Sacred Nights: Panthea 2015

Today I sing and celebrate
the vision which the Taliban fear;
today I invoke and praise
the assembly that makes Daesh
boil with rage;
today I proclaim the truth
that makes woman-hating politicians
tremble and clutch at their genitals
and take money away from Planned Parenthood.
Today is Panthea, and today I hymn
the goddesses: All the goddesses, united
in fierce feminine friendship,
in divine power and might,
in divine knowledge and wisdom,
in divine anger, laughter, and love.
Isis, Hathor, Nephthys, Mut,
Qadesh, Erekshkigal, Inanna, Ishtar,
Juno, Minerva, Venus, Flora,
Pomona, Diana, Ceres, Libera,
Demeter and Persephone,
Hera and Hebe,
Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, Ananke,
Tara, Sarasvati, Parvati, Shakti,
Rosmerta, Rhiannon, Epona, Brigantia,
Morrigan, Aine, Dana, Coventina,
Freya and Frigga and Iduna and Hel,
Sif, Sigyn, Skadi, and Scathach,
the Norns, the Fates, the Parcae, the Furies,
all the goddesses, everywhere, known
and unknown, remembered and forgotten,
kind or unkind, lovely or vile: I sing your praise,
and my god Antinous sings with me:
Dua! Khairete! Avete! Laudo!
The goddesses are alive,
and they are everywhere.


The Day of the Mysteries: To Persephone

For generations now this mystery has been lost
that we long for: A Mother. Her Daughter.
The grain. The fruit. A cry in the night.
A light in the darkness. And a child, a boy.
Your mother’s son, or yours?

Daughter of the grain, wife of the shadows,
queen and savioress, your face is my mirror.
I am my mother’s daughter and my daughter’s
mother, my husband’s wife, my father’s duty.
I am my self, none other, agatha tyche, divine
juno, sovereign queen.

I pray to Persephone, daughter of the Mother,
queen of the underworld, goddess in two worlds.
I pray to Demeter, mother of an only daughter,
giver of the grain, the old woman who grieved.
And I pray to Iakkhos, the mysterious Child,
Son of two Mothers, Dionysus, Bacchus, Antinous.

A cry in the night. A light in the darkness. The grain.
The fruit. A mirror held by two goddesses. A boy,
a mortal, a god. Demophoon in the fire,
Triptolemus in the field, Antinous with a spear.
The mystery we have longed for. The whole
world holds its breath. The sacred way is opened.

The Day of the Mysteries: To Demeter

For years I turned my face from you and barred you from my door;
like my own mother’s, your picture was never on my mantel.
Each year I waited for Persephone to leave you
so I could talk to her privately in the house of Hades,
away from your winter chill and your endless demands for growth.
I kicked the fallen leaves defiantly and did not call you
at Christmas, to give you an invitation you would surely
have refused. When the earth began to stir again, I called
to Dana of the heavens, her river of stars snaking through
all the rivers of earth. I felt the earth’s age in my bones.
Like your daughter, I would never again be Kore.

And then one day, looking at the phone on which
my daughter never calls me, I saw my face
in your round bronze mirror and it was my mother’s face
and yours. The girl I helped to raise turned into a woman
I don’t know, with an unpronounceable name, who lives
in a house she doesn’t want me to visit in a place
I can’t get to. And I am alone. O Demeter, Demeter,
did you always know this would happen? Is there
a place for me in your kitchen, a cup of tea,
a piece of toast? The days are growing shorter,
the nights are growing cooler, and my daughter
never calls.

LIving without a canon

I’ve been reading a book by Joanne M. Harris, The Gospel of Loki. Harris is best known to American audiences as the author of Chocolat, which became a charming movie with Alfred Molina, Johnny Depp, and Juliette Binoche. In The Gospel of Loki, Harris undertakes to retell the myths of the Most Interesting God in the World (TM) from his own point of view. Her Loki is witty, sarcastic, devastatingly unimpressed by the Aesir and Vanir, and, of course, the most unreliable narrator in the world.

I think it’s fair to say that without Loki, Northern myths, as story, would be pretty dull. Loki is the shit-stirrer but also the plot-provoker; Loki makes stuff happen. He is the handy antagonist for almost every story you want to tell. This is the guy who got Thor to dress up as Freyja and go to her own wedding–in order to get back the Hammer he wouldn’t have lost except for Loki, but then he wouldn’t have gained the Hammer in the first place if it hadn’t been for Loki’s shenanigans. You can’t always blame Obama, but you can always blame Loki.

At the same time, I’ve been reading two of the devotional anthologies from Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Potnia, for Demeter, and Queen of the Sacred Way, for Persephone. I am foolishly surprised that there are other people who, like myself, think that Persephone was not abducted but went willingly, or at least stayed willingly, and who have issues with how Demeter behaved in her daughter’s absence, punishing humans with starvation because Zeus and Hades went behind her back.

I’m sure there are people who will point to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and say, “Well, that’s not how Homer tells it, so it’s wrong.” Others will say, “OMG she was RAPED how can you dismiss that?” I could, in response, point to the Orphic tradition that alleges Persephone was raped by Zeus and became the mother of Zagreus, well before Hades took an interest in her. There’s also a thread in the tradition that Zeus raped her after her marriage to the lord of the dead, taking the face and form of her husband. And I could mention that the primary meaning of “rape” in English, especially in the literary tradition, is “to carry away, to abduct”; hence the word “raptor”, the creature that seizes and carries away its prey.

What I’d rather do, however, is just point out that the Homeric Hymns say one thing, the Orphic writings say another, and the various writers of Potnia and Queen of the Sacred Way say something else. And none of those sources is canonical.

The notion of canon comes from Christianity and the Bible, but it’s also very prominent in fandom. Canon are the stories that absolutely count, in the versions that are deemed to be definitive. The 79 episodes of the original Star Trek series are the basis of Star Trek canon, for example. Then there are six films featuring the same characters. Are those canon? As a lifelong Trekkie, I would grant that the first four films are canon, but I have grave doubts about the fifth and sixth. (Especially the fifth.) How about the line of tie-in novels that Paramount began to produce in the 1980s, before the Next Generation debuted? I’m certain that most hardcore fans of the Original Series would name some of those novels as canon (if the names Diane Duane and John M. Ford mean anything to you, raise your hand) and some not.

And then there’s the fanfic. Unlicensed, unauthorized, and unloved by the pontificators of literary canon, fanfic flourishes. It celebrates Holmes and Watson, Kirk and Spock, and the stars of the shows that are just about to debut. Trek fanfiction was originally written to keep alive a universe that had only three seasons of episodes, but nowadays you don’t even need three episodes to air before people are writing fanfic. (I’m trying not to look at Sherlock fandom here.) I’ve committed fanfic in over half a dozen fictional universes, myself, to the tune of over three hundred stories of varying lengths.

The strange thing is how closely this all parallels Jewish and Christian conceptions of canonical Scripture. The Bible: What is the Bible? What’s the biblical canon? In fact, you’ll get different answers from Jews and Christians, of course, but also from different kinds of Christians. Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox all have slightly different lists of the canonical books. Roman Catholics sprinkle the “deuterocanonical books”, as they call them, into the pages of the Old Testament. Episcopalians call the same books “apocrypha” and corral them between the Old Testament and the New. The Orthodox throw in a few books that no one else does. And there are dozens, at least, of scriptures that were never accepted as canon by anybody, but some of them are inching toward that status now, thanks to archaeological discoveries: the “Gnostic Gospels” of Thomas, Philip, and Mary, for example.

Look closely at the Bible, however, and the notion of canon falls apart. I have six different English translations of the Bible in my possession, four in print, two only on Kindle. The original texts were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, on fragile and often badly preserved materials. The books of the Tanakh exist in the Hebrew Masoretic text, which is the canon for Judaism, in the Greek Septuagint, used by the early Church as well as diasporic Jews in the Roman Empire, and in the versions of the Dead Sea Scrolls–all of which differ from one another. As solid matter breaks down into atoms and atoms into neutrons, electrons, and protons, and those into quarks, so the notion of “canonical scripture”, definitive writings, breaks down into unreliable bits of paper when you look closely enough. Which is why most Christians don’t look, and many who do become unbelievers. If the standard is the book, and the book is unreliable, on what do you rely?

As a polytheist, what I rely on is not Homer’s writing or anyone else’s, but direct experience of the gods. The Homeric and Orphic hymns, the corpus of Greek and Roman writings on the gods, Egyptian texts, archaeological discoveries, and the latest blog post from the Aedicula, all of these are sources, not canon. They are sources of wisdom and understanding, but they are no substitute for the direct experience gained in worship. There is no canon; there cannot be. There are historical and archaeological sources that are more accurate, more reliable, more suggestive than others, but there is no first, best, authentic source for any myth. There is no definitive version. It is not impossible that in some distant future, The Gospel of Loki might take its place with the Eddas as a source of Lore. Diana L. Paxson’s Children of Odin novels might be as important to Heathens as the Nibelungenlied and the Volsunga Saga. And C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces might be cherished as a version of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

When I sit down to write for the gods, I am prepared for myth to come out of my fingers. I am the poet, the maker. If you’re a writer and you speak of the gods, you are a mythmaker, too.

A letter from the underworld

I’m not quite ready to resume the 30 Days meme, but I’m happy to share with my readers an unexpected poem:

Persephone writes to her mother

Dear mother, if you are well, I am well.
My lord is well, too, though I know you will not ask about him.
You do not want to hear about our life below,
yet it is of that life I must tell you: It is my life now,
as divine and immortal as the life we lived on Olympos
or in the flowered fields of earth.
Once I thought that I might want to marry Apollo.
He was so bright, so beautiful; his voice was as fair as his face,
his hands as skillful on the lyre as on the bow.
He never once drew near me or offered me any intrusion.
Now I know that brightness can also be cruel
and that dead flesh stinks in the sunlight.
I know that mortals need shade in which to rest,
night in which to sleep, and earth in which to dwell for afterlife.
It is cool here, and dark, and most who come are content to rest
in the earth. For those who have the instructions,
there are pleasant trees and flowing waters,
fruit that does not rot, views that do not pall,
a joy of the mind if little ecstasy for the senses.
But things need time to rot, mother. Without rot
they cannot grow. And I, like fruit fallen into the ground
uneaten, like bread gone stale on the shelf,
I needed time away from you to rot, and then
to grow anew in the cool shade of the deep earth
and the quiet steady light of my husband’s gaze.
I know you miss me, mother, but do not resent my absence.
The woman who comes back to you will love you even more
because the girl she was has died.

Sacred Nights: The Panthea

Hail, Artemis, Diana, Athena, Bendis, Bona Dea, Cybele, Demeter, Ceres, Hathor, Hera, Juno, Hekate, Hestia, Vesta, Isis, Maia, Nemesis, Persephone, Selene, Thetis, Tyche, Fortuna, Venus, Aphrodite, hail!