A world full of gods

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Vesta’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, who blesses writers as well as merchants and thieves, sends the bus to get me to work on time, protects me when I cross a busy intersection, notices when I help a homeless person.

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 personal 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….

(Image from Wikimedia)

POEM: For Ryōkan

This full moon? Old man Ryōkan
gave it to me; he said a thief left it behind.
I was having tea with him one day in early spring,
before the cherries had blossomed out,
and after the rain passed over, he took it down
and said he didn’t need it any more.
Do you need it? I have enough light to read his poems by.

(Ryōkan, Zen monk, hermit, poet and calligrapher, died on this date in 1831.)

Devotion is for losers

candle-3663352_640That’s what the little voice in my head tells me.

Devotion is for losers.

When I light my candle and incense, look at the divine images I printed off the Internet and pasted together, read poems I have written and then fumble my words when I try to ask for help–the little voice says, “Devotion is for losers”.

It sounds a bit like Chris Evans in an early, jerkass role–masculine, slightly nasal, tenor register, and very American. (No offense to Evans, who remains one of my favorite actors and beautiful people.)

I’m a strong independent person who don’t need no gods, right? I live by myself (well, self and bird). I work full-time and support myself. I’m an introvert who needs plenty of alone time. I should be pursuing the empowering path of Magic/k or however you want to spell it, right? Grinding out spells to make the changes in my life that I want.

Except that doesn’t work for me. Positive change happens when I’m not looking. Things I want tend to come to me if I genuinely, steadily desire them. Trying to have some sort of regular magical practice turns out to interfere with the one thing in my life that is genuinely, invariably, reliably empowering–that is, writing.

I’ve seen over and over again that if I have to choose between using my limited time and energy for magic/k/e or for writing, writing will win, every time. Writing wins over laundry, dishes, bingewatching, and sometimes even eating or sleeping, let alone magic.

Yet devotional practice flows in around the edges of work and dinner and writing and video and supports all that. Replenishes energy instead of taking it. Makes dealing with everyday stressors easier. Inspires my writing. Tends toward greater kindness to myself and others.

“Devotion is for losers.” I’m not sure where that snotty voice in my head came from, but I’m pretty sure it’s wrong.

(Image by s-ms_1989 from Pixabay)

POEM: For Pixie

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All the world’s a stage, and all the Tarot merely scenery,
a painted backdrop for an amateur display.
All the world’s a stage, and all our comedies and dramas
re-enactment of the myths, rehearsal of a few enduring plots.
All the world’s a journey, and Pixie’s Fool goes tripping through it,
feet light as feathers, eyes raised to the sky.
Only the Fool’s dog knows what’s in that bag of tricks,
the wanderer’s bindlestaff over one shoulder,
its humble length an axis round which all the worlds revolve.

(For Pamela Colman Smith, Pixie to her friends, born on this date in 1878, illustrator of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot)

(Image by Daniel Albany from Pixabay)

POEM: Wolf Boys

The wolves tear apart the dog and the goat
and come into the house with bloodied muzzles.
Wipe their faces with wool dipped in milk
and they turn into young men, laughing
instead of panting. They run the streets
hitting women, but only the women who
step forward, hands outstretched, asking
for the ritual blow. A smack from the wolf boy
is good luck, helps you get pregnant.
What rituals do we have to turn our wolves
back into boys? When they come home
with bloodied muzzles, bloodied hands,
broken hearts, do we wash them clean
and give them work to do, or do we
lock them up, chain them down,
throw them out of the house until
they lie down and die on the street?

(For my friend Dwight, who died in January)

Considering devotion

9e847b085dc8494226401cc0a20b9226In fannish circles we have a saying: “I didn’t know I wanted that until I saw it.” It refers to something, usually a fan work, that satisfies a need or desire you weren’t aware of having. It might describe an unusual pairing, or a fan video using a particular song, or a what-if scenario in a fanfic that goes far afield of what “really” happened onscreen. A large part of the pleasure of fannish activities, I think, is simply discovering and connecting with your actual pleasures, desires, even kinks. In fandom it’s okay if you want to read a dozen different stories about a character overcoming past trauma by taking care of an abandoned child, however badly that sort of thing would work out in real life. (Not that I would ever read that sort of thing myself, of course….)

There was a moment sometime back in 2014, I think, when I realized that I wanted to make an offering to Antinous and ask him for help with something specific. At the time I had been going to church regularly for over a year and identifying as an Episcopalian. But despite going to Sunday Eucharist and saying the Daily Office (daily), I had no desire to take this particular problem, whatever it was, to Jesus or his Father. That was when it hit me that I had a relationship with Antinous, a Greek teenager who drowned in the Nile and was deified by Egyptian custom in the year 130 C.E., that I had never had with the god of my childhood religion, a religion I kept coming back to in spite of exploring a lot of alternatives. I had feelings for Antinous that I had never had for Jesus, and it wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to cultivate those feelings for Jesus–I had. I had relationships with some of the saints that had this emotional resonance–Julian of Norwich, in particular–but never with Jesus or his Father. That relationship, those feelings, are devotion.

That was what caused me to give up Christianity and adopt a polytheism focused on Antinous, finally, decisively. Devotion, this deep emotional connection with a deity, was the thing I didn’t know I wanted, the thing I didn’t quite know was missing, until I had it. I couldn’t manufacture it, any more than I could make myself fall in love with someone. Devotion is a sort of falling in love, being in love, falling in love some more.

POEM: Theogamia

(For the marriage of Hera and Zeus, celebrated around this time in ancient Greece)

Cuckoo in the storm, poor bedraggled thing,

come here, trust me, and I will warm you.

Lady, your hands are gentle, and your bosom is soft.

I will rest here while my feathers dry.

 

Cuckoo on my breast, are you hungry, are you thirsty?

Water from my cup, golden crumbs from my plate I offer.

Lady, your cup is deep, and your food is sweet.

I will eat and drink from your hand.

 

Cuckoo on my hand, what a silly song you sing!

Yet it amuses me to hear you say your name.

Lady, your laugh is lovely, and your breath is sweet.

No other mate I have, so I will sing my song for you.

 

Cuckoo in my home, how you brighten my shining palace!

Your blue-grey wings, your striped breast, your jaunty tail delight me.

Lady, your halls are fair, your home is spacious,

yet I will always come back to roost near you at night.

 

Cuckoo on my bed, rest here upon my pillow.

Rest only lightly, that I may not crush you in the night.

Lady, to be near you, I would dare death and more.

I will even dare your wrath when we awaken in the morning.

 

Stranger in my bed, where has my cuckoo gone?

Whose arm is this, whose leg, whose rampant prick I feel?

Lady, it is I, your cuckoo and your brother,

Zeus son of Kronos, lord of sky and storm.

 

Cuckoo in my nest, how strangely you have wooed me!

Yet I am still charmed by your antics, nonetheless.

Cow-eyed Hera, lady of sky and cloud,

Will you not marry me? Let us rule together.

 

Cuckoo of my heart, yes, I will marry you,

but you must be faithful, for I am always true.

Lady of my heart, if you marry me,

you will be the queen of heaven and earth, the noblest goddess.

 

Cuckoo of my heart, that will do for now.

Come, let us marry, let us tarry together in love.

Lady of my heart, the spring is here, the birds are mating.

Our love shall be the rain that quickens the soft earth.

 

Oh, oh, oh, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!

Ah, ah, ah, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!

Preview of a new story

In the spring, when summer was almost come, the women and girls would get together and make garlands of the earliest flowers, and put them on and dance around the tree, and pour offerings of wine and clean water over its roots, and then hang the garlands on the tree’s boughs when they were done. I danced with them, hearing the tree sing its pleasure in return. It always began to bloom soon after the garlands were hung on it. 

We had always done this. Then one year came a priest in his black robes who threw his holy water at us and burned foul-smelling in a metal pot, ranting and raving at us and calling us witches, demon lovers, daughters of evil, and what not else. My mother and the other women put themselves between him and the girls.

“Away with you!” one woman shouted. “You’re the evil one, seeing badness everywhere!”

“We do you no harm! You’ll still get your congregation and your money!” cried another.

“We have always done this,” said my mother. “The Marcouls have always known and permitted it.”

The priest chanted something in his holy language, and spat toward my mother. “Not for much longer,” he said, and took his holy water and his foul smoke away. 

I crept out to the tree after dinner that night, to put my arms around it and whisper comforting words. “We will not let him harm you,” I said. “We will sing and dance for you and drench your roots just as we have always done.” I felt the tree quiver and embraced it more tightly.

–from chapter three of “Children of the Forest God”, the first two chapters of which can be found here

POEM: Devotion

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I want to set my heart on fire
and offer it like incense. I hope
it smells like frankincense
and myrrh. I want to throw
myself at a god’s feet, not
in subjugation, but in
adoration–because my knees
are too weak for this beauty.
I want to be gathered up
in arms that are stronger
than any mortal man’s could
ever be and cherished.
I want to bask in the sunshine
of unconditional positive regard.

I can stand up again and walk
on my own two feet. The heart
is a self-renewing organ,
the original phoenix, sweetly
burning till it’s consumed,
then rising from its own ash.
I can give it away again and again
and still have all the heart that I need.
I am neither a prisoner nor a slave.
When I offer myself, I know I am offering
what I have that is of highest value,
and what I receive in return is equal,
and greater, coming from the god.

Take my heart, divine one, this
renewable resource, this well of
mystery, the inner altar, the place
where everything is gathered and
distilled–eat me, drink me, burn me,
taste me, all that I am is yours
that I might live for you, from you.

(Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay)

What will you do?

I spent a lot of my time and energy this weekend worrying about this year’s Presidential election, here in the United States. Suffice to say I would like to see the incumbent out of office and replaced by a Democrat; I will support whoever the party nominates with a clear conscience. (And that’s all I’m going to say about politics.)

After fretting and feeling hopeless for most of Sunday, a question occurred to me as I was settling down to sleep for the night. What will you do, I asked myself, if the worst comes to pass? What will you do if the incumbent gets a second term? What will you do if the country is pushed further to the Right? What will you do, even, if your country becomes a dictatorship?

The answer was easy and immediate. I will keep on doing exactly what I’m doing now. I will work at my job until I can retire, which I hope will be next year. I will write fiction, poetry, and essays that portray positive, hopeful alternatives to the shortcomings of our culture, especially around issues of sexuality. I will do theurgic magical work. I will take care of my bird, listen to Hozier, watch an occasional movie or television show. And whoever may be in power, I will continue to do those things until my body gives out, or I get hit and killed by a careless driver, or the jackbooted thugs come and drag me away.

I have often heard it said that anyone who says they don’t care about politics must be speaking from a place of privilege. In general, I would agree with this; any human being living in community with other humans is involved in and affected by politics in some way. On the other hand, I think I need to stop caring so much about politics in the sense of current events, of “keeping up with the news”. Because whatever political party is in power, while it may affect me in various ways, it is not going to affect what I choose to do and how I choose to live. As I have also heard it said, survival is a form of resistance, if you are a person who doesn’t fit into the system, who isn’t privileged, whom the system seeks to exploit and discard. My survival is my resistance, and my work is here to be done regardless of who’s sitting in the White House.

In your worst-case scenario, what will you do?

FIC: “Be like the Rose”

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Image by Josch13 from Pixabay

Be like the Rose (3903 words) by MToddWebster
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Andrew Hozier-Byrne (Musician)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: OMC/OFC, The Musician/The Lady of the Roses
Additional Tags: Inspired by Music, Fairy Tale Elements, Fairy Tale Style, Roses, Apocalypse, Musicians
Summary:

“Be there just as you stand, or be like the rose that you hold in your hand, that will grow bold in a barren and desolate land, and lover, be good to me.” –Hozier, “Be” from his album Wasteland, Baby!

 

POEM: The source of all your power

At its longest your hair
covers your shoulders,
the curls of it over your bones
like sea-foam over the rocks.
When you gather it up–
“Why is it a man-bun?” you ask.
“Why not just a bun?”–
it exposes the bones of you
and how fine the skin is
stretched over them; for an instant,
seen from the back, you might
be mistaken for a woman.
But loose and unbridled, half-
blended with your beard
(which has grown in ginger),
it makes you all man, Samson
or Hercules, its length and
thickness and heaviness
the very proof of your virility.
You smile as you undo your bun.
“Well, yes, it is the source of all my power.”

A preview of a forthcoming story

He had no interest in the sword or in weapons or in horses. He did not read books except of stories and poetry, and only in the vernacular. He followed after his mother as she managed the household and when she took time to embroider and paint. Secretly he helped the maids in the kitchen and the gardener in the garden, until his father caught him and scolded him for his behavior.

He was a strange and lonely youth, but one day the elderly gardener, who was about to retire, came to him with a thing wrapped in worn silk. “This is in thanks for your help, lad. Once I used to play it sweetly, but my fingers have lost the knack. Perhaps you can teach yourself to play it. Just don’t let your father catch you.” He handed over the thing in silk and walked slowly away.

The mysterious gift, unwrapped, was a thing in an even more worn and battered leather case, and when the youth undid the clasps and opened it, he found that it was a lute. It was old, surely, and yet seemed beautiful to him, without any wear or damage. He drew a finger across the strings, and the sound was sweet and thrilling. It was richly carved, and the head of the instrument bore the face of a beautiful woman crowned with roses.