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.