It’s amazing how the smell of Morningstar Lotus incense lifts my mood. When I first began to use it, I didn’t really like the scent; I found it soapy yet cloying. Now, two years later, it makes me feel happy. It’s not so much that the scent has changed in my perception as that the associations have: I burn it as an offering to Antinous. Its floral odor reminds me of the red lotus that belongs to the god, of prayers recited, of moments when I have felt his presence and care.
I have a triptych with three images of Antinous that I made with my own hands, using pictures printed out from the internet. I have photographs of my grandmother, my great-aunt, my grandfather. I have quite a few greeting cards with images by Robert Lentz, iconographer and Franciscan brother; there are usually one or two on my altar, as there are now. I also have a series of greeting cards with collages of the Earth Astrology calendar months; I forget now where the Earth Astrology system comes from, but the images of North American birds, plants, beasts, and reptiles remind me to pay attention to my environment, the land and the sky and the weather right here.
I have a few little statues of deities and a plaque that looks like terra cotta which is based on a famous Roman lararium. Bring it all together with some candles and crystals, oh, and the symbol of the Tetrad++ mounted on pink construction paper, and I have a shrine, a little space of sacredness in my tiny, crowded apartment. I eat, sleep, dress and undress, watch movies, play Angry Birds, and get online in the presence of my shrine.
I do spend a lot of time online. Before I discovered pagans and polytheists online, I discovered fanfic and fandom. I’ve made many friends at the other end of an internet connection. I’ve shared hundreds of short stories with online readers. I’ve blogged about some of the best and worst things in my life. (High on the best list: My birds, past and present. High on the worst list: The stomach flu that laid me flat for a full week around this time last year.) I joined two druid organizations I first discovered online. I undertook nine months of magical training that I wouldn’t have known were available had I not been willing to join a particular mailing list on Yahoo. I wouldn’t be a devotee of Antinous if I hadn’t discovered his cultus online.
But if hanging out online were all there is to my religion, I don’t think the smell of that lotus incense would mean so much to me. My online life is part of my social life; it’s part of my devotional life; it’s an important outlet for my creative life. But it’s not the whole. Prayers are said, offerings are made, rituals are carried out on feast days, and the god is present to me. Likewise I do have local friends that I see face to face, though not as often as I would like to–but I work two jobs, and so do some of them.
Online friendships with people of common interests, online fiction I can read free because it’s fanfic, online pictures of cute birds have all enriched my life enormously. So I don’t quite know what to think when I see people apparently get online expressly in order to make blog posts or comments on other blogs to the effect that the online pagan/polytheistic/blogging network is meaningless to them. It feels a bit like those posts on Tumblr where people just have to tell the world why they don’t like a particular ship. No one’s forcing anyone to read Sherlock/Molly or Steve/Darcy. And no one’s forcing anyone to participate in blogging, commenting, Facebooking, or what have you. No one *can* force anyone. Perhaps those people should shut down the computer and go light some incense that makes them feel good because it connects them to their gods.