A prayer for Rhodophoria

Pulse-nightclub-memorial

 

Beautiful Aphrodite, hear me.
Gracious Venus, hear me.
Flora and Rosa, kindliest of nymphs, hear me.
Great Isis, who art all goddesses in yourself, hear me.
Today we come carrying roses for those who died of love.
Not those like Tristan and Isolda, pining for each other
after their adulterous affair was interrupted,
nor those sad women who were killed
by men who claimed to love them,
but wanted rather to possess them.
Today the devotees of Antinous come before your altars
carrying roses for those who died because of
whom they chose to love, and because
they wanted to dance.
They wanted to dance in freedom, in joy, in celebration,
in love, in lust, in the fullness of everything that means
life: And they were shot to death.
Victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting,
may you be remembered:
A rose for Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, 27, and
a rose for Stanley Almodovar III, 23, and
a rose for Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32, and
a rose for Luis Daniel Conde, 39, and
a rose for Juan Pablo Rivera Velazquez, 37, and
a rose for Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40, and
a rose for Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33, and
a rose for Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37, and
a rose for Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, and
a rose for Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21, and
a rose for Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49, and
a rose for Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24, and
a rose for Franky Jimmy De Jesús Velazquez, 50, and
a rose for Juan Chavez-Martinez, 25, and
a rose for Jerald Arthur Wright, 31, and
a rose for Antonio Davon Brown, 29, and
a rose for Miguel Angel Honorato, 30, and
a rose for Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25, and
a rose for K.J. Morris, 37, and
a rose for Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34, and
a rose for Frankie Hernandez, 27, and
a rose for Akyra Monet Murray, 18, and
a rose for Joel Rayon Paniagua, 31, and
a rose for Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24, and
a rose for Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24, and
a rose for Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25, and
a rose for Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25, and
a rose for Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26, and
a rose for Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22, and
a rose for Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33, and
a rose for Paul Terrell Henry, 41, and
a rose for Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, and
a rose for Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25, and
a rose for Amanda Alvear, 25, and
a rose for Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30, and
a rose for Angel Luis Candelario-Padro, 28, and
a rose for Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31, and
a rose for Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26, and
a rose for Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19, and
a rose for Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25, and
a rose for Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25, and
a rose for Darryl Roman Burt II, 29, and
a rose for Cory James Connell, 21, and
a rose for Martin Benitez Torres, 33, and
a rose for Luis S. Vielma, 22, and
a rose for Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20, and
a rose for Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36, and
a rose for Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, and
a rose for Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32, and
a rose for every dead lover
who just wanted to dance.

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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….

POEM: On the Veneralia

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Venus_Verticordia

Let us venerate the venerable goddess
who gives us venial favors
and bestows venereal pleasures,
the wish-granting goddess who woos us to venery,
the winsome lady whose presence wins joy,
the mother of Cupid whose other name is Amor
(and Amor is the secret name of Roma),
golden and gracious, desiring and desirable,
who draws us all closer with the bonds of her power:
Ave, Venus! Hail to Venus on her Veneralia!
Lady, may your bountiful blessings and favor always grace us.

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.

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Gina Bellman as Sophie Devereaux

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.

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Statuettes of Venus and Mercury from the Walters Art Museum

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.

POEM: On giving roses as offerings

O Dea Rosa, you are the sacrificial daughter,
your bodies cut down and offered up
on the altars of Venus, of Jesus,
of Mother Mary. Your petals were torn
and scattered like the spread limbs
of the crucified Jesus by the dying
Little Flower, roses in her arms
and blood on her hands where
your thorns had pricked her, blood
on her handkerchief where she coughed
out her suffering. You beautify the coffins
of our dead and atone for the sins
of rich husbands, together with
the brilliant tears of Tellus Mater,
diamonds hard as an adulterer’s heart,
and the sparkling blood of grapes
gathered in champlains of Gaul.
I place on my shrine, lascivious virgin,
your body of red petals green leaves
and pricked stem and think of defiled
daughters and broken women
and holy mysteries.

POEM: To Venus (Ave formosissima)

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Venus_VerticordiaO fairest flower, opening now, O precious gem,
buried in the moist dark earth, O knowledge
purer than any innocence, flaming virgin,
your breasts are the sun and moon
lighting up the world, your female flower
is the rosa mundi, sacred center, O white
blossom, O shining flame, O sole and only
golden, generous Venus, I adore you.

POEM: Resurrection part two

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
and his name is Jesus, sprouting up as wheat
to be baked into bread and grapes to be crushed
into wine under the feet of the Magdalene harlot.
Now the green blade riseth, and it is Adonis,
a salad shared equally between Proserpina
and Venus, seasoned with olive oil and
the vinegar of women’s tears. It is a tall
strange hatchet-faced man named Lincoln
whose death bred lilacs out of the dead land,
an uncrowned sacred king, his mad wife
trailing petals in his wake. How can I be happy
when all these gay flowers are dead men
rising up, testimony to those dead too soon?
But they are so beautiful, Flora whispers,
and hands me a bouquet of roses thick with thorns.