A Writer’s Three Prayers

Hail Wehaz, God of the Fire and the Senses,
Hedonist, Inspiration, Teller of Truths
you know the spark and the tension it inspires,
how the rush to notebook and pen can overwhelm
in the moment and how fast it can fade in our hands
just like anything else we grasp at in life
you allowed yourself to be bound that the end
might be delayed, waiting for that moment
of crystal clear inspiration that never came
please share with me your fire, your inspiration,
give me a vision of the clear path ahead
and the way to get there, hand me the matches
that I may choose when to burn the bridges
behind me and when to clear the brush ahead
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How To Write Devotional Poetry

As a follow up to my shingle post the other day, my friend Tom asked if I had any advice about writing devotional poetry. It turns out that I do!

There are a couple of different styles of poetry that I write for my gods, but they share some commonalities that make for a good starting place. Trying to find the starting place is hard enough. Sitting down with the idea of writing a poem for your favorite god or goddess can be overwhelming. How can you funnel all of the thoughts and feelings your god inspires into a single poem?

First, you want to start with an idea of the god you’re writing this for. Not just in the obvious sense of knowing which god you’re writing to, but also in the sense of which aspects and names of that god will be appropriate. If I’m writing a poem to Odin, for example, I will want to consider whether I’m writing with Odin Allfather in mind, or Odin Storyteller, or Odin Berserker… you get the idea. It’s possible that you want to write a devotional poem with all aspects of a god in mind instead, and that’s also a valid construction. The idea is to know what kind of poem you’re writing.

Once you have an sense of who the poem is for, think about why you’re writing it. Were you told to? Is it an act of pure devotional love and praise? Is it a prayer or request of the god? Are you trying to explain some aspect of the god to other people? Again, the goal here is to get a sense of what you’re doing and why.

Now that you know what you’re doing, hopefully that blank white page looks a little less intimidating. The next step is to actually put pen to paper – or fingers to keys. Start by writing down your goal and any images that come to mind.

For example, if I was writing a prayer-poem to Odin Storyteller, who I refer to as Wodanaz, to help me with my writing, I might start by noting the image of the wandering storyteller in front of the fire. A prayer-poem is a good place to start when you’re getting comfortable with writing; more imagery-heavy poetry can come later.

I always start prayer-poems with a call to the god in question. You may have noticed that I tend to start with “Hail Mara” because I spend a lot of time in the Norse/Northern European POV. Most traditions will have their own traditional greeting, but as a fall back, “O Name” is probably a safe construction for everyone. I generally follow this up with a couple of kennings, nicknames or titles to make sure that the prayer is on the right track:

Hail Wodanaz, God of the Typewriter and the Road,
Storyteller, Wanderer, Most Furious of Poets

That’s a pretty good start for now. I’m feeling a Jack Kerouac vibe that I hadn’t been planning originally, thought that’s a reasonable fork of the wandering storyteller idea, so I’ll go with that. You may or may not feel the sting of inspiration as you go through this process. If you don’t, you can still produce a great poem that honors and praises.

Now that you’ve got your god’s attention, in a prayer-poem like this, it’s time to make your case:

you know the burden of the author and the skald,
how we bear the twin responsibility of creation
on one hand, inspiration, on the other, hard work
I put in my hours, bent over the clicking keys
every night, banging out neat rows of crisp text

Once you’ve laid it all out like that, you can ask for what you want:

my half is fulfilled in offering to creative gods
please let me get drunk on your Mead of Poetry
grant me inspiration, free-flowing and plentiful
show me how to bang those words on the keys
an endless role of never-ending stories

By itself this is probably enough. You can see how the On The Road hints are woven in, (hopefully) without overwhelming the rest of the prayer. If you want to keep going at this point, you have a few options. You can repeat the basic structure with new titles and a new request, or you can go on to promise something in return for having your request fulfilled.

I’d like to come back to this later and discuss how to write other types of devotional poetry as well. I also recommend checking out the series How To Make a Polytheist Prayer Book. If you write anything based on this explanation, I hope you’ll leave me a link in the comments!

H is for Headcanons and Hypotheses

(with thanks to Sophie and Stephy for “H” suggestions)

Different branches of paganism deal very differently with UPG or unverified personal gnosis. Some feel it’s inappropriate, some see it as inviolate, some fall in the middle. Where does fictional reconstruction fit in there? You might assume that it UPG would be highly valued in fictional recon, and you’d be correct, but perhaps not for the reasons you’d think.

In the sorts of fannish circle that generate fan fiction and meta, people will post their headcanons: their own personal interpretations above and beyond what’s giving in the canon. Some of these are quite straightforward, while some are complex and turn brief moments in hundred-thouand word epics. The connection to UPG is obvious, but the most interesting thing about headcanons is that they are not considered mutually exclusive. It’s expected that you can have your own headcanon while appreciating the differing ones of other people; some people have multiple versions of headcanons of their own.

For the fictional recon, it is not accidental that ‘canon’ is also a religious term. However, while there are still ship wars and arguments over how canon various information is, in most fandom circles, the norm is to appreciate the variety of headcanons available. This is an attitude that would serve more pagans, in my opinion. By treating UPG as headcanon, a fictional reconstructionist has the opportunity to appreciate a diversity of interpretation and to see his or her gods from new angles – even the non-fictional ones. Whether you agree with the headcanon is ultimately secondary to whether or not it prompts a good story.

To use a modern example, Phil Coulson’s death was widely ignored by fandom – at first people wrote stories explaining how he was alive, and not long afterward it was essentially decided by fandom that it wasn’t even necessary to explain it in any given fic. It was just a given that Fury had faked his death, and eventually Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made that fanon (SPG) into canon. While this made telling stories with Coulson in them easier, in some ways it limited what fandom could do because writing a dead!Coulson fic was harder, even though Coulson’s death was apparently canon for months.

If you can’t quite bring yourself to conflate your canons, perhaps you’d be more comfortable with another “H” term: hypothesis. Some pagans would benefit from treating their UPG as a hypothesis: something that needs to be tested, refined, and evaluated. If you similarly view the UPG of others as hypotheses, you can seek any useful ideas or possible truth in even UPG that conflicts with your own experience. Whether or not you ultimately decide that two pieces of UPG are or are not compatible, the time spent gives a greater understanding of your own experiences and knowledge because they have been compared and even challenged.

Altar-ations

Kuan Yin altar, April 2014

Kuan Yin altar, April 2014

Well, there are choices you have to make when it comes to parenting and one of them is space. The dresser where I had been keeping Kuan Yin’s altar is going to house the changing pad, so the Lady got moved onto a space about half the size. Everything fits, though just barely.

To set that up, I had to move a few other small altars around and that got me thinking about Mara’s altar. I’m starting to get the itch that she wants it rearranged, but there’s not a whole lot of rearrangability in the current configuration. I’m thinking about keeping an eye out for a new small furniture piece or something else that might go in place of the shelf it’s already on, or maybe I have something in the house I can use.

I have been doing Butt In Couch instead of Butt In Chair for my regularly scheduled writing rotation. For a while I was using the desk in the second room, but that’s got baby stuff all over it (again) and rather than clear it I’ve just been sitting on the couch with the laptop. This is a terrible plan for my back and I need to just clean off the desk, but I’ve gotten distracted and off-track this week.

I have been getting writing done, though nothing orderly. That’s probably some kind of metaphor, that if I try to be too orderly with my writing, I end up getting nothing done. It’s not a very productive metaphor, though. I need to find a way to change that.

My Shingle

If you’ve been following my blog for more than, say, a week, you’ve probably noticed that I write my fair share of devotional poetry. (Probably more than my fair share, honestly, but you guys and my gods seem to put up with it.)

Last night a good friend asked me to write something for her goddess. It was actually the third deity-inspired piece I’ve written so far this month and she was pleased with the result. It got me thinking that this is something I can do for other people outside of the context of simply writing poem-prayers to Mara on request.

So! For the rest of National Poetry Writing Month (April), I will be taking requests for devotional poetry and prayers. The goal is to build up a portfolio I can use to offer my services as a devotional poet going forward.

Hit me with your best shot, guys.

Everything Louder Than Everything Else

I always feel like I’m living with the volume turned up to 11. For me, being a monster is like speaking capslock as my native language. Everything is experienced immediately and intensely, in a way society tells me is “overboard.” The details vary, as details pretty much always do, but the aspect of Buddhism that draws me in is the philosophy of experiencing each moment fully for what it is.

Whatever I am doing at any given moment, that is the thing I have fully committed myself to. If I’m on a mountain, I’m enjoying the hell out of that mountain right then, not worried about the next part of the trail or whatever pissed me off that morning. If I’m fucking, my partner knows exactly where my attention is at any given moment. If I’m working, the work is what matters and doing it right becomes important no matter how dull the job is. Telling me not to care is meaningless, and this can cause me a lot of stress at work. If I’m watching a movie, my emotions are fully consumed by the movie, regardless of how stupid I might look crying in Wreck It Ralph.

Being a wild thing means being in the moment, not in the past or the future. What matters is what I’m doing now, and whether I could be doing it even better than I already am. Whatever I’m feeling, I’m feeling it one hundred percent. (Even if that feeling is confusion, or even if I’m feeling two different things and I’m at 200%.) Every feeling is valid and important, it’s just what you do with them that matters. Anger and joy are easy ones to picture, and while Americans are acculturated to cringe at expressions of both, we at least know what they look like. That’s not the case with many emotions. Grief, for example, is felt keenly by monsters and most other creatures; I mourn loudly and messily, and I’m a sobbing mess when I get started. (Traditional Irish wakes as well as funerals with wailing and screaming mourners are both closer to honesty than the stoic, silent funeral that’s so common.)

Fear is a feeling like any other, to be felt completely in the moment when it overwhelms you. The beautiful thing about really feeling all of your emotions is that you become aware of the fact that every mood changes and every feeling passes. That fear will pass, and be replaced by anger or relief or bravery; in the mean time, you can appreciate it for the survival instinct it is.

Because every feeling is valid, there are no guilty pleasures, just pleasures. If I like 80s power ballads, then I am going to turn that Journey album up to eleven and I don’t care who hears me sing along. If I’m running, I’m doing it for the sheer joy of running, even if there’s someplace I have to end up as well.

I can tell you without shame that I love bad movies, 80s rock, and cartoons as much as I love deconstructing mid-20th-century American poetry and traditional blacksmithing and opera. None of those is more valid than the other, and I sing along with La Donna Il Mobile and Don’t Stop Believin’ with equal passion. Shame makes no sense. If I like it, it’s clearly worth liking. If you disagree, we can have a lively debate about it, or we can ignore ignore it in favor of things we agree on.

The American cultural ideal of the “polite fiction” is ridiculous. Most monsters will take you at your word; this is why honesty is so important in fairy tales. If you’re going to lie, lie big. Make it worth your while. But when in doubt, don’t lie at all, especially not to yourself or the people you care about.

Yes, this ends badly sometimes. Freaking out when someone “moves your cheese” is frowned on in the workplace. We’re expected to act like we’re simply okay no matter how we really feel. Maybe some people can learn to tamp down their feelings like that, but I never really have. If I’m angry, or if I’m happy, you’re going to know. (I’ve had bosses complain about my “oversharing” before, and I’ve worked on it, but it’s still hard.)

There is also a tendency toward violent reactions that’s not easy to understand if you’re not from a culture that allows honest feelings to flourish. I don’t punch people any more, but I am going to let you know what I think and I am going to call you on your bullshit if I think it’s deserved. Otherwise it not only builds up inside you, but it can turn poisonous, leading you to undermine whatever compromise you reached.

Even my anxiety is something I live at full volume. I don’t have any small, creeping fears. I have terrors, and I learn to live with them. I have my obsessive thoughts, and I think them loudly, and eventually I’m able to release them.

And that’s the amazing thing about living a life where you aren’t afraid to feel everything. Yes, it will hurt, and you will feel every inch of the pain. But the joy and the excitement and all the pleasures are that much sharper as well. When you know every feeling will pass, you learn to treasure all of them, even the anger and the pain and the grief, because you know you’ll never feel precisely this same way again.

This is all I have. I intend to enjoy it.

G is for (Looking For) Group

I have a fair number of gods I work with and I’m trying for feel out whether they’re a pantheon, a cohesive group in some way, or whether they’re just a handful of deities, some of whom work together. Mara goes with Laima, Laima goes with Ganesha, I feel like Sarasvati goes with them… but then what about the local spirits? The Two Man Con? Is there consistency to my practice? Does there need to be?

Is Balto-Vedic even a thing?

But the further I go down this rabbit hole, the more sure I am that the gods I work with, the gods that feel like a pantheon or a group, do so in the context of my fictional recon work rather than anything historical or ADF-worthy. I can talk about the Latvian Mara, and the Disneyland Mara, and Mariamman, and Morena, and Zemyna, but the one I work with is another goddess aside from all of those names. I think that’s why it gets so fuzzy for me when I try to figure out which ones syncretize and how… the common ground is something I can’t point to in a history book, but only in a book I am writing myself.

And then I looked at the title sitting there and realized that someone is going to look at this on the PBP page and think it’s about finding local community. If that’s you, I’m sorry, I’m probably the least qualified person to write about finding local community. I mean, I keep meeting pagans and druids and even Lokeans who are local but… I don’t practice with anybody outside the house, really.

If I’m ever going to get to that point, though, where I can share the gods I work with so that other people can also work with them, I’m going to have to do more of that feeling out, that writing, that understanding. So maybe in the long run it’s all one thing after all.

Queen of Transitions

Hail Mara, Dear Mara,
Queen of the Transition,
may all things go smoothly
under your calm hands.
May paychecks always come
before bills are due, and may
opportunities appear
when our accounts run short!
May our household run well
no matter the season, and may
we never be caught unprepared
by weather or emergency!
May moving from job to job,
client to client, apartment
to duplex to single family home,
never disappoint and never
bring unhappy surprises!
Give me strength to ask
uncomfortable questions
in the pursuit of comfort.
Keep my family safe as we
dive into this new adventure,
take the risk of the unknown,
and trust in you to guide us
until you take us through
the last transition.

This is a post for day three of NaPoWriMo 2014.

The Organizing Bug

I brought over the posts from Jackadreams. I like this site better, I like not being on WP.com. (Nothing against the site, but I like the control I have.) I’m also in the process of putting Mara’s shrine together here instead of having it also sitting on a separate site. I just like having all my toys in one sandbox at the moment, I suppose.

I may change my mind again later. Sometimes I do stuff like this just because I find messing with code to be really soothing. I spent time working on the layout for my author site yesterday for that reason. CSS is designed to be predictable. I poke this, that moves. Simple.

I organize things, sort things, scan and file, purge, all these things. I do it because it makes me feel better. There’s no inherent greatness is having ebooks instead of paper books (though in my case, it’s in addition to) or in being able to pull up a PDF of my tax return from 2009 in less than a minute. It simply gives me a feeling of being more in control of my surroundings and of my life.

Of course, I think that’s enough of a reason to do any hobby.

A Font of Baptismal Wisdom

The thing about building a tradition is that I have to build all of it, and sometimes things sneak up on me.

I was baptized Catholic, so I’m culturally acclimated to parents making certain decisions for their children. We do plan to raise the Fishie in our religion. I know some people don’t think you should raise a child in any religion, but I think it’d be near-impossible to leave her out of daily practice, holydays, and everything else. Instead she’ll have all the mythology picture books I can find and as soon as she has preferences for practicing (or not practicing) we will do our best to accommodate them.

I’m trying to decide whether I should be planning some sort of ritual for the Fishie when she’s born. On the one hand, I don’t want to give her any obligations or make any promises on her behalf. On the other, I made certain offerings and secured the help of certain deities before she was conceived, and it feels like I should, at the least, formally present her to her “Godmother.”

I suppose I should start by consulting with Mara to see what, if anything, she expects and we can plan from there.

I know I have several readers who are building new traditions. Do you have birth rituals? What kinds of pagan rituals have you seen?