Carnival Dionysia and NaNoWriMo

Carnival Dionysia and NaNoWriMo

The months of the Carnival Dionysia have begun- almost a week ago, now. I’ve been poking intermittently at it, but I’m still not sure what my work is, here. I’ve also been distracted with my new classes and preparing for NaNo, so I haven’t done as much thinking on it as I’d like. I do know that I want to work on my divination skills, and do more work on my WIP deck(s). I also want to step up my writing; I don’t think of Dionysos as a patron of writers specifically, but his ancient connections to theater make me feel like it’s still an appropriate association. I may also try another batch of mead, specifically for him, when I get back from my trip to Florida. (Possibly to be opened at Anthesteria? I’m not sure if it’s enough time. Hmm.)

Speaking of NaNo. In a recent thread on TC, Jack mentioned NaNo in a religious sense, a longstanding tradition of his, and very appropriate for his work as a fictional recon. I read it shortly after he posted and thought to myself “that is awesome” but as I am not a fictional recon, or really a pop culture pagan in any particular sense, I didn’t think about it much beyond that. It’s been poking at me ever since, though, and then came to the dawning realization that I’m an idiot. I honor several authors among my dead as patrons; I honor the Muses; I honor several deities involved with creativity, inspiration, writing, skill, and work. It is entirely appropriate for me to treat NaNo as a religious tradition, potentially even a religious obligation. So I’m poking at making some kind of offering at the start and end, and maybe at the end of each week. Seeing as the madness starts in just over six hours, I should probably poke a little faster!

Calendars, Cycles, and Holiday Seasons

Calendars, Cycles, and Holiday Seasons

Yes, I am talking about calendars again. Blame Kiya for lobbing a lightbulb.

I have a certain fondness for the Wheel of the Year, though in practice it never worked for me. I think it’s because it is a unified, coherent cycle, unlike most of what I have been exposed to in terms of calendars, either before or after it. It has a strong agricultural theme, but one that maps metaphorically onto personal action, internal or external, with relative ease. And though the seasonal cycle never matched up precisely with my location, it was close enough to work.

Except that as a whole, it didn’t. I think that is in large part because I’m not Wiccan; I have no idea which god is doing the death and rebirth bit, I don’t have the religious context that makes the Wheel of the Year more than a generic British Isles agricultural cycle. It’s like recognizing most things Lord of the Rings without being a Tolkien fan- I have neither the breadth of knowledge, experience, or intimacy to really internalize the depth of meaning that many aspects of the story or world have to actual fans. Someone can explain it to me, and I will probably remember, but there’s still a big gap.

My interests in things wax and wane. I am a creature of phases, I always have been. This applies to my eating habits, my focus on hobbies, my reading material, my energy and enthusiasm levels, everything. I am almost paradoxical in that I have a short attention span and a tendency to hyperfocus- I do or eat or think about predominantly one thing for a period of time, and then it suddenly ceases to maintain my interest, and I move on to something else. I almost always cycle back, but depending on how many different things I have sitting around to capture my attention, it can take a while.

Anyway. I am beginning to stray, but my point here was that my life is not one big cycle. I do not sow at one time of the year and reap at the other; I am always starting and ending. My life is not centered around one major theme- the gods I work for do not have any one thing in common. I, like most people, am a bundle of different qualities and interests and skills, that manifest in different combinations at different times. What I wonder is: are those manifestations cyclical, in a predictable and trackable manner? It’s not something I’ve noticed before, but then I wouldn’t; I am not good at patterns. It’s something I’ll have to look for.

I do want my calendar to be a cohesive whole- but if it’s a reflection of me, if it’s my calendar, then it will never comprise of one smoothly working part. It will likely not even comprise of several pieces that fit seamlessly together; it will have a variety of odd shapes that cannot run all at once, but fit together in a number of combinations, with different bits waiting on the sidelines to come back into play.

Which brings me around to holiday seasons. I think anyone from the US is familiar with them; some people call 1 October the first of Halloween, (US) Thanksgiving lasts most of November, and Grinchmas starts as soon as the turkey leftovers have made it to the fridge. The Grinchmas season at least has some theological precedent, what with Advent and all, but slowly these single-day holidays have grown and grown. Some people complain. I know that working in retail, I did not enjoy a month of Grinchmas music on the radios, especially in those places that used specific recordings of selected tracks instead of the actual radio. And the fact that these holiday seasons are increasingly commercialized- Grinchmas keeps creeping up on Thanksgiving for the sales- is not something I love. But the taking of the important, celebration-worthy aspects of a singular day and distilling them out over a longer period of time… I feel like it makes things more manageable, somehow? There’s a lot of pressure in the pagan community to get everything Right, to do everything Right. Accuracy and precision certainly have their value and their place. But in a world like today’s, without priests to handle the heavy lifting- there’s a lot more weight on our shoulders, a lot more decisions to make. Do we do a processional if it’s just us in our living room? Does it count as a processional if there’s only one person? How do we scale down a city-wide celebration into something a single person can mark on their own, when they’ve been at work all day, have to go back again tomorrow, and need to keep an eye on their offering budget because it’s almost winter and the heating bill is going to go up? Opet just ended, and I spent a good portion of it thinking about the fact that I am not a priest, I have no barque to carry. I did emboaten the boatless (only once, unfortunately, because money) but that was a single action of a very long festival. I spent most the rest of it feeling guilty for not knowing what else to do. I like the idea of putting a specific festival or ritual occurrence at the end of a longer period of mindful preparation, and I think if I had treated Opet this year in a similar fashion, and spent some lead-up time thinking about my commitments and my relationships with an idea to refocus them at the end, I would have felt better about the whole thing. (Maybe not- retrospect is funny that way.)

As I’ve said before, my calendar is seriously stripped down at the moment; I’m putting bits back in a little at a time, seeing what I think will work, what I think is important. With the ideas of themes and cycles in mind, I made a chart of with each month of the year, and placed my current and soon-to-be-added holydays on it, and they arranged themselves into a few different categories. The days for my dead (not individual birth and death days, but the group observances) cluster at the end of the year- two in mid/late August, two in November, and one in December. The holydays focused on creative skill and competition are summer-ish: one in July, one in August, and one in October. My new year’s celebrations are also mostly summer-ish, in May, June, and August, with the January outlier; the three holdays focused on community bonds start in September and stretch through December. And in working on this chart, I was able to pinpoint why “Carnival” is something I want to work on- because not only does the traditional Carnival season incorporate the revelry and inversion of norms associated with Dionysos, and correspond almost exactly to his time at Delphi (whilst Apollon is elsewhere), but it also overlaps with my dark days, when my seasonal-affective disorder is at its worst. I don’t know yet what the work is, but I know there is work to be done there.

Not everything fits neatly into one of these categories, and I’m not going to force it; I’ll keep this chart around, and use it to see how things evolve, and maybe to see where I have too many gears in play, or not enough. (March and April are totally empty at the moment, and while I don’t find it surprising, exactly, I didn’t notice it before.) Some things will always remain singular days, brief markings, like my Beloved Dead’s birth and death days that are scattered all over the year. But I do like the idea of having these cyclical phases where I focus on my dead, or my connection to my community, or on my creative endeavors, and not try to force myself to do All The Things All The Time. I could put something down without feeling like a failure, because I’d know that I would come back to it.

As always, it’s a work in progress. But I’m feeling like I’ve got a little more direction, now.

On Being a Convert (And Related Musings)

On Being a Convert (And Related Musings)

It’s really weird to think of myself as a religious convert, sometimes. (I talked about it a bit here.) I’ve always associated conversion with a few things, namely leaving one religion behind, entering into a new religion, having some kind of official ceremony to mark the end of the conversion process. My own experiences don’t line up with those expectations at all; I was raised in an a-religious household, I don’t actually belong to a religion that anyone else is a part of, and I’ve never had any kind of ceremony or acknowledgment that I’m officially a part of something. Nevertheless, I am a convert: I actively sought out a religious experience different from what I was living, and I have changed my behaviors and attitudes to reflect the new religious experience I have. I do not persist in the manner I was raised, and I went looking for that change with enthusiasm and a deep need.

I notice, under the pagan umbrella, that a lot of converts have something in common: a struggle between the role of a lay-person and a priest. I think this stems from a few different things. Wicca is still a huge influence on the pagan community, especially in publishing, and I don’t doubt that many new pagans are still learning about Wicca before any other pagan religion. Not to say that it’s a starter religion, because it’s not- but book Wicca is very, very accessible. Initiatory Wicca is a religion of priests, though, and while I suspect book Wicca is only a faint shadow of its initiatory predecessor, it is still oriented around priest-work. When it comes to cultural polytheism, much of our information on ancient religions comes from the priests, and focuses significantly less on Joe Hotep and his onion-hoeing. The archaeological record speaks for the average person a little more, but there’s a frustrating lack of context there that must be accounted for. So when new pagans go looking to historical sources and reconstructive practitioners, the majority of what they’re seeing is once again coming from priest sources. Finally, the simple fact of being a convert leads us to wanting to know the Right and Best way of doing things; the natural and casual integration of faith into daily life by the layperson can make the convert feel like they’re not being devout enough, that they’re letting their gods or their co-religionists down.

I’ve said on more than one occasion that I am not interested in being a priest. But I regularly struggle with being drawn to the more formalized aspects of faith that is part of being a priest (at least, of many of the priests I’ve observed.) I lack that intuitive sense that people raised in a religion have for imbuing action with meaning; I don’t have that foundation of symbolic meaning that links the different bits of my reality together in any cohesive manner. Additionally, because I don’t belong to a religion, I lack actual co-religionists, which means I don’t have access to any kind of community work; I am thoroughly without structure, from any kind of community or hierarchy, and it often leaves me feeling adrift and demoralized. Of course, the reality of being on one’s own means that even if I did take up the mantle of priest-work, the structure it would afford would still be of my own making- it would probably just be more formalized than what I have now.

People often enter into short-term arrangements or agreements when it comes to their gods and their practice; in some ancient cultures, being a priest was a short term job, and not a lifelong calling as it is commonly perceived today. Could I be a priest for a few months? Or a seasonal priest? What would that look like, I wonder?

A Little Quiet

A Little Quiet

Things have been a little quiet around here, despite my intentions. There are a few reasons- I’ve been in the middle of a class I detest, I just got back from a long weekend in Maryland, I’ve not been in a great spot mental health-wise, and I’ve been on a sort of unofficial hiatus from TC. I’m seeing a doctor to deal with point #3 on the 9th, and point #4 might sound drama-laden but is really just my need to, well, reassess my needs.

I have a list of posts I’ve been meaning to write. I’ve been wanting to go through the different values in my cultural values post (along with a few others I thought of since then) and post about them individually- going back over what they mean historically, but also how to live them in my modern life, what deities I think hold them in particular esteem, etcetera. I have a few false starts saved in my drafts, but mostly I just haven’t quite had the spoons.

So, cross you fingers for me that my appointment goes well, and hopefully with meds I’ll have a few more spoons in the coming weeks to get all the things done that I want to!

Shrines and Such

Shrines and Such

I am very strongly a shrine-oriented person. I think this is because I’m a collector at heart, and like most collectors I like to display things together because they make me happy when I see them. Shrines elicit a different emotion, generally, but it’s still an organized visual sort of mindfulness. As of now, I have two functional shrines and a shrine-in-progress; I would, ideally, like to have more, but space. It’s something I’m working on, albeit rather slowly.

My primary shrine is my hearth shrine; it sits on the wall between my bedroom door and the doorway to my bathroom and closet, and directly faces my bed. IMG_0278 It’s not precisely how I want it; the shelves holding the teacups are super narrow, and eventually I’d like to replace them with something a bit deeper so I can stand the saucers up behind them. The space on the hearth changes each month around a different deity; it’s set up for Athene, presently. (With an offering set out in front for Lugh, as it’s his day.) A few things always remain on the hearth, though- my copy of The Prophet, which sits to the left of the brown owl, underneath my FK pendant, a prayer bracelet I made (that I still need to fix the clasp on), three wooden cats, and a drawing of three cats by Pui-Mun Law. Additionally, my Shadowscapes tarot (to the right of the silver owl and plate) which is also by Pui-Mun Law, is a fixture on my hearth shrine. The star above the shrine is the summer star, with little blue “buds” that remind me of summer skies and the ocean. Eventually, I plan to hang large masks over the hearth, but I’m not sure when I’ll manage to make them.

My second shrine has been rolling around in my head for months now, but I’ve literally only just put it together about twenty minutes ago, when I realized that putting a shrine directly on my computer desk would likely help me keep the area clean. IMG_0277 (I apologize for the crap lighting. My only lamp is a ceiling fan, and while it’s plenty bright it’s also behind me.) I’ve been wanting to put together a function-shrine instead of an entity-shrine for a while- this one is for school. As I was assembling items, I realized all the ones I’d selected so far were metallic, so I continued with the theme. The silver disc is for Djehuty, the helmet ring is for Athene, the oak leaf pendant is for the Dagda, the quill pen is for Seshat, the old Irish coin (which I need to polish, as you can’t see the crane on it unless you pick it up) is for Lugh, and the turtle is for Hermes. The central lotus is for Hetharu- a reminder to enjoy what I’m learning and not just obsess over grades!

Finally, my shrine-in-progress belongs to my Beloved Dead, and is situated directly above my monitor and tv. IMG_0280 I have a second honeycomb shelf sitting in the shipping box in the hallway; I plan to get that put up this week. The next step is to cut out some backgrounds for the honeycombs, which will be decorated with names and dates. The bottom one will also have the base extended in some manner, so I can set down the saucer for offerings. The boat contains a necklace with a real butterfly wing inside it, something I wear on the recurring offering days of my Beloved Dead, as well as birth- and deathdays. The other two honeycombs are set up for my grandfathers- my paternal grandfather to the right, with the billiard balls, coasters, and round-tuit, and my maternal grandfather above, with a small urn of his ashes, and a carved wooden bear. The photos sitting atop the honeycombs will eventually go on the walls, once I know where I want them. I intend for this shrine to consist of several of these shelves, but they’re on the expensive side so I’m spacing out the purchases! There’s little rush, one supposes.

In the realm of shrine-like things, I’ve another project in mind, and I think I’ve finally hammered out the details. I invoke Hekate and Hermes as the protectors of my space, as is traditional; hermai were placed at boundaries and street corners, and Hekataion were placed outside doorways and at crossroads. Given that my living space is not my own, and I don’t want a large square herma at the end of my driveway with a carved dick on it, alternate plans needed to be considered. I’ve settled on apotropaic doorframe amulets, in the style of the Jewish mezuzot. The image links to the Wikipedia page, but the gist of a mezuzah is the fulfillment of a mitzvah (commandment) to inscribe the words of a specific prayer “on the doorposts of your house;” the mezuzah consists of a specially prepared prayer scroll in a case that is affixed to the doorframe. (How many of the doorframes in a home need mezuzot is not fixed, and varies among Jewish denominations and families.)

Hekate is sometimes depicted carrying two torches, often accompanied by one or more dogs, and there is a story about how she warned the people of Byzantium of an impending attack with both. Guard dogs and porch lights are not exactly groundbreaking the realm of home protection, clearly. I have no intention of getting a dog any time soon, given that I have three cats and not a lot of space; I could dedicate the porch light and the flood light in the driveway to Hekate, but the porch light does not work well, and we don’t use the flood light because it is really fucking annoying. (And blinding, which is not so useful when someone in the house works swing shift.) And, as I mentioned above, I’m focusing on my personal space, as I’m the only polytheist in the house. I am debating how to decorate the amulets for Hekate; I know I’m going to use a pair, and my initial inclination was simply to use two torches, but the guard dog raising the alarm has a certain appeal, too.

As for the herma, I have a few stylistic options, but the two traditional ones are a squared column with a head (that is not necessarily Hermes’s) and genitals, or a pile of stones in the vein of the Celtic cairn. (One supposes that a pile of stones is a pile of stones.) I’m more inclined to a squared column, personally, but not so much the head or, well, tails; I’m also not sure whether I want a singular herma or more than one. I have a thing about symmetry and balance, which does not rank as an actual compulsion but results in a lot of twitching.

My final detail to consider is whether to place them only at the internal doorway to my bedroom, or whether to put them on my two window frames as well; I’m situated on the ground floor, and though the foundation gives a good amount of rise, it wouldn’t be difficult to get out in an emergency, nor in if one were motivated. I expect I will make them out of clay, as I’m no woodworker nor metalsmith, but I’m no sculptor, either, so I’m sure there will be a lot of trial and error.

I’ve never been much of an amulet user, so this will be a new adventure! And one of these days I’ll find space for all the other shrine ideas kicking around in my head…