By the time I got to work this morning, I realized I was humming a tune which was not something I heard on the radio, but something I know well because I’ve heard it many times. I started thinking about what it might be from and eventually come up with the album New Britain: The Roots of American Folksong by the Boston Camerata. I then poked around on YouTube until I found a playlist for the album. The tune that was haunting me is “Lady Cassilles Lilt”, but I’m going to give you the track that has a song for today.
Kind readers, I have a sudden need of financial help. I have 90 days to move because my building has been foreclosed on and all of us tenants are being shooed out. I need help with a security deposit and other moving expenses. If you can, please visit my YouCaring fundraiser or buy me a Ko-fi; if you can’t, could you reblog this post, or light a candle for me, or whatever you might do to send good vibes? I appreciate all the help I can get.
Vesta’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….
I’m not feeling terribly eloquent today, but I still want to note two holy days occurring.
First, 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.
I’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.
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