When words matter

The article I wrote about Pagan copyright violations was complicated.  For one, the laws themselves are complicated.  For another, many people (Pagan and not) believe they understand those laws, when mostly all they understand is what other people have told them.  That can lead to people with good intentions violating laws or harming other people.  Yuck.

What I cannot understand is the way people dig in, and really fight for the right to make infinite copies of works others created, even after authors patiently explain how these actions bring harm.  That’s why I felt it was important to capture some of those sentiments.  This is not evidence that Paganism is fracturing and falling apart (if it ever was together), because this is not a Pagan issue at all.  21st-century people seem to feel thoroughly entitled to get it all for free, and when the legitimate channels of free information bore them, they will go to incredible lengths to justify this theft.

Wiccan and, I am certain, other Pagan ethics are quickly tossed aside in favor of having another book for free.  I’m not claiming the moral high ground here; I downloaded some music before the turn of the century that I shouldn’t have, and I do understand the allure, but the magnitude of the problem is mind-blowing.  The cognitive disconnect is such that I am sure someone is downloading Pagan Ethics as you read this.  Considering that the group owner was not only unapologetic, but openly admitting he’d put the content someplace where it again could be illegally downloaded, is evidence of a problem which isn’t just him, or that one group, or people who follow a Pagan or polytheist religion.  It’s all of us, and something has to change or art itself may be relegated to something people only do as a hobby.

There are some who believe they are sticking it to the man, or believe that all information should be free, or down with government.  I get that, I really do.  I wonder how many female/gay/trans/minority/disabled authors feels empowered by their actions?  Is it possible that theft is simply theft, and shouldn’t be used as a form of activism any more than rioting should, because it’s impossible to predict who will be harmed?

Perhaps we need to find a way to return to patronage of the arts.  I know that Patreon is out there, but I’ve avoided it simply because it carries with it an expectation to perform like a circus animal, generating content to keep the patrons happy.  That’s not how art is created, and I don’t think it’s how patronage works best.  I’ve been researching a book on Pagans and money for five years and it could be another five before I get it written.  It would be far longer if I had to stop to provide proof-of-life content; I’d have to work on posts and fresh content instead of reading and taking notes on what I’d like to say.  It seems to work for some folks, but I am not sure it’s for me.

Taking the vigil by the horns

Even a year ago, I knew that I would be performing the Vigil for the Bulls again.  This was the first observance I performed in my home temple, as part of my studies to become Poseidon’s priest, and I internalized the vigil as part of my own liturgical year, blending with the celebrations proscribed by my temple as well as festivals uniquely my own.

There are lessons learned by doing deep work again and again.  Going into it this year I was reminded that there are some Poseidon devotees who believe the running of the bulls, and subsequent bull fights, to be exciting or thrilling.  I cannot say that someone who feels this way is doing it wrong; I don’t know that they are.  What I do know is that this vigil focuses on the fear and death which descend upon those bulls each day, meaning that it may not be a good fit for someone who is a fan of the whole bullfighting scene.

On the other hand, it’s not beyond rationale thought to imagine this vigil, if followed by such an individual, might not change how they see the world.  All I can say for certain is that Poseidon was pleased that I joined him last year.  Even as a temple priest who is sometimes sought out for counsel, I can’t presume to guide someone based solely on my experience of Poseidon.  He is vast as the ocean, with moods as varied as all the fish which swim.  He may well have need of people who think quite differently than I do in order to complete his work.

That’s something for me to sit with as a priest.  I recognized something else last night, something I don’t recall from last year at all:  the weight of the grief.  It’s really too much to bear, and I admit I started to distract myself to get out from under it all.  A year ago I think I was more focused on the split-shift sleeping pattern I use to make the vigil possible:  down for a nap, awake just before 2 a.m. to do the work, then back to sleep for the rest of the night.  It would be a lot easier in Hawaii, but then again, being able to afford to live in Hawaii would have a lot of other benefits, too.

Off to bed.  This vigil won’t sit itself.

Updates on my many gods project

The summer solstice, deadline for litanies to many gods, slipped by without me being able to acknowledge it.  I had just returned from Free Spirit Gathering, for one, and it always takes me a few days to settle back into a routine after a trip.  This is also a busy time of year for me ritually, with an ancestor pilgrimage and the festival of lilies, and the Vigil for the Bulls coming up; why I selected this particular due date is beyond me.

litany-300x235Nevertheless, the submission period is now closed.  There was a flurry of submissions at the beginning, and quickly realized how bloody much work I have bitten off.  I am going to have to write a prayer for each of the gods named, and for some of them that’s going to require education.

What needs to be done soon is the selection of a winner.  I have a post half-written about the divination systems I use and what I might do to determine which of them to use to divine that winner, but it’s languished for over the month for want of my attention.  Since time is the overall theme here, my plan is to take the time to go to meeting for worship and open myself to the gods for an answer.  It’s the most direct form of divination out there.

Standing between death and the dead

This time of year is when I most strongly feel the ancestors around me.  Memorial Day was yesterday, and tomorrow is the anniversary of my father’s birth.  Six years ago my cat went missing on June 9, and I wonder if he yet lives, or I may honor him among the dead.  This past weekend I helped adopt someone who lived in my town until his death four years ago as a community ancestor.

Perhaps that’s why I found myself weeping as I wrote yesterday’s remembrance of Taliesin Myrddin, who died trying to prevent hate.  I didn’t know the man at all, nor any of his loved ones; this was not personal grief.  Normally I don’t feel the deaths of strangers deeply; there are far too many people dying in the world for me grieve them all and yet live.  His death touched me, and divination confirms that my own dead wanted it to.

First, a little something about Ludwig Montesa, a man “whose unconventionality, both mentally and physically, sometimes unsettled people who didn’t know him,” according to one obituary.  He died in 2013, while I was at a point in my studies of Hellenismos at which I was learning about Hekate, the Deipnon, and ancestor veneration.  I knew him as a friendly, if slightly peculiar, man who was a constant presence in our downtown; when news of his death spread, I found stunned to discover the number of people whose lives he had touched.  My first ancestor offering was made at the impormptu shrine which emerged not far from where his parents ran a gift shop.  It had much the look of many impromptu shrines:  flowers, candles, heartfelt messages of grief were included, but also Metro cards, which to him were the connection to his favorite metropolitan area.

In the years since his passing, I have come to know Ludwig Montesa better than I did in life.  He transgressed boundaries of gender and personal space, ignored the hobgoblins of shame and comparison to others, and embraced himself with joy and abandon.  He was known for high-fives that never seemed to end, karaoke performances unfettered by self-consciousness, and an enduring love for New York City (which to me was the most alien thing about him).  Each May since he died there has been a Ludwig Day replete with games, musical performances, and remembrances.  I’d never been able to make it for one reason or another, but it was clear that Ludwig Montesa had a festival in his honor, much like the heroes of old.

This year I decided I was going to lead an ancestor-veneration ritual for Ludwig.  It meant forgoing Rites of Spring, but local praxis should take precedence.  Family members were on board, and one of them was in attendance.  A photographer for our local paper was also there, and gave me some images from the event.

It was a short ritual, with about fifteen people in attendance.  I set up a low table as a shrine, using a black cloth and candle mostly because people in this color associate black with death.  Before it was a really stunning framed portrait that captures Ludwig’s eccentric flair.  I did a brief overview of ancestor veneration and how in Hellenic tradition the dead are down in the underworld.  I invited him to attend and poured out an offering of Diet Coke, one of his favorite beverages.  Participants were invited to offer flowers, Metro cards, and brief remembrances; I had some of the first two for people who were unprepared.  (Cards with money still loaded on them will be distributed to those in need in his name.)

This was the first public ritual I’ve ever led, and it went quite well.  I felt Ludwig’s presence and had the opportunity to honor him in a way befitting his near-shamanic life.  Our communities all have local heroes, and it’s appropriate to identify and honor them.

Coming off of that experience, and readying myself for this annual pilgrimage of mine, I found myself learning about a young man who stuck is neck out to help some strangers, and got a knife in it for his trouble.  It’s both hard to bear and completely inspiring.  How many of us would put their bodies between hate and harm like Taliesin Myrddin did?  Who among us truly knows the answer to that question without it being tested like it was for him?

There’s more to tell in that story, to be sure; a member of his family may be speaking with me soon, and his mother seems to be responding to this tragedy with a combination of love and activism.  Like her son, she inspires me, and I hope to be able to speak to her at some point.  Even if I lived in that town, I am not the kind of reporter who could knock on a door and say, “Your son was just violently killed.  How do you feel?”  There is a need for personal space and time which transcends freedom of the press.

For me, the time for honoring death will continue through July, as I intend on undertaking the Vigil for the Bulls again.  It’s curious that it is now, as spring bursts into life, that death is closest to me.  Such is the mystery.

In closing, some pictures of the ancestor rite for Ludwig Montesa.

Cultivating sources

Rev._Paul_Beyerl

Paul Beyerl [Wikimedia Commons].

When I asked to interview Paul Beyerl for this week, it was because I strongly believe in preserving the wisdom of our elders.  Now in his seventies, Beyerl was easy to talk to in part because he’s not put off by the idea that he’s an elder.  What I wasn’t expecting from the conversation was news that his church’s center would be uprooted and moved in the near future, after 24 years establishing a botanical garden in the suburbs of Seattle.

That’s the joy of journalism: discovering interesting information that the people holding it don’t necessarily think is newsworthy.  It takes good questions, intuition, luck, and often a lot of time to get those answers.

Earlier in the week, The Wild Hunt posted an update about the Druid Daniel Scott Holbrook, based on a court transcript in which the prosecutor asserted in closing arguments that Holbrook had not downloaded hundreds of images accidentally, as he’s claimed.  There were people who had that information when I wrote the original article, but for various reasons didn’t believe it to be newsworthy, ergo I didn’t find out until I saw the transcript, and only then did I start asking questions.

The occasional detractor of the news site for which I write will complain about a lack of investigative journalism.  I have to wonder if such people understand what that kind of work requires.  While it’s not technically difficult, conducting investigations takes quite a bit of time.  Back when newspapers were the go-to source for news, there were reporters who spent weeks or months on a single story, talking to people and sifting through documents in search of the truth.

I would love to throw myself into that kind of work, but if I spent 40 hours a week on chasing down mysteries in the Pagan community, I wouldn’t have time for any other writing.  I contribute to several other news sites and publications, all of which pay me a flat write per story, stories which take time to research and write.  The Wild Hunt is no different in that regard.  My family couldn’t afford to give up those other sources of income, and The Wild Hunt treasury isn’t big enough to pay me what I would need to do that full time.

What’s required for deeper, more thorough investigations?  Money.  Lots and lots of money.  To turn just one reporter into an investigative machine would require more than doubling how much money is donated during the annual fund drive.  I base that on my own situation, which is unusual because I’m not the primary earner.  Replacing my lost income, plus adding a new reporter to the weekly rotation (because I likely wouldn’t have a finished story every week, and the ten-year-plus tradition of new content daily could not be broken) would run about $20,000.

I stand ready to do more for the Pagan communities.  Are Pagans and polytheists willing to step up and make that possible?

First and Last, and other signs of Hestia

The first book that I have ever edited has now been published:  First and Last: a Devotional to Hestia.  I am proud of this work, as should every be every single contributor.  Its completion also fulfills a rare vow that I made, to see this project through.  However, Hestia has made her presence known in other ways this week, and it’s worth reflecting on it all in writing.

Writing is a lot of what I do professionally and spiritually, and occasionally both at the same time.  One way that I blend the two is by keeping an account of offerings I make to the gods, which became a useful resource in writing a litany to my many gods.  (Even if you don’t write ’em all down, you can write a litany too!)  Other than getting two or three entries every day, Hestia’s presence this week in particular was profound:  I ran out of room in my first book, and started the next.  The last offering in the old is a portion of dinner to Hestia, and the first in the new went to Hestia Caffeina.  Without planning to, the new book was started on a Sunday morning, which is a neat nod to the beginning of the modern week.

If you aren’t yet sure why I chose to name the Hestia anthology First and Last, it’s possible you haven’t been paying attention.  I am not her priest, but I give Hestia first and last offerings like many of my co-religionists.  For me, at least, she tends to manifest at times of beginning and end.

This week marked another last and first in my relationship with Hestia:  her statue.  Working with an incredibly talented sculptor, Joe Laudati, I commissioned a statue of this gentle goddess together with some partners.  I now own the first one cast, which was the last step in the process of creation.  Once I write an appropriate description this incredible figure will be available for sale, the first step in this statue’s transition from private to public life.  She stands now upon my mantle, and her spirit is strong.

Fitting on the mantle was one of the criteria I wanted for this statue:  there’s no need for a representation of Hestia if one has a physical hearth, but now that she is in that place of honor I feel like the room would be empty without her.  Keeping that in mind, I believe, helped convey her role as hearth goddess into the final form of this figure.

It’s tempting to include flame in a statue of Hestia, and we wrestled with that idea.  There are plenty of examples of sculptors doing just that, and I don’t think it quite works.  If one puts a watermelon in a sculpture, the viewer thinks, “That’s a watermelon.”  If one includes a flame, however, the viewer’s thought instead is, “That’s a representation of flame.”  That difference didn’t work for me.  A lamp might have also worked, but ancient Greek oil lamps still have a flame visible.

To convey her association with the hearth, the more subtle image of bread is used; she carries two loaves in one arm.  At her waist is a set of keys, reinforcing that she is preeminent goddess of the home.  Aloft she holds a bunch of grapes, which to some might seem an unusual choice.  Flowers, to which she is clearly linked, also can fall short in sculpture.  Grapes were selected to convey a full larder.

Hestia is veiled, this representing her choice to be a virgin goddess.

What makes this piece special to me is the fact that the bowl is separate.  Hestia is the receiver of all offerings, and this ceramic bowl allows the user to actually give some offerings right there.  Portions of one’s meal, as well as modest libations of wine and oil, “offerings least and greatest,” can be put in this offering bowl.  It could even be used to burn incense on charcoal, but I would not recommend placing a candle there.  While the bowl wouldn’t get damaged by a candle, other parts of this cast resin statue might.  Otherwise, utilize common sense and wash the bowl when needed.

Difficult work

I volunteered to take on the Kenny Klein coverage for The Wild Hunt, which until this week was just a matter of checking a court docket from time to time.  That changed when Klein was convicted.  When witnesses finally testified, what came out of their mouths was horrifying to me.  It’s the first time I have ever felt the need to take a purifying bath after writing.

One thought remains with me:  I hope Klein will have access to ministers of his faith while imprisoned.  I believe everyone deserves that opportunity.