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Manifestations: Sacred Embodiment and Possession

In the continuation of my Manifestations series, today I will talk about Sacred Embodiment and Possession.  What are they?  When do they occur?  What are the differences between them?

As always, my explanations are taken directly from my own experience.

Let us begin with Sacred Embodiment.  This is a term I have seen used (and use myself) to describe the phenomenon of devotees taking on various aspects of their most closely honored Deities.  These Divine aspects are integrated into the everyday activities, or personalities of the devotees, over time, after a rapport is formed between t/Them.  This rapport, in many cases, especially with Hellenic Deities, involves reciprocity, or kharis.

An example of this could be a devotee of Apollon who was not previously interested or involved in sport, taking up a physical practice of some sort, such as archery, or running.  Or perhaps a devotee of Aphrodite becoming intrigued by the beautiful scents in oils and perfumes.  These are very simple expressions of Sacred Embodiment, and can happen even when one does not have a very intense relationship with the Deity, or when they are just starting out with Them. When Sacred Embodiment deepens, however, the traits taken on can become even more pronounced within the personality.

Using myself as an example, I have become even more of a perfectionist than I already was, prior to being claimed by Apollon.  It is true that some of His preferences had always been a part of me, but after becoming truly dedicated to Him, I began to change even more to reflect His personality.

For instance, whereas before I could easily begin a new project, like sculpting, without knowing if I would actually, not only finish, but perfect my technique within the first attempt, (and without giving myself a panic attack over it) now I have to push past those extreme tendencies so that I might not be hindered by my desire to create perfectly.  I am human.  I will and do make mistakes, especially when creating art.  Apollon is not human, and He does not make mistakes when creating, from what I have witnessed.  Having these traits of His so entwined within me now, is a major factor in my struggle with anxiety today.

When we become close to our Gods, neither we nor They may be able to fully anticipate the ways in which our personalities may change.  In some ways, we get what we get, and have to learn to live with it.  And it may not always be the most grand and coveted traits that we receive.

When Sacred Embodiment goes deeper still, one may experience a sense of the reality of a God living inside you, taking up residence within your physical body as They might take residence within a cult image.  This is when the Deity wears your skin and sees through your eyes; when They hear through your ears, and prompt you to give Their responses to the world with your own voice.  This is not the same as a full Possession, but is only a few steps away from one.

In this way, the Deity will only superficially receive input concerning the world and your interactions with the world, through your senses.  You may carry on prolonged conversations with the Deity within your mind.  They may express a desire for you to consume certain food or drink, to satisfy a craving They may have.  You could certainly lay out this offering on Their shrine or altar, however, partaking in the offering together, utilizing your body as the means of transference, will often enhance your interconnectedness, as well as boost the reciprocal nature of your relationship.

Another term for this particular depth of Sacred Embodiment, which I have referenced in the past, is Shadowing.  Shadowing can be useful in a number of circumstances, but I find it particularly useful while engaged in divination, especially divination for others, wherein they have requested the advice of a Deity.  No matter which Deity is sought after during the divination, if one is Shadowed by one’s own close Deity, receiving the sought after information will generally be made easier.  Your Deity can be a bridge between you and the Other.

Even while doing spiritual work in this manner, Sacred Embodiment does not usually carry with it the same consequences as those associated with full Possession.  The devotee maintains control of the mind and body, while the Deity is carried in a way that is less intense, though no less profound.

Sacred Embodiment happens within the day to day life and activities of a devotee, in contrast to the ritualistic and occasional nature of Possession.  These two modalities of Divine presence share many attributes, yet one is inherently more taxing– physically, mentally and emotionally, than the other.

During a true Possession, it is not uncommon for the Deity to assume full control over a devotee’s body, utilizing the physical form to perform tasks that a non-Possessed human might find impossible.  To speak in languages unknown to the Possessed individual, or to consume dangerous substances (in some traditions). The voice and speech patterns may also change, as well as the physical mannerisms expressed. A Possessed individual will and should speak and behave as the Deity, for in essence, they have become the Deity, manifest on Earth.

Possession should safely occur within a designated time frame.  If a Possession runs over long, it can have lasting negative effects on the Possessed individual. It is also a good idea to have at least one other person available to maintain order around the Possessed person, and to keep the Deity from engaging in activities that could be disastrous to the body They inhabit (and also to provide adequate aftercare to the recovering host, after the Possession has ended).  A Deity should not consume substances that Their host is allergic to, for instance.  Nor should They engage in sexual activities, unless the Possessed individual has expressly and enthusiastically consented to those specific activities prior to the Possession.

Possession is a potentially dangerous spiritual activity, and is best done with Deities you have a longstanding and amiable relationship with.  Although it is possible to be a host to a Deity you do not know well, I would not recommend it.

I have personally hosted Dionysos, Apollon, Columbia, Aphrodite, and the Goddess of the Wicca (drawing down the moon).  And while I give the advice of having another person present, that has not usually been the case for myself.  I have been fortunate, in that these Deities have been gentle with me– with the exception of Apollon, who is so immense that hosting Him always leaves me in a delicate and agitated state.  I do not host Him, or Anyone else for that matter, often, and when I do, it is at Their request, or due to a spiritual obligation.

Reasons for Possession may include, but not be limited to, the dispensing of Oracles, rituals of xenia (hospitality) to welcome a Deity among a group of followers, celebration of a Deity’s festivals, or a magical working.  All of these reasons are valid, but a Possession should always be approached with caution, taking into account the physical/emotional health and mental state of the potential host, as well as the expectations of both the Deity and the participants. Realistic goals should be set for the ritual, and n/Nobody should be pushed beyond their willingness or ability to perform.

In closing, Sacred Embodiment and Possession are both very useful spiritual processes, to be utilized in the furtherance of specific goals, or as goals in and of themselves.  They both involve an aspect of merger with a Divine Power, and both involve the dispensation of knowledge from Deity to human.  How they differ is within scope, and extreme.

Care should be taken to prepare oneself, or group, for Possession, yet engaging in Sacred Embodiment might only involve a period or prayer or meditation beforehand.  Or not.  In the end, it is up to the devotee to use their best judgement in these matters.

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The Land of Two Rivers, and Beyond

Blood and rain.  Fish and rivers, and the sea.  Bobcats and javelinas.   Nereids and hamadryads.  Mesquite wood and fire ants.  Feral cats and grackles.  Sunshine and sea winds.  Peaches and figs, and cicadas. Dead soldiers and Spanish missions.  Sand dollars and jellyfish.  Live oaks and palm trees.  Foxes and road runners, and rattlesnakes.

These are the jewels of my path, local to South Texas.  This is my home, and these are my allies.

My path is a local one, where I concentrate on the needs of the lives lived around me.  When I offer to the sea, it is on behalf of the humans here who know not the price for the bounty they take.  It is to give thanks, and to celebrate the creatures and spirits who dwell here, those who make it possible for us to make a living here.

When I raise my arms to the Theoi it is in acknowledgment of the great tapestry They have woven around me; to celebrate Them and to honor Them, and to remind myself of all They hold dear.  This place is alive.  I am alive.  And we are paired to live our lives together.

When I pour wine and blood onto the Earth, it is so the grain and corn will thrive.  When I go to pick cotton out of its rugged husk, it is to feel what my ancestors felt, and to leave bits of myself in the field so they are not alone, and not forgotten.  When I pick flowers for offerings, it is to remind myself of the beautiful things which were plucked, in their ripeness and in their prime, all for the sake of a world gone by.

Those times that I stood upon the widow’s walk of the white mansion, it was to tell the spirits of my people, “I see you.  I remember you.  The masters are gone, and I am here.”

And when I give milk, now even the milk of my own body, it is to assure the Land that I will nourish it, as it nourishes me and mine.  Because I am the Land.  I am the Rivers.  I am the Sea and the Wind.

When I leave seed for the grackles, I know they are my brothers.  When I leave meat for the night creatures, I know they are my sisters.  When I fill the hummingbird feeders, and see the shrimp plants bloom, I know that my family is welcomed.  We are the spirits of the Land, and we rely on one another.

When I wade in the salt water, I know that I am purified.  And when I call to the Gods, I know that They are listening.  Poseidon.  Amphitrite.  Apollon.  Ares.  Zeus.  And Others still.  They hear me.  They know me.  They favor me and mine.

And when I take my children to greet Them upon the sparkling sea water, I feel Their many blessings, and Their encouragement, as surely as I feel the wind blow.  As long as we do our part to honor the Gods, the spirits, the Land, the Rivers, the Sea and the Wind, They will do Their part to keep us safe and fed.  Together, we are the reciprocal bond.  We are kharis.  We are life.  We are this world.

We are the Land of Two Rivers, and beyond.

Just One Thing…

There are a few wonderful posts making the rounds today, written by people whom I greatly respect, about things which I vehemently agree. You should read those posts.  Normally, I would link them here, because really, I couldn’t say it any better than it’s already been said, but I’m not at a computer right now.  So, instead I’ll say what’s been floating in my mind as a result of reading these posts, myself.

First, whatever it is you do with or for your Gods, is between Them and you.  Even and especially the things you’ve found no Lore or histostorical precedent for.  You don’t need an ancient precedent to tell you that a particular way of relating to Them, or that a new kind of offering or practice is acceptable.  Now and always, trust yourself, and trust that your Gods know what’s best between you.  It’s nobody’s business but your own, whether or not you’ve chosen to share your practices with others, publicly.

And even though you don’t need anyone from the past or present to legitimize your practices, don’t but surprised if time reveals that at least some of your revelations were indeed done, thought or acknowledged before.  It has certainly happened to me.

But really, even if that never happens, please know that if it feeds your soul, and feeds your relationship with the Gods in your life, it is true, it is right, and it is legitimate.  Your practice is yours.  Other people might not like it, or agree with it, and they might even tell you so, or attempt to push you out of your religion with absolutist rhetoric, but they do not speak for the Gods.  They only speak for themselves, and/or any groups they represent.  They don’t speak for me, and they don’t speak for you.

It’s okay to learn about how they do things or to incorporate their ideas into your practice, if you truly agree.  But if doing so means that you must reject wholesome experiences that you’ve previously had, or anything else simply because they don’t like it, then it’s time to decide if having their approval is worth sacrificing your religious sovereignty, and your personal integrity.  If it isn’t worth it, walk away, or read something else, as the case may be.

Manifestations: Blended Powers

What is syncretism and how does it factor in the beliefs and practices of one who considers themselves a “Hard Polytheist”?

For myself, syncretism is both the blending of traditions, such as Hellenism and Heathenry (which in this case involves blending the practices of both religions into a person path, and/or the blending of the lore of the religions into a personal understanding), as well as the Blending of the Powers Themselves, as revealed by Them, to facilitate understanding of certain principles or aspects of Themselves in relation to a specific devotee.

Syncretism is a very personal affair, for both the devotees and Powers involved. In my own practice, there are very few instances of syncretism, but they are certainly there.  For instance, I hold the belief of Apollon’s relation to Odin via His Mother, Leto, which would be an example of a personal understanding of Hellenic lore.  I also often (but not always) see and honor Rhea-Cybele as a single Goddess, whose worship is attested to in ancient times.  This ancient connection doesn’t make my understanding of Her any more valid, but it does illustrate that this phenomenon has been happening for a very long time and is nothing new to the Powers, or to us.

But, if I indulge in any form of syncretism, doesn’t that mean that my beliefs would more properly be described as “Soft Polytheist”?  Well, no, actually.  This is due to the fact that I really do believe the Gods are Individuals. The Powers I know, honor and work with have presented Themselves strongly as Individuals.  And yet, Their presentation leaves room for the understanding of how They may present Themselves differently to others.  As it has been shown and explained to me, syncretism is a matter of choice and desire.

The Gods may choose to unite in certain specific ways, and Their reasons for doing so are often varied.  I will not pretend to know all of those reasons, but here are a few that have been revealed to me, over time, and in no particular order:

1.)  The Deities in question have certain traits in common, and decide to further explore Their commonalities by uniting, within the understanding of one or more devotees.

2.)  The Deities have a common goal, for which union is the most logical step in the facilitation of said goal.

3.)  The Deities are curious about One Another, or about the nature of the Other’s worship.

4.)  The Deities desire to consolidate Their power in one way or another, or among at least one intersection of Their worshipers.

5.)  The Deities wish to reveal Mysteries which are better understood in concert with the powers/domain of other Deities.

6.)  The Deities choose to share responsibility for certain events, or expressions of power, among Their devotees.

By these examples, and as I understand it, syncretic union happens because the Gods choose it, for Their own reasons.  It is often an outgrowth of Their desire to better understand One Another, or to challenge stagnant belief structures while facilitating new understanding within Their worshipers.

I offer this explanation to you, dear readers, not as the only one, or the best one, but as my personal explanation that has come over years of practice, observation, and direct contact with Gods who were willing to offer Their insight, so that I might grow in my understanding of Them and Their ways.  I’m sure many of you, if not all, will have your own explanations of this phenomenon, which I, and perhaps others, would love to hear.  So please, feel free to offer them in the comments, if you wish to share.  I get the feeling that learning new perspectives from one another was the main reason I was prompted to write this. And yes, Odin did the prompting.  ;)

Manifestations: Interdimensional Deities

Today, I want to talk about the vastness of Deities, Their great Wholeness, and the multitudes of smaller versions of Themselves that we interact with in our spiritual and religious lives.

Is it possible for us, as human beings, with our limitations and our finite ability to comprehend Their True Natures, to know and experience Them on the levels in which They might be considered Whole?  I don’t believe it is.  I believe that the Gods show Themselves in the ways that we can understand Them.  I believe that those ways are different for each individual human whom They interact with, though aspects of that interaction may be similar in a number of Their relationships.  But they are never identical, perhaps because we each process information and stimuli according to our own physiology and mental make-up.

I also believe that the Other Worlds are populated with these overlapping versions of the Gods, in an infinite array of aspects woven together to form the living tapestry of the Kosmos.  Who is to say that my Apollon and someone else’s Apollon are not the “real” Apollon?  Why can They not both be the “real” Apollon?  Do we not accept the possibility (or reality, as the case may be) of many Worlds outside our own?  And if we do accept this possibility, does it stand to reason that some of those Worlds might be parallel dimensions, in which much is familiar, but much also has occurred, or is expressed, quite differently than what we know (or think we know)?  And in one of those parallel dimensions, might there be an Apollon whom expresses His personality in ways that are foreign or little-known to most of His devotees in this world?

I sometimes like to imagine Deities functioning in the way of nesting dolls, the largest doll being one version (in one dimension), and each subsequently smaller doll being other versions (in other dimensions) of the God in question.  However, only when the dolls are all nested together is there found the Whole expression of a Deity.  And we may not truly comprehend this Whole expression because, when the dolls are nested together, all we are able to see is the largest one.  The others remain hidden to us.

It may also be possible that there are other dolls which we know nothing about, because they are not nested within the version of a Deity that we understand. Perhaps there are larger, or smaller dolls, which we as individuals have never interacted with.  Perhaps Judy from down the street knows the intricacies of a version of Apollon of which Harold is unaware.  Perhaps Judy’s Apollon has revealed a path to her that Harold’s Apollon has also revealed to him.  Or perhaps their revealed paths are so drastically different as to effectively cancel out each other’s understanding of the God.  Does that invalidate one or both of their paths?  Do strangers (or friends, for that matter) need to corroborate their spiritual experiences in order to know they are valid?

No.  They do not.  Because no matter what anyone knows about the version of a Deity they’ve been interacting with, they simply can not apply that knowledge to all other versions of the Deity, across the board.  Because they do not know all versions of the Deity.  And honestly, anyone who makes sweeping statements about the personalities or interests of the Gods in regard to other people who are not themselves, is likely a tad narcissistic.

Is it their belief that a Deity would treat all of Their relationships in the exact same manner?  Do even humans not compartmentalize aspects of themselves in relation to the people in their lives?  Do I talk to my best friend the same way I talk to my child?  Absolutely not.  And why would I?  Why would anyone expect Apollon, or any other God, to behave in less complex of a way than we behave with one another?  And aside from how we are treated in out relationships with Them, what makes someone think two or more separate humans can not serve the same purpose to a Deity?  And if we are all dealing with different versions of the Gods (perhaps even from different dimensions), how much sense would it make for a single human individual to be considered “the one anything” to any God?  The answer is, it doesn’t.

The Kosmos is simply too large, and the Gods too vast, for any of us to lay sole claim to any part of Their machinations.  We don’t all have to understand every part of every plan, action or occasion in our dealings with the Gods.  If we did, maybe we’d be Gods.  But we’re human, and no matter what we might think we know, we all have some things yet to learn.  Thankfully, our Deities never run out of lessons to teach us, especially about Themselves.