Friday, February 29, 2008

Seeds of Change, Seeds of the Future

For those interested, a Global Seed Bank has been opened:

New York Times article here.

The article talks about how farms now often grow only one or two crops, and because they are genetically manipulated, they are more susceptible to disease and such. Apparently there's been a large problem with wheat this year, and think of the problems that could cause, long term. No bread. No pasta. No dough. So many of the things we take for granted, that we eat every day, are based on wheat!

One of the things that Farnham and I try to do each year, is grow seeds that are "heritage seeds." This means they've been around for at least a hundred years or so. They are the seeds your grandmother, or great-grandmother used in her garden. These seeds are harder and harder to come by, and growing them can be a real hassle. They aren't resistant to weeds. They aren't resistant to disease. They aren't impregnated with the stuff that fights off bugs. It's "just them."

But ... the flavor! Have you ever bitten into one of the "funny shaped" expensive tomatoes that you get at farmer's markets in the summer? Those are real tomatoes. They have not been bred to ship well, to hold up to stacking or packing. They haven't had all the nutrients and flavor removed from them in order to make them look nicer and pile up well at the grocery store.

The same goes for most of our groceries. Zuchinni, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, even things like beets and radishes, all taste better when we use those older seeds. Why? Because they grew that way on their own. They were chosen by the pioneers, by our ancestors, for their flavor, for their color, but not for their ability to travel well from California to NYC.

It takes time. You have to weed them. You have to be out there, every day, picking through, making sure the slugs and bugs don't get them. Sometimes you have to protect them from rain that is too heavy, or from winds that would rip their blossoms away. But it isn't any more work than our ancestors did, in their fields. And it's worth it, believe me. The first time you bite into a home grown mix of zuchinni and tomato, with some of your own home-made cheese on top, you'll never go back to store bought again.

Making the effort to grow these dying breeds of plants means other things, too. Once I had enjoyed the flavors offered by heritage seeds, I found that the store bought ones were awful. They were tasteless! So... we learned preservation techniques. We do canning, the same as granny used to do (although we use modern canning techniques to ensure fresheness and good seals). We learned how to dry beans, and preserve seeds for next year's crop.

How important is it to save those seeds? Vastly. Last year, three varieties of vegetables that Farnham and I have grown for years, were suddenly unavailable. Their seed stores failed. Those breeds are gone, unless someone like us has managed to save them. We didn't save those seeds. That means we can't grow those breeds again.

Change is in the air. This Global Seed Bank is a great idea. It preserves our future!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Delphic Maxims #7

Worship the Gods (Θεους σεβου)

Self evident, right? Not really. Know any people who go to big festivals but don't bother to actually go to any rituals? People who mouth platitudes about the Gods but assume they don't need worship? Perhaps people who don't actually believe in the Gods as powerful beings, but more as archetypes and nothing more? I have met and know all these types. Sometimes they just want to be around other people, and don't fit well with the mainstream crowd. The "pagan groups" call to them, with their open acceptance of different clothing and interests. Others are just confused, and it's hard to understand why they are around at all.

Worshipping the Gods is something that is both learned and intuitive. Some of us learned to worship at our mother's knee. Perhaps we were brought to church, or synagogue, or even to pagan Circles, while growing up. We absorbed information by watching and asking questions. Others of us learned nothing as children, and are making up for lost time, now, as adults. We learn by reading, by watching our peers, and by doing.

The intuitive part comes in when we experience something spiritual. It might be a feeling, or a happiness with something we read in a book, or a connection to a scene in a movie. It might even, if we're lucky, be direct contact of some sort, with a God. The more direct connection is called Personal Gnosis, a personal knowledge from a God. Gnosis, however, is not necessary for worship. It simply helps us refine it in ways that are pleasing to the particular God we are in the process of worshipping.

There are many written accounts of historical worship. We have information in the Classical literature of the era: the Illiad, the Odessy, The Golden Ass, and many hundreds of others. While they are difficult to read, for some, they provide first-hand information that is a primary source for scholars. The details of ritual are the same or similar throughout, and include such things as purifying the ritual space, usually with water and/or barley; the giving of sacrifices to the Gods, of food or animals; the offering of wine to the Gods; singing praises to various Gods in various orders; and many other minutae. For the large majority of pagans who feel no special call to a particular God, these practices are historical, and well developed. They offer the basis of a very satisfying worship service.

For those who do experience Personal Gnosis in some form, things can occasionally get complicated. We're told to offer non-historical sacrifices, such as chocolate to Aphrodite, or iron filings to Ares. They aren't things that our ancestors would have done, but they certainly make sense when taken in context. When one or two people experience something, such as a sacrifice of chocolate for Aphrodite, it is considered Unverified Personal Gnosis. This is not to say that it's wrong; however, it does not necessarily become something practiced by an entire community, just because one person got a yen to give Hot Tamales as an offering to Hera! When 30 or 40 people all get the same yen, however, or something so similar as to make no difference, it moves into the realm of Verified Personal Gnosis - knowledge which, through large numbers of people, should be disseminated to the rest of the community. Not everyone will adopt the new practice, but it now has a precedence. The same may be held true for anything which, after research or archeological finds, turns out to have historical reasoning.

So what is the RIGHT way to worship the Gods? I believe the answer is, there isn't any true RIGHT way to do so. There are many wrong ways, certainly. Anything which is done to glorify the Gods, honestly and piously, without the need for ego boosting, is right enough for one person, or for a small group. Large group worship should follow a more standard, less specific and more generic bent, because those attending larger rituals will have a wider variety of beliefs. In a group like Neos Alexandria, which incorporates so many beliefs (just as the original Alexandria did), you might have people who worship Zeus next to people who worship Jesus next to people who worship Demeter next to people who worship Isis next to people who worship Herne. A ritual that is negative toward any one of those deities, or the people who worship those deities, would be a bad thing. That needs to be taken into account.

The Greeks had a very wide variety of ritual forms to chose from. What we see most, though, is that the average person in city or country, would call upon or thank the Gods on a fairly regular basis. At special moments (births, deaths, appointments to high positions, regaining of health after illness, etc.), something more ceremonial was done, but on a day to day basis, ritual was short, sweet, and practical. They knew, as we sometimes forget, that it has to be simple to be sustainable, and so they kept it that way.

The best way for us to keep our devotions and worship of the Gods regular, is to keep it simple. The simpler, the better, in fact. Big rituals are fun, and great for groups or for special occasions, but for regularity, short and easy will win every time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Delphic Maxims #6

Let not your tongue outrun your thought (Γλωτταν ισχε)

There are many Maxims dealing with talking and silence, and the appropriate times to utilize them. This one seems to be the broadest, and the most applicable to our own generation of people. It is timeless, really, and exists outside of any particular culture. It applies equally to everyone.

I talk a lot. Anyone who knows me personally, knows just how true that statement really is. I talk almost non-stop. About half the time, my active brain keeps ahead of my tongue, but often enough, the mouth gets ahead. When that happens, I'm in trouble. Things come out of the mouth that I probably would not say in a better moment.

When I stop to think before I talk, I rarely make errors in what I am saying. It's the moments when I snap out a quick retort, or verbally strike back at someone for something I have heard them say, that I run into problems. I suspect it's the same for most people. The thing which gets us in trouble is not the talking itself, but the timing of the talking.

We need to take a pause in our verbal patter. By stopping to breathe, to concentrate and think on what we want to communicate, we present ourselves and our ideas better. Gray often talks about communication having four parts: What I say; what you hear; what you say; what I hear. There's a fifth part, too: what other people hear. All four parts must occur for communication to have taken place. Otherwise, it's just words, flogging the air.

An example may help.

What I say: You never take me out to dinner!
What Gray hears: You're cheap and don't spend enough on me, and so you must think I'm like your ex-wife.
What Gray says: I do take you out to dinner. We had Taco Bell just last week.
What I hear: I don't really want to go out to a real dinner, so I'm going to keep putting things off by going to fast food drive-throughs, thereby always having an excuse.

What neither of us hears is me, saying that it isn't really the dinner that I want, but his time and his love. The idea of going out to dinner is simply an excuse, which is why Taco Bell sounds so offensive. At the end of this, if we aren't aware of what the other person has "heard" from us, we can easily walk away ticked off and annoyed. The phrase, "You just don't understand me!" comes to mind.

Now think of this, using good communication:

What I say: You never take me out to dinner!
What Gray hears: You're cheap and don't spend enough on me, and so you must think I'm like your ex-wife.
What Gray says: I'm hearing you say that I never take you out to dinner, but I remember us going to Taco Bell last week. I'm also getting the impression that you would like me to take you somewhere expensive...
What I say: Huh? Taco Bell isn't dinner, that's just food in the car. What I really want is to spend some time with you, where I don't have to worry about dishes or kids. I need to cuddle and to talk. I like going to Enotria's because the servers are prompt but don't bug you, and the tables are far apart so we can talk and not worry about what others might hear.
What Gray hears: I want to spend time with you and I don't want it to include kids. I need girly stuff. I want to go to Enotrias not because it is expensive but because it has privacy.
What Gray says: Ah, I didn't realize that. I don't have money for Enotria's right now, but if it's privacy you want, perhaps we could ask sis and Farnham to take the kids out to the farm on Saturday, and stay home alone all day together? We can order in something not quite as expensive, and still have time alone.
What I hear: I really love you and I'm trying to find a compromise I can live with.
What I say: You're amazing, and that sounds great!

By using the phrase, "What I'm hearing..." from time to time (not every sentence, but when you're truly unsure) actually allows the person talking to find out just how well they're communicating an idea. If you continually give each other feedback, you allow your partner(s) the opportunity to re-phrase what they've said, to get across the RIGHT information, instead of just what you THINK they are trying to say.

What does all this have to do with a Maxim written in Greece some couple of thousand years ago? I suspect that men and women (and men and men, and women and women) have had these communication problems at least that long, and likely much longer. The author of our Maxim is exhorting people to work at communication, rather than letting communication run away with you. Think first, THEN talk. That's universal!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Philadelphia Museum of Art

I spent this weekend in Philly again, having fun while Farnham took his GMAT instruction course. On Saturday, he dropped me at the campus bookstore again, where I took advantage of the research books to write more of my book. I also pumped out a couple of pieces of poetry, which I'm proud of. At noon, I went and got checked into the hotel on Farnham's lunch hour, then wandered the streets of Philly for a while. I found an incredible vegetarian Oriental restaurant merely yards from our hotel, and I ate there. Wow... I was so impressed! I had saitan with sesame, steamed brocolli, and whole wheat brown rice. It was incredible.

Saturday evening, we met up with Farnham's son and his girlfriend, wife, and two grandkids, and went for Mexican food at a little hole in the wall. Very delicious, and the burritos were stacked. After that, we split up, the rest of the family going home while he and I went back to our hotel room. He did his homework, and I caught up on email, and then we settled down for a good sleep.

In the morning, we enjoyed Starbucks for breakfast before he dropped me at the Reading Market. That place is sinfully wonderful. I wandered the streets of Chinatown until the Market opened (I had arrived at 8:30am, and the Market opens at 9am on Sundays), staring greedily in the windows of the Oriental stores. I managed to get a fresh baked, still steaming lotus bun for a snack, and I ate it with great relish.

Back at the market, I looked around to see if there was somewhere to purchase either a large backpack or one of those little shopping carts on two wheels. Nada. I asked, and one of the vendors suggested K-mart up the street. I decided I'd wander the Market a bit, first. After all, maybe I wouldn't need a cart!

The first place I went was the meat section. I managed to purchase 3 lbs of meatball mix (veal, beef and pork in an even mix), 3 lbs of ground turkey, a 5 lb beef roast, 3 lbs of oxtails, and 5 lbs of sausage. Hm... So I lifted the bags, and realized, "Hey, I'm now lugging around 19 lbs of stuff, and the day has only just started!" Ugh. Off to K-mart to buy a cart.

That was an adventure and a half, but worked out well, and I got my cart. I loaded my meat into it, and cheerfully wandered back toward the market, through Chinatown. I shopped. I bought a LOT of Japanese style dumplings, fish balls, shrimp balls, and other yumminess. I even found a huge bottle (about 8 oz) of Madras Curry (that's the good stuff, for those who may not know) for only $2.89!

Just as I was heading back toward the Market, I went down a little side street, and ran into... a dragon! I had forgotten it was Chinese New Year, and Philly's Chinatown puts on a great show. They had 3 regular sized dragon dancers, and then 3 more that were miniature - they had the kids just learning the dance dressed up in them, and they did such a great job! There were firecrackers all over, and Chinese mythological figures wandering by, and a few VERY good Kyoto drummers accompanying it all. It was riotous good fun, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Back at the Market, I picked up more food, and lunch for me and Farnham. He picked me up soon after that, and ate his Greek gyro while I was loading the huge cart full of groceries into the trunk of the car. Then we drove at break-neck speed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I was dropped off so that I could see the Frida Kahlo exhibit.

The lines were long. There were about 10,000 people there. People were pushy and rude, loud and obnoxious. I never noticed any of it, once I got into the exhibit. Kahlo's pictures were up on the walls, so close you could see the brush strokes in many instances. The colors popped off the canvas. The images were intense, sometimes painful. The audio tour explained many details in the voices of people who had known and loved Kahlo.

Beyond her paintings, they had also put her snapshots on display. I do not mean pictures taken under special lighting for magazines or books. These were scores and scores of snapshots, taken with family cameras, of Frida with Diego, with her father, her sister, her family and friends, and her pets. There were pictures of her in traction, after a particularily nasty spinal surgery in America. There were shots of her in a pile of laughing, unidentified people, giggling hysterically. There were pictures of her in dresses, in her father's suit, in American style clothing... Those snapshots were such a peek into her private life. There was even one picture she had had taken of herself when she was pregnant with Diego's child (the late miscarriage of that child almost took her life, too). Incredible.

There were so many wonderful things, there. I have photos to share with those who want to see:

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Delphic Maxims #5

Be Yourself (Σαυτον ισθι)

This one is giving me grief. On all of the lists with the Greek lettering, it is rendered "Be yourself." Then on the sites that talk about "the three Maxims," it's translated as "Know yourself." Those are two vastly different statements. Wow. If there's a native speaker of the Greek language reading, can you translate? LOL...

Be yourself

As strange as it might seem, this is not easy. Who am I, that I can be myself? I can name my labels: mother, mei mei, aunt, slut, crone, priestess, minister, slave, lover, writer, chief cook and bottle washer, nanny... the list goes on, and on. But I am not any one of those labels, and I am not all of those labels together. They are just labels, words used to describe something I have done. They do not actually describe ME. I'm not sure I *can* label myself, and if I cannot label myself, I cannot define myself. If I cannot define myself, can I BE myself? I'm not sure.

To me, being myself means that I am acting in a way that is true to my nature at that moment. I do not pretend to like someone I dislike. I do not act happy when I am sad, or vice versa. I may subsume my emotions for a purpose (for instance, breaking down in the middle of a funeral when I am the minister is not a good thing) but I do not suppress them or deny them.

My ultimate moment of being myself was also the most painful moment of my entire life. And though the thought of that moment still makes me cry, on occasion, I am also proud that I stuck to my guns, that I did not give in to expedience. I could have taken the "easy" road, but I would have had to leave my self-respect behind. I simply could not do that.

Know thyself.

This is entirely different from being yourself. I could almost say that being yourself is easier than knowing yourself. How often have we buried a thought about ourselves? Have you ever pretended to not remember doing something that you have a clear memory of, because it was embarassing or upsetting? Knowing yourself means being aware of all the positives things about yourself, and all the negative things, too.

The defining moment of knowing yourself, is looking into the mirror. Look yourself in the eye, and see who looks back. When you come to know that person who meets your gaze, however strongly or weakly, then you will know yourself. It is time well spent, because the better you understand your own soul, the faster you can adapt to new situations, and improve your life.

Areas of our lives that we refuse to look at, the black holes of pain or anguish or anger, are the places that most need to be reflected in that self-mirror. We need to come face to face with our inner self, and be able to shake hands and offer friendship and love. This might take time, and will take great effort on our own part. There will be painful soul searching, and a long, arid period that is reminiscent of a desert. Yet we do have the power to surmount the obstacle.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

Tonight, there will be a full lunar eclipse. It starts at around 8:45pm EST, and will be completely dark around 75 minutes later, approximately 10:05pm EST. Then by midnight, things should return to normal. The eclipse is the last of its kind until the year 2010, so enjoy it!

A lunar eclipse is caused by the Earth's shadow being cast onto the face of the full moon. When in full eclipse, we're supposed to still be able to see the moon, but it will appear to be dark red in color. This is because the Earth's atmosphere causes light from the sun to bend around the planet, casting some of the light from Earth's sunrises and sunsets onto the moon. If there's been a recent volcanic eruption, the eclipse could even look blood red, however that is unlikely this year.

I plan to go out and watch from time to time. It's too cold and snowing to stay out the whole 2 hours, but I do want to see it. I'll go out and pour my ancestor offerings into the garden, and watch as our large, white moon disappears behind its red veil.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Feelings of rightness and oddity

It's Anthesteria, according to the Neokoroi and Bibliotheca Alexandrina calendars, and so I am celebrating right now. It's a three day festival dedicated to Dionysos, and so I wanted very much to be a part of it. On top of all that, today is Dionysos' Day, when I clean his altar and make a special offering to him.

The first day of Anthesteria is when the Greeks would open the jars of wine from the previous year. It was an exciting time, and children were given the first taste of the wine as it opened. The second day was almost like the Wiccan Samhain... the veil between the dead and the living was considered to be lifted, and those who had passed into Hades' realm would walk again amongst the living. Bowls of honeyed milk and other offerings were left out, to convince the dead not to play tricks or be malicious. On the third day of Anthesteria, the Greeks would celebrate by hanging ribbons and cups, and dolls, in trees. Young girls would also swing, in honor of Erigone, who loved Dionysos very much, and died of that love.

The three days are considered a time for drinking and searching for Dionysos through sacred madness. I'm not in a position to get stinking drunk (day OR night), but I've had a bit of watered wine each night. Last night, I wrote the poem (see yesterday's entry) for Anthesteria. I also put out a glass of warm honeyed wine to appease the wandering dead. I stayed at home last night, after I returned from yoga, and cuddled up quietly. I said prayers for my beloved dead, too. Tonight, after Spinn class, I will enjoy a glass of wine and a snack, and I will relax in front of the tv.

I have been enjoying this holiday, however I also am struggling with the symbolism. I have followed the Wiccan calendar for so long, that the time for the dead to visit us comes at Samhain and no other time. It makes little sense to me for it to happen now. My mind registers it as being odd, and out of synch. Yet, this is still a good holiday. It is right, and right for me in particular. It's interesting, this blend of rightness and oddity.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Anthesteria Celebrations

I have struggled all day to write a single piece of poetry... only to realize that this is probably not a great time to write for or about Hecate. It's the middle of Anthesteria, a large celebration dedicated to Dionysus. So now I feel somewhat sheepish, and I plan to change my attentions to Dionysus instead. So...

The Joyous Anthesteria

Dionysus, Lord of the Grape and Vine
You twine into my very soul
We taste the Anthesteria wine
And moderate madness is my goal.
Madness, your gift, it makes us whole.
The first day, we drink and make cheer
But second day brings death's toll
And those who once were loved, we fear.
The veil is rent, dead ones are near.
By day three, we hang from trees
For Erigone, the Lord's love dear
Ribbons, cups, dolls swing in the breeze.
Serious, yes, Dionysus can be
Yet understanding he brings, for we.

Allyson Szabo, Anthesteria 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

Myopic perspectives

I am not typing much, today, as I can't really see the screen all that well, and trying to is giving me a headache. I went today for my eye exam, and they had a real problem getting my prescription right. I'm so myopic and have such a tendancy to see in double, that they couldn't find the right prism to make me see straight. So I have to go back again on the 21st, to have yet another exam. With luck, I'll get my prescription then, and be able to order new glasses. Such is life.

Perhaps being able to see only far off will give me a new perspective on things!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Delphic Maxims - #4

Yes, I AM enjoying this. I'd love commentary, though...

If you are a stranger act like one (Ξepsilon;νος ων ισθι)

My understanding of the nature of the Greeks is fairly rudimentary. I have read a few books, delved into some works on Dionysos, enjoyed the mythology, and adapted the stories for Wiccan rituals. The idea of the stranger is a very important one in Greek culture, though, and I have read of it several times.

The Greeks referred to people either as "friends," "enemies," or "strangers." There wasn't anything else, as far as they were concerned. A friend you trusted, an enemy you didn't, and a stranger straggled toward the "enemy" side but wasn't quite there yet. Strangers were treated with cautious courtesy, and the rules of the host were only hesitantly extended.

The Greek, upon approaching people he did not know, would be warily friendly. He was a stranger. He would not presume to act like a close friend. Even if he knew a mutual friend, that did not give him the rights of a true friend. If he accepted hospitality from someone, he might still remain a stranger, but he knew he was safe.

In today's world, especially within the neo-pagan groups, there doesn't appear to be anything approaching a "stranger." I have gone to pagan coffee meets and events, to be greeted heartily with a cry of, "Sister!" and an arm clasp that would be inappropriate for anything other than the closest of friends. It bothers me. I am not the sister of every neo-pagan in the world. When I am a stranger, I act like one - polite, somewhat removed, not assuming anything. To be yanked without thought into the center of things, that way, is unappetizing!

The reverse is also true. I have held classes and workshops in the past, where people I had never met before walked up to me and took my hand, interrupted class, spoke to me as if they had known me for decades, and generally were overly familiar. This is not polite. This is not correct. I, like the Greeks, need time to evaluate someone and decide if they are a friend or an enemy. That is not something I can do with a handshake.

Why do people seem to think they can push their way into friendships? At one time, I thought this was a wholly modern phenomenon, but if you consider the maxim, you realize that this has been a problem from time immemorial. Even the hesitant Greeks had to verbalize the idea that one should not push into a new place.

People who do that, who make assumptions of friendship before the hand of friendship is offered, strike me as oily. They make me think of car salesmen, wanting something from me, quickly, before I can think it through. This is not something I consider politically correct, but it is what kids are taught now, at school and at home. Push your way in, make yourself known, and make yourself important, so you don't become disposable. It's a shame... There is nothing wrong with being a stranger (or even an enemy, really). It is a position that you will hold many times in life. Learning to go from "stranger" to "friend" is a slow process, and it should not be rushed.

This maxim seems wise and thought provoking, to me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Delphic Maxims - #3

I write about something, today, because I have been thinking about it. For this reason, today's Maxim is:

Crown your ancestors (Προγονους στεφανου).

This holds a certain level of importance, for me, because I am in the process of creating an ancestor shrine. I have a smallish box that I am lining with green felt, in which will hang three pictures. The three people that will be within the shrine, will be my Aunt Agnes, my good friend Eric, and my grandfather, Alexander Davidson.

I think it is important to give honor to (or to 'crown') your ancestors. They are people who gave to us, when they were alive. They gave enough that, after their deaths, they have continued to be of great importance to us. By crowning them, by lifting them up, we are showing them that we keep their memories alive. We also show ourselves that we are caring people.

In my ancestor shrine, will be the three photographs. Below each photo, I will put items that are associated with my family. For my Aunt Agnes, I have a "breast cancer survivor" bracelet with one of the pink ribbon charms on it. As she suffered from breast cancer, and later it was cancer that claimed her life, this speaks to me. Agnes was a wonderful woman, and as a young girl, I often imagined that she was my natural mother, and that she'd had to give me up, and one day she would reclaim me. It was to her that I turned when I had female questions, when I purchased my first bra, when I started the birth control pill.

For my grandfather, I will be putting something Scottish. He was very proud of his heritage, and moved to Canada as an adult, bringing his family and his culture with him. I grew up with his thick brogue in my ear, and his large hands hugging me tight. He wasn't an emotionally demonstrative man, but I never doubted his strong love for me.

Eric is not a blood relative, but he was vastly important to me. He was a lover, a friend, a confidant... He was someone I could talk to, and let off steam to. Even long after we ceased to be physically close, we retained a friendship that was wonderful. He was in the prime of his life, finally succeeding wildly after a lifetime of failures, when he was taken from us with a stroke. One day he was his jovial, mercurial self, and the next day, he had keeled over and ended up in hospital. By the time I found out he was in hospital, he was long dead. He is the first person of my generation who has died, and it was very difficult for me to take. The fact that he died 2 days before Samhain made it all the worse. I tried to say goodbye to him, but I couldn't. It took a full year for me to be able to do that. For Eric, I will be finding a small cat image, after his own cat, whom he loved and doted after.

This shrine will have a candle on top, and a small offering bowl. I plan on talking to my ancestors about once a week. I already talk to Eric regularly, because we have always done so, and after I got over my grief, I didn't see any reason to stop. I still turn to my grandfather for advice, and to my Aunt for love. These three people are a part of my life, and always will be.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An announcement

From Thista Minai, of the Neokoroi:

Friends, colleagues, and fellow Pagans,

I am pleased to announce the publication of my first book: Dancing in Moonlight: Understanding Artemis Through Celebration. In this book readers will discover six modern festivals celebrating the ancient Greek Goddess Artemis and two joint festivals celebrating Artemis and Her twin brother, Apollo. Many (but not all) of these festivals are adapted from ancient Greek festivals,and all these modern celebrations are made uniquely applicable to the modern day. Dancing in Moonlight discusses what one might get out of participating in each of these festivals, and describes how to create your own celebration uniquely customized for you or your group.

Dancing in Moonlight should be available through Amazon.com and other retailers in a few weeks, but you can get your copy now by going here: http://www.lulu.com/content/1568962

My thanks go out to the folks at Asphodel Press for all their help and for putting up with my new author neuroses; to Neokoroi for all their support and wonderful feedback; to Lori for the cover art; to my test readers for their insightful commentary; to everyone who has ever attended a Cataleos festival; and, of course to Artemis.

I hope you enjoy Dancing in Moonlight and find something positive to take from reading it.

~ Thista Minai ~

Monday, February 11, 2008

Delphic Maxims - #2

I'm not writing about these in any particular order. Today's Maxim is:

Think as a mortal (Φρονει θνητα).

This one caught my eye this morning. It stands out, being somewhat different from the others, although it certainly belongs. If the writer is exhorting us to, "Think as a mortal," that implies that we might think otherwise, that we might see ourselves or think as IMmortal.

The Maxim tells us not to elevate ourselves to the status of the Gods. We have the spark of the Divine within us, yes, but we ourselves are not Divine. We are the children of the Gods, as it were, and adopted ones at that. No immortal blood runs through our veins. We are simply mortals, with all the foibles and emotions there attached.

When we label others as wrong, or criticize others for their beliefs, we are thinking as immortals. We are allowing ourselves to think along the lines of the Gods themselves. Certainly there are times when someone is wrong: 2 + 2 does not equal 5, no matter how you manipulate the numbers. However, when dealing with spiritual matters, issues that do not have hard facts to back them, we must be more circumspect.

It is one thing to say, "I disagree with So and So about the Gods. I think X, Y, and Z." That is a statement of opinion, human and very mortal opinion. We are entitled to our opinions! It is entirely different, however, to make the statement, "So and So is drowning in hubris because they don't believe X, Y, and Z." That is thinking as the Gods do, and that is not for us to do. We are not the Gods, and it is not our job to label someone's thinking (or actions!) as hubris. That is between the person and their God(s).

The very act of labelling another person as suffering from hubris, is hubris itself. Overweaning pride and arrogance is thinking like the immortals we claim to worship. This is something that the Maxims, and many of the myths, warn us is incorrect thinking. How many people, in legends and myth, are harmed because of their own presumptions? I am reminded of the myth of King Midas, and his hubris, thinking he knows more than Dionysus.

Should you see someone that you feel is acting as though trapped by hubris, the correct action would be to lead by example. If they ask your opinion, you are free to give it. That is a mortal asking the opinion of another mortal, and that's acceptable. However, if your advice is not solicited, beware falling into the trap of thinking like the immortals. It is not your job to inform others where they are wrong.

All that said, there are times when our brains simply take over. We're human, and we have failings. If I catch myself criticizing another person, or accusing them of hubris, or telling them they are wrong without good, HARD facts to back up my claims, I need to step down. I need not apologize for my opinion - that is mine, given by the Gods. I do, however, need to correct my thinking. I need to remind myself that I am not the Gods, and that I should not be stepping blithely into their territory.

I must ask anyone who feels they must meddle in the affairs of others, why do you think the Gods have appointed you to be the judge of others? What special trait do you have, that the Gods have asked you to intervene in their worshipper's lives? Do you believe that you can do something that the Gods cannot?

I ask myself these questions, too. I am not God, either. Each day, I learn more, and become a better priestess, both to my Gods, and to those who chose me as their leader. That is the point, isn't it?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Delphic Maxims - #1

There are, according to http://www.flyallnight.com/khaire/DelphicMaxims/maxims.htm, 147 Delphic Maxims. As an exercise in brainwork, I think I will begin to discuss one or two a day.

The first Delphic Maxim at that list, is:


Follow God (Επου θεω)

What does it mean to follow God? In particular, when one believes in several Gods, does it have special meaning to follow God, as opposed to following THE Gods, or some gods? Are the English translators using the masculine to include the feminine and plural, as often happens in English? What is the purpose of following God?

In the text I'm currently reading, on ancient Greek religion, the professor states that when a Greek worshipped at a particular altar, he worshipped that God alone. At that moment, before that altar, only one God existed. This might seem a bit odd, to those who have not experienced it, but it does seem to hold true in modern times, at least partially.

When I kneel before Hecate, or before Dionysus, the one I kneel to is GOD (and "kneel" is being used in a religious sense here... one might be standing in prayer, in a yoga posture, or dancing; the position doesn't matter and the Gods, to my knowledge, do not demand homage on bended knee). It isn't that the other God or Gods cease to exist entirely, but that I need not pay the least bit attention to them at that moment.

For instance, on the dark of the moon, the last day of the Hellenic month, I offer worship to Hecate. On that day, I don't give honors to Dionysus. I don't offer him wine. I don't say a prayer to him. I don't sing his praises. That day is hers. I speak words for her ears, and present gifts for her temple space, or in her name. What I do, I do for Hecate alone. Dionysus is not neglected; he gets his time on his day, some 16 or so days later. Some days include worship of both, and occasionally of others, but their special festivals and days are theirs alone.

You might think of it as being similar to driving a car. If you want to drive correctly, you should not be talking on the phone or fiddling with your onboard computer. Doing such inappropriate actions could lead to an accident. Driving should be a singular task. It doesn't mean that your phone or onboard computer cease to exist, however it does mean that they won't get attention or recognition from you until the time is right.

Worship can be like that, for some. For others, it isn't, though, and I don't think that's wrong. There are many people who worship a pantheon, a few gods, or one or two specific ones. Some have personal gnosis telling them what to do and how, and others work purely from available records of what was done in Greece thousands of years ago. As I've mentioned before, my personal belief is that we (we plural, the Hellenic communities at large) need to have many types of worship. That is what happened in Greece, and it made their religious community strong and varied. If our communities can respect and embrace that idea, I think that we, too, will be strong and balanced.

To bring this back to the topic, the Delphic Maxim tells us to, "Follow God." I follow God as much as I can, although I fall down sometimes. I'm human, and there are times when I am angry or frustrated at inappropriate times. That separates me from God. To follow God, I must be "god minded," or in less religious words, I need to be mindful.

Being mindful is something I am working on, daily. I think it's something that everyone needs to work on, actually, whether they are religious or spiritual or not. It takes effort, though. But is it not worthwhile to follow God, to be mindful of the good things in life?

Does following God mean that we can never be upset? Not at all. We are human, and we make mistakes, and we get frustrated and upset. The idea is to get yourself back on track as quickly as possible, and without riling yourself up farther. Going from being frustrated because some jackass cut you off on the highway, to being frustrated with yourself for being frustrated with the jackass, is not an improvement. You need to gently redirect your attention and allow yourself to move forward seamlessly.

When we follow God, things in our life will tend to go smoothly. This is not the same as having everything going WELL. People will still die, accidents will still happen, and storms will still take out your television at the crucial moment of the football game of the century. The change is not external, but internal! When you follow God, you know that the problem is transitory, and that you can move beyond it. You can embrace your emotions, and then move on to the next thing on your schedule. You won't get bogged down in being angry about a single thing for an extended period.

Yoga and Spiritual Ramblings on Gnosis

Yoga is not just a physical exercise; it is a spiritual exercise, as well. I am finding that when I practice in a group, it's mostly just physical, but when I practice alone, it has a very deep spiritual flow to it. I am enjoying my private practice at home, to the point that I am doing at least some yoga at home each day. I generally try to end the day with a Salute to the Sun, as I find it relaxes me for bed.

I have been reading more and more about yoga, in an attempt to better understand the reasoning behind the various moves. I found out, for instance, that one should not attempt "inverted postures" while menstruating. They don't explain why, although it does seem relatively straightforward - the idea of yoga is to cleanse outward, not draw inward. The more I learn, the more I want to make this a part of my daily worship, despite it being a Middle Eastern practice more than a Greek one. I figure any action which brings me to the altar in a relaxed, focused way is probably a good one.

I was directed recently to the journal of someone who is complaining about "personal gnosis." Apparently, the "real" Greeks don't experience personal gnosis, and therefore, the rest of us should stop being so egotistical and claiming that we're special. Reading the commentary, I felt so ... sad. Hecate called me long ago, and Dionysus more recently, and those are very special relationships, for me. It doesn't make me more special than anyone else, nor more skilled (at all LOL), but to me, those relationships are very important. I guess I feel sorry for those who don't experience that closeness.

Part of what I see, when I read the Greek texts (the Oddessey, the Illiad, etc.), is that closeness with the Gods. The people felt that the Gods walked among them, talked to them, accepted their worship in a very personal fashion. They did not appear to be removed from their Gods. That is not what the aforementioned journaller sees, though. That person feels that we shouldn't have a kind of "special" relationship with our Gods, perhaps because it's too reminiscent of Christianity. I don't understand this, though, because the Christianity I've come to know over the years does not encourage a personal relationship with God. You aren't supposed to talk to God - you're supposed to bow down and let the priest do his duty.

The journaller says that having a special relationship with the Gods, a personal gnosis, means we are setting ourselves up to be intermediaries between others and the Gods. I find this horribly confusing! From where I'm sitting, encouraging personal gnosis *removes* the need for an intermediary. After all, if Hecate or Dionysus, or Aphrodite or Zeus communicates directly with you, why would you need a priest? The only reason the Greeks had them was to oversee larger sacrifices, and to clean and maintain the temples, and since we don't have large sacrifices or temples to maintain, we have no need of priests of that sort.

Yet each of us, in a way, is priest of ourselves. We care for our own temples, our own sacrifices. We may or may not worship with others, and share in the duties of leading, providing food and wine, candles and other implements for worship. Some of us choose to belong to non-physical temples, such as the Celtic "Temple of Brigidh," who keep Brigidh's eternal flame lit in concert, over the world, each woman taking over at the appointed hour wherever she happens to be. We might choose to worship online, with cyberfriends. There are so many ways to do all these things. Without personal gnosis, these things would never have come about.

The black and white view of the world is not, in my opinion, a useful one. To say that personal gnosis is useless, or to say it is the only thing worth using, are both pointless. There must be a balance, a gray area. The key to good spirituality is moderation, after all. Unless one happens to be in the position of being able to be a hermit, one must live in the world. To live in the world, one must practice a modicum of moderation. That is simply how it goes. There is room for personal gnosis, both verified and private. There is room for reconstructionism and the re-building of the religions of the past. There is room to let those past religions grow, because they are no longer in the world they were created for, and therefore need to change to meet the needs of their worshippers. That is how things endure, after all. Greek religion is a perfect example of this!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lent

It's that time of year again. Lent.

While I'm not Catholic, nor have I ever been Catholic, I find the practice of giving something of meaning up to be a useful one. Sacrifice of items and activities is an age-old belief, one which I think stands well in our modern society. I thought long and hard over what I would give up this year. Last year I chose to live without caffeine for the six weeks of Lent, and it was vastly more difficult than I thought it would be. I was reminded, daily, of what I had sacrificed to my Gods. It was hard, but it was very spiritual as well!

This year, I mulled over giving up online games... coffee again... chocolate... soda... bread... None of these seemed right, though. Then I hit on it: I gave up candy. By this, I mean any non-gum wrapped item - chocolate bars, hard candies, ice cream bars, etc. I will still allow myself a bit of cake for special occasions (mostly because it is a treat I don't abuse at all), but no more wrapped deliciousness. I went out on Tuesday night, "Fat Tuesday" they call it, and bought a single chocolate Valentine heart, which I ate with great gusto on my way to the gym. That was my last one, until Easter Friday. Whew.

What I want to know is, who's the one who put Valentine's Day right in the middle of Lent, when you're supposed to be focused on giving something up to God/dess(es)? Bah. LOL

This year's sacrifice has a secondary benefit to it: it aids me in my fitness quests. I am proud to announce that I have lost a total of 9 lbs since I started this in December. While not up to "Biggest Loser" standards, it's a slow, steady downward slide, the kind that makes nutritionists and dieticians happy. On the 27th, I will be having my body stats done for the Fitness PA competition, and embarassing or not, I will be posting the results here for all to see. For me, it's vastly important to show my progress (or lack thereof), to keep myself motivated.

I even bit the bullet, so to speak, and wore a stretch tank with built in bra, to the gym this week. I have a few of them for when I am very hot in the summer, and working outside. However, the gym has been incredibly hot, lately. So, with my pot belly protruding, I wore my spandex proudly. I'm at that horrible "in between" stage, where my muscles are definitely becoming defined, but my fat hasn't retreated enough that I don't have blubber out front. I know it's getting better, though. Both the numbers on the scale, and my clothes, tell me that I am improving quickly. I'm also lifting heavier weights with more ease.

Life is good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Written in Wine

Today, I received my copy of Written in Wine, a Devotional Anthology for Dionysos. It was put together by the folks at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a lot of whom are on the Neokoroi mailing list which I belong to. It looks fantastic - very professional, very well put together. Even the binding is nice.

Of course, the best part about it, is that my name is in it, in print. I'm so excited about it! Since feeling this call from Dionysus, my life has taken a real upswing. I have been much more creative, more vibrant, more interested in life. I have also felt much more spiritual. Perhaps it is the Greek religious version of poly's "NRE" (New Relationship Energy), but whatever it is, I'm glad for it.

I have been experiencing an interesting thing at yoga class. We do all our stretches and poses, and then the last five minutes of class are a deep breathing and relaxation exercise. I use this time for a deep meditation, building on the imagery presented by our instructor. Her visual cue is that we are lying on a beach, with one hand being touched gently by the surf, and the other hand buried in sand, while the sea breeze goes over us, and the sun warms us.

In my first deep medtiation at yoga class, I had the visualization of it being the beach on which Dionysus found Ariadne. I pictured myself in her place, my dress tattered and wet, the salt tickling my drying skin... it was very vivid. The first time, it ended there.

The next class, and all the classes since then, I have felt the presence of Dionysus, very VERY strongly. He came down to the beach, and I couldn't really see from where because of the sun in my eyes. All I could see was this strong body, barely covered by a toga-like item of clothing. He carried a large bunch of grapes in one hand, and a staff in the other. As he approaced me, the wild ivy and grapes near the edge of the beach began to grow rapidly, and draped themselves over me, rather suggestively. It wasn't sexual, per se, but it felt very nice. In a way, it was extremely relaxing.

Then he would come down, and put my head in his lap. He would simply sit there, stroking my hair, making those soft noises that men sometimes make when they soothe babies or toddlers. They're just sounds, not words, and they make you feel safe, and wanted, and loved. It was incredibly intense. It IS incredibly intense.

I am every so glad that I wrote the poem for the anthology. Wow... For those interested, here are the relevent details:

Written in Wine: A Devotional Anthology for Dionysos
By the Editorial Board of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Price: $17.99
Publication Date: Jan 29 2008
ISBN/EAN13: 1434836738 / 9781434836731
Page Count: 220
Binding Type: US Trade Paper
Trim Size: 5.5"x8.5"

Monday, February 4, 2008

Supernatural

I admit it, shamefully... I have become a fan of the tv show Supernatural. It's embarassing... I'm watching these two young men traipse around defeating demons and witches and zombies (oh my!) and cheering them on. However...!

One of the things I am noticing, as I make my way through the first season (and having watched an episode of season two, here and there), is that they are using real lore. The show is fiction, don't get me wrong. They are, however, using actual myths and legends, tall tales, and magickal lore. For instance, during one episode, they CORRECTLY showed a Seal of Solomon being used to "trap" a demon. I was impressed - someone did their homework. Throughout the show, I've seen more "real" stuff than faked, and I find it both interesting and amusing. I laughed my butt off when they commented about witches in the latest episode, referring to them as horrible, warty individuals, and not those fluffy water logged Wiccan witches, either. LOL!

All in all, the show presents a good humor, some fun scenarios, and some fictional answers to some great "just so" stories. The actors aren't hard to look at, either.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Inception Day

Tonight, we celebrated Inception Day. It was an unqualified success, if I do say so myself! I made a lovely elk and lamb stew with curry and barley, for our feast. Mmmm...

This ritual was a blend of my Wiccan framework and what I've learned of Greek styles of worship. It was a very pleasant blend. The ritual had a very grounded feel, very "homey". We did some fertility work, and even some "gender Mysteries". Normally, I feel that segregation of the genders during ritual is pointless, or sometimes even harmful, but this time the brief time we went off as women and as men, it went nicely. I was extremely pleased.

We did a "new to us" type of spellworking, too, using strings. More on that another time, though. The twins came out after ritual was over, to make their own offerings to the Gods. This celebration was partially for them, after all. It was the fertility work we did, 3 years ago, that resulted in our lovely twins! They were so excited, throwing barley and trinkets into the fire, and watching how large it was ('D' makes awesome fires, that often flare up above our heads). D had something he put into the fire, and it would sparkle and turn colors, blue and purple, green and yellow. They were entranced, and it was almost as exciting watching them, as it was for them to experience it all!