Procession obsession

Everybody loves a parade.

I cannot find an attribution for that quote, but the sentiment is surely ancient. There’s something about a procession of people, vehicles, and sometimes animals in a line down a road that makes people want to come out and watch. It’s an old, old concept; there are references to “triumphal processions” dating back thousands of years, for example, and the same sense of celebration is captured in ticker-tape parades held today. While the purpose of any particular march might not sit well with each observer, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that overall, everybody loves a parade.

The religion I practice, Hellenismos, has parades — we also call them “processions” — baked right in. Rather than setting sacred space by casting a circle or by sanctifying a building (although the latter is a laudable goal), today we proceed to the temple or shrine as a way to alter consciousness. I did something similar when I was an active Gaiaped (backpacking Pagan) by touching trees along the trail I was hiking. It wasn’t sufficient to commune with any particular tree, but instead helped me get in tune with the trail as a whole.

I happen to live in a community wherein parades are a disproportionately big deal. The biggest is the one on Halloween, when there are nearly as many people walking down Main Street as live in this community. That’s not the only one, though: there’s the pride parade, one on Memorial Day (the real one, mind you, rather than the sad Monday substitute), a celebration of Little League players, and one that happens on Palm Sunday. Once or twice there was something called a “Phool’s Parade,” which didn’t last either due to poor weather in April and May, or maybe because of the odd spelling.

What I see are three important pillars for parades in my life: they are an ancient way of gathering the people, they are a sacred part of traditions I follow, and they are woven deeply into the culture of my community. Nevertheless, it did not occur to me that New Paltz Pagan Pride, first and foremost, needed to be a parade. That notion arose for Anton Stewart, praised be his name, for it’s the parade that shall set apart this pride festival from all others held on behalf of those who follow a Pagan path.

All things come at a price, however. With few exceptions, organizers of parades in New Paltz — at least the big ones, which involve stopping traffic rather than following the sidewalk — must pay not only for a permit, but for the police officers’ time as well. That’s not an unreasonable request, but it is one that can easily run until four digits. Throw in the (refundable) cleaning deposit for the park, and you’re looking at a couple grand in seed money. With some careful fundraising at the event itself (charging vendors, holding raffles, perhaps a silent auction), the money for a second and successive parades should be much easier to acquire than that for the first. Such is the nature of money that it draws itself to itself.

I’m looking to plant that glorious seed.

To that end, I’ve started a crowdfunding campaign to get that first wonderful event on the map. It could well be a glorious addition to the religious diversity of New Paltz, which already features a Palm Sunday parade and in which there are plans for an event called “Praise in the Park.” The typical pattern would be a parade that leads to an event; in this case, it would be a Pagan pride day. I’d like to covens, circles, groves of leafy Druids and hooded adherents of mystery traditions congregate in the parking lot of the middle school before following a police escort down Main Street. Perhaps they’d even build floats! We’d chant and throw flowers as we stepped lively down the hill to Hasbrouck Park, where rituals and lessons would be the theme of the day.

Free events are not free! I’m astounded at how much time and effort goes into finding and coordinating people to pull off a simple ritual and provide more information for the curious. Above and beyond the parade, the park I’m looking at only has a nominal cost ($25 last I checked), but there’s also a $500 deposit against cleanup (which cannot be waived, but can be returned) and the cost of event insurance (which can be waived for groups that have no money). Folks also talk about designing and distributing posters, selling t-shirts, and woo-boy, it adds up quickly.

In a perfect world, the expenses of future years are paid for by the money hauled in during the previous. I do not know how perfect this world might be, but I do know that succeeding even once at parading Pagans down my main street would be boss. Traditionally there’s no admission charge for pride days, which is something I’d like to preserve. I also know that priming the pump is the first step regardless.

Perhaps there’s just no market for this kind of lavish event in this area. There’s anecdotal evidence that there are quite a few Pagans in the region (the village supports a metaphysical shop, and there are others in several nearby communities), but maybe they’re here and deeply closeted, maybe they’re not: we had three metaphysical shops just ten years ago, after all. Perhaps it’s pointless even to try. Perhaps I’m a fool for even thinking about going big or going home.

On the other hand, maybe I should start with something simpler, like a poison ivy festival.

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I probably shouldn’t have offered cookies

Quite a few months ago I provided this update on the litanies to many gods challenge.  Perhaps only the four entrants and myself have noticed nary a peep from me since on the subject, but it’s been on my mind.

Turns out there are indeed many gods.  I knew I’d get some entries which included deities to whom I do not pay cult, and likely some with which I am entirely unfamiliar, but I wasn’t expecting that more than half of them would be unknown.  I also wasn’t expecting that the prospect of writing prayers for them would be intimidating.

In Hellenic tradition, foreign gods are honored in Hellenic fashion: purification, procession, offerings of barley and other things appropriate, hymns.  That’s what I was prepared to do, but the sheer percentage of foreign deities (mostly Kemetic) gives me pause.  My ancestors would have syncretized without a second thought, but I live in a time when cultural appropriation is a topic of conversation.

While I don’t think gods can be appropriated without their consent, but prayers also have a human audience, and some of those humans might feel otherwise.  What can certainly be appropriated are religious practices, which is why I am hesitant to simply research traditional forms of prayer to these deities.  Possibly none of this was an issue when the world was fluidly polytheistic, but that’s not the world in which I live.

All these thoughts have resulted in a spiritual stop on choosing a winner.  Maybe I should just mail some cookies to all the entrants and be done with it.  the project concept has also evolved in the ensuing months, and I am excited with what is taking shape.

Feedback on my misgivings is welcome.

Keeper of the door

Why is it that Poseidon is called Domatites, of the doorway? To what home does he seek entry?

Surely he stands guard at the doorway of Hestia, first and foremost. It is her hearth at which the builder of walls desires to warm his bones, and it is her heart which he desires to shore up and protect.

Hestia rejected a proposal of marriage from Poseidon, a decision which is reflected in the physical world: our homes remain above the waves in all cases, and while the walls are strong from without, they should ever feel inviting to those welcomed within. It is in our nature to need water, but water is not our home.

We do not dwell in the ocean, yet we are never far from it. The similarity of blood and sea water is overstated, but they share a common ancestry. It’s poetic, but still not unreasonable, to say that the ocean flows in our veins.

Another of his epithets, Epaktaios, also speaks to the liminal nature of this god. Here, Poseidon is of the shoreline, between land and sea. It is not difficult to see him standing guard at the shore as Gaiêokhos, holder of the earth; this parallel to guarding the sanctuary of Hestia suggests a role that Poseidon might play in mysteries, barring the door to a space he cannot or will not enter.

Prosklustios, who dashes against, is Poseidon in his power but also Poseidon between. Here he might be seen as the protector of the sacred precincts, testing the walls of Troy to detect any weakness. The theoi are often masters of opposing forces, and this epithet also suggests the wearing down of defenses, the seemingly inevitable destruction which ocean brings to earth. Much is written about how the gods seek to break down and rebuild us better than we were; Poseidon dashes against the walls around our vulnerable parts, seeking or creating an opening through wish to wash away all flaw with the purifying force of the sea.

In another sense, Poseidon stands at the doorway of death. His temple at Tainaron was a psychopompeion, a gate to the realm of Hades. Poseidon is said to have received that place in return for giving Pytho to Apollon, and the temple there was a place of sanctuary, oneiromancy, and necromancy. This suggests he stands between his elder and younger brother, facilitating congress with his siblings; Apollon receiving the premiere oracular function in return for this relationship suggests the nature of the sacrifice involved.

Does this mean that Poseidon does not use oracles? Not necessarily, although those he did use may have been connected to death. Perhaps that was due to the dearth of active worshipers Haides had to choose from, and a need for there to be oracles connected to the underworld as much as Delphi received words spoken on high. This jibes with another gnosis I have had about Poseidon, that he has a preference for mortals past a certain age — maturity level might be a better way to put it — in certain relationships with him. The longer we live, the more likely we are to have stood at the gateway of death ourselves, or in companionship with one who is crossing over. The longer we live, the more likely we are to know loss. The longer we live, the more likely we are to be ready to hear words tinged with death, as the drowning sea is tinged with salt and the gaping vent is tinged with magma.

I have been called to do oracular work for Poseidon, which will take place on the first Thursday following the first Monday of each Athenian month, beginning Hekatombaion of olympiad 699, year 2; I expect this work will last for a full year as a continuation and evolution of my priest-craft. That means the dates will be July 19, August 16, September 20, October 18, November 15, and December 13, 2018; January 17, February 14, March 14, April 11, May 9, June 13, and July 11, 2019. I will post a call for questions ahead of each session.

While I am not permitted to ask for payment for these sessions, oracular work is an intense process which is physically and spiritually demanding on the worker, and as such is a service which has significant value. In short, this is a gift to the community as much as it is to me, and if I am permitted to continue beyond these dates, I plan on charging at that time. For these sessions, an offering to Poseidon by the querent will be all that is required.

It happened to me

My first experience with Pagans happened, as it did for many, when I was just emerging from childhood and learning to be a person.  Desperate for approval and simultaneously blown away by the idea that there was an actual alternative to the religion of my childhood, I fell in with the only priestess who would have the socially awkward and rather irritating young man I was at the time.  Mind you, it took a lot of convincing and groveling to get in with that group of cool kids, and I took great pride in succeeding despite the fact that a lot of other people I knew considered her and her priest to be cult leaders.

Some rejected the oaths required to be accepted as a student, for in them she took on karmic responsibility for everything I did.  Others had a problem with him occasionally taking a gun into circle as a weapon for spiritual combat.  I was just glad to belong, even if there was a lot of stacking firewood and cleaning house that was part of the education I was receiving.

I had two romantic partners during that period of my life, and the priestess told my second one that the first — a somewhat devout Catholic — had “booked” when she was confronted with too much Paganism.  In fact, we were handfasted in a lovely ceremony, and when the time came to go our separate ways she participating in a handparting, as well.  Only years later did I learn how she’d been fondled multiple times by that 350-plus-pound priest, sometimes when I was within feet of it happening, and how her feeling of powerlessness led her to cut herself off from our entire circle of friends.  (I note his size not to shame him, but because he was very good at using it to intimidate; she was intimidated enough that she was completely silenced.)

There were other students who engaged in sexual acts in sacred space with the priestess, without consulting with spouses first.  That didn’t happen to me.  My experience was one of having my fragile self-esteem shredded and trampled.  I recall being refused entry into the circle one night because I was not appropriately dressed; despite a dress code never having been discussed in my presence, I was told there was one and I indeed was aware of is parameters.  I was praised in private, scolded in public.  At times, that public went well beyond the small number in our religious group, leading to strong feelings of humiliation above and beyond doubting my own memory of events.

When the time came when I made my break, I left that town never to return.  Nevertheless, the priest and priestess attempted to have me banned from the SCA kingdom in which be all lived, apparently just to be douchey.

I know what it’s like to be shat upon by bullying priests and priestesses who wish to have absolute control over members of their group.  I know what it’s like to be desperate for approval and how it feels when that approval is yanked away.  I know what it’s like to live in a house that’s 30 miles from even a tiny population center, without a car by which to escape even to secure a job, taken in by those controlling me when I was grieving the loss of my unborn child and unable to think through the alternatives.

Paganism has its share of “leaders” who take advantage of vulnerability.  I know what it’s like to be the vulnerable one.  When I speak with others who feel victimized, I daresay I have an inkling what it might have been like for them.

Review of Hearthstone’s books

When I started my formal study of Hellenismos, Hearthstone was required reading. Eir two books of interest, Devotion: Prayers to the Gods of the Greeks and In Praise of Olympus: Prayers to the Greek Gods have become some of the most well-used books in my collection. Almost daily I read a Hearthstone prayer to one deity or another. I got Devotion about six years ago, but when I bought the other recently I decided that these books deserve a review before I wear them out and have to buy new copies.

It’s with Hearthstone that I first learned to appreciate poetry. What’s otherwise stopped me is what seems like rampant pretentious behavior in and near poems and poets; these are written for the gods, which perhaps makes such ego exercises impossible. The turns of phrase make my heart flutter with their elegance. Here’s an example about Hermes:

In any land, in any age, your people prosper; in any land, in any age, you find a place; in any setting, you belong.

There’s just a flow created by the word choices which carry the reader on. That’s particularly important for reading aloud; many writers — myself included — don’t think about how long sentences challenge the voice. Yes, there’s a few really long ones among these prayers which might leave the unprepared reader gasping for breath, but Hearthstone is more than generous with commas, semi-colons, and dashes to help us through the tough times. Silently or aloud, the words drip with passion for and power from the divinities thus celebrated.

There are other things about Hearthstone’s writing to make me swoon; for one, the use of semicolons is correct. For another, the word “god” is not capitalized in any of these prayers, for Hearthstone (or her editor) knows that it never should be. It’s no wonder reading these works makes me feel faint after a day scrolling through Overcapitalized Blog Posts about Important Subjects.

At the core of Hearthstone’s work, though, is an insistent power. The reader may not feel it by browsing the book, or reading it cover to cover. It may take actually using these prayers, speaking them aloud, to sense it. It may take reading them over and over again, but the power is there, and it becomes more evident with each pass through these words. If it weren’t for my robust mustache, I’m certain I’d detect sweat on my upper lip. These are prayers that get the attention of gods in part due to their muse-inspired beauty, and in part because many English-speaking Hellenists are using them.

The author explains in the introduction to Devotion that she began writing these prayers in part because there weren’t many out there at the time. Many others — myself included — have composed and even published books of prayers to the theoi, but only rarely do these more recent offerings match the passion expressed by Hearthstone. For beginners on the path, those only passingly curious about Hellenic worship, and seasoned devotees alike, these books would only enhance a library to which they were added.

Capitalism and respect for our gods

I like the gods. When I say that, I mean that I like the gods I worship, and the gods that associated with them to whom I do not pay cultus, as well as the gods of other cultures I’m familiar with, and all the other gods I know nothing about. I like them, I respect them, and I try to behave in a way that gives them honor.

gNone of that requires capitalizing the word “god,” mind you; to do so is simply wrong.

Capital letters serve exactly two purposes in the English language: they mark the beginning of a sentence, and also flag a proper noun, otherwise known as a name. If a word is neither of those things, it’s not supposed to be capitalized. Somewhere along the line that simple rule got rather muddled by the convention to avoid writing the name Yahweh in the Bible; the (possibly apocryphal) explanation is that it makes it all the harder to take the name of one’s deity in vain if one does not know the name of one’s deity. What seems to have come next is just referring to that deity as “god” since the name was forbidden, then treating “god” as if it were a name, which as far as I’m concerned means you probably shouldn’t be using it any longer since names are forbidden in that tradition.

Capitalizing a common noun by Christians — “god” — may have led readers to assume that it’s the holy presence which gets this word a big letter, since it’s clearly not a name. Then we get into caps creep: items and events associated with Yahweh (cross and crucifixion, for example), then verbs such as love, and even pronouns, which from the standpoint of grammar is the silliest of all. Nowadays, there’s all sorts of examples of capital letters being used to convey significance, taking a clear, concise standard and rather ruining it.

The names of the gods get capitalized, but the words “god” and “goddess” do not, at least in English. I understand that capital letter are less common in Spanish, but in German they add them to every noun; the latter fact is probably also a contributing factor to this confusion, since English has some Germanic roots.

Fair is fair, one colleague said to me a few months ago: if the Christians capitalize that common noun, why shouldn’t we? I explained that I won’t capitalize “god” even when referencing the Christian one, and she applauded my consistency (although I don’t think I converted her to my line of thinking). If I’m referring to Jesus or Yahweh, I’ll use those names. Even Christians and others find it awkward; it’s pretty common to hear someone say, “god with a capital G,” because capital letters have no sound, and thus any convention which does not have an audible component is decoration, not communication.

A rule of thumb I follow is that if it’s identical to a common noun, it is a common noun, and should not be capitalized. It doesn’t matter if the writer is attempting to convey a level of esoteric significance, either: we use context to do that job in English, the words surrounding the one in question. We don’t capitalize “circle” just because we cast it for magic; if we want to make that clear, write “magical circle” instead. Even “the circle” sets this off as special; do not underestimate the power of the definite article!

Another technique is the Islamic practice of adding phrases such a “praised be his name” whenever one makes reference to the god Allah. Arabic has no capital letters, and thus no visual cues for readers (and not listeners); this praising phrasing is a much more inclusive way to express that the writer is still referring to a deity, and further, that the deity in question is pretty awesome in the writer’s mind.

Capital letters are not a shortcut to clarity, because no one can hear the difference, and because there are no shortcuts to clarity. A Heathen colleague of mine calls these “emotional caps” (or “Emotional Caps,” because my colleague has some dry wit going on), based on the belief that folks capitalize words they think have emotional significance, and thus importance. Unfortunately because it excludes anyone who is receiving the information through their ears, this technique is disrespectful to the reader, and thus (when referring to divine beings) disrespectful to the gods, as well, since the accolades are completely missed by part of the audience.

In one of the Hellenic Facebook groups I’m in this question came up; after one member researched it and agreed that capitalizing “god” is incorrect, quite a few others joined in. One pointed out that capital letters were relative newcomers to the ancient Greek language, but another, while agreeing with that point, emphasized that it’s the rules in English which hold sway in English, and common nouns don’t get capitalized in English.

This is a tough issue, one complicated by the fact that a lot of really smart, really knowledgeable people assume they know how to capitalize although it’s not their specialty. I know that folks that add capital letters are trying to do the right thing, but I believe they are instead sowing confusion and creating a false sense of respect which others might assume is sufficient. It is not, and let’s not obfuscate that issue: if we want to demonstrate respect for our gods, let’s do it in a way that is understandable to eyes and ears alike.

Real money magic: searching for the golden apple

Gold plays an important role in the mythology of ancient Greece. Its deposits were guarded by fierce creatures such as Myrmekes Indikoi (dog-sized ants) and Grypes (gryphons), and love of it left Midas in a difficult predicament. Its association with magical and divine power is unmistakable in the tale of the golden fleece, the union of Danae and Zeus, and the works of Hephaistos; of its daimon, Pindar wrote, “Khrysos (Gold) is a child of Zeus; neither moth nor rust devoureth it; but the mind of man is devoured by this supreme possession.” Perhaps the best example of how gold influences the “mind of man” comes from the tale of the golden apple produced by Eris, which is recounted in the Aldrich translation of Pseudo-Apollodorus thusly: “Eris (Strife) tossed an apple [at the wedding of Thetis] to Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, in recognition of their beauty, and Zeus bade Hermes escort them to Alexandros [Paris] on Ide, to be judged by him. They offered Alexandros gifts: Hera said if she were chosen fairest of all women, she would make him king of all men; Athena promised him victory in war; and Aphrodite promised him Helene in marriage. So he chose Aphrodite [which led to the Trojan War].” In short, gold was considered something that was highly valued, yet could easily bring chaos and strife.

Of the items associated with gold in Hellenic antiquity, the apple is the most likely to be recognized in the modern, western world. As useful as wool is, most people don’t encounter it in fleece form, and wonders such as dogs crafted of the stuff don’t get nearly as much play on movie screens as the might Talos. It may be that Eris somehow obtained her legendary apple from the tree guarded by the dragon Lados, the same which Herakles harvested to complete one of his labors. Apples represent prosperity and abundance, and are associated with immortality, and they remain objects into which many generations have infused deep meaning. When Eris cast her apple into the midst of the gods with a cry of, “Kallisti!” (“for the fairest,” according to Robert Anton Wilson), that act can easily be taken to represent the unimaginable disruption brought into the world by the introduction of money, as represented by gold, its most successful form to date. Where the free exchange of offerings and blessings were the primary expression of kharis in pre-Helmonetary Hellas, it surely must have been a radical change to trade instead in lumps of metal which had little other purpose than to lubricate the gears of trade itself. Indeed, is not Hermes a trickster and thief, as well as god of commerce and lies? What an incredible shift of paradigm it must have been, to instead of trading wool for fish or skins for boards, one could drop a few shining bits of gold into a waiting palm, and walk out with cartloads of goods in exchange. Trade and, by extension, communication would become more extensive, and wealth could be both measured and taxed with greater ease. While money has taken many forms since it emerged as a medium of exchange, gold has time and again been used as the standard form, so it is not unreasonable to assume that the power of money is ideally expressed when it is minted in gold.

The associations gold had in antiquity point to the value placed in this soft metal, which “neither moth nor rust devoureth.” Seemingly immune to the decaying touch of Kronos, Khyrsos is also far too soft to do the work expected of other metals; gold is not beaten into swords in the forge, nor is it fashioned into helms, chains, or locks. As the power of human ambition has been gradually distilled into economic terms, gold has at least metaphorically become a far more effective weapon, shield, or prison than could ever be fashioned by the soot-blackened hands of a smith, but gold’s value was recognized long before its power became so pervasive as that. Having no need to be polished, the purity of gold could be at least estimated by the eye (and sometimes tooth, or other tool to make a notch), so anyone asked to take such a coin could be reasonably sure how much it was actually worth. That worth transcended the name and authority of whoever minted the coin, because the value of gold itself was — and is — very stable. That stability comes not only from its beauty and incredible durability, but from the fact that pulling more gold out of the ground was, and is, a laborious process which doesn’t add very much to the supply from one year to the next. Every item which is traded, even money itself, is subject to the law of supply and demand, and because the supply of gold rises slowly and decreases virtually not at all, the price of gold remains quite steady. In fact, changes in the price of gold are actually changes in the price of the money being used to buy or sell it, not the other way around. Industrial uses have been found for gold in modern times, but it remains valuable largely because it is pleasant to the eye and is as close as humans can generally get to a material which is neither created nor destroyed. Once it was universally recognized for its testable purity and reasonable amount of rarity, its role in economics was all but guaranteed. It is small wonder that the apple which Eris hurled was golden, given her role in chaos; any change, even when ultimately for the better, is a strife-bearing gift.

Hellenic tradition, however, is not one which takes its myths as literal truth. Given the number of ways that the old tales seem to contradict each other, this is probably for the best. Myths are written by humans, mortal beings trying to comprehend and explain the gods. The gods are not unknowable, but neither is a human being unknowable to an ant which clambers upon one’s foot. That ant could learn well the layout of the hairs which are rooted deeply in the human’s flesh, and the lines of old scars. It could seek to determine patterns in the upheavals which shake the vast body into motion. If others of its kind were swatted away or too their deaths, an ant might be quite concerned in ascertaining what caused such destructive events to occur. Likewise, we humans seek to propitiate the gods and please them, as well as understand them, but even our deepest knowing is unable to glimpse but the tiniest portion of the whole. An ant crawling upon a human leg may face death for causing a tickle, but it could be equally imperiled by the putting on of pants; so too is our behavior only sometimes directly related to how the gods influence our lives. Mortal understanding based on observation, divination, and communication results in myths which give a passing sense of the fullness of the gods. They are limited by the finite, linear perspective of those who write them. Ergo, while the tale of Eris and the apple may indeed contain some amount of truth, it could be off on important details, such as the sequence of events, to wit: what if the Trojan War precipitated the casting of the apple, rather than the other way around? If fixed in history, the war is believed to have taken place in the 12th or 11th century BCE, while Herodotus gives the Lydians credit for first using gold coins in his Histories, a practice which likely started sometime from 650-600 BCE.

The effects of reversing the sequence of events are significant, even if only considering the implications are regard to money itself and its role in the world of mortals. Rather than setting off a chain of economic consequences which led to a war tales of which have echoed down through the halls of time itself, forever changing the way life is lived on the surface of the earth, the cast apple might instead be a consequence of the actions of men — and “men” is the right word, given the gender roles of that time and place. Men plied the seas and overland routes with goods to trade. Men engaged in diplomacy between city-states. Men brought the war between Athens and Troy, and in doing so, offended Eris in some deep way, so much so that she swore to forever change their society. True to the chaos which is implicit in her nature, what Eris wrought was neither entirely curse nor blessing, but could represent itself as either, and sometimes as both. We know from what 5th-century BCE fragments of Pindar we have that Khrysos is child of Zeus, but no other parent is named. Eris could well be the unnamed mother of gold.

A mother does not necessarily visit her child upon others solely for the purpose of torment, and it is true that gold — or, more generally, money — has indeed been a mixed blessing, allowing humankind to engage in types of industry which would not have been possible in the absence of a medium of exchange. The results of that industry have included, among other things, a marked increase in the mortal lifespan, the development of new fuel sources that have accelerated human domination of the planet, and the ability of groups of people to exert economic pressure on other groups of people for good or ill. Money’s birthright of chaos is usually expressed as a result of the very human assumption that since money was invented by mortals, it must also obey rules imposed by mortals. One cannot appreciate the power of chaos fully without watching expert economists backpedal during a crisis which was not predicted by their number. It brings peace, and violence, and life, and death, and obscene wealth, and unimaginable depths of poverty. The spirit of money was given corporeal form in Khrysos, and by extension all money which is, or was once, linked to gold, and the laws it obeys were in force long before our eldest ancestors imagined that there are gods at all. To believe humans can control money with any more likelihood of success than the control of weather is, or should be, considered hubris; looking at the results of economic manipulations, it appears that Eris is no fonder of that level of arrogance than any of the theoi.

Returning to Eris is essential, for if the apple for the fairest was her greatest known act of chaos, it is only because her hand was not recognized when she took that apple back again. As with the first incident, this act can be closely associated with a war that was destined to change the course of history: the Great War, World War I, the War to End All Wars. Again, it is not entirely clear if her act was precipitated by some consequence of the war offending her, or if it was by her action that the war itself in motion. The year is 1913, the apple is the gold upon which human trade and endeavor was built, and the act was to take it away through the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank. This was not the first “central bank” created in order to give a government more direct control over the spirit of money, but the United States was about to embark on a period of war-driven expansion that would secure it as the supreme economic power, so its central bank’s acts would come to have consequences throughout the economies of the world. In fact, Eris did not so much act at this time, as choose not to prevent men (and again, in this time and place, it was indeed men making the decisions; one can only speculate how a more diverse group might have acted) from getting what they wanted. The goddess of chaos permitted the creation of a bureaucracy that would, in time, take away the gold she had introduced milennia before. For while it was not so common for gold to be used to buy and sell directly, every paper bill printed in the USA could, upon presentment to the United States Treasury, be redeemed for an amount of gold, set for many years at thirty-five dollars per ounce. Because of this obligation to have enough gold (which again, is not and never has been particularly easy to extract from Gaea’s grasp) on hand to redeem for every bill printed, the amount of money in circulation was capped. For the period of time that dollars were tied to gold in this fashion, prices as a whole did not particularly rise or fall, although the prices of individual goods and services would change based on supply and demand. That was particularly a disadvantage to anyone wishing to borrow money rather than saving towards a goal (the latter being the essence of the old American value called thrift), because borrowed money must be paid back with interest, and that becomes quite costly under such a stable currency, and is thus thoroughly discouraged.

The gold standard was actually eroded over several decades, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt demanded citizens turn in all gold for dollars (and the ownership of gold by those citizens made illegal for many years), the replacement of gold certificates with those redeemable in silver and then with notes that are stamped “legal tender” (back by the declaration, or fiat, of the government, rather than a durable commodity with an easily agreed-upon value), and the final abdication to pay obligations to foreign banks in gold in 1971 by Richard Nixon. The concept is largely now the purview of a certain subset of right-wing ideologues, and ignored by the experts of the economic community, who are quite comfortable that modern understandings of the working of money allow it to be more thoroughly controlled for the good of all. By freeing money from a standard measure, the government gives itself permission to simply print as much as is needed to pay off current debts. Money is thus subject to supply and demand: the more of a certain type of money that is in circulation, the less value it is given by those using it. Inflation, as an economic term, refers to inflation of the currency supply, not prices, despite the fact that the consumer price index is the only statistic usually cited regarding inflation’s existence. Prices are affected not only by the supply of money (which, all things being equal, would see prices of all things rise at exactly the rate the currency supply was being inflated), but by all other demands, and all other supplies. Because of the power of psychology, prices are even affected by the anticipated future supply and demand. Inflation does not affect those prices evenly, and couldn’t possibly. It does, however, make it easier to borrow, because without something to measure money against, it becomes easy to create bookkeeping gimmicks to create more out of nowhere. For example, the reserves that banks must hold, to make sure that every person seeking to withdraw money can get it, hover around ten percent. In other words, if a bank holds $100,000 in deposits, it must keep $10,000 on reserve, and may lend out the other $90,000. While a rational person might assume that this would result in a bank lending out ninety dollars out of every hundred deposited, in fact that bank may lend out nine hundred dollars for each hundred deposited, because the $100 is the 10% needed to keep on reserve out of a thousand. This kind of borrowing distorts where money is invested, and twists capitalism into a grotesque mockery of itself. Wealth is accumulated based more on being in the right place at the right time, rather than through hard work and industry; that results in the wealth being consolidated a minority that benefit from happenstance or inheritance.

Over years of reeducation, the idea that inflation is natural, or even desirable, has become commonplace. It is not. It is disrespect for the spirit of money, and results in a spiral of economic booms and busts as the supply of cheap money creates bubbles of speculation only incidentally connected to true economic activity. Moreover, the incentives to continue inflating a currency do not abate as time goes on. Granted, the United States has not suffered from hyperinflation since the days of the Continental Congress, but even the more sophisticated ways that money is injected into the economy have enduring impacts. The very concept of the need for infinite growth in capitalism is based in perpetual inflation of the money supply. Stocks are considered necessary for long-term investment because, as a class, they are most likely to beat inflation. Unions constantly argue for cost-of-living increases and minimum-wage hikes because without them, workers would see their accumulated savings eaten by inflation. Saving itself suffers, because in an inflationary system one actually pays back debts with dollars worth less than those borrowed, so with a fixed-rate loan in particular the lender is not actually going to reaping nearly as much profit as it seems, because with inflation at the Federal Reserve’s target rate of 2% a year, the dollar loses half its purchasing power every 35 years, a little longer than the standard term of a home mortgage. Deflation, which would certainly result if the country returned to fixing 35 dollars to each ounce of gold, would result in borrowers paying back more than they withdrew, which is what they actually agreed to, at least on paper. This is how virtually all modern governments actually fund their operations, particularly expensive wars, because to tax the citizens enough to support the actual expenses of a vast military-industrial complex would result in immediate and complete revolution. Instead, the money supply is increased, and that value which is lost to the citizens is transferred to the newly-created money, with which the government pays its debts. Inflation is but a hidden tax, one that impact the poorest most severely, and allows governments to carry on insanely expensive and mostly unpopular programs, such as drone warfare and enhanced interrogation.

This is the legacy of Eris removing her gift of gold: the chaos and suffering created by its introduction pale in comparison to that which has resulted by its elimination. It is possible that capitalism, were it allowed to function under the auspices of an honest money, may be salvageable, and its remaining flaws mitigated so that the markets would only be allowed to run free to the extent that it benefits all living beings. Perhaps this is not the case, but in the atmosphere resulting from Eris’s second gift, it is all but impossible to say. To truly understand if capitalism must fall, it is imperative to first seek out the golden apple, and restore it to its rightful place on the table. Finding it may require supplication to Eris and the wounded Khrysos, who may not wish to be abused any further. Without the restoration of the apple, the gold, to our system, it will not matter if capitalism is at fault for the many woes plaguing our species; for good or ill, it will inevitably fall, and what shall be generated from the resulting chaos is impossible to predict.