When you really can’t go home again

“Home” is such a small word to mean so much. You can hardly say it without longing in your voice. Literature is full of statements about home that fall from people’s lips even if they haven’t read the source: “You can’t go home again,” “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in”. Maybe Spielberg’s E.T. was so successful because everyone, anyone could recognize the little extraterrestrial’s longing for his home and feel something of the same thing.

What happens, though, when you find out you really can’t go home? When you go there, and they’re ready to take you in, and yet you realize it’s not really yours any more and you don’t want to stay?

The last year and a half has been hard for everyone, except perhaps the culpably rich. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has hit burnout or some kind of blockage in their spiritual life, along with other areas. I’m sure it’s not limited to pagans and polytheists and magical practitioners, either. We’re having a pandemic, for gods’ sake, and a lot of people are not getting the help they need to get through, and a terrifying number of people are just outright denying it.

I’ve been tired. My spiritual practice has dwindled to what might be an all-time low. The gods are mostly silent right now, and I think maybe they’re tired, too. I think the gods care that over four million people have died, globally, and that many of those deaths could have been prevented, and the pandemic isn’t over. So here we all are.

A few weeks ago, I hit what felt like the bottom. Or the opposite of hitting the bottom; not having any ground to stand on. And after reflection, after prayer, with the blessing of my gods, I decided to start practicing Christianity again.

It was a matter of practice, of things to do. I grew up an Episcopalian, with an emphasis on praying together in the liturgy rather than on believing certain things. I never had to swear to any particular interpretation of a dogma, like exactly Jesus is present in bread and wine or the sequence of events at the Second Coming. Just sit, stand, or kneel with everyone else, sing the hymns, say the prayers. And if you want to be hardcore–which of course I did, and do–say some kind of Daily Office, morning and evening, and have private prayer as suits your temperament.

I told myself that it didn’t matter what I believed, that my gods weren’t upset about the decision, that it didn’t mean I would turn into a raging anti-queer anti-vaxxer; that I just needed a stable practice, and a community that was local and in-person and supportive. I went back to the church where I grew up, a small congregation in a small building (and even smaller now, in late summer, during a pandemic). I started saying Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. I got in touch with some old friends of the churchy persuasion. I felt enormous relief to be doing something simple, stable, familiar, even dull.

Two weeks later, I’m done. Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again. Even, sometimes, when you are welcome there. When they willingly take you in.

I grew bored with the Office. The words tripped off my tongue, but they didn’t engage my mind or my heart. I liked the same Psalms I have liked for years and disliked the same ones, too. Jumping into the first book of Kings was a bit like starting to watch an HBO drama two seasons in and not being sure why all these elaborately costumed people hate each other so much, and it wasn’t the least bit relatable. Over the last few years I’ve come to feel pretty strongly that the “Old Testament”, or more properly the Tanakh–the Torah and the other Hebrew scriptures–belongs to the Jewish people, and while there is wisdom and poetry in it that anyone can appreciate, it’s not my story. It’s just not about me.

I did some private prayer and deliberately took an approach of getting to know Jesus better, of trying to make contact with him. “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden,” he says in the Gospel of Matthew, and I sincerely wanted to go to him and put down my burdens–my confusion, my perfectionism, my burnout, my sheer weariness. But it was like calling for someone because you think they’re in the next room, only the room is actually empty. I have never, in over fifty years of life, much of it spent in the Church, had any real sense of Jesus, specifically and in particular, as a person or as a deity. He is the lead actor of a magnificent theatrical production who goes home immediately after every performance, never greets fans at the stage door, never reads or answers fan mail, simply plays his part and then disappears. And no one, not even the Christian writers most helpful to me, has been able to tell me how to contact him.

As I write this, part of me is decrying my pride and hubris and impatience at giving up on a practice after only a few weeks. I’d like to remind that part of me that I practiced Christianity for decades before really and truly committing to polytheism. And the results have always been the same: silence on the godphone, feeling that I don’t really even know Jesus and reluctant to ask him for what I need, feeling “sinful” but never sure what I’ve done wrong (confessing personal lapses that I now see were rooted in my then-undiagnosed depression and ADHD), confusion, frustration, and ultimately seeking elsewhere for a practice that makes sense to me and genuinely supports a thriving life.

I don’t know what happens next. But I have some core practices to fall back on, and Antinous and the Forest God are still there, still listening. I could start by cleaning their shrines.

Happy Lupercalia, Presidents’ Day, and International Fanworks Day

Good morning, gentle readers! Thanks to the mythologized memory of Washington and Lincoln, I have this cold, overcast late winter/early spring day off, a perfect opportunity to stop in and say hello to all the new visitors I’ve been getting lately.

Hello! Welcome to my digital roost! Here are some things you might want to know about me:
–I write, obviously–fiction, fan fiction, ritual and devotional poetry, essays and musings.
–I am a singer and have been a paid church chorister.
–I am a bisexual, genderqueer, middle-aged person, in a longterm asexual romantic relationship with my cockatiel, Rembrandt van Tiel. He’s been in my life for over twenty years and that’s almost as long as my former marriage.
–I’ve been writing fan fiction since the late 1990s and have no intention of stopping. My fan fiction will always be available for free and archived at the Archive of Our Own.
–As a writer and thinker I’m interested in religion, sex, devotion, the creative life, science fiction, fantasy, and the connections between creativity and sexuality, sexuality and spirituality, spirituality and creativity.
–I’m a devotional polytheist who worships Antinous, the deified lover of the emperor Hadrian; Melinoe, the little-known underworld goddess who is addressed in the Orphic Hymns as the daughter of Hades and Persephone fathered by Zeus in disguise; the Forest God, that guy with the antlers and the deer legs, no, he doesn’t answer to any other name, just the Forest God; and the Roman pantheon, although I’m not religio romana or Roman recon or Roman revivalist, I just worship them.
–I have a Patreon, where for $1 per month you can read my public writing ahead of the general public and see other posts that might not go public at all.
–Capricorn Sun, Libra Moon, Aquarius Rising, INFJ, and lifelong Trekkie.

I intend to begin posting here again pretty soon, so please follow me and stay tuned, and consider dropping by my Patreon and sponsoring me. Also consider the possibility that Romulus and Remus may have been werewolves, because this intrigues me. Thanks for stopping by.

FIC: Sto dasos kapou

Sto dasos kapou (3227 words) by MToddWebster
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Andrew Hozier-Byrne (Musician), Ancient Greek Religion & Lore
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Dionysus/Forest God
Characters: Dionysus (Ancient Greek Religion & Lore), Forest God – Character
Additional Tags: Mythology – Freeform, Celtic Mythology & Folklore, Explicit Consent, Enthusiastic Consent, Blow Jobs, Anal Sex, Kissing, Drinking, Pagan Gods, gods having sex, top!Dionysus, Bottom!Forest God, Flowers, Mushrooms, Kemonomimi, Non-Human Genitalia
Series: Part 7 of Tales of the Forest God
Summary:

The young god of the wine and the old god of the forest meet in the woods, and shenanigans ensue.

 

POEM: The natural order of things

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

POEM: The natural order of things
is not a boot stamping on a human face
is not a white knee on a black neck
is not a division into good and bad
white and black, male and female
with white above black and
male above female and above all
rich above poor forever

It is a spiderweb woven
between the antlers of a forest god
who has the head and heart of a man
joined to the guts and groin of a deer
who walks upright on split hooves
through a forest of living beings
that he knows by their true names
while a summer rain falls quick
and hard and yet the spider never stirs
from the center
of her web

The hermit in the forest

My taste in books took shape pretty early in my life. The Oz books were probably the first complete series I owned, followed by the Chronicles of Narnia. I first tackled The Lord of the Rings when I was around ten, and began reading books about Star Trek around the same time–books about the show, and novelizations of the animated series, as this was after the show originally aired and before its first movie came to the big screen.

Then there were the books influenced by Welsh mythology: Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, a wonderful series of children’s books that should be more widely known; and the Mabinogion Quartet of Evangeline Walton and the Deryni Chronicles of Katherine Kurtz, which were not children’s books but that never stopped me. And with them, perhaps before I read LOTR, even, the stories of King Arthur.

There were always versions of the Matter of Britain in print and available. I believe I had a copy of Sidney Lanier’s retelling that had belonged to my sister, eleven years older than me. I read several but not all of Howard Pyle’s retellings, owned by my neighborhood library; I was more influenced by Pyle’s Robin Hood than by his Round Table. (Pyle introduced words like “marry!” as an oath and “victuals” into many a young reader’s vocabulary.) I read The Sword in the Stone as a separate book but got nowhere with the rest of The Once and Future King. And I was in my early teens when The Mists of Avalon dropped into my life, as an anvil drops on the head of a wiley coyote.

Morgaine and the priestesses of Avalon swirled together with The Spiral Dance and other books about paganism and Goddess religion made an intoxicating brew that I quaffed for many years. (I think I learned the word “quaff” from Howard Pyle, too.) And I continued to sample various retellings of the Arthurian legends, though I wasn’t enthralled by many of them; Lawhead’s Pendragon books, Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, and T.A. Barron’s Lost Years of Merlin all left me unenthused.

Then I came across some nonfiction books about the Mabinogion and the early Arthurian legends by a couple of British writers named John and Caitlin Matthews. Their work unfolded magical and spiritual meanings out of the Welsh myths and legends, as others had done for the myths of Greece and Rome, and they have continued to do so for over thirty years. Their books drew me as strongly and steadily as the stories themselves had, and they led me to Ross Nichols and The Book of Druidry.

I confess that I never read all the way through Nichols’ book. It’s an intimidating melange of archaeology, poetry, speculation, what we now call UPG couched in 19th-century language. It is perhaps more akin to the work of Sir James Fraser and Margaret Murray or to Gerald Gardner writing about the witchcraft he was discovering and inventing than to what is now taught and practiced by the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids that Nichols founded and his protege, Philip Carr-Gomm, revived.

Carr-Gomm was a stringy teenager when he met Ross Nichols and began to learn druidry from him. He was in his thirties when he became the Chosen Chief of OBOD and began, with the help of the Matthewses and other contributors, to put together a correspondence course that would soon be used by people around the world. Today OBOD is the largest druid organization in the world and Carr-Gomm is stepping down as Chosen Chief, handing the office over to a woman.

I remember that back in 1990 or thereabouts, when I was just discovering that there were people who called themselves druids (not witches or pagans) and that they found meaning in stories that had possessed me for most of my reading life (which was most of my total life), I wanted to join OBOD and take their correpondence course. My ex, or husband or fiance as he may have been at the time, was also interested (he was always interested in my spiritual pursuits… but that’s another post). The course just wasn’t affordable, even for one of us; we were pretty broke for much of our marriage, as it happens. I let it go and for a couple of years we experimented with a DIY version of pagan practice that was something of a fusion of witchcraft and druidry (and that, too, is another post).

Thirty years later, I am single, solitary, and not in terrible shape, financially, although I’ll never be rich or win any prizes for money management. More importantly, other than my bird, I have no one to please but myself–and my gods. And the god with whom I have been most deeply involved for the past year, the antlered one whom I know only as the Forest God, has led me back to the forest, to druidry.

I joined OBOD earlier this year by signing up for the correspondence course. I’ve received two installments so far. I am slowly reshaping my shrine, my altar, and my daily practice into something I can call “druidic”. And it’s not easy–not because the OBOD material is difficult, not because I don’t want this, but because I have wanted it for so long, and now I have to let go of so many things that were once good in order to move forward and welcome this new thing. I love so many things about Anglican Christianity, and the Christian tradition has wisdom I think pagan traditions desperately need, but I cannot go back to just being a Christian. I have loved Antinous dearly and the initiation he gave me moved down to the deepest levels of my being, but my relationship with the god has changed; it feels like he himself wishes me well but is telling me to move on.

What strikes me most when I think about my early reading, and especially about the Arthurian legends, was that as a child, I didn’t want to be a queen or a damsel or even an enchantress. I wanted to be a knight, with a sword and shield, or one of Robin Hood’s band, dressed in green and armed with a bow. Or, even more than that, I wanted to be the wise old hermit in the forest, the one who always had provisions and wisdom to offer the knight errant or the lost damsel, along with a safe place to sleep. Druidry is my path, I think, I hope, to becoming that wise hermit, a sort of pagan Julian of Norwich, my cell open to nature, the gods, and wandering travellers.

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Image by silviarita from Pixabay

 

A fic preview

Today I began another story about the Forest God. It is demanding a rather different form of storytelling than the previous tales:

He is a god

He is one of the First Ones

the ones who awakened to a knowledge 

of this forming world so close to theirs, 

unlike their world but potentially very like 

and turned their attention

presence

desire 

to that world, shaped its formation 

and found

the gap

what would later be called 

a veil, a door, a tunnel

the gap that let them pass 

from their world into the new one

and then

then they could bless that world

with their light

then they could tend that world 

with their songs

then they could shape that world 

with hands that had just become hands 

and he was one of the first 

to step through that gap 

and become…

POEM: Hymns to the Forest God #31

O Forest God, may I be held in your memory. 

May my true name, unknown to me, be woven 

into your song. May I always be welcome 

in your woods. May there always be a place 

for me in your dance. May I find my way 

to your secret dwelling in times of need. 

May I be safe beneath the shadow of 

your antlers. May I be guided by your voice 

and your song. May I count tree and 

vine and mushroom among my allies. 

May the dove and the fox, the rabbit 

and the wolf, the hawk and the deer 

be my coven. May I never forget them 

or you. May I remember that the earth 

lives always in your dream as it was 

meant to be, and may you dream that dream 

for us until we are ready to dream it, too,

and make it real before our waking eyes.

POEM: Hymns to the Forest God #30

Every day that I think of you, lord, 

a tree grows in my heart. Every time 

that I smile at the thought of you, 

a clump of mushrooms fruits in the rain.

Every time that I pass a tree on the street 

or mushrooms in a row beneath a bush, 

I think of you and a bird builds its nest 

in a place where no one can touch it, 

where it will be safe. Each day the bird 

lays one perfect egg, delicately speckled 

like its feathers, and each egg is a name 

for you that I turn over in my pocket 

like a smooth stone. The coolness and 

smoothness of the stone in my hand is 

the touch of your hand, and the flash 

of its colors the glance of your eyes, 

when I come into the forest seeking you

and find you waiting, smiling, thinking of me.

POEM: Hymns to the Forest God #29

Forest God

Lord of the Animals

Deer-man

Shapeshifter

Witch father

Shaman god

Green man

Wolf-skin

Friend of foxes

Antlered god

Him of many names

Most ancient god

Haunter of dreams

Older than civilization

Master of the wild

Man, beast, and god

Dancer in the great dance

Singer of the primal song

One who watches and waits

Guardian of the wood

Spirit of place 

Shelter for the homeless

Silence of peace

Hail to you, lord

Bless me, Forest God

FIC: “Spring Frolic”

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Image by diapicard from Pixabay

Spring Frolic (1259 words) by MToddWebster
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Andrew Hozier-Byrne (Musician), Forest God – Fandom
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Forest God/Fox
Additional Tags: Spring, Animal Transformation, Shapeshifting, Flowers, Anal Sex
Series: Part 6 of Tales of the Forest God
Summary:

The flowers are in bloom, and the fox is feeling frisky.

Please note, this is explicit erotica featuring a male/male pairing. If that’s not your cuppa, the back button is your friend!

POEM: Hymns to the Forest God #27

I would go and make a greenwood marriage–

find a lover and lie down under the leaves. 

The Forest God blesses all couples and more 

than couples who choose to join in his domain.

Man with woman or man with man, woman 

with woman or three or four, as long as 

there is free will, there is freedom to love 

and live under his protection. And there is 

solace also for the heart that desires solitude, 

to be away from humankind, to speak only 

with the trees and hear the stream running, 

the birds calling. There is room for love 

and aloneness beneath the green roof of the forest, 

within the compass of the Forest God, and 

my heart dreams of both blessings, to be 

found resting in the god’s embrace.

At last, a story completed

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Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Children of the Forest God (14701 words) by MToddWebster
Chapters: 3/3
Fandom: Andrew Hozier-Byrne (Musician), Forest God – Fandom
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Relationships: Forest God & his offspring
Additional Tags: forest god, Parent-Child Relationship, Folklore, Celtic Mythology & Folklore, Pagan Gods, Shapeshifting, Animal Transformation, Minor Violence, Beating, Public Humiliation, Threats of Rape/Non-Con
Series: Part 5 of Tales of the Forest God
Summary:

Three children of the Forest God, in three different times and places, seek their true father in the woods.

I have uploaded the final chapter and this story is complete!

POEM: Hymns to the Forest God #26

O Forest God, 

my head is empty, 

my heart is heavy, 

my hands are weak.

Sometimes I come to you

with nothing but my need

no gift to give

no credit but your kindness.

It is enough, you say.

The universe existed 

before you; it will continue 

after you. My forest is 

a place of refuge. Rest.