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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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.

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.

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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.

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 – Facing the World As It Is (PBP Week 12)

The entire pagan community mourns this week for the death of a woman that most of us were unaware of until she was gone.  Yana was a Syrian pagan who was brutally murdered by rebels after her own brother revealed to them that she was not Muslim.  People all over the world, myself included, have been moved to tears by her terrible fate and some consider her a modern pagan martyr.

(Now comes the part where I piss people off.)

Something’s been bugging me.

I am horrified and grief stricken when I imagine what this poor woman went through.  But my heart also breaks for the thousands of other people dying horribly in the clusterfuck that is today’s Syria, and in many other places around the world.  People are being murdered in Syria because they are Christian, or Jewish, or not the right kind of Muslim.  Women are killed because they aren’t dressed properly, or dare to be in public without a proper male escort. Or for any other reason they don’t conform with someone’s particular interpretation of Islam.

Why does the fact that Yana shared a label with me (and not even a religion, paganism being what it is) make her more important that them?  Why is this what it takes to wake us up to the fact that people are dying over there?

We tend to empathize with others in direct proportion to how much they remind us of ourselves.  But is that really empathy?  Or some kind of reflected self-preservation instinct?

I don’t know.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  It’s a human thing.

I mourn for Yana.  I pray that her Gods look after her soul.

I am not saying that her death was unimportant.  I’m saying no one’s is.

If this horrible crime has awakened you to what is going on in the world, please use this knowledge well.  Do something with it.  Support Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross/Red Crescent or Amnesty International. Do whatever you can think of to make life a little better for those who aren’t as safe and privileged as you are.

 

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