[Please join us in welcoming Samantha Lykeia Sanders to ev0ke! An artist and author, she here discusses her (many!) spiritual traditions, her artwork, her books under her S.J. Sanders pen name, and her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How would you define your personal spiritual path? Do you follow a single tradition, or more than one?
Samantha Lykeia Sanders: I technically follow more than one, mostly because I pay attention to what gods call my attention and honor those relationships. Part of that is honoring the deity or spirit in question to the best of my ability within the parameters of their own particular traditions. So while I may not follow the whole pantheon or interact on a wider scale within that tradition, I still adopt it as much as I can to best honor them.
At core I honor the Aiser of the Rasne, the gods of the Etruscans, of my ancestors; in so doing, I draw on much of my experience with worship of the theoi in Hellenic polytheism and my time with Religio Romana when I was younger. I have a place for honoring the Kemetic Netjeru whom I developed relationships with in my teen years; another that is for my prayers to Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh, and Kartikeya, who I was drawn to by instruction from Apollon; another for my Vodun; and I am working on another for the ancestral gods of my Swedish and Germanic ancestors.
Some may consider this a bit of an eclectic mess, but I consider it polytheism at its best. I don’t reject any of the gods that come to me or whom I am directed to, and I make time for everyone.
ev0ke: Several years ago, you published a number of short devotionals for Apollo. Why did you decide to write those, and do you plan to produce more for other Deities?
SLS: I wrote the booklets on Apollon largely as part of my devotional service to him. Most information is scattered through various source materials and there are often a lot of misconceptions regarding Apollon. After a decade in service, I realized that [these devotionals were] something needed.
First, I wrote Crowned with Nine Rays which ended up being a monster of a book and entirely unwieldly in terms of being able to update if necessary. So I went back and began to make booklets. First was The Name of Apollon which was devoted just to his name and how the name alone manifests his domain. The second book, Before the Doors, I felt was important to follow immediately because the household cult of Apollon is perhaps the most important thing to the average worshiper’s daily lives.
I have another booklet in the works, but, as I have recently moved, I have to wait for my research to catch up to me to work on it. Ideally I would like for it to be finished before the first of the year. It is The Serpent and the Wolfand deals with the “darker” features of his cult that often get overlooked.
I do plan on eventually doing solo booklets for key deities that I feel the inspiration to write for. I want to do a booklet for Leto, and one for Uni (the Etruscan queen of heaven) and there may be others that come to me over time, but none will probably have the expansive collection that Apollon will have since his booklets are built on so many dedicated years to acquire information.
ev0ke: You are noted in the larger Pagan community for your devotional paintings and sculptures. Outside of commissions, how do you decide which Deities and spirits to feature in your work? How much research goes into the final work?
SLS: Usually it is decided by inspiration, whichever deity is pushing the hardest, often with flashes of imagery. For more familiar deities I can get to it right away and may only need to research a couple points I want more clarity on how to represent; others that I am unfamiliar with I may spend days “getting to know” before I sit down and get to work. Although research does often figure into it, much of it is just direct inspiration: how the deity appears to me as I am working. I try to let them guide my hand as much as possible without overthinking what I am creating.
Naturally, for commissioned pieces, I also work harder to keep this within the framework requested by the client.
evpke: Are you still taking commissions? If so, how can people reach you? If not, do you plan to do commissioned works again in the future?
SLS: I am. I went on a brief hiatus when I moved from Alaska to Florida, and unfortunately some of my services will be unavailable (such as making oil lamps and kiln-fired statues) because I have yet to find a local potter from whom I can rent kiln space. That said, I am still open to doing painting and polymer statues. Folks who are interested in commissions will probably get through to me quicker by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Since I stopped using etsy I rarely check the email that I created for that account.
EvOke: As S.J. Sanders, you have also written a number of science fiction romance novels. What drew you to that genre? How does your spirituality influence your fiction writing?
SLS: Romances are my guilty pleasure. I started with Science Fiction Romances because it just allows so much room to imagine different worlds and species. Most of my aliens are very alien, as in they don’t resemble humans at all, which can push some boundaries for those who like their aliens more human in appearance. I had one species in a recent publication that was very much like a bipedal werewolf, except it had four eyes and two sets of arms. What might be accepted love interest for books that have shapeshifting characters that can at least look human in intimate moments may be too much when it is a species that looks that way 100% of the time. I like SFR because there is no magic-ing away the differences to make an alien male appear human. While there are authors who do in fact do that, for me it kind of defeats the fun thing about SFR as a genre.
That said, I do have a fantasy romance series called Monsterly Yours. The first book features an orc, the second a troll. The third book coming out this fall has a werewolf-type love interest. I also have a book coming out for Halloween that is a paranormal romance featuring a witch. So there are a lot of fun things I like to dip my toe into.
The thing is, and here is where my spirituality plays into it, regardless of which genre I am writing, I create polytheistic characters with worlds that each have unique systems of belief. I celebrate polytheism as a worldview by offering readers, many of whom are not familiar with polytheism in a concrete way — and while many authors may make their aliens polytheistic with vague references to gods, I make the religions more detailed and tangible — as well as featuring polytheistic human heroines. It makes it conceptually a real thing for people who might have never thought about it that way, as well as be representation in literature for living polytheistic traditions. I often draw upon various pantheons and cultures that I have read about when creating them, but add plenty of new fun stuff as I consider what worship would look like for this species, how their gods would look, how their society and religion would reflect each other. It is a really fun experience getting to go in and experiment with it.
EvOke: What sort of research goes into writing your stories? Are you surrounded by stacks of books? Do you spend a lot of time online?
SLS: Very little research other than what I already have done in the past. Sometimes I will think “hey, I would kind of like this to resemble how these people do things,” in which case I will go in and take a closer look, but as I am trying to create something new for species that are not human I try to let it grow more organically. I don’t want to just copy human traditions and then assign them planets. I want these planets and their respective beliefs to be unique and of themselves in the worlds that I create. I spend very little time online these days, because most of the hours of my day are taken up directly with my projects. I will drop into Facebook on my phone when I am taking a break or if I want to google something really quick (google is my friend for finding a detail I need more clarification on).
EvOke: Where can readers find your books?
SLS: For my Apollon booklets, they can just go to Amazon and search for Lykeia. I haven’t yet figured out how to put up two author profiles on Amazon, but they will be easy to find. I offer my booklets in both paperback and ebook format. Under Lykeia there is also a play available as an ebook, The Marriage of Kyrene.
For my novels (currently offered as ebooks until I finalize the paperback editions) they can go to my author page here.
EvOke: In terms of both art and writing, what is your creative process like? Do you go for long walks? Meditate? Dream up the image or story and then get to work?
SLS: It kind of just hits me when it hits me. Often in the most inconvenient times where I don’t have the ability to start jotting stuff down — like in the shower. I don’t bother with outlines since I never follow them and it just ends up being a waste of time. I keep an open file where I write down all the pertinent things and then get to work.
If it is an art project I will often do a digital doodle or scribble on scrap paper depending on whether or not I am near my computer. In both cases it is mostly just free flowing, allowing things to happen in whatever direction they take me and then fine tuning at the end.
EvOke: What other projects are you currently working on?
SLS: I have so many projects piled up. Aside from my novels (of which I have three currently going) and my Apollon booklet, I also have various art projects (among which is my never ending task of making icons for the gods of my household…particular the Aiser who don’t have readily available images made and marketed in mass). I also have a file started to do a book of prayer and meditation for Apollon for every day of the year, as well as a novena for Apollon I need to finish up. I have thought of doing a small book of prayer and worship novenas for several Etruscan deities such as Uni, Turan, Nethuns, Apulu, et cetera. So much to do and so little time in the day in which to do it! And all orchestrated around the care of two toddlers.