20 September 2015

Unwrapping Candles and Other Reflections on Religious Storage Spaces

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Below the Zeus Ktesios jar, bottles of oils and nut butters, and French-style canning jars filled with rice, buckwheat, and nuts, many of my religious supplies have lingered wrapped in newspaper for the past two and a half years. When I arrived in my apartment, I took out what I needed and not much more.

Every time I went into the pantry, I saw the buried boxes and realized that I needed to do something about them. Other boxes had been placed on top of them, in this case ones filled with empty nut butter and mason jars. The number of jars kept increasing. This morning, when I decluttered all of that, I discovered that the empty glass jar problem was so severe that I had an entire box stacked with them that I hadn't held in my conscious inventory of possession for at least a year.

Several weeks ago, on my first attempt, I saw a small, beady-bodied black spider dart out when I tried to open one of the boxes. I smashed it and left the box idling there for weeks, wondering if I would need latex gloves when I went through all of these things to keep myself from being bitten. When my family moved to the Midwest in 1994, I remember seeing all of the posters of poisonous spiders all over the school. I saw photographs of what happened to people bitten by black widows and brown recluses. There were more than seven types of poisonous spiders, so for my entire childhood and teenage years there, I decided to kill first and ask questions later because I had weighed the risk of misidentification against personal injury, and that's the way it worked out. It's not a fear or a phobia. It's a visceral assessment of danger that always ends in the spider being dead unless I can clearly identify it as a wolf spider or daddy long-legs.

I went through my kitchen this morning and boxed up things that I no longer use. Afterward, I selected several mason jars that I actually use and took the remainder of the glass jars down to the large recycling bins in my apartment complex. I vacuumed my pantry and moved things around.

After lunch, I took the religious supplies boxes out. I was cautious, but there were no spiders. I saw a lot of things that I no longer use and some things that I do. There was a bag of unhulled barley in one of the boxes, and the bag had been gashed open. I no longer use barley because I have Celiac and have an aversion to touching things with gluten in them. I'm always worried that I will touch my face and that particles will get into my mouth.

The bag had broken open in a blue container that I had once used for storing ritual supplies in shelves. After disposing of the barley, I vacuumed the blue container for a solid five minutes and decided that it would hold bags filled with candles because things touching it directly was suspect.

Surprisingly, most of the things in those two boxes are things that I can actually use. I rediscovered framed images of gods, my spiral powdered incense burner, Pythagorean tarot cards, more fake flowers and garlands for the Anthesteria, and a lot of candles. Most of the things had been emptied out just after I moved.

I wondered why it had taken so long to do this, but the joy of the matter is that the process is done. I moved the non-Hellenic Polytheistic religious books from the shelves beneath my shrine to another bookshelf and made way for the bins that will hold incense, candles, fake flowers, and other cultic instruments.

A lot of this goes back to what I was saying over the summer about storerooms, curating belongings to make sure that they are all necessary, and being frugal. Now that I have done this, my storage areas are happier, easier to use, and bring me more peace of mind than anxiety when I see them. I think that reclaiming the sacredness of owning enough and putting everything in its place is one of the best home management takeaways of the KonMari method and the minimalist movement. It does honor to Zeus Ktesios to take care of our spaces and make our storage areas the kind of place where we can proudly place his jar.

25 August 2015

A Moment of Practice: My Journal

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On Sunday, I finished writing in a journal.

I spent the first piece of my journal (when I started the volume on 23 February 2014) creating a dedication to the gods. It came out of the tradition for asking for blessings on projects. I think that introspection is definitely a project.

When I arrived on the final page of that blank book, I ended in very much the same way I had begun, but instead of prayers, I gave gratitude. The gratitude went to various gods: Apollon, Athene, Hermes, Dionysos, and all of the Gods and Daimones. For the purposes of a journal that I primarily use for a five-minute positive psychology technique (but not using their official journal or app) with occasional additional paragraphs and long-form entries, those Gods seemed like appropriate guides to thank.

The words on the cover page of my new journal, as with my previous one, come from the Homeric Hymn to Apollon.

I love these words because they conjure up images of striving and of the connection between materialistic satisfaction and approaching the gods, who are outside of the quotidian rhythms of our lives, yet embedded in everything that brings us sustenance.

My journal is not explicitly a spiritual practice, but at the same time, it is important to remember the gods in my daily life. I sometimes talk about the Gods while writing in my journal, and at beginnings and at endings, it is best to remember them.

I wrote out a prayer. I recited the prayer. I lit incense.

Here is a moment of practice. It’s not radical, but quotidian, personal, and embedded in my morning routines. Even in professional and mobile practice, the Moleskine-style ones I use have inscriptions.

I will know that I made that dedication every morning and evening when I open this journal to keep track of my thoughts, to reflect, and to hope for the future. Polytheistic practice isn’t rocket science, and the barriers to entry are surmountable. Creative choices to honor the Gods in my writing are small acts of devotion, piety, and reflection, but they are important to me.

13 August 2015

Zeus Ktesios and the Storeroom

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A few weeks ago, I purchased and read Hellenic Polytheism: Household Worship. It is an excellent and useful book to have on hand.

One thing that struck me from the book is the following passage:

During the Classical Era, His altar was commonly found in some storage space of the house (usually an outdoor structure) where mainly libations were poured in His honour. Goods such as food and perhaps items of clothing, material, wool and animal skins, etc, were kept in such storage rooms until recently (in some villages up to the previous generation). These storage areas held the essential goods of the household. They were not contemporary store rooms (especially in cities) teeming with broken and useless items (p. 26).

I started a journey towards a more minimalist lifestyle when I moved to my current city. I culled a hundreds-of-books collection down to under 300 physical books. I edited down my wardrobe. Over the past few years, I have interrogated things that I own because I was sick and tired of carting them from home to undergrad, from undergrad to my mom's house, from my mom's house to graduate school, to Connecticut, and then on to a second apartment when my sublet failed a few months after moving here three years ago.

Too many possessions means more dusting, more difficult vacuuming hurdles, and less time spent doing things that I enjoy. I am also easily overwhelmed by clutter and things that need to be done.

I quoted the passage above because I disagree with the assessment that we might want to recuse ourselves from honoring Zeus Ktesios in the storerooms because we keep our broken and twisted things there. Maybe a better way to move forward would be to evaluate those spaces and purge the things that do not honor Zeus. It may be easier in an apartment where there is more pressure to purge items that no longer function than in a house where there are so many spaces to squirrel things away.

One of my upcoming tasks is to attend to a box of ritual supplies that I have rarely opened since moving into my current apartment over two years ago. It might even be the last packing box I have to go through. All of the others have been assimilated or donated. I know that when I open that box, I will find candle holders and other things that I don't need because my family has been buying me candle holders since I was twelve. Almost everything that I use for ritual is cleanly and simply on my shrines, and I only need a small number of other supplies for festivals and other events.

There are things that we do need to keep on hand. There are reasons for having storage areas in our households. Extreme minimalism, as one opinion news source reported (well, it's actually almost a roundup of sources), is a luxury of people with enough disposable income to make up for what they don't own.

Reasonable minimalism, though, is more like going back to one's roots and bringing honor and order to the idea of what we own and how it belongs in a place that is sacred: Something that should function as a place to keep our sweaters, winter coats, dry pantry items, power tools, incense, and other necessities of life.

If it doesn't have a function in our lives and if we don't care about what's there enough to ask Zeus Ktesios for protection of our things, what good does it serve being brought into our homes or kept in the first place?