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Posts Tagged ‘Sacred’

I have been thinking about that widget over on the sidebar that shows my most popular posts. The problem with it is that it’s based on what people have been looking at over the last 24-48 hours, which means it is representative really of what google searches bring people here, and not what my best writing is. So I think I am going to add a new widget that indexes what I think are my best pieces of writing.

I’ll put it up later today, but for now, here’s my tentative tracklist for the “Best of Byzantium” album.

Postmormon Sexual Ethics
Shout at The Devil: Satan, Heavy Metal, and the Great God Pan
Say A Prayer For Lefty, Too
One Way Or Another: The Bacchae
Why It Matters Whether Mormons Are Christian
Eating Is Sacred
My Own Goddess
Aura Salve

Any of my readers think there’s any really good posts I have overlooked?

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Homeric Hymn 8 to Ares (translated by Evelyn-White):

Ares, exceeding in strength, chariot-rider, golden-helmed, doughty in heart, shield-bearer, Saviour of cities, harnessed in bronze, strong of arm, unwearying, mighty with the spear, O defender of Olympos, father of warlike Nike, ally of Themis, stern governor of the rebellious, leader of the righteous men, sceptred King of manliness, who whirl your fiery sphere among the planets in their sevenfold courses through the aither wherein your blazing steeds ever bear you above the third firmament of heaven; hear me, helper of men, giver of dauntless youth! Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul. Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling strife. Rather, O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death.

I have been praying to Ares quite a bit lately. This is not a result of some personal mystical experience or powerful gnosis I have had. It’s just a growing understanding of the role that he plays in the human experience and in my life in particular. Ares gets painted in a pretty negative light in Homer, and Ares represents some powerful facets of humanity that are in extreme disfavor in modern liberal western society. But I think that by ignoring or downplaying Ares and the things that he represents, we have done ourselves a terrible disservice.

Ares is a god of war, and war is a part of being human. There has always been war, and there will always be war. Real paganism means dealing on a sacred level with the world as it really is: acknowledging and honoring all of the parts of human existence. War is violent and terrible, but it is part of who we are. By rejecting war entirely, we reject a part of humanity. I realize that this is a statement with strong implications, so I am willing to spell them out: I believe that real Paganism is completely incompatible with pacifism.

I utterly reject the notion that there are “different ways to be a warrior.” Social reformers and crusaders for justice are laudable and praiseworthy, and the struggles they face may well be like war, in a metaphorical sense, but it’s not war. They are warriors, metaphorically, not warriors, period. Ares is not the god of metaphorical wars; he is the god of physical violence, of blood and battle. Ares has no place for pacifists, and while he is also a god of strength and endurance and surely has respect for anyone who exhibits those characteristics, no matter the context, metaphorical warriors are not truly his.

Ares is also a god of manliness, of masculinity. As I said, he is a god of strength, power, and endurance, of mastery and skill. He is a god of those characteristics that men should exemplify at their finest. is a god of properly-channeled aggression, a god that knows anger but knows how to control his anger and save his wrath for the right time and the right place: thus there is nothing unusual about asking the god of war and anger for aid help to “abide within the harmless laws of peace.” Ares is not about being out of control. The experience of being out of control is the realm of his brother, Dionysus.

Ares is a god of courage. Fear and panic may be his children, but he expects us to act with strength and decisiveness even when we are faced with them. He does not expect us to be fearless, but he expects us to do what we have to do anyway.

Ares is a lover and protector of women. He makes women happy and women make him happy: Ares and Aphrodite are lovers for a reason, and their children include Harmony as well as Fear and Panic. While Dionysus teaches us that there is a place for exceptional individuals, unusual circumstances, and value in turning convention on its head, especially when it comes to gender expectations, that’s not what Ares is about. Ares shows us that there are expectations for manly behavior, that there are divine norms–not rigid, inflexible norms, but norms nonetheless–for how a pagan man is supposed to act.

I worship Ares: I pour libations to him, I make offerings to him, I sing his hymns. He inspires me to act with strength and courage, to be decisive, and to be bold. He is a god who is truly worthy of worship–so much more than the hateful, spiteful, unworthy portrayal that we see in the Iliad–and in worshipping him I find fulfillment.

Hail terrible, warlike Ares! Hail bronze-armed, spear-wielding stormer of cities who rallies fighting men and leads them to battle! Hail murderous, manslaying, bloody-handed Ares! Hail Ares the switft, the strong, and the violent! Hal abundant Ares, feasted by women! Hear my prayers and accept my offerings!

(Note: Over at Aspis of Ares, Pete Helms tackles some of this stuff unsurprisingly well)

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Recently I put up a fairly extensive blog post about celebrating the Wheel of the Year, not in a ritual or religious sense, but in a festive, family, and traditional sense.  I think I came up with some really good stuff, but for it to really make a lot of sense, I need the religious and ritual aspect as well.  The traditions don’t hold weight unless they mean something, and the most enduring traditions are the ones that are steeped in layers of sacred meaning.

The thing is, I am a Hellenic polytheist, and the Wheel of the Year does not really come to us from Classical or Mediterranean culture at all.  Honestly, it is a synthesis of Northern European folk traditions and modern innovations.  I do want to celebrate it, though, even though there is not an obvious Hellenic connection, because although my gods are the gods of Ancient Greece, I feel a strong pull to the lore and practice of modern Druidry, which incorporates a lot of modern Neopagan practices, including the Wheel of the Year.

Though I find a lot to criticize about Wicca, I do find the Graves-Murray-Frazer-inspired theology of British Traditional Wicca absolutely fascinating.  While it may not actually be ancient, I think it has a lot of truth.  And, for what it matters, the modern practice of celebrating the Wheel of the Year is steeped fairly deeply in this stuff.  So the problem for me is to figure out how to think of the symbolism of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year in terms that are relevant and that make sense from a Hellenic polytheist perspective.

Some of it writes itself: the Wheel is very wrapped up in ideas of birth-life-sex-death-rebirth, and in the successive cycle of kings and gods, which are concepts we find everywhere in Greek myth.  Artemis has obvious connections to Imbolc, and the entire spectrum of fall-winter-spring is clearly connected to Persephone, Demeter, and Hades.  Dionysus is a god-king who dies and is reborn.  We have sun-gods, we have Zeus and Cronos, we have gods of sex and motherhood.  I feel like the pieces are all sitting there, just waiting to be put together.

One concern I have is completeness: if I just stick one god or goddess onto each of the eight major holidays, I will not come anywhere close to a full landscape of what Greek myth and Hellenic polytheism have to offer.  And I have a sense that as a cycle, the Wheel should in some sense be reasonably full and complete.  That means that the different holidays and cycles need to be related to more than one god and to more than one myth.  I’m fine with that–I like the idea, even.  The trick is, however, how to actually go about planning and practicing it.

Probably the Hellenic Kin of the ADF have a lot of resources and ideas about this very topic, but unfortunately their section of the ADF website is protected, which means you have to be a paid-up ADF member to take a gander.  I think I will probably wind up joining the ADF eventually, but I’d like to visit some meetings first.  And I’d like to not be as strapped for cash as I am now.  So I plan on having access to that stuff down the road, but it doesn’t help me right now.  Fall Equinox is rapidly approaching, and I don’t really want to let another Pagan holiday roll by without celebrating it meaningfully.  I also am eager to start the AODA first-degree curriculum, but in order to do that, I need to figure out a little better how to integrate Druidry with my own polytheist direction.

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Eating together is an act of communal worship. It is–or should be–a celebration of one of the fundamental human experiences, of something intimately connected with life and death. We kill to eat, we eat to live. Hunting, farming, and agriculture are intimarely bound with life, sex, and death. They cannot meaningfully be separated. We eat at funerals, we feast to celebrate major life events. We eat, or refrain from eating, all the time in religious contexts.

Sources of food are sacred. The growing, raising, harvesting, preparation, and ultimate consumption of food are sacramental acts. We are sick because we have forgotten this and we have disassociated ourselves too much from a basic aspect of human existence. We are less human because of it. This is why we are unhealthy; this is why we are crazy.

Eating is holy. Food is holy. hunting, gathering, and growing are holy. To do these things we have to go out and interact with the earth, getting caught up intimately in the web of life, sex, death, and eating that interweaves the living earth in a way that is impossible when we just go to the supermarket to pick up our groceries.

We are fat because of our blasphemy. I am overweight because I have failed to appreciate the holiness of eating. I have become less human because I have learned to be casual about something that is sacred because it is so closely bound up with what it means to be human.

Eat mindfully, and you will have no problem making time for spirituality, because the most spiritual things are also the most mundane, the very things we do all the time for survival. They are sacred precisely because they are done for survival. If we can stop being casual about sacred things–and stop being mindless about eating–then our lives can be saturated with spirituality. We can live closer tot he quick, closer to what it means to really be living.

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I absolutely love Christmas.  I love the music, the decorations, the cookies, the shopping, the presents, the smiles, and the colored lights. The commercialism of Christmas just doesn’t bother me.  It’s fun, and its only once a year (commercialism the rest of the year bothers me).

I can remember each Christmas distinctly going back to when I was six years old, and I have hazy memories of Christmases before that.  These memories are some of my favorite memories, some of the best and most important times I have shared with my family.  Christmas for me is the true mark of the turning of the year and the passage of time.

The spiritual side of Christmas has always seemed incredibly important as well.  The religious side—the birth of Jesus and all it means for the world.  It is amazing to me.  Of all Christmas carols, I like the sacred ones the most.  While I love the glitz and the sparkle and the watered-down-TV-special stuff, the things about Christmas that are really meaningful to me—really meaningful, are the baby in the manger, no room in the inn, shepherds watching their flocks by night, a new star in the sky, angels proclaiming the birth, and the three wise men.  All that Christmas means, explicitly and symbolically, is precious to me.  For most of my life, the sacred meaning of Christmas has been enough to hold me to Christianity even when my faith was weak and other options seemed more interesting.

Because of my attachment to the sacred core of the holiday, last Christmas was hard for me.  It was the first Christmas in my life where I had serious doubts about whether or not I was a Christian, and so I was not sure what to think or feel about Christmas.  We weren’t going to church at the time, so there were no Christmas services.  I just wasn’t sure what to make of Christmas, and it made the holiday confusing and even a little bit painful for me.  If I am not a Christian, then what is the point of Christmas?  And Christmas has been so important and valuable to me, that losing it—or even losing just its sacred core, is something I don’t really know how to cope with.

So here I am, a year later, and not really any closer to figuring out what I believe—or what I want to believe.  I can’t call myself a Christian and feel honest about it, and so I don’t know what to make of Christmas.  But there’s something in that sacred core of the holy day that I yearn for.  What do I do?

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