Cultural Values

Cultural Values

A thread on TC about the effect of one’s culture of origin on one’s path got me thinking about what it really means to be a cultural polytheist. It’s not just about honoring ancient gods, nor even doing it in a “historical context” with traditional offerings and prayers and such. I think at least part of it has to be about making the values of that culture important in your own life and practices.

One might digress a little and remember that just because a culture talks about the value of a thing doesn’t mean they practice valuing the thing, and that sometimes what seems like a good or honorable thing to value can in practice be harmful or oppressive. To use my own culture as an example, the US talks a big talk about equality, but only straight, cis white people with decent bank accounts would look at our country and genuinely see equality. We hold up the idea of “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps”, that anyone can achieve anything if they just work hard enough, as the American Dream; but not only is it wildly untrue, it creates this false dichotomy that anyone who hasn’t achieved simply isn’t working hard enough and that anyone who has something has worked for it- which hurts everyone, because the people at the bottom never get the opportunities they need to succeed, and the people in a position to give those opportunities see no one “deserving” of them. All of this to say, just because a culture holds something dear is not reason enough to adopt it wholesale into one’s practice; we can certainly learn something from the people who came before us, but some if it will always be a good example of a bad example.

It’s hard for me to see the forest for the trees sometimes, when it comes to being from the US, so I’ll start with the ancient cultures I draw from, and see if they help me see my own original lens better.

Alexei Kondratiev compiled a list of “Celtic Values” that I think are very accurate, which I will summarize:

  • Enech, or honor; a communal saving or losing “face” moreso than a personal code of conduct
  • Oígidecht, or hospitality; limited by law to keep hosts from the poorhouse
  • Meisnech or self-control; keeping one’s temper/controlling one’s mood (Kondratiev translates it as courage)
  • Tairisiu or loyalty; trust and consistency in beneficial support
  • Indracus or honesty; integrity, wholeness, right-doing
  • Coair or justice; in accordance with a cosmic/grand sense of rightness

I might argue that the second through sixth values are all facets of enech; not only would violating any of these cultural norms be wrong in and of themselves, but the satire and mockery that would come of the community being made aware of those transgressions would only further damage one’s enech. I do think, though, that the cultural use of satire to shame, and the fact that laws had to be passed to keep hosts from needing the hospitality of others, both might indicate that these two values were of the utmost importance.

That said, I’m not sure that enech is really a value I want to hold above others. Perhaps if my culture utilized satire in the way that the ancient Celts did, it would be a different story; but as it is, we reward awful people with more fame and attention all the time, and when those awful people are a little closer to home, we tend to talk around the issue and make excuses instead of exposing them as we ought. The esteem of my community-at-large (my culture) means very little, and while I’d certainly prefer to be well regarded in my actual communities, basing my behavior on what would earn their esteem creates very little in the way of moral guidelines. I would rather earn their disdain by breaking down harmful cultural standards like binary gender normativity, the rampant sexism and shaming of rape culture, etc., than toe traditional lines for the sake of “saving face.” (I admit I don’t do much in the way of traditional gender role breaking personally, as I am comfortable/enjoy much of what’s assigned to me as a woman, but the fact that it’s assigned is bullshit.) The rest, however, I think are all worthwhile, and don’t raise any particular red flags to me.

I also find it interesting to see some of the Celtic values repeated in the few compiled by Andrew Campbell in his Hellenismos FAQ (reprinted on TC with permission). (Not shocking- very little in the ancient world is utterly unique to one particular culture, I find- but still interesting.) He lists four in particular:

  • Eusebeia or piety; performance of customary acts of respect
  • Xenia or hospitality; laid out expectations for both host and guest
  • Sophrosune or self-control; less about avoidance of temptations as being aware and in control of oneself (historically difficult to translate)
  • Metriotes or moderation; see the Delphic maxim ‘nothing to excess’

Like the Celts, the Greeks valued hospitality (not very surprising, in a world without Hiltons or Motel 6s). In xenia, though, there is equal emphasis on the right actions for a guest as there are for a host, something I think our modern culture tends to vastly overlook or oversimplify. Sophrosune has apparently been difficult to define since ancient times, but it is closely tied into metriotes, and the Delphic maxim “know thyself”; being in control of oneself means being aware of oneself, and makes one more capable of temperance and inner balance.

I think the only value here that I might quibble on is that of eusebeia- which might seem odd coming from someone who has explicitly expressed a desire to be more pious, in the Greek conception of it. I think, though, that eusebeia is the go-to for many modern pagans; indeed, one of the most common queries on TC from newbies is how they can “find/choose their gods”. “Picking” deities is generally the first thing crossing a new pagan’s mind, and while I absolutely understand the impulse- the gods were an early consideration of my own- I think that being properly observant of the gods very frequently takes precedent over all else, excepting perhaps magic, in the general pagan community. And as Kiya has said- the gods don’t need us the way people do. The living breathing community that surrounds us, pagan or not- their needs are surely more pressing than that of the gods. Who will benefit more from a cup of cool, clean water, or a plate of warm food? I can’t discount the importance of eusebeia, but I cannot give it the overwhelming precedence it enjoyed in the ancient world with good conscience.

The ancient Egyptians are the least wordy, when it comes to cultural values: everything, it seems, circles back around to just one word.

  • Ma’at or truth, justice, right-doing, balance, law and morality

A singular, tidy concept that like sophrosune can be difficult to define, but certainly of vast importance; the upholding of ma’at is not only the most important duty of the people, but of the gods themselves. Like the Celtic coair, ma’at is the right action and right speech that brings reality and the community into balance and harmony; as Chabas has said, if an action for one community goes against ma’at for another community, you draw the circle bigger. It’s a tall order to live up to, but at the same time, even the smallest actions can contribute to it, like putting the shopping carts away. It encompasses the good of the community- the macrocosmic community down to the individual- in a way that many pagan platitudes about community touch on but fail to truly comprehend.

This somewhat rambling piece brings me back around to my own culture. What does modern, secular New England America value, that is worth upholding? Nationally, there are a few:

  • Equality; though our country has wildly failed to achieve it thus far, it is a worthwhile effort, and certainly a value that can be brought into everyday life
  • Liberty; though we knowingly or not concede our privacy and liberties bit by bit each day, our personal liberties are valuable and should be fought for; furthermore, the Prison Industrial Complex is a travesty that should be dismantled like a maenaed rends flesh, and the world at large should enjoy the freedom from US soldiers on their soil
  • Charity; while Lady Liberty asks for the poor and hungry, we have plenty of them here at home who are too often neglected and overlooked

The regional level is perhaps slightly harder to pin down, unless one looks at the states’ history:

  • Civic action; the Revolutionary War found its start in New England, both in protest and in battle, and was the center of the strongest abolitionist and anti-slavery movements in the US, and the widely common town-meeting model is a great example of direct democracy
  • Scholarship; some of the oldest schools and universities are located in New England, and are cultural touchstones
  • Creativity; a bulk of classic “American literature” comes from the region, a source of pride

It’s interesting; I’ve never actually sat down before and examined all of these cultural values, and weighed them against my own thoughts. I think something that would be of further, erm, value, would be to go through this list and muse on what exactly living these values in today’s world might look like, but as this post is already rather long, it’s a thought experiment for another day! I do think, though, on brief review, that these values are fairly well rounded, and even without further exploration can be a good set of guidelines for everyday action.

O&O: February 2014

O&O: February 2014

31 January: I missed this last time around, but the 31st was the first eve of Group Keeping with the TC Cill. I wrote yesterday’s very brief TCBP post, and did some cleaning and crocheting.

1 February: Imbolc, and the second eve of Group Keeping. I picked up the craft supplies for the fire part of my Paganicon fire-in-water costume, which I think is thoroughly appropriate. I’ve also written a little (just over 200 words, but I’ll hopefully be getting back to that after this post and a bit of homework is done) and I’ve done some crocheting, though I think I’m going to frog it because I don’t like the length.

2 February: My cill shift. I’ll be spending a good chunk of the day in my new weaving class, and then I intend to write and clean.

11-13 Anthesterion: (11-13 February. There was a lot of weird aligning of calendars this year.) Anthesteria. I will open a bottle of wine, make offerings to Dionysos, Hermes, and the Dead. I will probably spend some time working on one of the masks that needs making- either my fire mask, for Paganicon, or Djehuty’s mask. Neither of which are particularly Dionysos’, excepting that all masks are. I could also do some more reading up on Anthesteria so I have better plans for next year, and work on my plans for Carnival.

14 February: Valentine’s is not technically on my observance calendar for the year, but I am strongly considering making it a holyday for Hetharu, so there may be some offerings. We’ll see.

15 February: Féile Brighid; for fairly obvious reasons, February is Brighid’s month. I’ll be making my monthly Kiva donation, and then writing, crocheting and/or weaving, cleaning, and hopefully baking. I should make bread. It’s also Laura’s Night. Comfort food will probably be cookies or something similar. I’ll also start Brighid’s online shrine here, which I’ll have to figure out a name for.

16 February: Absent’s Night. I have utterly no idea what kind of comfort food would be appropriate, but I’ll figure out something.

18 February: Opening Night, a special day outside of my normal Beloved Dead offering days. It was a stage debut for my Great-Aunt Senta, though I have misplaced (and forgotten) the notes with the specifics. I know it was ballet, but I haven’t a clue what year, or what show. I will be working on my writing.

19 Peret 3: (19 February. I mentioned the weird alignment?) Offering to Djehuty. As I had a lovely case of plague for most of last month, I did not start Djehuty’s mask or get any reading done, so I would like to rectify that. I’ll also update my online shrine, which is sorely in need of a better name.

22 February: My cill shift: again with the writing, fiber work, cleaning. Hopefully some healing work, too.

For the shortest month of the year, I’ve got plenty to do!

As for January: my plague rather intensified on the 2nd, and I wasn’t able to get in to a doctor until the 21st, so I had significantly less energy than I would have liked. For how awful I felt, though, I am pretty pleased that I was mindful of each day (and not just at the end as an ‘oh, fuck’ sort of way) and made as much effort as I could manage. The round-up: I never got around to the divination on the 1st. I did make biscuits & gravy on the 2nd, but forgot that I have no fire-safe bowl for burning letters, so that didn’t happen at all. I kept on the 3rd, and made Sage’s cross; I baked and offered cupcakes on the 12th. Kept again on the 13th and made Aiwelin’s cross. Got the online shrine for Djehuty set up on the 15th, and made my Kiva donation a few days later when money was properly situated- I funded a group of women in Mali who sell traditional medicines. I missed Grandma’s birthday on the 18th, as I ran out of cupcake supplies and had no energy for the store, and didn’t do anything I’d planned for Djehuty on the 19th. Overall: not a great month, but I attribute that more to my really awful cold than my motivation.

Here’s hoping February will be better!

My Calendar System

My Calendar System

Calendars, and their making and maintenance, has been a subject of discussion among my friends and I on more than one occasion, and since it’s been on my mind of late I thought I would sit down and detail my system. I welcome comments and constructive criticism, and if anyone else would like to share their methodology I’d love to link it here. My calendar has two halves: the fixed dates and the movable dates. I use two programs- Evernote and Google Calendar- as well a regular notebook. I start with the fixed half of the calendar- it’s pretty simple and straightforward.

I start with a file in Evernote named “Base Calendar (Fixed)” in my calendar notebook. I have each of the twelve Gregorian calendar months listed in bold, underneath which I list any holidays that fall within that month. I color code holidays for visual simplicity- purple for the gods, green for the spirits, blue for the dead, and orange for any others. (The colors were chosen at random/what wasn’t eye searing and still distinct.) So December looks like this:

DECEMBER
15: Eortì Hekate

23: Seven Suppers
24: Seven Suppers
25: Seven Suppers
26: Seven Suppers
27: Seven Suppers
28: Seven Suppers
29: Seven Suppers

31: the Last Night

I input each of these dates into my Google Calendar- I have a set of private calendars using the same color coding scheme- and schedule them to recur annually. Initially, I also set up email reminders, but given the volume of minor days (Beloved Dead birth and death days, mostly, which I mark briefly) my inbox got a bit overwhelming.

In January of each year- usually on or just before Djehuty’s Feast- I create a new file in my calendar notebook for the year. The fixed base calendar is then copied and pasted in.

Because the fixed portion of the calendar deals with the modern Gregorian calendar, it only lends itself to certain kinds of holidays. It is overwhelmingly blue: Beloved Dead birth and death days, Christian saints’ feasts, and significant dates associated with the Heroines and the Patrons (two groups of Dead I work with.) There’s a solitary purple holiday per month- deity holidays of my own invention- and only three green spirit holidays (the first and last days of the year, and the leap day, all of which belong to the Moirae.) There are a handful of community holidays- the ‘founding days’ of my birthplace and childhood hometown, and the four major Celtic festivals, on their fixed Neo-Pagan/Wiccish dates. (Said Celtic festivals could technically exist on the movable portion of the calendar- perhaps even should, if we’re getting recon about it- but they’re as much about the community as the time of year, and I would rather celebrate them with the community.)

The movable portion of the calendar is not nearly as straightforward. It draws from several sources: the Kemetic calendar, the Hellenic calendar, and the American calendar; while the latter just requires checking the year’s Gregorian calendar and placing accordingly, the Kemetic and Hellenic calendars are old and are based off of astrological phenomena. So I keep track of both ancient calendars, to place ancient holidays accordingly.

The Hellenic calendar, if I’m being specific, is actually the Attic calendar, used in Athens. It’s technically based on lunar phases, with an intercalary month periodically to keep the months aligned with the seasons. The ancients, however, were not exactly known for their precision, and added extra days to months when it suited them (usually political stuff.) I consider this license for wiggle room, personally (though I don’t really need license, as I’m not a recon.) I place the first of Hekatombaion- the first month of the Attic calendar- on the first new moon after the summer solstice (which is possibly how the ancient Athenians reckoned it, but we’re not totally positive.) Instead of stuffing my intercalary month partway through the year (traditionally it was Poseideon 2, directly after Poseideon, which was roughly November/Decemberish) I just add my intercalary days to the end of the year like a sensible person. Much less maths, that way.

Because the Hellenic calendar relies on moon phases, there’s no set number of days per month. I rely on a lunar calendar to figure out when the phases are, because I am not a celestially oriented person- I use the lunar phase calendar in Google Calendar. There’s also the bit where the ancient Hellenic day started at sunset (much like the Jewish calendar) but it feels unnatural to me, so I shift everything a day forward. This means that I’m partially off from HMEPA but it’s still close enough that I can use it to double-check my calculations when need be.

As for the Kemetic calendar. Anyone who’s worked with them will tell you, it’s a mess and a headache. Like the ancient Greeks, the ancient Egyptians had different festival calendars in different places; they also had a ‘wandering’ lunisolar calendar that relied on moon phases and a civil calendar with a set number of days per month- the problem is that they used the same names for the months in both calendars. The whole thing is enough to drive a person mad. As I am not a recon, I gave myself license to simplify. I determine the new year, Wep Renpet, by the local rising of Sirius, which becomes 1 Akhet 1 on the calendar. The twelve months each have 30 days, and then the Days Upon the Year handles the intercalary days, however many they happen to be. I place holidays on the civil dates, unless they specifically mention being tied to a lunar phase (such as the Jubilee of Nut.)

So, to use the movable calendar, first I have to find out the date of the June solstice, find the next new moon, and start placing the months. I do this for the full Hellenic year, which means that when I’m calculating in January, the upcoming months are already done, and my new set of calculations will carry me over through next January. As I place the year’s months in my Google Calendar, I mark them down in the year’s calendar note as well.

I then calculate the rising of Sirius based on my latitude/longitude with this handy link and place the first of each month every thirty days, also noting it in the year’s calendar note as I go. At this point, my year calendar will have all the fixed Gregorian date holidays, and the first day of every Hellenic and Kemetic month.

At this point, I turn to my note “Base Calendar (Movable)”. Here I have five subheadings: Dec/Jan/Feb, Mar/Apr/May, Jun/Jul/Aug, Sep/Oct/Nov, and Other. (Other covers recurring holidays based on celestial observation, like the Jubilee of Nut or Hekate’s Deipnon.) Holidays are listed in rough order (due to the movable nature of the calendars, they can fluctuate sometimes) by the observation/phenomenon or the ancient calendar date. So Jun/Jul/Aug looks like:

JUN/JUL/AUG
(June Solstice) Eortì Auxo
(1 Hekatombaion 27, 3 days) Panathenaea
(days preceding heliacal rising of Sirius, 5 days) Heb Netjeru/Wep Renpet
(1 Akhet 18) Heb Wagy

Once my months are in place, I can go down the list of movable holidays and plug them onto their date for the coming year; I place them in my Google Calendar as a non-recurring date, and list them in the year’s calendar. While it’s a time consuming effort, after the first time it’s not a difficult one.

Both the ancient calendars are skewed heavily towards the gods; because they cover a massive period of time, they are also stuffed full of festivals and observances, that were probably more prominent in different locations and time periods. My list of movable holidays to consider adding to my calendar is much longer than the base calendar at the moment; having a date and title doesn’t necessarily help one put together an actual observation, after all. And, since I’m still getting my feet wet in proper research skills, it’s largely a work in progress.

All of this helps me map out my year, but my Google Calendar can be a bit overwhelming with other things I need to remember (doctor’s appointments, birthdays, trash day, whatever) so I like to break it down into smaller chunks in my notebook. On the left page, I write down the week: Monday through Sunday, with the Gregorian, Hellenic, and Kemetic month and day in a column and the holidays in a second column alongside. On the right page I make a list of anything I need to keep in mind during the week- upcoming holiday prep work I need to do, work-in-progress projects I don’t want to lose track of, looming deadlines, etcetera. I write out the left hand pages for about two months at a time; the right hand pages get updated week-to-week, though I do make notes in advance if I want to start thinking about something at a certain time (like advance warning for birthday gift shopping, etca.)

So, that’s my system! I’d love to hear how others manage their religious calendars!

August.

August.

Well, it’s been a day over six months since I last updated here. The radio silence wasn’t intentional; I’ve been doing a lot of self-work in therapy, and just haven’t had the spoons for coherency. (And honestly, being so out of practice, who knows if I’ll manage coherency here! I’ll give it a shot, at any rate.)

I thought I’d do a quick entry on what my religious calendar looks like for the month. Several of my friends blog or have blogged about what they’re doing for a particular holiday, but I don’t have that much practice under my belt, honestly. My holiday observance has been sporadic for, oh, forever. So I thought I’d look at what’s actually going on this month, and what I might do to celebrate.

First up is Heb Netjeru/Wep Renpet, from August 7th-11th. Heb Netjeru is sort of my version of the Days Upon the Year; my personal pantheon is specifically defined, and the only god amongst Nut’s children that I work with is Set. Making offerings to his siblings, who I have no relationship with, just feels strange- likewise, not making offerings to the other Kemetic deities I work with during that time feels strange. So, I adjust. This is a perk of not being a recon. Wep Renpet is essentially the Kemetic new year, calculated by the rising of Sirius. I calculate annually based off of my location, so for me it falls on the 11th. (The dates of all my other traditional Kemetic holidays are determined by the date of Wep Renpet; I simplify the nightmare that is Kemetic calendar navigation by placing dates per the fixed civil calendar, unless the holiday specifically mentions a lunar phase.) As for celebrating them- I’ll be making individual offerings on each of the days of Heb Netjer, doing some shrine cleaning/setting up, and brainstorming on the mask project. For Wep Renpet, I’m really not sure what I’m going to do, aside from making bread. To be honest, I intend to mine some Kemetic friends’ blogs and see what they do! In any case, it will likely be low-key, because it’s me and that’s how I do things.

On the 15th is Féile Lugh. This holiday has moved around a bit through the month. (Each month of the calendar is dedicated to one of the Twelve, and one day of the month is a holiday for them in general, as opposed to celebrating/marking a particular event or aspect of them.) I’ve tried it at the beginning of the month and at the end, and both at the same time, and haven’t liked it. At the beginning felt too rushed, and I always felt unprepared; at the end felt half-assed and belated. Both just gave me a headache. So I’m trying for the middle. I expect to celebrate by starting a batch of mead, trying out a beer bread recipe I’ve had kicking around for a bit, and doing some creative endeavors. (Harp or language oriented, I expect, but we’ll see.) Also going for a decent walk, and crossing my fingers for some rain.

The Wag Festival is the 28th for me (beginning on the eve prior) which is a Kemetic festival for the dead. I’ll be cleaning my Beloved/Forgotten Dead shrines on the eve and lighting candles, and then making some offerings during the day. I’m thinking paper flower garlands- I may try my hand at origami, but may also just give in and play with construction paper- and probably bread or cake. I may also try my hand at some paper boats. Oh, and family tree stuff; I’ve been planing to do some writing out of my genealogy for my BD shrine, and I’ll poke at my family tree on Ancestry.com and do some work there, as one does.

Djehutet (as I keep seeing it spelled; it’s a Feast of Djehuty) took place the day following Wagy, but from what I’ve seen did not take place every year? (The fun of fixed civil and wandering lunar calendars with the same month names.) I’ve got it on the calendar for the 29th but I don’t really know what it’s about, so much, which makes it a touch difficult to mark properly. Same for the Procession of Nit on the 22nd (I honor Nit syncretized with Seshat). I’ll do some divination, I expect, and see if I get any thoughts/ideas/out-of-my-head inclinations.

Aside from that, I have Beloved Dead days on the 20th and 29th, which just involves some prayer and libations to the ancestors in question; and also an appropriate activity, but two of the four I didn’t know in life, and I’m still not sure what to do. My default is family tree stuff, so that’s pretty likely.

Looks like a manageable month? I guess we’ll see.