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.

23 April 2014

Some Thoughts on Current Events

I have been thinking for the past half hour about the blog posts I have skimmed through over the past few weeks related to first one (and then another) child pornography or assault news items.

At first, I thought that this might be an appropriate outlet for my second ever curse tablet ritual, but I took a step back to breathe, and I have something slightly different to share ... for the moment.

Consent Is Not a Four-Letter Word

I am going to paint a broad brush here and talk about sexual assault in general, not just child pornography or molestation, because the apologist rhetoric we have been seeing is the same rhetoric used all the time towards adult victims of sexual assault. Communities have a duty to advocate for the victims of all kinds of assault, be they minors or adults. I know this, and several blogs I read show a substantial amount of completely legitimate outrage about this frustrating situation.

I am a feminist. Consent is a huge topic in feminism [video], and one of the terms thrown around in the feminist blogosphere is the idea of something called “rape culture.” Rape culture means that instead of empathizing with the victims and advocating for legal reparations, most individuals in America who hear about a man committing sexual assault give him the benefit of the doubt. The blame often shifts to the victim. How could she say that about him. But she was a very mature eleven! But they were dating! If you put him away for something like that, you’ll have to incarcerate every drunken frat boy, and that will ruin their careers! (If the person committing sexual assault is female, the reaction is quite a bit different.)

People do this because very few people actually know about consent. At least in my high school, we spent 95% of the sexual education curriculum talking about the STDs we had a 100% chance of getting if we did not engage in married, monogamous sex. We spent 4% of the time talking about how the reproductive system works. We spent 1% of the time talking about protection. Consent is not a topic of discussion. Most individuals hear the C word and think it must be some kind of complicated Girl Thing, like romantic comedies and spontaneous crying fits.

Consent actually applies to both men and women, and it’s really simple: (1) Don’t have sex with people below the legal limit. (2) If you want to have sex with someone, ask, and if they say no, don’t do it. (3) If the other person is too incapacitated to say yes, don’t have sex with them. (4) If at any point the other person says “no,” stop. (5) Everyone in the pornographic media you are consuming must be consenting and of legal age, because if they’re not, you’re participating in a system that has violated their consent.

It’s really not that hard.

The Current Situation

It bothers me that I have read so many accounts of people in the greater American pagan and polytheistic community being outraged ... at the idea that others might want to punish people who violate the laws of consent.

We all know that pedophilia is a mental illness, and it’s one that has the potential to create broad harm across communities in which pedophiles predate. On the other hand, most pedophiles know that what they are doing is illegal. They hide it. In an ideal situation, all of them would visit a mental health professional immediately on realizing that they might become a danger to children. In practice, this doesn’t happen. Yes, mental illness is stigmatized. Yes, it’s a condition that might not be changeable. But it’s also still their fault for not seeking out help.

The problem with our community is not that people are consent-violator/rapist apologists. It’s that we expected ourselves to be somehow different from the rest of America, and we’re all products of this highly toxic culture.

Miasma and Law

First, we have the right to advocate that a rapist or child pornography viewer be held accountable to the law. We have the right to demand that (s)he follow post-incarceration laws applying to sexual offenders. 

Second, we have the right to demand that the offender seek ritual purification before others even consider letting them back into the (adults-only/child-free) community. Ritual purification and civic accountability are not the same; the one provides an outlet for human grievances, but the other makes reparations to the gods of purification for the sin. Orestes, remember, needed both after he killed his mother: the purification from Apollon and the verdict from the court of law. It is not unreasonable to demand this, and even then, participation in the adults-only community must rely on others’ comfort.

Third, I have the right to comment that our community does not have a clear understanding of consent. This is not a character judgment. This is America. Let’s start by fixing this. What about clear behavior guidelines for all events? That would be a great start! Also, there’s a Polytheistic Leadership Conference (which is close to where I live, but I’m on the fence about attending because I am totally not a leader), but they might have a panel!

And that’s all I have to say about this issue right now.

20 April 2014

Quantified Religion

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.
 — Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric”
Several weeks ago, I did something that I told myself I would never do.

My phone has an app on it to measure heart rate variability. The basic definition from the hyperlink I just mentioned for heart rate variability, or HRV, is “the oscillation in the interval between consecutive heartbeats as well as the oscillations between consecutive instantaneous heart rates.” You can look at heart rate variability with simple tools to assess the human stress response. People who use biofeedback techniques can modify their heart rate variability to stop fight-or-flight responses, and it’s pretty cool, but the devices I know of are not available for Android phones or Linux laptops.

Instead, I sometimes look at my HRV using an app from Azumio called Stress Check. When using Stress Check, you can see how your HRV impacts your stress response, in the hopes that quantifying it will help you reduce the stress response.

The thing I told myself I would never do with this app? Use it before and after devotional activities.

People have studied religion extensively in the literature to look at its effects on the religious practitioners, with the expectation that a habitual activity will cause psychological or physiological benefits at an individual level. Look in PubMed for prayer, and you will see tens of thousands of papers.

Of course, as a polytheist, I might tangentially care about the physiological and psychological benefits of a devotional practice. After all, it’s beneficial to me. On the other hand, would quantifying how I feel before and after devotional practice detract from how I feel about the practice of devotion? Would it turn something god-centered into something seeking to tease apart my own flesh-and-blood body? The danger with quantifying something using human measures is that the actual point of the thing — devotion to the gods — means that devotion is only valuable in the context of how it impacts human beings.

And, of course, the answer is no.

The counterpoint to the apprehension surrounding quantifying religion might be that quantifying something and hacking it is sometimes the best way to attain a state of flow that makes whatever you were doing better. Quite frankly, I enjoy getting into a state of resonance while praying or doing ritual, and I would like that to happen more consistently. It’s as much about setting up the brain chemistry as it is about the gods, as one cannot happen without the other.

HRV is a good measure of when someone is in a good state, and comparing HRV before and after giving cult to a god might be a good variable for tracking how resonant the experience actually was. In addition, if you approach the shrine when your HRV has tanked, it would give you a heads up that doing mindfulness meditation or a stress exercise is in order.

I have done an HRV test before/after ritual once, but I’m continuing to think about trying something a bit more systematic.

I offered cult to Apollon on February 24th, 2014 (okay, maybe a bit more than a few weeks ago, but I’ve been thinking about this experience for a while!) with a Stress Rate of 84%. This is a bad thing, as you want to be lower than about 30% to be in a state of high coherence.

After making offerings to Apollon, I tried the HRV test again, and the Stress Rate had dropped to 70%. This is a difference of 14% in a little over five minutes, which is huge.

As for the ritual content, going in with a high stress rate would explain why it’s sometimes more difficult to clear one’s head and give appropriate attention to the gods, and why sticking it out is the best thing you can do.

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.