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Posts Tagged ‘Deity’

As I mentioned earlier this year, I am officiating at my sister-in-law’s wedding. To this end, I have written a nice, broadly nonsectarian spiritual-but-not-religious ceremony (from which I will post excerpts probably after the wedding), and I have done a bit of work to look the part. I bought a black suit (I needed a new suit anyway, as I am in a suit-wearing career), and even a clergy shirt with a tab collar (from Mercy Robes–great people to deal with by the way).

I’m not going to lie; I look smashing in my clerical duds, but I used the phrase “look the part” intentionally above. In my black suit and clergy collar, I don’t feel like a cleric; I feel like I am wearing a cleric’s costume. And I don’t want to feel like that, because all silliness aside, I take this kind of thing seriously. I’m not going to be playing a priest on TV; I am a priest. I don’t need an organization to validate my faith or my earnestness in acting in the name of the gods, and even if I did, I’ve got that in the bag.

What’s missing from the equation is my faith. Now, the wedding is not about me, and to my knowledge, nobody at this wedding shares my spiritual leanings to even the remotest degree. But if I’m going to perform the ceremony, my authority comes from my gods, whether I name them by name or not.

So to tack a short ending on a long story, I talked my mother into making me a clerical stole to wear over my black suit, in plain white, with peacock feathers for Hera, the goddess of marriage. I will be in her service when I perform this wedding, and I want to show it. But subtly, and tastefully. Because it’s not my wedding, after all. But if anybody asks, I’ll not hesitate to tell them: peacock feathers are a symbol of Hera, the goddess of marriage. But it doesn’t need to go further than that. The gods are a part of all of our cultural heritage, whether we call ourselves pagans or not.

So here’s my stole. It was sweet of my mother to make it for me, and on insanely short notice. She is both talented and skilled. The picture quality s not fantastic, but I will post a picture of me all dressed up soon.

Thanks, Mom.

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I am not a Christian. I don’t believe that I am guilty of sins, or that I need to be saved from hell. I don’t believe that Jesus was the unique incarnation of a monotheist god. And I don’t even necessarily think that Jesus was a great moral philosopher. I utterly reject the notion that Christianity is the One True Religion of the One True God, but I explicitly acknowledge the divinity of Jesus and the truth to be found in Christianity.

In the most basic sense, I have no reason not to acknowledge Jesus’s godhood. I believe in the deification of mortals. I believe Aeschylus, Herakles and Jim Morrison are gods, and there’s certainly not a limited number of spaces at the banquet table of gods that exist. Probably billions of people over a space of two thousand years have fervently believed in the divinity of Jesus. Why should I doubt them? What would motivate me to rule out one deified mortal and not another?

But more than that, I believe there is divine truth to be found specifically in Christianity. No question. And that’s not just me saying “yeah, yeah, there is divine truth everywhere so why not in Christianity too,” I’m saying that I believe that Christianity in particular speaks of the divine in ways that are important, compelling and sublime.

I believe Jesus was born, that Jesus was killed, and that Jesus lives again. The mysteries of Jesus teach us that God is real, that good overcomes evil, that God is always with us, and that death is not the end. We can argue the fundamentals of theology all day long, but those things are truths that are ready to be revealed to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Too many religions and traditions have taught us these exact same things for us not to think there is something to them.

So on the night that his birth is celebrated—and its no accident that it is celebrated not on anything resembling the actual date of his birth, but close to the Winter Solstice, a thin time of the year when darkness gathers and then finally gives way to the light of the sun—I say Hail Lord Jesus! Hail Emmanuel! Hail the Lamb, hail Savior, hail Son of David and Stem of Jesse! Hail the Newborn King! Hail, and Merry Christmas.

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Outgoing Florida governor Charlie Crist has hinted at giving Jim Morrison a posthumous pardon for his Florida indecent exposure conviction.

I’d rather see Jim Morrison pardoned than acquitted, honestly. An aquittal would be an attempt to legally say “Jim Morrison did not do that,” and I don’t think that’s right. Jim pushed the boundaries intentionally. It’s what he was all about, the influence of Dionysus, the god who steps over the boundaries and pushes us through–breaks on through, even–to the other side.

As human beings and as a human society we have a deep need for that kind of channeled transgression. We need rules and order to survive and prosper, but we also need a way to break through and shatter those rules completely, to remind us of who we really are and what is really going on. We have to be able to grapple with darkness, to embrace the shadow side of our existence, to shake off constraints and boundaries. Pushing us to our limits, pushing us past those boundaries in every way, is what Jim Morrison’s life was all about.

And so I say hell yes he exposed himself on stage. I say hell yes he simulated fellatio. And good, and well done, and do it again.

But he should be celebrated, not condemned. If our society expressed through the state can not understand the context and the importance of Dionysian transgression, and the role it plays in keeping us sane and healthy, then we are all Pentheus, and we are setting ourselves up for a violent and savage downfall.

So nothing could be more appropriate than a pardon. Try him if you want, convict him if you must, but punish him? Smear his name? Nonsense. We’re not talking about a pervert in the parking lot, we are talking a high priest of Dionysus, a prophet of the God Who Comes. Jim Morrison brought the law of liberation written on tablets of vinyl. I can think of few better ways to honor him than to wipe his name clear.

So, hail the Lizard King triumphant! Euoi!

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I had a dream when I was in high school, I guess fourteen or fifteen years ago, that I still remember more clearly than almost any other dream from that long ago.

I was walking home in the Knoxville neighborhood I grew up in–if you’ve ever been in a slightly run-down lower-middle/working class neighborhood in the South, you know exactly what it looks like. I was with my best friend at the time, and maybe with a few other people (my brother?), and we were walking around to the back of the house. I was aware that there was warning of an imminent nuclear attack. There might have been an audible siren, or it might have just been the impression of an audible siren.

But we walked around to the backyard, and there, laying in the back yard, just outside the window to my father’s studio, was an atomic bomb.

The bomb was made of wood, some light kind of wood like balsa or just a rotten log, and it looked like it had been roughly carved. It was about 15-20 feet long and 3-4 feet wide, roughly missile-shaped. A panel was open on the body of the bomb, with sort of a generic instrument array inside. Maybe flashing lights.

I remember the dread in the pit of my stomach–the world-shatteriing terror of coming dface to face with an armed atomic weapon. We all dove to the ground, aware for some reason that the only way we would survive this thing was to not look at the bomb, under any circumstances It was not clear or even important in the dream whether not looking at the bomb would actually prevent it from detonating, or if we would just survive the explosion. It was only crucuially important that we did not look.

Of course, I looked. I couldn’t help it. I looked, I peeked, I watched.

The whole world had gone still, but what I saw was a dog. A black dog. In fact, I saw a talking black dog, in the middle of a conversation, standing next to or maybe even on top of the armed atomic bomb. And I could not hear the conversation, but I knew the dog was talking about me.

Although I could not see dog’s conversation partner, I was also deeply andf unquestionably aware that the dog was talking to God.

Like I said, I couldn’t make out the conversation, and I could not hear God’s voice talking back to the dog. The only thing I caught was the dog saying, referring to me, “this one has his eyes open. This one can see.” It was not angry. The sense of it was more like a discussion about what should be done about me, because I was looking at the bomb when I was not supposed to, and I was seeing things that I was not supposed to see.

It was the kind of dream that you wake up from and feel changed by it, like it was profound and meaningful, even if you are not entirely sure what the dream meant. And I had the dream a long time ago, but I remember it as clearly as if I had it last night.

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I was navigating through my WordPress dashboard and once again I noticed the list of unfinished drafts sitting there. The familiar twinge of guilt came, followed by the old, habitual “You’ll get to it eventually” lie that I tell myself. It’s time I faced the truth: I am probably never going to finish writing those posts. That being said, there is no reason that the unposted ideas should simply die.

Therefore I have decided to do them all in one go, as “stubs.” A list of rough ideas for posts I never got around to actually writing and that I probably never will write, alsong with any bits of them that I think are particularly worth sharing.

So without further ado:

Are Wiccans Really Pagan?: After the hubub following the Parliament of World Religions, this is sort of a dead horse. My opinion is that labels are mostly just semantic, but they do matter because they influence how we think about things, how we generalize, and thus how we interpret the world. Despite the fact a Hellenic polytheist may pay lip service to some of the same gods as a Wiccan, I do not think that Wicca and Reconstructionist Polytheism are even in the same category of religions. The term “earth-based” gets bandied about a lot, but I think it’s bullshit rhetoric. What does it even mean to be “earth-based,” and what makes a religion “earth-based?” In what way is your religion (or mine, or anyone else’s) “earth-based?” It has been taken for granted by most that all of the disparate religions and spiritual paths that congregate under the broad umbrella of “Neopaganism” actually belong together, but it is my opinion that they do not. I think that Neopaganism as a conceptual category is a net negative: by thinking of all of these religions as related, it causes people to treat them as if they are related, and it pushes their adherents to practice them as if they are related, and in the end, I think that is bad for everyone involved. I think that a Hellenic polytheist without a neopagan background has a lot more in common with a Hindu than he or she does with most Wiccans or neo-druids.

BYU vs. The Bakkhai: Last year, Brigham Young University canceled a performance of Euripides’ The Bakkhai, because it had “adult material.” I think that’s lame for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it is a kind of religious censorship. The Bakkhai, as originally conceived and performed, was a part of the Dionysian theater festival. It wasn’t entertainment; it was religion. By not allowing the Bakkhai because of its content, BYU actually censored the exprsssion of another religion. BYU is a Mormon university, so I guess it can do that if it wants, but it’s the kind of thing that strikes me as a petty and desperate form of ideological control. The best part about it is that one of the central messages of the Bakkhai is that by denying the place of Dionysus–by denying the wildness and the transgressory reveler within us–we give rise to tragedy. Our Dionysian natures will have their expression whether we want them to or not. We either drink the wine and dance with the maenads in a controlled and ultimately harmess expression of our untamed natures, or we try to deny them, and subject ourselves to savage backlash. And that is exactly what BYU has done, and exactly what Mormonism does: by trying to deny the Natural Man completely, Mormonism only invites him to come back and haunt us in far darker and more destructive ways.

Rolling Stone Is Kind Of Lame: I subscribed to Rolling Stone because I am a music enthusiast and because it was inexpensive, but usually I find myself irritated and disappointed by every issue. As long as the magazine sticks to music, it’s decent (although sometimes unnecessarily snide and nasty, as they were with the Taylor Swift cover story), but every time it ventures into politics and society, it does so ridiculously. News Flash, Rolling Stone: knee-jerk partisan support for the Democratic Party platform is not rock and roll rebellion.

I May Be A Civilian But I Will Never Be Civilized: My end of term of service date with the National Guard came and went, which means I am no longer even an active reservist. Getting out at that time was practical and prudent, but not a day goes by that I don’t wish I was back in. I had some bad times in the Army, but I had some incredible times, too, and for the last three years, being in the Army has made me happy. My heart aches to be a soldier again., and if I can figure out a way to make it happen, I will.

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The question of “hard” versus “soft” polytheism is simply put, a question of to what degree the gods are individual beings. Properly fleshed out, the question opens up into a fascinating and complex theological inquiry that can potentially have major impact on how polytheists believe and worship.

However, reducing the question to a yes/no two-category designation obscures the nuances and falsely forces how we conceptualize the gods into one of two rigid schemas, and how “everyone else” thinks of the gods into the other. Forcing the question into the hard/soft dichotomy puts an artificial end to the discussion and transforms the conversation from a theological inquiry into a question of personal identity. Instead of a conversation about the gods, we’re having a conversation about how we self-identify in relation to the gods, and it invariably slips into shades of “us versus them.”

In reality, there is a huge spectrum of possibility–at the very least there is a question of degree–with plenty of room for an evolving understanding. Especially since, when push comes to shove, the nature of the gods is something we can never really know.

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Here’s a picture of our shrine to Hestia, the goddess of the hearth and arguably the central focus of Hellenic pagan household worship.

Shrine to Hestia

Yes, in case you were wondering, it’s just a tart burner from Yankee Candle. The trend in modern Hellenic polytheism, as far as I understand, is to put a shrine to Hestia in the kitchen if your home doesn’t actually have a hearth. For some homes, that might make sense, but for mine it doesn’t really, as the kitchen is not the center of our home life (it is sort of tucked-away).

My shrine is humble, not flashy. It doesn’t burn all the time like maybe it’s supposed to (tealights have kind of a short lifespan). But every morning I light it and offer a quick but sincere prayer to Hestia to honor her and to ask for light, life, love, a happy home, and a happy family, and every evening (at least when I remember) I put my hand on it–by that time, it probably isn’t burning anymore–and offer my thanks to her for those same things. It may not be orthopraxy, and I might even be accused by the particularly rigid of insufficient piety, but it feels right, and it feels good.

In our next home, I would like to have an actual hearth with a fireplace, but I imagine our shrine to Hestia there won’t actually be much different. The tart burner is a flame, after all, and one that is practical and simple to light every day (if not keep lit all the time), and the wax potpourri tart fills the home with comforting smells, helping to make it an inviting, comfortable place. We’ve talked about getting a series of tart burners, to change them out through the course of the seasons, and that would be nice. I also think I might spruce the shrine up a bit with a votive offering or two and some shrine-y decorations. But at the center will still be the tart burner, a humble reminder of the good things that home and family have to offer.

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william-adolphe-bouguereau-the-birth-of-venus

To honor Aphrodite, Sannion has put up three goddess-related posts on his Livejournal, and as I am myself a devotee of the Cyprian, I wanted to share them with my readers. First, he shares a meditation he wrote on the cosmic significance of Aphrodite:

We think of her primarily in connection with our courtships and pleasant dalliances – and she is certainly there. But she is also a cosmic goddess (Aphrodite Ourania), driving on the heavenly bodies in their eternal dance through the bleakness of space, and she is the force that bonds communities together on both the familial and political level (Aphrodite Pandemos), and she governs form itself (Aphrodite Morpho), for all bodies are a collection of random molecules following an ordered pattern, and without her influence they would spin off into nothingness. And no less importantly, Aphrodite is the source for our yearning for the immaterial, for something greater than ourselves, something spiritual, eternal, beyond what we can see, and feel, quantify and categorize. The mystic fervently praying for union with god, the poet dreaming of another world, the philosopher seeking to plumb the mysteries of the universe – are not all of these, in their own way, under the spell of Aphrodite?

It is love that makes life worth living, love that allows us to conceive of “life” as something more than just biological existence, love that opens our eyes and hearts to the wonder of existence and fills us with a longing for more and more of it, until our souls are quenched and our being spills over with an abundance of experiences and emotions and everything else that makes us human and more than human.

I think there’s more to it than that, even, especially when you consider that some myths of the birth of Aphrodite have her emerge from the sea, spawned by the severed genitalia of Uranus himself. Aphrodite emerges from the most primal of cosmic sources (both from the ur-god of the universe and from the sea i.e. the murky and mysterious origin of life on earth), moreso than any of the other Olympian gods or goddesses, and that can be neither mere coincidence nor quirky, meaningless tale. As a goddess she is fundamentally connected to the primordial cosmos and the beating heart of what it means to be alive and a part of the universe.

Sannion’s next post of the day is an exploration of conceptions of Aphrodite in Greco-Roman Egypt, a natural place for him to go since he’s pretty much explicitly a Greco-Egyptian syncretist. Although I myself am not, I do think there is a lot of insight to be gained from ancient Egyptian religion, especially for a worshipper of the Hellenic gods. In any case, Sannion focuses on the funerary aspect of Aphrodite. As usual, I am interested in any conception of the goddess that goes beyond pigeonholing her as a living embodiment of Valentine’s Day (especially since I originally came to know Aphrodite in her aspect as a goddess of war). I think one of the trickiest things about the Hellenic gods in general is that most of them have an easy handle as “the god of [something],” and it is easy to forget that they are all complicated, multifaceted figures with diverse personalities, correspondences, and significances. Sannion explains, however, how these different conceptions and seemingly diverse or even unrelated aspects can be tied together:

Concerns with death are an organic outgrowth of being a goddess so intimately, so fundamentally connected with the processes of life. (You can’t have one without the other, and if you dig deep enough you’ll discover why.) The abundance of life that is her blessing was so great, so powerful that it could transcend the artificial boundaries of death – opening up onto an even greater fullness of life. This was done by aligning themselves with her, by becoming suffused with her divine identity until it was their own… [s]tuff like this really makes you wonder.

Finally, Sannion treats us with a description of his visit to a rose garden as intentional worship of the goddess:

As I walked down the rows and rows of flowers I was struck by the beauty and complexity of nature – and how much Aphrodite is involved in all of it. I mean, why are there so many different colors of flowers? It serves no definite purpose … except that it does, really. Seduction. The flowers are trying to attract the plump little bees to come and rub up against them so that their pollen will spread and their species survive. And further, they’ve learned to produce colors that appeal to us humans so that we will plant more of them and protect them and ensure that they thrive. I kept flashing back to things that Michael Pollan had said in Botany of Desire (which is a really great book that you should read if you haven’t already) and how charming Aphrodite was behind it all. I mean, those flowers first sprang up when her delicate feet touched the earth as she rose from the waters in primordial times…

So, I just sat there blissing out and overwhelmed with gratitude, and then all of a sudden I could feel Aphrodite, and she was so warm and beautiful and loving and soft, and I basked in her presence for a while, feeling so peaceful and content and happy.

The way he describes Aphrodite pierces me to the center of my heart because I know the feelings he is describing so intimately. Whatever the true nature of the gods is, I am certain that they are at least in some sense real in a way that transcends the individual’s purely subjective experience. While different people experience different facets of the same deity at different times, there seems ot be just too much that really is the same about people’s experiences. Sannion and I are tapping into the same force or presence, whatever we want to call it. She is real, and she is powerful, and she exists at the very quick of what it means to be a human being:

That is who Aphrodite is – one of the greatest and most important goddesses that man has ever known.

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I had a dream a couple of nights ago, a complicated, long dream that was very dependent on this series of adjacent locations in the dream-landscape. Among these locations was a set of purple and lavender office buildings, the nondescript two story office-suite kind you find in the suburbs that is invariably three-quarters full of doctors, insurance salesmen, and after-school tutors, and is one-quarter full of empty space. But unlike the ones you find in real life, this one was purple, and although I remember no sign, I understood that somehow these offices belonged to the god Dionysus, or at the very least to some organization or corporation that represented him.

I do not remember clearly what I did while I was at this office, but I remember sitting in a reception area and possibly filling out some paperwork. I might have flipped through a coffee-table book in the waiting area. I interacted with a moderately friendly receptionist: businesslike but not unpleasant.

Somehow in the middle of this fairly mundane corporate bullshit, the presence of the god was unmistakable. Either his presence permeated the completely contradictory surroundings, or I have a major lacuna in my sense of the narrative: it is possible that something extremely significant happened, some direct contact with the god, and I remember the approaching sense of divinity and power leading up to the event and the power receding afterwards, but the event itself is like a lost period of time, something like what UFO abductees often report.

In the dream I think I knew what was going on, but now in the waking world, the details of what role Dionysus was playing, what benefit I got out of our meeting, and exactly what I was doing there is all kind of obscure and abstract. Something and nothing at the same time, and I’m not entirely sure how it related to the other elements of the dream landscape (a thick wilderness, a military installation that reminded me of Sand Hill at Fort Benning where I did basic training and infantry school, a police academy, a series of rural roads, a witches’ sabbat, the offices of a nameless law firm, and a cyborg super-soldier created by the Department of Transportation to defend roads under construction and he had this sweet gun that shot blue pulses of massively destructive kinetic energy), but at the conclusion of my business in the purple office building of Dionysus, I was told very clearly (by a representative or the receptionist maybe) that the office would henceforth be forever closed to me. I was never to return.

I’m not sure what this means. Am I no longer to worship Dionysus? Was his role in m life only as a gateway god, to lead me to more and fuller experiences with his Hellenic co-deities, but not to stay with me for the long run? Was it a message that formal worship of Dionysus is for some reason not appropriate for me? The dream was completely suffused with the trappings of formality: government, offices, law, military, law enforcement. And then I walked out of the office into the night and witnessed the witches’ sabbat I mentioned earlier. Is the message that I am to leave Dionysus alone now, or is it somehow specifically connected to the formality of the setting? As I have mentioned in a few previous posts, I have been a little worried for awhile that I have neglected Dionysus in my zeal to worship Aphrodite and the other gods and goddesses, and also because I can’t really figure out a way to worship him or even directly interact with him that makes sense to me. His presence in my life has been powerful, but it has never felt right to transform it into anything resembling the regular, formal worship of the other gods?

In myth, Dionysus was worshipped separately in Bacchic rites, out in the wilderness away from the demos and the religious/cultural/political structures that Greek religion otherwise revolved around. Is this dream somehow significant to that distinction? I’m just not sure. Shit, maybe it was just a weird dream.

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So, I don’t really like just praying off into the air. I like to have a depiction or a statue or something. My shrine to Aphrodite features a framed photo of William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s La Naissance de Vénus, which I think is beautiful, powerful, and erotic–in short, perfect for the goddess. But I just can’t find a picture or painting of Dionysus that really captures the power, passion, and majesty that have surrounded my experiences with him. I am not sure what to do about this, because I feel like my relationship with the god is suffering because I find it difficult to pray to him, compared to Aphrodite–her shrine makes her much more accessible to me.

Also, the Judeo-Christian sin of “idolatry” is basically a Hebrew polemic. Nobody really actually thinks that the image of the god is in fact the god (except for pantheists and panentheists who believe their god(s) permeate everything and thus the image is a part of their god like everything else is, but that is not actually the same thing). In my opinion, Biblical condemnations of idolatry were a willful misrepresentation of the religious practices of ancient pagans–basically amounting to nothing more than religious propaganda, deliberately obscuring the subtleties in order to condemn and other-ize.

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