POEM: The Iron Tree

I am the Iron Tree.
I stand upon the Mountain
at the center of the World.
My trunk is straight and strong.
My roots go down deep into the earth.
They spread out and drink the waters
of the four rivers of the underworld,
blue-green and glacier-cold.
My taproot sinks to the center of the earth
and brings up the heartfire.
I am nourished and empowered.
My branches reach up high into the heavens.
They drink the light of sun, moon, and stars like rain.
A single ray from the single star that belongs to me alone
descends into my crown, illuminating and guiding me.
The winds of the four quarters blow upon me,
bringing news and carrying messages.
My spirit allies gather around me,
knowing they can meet me here.
I am the iron tree, grounded and centered,
illuminated and balanced.
I bend only when I will,
and I do not break.

A world full of gods

casa_dei_vettii_-_larario

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)

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)

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.

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?

The honor of service

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Your humble blogger as a teenager, hard at work

The first time I wrote a story, I was in kindergarten. With red and purple crayons, on that landscape-oriented coarse off-white paper with the blue guide lines, I wrote a story about a fight, a physical fight, between my best friend and me. It was extremely fictional; my bestie and I, who shared a birthday, never so much as quarreled. But from that moment on, I was A Writer.

I was already a churchgoer by that age, too. My mother always sent to me to church, although no one else in my family went after my sister got married and moved out. So it was probably a foregone conclusion that, with being both a writer and a believer, a religious person, I was going to see my writing as a vocation, as something I would do for God.

The god I worship has changed, but my sense of writing as a vocation never has. It’s just that happily, I found a god whose prime concerns include the very things I wanted to write about–sex, gender, creativity, religion, different kinds of erotic love and romance. Offering stories about m/m romance to Jesus felt a little odd, to be honest; offering stories about m/m romance, or about m/f/m, or alien genders, or whatever, just seems like the sort of thing Antinous would want to read.

My writing is my service to my god and to his people. And by the people of Antinous, I mean gays, lesbians, trans folk, bisexuals, queers, intersex people, and yes, asexual and aromantic people, too–anyone who doesn’t fit into the binary boxes of heteronormative sex, two genders only, biology (out of date and badly understood) is destiny. My goal in writing is to offer alternatives to those binary boxes, to stimulate the imagination (and sometimes the genitals), to get the reader hot but also to make them think. Frankly, I find writing a sex scene an excellent way to get to know a character and encourage them to tell me more about their lives, so I can write all the non-sex scenes. That goes for my own so-called original characters and for already fictional ones like Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. It goes for m/f, “heterosexual” pairings as well as same-sex or multiple ones.

Worshipping Antinous and the other gods of my devotion means making offerings of material things, like wine and water and incense and candles, and of my writing, such as poetry and hymns and prayers. Serving Antinous means getting back to work and writing my fiction, poems, blog posts, so I have something to offer in that way. Neither service nor worship mean giving up my autonomy, my dignity, my freedom to choose what movies to watch or clothes to wear. Maybe some people’s paths require that much dedication, to wear a certain habit or forgo popular culture in certain ways, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, I bow to my gods; then I straighten up and get back to work.

Worship, service, and agency

I’ve been, at various times in my life, an Episcopalian, a Druid, a Tibetan Buddhist, and now a pagan polytheist. My regular spiritual practices have changed a lot in accordance with various paths. Yet there’s always been a thread of continuity in my spirituality, no matter what I called myself or what I did. That thread was worship.

I have always been a worshipper. As a child, I went to a little Episcopal church that was firmly set in the High Church tradition: Eucharist every week, before that was the norm; colored vestments; lots of sung liturgy and incense; even the reserved Sacrament on the altar, to which we genuflected every time we crossed in front of it. (This may be why my knees are so bad today.) We had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, borrowed from Roman Catholic tradition, and bowed before the consecrated Bread, exposed in a monstrance, a cross-shaped shrine of gold and jewels.

I started to drift away from the Church as a teenager. I looked in other traditions, witchcraft, neopaganism, but always drifted back to the Church. The Church had structure–liturgy, scripture, prayer book, hymns; the Church had worship, even if I often felt I was not really connecting with Jesus, God, whatever.

I didn’t know for a long time that worship was what I missed. As a druid I flailed about trying to find my patron deity or deities, which was what all the cool kids were doing at the time. As a Tibetan Buddhist I was more attracted to practicing deities like Green Tara and Medicine Buddha than to meditation. It wasn’t until I found or was found by Antinous and introduced to concepts like making simple offerings that I realized worship, devotion, maybe even surrender were the things that had always been missing from my spiritual practice.

I see a lot of witches and occultists say things like, “I don’t worship deities, I work with them. I’m not religious or devotion-oriented, I make pacts with spirits as an equal. A witch bows to no one.” Well, okay. But my theory is that everybody worships something. The U.S.A. is full of nominal Christians who actually worship Donald Trump. I’ve seen plenty of people who look to me like they’re worshiping a quarterback, or a radio personality, or an actor. Some people with an excess of power and money are quite obviously worshiping themselves.

You see, whatever you most deeply value, that’s what you worship. It may or may not be embodied in a deity or spirit, but that value is your god. The very root of the word “worship” is about value: “worth-ship”. Not about subservience, groveling, fear, or dependence, but value. Do you offer time, money, effort to a spirit, deity, or cause? Do you ask them for help? Do you give thanks for receiving it? That’s worship.

It doesn’t matter what your motivation is–whether it’s fear, or not fear, whether it’s devotion and love for a deity, or just a need of a spirit’s power and expertise. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big cosmic or celestial deity or a humble ancestor or a wee nature spirit. The exchange of offering and blessing, petition and response and thanksgiving, that is worship. The act of acknowledging worth in a being is worship.

antinous_pio-clementino_inv256_n2On the other hand, worship is not necessarily service. I worship Antinous and a mixed pantheon of mostly but not exclusively Roman deities associated with him. The major Roman deities, those called the Dii Consentes, get regular offerings from me, though I don’t practice in a strictly Roman way. But I don’t serve all of them.  I worship many gods–which is, after all, the definition of being a polytheist; however, I don’t serve them all. I am not at every passing spirit’s disposal. I serve only Antinous and the goddess Melinoe, daughter of Hades and Persephone, and most of that service looks like doing what I ought to do, or want to do, anyway (such as writing, or practicing good self-care), but with them in mind. I think of myself not as a servant or a slave, but more as an agent, carrying out their agenda under their authority, but with a good deal of freedom, like an agent of SHIELD. *g*

Everyone worships something. Perhaps not everyone has the urge toward service, toward devotion, toward a deeply passionate, committed relationship with a deity. Some of us do, and it can be a joyful and fulfilling relationship that in no way violates human dignity. My love for gods only enhances my life, because it’s reciprocated by their love for me.

 

A prayer for people I care about

In the Name of Antinous, the Beautiful Boy, the beloved of Hadrian and lover of all queers, Star of the Eagle and heavenly Navigator, victor over the archons:
I call on Antinous, the Liberator, the protector, to bless, guide, and protect transgender people, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people.
I call on Dionysus, cross-dresser, sexual transgressor, gender outlaw, to bless, guide, and protect these beloved people.
I call on Hermes, lover of males and females, guide of the dead, father of Hermaphroditus, to bless, guide, and protect my friends.
I call on Melinoe, the bright dark lady, half black and half white, daughter of Hades and Persephone, foster daughter of Hel and Loki, to bless, guide, and protect the people betwixt and between.
I call on Loki, the shapeshifter, mother of monsters, father of giants, who lies to the mighty and befriends the powerless, to bless, guide, and protect the shapeshifting people.
I call on Cybele, Attis, Agdistis, and the honored spirits of the galloi to bless, guide, and protect transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people.
I call on the spirits of the trans, intersex, two spirit people of North America; humbly I call on them although my ancestors wronged them, to bless, guide, and protect the trans and intersex and two spirit people who live on their land today.
I call on Jesus, who defended women, foreigners, and eunuchs, and on his disciple Philip the deacon, who baptized and taught the Ethiopian eunuch, to bless, guide and protect those whom they would have called eunuchs.
May the blessings and protection of all the gods, along with my own love and good will, stand between transgender people, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people and all malice, hatred, bigotry, violence, and tyranny, until all such evils wither away. In Antinous’ name, may it be so.

A daily prayer to Antinous

antinous_pio-clementino_inv256_n2With Antinous the Liberator may I stand firm
against every kind of inhibition, oppression, and exploitation.

 

 

 

 

 

image005With Antinous the Navigator may I be guided
by my true desires and highest values.

 

 

 

 

 

9e847b085dc8494226401cc0a20b9226With Antinous the Lover may I seek love, find love,
accept love, give love, and walk in love,
for love is the path to happiness and beatitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ave, ave, Antinoe!
Ave, vive, Antinoe!
Ave, ave, Antinoe!
Haec est unde vita venit!

No, wait, actually, we have to talk about this

Every so often, there’s a blow-up in pagandom, like an unexpected geyser in Yellowstone or the stirring of a long-dormant volcano. It’s a sudden explosion of willful ignorance, of fear and hatred, of gatekeeping and exclusion. It poisons the atmosphere for a while, and somebody has to clean it up; that somebody is not usually the people who caused it.

We’ve had a blow-up of Trans Exclusive Radical Feminism in the past week, accompanied by gender intolerance. Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists don’t like being called TERFs, but no English speaker will use multiple syllables when an acronym will do. They’re TERFs. They exclude people. They refuse to respect trans folk.

So I have to clear the atmosphere and state unequivocally that whatever contributions people may have made twenty, thirty, even forty years ago, if right now they are expressing fear and hatred toward trans people and saying we should exclude them, then they’re not contributing anything useful or wholesome to the pagan community. No matter what books of yours I read when I was a teenager, no matter how much you influenced me then, you are not my elder if you are pushing away a woman because she was identified male at birth.

The same goes for any self-identified elder or authority who wants to exclude people on the basis of any other form of gender identity or gender expression, or of race, or ethnicity, or on the basis that they belong to a non-pagan religion and there can be no peace between (Muslims or Christians or whatever) and Real Pagans. All they are doing is poisoning the atmosphere for the rest of us.

The people of Antinous have always been queer, been transgender, been gay and lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual. The people of Antinous in ancient times came from Egypt, Greece, Italy, Spain, Anatolia, and all over the Roman Empire. The city of Antinous that Hadrian built in his honor was a place of diversity and mingled cultures and multiple languages and many gods. The Naos Antinoou, the Antinoan cultus of which I am a Magistrate and Mystes, honors this ancient tradition and strives to do better still. Everyone is welcome among us except for those who insist on excluding others.

So I hope that sufficiently clears the air. Now I’m going to have breakfast. *dusts hands, walks away*

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.