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.

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.

IMG_6493.JPG

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.

Drama-icon

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.

Message from Selene

When I was a young man, I looked up into the sky one night while walking my dog, and swore an oath to the moon.

I cannot say exactly what I swore, because I don’t recall. For many years — decades, actually — I didn’t even remember that I had taken such a step at all. I admired the moon, but somehow over the course of time I forgot just how much I had admired the moon in the moment.

July, 2016, it came back to me as she turned my world upside-down. On the occasion in question I was submerged in a bath, reading for the first time Lunessence, a Selene devotional anthology to which I had contributed a piece about her and Poseidon. I turned to the page on which my offering, “Waiting for Selene,” was at that moment first beheld on paper by my own eyes. I read it as if for the first time, drinking in the dynamic I tried to describe between the two deities.

[raptorzysko]

I hadn’t looked at this piece since I had submitted it some months before, and frankly, I was impressed. Sometimes, the words I put together seem like they must be coming from another place than my own mere mind, and this felt like one of those times. Yes, I was impressed, but perhaps being impressed with myself wasn’t exactly what the gods were looking for. That’s when they turned my world upside-down.

The hand doing the tilting, I felt, was definitely Poseidon’s. While she is the gentle-but-irresistible pull of the tides, his is the relentless force of plate tectonics. Looking at my feet extended to the other end of the tub, my brain demanded to know why they instead appeared to be extending up above my head. Kinesthetically I knew they were not, but the information being patched through my eyes disagreed. If the planet’s poles had been reversed without warning I would not have been more disoriented than I was in that moment.

All the while, I understood the physical cause of this sensation to some extent. I have a condition which can alter fluid pressure in my inner ear, resulting in an altered perception of up and down. This is the condition which had been triggered, and I was confident the switch had been flipped by divine hand as a less-than-subtle message. Surrounded by water, reading about the goddess of the celestial body which controls the tides, turning my understanding of gravity inside-out got my attention. In a world of sensory overload, the subtle and quiet does not always make an impression. Sitting in that tub, I had no choice but to pay attention. I could no longer even read.

It was during those moments of extreme disorientation that I recalled an oath, one I had sworn decades earlier, on a night when the moon was full and I was out walking the dog. Things fell into place. I had reneged because I had forgotten not to, and I probably forgot because I didn’t make the oath as specific as it needed to be. If I’d made it more specific I probably would have remembered making it at all, for one. It would have included specifics about what I was offering to give, and whether I was expecting anything in return. If I’d be really thinking, I would have established a time limit, even something as simple as my own mortal life. I could have put in a lot of detail, and that might have prompted me to write it down. Who knows?

Oaths are not for the weak. They are not for the shortsighted. Many Christians avoid them entirely and with good reason, as I found out: they tend to linger about, their power unabated yet unrealized. I wonder what other youthful oaths I swore, which have not yet risen into recollection? What consequences might I endure as I rediscover those promises? Should I engage in preemptive reparations? Is it better to wait until they make their wishes known? Divine hypothetical conjecture seems madness, but ignoring obligations doesn’t feel like much of an alternative.

Corporations are [not] people

I’ve been trying for months to write about why corporations are not people. The reason this is such a struggle, I fear, is because corporations actually are people. They are treated like people by other people; what more is there to know?

When the Citizens United case was decided, it resulted in an outcry of, “corporations are not people!” Other than that specific tag line, however, there’s little to suggest that this is true. Mind you, I do not believe that corporations are people (despite being legally a “body”), but the notion that they are is thoroughly embedded in our language, therefore in our thinking. If we wish to separate personhood for corporateness, we need to start with the words that shape our thoughts.

A few examples of language that empowers faceless entities to be treated as people:

  • Someone taking over a local business in my community posted in a social media group, “We are a newly renovated laundromat in town which offers a variety of services.” I’m familiar with the storefront in question, but wasn’t aware it had signed up for Facebook, or even that the building was the requisite 13 years of age.
  • How did NASA see the space station cross the eclipse? Had the organization become self-aware, or was it actually the dedicated workers there who deserve the credit?
  • With what mouth does Exxon state a thing, or the White House deny an allegation?
  • As a friend of my library, should I invite it over for dinner sometime?
  • Exactly how does a legal fiction, possessing neither hands to write or a mind with which to think, make a decision about my medical coverage, and then notify me about it?
  • How does an organization show pride?
  • Discrimination is terrible, but can a bank really discriminate? Maybe it’s actually people doing all the discriminating?

Isn’t this all getting a bit personal?

Despite this purported personhood, corporations are not like humans. They cannot die a natural death, for one, and it’s awfully difficult to throw them in jail. Corporations, the name of which means “body,” have become in effect bodiless bodies, which Webster likened to golems]. In that insightful column, Webster commits the very same personalization to which I am referring: referencing a long-neglected automotive recall, he writes, “Rightly, many are horrified but few have the magical insight or the systems theory to understand how GM could be so stupid.” To wonder “how GM could be so stupid” is to presume that GM has sentience, is it not?

It’s language through which we grant agency, and through language that we ask spirit to enter what has been created. There’s a reason that corporations are compared to golems: we give them power, we give them life. What most of us fail to understand is that we don’t do that through law at all. It’s language which shapes thought to grant agency to corporations.

It was listening to Rush Limbaugh that got me thinking along these lines. (I highly recommend this as an intellectual exercise, especially for those of a different political bent than the man. Limbaugh is a slick debater, and understanding how to uses logical is instructive.) One of his ongoing routines at the time was about sports-utility vehicles. His intention was to salvage the reputation of the gas guzzlers, but his words planted a seed that took years to germinate in my mind.

What Limbaugh did was collect headlines about tragedies involving SUVs. They all had headlines which suggested the vehicle itself was responsible, such as “SUV plows into unsuspecting family.” Drawing upon the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” mindset, he drily proclaimed that these renegade vehicles needed to be stopped. I’ve never been a fan of SUVs, but I came to appreciate his point regardless. If it’s the SUV’s fault, then that means the SUV is a person.

Can humans create spirits? I suspect not, but they appear to be able to influence them by creating attractive hosts for them, the same way I can attract hummingbirds by putting sugar water in an attractive container, or ask that my patron deity dwell in a sacred image formed by my own two hands. Corporations, even more than SUVs, appear to be excellent hosts; they are all but accepted as having the same agency human persons possess. Given the varying ways humans treat other beings as commodities or property, that’s a big leg up.

When I think of corporations, I am actually imagining a wide variety of frameworks which are given rein to act in ways that humans do in our society; anything that has a corpora, or body, is a corporation. Nonprofits, churches, governments, committees, quilting groups, and cat-rescue operations fall into this broad definition, as do many forms of organizing that I know nothing about. If it’s conceived as an entity and is given agency through language or law, that’s all I need.

This isn’t just about the legal status of corporations, any more than enslaving a human being is entirely about laws that permit such an abomination. In his definitive work Animism, Graham Harvey presents the idea that what makes that particular worldview different is simply who is regarded as people. On a related note, in Debt: the First 5,000 Years David Graeber posits that slavery is only possible when the individual’s social connections are cut, thus rendering that individual a non-person It is the culture that permits humans to be treated as if they are property not people, and it is the culture which permits a collection of paperwork to be treated as if it were a person. In short, we are the ones feeding the golem.

Sometimes, when I try to articulate this problem in a conversation on the internet, I can all but see the eyes rolling as people dismiss the notion. Oh, it’s just a figure of speech, they say, and not the problem at all. Really? Is the idea that language shapes thought suddenly alien, then, or is it more difficult to accept one’s own culpability for this terrible situation we have created?

The figures of speech I’m referring to are the shorthand we use when referring to companies and other organizations. Exxon releases a statement, or the White House denies involvement in this week’s political dust-up. We like being considered a friend of our local library or NPR affiliate, perhaps, and get angry when an insurance company denies coverage for a procedure. When we learn about an unfamiliar corporation in the news, we immediately want to know who they are, and whether or not they’re evil.

I get that these are figures of speech, convenient shortcuts because we all know what they mean. I also get that when we look at the words of those who came before us, we do not necessarily know what they meant, and incorrect assumptions are frequently introduced due to a lack of context. In addition, I understand quite well that as much as language represents thought, it also shapes thought, and the evidence of that shaping culminated in the Citizens United decision. Corporations are people because we forgot that our figures of speech didn’t mean anything, and suddenly they did.

This convention is used as shorthand simply because it’s awkward to say that Exxon executives released a statement, a presidential spokesperson denied the allegations on his behalf, we donate regularly to support the library, and it was an insurance company employee who actually denied my Viagra (okay, that last was a bit ridiculous; I don’t think Viagra is ever denied). I know it’s awkward, because I’m a reporter and I have been trying for three years now to avoid personifying in prose that which is not a person in my mind. It’s not only awkward, it’s bloody difficult, too. However, in keeping with the idea that language shapes thought, I’m trying to reshape how I see the relationships in the world around me.

One tool I lean on is the passive voice, reviled because it removes the actor from the action. I prefer to talk about the people behind the veil, but if cannot ascertain their identities, passive voice reminds my readers that I’m not claiming that Skynet has become self-aware. A statement was issued from the corporate office, for example, or new unemployed statistics were simply released, actor inferred.

What I sit with is the fact that whether or not we are creating a new spirit with this collective thought process, we are creating a new way to shift responsibility — be it credit, or blame — away from individuals, and onto faceless entities.

If corporations are not people, then they are also not evil (or good, for that matter). It’s actually other people making the decisions and hiding behind that organizational smokescreen. People have faces. People live in the active voice. The lesson of history is that it’s a lot easier to commit atrocities if one has no face, just as it’s easier if the victim is invisible, faceless. If the faces of the victims cannot be erased, why do we erase the faces of the offenders?

Corporations are not people, but are we too lazy to prove it?

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

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