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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Oracle of the bull

We are nearly at the beginning of the year per the old Athenian calendar, and that signals a new period of service to the community for me.  Monthly in the coming year I will be acting as oracle of Poseidon, as part of training I am receiving from him for another activity.

I will be doing this on the following dates:  July 20, August 20, September 18, October 16, November 16, December 17, January 15, February 12, March 15, April 12, May 13, and June 11.

Those wishing to get a question answered are requested to submit it here; questions must be received three days’ prior else they will be rolled over until the next session.  (If you’re late for the last session, that’s probably going to be that.)

I probably shouldn’t have offered cookies

Quite a few months ago I provided this update on the litanies to many gods challenge.  Perhaps only the four entrants and myself have noticed nary a peep from me since on the subject, but it’s been on my mind.

Turns out there are indeed many gods.  I knew I’d get some entries which included deities to whom I do not pay cult, and likely some with which I am entirely unfamiliar, but I wasn’t expecting that more than half of them would be unknown.  I also wasn’t expecting that the prospect of writing prayers for them would be intimidating.

In Hellenic tradition, foreign gods are honored in Hellenic fashion: purification, procession, offerings of barley and other things appropriate, hymns.  That’s what I was prepared to do, but the sheer percentage of foreign deities (mostly Kemetic) gives me pause.  My ancestors would have syncretized without a second thought, but I live in a time when cultural appropriation is a topic of conversation.

While I don’t think gods can be appropriated without their consent, but prayers also have a human audience, and some of those humans might feel otherwise.  What can certainly be appropriated are religious practices, which is why I am hesitant to simply research traditional forms of prayer to these deities.  Possibly none of this was an issue when the world was fluidly polytheistic, but that’s not the world in which I live.

All these thoughts have resulted in a spiritual stop on choosing a winner.  Maybe I should just mail some cookies to all the entrants and be done with it.  the project concept has also evolved in the ensuing months, and I am excited with what is taking shape.

Feedback on my misgivings is welcome.

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.

Real money magic: thrift

In a fascinating post that examines the impact of free events on the economic viability of the Pagan community, Sable Aradia uses the tongue-in-cheek subheading of, “Pagans are . . . Thrifty” to drive home a point about one of the ways we struggle with financial issues. What she means is that we’re cheap. While I won’t take exception with that — heck, I come from a long line of tight-fisted folks which I could probably trace back to the invention of money itself — I do wish she would take another look at what the word actually means.

I think she would find that thrift is a sincerely Pagan value.

The word stems from þrift, a Norse word meaning “thriving condition, prosperity.” The Institute of American Values defines thrift as “the ethic and practice of wise use.” Intentional spending falls under its purview, but the word includes all manner of disciplined conservation of resources. While the thrifty person intentionally chooses when not to spend eir money, the cheap person chooses not to spend even if it is to eir detriment, or that of those e cares about.

Thrift is a value which encourages more savings and less accumulation of debt. The result is more money at one’s fingertips, where it can be channeled into projects which reflect one’s values. It flows into another value that I daresay is near universal under the umbrella of Paganism: supporting community.

Thrift also inspires recycling, upcycling, reuse, and living outside of the purely consumer culture. Spending more on a higher-quality item because it will replace many inferior ones that would be tossed in the trash over its lifetime. Not buying something at all if the perceived need is based purely in an emotion of the moment. Tree-huggers are thrifty, and so are adepts. The roots of the word are Heathen, and the practice is very much in keeping with the Delphic maxim, “give a pledge and ruin in near,” among many others. Magical and earth-focused Pagans deepen their practice with thrift; I can’t think of any sort of Pagan who couldn’t do the same.

I support the idea of a healthier relationship with money in the Pagan community. Many of use have seen money used to work serious mischief, and some of us want nothing to do with it. While I respect and understand that choice, I walk a different path. I have felt shame when I have needed to ask for a scholarship to a festival or money to solve a serious domestic problem, but no more: that shame stemmed from my lack of generosity when times weren’t so tight, from judging others who needed a hand, from being cheap, not thrifty. I am not controlled by fear of scarcity any longer. I am thrifty, but I am not cheap.

The Boy Scouts listed “thrift” first among its values when the organization first formed. It dovetails quite nicely with leave no trace, a value which the scouting movement shares with many Pagan ones. Isn’t it time we reclaim this value as our own?

A version of this post appeared on pagansquare.com in 2014; it has since been removed by the publisher.

Real money magic: priming the pump

What’s to be done when a well runs dry? Here’s a tip: try priming the pump before calling a well driller. The same can be said for when we run dry, creatively or spiritually or even financially: with the right skills and components, even on our worst days we are not lost causes; our pumps too can be primed.

Applying that to money can seem like a catch-22: if it takes money to make money, where in Tartarus should I look if I don’t have two cents to rub together? The fact that this is not an easy question to answer is a deep and enduring problem in our society. Those resources which do exist to help the penniless can be hard to identify, and even when they are known there can be barriers from geographic to bureaucratic in the way. While it’s been decades since I needed to rely on public assistance to pay for rent, food, and medical care, I haven’t forgotten how efforts to prevent welfare fraud made it harder to earn enough to escape that trap. I had to use the most dangerous pump-priming technique available to me: taking out student loans, hoping I’d eventually make enough money to pay them off.

For the most part, I don’t borrow money that I don’t know I can repay. I am risk-averse, which means that my pumps don’t get primed as quickly as some. Priming a pump with borrowed water when there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to repay right away is something I’ve done more than once with dissatisfying results. I understand that there are others for which the combination of timing, circumstance, and personal motivation make this a risk well worth it; recent history is peppered with examples of stupendous success based on other people’s money. Infomercials, too, are filled with those tales, and it’s largely due to that sort of soulless shilling of dream-chasing that I have sometimes nearly come to ruin. Lending that targets the desperate is often particularly predatory. Feel free to borrow if you wish, but it’s rarely something I counsel. If you come to me with a tale of woe, I will listen sympathetically, but when asked for advice to avoid doing to oneself again I will definitely recommend not borrowing more money as a first step.

Borrowing aside, what remains is finding ways to increase income, and, for the advanced practitioner, controlling expenses.

The former, identifying new or greater sources of income, might involve seeking a raise or a new job, find an additional job, joining the gig economy, selling things that are lying about the house, or turning hobbies into revenue streams. It is not the purpose of this passage to give specific tips on doing these things, the specifics of which can vary. (Moreover, my life experience only includes a couple of years surviving solely on thanks to government assistance, and that was before Clinton gutted most of those programs.) What’s important to recognize is that there is almost some level of control over how much money comes in, although making more money usually requires a sacrifice of time spent doing other things. If it means watching less television, that might not be too bad, but if the sacrifice is time with one’s children, the calculus gets trickier.

Find what you’re willing to give up — even temporarily — and you’ll have a sense of how much time you can focus on earning more money. That equation can change from day to day, even hour to hour; sometimes it’s going to be a tough choice between spending time with the kids and ensuring they have food to eat, but mostly not. The key is that we make these decisions all the time, and the challenge is doing it consciously.

In short, working with money is, and always will be, something that carries with it risk. That’s especially true when undertaking new ventures, for which the downside is unclear. Priming the pump represents that initial risk: is the water I have in this container before me going to yield more if I pour it down that hole than if I pour it down my throat?

The answer to that question can only be determined with some discernment, but that’s a big enough topic it deserves a post of its own.