Further experiments in devotion
Back in January I wrote about connecting deities with astrology and practicing devotion to deities whose influence might be in my natal chart. While I did write some interesting prayers as part of that experiment, I eventually lost interest in it, mainly because it didn’t seem to be doing anything for me. Writing the prayers was illuminating, insofar as it highlighted issues in my own life, my own psyche, but the use of the prayers did not, as far as I can tell, open up any new channels of communication with the deities I was addressing.
I continue to observe festivals, though, and sometime last month, it occurred to me that there is precedent for linking certain deities of the Roman pantheon to the months. Janus and Juno gave their names to January and June; May is named after Maia, the mother of Mercury/Hermes; Venus is associated with April. In the middle of the month, I began a project of cultivating a better relationship with one or two deities per month, starting with Venus.
Opinions differ, I know, on whether the Greek and Roman deities are the same under different names, or wholly different from each other, or some other option. Certainly there are many minor deities exclusive to Greek tradition and others to Roman, but the Romans themselves seemed to think they and the Greeks worshipped the same gods. In the case of Venus, however, I did not feel that I could simply equate her with Aphrodite and approach her on that basis. I get a different vibe from Venus than from Aphrodite, a feeling that is quieter and more contained.
I named Venus in my daily devotions and wrote a number of poems to her, few of which I felt were worth sharing. Much of my attention in April was taken up by a goddess with whom I already had a good relationship, Flora. Everything that blooms in my neighborhood was blooming last month and it was glorious; it wasn’t possible to walk through the park without hailing and praising the Lady of the Flowers. I came out of April with one solid clue to the goddess’ nature and the resolve to seek her favor more thoroughly the next time around.
The clue I received was to identify someone who reminded me of the goddess. It happens to be a fictional character: Sophie Devereaux of Leverage, played by Gina Bellman.
Without going too deeply into the amazing and brilliant television show that is Leverage (and you should all watch it, it’s on Netflix), Sophie is a grifter whose specialty is art theft. Now, I’m not saying that the goddess is a grifter! Sophie is, like all the regular characters of Leverage, extremely good at what she does; she speaks multiple languages, can convincingly fake multiple accents of English, class markers, and ethnic origins, and is highly knowledgeable about art. But her superpower, so to speak, has to do with desire. She is able to become desirable to every man she meets, so desirable he’ll do anything to please her. She is also able to discern what it is that people truly desire; promising it to them is the art of her grift.
It seems to me that desire is of the essence of Venus, not just sexual desire, but all desire. Venus’s power is in the things we want rather than need, which include beauty, pleasure, art, and sex–although getting what one wants is itself a deep human need. It is also important to me that actress Gina Bellman, a beautiful but not pretty woman, was in her forties when she played Sophie Devereaux. I see Venus not as a pretty girl, or even an ageless goddess who looks like a pretty girl, but as a mature woman basking in her own desirability.
For May I turned to Maia and her quicksilver son, Hermes/Mercury. I’m not sure that I feel as much of a gap between the Greek and Latin gods as between Venus and Aphrodite. What I’ve learned so far this month, mentioning the god in my daily devotions, writing poetry for him, and reading Guardian of the Road, an anthology in his honor published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is that I already have a relationship with him. It would be impossible for me not to–as a writer, someone who creates with words, as a non-driver who relies on my feet and public transportation to get what I want to go, as someone whose natal Mercury lies close to my natal Sun. Mercury, I think, is one of those gods who is present everywhere, whether or not he is invited, honored, or even acknowledged. That’s what those winged feet are about.
Mercury’s month is not yet over, but I plan to honor Juno in June and then Apollo and perhaps the Muses also in July. Meanwhile, other deities have brought themselves to my attention. The blooming roses made me realize that if Flora is a goddess, surely Rosa is one of her spirits, a nymph or a lar or something, a flower so important in European religious symbolism. The greening of the vacant lots and wooded areas near my workplace, and the entrance of a snake into our warehouse, have alerted me to the presence of Silvanus, guarding the wilderness that underlies and intrudes on my urban environment. I’m also very much aware of working very near to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River and thus near a river deity.
(The snake that snuck into our warehouse got its head stuck on a glue trap for mice. We successfully removed the sticky trap and set the snake loose outside.)
I am finding that actually, to paraphrase Hugh Grant at the end of Love Actually, the gods are everywhere, all around us. We don’t so much have to invoke or invite them as be polite, say hello, and offer them a bite to eat.