30 March 2010

Thank You, God of Travelers

This weekend, I went to the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts for a college sci-fi/fantasy convention run by my alma mater. Before heading out the door, I made a libation to Hermes, God of Travelers, because traveling makes me stressful and I felt that propitiating him was a really good idea.

  • The travel time to the train station, even at the late time we left, was traffic-free enough to put us at the destination ~20 minutes before we had planned on arriving;
  • TSA agents were not searching everyone’s luggage, which is very aggravating and time-consuming (and seriously, Amtrak is too good at screwing itself up for terrorism to really make much of a difference);
  • The replacement bus from Albany to Springfield, while getting lost twice, figured out what was going on relatively early;
  • Everything with floor crash space worked out;
  • We made our connections on the way back to the extreme: almost everything was early instead of late.
Before leaving, I made a libation of filtered water; upon returning, I decided that the amazing travel experience required something heavier (incense). Thank you, Hermes, for helping everything work out.

17 March 2010

Scattered Thoughts on the Noumenia

Just finished this month's Noumenia ritual. I love the simplicity of the Noumenia ritual that Neokoroi has come up with ... it's so beautiful.

Today, I offered water instead of wine, milk, or oil because I am starting a compost pile and want to compost as many of my offerings as possible — the Gods look well on those who dispose of offerings responsibly. For incense, I used a nice jasmine blend. I also offered some fresh strawberries. Incense, though, is the most meaningful offering to me. Something about it, no matter what the kind, calms the soul and commences that wonderful religious high that blossoms from one's heart to connect with the world and our Gods.

I finally bought Athene's small statue that I had promised her following my graduation from college, and it will be dedicated on the 3rd day of the lunar month — Friday, thank Gods, which doesn't quite get into my insane weekend of Syracuse University Accepted Grad Student Weekend and UU Social Justice Council.

So much has happened in my spiritual life recently. I read The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism by Linda Johnsen, mostly because I wanted to read about a living primary religious tradition that comes from the same roots as Hellenism. I am also reading Iamblichus. Tonight, I prayed to Athene to help me digest this information, and to Apollon for the mental clarity needed to understand the difficult Thomas Taylor translation.

Daylight Saving Time seems to help me manage my ritual time better because the light in the evening hours makes me want to keep doing things, no matter how much I hate waking up in semi-darkness. So, to all of you celebrating the Noumenia in the waning daylight, here's to another month of meaningful Hellenic ritual!

Image from the Wikimedia Commons.

14 March 2010

Thomas Jefferson, Religious Freedom, Dikê, and Quill Pens

The Texas Board of Education just had one of their curriculum-setting meetings. Now, when Texas sets its curriculum, textbook creators all over the country listen. Gus diZerega at a Neopagan blog on Beliefnet commented recently about the removal of Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum, which initially sent me off into such a fury that I can’t describe. Even with his flaws, Thomas Jefferson is one of my heroes, even with his flaws — a champion of Enlightenment thinking. I hold him nearly as close to my heart as the Athenians probably held Solon.

What makes me nervous, not furious, is some of the other revisionism happening to make the curriculum sit better with the Evangelical right-wing faction. It’s something that American Hellenists need to think about because this directly impacts the upbringing of the next generation:
12:28 – Board member Mavis Knight offers the following amendment: “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” Knight points out that students should understand that the Founders believed religious freedom was so important that they insisted on separation of church and state.
12:32 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar argues that the Founders didn’t intend for separation of church and state in America. And she’s off on a long lecture about why the Founders intended to promote religion. She calls this amendment “not historically accurate.”
12:35 – Knight’s amendment fails on a straight party-line vote, 5-10. Republicans vote no, Democrats vote yes.
12:38 – Let the word go out here: The Texas State Board of Education today refused to require that students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others. They voted to lie to students by omission.
Religious freedom is the right of each individual. Our nation has recognized that we have the ability to decide our faiths and our philosophies for ourselves. A rigorous refinement of one’s understanding of the universe is more important than adhering to an unwavering orthodoxy set by a stagnant reading of a thousands-year-old text from the Middle East.

It bothers me that attempts to actually educate children are touted as “liberal bias” because they often are only things about society and history that are dangerous to preserving and/or strengthening the status quo. YSEE’s Lexicon states that anaideia, or impudence (as opposed to aidos, which upholds ethical order, and I suppose the nomos, customs, to a certain degree), is linked to disrespect towards respected customs and the unwritten ethical order. However, to speak practically, sometimes anaideia is the only way things get done in society. Suppose that Jefferson and Adams had refused to go against Great Britain? Suppose the Revolutionary War had not happened at all? Preserving rights are often more important than preserving a current state of affairs.

Dikê is the goddess of justice who upholds the laws and traditions, but I think she works much deeper than that. Fundamental rights must exist, and on the surface I think that Dikê works to unmake conventions that cause unnecessary suffering to humanity. She evolves humanity towards just behavior and compassion towards those whom injustice plagues. Omitting pieces of this struggle for an enlightened world strips students of their bearings and their own history, making them an easier target for Fundamentalists to recruit for their work destroying the freedoms we enjoy.

Teachers can use supplemental materials, of course, but in an age where they run a continuous marathon with their students to prepare for state exams, who has the time? The important truths about our history will be rewritten and forgotten in the minds of most Americans so much that they might not have actually existed.

In conclusion, I would like to offer the following as a hymn to Thomas Jefferson:

10 March 2010

Kala Diasia!

Diasia is one of my favorite holidays, but mostly for sentimental value. It’s the anniversary of the first Hellenic ritual I ever performed.

I remember standing in my dorm room with a small plate of cooked lamb shanks and some kind of pasta. Back then, I had no copy of the Homeric Hymns, but I had gone to the computer lab to print off some that I had found  on Theoi.com — Daryl Hine’s copy of the Homeric Hymns (and Hesiod’s poetry) would come by me much later, and I would read his verse translation of Hesiod while riding back to Surrey one evening. Doing the ritual made me feel so nervous because I wanted to get everything right, and I knew that something profound was happening in my little dorm room. (A summary of my plans for last Diasia is here.)

Last night, I celebrated Diasia. While I used animal cracker cookies last year, this year I offered peeps (and I’m trying not to think about how many people are going to be offended knowing that), spring water, and frankincense. Now that my psaltery is tuned, I made some improv musical offerings to Zeus while reading one of his Orphic hymns.

In honor of Diasia and the anniversary of my first ritual after conversion, I would also like to dedicate my media enrichment of Sallustius’s On the Gods and the World to Zeus. The segments are out of order because I have not brainstormed how to break up the larger sections, but Parts XV and XVIII are available. All of the images come from the Wikimedia Commons and are credited at the bottom of each entry.

07 March 2010

How Sallustius Made Me A Hellenist (Part II)

Why we give worship to the Gods when they need nothing.

This solves the question about sacrifices and other rites performed to the Gods. The divine itself is without needs, and the worship is paid for our own benefit.

The providence of the Gods reaches everywhere and needs only some congruity for its reception.

All congruity comes about by representation and likeness; for which reason the temples are made in representation of heaven,

the altar of earth,

the images of life (that is why they are made like living things),

the prayers of the element of thought,

the mystic letters of the unspeakable celestial forces,

the herbs and stones of matter,

and the sacrificial animals of the irrational life in us.

From all these things the Gods gain nothing; what gain could there be to God?

It is we who gain some communion with them.

All images from the Wikimedia Commons. Links shown here: 1 - 23 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12

02 March 2010

How Sallustius Made Me A Hellenist

Why there are rejections of god, and that god is not injured.

Nor need the fact that rejections of god have taken place in certain parts of the earth and will often take place hereafter, disturb the mind of the wise:

both because these things do not affect the Gods,

just as we saw that worship did not benefit them;

and because the soul, being of middle essence, cannot be always right; and because the whole world cannot enjoy the providence of the Gods equally,

but some parts may partake of it eternally, some at certain times,
some in the primal manner, some in the secondary.

Just as the head enjoys all the senses, but the rest of the body only one.

For this reason, it seems, those who ordained festivals ordained also forbidden days, in which some temples lay idle, some were shut, some had their adornments removed, in expiation of the weakness of our nature.

It is not unlikely, too, that the rejection of god is a kind of punishment: we may well believe that those who knew the Gods and neglected them in one life may in another life be deprived of the knowledge of them altogether.

Also those who have worshipped their own kings as gods 

have deserved as their punishment to lose all knowledge of god.

Images all from Wikimedia Commons. In order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Looking Back on the Anthesteria

The Anthesteria Papers: A Journal (11 - 13 Anthesterion 1.697)

1. Anthesteria Eve
2. Pithoigia
3. Khoes
4. Khutroi
5. Purification

Anthesteria Eve

Today, the snow came. They say that it will stop tomorrow. On my way home from giving someone computer tutoring, I took pictures of the road, the house, and the steps. One of the trees in the yard looked so beautiful.

We have had over a foot so far. The Anthesteria is a festival where flowers are in abundance, and I suppose that climate is inappropriate for the region; however, the wine aspect of the festival takes precedence. At this time of year, with the snow blowing outside, I need something to keep me sane for the rest of winter because Gaia will remain hard and unyielding until May.

The Finger Lakes needs a founding myth for Dionysos. Here, where the landscape varies between the languid, cool summers and the snowy winters, is an oasis of vineyards and gorges. The landscape drove me mad as a child when we moved away because I would see it when I closed my eyes. It's one of the places that, if you come in the summer, you will never forget. Kids and milk indeed.

After stopping at the liquor store for some cheap, local ice wine, I went home and tried to figure out what exactly I needed for the shrine. My regular one doesn't work for this festival, and I have decided to keep it covered until Sunday night. (This means I will miss Kyklos Apollon on Saturday night, but I think Apollon will understand; this may also have happened last year.) I made a beautiful small one using some fake flowers and a Classical painting of Dionysos adorned with vines, the same image that is on the cover of one of those posh academic editions of the Homeric Hymns.

I also have a special snuffer that I acquired just before the 12 Days of Dionysos that I am now using for Dionysian festivals.

Day One: Pithoigia

I have decided that it honors Dionysos the most when I am not gagging down sour wine. Ice wine tastes like alcoholic fruit juice, and I don't need to bother mixing honey in. On the label, it says "18.5% Residual Sugar By Volume." This stuff is great. I cut wine with water because I don't drink enough to know my tolerance level, and celebrating alone means that I am the only one to mind the candle on my temporary shrine.

This is probably more alcohol than I have ever had in my life. The main, structured Hellenic ritual closed about 10 minutes ago and I am still buzzing, unable to keep still. My Grooveshark playlist for Dionysos (which I made while dinner was cooking) is playing "Lightning Strikes" by Yes.

During the ritual, I read from the Bacchae and the Orphic Hymns. I also browsed through Elizabeth Roberts's Earth Prayers from Around the World to satisfy the festival's other side because all of the winter produce comes from California or wherever. I burned myrrh and breathed deeply while listening to music and thinking about Dionysos.

My hands are still mildly sticky from the wine, and my Kindle is the best. ritual. tool. ever.

Day Two: Khoes

It has finally stopped snowing, and my cheeks are flushed from about 2/3 a glass of wine.

I am thinking about celebrating the Anthesteria alone, and the more I think, it would be fantastic to celebrate this in a community of people where the happiness and joy of the holiday can abound.

Offering cult to the Eumenides has made the story of Orestes personally significant, so I celebrated that part traditionally reserved for men, the sharing of wine in separate glasses. It interests me that, as a long-term devotee of Apollon, I am so compelled to worship them. Many of the shrines dedicated to the Eumenides existed because Orestes had passed by that location in flight. It seemed appropriate to drink with him for that unintentional blessing.

Tonight, while meditating on Dionysos, I thought about him walking through the nighttime modern streets, coming into town via train and walking. Everything is silent, and there are no people. He goes through a small alley door into a room where the ghosts of the past sit waiting for the sacred marriage to complete, the hieros gamos. Out on the streets, everything is still quietly anticipating the presence of the God. I imagine myself there on the darkened streets, and when he comes out that door, I see him. We acknowledge each other briefly; suddenly, it's like a switch has been flipped and there are people everywhere with flowers and images and wine. It was a great moment in my imagination, and it makes me long for something that beautiful in reality.

My flute came out tonight; I played something improvisational in the lower registers to avoid wakening anyone. I'm not sure I can replicate the melody; it just came, and there was a regular pattern to it. I cut it off because I don't want to disturb anyone in the house, and I wasn't sure how much longer I could go on playing without embellishing and running up into the higher register.

Today, after the sun rises, I will make a hole in the several feet of snow to pour and clean the libations from the past few days. I would rather do this before tomorrow when the ancestors are worshipped. I am also thinking ahead to purification ceremonies for the lighter and other items I have used during the rituals, but the purification ceremony must wait until the Anthesteria has finished — Sunday night?

I anticipate going to bed tonight and reading something, but I am not quite sure what.

I wonder if it's significant that the Hindus begin Holi right after our Anthesteria ends?

Day Three: Khutroi

Today, I made offerings to the Chthonic Gods (Plouton, Persephone, and Hermes Chthonios), along with the ancestors. I cooked a thick stew of beans, oats, and potatoes, and I added a lot of interesting spices from the cabinet. It smelled good, but I didn't taste any of it. I dug a hole in the snow where I made the offerings.

My grandfather left many letters behind from his time serving in World War II, and I had intended for a while to open them during the Anthesteria. I read several of them from his time training in LA, along with one after he had begun his service in the United Kingdom, where he prepped houses to receive wounded soldiers. I have some budding ideas about what to do with these letters, including do some kind of giant blog project, but some of the letters are not dated. Thankfully, most have postmark stamps on them.


I asked Apollon for purification after the Anthesteria had ended, and for the first time I played my half-tuned psaltery while worshipping (using the notes I had tuned). Chanting PAIAN PYTHIAN APOLLON APOLLON PYTHIAN PAIAN was beautiful with the accompaniment. (Note: since that recording, I have made it a more melodic chant.) I sprinkled khernips everywhere and prayed for ritual purity.