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.

T – Theology, Theoi, and the nature of the Gods (PBP week 39)

Used without permission. 
If anyone knows the owner of this image, please let me know.

The variety of religions that fall under the pagan umbrella have very few things in common.  One thing that many of them do seem to share is that idea that religion is orthopraxic (meaning “right practice” as opposed to the orthodoxy – “right thought” – of the great monotheistic religions.)

Basically, what this means is it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you perform the appropriate rituals.  This is why hard polytheists, soft polytheists, animists, atheists and others can all partake in the same circle or rite and have it be a success for everyone involved.

It also means that for any group of ten pagans, you’ll have at least fifteen differing opinions on theology.  I know I’m occassionally responsible for two or three conflicting ideas all by myself.

Take the basic question:  “What are Gods?”

My concept of divinity has changed greatly over my life.  I’ve gone from the pure monotheism – or tritheism? – of Christianity, to a very soft polytheism of a neo-Wiccan variety: all gods are one god, all goddesses are one goddess.  For a long time I embraced the idea of a sort of a monotheistic polytheism: there is one divine essence and each individual deity is a different facet of that Being.

After interacting with a few individual deities, I adopted a fairly hard polytheism:  everybody’s their own person, period.

Lately I’ve been fascinated by liberal Christianity (something I was taught was an oxymoron during my church days) and the idea of a supreme force for “love and logic.”  But I also know my own Gods are real and unique.  And I know that they are truly Gods, not spirits masquerading as deities as some Christians would have me believe.

This is where my beliefs are right now: 

There is a divine essence that pervades everything:  Gods, people, poodles, dahlias, rocks, styrofoam.  Some entities are closer to this essence, or contain more of it than others:  Gods more than people, people more than poodles and dahlias, everything more than styrofoam.  This essence may or may not be sentient, may or may not be what created the universe, may or may not be what the monotheists are referring to when they speak of their one God.  It is almost certainly Bono’s* force for love and logic.  But it is not the God of the literal Bible or Koran, not concerned with laying down laws or how individual members of humanity live their day to day lives.

The Gods that we know are exactly what They appear to be.  Powerful and unique entities with Their own personalities and agendas, responsible for parts of the workings of the world.  They are not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent except in their own areas of interest.  Many of these Gods do take an interest in humanity, wholesale or retail, and therefore can be petitioned or appeased.  Like any individuals They can and do form various types of relationships with other entities.

Some believe in a single pantheon – sun god, fertility goddess, gods of war, thunder, wine, death – and that every war God, for example, is actually another name for Ares and every thunder God is Zeus.  It is not uncommon among Hellenic pagans – there is one pantheon and that the Theoi are the most perfect conceptions of it.  I toyed with this idea, too, but in the end its not how I see it.  I’ve interacted with Odin.  I’ve interacted with Hermes.  Many ancients equated the two.  It is obvious to me, having “met” the both of them, that this is most definately not the case.

Nor do I think that every time humans come up with a new divine name that a new God is born.  Its complicated.  Sometimes its just tribal migration and language shift.  Sometimes they actually are talking about someone completely different.  When the Greeks discovered Egyptian religion and began worshipping Aset as Isis, they were honoring a completely new goddess.  I’ve talked to enough followers of both deities who attest to their differences that I strongly believe this.  Yet in my own UPG Dionysos and the Roman Bacchus are identical (but not the same as the Roman God Liber, who was equated with Bacchus by the Romans.)

I’m sure there are many who disagree with me, particularly on that last bit of UPG.  But because of orthopraxy, it would not interfere with our worship.  I and my friend can both partake in a ritual for Bacchus, and if I believe He is Dionysos and my friend believes He is Liber it makes no difference to the rite.

This is what I’ve come to believe at this point in time – my personal theology.  I’m fairly sure it will continue to change and evolve as I do.  Because in the end, I am an agnostic – I believe that the Divine is truly incomprehensible from our point of view, and that while some ideas may come closer to the truth than others, that Truth is bigger than all of us.  Combined.

*No, I am not an advocate of the idea of rock star as religious role model – and this particular rock star would be the first to agree with me – but I do like the way he talks about God and faith.

S – Semele’s Story (PBP Week 38)

To Semele, Fumigation from Storax. Kadmeis (daughter of Kadmos) Goddess, universal queen, thee, Semele, I call, of beauteous mien; deep-bosomed, lovely flowing locks are thine, mother of Dionysos, joyful and divine, the mighty offspring, whom Zeus’ thunder bright forced immature, and frightened into light. Born from the deathless counsels, secret, high, of Kronion Zeus, regent of the sky; whom Persephone permits to view the light, and visit mortals from the realms of night. Constant attending on the sacred rites, and feast triennial [the Orgia], which thy soul delights; when thy son’s wondrous birth mankind relate, and secrets pure and holy celebrate. Now I invoke thee, great queen Kadmeis, to bless thy mystics, lenient and serene.”

Orphic Hymn 44 to Semele (trans. Taylor)

I chose to write this post because I wanted to learn more about Semele, the Theban princess who was the lover of Zeus and (one of the) mother(s) of Dionysos, and later became Thyone, Goddess of the Bacchic Frenzy.

I know many Dionysians honor Ariadne, the wife of Dionysos who was also deified –  or died tragically – or both – but I’ve seen little mention of his mother.  Lately I’ve been feeling the need to honor her in some way, so I am beginning by learning what I can about her, and sharing it.

Semele’s story begins in Thebes, where she is born to King Kadmos and Harmonia, daughter of Aphrodite and Ares.  The youngest and most lovely of four sisters, she caught the eye of Zeus, and when He came to her, she did not refuse Him.  How she became pregnant by Him is a matter of question. In the usual way of things, mortal women always conceive when they mate with one of the Gods.    But there is another story in which Zeus and Persephone had a son, Zagreus, who was torn apart by Titans while still a child.  Father Zeus saved the pieces of the child’s heart and gave them in a potion for Semele to drink, and this is how she conceived.

Queen Hera, upon hearing of this pregnancy was outraged.  Yet another petty infidelity she might bear, but this woman intended to become a mother by Zeus.  (Given that all His affairs with mortals would result in pregnancy, could Hera’s wrath have  been disproportionate due to Semele’s divine mother?  And therefore the possibility that, half-divine though mortal, she might be capable of giving birth to a true God?)

The Queen of Heaven chose to enact Her justice in this way:  taking on the form of Semele’s trusted old nurse Beroe, She convinced Semele to ask Zeus to come to her in his true form so that she would know it was really a God who was her lover and not some mortal trickster.  Semele asked this boon.  What happened next is unclear.  Zeus was either outraged at the hubris of her request and struck her dead on the spot with His lightning bolt, or He truly loved her, and had sworn to give her anything she asked for.  Bound to His oath, Zeus appeared before Semele in his true divine form, and “her mortal frame could not endure the tumult of the heavens, that gift of love consumed her.” (Ovid, Metamorphoses 3. 255 ff (trans. Melville))

(Of course, her jealous sisters spread the rumor that Semele had known only a mortal lover and when Zeus caught wind that she had been claiming it was Him, the God struck her with lightning as punishment for her lies.)

Zeus saved the child, who was to become the God Dionysos, from His mother’s womb.  When Dionysos grew to adulthood, he descended into Hades’ realm and brought out Semele, to whom he gave the new name Thyone, meaning “inspire frenzy.”  He took her to Olympus where Zeus granted her immortality with these words:  “Europa glorified by Zeus’ bed went to Krete (Crete), Semele goes to Olympos. What more do you want after heaven and the starry sky . . . you bring forth a son who shall not die and you I will call immortal. Happy woman! You have conceived a son who will make mortals forget their troubles, you shall bring forth joy for gods and men.” (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 7. 352 ff (trans. Rouse))

But, immortality being what it is, the story doesn’t end there.

Thyone now reigns, as She always has, as Goddess of the Bacchic Frenzy.  There is evidence in the primary sources of cultic worship from Homeric times through at least the 2nd century CE.  In many areas, She was worshipped right alongside Her son, sharing altars and even sacrifices.

I’ll close with a quote from Otto: “Thus the human mother of the divine son was crowned with immortality and received her share of cultic honors.  That is the magnificent finale of the myth of the birth of the son born of lightning from the womb of a mortal woman.”   (Otto, Dionysos:  Myth and Cult, p.68.  (trans Palmer))

Sources:

http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Thyone.html  (Where direct quotes from ancient texts were used I have given the primary sources provided by Theoi.com)

Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto

10/4/12 – Discovered this article on Boetia on wikipedia, that currently has some interesting – and well cited – information on the myth of Semele and Dionysos.

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.