The New Boeotian Calendar will be uploaded in the next few days. In my own mind, I should have had it done by now, so I’m kind of beating myself up over not having it done already.
I know, I know, it’s cheesy to do the “spooky” deities around this time of the year, but as in most incidents in life, I just re-assure myself: It could’ve been worse. Also: Better to do cheesy stereotypical actions as an insider than as an outsider.
So, Haides, eh?
The cult and temples to Hekate was small, but Haides’ cult is TINY, in comparison. TINY. The primary reason for this is obvious: Death is a spiritual pollutant, so while the Lord of the Dead must be afforded His due measure, one isn’t really given an incentive to do more than that, is one? Those called to His service, even today, are regarded suspiciously or, at best, as “odd, but necessary”. For some reason, the screenplay-writing industry, especially since about 1985, wants to make Haides synonymous with the Christian “Satan”, even though this is probably the sloppiest parallel that could be drawn (the Abrahamic tale of Adam and Eve’s fall from Eden by the aid of the serpent, unnamed in Genesis, but commonly syncretised with “Satan” by most Christians, comes closer to the mythos of Prometheus, for example, — but that’s another story for another time), as Haides’ role in Hellenic mythology? He is Lord of the Dead and His domains most commonly include funerary rites and necromancy. His epithets even include Νεκρων Σωτηρ (Nekrôn Sôtêr), “Saviour of the Dead”. It’s clear that Haides wants little, if anything, to do with human beings until we’ve passed on, so the only reason I can figure why His name has become synonymous with the Christian “Hell” and linked to an Abrahamic daimon that first gives people knowledge, and then tests individuals’ virtue (and by Jewish tradition, this is clearly in a context of testing man for G-d, as Jehovah’s servant) is pure, unadulterated ignorance.
Hesiod described this son of Kronos and Rhea as “strong Haides, pitiless in heart, who dwells under the earth”, and some translators feel that Hesiod’s use of “Zeus Khthonios”, “Zeus Who dwells within/under the earth”, in Works & Days is another name for Haides — which makes sense, as Zeus’ domain is clearly as a Sky-God within Hesiod, and so this could extend Haides’ domain to the fertility of the earth, which logically, He’d also be connected to via the mythos of Persephone, whose return to Demetre’s side on Olympos heralds the spring thaw. This also makes sense biologically, as the decay of bodies both animal and vegetable renews the earth’s fertility; death and decay are thus part of the cycle of life.
Another name for Haides that I see in the works of Hesiod, Aidoneus, is translated by Theoi Project as “the Unseen”. I’m unsure if this is the reason for or the result of the ancient custom to avert one’s eyes when sacrificing to Haides, but either way, it seems fitting; the Host of the dead is unseen to those still living.
I really don’t know why I never changed this topic. Anybody who’s read this far can probably figure out how a religion like this can help a person through difficult times — unless, of course, that mushy grey stuff between one’s ears exists for the sole purpose of keeping one’s skull from caving in.
When I’m upset or distressed, I typically light a candle and some incense and pray. It’s not a big thing, but it’s a thing to do. I don’t live in ancient Thespiae, so I can’t really go to a temple.
If I feel the situation calls for it, I do a divination to get an answer to interpret, but sometimes the answer to the answer doesn’t come right away, in which case, I figure the situation is not of immediate concern.
But hey, look, pretty music!
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It’s not miasma.
I’ve reasoned this before, but didn’t feel arsed to citing a source before.
Today, I was looking through old threads in a LiveJournal community, and came across a thread discussing this topic, and some-one in the comments said they could cite quotes from Walter Burkert on this, that menstruation ≠ miasma. I had Greek Religion literally sitting in front of me as I came across that, so I decided to look it up.
Interestingly, the index contains no reference words to “menstruation”, so I decided to search Google Books for this keyword, and there is very little. Indeed, the most direct reference is AN ENDNOTE. The note is to the following passage on page 78:
The Indo-European word for sacred, hagnos29 is defined and narrowed down in Greek through its opposition to defilement, mysos, miasma. The conception of specifically cultic purity is defined by considering certain more or less grave dislocations of normal ife as miasma. Disturbances of this kind are sexual intercourse,30 birth,31 death, and especially murder. … Curiously, the hagneia may even involve a prohibition on bathing: the contrast with everyday life or some future act of cultic purification is more important than obvious cleanliness.
That last part included for what should be painfully obvious reasons.
Endnote #31 references a German essay (“Die Gebrauche der Griechen nach der Geburt”) and summarises:
Menstruation is understood — even medically — as purification (katharsis); the cult take notice of it only insofar as a number of priesthoods are expressly reserved for older women.
I was able to find the original German essay, but since I don’t read German (and only have the vaguest comprehension of spoken German in art films) I relied on Google’s translation abilities, and needless to say, Google borked it up good, so I’m going to take Burkert’s summation of this as it is. After all, Greek Religion was originally published in German, and with English being a Germanic language, this arrangement of nouns and such is not something that can be easily borked in translation by a human translator. So, yep, menstruation is the vag washing its hands, as it were.
So, there you have it: Menstruation is not, Not, NOT “miasma”, and anybody who says it is obviously hasn’t even cracked open what’s generally regarded as a definitive text for Hellenic reconstructionists — or perhaps just never read it thoroughly, or is just too stupid to understand what he read.
And for those of you who didn’t gather from the last part of the quoted passage, “ritual purification” isn’t merely approaching the Theoi with a physically washed body — indeed, ritual purification varied by cult, so while mainstream poleis cults had khernips stations at the front of the temples for suppliants to douse their hands and faces before entering the main area, this is but one example of what hagneia entails.
I’ve read a few of the recent posts around the pagan blogosphere on the relevance of the word “pagan” and the “pan-pagan” community. Normally, I try to eschew simply re-stating the thoughts I share with others, especially if they’ve done a perfectly adequate job — and indeed, many already have.
My first forays into “the pagan community” as an adult were very focused: Hellenic polytheism, Hellenismos, the religion of the ancient Hellenes — and about a dozen or so other terms, some of which have been downright goofy (like “gentile Hellenes”, as I noticed a few people tossing around for about ten minutes, in Internet Age™). By and large, it stays that way. I read a few “pan-pagan” blogs, or at least the few I consider intelligent-enough (well, OK, I read The Wild Hunt and it’s “family blogs” and Patheos: Pantheon, and occasionally, I’ll read something else), but I don’t really go to “pan-Pagan” events, and I find most “pan-Pagan” message boards to be equal parts dull and insipid and occasionally incredibly irritating (the primary exception being The Cauldron; The Pagan Forum isn’t bad, but it also is lower in activity than some).
For as much as I find it hard to interact with other Hellenes (I’ll get to that in a mo’), I find it ten times harder to keep my head around most people of other paths, especially very individual-focused paths. The few articles I posted to WitchVox, several responses I got in return, though well-meaning and generally positive, offended me on many deep levels that left me wondering if they’d even read the article, much less the person information I’d posted in my WV profile about my path — one quote that especially sticks out in my mind, in response to an article about Urban Spirituality where I mention the compatibility with my own path, was from a woman and she had congratulated me on “discovering [my] goddess forms in a concrete place” — I had made no mention of such, first of all, and only have the vaguest idea of what that might mean, that I find it hard to imagine why she felt the need to congratulate me on something she had no real idea if I’d ever done.
I have some local friends who some may refer to as “scene pagans” as opposed to “religious pagans”. Before moving to the area, I spent a weekend at the house of one of them and was met with flabbergastion that I’m in an automatic habit of burning incense daily — now, I’ve since re-thought the idea of bringing said into another person’s home before assuming it would be fine-and-dandy, but the feeling of my throat leaping gutward never quite shook, and the tension felt when at first it was assumed by the friend in question that I was somehow just randomly lighting things on fire in the guest room was immediately clear. To me, this is “what pagans are supposed to do” — to them, this was something pretty far “out there”, especially as it was simply a Friday and not a religious festival for either their tradition or mine.
While I clash with other Hellenes, this is usually just personality clashes, or arguments about nuances of belief or interpretation of primary sources — the kinds of arguments that even a lot of people in the same sects of Christianity or Hinduism may have (as a quick example: I’ve met Hare Krishna who advocate veganism, and I’ve met those who prefer to be semi-vegetarian, eating mostly vegetarian, but occasionally having meat, especially if offered some as a guest in another’s home; my father, though generally easily described as Irish Anglo-Catholic had been married four times, including two divorces, and supported abortion in many circumstances that even many other abortion-permitting Catholics would have found excessive). Little, if anything I do, will seem “foreign” to the average Hellenistos or Helleniste. Where we differ is regional focus (I prefer the Boeotian region, while most seem to be focused on Attika, and at least a highly visible minority may be described as “Hellenistic”), semantics, philosophy (Diogenes, FTW!). We don’t tend to differ in what we do, and we don’t tend to differ in the broadest areas of belief. We have a generally shared mythology and religious culture, even if the details may serve as bone-picking moments.
Now obviously, I disagree with the sharp and strict sense of “separatism” that some vocal Hellenists seem to favour — I don’t give honour to Aegyptian deities, and I don’t generally give much thought to Roman deities outside of Britannia, whom I’ve adopted strictly as an ancestral deity or daimon, but I generally don’t mind Hellenic syncretics, and simply regard them as another sect or as giving cultus to deities whom I simply do not. As said Burkert, “Polytheism is an open system” and it’s hard to have contact with so many cultures and their gods without seeing the occasional deity who simply can’t fit into a mould previously set by one’s native pantheon, and thus finding a moment where one may consider that deity’s validity. And, like Sannion, I find it peculiar that so many who seem to give emperor Julian so much regard fail to take into account that the man’s own religious practises would be “eclectic” by the standards said people have established. I can live with where Hellenes and I tend to differ, whether I like said people on a personal level or not, but it becomes harder to find a comfortable area of common ground with the average American individuality-focused pagan.
In theory, I have no real problem with Eclectic practises — again, it’s usually just something that I simply don’t do. I know that Eclectic and other individuality-based pagans can take that approach intelligently, and give some amount of respect to cultural traditions whilst creating something unique and spiritually valid. Where it becomes problematic is when it’s assumed this is the “Gold standard” for the pan-Pagan population — and indeed, every time I’ve ventured into certain more-unsavoury areas of said community, I find people taking things and tossing them together all willy-nilly, a downright perverse sense of pride in collective anti-intellectualism and anti-academia, and an acute lack of self-examination with some ideas that, at best can be a sign of unhealthy narcissism and, at worst a charlatan. The _michigan_pagans e-mail list features people who will mock you for any amount of book-learning (outside certain publishing houses often decried as “fluffy”), and also boasts a moderator who will harass you over personality differences — apparently some find an informed spirituality “incredibly shallow” or one that “can’t possibly be real” and some men in their late forties with have such a downright infantile response to men in their twenties being so flabbergasted at the “enforced fluff” around one that after the latter unsubscribes, the former will forward the latter every single nasty post made by list members to the now-unsubscribed party, requiring one to alert Yahoo to the harassment.
As best as I can tell, once I start travelling outside my own tight-knit community of Hellenes for the “pan-Pagan community”, there is little incentive for establishing common ground. Even “ex-community, please-don’t-call-me-Hellene-I’m-my-own”-types are noticeably different to interact with than the “spiritual anarchists” than dominate, well pan-Paganism, likely because of that commonality of experience, not just with other Hellenes, but with dealing with pagans on the outside of that community — they seem to understand what the other “doin’ my own thing” Pagans are doing wrong when interacting with recons, and so have a relaxed approach to sane recons (and tend to avoid the nutters). Furthermore, I’ve noticed a trend, whether this is relatively new or long-established, I cannot say, of “scene pagans” who tend to be more eclectic and “religious pagans”, who tend to be more recon in practise*. You know what I mean when I say “scene pagan”: They tend to venture out to public rit and maybe even set up a shrine or altar for major festivals, maybe even go to regular pan-Pagan meet-ups, but even on deeper glance, it’s apparent that spirituality and practise are dead last in their approach to religion, behind going to events and conventions, behind “polyamoury” circles, behind organic foods, getting wasted, and so much else. What makes them “pagan” seems rather superficial, and it’s like “pagan” is the new term for “hippie”. This is different from those who may be deeply religious but make efforts to keep different aspects of their lives “superficially separate” — after all, a deeply religious or spiritual person naturally is influenced by their religious culture in all other aspects of their lives; and obviously quite different from those who are deeply religious and very obviously flaunt their religion’s influences on one’s life. I know it’s not my place to judge, but most of the people I tend to designate as “scene pagans” will actively eschew religious or spiritual discussions, even when things are obviously going to remain civil, and give no real signs of even having a religion except a few times a year — and some of these people are quite lovely folk, but I just tend to have even less incentive to look for any religious or spiritual common-ground, and am always left wondering just what got them interested in paganism, anyway.
As for the term “pagan” itself, as I’ve said before, I’m not married to the term at all. I think it’s become a little too “unloaded” in recent years and don’t blame any one pagan grouping more than any other for this. While, ideally, I’d like to retain a “rather Victorian” impression of the word, I lament that I cannot. Perhaps this is due to ultimately coming to paganism as an adult, and an adult long-jaded by a perceived superficiality of the “pagan” community? I know not, and ultimately, it matters not, because even if I came to Paganism in my idyllic youth and stayed pagan through into adulthood, and thus retained a benign mental image, this isn’t the common mental image held by the overculture, and this isn’t the common mental image held by most within the “pagan” umbrella. The cultural drift is, at this point in time, quite deeply rooted — perhaps in time, it will loosen, and perhaps continuing to fiddle with it will loosen, or perhaps the root will react by digging itself deeper, as a means to try and protect itself. I care not for strategies to get rid of this trend, cos I’m not especially bothered by it — after all, “polytheist” means something, and even in ancient times, when “paganus” was especially pejorative, it was vague.
So was there a point to all this? Probably not. This may, in fact, just be another cantankerous polytheist shouting into the cold unforgiving (and not to mention paradoxical) Khaos-Kosmos of the Internet that is both a formless void while being everything and anything, and this shouting is destined to fall on the ears of a few. Perhaps it will be the start of yet another useless bickering. Perhaps I’m just putting too much thought into what’s essentially nothing, what with this widespread meme that somehow words don’t actually mean anything. If anything, I hope that perhaps religious communities are being and will continue to be forged for the better.
*as always, these are not absolute judgements, there are those of each in each group
First off, I would like to apologise for the prolonged absence of posting to this blog and also the Media Project — life has been kind of insane around here, and it feels kind of serendipitous that I’m going to write an entry about prayer after the 17-year-old cat had a seizure (probably a brain tumour, according to the emergency vet) and my flat-mate got laid off.
First off, I want to say that the ultimate purpose of prayer is communique with the Divine. Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner: A Book of Prayer, Devotional Practice and the Nine Worlds of Spirit by Galina Krasskova and Raven Kaldera describes five basic types of prayer that I feel are fairly universal: the Thank you, the Please, I Love You, I Am Sorry, and The Universe is Wonderful With You in It. Think about it, if and when you pray, it probably fits neatly into one or more of those topics. Each of these has its own purposes, and each aids in weaving a pattern of reciprocity with the Theoi.
I think the traditional Hellenic prayer stance —standing, face forward, palms open— also helps. I see a common explanation for this as “well, we sure shouldn’t prostrate ourselves like Christians“, and I went through a very short period of advocating that defence. Other popular defences I see are “because I respect myself” or (most appalling, I think) “because we are equal to the gods”. I think these are all very misguided. What I feel now, is that even though we are unequal to the Theoi, the point of standing (or at least sitting — just anything-but-kneeling, under most circumstances; I’ll get to that in a sec) and face up, is to make your prayers heard. We tend to be taught as children to face authority figures when speaking to them, because it’s harder to hear some-one who is speaking away from you; we are also taught to approach a person when speaking rather than to speak across the room. Now there are ancient examples of kneeling in prayer, typically of a woman praying on behalf of the entire family, or when praying on behalf of the very sick or dying; it’s not the most common, and it does seem exclusive to women, but in considering a woman’s primary roles in ancient Hellas, and the circumstances under which this was depicted, it could be said that this is not an act of prostration, but a symbolic stance of taking on the burdens of others — while almost definitely unspeakably odd for an ancient Hellenic man to take this stance, a modern man who has taken the role of nurturer for his family may find it appropriate to, at times, kneel.
There is a power in all forms of communication — with people and with Deities. That power is the simple act of making your needs and thoughts heard and, hopefully, known and understood. It may be one of the most basic powers, but as all of my teachers had told me, you can’t un-say something; sure, Internet communications may create that illusion, what with message boards that allow users to delete their own posts, but the fact remains that anybody who read it will know what you said — and know that you deleted it, as if to try and un-say it. The listener also has a power to do something about whatever it is that you said, and the actions may be in your favour or disfavour. This is true for both men and Theoi.
It’s a very simple power, but it also has the potential to be very profound once that string of actions is set in play.
That’s not to say prayer is all that is necessary to accomplish great things. After all, the Gods help them who helm themselves; while I tend to see more atheist and agnostic-leaning people interpret this as “self-help is the best help”, I tend to see it more as a reminder that one has to not only pray themselves out of the ditch, but if you’re willing to put your shoulder to the wheel and give it the first nudges, They will see this and add to your strength — I see this most literally in the phenomenon of mothers who are temporarily witnessed of super-strength when their baby appears endangered (after all, “adrenaline rush” only explains the chemical process, the How; not the Why). Prayer, though, does articulate things.
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