24 July 2011

Athênê: Advice for new people

I have seen that 30 Days meme. Something in me just despises the Gregorian calendar, but I liked some of the post ideas and made up some of my own based on the lunar calendar — more specifically, I took various sacred days and thought about the kinds of posts I would make on them.

The 30 Days meme is still going on in at least 2 blogs I follow, so I don’t think anyone will mind if I just pop in and pop out with random stuff that is slightly inspired by it. There will be 29 of these, but I won’t show you the order until they have all been posted.

This post contains a lot of advice, so before I begin, here’s a short prayer to Athênê:

Tritogeneia, daughter of Zeus most high,
you who grasps the ash-spear in her hands,
look out from your temples into the streets:
here, girls line up for you holding fabric;
there, sacrificial animals raise their heads
towards Olympos, where you sit in splendor.
O goddess, we give you the highest honors.
We let drops of virgin oil fall to the ground.
Hear me, Sôteira, and accept these words.

I decided to talk about this during a time sacred to Athênê because giving advice is really just about communicating strategy.

1. Don’t let anyone tell you what to think or believe.

I’ve never seen a source credited for this, but it is reported by many that Hypatia once said, “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”

Along with this, go as close to the source material as possible on your own. Then, try to read it without any of the biases others have given you. Last month, I posted about the “commandments” of Solon and how people tend to present these as a numbered list of ten things when they are in fact called “counsel” and no numbering exists in the source text. These are the kinds of subtle things I am talking about.

Everyone — you, me, the creepy guy next door — has an agenda. We have this blessing from the Theoi called the Internet, which contains the Perseus Digital Library (among other things). Use it.

2. Surround yourself with people who will support and help you progress in your understanding of Hellenism and the Makares and whom you would feel comfortable supporting in times of trouble.

If you learn more about the Delphic Maxims, you will come across these:

Φιλοις βοηθει – Help your friends
Φιλιαν αγαπα – Love friendship
Θιλοις ευνοει – Be kind to friends
Φιλιαν φυλαττε – Guard friendship

And Solon said, “Do not be rash to make friends and, when once they are made, do not drop them.”

Your religious friends, just like ones who do not belong to a Hellenic religion, will fuck up — sometimes splendidly. It may involve you and you will probably feel like screaming and punching things. More likely, they will end up being singled out by a special snowflake or drama llama. This happens in relationships. Even though most arguments and accusations have small grains of truth, stand by your friend. In the end, you will be glad that you did.

3. Be good to those who have taught you, but remember that even Plato was human.

I have mentioned this previously about Plato someplace, but I don’t remember where. On the one hand, showing proper respect in dealings with people to whom you owe a great deal of your spiritual development is a good thing. But ... they’re not Authorities. They’re just people who consistently have good ideas.

4. Burn some incense.

Okay, libations are fine, too. You’re just not going to make an informed decision about whether or not this religion is a good fit for you until you actually start to do small things.

23 July 2011

Hunting for Agalmata

Whenever I walk into a museum, I instantly find myself comparing the Ancient World galleries to the Greek and Roman galleries at the British Museum.

This is a bad idea. I am always incredibly disappointed. I don’t think I could find better exhibits outside of traditionally Greek areas of the Mediterranean. Despite this, I found myself standing in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) trying to figure out how to reach the Ancient World galleries from the little room filled with musical instruments using only a map to navigate through the rooms that are in serious need of proper signage.*

I found them. I always do.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while may recall that one of my favorite things to do is go searching for the Makares in museums. Having recently read Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, I am also now constantly reminded of this passage, which comes from the dead Penelope reflecting on her puzzlement with modern culture:
[The groom] obtained wealth through the marriage — gold cups, silver bowls, horses, robes, weapons, all that trash they used to value that much back when I was alive. His family was expected to hand over a lot of this trash as well.

I can say trash because I know where most of it ended up. It mouldered away in the ground or it sank to the bottom of the sea, or it got broken or melted down. Some of it made its way to enormous palaces that have — strangely — no kings or queens in them. Endless processions of people in graceless clothing file through these palaces, staring at the gold cups and the silver bowls, which are not even used anymore. Then they go to a sort of market inside the palace and buy pictures of these things, or miniature versions of them that are not real silver and gold. That is why I say trash.
It kind of puts things into perspective. Most of the images of the Theoi in the museum were not from dedicated sacred objects. They were mirror handles or pieces of tables or household decorations. It takes a bit more to wring divinity out of a block of marble than to just carve the damn thing. That’s possibly why the rooms in the MFA have a different feel to them. Any sacredness in the pieces has been sucked out. And some of the statues are lined up in completely lifeless, narrow corridors that just don’t look entirely clean.

Of course, the MFA also focuses on Egypt. They have a lot of mummies and statues of royal couples, but the most impressive Egypt galleries I have seen are in Chicago’s Field Museum. You may remember my short piece that briefly detailed the shrine to Bast and how the moronic museum people didn’t seem to realize that having a donation box beneath the statue would have prevented people from slipping coins through the cracks between the faux stone and the glass case right beneath it.

The images in the slide show above are the best I took from the galleries.

So I stumbled out into the bright sunlight and headed back up towards Cambridge. Because it’s my last real weekend in the area before I tetris my life back into two suitcases and a backpack, I decided to head to Central Square and found an Indian grocery store.

It was well-stocked. I think I recognized maybe 30% of the things in the store. For the first few moments, it was awesome, but that quickly turned to mild culture shock/panic at the lack of descriptions on anything. I ended up finding some things that I recognized.

But I’m not just talking about anardana powder. Alexander the Great snaked his way into my head, so I picked up a small thing of Mukhwas. It’s a kind of sweet thing typically eaten after meals, although it is quite delicious. The particular kind I found contained sugar-coated fennel seeds, coconut, sugar, and anise seeds. I offered some of it to him after I got back. Sometimes it’s the little things that help you initiate contact with a divinity — I have never honored Alexander in my memory, but we connected among the racks of lentils and spices and he followed me home.

* This is probably one of the most librarian-y things I have said on this blog to date.

19 July 2011

Professional Patrons

Apollon and I have a personal-professional relationship. The development of his cult through the centuries has made him fairly significant to poets, as discussed in Graf’s Apollo.

While I want to write prose, most of it has ended up on editors’ slush piles. Mousêgetês has bestowed on me more poetic merit, and I thank him heartily for this kindness. Poetry has always felt easier under his guidance. Writing poems is like capturing fragments of truth and packaging them in images and metaphors, and it is both a dance and a profoundly musical medium.

On the side, I studied French in college and learned more about French history and literature than I ever thought possible. While studying French medieval poetry, I saw and heard actual proof that poems had originally been set to music (which is quite different from knowing this conceptually). Nowadays, though, most poems are mute. Outside of slam poetry venues, recitations, and the late-night library cubicles where students murmur lines of Milton and Chaucer, the process of poetry has become more about directly evoking imagery and sensations in one’s mind using components mapped out by select words and phrases.

I wish I could say that I felt entirely in control while writing poetry. Growing up, I imagined poets moving meticulously over every line — and then I learned about Byron, who did no such thing and whose work did not seem to suffer from it. While some amount of forming and shaping is necessary, the best poems I have written maintain some of the original flavor of the words gushing out of my head.

My relationship with Mousêgetês is much deeper than a professional one. He is generally the one I turn to in times of distress, and he has asked me to follow him from the beginning.

However, there is also his brother.

Hermes and I have a relationship that’s “strictly business” — that is, the kind of professional friendship that in the real world would equate to having a boss who insists on taking you out for drinks and getting to know you. The computer chip necklace I often wear is an expression of this relationship. Hermes is with me from the beginning of my mornings when I pray that the bus is running just a few minutes late until I stop working in the late evenings and decompress with writing or entertainment.

To me, Hermes has become the patron of information professions (like the librarianship track I am working towards) because, quite frankly, it makes the most sense and he has always felt more present than Athênê or even Apollon. As Messenger of the Gods and Master of Languages, Hermes controls the medium of expression of information. As a future information professional, my job is not to philosophize or interpret packets of information for a user. My job is to facilitate their own journey — to identify needs through reference interviews and to connect people to things they need to make that possible. Athênê and Apollon may come in later, but they will almost always come in on the patron’s side, not on mine.

Information science is a lot like the postal service, in other words.

Additionally, Hermes is the patron of astronomy, which just essentially means what I said above with a different emphasis. If you know the sky well, it just becomes another piece of paper used to record stories — Andromeda and the sea monster, perhaps, or the story of Herakles — and only when one adds the extra layer of scientific inquiry and natural philosophy (also astrology, if that sort of thing moves you) does Apollon have anything to do with it.

Sometimes, I think about the myth where Hermes steals the cattle of Apollon and the eventual friendship that comes out of it. It makes me happy that the Fates have thrown me in with two deities who have such complementary personalities.

10 July 2011

Breath of the Sun

“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.”

At the close of my nineteenth year, I had some experiences that taught me about our mortality and vulnerability. The urgency increased when my junior year started up that fall.

Sallustius fell into my hands almost by accident. I was dissatisfied with my life and where things had gone; I seemed to have a lot of inertia I didn’t want, and while the Theoi had nudged at me since I was a teenager, standing at the outskirts for so long had left me a bit numb inside.

One of the first actions after my conversion was joining Kyklos Apollon.

For the first time, I also attempted a fast from sunset to sunset. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life because I start to go funny without food for an extended period of time. As accounts of Julian Augustus state, he tried everything he could to forget the Christian baptism. Likewise, the idea of having submitted to a baptism as an infant made me feel profoundly unclean; in the context of reincarnation, the weight of the atrocities committed by the Christian Roman Empire in its various incarnations made me wonder if any of us could truly be considered clean of ancestral wrongdoing.

One of the reasons I have been drawn so much to the Erinyes probably has something to do with my own leftover rage and sense of powerlessness when faced with the weight of so much; I think that I became devoted to Apollon out of a desire for transcendent, intellectual ecstasy. As my Classical Mythology professor (Scott Bradbury at Smith) said during a discussion of Odysseus and Athene, a god is attracted to a human being because they are like them, and in the dance of attraction and devotion, the likeness becomes more substantial over time.

But my relationship with Apollon didn’t start with the crisis of faith that happened just before my twentieth birthday or in the soul-searching that fall. It started with an image from Nathalie Hertz's Vampire Tarot Deck:

Now, Apollon isn’t Helios, but we can’t really influence how imagery influences us when we are ignorant of everything, and as soon as that kind of connection is jump-started, none of us can exactly get rid of it. My relationship with Apollon in those early years had always been somewhat ecstatic — stepping outside of oneself without really moving, leaving while remaining rooted to the ground. One of the struggles I have had for at least the past year is reconciling this ecstatic experience with expectations of what our individual relationships with one of the MAKARES must look like, replacing the irrational with rationalism and philosophy.

Quite frankly, I don’t think you can make contact with divinity while remaining entirely rational.

Why? Because none of them is even remotely human. Reaching for one of them should alter our perceptions of the real and the unreal. It should throw the universe on its back, displaying in crystal clarity all of the quarks and radials and vibrating strings and curled-up dimensions, and make us feel the weight of our insignificance. Rejecting a god doesn’t just mean refusing worship or acknowledgment; it means shrinking away from our fragments of understanding about their nature.