A world full of gods

20180308_101622Vesta’s fire burns on my stove and in the candles on my shrine. She consumes the incense I kindle and crackles through wires as electricity to power lamps, laptops, and everything else.

Apollo gives music, healing, poetry, prophecy, all of which I need. He and Diana shed light by day and by night. Venus and her court bless me with birds and flowers as well as love and desire. Mercury blesses writers as well as merchants and thieves, protects me when I catch public transit or walk across the freight train tracks.

Who better than Minerva to help a single woman further her career, especially in an intellectual field? To whom shall I appeal for just government if not Jupiter, king of the gods? Mars is a protector of boundaries and of the fields we cultivate, not merely a god of war. Juno’s image burns within me, my sacred female sovereignty.

The blessings of Ceres put food on my table. Bacchus entertains me not merely in every glass of wine but in every movie and television show, transforming reality and slipping me meaning and wisdom along with pleasure and diversion. Neptune and Portunus are needed to bless our rivers and our harbor, a center of tourism and of trade. Without Vulcan, would I have a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone? I’m not an artificer, but I need the products of craft and manufacture. With Janus at the door, I sleep safely at night.

Antinous, my beloved boy, god of my heart, carries the gifts of Apollo, Dionysus, and Hermes, as well as of Osiris, and opens the door to all the gods. He is the center around which my sense of the numinous is organized, the heart of the mandala.

There is no god that is not part of my life. They are everywhere. I may not go into the wilderness, but I know that Diana and Faunus are there, just as Mercury and Apollo, Minerva and Venus are not far away in the city. Even a vacant lot overgrown with weeds can be a glimpse of Faunus; Diana’s deer are hiding in patches of woods just off the light rail’s route. Flora blesses the carefully tended yards and gardens no matter how run-down a neighborhood may be.

Other gods are no less real for my not worshipping them. They, too, are present even if I don’t notice them.  It doesn’t seem like mysticism, or magic, or anything but reality. The gods and my relationships with them are woven through my life, my ordinary life. I pay attention to them, and they pay attention to me. Their reality affirms my reality; their sacredness affirms my sacredness. After all, some gods become humans, and a good many humans have become gods….

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A birth and a death

I’m not feeling terribly eloquent today, but I still want to note two holy days occurring.

hermesFirst, the birthday of the god Mercury, or Hermes, divine messenger, communicator, interpreter, and mischief-maker of Olympus. Isn’t this picture of him cute? (I’ve posted it before, but I couldn’t resist posting it again.) I think many pagans ought to thank the D’Aulaires for turning us on to the gods of Greece and the North.

 

It’s also, however, the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the Episcopal Church, he may be commemorated on this day as a martyr instead of or in addition to the national holiday celebrating his birth. Michael Harriot has published a bitter but cogent essay on The Root that reminds us that King was not a national hero in his lifetime, but a thorn in the side of a complacent white majority that was quite contented to see him gone.

What do the god and the martyr for justice have in common? Perhaps just this: They both got in there and stirred shit up.

Balancing on a tripod

primary_483I’m not a monastic. I’m not even a Christian, although I still honor Jesus. So when I look at my religious practice, I am not interested in vowing poverty, chastity, or obedience. As a self-supporting individual employed full-time, I’m uncomfortably close to poverty at times, anyway (but that’s another story). I obey my supervisors when I’m at work; when I’m at home, I wish I weren’t quite so celibate.

St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, did not ask his monks to vow poverty, chastity, and obedience. He required, instead, that they promise stability, obedience, and “conversatio morum”. Stability meant that their vow was not to the Benedictine Order–I don’t think he had any conception of forming an Order–but rather to the community in which they lived, to that particular monastery or abbey. It meant staying put, committing to a particular group of people in a particular place.

Obedience meant obedience to the Abbot, or Abbess, to other superiors in the community, and to the Rule. “Conversatio morum”, often translated as “conversion of manners”, could also be rendered “changing one’s way of life”. Commentators on the Rule generally have a lot to say about conversatio; I feel reasonably confident in saying that it’s about being open to the change of heart, the change of values, the shaping of the self that is going to occur as a result of stability, obedience, and living by the Rule.

There’s a lot to be gained in Christian spirituality from studying and pondering what St. Benedict teaches about stability, obedience, and conversatio morum. But there’s another triad or tripod of values in his Rule that I think can apply to devotees of any religion or deity. It emerges from (frankly) some of the most tedious parts of the Rule, the details of the daily schedule and what should be done at the seven periods of prayer that punctuate the monks’ day.

Benedict schedules his monks for periods of prayer, study, and work. Prayer, for the monastic community, includes the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours, seven periods of prayer in common; the Eucharist, weekly and on holy days in his time; and private prayer and meditation. Study primarily means studying (and memorizing) the Scriptures and writers who were already recognized as authoritative, but by the Middle Ages Benedictines were scholars in a wide variety of disciplines; Hildegard of Bingen, for example, practiced and wrote about medicine. Work included everything that a self-supporting pre-industrial community had to do: farming, cooking, housekeeping, making shoes and clothing, selling the community’s surplus and buying what it couldn’t produce.

Benedict’s schedule of prayer, study, and work, rather than the monastic vows, can best form a useful model for a monastic or quasi-monastic approach to polytheism. Acts of devotion, whether rituals, offerings, prayers, meditations, contemplation, form the basis of the relationship between deity and devotee. Study encompasses anything one can do to better understand the gods, their historic worship, philosophy, magic, or whatever else is important; I don’t know a pagan or polytheist who doesn’t love to read, anyway. And work can include anything specifically done in honor of or dedication to a deity, such as this blog in my case, or any kind of work at all, offered to an appropriate deity; I sometimes offer my dish-washing to the house spirits and to my ancestors, in memory of all the foremothers who washed dishes in their day.

Devotion, study, and work is the tripod I seek to balance on as I frame my religious practice on a monastic model. I don’t have to quit my job, cover my head, wear a special outfit, or stick out in any way (unless I want to). I just have to be grounded, attentive, and anchored.

Two-party politics

A vote for Glykon is a vote for sanity!

No, a vote for Glykon is a vote for insanity!

Glykon Asklepides represents the Foolish Wisdom Party, here to offer you pure and pristine enlightenment.

No, Glykon Apollonion represents the Wise Folly Party, here to offer you liberation through sex, booze, and really bad puns.

Snakes are all about that rising kundalini, amirite? Pure spiritual freedom!

No, snakes are all about getting down and dirty, that phallus, baby!

A vote for Glykon is a vote for a puppet wearing a really bad orange wig. Politicians with bad orange wigs are totally trustworthy, amirite?

No, a vote for Glykon is a vote for a man who will grope your wives and daughters, swindle your sons out of their inheritance.

Don’t vote for Glykon! Vote for Glykon! The two-party system is the best!

(Sponsored by Glykon)

(Not endorsed by Glykon)

(Who the hell is Glykon?)

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POEM: On the Veneralia

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Venus_Verticordia

Let us venerate the venerable goddess
who gives us venial favors
and bestows venereal pleasures,
the wish-granting goddess who woos us to venery,
the winsome lady whose presence wins joy,
the mother of Cupid whose other name is Amor
(and Amor is the secret name of Roma),
golden and gracious, desiring and desirable,
who draws us all closer with the bonds of her power:
Ave, Venus! Hail to Venus on her Veneralia!
Lady, may your bountiful blessings and favor always grace us.

Little Gidding, again. Or still.

Isn’t there a poem by T.S. Eliot that says, at the end of all our running around in circles, we will stop and look around where we started and realize that’s where we’ve always been?  No? Well, there should be.

We shall not cease from exploration, but sometimes we would very much like to. Because we have found a place to dwell and would like to stay there. Where the fire and the rose do seem to be, at least occasionally, one. Definitely a place where prayer has been valid, and where the communication of the dead may be tongued with fire.

I have known for decades that I have a strong monastic inclination in my nature, an attraction to an orderly lifestyle, to prayer and contemplation, to liturgy and liturgical music, to intellectual and creative work as an act of devotion. I’ve known since I was a teenager that if I didn’t marry, I might well become a nun. I did marry; we were together for over twenty years, and then we divorced. My religion has changed since then, but my nature hasn’t. On the other side of wifehood, in a kind of widowhood–my ex-husband died last year–there is still the child who read a book about cloistered nuns and loved it, the teenaged girl who read Julian of Norwich and loved Julian and her words and her life.

I’m sitting in a small studio apartment in the middle of a city, looking out my window at a blossoming tree, in the aftermath of a spring storm that brought me a poem. Unlike Julian in her anchorhold, I can go in and out as I please; it’s possible, though, that Julian had a small space in which to go outside while still remaining cloistered. In the world but not of it; living a life dedicated to her god in the middle of the second-largest city in England, a major port, a center for the vital wool trade.

I’ve been a devotee of Antinous now for five years. Five years of fairly consistent devotional practice, making physical offerings (candles, incense, food and drink) and nonphysical (everything on this blog, and more), observing holy days, reading about related topics. When the Beautiful Boy came into my life and opened the door to polytheism, most of the Roman pantheon came in with him, along with some Hellenic and Kemetic deities. (And occasional visitors from the North. It’s hard to Loki-proof one’s cultus.) I found words and ways and means of ritual that weren’t strictly Roman, Hellenic, or Kemetic, but that worked for me and seemed to satisfy the gods and spirits.

In that same five years, I’ve also been madly interested in witchcraft, Wicca, Feri, Neoplatonic theurgy, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Western hermeticism, shamanism, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting, madly interested and briefly convinced that my religious practice needed that thing, that discipline, that magical practice, that extra requirement, that one more thing to do every single day on top of a full-time job and writing and bird care and feeding myself and oh yes, the devotional rites I mentioned….

I told my therapist recently that I was afraid that even if I could do everything I thought I should be doing, and do it perfectly, the critical voice in my head might not think it was Enough. We’re working on that.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and realize we were right all along. In spite of all my running around in circles, I’m right where I’ve always been. I’m not a witch, druid, priestess, priest, magician, yogini, fill it in if I’ve forgot something. I’m, well, an anchorite.

The word anchorite actually came from the Greek verb anachoreo, “I withdraw”, because the anchorite retreated from normal secular life to focus on devotion. The medieval Christian anchorite, like Julian of Norwich, lived as a solitary religious in one small cell, mostly praying and studying, occasionally counseling people who came to visit. But it’s hard as an English speaker not to make the pun that presents itself: An anchorite is someone who is anchored, anchored in one place, anchored to devotion and cultus, anchored to religious practice. An anchor for a community, the people who come and go around them, who go in and out of the church, or temple, or Naos, whether they worship the gods or not.

So as of today, I’m changing the name of my blog–although not the URL–to The Antinoan Anchorite. And to finish this entry as I began, let me quote old Tom Eliot properly:

A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

 

POEM: Spring storm

Dark clouds gather; the air thickens.
The pink-white blossoms of the tulip magnolia quiver.
Dark clouds gather: Jupiter’s mantle,
spread out as he looks down.
Flowering trees, daffodils, jonquils,
crocus, the loves of Mercury and Apollo,
hyacinths, dry stream beds, gutters full
of trash, empty asphalt roads: To the god,
all these are lovers, waiting for his touch.
The dark clouds are his mantle, spread out
for privacy. Juno will not see. He woos the earth
with kisses, a sprinkling of sweet rain;
the little gusts of wind are his caress.
The flowers lean toward him, thirsty.
The dry earth opens its cracks and crevices.
Bored pedestrians raise their heads
as the first rain strikes; the birds rouse
and shake. The winds grow stronger;
was that thunder I just heard? Now the trees
are shaking; huge drops of rain strike hard
against my windows. The winds are pounding,
the rain is pouring, the god is making love
to the world, great and potent, showering down
to fertilize everything, anywhere the rain touches,
every Danae who opens her arms
to the father of mortals and immortals,
the lover who sees beauty everywhere,
Pluvius, the rain-giver, Jupiter, the sky-father,
heaven making love to earth.