Nothing special

When I got interested in Buddhism, one of the first books I discovered happened to be No Time to Lose by Pema Chodron. It’s a commentary on one of the core texts of Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva. While reading it, I often felt that Pema Chodron must have been reading my journals and bugging my phone for a decade; she seemed to have scarily precise insight into my emotional shit and the ways in which I sabotaged myself.

I was drawn to Tibetan Buddhism right off, but I also did some reading about Zen. I found a lot of wisdom in books by John Daido Loori, a Zen abbot and photographer who was basically everybody’s Italian uncle in robes. My personal aesthetic is much more Tibetan Buddhist than Zen, and there were a few Zen books I always meant to read when I got around to it, but I never did. One of them was a book called Nothing Special, by Charlotte Joko Beck.

I think of that book now as I try to write yet another post about my religion. Writing devotional poetry, as I did throughout the month of May, is like writing my religion. Writing these posts based on a meme is writing about my religion. There’s a step back from the material. And I keep looking at the assigned topics and finding that what I do as a pagan polytheist devotee of Antinous and associated deities is not hugely different from what I did as a High Church Episcopalian worshipper of Jesus Christ. It’s nothing special.
Looking at the suggested topics of this meme, and of other similar memes that I rejected in favor of this one, I get the impression that it’s supposed to be special. People speak of their path, their practice, their lineage, their tradition, not of their religion. I have used the same words in the past, but now, as a polytheist, the word religion comes easily again. Mediterranean polytheism–that’s my shorthand description–is my religion. And it’s nothing special, except that religion has always been hugely important to me.

I don’t reject animal sacrifice, but I don’t practice it myself. I don’t dance naked around bonfires, nor do I wear a special costume for worship. I don’t assume the dress of an Egyptian or Greek or Roman woman before rituals. If I ever attend a ritual hosted by other people, I will undoubtedly dress up, but in contemporary clothes. I am under no constraints as to what I’m allowed to eat, wear, or do; my relationship to Antinous is not less meaningful because I may watch Teen Wolf or because I go to see Marvel movies and enjoy writing fanfic. I’m not a priestess, seer, diviner, or other sacred personage. I don’t have gods whispering in my ear, or ancestors or spirits. At the moment, I have a sleepy, contented bird grinding his beak in my ear, a sign of his calm good mood. I mostly feel content with that.

I am by no means a “normal” person who unquestioningly accepts social mores. I’m divorced, bisexual, a polytheist, a media fan, a writer. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily stick out, either. I work full-time, have a pet I love, keep a Facebook account. I can pass for normal as long as you don’t ask me about pro sports, which I loathe, or deliberately question me about religion or sexuality.

I am not special, and that’s okay. In terms of my religion, I’m a lay person. I use the gifts I have, my writing, to honor the gods, as I have always wanted to do. And the gods, the ancestors, the spirits are present and active in my life.


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Writer, musician, polytheist, and friend of birds. I like science fiction, fantasy, and superheroes a lot.

3 thoughts on “Nothing special”

  1. It’s interesting you say this now, because earlier, I was thinking of something I wrote a few years ago, in which I said in a dream I had, that I am “A person of no importance, with no name that is of any significance, who will only be in this world for a short time, and will not be missed when gone.” I didn’t say or write it to be pessimistic or fish for compliments, it’s simply how I feel, and what I admitted happily in the dream. My work may be important, insofar as the Deities who motivate (but, note, not necessarily direct or control, or even commission) it are important, but that’s the thing–it’s only important because they are, and not because of me.

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    1. I am reminded of a morning earlier this year, in January or maybe late last year, waking up in the dark and knowing it was cold outside and I would have to leave for work before the sun was really up, and I lay there and thought, The universe doesn’t care whether I’m happy or not. Which turned out to be incredibly freeing–my next thought was, So why not be happy? And then I thought about those who actually do care, my bird and my friends and my gods, and that was a real and strong comfort.

      I appreciate very much your distinction between being motivated by the gods and being directed or commissioned. I am becoming as wary of pagans and polytheists who claim to be directed or commissioned by the gods as I have long been of Christians and other religious persons who make that claim. As a Christian I used to say that God had called me to write, that I had a vocation to it; I would probably still affirm Hopkins’s “What I do is me; for that I came”. An oak tree oaks, a sparrow sparrows, a writer writes. And that is nothing special. *g*


      1. There does seem to be a distinction that is often missed that assent of one’s own personal will is necessary, even if dire consequences are threatened by deities (and I don’t know to what extent some people exaggerate those…I suspect more than might at first be apparent). Not unlike people who claim to have more-or-less “channeled” certain texts (that are often poorly put together, not well edited, etc.), there seems to be this notion that “I had no choice here” is both an abrogation of one’s own responsibility and autonomy for particular matters, but also this assumption that therefore one is “better” than others for being…I don’t know, “chosen” or “selected” or perhaps even “destined” by the deities for this or that role, often when the role in question is somewhat inconsequential, all things considered.

        I suppose, in the overall schema of Ananke, we are all destined and of necessity must fulfill certain roles, responsibilities, and obligations, no matter how comparatively inconsequential or super-essential they might happen to be. So, again, nothing special about that–we all have a destiny, so rather than making a big deal about it, we may as well just get on with doing it, eh? 😉


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