17 December 2015

Unlikely Spaces

I have posted a lot about decluttering recently. I think that itʼs because I am in my late twenties, I have lived on my own for three years, and I am figuring out what I do and do not like in my surroundings. As a young professional, I am also very busy in bursts, and I want my surroundings to be as simple as possible for those hectic times.

Most of the minimalist blogs I read for tips on decluttering and streamlining processes are written by Christians or people who have come out of Christianity and still use it (no matter how secular they seem) as a base frame for their worldview. It never stops me from reading them, but I recognize that on certain types of posts, there are sentiments and opinions that I could never share. For example, right now, the majority of that Feedly folder is talking about eschewing material possessions to get back to the religious roots of Christmas.

And I don’t think that they mean that they’re redirecting funds for a taurobolium-destined bovine creature.

A few days ago, I saw Marie Kondōʼs Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in the OverDrive ebook collection of my local public library, and I read it this week.

Reviews of Marie Kondōʼs book online — ones that I read some time ago that have been percolating in my mind — thought that some elements of her work were a bit weird. They called her attention to objects “animistic” and a little over-the-top because in the nexus of Kondō’s cultural, personal, and religious background, objects and belongings are treated with more respect.

One of her sections, Make the top of your bookshelf your personal shrine, took me by surprise. Kondō’s English translator did not omit this short section about religious artifacts, which in her clients’ homes typically include charms and talismans:
I once worked as a Shintō shrine maiden for five years. I have loved shrines since I was in grade school and would often drop by our community shrine to pay my respects to the local deity. Even people who don’t love shrines as I do still have protective talismans and good-luck charms in their homes (Kondō, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, p. 160).
I was really, really excited about this — not because I need to declutter my shrines, but because this was even there in the first place, and it was in a non-Christian context.

Kondō notes at one point that she worked for five years as a Shintō shrine maiden. In the context of Kondō’s background, I do think that the work is deeply religious, just not in a way that most people in the West would recognize. Many of her suggestions for honoring the home can fit smoothly into a Hellenic understanding of household worship.

As I thought more about my reactions to this work, I realized that the very thing that others thought weird and off-putting in her work made me feel happy and included. Most of the minimalist works never talk about private worship spaces and places for household religious objects, and if any do, they never talk about it in the context of polytheism. I have already mentioned on this blog that I think proper acknowledgment of Zeus Ktesios requires a thoughtful and mindful look at spaces. If your home storage areas are sacred to a god, don’t you want the things in his spaces to be useful, usable, and well-placed?

This all circles around, of course, to visibility. I rarely engage in the blog-based fights, but I think that one of the basic points of all of the discussions about polytheism and making space is that space is empowering. It makes people feel heard, valued, and respected. Even if a person doesn’t consciously notice that something is missing, moments like the one above — when you recognize yourself in a space — just feel good.

16 November 2015

Quotidian Things: Breaking and Mending

I don't usually swear.

However, 12 days ago, while I was dusting my apartment, my mind was filled with expletives. Namely, “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

My household cleaning practice is filled with aspirations. I don't clean my shower as often as I should. I don't always vacuum behind the long-form gas-powered water heating vents that take up 2 of the 4 walls in each of my rooms. Often, when I should dust, I look at my microfiber cloths and think, “... maybe next time.”

But no. 12 days ago, I was with it. I was chipper, I was dusting, and I felt like someone feels when they realize that they have properly adulted.

This is a lot of build-up to what obviously happened. The dusting spree involved cleaning my shrines. I took special care to use a different clean cloth for my general shrine and my shrine to Hermes and Athene because I had used the previous cloth to clean the shrine to the Eumenides, and you separate that stuff out.

I picked up my statue of Hermes and started to wipe down the agalma. The caduceus fell out of the statue's hand and impacted on the ground, sending one of the wings flying.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Needless to say, in the span of about a second, I went from feeling like I was winning at adulting to ... not.

There were some good outcomes to this. I now own Krazy Glue, and it does actually set in about 30 seconds. Some coffee-scented incense that I had actually bought for myself a few weeks ago — twelve sticks of it — I gave to Hermes instead. But I think the biggest outcome from that is the sense that I need to sacrifice something to Hermes — and my intuition said that reading a book solely about Hermes would enrich my worship of him and be a good mental offering to a god who has done so much for me professionally.

We don't actually have a copy of C. Kerényi's Hermes: Guide of Souls at work, so I had to wait a few days for it to come in on ILL. It's not my collection development area, so I can only assume that there are reasons behind that. It came in on Friday, and I started reading it over the weekend.

Reading this is something that I should have done a long time ago, perhaps immediately after identifying Hermes as a professional patron. Hermes is a slim work, but it speaks volumes. It's based on a lecture that Kerényi gave about three quarters of a century ago. I was struck in the foreword by what M. Kerényi said about Kerényi's relationship with Hermes and that it was devotional in many respects. I continued to be struck by little things as I started moving through the actual content.

Since Sunday morning, I have been thinking a lot about two of the work’s themes: loss and rediscovery. There is a liminal place that is a place unto itself. You lose things, and you regain them or something else that is like them eventually.

I'm now contemplating how it relates to my professional work as an information seeker and information sifter in a time of great upheaval and transition in Academia. There are so many things that risk being lost as we move into the digital and so many things that information professionals help rediscover.

Writing-wise, I started to think about how ramping up my offerings to and gratitude towards Hermes coincided with increased creative flow for my main writing project. On the surface, the project (which I call the Seven Papers) isn't really about Hermes. It's a science fantasy treatment of a (roughly) 2,600-year arc of human history on a world far removed in the future from Earth. It's about dynasties, perseverance, gods, and the descendants of gods as retold primarily through a series of narratives created by a woman named Seven. Seven is reimagining and reinvigorating stories that have been lost. The overall goal of the Seven Papers is a synthesis of all of these lost narratives into a rediscovery and reunion, a conclusion that I am leaving vague on purpose because the beauty of the story is in the journey — the exploration of human emotion, human relationships, and the Heroic struggle — and not in the end result. It’s ambitious, with a goal of at least 11 books, maybe 12. I need at least that many to tell the story from start to finish.

Reading about Hermes this weekend has led me to understand that that makes it a deeply Hermetic work. Until this weekend, I was actually a bit worried that there wasn't any depth to it and that it was actually just a trivial, yet ambitious, writing and world-building exercise. Someone told me when I was in college that it sounded like meaningless fluff that people would read and enjoy, but that it wouldn't get them thinking because it wasn't worth critical analysis.

Certainly, as I move more deeply into the lecture by Kerényi, other themes will manifest, but I think that it's important to treat each of them in turn and to mull over them as they relate to my conscious or subconscious devotional activities.

Gods love those who are like themselves, or so my classical mythology professor said. They partake of those who partake of them. 

I'm only about seventeen pages into this work, but as I lit the coffee-scented incense last night — stick eleven of twelve — I told Hermes that I am beginning to understand.

20 September 2015

Unwrapping Candles and Other Reflections on Religious Storage Spaces

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.