My personal practice: epithets


When I look back at how terrified I was to get things wrong as I attempted to honor the theoi, particularly around the use of ancient Greek, I’m amazed that I didn’t simply smile and decide that this path wasn’t for me.  I did before, when I was invited to join a group of people who aspired to Druidry and ADF membership.  Yes, I’ve probably got more Irish blood in my veins than anything else but no, I didn’t have any interest in wrestling with Gaelic or whatever language it was that I’d have to master.  I’m good at one language, and I don’t believe for one second that specialization is for insects; in fact, I think it’s one of the great strengths of humanity to be able to specialize.

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Der Narr und die Närrin.

Long before I ever thought about Hellenic gods, I was a fool, and I still take the job very seriously.  I’ve assumed the office of jester in a coven, inducted people into the mysteries of Bill the Cat, and tales of what transpires when I draw down the Lord of Misrule are recounted years after the fact.  Being a fool is to master the art of applied ignorance, and I always considered Socrates to be my role model in that regard.  (Yes, writing this makes me realize I probably should be paying him hero cult, but I don’t wish to get ahead of myself.  Baby steps.)  One step that I took in my Hellenic education would be considered quite foolish to some of my co-religionists:  I joined Tumblr.

Here’s another thing I’ve learned by being a fool:  you can’t consider the source.  More specifically, there is no value in dismissing a source because they happen to use a lot of profanity, or they were born in this century, or even because they got started in their religion because of some guy’s books.  If I considered the source, I would never have found a particular blog on Tumblr, written by a particularly potty-mouthed someone who clearly reveled in blog-battle.  As it happens, one of that really nasty blogger’s posts laid out the structure of a basic Hellenic ritual in a way that, for some reason, clicked with me.  I was probably at close to two years of formal instruction by this point, but the presentation spoke to me in a new and important way.  I can’t find the post, and frankly I’d rather not link to it anyway because there’s no need to invite trouble, but it got me thinking about epithets.

It was the notion of calling a god by many epithets, “or whichever name you wish to be known by,” that got my gears grinding and enabled me to level up.  This is something I can anchor in time, because I distinctly recall that when I attended the Polytheist Leadership Conference, I was proud that I had memorized seven for Poseidon.  It took a few weeks to commit all of those to memory, and to be honest I’m still not convinced I’m pronouncing most of them correctly.  Still, that was the beginning of a process which has exploded for me.

Poseidon, by Grace Palmer

Poseidon, by Grace Palmer

Honestly, I would have been quite content calling Poseidon by seven epithets important to me, reading a simple hymn of my own creation, offering barley and a libation of coffee.  Longtime readers may recall that I was challenged — from several sources — about whether I was doing enough for him, and that ultimately he assigned me the task of writing hymns for each of those epithets, and a whole lot more besides.  Those hymns are the core of my book Depth of Praise, promised for well over a year but finally in the design phase.  That’s exciting in and of itself, but I expected that my daily practice would calm down after I wasn’t writing something new every day.  The creation time did fall away, but somewhere along the line the number of epithets that are part of my standard practice ballooned to 29 different titles.

That means that over the course of roughly five years, I went from making a fixed number of offerings to one god in return for a favor, to layers upon layer of daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal practice.  There is no question in my mind that I could not have and would not have started on this path if I was told that this would be expected of me down the road.  He who shakes the earth also knows how to move the ground with an imperceptible slowness, allowing me to feel like it was no change at all.

The task for me, and for anyone with a few years of practice, is to see one’s own practice through the eyes of a neophyte, and understand that this is not where anyone should begin.  Even if they take on a multilayered calendar of offerings with zeal, they are likely to burn out.  Even more common is what I decided about the Druids:  “Thanks, but no thanks.”  Who knows what opportunities I missed?  Who knows how many doors I might close to someone simply by showing them what I do on a regular basis?

By the word of Hermes, I will lie and deceive to avoid scaring a seeker.  I will hide my practice and reveal my knowledge only when it requested, and then in appropriate measure.

By the word of Apollon, I will try to recognize how much truth a seeker is ready to know, so I dole it out at a pace the gods decree, rather than let my passion and excitement trample over the curiosity of another.

By the word of Poseidon, I will root myself in the patience of the tectonic plates themselves, and trust that it is through me, and not from me, that wisdom may flow.

There is more to tell about my personal practice, but it’s mostly frills and shiny things.  Stay tuned.

Maya Angelou deserves better than this


I understand how the wrong quote ended up on the Maya Angelou postage stamp, I really do. Poetry isn’t my thing, I’ve never read her work, and I might have made the same mistake.  What I can’t comprehend is why doing right by this preeminent poet is so hard.

Credit: Dave Itzkoff, via Twitter

One does not have to appreciate poetry to understand that a writer who deserves her own stamp deserves her own work on that stamp.

One does not have to be a woman to wonder if the United States Postal Service would allow this mistake to turn into disrespect if she were a man.

One does not have to be a person of color to wonder why, when we are trying so hard to recognize that not everyone who has done amazing things in this country was white, we can’t take the time, and spend the money, to reissue this stamp.  It can be with a quote of Angelou’s, or at the very least, with proper credit for Joan Walsh Anglund, whose line of poetry, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song, ” has apparently been misattributed to Angelou for years.

Therefore, I did something about it, but it won’t be worth much unless I can get a hundred thousand like-minded individuals to help by signing the petition that calls for this mistake to be fixed.  Because making  mistake is human, but coming up with excuses not to make it right is just pathetic.

Please sign, share, reblog, and put up a stink.  Thank you.

Looking in the mirror


This past weekend was a good one to reboot my faith.  That’s a better word than “kickstart,” which suggests that it wasn’t moving at all.  “Reboot” describes a religious practice which was sluggish and slow, and is now running more smoothly.

Some of the high points of spending a weekend with old friends and wise ones:

  • I dedicated myself to Poseidon and took the new name of Terentios to signify my commitment to Hellenismos.  It’s not a far stretch of a name; it’s the Greek name of the poet whose Anglicized name I carry.
  • I saw a dear friend whom I haven’t visited with in person for some fifteen years, and her husband, whom I feel I have known all my life despite having just gotten to know him.
  • I realized that the difference between being a fool and being wise is simply a matter of how you apply your ignorance.
My naming and dedication didn’t come without some apprehension.  Heck, it’s taken me 30 years to return to the gods of my ancestors after I drank in the myths and tales as a child.  One lesson that’s clear in those tales is that pissing off these gods is not a good idea, and I’m not above bollixing things from time to time.  However, the nautical metaphors and symbolism which kept cropping up helped hammer home that this is a good path for me to follow, and that it will help me grow in new ways.
Encountering old friends is a mixed bag.  They see you as they did when last you met, which means they might not take into account your growth.  In this particular case, though, my friend always saw me for the man I would become, even when I was an overly-eager college student who rarely took time to think before speaking (and who spoke more than some people breathe).  So instead of yanking me back, she again helped me push forward with that view of me.
I’ve long embraced the archetype of the Fool, because it gives me permission to be ignorant without feeling diminished.  People don’t always see us as we see ourselves, though, and I found that my newer friends see that confidence as something else entirely.  More than one person turned to me as a sounding board, and the fact that I succeeded in not giving advice when I had none to offer tells me that perhaps a kernel of wisdom is taking hold.
The number of lessons being dangled in front of me makes me wonder if “mid-life crisis” is just code for “I’m scared of what I’m going to find out as I age.”

Economic Crisis is Entirely Complicated


AIG should follow through with its badly-negotiated contracts, and should do so without using one dime of the bailout money.

The roots of our economic crisis are actually really, really complicated; we’ve learned to do things with money that are so dizzying that we really have no idea what’s going to happen next. It comes from the belief that since we invented the stuff, we must understand that laws it behaves under. I’m looking fnordward to seeing how that theory turns out, but in the meantime we’re stuck sorting through a hip-deep pool of securitized instruments that’s had a slew of interesting derivatives poured into the mess.

To quote myself:

The reason why you should never invest in something you don’t understand is because if you don’t understand it, someone is going to increase their own profit with your ignorance.

These complicated financial instruments were created because someone found an obscure loophole or a clever sales pitch and manufactured something that would make money hand over fist – but that clever person never spelled out whose hand, and which fist. For all the money you hear about the securitization industry making by slicing and bundling mortages into investment vehicles, you can be sure that lots more got made in ways that none of us really understand yet. If it’s complicated, it was designed that way to obfuscate its true purpose.

Luckily for us, not everything in the recovery is going to be as complicated as the downfall. For example, the current flap about the insanely large bonuses given to AIG employees – the same ones that brought the company down? I think the solution to that egregious violation of the public trust is to make AIG pay the bonuses, but with their own money. I wonder how quickly they would backpedal if they had to cough up every cent themselves?

Oh Lucky Day


Today is Friday the Thirteenth – how wonderful!
This is a day that according to Abrahamic tradition is prone to bad luck. Not so much for Pagans, unless they choose to honor the cultural traditions of the majority.

  • Jesus was one of thirteen at the Last Supper
  • Said supper took place on a Friday (though I have often wondered why the Jews of that era were naming days after Norse gods)
  • Witches gather in traditional covens of thirteen (a number I haven’t ever actually seen . . . two to ten, twenty or more, and one time a few hundred, but never once thirteen in a ritual – go figure)

There are probably other reasons I can’t think of at the moment, but that’s the gist of it – the intersection of Friday (which we generally think of as joyous in the modern world) and the dreaded number thirteen (avoided by hotels, but honored by coffee manufacturers as the number of ounces in a pound) causes a terrible juxtaposition of ill luck for any who expect it.
Watch carefully. Any even slightly inconvenient incident will likely be attributed to the date. If it isn’t, try remarking, “Well, it is Friday the Thirteenth.” No doubt you will get nods of sage agreement.
But what I see today is a Friday (yay!) that isn’t blisteringly hot for change (woo!) and is leading up to a weekend where I don’t have to burn much gasoline (praised be Pedestria!), so it’s a pretty good day from where I sit.
If you choose to have a crappy day, enjoy your bad luck – after all, if you really really want bad luck you ought to have fun with it! Otherwise, just enjoy a glorious Friday!

Finding Tom


I always enjoy the workshops and rituals availed to me at Laurelin Retreat, but sometimes it’s the unscheduled times that are the most educational.

On a personal note, my family is having a housewarming party coming up, and because the owners of Laurelin would not be able to attend, I asked if they could give me what we’ve been asking for as a gift regardless: a stone, no smaller than two fists.

Laurelin is fifty-six acres of rolling woods and farmland, crisscrossed with stone walls that now or formerly marked arbitrary boundaries and, like any good New England soil, will yield two good crops of rock a year. There are a lot of stones at Laurelin, and finding the right one for my yard was probably going to take some doing.

Fortune smiled upon me by giving me a companion, Noodleman, who was in need of a Fool’s Errand to complete. My plan had been to supply any number of pictures and make this into a photojournal of our quest. However, I lost the camera immediately after returning home, finding it again in time for a party, only to have it vanish once again, so I don’t expect to be able to give that thousand-to-one ratio promised by pictures. It’s been a week and this post isn’t finished, so I’m just going to have to do this with words alone.

One of the things that’s nice about Laurelin is the plethora of stone walls. Any old agrarian area is going to have them, and central Vermont is no exception. Farmers and landsmen of all sorts learned the art of stacking irregular stones in such a way as to make sturdy boundaries between fields, both marking territory and relocating stones out of plow’s way. I’ve been trying to relearn those skills in the past few days with the stones I’ve been discovering in my compost pile.

None of the stone walls held my interest, and the searching up and down the various streams didn’t find a stone that called out an interest in moving to the Hudson Valley. Finally, we cleared our heads with a solid period of time sitting upon a soft carpet of moss, with no stones in reach.

When we did decide to return to camp, the first stone to catch my eye was perfect. It was sitting on a stone wall along the old road, its top half covered in moss that was populated by inch-long, rust hairs among the bright green carpet. It was in a dry area which was well-shaded, the types of conditions that are abundant in my yard, and particularly in the place where I’m cultivating my moss garden.

“His name is Tom,” Noodleman told me.