Fellini Satyricon

•05/22/2017 • 1 Comment

A few months ago, as is my custom, I left for work early and planned on killing the time at a nearby Italian cafe. On the way there, I decided to check out the branch library.

 

Fortunate as I was, they were giving away DVDs. One of the DVDs they were giving away was “Fellini Satyricon”.

 

This was one of my favorite films a long time ago. It depicted a polytheistic culture and was frankly sexual. (Sex was far more important to me in my 20s than it is today, go figure.) It also challenged societal norms, which also appealed to me more then than it does today.

 

If you’ve never seen this film, I can’t say that I’d recommend it.

 

I recall reading somewhere that Fellini wanted to treat Ancient Rome as if it was in a sci-fi film which seems about right. It is not a straightforward depiction of life in Ancient Rome.

 

To be frank, it is fucking weird.

 

The first half revolves around two rivals fighting over the teenage boy they both want to be with. The second half depicts the two rivals as close friends.

 

There’s no real coherent plot or aims. It’s just vignettes of these two people, in a very bizarre world.

 

It’s in Italian. I’ve only seen it in English subtitles. Even the Italian looks badly dubbed. Probably intentionally. There’s a minotaur and labyrinth, a hermaphrodite, a witch, a great feast and apparently Richard Simmons before he lost weight.

 

Music and language is used in a constantly disorienting manner. The makeup and costuming is spectacularly interesting and makes no sense. The general feeling is that of sensory overload in many parts.

 

Looking at it now, I have a great deal of problems with the depiction of black people and women. But I also realize that, by and large, this was still very progressive in the art-house theatres that would show it back in its day. I have a huge problem with the pedophilia but I also recognize that this was true to Ancient Rome.

 

From a religious standpoint, there are some interesting tidbits but it doesn’t seem as if there’s a great effort anywhere to be historically accurate. That was definitely not Fellini’s intention here.

 

It’s a frequently panned film for one of the great masters of international cinema but I feel as if he was successful. It succeeds in its excess and weirdness, in its visual sense. (Only Jodorowsky exceeds him in this.)

 

As an intersexed person, it was probably the first time I saw someone like me depicted in a film. That was a very big deal to me then. Also, the depiction was that of a demi-god. (Though one that seems to suffer from severe illness, both physical and perhaps mental…but reputed to have healing powers.)

 

Because of that and several scenes that have stuck with me over the years, it has a place in my heart, despite my issues with it.

 

Like I said, I wouldn’t recommend it to others because experimental film isn’t for everyone’s taste. Especially one with frequent nudity and sexual content that depicts pedophilia frankly.
It makes me uncomfortable. But I think it was meant to.

Impostor Syndrome

•05/19/2017 • 1 Comment

Sometimes it’s just time to scrap everything and start again…

 

Whenever I start to worship a deity, it’s done with the caveat that the relationship is temporary. Until that’s asked of me, it’s not something I feel I can consider. It has yet to be asked of me.

 

Recently, there was a piece by author Neil Gaiman going around social media on Impostor Syndrome. In it, Gaiman recounts how he was at some sort of function of ‘great minds’…thinkers, creatives, whathaveyou.

 

It led him to have thoughts of self-doubt. He felt like an impostor, not fit to be counted among the brilliant people there. At the event, he encountered another Neil. This other Neil seemed to be having similar feelings.


It turned out that the other Neil was Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, who tried to minimize his historic event by saying “I just went where they sent me”.

 

When it comes to polytheism, I often feel like an impostor. These feelings led me to apologize to my deities and dismantle my altars.

 

I’m absolutely intrigued by Shaktism and Shakta Tantra, but without a guru, without a background in Hindu culture, without a community, I feel like an impostor. Especially when it comes to being a white person in an Indian religion when Europeans brutally colonized India. At what point does my religion become cultural appropriation?

 

Then there’s the polytheism community that was a reaction to modern Neo-Paganism. I relate the most to these groups and individuals but when I do not have an ongoing relationship to a European deity or deities, I feel like I don’t really belong in that group either. Not when I’m fully focused upon or writing about Shaktism or Catholic mysticism.

 

I became a Neo-Pagan in 1993. I’m not sure when I stopped but I know I no longer relate to it at all. A year or so ago, I went to a local group. They called it “Pagan” but it was sort of a Wicca 101 group with a bunch of new people and casual Pagans. They did a sabbat with the quarter-calling and circle-casting…and it just felt so foreign to me. I mean, I did that for years but it’s absolutely not a place I belong anymore.

 

What then? What next?

I’m feeling a call to get back into Hellenic Polytheism. Perhaps back with Aphrodite and perhaps exploring other relationships with other deities. But I’m not going to jump into anything.

 

I think jumping into a relationship with a deity does me, and especially the gods, a disservice.

 

I want to go where They send me. But I’m going to be trying to discern where that is for a bit.

 

I’ve written often about how devotional polytheism is not about YOU…or rather, me. As such, I feel like an enormous hypocrite in stopping my worship. Due to my insecurities, I’ve failed as a devotee. I made it about me, not my gods. I’m a bad devotee. Even now, in writing this, I’m doing it.

 

Sri Ganapati and I have been together about 17 years at this point, on and off. I am thankful that should I return, I feel as if He would welcome my devotion. That doesn’t make it OK necessarily but it does make me feel less like shit.

 

This has not been easy to write. It’s not easy looking vulnerable or flawed but I felt it was important to write about this and share it with others because if I have these feelings and experiences, it’s likely other devotionally-minded folks do as well.

 

If so, please know that my prayers are with you.
May the Gods guide us. May we know and appreciate Their sacred presence in our lives.

Thank you.

Snatam Kaur concert

•05/17/2017 • Leave a Comment

As longtime readers of this and my other blogs might know, I’m fond of seeing how devotion is expressed in a variety of other religions in addition to my own polytheistic religious practice.

On Monday night, my partner and I went to go see Snatam Kaur. She’s a Sikh kirtan singer whose singing I really enjoy.

When I’m feeling stressful or anxious when I’m alone, I’ll often cue up The Essential Snatam Kaur on my smartphone to relax and find some peace. I remember one time when I was in the hospital for an extended period of time, I found a peaceful channel of nature images (rolling rivers, animals, mountains, etc.) on the TV and played Kaur’s lovely peaceful kirtans over it to help with healing.

The concert was really lovely and beautiful. Very enjoyable.

 

 

 

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, playing a musical instrument and night

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, sitting, playing a musical instrument and indoor

A New Traditionalism?

•05/10/2017 • 4 Comments

There’s been a lot of talk in the Pagan blogosphere about the “Death of Paganism” and even my recent post “The Problem With Neo-Paganism” was referenced in one post about it.

I’m not necessarily looking for the death of Paganism. However, I would rather see the Pagan religions resemble religions (such as Catholicism, the many and various Hindu religions, Shinto, or the many ancient faiths of our polytheistic ancestors) rather than a Ren Faire or a swingers resort or a Goth club or a Gathering of the Rainbow Tribe. (Nothing against Goth music or fashion, mind you. I love it, myself. But our religion should not easily be confused for either of these things.)

I just want to see a Paganism that’s focused on the gods (as well as Nature, the spirits, and the ancestors). On prayer and worship and offerings. On practicing good spiritual hygiene, helping the less fortunate and oppressed, living a righteous life, making the world a better place for everyone.

I want to see a Paganism that’s not oriented towards the occult or magic/spells, or archetypes, or sex or drugs or the New Age. I want a Paganism that’s not about ourselves and what we want but about Them…as well as, in a lesser sense, our community.

I’m not the “Pagan Pope”. I’m not an authority of anything and in no place to make proclamations about Paganism as a whole. I’m not looking to impose this upon others. But that doesn’t mean I cannot share my vision for what I’d like to see in Paganism.

Having been born intersexed and infertile, I will never have children of my own. But I would love to see a new traditionalism that can be passed down through future generations raising children with respect and love for Nature, reverence for the spirits and ancestors, and devotion to the gods. 

 

Why Catholicism?

•04/24/2017 • 2 Comments

On Facebook, I was made privy to discussion about my last full article here (“The Problem With Neo-Paganism”.) Honestly, I’m just pleased as hell that it attracted discussion and that people were interested in it.

However, I wanted to clarify something for my fellow polytheists that might be reading this.

My approach to polytheist religion (here at “Sacred Blasphemies” and also at my old defunct blog “Pagan Mysticism” and its new location as “Into the Mystic” over at Pagan Bloggers.) often involves looking at how we can take existing mystical practices and approaches in other religions and apply it to polytheistic religion.

Why not just focus on historical polytheism? Why use tools of monotheism like Catholic mysticism?

There are several reasons I do this:

  1. I have a deep and abiding fondness for the way mysticism and devotion are still present in Western culture through traditional religions like Catholicism and (to a lesser extent) Orthodoxy. (Orthodoxy is only to a lesser extent because it’s not nearly as commonplace in North America as Catholicism is, especially here in the Northeast.) Additionally, I grew up Catholic. My ancestors are Catholic. To me, this is part of my heritage. I admire the way that traditionalist Catholics struggle against modernity and against materialism. The rosary, the prayers, the sacramentals, fasting, the festivals and processions of the Saints, monasticism. I think there’s a lot of beauty to it and we can learn how to live a life of devotion in a materialistic world through devout Catholics.
  2. I think we do ourselves a disservice by not looking back on the 1500 years of religious technology that has developed since the Christian era began. For example, I think things like the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, lectio divina, and centering prayer are all pretty intriguing and effective approaches that can be adapted for polytheistic use.
  3. I’m of the opinion that polytheistic religion grows organically. Creeds, prophets, unquestionable sacred texts, and hard boundaries are for monotheistic religion. I think of these techniques as a way that we can get closer to our gods. Much like the early Christian church repurposed polytheistic philosophy, we can repurpose some of their mystical techniques.
  4. I’m just not as interested in historical reconstruction as I am in this. Lots of people focus on reconstructionism, the lore, and historical accuracy. That’s not particularly an interest of mine (Though I have a deep respect for people who do this sort of research and work).

I imagine that many others will still be opposed to my ideas or approach. That’s OK. I still question it myself. I’m open to feedback but I also think of this as a calling (or perhaps a vocation). It’s what I enjoy thinking/writing about.

Perhaps some might think of all Christianity as miasmic, or even just as something we as polytheists should have little to do with. I can appreciate that approach, but I find that aspects of our modern society to be so toxic and miasmic that I sympathize with the monastics and modern-day mystics in other religions that I see dealing with the same problem, even if our theologies and general beliefs differ drastically.

Also, Catholicism is not the only source that I feel can be repurposed for polytheistic devotional approaches. I think there are even elements of evangelicalism that can be used. The Hindu bhakti tradition-based group Kirtan Soul Revival has used Contemporary Christian Music as a way to reinterpret traditional Hindu kirtan (sacred chant) music. I think that’s cool as hell!


The late Indian Jesuit author Anthony de Mello wrote an excellent books called “Sadhana: A Path to God” where he combined what he considered to be Eastern mystical methods as a way to approach Catholicism. It’s an excellent book and one I revisited often in my now-defunct “Pagan Mysticism” blog.

Author T.M. Luhrmann is known within Paganism for her book “Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft” where she entered into British witchcraft covens to learn more about them but more recently she joined charismatic Christian groups (specifically associated with The Vineyard) to understand how they understood God. She wrote a really interesting book from her experience called “When God Talks Back”. It involves a sort of thought process and imaginal devotion that helps to make God more real to these worshippers. I think that this could be an excellent tool for modern polytheists.

There are also the multitude of approaches found within Hinduism, a collection of ancient religions practiced in the modern day that can involve the worship of gods and goddesses.

In short, I am not of the opinion that in recreating polytheistic religion (in particular, devotional polytheism) in a modern-day context that we need to limit ourselves only to ancient polytheistic sources. Religion and mysticism has been going on for about 1500 years since the Christian era. I enjoy exploring these and recontextualizing them for polytheists.

However you choose to make your gods relevant and alive to you in this modern materialistic world where religion is slowly dying off, I wish you the best of luck and I’ll pray for you if you want me to. It is not always an easy task.


Between anti-religion atheists, hostile monotheists, and even our own so-called Pagan community that treats our deities as if they are not real, we have many obstacles to the polytheistic religious life that some of us are called to.

Thanks for your time!

Into the Mystic: On Prayer

•04/23/2017 • 4 Comments

My 2nd piece over at Pagan Bloggers is up.

(Actually, it’s been up for a bit, I’d forgotten to crosspost it here though.)

It’s about prayer and it’s long. Check it out.

The Problem With Neo-Paganism

•04/21/2017 • 8 Comments

In my head, I’ve been flirting with the idea of starting some sort of Hindu group geared towards modern polytheists. As a polytheist who worships Hindu deities, I know that I’m not alone. I wish that there was a group that focused on Hinduism but open to (if not oriented to) Westerners.


I mean, there is already. It’s called ISKCON (best known as the Hare Krishna movement). Despite being linked with hippie counterculturalism, it’s actually very much in-line with traditional conservative Hinduism down to the sattvik diet (vegetarian with no onions or garlic), celibacy before marriage, and behavior/morality (no drinking, smoking, or drugs).

I want to see a Shakta (or Goddess-worshipping) version of that, though I’m unconvinced that I have the knowledge or skill to do so. Especially given that I am not an initiate of any Shakta tradition.

Recently, I had an e-mail exchange regarding Shakta Tantra and Paganism with Chandra Alexandre, the Hindu Tantric Western-born founder of Sharanya (a Kali temple based in California). She’s got a lot of experience in teaching traditional Kali Shakta Tantra to a Western audience. I first encountered her when I went to a Kali Puja that she ran at PantheaCon a few years back.

 

I asked her about the feasibility of my idea.


She said this:

 

“But the truth of the matter given my nearly 20 years of leading this work is that while powerful and potent, it is actually a path too difficult for most folks here to stay on. Too many Westerners want a quick fix, a way out, or a solution set that they can use when they feel like it. I know of all too many Pagans, for example, who simply adopt Kali when they want to do a clearing ritual or use Her to take on rage rather than deal with their own to fix social or personal ills. It’s deplorable and I get very upset when I hear about things like that. She’s a living goddess–and it seems that many folks really have no idea what that means. Also, She’s not particularly convenient and most modern people today want convenient. They want the God/dess without the context and therefore they appropriate, use, degrade, and otherwise disrespect the religion and culture of Hindu India. Give them more and they think it’s too confusing, too much work, too foreign, and so on. “

 

Totally not surprising at all.

Heartbreaking. But not surprising.

 

This is the Polytheist movement’s argument right here: all too often, many Pagans don’t believe in the reality of the gods. The deities are viewed casually. They are seen as a means to an end. There’s no desire to change one’s life in order to serve or know our Holy Powers.

 

It’s almost one thing, for me, when it’s part of an ancient religion that has been revived or reconstructed. But it’s another for me to see this living Goddess, who has been worshipped consecutively for hundreds and hundreds of years, be treated by white people like an accessory. She is treated as something to be used and then discarded. Almost like the way our society views the planet and its resources.

 

Theologically, I have little in common with monastics or the devoutly religious but I do have a deep respect for the way they live their lives around their worship and their God. It’s hard to do that in our society. Not only are we inundated with the voices of abrasive advertisements everywhere trying to get us to buy more things, internet opinions, but also with the toxic and materialistic idea among the greater society that our gods are not real.

 

Hell, even in our own Pagan communities, we are sometimes mocked or criticized for taking our religion seriously. For acting as if our gods are real (because they are).  As if this is a horrible thing…

 

At some point I hope to write a long piece about how our egos get in the way of devotion (either to be posted here or over at my Into the Mystic column over at Pagan Bloggers). It’s a problem in our greater society and an even greater problem in our Pagan religious communities. When it becomes all about what we want, what we choose, what we wish, it is no longer about the gods.

 

We’ll never be able to abolish the ego entirely, but we can orient ourselves away from it and towards the gods. This is where traditional religions are better than modern religions. They often emphasize regular prayer and/or meditation. Let’s go back to the image of the monastic in their cell. Their life is built around prayer (both communal and individual) and work. That may be an ideal that most of us can never reach, sure…but there are more worldly models. There is the oblate, a non-monastic who lives in the world but is associated with a monastic community. They take vows and have regularly scheduled prayer times, often in community.


We can do something like this.

 

When Neo-Paganism was first developed in the 1960s and 70s, it was often associated with the counterculture and often sought to get as far away from structure, discipline, and traditional values (or even traditional religious practices such as prayer) as possible…while celebrating hedonism and the self.  

 

After decades of that, we’re now getting older. We’re growing up. Some of us are looking for something deeper. We desire to know the gods. In order to do that, we need to develop a structure. We need to develop discipline. We need to have an active prayer life and a focus on morality in order to have a relationship with the Divine. All of the things that drove the hippies away from traditional religion.

 

We can still have the feminism, the focus on the environment, on LGBT rights, the values…but if we’re going to have a deep engagement with the Divine, we’re going to have to move away from being hedonists or materialists. We’re going to have to get away…even just for a bit…from our ego and its insatiable desires, its endless chattering, its fears, its worries, its distractions.
This is the Neo-Paganism that has developed over the years. When faced with an ancient goddess-worshipping religion with a focus on social justice and feminism, they have trouble accepting the reality of this Goddess, of Maa. It’s far easier to think of Her as an archetype, It’s far easier to go to a puja because you, “totally think Kali is, like, badass and empowering” and then go back to your regular everyday life and call yourself a devotee, than to be confronted with the idea that you are dealing with an actual ancient being with Her own desires that you cannot just summon or call upon when you need something.

We need to transform our lives and orient it around our Deity, rather than our egos.

I’m not initiated, so I cannot study Sri Vidya in a traditional manner but I’m thinking that perhaps I can start an oblate-like group devoted to the worship of Sri Lalita Devi.