Consecrating a candle to Hestia

Hestia shrine

If you keep a shrine to Hestia, chances are pretty good that you burn a candle there.  Yes, there are other sources of flame and light, and I’m sure some people use oil lamps and LED bulbs, among other things, but if you use a candle, sooner or later you’re going to need to replace it.

Like many of the things I do in ritual, the candle replacement started out simple, and has grown deeper over time.  I’m still not up to more than a couple of phrases in ancient Greek, some of which I no doubt pronounce horrifically, but over time I am moved to do more. Here’s what I did today:

The candle I’d been using was down so far that the last half-inch or less of wax was completely molten.  If the wick fell over, it would be extinguished, and while I do not leave this candle burning constantly, I believe it is disrespectful to allow it to go out through neglect.

I keep spare candles on hand, so I washed one in khernips (ritually purified water) and placed it on the shrine next to the burning presence.  I made an offering of oil to Hestia in the lit candle.

“O Hestia, I sacralize this candle as in ancient days,” I said, sprinkling some barley over the new candle.

“I welcome your presence in this new candle, as you have lived in the old,” I continued.   I stuck a long barbecue match down the glass tube of the old candle, to take some flame from one and move it to the other.  In ancient days, a household’s shrine to Hestia was lit from the temple, and kept burning constantly.  I wanted to respect that tradition.

What I wasn’t expecting was that igniting of the match extinguished the old candle, leaving only the flame on the match, with which I lit the new candle.  I sprinkled some Hestia powder and oil as first offerings to the goddess of the hearth in her new home.

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Noumenia

For those not “in the know,” noumenia is the first day of the lunar month of the Hellenic calendar.  For more information on ancient and modern practices, there are many bona-fide experts; all I plan on writing about is my experiences leading up to and during my most recent celebration of this day.

First, a bit of context:  Hellenic practitioners largely agree that following a ritual calendar is a good thing.  The exact nature of that calendar varies:  some follow the Attic calendar of Athens, because it’s the only one we still have in full; others adapt from that to correspond to their specific locality, deity relationships, or research; there are also zodiac-based calendars in use.

Noumenia is celebrated the first day of the lunar month, so I count myself among those who have adapted the Attic calendar for my own use.  I have been adding to my ritual obligations slowly, and I don’t hold a festival for each day on that calendar; in fact, although I conduct some kind of ritual every day, it’s mostly focused on household deities, which is a different part of the religion than the big, public festivals we see in this ancient calendar.

However, I do take time each month to divine which god, if any, wishes to take a special interest in me for that cycle of the moon.  Two months ago, I determined Demeter was that deity, which seemed auspicious for springtime and the plantings I did at that time.  Last month, Hermes came to the fore, and he upped the ante:  I was asked to pour him a libation each day.  Usually I honor Hermes on the fourth day of the week and the month, so this was a bigger commitment.

This month, however, I didn’t need to use my burgeoning skills in divination at all, so plain the signs were for me to see.  It began this past Saturday, when a member of a Hellenic polytheist group on Facebook asked why Zeus would harm people or animals with lightning.  I had the discussion buzzing around in my mind, perhaps, when I attended Quaker meeting the following morning, because thoughts of the king of the gods danced in my head.

(Side note:  I have to come up with two “Q” topics for this dastardly alphabetical blog project, so please forgive me if I don’t discuss my relationship with the Quakers in more depth right now.  A blogger’s got to do what a blogger’s got to do.)

After the meeting for worship, a member of that community approached me and told me, “your name came up in committee meeting today.”  The prisons committee was seeking people to visit individual prisoners, something that, as volunteers who worship with groups of prisoners, the committee members themselves are not permitted to do according to the byzantine correctional facility rules.

It struck me as interesting that I was being asked to do work relating to justice, over which Zeus has purview.

That’s about as close as I saw it.

Later that day, I visited a friend just a few minutes’ drive away, and we heard a majestic cry.  We looked up to see a bald eagle circling lazily in the bright sky.  My heart leaped — I’ve never seen one in real life, and sightings in my area are anything but common.  I muttered to myself, “Okay, I get it,” and dismissed from my mind any doubts about whether or not Zeus which to takes a more active role in my life right now.  I knew I wouldn’t bother doing any divination around deities for the coming month, because some gods apparently prefer to remove all doubt.

I am continually wonderstruck by the willingness of the gods to take me by the hand and walk with me awhile, now that I have committed to the path of Hellenismos.  I am more aware, more sensitive to the unseen messages all around me.  I’m sure this is true of anyone, once they find the path which is the right fit for them.  I’ve seen my Wiccan friends reach this point from afar, but I wasn’t able to quite make the same connection using that system.  I tried mightily to make any form of Christianity work, but none of them were my answer, either.

I feel particularly blessed, but I don’t believe that others will necessarily get the same results from the same formula.  I’d love to find others to worship the theoi with me, but I’m content simply surrounding myself with people who are so rooted in their beliefs that my own path doesn’t make them feel threatened on theirs.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter N.

Google Plus, Pagans, and anonymity

Many Pagan bloggers have discovered, as I have, that if they have blogs hosted on Blogger that they’ve been associated with Google + without so much as a “by your leave.”  Since that service requires real names, and many bloggers of this community prefer to use some other name, that’s pretty annoying.  There are two ways this matters:

  1. Your own blog will be posted in your name, and
  2. Comments on your blog will be posted in the real name of that person.
Neither is true if the writer wasn’t duped into opening a Google Plus account via gmail or some other service.
It is possible to unlink blogger from Google + by visiting the dashboard and clicking on the gear icon at the top right; the option to unlink is now as plain as the eye can see.  All blogs your write will be thus freed.  Unburdening your commenting readers from this service requires going into the settings for the individual blog; below the “comments” settings you will see “Google +” settings, which permit the turning off of “comment with Google Plus” so that your readers can again choose who they wish to be.
I will not comment on a blog which requires me to use Google Plus, and I am sure I am not alone.

Nudiustertian blessings

Laughing gull flying near Eastern Egg Rock Island, Maine

The day before yesterday I was deep under the influence of Poseidon and Hermes.  My wife and I were on a trip which was characterized by incredibly lucky timing, and our travels had led us to a remote island off the coast of Maine, inhabited by unusual sea birds including, as our tour captain put it, four kinds of terns:

  • common tern,
  • Arctic tern,
  • roseate tern, and
  • intern.
I don’t write the jokes, I just share the pain.
In the days leading up to our puffin cruise, we always seemed to beat the rush and make really good decisions based on intuition alone.  We’d pick a place to eat, get seated, and watch the room fill up around us after our orders were taken.  The traffic would be backed up for miles — going the other way on the highway.
Without a particular plan in mind, we had perused seasonal tourist attractions and hit upon visiting Boothbay Harbor, because that’s where you go to see puffins in the USA.  I knew from my research that we were in the area during nesting season.  We didn’t know until we’d arrived in town and found a place to stay that the cruises only go out three times a week, but sure enough, the following morning was one of those days.  We got our tickets that night, did the restaurant thing again, and managed to get on board the next morning before the boat got packed with other tourists.
The captain and Audobon volunteers spent much of the trip out to this nesting island preparing us to be disappointed.  While breeding pairs of puffins on Eastern Egg Rock have risen from one in the late nineteenth century to over a hundred now (after thirty years of hard work by the Audobon society), these are small birds, and can be hard to spot despite their toucan-colorful beaks.  They weigh about ten ounces, have dark backs and wings, and can blend in with the waters and rocks.  The captain urged us all to scan the horizon and shout if we saw one of the penguin-shaped birds.
No one shouted.
As we neared the island, two puffins flew by, perhaps in greeting.  With the engines quietly idling, we approached the craggy rocks, and a sight that stunned the seasoned puffin professionals.  “This is probably the entire population of the island you’re seeing in the water in front of us,” the captain said over the PA.  “I’ve taken three tours a week here for ten years now, and I have never seen this many puffins at one time.”
They swam.  They flew by the boat.  They gathered on the rocky shore, where they care for the eggs laid in deep burrows.  Other birds, laughing gulls and terns of all four kinds (the half-dozen interns on the island all waved to us), guillemots and species of Eastern Egg Rock swam and flew by, unconcerned.
At one exciting moment, a tern hovered off the stern like a giant hummingbird as it took a bead on a fish beneath the waves.  After nearly a minute of floating two feet above the surface, it dove down, speared the hapless ocean-dweller, and flew away with its catch.
We got glimpses of harbor seals and harbor porpoises, and a pair of Wilson’s storm petrels flew by the boat a few times.  This bird breeds off the coast of Antarctica and spends its life traveling the world’s oceans.  They are not rare, but the chances of seeing them from land are remote, since they are pelagic (a nice word with Greek origins).
While we left the coast behind, and with it this onslaught of Poseidon-inspired signs, our trip continued to be smiled upon by the god of luck and travelers.  The nudiustertian morning (there’s that word again), I decided we ought to see fireworks that night, and gave it no further thought.  As we drove, I aimlessly checked in on Foursquare, and scored myself a mayorship.  That was enough to attract the attention of my sister, a very rare user of that service, who let me know we were five minutes from her home.  She and her husband made us a lovely dinner, offered to put us up for the night . . . and brought us to the local fireworks show, which is traditionally held on July the third, so as not to compete with the big affair in Boston.
I love my gods.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter N.