I – Observations on the Iliad (PBP Week 18)

I’m re-reading the Iliad and happened to need an “I” post.  So I though, “What the hell?”

Instead of writing a book report, however, I’ll just keep this short with a few observations:

1.  This is some really gorgeous writing!  The scene where Athena and Ares meet on the battle field is literally awe-inspiring.

The first time I read Homer I was a teenager and found this really dry and tedious next to the Odyssey.  In retrospect, I’m not sure why.

Also, any one who things gorn is a modern invention needs to read some of these battle scenes.

2.  There has been some discussion lately about whether the ancient heroes were looked upon as role models for how to live a virtuous life.  Obviously the pro position is being held by people who have never read the Iliad.  Hector:  Wonderful father, husband, and son.  Ideal patriot.  Achilles:  Self important dick.  (There’s a reason so many people who read this root for the Trojans.)

But the victor?  The greatest  hero Greece has ever known?  Spoiler:  It’s not Hector.

3.  I’ve been disturbed about how the Gods are portrayed in Homer – especially in the Illiad.  Apollo kills thousands of mortals – mortals who argued in favor of acquiescing to His priest’s wishes – to make a point.  Zeus ardently supports the Trojans, and particularly Hector, only to abandon them in the end because His intention was for the Greeks to win all along.

(Ares, on the other hand stands by those He loves and is willing to start a war with Zeus in order to avenge His son.  He gets more interesting to me every day.)

Then I realized that Homer is illustrating some very basic, if unfair, truths about the world – and doing it disturbingly well:  Bad things happen to good people.  The actions of leaders affect those who follow them, however innocent.  People die for “no reason.”  And we can’t always understand the will of the Gods.

It is not our place to try.  Our place is honor the Gods and to strive for excellence despite what fate has in store for us.

And in that, I guess the heroes really are excellent role models.

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Fangirlishness

Once again, a ferocious debate is raging in pagan blogosphere and I find myself caught in the middle.  I’d like to be a partisan in one of these someday.  It looks like fun – all that righteous anger and willingness to take offense at the slightest contradiction must be really cathartic.

Respect.

Maybe next time.  On the whole “worshiping Batman” controversy, while many bloggers I have a lot of respect for rage on, I’m firmly in the middle:  I see the absurdity of both sides.

This all started, as far as I can tell, with a person saying “I do this thing.  It’s basically the same as what you do, just more modern.”

A bunch of other people responded with “It’s really not the same at all and here’s why.”

This quickly degenerated to “You’re an intolerant meanie!” versus “Yeah, well you’re shallow and vacuous!”

Then some other people, whose practice is somewhat related to the first person’s but really not what anyone was talking about, jumped in with “How dare you call me shallow and vacuous!”

And it all went down hill from there.   Me, I made popcorn and settled in for a fun read.

But it preyed on my mind and in the middle of the night, I decided to write this after all.  *shrug*  I hadn’t done a blog post in awhile and this topic interests me.

Stevie+Ray+Vaughan

Then there’s this guy.

On one had, I am a fangirl, pure and simple.  It’s in my nature to become obsessive about various pop culture phenomenon.  It took me a long time to learn not to be ashamed of that.  I will delightedly spend hours arguing with you about who was the best Doctor (Tom Baker, thank-you-very-much) or the relative excellence of Jimi Hendrix verses Jimmy Page (why bother though?  They’re both freakishly talented.)  I include Hendrix – as well as Jim Morrison, Marc Bolan and many others – among my revered dead.

I have found spiritual inspiration from Neil Gaiman‘s Endless.  When I visualize Ares, he wears the face of Kevin Smith.  When I was younger, before I found paganism, I considered the Force as a religious paradigm.

I have even written Harry Potter fan fic.  (Eep!  Didn’t intend to admit to that one…)

However, I work very, very hard not to be a fangirl about my Gods.  It would be blasphemous to reduce any deity to the level of Lucius Malfoy or John Constantine, even in my own mind.  (As a result, though, I tend to second guess the passion I feel for the Gods.  Something I really need to work on if my relationship with Them is to develop much farther.)

English: The writer Alan Moore Español: El esc...On the other hand, I have no problem believing that ideas and characters from fiction, if given enough energy over time from enough people, or perhaps really intense energy from someone who knows what she’s doing, can develop a life of their own.  They can be magically useful, so why not religiously? Besides, if Alan Moore believes it, it has to be credible!  (Blatant example of fangirlishness provided for your benefit.)

On yet another hand (I have lots of hands) I am a relatively hard polytheist.  Gods are Gods, heroes are heroes, thought forms are thought forms.  They’re not the same thing.  (Well, except Hercules – the hero who became a God.  And Dionysos – who has a grave and could be considered hero as well as Deity.  And…  not making my point really well here, am I?)

The thing is though, while no one believes that Batman or Lucius Malfoy were ever real, living humans, the heroes of ancient Greece were never thought of as fictional.  They are our glorious ancestors.  Even with a modern’s skepticism – (Is that really the grave of Achilles?  Or just the grave of some guy someone decided to call by that name?) – and nervousness about taking mythology too literally, I see that as a major difference.

But in the end, if you’re not practicing my religion, what do I care?  Because it will make “us” look silly in the eyes of those who lump us all together and who will probably never take any of us seriously anyway?

*shrug* I’m a fangirl.  I’m used to looking silly.

But if you say you are practicing my religion and what you’re talking about is extremely different – even to the point of being directly opposed or, at the very least, disrespectful – to what I do or believe, don’t I have the right to say “maybe not so much?”

Does it really all come down to words and titles yet again?  Who gets to decide what a Wiccan is?  Or a Hellenic Polytheist?  Or a Christian?  It’s really easy to say the members of those faiths get to define the term, but that’s begging the question.

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.

Can You Help a Family in Desperate Need?

If anyone has anything they can offer, this is totally legit. I’ve “known” Kelly online for sometime (through a forum we’re we are both long time members) and she is not the type to ask for help unless it is absolutely necessary.

Liminal Lotus

Dear Reader,

A friend of mine, Kelly, and her family are in desperate need.  They have lost their home, thanks to some bureaucratic crap. They’re currently living out of their small pickup truck. Literally.  Three people and a dog.

Imagine your family living in your car!

We’ve set up a fundraiser for Kelly’s family, to try to help get them through this unbelievably difficult time. All donations (except for the small processing fees charged by the host website and the payment processing company) go directly into an account that only Kelly can access.  Alternatively, donations can be made directly through Paypal (which the fundraising site does not accept), by sending funds to williambarnes26@gmail.com.  (That’s Kelly’s SO.)

They have tapped out all the public resources in their area (central Washington state) are now relying on private food banks and dumpster diving for recyclables.

The goal of $3,000 is enough to…

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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.