B – Brighid (PBP week 3)

Imbolc is approaching, and it is one of the only neo-pagan holidays I still celebrate.  This is because of its relationship to Brighid, and the special place She holds in my heart.

If Odin was the first pagan deity that I had direct experience of, Brighid was the second.  And it was a far more pleasant experience.

Several years ago, I had decided that I needed to strip everything down and go back to basics.  My soft polytheistic theology wasn’t working for me any more.  I realized I had come to think of the Gods as unique individuals, or perhaps I always had and was only then comfortable with going my own way.  Either way, I needed to work this epiphany into my faith and practice.

When I started re-reading mythology with an eye towards finding a deity to approach, Brighid’s name just jumped off of the page, and I had what I think of as a “well duh” moment.  I had studied Celtic mythology years earlier – thought it would be a good fit, since so many of my ancestors were from Britain and Ireland – but it didn’t resonate with me.  I didn’t feel a connection with any of the Gods.  Except Brighid.  So here I was, years later, and the same Goddess was speaking to me.

I decided to start worshiping Her.  I set up a small shrine and burned candles and incense to Her nightly.  I learned prayers in Irish that I would say throughout the day as needed.  I joined a flame keeping cill.

And, unlike when I called to “the God” or “the Goddess,” I felt something respond.  I never really saw an anthropomorphic image of Brighid in my mind, but I came to know Her presence – a feeling akin to the heat of the sun, or of a forge.

Time went on and I was feeling very good about the way things were going.  I began to seriously consider becoming a devotee, pledging myself to Her.

That’s when things got weird.

Brighid had became more distant.  Though She still responded to my prayers, I would often find my thoughts directed to the Roman goddess Minerva, then the Etruscan Menrva, and finally to the Greek Athena.  (At this same time, and completely unrelated to my spiritual practices, I had been developing a strong interest in Roman history and culture.  I blame James Purefoy and Ciaran Hinds.)

At first I was confused – it almost seemed like She was trying to direct me back to the “all goddesses are one” perspective.  Except the experiences I was having with each of these goddesses, brief as they were, showed me entities with very distinct personalities.

I finally guessed what was going on was that Brighid didn’t want me as a devotee.  I didn’t belong to Her.  She was basically taking me by the and, and step by step, through my Roman interest and paths that I would understand, was showing me where I did belong.

Remembering my childhood love of Greek mythology, I tried meditating on that pantheon, Athena in particular.  The response I got from Her was welcoming, but a little stand offish.  As though She were saying “No dearie – you think you’d be mine, wouldn’t you?  A studious little girl like you?  But no.  Have you met my little brother?”

And that, as they say was that.

I suspect I’m not the only one who had this sort of experience with Her.  Brighid is extremely popular in neo-paganism.  I think, perhaps, one reason might be that She has taken it upon Herself to welcome many of us into the fold while we become acquainted with how polytheism works.  Just speculation on my part, but it’s a comforting idea.

A – Ariadne (PBP week 2)

Ariadne by John William Waterhouse

I knew all along that when the Pagan Blog Project came back around “A,”  I would be writing about Ariadne.  As the wife of Dionysos, she is an important figure in my faith.  I imagined, however, that this post would be along the lines of the one I wrote last year for Semele:  basically a recap of Her mythology and various cultic honors, interspersed with my own feelings about Her.

But then, that was before we were properly introduced.

It all started with a dream.  I won’t go into the details here, but it was one of those dreams that you just know comes from somewhere outside of your own head.  Suffice to say that it was about Dionysos – I had been questioning whether I was really fit to be His follower, and the dream was addressing those concerns.  Ariadne Herself appeared at the end and gave me Her nod of approval.  Apparently I was acceptable as “one of the girls…”

Bacchus and Ariadne by Gros

Or maybe it started before that, when I turned a corner at the Phoenix Art Museum and found myself face to face with this painting:  Bacchus and Ariadne by Antoine-Jean Gros.  I rarely like how Dionysos, or Bacchus, is portrayed in art of any period except ancient Greek, or the occasional contemporary piece.  This painting was is exception.  But Ariadne was a different story.  She captivated me.  Every time I returned to the museum (which was fairly often, it being one of the few places I actually liked in Phoenix) I would find myself coming back to this painting, standing enthralled before Her until something broke the spell.

So now I find myself slowly getting to know Ariadne, not as a distant figure in myth, but as the living goddess that She is.

A goddess who was once human.  She was worshiped in places as Ariadne-Aphrodite, but unlike the Olympian Aphrodite, Ariadne has experience love as a human would.  She has made mistakes.  She has faced rejection and a broken heart.  In the end, she triumphs.  In this aspect she is a comforting goddess.
Her aspect of Mistress of the Labyrinth hints and a much darker mystery.  I am intrigued, and must explore deeper.

Unfortunately my understanding is too fragmentary, the acquaintance too new, for me to be able to write further today.  For a more coherent perspective on Ariadne, I recommend the links below.

http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Ariadne.html

http://seastruckbythecrossroads.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/meditations-on-ariadne/

U – Unknown and Unknowable (PBP week 41)

The religion I grew up with, conservative Christianity, was a religion of certainty.  Sure, you had to have faith to believe in the first place, and the facts would vary depending on your particular sect, but once you made that leap it was all spelled out for you.  What happens after we die?  What is God like and what does He want from us?  What should I wear this Sunday?  Its all right there in the book.

Certainty makes me uneasy.  I was one of those kids who imagined a dark vasty nothingness just beyond my peripheral vision, wondered if the world went away when I blinked.  This wasn’t egoism, is was a basic mistrust of my senses.  When I say an apple is red, and you also say it is red, are we really seeing the same thing?  Or have we simply learned that “red” is the color of that particular apple, regardless of the wavelength of the light reaching our eyes.  And speaking of that, do we really have eyes and does light really have wavelength?  And speaking of light…

I’ve never been that comfortable with objective reality.

Most forms of paganism don’t deal with much in the way of certainty.  We don’t have a single revealed text.  Even in those faiths that do have an established lore, it is incomplete.  And that’s on the practical issues – how to perform this ritual, what offerings are appropriate in this circumstance, how was that holiday celebrated.  When it comes to more esoteric questions of philosophy and metaphysics, the lore is often contradictory.  It comes back to the idea of orthopraxy.  The ancients probably thought about these questions in the same way we do – some finding them very important, others completely irrelevant.  But it seems they were expected to find their own answers; it wasn’t the purpose of their religion to provide them.

This is how philosophy was born.  And, though I sometimes miss that comforting certainty, it pretty much works for me.

While I’ve mostly gotten past my weird idealist existentialist phase, part of me remains intensely agnostic.

I’ve written a lot in this blog about my ideas on the big questions.  Mostly, so far, about my ideas of who and what the Gods are and how best to honor them.  But I’m the first to admit I could be completely wrong.  My interactions with the Gods may just be wish fulfillment fantasies, or They could be something completely different than I imagine Them to be.

I don’t really know these things, any more than I know that my red is your red. What matters is that we have all agreed upon what “red” means, so we can function as if we were all living in the same objective reality whether or not that is actually the case.  As Kafka once said “it is not necessary to accept everything as real, one must only accept it as necessary.”  Meaning when it comes to day to day existence, a difference that makes no difference is unimportant.

What matters is that my ideas of the Gods fit my perceptions and work for me on a practical level.

For me, that is where my leap of faith comes in:  choosing to believe when doubt comes more naturally.  Choosing to believe red is red and the Gods don’t disappear when I close my eyes.

T – Gods, Technology, and the Modern World (PBP week 40)

(So far I’ve been doing these posts a few days ahead and scheduling them for Friday.  This is the first time I didn’t do that and, what do you know?  My family decided they really needed my undivided attention yesterday.  Ah well, so I’m a little late.)

There are those who believe that new Gods have been born, Gods of the information age, Gods of the Industrial Revolution.  That television is our new God.  Or the Internet.

This might be true, but when I look at these marvels of the modern age, I don’t see new deities emerging.  I see instead proof that the old Gods are still actively educating and inspiring mortals.

From a Hellenic perspective, I can’t use the Internet without thinking of Hermes.  Is there an invention out there that speaks more of Him?  I mean, worldwide instantaneous communication?  Come on.  As a God of Travel, I imagine He delights  in the automobile and the jet airplane.  I see His darker side in the spread of cyber crime.

I believe Hephaestus gave us the modern steel that supports skyscrapers, as well as the internal combustion engine.  I see the hand of Demeter in the new strains of wheat that have helped ease famine in many parts of the world.  And if Prometheus stole fire from the gods for the benefit of mankind, could he not also have stolen nuclear power from the sun itself?  I imagine Ares delights in the use of automatic weapons and patriot missiles.  Dionysos taught us to make not only wine, but I believe the modern entheogens like LSD and MDMA as well.  (I mean the drug is even called ecstasy!  Seriously.)

Just because we know the names of the historical figures who invented our modern tools, does not mean they weren’t divinely inspired.  And just because humanity has misused so many of them doesn’t make them less divine.  The holy is dangerous, almost by definition.  How may have died by Prometheus’ fire over the millenia?  How many lives ruined by wine?

In the end, I don’t believe we need new Gods.  Whatever the future brings us, the Gods we know are already on it.

R – Raccoons! (PBP week 35)

How could you not love those faces?

The common raccoon, Procyon lotor, is a nocturnal, omnivorous, and highly intelligent forest creature native to North America.  The name “raccoon” is a bastardization of a Powhatan phrase that translates roughly as “one who rubs, scrubs, and scratches with its hands.”  In many languages the names these animals were given refer to their manual dexterity or their peculiar habit of dowsing their food in water.

Raccoons are very common in the Northern California redwood forests where I grew up.

When I was a girl, my family would spend every summer camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  This is where I met my first raccoons.  They would occassionally wander into our campsite in the evenings looking for handouts – sitting just outside the firelight while the kids tossed them snacks.  Just as often they would come into the campsite after everyone went to bed and break into our food locker.  Padlocks were no obstacle to them.  (Did I mention “highly intelligent?”)  Even so, they were much more welcome than the other wildlife that frequently made its way to our camp – the skunks. 




Angry raccoon is angry! 
Do not disturb his sleep!

Sometimes the raccoons would visit looking for other kinds of amenities.  One night I and my god-sisters, all pre-teen girls, wanted to sleep outside in our sleeping bags.  My parents agreed, but only if my older brother, Russ, camped nearby to keep an eye on us.  To this day, my mother delights in telling the story of Rusty waking up in the middle of the night to a growling noise.  It seems a raccoon had crawled into his sleeping bag for warmth and resented it when my brother rolled over on him.  Both brother and raccoon were out of the sleeping bag in seconds flat, unscathed, but never to see each other again.



What?  Cunning?  Who, me?

I’ve been searching online for raccoon lore, because of the experience I wrote about the other day, but I haven’t found much.  Since they are North American animals, there is no mention of them in the European traditions that I am familiar with.  Raccoons appear in the stories of several of the First Nations, often as a trickster who outwits other animals.  They have the reputation as cunning bandits, due to their intelligence, manual dexterity, and facial markings.  Oh, and their tendancy to claim any food product that isn’t nailed down. 

A bit of UPG (“Unverifiable Personal Gnosis” for those unfamiliar with the term):  If raccoons had been native to Europe, I think they would have been strongly associated with Hermes.  I get the impression He likes them.  (The mask-like markings make me think of Dionysos as well.  But then, that’s just me.)


O – Offending Odin, or Why I’m Not a Heathen (PBP week 30)

OK, there are probably several reasons why I’m not a Heathen, to be honest.  For one, I’m perfectly happy where I am now, and am confident that it is where I am meant to be.  While I love the drama of Norse myth, the heathen worldview doesn’t mesh well with mine.  Its generally seen as one of the more conservative pagan religions and I am so very not conservative.  But all that could be gotten around – there are exceptions to every rule.

The main, unavoidable reason I’ll never be Heathen is this:  I’m not allowed.  I’m pretty sure the Allfather has forbidden it.

I’ve always liked Odin, one might even say I have a bit of a God-crush on Him.  He’s such a great combination of bad ass and trickster; wisdom, magic and general ass-kickery.

Odin is also the first pagan deity I was certain I felt the presence of.  This was about 15 years ago, during a ritual that my sweetie and I were helping a friend with.  The friend was doing all the active work, we were just there to witness and help keep the energies in balance.  It was part of his trad that we were left in the dark about the details.  (I wouldn’t recommend this normally.  This was a very trusted friend.)

We were in a public park, in a semi secluded area – it was unlikely anyone would stumble upon us, but we could still hear the sounds of people playing on the nearby lake.  Only once the ritual began the sky darkened and the sounds of laughter and speedboats faded away, as though we had been enveloped in a cocoon.  There was a definite sense of “other,” a presence which brought both uneasiness and familiarity.  It wasn’t until the way home when we were filled in on everything that I knew he had been invoking the All Father, to make an offering and request His assistance.

Not long after I had another encounter which led to my, erm, we’ll call it a  faux pas.

I was in what I perceived to be a really bad situation in a relationship.  One night I had gone to sleep particularly distressed and woke up to/dreamed the silhouette of a cloaked figure in a wide brimmed hat at the foot of my bed.  Again, I felt a presence.  I interpreted it as Odin, showing a passing interest in me because I had participated in the rite.

I don’t know what possessed me to think this was a good idea, but I poured out my heart to the shadowy figure, and asked Him to help me find a way out of my dilemma.

A few days later I was presented with a way out.

The thing is, I chose not to take it.  (Upon reflection, the situation wasn’t as bad as I’d made it out to be and all it had required was some open communication and a little compromise.)

Yeah, not good.  Thankfully I hadn’t made any actual oaths, or I suspect I would have been in a world of hurt.  As it is, I consider myself very lucky.  When I approached Odin after that, the sense I got was not one of anger but disgust.  As if He was saying “Go away kid, you bother me.  You’re not wanted.”  I still get that feeling to this day.

So many people write about their positive experience with the Gods.  I figured it might do some good to share a negative one.  Was it all in my head?  Maybe.  Am I going to test that?  Not on your life.

 

 

 

(Post written and originally published 10/14/12.  Backdated to reflect PBP due date.)