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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Clarification


I’d hoped never to comment on this nonsense again, but as there is at least one Wild Hunt columnist who clearly believes he (who by his own admission is not a journalist) has the facts straight about my resignation, and his column remains despite my specific request that it be retracted, I do have something more to say.

The blogger who has been allowed to publish “a public apology from the Wild Hunt” demonstrates that he is, indeed, not a journalist.  After praising a retraction (which, after the last time she pulled an article due to pressure, the managing editor swore to me would never happen again; she regretted the clear hit to the agency’s credibility and her clear claims of support for freedom of the press), the blogger writes this:  “The Wild Hunt is also working on internal changes to ensure that journalistic standards are more consistently maintained and has said that they will report back on that aspect sometime next week.”

The use of the word additionally shows a clear intent to imply that there is causality between the two events; I presume the writer sincerely believed this to be the case when it was written.  I was not asked if this was the case, and to the best of my knowledge no one else was, either.  The post was not changed even after the sad little acknowledgement of that fact was posted as an afterthought.

I’ve been told that as he is an independent contractor there is no way to control his actions, but I am surprised that position was taken in light of the fact that his post title deigns to speak for the organization.  That is inconsistent with the fierce brand protection I myself observed during my four years there.

The following comment was posted on Facebook, but as I have no control over whether it remains I repeat it here:

The decision to resign emerged over weeks, if not months. I was asked flat-out if I intended to do so the day the article was published; at the time I was unaware it was going to be pulled, and would not have resigned under those circumstances. Further, in the interest of a smoother transition I offered to stay on for an unspecified amount of time, but the managing editor (who asked if I was resigning) opted to make the decision effective immediately. According to her bio on the site, the managing editor “has taught public relations techniques at Cherry Hill Seminary.” Readers are welcome to draw their own conclusions about the timing of the resignation, and what message it may have been intended to convey.

My life is already blossoming with new possibilities to work in robust, professional environments that will likely get me paid far more than the $25 per article which is all Pagan support of the Wild Hunt will allow.  On that note, I leave my own readers with this thought:

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support Pagan journalism. I leave the determination of whether this journalist was supported, and otherwise how that support might manifest, to the reader.

A Mystic Guide to Cleansing and Clearing: a review


Genre: Wicca

Title: A Mystic Guide to Cleansing and Clearing

Author: David Salisbury

In this work, Salisbury draws on research into several traditions, seeking to distill the essence of cleansing practices for use in a Wiccan context. In that, I believe he succeeds. Moreover, based on the one tradition he references with which I am deeply familiar, I daresay he provides an accurate overview of how these practices are used, and is mindful of concerns about cultural appropriation which get raised more and more frequently in these cases. In five relatively quick chapters, the author touches upon tools used in cleansing, practices for cleansing people and places, how to deal with negative energy situations such as crossing and hexes, and his understanding of spirit entities which might be problematic.

Salisbury’s selection of tools is substantial, and I like the fact that he acknowledges what he’s used and what he’s simply researched. There is special attention paid to herbs, and the discussion around the usage of animal parts in a respectful and legal manner touches on one of those subjects we Pagans are trying a lot harder to get right. He observes that “bones are the gemstones of our ancestors,” and if harvested respectfully can be powerful cleansing tools.

The book also has chapters on self- and house cleansing, as well as one which covers hexes, crossings, and curses, and another focused on spirit entities. The author remains unapologetic about his Wiccan framework (the book is rife with clever rhyming couplets, for example), but that actually makes it easier to translate the techniques for another tradition. Specificity is strength. Far too many Pagan authors seek to be overly inclusive in their writing, making it nearly useless for anyone. This is not such a book.

Instead, the reader gets specific spells and recipes, and is not left wondering why any particular ingredient is included because the author has included that information. A lot of the books which came out before the turn of the century were either written with the expectation that the reader had a certain education in magical correspondences, or would simply accept the author’s mantle of expertise without question. Salisbury assumes nothing, and that makes him a stronger expert than any of the big names from the 1980s and ’90s. When authors make assumptions, readers do as well, and they’re often not flattering ones.

Nevertheless, this book might not be incredibly helpful to a reader focused solely on the practices from within a single tradition, unless that tradition happens to be the one the author practices. Since no such promise is made or implied, this doesn’t bother me one whit.

For those who are seeking to fill in gaps in their historic practices which have opened over time, as well as those simply interested in a comparative understanding, A Mystic Guide to Cleansing & Clearing is a decent beginner’s overview.

Title: A Mystic Guide to Cleansing and Clearing
Author: David Salisbury
Publisher: Moon Books
ISBN: 978-1-78279-623-7

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.