A story about the power of sacrifice

So, Wyrd Ways Radio just cut off for the fortnight, and there was a special treat on tonight’s show, if you missed it, live: I called in! I called in at about quarter before the end (in part cos i decided to take a day off from volunteering at WCBN, mainly from being tired, and I was sorting buttons, which, by the way, you should buy some from the Religion & Magic section, so i can buy a link on The Wild Hunt).

One of the things that Sannion and Galina brought up this fortnight was how secularised Protestantism has lousied up so much of Pagan culture, and that people will often (and I’ve seen many say as much, as well) practically wince at the idea of actually sacrificing to the gods in their personal practises. I called in to relate a story that my friend Jeff at PJ’s Used Records shared with me and one of the other customers this last Monday:

When Alexander was a child learning from the tutor at the palace, at one moment, he was being taught the proper method of sacrifice to the gods. His teacher showed several other boys, with Alexander at the end of the line (with the intent that Alexander would learn from the mistakes of others). The tutor and all other boys took a pinch of frankincense, a pinch of myrrh, and a pinch of storax, and sprinkled each into the sacrificial fire. When Alexander came up, he took huge handfuls of the frankincense, myrrh, and storax. The teacher was horrified, but held his tongue, but apparently still showed on his face.

Many years later, after several conquests, Alexander sent to that teacher huge cartfulls of frankincense, myrrh, and storax, and a note about how giving freely to the gods will mean the gods will freely give back.

This isn’t exactly as i gave it on Wyrd Ways, and it’s not exactly as Jeff gave it to me, but the important parts are all there and the lesson stays the same: When we give, not what seems appropriate to our sensibilities, but what we genuinely can, and give that freely and without reservation, the gods will give back.

The distinctly modern notion that ritual sacrifices are somehow “wasteful” is, indeed, a scurge on the pagan community and one of the distinctions I point to between the differences between the pagan and polytheist communities. While true that we carry with us a lot more cultural baggage into the religions we’ve converted to than we may realise, it’s only by shedding certain things, one at a time, that we truly open up our lives to the gods we honour.

One cannot be stingy with the gods. It’s not about giving beyond our means, it’s about giving freely of what we can; if all we can give at a time is a tablespoon or two of water, cos we’re just that impoverished, then we should give that, and give it freely. No-one has ever said that we should bankrupt ourselves for the gods in hopes of a greater return, but if we have it in our budgets to give more, then we should give proportionately to what we have, and give it freely.

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.

Reasons that Recon/Traditional/Cultural Polytheists Should Look to Hinduism for Inspiration and Influence

1) Hinduism is diverse, with dozens, if not hundreds of sects, cult centres, philosophical schools, and so on, and yet all are Hindu, in their own way. Until about sixy years ago, at the very least, “Hinduism” was more often described as “Hinduisms”, as a plural, because ultimately, the only thing uniting most Hindus is a shared pantheon of deities and, to a lesser extent, some shared narrative mythology. Most sects have a minimum base of shared practises (but I’m only saying “most” based on my knowledge, which is naturally more limited than someone who not only practises it, but is well-informed on the practises of all other sects.) Some sects and schools are as different from each other as the Christian sects (with the Catholic opulence and the plain clothed Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses who abstain even the most basic celebrations as “pagan” in nature).

In evolutionary biology, species that are described as “generalists” are at a statistically higher rate of survival than species described as “specialists”. Religions work in kind of the same way: While the Nicean council and crusades were somewhat successful, for a relatively brief period, in wiping out all dissenters and heretics, this was doomed to ultimately fail. Human beings are kind of an “ultimate generalist”, as a species; there is very little we won’t eat (all things considered), and somewhat less that we simply cannot eat (though as more studies of industrialised food happen, it seems that list is slowly growing), we’ve found a way to survive in all manner of environment, even in pre-industrial cultures, and we may be closer than ever before to being able to terraform places like the Moon and the planet Mars. Humans, by default, crave diversity, and this includes religion; there will never be a “one-size-fits all” religion, which is exactly why Dominionist sects of Christianity are not only politically dangerous, but also, ultimately, doomed to failure as long as we can keep those in those sects out of power.

While there are certainly definable elements in Hinduism, that family of religious practises and philosophical schools is impeccably diverse within those defining elements, more so than most other religious groupings1, and this is certainly one of the ways in which it endures. What Celtic. Germanic, Roman, Hellenic, and other polytheist reconstructions can take from this fact of Hinduism, is that the former “Hinduisms” is more accurate. When we look to ancient polytheisms that have sufficient surviving records of their practises by the people who practised them, we see this diversity mirrored –there were dozens of competing philosophical schools in Hellas, Rome had all manner of fringe cults to even her own gods, and the Egyptians had a degree of diversity in religion, as well. Considering that the Germanic and Celtic tribes were more loosely organised than even the Hellenic tribes (even though, contrary to popular Romantic misconceptions, there were even cities founded by the Celtoi and Norse), it makes sense that there would be just as much diversity as what the Hellenes had, if not moreso. To therefore preach a “one true [tribal] polytheism” is to display a fundamental misunderstanding of how polytheism naturally works and evolves, especially as there is a living example of this in Hinduism. This said, is anything or everything Hinduism? Of course not, there are still definitions of what is and is not Hinduism, what is and is not devout practise within that broad definition, and so on; the point is that the definition is broad, not narrow.

2) Many Hindus can get along just fine, in spite of theological differences, because it’s not about belief, it’s about practise. Yeah, some pagans like to gloss over some of the less savory parts of Hindu history that make it clear that different sects haven’t always peacefully co-existed, and I’ve seen some commenters on TWH seem completely ignorant of the bloody history between Hindus and Muslims on the subcontinent (and then some other people completely ignore the fact that, much of what Hinduism looks like today is a direct result of British colonialism, and thus they blame Hinduism itself on some of the injustices in modern India, rather than British colonialism and its Christian influence —but that’s another story for another time), but many Hindus are still perfectly willing to put aside *some* differences, as long as all parties involved are still otherwise compatible in worship.

When looking to surviving texts on ancient Mediterranean religions, we see some of this mirrored —it is not a faux-pas for, say, a Makedonian to enter a Eleusinian temple as long as the former takes care to observe proper etiquette, especially for Eleusis’ famous mysteries —similarly, I’ve known Shiavite converts to go to Hare Krishna temples because in that religious culture, it’s OK, unlike how in Christianity, it’s expected that Catholics will go to Catholic churches and only Catholic churches, and Methodists will only attend Methodist churches, and so on, and many sects and individual churches are still apprehensive about performing weddings between two Christians of different sect —I recall even, once, an episode of Cheers where a minor character had a bit of a crisis because she and her fiancee were two different variants of Lutheran. This is largely because Christianity is a religion of beliefs whereas traditional polytheisms are religions of practises. All you need to be Christian is belief that Jesus was “the only begotten son” of the God of Abraham, and hold at least much of the second half of The Holy Bible as a sacred mythos. There are some rituals in Christianity, sure, but the more “modern” the sect of Christianity is, the less important those are, and sometimes they’re even discouraged —many Quaker divisions barely have an organised clergy, and Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls characteristically lack any sort of religious iconography— because what ultimately defines Christianity and its sects is what one believes.

What defines polytheism by the dictionary is belief, sure, but in traditional polytheism, belief alone is not religion —in traditional polytheism, there have rarely (if ever) been even words for “religion” in the ancient mindset, because religion itself is indistinguishable from “a way of life”. In Hinduism, you can believe in multiple deities with Hindu names all you like, but if you want to be part of that religious community, that simply isn’t enough. There is no real central authority, true, but there is an established culture of practises, even for converts, that makes you a Hindu, not just your beliefs. Likewise, the Hellenic, Heathen, Celtic, Roman, Canaanite, Kemetic, etc…, polytheist communities should accept as a given that people in those communities are going to believe in the Deities of those cultures, and even if certain individuals can justify a more pan- or panentheistic interpretation of their own personal belief in the gods, that’s ultimately less important than what one does, and how that belief is reflected in how one lives one’s life. From things as basic (and near-universal) as food offerings (even if it’s literally just a tablespoon of Frankenberry, or a fraction of a teaspoon of water, because you are just that impoverished) to stuff as complex and specialised as how one approaches medical care (I would somehow find a way raise the money to move across the world if there was a Hellenic equivalent of Ayurvedic medicine that came back into practise), these are ways that can, indeed, measure the degree of one’s devotion beyond merely believing.

3: There are formalities and expectations for converts before they can be taken seriously as a Hindu. I know a lot of people, Americans, especially, really wince at the idea of formalised religion –especially when American Eclectic Paganism is often very true to stereotype of caring more about what the individual wants to make time for than being a part of something bigger than the individual.

Now, formalised rituals are probably best left to groups that are essentially forming sects, but the notion that anyone coming to these revived religions ought to actually do things and not just believe in gods, that they should make some tangible lifestyle changes and not just re-frame their everyday activities as “an act of devotion” are not ideas that should be shied away from. While these religions are generally not truly unbroken traditions (at least considering the evidence, regardless of what a scant few people may insist on without evidence), unlike Hinduism, that doesn’t mean that an expectation for co-religionists to have a baseline of shared practises is somehow unreasonable. If Catholics and Hindus, Shintos and Santeria practitioners, each have a baseline of shared practise in each religion, it’s not unreasonable for a Hellenist to go to another Hellenist’s house and observe some not-insignificant degree of shared practises. Or Kemetics, or Heathens, or Gaels, or Gauls, and so on.

Are there less-than-devout Hindus who don’t carefully observe every practise in the same way that there are Catholics who’ve never had a household shrine and barely make it to mass outside of Christmas and Easter services? Well, it seems logical, so I imagine so, but at the same time, these are people who would hardly consider themselves to be “devout”, because that implies doing something more than they do. It may seem unfair, but converts to Hinduism (or even Catholicism) are generally expected to at least a little more devout than average –otherwise, what are you doing here, as they say. So when a religion is largely (almosg entirely) composed of converts, it doesn’t look right when someone claims to be “devout”, but in practice shows greater devotion to Doctor Who than to their gods, to say the very least. Hindus likely wouldn’t take such people seriously, so why should revived/reconstructed polytheisms?

1: For the purposes of this piece, a “religious grouping” necessarily shares a pantheon and some overlap of narrative mythology. Therefor, “Abrahamic” is a religious grouping that includes three different religious groupings, in and of themselves, but “pagan” is not a proper religious grouping, but a sort of socio-political umbrella under which many religious groupings have room.

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.

All the good stuff happens when I’m busy….

I had a hectic weekend bumpered with medical testing, and largely preoccupied with the fact that I found a new blogfeed reader that I like and have been importing my feeds from the WordPress.com Reader that I had been using since Google Reader got discontinued (the WP.com reader always seemed to have loading problems, likely related to the fact that I had so many blogs in feed) and discontinuing emails for the wordpress-based blogs I read, cos I was so behind on some blogs that I was just deleting all those emails, anyway. Things were not made any better by the fact that I had new allergy tests on Monday, and in preparation for that, I had to go off all my antihistamines (and I take them in not just a pill, but also a nasal spray and eyedrops, and I should probably just give up and get myself a Michael Jackson face shield, already, cos this neighbourhood is on developed swampland and where I was once fine in Ann Arbor, things have just gotten progressively worse here –hence the new round of allergy tests), and was rendered little more than a big ball of snot for the last week.

So, as I was getting caught up on things on the blogs I read (and not necessarily in order, cos fuck you, that’s why), I happened to learn that there’s apparently going to be a gathering! A Panhellenic gathering! If you’re one of the two Hellenists left on the Internet who hasn’t read about this yet, here are the relevant posts:

A Call to All Hellenists
Hellenic Revival Festival
Hellenic Revival Festival Responses
A Heartfelt Efharisto to All
Tentative Update on Festival…
Festival Dates

Obviously this brings a few things to my mind, and in order of appearance and importance, they are:

I really want to go.

No shit, eh? Unfortunately, I have no money, and will likely be asking for the community to help pitch in for my fare and lodging. Despite the fact that I seem to be making a habit of it, I really do hate asking for money. I do intend to put off asking for as long as I reasonably can, if only to try and save up the money on my own, but that brings me to my next thought, which is pertinent to this particularity of how long i can put off begging:

I really want to be in the program.

I know, big surprise, eh? The Leo who regards Narkissos as heros on the shrine of Eros wants to be in the program. That said, I’m still not sure what all I’d do besides maybe set up a card table for coffee readings. Eros ritual? Maybe a presentation on the history of tasseomancy in ancient Hellas? An introduction to Hedonism? Cram in all the research and give a lecture on Adonis in the cult of Apollon? Put together a performance piece?

You know, I kind of like that last idea a real lot –but it only makes me ask myself more questions. An ancient piece, or write something new? A one-act play, one man show, singing, drag? Maybe I could just cover myself in slices of bologna, like I did that one time at the Ann Arbor Art Fair? (No, Ruadán, that was a stupid idea then, and it’s even stupider now.)

The only difference between my current state and having no ideas at all is that at least I have ideas, but I have no idea which one sounds like something I’d rather do more than the rest. This is the primary reason I get so little accomplished –loads of ideas, no idea where to start, and I’ve given myself mild panic-attacks trying to decide which idea(s) to start with. (Stop being a downer, Ruadhán.)

So, needless to say, some input would be nice. So far, I have a slight favour for performance, but the question is still “of what?” If there were more local people around me who were Hellenists, I could try to get a collaborative performance going, cos I do so prefer working with other people, but I dunno, looks like I’m going to have to do this alone.

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.

It’s about fucking time

Sorry to interrupt the regularly scheduled Bolanalia merriment, but even though it’s still in the “hopeful’ stages, this is such good news to me that I had to share:

Greece moves to ban far-right Golden Dawn party

Government to table emergency legislation after murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas at ultra-nationalist rally

The Greek government has hinted that it will seek to ban Golden Dawn after the far-right party was linked to the murder of a leading leftwing musician in Athens.

As violence erupted on the streets and demonstrators protested after the fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas, a prominent anti-fascist, the public order minister, Nikos Dendias, cancelled a trip abroad saying the government would table emergency legislation that would seek to outlaw the group.

Amid renewed political tensions between the extreme left and right, the new law would re-evaluate what constituted a criminal gang, he said.

“Neither the state will tolerate, nor society accept, acts and practices that undermine the legal system,” the minister told reporters, adding that the attack showed “in the clearest way the [party’s] intentions”.

Earlier in the day, police raided Golden Dawn offices across the country, with media reporting running street battles outside branches in Crete, Thessaloniki and Patras.

Voted into the Greek parliament for the first time last June, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn has been widely accused of employing violence to further its ratings in the polls.

The socialist Pasok party, the junior member of Antonis Samaras’s two-party coalition, has campaigned openly for it to be banned, saying it should be considered a criminal gang.

The 34-year-old rapper died within minutes of being stabbed in the chest when he and a group of seven friends were set upon by around 30 black-clad supporters of Golden Dawn in the working-class district of Keratsini.

Eyewitnesses said the singer was stabbed several times by a man who suddenly appeared in a car after being phoned by members of the mob. The attack bore all the hallmarks of a premeditated assault, they said.

The alleged perpetrator, a 45-year-old man who was arrested when police rushed to the scene, later confessed to being a member of Golden Dawn. His wife, who was also detained, admitted having attempted to hide incriminating evidence, including party credentials linking her husband to the extremist organisation, when he called her, panic stricken, after the murder. Greek media cited police as saying the man was not only a sympathiser of Golden Dawn but visited its offices in Keratsini “five or six times” a week.

With parties across Greece’s entire political spectrum condemning the killing, the far-right group vehemently denied it had any connection with the crime or the alleged culprit. In a rare intervention, the president, Karolos Papoulias, warned: “It is our duty not to allow any space whatsoever to fascism – not even an inch.”

Fyssas, who performed under the stage name Killah P, would be the first Greek to have died at the hands of Golden Dawn, which until recently reserved its venom exclusively for migrants. Within hours of his death sending shockwaves through Greek society, the killing was being described as an “assassination.”

The article continues, but I really everything goes through to recognise those xenophobic Nazi THUGS as the “criminal gang” they’re more akin to than a legitimate political party.

And really, OF COURSE Golden Dawn is going to deny any connections whatsoever to the assassin —since 1946, Nazis tend not to admit that they’re, you know, Nazis. Racists tend to couch their racism in “I’m not a racist but…” soundbites than name themselves as racists –hell, even the KKK, in recent years, tends to deny that they’re a racist organisation but claims to merely be “sticking up for their own”.

I shall pray to Nemesis for Divine retribution against the fascist assassin. I shall pray to Athene and Zeus and Astraea and the Praxidikae for justice. I shall pray to Zeus Xenios that those who believe they are honouring the deathless Theoi, as individuals or organisations, yet behave in manners that reject the stranger-friendship that is the virtue of xenia Zeus stands for by affiliating with or even supporting Golden Dawn and similar groups in and outside of Hellas are made to either change their hearts and minds or have justice delivered swiftly upon them.

The fact that there are Hellenists who are affiliated with and support the filth that is Hellas’ Golden Dawn is a blight and a shame, and Americans Hellenists, content with their relative removal from the situation in Hellas and only barely more than paying lip-service to the notion of “engaging the culture” when it’s cute to do so (going to a Mediterranean restaurant after your monthly Hellenion libations? That is NOT engaging the culture), and so ignore this elephant in the room ought to be ashamed of themselves. If you don’t care about this issue, you are a hypocrite before the altars of Zeus who doesn’t care about the virtue of xenia –it’s really that simple.

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.

[review] The Urban Primitive by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein

urban-primitive-kaldera-schwartzsteinTitle: The Urban Primitive: Paganism in the Concrete Jungle

Authorship: Raven Kaldera & Tanin Schwartzstein
Publisher: Llewellyn International
Year Published: 2002, First Edition
ISBN: 0738702595

I first want to say that I scrapped my first draft of this review because, as odd as this may sound, I thought it was unintentionally mean, well beyond anything this book, which is full of problems, deserves. I also got really self-conscious that some might interpret it as a personal attack against one of its authors, Raven Kaldera, who I honestly want to like (he’s one of the few people amongst the FTM spectrum on FetLife who is seriously realistic about TS/TG issues, even if some of the things he’s written for the public about the TS/TG community and his own transition may seem problematic, especially out of context or if one is making a habit of projecting), and so I really wanted to like one of the few books published (only three, ever, that I’m aware of) about urban pagan and polytheist spirituality —as odd as I find it that some-one who proudly runs a rural homestead would get involved in a book about urban spirituality, I was optimistic, at first, and still believe that even the most awful parts were included with the best intentions.

Tanin Schwartzstein’s introduction is wonderful and very welcoming to those whose spirituality is urban-centred —dare I say, I even saw bits of my own experiences in the recollection and lamentation of a pagan community that dismisses the city as “cold” and spiritually “dead”, especially as one whose experiences are of anything but. I’m also convinced that she’s responsible for some of the best parts of the book that follows (though I assign equal blame for the worst parts, cos if either of them knew better, one of them should have caught it and revised).

I love that this book is written for those with limited income in mind, and offers detailed suggestions on the arts of dumpster diving, thrift store combing, and frugal resources that are not only kind to one’s wallet, but also the environment. There are several helpful lists in this book for herbs, incenses, stones, even colours, and their uses in different purposes. One of the best parts is even an entire chapter dedicated to common plants found in most cities in North America, and their purposes and meanings. Another list is even specifically for suggestions on budget-minded substitutions for scented oils, and suggestions on budget-conscious or scavenged items to use in rituals, like a piece of broken glass for rituals that need a blade and you don’t have a blade, or using stumps of candles rather than tea lights in travel kits for altars or shrines. Let me tell you, after years of looking through “pagan 101” books in the mid-1990s that made it seem like one needs a middle-class income to even start out as a Pop Wicca nub, it’s refreshing to see that, barely more than a year into the Twenty-First Century, there was finally a book that made it indisputably clear that ritual tools could be scavenged or otherwise obtained with little or no expense, and one needn’t be financially comfortable to practise pagan religions —sure, nothing beats what the ritual recommends, nobody is arguing that, but if you think burning herbs is “too expensive”, it’s really only cos you don’t know enough about where you live, and this book offers an adequate primer for that knowledge.

It’s also nice that this book is written for not just those who thrive in cities, but for those who live in the city out of necessity. I may not personally understand the appeal of rural life, but I understand the necessity on a fundamental level, and I at least understand that, for some reason barbaros to myself, there are those who prefer a pastoral lifestyle and may only be living in the city’s walls for the work, or school, or family obligations, so adequate coping mechanisms seem like a fair inclusion.

On the other hand, most of the lists are too similar to other lists I’ve seen in “Pop Wicca 101” sorts of books. While it’s nice that Kaldera has added bits to this book to make it seem useful to those whose spirituality is rural-centred but who live in urban lands due to necessity, a lot of this really does come off as a bias, making urban spirituality seem dangerous to the soul, and the city an inferior place to live; it’s really hard to get through a chapter without somehow getting a potentially subtle or downright blatant guilt-trip for living in the city, or some kind of nonsense “warning” about dangers only vaguely alluded to, with practically nothing to back up most claims about the alleged physical risks (aside from crime rates, which is easily searchable on-line) and some of the more obvious pollution risks, and let me tell you, not even the developed countryside is without its pollution and risks to the environment —do a search on The Dust Bowl, kids, it wasn’t a gridiron game, and over eighty years later, it’s still affecting the central United States. While the introduction is wonderful, even describing experiences similar to my own, the book that follows it flip-flops between celebrating the Urban Divine and blaming all cities everywhere for everything wrong with the world.

This book also suffers from its constant use of vague claims, and almost never giving much, if anything, in the way of specifics to make for ease of fact-checking. The index is present, but not quite as comprehensive as I usually hope for a book of this length, and a proper bibliography of sources is practically nonexistent, so aside from the rare mention of other books and references in the text, there’s no real way to check whatever sources may have been utilised. Sorry, kids, but a “Recommended Reading” list (largely of books from the same publisher —curious, non?) is not the same as a Bibliography. Some quotes also seem like they might have been taken from an e-mail list or Usenet group or something, something I’ve discerned from the fact that the quoted person is unsearchable in a pagan context, and there’s a mention of an Internet group in the book acknowledgements, so confirming the backgrounds of the people quoted isn’t easy, sometimes even impossible —sometimes, that’s important, but to be fair, gven the context of many quotes in the book that fall in this potential category, it’s really not necessary. When it is necessary, on the other hand it’s something that really bothers me, and appears to be a trait of Llewellyn books that seems far too common, contributing to the negative reputation of the publisher amongst religious reconstructionists and academic pagans. And speaking of, I had hoped, knowing Kaldera’s background and that he’s also collaborated with Kenaz Filan, who I completely respect, that this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but I guess that’s what I get for hoping. That said, one of the best and most quoted people in the book is credited as “Beth Harper, Nashville witch”; I was incredibly disappointed to find her practically impossible to find on the Internet.

And this book makes a lot of really dumb factual errors that could have been avoided with a modicum of research. The one that really stands out for me, to the point that it just seems like a prime example of “making shit up in hopes of sounding smart” is conflating the Horai (Goddesses of time and seasons) and the Khorea (or “Hora”; a group of traditional circular dances from the Mediterranean and Near East) and attempting to link both to “sacred [prostitution]” (they use the word “harlots”), and explaining that it’s an etymology of “whore” and thus strip tease and erotic dance, as a profession, is directly descended from goddess worship (Chapter 5, page 50). Trying to decide where to begin on how much is wrong with that little “etymology lesson” kind of gives me a headache, because there is just so much wrong with it. Just to give you a taste of how wrong that claim is, there is no clear or even muddy etymological link between the Horai, or even Khorea, and “whore” —the word “whore” is descended from the Old Norse hora, meaning “adulteress”; considering that Kaldera is best known amongst pagan circles for his “Northern tradition”, I’m just floored at the fact that his understanding of his traditions’ languages is so sparse that he either didn’t catch that preposterous fallacy or, may the gods forbid, he desired to include it.

Of course, whether some Hellenists utilising religious reconstruction care to admit it or not, not only was there magic practised in ancient Hellas, but a lot of the “spells” and other rituals mentioned in this book bare a similarity to ancient Hellenic practises that are somehow “not magic” by the circular logic employed by some Hellenic circles, and can be easily adjusted to fit the standard ritual script of Hellenic practise. In the chapter on Protection Spells, the recommendation of drawing eyes, with oil, on windows and over the threshold of doors, even on the stairs, is not a far cry from the ancient Greeks putting apotropaic eyes on drinking vessels and heads of Gorgons at the threshold, this is just a modern, and argueably stealth adaptation of an ancient practise. Granted, you really need a good background in Hellenic practises to catch that sort of thing, but if this is your first time hearing of such a thing, don’t take my word for it, go check out apotropaic eyes in ancient Greece, and it’s clear that this simple little protection ritual is adaptable to Hellenic practises.

One of the complaints about this book that I see a lot from people on Amazon is the “Urban Triple Deities”. Now, obviously, I don’t acknowledge these “deities” in my practise, and I am sort of sceptical that something so basic as what’s described here is even a whole deity, and honestly, I really hate the illustrations for these six epithets, but who’s to say that these aspects don’t exist in existing deities? Knowing that Kaldera is a polytheist, I’m sure there’s intention that these simplistic figures can be aspects of existing deities, and knowing that Schwartzstein describes her religion on Teh FarceBorg as simply “pagan spiritualist”, there’s room to regard these as complete deities, if one so chooses. I can easily see traits of Hestia in Squat, “goddess of Parking Spaces”, whether it be your car or your bed, Skor, the scavenger goddess, strikes me as an epithet of Demetre or possible Tykhe, and Skram, Who warns you away from potential dangers, is a clear face of Hekate; Slick, the silver-tongued, works as an aspect of Hermes (something the book even suggests), Screw seems a simplistic, Neizchean aspect of Dionysos, and Sarge seems a sort of superficial Zeus or perhaps Ares. I also don’t see how most of these aspects of deity are specifically urban; having gone to high school in a rural area, I can assure you, rural people are no stranger to needing spaces, needing motivation, an anonymous lay, being in danger (I’m sure “Skram” might’ve been just as useful in Laramie, Wyoming, which has a smaller population than Adrian, MI, the latter being indisputably rural), or even scavenging (hello? gleaning, anybody?), but if this is a device that can open some-one’s eyes to these aspects and relevance to the city, then awesome.

In the previous chapter, though, ancient deities are addressed. Again, I have mixed feelings about this. I understand the space constraints the authors were working with, and to their credit, they acknowledged that the deities mentioned were described in overly simplistic manners and further research is best. On the other hand, there is no shortage of statements made that even a casual, but genuine relationship with a deity could easily prove false. I’m sick of people assuming Apollon only digs classical music, and saying “[He’s] not interested in rock or rap or hip hop … [play] classical music, or He’ll frown” just after suggesting propitiating Him in a record store (Chapter 5, page 49), is more than a bit contradictory —seriously, people, if He’s the God of music, why limit music for Him to a single genre? In my experiences, Apollon really loves Nick Cave. I doubt that Thoth is simply “the Egyptian god of writing” (in fact, Wikipedia suggests I’m right about that). Zeus and Odin? Not the same deity. I really have to argue against the notion that Athene is the primary Hellenic goddess associated with science museums —not only is the name of the Moisai in the word “museum”, Ourania is specifically associated with astronomy, and Kleio’s domain of “history” can logically extend to natural history and evolutionary sciences. Saturn has nothing to do with “karma”, and I had to raise an eyebrow at the suggested association with the IRS —at the very least, an explanation of the logic employed would have been nifty.

One of the other problems with this book is the regular language that seems awfully Americentric, as if the whole world of Llewellyn Worldwide begins and ends with the United States. Not only is this book available at regionally domestic pricing in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, my own copy came from a UK seller via eBay (but it’s also a US copy), and Schwartzstein’s FaceBook profile states that it’s been translated into Russian. I wonder how well the suggestion that those who live along “the West Coast” fault line should worship Poseidon as a bringer of earthquakes translates to readers from Moscow? Or in Australia, where it’s the North Coast that gets more earthquakes?

Why can't we see his hands?  Gods above, why can't we see Morrissey's hands??

Why can’t we see his hands? Gods above, why can’t we see Morrissey’s hands??

What’s so wrong with simply saying “anyone in a city near a fault line should supplicate Poseidon”, especially considering that those along the North American West Coast tend to get a higher ratio of reminders of their fault line than most other people? Why force the rest of the Worldwide readers to have to mentally adjust what they’re reading? In the immortal words of a Double-Double fucker named Steve1, “America is not the world”.

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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.

New Addition to the Map!

View Worldwide Map of Hellenic Polytheists, Syncretists, Reconstructionists, and Pagans in a larger map

Crossposted to Hellenistai Project! Eventually, I’m going to stop posting these updates here, and only there, so be sure to add the feed to your reader!

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.

Oh wow…. I had no idea.

People have actually been using the calendar? I got, like, three incoming hits from that old archival thread in the last two days. I feel totally awful about failing to update the calendar for 2012. I won’t let that happen again, since, I guess now I know people are actually using it.

I’m also really impressed that people caught why I added the 5th day of the lunar month to honour the Moisai. 🙂 It just made sense, you know?

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 Map

View Worldwide Map of Hellenic Polytheists, Syncretists, Reconstructionists, and Pagans in a larger map

I just now added to it.

Time to touch myself clean!

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 Feast of Eros is NOT St. Valentine’s Day!

While I acknowledge that people are going to do what they’re going to do anyway, and there’s little I can do to stop them from doing whatever goofy shit they want to do, no matter how wrong it is, I still feel the need to speak up on occasion when something that people are doing has no historical validity — if they still choose to Do Hellenismos Wrong(!), then who am I to stand in their way? Regardless of what one chooses after learning better, I know I’ve said my piece, and that’s good enough for me.

First off:

What is St. Valentine’s Day?

Most people in this day and age, even the good Catholics amongst them, drop the “Saint” prefix nowadays. The Catholic Encyclopaedia mentions three saints under the name Valentine, and Wikipedia notes as many as fourteen(!!!), but traditionally, two are most accepted to be the St. Valentine honoured on 14 February; Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. In 1969, St. Valentine’s Day was removed from the Catholic lexicon of holy feasts on the grounds that almost nothing is known of any of the Sts. Valentine, other than names, and (in at least two cases) where they were buried. Still, other Christian calendars honour St. Valentine’s Day, including the Church of England, and plenty of Catholics do still have a religious celebration of the various legends of St. Valentine —and aunt of mine one gave me a gorgeous ornate greeting card from a Catholic bookstore that re-told one of these legends, of how Valentinus of Rome was sentenced to execution for attempting directly to convert the Emperor Claudius II, and just as he was being taken out by the executioner, his jailer’s blind daughter regained her sight after Valentinus taught her about Jesus. From there, she fell in love with Valentinus, now dead (ew), and honoured his death by planting a tree of almond blossoms.

Regardless, the St. Valentine’s Day endorsed by the manufacturers of sweeties, greeting cards, and sellers of amputated plant genitalia bares little resemblance to a the more subdued event traditionally endorsed by churches.

What Happened?

Prior to Geoffery Chaucer, in Parlement of Foules, there was no widespread association between the feast of any Saint and romantic love —or so sayeth the overwhelming amount of leaders in relevant fields. There is, though, reason to associate mid-February’s Christian Saints’ Day with ancient pre-Christian festivals of the Mediterranean:

As per the Attic calendar, the month of Gamelion corresponds with a span of roughly mid-January to mid-February of the Gregorian calendar, and Gamelion is when the wedding of Zeus and Hera is celebrated annually. The corresponding Boeotian month of Hermaios hosts the Daidala festival, which is essentially identical to Gamelia, in intent and mythos; the Daidala festival for this year happens to fall on 19 February.

Then there’s the Roman Lupercalia, a festival that spans 13-15 February, and is a fertility festival to honour the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus.

Obviously, fertility symbols mingled, symbols of love mingled, and after Chaucer’s mention of love-birds (For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate,) things just seemed to stick.

What is the Feast of Eros?

While little is known concretely of the Feast of Eros, one this is: It is a springtime occasion. Looking far back enough on HMEPA will confirm that this has consistently been a celebration consistently held after the vernal equinox. Not in February or an equivalent month, not any time in winter.

Eros position in the Hellenic pantheon as a fertility deity certainly means it will share some symbolism with Lupercalia; His associations with romantic love will share some symbols with Daidala; modern celebrants of St. Valentine’s Day certainly have no issue of using “His” image (or rather, that of Cupid; often assumed to be a Roman equivalent, but I have my own opinion on that), even if there is never any intent to honour Him in name.

This does not make ANY of those holidays at all equivalent with the Feast of Eros.

The fact that the Feast of Eros is a springtime festival probably places it more in line to have syncretic imagery with Easter than to be celebrated as a swap for Valentine’s Day. The date is something rather important here; it signifies the Feast of Eros as one of renewal, youth, beauty, re-birth….

…not to say the winter landscape lacks beauty, and certainly some plants actually need that period of frost to properly germinate, but as a trickster, Eros is a deity who’s in that in-between —like an Equinox— and rather blunt. There’s certainly a beauty to winter, but it’s the beauty of Nyx, His Mother, the beauty unseen by the average person, a short-reigning beauty that will bow out gracefully when it is time for the dazzling Eros to come forth.

So, what say ye, Ruadhán?

This said, I see nothing inherently wrong with honouring Eros on 14 February, as His secular guise is certainly everywhere on that day, and His work certainly afoot. But is it the Feast of Eros? History tells me no. Basic logic tells me no. Most importantly: My instincts tell me no.

There are all sorts of reasons to celebrate different deities, and some have several days in a year to do so, even by ancient calendars. If going by Hesiod, then the fourth of every lunar month is sacred to Eros (in addition to Aphrodite, Hermes, and Herakles), so clearly one can celebrate a deity more than once a year. But certain holidays have certain meanings, and the meanings for St. Valentine’s Day don’t line up with what is known of the Feast of Eros in date, nor in symbolism of their respective dates in particular, so clearly there is little, and that’s assuming there is any logical reason to syncretise the two holidays.

Again, I acknowledge that people are going to do what they wish, regardless of what things actually mean and what nonsense what they’re doing makes, but if anybody wants my opinion on it, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend syncretising St. Valentine’s Day with the Feast of Eros. They are two completely different holidays, set at two completely different dates, and thus two two completely different sets of symbolism.

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.

Being “Out” Is Not a Privilege

So, there was this interesting post on the Patheos Pagan Portal asking people to ponder some things, and generally pointing out that there are still relatively a lot of pagans and polytheists who aren’t “out” about their religion to friends and family. That post sparked another post by an on-line friend, and of course, people had to comment. And I commented too, and I’ll basically say a lot of the same stuff here, but in part so that I can have a handy reference point for later — cos I’m anal like that.

First off, I want to make it quite clear that I don’t ultimately fault people who aren’t “out” about their paganness (or queerness, but that’s not what I’m discussing here) because of situations where one may be at a very great risk of losing their job, their home, custody of their children, or a healthy relationship with family members they still want to maintain a healthy, active, and generally friendly relationship with, for whatever reason — no, I don’t blame the pagans/polytheists in those situations because it’s not the pagans who created the very real situations they face. Those situations were created by the society that ultimately favours Christianity, by zealous Christians who’ve made those people’s situations so precarious, and by a judicial system that has a history of only paying lip-service to “separation of church and state” while ultimately favouring Christianity by a very wide margin. I do not blame the many pagans and polytheists who face those situations and are thus reluctant to “come out” — I may not completely understand, and some of those reasons why I will explain in a mo’, but I don’t blame (BIG difference).

That said, there are still many pagans and polytheists who are “out” as such, and doing pretty OK in spite of that. Still, I’d say only maybe a handful of these “out” pagans and polytheists, at best, are rendered “safe” due to relative pre-existing socio-political privilege — most who are “out” about their religions are living below an annual household income of US$35K, many are in poverty, and many are queer. The least-represented out pagans and polytheists in pagan media are non-white, but this does not stop many such pagans from being active in the pagan community on-line and off. Furthermore, in a society that favours people with high-paying jobs, families (including children of one’s own), and lots of friends, ANY pagan or polytheist who “comes out”, just like any GBLT person who does so, even in 2011, is putting themself at risk of losing all of that in addition to facing other discriminations one is not necessarily protected from, in spite of the United $tates and other countries protecting “freedom of religion”.

Outing oneself is not an act of privilege — it is an act of defiance. The primary reason to remain closeted is to protect what relative amount of privilege one may have by doing so: One will save their job, retain custody of children, preserve ties to a family whose love is apparently only conditional, and one absolutely will not put themselves, their family, or their property at risk of death threats, violence, or destruction.

…and yet there are still at least a handful of pagans and polytheists who will kvetsch and whinge about us “privileged” people who have some great luxury by being “out” about our religion. They poo-poo the out and proud and in-your-face about how love for one’s family is about sacrifice and doing things outside of one’s ordinary routine — and apparently they’re the only members of their own family who believe this, because they’re the only ones hiding, sometimes even lying “for love”. In a society that clearly favours those with families, remaining closeted is clearly an act of maintaining the airs of privilege to protect status. If the love of one’s family is so conditional as to be withheld over a difference of religion, I have to admit that while I don’t fault some-one for caving in to the charade, I don’t see the appeal.

In my own life, I’ve always had this aura of “weird kid” that everybody could see. Even when I spend a year and some absolutely going out of my way to look “normal”, I was never treated that way, and eventually just gave up and went back to what I’d been doing before — it’s not only familiar, but it felt true (the fact that it gave everybody else a more obviously weird kid to point at was merely a side-effect). My family was dirt-poor working class, I’m effete and gay, of TS history, five feet tall in a society that favours tall men, fat in a society that favours thin people, an artist of my own design, completely cut off from my family (and not completely by choice, but ultimately for personal survival), I have both visible and invisible disabilities as defined for the purposes of collecting allowance, and (the least of my worries) am possessing of a fashion sense that has been variously described as “vintage”, “art rock”, “gothic”, “classic glam”, “vaguely punk”, and so on. At some point, it just made more sense to be “out” about having an “alternative religion”, as well, cos really now, when I’ve already got that much against me, what’s one more thing? It’s not like suddenly the crazy Jesus-freaks at the bus stop will be all “but at least you’re Christian, right?” Not likely; not likely at all. I’m already far enough down on most people’s ladders that maintaining airs of “possibly at least Christian, for whatever that’s worth” really won’t amount to a hill of beans. A literal hill of beans might actually have a higher socio-political status than I do.

“Privilege” is playing no part in my decision to be “out” as a polytheist — no, more my lack of privilege. I figure the only way I could have less privilege is to be a Native American trans woman and asexual lesbian (or at least be Black or Latino1).

In the grand scheme of things, there are very few pagans and polytheists who can actually make significant money off of writing, even popular pagan authors often struggle to make a regular income off of writing, and writing alone is seldom their only source of income. Most pagan bloggers I’ve come across are pretty open about struggling to make ends meet, and a disproportionately high number of pagan bloggers (when compared to general statistics) also are openly GBLT. Just looking at these facts alone, I’m already seeing a reduction in relative privilege, so how being out about being part of a disfavoured religion is somehow “a privilege” just boggles my mind.

In the GBLT communities, “coming out” has never been an act of privilege; it has always been an act of defiance. While many people have always maintained many reasons, but founded and unfounded, for remaining closeted, and those with integrity fault the society that makes closeting oneself favourable to living out, the act of coming out itself is not a privilege.

With living out, there are always risks. Those risks are kind of proof that this is not a privileged act, for if it was so, there WOULDN’T be any risk, and everybody would be out! While it’s argueably a “privilege” to live in a city with considerably lesser apparent risk than a tiny, closed-minded town, there is still a risk, still the potential that one’s safety will be endangered simply for living their life openly and honestly, and the fact that that risk exists at all should put to rest any assumptions that coming out is a “privilege”. Hell, simply by being out, certain doors become instantly closed, and will stay that way, without a struggle.

My heart goes out to those who’ve weighed their situations against coming out, and chose the security of a closet; hopefully, we’ll see a reduction in this in our lifetimes, and you wonderful people won’t have to live in fear forever. I put the blame for your situation on the bigots who created it — which is where it belongs.

1: As an aside, when I lived in Los Angeles, I used to get asked pretty often if I was Latino cos of my naturally dark hair for being as pale as I am and in spite of possessing the surname “McElroy”. This is where I came into familiarity with the reclaimed slur of “green bean”, which amuses me — in part cos I first heard it from one-one who’s father was second-generation Mexicano and mother was from Cork (and who she fluent in Mexican dialect Spanish, and with her Irish accent intact). Also, it just now occurred to me that I never had a good come-back then, but I do now. So, to the question of “Are you / is your family Latin?” which is usually how it was phrased, I now say “Not since Boudicca burned Londinium.”

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.