23 October 2011

They Who Spread Their Arms, Alive With Tangled Snakes


The Erinyes and I first met during a time sort of like now.

When I get creative, my head sort of spins about and it’s really difficult to think about anything besides stories. These episodes have tended over time to start in October and they last until the early part of the new year, coming in fits and bursts. It sort of feels like someone has fired an electric charge into my head and gets worse when I am under a lot of stress.

I wrote a story about a city on a planet called Irene, which I tried to publish (but it got rejected everywhere; it is super embarrassing to write something and then run out of places that would take something like this). The Erinyes came into my life in middle of the story — vengeful ghosts that swirled in the prairie’s ashes — although I didn’t outright say what they were. Wherever I turned, I found them: in the Oresteia, one of the most numinous pieces of writing about Apollôn that I own (and I fully believe that words when brought into the right order can be just as numinous as Delphi); in the words of God Is Red; and finally within myself.
“It’s funny. You don't know what’s going to be in your room until you see it. And then you realize it could never have been anything else.”
– Lucy Hayward, “The God Complex,” Doctor Who Series 6
A god loves someone who resembles him or her, no matter how deeply we hide the connection. Every god who seeks our attention sees a little bit of themselves within us that they latch onto in sympathy — a sort of resonance that, with devotion, becomes amplified until it’s difficult to see the fuzzy difference between the human and divine, a profaned sacredness and a sanctified profaneness.

It’s easy to go after the Ouranic gods and see if they turn and look you in the eye — the penultimate one being, I think, the Far-Shooter because he keeps his distance and everyone loves a challenge.

I have prayed to the Erinyes every night for the past few weeks and have had a lot of time to think about the strange, impulsive decision I made to worship them — a decision I have no memory of making, just as I remember not using chopsticks as a toddler and suddenly using them at seven or eight with no recollection of how I got from Point A to Point B.

They make me remember all of the things about myself that have made me uneasy forever, and they have teased out a lot of anger. It’s not easy to have that kind of passion again (which I think I repressed a lot while growing up because I lived in such a toxic environment), but part of worship is coming to gods on their own terms and bringing oneself into resonance. It’s easier to explain this way:

When we worship and pray to gods,
we make spaces for them to slip in,
smooth as eels, persistent as water
dripping from caverns and the heat
pulsating invisible in the universe.
Neurons crystallize into agalmata,
and the consonants on our tongues
ring like the cymbals and drums
bringing Rhea out of the mountains.

With the Erinyes, this means accepting the snakes, the venom, and a sense of pompous righteousness that sort of reminds me of King Kong. (Does anyone else who worships the Erinyes know a better way to say that last part?)

And did I mention the snakes?
At once the ominous Tisiphone
selected a torch that had been steeped in blood,
put on a robe reddened with dripping gore,
and a belt of live snakes. And so appareled,
set out from her home accompanied by Grief,
with Fear and Terror and convulsive Madness.

They say the doorposts shuddered when she stood
on the threshold of the house of Aeolus;
the polished oaken doors lost all their luster,
and the Sun went in. Ino and Athamas
were blocked, when, terrified, they tried to flee
the ill-omened Fury there before them,
who spreads her arms, alive with tangled snakes,
and shakes her locks out: stunned, more serpents fall,
some to her shoulders, others to her breast,
hissing and vomitig their deadly silver.
– Ovid, Metamorphoses Book IV,
ln. 660 - 675, trans. Charles Martin
Worshipping them has also helped me get over my fear of honoring the local spirits. I live where the Iroquois were massacred just after the Revolutionary War, which colors my assumptions about what is proper and good when relating to local spirits. I don’t know if other European Americans who practice traditional European religions feel the same way, but the land in some parts of the country is still rightfully angry. I have made so many offerings to these goddesses that I started worshipping some of the local potamoi and nymphai, who seem to have grudgingly accepted my offerings, earlier this year.

I think that some of the next steps in my devotion to the Erinyes involve learning more about purification rituals and the restless dead in Hellenic practice. I want to acquire and read Sarah Iles Johnston’s Restless Dead: Encounters Between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece sometime during the next year and maybe even rewrite and finish that story about the vengeful ghosts swirling in the prairie ash.

Image: Gustave Moreau’s Orestes and the Erinyes, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

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