Welcome to part three of the constellation series. I think I forgot to mention that I'm basing this series off of the works of ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy. He set out forty-eight constellations, based in Greek myth, of which some are still recognized to this day, and others got broken up or otherwise rearranged or added in the years that followed. The next is Ara: the altar. It's still a recognized constellation.
In the spirit of sharing more about the Hellenic festivals, I'm combining two of the coming ones in this post; three if you count a reference to a past one I hadn't talked about yet. Like I said on Sunday, I really only pay special attention to the festivals that resonate with me. This is not picking-and-choosing--because I try to at least offer libations to the stars of every single festival--but simply a matter of practicality.
I have to accept that I am a solitary Hellenic, which is a bit of an oxymoron. Like being a solitary Wiccan, being a solitary Hellenic is really not possible. Hellenismos is a community religion, like most of the Recon Traditions. Yes, you can focus solely on household worship, but in my view of the religion, you're practicing only half of it if you do that. The festivals made up a huge part of ancient Hellenic worship. With around ten festivals that took place outside of the home every month, it's hard to ignore that they mattered very much.
I feel it's very important to honor the festivals in my own small way, and I have come to realize that the festivals really make me long for a Hellenic community of my own. For a lot of the festivals, the entire city or town--especially in Athens--celebrated. Men, women, children, slaves, free men, everyone. There were special festivals for nearly all of them. Two women-only festivals were the Stenia and the Thesmophoria.
Warning: blatant self-promotion ahead! But, there is a really good reason for said self-promotion, so please bear with me.
Science fiction as a genre is both extremely popular and notoriously difficult to define. It is often a case of "I'll know it when I see it." Stars Wars? Yes. Star Trek? Yes. McCaffrey's Pern books? Yes. KA Laity's Owl Stretching? Considering the people-eating aliens and near-future setting, yes. Devon Monk's The Age of Steam series? Um ... it's set in the Wild West, but it's steampunk, which is often considered a subgenre of science fiction, but it's got faeries and magic, too, so ... maybe? Lucian of Samosata's True History? Um ... second century fable-ish proto-science fiction?
Throwing "Pagan" into the mix makes things even more difficult. How does one define "Pagan" in this context? Does the author of a work have to identity as some flavor of Pagan? Or does only the work itself have to deal with Pagan Deities, philosophies, and myths?...
Mabon is the Sabbat where the focus of the wheel of the year goes from Life and growth to Death and the harvest. It is when the young God experiences death and begins his journey to the Underworld. It is also when the White Goddess begins her descent to the Underworld to take her rightful place as the Queen of Death. The Welsh figure of Blodeuwedd is an often ignored facet of the Queen of Death.
Blodeuwedd is a Goddess that modern audiences have a hard time viewing outside of the lense of our industrial, patriarchal culture. Blodeuwedd, who comes to us in the Fourth Branch of the Welsh Mabinogion, is a woman created out of the flowers of the forest by the Gods Math and Gwydion who need a wife for Gwydion’s son Lleu; Lleu has been cursed by his mother, Arianrhod, to never take a human wife. Blodeuwedd’s story is often seen as one of rape and revenge, similar to the way the Arthurian legends are often treated. It is a story that most people never try to reconstruct with the meaning it might have had to pre-Medieval Welsh listeners. For modern listeners, Blodeuwedd is not seen as the White Goddess that she is; she is viewed as a woman torn between two lovers, such as the Medieval Iseult, or Shakespeare’s Juliet, and the tale of the two Gods/men (Lleu and Gronw) becomes one of lust and revenge.
Every month, the members of Neos Alexandria study three different Deities for our Gods of the Month Club. Originally, the Deities were limited to the official Hellenistic-oriented pantheon of Neos Alexandria itself. This year, though, members agreed that we could start looking into Deities outside ancient Alexandria, allowing for some very lively discussions (is Brigid three Goddesses or a trinity?) and comparisons (who knew Athena and Kali had so much in common?).
Early on in the GMC program -- though I can't remember exactly when -- I made a capital-P Promise that I would write at least one poem in honor of each Deity for that month. So far, I have managed to keep that promise. And, I have to admit, I have been very surprised to discover that it is not my matron and patron Deities that I am most excited to write for (though I will take any chance to pen a poem for Hermes or The Charites), but rather those Deities with whom I have only a passing familiarity or no familiarity at all.
I remember the month when Neith was selected. My initial response was "Um ... she's like the Egyptian version of Athena, right?" Well, not exactly. The two Goddesses do indeed have some areas of interest (like warcraft and weaving), but they are distinct Deities with their own personalities and histories. I learned a lot about Neith that month, came to appreciate Her as a Goddess in Her own right, and was inspired to write two very different cosmogonic poems in Her honor....
I greatly enjoy looking at the night's sky although I can barely make out any of the constellations. As a new and regular series on Baring the Aegis, I want to share with you my study of the mythology behind various constellations. Today, I'm starting with Andromeda.
I ease my students into Beowulf by having them read the Anglo-Saxon poem 'The Wanderer' first. It's a great introduction to the warrior ethos that the longer narrative celebrates, but in a short form. It's a poem about grief but the first thing we'll notice is that the loss mourned isn't a partner, child or parent, but the narrator's leader.
Wyrd bið ful aræd! Fate always goes as it must!
The center of the warrior's life is a relationship the Roman historian Tacitus named comitatus when he first observed it in the continental Germanic tribes. A leader gained followers by offering them praise and treasures for courageous behaviour in battle. They rewarded him with their loyalty. It was the center of their lives; it also took a central role in the poetry of the era....
A few weeks back, I listed the how-to writing guides which I found most useful. Among them was Corrine Kenner's Tarot for Writers. Throughout her text, Kenner references the traditional Rider-Waite deck -- a deck which I have never owned or used. Nonetheless, Kenner's exercises and suggested spreads work with (virtually) any deck.
That (virtually) there is important. The book has proven most useful not just with the decks with which I am most familiar, but also those decks that contain the most densely packed imagery.
The first two decks that I purchased (I really can't remember which came first) were The Motherpeace Round Tarot by Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble, and The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. I have since added The Anubis Oracle by Nicki Scully, Linda Star Wolf, and Kris Waldherr; Ancient Feminine Wisdom of Goddesses and Heroines by Kay Steventon and Brian Clark; The New Mythic Tarot by Juliet Sharman-Burke, Liz Greene, and Giovanni Caselli; and the Art Nouveau tarot from Lo Scarabeo, to my collection....
Over at Patheos, Star Foster recently blogged about the paganizing influence of books such as the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It is a conversation I have had many times, online and in person: do such books really bring people to Paganism (of whatever tradition)? Based on my own completely unscientific survey, I believe the answer is yes. Books like the Percy Jackson series -- and possibly Rowling's Harry Potter, Neil Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants, Anne Ursu's The Cronus Chronicles, and others -- do seem to spark an interest in the old Gods and mythologies. Or, perhaps, fan a flame that was already there.
A few days ago, I got into an interesting discussion with PaganSquare founder Anne about Hellenismos in general and slavery in particular. The discussion focussed on what should and should not be part of Recon practice and slavery, obviously, was one of the things we both thought had no place in it. I realized, though, that not everyone may know what slavery entailed in ancient Greece and the many difference there are between the ancient Greek form of slavery and the modern history version of the same practice.
With that out of the way, indulge me as I paint a picture of slavery in ancient Hellas. First, its prudent to describe the life of ancient Greek slaves, as slaves, too, could acquire rank and even slaves of their own. The word 'slave' wasn't known in ancient Hellas, in fact, the first mention of the word dates back to the seventh century C.E.. A Greek slave was called a doûlos (δούλος), which would translate best as a 'servant' or 'serf'. In ancient Greece, doûlos were the working class. They were teachers, farmers, shop owners, herders, doctors, city militia, cleaners, etc. Because many performed a public service, they had a house of their own as well as a salary. Household serfs were called oikétês (οἰκέτης) and lived in the house of their master who was called a kyrios (κύριος). The female head of the household was charged with teaching--and keeping order amongst--the household serfs.
Today is my birthday. I'm now officially twenty-seven years old. I told Anne I was twenty-seven already so she wouldn't have to change it a few weeks later. Shhh! Anyway, today is a busy day so I'm doing a short one, one of the Delphic Maxims series I have been doing on my blog for a while.
A little less than I week ago, I discussed the Delphic Maxim of 'be grateful' (Ευγνωμων γινου). Today I'm addressing a related maxim but one with a very different reasoning behind it; 'do not be discontented by life' (Τω βιω μη αχθου).
We are all told our fate soon after we are born. At night, the Moirae (Μοιραι)--better known as the Fates--enter the room where the newborn lies and they whisper their destiny into their ear. They are the only ones who can do this, as they have spun the threads that make up our fate. Mothers can invite the Moirae by leaving offerings on a table in the nursery. If they wait long enough, the Moirae will appear and, while they enjoy the offerings, will tell the fate of the child. The most well known myth surrounding this event is that of Althaea and Melaeger, who are told that Melaeger will only live as long as the log in the hearth remains unconsumed. Althaea hurries to extinguish the log but eventually kills her son by burning the log.
A few days now, I have tackled controversial topics on this blog so to give everyone, including myself, a rest, I'm going to tackle a good old fashioned ancient Greek topic; the peculiar place of beggars in ancient Greek society. After all, of all professions there were in ancient Greece, the profession of beggar is, perhaps, the most difficult to understand.
A beggar, or ptóchos (πτωχός), was both a welcomed and a loathed sight at the gates of ancient Greek cities. According to some sources, most notable Hesiod's Works and Days, being a beggar is a profession, equated with potters and minstrels. They performed a public function simply by being who they were and doing what they did. But what did they do?
No, that title is not a typo. I do mean theoilogy.
Theology, to quote the ever-handy Wikipedia, derives "from Ancient Greek Θεός meaning "God" and λόγος, -logy, meaning "study of." God. Singular. By its very nature, at its very root, the word assumes a single Godhead. As such, I find the term best suited only to those religious systems which are explicitly monotheistic or monistic, eg Islam, most strains of Christianity, some branches of Judaism, and some sects within Hinduism.*
But, it is an ill-fit with explicitly polytheistic or even duotheistic systems, such as some branches of Judaism, some Christian sects, most sects within Hinduism, and the majority of Pagan and indigenous traditions. When I write about the nature of Zeus, I am not engaging in theology -- I am engaging in theoilogy. Zeus is not God Alone. He is part of a vast family of Deities; He is part of a web of relationships and responsibilities, and I cannot even begin to comprehend him outside of that web. Thus, theoilogy, from the Ancient Greek Θεοί meaning "Gods." Plural....
I got back from my city trip to Berlin late last night and I had planned on writing about some experiences from that trip, but I received my daily e-mail from a friend who informed me that his wife's cousin had taken his own life unexpectedly, and that his life was pretty hectic right now because of it. He would therefor need some time to get back to me. After that, the concept and act of suicide was set firmly in my mind and I could write about nothing else. So here is fair warning; this post is about suicide, it touches on depression, my interesting childhood and my opinion on suicide. If any of these are triggers for you, I would ask you to come back tomorrow. Also, and I will get back to this, depression lies.
I grew up in a household where the threat of suicide was prevalent. When I mentioned moving out, when I got angry, when something went wrong (especially if it was something I had caused--or for which I was blamed), I was stopped and the emotions repressed by a veiled or outright threat of suicide by my mother. I used to be angry about that, but as I got older, I understood that it was simply her only way to deal with the depression and personality disorders she was struggling with. She did try once, and it was a horrible experience for all involved. After that, though, I think she realized that no matter how miserable she was, she wasn't really going to go through with it. The threats only stopped when we agreed that she was only allowed to call me with a suicide threat if she really meant it. She never spoke of it again.
Through my experience with suicide, I have developed a very low patience threshold for people who use (the threat of) suicide as an excuse to get attention. For people in my social circle who honestly feel they might commit suicide, I am there. All I ask of them is that they ask for help if they need it. I will gladly give it. I'll get up in the middle of the night for weeks to talk them off of any ledge they might be on, but I need honesty and I will not be guilt tripped into helping them. I did that for at least ten years. I'm a very decent human being. If you need me, in any way, I will be there for you. You don't have to lie. But if you simply need attention, if you need a shoulder to cry on and someone to tell you what a miserable life you have and act shocked you have even considered the act of suicide, I am not the person to go to. I'm the person you go to for help, and to get you help.
The Protogenoi (Πρωτογενοι) are the First Born Deities of the Greek Kosmos. They are the building blocks of the universe, primordial Deities. I have written before about Them, in a post about genealogy of the Gods.
The Protogenoi we know of are: Aether (Αἰθήρ, 'Light'), Ananke (Ἀνάγκη, 'Fate' or 'Compulsion'), Khronos (Χρόνος, 'Time'), Erebos (Ἔρεβος, 'Darkness'), Eros (Ἔρως, 'Desire' or 'Love'), Gaea (Γαῖα, 'Earth'), Hemera (Ἡμέρα, 'Day'), Hydros (Ὑδρος, 'Primordial Waters'), Khaos (χάος, 'Chaos' or 'Air'), Nêsoi (Νησοι, 'Islands'), Nyx (Νύξ, 'Night'), Ôkeanos (Ωκεανος, 'Water'), Ourea (Oὔρεα, 'Mountains'), Phanes (Φάνης 'Procreation'), Pontos (Πόντος, 'Sea'), Phusis (φύσις, 'Nature'), Tartaros (Τάρταρος), Thalassa (Θάλασσα, 'Sea'), Thesis (Θεσις, 'Creation'), Uranos (Οὐρανός, 'Sky').
As might have become apparently from the, previously mentioned, earlier published post; any mythology from this era is incredibly mucky. There are a few sources we can track the beginning of the universe to; because that is where the Protogenoi were born in--or from; the beginning of the universe. They are the embodiments of the aspects of life They are named after. Zeus may be Lord of the Sky, but the sky itself is a primordial Deity, distant from humanity but ever-present.
One of the key foundations of modern (and ancient) Paganism is also one of the most contentious. We find it very hard to talk about, it seems, and yet it's fairly key to many people's personal practice. When I've talked about it in the past, it almost seems like I'm breaking a taboo, with the words themselves being 'dirty' or embarrassing. And yet, learning from my passionate and heartfelt Heathen friends, that embarrassment is itself disrespectful, dishonourable and, ultimately, rather foolish.
Who are your Gods and Goddesses? What does Deity mean to you, and how does it influence and affect your Paganism? From the Platonic 'ultimate Male/Female' images (tallying with 'All Gods/Goddesses are One') to the pantheistic, international eclectic transference of pretty much any deity with any other no matter where you yourself live, talking about Deity is a tricky business. Especially because ultimately, nobody can really tell you you're wrong. Or right. Except, perhaps, those Gods themselves.
The Judgement of Paris (Classical)
Patheos has been in a bit of a kerfluffle this past week -- or, at least the Pagan Channel has been. It all started with Catholic blogger Mark Shea's post of his views on small-p paganism and neo-paganism. Patheos bloggers Star Foster and Jason Mankey counter-responded, and there were lots and lots of comments below each of those posts, ranging from the thoughtful to the angry to the wtf??
Considering the focus of this blog, and in the interests of interfaith dialogue (or, at least, interfaith not-screaming-past-one-another), a few literary suggestions. Each of these books in some way addresses the relationships between Jesus, the Christianities that rose out of his teachings, the ancient Paganisms, and modern Paganism. Hopefully, they will open a few eyes, broaden a few horizons, and allow for clearer dialogue.
(And, yes, I do mean Christianities, plural. Considering the vast theological differences between Catholicism, Mormonism, Unitarian Universalism, Valentinianism, the Cathars, and et cetera and so on, Christianity is as much an umbrella term as Pagan. Thus, Christianities.)...
Today is Lammas-tide, Lughnasadh, the festival of the grain harvest. Across the land, fields full of golden wheat, barley and numerous others have been growing tall, a feast for the eyes as they bend in the breeze, a feast for the birds, bees, mice and other creatures that run between the rows.
In centuries past, it would be entire communities who came out to help with the harvest, threshing, binding and preparing the crop to last them the winter. Fuel is needed for heat, nourishment and sustenance for livestock - without a successful harvest, a lean winter means walking the path between life and death.
These days, it's more the rumble of heavy-duty farming machinery at work that is heard as the harvest is gathered in - but it's no less valuable for that. Despite the knowledge that we can import food, fuel and whatever we need from other places, there's still the essential connection between us and the land as personified in the life of our fuel-stuffs. We celebrate it, we recognise and remember it. Children make corn-dollies, singers remember John Barleycorn.