Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: The Case for Polytheism by Steven Dillon

There are only a few books presenting a philosophical case of polytheism, and we need more such works. The field of apologetics — laying out a reasoned argument in favor of certain theological ideas —  is a key part of the body of thought of any religion. 

There are a few works that fulfill this role for polytheism, with John Michael Greer’s A World Full of Gods probably the most emblematic such work. Steven Dillon's The Case for Polytheism, published in February by Iff Books, is another effort. 

At 75 pages of text (followed by notes and a bibliography), Dillion’s work is more of an expanded pamphlet, but he packs a lot of thought into those pages. Grappling first with what a god is, he then lays out a case for the existence of a god or gods, and then argues that a multiplicity of gods is more likely to exist than a single deity. 

Through all of these early chapters his case is well-argued. He draws on his training in philosophy at a Roman Catholic seminary, bringing weight to his logic and depth to his meticulous construction of a case. The work is somewhat dry and analytical — he lacks Greer’s conversational warmth — but still accessible. 

Dillon’s argument culminates in a conclusion that many polytheists will find troublesome and others will welcome: There is, Dillon concludes, a “God behind the gods,” an overarching divine power that he terms Aletheia. This power is goodness in essence and creator of the gods. As he has through all of the book, Dillon argues for this position with careful logic and reasoning, 

All in all, this is a worthy addition to the small but growing field of polytheist apologetics. It should be read alongside Greer, Jordan Paper and others rather than taken on its own, but Dillon adds an important perspective. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

A lot has happened since the last entry here. I (Michael) completed the courses for the Clergy Training Program’s first circle, and am now eligible to apply for ordination, which I will be doing soon.

We did some decluttering a few weeks ago that required taking our altar down and relocating it. While it was down, we acquired some new statues; we reassembled it today, New Year’s Day, consecrating each item with water and incense smoke.

2015 promises to be an auspicious year. Restoring the sacred space in our home was a great way to begin.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Omega Point (Apollon rite)

I finally got a ritual done for Apollon. We had been trying to for a month and, for one reason or another, had not managed it. First, the weekend arrived faster than I could prepare. The next weekend was the healing weekend at CedarLight Grove. We tried the weekend after that but had one mishap after another until we called it off before finishing.

So today I got it done, and it went fine, but felt emotionally uninvolving. The omen reflected this, I think. I have the help of the gods on my path, but more warnings (these have been consistent) about how no harvest comes from a withered branch (omega), and nothing can be reaped that has not been sown.

I’ve applied for admission to the clergy training program, but it may be that I am moving a little too quickly. These same tiles have occurred in oracles a few times lately, and that seems to be the context for it.

I’m also beginning to think that the plan to honor each of the major Hellenic gods in turn in an arbitrary order is not the best way to meet the pantheon. I’m going to mull that one a bit. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: When A Pagan Prays

Religion and prayer go hand-in-hand and paganism is no exception to the rule. Nimue Brown has here written a lengthy treatise on the place of prayer in pagan religion, and offers many useful insights. She discusses the ethics of prayer, its actual practice, the balance of prayer and action and its place in magic and ritual, to name just a few topics.

Brown began the work that became this book out of intellectual curiosity. She is a Druid, a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), and -- significantly for readers of this book -- a nontheist. She  rejects the label atheist because "it seems too much like certainty to me," but nevertheless, she does not include gods in her pagan practice. Her spirituality did not include prayer per se because, without deities, to just whom is one praying?

Buy the book

When she became interested in prayer, she looked into Christian, Buddhist and Shinto practices among others to gain insight into how prayer manifests in various religions. An early and important revelation was in a book by a Christian author who wrote that prayer is "about entering a mystery, not getting a result." From there, Brown launched into a personal experiment with prayer, from which this book eventually emerged.

She explores each of her topics in considerable depth, and brings a great deal of scholarship to bear. Attempting to summarize it would not do justice to it, because watching her thoughts reveal themselves in full measure is one of the pleasures of reading this work.

As an OBOD Druid, Brown has a particular perspective, as would a Hellenic Reconstructionist or an Asutruar. "Pagan" has become too big a word to mean much specific; however, she says emphatically and frequently through the book that she is intending only to describe her thoughts and experience, not to issue proclamations that everyone should accept. With that caveat in mind, she has written an interesting and useful book.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Further along the initiate path

I am now done with the fully academic courses in ADF’s Initiate Program. Those that remain require several months of practice, journaling and distilling essays from the journals.

I am finding the coursework really rewarding. General Bardic Studies I reawakened my interest in writing poetry, and it has also fed my devotional work as I’ve been writing poems for the gods in the course of getting to know them. I have written for Poseidon, Demeter and Athena, and Apollon is next on the list.

Poetry awakens an alternate language of a sort. My approach, as a tool for initiating a relationship, has been to find a personal connection between my own life and the god’s nature (my love of the sea for Poseidon, my interest in justice for Athena) and then developing a metrical poem that expresses that. The deities seem to appreciate the effort, if the omens are any indication. 

Historically, poetic forms have been an important aspect of every oral culture. Meter and rhyme make words more memorable, easier to pass along, easier to preserve across generations. Hymns and prayers are often in verse, so this practice is time-honored.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Poseidon, Do-Over

My plan to honor the Hellenic deities one at a time is underway. After good rituals offering to Zeus and Hera came a disastrous one to Poseidon.

I read up a bit on him and wrote a few words, making an offering of Nori (seaweed sheets used in sushi). The omens made it clear that the gods didn’t think much of the ritual and the effort I put into it; you can’t reap what you haven’t sown, was the gist. Even the suet block we put out for the birds (nature spirits) has gone untouched.

I was duly chagrined by this, but determined to redouble my effort. Rather than moving on to the next deity on the list, I approached Poseidon anew. I read more, including some original material from Homer as well as secondary sources. And I composed a poem, the first time ever that I’ve written an original bardic offering. (For now, I'm not going to share it, as it was an offering for him; I may in time.)

When it came time to draw the omen, I asked (as I had last week) the single question: Have we honored you well?

The first tile, Lamba, slipped out of my fingers, hit the altar and bounced to the left into the liquid offering bowl. Its meaning:

“The one passing on the left bodes well for everything.”

Next, Alpha:

“The god says you will do everything successfully.”

Finally, Sigma:

“Phoibos (Apollon) speaks plainly, ‘Stay, friend.’”

After that we drew three more, one for each of the three kindreds: Ancestors, nature spirits and gods. They also were positive, and for the gods I drew Psi, which is shaped like Poseidon’s trident and means “You have this righteous judgment from the gods.”

Overall, I take this to mean: Poseidon was pleased with the second effort, happily accepts our offerings, and the gods overall share this judgment.

The gods ask us to approach them as the powerful beings they are. They are not coming over to help us clean the garage, they attend our rites, if they do, to accept honor, worship and offerings. They are not buddies (though some, like Hermes, can become pretty chummy with time), and rightfully require some respect.

The experience reminded me of a principle I’ve long held to: It’s better to not do a ritual at all than to do it half-assed. The ritual I put together last week was fine from a ritual mechanics point of view, but lacked any sort of personal connection. I had no real reason to call Poseidon except that it was turn, and he had no reason to respond to the call. The second time, I found that personal connection and built the ritual around it. It made all the difference. 

Hail Poseidon! And thank you for the firm hand. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Trial Run

I am now working on the Initiate Path in ADF, and one of the courses, Liturgy Practicum I, requires me to document home worship for at least four months.

In the spirit of starting fresh, I created a full ritual for the Hellenic hearth. I did not write most of it – I adapted it from a rite ADF member Jeremy Baer wrote and from prayers by Hester Butler-Ehle from her book “Devotion” – but I did write a portion for the agathos daimon, and adapted some of the Baer material.
Here’s the basic structure:

Ground and center


A child of the Earth approaches the Kindred to offer honor and welcome to the Earth Mother, the spirit of the house, the ancestors, nature spirits and the gods and goddesses.

{Conduct Two Powers for ground/center)

Beneath us are the waters of the earth.
The waters are dark, still and powerful.
The waters contain the memories of countless ages.
Behold, the waters are the Sacred Well.
Sacred Well, flow within us!
Above us burn the flames of heaven.
The flames are bright, quick, and dazzling.
The flames contain the vision of ages to come.
Behold, the flames are the Sacred Fire.
Sacred Fire, burn within us!
At the center of the world stands a stone
The Omphalos, the navel of the world.
It holds all, in all ages past and all ages hence.
Behold, the Sacred Stone.
Sacred Stone, anchor us!
Beneath our feet stretches the land!
The land is powerful, the land is ancient.
It teems with the flow and ebb of life immortal.
Hail to the land!
Hail to the Land!
Above us spans the sky.
The sky is vast, the sky is ancient.
It stands above us triumphant and ageless.
Hail to the Sky!
Hail to the Sky!
Beyond us rushes the sea.
The sea is deep, the sea is strong.
The sea surrounds us always and forever.
Hail to the Sea!
Hail to the Sea!
We stand at the Sacred Center of All Things. All places and all times. From this place all things were born, and to this place all things return. In this place all worlds are entwined. In this place, all beings are conjoined. We stand before eternity to meet the gods and spirits. Be it so!

Earth mother on whose sacred soil we tread, we are your children. We eat your food, drink your water and breathe your air. Boundless is the bounty you bestow upon us. We honor your gifts.
Earth Mother, accept our offering!

Agathos daimon, you protect us. You safeguard our home and you guide us to right decisions. Your guidance steadies our steps. We thank you and honor you.
Agathos Daimon, accept our sacrifice.

To the spirits of the dead,
Who dwell in the halls of death,
and who are buried in the Earth Mother's bosom.
Look kindly on the living.
Gift us your love and your guidance.
Hail to the Ancestors!
Ancestors, accept our offering.

To the spirits of the Earth.
Fur and feather, root and branch
May we be at peace with each other.
Look kindly on us,
and gift us with your bounty.
Hail to the Nature Spirits!
Nature Spirits, accept our offering.

To the gods and goddesses,
The folk give you honor.
We stand before you strength, your wisdom, and your hospitality.
Look kindly upon the Folk,
And grant us your many Blessings.
Hail to the Gods and Goddesses!
Gods and Goddesses, accept our offering.


The text below or a similar devotional:

Hestia, heart of the house, first born and last: for light and warmth, home and hearth, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Awesome Zeus, mightiest of all the gods: protector and rain-bringer, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Noble Hera, defender of marriage: for family and fidelity, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Poseidon, lord of the ocean depths: friend to sailors and seafarers, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Demeter, best of mothers, gracious one: for fertile fields and fruit-filled trees, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Hades, ruler of the vast underworld: for a gentle end to a long life, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Athena, grey-eyed daughter of great Zeus: for wisdom, for skill, for victory, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Shining Apollo, archer unerring: for health, for art, for music, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Artemis, first-born child of fair Leto: protector of our children, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Hermes, clever son of Zeus and Maia: for wit and luck and humor, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Glorious Aphrodite, kind one, fair one: for love, for lust, for passion, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Ares, who takes joy in combat and strife: for strength, for will, for vigor, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Skillful Hephaistos, maker of marvels: for craft and invention, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Dionysos, beautiful god of the vine: for rapture and transcendence, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Great Hekate, ever-watchful maiden: torch-bearing guide and guardian, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Persephone, lovely queen of the dead: you who will welcome us all, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Goat-footed Pan, roamer in wild places: for instinct and unreason, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Eros, irresistible force of desire: for mindless, ruthless passion, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Asklepios, wisest of physicians: for health and for healing, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Fair Tyche, provider of all good things: for luck so kindly given, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Nike, patron of athlete and soldier: for all our victories, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.
Gaia, ancient one on whose flesh we tread: for our lives, for existence, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

(Offering to the gods)

Gods and Goddesses, accept our offering!


We have honored the gods and goddesses, the spirits of nature, the ancestors and the agathos daimon. Now it is time to ask them for their guidance and blessing.


We thank you for your blessings. Now I charge the waters of life to bear these blessings, that we may drink deeply.


Hail to the Gods and Goddesses! Hail to the Nature Spirits! Hail to the Ancestors! Hail to the Agathos Daimon! Hail to the Earth Mother! Thank you being at this rite! We honor you always as we walk the Elder Ways.

This rite is ended.


I gave the ritual a trial run today. I performed it as written above, but with special sections added for Hermes and Hera (whom Lynda and I feel most close to), and Hestia (the patroness of every home.)

I showered for purification, and gathered up offerings. For Hestia, incense; for the ancestors, black coffee (my dad and grandmother were both aficianados); the Earth Mother and the nature spirits, grain; the gods and goddesses in general, frankincense recels; the Greek gods specifically, watered wine; Hera, incense; Hermes incense.

I used the Lycian Oracle for an omen, and I believe the upshot was: The kindred like this ritual, but caution me not to undertake it without commitment to carry it out regularly, even when I might not feel like it (zeta clarified by eta); they offer me patience, probably meaning the patience I’ll need for long term regular practice (rho), and ask of me perseverance (omicron).

I think it went well, and smoothly. I am sure I will refine it further with experience.