Erotic Hedonism

In ten years, should I choose to, I am told that I will be ready to teach others what I am learning. Mark this date: 19 February 2025. This new school will be founded on the anniversary of the passing of a great Hero of Ours, one who lived in beauty and for pleasure and love.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

The Other SJW

Salome, Apollo, in Technicolour
I walked on the moon to touch the stars,
A legend in my lifetime.

Today, one of my medications has been on my mind, since I was at the bus stop with my gigantic umbrella, and a pack of obnoxious teenage boys started chanting, on what was a very bright and sunny day “Hey, where the rain at?” –as if they must’ve thought this had been the first in my life I’d been taunted in this manner. The reason for my gigantic umbrella, I’ll get to in a bit, but just in case we met at the Polytheist Leadership Conference, yes, its the same gigantic umbrella.

Some of you may already know that I take St. John’s wort for seasonal depression (and other environmental depression I can experience throughout the rest of the year). Apparently St. John’s wort is named for its aprtropaic properties:

Hypericum perforatum is a yellow-flowering, stoloniferous or sarmentose, perennial herb indigenous to Europe. It has been introduced to many temperate areas of the world and grows wild in many meadows. The herb’s common name comes from its traditional flowering and harvesting on St John’s Day, 24 June. The genus name Hypericum is derived from the Greek words hyper (above) and eikon (picture), in reference to the plant’s traditional use in warding off evil by hanging [the] plants over a religious icon in the house during St John’s day. The species name perforatum refers to the presence of small oil glands in the leaves that look like windows, which can be seen when they are held against the light. [from Wikipedia]

and also:

St. John’s Wort has been valued since the ancient Greeks for its plethora of uses. The colorful common name refers to the red pigment and the German word “wort” which means wound. During the Middle Ages it was believed to have the power to cast out demons.

Traditionally, St. John’s wort has been used as a pain reliever and helps to regulate the nervous system (nervine). It has also served as a mild sedative and antidepressant, astringent for hemorrhages and diarrhea, expectorant, diuretic, digestive aid and cholagogue (by encouraging the release of bile from the liver), uterine tonic (which may relieve uterine cramping) and abortifacient. It is also an emmenagogue (which promotes menstrual flow) and is anti parasitic.

Additionally, as the common name implies, this wonderful herb has been used for wounds, burns, sores, bruises and other skin problems. For topical use make an oil from St. John’s wort by soaking the flowers in olive oil for 2 to 7 weeks and strain. Apply the oil to affected areas.

Recent studies have shown St. John’s wort to work very well for depression which may be the modern equivalent of the medieval demons. These studies support many of the traditional uses, especially the antidepressant qualities. Tests show improvements in antidepressant activity, anxiety, apathy and low self-worth. Antidepressant results occurred after 4 to 8 weeks of use. Another study found that St. John’s wort may be beneficial in Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD).

St. John’s wort has also been compared with pharmaceutical therapies for depression. The results have shown that St. John’s wort is just as effective as the pharmaceuticals but with fewer side effects. As compared to some pharmaceuticals, St. John’s wort increased cognitive functions while some pharmaceuticals decreased them. [from]

That said, one of the known side-effects of St John’s Wort is increased sun sensitivity –and i was already pretty sensitive to sunlight, to begin with. While I am (as well as many other Hellenists) inclined to associate all medicinal herbs, especially the ones backed up by scientific studies to be more effective than placebo, with Apollon and Asklepios, the origins of its name (both common English and scientific) suggest that its associations exclude Apollon’s perceived solar qualities which I’ve already been questioning.

So as i tend to do, I decided to search some terms with tags like “mythology” or “folklore” or “ancient greek” –works like “depression” and “shade” that are associated with St John’s wort (the former SJW aids, the latter aids one who needs SJW), and I came across a story that I only had a passing familiarity with, before:

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 106 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“In all the throng the cone-shaped cypress stood; a tree now, it was changed from a dear youth loved by the god who strings the lyre and bow [i.e. Apollon]. For there was at one time, a mighty stag held sacred by those nymphs who haunt the fields Carthaean [i.e. on the island of Keos]. His great antlers spread so wide, they gave an ample shade to his own head. Those antlers shone with gold: from his smooth throat a necklace, studded with a wealth of gems, hung down to his strong shoulders–beautiful. A silver boss, fastened with little thongs, played on his forehead, worn there from his birth; and pendants from both ears, of gleaming pearls, adorned his hollow temples. Free of fear, and now no longer shy, frequenting homes of men he knew, he offered his soft neck even to strangers for their petting hands. But more than by all others, he was loved by you, O Cyparissus, fairest youth of all the lads of Cea. It was you who led the pet stag to fresh pasturage, and to the waters of the clearest spring. Sometimes you wove bright garlands for his horns, and sometimes, like a horseman on his back, now here now there, you guided his soft mouth with purple reins.

It was upon a summer day, at high noon when the [summertime constellation] Crab, of spreading claws, loving the sea-shore, almost burnt beneath the sun’s hot burning rays; and the pet stag was then reclining on the grassy earth and, wearied of all action, found relief under the cool shade of the forest trees; that as he lay there Cyparissus pierced him with a javelin: and although it was quite accidental, when the shocked youth saw his loved stag dying from the cruel wound he could not bear it, and resolved on death. What did not Phoebus say to comfort him? He cautioned him to hold his grief in check, consistent with the cause. But still the lad lamented, and with groans implored the Gods that he might mourn forever. His life force exhausted by long weeping, now his limbs began to take a green tint, and his hair, which overhung his snow-white brow, turned up into a bristling crest; and he became a stiff tree with a slender top and pointed up to the starry heavens. And the God, groaning with sorrow, said; ‘You shall be mourned sincerely by me, surely as you mourn for others, and forever you shall stand in grief, where others grieve.’”

…and then I found this:

In Greek mythology, Cyparissus or Kyparissos (Greek: Κυπάρισσος, “cypress”) was a boy beloved by Apollo, or in some versions by other deities. In the best-known version of the story, the favorite companion of Cyparissus was a tamed stag, which he accidentally killed with his hunting javelin as it lay sleeping in the woods. The boy’s grief was such that it transformed him into a cypress tree, a classical symbol of mourning. The myth is thus aetiological in explaining the relation of the tree to its cultural significance.

…and also thisthis:

St Johns Wort Wound Healing Oil

spatholado, Saint John’s Wort Wound Healing OilThis ointment comes form the Greek island of Kea where it is gathered and prepared by hand in small quantities using the ancient method. The plant is gathered during the flowering season (in May) under a waxing moon. It is then placed in a jars with local olive oil and left in the sun until it turns red. The oil is used to dress burns, cuts, surgical scars etc. It is particularly effective for deep wounds, injuries caused by crushing, or any other trauma associated with nerve damage. St John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is a rhizomatous perennial plant with gland dotted leaves and flowers containing its healing properties. Though the plant may be known today as an anti-depressant and sedative (opinions vary as to its real effectiveness in this field) – it is historically more important as a healing herb. Indeed, it is mentioned as such by many ancient Greek authors such as Dioscurides and Hippocrates.

St John’s Wort has been known throughout history as a vulnerary (wound healer) and was in its heyday on the battlefields of the Crusaders. In Greek it is known as ‘spathochorto’ referring to its ability of healing sword wounds. It was also credited for keeping evil spirits away, for which purpose it was hung above doors on the eve of St John’s day (June 24), when witches were thought to be most active. Its mystique was confirmed by the way the juice of the plant turns red on exposure to air – a phenomenon thought to symbolize the blood of St John the Baptist.

These three items coupled together all reminded me of much of my aforementioned entry on Apollon from the “thirty days of paganism/polytheism meme” from four years ago, which was also written the last time I lived in this area, at the curiously-named “Spice Tree Apartments” (there were no such things in the complex, which severely disappointed me, as I was hoping for free peppercorns or something).

As for all of this giving insights to St John’s Wort, other than confirming Apollonian associations in spite of heliophobic side-effects, I’m not getting much, but the fact that all signs point to Apollon (especially as the song playing as I was writing this was Gavin Friday’s “Caruso”), I think the subject of my first painting in years has been decided —now hopefully, unlike this week, I’ll have some time to start on it next week.

And while I have you here, it just occurred to me as i restarted “Caruso” and added the epigram to the begining of this post, that where Jesus’ cult was arguably born of Orphic origins with the Christ figure as the Dionysian life-death-rebirth deity, Apollon, especially from my time in Kyklos Apollon (which I was initially thinking of rejoining, but am now thinking of doing my own similar ritual, but at a time I’ll select through divination, as I now believe there is sufficient evidence that the KA cult has been polluted1 —but I’m getting distracted), that Apollon would be the complimentary John the Baptist figure, bringing us back to St John’s Wort. Maybe I’ll rethink the significance of the herb I almost just assumed to be low.

1:yes, I’ve seen most of the FB posts referenced, and I knew about this long before Sannion posted it, just in case anyone was thinking o accusing me of being one of his “lackeys” or some such stuff and nonsense; if anything, this opinion of mine makes me Kyrene Ariadne’s lackey, it’s just that sannion’s post is the most easily-accessable source on this miasma that has been brought to Kyklos Apollon.

In other news, at the bus stop, today, a bee (as I quote myself from FB) “spent an absurd amount of time hovering around my junk”. Make of this what you will.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Belated post-PLC entry

(I wrote this on the train from Poughkeepsie back to Toledo, on my way back to Lansing, MI, after the Polytheist Leadership Conference, but it got lost in my bag, and I figured I’d posg it, now.)

I did want to mention something that came up during the second Dionysos ritual: I mentioned already that in the first ritual, thing went a little weird for me. During the first ritual, there was a period where people were encouraged to dance, to shout, or otherwise just praise Dionysos in whatever manner seemed best. I then heard Eros’ voice:

“Let go, flower. I’ve always been with you, I always will be, but you’ve been borderline henotheist, lately. I’m not that possessive. Just let go.”

Then from Sannion: “Let go to Dionysos….”

Coincidence? Possibly, though an awfully uncanny one, I should say. I mentioned this to Sannion afterward and he seemed impressed by the timing, to say the least.

I brought this up at the later ritual, during the period for Dionysos stories (before the actual rit, I had a Derek Jarman story to share, you might have heard of it, and I will share that one, later), and then one of my friends made a well-meaning joke, cos I guess my paraphrasing of “gave me the OK to play with other gods every so often” opened it up for “we should see other people” type comments. this seemed headed down a problematic turn, so I saw a need to end it when another person said “it’s not him, it’s you”:

“OK, stop. there are boundaries to take down, and there are boundaries that are there for a reason. Don’t cross that line.”

It’s not a line I think can be joked about, but don’t worry, no-one is “in trouble” cos I worded myself poorly. I may have been less-than-clear in the post, and I know I don’t talk about it much, openly, but I’m Eros’ Property. If I were a female-gendered or perhaps GQ-identified femme person, I might use the word “wife”, but I’m not, so I don’t. I’m not exactly “husband” or “spouse” material”, in my opinion, and that’s one of the few things I get to negotiate with Him, is what I call myself.

I took my beauty mark piercing in lieu of a ring. As soon as I can justify the expense, I’m getting that ring I found on Etsy, the one with raw rose quartz, and tattooing one of His symbols, along with symbols of His mother, wife, and sisters on my wrist. I’m going to get another piercing on mu left ear and have it linked to my nostril ring with a delicate chain.

It’s true, though. It’s true, though. I’ve been acting like a borderline Henotheist this last couple years, and it hasn’t been working, for me. As I said to someone after the second rit: “It’s like when you get married; Healthy people still hang out with and talk to their friends, at least as their schedule allows, and less-healthy people drop all other socialisation for their spouse.” Now, OK, for some people, that might work, and Henotheism clearly works fir some, but a square peg is a poor fit for a round hole, right? As a polytheist, it may be very unhealthy to focus completely on one deity, and while I wasn’t quite that narrowly-focused, for myself, it wasn’t that much better.

Basically, though, there’s a fibre in my thread that is permanently gilded by Eros. My thread may cross with other people, and I will certainly dance with other Theoi, but we’re bonded, permanently.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

On Mysticism, Godspousal, Oracles, & Shamen

I make no attempts to hide the fact that I have a more mystical spiritual life than many “Big-R Recons” would be comfortable with —but at the same time, I’m not terribly eager to share much of that publicly. While I admit that there’s a small fear of being mocked mercilessly on the Internet, that really takes a back-burner to the belief that doing so will not only further complicate the more personal aspect of certain mysteries, but will also lead to unneeded indulgences in my own Ego, and being a Leo, I have a hard enough time with that, already. Following that, I also have a legitimate fear for my sanity, as all mystics really should at least be aware of that possibility; fear of other people making fun of me doesn’t even factor in directly after that.

Being “out” about a certain closeness to a deity automatically makes one a sort of spokesperson of that deity, and there is no shortage of the varying degrees of success certain people have with that; some people’s on-line (and even off-line) conduct can reflect on a deity very well, and then there are other times that one’s conduct may actually hurt the image of a deity outside the devotional polytheist community, and not to mention the mainstream non-pagan community. Maybe one doesn’t set out with the goal to be some sort of spiritual ambassador for Deity X, which is fair, but it happens that this is simply how one ends up being seen. I don’t want to abuse my position as a de-facto Ambassador of Eros, so I use a lot of levels of personal “bullshit checks” (or Discernment, in Dver’s far more polite words) to keep myself grounded in certain maxims.

As a ready example for the level of “bullshit checks” I maintain, I’ve had several dreams and visions of being Hyperborean, and not just in the ancient equating of “Hyperborea” with the British Isles; I’ve meditated on this, and the most consistent explanation my Gods give me is that I may be on a path to elevate to that sort of Elysian realm, as if it’s one of the Isles of the Blessed, which seems to be the vague allusion Pindar was going for (“But neither by taking ship, neither by any travel on foot, to the Hyperborean folk shalt thou find the wondrous way.”) —this does not mean, of course, that I’m of a super-human race somehow cast off from my “true” blessed realm of eternal sunlight and goodness and music dancing on the breezes. I’m human; being human can be a wonderful thing, and this glimpse afforded me by the Gods doesn’t change my very human state. Being human is what I make of it, and while I can certainly understand the desires of those in the Otherkin community (or who are simply lumped in with said, despite lack of their own personal identification with said) who may truly believe that they’re something more than human, in my experiences, there are human beings who do well enough with that lot in life, and those who feel ill-fit to it for one reason or another.

That said, I’m certainly open to the possibility of the soul existing independently of the body, and being something that can transcend realms, cross realities, and so on, but because the soul is such an intangible thing, currently even its very existence is untestable by modern technology, I’m hesitant to give those who believe such things too much benefit of the doubt for the simple fact that it’s well-established (and not to mention well-accepted) that the human imagination is a vast thing, and it can concoct all sorts of things in its own realm that absolutely do not exist in this world, things that are biologically impossible for this realm. In my past as an Anton LaVey fan-boy (short-lived as it was), I came across this quote often attributed to him; If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far 100% of the time, but if there’s ever a nagging thought in one’s mind that maybe what they believe is too far-fetched to be genuine or true, then don’t quash that doubt.

Doubt is not the enemy of mysticism. The word “doubt” is from the Latin dubitare, “to question, hesitate, waver in opinion”. These thoughts exist for examination; if we don’t examine why we doubt our beliefs at times, we cannot hope to make them stronger. It’s like Colin Craven in The Secret Garden who’d only ever been told of his vague spinal problem, and was left to grow weaker; only when challenged by Mary to doubt this long-held belief did he attempt to walk, learning that he wasn’t as hindered by his body as he had believed himself to be. Doubt has the potential to break us of crutches we’ve become too dependent on and may no longer need, and thus make us and even our beliefs and spirituality stronger. The strongest and most adept mystics have their moments of doubt, and they become stronger not by denying their doubts exist, but by embracing the doubt like an Olympian wrestler, challenging it, and maybe the mystic wins over the doubt, maybe the doubt proves the victor; you cannot be certain in either way if you just sit out on your hands and declare yourself the victor, and doing so makes one a fool.

Even if we assume that all talk of communicating with Gods and spirits is genuine, and not just the product of a creative mind, it is still healthy to doubt things. How can we be sure that this communique is with the entity it claims to be? The Gods do not punish us for these questions, these doubts. Sure, any truly malevolent spirit is likely to lie repeatedly about who they are, but if we call out to the Gods for confirmation, we are more likely to be answered truthfully than if we do not —that’s just basic logic. If you ask, then you have at least 50% greater a chance of knowing than if you never ask, even a small child knows to ask “why?” and “how?” repeatedly, if only in order to make sense of thing. To blindly accept that any voice is what it says it is just isn’t healthy, mentally or spiritually.

I don’t like the word “shamen”, but I accept that it’s probably the best word to describe some practises. I admit that a reason I have such a problem with the word is because my first boyfriend’s Cherokee mother made it very clear that she had a problem with the word, and the way many exploitative whites will market Native / First Nations spirituality as “shaman”, a word that has no etymological connection to the various religious beliefs and practises of the native tribes of the Americas, that this is a Siberian-rooted word and its use regarding indigenous Americans is an act of racism used to suppress cultures. Or so this is how Tiene put it, and so this is the definition that has been so deeply ingrained in my mind since adolescence. On the other hand, I have, in only the last few years, learned to accept the anthropological definition of “shaman” as one in a religious community who acts as an intermediary between the mortal and Divine realms, and / or between man and spirits, typically using ecstatic practises and states to send and receive messages. This definition is very loose and amongst anthropologists, and so through that many modern pagans, polytheists, and Western animists, this is the definition of such practises regardless of what culture or pantheon they’re tied to because it’s simply easier to have a single word to describe a thing, sometimes, than it is to have a paragraph. While I don’t believe that communication with the divine is bound to consulting a shaman or being one, I do believe that certain practises to take down one’s natural mental defences temporarily will make certain direct communique far easier. It’s like the difference in communication between letters and voice mail over face-to-face interaction; both people are still communicating with each other, but sometimes it’s best to keep one’s physical distance and write a letter than take a risk and meet up. If you have a brother in the military, and he’s stationed abroad during a time of war, communicating with him in letters helps to maintain a distance for your own safety; sometimes that indirect communique really is for the good of every-one. That’s basically what shamen are doing, they’re putting themselves right out there between realms with regularity that can be dangerous to one’s sanity or even physical well-being, and not just for untrained people. There’s a reason that the ancient Hellenes associated madness with nymphe worship.

As some of my friends are aware of, there’s some-one whose blog has been a focus of mockery and derision in the last week or two, as it’s written by a person who either really wants to be a mystic and is letting their imagination run away with them, or has experience as a mystic, but left their guards and defences down and let malevolent daimons in. According to one or two people from a list I’m on or group I’m in, this person is a friend of their other friend and has never been very well-hinged, so either is equally possible and it’s also unlikely that this person is intentionally sowing seeds of discord.

It’s easy to mock the unhinged mystic, and even easier to mock the unhinged pseudo-mystic for rather obvious reasons. I’m not entirely innocent here, and my only solace is in the fact that some of my meaner comments about this person have been in private. In all seriousness, I’d probably try to help this person out, if I could, or direct a friend of mine who could to them, if I had such a friend. I feel sorry for them, and the only response I’ve given them directly is blunt logic in a dim hope that maybe this would help them ask some needed questions, maybe get them on a path to getting out of this mess they’ve made of their apparent sanity, but if I had any good effect in that regard, I may not see a glimmer of a result for some time.

I’m not fond of the fact that a lot of mystics and such are inherent solitary by nature, meaning that there’s a reduced “safety net” against this sort of occurrence. At best, we communicate on the Internet, and only when we can stand each-other, which definitely has its benefits: There also seems to be a tend in mystic and intermediary communities towards one-upping each-other in regards to deity relationships. I don’t believe this is always a conscious thing, I don’t even believe it is conscious half the time; I just believe that whenever there is a vocation or avocation where a great amount of skill will set apart people even within that field, there is just going to be some level of competition acted on, even when people don’t realise they’re doing it. While there’s nothing wrong with self-improvement and bettering one’s skills, there’s a point where such a drive can become obsessive and, as has been established, that may not be good in mystic fields as it can easily lead to carelessness with one’s guards and check-points, and thus sanity can unravel. It can be good for mystics to keep our distance at times, but a support network is still something that one is better off with than without. It’s like a fire extinguisher for your soul; you may not ever use it, but if you ever need it, and never needing it can be a good thing, but just in case hope fails, you’ll be glad you have it if and when you need it.

I kind of had a point when I started this, but I forgot what it is now. That’s what I get for starting posts when I’m half falling asleep and deciding to finish them after I wake up. Still, I’m posting this cos I definitely feel it needs to be said, maybe not necessarily by me, but by as many people, in as many words as possible. Any potential mystic starting out on that path needs to know that while this can be a beautiful, enriching path, to take along a bullshit metre, cos this is a path where one can easily fall victim to such. Make some experienced friend on a similar path, just in case the need for a fire extinguisher ever happens.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 20 ~ Hellenismos and my love life

I don’t even know how to begin with this.

I’m a fag. At the current point in my life that I write this in, I have no human love life — in fact, it’s been a few months short of three years since I last slept with another man.

If I’m going to form a long-term bond with another mortal man, would I like him to share my religion? Sure; I’m not sure if it’s mandatory, but it would be nice.

That said, note the careful language I’ve used here. I don’t completely lack a love-life. I’ve bonded with One of the spiritual realm. Only a very small number of friends know with whom — though I’m sure any long-time reader of this blog who uses that mushy grey stuff between one’s ears for more than keeping one’s skull from caving in can easily figure it out. This is something that I keep private for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost because it’s really nobody-else’s business. This bond has been formalised with ritual, and like any pair of lovers, there are ups and downs, but ultimately, He’s my rock, and I’m stronger for it.

I acknowledge that this isn’t something that’s exactly welcomed and accepted by “mainline Hellenists”, and that’s another reason I keep this private: As much as I’ve grown accustomed to an apparently growing number of Hellenists regarding me as “the Eros guy” similarly to how Sannion would be “the Dionysos guy” or Kyrene Ariadne would be “the Apollon lady”, I’m still a polytheist and regularly give at least incense and wine to other deities, a small portion of my own meals — hell, I picked up this adorable little “sea horse” aquarium statue for my fishtank, a few weeks ago, cos it made me think of Poseidon, and I very seldom think of Poseidon (this is especially noteworthy, cos I spent several days after getting it, along with much-needed tank filters, waffling over whether or not I should return it, cos it was more than I really should have spent — but ultimately kept it, cos aside from the cult in Boeotia, my ancestors on the British Isles were surrounded by sea, so maybe I should think of Poseidon more). Basically, aside from what I post here, all anybody really needs to know is that I’m a Hellenic Polytheist, novelist, singer, Mod Revival & Ska DJ, and general all-purpose loudmouth faggot.

Plus, even if I wanted to share more, the messages I get from My Love every time I start waffling all “should I let this banner fly as well, or shouldn’t I?”, are very clear: This is between He and I. This is our mystery, and what He has to share, He shall share with others in the same way — one-on-one.

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About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 6 ~ Beliefs – Divination, mysticism and various woo shit

First off, I’m going to make it quite clear that the definition of “magic” has never really been concrete and immutable. Alistair Crowley may have attempted to codify a definition of ceremonial magick to differentiate it from stage illusions, but that’s one of many working definitions in the communities under the pagan & polytheist umbrella, and only a handful of the others are based on or influenced by Crowley’s — and if you’re being perfectly honest, you know this is the case.

To many Christians (and I know this from experiencing conversations with said about this topic), any kind of divination is automatically “magic” and forbidden to them — except to the few of those specific Christians why count astrology as a science. To some Hellenists (including those seeking to sully the term “religious reconstruction” with their own brand of Neoplatonic fundamental absolutist One-True-Wayism) “magic” is the use of so-called supernatural forces to alter reality and is automatically “hubris” because they can find a few ancient writers who agreed (I will return to this). To a lot of pagans and polytheists, including this one guy I’ve butted heads with several times, the line between what is “religion” and what is “magic” is ultimately quite blurry and may include not only divination, but also meditation and basic prayer.

Now, I don’t subscribe to an all-or-nothing worldview where either all is magic or nothing is magic — I believe it is safe to say that spellcraft is magic, and without a doubt, so is ceremonial magic, but if I pray to Apollon and the Mousai with a request that my friend Jason and I create a brilliant piece of music, and then we do, in fact, create something we both agree is brilliant enough to put our own names on and which a third friend is willing to première in Brisbane — was that magic? By some definitions I’ve heard from a pagan or two in-person, the fact that I burned some bay with that request (shh!) technically may make it spellcraft — obviously, she missed the fact that I don’t do spells, so why don’t we just smile and nod condescendingly, because we know better [taps nose].

As for ancient Hellas, I’m going to quote my friend Gavin, cos she put it about as well as I would:

I do not argue that it is obvious that some people in some places at some points in time of ancient Greek society did not hold magic in high esteem, believed it to be hubris and its practice was taboo. But at the same time there is also evidence of people who did practice magic, both high and low, in ancient Greek societies. I hear this explained away by the anti magic crowd as, “Well clearly they knew what they were doing was wrong and they did it anyway.” Uh-huh. I guess that’s one way to explain away contrary evidence while still allowing your pet theory to stand, but its a pretty weak one. By that same token, thousands of years from now, someone could, say, come upon the writings of Pat Robertson and decide that everyone in our culture believed that abortion and homosexuality was morally wrong, but people were still gay and had abortions, well they must have known what they were doing was wrong and did it anyway. We all know its not as simplistic as that, some people hold those beliefs while other people most certainly do not. And since ancient Greece is not in any way the mono culture such people so desperately want to believe that it was, doesn’t it make more sense to assume that different people, living in different places at different periods of time held different options on the practice of magic?

The “logic” that the ancient Hellenes who practised magics “obviously knew it was hubris and did it anyway” really quite fails in the same way that Fred Phelps may like to claim that I “obviously” know that sucking dick and worshipping any God but his is “sinful, but [I] do it anyway knowing this” is full of fail. No, I worship the Gods of Hellas because I believe it in my heart is the right thing to do — and I suck dick because I believe that the myriad ways to give and receive orgasm is a Divine gift. Similarly, many in this day and age who practise magic believe it little more than a tool to aide in or supplement religious practises, so it makes sense that since this culture really hasn’t come all that far from ancient Hellas that there was definitely a similar line of thought to those ancient Hellenes who practised magic. That said, you really can’t argue with the fact that there was a cult of Kirke, nor that Homer’s epigrams included an invocation to Kirke to punish those who have wronged one — nor can you argue with the fact that, like the mythos of many other deities, Kirke’s hardly begins and ends with The Odyssey.

Furthermore, if you place a large amount of spiritual validity in Fate, and/or give the Moirai a large amount of importance in the workings of the world, then logically speaking, those who practise magics cannot possibly be working against their own fates, as they were obviously predestined to practise magics. Now, you can still believe that magic may be hubris, depending on where you place the Moirai in relation to other deities, and if you believe that the Moirai are too disconnected from humanity to care for the desires of, say, Athene (as an example I just pulled out of my arse), then the logic of “magic = hubris” would still be consistent, because now Hubris would be defined as something only certain deities care enough to define, and therefore would only be applicable to certain philosophical schools and/or cults to individual deities. While this formula may then call into question the placement of, say, Zeus as “the Supreme Deity” (since now even He is a mere thread in the tapestry of the Moirai), the existence of cult worship can work around this.

Furthermore, since it is clear that Kirke is an immortal goddess (this is even spoken by Hermes in The Odyssey), complete with Her own cult centre on the quaintly named Isles of Witches (Pharmakoussai) off the coast of Attika, it’s seems apparent that “hubris” may in fact vary from cult to cult — it would seem rather odd if the cult of Kirke would set a bar against spells and potions. Additionally, if modern polytheists are quick to allege that Hera is not the bitter shrew that Homer portrayed in The Odyssey, and indeed point to a vast mythology that quite hardly begins and ends with Homer (who, of the goddesses he portrayed in his epics, was most consistently favourable toward Athene, and clearly using the rest to at least occasionally exercise his own misogynies and apparently personal biases), then the bias that persists against Kirke seems doubly harsh, as her mythology is also far more complex than the picture painted by Homer. I may not be of Her cult, but I can still call bullshit when I see it.

That said, as I’ve stated prior, I don’t do spellwork (unless you follow a loose definition that any ritualised prayer that consists of requesting divine assistance, especially when it comes, is therefore “spellwork”). I definitely don’t do ceremonial magic (absolutely never interested me). I do, though, practise regular divinations.

Divination, at least the definition I use, is the use of a medium to ask the Gods for clues to be interpreted and which may prove useful later. This medium can be nearly anything, and the clues given are usually vague, but sometimes alarmingly clear. My preferred media are scrying, or “seeing something in nothing”, and tasseomancy, or cup-reading; I’ve also occasionally used dowsing with pendulum or, as a child, with a deck of cards; recently, I’ve created tiles for Greek alphabet divination, but have seldom used them.

I’ve been reading cups of tea a Greek (Turkish) coffee since high school, and I’ve gotten rather good at it. You start with loose-leaf tea coffee made in an ibrik (which has to be ground to a fine powder or it will be too bitter), drink until no more than half a tablespoon of liquid is left, then you upturn the cup, hold it tight to the saucer, gift it a good shake, then allow it to run down the inner surface while you form your question. You look for shapes and symbolism that will help you answer it. This method of divination was developed with the ancient Hellenes and used sediment from the bottom of a cup of wine, then later coffee from Ethiopia, and then even later tea — and I think this method may have developed independently in India, as well, but don’t quote me.

Scrying is commonly associated with crystal balls, and indeed, they are popular for it, but I prefer a matte black bowl filled with water or the smoke from incense or bay. I’ve considered trying an obsidian glass (commonly called a “scrying mirror”), but I like my water and smoke — mainly cos they’re cheap, but I was delighted to learn that ancient Hellas was familiar with nearly all forms of scrying, and even had a few springs reserved (apparently) just for the purpose. I first attempted this in high school, but got bored with waiting to see something, and abandoned any further attempts until about four or five years ago, when I managed some success. The way it works best for me is to start by “blurring my vision” and then slowly easing myself into a self-trance; I kind of did this on accident the first time, and still find it impossible to explain how to do this and make it work. Only advice I can offer that seems true to my experiences, is “try to force it, and it won’t work”.

Dowsing is most commonly associated with the use of a forked branch in an attempt to find groundwater (sometimes referred to as “water witching”) and this method may be of 15th Century CE German origin, but pendulums were used earlier in the ancient Near East, and it was first recorded by the ancient Hellenes as being widely practised on Crete as early as 400BCE, and there is evidence that pendulums were used at Delphi[link]. I first did this when I was in high school and used it occasionally until my senior year; the method I got used to was with a dowsing board, and I later learned that most people prefer to do it “freehand” and just determine before holding up the pendulum which direction means what — I prefer a board because it’s consistent and it can leave fewer questions about which direction things start swinging in. I’ve also learned that some people will use just about anything as a pendulum, but I prefer to pick my pendulums the way some people pick their tarot card decks — which would be to browse as many as I can until I find one that I “feel” would get along best with me (or, at least, this is how I’ve heard from a few people how they pick their tarot decks, so I’m assuming it’s relatively common with people who prefer tarot); this would also be the main reason I haven’t had a dowsing session since high school. As a few may know, I left my family’s home rather abruptly the week after my eighteenth birthday, leaving me to finish high-school on my own after deciding on a dime, “fuck this place” and moving to Ann Arbor — long story short, I left a lot of shit behind, including my dowsing board and pendulum, and I haven’t found a pendulum I really liked since, though I’ve since considered replacing my own dowsing board with something hand-made, either painted or embroidered. Well, I take that back, I’ve found a couple pendulums that I feel I could work with, but either other expenses come up, or, during the moments I could, in theory, afford it, I haven’t thought about picking one of them up — and it’s not like I don’t already have other divination methods that also work for me.

Now, dowsing with a deck of cards is something that, as a small child, I first learned about on a now-cancelled program called Pinwheel that my babysitter got on cable. It wasn’t described as “dowsing” in the sketch it was shown in, but it worked pretty much the same way. From memory, the sketch started with a girl looking for her lost thing, and the puppet set up as a sort of gypsy-fortuneteller type handed the girl a deck of cards and directed her to throw them into the air 52 Pickup-style, and that when she reached the final card, she’d find her thing. I did this a lot as a child after that episode, much the the annoyance of my mother, but honestly? It helped me find a lot of things.

Now I do find it oddly coincidental that I started looking into and doing these methods of divination all before I formally started looking into Hellenismos — and that they all managed to also be methods that were also used in ancient Hellas. I also find it rather odd that, in the modern community, or at least the public face of said on-line, like past and present Neokoroi Mantikoi seem to prefer tarot cards.

I’m really not trying to “diss” tarot or people who prefer it and really get along with it. Truth me told, I dabbled in learning tarot during high school, and I just never really liked it. I had nothing to do with learning the meanings of cards, that was actually the easier and more interesting part, and it had nothing to do with various spreads being “restrictive” — in fact, I found a few that I liked and which could have worked for me. In fact, the *only* time I delved into spellcraft (when I was seventeen), it was a method that utilised tarot cards and… let’s just say that the results have forever made me sceptical of those who assert that “magic/spellcraft doesn’t work” — that one incident was enough to convince me that those who can say such things either a) never tried it, and so are basing their “theory” unscientifically on an untested hypothesis, or b) if they tried it, they were totally doing it wrong. That one incident also was freaky enough at the time that it killed my interest in doing anything else with spellcraft, but pretty much as a personal interest only — it did leave me sure that there were definitely people who were meant to delve into this sort of work, and these people did not include myself — I suppose it’s also possible that I misread things completely and that this was a sign that I should dive into it more deeply, but if that’s really the case, then the Theoi really have no problem pointing shit like that out to me when I’m being stubborn.

I’m also really re-thinking the title of this post, as I’ve already made it kinda clear that the “Big Woo” part of my practise is hard to put into coherent thoughts and words. I will also add, though, that I’ve felt a similar nudge toward Trophonios that Sarah Kate has, but I also feel free to explore this at my own pace.

As to whether or not magics and/or divination should be a central focus of Hellenismos, well, I think the ancient Hellenes have left a pretty workable model for that: Most people had vocations and interests that lied elsewhere, and so if their ethics were such that they could make use of those who could perform spells or divinations, then there was no real need to learn it themselves. In fact, oracular work took a lot of training in both receiving and interpreting, so it stands to reason that most people simply weren’t going to do that; maybe a higher ratio were going to pick up cup-reading or scrying or herbal spellcraft (indeed, there were even curse kits that were sold and seemed rather popular for something apparently “forbidden” by leading philosophical schools), but even this was not something that everybody did, if only because learning it seemed a bit daunting. In short, I’m not of the “fundie-recon” opinion that spellcraft should never be delved into — but nor am I of the opinion common in “neo-Pagan” circles that everybody should learn at least a few basic spells: If everybody is special and powerful, or at least potentially so (by common Neo-Pagan thought), then logically it would follow that nobody is, because that would then undermine the definition of “special”, which would be “uncommon”; and if the prevailing idea is that nobody has the potential to be special and powerful (as the bottom line for recon-fundies goes), then the only option for evidence of otherwise is to ignore it, which merely amounts to being just as much of a lie as “everybody is special and powerful”. Obviously, the only logical conclusion here is to admit that there is a middle ground that is in harmony with nature.

…then there’s things like Theurgy, a common practice with NeoPlatonism, and one which possibly originated with them, which really blurs the lines of what is and is not “spellcraft” and therefore begs the question of “is this ‘good magic’, or ‘bad’?” After all, as early as Homer’s Odyssey, there was clearly both “good magic” and “bad magic’ as Hermes revealed to Odysseus the secret herb to defend himself against Kirke’s own spells — which not only cements Hermes’ realm as inclusive of magics, but also makes it clear that not all magics are equal, and that use of defensive, protective magics is easily argued as Not Hubris.

I’ve come to the conclusion that magic is a tool for performing certain functions — there are definitely things that it cannot do (I am highly sceptical of pretty much all of the more fantastical claims from the Neo-Pagan community, including, but not limited to, teleportation and “advanced glamours”, like changing the colour of one’s eyes without contacts). I liken this to any other tool, like a computer or a hammer; you could try using your laptop to pound in a nail, but you’ll get faster and more precise results from a hammer; that said, you also would need the right hammer for the job — using a sledgehammer to do the job of a carpenter’s hammer will probably damage your project, and using a ball-peen hammer for carpentry will probably damage your hammer. You will also find it cumbersome, at best, to use a jeweller’s hammer in place of a whisk when mixing pancakes, and you will find it impossible to log onto the Internet with one. It’s also possible to go through your entire life and never have to personally use any hammer at all and be completely fine, because other tools are better suited not only to your purposes, but your skills — but you probably live in a house or apartment that was built by people who used hammers and loads of other tools you may know nothing about. On the other hand, you may also go through your life never having had to employ the use of a stick-blender, either on your own or through another person — you just have no desire to drink a smoothie, or you can clearly see that the barrista making yours is using a pitcher-style blender.

Magic is kind of like that; it would be impossible for most people to say 100% conclusively that magics have had absolutely no effect on their lives, but it can be far easier to answer whether or not we’ve personally employed it, either ourselves or through one we know to be proficient in it. It’s also a tool, based on its nature, that most people who employ it should probably go through one who is learned in using it — it can be more jack-hammer than carpenter’s hammer. You may also find it best to never once employ another for it, and that’s fine, too.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to condemn those who for themselves believe it would be unethical to employ magics; after all, there are some people who get through life just fine without employing any religious beliefs, and I don’t condemn them, but I do think those condemning all employment of magics, even by people they clearly have nothing to do with, should shut the fuck up. While I understand the desire to distance one’s own religious practises from Popular Wicca, really now, there’s a point where I think some people are just too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. After all, the pentagram has roots with Pythagoreans, and I find it a little childish the way some modern Hellenists will run screaming from one simply because it’s been adopted by Wiccans — after all, Pythagoreans, arguably, have far more right to it than Wiccans. And while on the topic of Pythagoras, it seems quite obvious that many ancient Hellenes believed Pythagoras capable of fantastic magical feats, and that this does not seem too clearly discouraged by the man himself — I’m not saying anything more than this fact is, well, intriguing, and that it also wears away at the potential assumption that all philosophical schools may outright condemn magics.

I also have no problem with modern groups that have decided that a defining point of their group will be either an apparent rejection of spellwork (as seems to be the case with YSEE, but obviously is not the case with every Hellene in Hellas), or simply defines it as something irrelevant to the group (as with Hellenion, which I’m obviously a member of). Groups should be free to define themselves as their members see fit, obviously. No, my issue is with those who seek to ignore the facts of ancient Hellas when its convenient for them to do so, and when those people seek to denounce those today who don’t fit into their own fabricated ideal. Remember, I’m one who has naught interest in spellcraft and whose only arguably “magical” practises pretty much begin and end with divination, which even some “fundies” claim to have no problem with. Hellas never existed as a monoculture, and it’s intellectually dishonest to extol the merits of a reconstructed path while blatantly ignoring the wealth of ancient practises, much less denouncing certain practises as somehow “invalid” and unworthy of modern practise because they simply exist outside of one’s own invented ideal.

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About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Before I went to bed last night….

I tend to turn on music (radio, CD, mp3 player) before I go to bed. Either I or my mother has done this for as long as I can remember. Last night (or, more accurately, yesterday at 5am or something), I started to go to bed and turned on the radio — then this neat, albeit creepy little song came on:


…and for the duration, until it slipped into Geneva Jacuzzi, I was taken out of my room, all other sensations were relieved of me but Eros’s touch, hands, breath, all possible sights set to focus on His familiar face, hair, wings….

After it finished, I got up to find out what it was (bless you WCBN) and then this led me to their MySpace. That song has since ear-wormed me for a significant portion of the last twenty-four.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.