Polytheism and the Artist

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the role of the artist and the arts in contemporary polytheist culture. A lot has happened since my year with the Twins, my patrons of the arts, ended: I wrote a short text exploring similar themes in Concerning the Spirits of Art, where I began the process of conceiving of separating what most of us would consider “normal” art, secular and humanist, from art that does not serve purely human goals; I’ve finally, after so many years, been given the Twins’ names, and my relationship to them continues to deepen; I’ve been coaxed into doing much more work with spirits and magic in general, which is providing me with a kind of structure and direction that I haven’t previously had; I’ve created icons, images of power, and am doing much more thinking about their further incorporation into my broader religious practice.

As it stands right now, polytheism has a dearth of roles for practitioners to fill within their communities. I wrote about this a while ago, touching on it only a little at the time, but the conclusion I drew then is still applicable now: our communities really only have 3 places for folks to go: priesthood, spirit work, and lay worship. Why is this the case, when so many of the ancient cultures we derive material from provide so much more?

Those three types of religious work ought to be thought of as just that: types. Categories. Some traditions offer glimpses of other realms of study, practice, and profession, like the oracular work of Hellenic polytheism, or the seidr and galdr of Heathenry, or the bardic traditions of the Celtic revivalist paths. Berserkergang is another fascinating tradition, more closely resembling the various theologically-informed Asian martial arts than any category that would make sense to us as Western moderns. There is also a strong and budding interest in polytheist monasticism. This kind of social infrastructure will be needed if we want our religions to be more than just a bunch of converts coming together to argue about ancient texts. Communities require some semblance of organization, otherwise all you have is a mob.

My contribution to that purpose is an attempt to pave the way for the polytheist artist. I’m not talking etsy and instagram – though they are not verboten, obviously – but I’m talking about starting the dialogue for an entire mode of professional religious study and practice. I’m talking about a way of life.

In speaking with other spirit workers, many of whom dabble in less formal arts, I’ve found that my methods and experience often closely matches theirs in uncanny ways, and I can look back to the lives of some of the great artists and writers through history and recognize similar narratives present in how they’ve spoken of their own work: the sensation of being the “recipient” of ideas and information coming from outside the artist, entering trance-like states while working, initiation experiences, and sometimes even speaking to the experience of having a literal daimon or tutelary spirit guiding them in their creative work.

This is an exciting undertaking. There are many polytheists who also happen to be artists out there, who are making fantastic work, and it’s my hope that this might help them realize that they can take it even further if they feel called to do so. I’m also thinking of the feasibility of putting together an online “guild” – a directory of artists devotees can consult when shopping for icons or custom pieces. Say, if you needed a painting of a god made but also needed the artist to follow certain taboos while making it, to use an example of something that would be impossible to get from a secular creator. It could also provide us with opportunities to network with each other, source materials from spiritually appropriate sources, and so on.

I intend for this work to be some kind of book, but in the meantime, I’ll be posting my thoughts here.

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