diamond has a Mohs score of 10 while talc has a score of 1. To put it another way, you can scratch talc with your fingernails, while a diamond can scratch almost anything else in your jewelry box because it is the hardest stone in there.

Speaking of stone and stones, I sometimes find myself in old cemeteries. These days most grave markers are made from granite, but a long time ago they were more typically made from marble. Well, marble may be prettier but granite is harder. Old marble tombstones are often weathered and worn, the text is difficult to read, the corners are rounded by the many years of rain and wind.

The point is, some rocks and minerals are harder than others, and the same can be said of our polytheisms.

I am not a diamond-hard polytheist, nor am I easily crumbled between two fingers. Sometimes I might be a bit like granite, other times I am more easily weathered by the encounters I have had.

Praying on Autopilot

Ideally we do all things mindfully and with full awareness.

Less ideally but perhaps more frequently, we sometimes do things without that full awareness, particularly things that we do often.

Like when you’re driving along a route you often drive and suddenly realize that while you did indeed end up where you intended to go, you don’t in fact remember this specific trip. You were, for lack of a better term, on autopilot. Maybe you were daydreaming, maybe you don’t even remember what you were thinking about, but in any case you weren’t quite all there on your journey.

Or like when you’re reading a book, and suddenly notice that you’ve just read a page and a half with no idea whatsoever of what you read and you have to read it again.

Maybe you’re tired. Or distracted. Or preoccupied. Or nervous. Or worried. Maybe it’s one of those times when your brain insists of going in one particular direction regardless of what you ought to be (or want to be) thinking or doing instead. Maybe it only happens on rare occasions. Maybe it is an ongoing effort to hold your focus steady.

And yes, prayer and devotion is something that, ideally, is done mindfully and with full awareness. It’s something you want to be fully present for. Ideally.

It’s something I struggle with on a regular basis. Keeping focused on prayer can be hard, is hard. My mind wanders, it goes everywhere except where I want it to be. Irrelevant thoughts intrude, they sometimes overwhelm the thoughts I mean to be having.

And I’ll find myself well into my devotional routine, just as when I am driving a familiar route, knowing where I am but also knowing that I haven’t really been paying attention to what I was saying. And there I am, two and a half prayers later and not remembering having prayed those prayers, although surely I did, surely the words were there, the names of the gods were there, they passed through my mind but I wasn’t watching when they did.

And while I try to do better, I eventually had to become okay with this.

Partly this is a matter of simply not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If the only acceptable devotions were those that were perfect–that were done with perfect and complete concentration, with no brain-flutters off in random directions whatsoever? I would have given up on the whole deal years ago.

Partly, though, it is a matter of recognizing the inherent worth of the imperfect, on its own, as it is. The prayers are said. The gods hear them. The names of the gods echo in my mind, regardless of how much conscious awareness I have of it. The words of devotion are spoken and meant, regardless of how much conscious intent is in the act.

On the Evolution of Personal Polytheism

I’ve been pagan for over 20 years, and actively a polytheist for perhaps 17 of those years. My practice back then was quite a bit different from my practice now; some things have stayed the same but others really have not.

I was dual-faith from early on (Hellenic and Norse), but since I now honor gods from four different pantheons, I have amended that to “multi-faith.”

Some of the changes are purely practical. I don’t spend as much time studying because there are fewer books and sources left to study. I do still study, but I know the basics, am familiar with the lore, and am comfortable with ritual and other practices, so some of that work has simply been done already.

When my kids were little, I used my shower time to pray and do simple daily devotions, because it was often the only time during the day that I could count on being left alone with my own thoughts. I assumed that this would change eventually, but they are young adults now and guess what? I still pray in the shower. It works. I don’t only pray in the shower, but I have kept that piece of my practice.

I used to do a lot more group work than I do now (mostly because of personal and health stuff that makes it harder to do that sort of thing). But I used to attend a lot of rituals. I used to write and to lead a lot of rituals, heathen for the most part because that’s the irl group connection I’ve had. I’ve had training for it, which I undertook because our group needed someone to do it. These days, though, I am more of a resource than an active leader, which is a change.

Doing less group work has meant (for me) a lessened focus on festivals and following the calendar and a greater focus on smaller personal devotions and worship. I think I have personalized my practice more since it’s just me now, but less so than I would have expected. I’ve kept the things that (still) work and changed the things that don’t.

I used to do a lot of networking, seeking out and meeting other pagans and polytheists locally, attending Pagan Coffee Nights and so forth. I don’t do much of that anymore.

Similarly, the fact that I no longer travel well means that I no longer go to events far from home. That means a decrease in face-to-face interactions with others, which is certainly an additional change in the role community plays for me.

I do, however, still have online connections with others, which is a different sort of community but community nonetheless.

I also used to incorporate more meditation and visualization work in my practice than I do now (again mostly due to the aforementioned “stuff” and the accompanying lack of focus). It never was easy work for me but it was rewarding, and I hope at some point to be able to do it again. Until then, I have the experiences I’ve had and the knowledge I’ve gained, and that has to be enough.

Goddess and Gods: Blodeuwedd

The myths of Wales, like those of Ireland, are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they have been far better preserved than those of their continental Celtic cousins. On the other, they were preserved by people who had a vested interest in stripping them of any religious content and focusing on their literary and (sometimes) folkloric aspects. Christian monks were not great promoters of Pagan gods.

In many cases, existing Celtic myths don’t identify deities as deities at all, and it can be hard to know the original fact of the matter.

So, Blodeuwedd. Known primarily as the bride of the hero Lleu Llaw Gyffes, her name means “flower-face” and she was in fact created from flowers and herbs. Lleu, you see, was under a curse–he was prohibited from taking any human woman as wife. For this reason, his magician uncle Gwydion and his magician great-uncle Math took oak and broom and meadowsweet and made from them the beautiful Blodeuwedd–who, not being human, was not subject to Lleu’s curse. Their marriage, however, was not a happy one and Blodeuwedd took a lover, with whom she plotted to kill Lleu. The plot fails and, as punishment for her faithlessness, Gwydion turns her into an owl. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

But I have a lot of sympathy for Blodeuwedd, honestly. She only existed in order to become the wife of Lleu. That is why she was made. She had no choice in the matter. She had no allies, no family, no friend, no one to take her side. She came into existence, fully grown. No one had ever thought of her as anything but a means to an end, cared for her for her own sake, or given any consideration to what she might want from her life. And then someone came along who might perhaps have thought of her as a person, an individual with her own identity and autonomy–things no one had ever thought her worthy of, or capable of.

It’s understandable. It’s relatable.

To me, that’s the bigger message behind the story of Blodeuwedd. The importance of knowing one’s own value, the importance of having one’s own will.

Breaking the Rules

There’s something I heard, a rule of art, when I was young that has stuck with me over the years: you have to know the rules before you can break them. I’ve seen it attributed to Picasso, and to the Dalai Lama, both of whom are respectable sources. It always made a certain amount of sense to me when applied to art and similar skills–that you have to be familiar with the techniques as they are usually practiced before you can experiment with them successfully. You have to know the tools and what they can do before you can discover what else they can do.

I actually tend to apply that principle across the board in my life. First time I make a new recipe, I follow it to the letter. I may (and probably will) make changes when and if I make it again, but on that first attempt I want to know that what I am making is as expected. When I know how it is meant to turn out, I can do things differently and see what effect that has.

And yes, this also informs my approach to my religious practice. If there is an established way of doing something, I will probably try that first. If it doesn’t work for me, I can make changes, tweak it to see if it’s adaptable, or try something wholly different.

Briefly, I try the tried-and-true, and if the tried-and-true isn’t true for me, I try something else.

What’s In My Etsy Shop

As a multi-faith polytheist I honor many gods, and most of the beads I carry in my shop are for gods I have honored and do honor myself, although I have done and will do custom beads for gods from other pantheons. So my shop-stocking process tends to be a little unique–I try to keep something in stock for many gods regardless of whether the pieces sell, because I think they should be there. And I try to restock sold items as soon as I can with something similar–again because I think they should be there.

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages and finally got around to it. Here’s a list of links to all the deities I have in my shop, arranged alphabetically and by pantheon.

Greek Gods
Aletheia (Truth) Prayer Beads –
Amphitrite Prayer Beads –
Aphrodite Prayer Beads –
Apollo Prayer Beads –
Ares Prayer Beads –
Ariadne Prayer Beads –
Aristaios Prayer Beads –
Artemis Prayer Beads –
Asklepios (Asclepius) Prayer Beads –
Asteria Prayer Beads –
Athena Prayer Beads –
Charon Prayer Beads –
Chione (Snow) Prayer Beads –
Demeter Prayer Beads –
Dike (Justice) Prayer Beads –
Dione Prayer Beads –
Dionysos Prayer Beads –
Eileithyia Prayer Beads –
Eirene (Peace) Prayer Beads –
Eleos (Pity) Prayer Beads –
Elpis (Hope) Prayer Beads –
Eos (Dawn) Prayer Beads –
Eris (Discord) Prayer Beads –
Erotes Prayer Beads: Eros –
Erotes Prayer Beads: Anteros –
Erotes Prayer Beads: Himeros –
Erotes Prayer Beads: Pothos –
Eunomia (Good Order) Prayer Beads –
Fates Prayer Beads –
Four Winds Prayer Beads: Boreas –
Four Winds Prayer Beads: Euros –
Four Winds Prayer Beads: Notos –
Four Winds Prayer Beads: Zephyros –
Furies Prayer Beads –
Gaia Prayer Beads –
Ganymede Prayer Beads –
Graces, Elder: Aglaia Prayer Beads –
Graces, Elder: Euphrosyne Prayer Beads –
Graces, Elder: Thaleia Prayer Beads –
Graces, Younger: Eukleia Prayer Beads –
Graces, Younger: Euthenia Prayer Beads –
Graces, Younger: Eupheme Prayer Beads –
Graces, Younger: Philophrosyne Prayer Beads –
Hades Prayer Beads –
Harmonia Prayer Beads –
Hebe Prayer Beads –
Hekate Prayer Beads –
Helios Prayer Beads –
Hemera Prayer Beads –
Hephaistos Prayer Beads –
Hera Prayer Beads –
Heracles (Hercules) Prayer Beads –
Hermes Prayer Beads –
Hestia Prayer Beads –
Horkos Prayer Beads –
Hypnos Prayer Beads –
Iris Prayer Beads –
Kairos (Opportunity) Prayer Beads –
Khloris (Flora) Prayer Beads –
Kronos Prayer Beads –
Leto Prayer Beads –
Maia Prayer Beads –
Morpheus Prayer Beads –
Methe Prayer Beads –
Metis Prayer Beads –
Muse Prayer Beads: Calliope –
Muse Prayer Beads: Clio –
Muse Prayer Beads: Erato –
Muse Prayer Beads: Euterpe –
Muse Prayer Beads: Melpomene –
Muse Prayer Beads: Polyhymnia –
Muse Prayer Beads: Terpsichore –
Muse Prayer Beads: Thalia –
Muse Prayer Beads: Urania –
Nemesis Prayer Beads –
Nike (Victory) Prayer Beads –
Nyx Prayer Beads –
Ouranos (Uranus) Prayer Beads –
Pan Prayer Beads –
Peitho (Persuasion) Prayer Beads –
Persephone Prayer Beads –
Phobos and Deimos Prayer Beads –
Poseidon Prayer Beads –
Prometheus Prayer Beads –
Psyche Prayer Beads –
Rhea Prayer Beads –
Selene Prayer Beads –
Semele Prayer Beads –
Thanatos Prayer Beads –
Themis Prayer Beads –
Twelve Gods Prayer Beads –
Tyche (Fortune) Prayer Beads –
Zeus Prayer Beads –

Norse Gods
Aegir Prayer Beads –
Bragi Prayer Beads –
Eir Prayer Beads –
Frey Prayer Beads –
Freyja Prayer Beads –
Frigga Prayer Beads –
Heimdall Prayer Beads –
Idunna Prayer Beads –
Nerthus Prayer Beads –
Njord Prayer Beads –
Odin Prayer Beads –
Ran Prayer Beads –
Sif Prayer Beads –
Skadhi Prayer Beads –
Thor Prayer Beads –
Tyr Prayer Beads –
Ullr Prayer Beads –

Celtic Gods (Irish)
Aengus mac Og Prayer Beads –
Brigid Prayer Beads –
Dagda Prayer Beads –
Danu Prayer Beads –
Flidais Prayer Beads –
Lugh Prayer Beads –
Manannan mac Lir Prayer Beads –
Medb (Maeve) Prayer Beads –
Morrigan Prayer Beads –
Nuada Prayer Beads –

Celtic Gods (Welsh)
Arianhrod Prayer Beads –
Blodeuwedd Prayer Beads –
Cerridwen Prayer Beads –
Rhiannon Prayer Beads –

Celtic Gods (Gaulish)
Artio Prayer Beads –
Belenos Prayer Beads –
Cernunnos Prayer Beads –
Epona Prayer Beads –
Nantosuelta Prayer Beads –
Nemetona Prayer Beads –
Rosmerta Prayer Beads –
Sucellus Prayer Beads –
Taranis Prayer Beads –

Egyptian/Kemetic Gods
Amun Prayer Beads –
Anubis (Yinepu, Anpu) Prayer Beads –
Atum (Atem, Tem) Prayer Beads –
Bast (Bastet) Prayer Beads –
Geb Prayer Beads –
Hathor (Het-hert) Prayer Beads –
Heka Prayer Beads –
Heqet Prayer Beads –
Horus the Elder (Heru-Wer) Prayer Beads –
Horus the Younger (Heru-sa-Aset) Prayer Beads –
Isis (Aset) Prayer Beads –
Khepera Prayer Beads –
Khnum Prayer Beads –
Khonsu Prayer Beads –
Ma’at Prayer Beads –
Mafdet Prayer Beads –
Mut Prayer Beads –
Nefertem Prayer Beads –
Neith (Nit) Prayer Beads –
Nekhbet Prayer Beads –
Nephthys (Nebt-het) Prayer Beads –
Nun Prayer Beads –
Nut (Nuit) Prayer Beads –
Osiris (Wesir) Prayer Beads –
Ptah Prayer Beads –
Ra (Re) Prayer Beads –
Sekhmet Prayer Beads –
Serqet Prayer Beads –
Seshet Prayer Beads –
Set (Sutekh) Prayer Beads –
Shu Prayer Beads –
Sobek Prayer Beads –
Taweret Prayer Beads –
Tefnut Prayer Beads –
Thoth (Djehuty) Prayer Beads –
Wadjet Prayer Beads –
Wepwawet Prayer Beads –

“I’m not really a joiner”

Except that, really, I sort of am.

I genuinely like the idea of organizations that promote pagan and polytheist religion, that provide resources and information and training and community and networking. I think it’s a good thing and I like to support it, and sometimes support means becoming a member.

In the past I’ve been more active in groups, taking on volunteer positions or participating in forums. Right now I don’t do a lot of that, due to personal stuff, but I still maintain my memberships because even if I can’t be an active member, I can be a supportive member.

You can absolutely have a rich and rewarding spiritual life all on your own, and you can certainly do so without ever joining anything. And there are plenty of places where you can find an informal community–again, without ever joining anything. You don’t have to affiliate with a faith group to practice your faith.

But if you do decide to join something, do a bit of research first–there are a lot of groups out there. Some are good and some are not so good, so pay attention to what you find.

Read the group’s website, even the boring bits.

Read the “About” page if they have one, and their FAQ.

Take note of any mission statement, vision statement, or list of principles or values.

Look over their bylaws. How is power handled within the organization? Look at things like member voting rules and officer positions, terms and responsibilities. Are there requirements for membership that you cannot comply with or that you disagree with?

Some groups will have incorporated as a non-profit organization, and if they have there may be financial statements available. This may or may not be important to you.

On a related note, most groups will tell you what membership fees (if any) are used for.

A group doesn’t have to be a perfect fit for you (or vice versa) but it shouldn’t promote ethical principles you are opposed to. Generally a group will have some statement defining its position on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity and orientation and so forth, and you’ll want to look at that.

Most groups with an online presence have online discussion forums of some sort, whether these are email lists or web forums. Some groups have regular chats. The option of online participation in the group may or may not be important to you, and if it is, take note of what is available.

Some groups have real-world gatherings and/or subgroups–if this is important to you, see if there are any in existence near you.

If you are hoping to learn, see if there are classes or other religious training offered and what form these may take.

If the group has a public forum or Facebook page (some do, some don’t), check it out to get a feel for the discourse there and what is considered acceptable behavior. Different groups will have different customs.

Finally, and if you have additional questions, there will almost always be a contact form or email address provided. Try not to be too impatient–these are volunteer-run organizations and an immediate response isn’t guaranteed. On the other hand, if you don’t hear anything for a very long time, it can be an indication that the group itself isn’t all that active, which is also good to know.