30 July 2015

On Professionalism and Practice

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Lately, I have spent some time thinking about religious expression as a function of many other things. Many prominent bloggers have information out there about how they practice, how the household religion works, and a host of very related topics. Since last summer, the community has had polytheist.com, and the lineup of columnists there produce consistently good and thought-provoking content. We have booming online communities, face-to-face contact, and a lot of things that one might take for granted.

Few of the feeds I subscribe to are new, so if things have changed in the past year, this post won't reflect new developments in polytheistic professional presences. I have thought for some time about where those voices might be and why I stopped writing here as often as I once did, which can be summarized easily as a combination of getting back into playing World of Darkness, work commitments, and some heightened attention to my health and wellness. It was hard to think of writing new content here because most of the things I was reading were scholarly publications about engaging with library constituents, collection development, and Celiac. I think that I have read at most five scholarly articles on Hellenism over the past two years.

One of the things that I realized on being admitted to a professional master's degree program was that I could never have my experience running the Association of Smith Pagans (ASP) for one and a half years listed on a resume. In graduate school, I was suddenly in an environment where my peers (and natural friends) were now my future colleagues. Library science graduate students are typically activism-oriented in many ways. We cared about information access and privacy rights in ways that few people do. Many of the students in the academic track were somewhat active in New Atheism.

From the perspective of future hiring committees, being open about religion wasn't something that I wanted to do. Most employers, regardless of whether or not they were violating the official hiring policies, might see that as a black mark. (I have since learned that this is probably not as true as I thought, having served on a search committee.) I wanted to be (and currently am) a science librarian, and being too public about deeply held religious faith is a way to quickly lose credibility in an environment where I want to be seen as a resource for the million and one things that go wrong when you try to extract scientific discoveries from 400+ years of scientific literary corpus.

At the same time, I started seriously considering professional patron relationships with deities. I wrote several blog posts about my thought process behind that, one in 2011 and another in 2013. I give cult to Athênê and to Hermês at the beginning of each work week in acknowledgment of their role in the guardianship of the academy, and I appreciate all that they have done on my behalf and on the behalf of scholars everywhere. Few people at work know my religious affiliation unless they have chosen to do a less superficial Google search.

I do a lot of other things as a polytheistic professional, many of them interwoven with positive psychology and motivation hacking, that many might not recognize. I have a document in my work Evernote that I try to glance at every day. It describes my personal productivity pitfalls and how I consciously mitigate them. I have a reminder in that document about professional sacredness. I don't keep agalmata at my workplace right now, but have thought about doing that since I started working. The ones in my apartment are a lot easier to care for, with the added benefit of having incense available for offerings. Marcus Aurelius, while Roman, is another addition to my daily motivation dossier that has proven really good for getting things done and remaining mindful in my daily life.

In short, I think that there is a sustainable level for a routine religious practice that honors the gods. There isn't a lot of innovation, but there is incense, there are prayers, and there are drops of water hitting thirsty stones.

09 November 2014

Defining Polytheism and Paganism

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Back in 2011, when Drew Jacob announced he wasn’t a pagan, but a polytheist, a lot of emotions happened all over the pagan/polytheistic blogsphere. There were feelings of solidarity, feelings of betrayal, and everything in between.

One of the things I remember saying (or at least thinking) during that period is how much I wished that the arguments that came out of this discussion would trickle down into the other demographic that we have: the pagans and polytheists who, for whatever reason, don’t engage in pagan and polytheistic media on the Internet. Individuals make choices about where they spend their time, and it may involve nonreligious Internet communities or not using the Internet for its community-building aspects.

I remember thinking that regardless of what happened online, if people in local, face-to-face groups never heard about the important conversations about religious identity in modern polytheisms and paganisms, we would never see any real change. In 2011, I remember attending some of the open events in my mom’s coven when I visited on school breaks, and I wondered if they even knew that I considered the phrase, “Oh, tell me about your pagan path,” a bit insulting. Today, I participate in a lay-led Unitarian Universalist congregation in my town, which means that every few months, the people there must hear me talk about something. Usually Anthesteria.

This morning, though, I gave a service about these identity crises within the pagan and polytheistic movements. I quoted the “Where Do You Fit In?” section from Drew Jacob’s post, a statement in 2013 from Jason Pitzl-Waters on the idea of solidarity across communities, and Sannion’s arguments with Gus diZerega. I talked about the past few years of controversy, the Polytheist Leadership Conference, and defined terminologies that have come out of the discussion over the past few years.

Ultimately, I think that some of this crisis can be attributed to a lack of interfaith expectations within the face-to-face group setting. Anything that moves beyond a single tradition or a single polytheistic religion necessitates articulating (respectfully) differences so that there is not miscommunication about the values of the broader community network. Ritual language varies. Ethics vary. A whole host of things can fall apart if too many assumptions are made.

It also comes down to vulnerability. When anyone says, “We don’t want you to say we’re one of you anymore,” it can easily be mistaken as saying, “I don’t value you, so I am going to leave.” Vulnerability and insecurity can be terrifying, and we all have that voice in the backs of our heads terrified that we are secretly unimportant and not valued by others.

Three years later, I am extremely happy that I had an opportunity to talk about this in a real-world setting that extended beyond polytheists (or even polytheists and pagans). The outcomes of the conversation were great, and it’s really made me hopeful that disseminating what happens online among the interested-yet-uninvolved can make these conversations better.

24 August 2014

More incense

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First, a reminder: If you are in the Greater NYC Area and would like to come to a meetup, please view this post for details and fill out the Google form. I will send out a logistical email to people who have responded closer to the date!

I described in a post earlier this year the boxes of incense in my apartment and how I needed to use them up in devotional rituals before buying any new incense. The two exceptions to this rule are the incense that I purchased solely for offerings to Poseidon related to hurricanes and the incense that I purchased for honoring Persephone.

Earlier this month, I finished going through the incense backlog, so I ordered more incense. It was good. I now have the incense that I enjoy burning, Shoyeido. It involved ordering a large amount of frankincense. They gave me an incense sampler, too.

Typically, I light incense for one or more gods in the morning, and I burn more incense before I go to bed. I feel like I continuously say this, but I love the flexibility of coreless incense because I can measure off the amount of incense I need very easily. Some of the other scents are not traditional, but I have heard that storax has a vanilla-like scent, so I bought vanilla incense. An incense called Peace has myrrh in it, but I did not buy that this time due to my desire to experiment with shino-nome and kin-kaku.

Other offerings I make to gods include filtered water, hard cider, and occasionally nuts, seeds, or gluten-free grains. (I don’t keep barley in my apartment even for religious reasons, as I avoid touching gluten-containing grains and gluten-containing grain products due to not always being mindful of not touching my face. I don’t want to accidentally ingest any of it.) As I am an academic professional and it is the beginning of the fall semester, most of my devotional contact involves offerings fit for brief ritualistic check-ins.

I save the hard cider for special occasions. ;-)