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: July 2014

O&O: July 2014

I’m a little bit behind- I should have done this yesterday! Better late than never.

So, to look back on June! I started off poorly- I only offered fire & water to the Dagda. I wasn’t feeling great so I didn’t bother tuning my harp, and I utterly failed to plan properly so I didn’t have the ingredients for soup. Similarly, I only managed fire & water on the 6th, though my annoyance with my shrine did kick up and foment the post I made the other day. Still, not what I wanted to accomplish. I spent the 13th running around doing errands, and only had the energy and time for fire & water to Set and Dionysos. (I’m seeing a pattern here.) And my poor time management with regard to my schoolwork meant I only did my Kiva donation and fire & water on the 15th. (Though I did say a prayer to Hermes to help me BS my way through the math paper I was writing!) I did better on the 19th- offered fire & water to Djehuty, and actually did some research on Wagy. I didn’t post on his shrine; I’d intended to, but I’ve been rolling around the fact that I didn’t want them to just be miscellaneous posts on their offering days, I wanted them to be a resource to learn about the deity in question. Of course I’ve not much to offer in the way of resources, at the moment. At any rate, I feel like kicking myself over minor content is not helpful. I also got the impetus to do daily devotions, and some ideas on where to take that to avoid burnout and rote-ness. Mask work is being put off until I finish cleaning. I somehow completely missed my grandfather’s Night on the 21st (I also failed to realize it was the solstice until it was over) which I am very unhappy with myself over. My cill shift I cleaned (along with fire & water offerings), and though I didn’t have the spoons to do much on the Jubilee, I did manage fire & water, and painting my nails gold.

I am… I have mixed feelings about the month. I did better than I did in May. I am managing actual fire & water offerings instead of just mindfulness. But they do feel a little token- but on the other hand, building them as a habit is a good start, and I can add to it. As always, I can improve. I can do better.

Onto July! (How in the seven hells is it July already??)

2 July: (4 Hekatombaion) Offering to Hermes. Fire & water, and I’m going to sit my ass down and do some weaving, as I haven’t touched my Lichtfaden scarf in too long, and I can’t make another scarf for my future shop until this one is off the loom.

4 July: Offering to the Dagda. Fire & water, and tuning my goddamned harp. (I should be doing that every day, honestly.) I will also plan to make a large batch of oatmeal, and hopefully soup if I can.

6 July: (6 Shomu 4) Offering to the Beloved & Nameless Dead. Fire & water, and hopefully ordering two of those honeycomb shelves! I’d also like to continue my Dead observance holyday research with Samhain.

7 July: Offering to Seshat. As July is Seshat’s month, I’ll be beginning her monthly offerings. If I can manage to have all my books unpacked by then, I’ll spend some time working on my LibraryThing cataloging; if not, I may spend some time listing the many, many BookMooch books I have for trade.

12 July: Cill shift. Fire & water, cleaning, and weaving, damnit. And hopefully writing.

13 July: (15 Hekatombaion) Dikhomenia. Fire & water, I have utterly no idea what else. None of my previous ideas have really clicked. …maybe a TV marathon, to work on my oracle deck? That’s a possibility.

15 July: Heb Seshat. Fire & water, Kiva donation… I don’t know what else, honestly. I’ll have to give this more thought.

19 July: Offering to Djehuty. Fire & water, and more reading. I’m currently working on “Greek & Roman Necromancy” but if I’ve finished that by this time I’ll probably take another stab at “My Heart My Mother”. Also continuing to work on my calendar and Dead festivals, if I haven’t already finished researching/updating about Samhain, Veteran’s Day, and the Seven Suppers.

23 July: Jubilee. Fire & water, self-care/beauty pampering of whatever sort suits me, and whatever else makes me happy that day.

25-27 July: (27-29 Hekatombaion) Greater Panathenaea. Technically this holyday is not on my calendar for the year, as it’s not a festival for the dead; however, I made a commitment on Khalkeia last year, before my calendar change-up, that I would finish this crochet blanket and offer it to Athene at the Panathenaea. I suspect I will offer fire & water, offer the finished blanket, and maybe spend some time weaving.

31 July: (4 Metageitnion) Offering to Hermes. Fire & water, and I’m not sure what else, right now. It depends on how I progress on my current scarf; though I may spend some time working on my plans for a little bracelet sized loom.

It’s getting busier every month! Hopefully I can keep up.

O&O: April 2014

O&O: April 2014

March wrap up! So, I skipped Carnival, which as I mentioned in my calendar posts, is okay. My cill shift away at con was different than my usual shifts- I had no living flame, only my amber ring, and I kept forgetting to go up and get it- but I also had this feeling that I was doing the right work with everyone, stitching my life together, as it were, and the ring was just a bonus. Eortì Dionysos, well. I made no particular offering, though I did drink a little, and danced some at the ball. I did listen to a dream the night before (by talking it out with Veggie, Nykti, and Net), faced my problems with alcohol head on, and bought an amethyst necklace I think I am meant to wear on his days. I did nothing for Dikhomenia except swear at having a flight on his day, and wear his pendant. And also fantasizing about ripping a few annoying and/or thoroughly incompetent people into pieces. My second cill shift on the equinox was at home, and I spent it in recovery mode- aside from my living flame, I did nothing but rest and sleep. On Djehuty’s offering day (which I’d really love to name, but augh, names) I updated his offering blog, but I didn’t have much else spare energy- my schoolwork, which is dedicated to him, has been eating my brain since I returned from con.

Overall: it was indeed a light month, and I don’t feel badly about any of it, but between travel-funk and school overload, none of it really made me feel… imbued with a particular sense of piety, either. It’s a step in the right direction, admittedly, but it feels like a frustratingly small one.

Onto April!

1 April: Chavi’s Night. As is TC tradition, my avatar will don a silly hat, and I will keep a candle lit for at least a few hours in her honor, as well as Elspeth’s and Absent’s.

3 April: Cill shift. Weaving, likely, and cleaning. Poking at my again-dormant writing. Trying to name Brighid’s online shrine so I can get it running.

7 April: Offering to the Beloved & Nameless Dead. I’ll do genealogy work, offer cool water, and maybe pick up some more frames for Beloved Dead photos.

15 April: (Also 15 Mounichion.) Heb Hetharu, and Dikhomenia. My usual Kiva donation; I will continue trying to name Dionysos’ shrine, and now try to name Hetharu’s. I feel like there should be flowers and music and dancing, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the energy for the lattermost. I may also order a bottle of Stinger, for future offering purposes. None of this feels quite enough, but I am currently so low on brain I’m not sure what would make it better, right now.

16 April: Jeanne’s Night. A great-aunt of mine who I never knew, really, so I’ll be lighting a candle and offering cool water.

19 April: Elspeth’s Night. Again, a candle and cool water. Like Chavi, I was lucky enough to know her on TC, but never well.

20 April: Offering to Djehuty. Aside from updating his offering blog, I suspect my homework will be the primary offering, as it’ll be nearly the end of the term. I’d also like to get or make some sort of icon to attach to my monitor, to help me stay mindful.

23 April: Cill shift. Cleaning, weaving, hopefully writing.

27 April: Jubilee of Nut (whom I syncretize with Hetharu.) The monthly Jubilee will be Hetharu’s offering day; hopefully by this point I will have an online shrine set up to update, but if not, I’ll be working on the name. I think music and general happy self care will be the rest of the agenda.

27-30 April: Féile Déithe; technically this four day festival is not on my calednar for the year, per my two recent calendar posts. I’ll be making an effort to read one of my Celtic texts during this period, and thinking about what sort of things I might want to do to mark the days next year.

There’s a bit more this month than in March, and I am less sure of how I want to mark it; with my current mental state/energy levels (it was a rough weekend) just thinking of this stuff has worn me out. We’ll see how it goes. One baby step at a time (as Veggie would say!)

Introducing: Red Ink, Black Tea

Introducing: Red Ink, Black Tea

I’ve made several attempts at keeping devotional shrines integrated on my blog; first at my main blog as a series of posts amidst the rest of my meandering thoughts, and then here as a few more structured pages. I’ve decided, however, that I want the room and flexibility of separate blogs, which also allows me (more easily) to have guest contributors and other shrine tenders. For now, I only have Djehuty’s shrine, though Brighid’s will be coming as soon as I pick out a name. So for now, let me introduce Red Ink, Black Tea: a Djehuty shrine!

I’m very excited to get it off the ground! I’ll be updating it on the 19th of every (Kemetic) month, as well as when inspiration strikes. Wish me luck!

Observances & Offerings: January 2014

Observances & Offerings: January 2014

Upcoming Observances/Offerings:

31 December: The Last Night- I’ll be doing some purification of myself and my living space, as well as execrating some shit I don’t want to carry with me into the New Year. I may begin the purification a day early, actually, just because there’s so much gunk to get through.

1 January: The First Day- there will be divination for the coming year, and some sigil/spellwork to help me stay on the right track and encourage certain things in my life. It is also Justine’s Day, so I will make cookies or cupcakes and ‘send’ her a birthday card. There will also be bread.

2 January: Richard’s Night. Appropriate comfort food would be biscuits & gravy. I’ll send him a note, too. I don’t have anywhere on my temporary BD shrine for flowers yet, unfortunately.

3 January: The TC Cill’s 7th birthday, so I’ll be Keeping. I expect I’ll start working on my cross for the exchange.

12 January: Richard’s Day & Jeanne’s Day. More birthday cake and cards.

13 January: My regular cill shift- I’ll work on finishing my cross (and last year’s cross) if I haven’t already. Other shift work will involve cleaning and/or writing.

15 January: Heb Djehuty- January is Djehuty’s month, being the beginning of the modern calendar. Aside from my monthly Kiva donation, I’ll be working on Djehuty’s mask, and I’m not sure what else. I feel like I should cook something, but I’m not sure what, just yet. Maybe that fig bar recipe I still haven’t tried.

18 January: Dorothy’s Day- birthday cake and a card.

19 Peret 2: (20 January) Offering to Djehuty; for the billionth time, I am attempting to create a regular offering cycle for each of the Twelve. Brighid’s is, of course, my cill shift, but the others have been a little harder to pin down. I think my last attempt was to stick to the 20-day cill cycle and put all twelve in those twenty days, which of course was an utterly ridiculous idea. Burn out central. Starting in his month, I’ll be making a small offering to Djehuty on the 19th of every (Kemetic) month. (I don’t think I’ve said it here since I decided, but I’ve thrown in the towel on placing the Kemetic calendar based on my own sighting of Sirius; I’m using Kiya’s Fixed Calendar to preserve my own sanity, and because community.) Said offering will likely be reading and note-taking on one of my many half- or unread Kemetic books, because it’s hard to figure out the Work if your foundational reading is shoddy and full of holes. (This is going to be a year of READ ALL THE THINGS, I suspect.)

So! That’s what my month looks like. I suppose I’ll pop in again around the 16th and outline the first two weeks of February and comment on how the first two weeks of January went. Yay for public accountability, or something?