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.

First and Last, and other signs of Hestia


The first book that I have ever edited has now been published:  First and Last: a Devotional to Hestia.  I am proud of this work, as should every be every single contributor.  Its completion also fulfills a rare vow that I made, to see this project through.  However, Hestia has made her presence known in other ways this week, and it’s worth reflecting on it all in writing.

Writing is a lot of what I do professionally and spiritually, and occasionally both at the same time.  One way that I blend the two is by keeping an account of offerings I make to the gods, which became a useful resource in writing a litany to my many gods.  (Even if you don’t write ’em all down, you can write a litany too!)  Other than getting two or three entries every day, Hestia’s presence this week in particular was profound:  I ran out of room in my first book, and started the next.  The last offering in the old is a portion of dinner to Hestia, and the first in the new went to Hestia Caffeina.  Without planning to, the new book was started on a Sunday morning, which is a neat nod to the beginning of the modern week.

If you aren’t yet sure why I chose to name the Hestia anthology First and Last, it’s possible you haven’t been paying attention.  I am not her priest, but I give Hestia first and last offerings like many of my co-religionists.  For me, at least, she tends to manifest at times of beginning and end.

This week marked another last and first in my relationship with Hestia:  her statue.  Working with an incredibly talented sculptor, Joe Laudati, I commissioned a statue of this gentle goddess together with some partners.  I now own the first one cast, which was the last step in the process of creation.  Once I write an appropriate description this incredible figure will be available for sale, the first step in this statue’s transition from private to public life.  She stands now upon my mantle, and her spirit is strong.

Fitting on the mantle was one of the criteria I wanted for this statue:  there’s no need for a representation of Hestia if one has a physical hearth, but now that she is in that place of honor I feel like the room would be empty without her.  Keeping that in mind, I believe, helped convey her role as hearth goddess into the final form of this figure.

It’s tempting to include flame in a statue of Hestia, and we wrestled with that idea.  There are plenty of examples of sculptors doing just that, and I don’t think it quite works.  If one puts a watermelon in a sculpture, the viewer thinks, “That’s a watermelon.”  If one includes a flame, however, the viewer’s thought instead is, “That’s a representation of flame.”  That difference didn’t work for me.  A lamp might have also worked, but ancient Greek oil lamps still have a flame visible.

To convey her association with the hearth, the more subtle image of bread is used; she carries two loaves in one arm.  At her waist is a set of keys, reinforcing that she is preeminent goddess of the home.  Aloft she holds a bunch of grapes, which to some might seem an unusual choice.  Flowers, to which she is clearly linked, also can fall short in sculpture.  Grapes were selected to convey a full larder.

Hestia is veiled, this representing her choice to be a virgin goddess.

What makes this piece special to me is the fact that the bowl is separate.  Hestia is the receiver of all offerings, and this ceramic bowl allows the user to actually give some offerings right there.  Portions of one’s meal, as well as modest libations of wine and oil, “offerings least and greatest,” can be put in this offering bowl.  It could even be used to burn incense on charcoal, but I would not recommend placing a candle there.  While the bowl wouldn’t get damaged by a candle, other parts of this cast resin statue might.  Otherwise, utilize common sense and wash the bowl when needed.

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.

My personal practice: Hellenic flavor


There came a time when I started to understand more of the elements of Hellenic ritual, and desired to include more of them.  First came Hestia.

Statue of Caffeina rising from a coffee cup, which is between a coffee press and a hand coffee grinder. Another hand coffee grinder is behind the statue and a tiger lily blossom is before it.

Cult statue of the goddess Caffeina.

I learned about how Hestia is, in many Hellenic homes, honored first and last, and how there seemed to be no small number who poured a libation of coffee to her in the morning.  I considered the Caffeina shrine that we already had in our home, overseeing our waking lives.  Caffeina, who had been the goddess at our handfasting.  Caffeina, over whom my wife and I had bonded.  I realized that — for me, at least — the syncretized Hestia Caffeina was definitely a goddess.  The fact that our existing Caffeina shrine backed up against the far side of the fireplace didn’t hurt, either.

Two things I did not anticipate came from that syncretization.  First, Caffeina started getting paid her due much more often; until then, it was left to seasonal celebrations.  Second, since I drink coffee every day, it made sense to pour a libation just as regularly; thus I shifted to a daily practice without really even noticing.

Apparently that wasn’t quite enough, because somewhere along the way I put a candle for Hestia on the mantle over the hearth, which some might find redundant.  I might agree on those mornings when I light it over a blazing fire, and particularly that time we played “Fireplace in Your Home” on the television next to the blazing fireplace beneath the burning Hestia candle, but none of that was to happen until more recently.

By bringing Caffeina and Hestia together in my practice, I gave it a bit of a kick-start that led it to grow, by and by.  Barley.  Khernips.  Lots more incense.  Eventually, I even started buying wine.  I doubt I could have set out to begin a daily practice on purpose, but inside of my existing habits that happened of its own accord.  Gods work in mysterious ways and, for me, that meant helping me find the energy and momentum to give them more.  Very clever, them.

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.

30 days of devotion: UPGs about Caffeina


That’s “unverified personal gnosis” for all of you folks who loathe initialisms and other lazy abbreviations as much as I do.  I only use it for Google’s sake.

I’ve already touched on the most significant revelation that I’ve had about Caffeina, that it’s perfectly acceptable to worship her as Hestia Caffeina in keeping with Hellenic practice.

This really speaks to the question of what kind of polytheist I am, because I am saying that Caffeina is an epithet, or title, of the goddess Hestia.  This syncretic practice describes one as an aspect of the other, which makes a lot of sense if you consider that Hestia is the first to be honored each day, a place which Caffeina understandably holds for her devotees.

However, does this mean that I no longer acknowledge Caffeina as a unique, individual being?  Not at all.  Both she and Hestia are individuals in my mind.  Those offerings I make to Hestia, other than a libation of coffee, are not to Hestia Caffeina.  Likewise, when my wife (who does not follow a Hellenic path) and I worship together, it is to Caffeina we pray, not Hestia Caffeina.

Simply put, I don’t think that my limited concept of the nature of deity is at all qualified to define individuality.  They are separate, and they are not.  It’s paradoxical, and I’m okay with that.  I consider myself a polytheist, and not one of those polytheists who believe that all of the gods are facets of the same unknowable whole, either.  The ideas of “one” and “many” are entirely human, and I am content with the seeming madness of suggesting that both are likely true.

This post is part of a series, 30 days of devotion to Caffeina.

Seasonal visuals


We are turning from barley to coffee.

I continue to be amazed at how my practice of Hellenismos helps me be more rooted in more contemporary Pagan practices, such as the wheel of the year.  The equinox is a time that I honor the turn of the seasons by shifting my offerings to Caffeina.

Let me take a step back, because Caffeina isn’t even a remotely Hellenic deity.  Although I strive to honor the ancient practices of Hellas, or Greece, we only know about the tiniest sliver of them, mostly the things they did in Athens.  Reconstruction is the way we bring that research forward, but I can’t, and won’t, limit myself to a portion of what Athenians did.  We know that the Hellenes honored foreign gods, and adopted foreign practices; in this modern world, I have no problem with the fact that that process is accelerated.

My family had an altar to Caffeina before I was called by the gods of my Greek ancestors, and I honor her as an aspect of Hestia.  Many Hellenic pagans pour a libation of coffee to Hestia, since it is traditional to honor her before all others, so it seemed natural to me to honor one as an epithet of the other, or perhaps as a syncretic goddess.

Stepping forward again:  the equinox is one of the more popular times of the year to acknowledge the change of the seasons.  There are others which make more sense when compared to the actual weather, perhaps, but it’s the one I like to use.  So beginning on the equinox, my traditional first offering to Hestia shifts from barley to barley with ground coffee.  (Ground coffee is distinct from coffee grounds; the former is roasted beans smashed to bits, while the latter have also been subjected to the brewing process.)  I will offer this mix until the winter solstice, at which time I will abandon barley entirely until the spring equinox.

This is a nice visual of the changes in the world, and also mirrors the myth of Demeter, who does not allow the white barley to come forth from the earth while her daughter Persephone is in the underworld.  That’s a deeply Hellenic tale which has been widely adopted in modern Paganism, so it serves to reinforce how the ancient ways are the ways for today.  It also allows me to focus on Caffeina during a time when I am most need of extra energy and comfort.

Since we must make a more intentional effort to be in tune with the rhythms of the world beneath our feet, visual aids like this give us reminders that our ancestors didn’t need.  Do you have visuals that you use to keep your Paganism on track?

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