Glimpse into my oracular process

I’ve been serving as an oracle of Poseidon since July, and recently a colleague asked me about my process.  There is little which is certain about how such rituals were performed in antiquity; regardless, even if it’s how it happened at Delphi, I’m not planning on inhaling volcanic vapors anytime soon.

Delphi is a location associated with Poseidon, largely before the Apollonian period.  The Pythia needed protection as much as Troy did, and I am of the mind that there is more to the relationship between these gods than the scant myths suggest.  In any case, my work is done in the shadow of an ancient tradition.

I cannot say why it’s the case, but Poseidon did not send me to the books or demand I master ancient Greek to serve as manteis.  I have engaged in ritual possession and deep contact before I walked the Hellenic path, which has helped me gain the discernment to recognize what’s my own voice, and what is not.  That being the case, my training in one sense began close to 30 years ago.  To refine what he needed of me, however, Poseidon sent me to become a Quaker.  What’s relevant of what I have learned as a member of that community is the technique of expectant listening.

On the morning of an oracular session I begin with my usual offerings, then enter the space which my wife is kind enough to allow me to use for this work.  I review the questions for the first time, and transcribe them onto index cards.  I light incense, pour a libation, and settle into worship.  I sometimes use a mild entheogen if I am led to.  Whether I wear my wreath or not varies; my the tradition followed in Temenos Oikidios it is not use in chthonic rites, and sometimes that’s what is asked of me.  Poseidon is a god who stands between, and brings me his word in the manner which suits him that month.

While my Quaker friends may not use this language, I descend into a trance.  They might say I open myself to spirit, which is certainly true.  I use the silence in the manner some use drums or chanting.  As with any spiritual journey, it can take some time to unload the mental clutter and begin the actual work, but when he and I are in harmony, I reach for the first question.

Invariably I have some anxiety when transcribing these questions.  People ask very important things, life-altering things, and I get clutched by a worry that I will lead them astray.  When I pick up that first question in ritual space, however, none of that is present.  I see the question through his eyes, or maybe he sees it through mine.  Sitting before the antique writing desk in the library, my hand reaches for the pen and a response is provided.  Watching it unfold, it seems simple enough.  Just pick up the pen, and write down an answer.

What seems simple takes most of my morning, though, even when there are few questions to address.  In any case, I don’t make appointments for that day to do anything but this work.  It’s something for which I have been trained as long as I have been Pagan, and the fact that this is also simply training for what he asks of me next is both daunting and exciting.

It is an honor to serve.

Devotion while depressed

My post on the spirit of depression gets waves of likes from time to time, and the article I wrote on treating depression in a Pagan context remains one of the most popular pieces I wrote for the Wild Hunt.  I don’t know that Pagans and polytheists suffer depression more than other people, but it does matter to us.

Recently — and perhaps for the first time — I recognized a pattern which may help me avoid the worst of symptoms.  When I am energetic and enthused I commit to things, and those commitments can build like a wave which slams me flat.  My mistake has been in committing based on my best days, because when they occur it’s difficult to recall what the worst feel like.  That can lead to me falling short, which only compounds the problem.

In recent weeks I have completed obligations around running an event for a hundred people and mostly finalized a budget for a small nonprofit, but I also agreed to several days of travel in the name of my religion and to strengthen ties with my ancestors, all before Thanksgiving, the gateway to American stress season.  Oops.

One way I am scaling back is in relation to the gods.  I’ve temporarily suspended my practice of writing down all of my offerings, for example.  In addition, the temple I keep as priest of Poseidon is in what I characterize as a slow-maintenance period; I dismantled, cleaned, and reorganized the space but I am reinstalling deity therein at a seismic pace.  Last week I put a cloth on the altar, and yesterday I placed a candle holder.  (Poseidon is a patient god; as long as I move faster than the tectonic plates in this he is not displeased.)

Spirits and gods don’t always understand human needs, but if they desire our service they must sometimes accede to our limitations.  If they are playing the long game, they will listen.  Poseidon recognizes slack tide.  I am grateful for his nature.

A Pagan investing primer (which is actually for everybody)

A family friend recently asked me about the stock market. E knows it’s an important part of the economy, but is frustrated how little e was learning in school about it. “All I really know is that it’s where people make money,” e said. E knows it to be an important concept, but not important enough that it’s part of eir high school curriculum. That’s prompted me to think about what someone needs to know about the stock market by the time e enters adulthood. Two broad areas of knowledge are needed, I believe:

  1. an understanding of the relationships among capitalism, publicly-traded stocks, and morality, and
  2. an understanding of the risks, benefits, and advantages of investing in these kinds of corporations.

There are many people who could lay out the ecological, sociological, political, and moral impacts of putting one’s money in corporate coffers than I ever could. For that aspect, I will just point my young friend to choice posts on this and other sites, and information about how some people attempt to redirect that energy (or mitigate the damage) through socially-responsible investing. These are important questions to resolve for oneself.

Stock investment is steeped to the eyeballs in the idea that corporations are people. The word corporation itself means “body,” and the shares that one buys and sells are, I suppose, pieces of that body, which really sounds ghoulish. I find the idea that businesses are people to be extremely problematic, but at present it’s the major model recognized in law. Part of my curriculum — but not the first part, unless I want to bore em into never asking for the second — will be a discussion of that concept.

For my part, I’m going to try to lay out some of the hows and whys of the stock market, which e can then place in context of those other arguments. Here are some of the questions I think are worth answering:

  1. Can I get rich quick investing in the stock market?
    Good gods, no, and that false promise is one of the first forms of evil neophyte investors tend to encounter. The stock market is based on a really unwholesome tenet of capitalism, the idea that growth must be constant and unlimited in order to be healthy, which makes it pretty easy to sell that nonsensical get-rich-quick notion. In truth, what goes up must come down, and the value of any particular stock does rise and fall over time, meaning that it’s possible to buy a share of a corporation and then sell it at a loss. People can, and do, lose lots of money investing in stocks. The techniques used by ordinary (but educated) stock investors are intended to build wealth over the long haul. To be clear, even the most morally-minded investments in this area are a dip into the essence of capitalism.
  2. What is stock, anyway? Is it like chicken stock?
    Not quite, and if there’s a clear connection I haven’t had the time to root it out. I suppose if one considers chicken stock to be the basic unit of chicken it works intellectually, but it most assuredly does not work for the chicken. In this context, “stock” refers to the bits into which a corporation is sliced in order to buy and sell it piecemeal; more fully it’s “shares of stock.” If I create a corporation (Terrific Pendulous Wellingtons, Inc.) and declare that it has 100 shares of stock, then ownership stake in that corporation is divided 100 ways. I can sell the shares, and the money goes into a corporate account, presumably to fund development of those amazing, hanging boots. If my friend Betty buy five shares, she doesn’t have to retain them; the stock market exists to make it easier to find someone interested in buying them. Betty probably would like to sell them for more than she paid me, and if she finds someone who believes my hard work will result in amazing profits, she might do that; that’s how stock prices go up. On the other hand, if she can’t find anyone with confidence in my vision, and people think I will be a failure, she may only be able to sell the shares at a loss.
  3. How do I actually buy or sell shares of stock?
    Technically, anyone who owns shares of stock could sell them to anyone else, but these days nearly all of those transactions involve a broker, a middleman who snags a commission for clicking a few keys. Some of them offer advice, but that’s the topic of another question.
  4. What are dividends? Why would I want them?
    In theory, dividends are the reason why anyone buys stocks, because they’re payments made to shareholders representing a portion of the company’s profits. Companies where this is standard practice get their shares referred to as “income stocks” for that reason.
    However, dividends get taxes as ordinary income, which some people prefer to avoid. The other way to make money on stocks is easier on the taxes: investing for growth, or buying at a low price and selling when they cost more. Taxes only happen when the shares are sold, and for higher-income folks it’s at a lower rate.
    Share prices rise when more people want to buy then want to sell, which suggests a lot of people consider them valuable. That could be due to a handsome dividend, or maybe a new product was announced that investors believe will rake in the cash. Shares in Apple tend to rise or fall after one of their snazzy CEO product releases, depending on the wow-factor of this year’s iPhone and such.
  5. How can something called DRIP be a good thing?
    This acronym refers to dividend reinvestment programs, which address the biggest issue that anyone ever has with money: if it’s possible to spend it, it’s more likely to get it spent. DRIP stands for dividend reinvestment program, in which stock dividends, rather than being paid to the shareholder, are instead used to buy more shares of the same stock.
  6. What’s a split?
    This word means that a share of stock has been broken into more shares that cost less, and is used to keep the price of shares affordable. If a company’s stock, selling at $100 per share, is split two for one, the holder of one share will wake up one day the owner of two shares that sell for $50 each; the total value never changes in the split, but the price can be pushed up by people who think it matters for some reason. A only example of what stock prices look like when shares are never split is Berkshire Hathaway, as far as I know.
  7. Is it possible to be in the stock market and not be a terrible person?
    Maybe. The real problem is that C corporations — the ones shares in which are most commonly traded on public exchanges — are chartered to make money for shareholders, and directors and officers of such companies will use that as an excuse not to do anything that might slow down the cash, even if it means ignoring practices which are more ethical or sustainable. There are now corporations which are chartered with a mandate to focus on the so-called triple bottom line, which includes not only profit, but people and planet; very few of these B corprorations are publicly traded. However, there are mutual funds the managers of which seek out C corporations which are governed by such ethics. Another way to try to offset damage done by a company while benefiting from its profits is to engage in shareholder activism.
  8. How do I make hella money and fast?
    The best way to make beaucoup bucks insanely fast is to start with a few million already. Like attracts like and compound interest is incredibly powerful, which means that if — like me — you don’t have a lot of money, the more time you can allow your investments to grow the more likely you are to reach that point. Sorry.
  9. What’s the rule of 72?
    This is a simplified formula for determining how quickly an investment will double in value. Divide 72 by the rate of annual return to get the number of years this will take. There are more precise formulas, but this will get you in the ballpark. Keep in mind, however, that a higher rate of return is always tied to a higher chance that the investment will go bust, and all the money will be lost. All magic comes with a price.
  10. What are penny stocks, and how can I get in on that?
    That’s a term for stock which sell for less than a dollar — pennies — per share. Low prices do not necessarily denote bargains, however, and while the potential to make a lot of money when such a stock rises in price can be huge, these are companies more likely to go bust than boom. That would mean all the money invested goes away. Don’t invest in penny stocks unless you personally understand how that particular company operates. Don’t listen to brokers or sales dudes; if you’re not sure how to thoroughly research a company, then you have no business investing like this.
  11. Stocks and bonds, stocks and bonds. Why are they paired? How are they different?
    If you own shares of stock, you own a piece of the company, and thus a share of its profits. When you hold bonds, you have loaned money to the company which must get paid back before stockholders get their profits in the form of higher share prices or dividends. Bond owners get paid first, but over the long haul stockholders tend to get paid more. The value of stocks can go down as well as up, and it’s possible to lose money if shares are sold when they are very low in price. Bond payments tend to be the same, no matter what, which is why they are described as less risky than stocks: you know how much money you’re going to make, and when.
  12. What are mutual funds?
    These are pools of money into which many people chip, on the theory that going large is the best way to make money investing. Some of these are actively managed, meaning someone is paid to buy and sell; then there are index funds which are managed by a computer program to simply echo the proportions in a particular stock index. Over time, index funds are always the better deal for the little guy, because no money manager can beat the market averages year over year by enough to make up for paying that person’s salary as well as the taxes on that active trading.
  13. Then what’s an index?
    This is a compilation, such as the Dow Jones or the Standard & Poor’s 500, which is intended to represent what’s happening in the market overall. A bunch of stocks (30 in the former example, 500 in the latter) chosen by self-described experts to stand in for the market overall, a particular sector, or even some [theory]. One cannot invest in an index, because it’s a just a number compiled by plugging in the values of the member stocks into an arcane formula, but index funds exist which closely track just about any index ever conceived.
  14. Is it possible to change the system from the inside?
    Not everyone believes this is the case, and an argument against even trying is that one’s time and resources are better spent doing something else. However, I believe that my vote matters, and one path toward changing the system from within is becoming a shareholder activist, an owner of stock who votes those shares to follow one’s conscience at the annual meeting. Most stock shares carry voting privileges, and — this being the beating heart of capitalism — owning more shares means getting more votes. Shareholders may bring matters to the shareholders directly at those meetings, meaning that just owning the stock of a company with a nasty record pretty much guarantees a lot of shareholder-brought actions to impose board term limits, cap CEO pay, increase diversity, and follow higher environmental standards, among others. These resolutions get distributed to all shareholders in advance, along with a recommendation about each one from the directors (which is always AGAINST any proposal they didn’t offer themselves). This is also the way to try to get board members elected who might actually support things like human and non-human rights. It’s not the right choice for every person — particularly those looking for change to happen quickly — but it’s an option I think is worth exploring. With enough people shaking the rafters, something’s going to fall from the eves eventually.

Whether one considers the capital market to be a nexus of evil or the road to abundance, it’s an institution which, like democracy, must be studied by anyone living under its influence, because ignorance always begets suffering. These questions might be a beginning, but what lies ahead is a life of study, an obligation of every citizen. Get to work.

Death sandwich

A sandwich is a thing framed by another thing, with the thing in the middle being the part that matters when it’s being named:  it’s a ham sandwich, not a rye sandwich.  This is why I find the phrase “compliment sandwich” utterly nonsensical; it should be called a criticism sandwich, a putdown hero, an insult slider, or something of that sort.

I can say with confidence that the warm part of this year, for me, has been a death sandwich.

To begin with, my wife and I bought our graves.  It’s the most expensive thing I have ever purchased as a result of writing an article for the Wild Hunt.  Spending is in my nature, which is why I focus a lot of energy on saving.  I bought something pretty much anytime I went on a trip, and any number of items in my possession resulted from an interview I did, like the Hermes oracle cards I got after lunch with Bob Place, the stone divination set I picked up at Changing Times-Changing Worlds, or the steampunk belt with thigh holster I ordered after seeing one at Rites of Spring.  It was when I wrote about my friend Deana Reed, and learned that she was buried in a natural cemetery just one town away from my own, that I knew it was time to invest in some real estate.


Not mine; looks like a neighbor is moving in.

My dear old dad used to say, “Just toss me naked in a ditch,” knowing full well that he had a guaranteed spot in a veterans’ cemetery which wouldn’t allow for that.  I’m not entirely sure he was joking, and regardless I find the idea appealing.  Certainly more appealing than embalming, or cremation (which can also include embalming), which are really quite nasty from an environmental perspective.  Now that we have the deed to two adjacent plots in the wooded natural burial section of this local cemetery, I’m that much closer to getting away with it.  Certainly I cannot be buried with any artificial fibers or plastic crap, and my only container options are a pine box or just a board.  If I outlive my wife, I think I can probably get away with naked, but it would certainly take careful planning.

A sandwich, I already noted, is a thing framed by another thing.  Purchasing a grave is not death, and even if it was this is the bread, not the meat.  The meat of a death sandwich is death.

I told my mother about my new purchase when we took our annual pilgrimage to my father’s grave around Memorial Day, when the flags are everywhere.  As was her wont, she looked at me like I had two heads, not for planning ahead (she’d planned and paid for her entire funeral some 15 years ago), but for my enthusiasm.  I was thinking her reaction two months later, when after a month of drifting back and forth through the veil, I was again at that cemetery to commit her mortal remains and rejoin them with those of her beloved husband.  I and others shepherded her as best we could in the weeks ahead, and I continued that work with offerings of tea with milk as she transitioned to being an ancestor.  She was ready to get to work in short order.

A death sandwich is death framed by another thing.  The thing which sandwiches death for me this year is the idea of death.  In the spring I purchased a grave, acknowledging death, and this autumn I acknowledge it again by inviting my co-religionists to honor Haides with words.

October 31 is when submissions open for The Host of Many: Hades and his Retinue, and it is long in coming.  I frequently see posts from Hellenic polytheists grumbling about portrayals of Hades in popular culture, or expressing frustration that his emerging cult doesn’t have a lot of historical sources upon which to be built.  This is an opportunity to change that.  At the same time, I know there are a huge number of underworld deities and spirits who might never see the cover of an anthology; they deserve honor, and I dearly hope to see as many submissions about these lesser-known gods as I receiver for Hades himself.

Do the research.  Write the paper.  Script the ritual.  Offer the prayer.  Help me finish making my death sandwich.

Nothing to see here

Drama is a savory thing which feeds the human spirit.  That’s evident in the fact that my last post referencing the Wild Hunt received more than 15 times the traffic of anything I write about honoring gods and other spirits, about journalism or theology or politics or even whatnot.  I do appreciate the attention, but I hope that those who stop by, popcorn in hand, are willing to hang out a bit and learn something.


I’m encouraging my readers to actually consider my contributions to Pagan thought and action, because there’s nothing to see in terms of the Wild Hunt.  While the process of my leaving was awkward rather than graceful, my support for Pagan journalism — including specifically the largely thankless work provided by the journalists who publish at the Wild Hunt Sunday through Thursday — is full-throated and unabated.

Somehow the extra time which opened up by not writing that extra news article every week, and editing three more, has not translated into an expanded blogging presence.  Instead, I’ve been developing an ancestral dream incubation ritual to be enacted this month, creating tools for political magic, sharpening my divination skills, creating a product line for my languishing Etsy store, and finalizing two book proposals.

Those of you who know me personally — and especially those who have expressed public dissatisfaction with my work while declining to engage with me directly — are invited to consider your understanding of how hospitality works.  I’m happy to speak about my experiences and what I’ve learned with individuals, but neither Facebook nor any other mass-broadcast online platform is suitable for that exchange of ideas.

Supporting Pagan journalism includes spending money on it, as well as educating oneself about journalism in general.  I wholeheartedly encourage my co-religionists and all who identify themselves as Pagan, polytheist, or Heathen to do both.  We have the voice we deserve.

Real money magic: my vote matters, your vote matters.

The miasma which leads a sizable majority of Americans not to bother to vote is the idea, “my vote doesn’t matter.”  I know better:  I saw a local race decided by one vote, and the loser didn’t vote for himself.  My vote matters.

Received yesterday:  this sigil, which I then empowered to pull that cloud of miasma from the eyes of any who see it by conveying this message:  “my vote matters.”

Put this sigil on paper money.  Money is a very effective tool for political magic, as the present state of affairs should demonstrate clearly.  I’m trying to put it over George’s third eye, as well as the eye of the pyramid.  (I hope to get it better centered with practice.)

[Sara Mastros.]

A little to the left . . .

An invocation to use, if one is the invoking sort:

For the good of the polis,
may the mist be made clear.
For the good of the people,
see the vote, hold it dear.

The more this is shared, the more it is implemented, the more effective it will be.  Reblog, share, retweet, slap the image on Instagram or run it around Tumblr.  Social media shares are good for rousing individuals out of torpor, but actually putting it on money works the spell on a deeper level that addresses how equating money with speech has distorted our political system.