Tag: devotion

"I aten't dead"

I haven’t read a lot of Discworld, but I’ve read enough to use that reference. No, I’m not dead, even though I haven’t really posted here in a month. A whole month. Well.

Since the first of October, I’ve been posting entries for the 31 Days of Devotion meme at the Naos Antinoou. And between September 10th and today, I’ve been deeply involved in plotting a future for the Ekklesia Antinoou, examining and evaluating my personal spiritual practice, and just getting out of bed on increasingly dark mornings and putting one foot in front of the other until I wind up at my desk at work, then coming home to watch Person of Interest (a show I highly recommend, by the way).

Writing for the meme every day has been a challenge. However, after firing off today’s entry early thanks to the national holiday, I realized something good: Doing the 31 Days of Devotion meme is, in fact, rekindling my devotion for the god. It’s reminding me just how much I love the Bithynian Boy and how lovable he is.

9e847b085dc8494226401cc0a20b9226I am shy of talking about this. It’s funny, because I’m not shy of hanging out on Tumblr and expressing my non-religious devotion to Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, or Michael Emerson (from Person of Interest). I have frequently praised Captain America’s booty, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that my god has the finest booty ever. It deserves to be praised as lavishly as any actor’s, and more so.

It comes, I think, of being an Episcopalian. Episcopalians don’t talk about their faith, as Lutherans do. They don’t gush about how much they love Jesus, like Evangelicals. They might admit to loving Julian of Norwich or some other saint, but mostly they gush about the choir’s offertory anthem. They bitch about tacky vestments. We are aesthetes who like our strong emotions buttoned up in cassocks, sonnets, counterpoint. If we wanted to let our feelings hang out, we’d become Methodists. (To any Methodists who might be reading this: No offense. Love Wesley’s hymns. Thank you for being you.)

So I’ll gush online about my favorite actors, but not about my gods. I see pictures of those actors every day on Tumblr, along with pictures of cockatiels and all sorts of other things I like, but I don’t make an effort to look at pictures of Antinous, and there are plenty of images of him to look at. I recite hymns I have written for the god, but until I started the devotional meme, I was making little effort to write new ones. And my devotion was languishing as a result.

What is devotion? The polytheist blogosphere discusses this a lot. I think devotion is primarily just attention. You pay attention to someone or something because you care about it. The more attention you pay to it, the more you care, the more you appreciate that person, place, thing, topic for its essential nature. It’s true for affectionate devotion to a pet, or romantic devotion to a partner, intellectual devotion to a field of study, or religious devotion to a deity. I am resolving to pay more attention to Antinous, and to my gods in general, by writing new prayers and poems, looking for and at images of them, and making the small offerings I’ve been neglecting. I feel confident that such devotion will bear good fruit in my life. Which, I guess, is having faith.

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.

Wise and helpful words from a druid friend

The world is hard and it’s getting harder. You might as well be who and what you’re called to be. Practice your devotion to your Gods and ancestors. Practice your magic. Practice your love of Nature. Go deeper. Get stronger. Learn and refine the skills you will need to do your Great Work in these challenging times.

… The world is hard and it’s getting harder. We cannot allow it to make us hard people. That will serve neither ourselves nor our values. Instead, may we grow stronger and wiser, and may we care for ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

–John Beckett, Under the Ancient Oaks

All the goddesses are one goddess-no, wait, hear me out!

The twelfth of this month was observed in Rome as the Lychnapsia, a feast of lights or lanterns for Isis. I added it to my sacred calendar, dug out my little statue of Isis, in the Egyptian style, seated on a throne and holding her breast, and draped over it a small bracelet I bought in a museum gift shop, wooden beads and a blue scarab, sized for a child’s wrist. I had every intention of celebrating the feast… then I worked eight hours, came home in the afternoon heat, and turned off my brain for the rest of the night.

So this entry is something of an offering to Isis for her feast as well as a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a while. You see, one of the top items on my “Why I am a bad pagan” list is that I don’t have much of a devotion to Isis.

At least, I don’t have the devotion to Isis that I’d like to. As a child I was mad about ancient Egypt. I read books about archaeology along with books about world religions, and I could rattle off the names of gods, goddesses, and pharaohs like some kids can rattle off the names of the characters in their favorite cartoon. (My favorite cartoons as a child were always Bugs Bunny and company.) The drawings I made as a girl looked a lot like Egyptian wall paintings, even when I drew people who might have appeared in Norse myth or Arthurian legend or even The Lord of the Rings, not northern Africa along the Nile. I was as fascinated by Isis and Osiris, Set, Nephthys, and Thoth as I was by Athena, Apollo, and Dionysus, or Thor’s adventures with Loki and Freyja’s golden necklace.

All of this archaeology and mythology was getting poured into my head alongside the Bible and the Prayerbook and the Hymnal 1940. I read my way through a large book with a dull grey cover called Religions of the World that I think was actually a college textbook, designed as an introductory survey. It included not Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, two chapters apiece, but Hinduism and Buddhism (also two chapters apiece), Shinto, Sikhism, Jainism, and the polytheisms of the ancient world. Mind you I was not more than twelve when I found that book; I read early and light-years beyond grade level.

Then as a teenager I was an early admittant to a Catholic college which, as you might imagine, had a sizable collection of books on religion. It was there I came across a book that I think many of my readers might recognize: It was called Isis in the Graeco-Roman World, but it remains in print under the title Isis in the Ancient World, by R.E. Witt.

As I had done with some of the books in my neighborhood library, I borrowed that book and read it repeatedly. Even as a teenager, I spotted the author’s thesis that much of Catholic Christianity, including devotion to the Virgin Mary, had been borrowed from the Hellenistic worship of Isis. Christianity grew from a movement within the diverse Judaism of its day to a world religion (for Roman values of “world”) only by adopting and adapting from the surrounding polytheisms as much as from the Jewish matrix in which it was born.

There was Isis, and there was the Virgin Mary, and before I read Witt, I read Starhawk, and perhaps more importantly, I read The Mists of Avalon. If you are a pagan woman of a certain age, you have almost certainly read The Mists of Avalon, and perhaps some or all of its sequels as well. (I’m trying not to glance guiltily at my bookshelves.) Many, many pagans of various persuasions have quoted Viviane’s famous words, “All the goddesses are one goddess, and all the gods are one god, and there is one initiator….” It was more than twenty years before I realized that Viviane, High Priestess of Avalon, was quoting another Vivian when she said that–Vivien Le Fay Morgan, the female main character of Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. It is safe to say that without Fortune’s novels, and her esoteric work, The Mists of Avalon would not exist; while the author’s reputation as a human being and/or her soul is now in the lowest depths of your chosen hell, her book encapsulated for a generation both the legend of King Arthur and the work of Fortune and her fellow occultists.

It was longer still after my teen years that I discovered that when Vivien Le Fay Morgan said all the goddesses were one goddess, she identified that goddess with Isis, and the god with Osiris. Which means that, to some extent, Fortune was right: Isis had been worshipped all over the Roman Empire and syncretized with just about every deity that had breasts, and her Hellenistic consort Serapis was likewise syncretized with a multiplicity of gods. Isis and Serapis, by the age of Hadrian, had as good a claim as any deities will ever have to be the goddess and god in whom all others are subsumed.

So it strikes me as strange, and I feel kind of guilty, that I don’t have much devotion to Isis. I have somewhat more feeling for the Hellenistic Isis, the mega-goddess so feelingly hymned by Apuleius, but it seems easier for me to have feels, as we say on Tumblr, for gods than for goddesses. Yet I want to get to know Isis better. If I had the room, I would love to have a shrine for the Greco-Roman-Egyptian Holy Family–Isis, Serapis, Harpocrates, and Hermanubis. (Sometime I may write about the shrines I would *like* to create, if I only had the room.) Perhaps I have trouble relating to Isis because she is so very womanly. She is defined by her relationships to her spouse, her son, and her sister. Nearly everything that she does in myth is motivated by her love for her family. She is not, if memory serves, able to retaliate directly against Set’s attacks on Osiris; she can only rear a son to avenge his father.

Yet Isis is also the mistress of magic, the one who tricked the great sun-god Ra into giving her his secret name. She is the goddess who gathers under her wings goddesses of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, who travels with soldiers and merchants all the way to Britain and leaves her name on a river, her shrines and temples around the islands. Who else could be the goddess worshipped by the priestesses of Avalon but Isis, moon and sea, star and fertile earth, mother, lover, and layer-out?

Let these words, then, be my tribute to her, and a testament to my desire to honor her and get to know her, the greatest goddess of the ancient world, Aset, Isis.

One tiny taste of something you should drink in full

Just so, we know we have begun to engage in deep polytheism when we stop asking “What are you here to give me?” and we start asking “How can I serve you?” We stop asking “What lessons are you here to teach me?” and we start asking “What can we do together?”

If you are a polytheist, or if you’re interested in what polytheism is all about, I urge you to read the source of this quote, which is Morpheus Ravenna’s keynote speech for the Many Gods West conference that took place last weekend. I am grateful to Polytheist.com for publishing it, for the benefit of those like myself who were unable to attend the conference. It is clear and eloquent and has given me much food for thought and much encouragement.

It is necessary, sometimes, to bare one's heart

He is the god of my choice and the god who welcomed me.
He is the god who puts love and friendship, love between men, love between women, friendship as well as love between women and men, love between equals, at the center of his worship.
He is a god who listens. Even if I do not hear an answer, I feel that he is listening.
He is a god of things I love, such as beauty and poetry and eros, communication and prophecy and healing, and a god of things I need to honor more, such as athletics, exercise, physical vigor and excellence.
He is a god of peaceful connections, an ever-gracious host at the party of polytheism, introducing humans to gods and gods to humans and making sure everyone has enough to eat and drink.
He is a shining naked beauty preserved in pure white marble, and he is an olive-skinned, curly-haired, dark-eyed boy in skinny jeans, scuffed athletic shoes, a hoodie, with bracelets of cord and leather on his wrists, rainbow beads on his chest, his eyes outlined with kohl.
He could strike awe into my heart without a word, just by looking at me. He could work at the Greek diner on the corner and flirt with everyone who comes in.
Every beautiful boy reminds me of him. It is he whom I love in every one of them.
He is Antinous, my god.

Someone is right on the Internet *g*

If I could give advice to all new Polytheists, I would say this: your patron deity, if you wish to have one, will probably not fall out of the sky with miraculous signs or vivid dreams pushing you towards Them.  Find a deity you think is awesome, and start honoring Them!  Give Them gifts, set up an altar, spend some time there.  If you get a bad feeling about it, than move on – of course the deities will have their opinions, too.

Molly Khan, Heathen at Heart on Patheos