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: taking stock

The successful money worker is one who is able to look unflinchingly at the money on hand,  or lack thereof, to prepare for the future.  The last day of the standard calendar year is an especially good time to evaluate the situation, as it coincides with other financial milestones for many, such as the end of the tax year.  At first glance, I’m ending the year with almost nothing available to spend.

I consider this a victory, because it means my money magic is working.  Much of it is designed to siphon money out of my day-to-day life, ensuring that it will be there when I need it. Looking more deeply, I discover:

  • My weekly dollars got in an extra week this year, because Dec. 31 is a Sunday, the day I work that spell, which on paper yields $1,431.  That means a fireplace insert, something I’ve been working toward for about six years, will soon be part of our home.
  • That phantom extra week is echoed oddly in my daily cents spell; according to my seemingly careful records of what to save each day, 2017 was 275 days long.  Not sure what actually went sideways there, but it means I’ll have that much more to spend on natural cemetery plots for my spouse and I.
  • I’ve been practicing fiver diversion since March or April, and only in the past few days did I learn that people are using this as a year-long “$5 bill challenge.”  First of all, lame name.  Secondly, I’ll count up now since this money is also going toward the graves; the $400 I now have could have been a bunch more.

Working with physical, tangible money is often a good way to start.  I also have electronic money stuffed in savings accounts, such as everything from years past I’ve saved for the fireplace insert.  I close out 2017 with a good start on an emergency fund, and can focus more in coming years on bolstering a retirement picture which is still pretty scary.

Real money magic: legal tender

“This note is legal tender, for all debts public and private.” That is the message written on all federal reserve notes, the paper currency produced in the United States. “Legal tender” is a phrase used in law to indicate that something without intrinsic value (paper currency) must be accepted as if it does have value; in the U.S., the rationale for imposing that requirement is that the bills are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the federal government.

In the 20th century, currencies around the world were shifted to this debt-backed system (which might also be called fiat currency, non-convertible notes, and greenbacks) from precious-metal standards, which were seen as actually holding back economic growth rather than regulating it. It’s the largest, and arguably most successful, foray into debt-backed money ever attempted. What it depends upon in part to succeed is the confidence of users that the money they accept they will thereafter be able to spend on a comparable amount of goods or services. Calling it “legal tender” is, in a sense, an official vote of confidence. There was a time when such votes of confidence were phrased as a promise to pay the bearer in gold or silver, but now all that’s needed to keep the system moving is that phrase, printed on federal reserve notes.

Thus far, that promise has inspired enough confidence in some Western nations to keep the money usable. Well, the promise and the implied force of law behind it. What happens if that legal requirement is not universal?

It actually isn’t even remotely universal. Most consumer transactions, as it happens, are not debts and therefore don’t count. Judges have further whittled away at the idea by determining that merchants don’t have to accept all currency; a bus driver is thus allowed to demand exact change, and convenience-store clerks are within their rights when they turn away large bills. Perhaps most egregious are local justices who have determined that they do not need to accept U.S. currency for fines, despite these being the very essence of the word “debt.” In those courtrooms, expect to be asked to pay by certified check, money order, or bank card, each of which has its own associated fees.

As this notion of cash having some value is gradually eroded, at what point does the notion of government-backed money simply dissolve with it? If the point of legal tender laws is the force citizens to accept government debt as money, what does that even mean in a world where no one has to accept the stuff despite those laws? What it means is that the notion of what’s valid and valued might be changing: electronic money is still backed only by government debt, and it’s accepted everywhere from people who happen to have bank accounts with which to credit it.

On its face, just having electronic money isn’t bad, but electronic money comes as a cost. As I detailed in my review of Curse of Cash, divorcing money from the physical makes it easier to manipulate, making it possible to get projects such as wars paid for without public outcry. It’s also more challenging for people who struggle with money management.

Nevertheless, the law as I understand it applies to physical, paper currency, at least in the United States. Without it there would be nothing but market forces determining if our cash is accepted, or in fact our electronic credits, either. Legal tender laws are on the books to prevent the chaos of having to figure out if the boss’ money could be used to buy groceries, or the necessity of keep currency-exchange apps handy when traveling across state — perhaps county — lines.

The way American laws are written offers a convenient loophole: it’s only debts for which currency is legal tender. That excludes retail transactions, exchanges of money for a good or service right now. That’s why a bus driver can refuse anything that isn’t exact change, or a convenience-store manager can decline to accept hundred dollar bills. That’s life under a jurisdocracy (government of attorneys, by attorneys, and for attorneys) in action right there. Never a law was written by a lawyer that isn’t riddled with loopholes.

Debt, however, does include fines levied for breaking laws; it’s part of one’s “debt to society.” Give a call to the local court to see if cash is accepted; it isn’t in my town, and in about half of the towns nearby. I’m told that’s because the justices are liable for money stolen, and rather than learn how to stop hiring criminals (or creating a culture in which stealing is okay), they ban the use of money. One justice told me he believes this is illegal, but until my local court is hit with a lawsuit, that’s never going to change. To that end, I am raising money to sue for the right to pay court fines in cash, as the law requires. The situation as it stands now is unacceptable because it hits the people most likely to accrue such fines with additional costs.

Inconsistent enforcement could be a symptom that legal tender laws are unnecessary, but if that’s the case, they can be rolled back. For now, we’ve got laws, and when they are not enforced consistently it ends up being really unfair to the unbanked, the cash-rich, the undocumented, the homeless, the money-workers, the debt eliminators, and probably many others.

Real money magic: cash money spells

Money spells: who doesn’t love them? From dressing lodestones to scratching off lottery tickets, there’s lots of methods which are supposed to bring money into one’s life. Occasionally I will try out a spell I find online, or actually buy a spell kit, to understand how they’re put together. Along the same lines, I once wrote a column reviewing lottery games; each as is much magic as the other. I find it interesting to deconstruct them, and try to evaluate how effective they are.

There is a class of money spells that I find to be quite effective, to the tune of several thousand dollars that has come into my life because of them. The qualities these spells share include slow development and an emphasis on how money flows. For all it’s associated with earth, money does an awful lot of flowing; whether that’s indicative of water or magma, I’m not yet clear.

Bad news first: if it’s not already clear, lottery tickets don’t make the cut. Sure, there is an opportunity to win beaucoup bucks by playing, but anyone who believes they can wrap their head around just how small that chance is going to be is kidding themselves. I do buy a lottery ticket from time to time, but I do so as an offering to Hermes, and never expect a winner. That way lies madness.

My reference to “slow development” might also be disappointing; if there is magic which showers the user with lots of money within hours or days, I haven’t found it. Money just doesn’t seem to move all that quickly, and it might take a tremendous amount of energy to change that. (I searched high and low for a datum about the physical speed of money to no avail, but I assure readers it’s measured in miles per year, if that fast.)

Nevertheless, there are spells which I have used to good effect in helping me accumulate money. The astute reader might notice a theme.

  • Weekly dollars: On the first Sunday (a day good for money work) of the year, I light my money candle, take out a dollar bill, and recite a prayer to my patron:
Khaire, Poseidon Asphaleios.
Guide the tides around me
so that my efforts here
will secure my future.
I do the same each Sunday thereafter, only increasing the amount of money by a dollar each week. The last Sunday of the year that’s $52 I drop in the pot. Increasing the amount over time makes it doable for me, because I can make adjustments to my spending habits gradually. I’m like the proverbial toad in the pot of water being boiled, and I think most other humans are as well. This is not about ripping the band-aid off; it’s allowing it to drop when it drops. If you’re ready for radical transformation, go for it! This spell is intended for the rest of us.

Spells work better if there is a specific intention; for this one I focus on needs for my home. I am presently working toward a fireplace insert to make a home warmer than 60 degrees in winter affordable; I’m on my fourth annual cycle, and expect to make this offering to Hestia next summer.

  • Daily cents: This is another incremental saving spell, but it focuses on pocket change. I was given a lovely pottery container, and on the first day of the year into it I deposited a penny while saying:
Penny by penny,
cent by cent,
to pay for my funeral
is my clear intent.
I repeat this every day, adding one more cent to the pot daily, meaning that on the last day of the year I’m putting in $3.65. For those not reading closely, the intent I have chosen for this spell is preparing for my own death. First on the list is purchasing plots in a nearby natural-burial cemetery; in future years I’ll set aside money to be used for whatever friffery my survivors decide to put me through on the way to that hole in the ground.
  • Fiver diversion: For about seven months I’ve been avoiding spending five-dollar bills; instead, I put ’em in special money jar I originally prepared for the “daily cents” spell, but proved too small. I have accumulated about $400 thus far, for which I have not stated an intention. Money magic without intention is only for advanced practitioners! Set a goal for every spell; don’t be like me, or you might discover you blow your wad and have nothing to show for it.
  • March of dimes: Pinterest wisdom is that a two-liter soda bottle filled with dimes yields about $700. I haven’t tried this one yet, because we don’t waste enough money on soda to justify the big bottles of the stuff. It’s true that the price per unit is much lower when buying in bulk, but I personally would rather not save money on something this awful. Yes, I drink soda, and I don’t want to have any excuse to think there’s any benefit once it’s past my taste buds. No, I’d rather not feel morally superior about drinking soda, thank you very much.
  • Found money: I pick up pennies in the road. I scoop change out of the lint trap and couch cushions. I discover crisp bills in the pockets of pants I haven’t worn in months. Some of this money was technically mine all along, but either I didn’t miss it or I adapted to its absence. Either way, it’s a blessing to have it in my life and I set this money aside as “luck money,” to be used when times are lean (to counter bad luck) and when celebrating the bounty in life (such as giving to panhandlers or purchasing lottery tickets).

None of these spells have made me rich, but those I’ve used have ensured I have money when I need it most. Some might say that this isn’t drawing money to me, because it’s mostly about money already coming into my life. If capturing the money coming in before it disappears isn’t magic, then why aren’t more people doing it?

Real money magic is part of a wider project, Thrifty Pagan Writings.  If you think this stuff is utterly amazing, please convince me to start a Patreon account.

Rethinking immigration law

My long-held view on immigration is classically Republican, as opposed to the view held by many modern members of that political party: a republic is a nation governed by laws, and if those laws are not enforced there’s nothing left holding that republic together. The modern Republican view is classically American: we don’t like foreigners and will use laws to keep out as many of them as we can, even as our hearts swell with pride when thinking of the Statue of Liberty. I say “classically American” because while the Republican party is presently the home of most xenophobes, hating people who look or sound different is an idea that’s historically right up there with apple pie and “give me your tired.” We love the idea that people want to come here (we’re number one!), but once the neighborhood is packed with folks talking in another language, it’s a different story.

[Wikimedia Commons]

I try to avoid such hypocrisy. Sometimes, I even succeed.

Being a stick-to-my-guns sort of guy, I’ve gotten in a few online tussles with people over my “enforce the law” position, even after I started clarifying that “enforce the law, or change it to a law that you’re going to enforce” is fine by me too.

As I sat watching my local elected officials work out some kind of sanctuary law, listening to the testimony of people who live under threat — often, but not always, deserved — of detainment and deportation, it was very important that I wrap myself in my journalist’s mantle of dispassion. Otherwise, I knew that I could end up writing up my opinions, rather than actually reporting what happened. This is a mantle which often hangs loose about me, but this was one of those times when pulling it tight would be needed to make sure its work was done.

When I wrote the editorial about journalism as ministry, it wasn’t just that I see reporting news as a vital service. When I notice similarities in the way I approach my work as journalist and priest, that means I see serving the gods and speaking the truth to be closely aligned on a sacred level. It is a place from which I deeply listen to discern that truth, to the wagging of tongues and the moving of spirit. What settled over me was an understanding that I needed to let go my righteousness.

I’m surprised that no one in the room that night heard the grating, crunching sound of a paradigm shifting without a clutch. Maybe that falls short in explaining what went on in my head. It’s not that I suddenly understood reasons differently; no, I was just getting new orders and it didn’t really matter what I thought about them. Sometimes divine presence, for me, can be compared to physical sensation: floating, tingly, an emotional response. That was not the case this time; what I got was a thought dropped cleanly into the logic center of my brain.

Zeus is keeper of the law. My respect for law honors he who oversees its enforcement. It was some weeks after my experience before I realized he’d had a hand in reconsidering this question. Yes, Zeus is god of law, but not only mortal law. There are divine laws which also govern my life, and one of them, xenia, he wants me to put before immigration policy. Moreover, he shifted how I might interpret the relationship between host and guest; where I previously would have branded the alien an enemy for disregarding the law, I must evaluate em now as stranger, a person unknown who should be treated with respect and hospitality.

What’s changed? Expectations, more than attitudes. I still feel that a republic — a country governed by laws — should only have laws which are enforced, and that all others should be discarded. I still am likely to bristle a bit when I think about people ignoring the process for immigrating to this nation, rather than working to get it changed. Those thoughts, and the logical sand emotional steps I took to reach those conclusions, were not erased. However, I’m not to act on those opinions. It will take time for my worldview to shift, aligning itself with this directive, if it ever does. All I know for certain is that this particular set of laws is not one I am to defend. Perhaps, like tectonic plates settling after an earthquake, the change will be a gradual one that I scarcely notice. For now, I wait.

Real money magic: acting wealthy

Fake it ’til you make it. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Act in accordance with your will. From the standpoint of motivation, magic, and mental discipline, mindset is everything. I recall a news story from some years ago about professional panhandlers who dressed business casual to hit up the crowd at busy subway stations; they were never rounded up by police officers and told to move along, even when their “profession” was an open secret. The so-called “millionaire next door” doesn’t find protestors in the front yard because e doesn’t have a reputation for using that wealth to exploit.

One does not need to act wealthy to receive large sums of money, and not everyone with money lives the stereotype of monocle and top hat. Nevertheless, I believe there is a connection between one’s financial self-image and the reality underpinning it. Some of those who have nothing don’t wish for more, and some of those with money spend a lot of time worrying about losing it. Who is the wealthier, the person content with what they have or the person is fears being wiped out?

While I am saying that state of mind is connected to actual wealth, it’s certainly not the only factor. Ben Carson, who arguably should not have been surprised by this, was excoriated for saying that poverty is a state of mind. To suggest that is cruel, and possibly even Calvinist. Were mindset the only factor, then there would be no need to help out the poor, because they got that way by choice alone, correct? Hogwash. Even if I believed that financial hardship was entirely controlled by one’s thoughts, there are still good reasons to dispense charity. After all, a poor person might be a god in disguise, curious how one will act when no one else is looking. It’s also a nice thing to do.

The exact nature of the connection between mindset and money is not entirely clear, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored, any more than the connection between positive thinking and physical health should be dismissed. More study is required, but in the meantime there’s little downside to evaluating one’s own limiting thoughts.

I submit that the only person who is not prone to limiting thoughts is a megalomaniac. For the rest of us, they act as a check against life-endangering recklessness. When unchecked themselves, they can become self-destructive. What’s needed to avoid either extreme is mindfulness.

When it comes to money matters, mindfulness starts with paying attention. That is a tall order; money is at the heart of most marital discord for good reason. We develop money habits mostly the same way we develop sexual ethics: our parents, who would prefer someone else do the job, largely allow us to figure it all out through osmosis. Many of us never talk about money until we are trying to pool our resources with other people. The entire culture is pitted against mindfulness, with BUY NOW and SAVE MORE marketing schemes flashing in front of every set of eyeballs. (Here’s a little tip about that: if you didn’t have the extra in the first place, spending less on a purchase isn’t “saving” money. Saving involves actually putting the money somewhere safe.)

Acting wealthy isn’t about conspicuous consumption, because the smart money isn’t spent on clothes and jewelry, at least in my culture. Americans do love to flaunt wealth they do not have, but that is not acting wealthy. True wealth, monetary or otherwise, is its own reward.

Real money magic is part of a wider project, Thrifty Pagan Writings.  If you think this stuff is utterly amazing, please convince me to start a Patreon account.