Galina’s book on Miasma is out and may be purchased here and here. I’ve contributed towards the book 😉
“Miasma, or spiritual pollution, is a frequently misunderstood concept within contemporary polytheism. While recognized as vitally important to guard against and treat in most traditions, it is nonetheless often ignored or even dismissed as a concern today.
And yet, everything good and solid in our practices begins with purification. It is what prepares us for devotional engagement, for encountering the Holy, for developing discernment, for being a practicing and devout polytheist. We can never hope to properly approach our Gods without taking into account the need for cleanliness in our work.
This book examines the nature and causes of miasma, sets forth the arguments for taking it seriously, and discusses simple and effective methods of cleansing the body, mind and spirit for both ritual and daily life.”
In the last week fellow devotional artists have been complaining about criticism directed towards them because of their depictions of gods or for not following ‘proper’ methods of tradition. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa has even stated (publicly on facebook) that there has been threats and personal attacks against him for depicting Set…
This is really disturbing, especially in that these criticism and threats are sourced from supposed ‘pagan’ / polytheists. So I thought I’ll put forth some recommendations when dealing with divine art.
1. Foremost anyone who threatens an artist or encourages destruction of divine icons should be ostracised from the community. Iconoclastic behaviour should never be tolerated.
2. Regardless of skill, technique, manner, style, medium – so on, if a devotional artist calls there art that and is intended as a holy icon, it should be treated as such. It does not matter if they do not follow ‘traditional protocol’ or style, these works are sacred and free of criticism or personal opinion.
3. (Artistic) Constructive criticism is different from criticism and personal opinion. This is criticising the material side of art, how it is created, it is not criticising the content/context of the art. This form of criticism is to *better* the art and artists. To help in the future. In no way is this to be used as means to hurt the artist or diminish the sacredness of the work.
4. Regarding Graeco-gods and art. Greeks were unusual in terms of culture in that they broke from traditional protocol of icon making. One can see this in examining Greek art history, in the Archaic period they had symbolic styles akin to the Egyptians (who maintained their traditional expression for over 3,000 years!) Greeks, however, broke away from this and started “progressing” in terms of humanism and realism. This is usually divided into three epochs of Hellenic art: Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic – the latter usually merges and continues with Roman art. It is interesting to note that throughout history they went back in forth in terms of style, e.g. there are examples of Archaic style cult statues made in 1CE. This is to address the fact that art was not for viewing pleasure or entertainment, but holy expression. This expression was limitless, thus tradition gave way to expression – gods were/are depicted according to cult and artistic inspiration. Although we have plenty to look back too, I encourage free expression of the divine, even that which breaks artistic aesthetic of the Greeks, e.g., nude goddesses. The only authority of what is “proper form” is gods and the artist, if one does not like the depiction do not buy it or subscribe to it. It is that simple.
5. In many (most) polytheistic cultures there is no concept of *evil* like that found in monotheistic traditions. There is no black and white divide, good versus evil etc. Though there instances in religion when gods suffer some terrible event, even death at the hands of some adversary, this event becomes an important aspect of the god’s cultus, thus in such instances it may be acceptable to depict, and even give cultus to this adversary. A good example of this is The Toys of Dionysos that lead to the terrible death and cannibalism of my beloved Dionysos. In some variations of the myth Dionysos later learns to control and command the Toys and also the Titans that consumed him. Therefore the Toys and Titans become part of Dionysos’ retinue… to ignore this is to ignore an important aspect of the Mysteries and limits the gods’ teachings. The same can be said of other deities such as Set and Loki.
In the end only the artist and gods they are dealing with have authority on their art. Not the viewer, nor other artists, nor their mothers or fathers, nor the public or political authorities, nor fellow religious folk or rival religious folk. It is one of the very few forms that mortals are able to communicate with divine and to bring them forth into ‘reality’. No opinion or human insight can discount this holy act, in other words: Shut the fuck up!
I’m very excited and pleased to own this cute little booklet by Lo Keen. It addresses something that is rarely mentioned by polytheist and animist artists and also has some strong words of encouragement in the process of creation and honouring our Divine.
Concerning The Spirits of Art is a reply to the artist and art theorist, Wassily Kandinsky, an important figure in modern art that eventually led to art movements like the Dadaist and proclamation of: Art is Dead. The booklet encouraging artists to return back to the roots of our ancestors in which they viewed art, in that art was viewed differently from the secular, ego based understanding of art now. This mirrors my own writing as The Dionysian Artist though I usually go back to Théophile Gautier’s statement of Art for Art’s Sake.
This is a response to Lo Keen’s work, it is not a criticism or review, I just thought I’d contribute to their beautifully written text and offer a slightly nuanced opinion.
First and foremost Keen addresses art from an animist point of view and encourages that we be conscious of how we make art, the origins of our materials and nature of our art. I highly encourage fellow artists to be aware of this also. I do not identify with the Animist title, but do believe it to be inherent in my practice.
It is not lost on me that binders of my paint come from sacred plants, some pigments literally come from sacrificed animal bone, that titanium white is named after spirits that killed and consumed my beloved god. Our brushes are made from hog, badger and horse hair. The glues from skins of animals, and the surface we paint on trees and plants. We make art from The Dead and this must be something we respect in order to not only honour, but control as artists.
It saddens me that nowadays with the mass production of art supplies that artists have lost this link to their materials. It is plainly obvious that the secularism of art came about with the invention of the paint tube. The artist became disconnected from the nature of their materials and instead of inventing their own paints and brushes, simply buy it from the art store. This is one of the reasons why I passionately study the materials I use, make my own tools and mediums. We are dealing with holy objects imbued with their own spirits. This likewise is why I encourage folk to avoid synthetic paints and materials, though, that all said, there is also a magic in synthetic paint with its origins coming from alchemical experiments.
Keen discusses the nature of digital art and its rise. Though not completely discounting of the possibly of its power they caution it from an animist perspective. Here is where I differ, my approach to devotional art making is through deliberate expression, with the nature of this expression being limitless. As long as the process is devotional in nature and conscious of that the value of sacredness cannot be discounted regardless of the medium or even skill proficiency of the divine artist. Apart from that however, I find digital art to be liberating and holy in its nature, this is the first time in history where artists are not inventing an illusion of light in art, but actually manipulating light itself to create art. Light being the most sacred substance to us and often called as the forerunner of creation, the inventor of creation itself. I think Keen’s points on this subject are totally valid, as in digital art relies on fossil fuels to be powered, it is not as intimate as physical mediums, you cannot touch it, grab it and smudge it. But still the process is expression of light, I find this exceptionally powerful.
Miasma in art making, is art making clean?
The booklet briefly explores the notion of ritual purity when making art, this is a topic that has been interesting me for a few months now and I plan to formulate my ideas into a properly structured essay. I believe artists are naturally miasmic creatures by their function, they channel spirits and demons, create divine images and invent illusion. They are magi that make art from The Dead. This is why there are tropes of the mad artists as they must suffer the repercussions of their hubris in making art. Yes, I specially use hubris, because like clowns, artists boarder between the realms of profound and profane. They are forced to deal with this ick, but I encourage embracing it (probably why I’m so damn self-destructive.) This however is the nature of my tradition, other sacred artists DO have strict protocol for cleanliness.
Art as augury.
I was very excited the Keen mentions this subject, as it is something I have dealt with myself. I view divination to be its own art form and one that I’m barred from performing due to my focus upon other arts. This is a personal taboo, I’m unaware if other artists have suffered these same issues?
Ego and Art?
Artists by my definition are naturally egoistical. They have to be in order to have the Will to create, but yes, in the process of art making the artist gets drawn into their own or another’s reality. They are forced to constantly question themselves, “is this the right colour?”, “is this the right brush?”, “is this the right application of paint?”. But artists are also decision makers and they do this by answering all those little questions that go through their head. In time and in practice they enter a ‘zone’ where these questions are eradicated and art making becomes naturalistic. The ego is stripped away and the piece is created – sometimes by another force. This is why I identify as the role Δ when making art and signing it (if I ever do sign my work). But the start of creating art also has to do with ego, so in this I believe it is a balance.
To end this little response I want to thank Lo Keen for this beautiful booklet, it makes a welcome addition to my collection of references to this subject and will be something I will refer to in future writing. I highly recommend that this should be read by others!
I live a strange life and mostly rely on the donations of strangers to pay my way. Everything I do I try to make free for everyone. I do this by bringing our art out to the public and publish it online. I dedicate my time to art, religious and artistic mentoring and writing with no expectation of reward. I thank everyone that does contribute, you have my sincere gratitude.
If you’d like to contribute I have a patreon account (money I find myself reinvesting into the polytheist community) and have updated my Redbubble store with some new designs (I dare say they look super neat!) I also have art for sale and am accepting commissions.
As for my patreon I’d like to turn that into a kinda community, so I’m open to requests and questions!