Devotion while depressed

My post on the spirit of depression gets waves of likes from time to time, and the article I wrote on treating depression in a Pagan context remains one of the most popular pieces I wrote for the Wild Hunt.  I don’t know that Pagans and polytheists suffer depression more than other people, but it does matter to us.

Recently — and perhaps for the first time — I recognized a pattern which may help me avoid the worst of symptoms.  When I am energetic and enthused I commit to things, and those commitments can build like a wave which slams me flat.  My mistake has been in committing based on my best days, because when they occur it’s difficult to recall what the worst feel like.  That can lead to me falling short, which only compounds the problem.

In recent weeks I have completed obligations around running an event for a hundred people and mostly finalized a budget for a small nonprofit, but I also agreed to several days of travel in the name of my religion and to strengthen ties with my ancestors, all before Thanksgiving, the gateway to American stress season.  Oops.

One way I am scaling back is in relation to the gods.  I’ve temporarily suspended my practice of writing down all of my offerings, for example.  In addition, the temple I keep as priest of Poseidon is in what I characterize as a slow-maintenance period; I dismantled, cleaned, and reorganized the space but I am reinstalling deity therein at a seismic pace.  Last week I put a cloth on the altar, and yesterday I placed a candle holder.  (Poseidon is a patient god; as long as I move faster than the tectonic plates in this he is not displeased.)

Spirits and gods don’t always understand human needs, but if they desire our service they must sometimes accede to our limitations.  If they are playing the long game, they will listen.  Poseidon recognizes slack tide.  I am grateful for his nature.

Message from Selene

When I was a young man, I looked up into the sky one night while walking my dog, and swore an oath to the moon.

I cannot say exactly what I swore, because I don’t recall. For many years — decades, actually — I didn’t even remember that I had taken such a step at all. I admired the moon, but somehow over the course of time I forgot just how much I had admired the moon in the moment.

July, 2016, it came back to me as she turned my world upside-down. On the occasion in question I was submerged in a bath, reading for the first time Lunessence, a Selene devotional anthology to which I had contributed a piece about her and Poseidon. I turned to the page on which my offering, “Waiting for Selene,” was at that moment first beheld on paper by my own eyes. I read it as if for the first time, drinking in the dynamic I tried to describe between the two deities.

[raptorzysko]

I hadn’t looked at this piece since I had submitted it some months before, and frankly, I was impressed. Sometimes, the words I put together seem like they must be coming from another place than my own mere mind, and this felt like one of those times. Yes, I was impressed, but perhaps being impressed with myself wasn’t exactly what the gods were looking for. That’s when they turned my world upside-down.

The hand doing the tilting, I felt, was definitely Poseidon’s. While she is the gentle-but-irresistible pull of the tides, his is the relentless force of plate tectonics. Looking at my feet extended to the other end of the tub, my brain demanded to know why they instead appeared to be extending up above my head. Kinesthetically I knew they were not, but the information being patched through my eyes disagreed. If the planet’s poles had been reversed without warning I would not have been more disoriented than I was in that moment.

All the while, I understood the physical cause of this sensation to some extent. I have a condition which can alter fluid pressure in my inner ear, resulting in an altered perception of up and down. This is the condition which had been triggered, and I was confident the switch had been flipped by divine hand as a less-than-subtle message. Surrounded by water, reading about the goddess of the celestial body which controls the tides, turning my understanding of gravity inside-out got my attention. In a world of sensory overload, the subtle and quiet does not always make an impression. Sitting in that tub, I had no choice but to pay attention. I could no longer even read.

It was during those moments of extreme disorientation that I recalled an oath, one I had sworn decades earlier, on a night when the moon was full and I was out walking the dog. Things fell into place. I had reneged because I had forgotten not to, and I probably forgot because I didn’t make the oath as specific as it needed to be. If I’d made it more specific I probably would have remembered making it at all, for one. It would have included specifics about what I was offering to give, and whether I was expecting anything in return. If I’d be really thinking, I would have established a time limit, even something as simple as my own mortal life. I could have put in a lot of detail, and that might have prompted me to write it down. Who knows?

Oaths are not for the weak. They are not for the shortsighted. Many Christians avoid them entirely and with good reason, as I found out: they tend to linger about, their power unabated yet unrealized. I wonder what other youthful oaths I swore, which have not yet risen into recollection? What consequences might I endure as I rediscover those promises? Should I engage in preemptive reparations? Is it better to wait until they make their wishes known? Divine hypothetical conjecture seems madness, but ignoring obligations doesn’t feel like much of an alternative.

Mysteries of the bull

Dear Poseidon,

This year’s vigil is at an end.  All that remains is to print out the rituals and hymns to preserve in my book of practice.  All that’s physical, at least.  There is much I need to ponder, as well.

I know you exposed me to some of your mysteries.  For a writer, that’s not difficult to discern; I tried writing down what you taught me, and then I tried to make sense of the words after the fact.  Curiously, while I recognize that nothing coherent can be made of what I scrawled upon the page, that gibberish rekindles the fire you lit in my mind.  The full understanding washes over me, triggered but not described by the letters I penned in the moment.  Perhaps that was the purpose of the ear of corn to initiates of Eleusis.

Not all you revealed slips entirely free of language.  I now have some inkling of your consort Posedeia, and recognize that her being all-but-forgotten may have been by design.  Others may know something of she who was lost to history, or the impossible child which she did — and did not — bear you.

[Michelle Young.]

Frankly, I expected none of this.  This is the Vigil for the Bulls, after all, and bulls are about which I was prepared to ponder.  On that topic, I am gobsmacked.

Well I know the myth of the Tauros Kretaios, the magnificent bull which Minos asked of you to ensure his kingship.  Had he but sacrificed it as he was expected, many significant events would never have been spun out by the Moirae.  Now I hold a new version of that tale in my head, one which adds depth to Minos’ betrayal, and a bittersweet dimension to all which resulted from his desire to own that beast, rather than cede it back to you.

I was led to believe that this is a vigil at the intersection of politics and practice, an opportunity to bear witness to the grief you feel over the terrible choices humans have made.  I did not understand that joining a god in grief opens pathways to other regrets.  I did not understand that to share your sorrow is to bear my own.  I did not understand that I might gain from this service.

The ocean is heavy, and the earth heavier still.  Never could I bear the full weight you carry, Poseidon; Atlas himself might shy from that burden.  That you allowed me to even glimpse the scope of what is upon your vast shoulders is both an honor and a challenge.  I pray I am worthy of both.

Your humble priest,
Terentios

Oracle of the bull

We are nearly at the beginning of the year per the old Athenian calendar, and that signals a new period of service to the community for me.  Monthly in the coming year I will be acting as oracle of Poseidon, as part of training I am receiving from him for another activity.

I will be doing this on the following dates:  July 20, August 20, September 18, October 16, November 16, December 17, January 15, February 12, March 15, April 12, May 13, and June 11.

Those wishing to get a question answered are requested to submit it here; questions must be received three days’ prior else they will be rolled over until the next session.  (If you’re late for the last session, that’s probably going to be that.)

Offering of the bull

I’ve been preparing for the Vigil for the Bulls for about ten months now, as compared to the week or two I’ve invested in years past.  I already know the vigil will have far-reaching consequences in my life.

Even as I was wrapping up last year’s vigil, I had a sense that I wanted to offer something more than my time, my energy, wine and incense.  A couple of months later I hit upon the perfect thing:  a bull.

a wooden model approximating a bull skeleton standing before a large, blue-bound book emblazoned with a trident

Book and bull.

Part of why I sit this vigil is because of the senseless spectacle of death which takes place in Pamplona each day after the bull run.  These are animals being chased through a screaming crowd to the corral from which they will face near certain death in the bullfighting ring.  It is essentially the opposite of the purpose sacrifice fills.

Sacrificing a bull in an ancient Hellenic city-state meant that there was a lot of meat passed around, mostly to people who didn’t get much of it.  The meat from a bullfighting victim is sold to high-end restaurants, and commands a premium price because of its rarity.  Moreover sacrifice is an offering — a big one — which is all about the gods.  Bull running and fighting is a spectacle designed to celebrate danger, violence, and bloodshed, and which is all about the people.  If a god dwells in those temples, the participants seem unaware.  Certainly no god is being given a share of these deaths.

These other bulls meet there end in a way which is anything but holy. By making a votive offering of a bull during the vigil, I stand for a right relationship with the gods, as well as with these animals and other beings.  Yes, the bull and I hang from the same food chain, but as an animist I seek a more respectful relationship, even with those beings I must eat.

This will be an offering that stands counter not only to bullfights, but to factory farms, and the unnatural disconnection from that food chain their presence has fostered.  When I burn it has yet to be determined; I’ll be staying in a hotel the last couple of nights of the vigil, and setting midnight fires in the courtyard might be frowned upon.

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.

Bearding

bearded PoseidonPhutalmios, verdant one,
plant-nourishing Poseidon,
such bounty has been born of earth!

Phutalmios of the waving fields,
sun-dappled, wind-kissed,
flowing nectar and sap.

Phutalmios of the deep woods,
lord of life’s quiet secrets
and keeper of hidden oaths.

Phutalmios of the silent eddy,
swirling seed to ground
and guarding is rest.

Phutalmios of the white barley,
a geyser erupted,
beard of the world.

Phutalmios, cloak swirling,
covered in night
to sleep once more.