Friday, August 12, 2016

UPG: Polymnia and Kleio

Polymnia and Kleio are two of the nine Olympic muses. Polymnia is the muse of hymns, sacred poetry, and so on, while Kleio is the muse of history. (You can read more about both of them in this post.)  I am still only in the very beginning of my journey to know these two goddesses, but I hope to add to this post as time goes on.

I have found Polymnia to appreciate offerings of light white or pink wines, usually those which have been watered down, as well as fresh figs. For incense I would suggest light, airy scents (but not necessarily floral). Something like sandalwood, perhaps. I have come to associate her with the colors light blue, grey, white, and a light sandy gold color. In addition to the symbols associated with her in antiquity, I also associate her with butterflies, and with the pitcher and bowl, two items many modern worshipers of the Hellenic gods often use in their devotions - either to purify before devotions, or to make libations at altars.

In antiquity Polymnia was known to wrap a long cloak or veil around herself. Although not something I have worked with yet, I do feel somewhat called to wrap in such a cloth before calling on her for inspiration.

Kleio I have come to associate with the colors orange, red, yellow, and gold. Strong, vibrant colors, as well as with lions. Offerings of frankincense. Strong spicy teas, and maybe coffee? Non-physical offerings of studying history, teaching history, and so on... although, that's probably an obvious one, considering her role.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Trouble With Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is something I see getting brought up occasionally in pagan conversation. The trouble is, a lot of people don't really seem to understand what life expectancy means. The person who most recently brought this up to me was attempting to say, well, the ancient Greeks had an average lifespan of only 30-40 years old, so a lot of them probably never communicated with a deity. (So whatever they had to say was probably not worth listening to? Ironically, this person was only 30, so...) I find this a very, very bizarre statement all around, but mostly because... well, it's not like people in Ancient Greece were all just falling over dead at the age of 35.

See, the thing about those lifespans that look so low to us now, is that they include infant deaths. Death was indeed very common for infants and young children. All those young deaths brought down the average as a whole. However, if you made it out of young childhood, you had a much better shot at leading a fairly long life. Sure, disease was still an issue, war, and of course childbirth itself was very dangerous, and social status played a part as well, but you know, a lot of people still managed to live into their 60s, 70s, and so on.

I mean, after all, you had to be at least 60 to be a member of the Spartan senate. And it's not like they had a hard time with this, getting into the senate was quite a competitive thing, and people who did enter the senate often served for quite a while.

So life expectancy doesn't really tell us about any of that, how long people might live once they were out of early childhood. What we can see from life expectancy is that, say, in the modern US, thanks to medical advancements, many infants and children are no longer dying so early. And yeah, that's a good thing. I'm not knocking modern life, modern medicine, modern technology. I'm a fan of all that good stuff. Just don't think we should misunderstand or underestimate our ancestors, the lives they lived, what those lives were like, and yes, the things they did accomplish. Because they accomplished a lot.

Monday, July 25, 2016

UPG relating to Hekate

So, considering my recent post on the whole UPG thing, I figured maybe it would be a good time to actually share some of mine, little things I've discovered that aren't historical in nature. In this case those relating to Hekate, but others will come later in the week...

For offerings I have found Hekate calls for the fat rendered off from cooking beef. I believe the first time this happened I was cooking some ground beef on the night of Hekate's deipnon (a monthly festival dedicated to her, which is from antiquity), and I just had the overwhelming urge to save the fat which I would have otherwise discarded, to add it to my offerings that night. I did, and I have tried to do so whenever I cook beef. Apples are another offering I find she likes, that doesn't seem to have been emphasized historically.

I associate red roses with Hekate, and it seems quite a few people actually do this. Someone once said to me they associate no flowers with Hekate, because she was not a 'flowery' goddess, but that's why I like roses for her. They're beautiful, like she is... but they have thorns, they can draw blood, and they have a reputation as difficult to grow. Yet, those that grow them find the time and effort worth it. 

I have also come to associate common sage with her (not white/smudging sage). And for stones, labradorite and lava rock. I find wells to be sacred to her, among other deities - perhaps because they are a liminal space, a link to the underworld. In the Orphic hymn she is called "Hekate of the Roads," and this is something I have come to emphasize in my own practice in many ways.

For symbols I tend to look to her historical ones, but there is also the crescent moon with it's 'horns' pointing downward. I associate this with all chthonic deities, but Hekate especially.

I find she likes frankincense and myrrh, although both would likely have been offered at some point in antiquity. Patchouli is another incense for her, as well as other deep earthy scents, or the scent of heavy night blooming flowers. Thick, sort of sweet, the scent of a hot, humid summer night.

I have come to know her as "queen of the night-singing ones," in other words, those insects and other creatures which call at night. Again, very much the sound of summer.

I suppose my associating her with summer is an odd UPG in itself. Many seem to see her more in the autumn weather, and I do see here there as well, she is present all year, but there is simply something about a summer night that makes me think of her in so many ways. Especially when a storm is brewing in the distance. That charge on the air you don't often get in autumn.

As far as other modern practices go, again, there is the Rite of Her Sacred Fires which I celebrated this year. It's not personal, I didn't create it, and a whole bunch of people participate in it, but it is modern. As, at this point in time, I do still celebrate the wheel of the year, and so I honor Hekate at Samhain. Again, perhaps not that unusual in modern paganism, but it is not an ancient practice, so I'll include it. Samhain reminds me a bit of her monthly deipnon festival, and it is one of the liminal times of year, where everything is moving from life to death. To that end, I also associate her a bit with Beltane, the other half of that time, when things move from death back to life.   

Sunday, July 24, 2016

UPG and Modern Practice

So I like history, that's no secret to anyone who's interacted with me for more than five minutes. When it comes to my spirituality, I do have some reconstructionist tendencies. Say, for getting to know deities... the cultures they came from gave them particular meanings, some specific to the culture, they worshiped them for hundreds, if not thousands of years, established their rites, and so on. These people knew their gods, and I think we'd be kinda silly to ignore the surviving knowledge and understandings these people had.

Some people tend to see that, and think oh, hey, this person is stuck in the past, they don't like anything modern. Which isn't true. Hell, I wouldn't even flat out call myself a reconstructionist. I'm not at all against modern practices, creations, and I'm not against unverified personal gnosis. (UPG - the idea that I might have a particular spiritual practice that doesn't necessarily apply to others, and isn't 'verified' by sources from antiquity.) I have partaken in modern rites (Her Sacred Fires, for example?), I have made my own modern associations for the deities I have built relationships with.

What bothers me is when people try to pass of these things as ancient, when they're not. Like, the Ancient Greeks didn't offer pumpkins to Hekate on Oct 31st, because the ancient Greeks didn't have pumpkins, nor did they have a calendar that would easily correspond to our idea of Oct 31st. Does it mean no one should do this? Nope, if you feel called to it, go for it... just, you know, don't paint it as something it's not. Don't tell me this is what the Ancient Greeks did. That sort of thing doesn't help anyone, and only makes it more confusing for those seeking out the historical side of things.

I am not at all against modern practices... but don't call them something they're not. If the practice is valid, even if only for you, you don't need to take a fake history onto it to make it sound better.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Happy New Year

A few days ago was the first day of the new Athenian year, and I celebrated in the tradition way... which is to say, I didn't do anything at all. For whatever reason, the Athenians didn't really have any specific festivals for the new year. City officials made offerings to Athena and Zeus on the last day of the year, and all business, trials, and so on, had to be finished up before the new year began. I probably should have made some offerings at the end of the year, but real talk, I am tired as heck and it's been a rough week all around. I'll make the offerings next month. Kinda the nice thing about Greek polytheism, the unit of the month tends to be much more emphasized over the year, every month has the festivals for ending and beginning new again.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reconsidering Smudging With Sage Bundles in Neo-paganism

Cultural appropriate is a real hot button issue for a lot of modern pagans, particularly when it begins to concern Native Americans. Although some Native tribes are quite open to those who are sincere, many Native Americans have come forward and asked people to please stop taking their traditions, and please stop taking them and using them out of context, or without any relation to a tribe, and so on. This is often met, unfortunately, with cries of things like "we're all one people," "spirituality needs to be shared," and "you should feel grateful that people want to emulate you." I would think one only needs to consider the history and current issues facing Native American populations to realize why these aren't exactly great things to say. (And yet...)

But the use of sage in particular is an issue I find interesting. Smudging with sage sticks, generally white sage (Salvia apiana), is just so ubiquitous within modern paganism, nobody seems to question it, or look at it's origins. White sage is native to western North America. The spiritual associations of it, using it for purification, the rituals surrounding it, and so on, all originate with some Native American tribes. White sage is also not the only plant used in such a way, of course, sagebrush, cedar, and other local plants would have all been used by various tribes.So why is it this one thing which seems to have become so widely spread throughout the pagan community? Especially when we consider that the pagan roots we tend to draw from have their own purification traditions.

Let's look at Greece, for example. C
ommon sage (Salvia officinalis) is native to the Mediterranean. Same genus as white sage, but a different species. Common sage, sometimes also called garden sage, is what you're likely to find in grocery stores for use in cooking. (Although white sage is edible, and was/is used as a source of food.) Common sage is found in Greece. It was very, very likely that it was one of the "aromatic herbs" burned as an incense offering to some of the gods. The Orphic Hymns recommend aromatic herbs be burned for Hestia, Hera, Athene, and Selene, for example.

But the Greeks didn't use common sage in smudging rituals like some Native American tribes would do. In Greek ritual, purification of people and spaces would have generally been accomplished with lustral water and barley.

Which is all not to say that no one else ever purified with incense, smoke, sacred fires, and so on. That's found in many, many places all over the world. It's just, there are so many ways to do this without pulling from Native American customs. So again, I can't help but wonder why that in particular was the thing to become standard practice for so many folks. Particularly when, for many pagans, connecting to our ancestral roots is such an important element of the practice. Why didn't we look more to what they did? Their traditions are just as valid, and often easily accessible, after all.

I doubt that I could ever talk someone out of using a sage stick if it's become something they've done in their practice for quite a while, and I'm not even sure if that's my 'goal' here, so to speak. But I do think paganism, as a whole, would benefit in looking at, and finding the value in some of our other purification traditions.

As a final note, I'm always someone who's often going on about the importance of looking locally, working locally, and so on, in witchcraft. However, it's quite possible to work locally, and even respect indigenous traditions, without lifting elements of their spirituality directly from them. Living in those areas would probably open you to the use of these kinds of sage in general, but I think there would have to be ways to utilize these plants respectfully, you know? Being aware of the cultures that still use them as part of their living tradition. Not living in an area where sage is native, I can't speak more on that. There's not really an easy equivalent where I live (not to mention, so many plants here have been imported, so they are local but not native). I'd be interested to hear more from witches living in such areas, however.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

I'm not and have never been a Christian. Also I made a sworn enemy and didn't even know it.

Oh gosh, while all that other stuff was going down someone said sent me a message - now on Facebook if you're not friends with someone, their message gets sent to the requests folder. Which apparently also has a filtered section as well(?). I did not know this. I had three messages in it, two of which I felt bad about missing for so long, one of which has provided some amazing entertainment after a somewhat stressful night.

So a month or two ago I had to ban someone from a group I admin for. I banned for them bashing Christianity and bashing a few other groups within paganism. Then personally insulting me when I said, hey, admin here, could you not? Which, all that, against our clearly stated rules. Anyway. So they also sent me a message after that. Most of it was just self-righteous babbling. With the lovely ending where they tell me to admit I'm an idiot or "you've otherwise just made an enemy you don't want who's remarkably popular and who doesn't take kindly to shite like this."

Oh. My. God. If you have to say something like that then, you know... mayyyybe not as cool as you think? (I was 'warned' that admins meet some real interesting people, heh, guess that was not a lie.)

But there was something in the message that made me pause. She said because I was defending Christians, I must be one. I've heard this before from other pagans. Some of which have also said I'm clearly carrying around baggage from my Christian upbringing.

Here's the thing. I was not raised Christian. I have NEVER truly been Christian. My grandmother is Shinto/Buddhist/sort-of-atheist, my grandfather is a theist who introduced me to many religions, and supported me in studying paganism. The closest I came to Christianity was a single year of a Christian kindergarten, because it was the only place that wasn't super far away from the house. You know what I remember from that year? A teacher telling me not to say something was wicked awesome, because wicked is bad. (I live in New Hampshire, things are wicked here. That's the law.) I have not been a Christian, I am not a Christian nor am I a Christo-pagan. I just don't like when people make broad, ignorant, sweeping statements about the followers an entire religion. Debate about Christian beliefs would be fine, I have engaged in it myself, and there are many aspects of Christianity I disagree with... but that doesn't mean I'm into insulting the whole lot of it, and those who believe in it. If you can't make a point without resorting to personal insults, your point must not be very strong.

Meanwhile both this person, and the others who have said this to me... were raised Christian or have ties to Christianity. Kinda ironic, huh? Kinda good to examine your own baggage before guessing about another person's.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Oh boy...

You know what I didn't miss in my break away from the pagan community? People who tried to pass their personal opinions off as historical facts.

For example, someone flat out claiming "(Hekate) is not the goddess of magic." Ummm, okay... Because, I mean, she certainly was, and is. She is a goddess of witchcraft and magic, that's like, one of her major functions. There are bunches of primary sources from antiquity which show her in this light. Since there's some confusion about what that means, a primary source is information that comes directly from ancient Greece. Not archeologist speculation, or someone writing about their thoughts on her in the modern day. It's stuff that comes directly from the ancient Greeks themselves.

Of course that doesn't matter. Because. "
Who's says the research you are studying is even the right research????… Who says the Greek were even right???" (Direct quotes folks, because the more question marks the better!)

Yes. Who is to say the ancient Greeks were even right. Those silly ancient Greeks who worshiped her for centuries, who erected countless shrines to her, who (in Athens anyway) celebrated her supper on the last night of every lunar month. What do those crazy people even know? After all, what are a few measly centuries compared to, you know, the few years you've put in...

But hey, it's just her opinion, right? Look, I'm all about the continuing growth of deities, their mythologies, and having personal relationships and understandings with these deities... but when you flat out state a fact like that? That's not an opinion anymore. You can say, hey, you know, I never really connected with that aspect of Hekate, it doesn't fit into my practice, and that would be fine. But to act like it doesn't exist at all? Nope, sorry, that's not how it works. That's no longer an opinion, not a belief, and it is factually wrong. It is not insulting a belief to point out an incorrect fact, because it's not a belief.

To end of this little rant, let me tell you about a book my partner and I have been listening to in the car. It's about aliens coming to take over the earth (and kill all people in the process, it seems), and a group of people who want the aliens to come do this. My partner's kinda caught up on that, why would anyone want aliens to destroy all people? Me. I do. Fling us all into the sun. Go for it. We probably deserve it.
(Okay, okay, not really, I don't really want aliens to fling us all into the sun. Even if sometimes the Internet makes me reconsider.)

((Edit: I also love backpedaling. Now it's just, well, Hekate wasn't only goddess of magic! Of course she wasn't. Also there are about a thousand better ways to say that. And you know, when it's clear someone has misunderstood your (super unclear) statement, the awesome thing to do is... you know... clarify. Not throw a fit and start ranting about sources and ancient Greeks and whatnot.))

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ethics and Morals

So, one last post on this subject before I move on to (hopefully) more interesting topics.

When it comes up that I don't believe in karma, the law of three, or the Wiccan Rede, some folks have jumped to the conclusion that I have no morals whatsoever. Someone actually called me dangerous because they assumed I was just cursing people left and right for funsies.

Yeah, I don't actually do that. Real talk - I am a very lazy person. Very lazy. It takes a lot of prodding before I decide to get off my butt and whip out the big guns. To put it another way, in the last ten years I can count on one hand the number of times I felt that was necessary, and two of those times dealt with feeling repeatedly physically threatened. And even then we're not talking super curse that will curse you and your mom and your kids for seven generations or whatever, just like... some good old fashioned drive away magic. (Particularly harsh drive away magic, but still.)

I also find it odd that people would assume I have no moral guidelines at all, simply because I don't share theirs. Not true, of course. While I have no hard and fast rules or laws, I do look to things like the negative confessions of Egypt, and the Delphic Maxims of Greece, for guidance. Not all of them really apply to life in the modern age. (Rule your wife, for example...?) But there's a lot of wisdom there to pull from... control yourself, control your anger, love friendship, don't look down on people, give back, don't waste, don't gossip, despise strife, don't be deceitful, and so on. I'm sure somewhere in there is also don't be lazy, but look, we can't all be perfect.

In all of this, I am continuously reminded of an ancestor divination that was done for me many years ago. The ancestors saw me as scorpion, that is, someone who is very happy to go about their business in peace, but we all know what happens when you piss off a scorpion. (Also, fun scorpion fact, some species of scorpion can lower their metabolism significantly and spend a lot of time just sitting around. So it's fine if I am lazy. Right?)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

No, I really don't believe in karma.

Sometimes I feel a bit like a broken record. I do not believe in karma. This seems like such a shocking topic to a lot of folks. Even in a traditional witchcraft forum, where I would not expect it to be controversial, and yet...

Turns out when I say this, some people seem to think I mean that I do not believe that karma has any sway over me, and just me. That I just consider myself above and untouched by the concept, while the rest of the peasants are all still getting pulled around by their karma. Which isn't the case at all. The truth of it is when I say I do not believe in karma, I mean exactly that. Not for me, not for you, not for anyone. The whole thing just does not exist.

And I don't know why that's such a weird thing to some folks. Certainly you've met someone who doesn't believe in all the exact same things you do, right? So how come this seems so different? It's not even like this was some universal thing in ancient paganism, lots of pagan cultures wouldn't have really had concept of karma as most see it today.

"So you don't think your actions have consequences?"
Well, no. Of course they do. All actions have consequences - I just don't think it's as simple as good for good, bad for bad. (And I certainly don't think there's any sort of times three, or times ten, or whatever involved.) Sometimes someone can do something bad and "get away" with it. Sometimes bad things happen to someone who is otherwise a good person. To me this is not all part of some great cosmic balancing act, it's just the way things are. As they say, shit happens, for better or worse. My own observations of people around me just do not point to karma being a thing.

And I realize a lot of folks do involve the concept of karma in their spirituality or practice of witchcraft, and that's fine, we're not all going to agree on everything after all - but when I say I don't, that's really all I mean by it. Doesn't make me better or worse than someone who believes in it, just different.