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.


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.

He approves

As it happens, the Vigil for the Bulls ends just prior to my birthday. I arose this morning after my first night of sleep unbroken by devotion, and awaits me on the family altar were gifts! Okay, not entirely a surprise; that’s how we roll.

The card my wife gave me had a wishing-well theme, so she decided to enhance it with an actual coin from her collection.  She grabbed an old British penny, sporting a profile of King George circa 1920.  Apparently, she never looked at the reverse, but I did.

A seated figure, holding a shield and trident? I’ll take that sign right to the bank.

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!

2016-06-29 13.35.14

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.

What methods of inducing altered states of conscious[ness] does your tradition have?

As with anything in a localized, reconstructed tradition, the answers can come from “there and then” or “here and now.”

There and then altered states were most famously (and perhaps apocryphally) induced by gases leaking up from a volcanic vent.  Alcohol was pretty popular in some corners of the world, too.

Here and now I’m aware that many of my co-religionists have mastered techniques, both old and new, to induce trance for oracular work, as well as open themselves to the gods in general.  This is technically hearsay, because I have neither witnessed nor experienced it myself, although I have faith it’s really happening to others.  I simply haven’t felt called to explore this myself, and rely upon those flashes of insight that I receive from time to time.

Someday when I’m not working three or four jobs I may yet learn what works for me.  I had some powerful experiences in my pre-Hellenic days, specifically with Herne, and I’m more than a bit curious what doors I may open by going deep.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

What offerings do you make in your tradition and why?

Hellenismos has a lot of information about the offerings that were made to the various gods in antiquity, and that in itself is a good enough reason to continue making some of the same ones.  Frankincense is an old favorite, and I toss a bit of barley to one god or another every day.  Giving a coin to a beggar is something I will turn my car around to do.

Some traditional offerings aren’t my style, though.  Like most modern folk, I have no plans to sacrifice an animal and burn a portion as an offering to the gods.  I’ve considered making a burnt offering of meat I sometimes purchase from a local farm, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I understand the reasons for doing it, and don’t find it less morally problematic than simply killing the animal for meat, but there’s a pretty steep learning curve to do it right, and I don’t feel compelled to make that climb.

The list of things that the Hellenes offered their gods is actually pretty long and detailed, but outside of the aforementioned items and some myrrh and wine from time to time, that’s most of what I take from it.  My other offerings fall into the category of unverified personal gnosis, or perhaps just reasoning out a few that seem right.

  • Grape juice.  I don’t drink much wine, so when I pour libations with it (after mixing it with water, of course) I still get lightheaded for a bit.  I also pour more libations in the morning, and wine doesn’t feel quite right, so I offer unfermented grape juice instead, like the Methodists do.  Since it’s reconstituted, I don’t feel the need to add water, either.
  • CoffeeI take coffee seriously, offering it brewed to Hestia Caffeina daily, as well as offerings of ground coffee to her seasonally.  For the past year or more I have also given Poseidon Soter a daily libation of coffee; he is savior of sailors and one well-known fictional sailor, Starbuck, gave his name to a coffee-shop chain because of his love of the stuff.  Coffee grounds (as opposed to ground coffee) is given to Cloacina, together with . . .
  • Mint, in season.  Cloacina is the Roman goddess of the sewer, and not much is known about her cult, so I added mint when it’s growing because who doesn’t like a refreshing whiff of mint?
  • Cookies.  I bake chocolate chip cookies for Noumenia, the beginning of the month.  I like them.  The gods accept them.  They bring smiles to everyone else who eats them, strengthening community.  Win all around.
  • IRA contributions.  The better off I am in retirement, the less of a burden I will place upon my descendants.  That allows them to carry traditions forward, which honors my ancestors.  Our present economic system demands poverty of senior citizens before helping them, and expects the costs of child rearing, elder care, and student loans to be borne by a single generation.  It’s a broken system, one which is the very opposite of community, but it’s what we’ve got.  This offering works within those confines.

Offerings are central to my practice.  Quite a bit of what I offer isn’t exactly traditional, but it all works in my relationship with the gods.  When they want more emphasis on old school offerings, they aren’t shy letting me know.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

What does it feel like when one receives inspiration from the divinities?

Like someone opened up my head and dropped something inside of it.  Like a light being turned on in a dark room that you didn’t realize was wired for electricity.  Like the feeling of seeing a jigsaw puzzle piece that fits.

I also get ideas, lots of ideas, more ideas of my own than inspiration from outside of myself.  And again, discerning one from the other is not always easy, but it’s also not always necessary.  There’s a distinction between good discernment and good judgment, but if you have the latter you won’t always need the former, because the stupid ideas will be tossed out without knowing that they weren’t inspired.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

What are some of the ways that you communicate with the divinities?

Finally, I get to a question that’s a bit easier to answer!  For me, communication is usually asynchronous; I talk to the gods at different times than they speak to me.  I perform devotions to one or more gods daily, which generally involve a libation and an offering of barley, sometimes include reciting a written prayer or hymn, and less frequently the lighting of a candle or an offering of incense.

Replies come in many forms:

  • Signs:  I have a friend who is very good at pointing out the ones I might otherwise miss, such as the eagle we spied last summer or a hawk perched outside of my kitchen window the other day.
  • Silence:  I have mentioned more than once that in the company of Quakers I have gotten messages; their practice creates an excellent environment for this sort of listening.
  • Water:  I receive insights, and assignments in the bathtub just often enough that I use the tub for my mind rather than my body.
  • Insight:  On rare occasion, I will have a full-blown message pop directly into my head while performing devotions.

As with any devotional or mystical path, the key is developing the discernment necessary to know the difference between a sign or message and the machinations of the universe.  I’m still working on that part.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.