About This Blog

KALLISTI was created several years ago. Since then, the blogopshere has gotten richer, but this devotee to Apollon (and now the Erinyes) is still here providing anecdotes of personal practice, communicating about various theological/moral/philosophical beliefs of myself and others, linking to valuable and/or interesting media sources, and sharing resources about Hellenic polytheisms with the general community.

25 March 2014

Developing Context

A bit over ten years ago, I took my first college class. I was still in high school.

The order of these classes has blurred. It doesn’t matter, really, whether I took literary criticism before the courses on Russian history or East Asian history. I was taking 200- and 300-level courses, and it was the first time in my academic career outside of mathematics that I felt challenged.

We read a piece of Plato in the literary criticism course, and I thought it was vividly boring — perhaps it was because the workload I had meant I was doing homework from 7 AM to 8 AM, going to school between 8:30 AM and 3:20 PM, and doing homework, practicing the flute, and/or attending Drama Club from 3:20 PM until 10 or 11 PM, but it almost put me to sleep three or four times. I couldn’t get into it.

I think that part of the problem when teaching Plato to kids these days comes when you take out the interesting cultural pieces.

It is probably shocking to some that I have only read two and a half of Plato’s dialogues. During many of my earlier years in Hellenism, I spent my time reading translations of the Homeric hymns and the works of Hesiod. I read the Iliad, the Odyssey, and a lot of plays. My transition into philosophical literature happened much more recently.

Others have repeated over and over again that Plato and the other philosophers are the backbone of Hellenism. We are fortunate in that we can pick up these jewels inexpensively from most bookstores or libraries, and that the bulk of surviving philosophical discourse from antiquity comes in the form of inexpensive translations.

Embarking on a philosophical voyage through Plato sounds daunting, but not really. People have been doing this for centuries. I have decided on the order provided by a fellow blogger here. This may intermingle with other ideas about reading order, such as this one, depending on how the reading process goes.

Thus, I am starting with Charmides and will work my way forward. I want to have a better context for things, and it’s shocking that I have lasted this long in Hellenism with only the Symposium and Phaedo in my philosophical arsenal. As with everything else, I tend to take philosophy out of order. Stoicism before Platonism. The fourth book in the Animorphs series before the first. Dessert before dinner. Returns to earlier conversations as though they never ended and moved on.

The Symposium taught me just how vividly interesting Plato can be when taken in the proper context and translated well. It doesn’t hurt that I was a few years older — old enow to engage more vividly with the content.

Charmides is a fun dialogue to start with, and it focuses on sôphrosynê, which Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West have stated can translate as either moderation or sound-mindedness. The framing provided by them at the beginning of the text has been immensely helpful. The phrase “literal translation” sparked me to choose their version, and I think this was a good decision.

I am also beginning to have enow of an understanding to say that, yes, it’s important to read Plato, and it’s important to read him early.

16 March 2014

Controlled Negative Thinking

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to other flesh-and-blood human beings about Stoicism and the reasons why the philosophy works in the modern world.

I have mentioned previously on this blog that I think having a sense of the context of ancient Stoicism makes tremendous sense. I still believe that it works best in this way, but I also think that the practices may benefit anyone. The people at the Unitarian Society I attend have very diverse beliefs ranging from atheistic to pantheistic to generic Christian. There is no minister, so I have the opportunity to hear these other perspectives during the services and share my own in turn.

I talked for a few minutes about Stoicism, but in the spirit of experiential learning, I decided to share one of the practices. The morning meditation from Stoic Week 2013 worked really well in this context. It is one of the best guided Stoic meditations I have come across. It guides an individual through controlled negative thinking. The other members of the congregation enjoyed it immensely.

The general word in personal growth philosophy is that we should not engage in negative thinking. I have a lot of personal growth and productivity-related blogs in my Feedly, and they always include avoiding negative self-talk as a bullet point.

Envisioning worst-case scenarios is an invigorating practice. All too often, I think we have problems separating negative thinking from a sense of disempowerment. The trick to negative thinking and doing it well is to have a philosophical framework (such as Stoicism) which shields against that downward spiral. For me, the Stoic morning meditation makes the rest of the day a mindfulness practice. Things rarely unfold according to my morning’s expectations, and I take a small amount of delight from the differences, even when things don’t go as well as I intended. Often, things change because they are outside of my control. More rarely, it’s because of a personal failure.

The trick with controlled negative thinking is that the negative thoughts stop at some point. They become observations about situations, and how much do we really have control over? Our thoughts, our actions, our words, and everything that is in our power. Everything else falls along a sliding scale of unpredictability.

Stoicism values self-actualization through the process of distilling the essentials of our experience and control out of the myriad sensory things we have in our environments.

10 March 2014

Reading Outside the Box

This is an unusual review, as James Wasserman’s In the Center of the Fire has absolutely nothing to do with Hellenism at all. Rather, the process of reading this book was a good one, and it gave me a lot of things to think about.

I started reading it with some amount of contempt, so much so that I don’t actually know why I picked it up and am thankful for whatever motivation I had. Contempt is in direct opposition to the maxim Down-look no one. The contempt came from two places: One, I have a strong suspicion when it comes to any kind of ceremonial magic(k?)al practice because it is only one step removed from my experiences as a teenager in a long email correspondence with a mostly-off-the-grid conspiracy theorist and ceremonial magician I met at a pagan event in Missouri in 2003 or so. Two, the first 15% of the novel is so filled with drugs that my initial reaction was, “...”*

I decided about 20% of the way through that my reaction to this material was not appropriate, especially considering that this narrative must have been an incredible exercise in vulnerability for the author. I noticed the contempt and wrestled it into submission.

Despite the fluidity of the narrative, the book was not an easy read. I know next to nothing about Thelema. When I Googled “A∴A∴ pronunciation,” nothing even remotely helpful appeared.** My first exposure to ceremonial magicians came in the form of the webcomic Oh My Gods!, and my second was the first source of contempt mentioned above. I read a Wikipedia entry on Crowley about three years ago after hearing the Ozzy Osbourne song “Mr. Crowley.” Most of the content has trickled down to me through indirect means, as I was pretty into Christopher Penczak’s Temple series before my conversion to Hellenism in January 2008. Penczak stresses the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram quite heavily.

First, I admire the use of something called a “magical diary,” which I recall attempting during my teenage years related to Neopaganism, but abandoned along with the concept of a diary of any kind altogether. I like the idea of having a scratch space to work out ideas. The major difference between the private religious diary I just started and the magical diary of Thelemites is that mine probably focuses a lot more on gods, orthopraxy, and piety, which don’t seem as central to Thelema. (Then again, I know next to nothing about Thelema.) I started a journal and made an offering to Hermes.

Second, reading about the decades-long struggle and intrigue within Thelemite circles makes me feel very hopeful for Hellenism. We have a lot of our own controversies in the polytheism/paganism sphere involving hard vs. soft polytheism, sacrifice vs. blasé impiety (yeah, I have a bias, which is why I don’t generally talk about my position; I don’t want to throw propane on some of the drama fires), &c. The growing pains Wasserman writes about in In the Center of the Fire makes me hopeful for the future of reconstructionist movements.

Third, it has been a very inspiring read. I have been somewhat lax in my studies of Platonism and Stoicism as of late, but it has given me a renewed interest in focusing on that. Philosophy is amazing.

* No, seriously. It required me to think back to when we covered drugs in high school science classes. You would think that, for a state that required every science and health class to spend several weeks talking about what drugs do to people from the perspective of the science in question (i.e., physics, chemistry, biology ...), I would have remembered something. Because I have never done drugs, none of that was useful, and it just prevented me from learning science that was actually cool.

** After writing that sentence, I finished reading In the Center of the Fire. I also listened to an interview someone did with the author. From that, I learned that A∴A∴ is pronounced like AA, not A-tridot-squared. I have also been pronouncing Thelema incorrectly for decades.