As some people may already be aware, there’s been a shit storm this weekend. I’ve been watching it from my couch in between bouts of coughing and high-grade fever. It’s been entertaining and interesting to see all the various blog posts, finger-pointing, and general comments flying back and forth. I’ve enjoyed it while I attempt to recoup as much energy as I can before heading back to work tomorrow and contending with the energy requirements of Christmas Eve and Christmas. I will admit that the original post that began this latest firestorm really did get to me. I even commented on it – not that anyone clicking on that link would know. Tess wasn’t willing to approve my comment, which is her right. It is, after all, her blog. However, I pointed out that since the original post she was referring to was actually based on a Kemetic standpoint, more specifically the god Serapis asking for some low down from someone, that her libations statement was incorrect. But, of course, it’s okay! She put a parenthetical statement that said “it can depend on context.” However, if you’re going to start making posts regarding someone’s attempts at starting a relationship with a new god, then you should probably refer to the relationship building in terms of the culture that god stems from.
It’s a novel concept, but I digress.
What came later was a lot of shit flinging from the on-high polytheists that usually end up doing this. Tess Dawson followed up her middling to fair post with a true gem in which she makes racist comments and bitches about poor people. She decided that poor people shouldn’t have “nice things.” Apparently, owning a newfangled cell phone is above and beyond the poor; having an Internet connection in your home is seriously pushing your budget; you should only buy your clothes in second hand shops; and last but not least, you can definitely pour out a few drops of wine, milk, water, etc. to the gods in question since people “living in an inner-city ghetto in a gang war zone can manage on occasion to pour out a 40 to his homies.” Ouch. That’s a lot of assumptions and broad generalizations there. It was these comments as well as her absolutely staunch believe that she knows the financial situation of every poor person who happens to be a polytheist that really got people up in arms. Of course, her posse purposely misunderstood why people were upset.
Galina waxed poetic about having been poor once and then shamed poor people into giving offerings because they can afford food. And of course, Dver kept it classy by defending Tess’s racial statements and then proceeded to bitch at a Latina for having an opinion before she and her cronies bitched out a Haitian descendant for having an opinion, as well. I think we can just slow clap this one down in the history books.
Not only did these people completely miss the point that the working poor polytheists out there were making, but they really made themselves look about as classy as a three dollar bill. What makes all of this worse is that they really and truly believe their way is the only way. Since quite clearly, it takes all manner of people to make the world go ’round, the same applies to polytheistic traditions. If Tess hadn’t made an attempt to make an “all-encompassing polytheist guide” to the polytheists out there, this probably wouldn’t have been such a huge issue. The problem with these people – and their pet pit bull, Sannion – is that you cannot speak about polytheism an “all-encompassing” anything. The only similarity between my flavor of polytheism is that we all believe there are a lot of gods – and that’s it. My practice is not their practice is not your practice is not Joe Blow’s practice is not anyone else’s practice. It is unique and personal and wholly mine just as the same applies to their practices and to yours. There is no right way; there is no wrong way. There is only a practice that is what each individual makes of it.
The real issue with these types of ignorant statements about what poor people can and cannot do or what they can and cannot afford is the fact that they just simply don’t know how fucking poor we all are. Unless they take a poll of each polytheist who professes to be poor, they’ll never know why they have nice things. Perhaps the nice things were purchased when times were easier. Perhaps the nice things were after saving hard for the item in question. Or perhaps the nice items were acquired because sometimes the “bad decisions” poor people make actually make perfect sense. Whatever the case may be, they’re only taking a single and very narrow viewpoint about what poor people should be like and ignoring the majority of what poor people are actually like.
Another thing that they are not taking into consideration is that being poor isn’t just about financial status. It isn’t just as simple as making money or not making money; being on assistance programs or not being on assistance programs. There is no neatly defined specifications of what a poor person is or is not. But every single one of us have something in common with one another. You see, the thing these people are forgetting or merely just don’t know is that being poor isn’t only about the money, but it’s also about the mentality and emotional state that goes along with it. It’s about being poor and being poor. There’s a certain mental state and emotional frazzled state that goes along with the burden of being poor and that is something that is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to fight against.
With each day, if a poor person has a job, they go out and they do the job. In those instances, if they don’t have anything that can take their mind off of their financial situation, then they’re thinking about what bills haven’t been paid and how long they have before the electric company will turn off the electricity or where the next propane gas tank payment is going to come from. If they’re lucky enough to shut that shit down at work, then they get to go home and return to that careworn and frazzled state that they left that morning. It’s harder when they’re at home to ignore all the pending crises that could be sneaking up on them because they’re at home, whether that’s with a steady roof over their head or in a shelter. And they have to face their state over and over again. With that comes guilt, horror, shame, failure feels, and a myriad of other mental and emotional pinpricks that can get under the skin deep enough and far enough to make it nearly impossible to keep from losing all hope. Dante had it right, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate,” but it’s not just about the Ninth Circle of Hell: it’s also about being part of that classification of being poor.
And with all of those dangerous and painful feelings comes the ongoing blather from the mind.
I have it pretty bad. I’ve been scraping by with my job. I actually made more money when I was unemployed. I’ve only recently been granted food stamps again because I am about a thousand dollars a month below the federal poverty level for a family of three. Let that sink in for a minute: as the only person working, I make about a grand less than the federal poverty level each month. And with the money that I do have, I have to pay all of the bills and all of the extraneous and silly items, like gas to get to work, on that income. What makes it worse is that I have a son. I have a beautiful little boy who really and truly makes me feel loved and like I can do no wrong, but in my off moments, I’m often wondering how I could have brought him into a life like this. On top of the usual terrible feelings of failing and shame, I get the added bonus of feeling like a really shitty parent because I can’t afford to get my son new clothes, I can’t afford to let him go on any school field trips, I can’t afford to give him nice things like some of his friends have. But he looks up at me with those love filled eyes and for just a moment, I know it can be okay.
I’m lucky that I have a child because sometimes, the feelings go away.
I know there are plenty of people who don’t have an out like I do. I know there are a ton of people who can’t shut their mind off at work. I know there are a ton of people who don’t have distractions handy to forget the horrible situations they’re in. So, in that regard, I’m lucky. What else makes me lucky is that I still have my faith. I may be a poor polytheist by the Piety Posse’s standards, but I know that I’m not. I know, strongly and without doubt, that what I do and how I do it is okay. It works. They’re pleased with it. And I think that if others can kind of use what I have in similar situations, then maybe, just maybe, the horror of their situations may just fade, just a little bit and for just a little while. So, let’s get to it. Here we go.
- Food and beverage offerings.
Food is pretty expensive. I spend a lot of my time in the grocery store, hemming and hawing over what I can afford versus what I actually need. The two lists don’t usually meet down the middle. Sometimes, I can get things like vegetables in my house because the frozen vegetables go on sale. At my grocery store, last week, I was able to get those really expensive name brand, individual vegetable portions at a buck a piece. I sure as hell stocked up. But in my house, we’re big on fruits. And outside of bananas, which are pretty cheap, I end up holding back a lot when I would prefer to go wild. I would like to buy pomegranates for Sekhmet and I would like to buy grapes for Djehuty and I would love to be able to figure out how to purchase a pineapple for Papa Legba, who has been asking for some months. Instead, I look at the prices of the apples and the pears and the grapes and I usually end up with a bunch of bananas and two apples and maybe an orange if they’re on sale, too, and my son, TH, and I end up eating them. They rarely go to the gods.
When it comes to other items to offer, I’m on even less of a good scale here. The idea of leaving bread out for even a second is anathema to me. My son is at a piss-poor nutritional phase right now. That means that bread and peanut butter are all he’s willing to eat without serious arguments. So, we go through a lot of bread and I’m not usually the one who ends up eating it. I’m not going to take away from my son’s daily routine just so that the gods can have some bread. I’m also not going to remove a piece of steak from my mouth or my son’s mouth just so the gods can have some once in a while. None of them seem particularly interested in chicken, which is one of the cheapest things I can afford right now, no matter how many times I offer it. And now that things are as hard and as expensive as they are, I don’t dare sacrifice even a hint of food to them. My survival and the survival of my family is first and foremost. Besides, if I’m suffering from malnutrition because I’m too busy loading food off of my plate to the gods’ plates, then what good am I really doing? I may look like a totally “awesomely devout” polytheist, but point of fact, I would just be emulating a bunch of selfish twatwaffles who don’t deserve the time of day. So, why bother?
Besides, the gods don’t seem to want me to take away from myself on their behalf. It isn’t so much about sacrifice in an attempt to look more devout, but about the intent behind what you’re offering. And if you’re so worried about money and how not to waste things, then the intent isn’t going to be there. There are other ways around this, whether you eat your offerings or not.
A while ago, I was crying to my netjeru about money. I was feeling awfully low and feeling like I wasn’t doing my duty as their devotee. I mean, my offerings were very sparse and far between. I felt like a heel for failing to give them food stuffs. I thought that I could maybe bake for them, but even scraping together the money for eggs was pretty hard. So, I was just coasting. And that’s when I remembered votive offerings. Now, Devo is probably the best known Kemetic who does this. She uses Re-Ment to provide food offerings of varying quality to her gods. Votive offerings were pretty big in ancient Egypt, so it’s historically attested. When I waltzed into the Hobby Lobby near me and saw that the dollhouse food items were on sale for less than a buck on payday, I figured that it was a sign to go ahead and do so. It’s not the quality of the dollhouse food items because, really, they’re pretty crappily made (as someone whose family did the dollhouse stuff when I was a kid – I know the difference between the “good stuff” and the “cheap stuff”). But the intent was behind what I was aiming to do.
The really neat thing about this is that we don’t even need to buy things like dollhouse food stuffs or Re-Ment. If a polytheist is even remotely good at drawing, they could maybe draw up an offering plate of bread and butter and meat and whatever else comes into their minds. Even if they’re not, they could simply write down the names of what they wanted to offer. It would still be considered a votive offering of the items in question because the intent is still there. Yeah, sure. It’s nice having a physical reminder of what you want to offer your gods – an image of some sort – but even words are good enough. If there are polytheists who can get by on providing nothing but prayers to their gods, then I think we can get by with writing out what a full meal would look like or be comprised of in order to make ends meet.
A lot of people end up only being able to provide beverage type items in offering to their gods. Before I managed to find the cheap ass dollhouse food, I was in that boat. While the idea of being able to give shot glasses of booze or cups of milk or maybe some juice, even, sounds like a good idea, the money problem comes up again and again. Each cup that we may leave out, even for a second, could be taking away from what we need and what our families may need. Sharing a cup of tea with the gods is one thing but if you don’t even have the money for tea bags? Well, it goes beyond sacrifice and moves into the realm of “nope.” Of course, reversion of offerings stands here along with food, but the idea of leaving it out for an untold amount of time while the gods drink up what they want kind of squicks me out. It’s one thing to leave out a glass of juice for a few minutes, but there’s something less than pleasing about drinking a cup of milk after it’s already been sitting out for five minutes. (Personal preference here, maybe?) Whatever the reason – I’m not going to remove a cup of anything from my stomach, my son’s stomach, and I’m not going to discuss it. So, what else did that leave me?
Before the dollhouse food, I was only giving cool water to the netjeru and nothing else. I just couldn’t bring myself to sacrifice the food, so I gave them cups of water. I’m not a huge fan of water, but I also understand that conservation efforts need to be made. We can’t just assume that the resource will always be there. If there are states that can send people to jail for collecting rain water, then maybe it really is a pretty hot commodity. Whatever the reason, we need to think about conservation here while also being able to provide beverages, right? We can always re-use the water in some way, too, though. I actually end up re-using the water in my dog’s water dish every day. I give her the cups of water after the gods are “done” with it. I’ve also reused it to water plants in my home as well. However, water is free for me. It goes along with my rent. And I know that not everyone has that luxury. I used to have to pay for water in the apartment I lived in down south and there may not be a lot of landlords/landladies who are willing to throw in any bonuses in this economy. So, what to do?
Again, we come back to votive offerings. If the above example of dollhouse foods or Re-Ment is used, then we can go ahead and have more than just a simple cup of water to give. There are wines and beers and milk and juices to provide for the gods. And in same vein, as said above, if push comes to shove and the purchase of votive offerings isn’t something that can be done, then write about it or draw it.
What if, however, the polytheist is too poor to afford paper? Paper, like food and water, can be pretty expensive. You may not have ink to print something off and be unable to afford it. You may not have the ability to rub two pennies together so owning a pen and paper may be hard, too. What about speech? I realize I’m coming from a Kemetic viewpoint so my point-of-view regarding how powerful speech is goes beyond what other polytheists may believe. But even in ancient Egypt, the act of speaking, the words themselves, had power to them. And if you used your heka just right, you could probably just get away with speaking what you wanted to provide for the gods and they would be okay. I don’t know if the other cultures have similar views about words and the power of speech. But I bet if a polytheist inquires after the gods and how they feel about the power of speech, they may give you a good idea.
And if they prefer the votive food offering, on paper for instance, maybe borrowing pen and paper from a friend or from a center could help. I know that when I have to go to my local food stamps office, there is paper and pens everywhere. And sometimes, I walk away with those pens. (Not on purpose, but because I stick them in my hair and then leave.) And there is scratch paper left behind from various others who have needed it to figure out their finances or needed to write down extras that the little paper applications don’t have room for. So, maybe surreptitiously taking the paper from an office like that, maybe that could go to providing the libations and offerings that you want to give to your gods. Besides, if a resource that is available to the poor is willing to leave things like that out, then maybe they really mean for you to have the things in questions like spare paper and pens. Whatever the case may be, if words aren’t sufficient, I think paper and pen can work just fine in a pinch.
- Non-perishable offerings.
Offerings aren’t just about the food and the water, though. As much as people make a big deal about those things, they’re not the be-all, end-all. A lot of people forget that offerings, at least in antiquity, weren’t just about the pile of food that the priests or the people could provide for their gods. While the offering formula, at least of ancient Egypt, talks a big game about food, there were other things that were offered. Specifically, the formula says, “He gives invocation offerings of bread, beer, oxen, birds, alabaster, clothing, and every good and pure thing upon which a god lives.” And sometimes, it would end with something like, “Every good and pure thing that the sky gives, the earth creates, the inundation brings, on which the god lives.” This wasn’t just about the mountains of food that would be reverted to the priest, but about other items as well. So, how would someone who is poor be able to offering things to the gods as well? And what other types of things could they offer, perhaps even in lieu of food?
If we look at relief, then we know that it wasn’t just about the food that was provided to the gods. We have images of them offering ma’at, we have images of them offering gold and semi-precious stones, we have images of the people offering every “good and pure thing” that the god may desire or need for life. Things have changed in the last thousand years, I can tell anyone who is willing to read this. What was once “good and pure” may not be so anymore. And in same vein, what once may never have been thought to be “good and pure” may be now. I’ve looked around my house and at the accrual of things that have happened in the last thirty years. I have a lot of things that can be easily and obviously changed over into one of those “good and pure” things that the gods may desire. I use them as a kind of back up or instead of when it comes to providing food to the gods.
I have repurposed stones given to me to the gods. I have a carnelian rosette that I give to Sekhmet every day. It used to be a pendant on a necklace. I have a quartz pyramid that I bought when things were easier on me and I use that as an offering to Hetheru every day. I gave a pair of winged earrings to Aset just last week. I have books aplenty and each book can be provided as an offering to Djehuty. I have pens, too, that I keep on his altar in offer since reed pens and ink are no longer the way, but it seemed silly to prevent him from having some form of writing implement to give to him. I have Tarot cards that I’ve been given over the years and I’ve used these as offerings to them, as well. I have a huge store house of incense that I have been given or I was able to purchase in the good years. Since I use the incense so sparingly, I have a lot left for giving to them during the “big rites.”
These are all obvious items to give to them, though, right? They all, in a way, hearken back to bits and pieces that they would have been given in antiquity. While my practice is definitely historically informed, it’s not the only bit in there. I’ve given other modern type things to the gods as well. I found a needle and thread, which I gave to Hetheru. I have a hand broom which I gave to Bes once. My laptop is an object I’ve given to Djehuty more than once. I’ve given dandelion pollen to Geb. The Ouija board mints that Devo gave me, I give on a daily basis to Aset. I give candle stubs to the gods, as well. Anup was given a huge three-wick pillar candle that I’ve owned for years and he loves the smell. My son gave me the gaudiest fucking Dachshund ornament last year for Christmas and I gave that to Anup as well. It was a joke, at first, but it’s because a real thing since then.
All of these things are “good and pure” because they are all things that I’ve appropriated to incorporate in what I give to the gods. It’s not the object that matters. It’s not what other people that think about the object that matters. All that matters is the intent behind why I’m giving it. If I think it’s a good idea, and I don’t immediately get smacked with laughter, then it can’t be all bad. These are things that people tend to forget about. It’s easy to take something that we have been given from others or by others, things we have lying around the house and utilize them in the context of our devotions. Everyone gets hung up on the things, though, and there are other things that can be provided to the gods.
- Devotional acts.
Being devout isn’t just about things and stuff. A lot of posts seem to focus on the things and stuffs. I get it. In a poor person’s mind, it’s the accumulation of things that makes us not poor anymore. In my house, the accumulation of stuff is just a testament to how much of a pack rat I may actually be. Things and stuff are all well and good, to an extent, but there are other ways to go ahead and show your devotion to the gods: actions. Actions speak louder than words, or so people say. I don’t know if that’s really true in this day and age where the Internet is based entirely on the words people are using. Whatever the case may be, just because we live in a world where the written word is probably far more important than it was a hundred years ago (and back then, the written word was all about conveying opinions and learning things), it doesn’t negate the fact that there are still actions that can be taken to show the devotion one has for their gods. It is through those actions that we live our lives, in some cases, and through those actions that we can live another day. Devotional acts, I think, are not really as properly discussed as they could be. And I think they should be paid more attention to because, you know, when you’re poor, the things and the stuff aren’t the entirety of a person’s practice.
Devotional acts can take all forms. Some people give their time to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Some people donate books to their local library. Some people donate gently used clothes to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. Whatever the case may be, there are a lot of people who will go ahead and do something that is entirely dedicated to their religious practice. But when it comes to poor people, we don’t really have the time and energy, a lot, to go ahead and do that kind of a thing. And in some cases, we may not even have the items to donate, either. I can donate clothes to my local shelter because I have a kid who is constantly fucking growing like a weed and he is always in need of new clothes. But that’s the extent of what I can provide to them. But that, honestly, isn’t a devotional act to me. It’s a basic human act for me. To me, honestly, a devotional act is something that I do on a daily basis and give it with intention to my gods.
I clean my house for Aset and Hetheru and Bes. I read a story to my son for Bes and Djehuty. I wash the dishes for Sekhmet and cook dinner for Aset. I neatly rearrange my books for Djehuty. I walk in the grass, barefoot, for Geb. I watch the clouds float by for Khonsu and Re. These are all things I would normally do in my day, but occasionally, I dedicate them in the name of the gods. It’s not only an attempt to provide them with the “good and pure” things that coincide with my living in ma’at but they are also attempts to bring my gods more fully into my life. Too often, I think, people who are in dire circumstances forget to have faith, forget to have hope. I’m one of those people. So, especially during the hard times, I will do something obvious and something that I may do on a regular basis and dedicate that action to a specific deity. That way, I can remind myself that they are there, they are in my life, that I have faith, and someday, maybe, things won’t suck so badly.
I’ll tell you what – being poor is hard. Being a poor polytheist is hard. We don’t have a ready-made group of people that we can turn to in a lot of circumstances. Some polytheists can go to the local UU and have a community that may be there to hold their hands. Some of us aren’t so lucky or aren’t capable of finding that type of community to turn to when things are rough. In many instances, the only community we have is the one we’ve forged through our Internet relationships. In cases like mine, where the only community I have is the one I have online, it can be quite painful to have people like the Piety Posse tell you how much you suck at being a devout polytheist because you’re poor and won’t “sacrifice” like they think you should. It can be really fucking hard because they’re making broad generalizations about individual circumstances that they know nothing about. But that’s the thing about them – they’re always making broad generalizations about polytheism when each polytheist’s practice is unique and individual, no matter how much cross pollination there may be.
What these kind of people really forget, though, about being poor is that it isn’t just a matter of what you can give or why you can’t give something. It’s a matter of having the ability in all instances – monetary, mental, and emotional states – that can cause a lot of poor polytheists’ problems. If your heart isn’t in it, then don’t do it. And when you’re poor, a lot of times, your heart isn’t going to be in it because you’re too busy worrying about where the money for things are going to come from or where the energy to clean your house is going to come from after working 12 hours and coming home to tend to your children. That’s fine. That doesn’t make you any less than me, or Galina, or Tess, or Dver, or Sannion, or Devo, or GLE, or Desh or any other polytheist I can think of, no matter where they stand on this particular issue. It just makes you human. It makes you human and it makes you have a religion and it means that you are going through some shitty fucking circumstances.
Maybe those circumstances will change and maybe they won’t.
But don’t let your situation make you feel bad for having the practice that you have. And certainly, don’t let anyone who thinks they have the high-and-mighty ability to pass judgment on others make you feel bad about your practice. Whatever you do and however you go about is good enough. Otherwise, the gods probably wouldn’t stick around. Of all the beings you know who should care about what your practice looks like? It’s definitely going to be the gods you work with that matter most. And if they don’t mind you cleaning out the lint trap of your dryer (if you have one) in their name, then why the fuck should anyone else care?