A world full of gods

20180308_101622Vesta’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….

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Melinoe: The goddess who will overthrow patriarchy

I am Melinoe, daughter of Persephone,

daughter of the ravished goddess,

borne away without consent but

lawfully wedded, raped by her own father

in the guise of her husband.

I am Melinoe, render of the veil.

The man behind the curtain

has always and only been a man.

I will show you this. His power is a sham.

I am showing you this. I am Melinoe,

child of a rapist and his victim.

I am Melinoe, and the lord of the dead

was my true father, a kind and tender parent

unlike the triumphant lord of the sky.

I am Melinoe, and my sisters are these:

The victims of Harvey Weinstein,

the victims of Bill Cosby,

the daughters raped by their fathers,

their brothers, uncles, boyfriends,

the victims of Roman Polanski,

the victims of Woody Allen.

I am Melinoe, and I have brothers, too:

The boys who were told

that men can’t be raped, the men

who were told they were queer,

they must have wanted it.

I am Melinoe, and to all of you I say:

If Zeus the rapist denies you justice

in your mortal life, in death the rapists

will answer to Hades my father, to Hel

my foster-mother, to Loki my friend,

to Persephone my mother, to Antinous

my husband, and to me, motherfuckers,

you will answer at last to me.

POEM: To Bona Dea on her feast

O Bona Dea, good goddess,
your name and your secrets have been lost.
Men who were writers speculated,
but women, your worshippers, neither spoke nor wrote.
Were you a chaste virgin goddess
assaulted by reckless Faunus?
Or were you his drunken slut wife,
whipped to death for your vice?
Vestals and matrons, patricians
and slaves and freedwomen, all alike
gathered for your rites, closed the doors,
and said nothing afterward to their men.
Bona Dea, good goddess, I pray you
protect all women, married or unmarried,
rich or poor, lovers of men or women
or both or neither, ignorant or learned,
hale or ill, cis or trans, all women, all of us
alike belonging to you, welcome to you.

PRAYER: To Furrina on the Furrinalia

I have no grove, I have no springs: O Furrina,
how can I honor you, whose nature
even your ancient worshippers forgot?
To Jupiter belong the rains, to Neptune
the lakes and oceans, but to you
and your sister goddesses, the springs
within the earth. Purify our earth, Furrina,
purify our waters; hear the prayers of those
who remember you and bless us with
your waters in the time of drought.

To Juturna on the Juturnalia

Ave Juturna!
Kindly and blessed nymph, lady of the fountains,
keep pure for us the sources of our water,
drive away those who would exploit or pollute them,
punish those who have poisoned the wellsprings,
act always in our favor and help us, gracious Juturna.

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.

All the goddesses are one goddess-no, wait, hear me out!

The twelfth of this month was observed in Rome as the Lychnapsia, a feast of lights or lanterns for Isis. I added it to my sacred calendar, dug out my little statue of Isis, in the Egyptian style, seated on a throne and holding her breast, and draped over it a small bracelet I bought in a museum gift shop, wooden beads and a blue scarab, sized for a child’s wrist. I had every intention of celebrating the feast… then I worked eight hours, came home in the afternoon heat, and turned off my brain for the rest of the night.

So this entry is something of an offering to Isis for her feast as well as a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a while. You see, one of the top items on my “Why I am a bad pagan” list is that I don’t have much of a devotion to Isis.

At least, I don’t have the devotion to Isis that I’d like to. As a child I was mad about ancient Egypt. I read books about archaeology along with books about world religions, and I could rattle off the names of gods, goddesses, and pharaohs like some kids can rattle off the names of the characters in their favorite cartoon. (My favorite cartoons as a child were always Bugs Bunny and company.) The drawings I made as a girl looked a lot like Egyptian wall paintings, even when I drew people who might have appeared in Norse myth or Arthurian legend or even The Lord of the Rings, not northern Africa along the Nile. I was as fascinated by Isis and Osiris, Set, Nephthys, and Thoth as I was by Athena, Apollo, and Dionysus, or Thor’s adventures with Loki and Freyja’s golden necklace.

All of this archaeology and mythology was getting poured into my head alongside the Bible and the Prayerbook and the Hymnal 1940. I read my way through a large book with a dull grey cover called Religions of the World that I think was actually a college textbook, designed as an introductory survey. It included not Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, two chapters apiece, but Hinduism and Buddhism (also two chapters apiece), Shinto, Sikhism, Jainism, and the polytheisms of the ancient world. Mind you I was not more than twelve when I found that book; I read early and light-years beyond grade level.

Then as a teenager I was an early admittant to a Catholic college which, as you might imagine, had a sizable collection of books on religion. It was there I came across a book that I think many of my readers might recognize: It was called Isis in the Graeco-Roman World, but it remains in print under the title Isis in the Ancient World, by R.E. Witt.

As I had done with some of the books in my neighborhood library, I borrowed that book and read it repeatedly. Even as a teenager, I spotted the author’s thesis that much of Catholic Christianity, including devotion to the Virgin Mary, had been borrowed from the Hellenistic worship of Isis. Christianity grew from a movement within the diverse Judaism of its day to a world religion (for Roman values of “world”) only by adopting and adapting from the surrounding polytheisms as much as from the Jewish matrix in which it was born.

There was Isis, and there was the Virgin Mary, and before I read Witt, I read Starhawk, and perhaps more importantly, I read The Mists of Avalon. If you are a pagan woman of a certain age, you have almost certainly read The Mists of Avalon, and perhaps some or all of its sequels as well. (I’m trying not to glance guiltily at my bookshelves.) Many, many pagans of various persuasions have quoted Viviane’s famous words, “All the goddesses are one goddess, and all the gods are one god, and there is one initiator….” It was more than twenty years before I realized that Viviane, High Priestess of Avalon, was quoting another Vivian when she said that–Vivien Le Fay Morgan, the female main character of Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. It is safe to say that without Fortune’s novels, and her esoteric work, The Mists of Avalon would not exist; while the author’s reputation as a human being and/or her soul is now in the lowest depths of your chosen hell, her book encapsulated for a generation both the legend of King Arthur and the work of Fortune and her fellow occultists.

It was longer still after my teen years that I discovered that when Vivien Le Fay Morgan said all the goddesses were one goddess, she identified that goddess with Isis, and the god with Osiris. Which means that, to some extent, Fortune was right: Isis had been worshipped all over the Roman Empire and syncretized with just about every deity that had breasts, and her Hellenistic consort Serapis was likewise syncretized with a multiplicity of gods. Isis and Serapis, by the age of Hadrian, had as good a claim as any deities will ever have to be the goddess and god in whom all others are subsumed.

So it strikes me as strange, and I feel kind of guilty, that I don’t have much devotion to Isis. I have somewhat more feeling for the Hellenistic Isis, the mega-goddess so feelingly hymned by Apuleius, but it seems easier for me to have feels, as we say on Tumblr, for gods than for goddesses. Yet I want to get to know Isis better. If I had the room, I would love to have a shrine for the Greco-Roman-Egyptian Holy Family–Isis, Serapis, Harpocrates, and Hermanubis. (Sometime I may write about the shrines I would *like* to create, if I only had the room.) Perhaps I have trouble relating to Isis because she is so very womanly. She is defined by her relationships to her spouse, her son, and her sister. Nearly everything that she does in myth is motivated by her love for her family. She is not, if memory serves, able to retaliate directly against Set’s attacks on Osiris; she can only rear a son to avenge his father.

Yet Isis is also the mistress of magic, the one who tricked the great sun-god Ra into giving her his secret name. She is the goddess who gathers under her wings goddesses of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, who travels with soldiers and merchants all the way to Britain and leaves her name on a river, her shrines and temples around the islands. Who else could be the goddess worshipped by the priestesses of Avalon but Isis, moon and sea, star and fertile earth, mother, lover, and layer-out?

Let these words, then, be my tribute to her, and a testament to my desire to honor her and get to know her, the greatest goddess of the ancient world, Aset, Isis.