Passing

Raymond Buckland wasn’t the first writer about Paganism that I read; that designation goes to Margot Adler.  My early teachers didn’t use books, and by the time I was starting a library, I already knew that I was not a really a Witch.  While I knew his name, I didn’t actually pick up one of his books until I found the one on coin divination, which fits my work.

That said, when he consented last year to let me interview him, it was a big deal for me.  This is Raymond friggin’ Buckland!  It doesn’t matter what Pagan or polytheist practice one feels called to; in the United States he was one of the trailblazers who made it possible to openly practice and share information about it.

Our impetus for wanting that interview was practical:  he was in his 80s, had eliminated public appearances from his schedule, and had recently suffered a heart attack.  As a journalist, the best thing I can do to serve this community is elevate our elders before they become ancestors.  Was it really necessary to get an interview with someone who had already written millions of words about his tradition?  I certainly think it was.  If nothing else, what we know about people in their own words — and the recollections of those closest to them — informs our ancestor practice.

Regarding honoring Buckland’s life now that it’s over, there has already been a “cyber-wake” on Pagans Tonight, Selena Fox will also be dedicating her show to him tomorrow night.  Participating in that first podcast, I was joining people who set the foundations of contemporary American Paganism, including Fox and Oberon Zell.  It was humbling, because these are the people who got it all started, the people whose lives I’d like to help chronicle.  Even having lost another of their number, that brain trust inspired awe in me.

I really only talked about one way that Buckland inspired me, his Coin Divination.  Readers of my occasional book reviews know that I take some of the more extreme suggestions as challenges.  In this book, Buckland references a set of small gold coins minted in Singapore late last century, each with a different animal associated with the Chinese zodiac.  What a wonderful divination set those would make, he mused: “For the serious practitioner, this provides beautiful divination tools and is also a wonderful investment.”

Challenge accepted.  Using solely the money I earn writing for the Wild Hunt that I saved for more than a year (because saving money is my most powerful magic), once I finally chased down what these coins were called (not an easy task in itself), I have tracked down and purchased all but one of those coins.  That wasn’t a stretch, because even if it doesn’t work out for divination I still have gold which can be sold should my family need the money.

Based on the ideas Buckland offers for divination boards, I’ve designed a cloth which I am embroidering when the cats allow.  Telling him about my plans was the one fanboy indulgence I allowed myself, but since the work is as yet incomplete, I wonder if I should ask Buckland if he’d like to aid in readings I do with this set.  He can always say no, after all.

Updates on my many gods project

The summer solstice, deadline for litanies to many gods, slipped by without me being able to acknowledge it.  I had just returned from Free Spirit Gathering, for one, and it always takes me a few days to settle back into a routine after a trip.  This is also a busy time of year for me ritually, with an ancestor pilgrimage and the festival of lilies, and the Vigil for the Bulls coming up; why I selected this particular due date is beyond me.

litany-300x235Nevertheless, the submission period is now closed.  There was a flurry of submissions at the beginning, and quickly realized how bloody much work I have bitten off.  I am going to have to write a prayer for each of the gods named, and for some of them that’s going to require education.

What needs to be done soon is the selection of a winner.  I have a post half-written about the divination systems I use and what I might do to determine which of them to use to divine that winner, but it’s languished for over the month for want of my attention.  Since time is the overall theme here, my plan is to take the time to go to meeting for worship and open myself to the gods for an answer.  It’s the most direct form of divination out there.

Mark

Funny thing about gods, the way they get a point across.  When I was waiting to learn if I would become a writer for The Wild Hunt last summer, I made a deal with Athena: help make this happen, and I’d knit her a scarf.  Knitting, it turns out, is a bit of a bitch for those of us who didn’t start before we needed reading glasses, and even a scarf has been hard enough that I’m nowhere near done with that offering yet.

  

This month for Noumenia, I performed divination to see if any particular deity is planning to take an especial interest in me this month.  As pictured, I drew M, mu, to wit:  “It is necessary to labor {Mokhtheô}, but the change will be admirable.”

I really don’t know how divination works for other people, but most of the time these phrases don’t make a whole lot of sense in isolation.  There needs to be some discernment, some sign or inclination that brings it together.  In this case, not sure what god might be indicated, I tried the Quaker practice of letting names rise.  Hephaestus didn’t seem likely as he watched over this past month, but labor made me consider him.  Hermes occurred to me, but also didn’t seem quite right.  But when I thought of Athena, I got that thrum in my head which I’ve come to recognize as positive, and I knew she wanted me to finish that scarf.

Later on in the day, I returned a library book I’d ordered by mistake.  I wanted the next Percy Jackson book, and got the two series mixed up, so I had a book I’d already read instead of the proper one.  I didn’t even know the name of the book I needed, but I checked the library shelf and there it was:

The Mark of Athena.

Conversomancy

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This is a fairly narrow form of divination. On your birthday, prepare a question in your mind. Prepare two rough-torn squares of brown paper and place each in a different color Chuck Taylor. Designate one shoe for yes and the other for no, and wear them throughout the day.

When you remove them, do a pencil rubbing on each piece of paper and interpret the results.

Dollar Dwolla divination

I was pleased to see that one of my favorite bloggers is back from his retreat from the internet, and is now performing pay-what-you-will Tarot readings.  I like the idea of trial offers like that, and encourage people to give it a try.  I’ve been mulling over doing something similar for quite some time, and I am now taking the plunge, but my approach is slightly different.

Because I enjoy exploring how money influences every aspect of our lives, I am going to be performing dollar divinations with Dwolla, an oddly-named payment service which doesn’t get much press but is much less scary than PayPal.  For one, PayPal’s fees would eat me up, but Dwolla charges just a quarter no matter the amount of money moving about.  For another, PayPal has been known to freeze accounts now and ask questions later . . . often months later, which can totally screw the schlub who needed that money.

Practice makes perfect, but giving away something for free sends the message that it’s worth what you pay for it.  Charging a dollar now only encourages people to use this nifty payment system (it’s the only one I’m accepting), it also is sound marketing.  If you don’t know the quality of a service, you may be reluctant to purchase it, which is why it’s a good idea to give a small taste for a nominal fee.  Easy-peasy.

Some basic rules for this offer:

  1. This will be for a limited time, but I haven’t set an end date yet.
  2. One question only.  If you need more, you’re going to have to pay again.
  3. I am using my own coin divination system or the Lymerian oracle for these questions.  If the system is not specified, I’ll be using the coins.
  4. Answers will be emailed to the address provided.  If none is provided, both question and answer will be posted on the TPW Facebook page, without the querent’s name.
  5. Requests for divination may be made here.

Poseidon and me: the early days

Image of a statue of Poseidon, seated and holding a trident.

Strong and silent.

When I was enjoying Pagan tea with Sannion and Galina, the former asked me a question that got me thinking.  “Did you say you were devoted to Poseidon?” he asked, “because you talk a lot about Hermes.”  It’s a fair point, and one that speaks to my complex relationship with the sea god.  When I need to understand something about myself better, I write; I am overdue for writing about Poseidon.

First, some context:  I was initiated by a Hellenic temple that embraces the idea of personal patron deities.  Many Hellenic Pagans, particularly reconstructionists, reject this idea because there is no historical basis for it; the theoi were patrons of professions, not of people.   While there are examples of a deity taking a particular interest in a mortal (most memorably the relationship of Athene to Odysseus), but it was so incredibly rare that it’s not worth taking seriously.

The other viewpoint is best represented in the book Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored, in which author Sarah Kate Istra Winter justifies the adoption of the practice in this way:

I would also venture to say that even if the patron relationship was extremely rare in ancient Greece, it is a worthwhile pursuit today, when so many of us feel called by a certain god.  Perhaps with so few worshippers these days, the gods are more likely to pay individual attention to us.  Perhaps, since we are all essentially converts, we are more likely to develop a passionate love for a god or gods than in the days when it was the established religion. . . . It is not necessary for a meaningful Helenic polytheist practice.  But for those who do have a patron or patrons, it is an experience unlike any other. — second edition, page 90

While I agree with Winter’s points, her experience was not my own.  I did not feel called by this certain god when I started on the path of Hellenismos.  I’d been smacked around by Ares, and Hermes had occupied my thoughts since, so no, there wasn’t a passionate love for Poseidon developing, so far as I could tell.  Instead, my teacher performed a divination and determined, with great confidence, that Poseidon was ready and waiting.

Frankly, it scared the crap out of me.  Wasn’t Poseidon that pissed-off god who tormented Odysseus, punished Minos, and made the Trojans rue the day for cheating him?  And besides, what sea-god would be interested in me?  I moved as far inland as I could, as soon as I could, and never once have a longed to see the ocean again.  All I saw was the possibility of disappointing a deity who has a track record for stiff punishment.  It didn’t sound very enticing.

Reluctant I may have been, but I am also sincere.  I trusted my teacher, so I set about trying to understand this mighty, unapproachable god.  When it came time for my amphidromia, I still wasn’t sure, and I was getting cold feet, if not cold sweat.  Pulling a Poseidon bust from his bag, my teacher told me, “Go, spend some time with him.  You have some things to work out.”

The truth is that, for me, “patron” is a very appropriate relationship, in the sense of father.  Much of what I recoiled from was the similarities with the “you wait until your father gets home” mantle that so many dads wore when I was young, meting out punishment and praise after reviewing reports of how the day went.  It’s not the relationship I had with my father as an adult, but it’s the one that connected best with my knowledge of this earth-shaking god.

I didn’t actually work those issues out right off, but I did reach a place where I could be a properly orthopraxic Hellenist regardless.  I poured libations, I burned incense, I wrote and recited prayers, and I meant it.  I spoke to my patron every day, but he never spoke to me.  That was not my experience with some of the other gods, who occasionally would make very specific requests of me, or send me signs that were not at all difficult to interpret.  No, Poseidon remained distant and aloof.

Or so I thought.  How my thoughts were wrong is worth a post of its own.

Yes, no, maybe so?

So I find myself with a bit of a divination dilemma.  I’ve been dutifully practicing coin divination, and to make sure that I’m actually paying attention to meanings rather than assigning significance after the fact, I’m thus far being very careful to do so in a manner that I can test and verify.  Silly me, I thought that would make things easier.

Coins readily lend themselves to yes/no questions, which are often best avoided for divination, so I was willing to use one for these tests.  Because I’m a little money obsessed anyway, the question I have been asking each morning is a simple one:

Will I have more cash in hand at the end of today?

Count the cash at the beginning and the end of the day, and bam! an answer.  Put the results for a selection of coins in a spread sheet, and after awhile I should be able to see if any of those coins are better at answering the question.  Simple, testable process.  Easy peasy.

My problem stems from having multiple money-focused activities going on at once.  Today (yesterday, in some time zones), one of those came into conflict with my coin divination, and I think it won.

Herm encircled by ribbons and wreath for Hermaia Agoraia.

What I did today was celebrate the Hermaia Agoraia, a festival of the opening of the markets for the holiday season.  It was a fun time, replete with:

  • decorating my herm (upright stone used as a shrine to Hermes), which somehow made it seem more phallic than ever;
  • buying stocking stuffers for the people in my household;
  • making some tasty no-cook mints as an offering to Hermes; and
  • ensuring that my family’s anonymous gift jar got to its recipient.
It’s that last one — the gift jar — that screwed me up.  You see, we’ve been putting cash in this jar for almost a year, a little at a time, whenever the mood strikes us.  For me, whenever I had a stroke of luck or some extra change, it went into the jar, which was then wrapped up like a present and delivered.
So I have no clue how much money was in it.  That didn’t matter to me one whit — I knew it was going to a family that could use the money — until I started on this divination project.  I chose my daily question because it’s easy to measure how much cash goes in an out, if you just pay attention, but the jar defied that attention.  I know cash left my possession today, but by the very design of the thing, I don’t know how much.  It’s supposed to work that way, and it did.
So now I’m stuck, because I was clever.  I know that if you don’t understand that the results to divination, you can look for a sign or ask another question to clarify the result, but that still won’t give me the dry, academic datum point that I was hoping for.  I’m fairly certain there’s a lesson in this, and absolutely sure that I deserve it, but the best thing that came of it was a topic to use for the letter “Y.”

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter Y.