Um, Silent July, August, and most of June…

So, I really had no intention of going silent for July.  Or August for that matter.  (Not that I don’t understand and respect the reasoning of those who did.)

I just sorta stopped being interested in blogging for awhile.

I’d like to think I was “doing stuff” instead of “writing about doing stuff,” and that was definitely part of it.  To  be perfectly honest though, it’s not like I was so busy with devotional practice and art I couldn’t slip a post in here and there.  I just didn’t have much to say I guess.

I decided to quit doing the Pagan Blog Project because, while I love it and enjoy seeing the posts everyone comes up with, I found myself feeling pressured to write just for the sake of having written.  (Also, when you’re in the middle of a ritual and find yourself thinking about just how you’ll word the description of the experience, it’s probably time to take a break from the internets…)

So, what have I been doing instead?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve set up an altar to my ancestors and beloved dead.  At this point, I’ve yet to really begin regular offerings, but it’s good to have the constant reminder that they’re there.  I’ve found myself talking to them more often as a result, which has got to be a good thing.

Continuing my daily prayers and offerings.

I’ve also been doing art, devotional and otherwise.  I’m quite proud of the mask I made for Dionysos.

Also been doing regular life things like holding down a job and taking care of  a sick puppy.

Still, I like having the blogs.  I’m going to try to find a happy medium between never posting and never doing anything else because  I’m focused on writing about it.

Any suggestions?

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Another Day in Another Life…

Previous incarnation of Dionysos’ shrine, since simplified (and expanded)

There seems to be a new trend in the pagan blogosphere of sharing what one’s daily devotions look like.  I like it.  (Plus, it’s far healthier than the other bandwagons I’ve jumped on lately.)

Many who have shared are hardcore mystics and spirit workers.  My practice is much simpler than theirs, though I wouldn’t quite call myself a lay person – I feel called to a much more involved practice, but I am only just beginning on my path.  (Despite 20+ years of paganism!)

So here’s what my day looks like right now, religiously:

I wake up in the morning, get a cup of coffee and check out my blog roll.  Often this means I’ll quickly find myself bogged down in the pagan dramas of the day.  To avoid this, I try to pick one or two things to read that look inspiring or at least interesting.

(After all, I can always pop me some popcorn and read the train wreck later if I really want to.)

Once I’m fully awake I shower or – depending on the occasion and need – at least wash my face and hands.  Then I dress in my normal clothes for the day, gather my offerings and go to Dionysos’ shrine.  I’ll take a minute to prepare the shrine – tidying up, putting incense in place, lighting the candle – then I step away.

Then its time to get my head in order.  I’ll go over any prayer I intend to recite in my mind, then let it go.  I focus my thoughts I Dionysos alone.  When I feel ready, I approach the shrine (a processional of maybe 4 steps, but it is effective) and raise my arms in prayer.

I am not a poet.  I begin by reciting a written prayer, usually Orphic hymn #30, but others – ancient or modern – as I feel inspired to.  (If I make a mistake in the recital, I will step away from the shrine and begin again, unless the spirit draws me onrward.)

Then I offer thanks.  I do this in my own words.  I thank Him for the many blessings He bestows on the world and upon myself, and for specific gifts and blessings as appropriate.  I asking Him to accept my offerings, and with them my love and gratitude.

For offerings, in the morning I always offer incense.  I will add to this as inspired – most often wine, of course, but other items as well.  They are usually pretty traditional.

After I make the offerings, I speak to Him from my heart, offering praise and sometimes discussing my concerns of the moment – though I usually leave those for less formal prayers throughout the day.

I like to chose and epithet of His and spend a few moments in meditation on it.  It will stay with me throughout the day, keeping my thoughts with Him.  (I haven’t been doing this part as much as I’d like of late, though.)

I offer praise a final time and leave the shrine (backing away the first few steps as I believe it is rude to turn one’s back on a God.)

If it is a morning where I will have to leave for work right away, I will return and blow out the candle immediately.  Otherwise I leave it burning at least until the incense is done.

Then I finish my mundane rituals for the morning – make up, shoes, occasionally even breakfast – and spend some time with my family.

Before I leave for work (or on days off, immediately following my time with Dionysos) I approach my hearth shrine – the one in the public portion of the house – tidy it, light the candle, and make sure offerings are in reach.

Then I step away again and focus my thoughts on the Gods.

I return to the shrine and pray, using some variation of the following (my own, pardon the plainness):

I pray to Hestia, the great Goddess of the Hearth and Home

I pray to the household Gods and the Agathos Daimon

I pray to the Theoi who dwell on Olympus, greatest Gods of all

I thank You for another day, and for the many blessings you bestow upon the world and upon myself and my family

I will add my thanks for specific blessings as appropriate.

I then ask Them to accept my offerings, always incense and pure water* but often other things as well – olive oil, herbs, essential oils.

I pray that They will watch over, bless, and protect myself, my family, and our home on that day and the days to come.

Then I will offer praise to them, and back away from the shrine.  (Returning to blow out the candle immediately if I am leaving right away.)

Throughout the day, I will offer informal prayers to the Gods as inspired, often speaking to Dionysos rather casually about my thoughts and concerns or simply that might be of interest to Him.  I try to be open to His (and Their) presence in the world, though the challenges of modern life make this easier said than done.

When I visit places that remind me of him I will offer a greeting – for example, there is an “ivy tree” on the path I walk from my work to the bank every week.

(That’s pretty much all I do every day right now.  The following are practices I have done but have become sporadic due to the demands of life.  I am in the process of reinstating them.)

When I return home, I will burn incense at the hearth shrine for the Agathos Daimon.

Before retiring for the evening, I will return to Dionysos’ shrine for “quality time.”  (Not that the morning devotions aren’t “quality” as well.)  This is where I offer wine or whatever spirits I have on hand and share a glass with Him.  I will meditate, dance, listen to music.  I try to remain open to Him throughout the rest of the evening as I go more mundane things and “family time.”

If I have any questions for Him I will mull them over in my mind as I fall asleep, hoping for a moment of clarity between sleeping and waking.  I rarely have dreams from any of the Gods.

That’s it.  I’ve felt a pull for quite some time to begin honoring my ancestors and beloved dead, but I’m at a loss how to begin.  The same is true of the nymphs and land spirits, and other deities I wish to honor more directly.

I will do these things in time, but right now I have to remind myself that I am still recovering and my practice is growing slowly.  Rather than jump in with both feet and fail – as I have done many, many times in the past – I am trying to establish practices and show that I can stick with them before adding on something new.

So, um, anyone else feel like sharing?

*On water offerings:  I know that several people take issue with this practice on the grounds that in the west, pure water is so abundant and readily available that it is not a real sacrifice.  I choose to make these offerings for the following reasons:

     – Water is a powerful substance.  Without it, there would be no life on earth.  It is one of the greatest gifts of the Gods.

     – I understand “sacrifice” to mean to make holy.  Any sense of hardship on the part of the one making the offerings is secondary at best.

     – I have been poor enough in the very recent past – while living in a desert no less – that, even if I were to subscribe to the more common meaning of “sacrifice,” I have no illusions about the ready availability of necessities like food, water, and shelter.  Even in the industrial west.

I – Ivy Crowned (PBP Week 17)

Lately I’ve been much more focused on doing things and a lot less on writing about things.  Unfortunately, as a result my PBP posts have fallen behind.  On the plus side: doing things.

One of the things I’ve been doing is getting up earlier every morning to make sure I have time for daily meditations at my shrine.  The first day felt really awkward, but after that its been a very positive experience.

I’m not good at remembering Greek names and I really want to do better, so my chosen meditation at the moment is Dionysos’ epithets.  There are some that are really familiar to me – that describe so well how I perceive Him that they have embedded themselves in my mind in spite of the language difference.  Others are more difficult.  I’ve been choosing one a day at random to meditate on its meaning.  It sticks with me all day.  A way to keep the though of Him near.

The other day, the epithet that came up was Kissokomes, ivy crowned.  In some ways, an obvious one and easy to remember, but deeper than it may seem.  It got me thinking about ivy and Dionysos.  Since this is an “I” week, I’ve decided to share some of these thoughts.  Apologies in advance for the randomness that follows.

Ivy is everywhere in my town.   This is not necessarily a good thing.  Invasive species and all that.  I remember being told as a girl that we don’t plant ivy in our garden, no matter how lovely it is, it’s too destructive.  But it is lovely, and I like seeing this reminder of Him where ever I go.

I find it interesting that the religion of Dionysos, in many myths, was considered foreign and destructive as well.  That must be unintentional, though.  It only works as a metaphor in North America – in the Mediterranean region where the myths developed, ivy is a native plant.

In myth, ivy is associated with Dionysos because it was the ivy that protected Him from Zeus’ fire when His mother was destroyed.

I don’t know of any instances where natural ivy is considered protective in this sense, but its berries sustain many species during times of the year when few other plants supply food.

Here the ivy thrives wild in liminal places.  I’ve never seen ivy growing deep in the forest, but on the edges of civilization.

I like this metaphor better.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I literally live on the edge of a wood, just like in the fairy tales.  Unlike the fairy tales though, my home is part of a fairly sizable town, that butts up against a redwood forest that is even larger.  The forest starts two houses down from me.  And many of the trees along the road that borders it are covered in ivy.

These trees, for the most part do not appear to be damaged by its presence.

Ancients considered a vertical surface, like a tree, covered in ivy to be sacred to Dionysos.  The ancient ivy covered pines at the local cemetery struck me as particularly so when I (re)discovered them this past Anthesteria.

Which leads me to another thought on Dionysos.  He tears us apart so that we can start fresh and become what we are meant to be.  Ivy tears down weak, human things, but embraces the strong in nature.

 

H – Holy Days and Holidays (PBP week 15)

Most pagans are aware of the recent Fox news comments about Wiccans that brought down the wrath of our community.

One of the comments that caused such offense at the time was from a woman who said, to paraphrase (because I watched the thing once and that’s usually once too often for a Fox story), “I can’t take any religion seriously whose most sacred day is Halloween.”

Now, it was obvious when she said this that she was ignorant of, or at least playing on her audience’s ignorance of, the difference between the two Samhain and Halloween.

The modern secular celebration of Halloween consists, in part, of many folk customs that were originally connected to the Celtic festival of Samhain, but have been divested of their sacred meaning.  So now, on one hand we have a fun night of dressing up in costume, overdosing on candy, and trying to scare ourselves silly; while on the other hand there is a solemn marking of the thinning veil and an night of honoring and communing with ancestral spirits.

Most pagans, I think, will acknowledge that despite the origins of the secular holiday, it no longer really has anything to do with the sacred one.

The Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas, too, have many folk customs tied to them.  In their case, the folk practices tend to come from faiths practiced before Christianity was adopted.  So we hunt for eggs on Easter, and celebrate the fertility of spring because that’s what our ancient ancestors did on Ostara.  But this has become the secular side of the holiday.  No one, outside of the pagan community, connects these activities with the sacred meaning of Easter.  For most, it is a day of overeating and chocolate.

My Sweet Lord by Cosimo Cavallaro; photo credit unknown

My Sweet Lord by Cosimo Cavallaro; photo credit unknown
(Because I am in love with this image and have to add it to any post I make about Easter.)

For devout Christians, Easter is a both solemn and joyous celebration of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of humanity.  Its timing is not directly based on the spring equinox, but rather the Jewish holiday of Passover.  Thus Christ is symbolically connected to the lamb sacrificed at the beginning of Passover.

Claiming that the festival in honor of the most sacred mystery of their faith was “stolen” from pagans because of the bunnies and eggs – the (now) secular folk customs – is deeply offensive.

I don’t blame pagans for wanting to score some points off of the dominant religion in their part of the world.  Many pagans have endured ridicule or worse at the hands of the majority and it’s only human to want to share that wealth.

But we can understand the difference between Samhain and Halloween, why can’t we acknowledge the same thing for the holidays of other faiths?  Is the shared name really that confusing?

I blame the English language.

We all know that the word “holiday” is derived from, and still almost identical to “holy day.”  But “holiday” has taken on new meanings beyond the sacred one.  To most English speakers “holiday” now means a day off, a vacation – happy fun time.

I think this might be part of the reason it’s so easy to look at the cultural holidays being celebrated around us and only see the eggs and chocolate and assume everyone has forgotten the “real” meaning of the day – whatever we believe that to be.

We know our holy days are still holy, but we have trouble respecting the sacredness of the holy days of other faiths.

G – There But For the Grace of the Gods… (PBP week 14)

I am intrigued by the idea of Grace.

It is one of the central beliefs of Christianity, God’s Grace.

At its purest, most basic level it is a beautiful concept.  The idea that whatever we do, however far we fall, God’s love for us is so strong and so total that we will always be forgiven – even when we don’t deserve it.  Especially when we don’t deserve it.

The problems come when people try to imagine the practical details of such a thing.  Many sects add the caveat “and you can never deserve it” and tie it to the idea of a fallen Earth, that we are all monsters in need of external salvation.  Others believe it to be a cheat – a get a “get out of hell free” card as available to Ted Bundy as it is to Mother Theresa.  I’ve heard many Protestants use this argument against Catholicism and its rituals of confession and penance.  Ugly ideas, to tie to something so beautiful.

I wonder if there is room for a concept such as Grace in the various paganisms.

It’s true pagans in general don’t believe that the world is fallen, or that there is any particular need for salvation.  But we all know that no human is perfect.  Most of us fall short from time to time on our obligations – spiritual, moral or practical.

And yet our Gods show us patience.  (Well, except when they don’t.)

Compared to the Gods, we are small, insignificant.

And yet, They are there.  They listen when we call.  Sometimes They answer.

I believe our Gods do gift us with Their Grace.  I don’t pretend to know the whys and hows and all the messy little details.  I just believe it.

I could be deluding myself because I find the idea of faith without love cold.  Sad.  I know there are those that would accuse me of still thinking like a Christian, but I don’t buy it.  I believe Dionysos has affection for those who chose to follow Him, and I imagine other deities might feel the same.  It is what I think of when I hear Kemetics talking about their relationship with their divine parents.

I really have no way to wrap up this post.  So I’ll take the opportunity to indulge my fangirlishness and close with this link to a liberal Christian-ish interpretation of Grace.

On the Great Christopagan Debate of 2013

So far I’ve remained silent on the Great Christopagan Debate of 2013 because I figured I had nothing of substance to add.

I do have opinions on the subject, relatively strong ones, but I don’t think the internet needs yet another blogger saying what amounts to “I agree with bloggers A, B, and C, understand but disagree with X, Y, and Z, and basically think H, Q, and θ have gone round the bend.”

Turns out though, I do have one thing I really need to say on the subject:

Christians are not my enemies.

Moslems are not my enemies.

Neopagans are not my enemies.

Reconstructionist polytheists are not my enemies.

 

Fanatics are my enemies.