G – Gratitude (PBP Week 13)

2011 was a really bad year for me.

I left the job from hell in March, literally for the sake of my sanity.  Our plans for an alternative income fell through, and I spent most of the year dirt poor.  Francis’ old army injury kept getting worse and worse until he could no longer work.  Our house was foreclosed upon.  My depression started spiraling out of control and, because I had so many good reasons to be sad, I didn’t realize what was happening until it had almost destroyed my relationship.

Worst of all, a very dear friend of mine passed over that August.

Yeah, 2011 sucked.

In spite of all that – or rather, directly because of all that – I learned a very important lesson that year.  I learned was gratitude is.

It’s not that I’d never been thankful for kindnesses bestowed on me.  I like to think I’ve always given credit where it was due and was not shy in sharing my appreciation.

But it wasn’t until I had been so thoroughly humbled and was completely vulnerable that I really understood.

When we had no money and I needed to see a doctor, we found a free clinic that operated out of a bus and visited our neighborhood once a week.  I made an appointment, and expected to spend the entire day there, waiting to get help.  In actuality, though there were dozens of people there, the whole operation was incredibly professional.  I was at most, fifteen minutes before seeing a doctor.  The doctor asked me questions and genuinely seemed interested in my answers.  After discussing options, I was given a free prescription and told I could come back if I needed a refill.  I felt that I had been treated with more respect and dignity than in many doctor’s offices that I had paid to visit.

These people provided this kind of service for those desperately in need every single day.

I was grateful.

The night Rena died, a volunteer pastor sat with us for hours while we waited for news from the doctor.  She sat with us and just talked.  Some of it was about Rena – how were we related, what was she like.  Most of it was just chatting to keep our minds off of our worries.  Not once, though we had told her our religion, did she attempt to proselytize or minimize our beliefs.  She talked to us as people of faith, giving our Gods the respect They are due.

When the doctor finally appeared and gave us the terrible news, she sat with us while we cried and, when it was time, gave us a packet of practical information detailing what we’d have to do next.  Then she left us alone with our grief, letting us know we could contact her any time we needed to talk.

I was so touched by this.  I thought it would be wonderful to be able to provide that kind of comfort to people in need, but I knew I would never have that kind of strength.

And I was so grateful that she did have that strength.  That she was there.

When my depression got out of control, I found I was able to visit a county outpatient facility and receive free counseling. When we were so badly off that we couldn’t afford groceries or medicine, several institutions provided help – the Vetran’s administration, the local food bank, county medical assistance, state food stamps.

The depth of gratitude I felt in all these instances, and in several others that year, was unlike anything I had known before.  Possibly because the depth of my need was unlike anything I’d known before. It wasn’t simple thankfulness – which is a wonderful thing in itself. Thankfulness, as I see it is a virtue of the mind.

This gratitude was pure emotion, almost primal. To risk sounding even sappier – it made my heart glow.

When my family was in danger, I found the strength to get us the help we needed.

And I’m grateful for that, too. Grateful to my Gods, because I know I wouldn’t have succeeded on my own. And grateful to Francis, who kept pushing me to find help for my illness.

That year has changed the way I live my life.

Now, when someone helps me though they’ve no good reason to, when something goes well, or I feel warm sunshine on my face, or see a smile in my sweetie’s eyes – I can call up that feeling of pure gratitude. I try to remember to be truly grateful to my Gods for the blessings of this life, and to the people around me who give so much of themselves. It isn’t always easy, I get so absorbed in my troubles that I can’t always see the big picture. But when I do, it makes me feel better.

Gratitude can bring a path to joy into the darkest times.

F – Feminine Mysteries and Fertility Worship (PBP Week 11)

photo: wikimedia commons

[Warning:  this post may be a little TMI for some people.  I’ve been trying to be a bit more open about all aspects of my life on this blog, and it occurs to me that this might come as a shock to some…]

I’ve never felt really connected to the feminine mysteries.

Intellectually, I object to people being categorized by their biology when it is only one aspect of our selves. Mainly though, I just never got what was so great about the things we were supposed to be celebrating. OK, yeah, the ability to bring forth life is a Big Deal.  Obviously.  And I’m sure many women find deep meaning in connecting to the cycles of the moon and the fertility of the earth.

It’s all in those pesky details.

Menstruation for me, at least after the first time which was very much a rite of passage, was usually a painful and often disgusting experience.  The fertility is symbolized was completely unwanted. I don’t do well with children.  I am, I think, a great aunt when the kids are tiny, and then again about the time they reach their teen years, but I’ve always known I am not mommy material.

In my mid-twenties I was diagnosed with large uterine cysts,  and I opted for a partial hysterectomy instead of the more dangerous, fertility preserving, cyst removal.  After that, I had the hormones, but no blood.  (And no cramps.  And no regular migraines.)  I completely lost track of my cycle.

So when I recently found myself lying in bed night after night feeling like I was still living in Phoenix and the air conditioning was on the fritz, it took me awhile to figure out that this is most likely due to night sweats and/or hot flashes.

Fertility, or lack there of, had suddenly imposed itself on my life again.

When I was working on my Dedicant Program for ADF, I had to write an essay on Fertility, one of their nine virtues.

I came to the conclusion at the time that, with over 7 billion people on the planet, the idea of literal human fertility as some kind of moral virtue is ridiculous.  In times and cultures where a large family meant survival it was a different story.  Today, in the West, the virtue lies in controlling one’s fertility – not in having a large family, but in nurturing the family that one has.  This can be expanded to taking care of the world around us.  Nurturing each other and the planet.

Of course, there is also creative fertility – a fertile imagination and the hands willing and capable to see those ideas through to fruition.  Even here, it is not simply the birth of ideas, but the willingness to see them to fruition that is a worthy thing.

In my mind it is this aspect of nurturing, of seeing things through rather than simply propagating, that makes any form of fertility a virtue, rather than mere biological fact or imagination run wild.

Nature and/or fertility based paths that focus in this direction tend to be much more inclusive.  Those that are purely biologically based tend to alienate a large number of people who, like myself, just don’t fit into their simple binary categories.  The union of opposites is a beautiful idea, but in practice it always seems to be imposing a black and white framework on  a grey – no, technicolor – world.

Bleh

Today would have been my father’s 80th birthday. The day after tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of his death. March is not a good time for my family.

I need a job now. Well, I actually needed a job months ago. I keep going on interviews and getting really positive feedback. Then they hire someone else.

My husband is really depressed and we are both really terrified of getting kicked out of our house.

I feel the depression coming back and I am holding on to my recovery by my fingernails.

The weirdest thing? I actually have faith that something good is coming around the corner. Faith has always been hard for me, but for once it’s relatively solid. I just need whatever is coming to get here. And soon.

D – Depression and Devotion (PBP week 7)

First, I’d like to be clear that the following is addressing my own personal experiences with depression and isn’t meant to speak for anyone else.  (I’d think this should be a given, as it’s written in a personal blog, but one never knows.)

Anne-Louis Girodet, Erigone

The God I follow is, among other things, a God of Madness.  This is appropriate, as I am mad.

Not the I’ve-got-a-hatchet-and-I’m-going-to-kill-my-family-in-their-sleep sort of mad, nor the shouting-on-the-street-corner-about-what-the-voices-told-me-last-night sort of mad.  I’m definitely not the Hollywood-charming-Benny-and-Joon-isn’t-mental-illness-funny sort of mad.  I’m not even Mad Hatter mad or running-through-the-wilderness-tearing-small-animals-to-bits-with-my-bare-hands mad.  At least not all the time, anyway.

(I wish I was Hatter mad.  I really like that phrase.)

My madness is the madness of Erigone.  It can be a despair so total, so soul deep that it blots out all the beautiful things in life.  Other times, it is the simple inability to feel joy, to feel much at all.  Erigone knew the love of a God, and yet her father’s death made her despair so completely that she could not see any good in life.  (Erigone has been on my mind lately, I’ll return to her in more detail in a later post.)

I like to think of my depression as a madness.  Others might prefer the modern, clinical, less stigmatized, terms  “mental illness” or “mood disorder.”  I find comfort in the epic, mythicness of simple “madness.”  It is a vast thing, not to be contained within something as mundane as the DSM.  There is romance in the term.  Depression is crippling and painful – not romantic in the same sense that war is not glorious – but its nature is, in my experience, better suited to this language than the coldly clinical.

Depression is a tricky madness.  It can be patient.  You’ll think you’re doing okay, getting along fine, and then suddenly – WHAM!  Oh, yeah, I’m crazy.  I forgot.

Like many other forms of madness, depression is insidious.  It doesn’t just torment its host, but gets its hook into everyone near them.  And, like a living organism, it has a remarkable instinct for self-preservation.  Anything that would help rid the host of it – medication, therapy, reason, love, faith – is pushed aside as useless, irrelevant or – my favorite – selfish.  (“I don’t have the right to ask my family for comfort.  I’m too much of a burden already…”)

I never turn to my Gods less than when I need Them the most.

And yet my God is a God of Madness.  He has suffered Himself, He understands.

One of the first things that Dionysos asked of me when we became acquainted was to stop taking my anti-depressants.  (If that doesn’t set off alarm bells in your mind as you read this, you’ve never known a mad person.  Or anyone with mental illness or a mood disorder.  Just saying’.)

I did this with the full, if anxious, support of my partner.  I’d been wanting to stop them for awhile, I’d been on the same meds for many years and had never been entirely happy with how they worked.  When I stopped taking them, after the initial withdrawal period, everything was fine.  I didn’t notice much of a difference at all.

I believed Dionysos encouraged my stopping the meds because I didn’t need them.  Maybe I had been misdiagnosed all those years ago.

Heh.

Everything was going along fine for several months, then slowly, insidiously, the depression started to awaken.  The madness crept in.  First, problems at work:  I was unhappy there and was sure no one liked me.  Then, a growing number of fights with my partner.  Lying alone, crying in the back of a car because I knew I was making life a living hell for my loved ones and I didn’t want to hurt them anymore.  Taint them with my madness.

And all this time, not turning to the Gods, not turning to Dionysos, though I kept Him in mind, knew He understood.  Surely he didn’t want this?  I wanted to be able to give him anything, but my family had no such agreement.

It was their pain, especially my husband’s (yes, I got married in the middle of all this,) that finally drove me to the therapist.  And back to medication – the right medications this time.

(Every time I’d gone to a new doctor before and I’d tell them what I was taking, they’d ask me how it worked.  “Well, OK I guess.  I don’t feel like killing myself, anyway” was a good enough answer for them and they’d just prescribe more of the same.  Anyone going through something similar – please, for the love of all that is holy, stand up for yourself!  There are a lot of options out there, one of them will work for you.)

After a lot of work – and medication, therapy, reason, love, and faith – I’ve got a good handle on my madness.  MY madness.  As in it is mine, whether I want it or not, I am not its.

And there was Dionysos, on the other side, saying “Now you know what madness is.  You know the power of it.  And you know you’re bigger than it is.  So enough with this helplessness, then.  Let’s get started.”

Well, I’m Back… I think

Olympian moon

Olympian moon (Photo credit: Greg Gladman)

It’s crazy here right now. Literally crazy – but I seem to have adjusted well to the medication. And figuratively crazy – the holidays, the job search, the landlord expecting rent money… But I think I’m back to a place where I can start writing again relatively regularly.

I’ve signed on for the Pagan Blog Project for 2013 and am excited to be able to start from the beginning. I’ve got the first several weeks worth of topics pinned down. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Some New Year’s resolutions: Though I make no claims to being a reconstructionist, I’ve been wanting to add more practice to my practice. So I’ve made myself a copy of the Hellenion calendar and have promised myself I will start making monthly libations to the Olympians using their schedule. I’ve also committed myself to making monthly offerings to the Agathos Daimon (my first 2013 PBP topic) and a few other practice related things. Will keep y’all updated here as to how that all goes.

Ancestors and Samhain

Back when I fancied myself a Wiccan… (Huh. Firefox’s spell-check recognizes “Wicca” but not “Wiccan.” One of the suggested alternatives is “Anglican.” This amuses me.)

Anyway, as I was saying, back when I considered myself a Wiccan Samhain was my favorite holiday.

This was partly because I always loved Halloween. As a girl it was a magical time when I got to dress up and roam the streets after dark. As an adult, well same thing really. I suppose I can (and do) roam the streets at night anytime I want now, but its more fun on Halloween. And the Weeping Angel costume might get me committed another time of year (outside of Comic-Con, anyway.)

But also as a religious holiday it had more meaning to me than the others. I can literally feel the veil thinning this time of year.

When we were living in the Bay Area, we would regularly attend Reclaiming’s Spiral Dance, which are still the most powerful public rituals I’ve ever been part of.

I guess that’s why Samhain is one of the only Wiccan holidays I still celebrate, in my own way.  (Imbolc is the other, because of a personal debt of gratitude to Brighid.)

Speaking of the veil thinning, I had a dream the other night about the little girl on the left. She was maternal grandmother. She passed away in the early 80’s. I spent most of my life, before and after her passing, actively disliking her. She did not like children, didn’t know how to relate to them. Since I was a child when she died, most of my memories of her are rather unpleasant because of this. (There are also some stories about her questionable treatment of my mother as a girl, but that’s second hand stuff.)

The thing is, since I’ve moved back to my home town and have been spending a lot of time with my mother (the adorable, but grumpy girl in the middle of the top photo) I’ve been learning things about my grandmother that have really humanized her in my eyes. On top of this, I’ve started to see how alike we are. (For example – I don’t do well with children either. I just had the good sense not to have any. Not really an option for a young married woman in the 1930’s, I guess.)

In my dream I first met “ghost” of my mother (who is alive and well) as a little girl. Then my grandmother. Both about the ages they were in these pictures. It made me really happy.

I’ve been feeling really bad about all the dislike I’ve sent her way over the years. I’d like to take this Samhain to try to heal that relationship.

Another ancestor I have unresolved issues with is my maternal grandfather, her husband.

I loved my grandpa.

In a way, he was the ideal grandfather – a great storyteller who knew everything. And what he didn’t know, he made up.

Everybody in my family adored him. And they still do. So I’m not going to go into any details here, since some family members might read this blog, but yeah. Issues. I’m not sure how to go about healing that one. But I’d really like to. Like I said, I practically worshiped him.

The thing about Samhain that I like, religiously or at least magically, is that it is the one NeoPagan holiday where I got real work done. Not that worshiping the Gods isn’t really work – obviously, its very important. But personally, I never really connected with the Wiccan mythic cycle, and being a solitary NeoWiccan, had never been introduced to the Gods of Wicca. So even at that time, these holidays were more about their other associations for me: Samhain/ancestors, Beltane/fertility (liked that one, too), etc.

The ancients that inspired my current path also venerated their ancestors and looked to them for aid and guidance. It was important to maintain good relationships even after death. Maybe that’s why Samhain still feels like it fits.

Reboot

Greetings all!  (She says optimisticly…)

As an introductory post, I feel the need to talk a little about myself and what I want to do with this blog. 

I am an ecclectic pagan who has been practicing on and off (more on that later) for nearly 25 years.  Through the years I’ve practiced solitary NeoWicca, hedge witchcraft, and ADF style Druidry.  It was because of the ADF Dedicant program, part of which includes finding a hearth culture and a patron deity, that I finally found a real spiritual home worshipping the Greek pantheon. 

I am a follower of Dionysos above all, and have an intense interest in Hermes, my husband’s patron.  I think of them as our “household” gods, but attempt to give due honor and respect to all the Theoi. 

I eventually left the ADF.  While I love its combined emphasis on scholarship and practice, it has a definite Celtic flavor, despite its attempts at Pan-IndoEuropean inclusiveness.  This framework did not feel like a good fit for worshipping Hellenic gods.  I still have a lot of respect for the organization and use much of what I learned from them in my own practice.

(I have also recently felt pulled towards certain Buddhist philosophies and even aspects of liberal Christianity – although I’ve put these interests somewhat on the back burner for now as I piece my primary path back together.)

So now I’m somewhere in the mists, trying to find my way once again.  At least this time I have guides.

I’ve looked at Hellenic Reconstructionism, as I have many online contacts who practice this faith and it looked like an obvious alternative.  I want to worship my gods in the way that they have chosen, yet it seems impossible to recreate a municpal religion with only two worshippers.  I also don’t feel qualified to offer the blood sacrifice that was such an important part of ancient practice.  I’m not particularly squeamish about animal sacrifice – at least, I could get over any squeamishness I do have:  I am an omnivore and hate hypocrisy – but I don’t have the skills or the facilities to do it properly.

I will probably never be a Recon, but I am beginning to research ancient Greek household practices and the Mystery cults, and let the gods guide me where they will.

On a personal level, I suffer from major depression and have all my life.  Spiritually, this means I will often go for long periods where I completely neglect my practice and, while the gods are always in my mind, I never seem to turn to them in these times of greatest need.  This is what has happened to me recently.  I’m just starting to climb out of the worst depression of my life, during which I moved from Phoenix back home to California.  I only recently realized that, while I have dutifully unpacked Dionysos’ shrine and am keeping it pristine, I haven’t made an offering to him since I left Arizona in December.  One of my major goals, as I start to regain energy and interest in life is to reaffirm my faith and attempt to repair my relationship with the gods.

That’s where this blog comes in.  I’ve attempted to keep spiritual blogs in the past, both as part of the ADF Dedicant program and on my own, but I’ve never been able to keep at it for long.  I’m using the Pagan Blog Project as a framework to encourage me to post more regularly this time.  Many posts will deal with personal discoveries and insights, though I will try to keep them useful or interesting to any followers that happen to come along.  I also intend to post more scholarly essays as I get the braincells firing again and am able to do proper research.

That’s all for now.  Blessed be.  Namaste.  Peace, love and soy products… and all that jazz.