How to Be a Polytheist: A Reflection After 10 Years

Prayers

On most days, I wake up and scroll through my phone for 30 minutes. This is because I’m a Millennial and addicted to social media. But I get up eventually and wash my face. As I do this, I go through my usual mental check list: water, incense, headscarf, lighter. Then I throw on some clean clothes, making myself comfortable but presentable. Time to pray.

Prayer usually takes no longer than 5 minutes. Honestly, I think I spend more time fussing with my headscarf so that it looks nice (but who is going to see me before dawn?) than I do giving offerings. And my prayers are the same every day, because I read the same ritual off my iPhone every day. Since cloud storage is an ingenious invention, I store all of my prayers in Notion. So whenever I stand in front of my shrine, I hold my hands in “half-orans”: one hand up, palm toward the shrine, the other hand holding my phone at chest height.

Offerings

Standing with my shopping cart in the middle of the grocery store, I check my list again. Scribbled in beneath the fish and mushrooms for tonight’s dinner are my essential sacrifices: Quaker brand loose oats, lactose-free milk, and sea salt in one of those big cans. For the ancestors, I buy roasted coffee beans. I grab a dozen chicken eggs for the household spirits and also for breakfast. And sometimes, on a whim, I pick up some clementines, flowers, or chocolate when I’m feeling extra (or it’s for a holiday).

Most days, though? Most days I pour libations of cold, filtered water from the fridge.

Holidays

Google Calendar says the next Ustauhtimats is coming soon. Sometimes Mena Himself reminds me, whenever I peer out my window at night and see His pale eye waning. But Google Calendar’s consistent, and I already schedule my entire life on it, anyway. Why not festival days?

My current windowsill shrine is small and only has space for one offering dish: a glass dessert bowl with a foot, like the one you use to serve parfaits. It’s big enough to hold some of the aforementioned fruit, flowers, or chocolate. But on most holidays, I just prefer to offer milk (any kind). Milk is sacred to the Gods. It is the lifeblood of humanity. Even when I’m exhausted after a full day of work, gym, and household chores, I can give milk as a simple but deeply significant libation.

Devotion

I log into Discord and read all the new messages posted to the Skíðblaðnir server. New Heathens joined since I last checked. They ask a flurry of questions: how to pray, how to make offerings, how to celebrate holidays. Others respond, their usernames a fixture of my life these past few years. I remember when they first joined and asked the same questions. I shared with them the same answers they are sharing now.

Lord Anubis, You guide my feet and hands where they are meant to go, so that I may help others reach their own destinations.

Legend says that when Alaric I, King of the Goths, died, his loyal warriors diverted the Busento River from its course and buried him at the bottom of the riverbed. Then they dropped the river back on top of his grave so that no one could find him or his treasures. Forty days after my grandmother’s death, I stand at the side of a river. It isn’t as big as the Busento, nor do I have the means to change its path. Still, I bury her there in metaphor, throwing flower petals onto the flowing water. Laguhwaþo will take my grandmother into the afterlife and send her wherever she wants to go.

Lord Gapt, the Gods of the ancient Goths receive worship once again. We may not know You by Your old names or old stories, but we are giving You new names and writing new stories. May You accept them.

Practice

“I’m not good at this,” a friend laments. “I’ll never be good at this.”

“It’s not about being good at it,” I tell her. “It’s about doing it.”

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