Arete

Not so long ago, I mentioned an offering to Athene that I’ve been working on for some months, knitting what I believed to be a scarf, and how I got prompted that it’s time to finish that project up.

Mantle of Athene

Finished knit offering to Athene

That offering, which I long believed to be a scarf, is now complete, and it is not, as it happens, a scarf.  At first glance, I wasn’t entirely sure what it is, and my wife — with just a wee bit more knitting experience than I — wasn’t entirely sure how I’d created this piece, given that I set out to knit a scarf.  Was this a time for anxiety to set in?  Had I failed Athene?

Nah.  Arete is all about excellence, and doing one’s best.  It is not about perfectionism, and becoming convinced that one’s efforts are never good enough.  A close inspection will reveal that there are some dropped stitches and loose spots, betraying my inexperience in this craft.  I truly put my best effort in, though (and went the extra mile to make sure to purify myself by washing my hands in khernips before I picked up this project, every single time, because that’s what this goddess asked of me), and it represents the very best work I was capable of during its creation.  It is the very essence of arete, and it’s also the essence of learning, in which Athene takes great interest.  I have already started a new project, and it will surely be technically superior to this one, because I have become more skilled in my service to Athene.  In no way does that diminish this offering.

As for this offering, it’s really quite amazing.  When I laid it out as pictured, with the mu that pushed me to finally finish and an owl bottle stopper to represent the goddess herself, my first impression was that it reminded me of the wings of Isis.  The amount I know about Isis would fit into a canning jar, but I know there connections between Hellenic and Kemetic deities, so that may not be a coincidence.  Then, while attending meeting for worship, I was given a vision of it being used as a mantle to confer blessings of knowledge and education upon the wearer.  Indeed, I’ve got a whole ritual around that idea to I’m due to write.

No matter what else this offering represents, for me it carries a simple lesson:  arete is about excellence, not perfection.  There is a difference, and not to understand it is to stagnate out of fear that one is unworthy to do anything else.

Maya Angelou deserves better than this

I understand how the wrong quote ended up on the Maya Angelou postage stamp, I really do. Poetry isn’t my thing, I’ve never read her work, and I might have made the same mistake.  What I can’t comprehend is why doing right by this preeminent poet is so hard.

Credit: Dave Itzkoff, via Twitter

One does not have to appreciate poetry to understand that a writer who deserves her own stamp deserves her own work on that stamp.

One does not have to be a woman to wonder if the United States Postal Service would allow this mistake to turn into disrespect if she were a man.

One does not have to be a person of color to wonder why, when we are trying so hard to recognize that not everyone who has done amazing things in this country was white, we can’t take the time, and spend the money, to reissue this stamp.  It can be with a quote of Angelou’s, or at the very least, with proper credit for Joan Walsh Anglund, whose line of poetry, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song, ” has apparently been misattributed to Angelou for years.

Therefore, I did something about it, but it won’t be worth much unless I can get a hundred thousand like-minded individuals to help by signing the petition that calls for this mistake to be fixed.  Because making  mistake is human, but coming up with excuses not to make it right is just pathetic.

Please sign, share, reblog, and put up a stink.  Thank you.

Messages, and how to get them

Full moons sometimes pass me by. I don’t have any sacred obligations tied to that phase, so if it’s a cloudy sky, or I don’t look up, I might not actually notice that it’s moved from waxing into waning again. There are times when I don’t need to look up to know it’s the day of the full moon, though, such as last night. I had plans to visit my mother and talk a bit about our ancestors, and so I took note that our date had fallen on a full moon with an eclipse.

Ancestor shrine

Ancestor shrine, circa spring 2015

By the by, our ancestor shrine is shaping up nicely.  I’m definitely interested in looking at pictures of these people as they looked in life, but so far, we haven’t been lead to include any in the shrine itself.  Instead there are a variety of objects.

  • The mug on the left of the picture has the logo of a fighter plane produced by the company my father worked for.  I have been using it to offer water.
  • Next to that is a black mirror.  Since we often don’t know what a particular ancestor looked like, we can always look in the mirror instead.  Our ancestors helped make our own faces, so they look out from the eyes in the reflection.
  • Coins are used for divination, which was what I thought I would be writing about in this post, not details about every object here.
  • On the offering plate go other things we are giving to our ancestors.
  • At the other end is a drawing of a satyr dancing and piping.  My wife’s mother made it.

I didn’t get to spend so much time looking through pictures and the like with my mother, because she was facing a transition in her living arrangements, and I needed to support that instead.  2015-04-04 13.51.01Nevertheless, I found at least one picture of one of my great-grandfathers.  People on my mother’s side of the family took dressing up quite seriously; every picture I’ve seen from that branch has folks dressed to the nines, or at least in ties and dresses.

On the way back home, which is a couple hours’ worth of driving without weekend traffic, I had time to think and be open.  When at one point I grew bored of silence and hit the “scan” button on the radio, the first station I found was playing Greek music, followed by a news update in Greek, and then a variety of other Greek tunes interspersed with the bilingual banter of the show’s host.  I do not speak Greek, and I barely know anything of the culture or music from that side of my mother’s family, but it’s certainly a big part of why I honor the theoi rather than some other set of gods.  It also seemed like this could very well be a sign, perhaps from my Greek grandfather, so I continued to listen.

America’s melting pot didn’t take long to dissolve that part of my heritage, and all I got growing up was a few recipes which had been handed down, none of which I ever found very tasty.  My grandfather tried very hard to teach his descendants the language, actually employing a tutor for my eldest uncles, but he was gone before I was old enough to read in any language.  The only evidence I ever saw was a reading primer tucked into a rarely-used bookshelf; none of the letters made any sense to me.

What I do have, besides a few choice pictures which I may share here in time, was a memory that he considered my father to be the most Greek of his children-in-law, because — despite having no Mediterranean blood — Dad was more than happy to drink Ouzo with him.  Therefore, the question I asked using the three coins on the shrine was whether or not my grandfather and his line would like offerings of Ouzo from time to time.  The response was positive, which means another bottle of alcohol to buy.  I already offer much more alcohol to the dead than I drink myself, because Dad and a few others in the family have a taste for Scotch that I lack, and I have a suspicion that my father will gladly partake of the Ouzo, as well.