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.