30 September 2011

At Sunset, the Snake-Haired Maidens Come Out to Play ...

At sunset on October 2nd, the fifth day of the lunar month begins: the day sacred to Erinyes and to Horkos. With the midnight hour, the DC 40 prayer initiative begins an attack on religious liberty and freedom of choice in the United States.
Stay off the fifth, which is difficult, terrible, dreary, and painful,
For on the fifth they say the Furies attended the birth of
Oath, who was borne by Discord to make all perjurers suffer.
Hesiod, Works and Days, ln. 789 - 791.
My thinking up until this week went something like this: To act against them means acknowledging their prayers are dangerous — in reality, I only consider them dangerous for how their fanatic devotion to YHVH provokes them to burn bridges when they interact with any people whose brains have not been set on fire by the exact same devotional tendencies. Besides, I have homework.

I have updated this a little.

They mean to do harm against other people with those prayers.

Apollôn knows that I have engaged in malefic prayer exactly once, so I’m not exactly one to talk. Starting to worship the Erinyes loosened some of the Wiccan conditioning (a holdover from childhood) enough that I don't actually have a problem with the concept as long as it gives the other party a way out (for instance, if the behavior stops) and is never used as a first option. Throwing shit at other people doesn’t actually tell them why you did it, and it will not likely ameliorate whatever it is they’re doing.

The above probably sounds like the logic someone participating in DC 40 would give for what they’re doing. These people have addressed us repeatedly to encourage us to turn from our sinful ways and be born again as part of the body of Christ. (At least, I think that’s how they’d word it. Sounds like a Borg thing.) We have not responded how they want, so they have decided to use prayer grapeshot.

Of course, this assumes that the deity they worship will actually listen to and fulfill their prayers or even exists at all. I like to think that a bunch of confused Middle Eastern storm gods woke up naked and joined at the hip in the noncorporeal equivalent of a padded room with no memories of how they got there.

When I saw that this began on the Erinyes’ sacred day, I decided to perform some card divination to see if I should pray to them. The divination was mostly favorable, and I am making it better by including Aphroditê. When translated, the cards essentially meant this:

The freshly-tilled ground gives
beneath my feet in this morning light.
Grass sticks to my heels,
and all is clear now:
the movement of the heavens,
red dust on the riverbanks,
and ash in my pockets.
Stretched out behind me, I see
echoes hissing in the dawn-shadows.

I once hung by a thread over the abyss
and wove my own hair into it
strand by strand until it became strong
and guided me to solid ground.
A new world bloomed at my feet
The flowers soothed my aching hands.
Like a child, I ran through the fields
over fences and under barbed wire,
creating and generating a new path
in the weed-choked places between.

But the echoes still catch up.
Like whispers heard through thin
apartment walls, they threaten
to swallow the small hours of morning.
If I had cut the thread and kept my hair,
I would have fallen here, too,
but they would never have found me
lying among the flowers and dancing
in the groves, and we would be forever
a ghost in their mirror or a shadow
cast by stigmata nails on a man's hands.

Both the Erinyes and Aphroditê have a birth story involving the castration of Ouranos. I chose to include her because the drawn solution involved petitioning a god who knew how to woo rather than pursue, and she matched the card’s persona more than Erôs.

Regardless of whether or not the malefic prayer the DC 40 people are doing actually matters, it brings to mind a lot of the past crimes Christians committed against others in order to spread their faith — be they the microaggressive comments murmured in modern New England or the far more horrifying loss of life in 6th-century Heliopolis.

I, for one, would rather pray to the Erinyes and Aphroditê to make our community stronger by accepting and reconciling with our own shadows, acknowledging what we have lost, and helping members of our community be excellent to each other.

11 September 2011

Looking Back at 9/11

Star Foster made a thought-provoking post over at Patheos’s Pagan Portal about her take on 9/11. I could talk about her arguments all day, but the real piece that I want to talk about here is this: “Grappling with why our Gods allowed 9/11 to happen, allow any tragedy to happen, is key to our understanding of the event.”

Everyone has different experiences, and at 10 years ago, I doubt that my memories (or anyone else’s) will accurately capture our emotions on that day. However, my experiences have taught me that gods really don’t let things happen.

We live in a complicated world system. Many of the current weather conditions have been caused by our own inaction — as the world gets hotter, storms will get worse — but that’s not exactly popular with people in the middle of strong grief. Everything, including our mobility and comfort, comes with a price tag. A god may attempt to alleviate some or most of this if asked, but cannot change that we have brought on much of the pain ourselves.

9/11 was different because people with totalitarian ideologies made it happen. Now, it’s no secret that I don’t like the religious system of Islam — apparently my polytheism is a bigger sin than murder, and that’s no way to be friendly with neighbors — but I don’t think it’s any more harmful than Christianity. We could have taken more out of this experience by moving towards a more pluralistic society that recognizes our own darker tendencies, but instead a lot of people chose to demonize anyone who looked ethnically Middle Eastern and a lot of innocent Muslims were harrassed. Oh. And those of us who have French last names.

I don’t remember if I made any religious rationalizations on 11 September 2001.

My head and heart were in a completely different place back then. I was in 9th grade. We had been in school for nearly a month. The weather was still hot and sticky, and our rural Misourri school had no air conditioning.

9/11 happened after two years of brutal teasing that had spiraled me into a black hole of depression. Neither my home nor school environments offered any protection: my parents, who should have divorced years earlier, were still committed to staying together (probably for the children); at school, the teachers turned a blind eye to religiously-motivated harassment because no one really understood the host of risks associated with bullying and half of the teachers probably hoped the students would peer pressure me out of eternal damnation. And it wasn’t even my fault that our family had been outed — one of the girls next door had done it.

On the morning of 9/11 at 8:00 AM CST, I wandered downstairs and checked myself in my parents’ bedroom mirror. I was chubby and quite unattractive (and the shirt I wore made it worse), so I picked up the more slimming black shirt I owned showing the New York City skyline. It was still slightly damp from line drying indoors, but I didn’t really care.

I didn’t actually believe anything had happened until third period. Between first and second period, one of the assholes in my school said New York didn’t exist anymore because it had been blown up. I told him to get lost because I rarely swore as a child, and he was the sort of asshole who I wouldn’t have believed about anything. The beginning of third period (chorus) left me in a haze of confusion. We were going down to the library to watch television, but I didn’t know why it was important and the sub (who was the mother of the girl who had outed my family’s paganism to everyone at school) told us that yes, New York was gone. I still didn’t understand because New York is a pretty big state (and I am from Upstate) and that sounded impossible. Finally, she said, “Those two towers on your shirt don’t exist anymore.” I said, “Oh, you mean New York City.”

I didn’t even know what they were called. My mom hated New York City and spent a lot of time complaining about how stuck-up Downstaters were — they made crass jokes about us having no plumbing or all being hicks, and she generally found them offensive/annoying. She also wanted them to secede from the state because some of the legislators from Downstate do not seem to understand that Upstate NY relies on agriculture as the base of its economy. To this day, I have never visited it.

Most of the people I knew didn’t want to talk about it at lunch, but I did. I was appalled by the toxins billowing into the air. It never occurred to me that they hadn’t evacuated everyone.

My fellow students in high school called me unpatriotic at first, but soon I was also harassed. Because France was singled out following 9/11 and I am of French ancestry, I was actually called a fair number of ethnic slurs leading up to the invasion [of Iraq] in 2003, adding to the already toxic environment in my school caused by my not worshipping Jesus. The word “French” was replaced by “Freedom” on the official school menu, and liquor stores stopped carrying French wines (and anything they suspected of being French). This tapered off afterward, but I was still called slurs every so often until I graduated.

I tend towards the idea that the gods show less visible activity on a macrocosmic scale than in our individual relationships with each of them — we can’t really see their complete reach or where their attention points at any given time.

Furthermore, the gods probably don’t care about politics. They tend to gravitate towards specific types of people and influence their behavior (for good or ill) — and we don’t really know whether or not a god motivated the people who crashed in Pennsylvania to take their plane down or if a series of convenient delays kept the death toll at the Twin Towers from rising higher than it did.

We will probably never know, but the point I’m trying to make is that it’s a lot more complicated to untangle different pieces of cause and effect than it seems at first glance, and even more so to stop the dropping ball after it is already in motion.

08 September 2011

Greco-Roman Superheroes!

Today, I made an amazing discovery via On Being.

There are a lot of superheroes who describe themselves as wholly or partially members of “Greco-Roman classical religion.” Whatever that actually is, as Greek and Roman religious traditions are actually quite different — just compare anything we do over in the Hellenic Polytheism blogosphere to everything expressed at M. Horatius Piscinus’s Religio et Pietas.

However, as we probably all know and realize, the general public doesn’t care about these distinctions.

Here are our 100% Greco-Roman superheroes:
  • Wonder Woman
  • Wonder Girl/Troia/Darkstar/Wonder Woman IV
  • Wonder Woman (WWII-era)
  • Magma
  • Hercules*
  • Hercules/Champion*
  • Venus*
  • Ares*
  • Power Princess
  • Aphrodite
  • Aegis
  • Sun Woman
  • Tenth Muse
  • Eve
  • Anysia
  • Phalanx
  • Olympian
  • Caduceus
  • Fury
  • Fury (#2)
  • Glory
  • Mega-Mann
  • The 10th Muse
  • Diana the Huntress*
  • Kapitan Kidlat
  • Helios*
  • Hermes*
  • Poseidon*
  • Hades*
  • Apollo*
  • Dr. Zeus
  • Comet the Super-Horse
  • Lilith/Omen
  • Winged Victory
* As far as I can tell, these are also actually deities

And then we have the people who mix and match:
  • Captain Marvel
  • Sub-Mariner
  • Aquaman
  • Namorita
  • Namora
  • Namora (#2)
  • Andromeda
  • Orka
  • Aquagirl
  • Mera
  • Shark
  • Subbie
  • Aqualad/Tempest
  • Mary Marvel
And the bad guys:
  • Tyrannus (and I mean, you can’t really get any more explicitly evil than having a name like this) 
  • The Black Queen
I don’t read very many comic books, but rather appreciate that we have some non-covert presence in American popular culture — and when I say non-covert, I mean in comparison with stuff like Rick Riordan’s books in which piety and religion are downplayed so Christian readers are not made uncomfortable:
The Lightning Thief explores Greek mythology in a modern setting, but it does so as a humorous work of fantasy, and makes no attempt to subvert or contradict Judeo-Christian teachings. Early in the book, the character Chiron draws a clear distinction between God, capital-G, the creator of the universe, and the Greek gods (lower-case g). Chiron says he does not wish to delve into the metaphysical issue of God, but he has no qualms about discussing the Olympians because they are a “much smaller matter.”
But it’s nice that comic books seem much less frustrating and much more religiously tolerant than the current book industry.