Rethinking immigration law

My long-held view on immigration is classically Republican, as opposed to the view held by many modern members of that political party: a republic is a nation governed by laws, and if those laws are not enforced there’s nothing left holding that republic together. The modern Republican view is classically American: we don’t like foreigners and will use laws to keep out as many of them as we can, even as our hearts swell with pride when thinking of the Statue of Liberty. I say “classically American” because while the Republican party is presently the home of most xenophobes, hating people who look or sound different is an idea that’s historically right up there with apple pie and “give me your tired.” We love the idea that people want to come here (we’re number one!), but once the neighborhood is packed with folks talking in another language, it’s a different story.

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I try to avoid such hypocrisy. Sometimes, I even succeed.

Being a stick-to-my-guns sort of guy, I’ve gotten in a few online tussles with people over my “enforce the law” position, even after I started clarifying that “enforce the law, or change it to a law that you’re going to enforce” is fine by me too.

As I sat watching my local elected officials work out some kind of sanctuary law, listening to the testimony of people who live under threat — often, but not always, deserved — of detainment and deportation, it was very important that I wrap myself in my journalist’s mantle of dispassion. Otherwise, I knew that I could end up writing up my opinions, rather than actually reporting what happened. This is a mantle which often hangs loose about me, but this was one of those times when pulling it tight would be needed to make sure its work was done.

When I wrote the editorial about journalism as ministry, it wasn’t just that I see reporting news as a vital service. When I notice similarities in the way I approach my work as journalist and priest, that means I see serving the gods and speaking the truth to be closely aligned on a sacred level. It is a place from which I deeply listen to discern that truth, to the wagging of tongues and the moving of spirit. What settled over me was an understanding that I needed to let go my righteousness.

I’m surprised that no one in the room that night heard the grating, crunching sound of a paradigm shifting without a clutch. Maybe that falls short in explaining what went on in my head. It’s not that I suddenly understood reasons differently; no, I was just getting new orders and it didn’t really matter what I thought about them. Sometimes divine presence, for me, can be compared to physical sensation: floating, tingly, an emotional response. That was not the case this time; what I got was a thought dropped cleanly into the logic center of my brain.

Zeus is keeper of the law. My respect for law honors he who oversees its enforcement. It was some weeks after my experience before I realized he’d had a hand in reconsidering this question. Yes, Zeus is god of law, but not only mortal law. There are divine laws which also govern my life, and one of them, xenia, he wants me to put before immigration policy. Moreover, he shifted how I might interpret the relationship between host and guest; where I previously would have branded the alien an enemy for disregarding the law, I must evaluate em now as stranger, a person unknown who should be treated with respect and hospitality.

What’s changed? Expectations, more than attitudes. I still feel that a republic — a country governed by laws — should only have laws which are enforced, and that all others should be discarded. I still am likely to bristle a bit when I think about people ignoring the process for immigrating to this nation, rather than working to get it changed. Those thoughts, and the logical sand emotional steps I took to reach those conclusions, were not erased. However, I’m not to act on those opinions. It will take time for my worldview to shift, aligning itself with this directive, if it ever does. All I know for certain is that this particular set of laws is not one I am to defend. Perhaps, like tectonic plates settling after an earthquake, the change will be a gradual one that I scarcely notice. For now, I wait.

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.

How does your tradition handle wrathful, savage and destructive divinities?

The theoi — gods of the Hellenes, or “ancient Greeks” — are a study in opposites.  Poseidon rules earth as well as sea.  Zeus is progenitor of many offspring by many mothers, but is also god of marriage.  Hermes is swift as thought,yet his oldest representation is as a standing stone.  Demeter brings forth crops, and takes them away. Dionysos can bring sanity as well as madness.  Haides and Persephone hold the promise of life in their dark kingdom.  The Hellenes prayed to Ares not only for victory in war, but also to keep war far from their gates.

There is no wrath without calm, destruction without creation, death without life.  I believe that this understanding of the nature of the gods resolves the above question quite nicely:  the way to day with wrathful, savage, and destructive divinities is to appeal to other aspects of those very gods.  The myths also speak about involving other gods, but that usually doesn’t end well.

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.

Possession

My research into the Greek gods has drawn me to the conclusion that they are very comfortable with possession.  Much of the ancient literature talks about the gods appearing in the form of an animal or person.  Is that a sign of their ability to shift shape, or is it more in their character to simply occupy a physical form which already exists?  My gut tells me that using what’s there takes a lot less effort than creating matter from energy.

As evidence that I’m not the best of researchers, I am providing no links to back up this claim.  I’ve read tons, but I take poor notes and rely on my memory.  Looking back through theoi.com (okay, one link), I can’t find any of what I’m talking about.  This is probably why I’ll never be a reconstructionist.  Just call me a mystic and do the research yourself.  😉

I wonder about the forms Zeus and Hermes assumed when they visited Baucis and Philemon, and the old woman Athene becomes to speak with Odysseus and challenge Arachne.  Ares is even more interesting:  there’s more than a few references to someone “walking with Ares” or having Ares in his heart, and the scholars say that Homer and his ilk were just metaphorically expressing the character’s murderous rage.

Why are they so sure it’s metaphorical?

Seems to me that the theoi, if not other gods, are more than comfortable inserting themselves into mortal beings.  Maybe “possession” is too strong a word, because they influence thoughts and deeds but do not generally take over fully the way a Wiccan or Santeria deity might, or someone in an oracular trance.  But possessing part of me is still a form of possession, so I like the word for it.

Words spoken by a stranger on the road may be an omen.  Could that be because a god alighted just long enough to take over the tongue at that moment?  I give money to beggars as an offering to Hermes.  Isn’t it likely he is present to accept it personally?  My knees knock and my heart pounds when I am faced with physical confrontation:  is Ares bringing my adrenaline to the fore?

If we were possessed by our gods in little ways, every day, would we simply feel closer to them?  Do we need more words to describe the range of states that I see as possession?

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

Noumenia

For those not “in the know,” noumenia is the first day of the lunar month of the Hellenic calendar.  For more information on ancient and modern practices, there are many bona-fide experts; all I plan on writing about is my experiences leading up to and during my most recent celebration of this day.

First, a bit of context:  Hellenic practitioners largely agree that following a ritual calendar is a good thing.  The exact nature of that calendar varies:  some follow the Attic calendar of Athens, because it’s the only one we still have in full; others adapt from that to correspond to their specific locality, deity relationships, or research; there are also zodiac-based calendars in use.

Noumenia is celebrated the first day of the lunar month, so I count myself among those who have adapted the Attic calendar for my own use.  I have been adding to my ritual obligations slowly, and I don’t hold a festival for each day on that calendar; in fact, although I conduct some kind of ritual every day, it’s mostly focused on household deities, which is a different part of the religion than the big, public festivals we see in this ancient calendar.

However, I do take time each month to divine which god, if any, wishes to take a special interest in me for that cycle of the moon.  Two months ago, I determined Demeter was that deity, which seemed auspicious for springtime and the plantings I did at that time.  Last month, Hermes came to the fore, and he upped the ante:  I was asked to pour him a libation each day.  Usually I honor Hermes on the fourth day of the week and the month, so this was a bigger commitment.

This month, however, I didn’t need to use my burgeoning skills in divination at all, so plain the signs were for me to see.  It began this past Saturday, when a member of a Hellenic polytheist group on Facebook asked why Zeus would harm people or animals with lightning.  I had the discussion buzzing around in my mind, perhaps, when I attended Quaker meeting the following morning, because thoughts of the king of the gods danced in my head.

(Side note:  I have to come up with two “Q” topics for this dastardly alphabetical blog project, so please forgive me if I don’t discuss my relationship with the Quakers in more depth right now.  A blogger’s got to do what a blogger’s got to do.)

After the meeting for worship, a member of that community approached me and told me, “your name came up in committee meeting today.”  The prisons committee was seeking people to visit individual prisoners, something that, as volunteers who worship with groups of prisoners, the committee members themselves are not permitted to do according to the byzantine correctional facility rules.

It struck me as interesting that I was being asked to do work relating to justice, over which Zeus has purview.

That’s about as close as I saw it.

Later that day, I visited a friend just a few minutes’ drive away, and we heard a majestic cry.  We looked up to see a bald eagle circling lazily in the bright sky.  My heart leaped — I’ve never seen one in real life, and sightings in my area are anything but common.  I muttered to myself, “Okay, I get it,” and dismissed from my mind any doubts about whether or not Zeus which to takes a more active role in my life right now.  I knew I wouldn’t bother doing any divination around deities for the coming month, because some gods apparently prefer to remove all doubt.

I am continually wonderstruck by the willingness of the gods to take me by the hand and walk with me awhile, now that I have committed to the path of Hellenismos.  I am more aware, more sensitive to the unseen messages all around me.  I’m sure this is true of anyone, once they find the path which is the right fit for them.  I’ve seen my Wiccan friends reach this point from afar, but I wasn’t able to quite make the same connection using that system.  I tried mightily to make any form of Christianity work, but none of them were my answer, either.

I feel particularly blessed, but I don’t believe that others will necessarily get the same results from the same formula.  I’d love to find others to worship the theoi with me, but I’m content simply surrounding myself with people who are so rooted in their beliefs that my own path doesn’t make them feel threatened on theirs.

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