Chop wood, carry water, take your meds

What do you do after you have a major initiation, a life-changing mystical magical religious experience, a direct encounter with the gods?What do you do after you have a major initiation, a life-changing mystical magical religious experience, a direct encounter with the gods? If you’ve read this post’s title, well, you already know. That’s the received wisdom, isn’t it? You experience enlightenment and then go back to everyday life, and then everyday life is wonderful, looked at through the lens of enlightenment.

Well, not so much. “Chop wood, carry water” is a simplification, maybe even a bowdlerization of Zen, which is a form of Buddhism, which is… actually not my religion. Although I did take refuge and bodhicitta vows in a Tibetan Buddhist tradition and do not regret it. But one of the things I believe as a polytheist is that there’s more than one spiritual goal, as well as more than one deity and more than one afterlife. Not everybody is pursuing enlightenment, nirvana, buddhahood.

What I wanted to do after my initiation into the Mysteries of Antinous the Liberator was leave my job, move to Seattle, and devote a considerable amount of time to doing ritual and magical work with my fellow mystai Jay and Otter in the service of Antinous. What I actually did was get threatened with the loss of my apartment, celebrate Saturnalia and Christmas, become even more bored with my job than previously, and spend the first two weeks of the new year nursing a sinus infection during some of the coldest weather of the winter.

In the middle of January I turned fifty-two and took a good hard look around my life. I thought about famous people we had lost in the early months of past years–David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leonard Nimoy. Seeing the new Star Wars movie, Carrie Fisher’s last, made me miss her all over again. Now we’ve lost Ursula Le Guin, and I have no fitting words with which to mourn her. I saw a post on Tumblr where someone said it was like we were all mourning our grandmother, and that resonated with me. For Ursula Le Guin to be gone is like losing your grandmother, like waking up one morning and seeing that a tree or a mountain that dominated the landscape all your life is now gone, extracted, with no explanation, no replacement. Her fiction and essays are part of the landscape of my mind and will remain so; for me and for many, she is a spiritual ancestor now.

I still want to move to Seattle, find a sustainable day job, and do ritual and magical work with my friends in the service of Antinous and Melinoe. I’m still pretty sure my gods want me to do this. But the conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m not ready to make that jump. My physical and mental health are not up to the task; I need more therapy and better pills, more exercise and better diet. It might be necessary for me to make some smaller jumps first, into a better job, a better apartment or other living situation, before I can relocate all the way across the country.

It’s not going to be an easy year, I think–for any of us. As Billie Holliday famously sang, “Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose.” But I’m not without hope–The Last Jedi reminded me of that–and I haven’t given up on my goals. I’ve seen the Mysteries and I know that my gods are on my side. In the meantime, chop wood, carry water, take my meds, do my devotions, and make ruthless self-care my keynote for 2018. May we all carry on and carry through.

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POEM: Melinoe Ariadne

Here is a thread. I will hand it to you.

Do not get lost. Do not lose hold of it.

Here is a thread. You must hang by it.

Follow me through. You will hang from it.

Here is a thread, drawn from my belly.

Here is a trail, left by my blood.

Follow me through. Do not get lost.

There is one way in. There is no way out.

 

I danced in the moonlight. I danced in the dark.

I danced with my brother. I danced with the god.

I danced with my father. I danced for my mother.

I danced for the goddess. I will dance for you.

Watch me dance over the end of the world,

the breaking of the bridges, the falling of the towers.

Hear me laugh when all the lights go out

and poor lost Theseus hears breathing in the dark.

 

I am Melinoe. I am Ariadne.

Daughter of Death. Giver of Life.

Ariadne Melinoe, Melinoe Ariadne,

holy and terrible, stars and bones.

I can tear the world down

and help you rebuild it,

if you heed my commandment:

Build no more walls.

Walls make a labyrinth,

walls hide the monster,

walls divide loved ones.

Let me be your monster,

Melinoe Ariadne, slayer and savior,

goddess and demon of the new age.

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.

Sacred Nights: Panthea

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POEM: The Dark Sister

I do not stand in Her shadow: I am Her Shadow.

She is the throne and I am the house.

She is the giver of life and I am the welcomer of the dead

She is the grieving madonna and I am the hysterical whore

She is piteous and I am maudlin

She is white and gold and rose and blue

I am red and black and red and red and red

Behind Isis, Nephthys. Behind Tara, Vajrayogini.

Behind Mary of Nazareth, Mary of Magdala.

I am red and red and red and red and red.

I am black. I am empty. I am ashes.

I am the cast-off mother of the unacknowledged child

Who will never inherit the throne or call the house his own.

He can only come and go, obedient as a hound,

At his brother’s will. She can only throw off her veil

And dance in the broad daylight, beneath a searing sun,

Because no one dares look at her. I am the dark mother

Of the unremembered daughter, Nebt-Het, Melinoe,

Sara la Kali, red and black and bloody and beautiful.

Honor me, or you have not honored all the goddesses.

Honor me, or the Beautiful Boy is without his bride.

FIC: “A leisurely cruise through the stars”, part eleven

The retsina might have gone to Melinoe’s head, divine though she was, but the coffee seemed to have steadied her. What an amazing potion that was. She gladly accepted her host’s offer of a walk on the promenade.

“Hadrian always used to recommend a walk after a meal.” They were not alone, although the night was cool; other people were already strolling the deck, mostly couples and small groups, mostly quiet. “Said it improved digestion. He still says that,” and Antinous pointed, chuckling. Melinoe followed his gesture and saw the divus Hadrian with his wife, diva Sabina, her companion the poetess, and Ganymede.

“In case you were wondering, the answer is yes.” She turned back to Antinous, who was smiling, one eyebrow cocked.

“Yes?”

“Yes, Hadrian will likely take Ganymede to bed tonight. And Sabina customarily sleeps with Julia on those occasions.”

“And you?”

“I may sleep alone. But I won’t be lonely. And if I do wish for company, there are many who would gladly be my partner.”

Melinoe paused by the deck rail and laid her hands on the polished brass. It was pleasantly cool, not cold, like the wind that stirred her gown. Around the ship, which glided through the vast heavens like a barge on a deep but gentle river, the stars whirled in their endless dance.

“I… have not had a partner yet. I have long assumed that when I did, I would have but one, and he would likewise find his only one in me.”

Antinous folded his arms on the rail, his elbow a few inches from hers. He, too, looked out into the depth of sky, the body of Night.

“When Hadrian and I met, custom recommended that a man be faithful to one wife, the mother of his children. But custom also held its tongue if a man, even married, found other partners, whoever they might be, as long as he… preserved his dignity in certain ways.”

Melinoe had not lived so sheltered a life that she did not recognize a euphemism when she heard it. She paused a moment before daring the question that arose. “And did he, with you?”

“In mortal life, yes.” Antinous turned his back to the railing but still propped his elbows on it. “Since then, no. Not with me. With others–I need not know. There is a mortal saying nowadays–to kiss and tell. He doesn’t.”

He was grinning like an imp, and she was blushing like, well, like a maiden. “Times change. Mortals change, and customs. Still, for most people, gods, mortals, whatever, the hope is one partner, one love, man and woman, the bearing of children. The turning of the wheel of life. Alas, some mortals now are enraged against the few of them who, like Hadrian, myself, my friends, love many, love more than one gender, love without desire to procreate.”

“But whyever for? Surely joining in love and pleasure is a good thing, a blessing mortals share with divinities.”

Antinous turned to look out from the ship again and ran a hand through his hair. “Truly, lady, I have spent many hours of both mortal and immortal life wondering about that. Enough people wish to procreate that the race of mortals will surely not die out for lack of interest. Love between two men or two women or bonds of friendship that include bedplay do no harm to those who have pledged fidelity to one husband or one wife. When I look at the mortal world, I see more harm done by men who claim to be ‘normal’, to be right and proper men, than by those called ‘queer’–tyranny over their wives and children, rape and other cruelties to women in general, fear and hatred also of those who differ from them in race or custom.”

He made a noise of deep frustration and turned to look at Melinoe. “In any case, I have made it my business to protect those who love differently, insofar as I can, to welcome them here and give them passage, and to do justice on their behalf.”

There was a note of ferocity in the young god’s voice that Melinoe had not heard before. She found it–thrilling. Yet she knew she was not ready to act on the feeling.

She was just about to propose that they walk a bit more when a sailor came rushing up to them. “Divine Navigator!” he said, when Antinous had acknowledged him. “We are passing from the constellation of Aquarius into the constellation of Capricorn.”
Antinous smiled and clapped his hands. “Come, lady! Let us go up to the bridge and watch from there.”

FICTION: “A leisurely cruise through the stars”, part ten

Antinous allowed a few minutes of silence while they both ate. Melinoe drank more of her water than of the wine, but she seemed to be enjoying the food. “Have you not seen your divine parents since you went to be fostered in the North?”

“I have seen them, from time to time, though only singly. Father visited only when Mother was in his realm, and Mother only when she was visiting with her mother. It will be a pleasure to see both of them at once, and in their own domain.”

Antinous refilled both their wine glasses. “Tell me of Hel’s realm. Until I came to escort you, I had never been there.”

“It is cold!” The goddess spoke so emphatically that Antinous laughed, and then so did she. “I remember that in my first few days there, I was terribly, terribly cold. I thought I would never be warm again.”

“You must have been very young.” The god signalled a hovering servant for more food.

“I was walking,” Melinoe said, musing. “I think this must be a difference between those who are born gods and those who are made so: I remember my infancy, which mortals do not.”
“True,” Antinous acknowledged. It was difficult to remember that Melinoe, so young and vivacious in appearance, was far older than himself.

“It was cold,” Melinoe repeated, “and I was lonely, at first, even though I knew Hel. She and Hekate midwived me, and I had seen her often. But I missed Mother and Father, of course, and Hekate, and our gardens.

“It is cold in Hel’s realm but dry, except near the Gjoll. In Hades there are small gardens Mother tends that have herbs and flowers, and there are orchards where the trees bear fruit. In Hel the lands have the appearance of late autumn. The leaves that cling to the trees are brown and gold, red and orange, like flames, but their fruit is rotted. Water is scarce, ice-cold, heavy with minerals. In one or two places, near the border with Muspellheim, there are hot springs, which smell horrid but feel very pleasant for soaking oneself. It is very quiet everywhere.”

Though her description did not sound at all appealing to Antinous, he could hear fondness in Melinoe’s voice.

“In my first days, my foster-mother took me to visit the god Baldur. He is one of the Aesir, but long ago he was slain by Loki and went to live among the dead. He has his own separate place in her realm, with his wife Nanna. It is warmer and brighter in their halls, and Baldur held me on his lap when I visited so that I got warm.” She smiled. “He and Nanna were very kind to me, and I visited them often. But once I got used to the chill, and had proper clothes, I liked being with Hel and going about her realm. The places of the dead all have much in common, after all, and Hel, too, is very kind in her way.”

Antinous privately thought that he had never encountered a goddess so fearsome as the Northern lady of the dead, but obviously her care had been a boon to Melinoe.

Servants came, took away the empty platters and plates with nothing but crumbs, and brought clean plates and a tray of baklava for dessert. They also brought, on a small table of its own, an urn of coffee with all the accompaniments.

“This, lady, is baklava, a wonderful pastry rich in honey. And this,” he got up to tend to the urn, “is a drink called coffee, made from the beans of a plant, which is excellent with sweet foods and stimulates the mind, especially in mortals.”

He placed a cup of the black, steaming brew in front of her, beside the triangle of baklava. “Try the coffee without any additions, first. If it seems too strong for you, cream or sugar or both can be added.”

Melinoe took a dainty bite of the pastry with one hand and a sip of the coffee with the other. Her eyes and her mouth alike grew round with obvious delight.

“How delicious!” She drank some water, then tasted the baklava again, washing it down with more water. She took a bold gulp of the coffee and licked her lips with relish. “I do like it just as it is. And it provides the perfect contrast to the flavor of the baklava.”

Antinous smiled. “From now on, lady, if anyone should ask you how you take your coffee, you may tell them that you take it black.”