Mysteries of the bull

Dear Poseidon,

This year’s vigil is at an end.  All that remains is to print out the rituals and hymns to preserve in my book of practice.  All that’s physical, at least.  There is much I need to ponder, as well.

I know you exposed me to some of your mysteries.  For a writer, that’s not difficult to discern; I tried writing down what you taught me, and then I tried to make sense of the words after the fact.  Curiously, while I recognize that nothing coherent can be made of what I scrawled upon the page, that gibberish rekindles the fire you lit in my mind.  The full understanding washes over me, triggered but not described by the letters I penned in the moment.  Perhaps that was the purpose of the ear of corn to initiates of Eleusis.

Not all you revealed slips entirely free of language.  I now have some inkling of your consort Posedeia, and recognize that her being all-but-forgotten may have been by design.  Others may know something of she who was lost to history, or the impossible child which she did — and did not — bear you.

[Michelle Young.]

Frankly, I expected none of this.  This is the Vigil for the Bulls, after all, and bulls are about which I was prepared to ponder.  On that topic, I am gobsmacked.

Well I know the myth of the Tauros Kretaios, the magnificent bull which Minos asked of you to ensure his kingship.  Had he but sacrificed it as he was expected, many significant events would never have been spun out by the Moirae.  Now I hold a new version of that tale in my head, one which adds depth to Minos’ betrayal, and a bittersweet dimension to all which resulted from his desire to own that beast, rather than cede it back to you.

I was led to believe that this is a vigil at the intersection of politics and practice, an opportunity to bear witness to the grief you feel over the terrible choices humans have made.  I did not understand that joining a god in grief opens pathways to other regrets.  I did not understand that to share your sorrow is to bear my own.  I did not understand that I might gain from this service.

The ocean is heavy, and the earth heavier still.  Never could I bear the full weight you carry, Poseidon; Atlas himself might shy from that burden.  That you allowed me to even glimpse the scope of what is upon your vast shoulders is both an honor and a challenge.  I pray I am worthy of both.

Your humble priest,
Terentios

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Offering of the bull

I’ve been preparing for the Vigil for the Bulls for about ten months now, as compared to the week or two I’ve invested in years past.  I already know the vigil will have far-reaching consequences in my life.

Even as I was wrapping up last year’s vigil, I had a sense that I wanted to offer something more than my time, my energy, wine and incense.  A couple of months later I hit upon the perfect thing:  a bull.

a wooden model approximating a bull skeleton standing before a large, blue-bound book emblazoned with a trident

Book and bull.

Part of why I sit this vigil is because of the senseless spectacle of death which takes place in Pamplona each day after the bull run.  These are animals being chased through a screaming crowd to the corral from which they will face near certain death in the bullfighting ring.  It is essentially the opposite of the purpose sacrifice fills.

Sacrificing a bull in an ancient Hellenic city-state meant that there was a lot of meat passed around, mostly to people who didn’t get much of it.  The meat from a bullfighting victim is sold to high-end restaurants, and commands a premium price because of its rarity.  Moreover sacrifice is an offering — a big one — which is all about the gods.  Bull running and fighting is a spectacle designed to celebrate danger, violence, and bloodshed, and which is all about the people.  If a god dwells in those temples, the participants seem unaware.  Certainly no god is being given a share of these deaths.

These other bulls meet there end in a way which is anything but holy. By making a votive offering of a bull during the vigil, I stand for a right relationship with the gods, as well as with these animals and other beings.  Yes, the bull and I hang from the same food chain, but as an animist I seek a more respectful relationship, even with those beings I must eat.

This will be an offering that stands counter not only to bullfights, but to factory farms, and the unnatural disconnection from that food chain their presence has fostered.  When I burn it has yet to be determined; I’ll be staying in a hotel the last couple of nights of the vigil, and setting midnight fires in the courtyard might be frowned upon.

Mystic South workshops

It is my honor to be presenting this year at Mystic South, rubbing elbows with people far more learned than myself.

mystic-south-1200-banner

On my slate is a workshop and two rituals:

  • Thrifty Pagan Workshop.  Spells, rituals, and prayers around money are incredibly common, but if they work, why aren’t all the people who use them wealthy? Some money magic just doesn’t keep it real because it doesn’t allow space to act in accordance with the will. Perhaps it’s difficult to act accordingly when it comes to money because very little is taught about how to handle and manage money in the first place.In this workshop, learn about the thrift. The word is now mostly associated with discount stores and boy scouts, but as a value it can provide a sound basis for money management and magic alike.
  • American Flag Blessing.  The American flag is a powerful unifying symbol for the United States, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use a boost from time to time. This ritual is intended to bless official American flags in the hope that all who see them will also see what they have in common with their neighbors and others who live in this country. Lore about the flag will also be shared.Participants are encouraged to bring American flags — any that has ever been the official flag still counts as one — for this blessing. Terentios will also accept flags which cannot be repaired for respectful retirement in a Pagan ceremony which will take place later this year as it requires fire, not a good fit with the inside of a hotel.
  • Quaker Worship.  In Quaker practice, no tools, rituals, or leaders are required to commune with the divine. Instead, they gather to worship in silence, which is broken occasionally when spirit moves someone to share a message aloud as vocal ministry. Join Terentios, a “convinced friend,” who will facilitate this deep and powerful form of worship.

Honoring a hunter

Great goddess Artemis,
mistress of all wild things,
know that Peregrine is one of your own
and receive him now into your care.

Hear how this fierce hunter
has made himself ready in your honor;
of his adventures and deeds and kills
more numerous than paws can count.

Many a day Peregrine roamed his lands
first in the shadow of matchless Myrlyn
before that one vanished in the night,
and then carrying on the legacy himself.

Mole and vole and mouse,
and the flying ones, too
knew fear and death
in grasp of barn-born paws.

Stalking seas of dry food,
a delicacy taken from him years past,
Peregrine found himself ensnared
farther from home than ever before.

You smiled upon him then,
keen-eyed Artemis,
and guided him home
to live out his days.

No scuffle with another
would stay him from the outdoors,
and though weather limited his time there,
rare was the day he never passed your shrine.

Ruling his pride,
training his humans,
running down his prey,
claiming his spot in the sun:

in these Peregrine has excelled,
leader of the hunt,
and as he transitions now,
those qualities he brings to you.

May he be accorded the honor he deserves,
the snuggles he desires,
the crunchy treats and catnip
and days by the roaring fire forevermore.

We can no longer care for him in this world.
May he be welcome full-throated in the next.

Peregrine at rest 20160216.jpg

Peregrine Ward (spring 2006-May 24, 2018)

Procession obsession

Everybody loves a parade.

I cannot find an attribution for that quote, but the sentiment is surely ancient. There’s something about a procession of people, vehicles, and sometimes animals in a line down a road that makes people want to come out and watch. It’s an old, old concept; there are references to “triumphal processions” dating back thousands of years, for example, and the same sense of celebration is captured in ticker-tape parades held today. While the purpose of any particular march might not sit well with each observer, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that overall, everybody loves a parade.

The religion I practice, Hellenismos, has parades — we also call them “processions” — baked right in. Rather than setting sacred space by casting a circle or by sanctifying a building (although the latter is a laudable goal), today we proceed to the temple or shrine as a way to alter consciousness. I did something similar when I was an active Gaiaped (backpacking Pagan) by touching trees along the trail I was hiking. It wasn’t sufficient to commune with any particular tree, but instead helped me get in tune with the trail as a whole.

I happen to live in a community wherein parades are a disproportionately big deal. The biggest is the one on Halloween, when there are nearly as many people walking down Main Street as live in this community. That’s not the only one, though: there’s the pride parade, one on Memorial Day (the real one, mind you, rather than the sad Monday substitute), a celebration of Little League players, and one that happens on Palm Sunday. Once or twice there was something called a “Phool’s Parade,” which didn’t last either due to poor weather in April and May, or maybe because of the odd spelling.

What I see are three important pillars for parades in my life: they are an ancient way of gathering the people, they are a sacred part of traditions I follow, and they are woven deeply into the culture of my community. Nevertheless, it did not occur to me that New Paltz Pagan Pride, first and foremost, needed to be a parade. That notion arose for Anton Stewart, praised be his name, for it’s the parade that shall set apart this pride festival from all others held on behalf of those who follow a Pagan path.

All things come at a price, however. With few exceptions, organizers of parades in New Paltz — at least the big ones, which involve stopping traffic rather than following the sidewalk — must pay not only for a permit, but for the police officers’ time as well. That’s not an unreasonable request, but it is one that can easily run until four digits. Throw in the (refundable) cleaning deposit for the park, and you’re looking at a couple grand in seed money. With some careful fundraising at the event itself (charging vendors, holding raffles, perhaps a silent auction), the money for a second and successive parades should be much easier to acquire than that for the first. Such is the nature of money that it draws itself to itself.

I’m looking to plant that glorious seed.

To that end, I’ve started a crowdfunding campaign to get that first wonderful event on the map. It could well be a glorious addition to the religious diversity of New Paltz, which already features a Palm Sunday parade and in which there are plans for an event called “Praise in the Park.” The typical pattern would be a parade that leads to an event; in this case, it would be a Pagan pride day. I’d like to covens, circles, groves of leafy Druids and hooded adherents of mystery traditions congregate in the parking lot of the middle school before following a police escort down Main Street. Perhaps they’d even build floats! We’d chant and throw flowers as we stepped lively down the hill to Hasbrouck Park, where rituals and lessons would be the theme of the day.

Free events are not free! I’m astounded at how much time and effort goes into finding and coordinating people to pull off a simple ritual and provide more information for the curious. Above and beyond the parade, the park I’m looking at only has a nominal cost ($25 last I checked), but there’s also a $500 deposit against cleanup (which cannot be waived, but can be returned) and the cost of event insurance (which can be waived for groups that have no money). Folks also talk about designing and distributing posters, selling t-shirts, and woo-boy, it adds up quickly.

In a perfect world, the expenses of future years are paid for by the money hauled in during the previous. I do not know how perfect this world might be, but I do know that succeeding even once at parading Pagans down my main street would be boss. Traditionally there’s no admission charge for pride days, which is something I’d like to preserve. I also know that priming the pump is the first step regardless.

Perhaps there’s just no market for this kind of lavish event in this area. There’s anecdotal evidence that there are quite a few Pagans in the region (the village supports a metaphysical shop, and there are others in several nearby communities), but maybe they’re here and deeply closeted, maybe they’re not: we had three metaphysical shops just ten years ago, after all. Perhaps it’s pointless even to try. Perhaps I’m a fool for even thinking about going big or going home.

On the other hand, maybe I should start with something simpler, like a poison ivy festival.

Keeper of the door

Why is it that Poseidon is called Domatites, of the doorway? To what home does he seek entry?

Surely he stands guard at the doorway of Hestia, first and foremost. It is her hearth at which the builder of walls desires to warm his bones, and it is her heart which he desires to shore up and protect.

Hestia rejected a proposal of marriage from Poseidon, a decision which is reflected in the physical world: our homes remain above the waves in all cases, and while the walls are strong from without, they should ever feel inviting to those welcomed within. It is in our nature to need water, but water is not our home.

We do not dwell in the ocean, yet we are never far from it. The similarity of blood and sea water is overstated, but they share a common ancestry. It’s poetic, but still not unreasonable, to say that the ocean flows in our veins.

Another of his epithets, Epaktaios, also speaks to the liminal nature of this god. Here, Poseidon is of the shoreline, between land and sea. It is not difficult to see him standing guard at the shore as Gaiêokhos, holder of the earth; this parallel to guarding the sanctuary of Hestia suggests a role that Poseidon might play in mysteries, barring the door to a space he cannot or will not enter.

Prosklustios, who dashes against, is Poseidon in his power but also Poseidon between. Here he might be seen as the protector of the sacred precincts, testing the walls of Troy to detect any weakness. The theoi are often masters of opposing forces, and this epithet also suggests the wearing down of defenses, the seemingly inevitable destruction which ocean brings to earth. Much is written about how the gods seek to break down and rebuild us better than we were; Poseidon dashes against the walls around our vulnerable parts, seeking or creating an opening through wish to wash away all flaw with the purifying force of the sea.

In another sense, Poseidon stands at the doorway of death. His temple at Tainaron was a psychopompeion, a gate to the realm of Hades. Poseidon is said to have received that place in return for giving Pytho to Apollon, and the temple there was a place of sanctuary, oneiromancy, and necromancy. This suggests he stands between his elder and younger brother, facilitating congress with his siblings; Apollon receiving the premiere oracular function in return for this relationship suggests the nature of the sacrifice involved.

Does this mean that Poseidon does not use oracles? Not necessarily, although those he did use may have been connected to death. Perhaps that was due to the dearth of active worshipers Haides had to choose from, and a need for there to be oracles connected to the underworld as much as Delphi received words spoken on high. This jibes with another gnosis I have had about Poseidon, that he has a preference for mortals past a certain age — maturity level might be a better way to put it — in certain relationships with him. The longer we live, the more likely we are to have stood at the gateway of death ourselves, or in companionship with one who is crossing over. The longer we live, the more likely we are to know loss. The longer we live, the more likely we are to be ready to hear words tinged with death, as the drowning sea is tinged with salt and the gaping vent is tinged with magma.

I have been called to do oracular work for Poseidon, which will take place on the first Thursday following the first Monday of each Athenian month, beginning Hekatombaion of olympiad 699, year 2; I expect this work will last for a full year as a continuation and evolution of my priest-craft. That means the dates will be July 19, August 16, September 20, October 18, November 15, and December 13, 2018; January 17, February 14, March 14, April 11, May 9, June 13, and July 11, 2019. I will post a call for questions ahead of each session.

While I am not permitted to ask for payment for these sessions, oracular work is an intense process which is physically and spiritually demanding on the worker, and as such is a service which has significant value. In short, this is a gift to the community as much as it is to me, and if I am permitted to continue beyond these dates, I plan on charging at that time. For these sessions, an offering to Poseidon by the querent will be all that is required.

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.