Kheimenia

The winter solstice is when members of the Hellenic Temple of Apollon, Zeus and Pan celebrate the Kheimenia, which is a busy festival that tips the hat to an oodle or two of ancient and modern celebrations.  We were unable to gather together and each of us was given the opportunity to celebrate separately.  For me, setup began around noon and I’m just winding down now ten hours later.

The Kheimenia includes elements of the Maimakteria, Pompaia, Poseidea, Haloa, rural Dionysia, and offerings to Pan of the pines, Selene, Apollon, and Helios.  I was asked to set up images of all these gods, and my family’s main altar proved ideal when I decided to use cards from the Mythic Oracle deck to to so.  Selene gets the place of honor for her prominence relative to Helios, whose image is just below hers; the other deities are displayed on the main level.

This altar is against an interior wall which backs onto the chimney.  That means processions — and any time I’m asked to circle the altar — I can, although it’s not obvious.

In addition to the deity images I printed out pictures of a black sheep and caduceus (left, for the Pompaia) as well as a phallus and theater masks (right, for the rural Dionysia) since I don’t currently have real versions of these items.  I hope to eventually knit a black wool blanket to serve as the dion kodion, and at least get myself a wooden phallus, because one never knows when that might come in handy.

It’s a relatively large altar, but figuring out where to put everything proved challenging when I added in the sacrifice, a loaf of Nova Scotia brown bread which my wife baked from her family recipe.  I also needed room for my kantharos and the wooden ship I used during the ritual of the blessing of the boats over the summer, honoring Poseidon.

Hestia’s candle is on the mantle over the fireplace.  While the ritual script called for a prayer while lighting it, I kept it burning from when I made my morning offerings.  Instead, I gave her offerings of incense:  a Yule blend prepared at my local metaphysical shop (where an astounding number of the products are made in-house), mixed with frankincense.

After that, prayers were made to each of the gods of this festival.

The challenge of making room was complicated when I realized I can’t make the sacrifice over the offering plate.  Instead, I brought out the cutting board my wife made as a child.  She was at work, but between that and the bread I felt she was adequately represented.

Sacrifice, in our tradition, usually involves bread; I tend toward cookies when I’m alone but wanted to be more in sync with my temple-mates.  We do not receive training in the complicated process of animal sacrifice, but we temple priests are taught how to execute a sacrifice of this type in the spiritual, as well as physical, sense.

Each of the gods is given their due from the offering, which is then shared with the people.  The sacrifice is preceded by petitions for the coming year, and this offering will feed family and visitors for many days.

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Thereafter was the reading of omens by performing divination using a method of my choice.  I selected the Lymerian oracle combined with cards from the Olympus deck.  I will not go into my interpretation, as this may hold messages for other people, but I found it to be full of hope and promise.

Selene was offered white wine, but it was red for the other gods, alternating a libation for one of them, and a sip for me.  I’m a cheap date, and it doesn’t take much to make me heady.  I’d hoped to measure it out for just two cupfuls of wine mixed with water for all the involved gods, plus the first one of white for Selene, but I ran out before I could pour out a libation to Dionysos.  Apparently he wanted a full cup of his own.

I circled the altar with images of caduceus and dion kodion while reciting prayers to blustery Zeus and Hermes the protector.

The prayer to Pan asked for protection as well as guidance how to live in these uncertain times, and dedicated the tree and its decorations to the Arcadian god.

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Before that process could begin, we inserted a family tradition of lighting the Yule log, cut from last year’s tree prior to offering it through fire or compost.  (Last year’s, I believe, went to the community tree fire.)  In honor of Dionysos, we watched White Christmas instead of a play.

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Decorations for the tree and hearth really came together wonderfully this year, and it’s always nice to include spirits of the season.  More than any other time of year, the dark time is one that I feel all the various religious and cultural traditions I have honored throughout my life come together into a continuous spectrum of worship and celebration.

Somehow I managed to find space for my book of prayer and ritual on the altar among the various offering plates and bowls.  It was easier after the deity images were removed at the end of the festival.

Pan, though, is not going away quite yet.  He gets to watch over his tree until the time comes to dispose of this glorious offering.  To me, a tree is no less significant than the sacrifice of an animal, and I hope that Pan feels the same way.

No matter how you celebrate at this time of year, may you find just the right amount of light to balance out the dark times, or darkness to offset the light, if you happen to live south of the equator.

When gods explode

I suspect I am a bit inattentive to signs.  If I were more sensitive to them, perhaps it would take one slightly less dramatic than exploding candles to get me to take notice.  I can’t say if the gods always give me plenty of chances to recognize when they’re telling me something, or if they’ve given me up as hopeless and thus go straight for the fireworks every time; all I can say for sure is that my wife had to vacuum up a big ol’ mess a couple of mornings ago after my Hestia candle exploded.

powThere are valid, technical reasons for what happened.  I prefer what are called seven-day candles, the ones that about a foot tall and encased in glass.  I can’t always find them locally and they’re expensive to ship, so I have taken to refilling the empties.  It’s a good deal, because I can add offerings directly into the wax while I’m at it.  However, I’m still pretty new at this, and I haven’t quite mastered the art (or found exactly the right hardware) to keep the wick centered all the way down, and during the pour.  About two inches from the bottom, this particular wick got way too close to the glass, and pow!

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On the other hand, when your hearth-goddess candle explodes, it’s probably best to consider other possibilities.  As it happens, I was overdue to celebrating my little festival of the lilies, which I had previously agreed to hold on the fifth of the month.  I’ve been watching them bloom, and having a deer visit the yard to eat them several times wasn’t enough for me to realize I should be getting on with offering these flowers to the gods.  Whoops.  Guess they’ve been working on more subtle signs for me after all.

2016-06-29 20.22.38.jpgThis year I’ve also been occupied by this cool new Hermes artifact, which I have been industriously oiling so that it can live outside in the four seasons as part of my shrine to him.  That’s going to have to be an annual thing, evocative of various rituals that involve washing and dressing of sacred statues.  Ergo, I’m going to be adding “oiling of the Hermes hunk [of iron]” to this festival of lilies.  That actually makes it more legitimately a festival, because I now have two different activities to perform over its course.  The oiling itself could take several days, although since this was the first time I can’t be certain what next year might bring.

2016-06-29 20.07.16In any case, the other day I went ahead and celebrated my little festival, which still deserves a nifty name.  I am completely supportive of we English speakers use English words when we name festivals and English words of description when we explore new epithets, but darn it, I want this to have a Greek name.  Since I can — so far as I know — accurately pronounce about six words in Greek and can read about half a dozen fewer than that, this dream may be one that is forestalled.  Noble Sannion was helpful in directing me to a lexicon, but until I find the time to learn how to pronounce all of the letters it’s not going to do me that much good.  I’m mostly resigned to the fact that I’m an expert in my native language and mostly ignorant of all others, but hey, specialization isn’t so bad, right, Hermes?

Over the rolling two-tenths of an acre upon which my home sits are a few outdoor shrines; in addition to the aforementioned Hermes one I maintain a space for Artemis and another for Poseidon Phytalmius, in addition to a general altar.  Inside are my main Hestia and Poseidon shrines.  I made offerings of wine, tiger lilies, and incense to all those gods as well as Zeus, Hera, Athene, Ares, Hephaistos, Aphrodite, Apollon, Dionysos, and Demeter.

Obviously — finally obviously — it becomes clear to me that offering these flowers, which are in bloom all over the Hudson Valley at this time of year, is pleasing to the gods, and that they have come to expect it.  This year, it marks a happy high point that will be followed about a week later with the Vigil for the Bulls, an observance for Poseidon Taureos created by Jolene Poseidonae that I will be performing for the first time this year.  I’m expecting it to be markedly less cheerful, but I can’t say much more beyond that until I’ve done it at least once.

In the meantime, I’m hoping that the gods don’t have to tear down my house to get my attention in the future.

My personal practice: adding layers

To look at what some Hellenic polytheists do to honor their gods can be more than a little overwhelming; must everyone devote so much time, energy, and resources to this path?

Of course not.

I doubt there are very many people who begin with a full-blown, life-altering schedule of personal devotion.  I also doubt that those people who follow a full-blown, life-altering schedule of personal devotion are in the majority; we’re just the ones who care enough to write about it in the first place.

As I detailed in my last post, initially I only committed to make a certain number of offerings in a specified period of time.  When it was over, it was over.  I could have walked away at any point, no harm, no foul.

I had a desire to figure this thing out, though, and set out to learn more.  Ares seemed cool but also freaked me out a bit, but Hermes was all right.  What other gods might I care to know better?

After a time I consulted with a priest who agreed to teach me about Hellenismos.  Heck, I’d never even heard the word before, so it was obvious I had a lot to learn.  He performed some divination and determined that while Ares might have been my gatekeeper, and Hermes an able messenger, it was Poseidon who claimed me as his own.

Elsewhere I have chronicled my initial unease with that revelation.  Nevertheless I set about to try, and my wife gave me use of a horseshoe to place upon my nascent shrine as I could not afford some crazy-expensive statue.  I learned that the eighth day of the month is sacred to him, and so too is Thursday in some traditions.  The whole lunar-calendar thing was way too complicated, so I poured a libation on the eighth according to the calendar, and on Thursdays as well.  Later on, as I learned about stuff like khernips and miasma and barley, I put out a bowl of the lustral water and another one to put barley in, but I kept it quite simple.

I had begun a regular practice, with about five offerings a month according to the same calendar I’d used all my life.  Anyone could remain at that level of regular devotion and add richness to their lives; their offerings would surely be accepted and please their gods.  Spoiler alert:  that is not what I did, but I certainly could have.

My personal practice: the beginning

Getting started as a devotional polytheist can be tough, because there’s a lot to learn and there seem to be some landmines, too.  “No, you’re doing it wrong!” is something no one wants to hear.  There’s also the problem of trying to dip one’s toe in while having no one but Olympic swimmers as role models.  Sure, they may be doing things right, but do we all need to be uber-worshippers or just go home?

Nah.

My personal practice might seem overwhelming to some people, but I know it pales in comparison to what others do.  That’s okay, but nothing makes that point clearer than sharing what my practice looked like six years ago, and then in future posts, if I’m so inclined, to talk about what I built on from there, and why.

Home Hermes shrine

Home Hermes shrine

I was introduced to Hellenic polytheism by Ares, but Hermes was the first of the gods that I tried to honor in the Hellenic style.  There was a need, I asked for assistance, and in turn, I promised to make three types of offering every third day for a month:

      1. I burned some frankincense,
      2. read a prayer written by Hearthstone (I’d link to the exact one, but the site’s built with frames so I can only link to the home page), and
      3. I poured a libation of grape juice because I didn’t like the taste of wine and didn’t have any in the house, and figured it was close enough.

It was close enough.  I fulfilled that vow by doing this for the stretch of a calendar month, never even bothering to notice the phase of the moon.  When I was done, I just stopped.

It was a pain keeping track of every third day, but I agreed to it so I wrote it down and made sure I followed through.  The end.

How’s that for a start?

Throwback Thursday, polytheist edition

Last night, I lugged home the granddaddy of all throwbacks as my worlds collided in a delightful crash of divine will upon the more mundane aspects of my life.  The result of that collision was this 18.8-pound beauty:

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Pictured is a hunk of long-disused trolley track, which was removed from a crossroads about a quarter-mile from my home.  Two state roads intersect there, and they are each in really bad need of repaving.  It got so bad, in fact, that the old street car tracks were clearly visible in the crossroads, so when workers were finally dispatched to effect repairs they first had to remove them.  Road-milling machines don’t take kindly to big hunks of steel, or so I understand.

The state workers took it upon themselves to cut them into roughly foot-length pieces, and passed them on to the mayor to do with as he wished.  I go to all the village board meetings because I’m a reporter and it’s part of my beat.  The mayor brought up the idea of using the pieces as a fund raiser — for the village or a local non-profit — or giving them to local museums, or at least the one area business owner who had expressed interest.  Board members mostly didn’t care, and decided that the mayor could dispose of them on his own.

“I want one,” I said from the front row.  It’s not my job to talk at these meetings.  What I do is write down what other people say.  Nevertheless, I was looking at a piece of a friggin’ trolley track that had been sitting under a major crossroads for over a century, and I wasn’t going to keep quiet.  Nope.

The bad news is that I walked to the meeting last night, and had to carry my baby home without so much as a papoose.  The good news is that I got this amazing Hermes artifact for my home shrine.  It wasn’t until this morning that I remembered that it happened on a Wednesday, which some Hellenic polytheists (including myself) keep sacred for Hermes.  I had the days scrambled up all morning, and very nearly did not make him an offering.  I’m glad I did, because this is exactly the kind of super-local polytheism that I want to be about.

Things to do:

  • Come up with a thank-you offering worthy of this gift.
  • Figure out how to preserve this artifact as part of my outdoor Hermes shrine.
  • Pay for it.  Scrap metal is about two cents a pound, and I have every intention of paying the village treasurer.  It was a gift from (or to) Hermes, but I feel the secular books ought to be balanced.
  • Gloat.
  • Take more pictures of the shrine once I figure out how to include this upgrade.

First Submission to the Public Polytheistic Shrine Project

While I thought this was a cool idea from the get-go, I didn’t have the impetus to create a public shrine until one of my cats went missing. I prayed to Poseidon, Hermes, and Artemis for his safe return, and they all played a part him coming home. The offerings I made didn’t feel like enough, but then I remembered this project, and knew what I had to do. I took some wood scraps from a recent project around the house and brought them to a small park nearby. The spot I selected is more hidden than I expected, but I feared the someone stumbling on the shrine and losing eir footing in other locations.

For Hermes, who gave me the silver tongue I needed to find the right person to talk to, I offered some raffle tickets and an 8-sided die made of steel. To Artemis, who watches over the wild spirit of my cat that keeps him from accepting a life inside, I gave one of Alley Valkyrie’s bees. And for Poseidon, who kept me grounded so I would not give up, an assortment of shells and marine animal toys. Each of the gods also received offerings of water and barley.  Together, they made it possible for me not to repeat history.

I can’t wait to see pictures of other public shrines, and I kind of want to make more myself.

Gangleri's Grove

Today I received the first submission to the Public Polytheistic Shrine Project. ^__^ T.P. Ward sent me images of this shrine, made in thanks to Hermes, Artemis, and Poseidon. Thank you, T.P.

This was created in a public park near his home.

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Folks, if you are interested in joining this project (and i hope at least some of you are!), see the guidelines here.

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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.