Chthonic Devotion: An Ode to Spirits of and Under the Earth

To be honest, it’s only coincidence that I am writing this on Earth Day. I am no activist, but I love and appreciate nature, and lately I’ve been feeling more connected to the elements around me.

 

While I spend most of my time in the suburbs surrounded by concrete and cars, there was a time in my life when I was deeply connected to nature. My grandparents own a 35 acre property, much of which is forested. I used to spend summers with them when I was a child, and my grandmother taught me how to identify animal tracks and harvest clay from the bank of a small stream that flowed through the forest. I became familiar with ferns and all manner of wildflowers and the way jewelweed would shine silver underwater. Back home, in our row house, we had a small backyard with sparse, often yellowish grass. Even there, I would build fairy houses and make offerings.

In hindsight, this background has prepared me immensely for pagan spirituality. My desire to connect to the gods has curtailed most of my interest in any spirits that I perceive to be minor, but remembering my fairy devotion has reminded me that honoring the land spirits and ancestors is not so unimportant as I find myself thinking. They are essential.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a deep call to return to the earth. My heart longs to perform some spiritual act that will re-entangle me with the earth, but the sad reality is that I’m woefully removed from that time in my life, and I have been displaced from the ancient knowledge of expressing that love.

Now, more than ever, I am aware of the power of the earth, of its richness and liminality; it bears life and decay in equal measure. It nourishes us. It feeds beautiful blossoms. It cradles our bones after we die, which will in turn feed new life.

 

I would like to take this time to honor the chthonic and earthen powers:

Hail to Hekate, Hela, Hades, Persephone, and Ereshkigal, keepers of the underworld and of the dead.

Hail to Nerthus, goddess of earth and liminality, and Freyr, bringer of the harvest. Hail to Cybele, Rhea, and Gaia, mothers of all. Hail to Dionysos Khthonios, with ivy and with thyrsus.

 

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Pagan Podcasts

Someone recently brought up podcasts to me, and it inspired me to look for podcasts that satisfy my own interests. But alas, good pagan podcasts are few and far between. Half of them have terrible production quality, are overly dramatic, or are rarely ever on topic. So here’s my list of the good ones.

Inter-Spiritual Discussion

This Week in Heresy

This podcast is hosted by Rev. Gina Pond, a Wiccan priest who also identifies as Christian. Her soothing voice makes it easy to listen to, and she always finds interesting guests and discussions, giving various pagan traditions a voice.
Unfortunately, the podcast does appear to be on an indefinite hiatus, but it is still worth listening to.

Scroll of Thoth

The podcast describes itself as a discussion of “magick and occult counterculture,” but from the episodes I’ve heard, I got a very academic sense of paganism. The show does a good job of blending the religious and the intellectual.

Mythology

MythTake

The hosts of MythTake jump right into the content without all the usual theatrics, and they really delve into the myths with respect and dynamic knowledge.

Spirits

Spirits is one of the more fun podcasts on the list, but I hesitate to list it as a pagan resource. The hosts talk about different myths while drinking, and their boisterous attitudes really keep the listener engaged, but the educational value of the show is limited in that they only give brief overviews of the myths and are evidently not the most reverent of hosts.

Specific Traditions

Heathen Talk

Heathen Talk really highlights Heathen issues, and the voice quality is strong.

 

Well, that’s the list so far. Check back for updates, as I may add more!

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A Review of CNN’s “Believer” with Reza Aslan

When I saw a commercial for “Believer,” I was extremely excited. The show promised an in-depth look at religions around the world, and I was eager for a more visceral chance to experience these religions than through the literature I had studied.

I watched the Scientology episode first, as it was the first I could record with my cable app. This initial glimpse at “Believer” impressed me. I knew almost nothing of Scientology aside from what I had seen in the documentary, Going Clear, so I had a distinctly negative view of Scientology. Aslan acknowledged this public perception in his episode but sought to give the religion the benefit of the doubt. In his interviews with Scientologists who had separated from the church, he noted a trend similar to that of the Protestant Reformation. Scientologists were gradually separating from the church after seeing its greediness and the ways in which they believed that it had diverged from the original teachings of L. Ron Hubbard.  That having been said, Aslan focused on auditing practices rather than the theology, and I would have liked to gain a better understanding of the belief systems. Additionally, it would have been nice if Aslan engaged more with church abuses.

After this initial glimpse, I looked up reviews of “Believer” and was surprised to see mostly negative responses. Now, having watched every episode aside from the one about Orthodox Jews, I see the sensationalism that critics have railed against. The very first episode of “Believer” focuses on India’s Aghori, a small Hindu sect that denies religious purity and the caste system. Here, Aslan completely forgoes an exploration of conventional Hinduism and straight into the injustices of the caste system. He then looks to the Aghori as the cure for these issues, but the nomadic Aghori are a bit crazy. They eat  from skulls, drink water from the polluted Ganges, cannibalize human flesh, and consume their own urine. Aslan jumps from these radicals to a moderate sect which hosts a school where inter-caste interaction is encouraged as well as a clinic for the most untouchable of all, lepers. This is where other reviewers have railed against the show (i.e. Samuel and Juluri). In the time of Trump, people are afraid of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, and they think that Aslan’s pedagogical strategy (contrasting a radical group with a moderate one) will only contribute to hatred. Yet, it is unlikely that racists, xenophobes, and religious supremacists will approach “Believer” at all, and Aslan makes it clear that conventional Hindus are disgusted by radical Aghori practices. That having been said, Aslan failed to show the beauty of the Hindu religion or to weigh its flaws with those of Christianity, a tactic that really served him in the Scientology episode.

As for the rest of the show, Aslan did well with his depiction of Vodou and the religious cultus1 surrounding Santa Muerte. However, I feel that he gave too much air time to the Evangelicals calling Vodou demonic, especially since the Evangelical message was fairly simple and redundant. A mambo who watched this episode noted that there were some inaccuracies, but I think the general purpose, to shed light on a deeply misunderstood religion, was served.

The doomsday cult in Hawaii episode was least productive. The commune built around one doomsday prophecy could hardly be described as a religion, since it had no overarching theology or spiritual practices, and their prophet, Jezus, (yes, Jesus with a z) was more than a bit ridiculous. So, I felt somewhat cheated of a legitimate religious portrayal by this episode.

Overall, “Believer” was enjoyable, but the educational value of the show varies greatly from episode to episode. Elements of the sensationalism that others have accused CNN of are there, but Aslan seems to be genuinely interested in exploring belief systems other than his own. That having been said, the series is worth watching, if with a grain or two of salt.


Endnotes

  1. specialized religious devotion
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Religious Political Imposition

 

While I believe in everyone’s right to practice their religion and believe what they believe, I’ve been noticing a frightening trend in politics lately.

Some of my peers have been criticizing Trump’s policies based only on how Christian they are. Since when has being a good Christian equaled being a good president? Yes, our religion bleeds into our values which informs our politics, but that can only affect how we feel about policies, not about whether or not it’s right for our country as a whole, and I urge people to know the difference between expressing religious opinion and treating American government like a Christian theocracy.

You can criticize Trump all you want, but if you are going to attack his politics, you should approach your argument in a thoughtful and political way. If a policy appears to disadvantage a particular religion, then the best way to approach that issue critically is to to treat that religion as a faction; ie. “This policy will hurt Muslims,” “As a Christian, I don’t agree with this, but I should think about whether or not it’s hurtful to my country and form an argument on that basis.”

 

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God Entries

I’ve just added Set to my repertoire, and I made a more detailed entry for him than I have for others just because of my mood. I’m will be going over my previous entries over time and adding sources where necessarily, as well as adding more details, potentially. I’m also considering reducing the list of Gods to ones that are more relevant to me, since the reality is that, even within the repertoire I have chosen, I am not actively concerned with all of them.

At any rate, I’ve been gathering shrine materials to make my first shrine, probably to Dionysus. I recently bought an amulet that reminds me of him and Ariadne, and I also collected some natural elements, which fit with Dionysus more than any other God. We shall see.

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Honoring Shiva

shiva

I had a dream recently about being in a temple of Shiva and seeing a beautiful golden statue of him. I don’t claim that this is anything but my own subconscious imagination, but it did comfort me to think that Shiva was in my life, if only in my own heart.

I would really like to find an appropriate temple. I think it’s time that I actually stepped into a place of worship and experience what it’s like to be in his presence. That having been said, Hindu temples are sparse in my area, but it’s something. I hope I can try one out soon.

 

Jai Shiva Shankara!

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Seeking Gods

While I have previously been in a state where I was almost exclusively interested in Goddesses, my attention has lately been more on Gods. Shiva began this shift. Now I’m on my way towards a fuller understanding of Odin. I am drawn to this savage, restless God, whose cleverness and thirst for knowledge is unimaginably powerful. Sadly, I must admit that my connection to Kali has been somewhat dampened over the last few months. Yet, this may be a positive change for the moment. I think I needed to submerge myself in Goddess study in order to reach the point where I could begin to identify with male Gods. Now that I have, I can truly open myself up to all the Gods and Goddesses.

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