My Polytheism

6 people stand in this image, 2 to the left and 4 in the center and right. All are fressed in solid black. The person on the far left is  femme, has glasses and is holding a  sign, bit the text isn't visible. The person next tonthe right is in a hijab. Both of these people are looking toward the other 4 people. The next person is femme, has medium-dark skin, is wearing several small buttons, and is smiling widely at a person farther right. The next person is a light-skinned PoC with long hair andnis looking down. She is wearing sunglasses. the nest person is a light skinned white masculine person with his hair pulled up in a bun. He is wearing a rainbow bracelt, white arm band, sunglasses, abs is speaking into a microphone. The last person is Asian, is looking at the person to  the left, and is standkng with his hand on his hip.

Organizers speak at the #MassClassExit staged by #UTDiversityMatters at the University of Tennessee -Knoxville in spring 2016.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about my own religious practice lately. I’ll start by sayin that I’ve been in what I often hear referred to as a “fallow time,” or so I thought. See, I’ve been in a place in my life where I haven’t had much time to devote to religious practice. I just graduated with a BFA in Photography and BA in Religious Studies after a 12 year uphill battle. I was also simultaneously working 3 jobs and heading up a group of student leaders trying to save our LGBTQIA+ Center from a university and state legislature that are hellbent on forcing us back into the closet. Sure, I think it about religion regularly and a while back came to the conclusion that my life and decisions are constantly influenced by my religion (that’s another topic I’ve been meanin to talk about since right before Gods & Radicals really seemed to blow up. But that’s for another day) but I rarely had much time to do anything about it. But now that I’m taking a year off to prep for grad school, I should have more time for my religious practice, right? Well, that’s what I thought, too.

But I’ve come to a realization. As my life is so influenced by my view of my gods, what they would find pleasing, and what they expect from me, I noticed what had been in front of me all along. Just as my practice has and will change when shifting regions, it had changed without me even noticing. I was living my Polytheism. My activism, organizing, and protesting was inspired by and an honor to Na Mórrígna. My work with fellow Queer people was honoring Manannán mac Lir, forging new and liminal spaces and working with people transitioning in various ways. My attempts to create a safe space, a home away from home or in lieu of home as so many of us described it, honors Brighid. Working, existing, and forging new spaces in the South, upholding the almighty Southern hospitality honor my ancestors, both recent and ancient. My work in emergency veterinary medicine, my source of income and first passion, honors Flidais. My healing and nursing honor Airmid and Miach. My care of the suffering, even if it means ending their suffering, honors Donn, too. My studying and academic aspirations honor Ogma. Filling in the gaps and making everything work honors Lugh, the master of all trades.

A black mortarboard sits on a wooden desk. The mortarboard has been painted to say

A collage of graduation accoutrement

All of these ideas act on my simultaneously and I act them out in return. They are a part of me. I am a part of them. While I have every intention of resuming regular offerings and prayers, celebrating holidays with big meals, and all the other things I’ve done in the past, I also realize that it doesn’t have to look like that. My Polytheism is just that: MINE. It is a lived tradition. It is an evolving tradition. One that I hope to grow and pass down, to share with others, but one that that is ultimately mine.

That said, I’ve already started setting up shrines in my new space and I couldn’t feel more at home.

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Local Cultus and the Winds of Change

I’ve been doin a lot of thinkin about local cultus lately. In fact, some of it even came up in my undergraduate thesis I submitted just a few weeks ago. But much of it is in relation to what I’m now realizing is a major shift in my life. As of August, I will officially be a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a BFA in studio art and a BA in Religious Studies, plus a minor in American Studies (I technically already graduated when I walked in May, but that’s another story). As this happens, more changes will happen. As with most college students, I’ll be moving soon after graduation, but I’m not your average college student. 

I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, a proud graduate of Memphis City Schools in 2004. I then moved from the Mississippi Delta to Appalachia, attending the state’s flagship school on the other end of Tennessee in Knoxville, nestled in the valley just west of the highest peaks in the Eastern US. This was a culture shock in every way imaginable and it left a major mark on me. What I didn’t know then was that college would be a time of immense struggle, also in every sense of the word, and I wouldn’t graduate until 2016. 

Though I’d begun explorin Paganism in high school, college was the first time I hadn’t lived under the almost literal Panopticon set up by my parents, finally bein able to freely explore and practice without lookin over my shoulder. We’ll skip the boring details and play by play, but it dawned on me the other day as I thought about moving back to Memphis that this will be the first time I’ll be practicing Polytheism for any length of time outside Appalachia. As that occurred to me, I also thought about what Allie, a local and friend of mine, said to me once when I commented about Appalchian identity: “You’re one of us now.” That simple phrase has stuck with me for a few years now because I recognize its truth; Appalachia has had a lifelong influence on me that I didn’t even see happenin. As much as I’m a Memphis boy and always will be, I’ve spent 40% of my life and all of my adult life in Knoxville. How could I not have seen the impact it had on me? 

In turn, this made me mull over how much influence my time here has influenced my view of Na Dé. I so often feel Flidais in the mountain breeze, see Lugh in the storms comin in off the Cumberland Plateau, or seen Na Mórrígna in the faces of campus minority students fighting for our very right to exist at this hostile HWI in a violent, white supremacist state that gave rise to the first iteration of the KKK. Will a move change the way I experience the gods? Will it sever a link? Was it Appalachia that drew me to them? I see how my friend Mary conceptualizes New Orleans in her Hellenic practice, how perfectly fitting it seems, and try to imagine Gaelic Polytheism there; I can’t seem to. Will new gods call me as I move? 

But as I think more, I also know that the hearth of the fires stoked here often lie in  bricks and kindlin laid in West Tennessee, in a city that has struggled to exist since 1819. I then can see the ways I’ve maintained connections to the Bluff City, even in the ways I’ve left offerings, i.e. floating paper boats with fruit for Manannán Mac Lir down the Tennessee River because it connects to the Mississippi, flows past my hometown, and then into the Gulf of Mexico before bleeding into the Atlantic and touching the Gaelic lands. I see the random patches of tree in the middle of urban sprawl that team with The Cattle of Flidais. I remember my home, also the home to the National Civil Rights Museum built inside the Lorraine Motel after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. These things shaped the earliest me, even if Appalachia did some reimagining and refining. 

In all likelihood, my practice will change, just as I will. That doesn’t mean I won’t remember and honor Appalachia, always carrying a piece of her with me and leaving a piece of myself behind. After all, I’ve been gone from Memphis for 12 years now, but I still feel connected there. It’s still home in a way I’m not sure anywhere else ever will be. Will I stay there? Not if things go as planned. My path will hopefully take me to Atlanta, an almost seemingly perfect mix of East and West Tennessees, but only time will tell. I’m both excited and terrified by the road that lays ahead, but I know I’m also gonna face it head on with Na Dé Ocus Andé around me, but in the mean time, take a moment to breathe. 

Grianstad an Gheimhridh

Ideally, the first post here woulda been about Samhain, but I’ve said that for a long time and I don’t wanna keep puttin it off, so I figure I’ll just dive right in.  This post is taken in large part from  question I got on Tumblr, but I decided it would make a good first real post.

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[[Image: lit candles in a window.  Two candles in clear glass candleholders on either side of frame, the left one gold and the right one silver, flanking a brass metal bridge-shaped tealight candleholder with four candles and evergreen tree cutouts across the bridge. A sun shaped incense hold with a stick of incense sits in the middle.]] 

Grianstad an Gheimhridh, sometimes called Meán Gheimhridh or just Midwinter, is a pretty minor holiday for most Gaelic Polytheists, if they even celebrate it.  We can assume the ancient Irish celebrated it to some degree because of sites like the tomb at Newgrange that fills with light only on the winter solstice and because we can extrapolate based on the fact that most European cultures did/do celebrate in some fashion.  

In the image, the gold candle was for Áine and the silver one for Gráinne, representing the warm face and the cool face of the sun, respectively.  The middle candle holder is just pretty and seemed seasonally appropriate.  Then the sun-shaped incense burner I’ve had since…lord, 2004?  One of those things from when I thought I needed all the accouterment in the world that just stuck around on a shelf and has finally found a good home. I started to walk away and this was just really pretty, so I thought I’d share.

For me, however, the desire comes from other places.  One of these comes from the celebration of Grianstad an tSamhraidh.  On the Isle of Man and in the northern Irish counties, Manannán mac Lir was paid his rent or otherwise honored at this time, but in some of the southern counties, this was Áine’s time.  Having family from both County Derry, where a large modern statue of Manannán mac Lir stands today, and from County Kerry and County Clare, I combine these practices and do something honoring both of them then.  I also feel that, as time marched on, this would have been a natural progression of the celebrations through increased communications and interaction of the regions had there been no outside interference.

If you’re familiar with Áine, it’s commonly said that she has a sister, Gráinne (sometimes spelled Graine or Grian), both associated with hills near each other in the County Limerick.  Gráinne’s name literally means sun, thus influencing our understanding of them as goddesses.  In this way, Áine is associated with the yellow face of the summer sun and Gráinne the white, winter sun.

The other part of this equation that I haven’t mentioned is that I kinda fell into my honoring of Áine.  I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and, even down South, this leaves me in a bad place durin the dead of winter, so I started honoring Áine as a way of reminding myself of summer.  But something felt off still.  So, I started to do more reading and stumbled on Gráinne and her lore.  I decided that it felt inhospitable to honor Áine and not her sister, so using this information and suggestions from somewhere that I honestly don’t remember, I decided that Grianstad an Gheimhridh would be Gráinne’s.  But I still couldn’t figure out a way to do this that didn’t fill me with dread and blah because of my general feelings about winter.  Then it hit me: ask Gráinne to be gentle and to be as warm as possible so that I could be outside as much as possible and to reserve the coldest of the cold for when An Cailleach just had to visit and to help keep that visit short here.

So, as to the celebration itself, I REALLY wish I’d had the time and energy to go out somewhere because it’s just been so damn warm and because I generally go down to the river for Grianstad an tSamhraidh, which I’m lovin (although I’m also acutely aware of what this means about global climate change), but alas work and scheduling just didn’t allow for that.  I keep a small shrine for Áine in the window sill (literally just a candle and incense plate) and I decided that I should add one for Gráinne, especially given that I have a matching candle holder to the one I was using.  I added a seasonal one for funsies and flare that had 4 votive holders that would allow for all night burning.  I prayed to both Áine and Gráinne, welcoming the latter and wishing the former a timely return.  I know that down here we the solstices fall at the beginning of our seasons technically, but it’s also when the seasons have really been building for a while.  I burned some incense, too, and just sat and contemplated, singing a song that I sing for various holidays that to me just screams for the peace we need in the world and that I petition na Dé to do anything they can on the regular. I’m definitely one for ritual actions and prayers, but I’m also one to let things take a natural course, so I tend to keep em just that simple.  I find that havin a playlist made on my phone is helpful, though it’s also hard to find ritual music for me, too.

Ultimately, this is a holiday that’s taken multiple forms for me over the years.  It’s slowly comin into its own in my practice and one of my goals for the year is to really solidify a lot of ritual aspects.  I know each holiday is different and that’s important, but I really like the idea of a ritualized beginning and ending that unites them all.  It’s started kinda happenin organically, which I love, but I also wanna hone it and make it something really important for the future.

 

Finally Startin

I’ve meant to start this blog for years now.  I’ve had a tumblr account under the same name for forever, but I’ve found that there are times I wanna talk about things in a little more long form and tumblr just doesn’t seem to always be the place for that.  So, I’m gonna start blonggin here, too.

I’ve practiced Gaelic Polytheism for 4 years now and been some form of Pagan for the last 12, though I prefer the label “Polytheist” in the abstract to “Pagan” these days.  I finally feel I’ve found a home religiously and the people I’ve met in the Gaelic Polytheist community have been, for the most part, some of the most wonderful people I know.

So, from here, I just plan to talk about my practice and see where this blog goes.  I tend to type in the same way I talk, so you’ll notice a lot of colloquialisms and altered spellings, so if there’s every a question for clarity, feel free to ask.