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.

Finding Ares

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Ares icon created by PT Helms

It is no small thing to find a god, for deities are as elusive as a reflection on water, as insubstantial as the mote which dances before the eyes, as subtle as the shift of late winter to early spring. Many religions teach of a “God” or “Goddess” who is imbued in all things, or oversees each and every working of the universe, or whose omnipresence transcends the concepts of “within” and “without” and makes those words feel meaningless; while such teachings suggest that a deity which is everywhere might be easy to find, it is remarkably difficult to focus on the everywhere. Gods, while rarely far from us, can be easily overlooked.

Indeed, the very decision to seek out a god is a difficult one to make: this is a secular world, and belief in the unseen increasingly is looked at askance. Aside from religious services, citizens of the western world are counseled to trust their eyes, to be pragmatic, to shunt aside their emotions and focus on rational experience. Any deity, from a monotheistic father to the god of a tiny spring which wells forth only once in a generation, can have its voice lost in the cacophony of marketing messages, career choices, and family dynamics of 21st century life.

So it is no small thing to find a god, especially if one is not seeking to do so. It is no small thing to find a god, particularly if the god one seeks is not the god who wishes to be found.

I was not seeking a god, nor a religion. I believed I had both: I was Pagan and I embraced the pantheistic, multi-faced One through many faces. I was not Wiccan, although some of their teachings resonated with me. I understood that all deities were simply aspects that my limited mind could best accept and relate to, with distinct personalities and histories. My beliefs were broad, inclusive, and only slightly more meaningful to me than the Catholic teachings of my youth. Intellectually, the message of love and healing was important, but it didn’t speak to my emotional self. Paganism became more of a label than a life for me.

No subtle nudge would have roused me from this torpor; no whisper at the edge of my awareness could get me to take step back and reconsider my path. I was entrenched in a life as full of activity as it was devoid of meaning, a comfortable place in which a man to find himself.

Only a roar as loud as nine thousand men could have gotten my attention, and only a god that terrified me by virtue of what he represented could utter that cry. I heard it from the bottom of the pit into which I had crawled I knew not when. I heard it even as I became aware of the maggots gently consuming my diseased self, and preparing to consume those parts which remained healthy. I heard it with my ears, my eyes, my follicles, my soul. I heard it, and I obeyed.

Get up.

Get up, and show some respect for this gift you have been given.

Do you think I, steeped in the blood of the slain and crusher of the defeated underfoot, know nothing of cowardice, nothing of failure? You are wrong. When the faithful lift their craven thoughts up to me, unable to continue without my aid, I take them up and wrap them like a cloak about my shoulders. Your failings, your weakness, your whispered words of self-defeat, your limiting beliefs; these are my mantle as I wade into battle.

You, who feel the weight of all your mistakes and missed opportunities, know nothing of the burdens I carry for you and your kind. Without me, you would have been ground to dust long ago. I shoulder it precisely because you are frail, you are mortal, you are a passing mote blowing hither and yon.

Get up, for you are strong enough to carry what is left to you. If it remains too much, than either you hold back my due or you protest too much.

Get up.

I got up. I obeyed: studying Hellenismos, discovering my patron and others among the theoi to whom I am drawn, and eventually taking up the mantle of priest after some years of preparation and instruction.

Ares has not spoken to me since. I still make offerings to him as I am led, but to him I have sworn no oaths. He was and is my gatekeeper, and I feel him near when my blood boils or runs like ice, but for the most part his work on me appears to be done. The way was opened with violence and fury, and only now am I able to do work of healing, and peace.

The specious nature of hate crime

hate (2)Being a journalist means being paid to learn new things, which is why being a Pagan journalist finds me learning a whole lot about issues that matter in our overlapping polytheist and Pagan communities.  This week, I learned just how hard it can be to get something prosecuted as a hate crime.  Dominique Smith feels like a hate-crime victim, but local police aren’t ready to make that call.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of hate-crime laws because they smack of thoughtcrime, but I thought they were at least an effective tool, albeit a questionable one.  The motivation behind these laws is laudable, but now I’m left wondering if they serve any valid purpose at all.

Who’s next?

black-630558_1280Writing about the bomb threats to Jewish community centers was made me realize that the hate hammer falls in certain ways.  People who look different than we do are the easiest targets, hence bigotry against people of color in a melanin-impaired society.  Those wandering through, including the Romani and the Jews, have also been harried quite a bit.  That certainly includes, in the United States, the many immigrants and aliens who look different.  Men who love men and women who love women might look like other neighbors and maybe even grown up here, but they’re just not like us.  I believe that crimes against Pagans are only less common because we are, and because the number of us who allow our religion to publicly define us is far, far fewer still.

Centuries of moving toward tolerance and acceptance and we still fear the other.  Tribalism exists in all humanity, and seems to be triggered not just by fear, but by fear triggered in larger groups.  As I observed to a friends recently, we tend to best express our worst attributes when we gather in big numbers.  Looting, pillaging, war, oppression; these thrive in the mob.  In groups we see how little evolution has touched our deepest selves, no matter how much work we have each made individually.

To me, this is just one more argument for depopulation on a massive scale.  We do not yet know how to stop hate, and the best interim solution is more space between us.

For my many gods

Follower of gods and friend of mortals
let this work be shared with you and by you,
for as offering to the deathless ones
I pray it shall ever more delight their ears.

Begin always with Hestia,
first among those who dwell on high,
who walks as one with or beside
the wakeful Caffeina, bringing the gods to mind.

Remember too life-bearing Gaia and expansive Ouranos,
who began many things, and Eos, who greets the day,
the good spirit of the home
and any whose oaths expect it.
In this way let all beginnings be begun.

Honor thundering Zeus,
his brothers both kindly and implacable
Hera in whose eyes all love abounds
as well as fruitful, questing Demeter,
for in this way are the six remembered.

Forget not to honor the sire Kronos
from who seed those strong ones sprang
and beloved mother Rhea, who loves her children.
Offer as well to their holy kin:
Hekate, who walks all paths,
all-seeing Helios and dynamic Selene,
broad-shouldered Atlas, Themis the just,
and their brethren, known and unknown.

To high Olympos cast your thoughts
and lift your voice thereto.
Cast praises before foam-clad Aphrodite,
brothers Hephaistos and Ares, whose hands
differ in their tasks and from the craft
of aegis-bearing Athene. To Dionysos, wine,
and grant the twins their due lest truth
be turned to unwelcome purpose.
Whisper too sweet words in the good god’s ear
and know he will bear them to all.

The world is full of gods, good friend,
and to these too make offerings just.
The wild god, the healing son,
the cleansing and purifying holy ones.
Life-affirming Eros, laboring Ponos,
Ploutos who blesses without judgement,
the god of each river crossed or drawn from,
as well as Kairos, in his due time.

Be they daimones or deities,
honor spirits of place, and know your own.
Celebrate neighborhood nymphs,
spirits of home and health,
and that ancient one who calls cannabis home;
mint of the path, stream in the park,
Nikthing who guides through light and through dark.

Remember too those foreign gods who bear
prosperity close to home: Buddha and Hotei,
in their own way. The dead are countless and too often unnamed
but honor the ancestors:
those of blood,
those of spirit,
and all the priests who ever paid honor
to the deathless gods.

If not forsworn to acknowledge the past
then honor again the gods that thou hast:
the eponymous ones, Goddess and God,
the horned one, the Green Man,
the traveler unshod.

Honor the gods, good friend,
not because of what they may bring
— though their blessings are without end —
but because they are the gods
and no other reason is required.


Herein is the hymn to my many gods. Will you write one as well? Submissions close June 21, 2017.

Instruction

Orpheus to Mousaios
translated by Athanassakis

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Friend, use it to good fortune
Learn now, Mousaios, a rite mystic and most holy;
A prayer which surely excels all others.
Kind Zeus and Gaia, heavenly and pure flames of the Sun,
Sacred light of the Moon  and all the Stars;
Poseidon too, dark-maned holder of the earth,
Pure Persephone and Demeter of the splendid fruit,
Artemis, the arrow-pouring maiden,
And kindly Phoibos, who dwells on the sacred ground of Delphoi.
And Dionysos, the dancer, whose honors among the blessed gods are the highest.
Strong-spirited Ares, holy and mighty Hephaistos,
And the goddess foam-born to whose lot fell sublime gifts;
And you, divinity excellent, who is king of the Underworld.
I call upon Hebe, and Eileithyia, and the noble ardor of Herakles,
The great blessings of Justice and Piety,
The glorious Nymphs and Pan the greatest,
And upon Hera, buxom wife of aegis-bearing Zeus.
I also call upon lovely Mnemosyne and the holy Muses, all nine,
As well as upon the Graces, the Seasons, the Year;
Fair-tressed Leto, divine and revered Dione,
The armed Kouretes, the Korybantes, the Kubeiroi,
Great saviors, Zeus’ ageless scion,
The Idaian gods, and upon Hermes, messenger and herald of those in heaven;
Upon Themis too, diviner of men I call,
And on Night, oldest of all, and light-bringing Day:
Then upon Faith, Dike, blameless Thesmodoteira,
Rhea, Kronos, dark-dwelling Tethys,
The great Okeanos together with his daughters,
The might of preeminent Atlas and Aion,
Chronos the ever-flowing, the splendid water of the Styx,
All these gentle gods and also Pronoia,
And the holy Daimon as well as the one baneful to mortals;
Then upon the divinities dwelling in heaven, air, water,
On earth, under the earth  and in the fiery element.
Ino, Leukothea, Palaimon giver of bliss,
Sweet-speaking Nike, queenly Adresteia,
The great king Asklepios who grants soothing,
The battle-stirring maiden Pallas, all the Winds,
Thunder, and the parts of the four-pillared Cosmos.
And I invoke the Mother of the immortals, Attis and Men,
And the goddess Ourania, immortal and holy Adonis, beginning and end, too
Which is the most important,
And ask them to come in a spirit of joyous mercy
To this holy rite and libation of reverence.

Review of The Book of Practical Candle Magic

candle-magicGenre: Magic

Title: The Book of Practical Candle Magic

Author: Leo Vinci

Overview: There comes along every once in awhile a Pagan book that includes an example ritual so insanely intense that, as a reader, I must question if the author had ever personally attempted it. Donald Tyson’s Rune Magic has incredibly detailed requirements at every turn, and Advanced Circle Magick by Kirk White includes a high magic ritual with such precise choreography that it might require the services of Cirque de Soleil to execute. The novena ritual in Leo Vinci’s Book of Practical Candle Magic, however, is the stuff of legend. Whether or not Vinci ever tried, the novena is the sort of ritual some people will take on as a challenge. In its most intense form, the practitioner must maintain a series of candles, each lit at a precise time, continuously over 49 or more hours. It’s probably going to be more, because the candles should be allowed to go out on their own.

This is either hardcore ritual magic, or utter BS. There is a lot of information here about how to actually make one’s own candles (which can be verified by simply following the instructions) and about magical correspondences (which can be verified through experience or consulting of other resources); the author could well have tried this marathon working, but I’m unlikely to discover more about it firsthand. From a purely hands-on perspective (lighting and extinguishing candles, laying them out, the times of day and week and month which are best for particular kinds of candle magic), this book is chock-full of information. It also includes an explanation about the nature of symbolism which I could have used when writing essays in high school.

The Book of Practical Candle Magic is a re-release; the book has a copyright date of 1981, with 2015 marking the first Red Wheel/Weiser edition. While this may not ring true, 1981 was a long time ago in the minds of a great deal of people; to those in the millennial generation and younger, that’s indistinguishable from the days of Blavatsky’s Theosophistical Society. One of the ways this book shows its age is in the fact that it was titled before it became popular to spell “magic” with six letters, resolves no confusion whatsoever, because it both leaves the pronunciation unchanged, and has led some authors to unfortunate word choices such as “magickian.” However, that’s enough digression for now.

Bottom line, this slender volume is packed with a lot of information about candles and their magical uses. Much of it corresponds to information I have gleaned elsewhere, or simply resonates as true. That’s good, given its lack of sources (see the quibbles section below). Much of it can be verified by experience: there is an entire section on how to make one’s own candles, and that technical information alone makes this book worth owning. The esoteric information would certainly benefit from some footnotes; if not to cite sources, at least to place it in context. Personally, I’d rather see it written, “I heard this information from a guy named Frankie I met on the Jersey shore,” rather than nothing at all.

To follow through on all the example rituals will be a costly affair: candles are only to be used once, and most of these rituals use a lot of candles. If you’re not making your own, buy in bulk. That’s no crack on the author; it’s just the cost of working magic.

Quibbles: There is no section about the author, to explain from whence his expertise springs; the reader will have to judge that by the text alone. That wouldn’t be an issue if Vinci made even a passing attempt at citing sources. Perhaps readers in 1981 were more trusting than I am today, or less curious about how knowledge is passed around.

While I very much appreciate that there specific instructions about making candles herein, the author asserts that coating white candles in the relevant color is generally okay. With that detail, I generally disagree; Vinci does provide specific cases wherein I do not dispute the value of the technique, e.g. dipping the tip of a colored candle in black to focus its negative qualities.

Quirks: The Abrahamic influence is a bit more overt than one might find in a good Hoodoo book; references to angels especially can be found every few pages. There is no doubt in my mind that this system can be adapted to align with all manner of beings not contemplated in Christian or Jewish mythology, but the frequent references may be jarring to some Pagan readers. Refreshingly, the wording throughout suggests that the author is aware of this fact. It also suggests he is unapologetic about his own beliefs, as well he should be.

Title: The Book of Practical Candle Magic
Author: Leo Vinci
Publisher: Weiser Books
ISBN: 978-1-57863-578-8