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.

Business as usual

“You are now on the business beat,” said my editor to me yesterday.  That suits me just fine, because I am fascinated with how we struggle with money issues in the Pagan communities.  We’ve got a fair amount of poverty (some by choice), and a fair amount of guilt over doing well.  There are rules about who can charge what money for which services without automatically being deemed jerks.  The permutations may be endless.

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Last week I spoke with a vandalism-targeted Pagan shop owner who has dealt with proselytizing inside and out, broken windows, Chick tracts and spit-attacks.  On the flip side, I was honored to interview Abby Willowroot, whose spiral goddess design is a staple in Neopagan circles.  (Side note:  I really, really dig interviews with elders.)  Yesterday I wrote about the ongoing issues faced by esoteric business owners, whose products and services are often indistinguishable from outright scams to the average observer.

Do Pagans and polytheists risk a loss of our core values by getting serious about business, or is it one of the best ways to ensure that we are seen as serious and legitimate religious practitioners?  That debate is sure to rage for quite some time to come.

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.

Yule be sorry

Christmas_with_the_Yule_Log,_Illustrated_London_News,_23_Dec_1848What curious news stories emerge from the Pagan and polytheist communities, such as the notion of trademarking Yule.  I came away from writing that with the impression that there was indeed a villain in that story, but that I may not have spoken to em directly.  To be fair, that feeling is almost always intensified when I interview attorneys, since they are trained to speak out of both sides of their mouths.  (That’s not a disparagement; more like an acknowledgment.)

I wonder if online selling has made it harder to promote a product without it appearing to be a shameless copy of someone else’s work.  That isn’t to say that I believe that’s what is happening here; only the Shadow knows.

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.

Interesting times

Following on the heels of the very public binding of Donald Trump comes exactly what my sources predicted:  his esoterically-minded supporters took up the challenge.  Today’s Pagan Community Notes leads off with details about the witch war that is shaping up.  It may come as a surprise that 1) there are Pagans who support Trump and 2) many of them were offended by the ethical line that they believe was crossed by casting that binding.  (Mind you, others might say that mirror spells are just as bad.)

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What amazes me is that there are Pagans who are surprised that some of their co-religionists support the current president.  Not every Pagan is registered as a Democrat or a Green, but those who are think we all are.  It’s like those polytheists who insist that politics and religion are one and the same, and those other polytheists who keep telling them, “No, we’re honoring gods over here without getting into human politics, and it’s working out just fine.”  The assumption that people we share some commonalities with are people we share all commonalities with is a puzzling, but likely ancient, human failing.

Metaphysical gauntlet thrown down

Witches and other magic-workers setting their sights on President Trump was the topic of my article yesterday at The Wild Hunt.

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An unflattering image of the president is a components in one of the public spells that I looked at, which reminds me of their use in political advertising.  Overculture, meet subculture.

For me, the most interesting bits are the reasons why it probably won’t work.