This is part of the Pagan Experience prompts. If you are interested in a blogging project, I recommend it!
My favorite religious tools, and my bias shows painfully well here, are books. Journals, blank and ready to be filled. Simple paperbacks lovingly used to the point of destruction. Elegant hardcover special releases. Oh, books are glorious and magical and captivate me entirely. It is little surprise that the Book Keepers were some of the first spirits I learned of when I was brewing Otherfaith information.
Currently, what resides on my shrine-bookshelf combination is a smattering of books. Luis Rodriguez’s autobiography sits next to G.P. Taylor’s thick-worded fantasies. Fairy tale books are scattered throughout. Libba Bray’s lovely Gemma Doyle trilogy finds itself a happy home. Each of these books is there for a reason. Each of them is tied to a god, or spirit, or the faith in general. And the entire bottom row is dedicate to my obnoxious collection of journals, kept partially out of fear of running out and having to, once again, write illegibly upon my arms or legs. It all rests below the Clarene’s shrine, fitting as she is the god of libraries.
Books – literature – have influenced the faith since it’s beginning. Folklore and fiction has threaded itself intimately with this modern religion. Not strictly fantasy either, as my journeys into the otherworldly West became colored with spaceships, skyscrapers, and terrifying, beautiful technology. The fairy tales of childhood that I had collected became a map where one hardly existed. All those fictional stories were blooming in front of me.
I had to discern which were rubbish that my mind was tossing at me, but that did not lessen the glory.
Stories, in the Otherfaith, are one of the main ways the gods and spirits interact with us. One does not need to journey, throwing their spiritual self out into the unknown, to know the gods. It has even become a point of contention with the spirits I know intimately if I can write their stories properly, or if my relationships with them have dampened my ability to tell the tales. And there is a blurred line between fictional creation and spirits that I have frequently run up against.
At one point, not long ago at all, I would have been in knots over whether that was acceptable. I would have feared that it made me a ‘bad’ polytheist, or that my hand in creating some spirits made them lesser. I would have been embarrassed beyond belief to admit how much fiction – both other’s and my own – influences my religious life. As I have explored the Otherfaith, listened to the gods and my own intuition, and conversed with others doing this work, however, the embarrassment has bled away.
Stories shape us. We tell ourselves stories of our own lives, rewriting the past and present and future, and we tell stories to others. The gods tell us stories about themselves, and in turn, we the Other People tell stories of the gods back to them. (And surely it is pleasing, for it has been both the most effective way of interesting people in the faith, and who doesn’t love a story of themselves?)
I consider books religious tools for biased reasons. I have loved books since I was a child. But they are genuine religious tools for those practicing the Otherfaith. When we are reading we may be struck with a realization about a god or spirit. Inspiration for a practice or prayer may hit us. My relationships with my gods have been deepened by reading literature. I would not know the Laetha as I do without reading So Far From God or Animal Dreams. And the names I have given spirits (rather than their ‘true’ names), taken from media and stories, have shaped them, or their interactions with me.
One of the best methods that has worked for me in tying literature and religion intentionally has been contemplating my favorite books. Why do I like them, what about them stuck out to me? What does that say about me? What can the book teach me about the gods, and how is it relevant to my religious life? Asking yourself these questions can be a place to start.
Writing stories about the gods and spirits is also something I highly encourage. These take any form you’re comfortable with. Perhaps you write up dialog between yourself and a spirit. Perhaps you do a character study, or attempt to capture the atmosphere of a spirit you’re interested in. Freewriting can be useful to just explore. I strongly believe that, in the faith, myths can come from anyone. Don’t worry about getting it right or perfect or shaming the gods – that’s not the point! You’re writing religious fanfiction, essentially, so have fun with it and learn about the gods through it. The discoveries I have made once I have sat down and written a story I experience in the otherworld have shaped my practice, and the Otherfaith’s mythology, so much.
Certainly there will be experiences and feelings you cannot capture in words. But it is always worth a try.
Someone who is doing amazing work around writing, fiction, and religion is Jack of Drawing Stars. Absolutely inspiring, and whenever I talk with him I come away with better ideas.
Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.