Monday, December 14, 2009

Hanukah continues

Today is the third day of Hanukah, and last night we lit the third candle on our Menorah. We told the third part of the story of the Macabees and the Hanukah miracle. We ate our foil wrapped "Hanukah gelt" and cuddled together as a family to watch Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. After we tucked the children into their beds, I spent some time on my own contemplating the meditations from Rabbi Orenstein's essay.

She writes, "What are the miracles of joy, surprise, and delight in your life? Was there a time when you were you recovering from loss, and preparing to face the future, when you got a gift – a sudden surge of hope, of Light, a promise for the future?"

I spent yesterday thinking about this. The picture that immediately came to mind was Eric, my dear friend who died just four years ago. When I was a year separated from my "wusband" I met Eric online. I knew him then as Fenrir, and later as ErictheMad from LiveJournal and other online names. At first he was a confidant, then a friend, then a close friend, and eventually a virtual lover. He brought life back to my gray existance, and helped me see that my separation and immanent divorce were unimportant. I was free, pretty, and full of joy, and that's all that mattered.

Then he came to visit me. It changed the course of my life. He came, not knowing if we'd continue our "lover" arrangement in the flesh, and not caring one whit. He came to visit, and that's all he came expecting to do. The first night, he slept downstairs on the air mattress, because my daughter was there and I didn't think it right that she see me sleeping with anyone. The second night she was with her dad, and so Eric came to my room at bedtime.

He held me. Really, that's all he did. Eventually, over the course of his visit, we enjoyed more than that, but that first night he didn't push, didn't make comments, didn't even hit on me. He just sat on the floor of my room and held me, and let me cry and talk and shiver and get it all out. He healed me. I had not thought I'd ever find a male who could do that, put my needs ahead of his own, and here he was holding and embracing me, with nothing more in mind than to comfort me.

His unconditional love for me continued through several years. We broke up as lovers, but remained friends. We fell out of touch, then found each other again a couple of years before he died. I was going on a long drive to school twice a week, and I would put him on my earpiece, and we'd talk the whole journey. We spent countless hours discussing our school ventures, the twins (who weren't quite born at the time), etc.

Then one night he wasn't around when I called. Later that night, I got email from friends trying to find out his parents' phone numbers. Soon after that, I learned that he'd had a major brain aneurism and had died. They say he didn't suffer, and I hope that was true. I was devastated. The twins were born a few days later, and I felt guilty at the joy I felt holding them. I felt such grief as I'd never experienced before. The only thing that I could hold onto was the fact that I'd spent the night previous to his death talking to him, and I'd said repeatedly just how proud I was of him, and how much of a miracle he had been and was in my life. He went knowing he was loved.

So that's what I thought about yesterday. They're bittersweet memories, yes. I miss Eric still, though perhaps not every day anymore. Now it's more like once or twice a week that I think of him. But those memories are happy ones, proud ones, joyous ones.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thoughts on the first day of Hanukah

The first day of Hanukah finished at sundown this evening. I spent the day, amusingly enough, doing Christmas shopping. I suppose I'm easily amused, but I thought this was quite funny.

Last night, we went to church to celebrate Hanukah together, and light the first candle. It's the first time I've truly celebrated Hanukah, and not just paid it lip service. I should say, this year I am observing Hanukah, as opposed to just enjoying the celebratory aspects. It's interesting, and very different. It's really a very minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, and got pumped up so much only because it's opposite Christmas and Kwanzaa and all those other winter holidays. Like many of the Jewish holy days, the short version of the celebration goes like this: we were persecuted, G-d saved us, let's eat! I have a Jewish friend who always answers with that quote when I ask questions about Jewish holy days.

As a part of my exploration of Judaism this month for seminary, I am engaging in an eight day meditation series entitled "Miracle Meditations for Hanukah" by Rabbi Debra Orenstein. Her suggestion for the first day is to consider, "What are the miracles in the 'facts' and 'entitlements' and 'normal' progress of my daily existence?"

While I went about my day, I did just that. I thought about the daily miracles... the mundane miracles. I thought about how completely amazing it is that my daughter still has this wonderful, amazing, fantastic relationship with me despite being thousands of miles away with a person who hates me and poisons everyone against me. I pondered the fact that I am in a family that is unique and suits me perfectly and loves me for who I am, and who I am becoming. I contemplated the joy I have experienced so far in my seminary journey. I took time to say a prayer of thanks for having a friend and mentor in Pastor Alison, and for having a church that has accepted me in all my oddness. Above all, I thought with great joy on the fact that, though we may not have much money, we have enough and besides, our freezers are full of good food raised by our own hands, the garden still yields kale and cabbage despite the snow, and we have a basement full of wood that will keep us warm and cozy this winter.

These are my daily, mundane miracles.

Tonight, just after dinner, we lit the second candle on our Hanukia, our Hanukah menorah. I told the children the second part of the story about the Greeks defiling the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and how the Macabees won it back through sheer tenacity and guerilla warfare. I did take the time to explain that Antiochus wasn't exactly a prime example of the happy Hellene, and that other Greeks didn't think much of him for persecuting the Jews the way he did. I managed to get the girltwin to participate in the Hebrew prayers over the candles, too, and she did a great job.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas is Coming

Our tree is up, our driveway is plowed out, and I'm cuddled up in my bed watching snow fall outside the window. It's a wonderful day, and I'm very happy. Friday is the first day of Hanukah, which we're going to celebrate this year. We already set up our Hanukia (the Hanuka menorah) and readied it for Friday's celebration. We'll be going to the church for the first night, as our pastor is holding a celebration with latkes and other delicious yumminess. The other seven days I'll be doing at home with the kids. I've been practicing saying the Hebrew prayers, and I'm rather proud of how well I'm doing. The kids have been learning alongside me, which is a lot of fun, and exciting, too!

This month my seminary class is studying Judaism, and so I'm enjoying the celebrations. I had planned on observing them anyhow, but it's nice to know it gets me credit on top of everything else. On the last day of Hanukah, I'm going to a Jewish synagogue to watch a Rabbi do it properly. I'm really looking forward to it!

I'm also looking forward to Yule, and to Christmas. Yule we're celebrating at home, with everyone here. I'm cooking up goose, and we'll sing some carols, open some gifts, and eat bad things. I've started making everyone's gifts, just little things but made with love. For Christmas we're going to Gray's parents' home, in St. Louis, MO. That'll be fun, too, because they're just incredible people, very tolerant of our odd ways. They cook up a storm, too, which is bad for my waistline but GREAT for my tastebuds. I admit, it's nice to go there and know that my major resposibility for the day is making sure I make my bed.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Though I am sick, I am still able to smell the faint hint of pies baking in the oven. Today we cook up the green bean cassarole, and the mashed potatoes. They'll heat up just fine tomorrow, which frees up the oven for more pressing items like roasting turkey. Midnight tonight will see the store-bought turkey go in the oven, overstuffed with my Hungarian grandmother's bread stuffing. Hopefully by morning, the turkey will be disjoined due to the overstuffing, thereby making my carving duties much easier. The wild turkey with wild rice and sausage stuffing will go in around 11:30am, to be ready for display and serving at about 5pm. The morning will see us making yam balls and squash soup. Afternoon will include heating up the carrots, peas and corn, and early evening is when the salad will be made, with lettuce fresh from the basement garden.

I have no idea who is coming tomorrow. It doesn't really matter. I'm happy to be here doing things. I'm happy to be with family. I'm thankful for so many things in my world, and even while sick, I'm finding little reasons to be joyful.

Tomorrow, instead of a prayer we will be singing a hymn entitled Sent Forth by God's Blessing by Omer Westendorf. It is sung to the tune of "Ash Grove" which is a Welsh folk melody from the 1800s. The lyrics we will be singing are posted below the YouTube video:



Sent Forth by God's Blessing
Omer Westendorf, 1964
With praise and thanksgiving, to God ever-living
The tasks of our everday life we will face.
Our faith ever sharing, in love every carying
Embracing god's children of each tribe and race.
With your grace you feed us
With your light now lead us
Unite us as one in this life that we share.
Then may all the living, with praise and thanksgiving,
Give honor to Christ and that name which we bear.
The only difference is we're switching "Christ" to "God" for the purposes of interfaith harmony in the home. Not everyone believes/worships Christ, but we all believe in God of some color or shape. :)

I hope that you and yours, wherever you may be and whatever you may believe, have a wonderful and holy time today (or on your chosen day). It doesn't matter if you believe in God, Goddess, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or a Universal Consciousness... or even nothing at all. There are reasons in your life to give thanks today. They might be hard to find, they might take some real digging, and you might even have to say them with gritted teeth... but persevere. It does matter.

Friday, November 20, 2009

House Rules

I watched a television show tonight, for the first time since starting seminary. It's Friday night, I'm home alone with the kids, and they're in bed after having a wonderful night watching 101 Dalmations (the original, I might add) and eating fish sticks in front of the tv. I found myself upstairs and in bed long before my normal bedtime, quite awake. Frankly, I didn't really want to be alone with my thoughts, so I flipped open my "free tv online" site and found the first episode of the 6th season of House.

Whew. Let me post this now: SPOILER ALERT. If you haven't seen it, please don't yell at me when I talk about plot points. I've given fair warning. There.

First, I didn't realize it was a long episode, so that took me by surprise. Second, I wasn't sure where they were going to go with it. The last season ended with House walking mostly voluntarily into a mental hospital, looking for help. This season started there, but I was afraid it was just going to be, "Oh, he stayed, and got off drugs, and now he's fine." It wasn't.

Is it sad that I can find so much of myself in what House is going through? I recognized so many of my own stages in his time in the mental ward. He went in to deal with the physical symptoms: hallucinations and drug addiction. He met up with a good doctor who refused to let him go until he dealt with the real problem.

House threatens to mess up the ward, "turn it upside down" as he says. The docs don't really seem to be impressed - they just point out that he isn't the first unruly patient they've dealt with, and invite him to spend some time thinking quietly in a padded room. I've been there, in the "mess it up" stage. I don't want your help, and I want to make everyone suffer because I am suffering. I hated it, inside, but it had its momentary satisfaction. After all, as the saying goes, misery loves company. If I'm going to feel crappy, I may as well take along as many others as I can.

His second ploy is to go around to each of the other patients and use his powers of observation and inventive insults to deeply hurt each of them. He freaks out the claustrophobic guy by crowding him. He tells the suicide chick that she's worthless. He tells the anorexic guy that yes indeed, his pants DO make him look fat. That kind of thing. I've done that, too. Watching it on television was almost too painful, even knowing that was what was coming. I've purposefully hurt people like that, like a knife wound through their soul. I've also realized that I spent so many years doing it purposefully that now, without meaning, I still do it sometimes. I watched House come to that realization, too.

Then he decides to play it straight, starts talking in group, is nice to everyone, and apparently is compliant with his meds. Of course, he's just doing it to get out, and isn't actually taking his meds at all. Turns out his doctors know it, and mess with him in a lot of ways to make sure they have it right. They let him travel along his path of lies for a long time before they finally call him on it, and then prove that they knew it all along. Here, too, I realized I've done it. "Look at me, even off meds I'm fine!"

Then the big talk with himself (though he actually talks to another character, the "talk" is really to himself) wondering if there's any difference between pretending to comply, and complying. Wilson helps him by not helping him, and he accidentally causes some major harm to one of the patients at the mental ward. It's a wake-up call for him. Been there, too. Coming to be with my poly family was that wake-up for me. Having to put the family first, instead of myself, was one of the most difficult lessons for me.

So much of the episode resonated. I was listening to my own words and inner monologue come out of House's mouth. He talks with his shrink, asking how you become happy. What does he have to do to get out? How can me make it happen? He pushes people away, thinking that's the right thing to do, not realizing that he should be learning from them instead of shoving at them.

Eventually, he opens himself up. He opens himself to a woman, and while there is a sexual encounter, it's really not the important part. She hurts him, and badly. Instead of running off, or doing something self-destructive, or lashing out to hurt someone else and drag them into his own miasma, he turns to his psyche, and talks. I remember several moments like that with my therapists over the past five years... moments when the feelings and emotions came pouring out of me, floods of self-recrimination, fear, loathing, anger, frustration, egomaniacal self-delusion... I remember how good it felt to admit I didn't understand any of those things, and that I knew I really needed help.

So I sat down to watch the show House, and ended up spending almost as much time thinking afterward as if I'd just started with the thinking. Maybe I needed that thinking time, and that pointed message. I have no idea what called to me to watch House tonight. I have a novel I'm writing for NaNoWriMo that is far behind in word count which I had intended to make my priority, but House won. Why? Does it matter? Not really.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

He Epistole - Winter Issue

I'd like to remind people that the Winter issue of He Epistole is due to come out in December 2009. Please consider submitting an article, image, or poem to our wonderful newsletter.

The submissions deadline for the next issue is November 25th, 2009, and the next issue will be available in December 2009. Any submissions for the next edition can be sent to the Editing Team at He_Epistole@yahoo.com

You can find He Epistole online at http://www.neokoroi.org/newsletter.html !

Thanks!

The Thanksgiving Day Blues

The holidays are approaching, and that means blood pressure is often rising, too. I have many memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas meals that were awful, horrifying, disappointing and downright rude. I think everyone has at least one. The holidays seem to bring out the worst in people.

Is it the stress of trying to find the right gift? Perhaps it's the pressure of attempting to make a turkey that comes out as perfect as Aunt Joan's did 25 years ago. We're trying to visit every relative in 5 states in a 2 day period, and none of them will meet in a central location. Throw in the allergy factor and you get a lot of wheezy, nasty people who are fed up with one another before they even walk in the door.

There is an article in the NY Times today, and I want to share it. It really is a good one, and it covers a lot of fun and serious stories about holiday stress.

It's The Holidays - Prepare For Rudeness,
by Joyce Walder

THE weather grows cold, the holidays are bearing down upon us and soon we will find ourselves in that seething caldron of unmannerly behavior: the family holiday gathering.

It gets rude in there. Just how rude is exemplified by the story of a teacher from the Midwest who was pregnant with her first child when she attended a large Thanksgiving celebration at the home of her husband’s parents.

For months, the teacher’s mother-in-law had been saying that she wanted to be in the waiting room when the teacher went into labor, and the teacher, who recounted her story on the Mothers-in-Law Anonymous section of Grandparents.com, had been politely rebuffing her.

So at Thanksgiving dinner, with the family gathered around the table, the mother-in-law (referred to on this site as “MIL”) took the matter into her own hands.

“MIL announced to me and the entire family the following,” the teacher wrote. “ ‘I WILL be in the waiting room while DIL is in labor, and all of you are welcome to come too. MY SON will come and give me updates every hour on the hour.’ ”

The teacher told this reporter, “I wanted to scream: ‘Are you serious? I’ve told you that I don’t want anyone there and you invite the entire family! Who do you think you are, taking over my first birthing experience?’ But what could I say and remain tactful?”

Read the rest of this WONDERFUL article here.

In light of all this holiday stress, I regret to inform people that it looks like Sis's dad is going to die this week. She and Gray left last night at about 7pm to drive to Chicago, hopefully in time to say goodbye. It's a sad moment, although not entirely unexpected. The saddest part is that he's only 67, I believe. We have him in our prayers and have asked family and friends to also keep him in their thoughts.

It is unlikely he will survive. What we are hoping most for right now is that Sis makes it there in time to hold his hand and say goodbye. Our wish is for a safe and gentle passing.

Blessings...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Work and Worship

A Sonnet for Hestia

Holy Hestia, Mother of Hearth and Fire,
Thou of softest smile and dimpled cheek,

Thine home is not in temple's burning pyre

But in the cherry flame of homefire meek.


At every kitchen stove and fireplace

The pious heart Thine presence permeates.

Thy flame doth warm the home with love and grace.

Yet ne'er forget the burns Thy flame creates.


Thou art our center, focus, and our love;
Thine prayers are said as every fire is lit.

O Hestia, Virgin One we now sing of,
To Thine gentle form this piece is writ.


Belov'd Daughter of Zeus, let all proclaim

The central place each has for Thine great flame!

I wrote this Sonnet in October of last year, and I felt like sharing it today. Since we're switching stoves out, our Hestia flame is gone for a short while. But my altar stays, as you can see, and it contains the items that remind me of her always. It is always a bit crowded on her altar, perhaps because I seem to want to squish all my tiny kitchen tools on there. It's nice, though, and cheery. I see it every time I am in the kitchen.

My pretty chicks have grown into handsome hens! Today we cleaned out the hen-house, and put down fresh straw and food and such. We're all set for the winter. I even managed to get a timer onto their coop light, so they'll have a good day/night cycle. We started getting eggs, about three a day so far, and I want to encourage them to continue that! I'm pleased with how nice the chickens look. They're plump, strong, well feathered, and have bright wattles. These ones are going to get names once we're through the winter, and I'll be banding their legs as well. They've become terribly tame, and will come when you call out, "Chick chick chick!" which is what I call when I have special treats or food for them. They even got to run around outside of the coop for an hour (in the rain, mind you) today, as we were cleaning it out. I think they had a good time. I suspect I'll do that more, now that everything is all neatened up in the coop!

Now that is a picture of preservation. Look at all the jars of tomatoes, pickles, dilly beans, jam, corn, etc. It's a great thing to have all that food stored away. If you peek over the edge of the top rack, you can just see the buckets of lettuce we have growing in the basement, as well. We plan on having fresh salad as part of our Thanksgiving meal. I'm especially pleased with those jars of little round things you can see (try clicking on the photo to make it larger): those are our pears. A close friend was over for a few days and spent almost all of her available time canning our pears for us. Bartlett pears are a favorite of mine, and the idea that I can pull a jar off the shelf anytime over the winter, and have that late autumn crispness, is a major thought of happiness for me.

As Hestia is usually given "first and last" in modern Hellenic traditions (and might have received that honor in ancient times as well), I leave you with an image of one of our many basement wood piles. All over the basement, in neat rows, there are cords and cords of cut wood ready for burning. It's a lovely, warming feeling to know that your house is heated by the fuel that fills your basement! We still have two large piles to bring into the house or stack nearby, but more than half of it is already in the basement, ready for use. We've had the stove on a few times in the past few weeks, but not every day. Soon, it will be every day and all night, kept burning to keep us warm and cozy as the snow falls and the silence of winter surrounds us. Hail Hestia!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The New Seminary - November's Class


This is the altar that our ritual group put together for Saturday's class. On it are many candles, small items of great spiritual meaning to the participants, and images of one of the ladies who had the great honor of going to see the Bodhi Tree. The small leaves you see, on paper, are leaves from the Bodhi Tree, and we were each allowed to hold one during the ritual. It was a very moving ceremony, to say the least. Very enlightening, so to speak.

So much went on over the weekend that it would be impossible to share it all. Highlights included Rev. Allan's talk on Buddhism, 2 hours of sheer educational and spiritual joy as he shared his personal experiences with Buddhism and his encounters with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. After the last chant was done, we moved on to lunch, then spent the afternoon in ritual and personal sharing. Sunday we listened to one of the best lecturers on paganism that I have ever encountered. Rev. Ken was charming, attractive, and better yet, well educated. He was clear about the difference between personal views and facts, covered many thousands of years of disparate faiths succinctly and with reverence, and kept us chuckling in our seats the whole time. I am honored to have been able to sit and listen to him.

I also had my own chance to speak, something I am very grateful for. I was asked to speak briefly about the Goddesses of Hellenismos. I did a very short introduction to Hellenic worship, and then spoke about the goddesses in my life: Hecate, Nyx, Hera, Persephone and Demeter, and then the Nymphs and my ancestors. Considering I had a fairly short time to talk about it, I think I did fairly well. I enjoyed presenting, and was quite humbled by the response from my fellow classmates.

I got to ride the Staten Island Ferry and the NYC subway on my own, which was a real treat, and I ate Pho with true gratitude. I shared two lunches with classmates, one Thai and one Indian, and both were so delicious. I have to admit, the food makes it worth going to NYC even if you aren't a city person.

I just don't have words to express how the weekend went. On one level it was "just" lectures and sharing, and yet it was much, much more. It was wonderful learning about the Hindu goddesses from someone who worships them and is so intimately a part of the class (thanks Suren!), and I was graced with watching the joy on people's faces as they learned that they had feminine energy or divine within their lives where they never realized it before. It was emotional, exciting, overwhelming and fantastic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Religion and Medicine

Religion and medicine: Sometimes a healing prescription

New study reports that pediatric physicians are more likely to accept the salve of religion when medicine has failed the patient.

Do pediatric oncologists feel that religion is a bridge or a barrier to their work? Or do they feel it can be either, depending on whether their patients are recovering or deteriorating? A novel Brandeis University study examines these questions in the current issue of Social Problems.

Through in-depth interviews with 30 pediatricians and pediatric oncologists at elite medical centers, the authors discovered that physicians tend to view religion and spirituality pragmatically, considering them resources in family decision-making and in end of life situations, and barriers when they conflict with medical decisions, said lead author Brandeis sociologist Wendy Cadge.

Read the rest here.

For Hestia


Within the small confines of our wood cook stove, you can see the blazing glory of Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth. I feel very lucky to be a person who is able to have a true hearth fire. My small Hestia altar hangs on the wall beside this stove, and contains an ear of corn, a small sheaf of wheat, a miniature wooden spoon, an offering bowl and a candle. I don't spend a lot of time worshipping Hestia, but she is always present, and I can always feel her. It's as if the house itself is her temple, and we're pieces within it.

Today is a special day, being the first day I lit the fire in the wood cook stove this year. We've had the big heat stove in the living room going already, but I decided to make scalloped potatoes for dinner, and wanted to do it in the slow-cooking interior of the cook stove's oven. So I lit the fire and got it good and hot, and then made a small burnt offering to Hestia, who I thanked for the warmth for people and food. Now, the heady scent of toasted barley is wafting around my kitchen, and making me hungry!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Return, return, return...

This was the view outside the retreat house we stayed in this past weekend. It was so beautiful up at Sebago Lake in Maine. The weather was perfect, with temperatures around the 60s in the day, and 40s at night. There was light rain a couple of times, but it wasn't troublesome at all. The only time I felt it, rather than seeing its results, was when I walked the labyrinth, and it was a mere sprinkle that fell as I slowly trod the path. The company of the women who attended was just lovely, and I felt not the least bit uncomfortable. The whole weekend was just a perfect time to refresh, recharge, and be ready to move on.

We arrived almost (but not quite) late for dinner on Friday evening, and hurried in to gnosh on incomprehensibly delicious lasagna, fresh and crispy salad with all the fixings, and still-warm home made apple crisp. I ate reasonably the entire weekend, even though I was much more active than at home and didn't have to cook or clean. I had thought I would gorge myself, but everything was so yummy that I felt I should just savor it in moderate doses. I didn't feel a need to snack, either, which I am amazed at.

The view off the back porch of the retreat house was stunning. Early on Saturday morning (after breakfast but before the main meetings and such), I decided to go for a solitary walk along the lake. The clouds were low in the sky, and the water choppy, but it was warm enough, and dry, and light through the overcast conditions. I sat on a bench for a half hour or so, and worked on some poetry that's been stuck in my head for a while. It was peaceful there, and quiet, with no sound from the main house, no voices, no roads...

I found the words coming more easily than they have in ages. I had all my seminary homework completed, and knew I had a full week before the next class and the homework was due. As you can see in the picture, I came ready with notebook, coffee cup, and jacket. The coffee was well-enjoyed, but the coat just got sat on because the wood bench was a bit damp from early morning rain.

I will admit, I was a bit surprised at just how "pagan" the retreat was. I expected more of a mix, I suppose, but it seems that Unitarian Universalist has become almost synonymous with pagan, of late. I'm not sure if I'm happy, sad, or disturbed by that thought. Don't get me wrong - the rituals and singing and workshops were wonderful. I even had a chance to do a bit of a tarot lesson with a crowd of ladies who wanted to learn some basics. It's just that I am so much seeking balance now, moreso than ever before in my life. "Nothing but Goddess" just isn't enough anymore; there needs to be a masculine counterpart to balance her.

All of this was just flitting through my very busy mind, of course. We had a costume party, which was fun, and a bit of a talent show. I swallowed my nerves and read four of my favorite poems for the group. I was pleasantly surprised by the reception - several women came over to me later and discussed how much they liked my poetry, and how they would like to hear more. One of the poems I read was Winter Symphony, which is one that I spent a lot of time writing, but often doesn't receive very good reviews. It really piqued interest of many of the women, which made me feel quite happy inside. I was proud of myself just for getting through the reading - preaching at a pulpit is WAY easier than reading poetry at an informal gathering of peers. LOL!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

He Epistole - Winter Issue

Hi all!

I'd like to remind people that the Winter issue of He Epistole is due to come out in December 2009. Please consider submitting an article, image, or poem to our wonderful newsletter.

The submissions deadline for the next issue is November 25th, 2009, and the next issue will be available in December 2009. Any submissions for the next edition can be sent to the Editing Team.

You can find He Epistole online at http://www.neokoroi.org/newsletter.html !

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thinking and Meditating

No, there's no particular reason for my having that picture at the side of my journal entry. It's just that a house next to us (yeah, next to us, about a mile down the road) was broken into and had a bit of damage done. Apparently the thieves were after something specific and trashed the place while looking. Sad. So now the air rifle sits by the front of the house, where I can grab it in a rush. It doesn't do a whole lot of damage, but it looks rather like a full size rifle and I'd imagine coming face to face with it up close would be rather disconcerting. When it comes to protecting myself, the kids, and our home, I don't play games.

I've been working on my homework, and one of the exercises I need to do is actually making me cringe. I don't want to do it. Hence I'm blogging about it rather than actually doing it. I thought perhaps if I explained it, and why it makes me uncomfortable, I'd feel better about going upstairs after I hit "post."

Basically, my psychology textbook is exploring our "characters," what I call the masks we wear. I'm priestess, auntie, Mei Mei, lover, slut, etc. They're all ME, but each face is different from the others, and some are appropriate in some places, and some aren't. That part I have no problem with. I can identify (let's be fair: most of) my dark sides, and I don't generally shy away from them. I've been extricating them from the morass of my personality, labelling them, codifying them... No problem.

Then the exercise arrived. Meditate/fantasize myself as an object for five minutes. Oh. See, now that isn't a big deal for most people. Oh, I'm a table; oh, I'm a fridge, whatever. But wow, this one hit me from left field. I do NOT want to do it. I spent so many years as an object... the object-daughter of my bio family, the object-wife of my ex-husband, the object-girlfriend of my ex-boyfriend... I wasn't actually a person for those roles, I was a thing, and I fulfilled no more and no less of a role than a towel holder or a stove.

I don't want to spend even five minutes as an object.

Now, the other side of the exercise is spending a further five minutes fantasizing myself as a creator, possibly even god-like in abilities. It doesn't feel right to me though. It feels like a pay-off for spending time as an object. For me, that objectification is a slippery slope back to the Stepford Wife I used to be, and I don't want even one toe on the path.

I know this is just an exercise. The very fact that it bothers me so much tells me that I do need to do it, and then examine my own feelings and emotions surrounding the results. I think I will take the time to set up an emotional safety net for myself before I do it, though, so that if I need a hug or reassurance, it will be there for me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sharing joy

That small, pink clad form to the left of our pastor is the girltwin, who was an acolyte for the first time this past Sunday. She got to go up the long aisle with Pastor Alison behind her, and her friend (who is a bit older and more experienced) beside her. Her face was just BEAMING with joy at being given this opportunity to do something she knows darn well is important and something the "big kids" usually do.

This was a great start to our Partnership Sunday service, and a good time was had by all. The sermon was uplifting, the company fine, and people joshed with me (gently) about last week's little spill. But nothing beat the smile on the girl child's face as she walked up there, candle lighter held tightly (and precisely) in two hands.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Too fun!

A friend posted this on her FaceBook and I just had to share it!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Autumn Poetry

Graphic courtesy of the LJ community Magic Art

I haven't written poetry in a while, and yesterday while I was standing outside watching the leaves as Gray tilled the spelt field, I was struck with inspiration. I could see the poetry in the fall leaves, and smell it in the crisp air. It had to come out in words! The following poem was written this morning, in honor of the trees and beauty of a New England autumn.

Autumn

I watch as the rudy colored leaves
Fall in graceful flutters
From trees quickly disrobed.
The chill autumn air drifts
In the bedroom window,
Carrying the scent of wet, decaying leaves.
Nights are cold now,
And I find myself lying awake
Just to hear the coyotes howl
And the owls hooting in the dark.
Autumn is alive like no other season.
Every scurrying animal,
Every bounding deer
Readies itself for the long sleep of the land.
The heft of hand-made quilts
Drapes over my drowsy form,
And I feel secure and safe.
In my mind, I am still seeing
Those beautiful autumn leaves
Of gold and red and saffron
As they fall from our trees.

Not what I originally intended to post....

I am... aghast. Apparently, this morning the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Barak Obama. To mimic my outrage voiced on Facebook, this is the biggest WTFery this year. Maybe even this decade. Like many of the people in the article, I find myself asking... what has he done to be awarded this prestigious award?? How could this have happened? I went to the Nobel Peace Prize website to see if I could get more information, because no one at the NY Times was able to tell me why Obama got this award.

Just to be clear, the Nobel Peace Prize has been won by such people as Mother Theresa... the 14th Dalai Lama... Desmond Tutu... Mikhail Gorbochev... Here's a complete list.

So this is what the Nobel site has to say: Obama was awarded the prize "... for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

WHAT?

I don't even want to get into what I think of Obama's policies here. This is my spiritual blog and I do my best to keep politics out of it. But I am just sick over this. A LOT of people are now saying they are questioning whether the award actually means anything. That's a terrible, disgusting thing. The winner of any Nobel prize should be a CLEAR winner, or one of several people who the world knows has worked long and hard on their chosen task.

Someone in the NY Times article said it best: whether Obama makes something of himself or not is yet to be seen; we don't hand out prizes for "future" stuff.

Sigh.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Communion with the Gods

Today, I preached at the church I attend, for the second time. It's World Communion Sunday, celebrated by Christians all over the world as well as some members of other religions (Muslims, Jews, etc.). The focus is on spiritual unity rather than religious division. I chose to spend most of my sermon touching on a variety of messages of unity, and I really enjoyed being there today.

I also, for the first time, served Communion. The bread and wine had been blessed by our pastor yesterday before she left on her holiday, but I was the one handing out the wine, helped by one of our deacons. I hadn't even gotten to the "handing out" part, when I managed to spill the wine. All down the front of me. LOL!

Luckily, everyone was very understanding, and I shrugged it off and moved onward and upward. After the service, one of the people who admitted to being the most nervous about having a pagan at the pulpit came up to me to tell me that I got the "graciousness" award for moving right along after my mishap.

And I did move right along... with wine literally dripping off my stole, and the paper on which was written the actual words I was supposed to say over the bread. People carefully avoided the large wine stain on the sanctuary carpet as they took their bread and wine. It was wonderful, though.

Some words on communion. I think of communion in two ways: first, as the "communion of souls" which happens at any decent religious service or spiritual meeting, and second, the bread and wine offered at Christian services. I talked a lot about the first type today, and then served the second type.

Up until today, I had always thought of communion at a Presbyterian church as being largely symbolic in nature. I know the Catholics believe in transubstantiation, but the Presbyterians do not. It's still bread and wine. Well, when I went to cut up the bread, it was as if I had shuffled through shag carpeting and touched a piece of metal - there was a spark. It was... interesting, to say the least.

I had a wonderful time, despite my minor mistakes. I could see the heads nodding as I talked, and the couple of puzzled looks led me to explain things more than I had first intended, and that brought about more nods.

Later today, I plan on going up the hill for a little bit to commune with Artemis at her temple. The girls will be over to help clean and tend to it next weekend, but I wanted to go up and have a bit of quiet time. It's hunting season here (just bow so far, but as of Nov. 1st it'll be muzzle loader), and I want to go get a feel for the area before shooting things up there. I'm thinking of putting a salt lick at the temple itself, as that means no hunting will take place within the actual temple boundaries. The law states that you can't hunt at a bait station, and salt is a bait. It isn't that I think Artemis would be upset by people hunting deer around her temple (quite the opposite, in fact), but that I don't trust all the hunters to be careful about where their shots end up. This way, they have to stay far enough away to minimize damage.

In a couple of days it will be the day I spend on Dionysian things, and I will be taking straw up to put at the base of my grape vines. I'll clean off the altar stone, and do a bit of meditation up there, and do some house cleaning at my room shrine, too.

All in all, things are going well. I'm thrilled with how the Agrotereion is coming along, and pleased as punch over the way things are going at church. My seminary homework is done, and on time, and will be mailed tomorrow morning to my dean. Tomorrow I also embark on listening to the class mp3s, learning about the religions we're studying. I'm looking forward to that!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A New Devotional!

From Bibliotheca Alexandrina:

It is a pleasure to announce that I am now accepting submissions for Megaloi Theoi, the Dioskouroi devotional, to be published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Please spread this announcement to all groups and individuals that might be interested in contributing to this work.

This devotional will focus on the Dioskouroi, in Greek, Egyptian and Roman belief systems, as well as their Indo-European aspects. Modern submissions on the Divine Twins and Gemini are welcomed, so long as they are linked to the Dioskouroi. Additionally, this devotional will examine the relationships of The Dioskouroi with other members of their extended family, including but not limited to Zeus (see below), Nemesis, Tyndareus, Leda, the Leukippides, Helen (of Troy) and Clytemnestra. All historical aspects in myth, cult, art and philosophy are welcome.

Examples of acceptable submissions include, but are not limited to:

  • The Dioskouroi as:
1) saviors;
2) warriors;
3) horsemen;
4) patrons of athletes and the Olympic games;
5) attendants of Hera;
6) Argonauts;
  • The Dioskouroi and Sparta/Laconia/Dorian peoples;
  • The Dioskouroi and Sobek;
  • The Dioskouroi and the Kabeiroi;
  • The Dioskouroi and other Greek twins, Idas and Lynkeus (the Apharetidai), and Amphion and Zethos;
  • The constellation Gemini;
  • The relationship between the Dioskouroi and modern ‘Divine Twins,’ such as in the Feri tradition;
  • The Indo-European ‘Divine Twins’ as the cultural ancestor of the Dioskouroi;
  • The Vedic Asvins, Lithuanian A┼ívieniai, the Latvian Dieva deli, and any other sibling Indo-European Divine Twins compared and contrasted to the Dioskouroi;
  • The Dioskouroi as the Roman Castor and Pollux;
  • Tyndareus and Leda;
  • Nemesis, either in Greece or Rome;
  • Phoebe and Hilaeira (wives of the Dioskouroi) as priestesses of Athena, Artemis, or Apollon;
  • The Leukippides, including Phoebe, Hilaeria and their sister Arsinoe;
  • The Cult of the Leukippides;
  • Sons of the Dioskouroi;
  • Helen and Klytemnestra;
  • The Indo-European ‘Daughter of the Sun’ as the cultural ancestor of Helen;
  • The Cult of Helen of Troy.
Readers are encouraged to explore these and other topics related to these deities.

The editor is looking for one entry on Zeus with a specific Dioskouric relationship. The editor reserves the right to add more if a quality submission is received. However, Zeus is not the focus of this devotional.

The following types of entries will be accepted:

1) Hymns, prayers, and poetry;
2) Rituals and/or festivals involving any of these deities;
3) Meditations and divination;
4) Scholarly essays;
5) Opinion essays and personal experiences;
6) Original short stories;
7) Artwork, as defined below.

Artwork must be original, and must at least 300dpi at full print size and grayscaled. Color submissions for the front cover are encouraged. In the case of multiple submissions, the editor intends to hold a contest to decide the front cover.

Non-fiction (short stories, opinion essays, personal experiences, scholarly essays) should be at least 1 full page in MS Word. Endnotes, in-text citations and footnotes are acceptable and encouraged in particular for scholarly submissions.

The editor reserves the right to make minor changes to any submission for purposes of spelling, punctuation, grammar, style, formatting and clarity. The editor also reserves the right to reject any submission that is deemed not commensurate with the criteria set forth above. The editor may request that submissions be modified or expanded if the editor deems it necessary.

As with all of our devotional anthologies we at Bibliotheca Alexandrina cannot provide payment or contributor copies, since the proceeds will be used for charitable donations and to help bring out further volumes in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina line. Please read the BA policies: http://www.neosalexandria.org/publishing.htm Submission to the editor assumes that the author has read the BA policies.

Please send all submissions to dioscuridevotional@gmail.com. Submissions will be accepted starting October 1, 2009, and ending July 1, 2010. The editor will acknowledge all submissions, but does not guarantee any submission inclusion in the devotional for the reasons stated above.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Homework and other matters

Well, it has been a challenging couple of weeks, more than I thought it would be. I'm glad, to be honest. I like challenges! I rise to them much better than humdrum stuff. I think if I found seminary too easy, I wouldn't do as well. As it is, I'm striving, reaching, pushing myself (though not TOO hard) to learn more and do well. Even the minor failures (falling asleep during meditation, for instance) are things which I have managed to learn from. I am proud that I've managed to get all the paperwork done and together for the month. I only have a couple of more pieces to add to the pile, but the work has to wait for my Dean to get me some information.

Thinking back since the first day of classes, I think the most challenging thing for me was to do the guided meditation from our psyche book. I actually find that rather disturbing, because I've been doing meditation exercises for so long, over 20 years! To find myself falling asleep was embarassing, to say the least. I suspect that I was working myself rather hard, and my body just took what it needed whether I wanted to give it or not.

Next month, we move on to Buddhism and Native American religions. I feel ready to move on! I'm looking forward to it, but I'm forcing myself to wait until I mail off my homework package before I begin next month's work. Since I got everything completed a couple of days before it was due, I can take this time to relax and regroup, and prepare myself for October.

Speaking of October, I am going on a retreat! I'm very excited; we've scraped together a few dollars so that I can attend the UU Women's retreat in Maine. My pastor is going, and invited me to come along, and so I am going. Working only with women is a challenge for me. I never know how to act around other females. This will be an excellent bit of spiritual work for me, as well as a long weekend away from the house. I'll actually be gone over Halloween, which is a bit of a disappointment (I wanted to see the twins all dressed up), but I'll be back in time for their birthday party on the 1st (can you believe they'll be 4??).

In other news, one of the lists I'm on is slowly falling apart. The founder is leaving for reasons of his own, his partner left a little while ago, and several other people are jumping ship. I find I am disappointed in some of the people involved. It isn't that I'm upset they yelled or argued, or even that they had to take a hiatus - everyone does those things. But I guess I had seen the people involved as being in it "for the long haul" and to find out that the committment isn't there... it was a let-down. I'll be sticking with the group, for a while at least, to see where it goes. There's still a dedicated core of people, though of course when one strong leader leaves and a committee tries to take over, things *always* fall apart. I guess the question isn't whether it'll ever be the same (because it won't), but whether it will survive the changes and come out squalling and ready to face the world.

The search for the Neokoroi web design continues. I have a funny feeling I'm going to need to actually go and make it up from scratch, minus the template. I'm... so not good at that. LOL... I'm fine at HTML and CSS, but creating a template from scratch is a real stretch for me, and is going to take forever. I'm definitely no graphics artist. As a last resort, I bookmarked a few images from iStockPhoto, and I'll purchase a couple on my own dime and turn them into a header and background images. It's hard, though, trying to find something to please everyone. I'm glad that I'm getting the great feedback I am, though, because it's helping me figure out what will best suit the group as a whole. It's also REALLY nice to see everyone excited and talking again. :) I missed that! There's a lot of fun participation going on, and we've gotten entries for the website as well.

We'll weather the rough spots. Life is too good to waste in frustration right now. :)

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Hare Krishna Wedding


Farnham took me all the way to Hartford, CT for my Hindu site visit last evening. We went to the Hare Krishna temple there, for their regular Sunday service. It was... interesting. I will say with authority that it is definitely not MY type of service, but I am glad I went, and I learned quite a lot by watching. We were lucky enough to be there for a wedding of sorts. The couple had gone to India for a traditional Hindu marriage ceremony, and wanted to renew their vows here in the States with their friends and family.

A small fire was built on a special holder, and a few things were sacrificed into the fire (balsa wood, incense, some ghee, and some fruit). After, the ashes were mixed with a little water, and put onto our foreheads, letting us bring the blessings of their marriage along with us. I looked a little odd, but it was nice to be included in the ceremony. We were also given flowers from the bride's bouquet, and when it was all done, each person was offered a piece of fruit from the (non-burnt) sacrifice to Krishna. Those of us who were new to the temple also got a small book to bring home, which explains about the Hare Krisnha movement.

The ritual started out with the blessing of the tulsi plant, which is a varient of basil, and is considered a holy plant to Krishna. At first it was just the one guru, and a few of the more experienced people, but by the time the chanting was done, there were a lot of people dancing around the plant (which you can see in the picture to the right). After that, prayers were sung for "His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada".

I will freely admit that I was a little uncomfortable with the life-size meditating statue of Prabhupada. When you first walk in, you almost think he's real. When the lights come up you realize it's a statue, but it's still vaguely freakish, to me at least. I can see how some mainstream types might see this movement as a scary cult. The chanting is very repetitive and hypnotic, and although large portions of the service were done in Hindu, there were hand-outs with information on how to join the chanting if you wanted to. Mostly I stuck with the general Hare Krishna chant, because it's familiar and because I wanted the chance to look around, take photos, and perhaps a movie or two... or three.

Some things really struck me as I watched the service (and participated). Once again, I am mystified at how similar the service was to one in a Christian church, or one in a Hellenic polytheistic ceremony. There are more similarities than there are differences. By far!

I noticed that people were welcome to come in and out of the "sacred" area without anything more than a polite knock (we were told it is expected that you knock or ring the provided bell upon entering the room, as you would for any human person). Several people got up throughout the three hours of service to use the restroom, help in the kitchen, or tend to the children.

And there were children! They were all over, though they stuck mostly to the kitchen and back areas. It seemed as if the prevailing attitude toward children is to ignore them unless they are fussing or out of control. Babes in arms were danced with, taken up for blessings, and otherwise held and cuddled.

There was a lot of dancing, almost all of it by men. The women danced in place, but men were doing somewhat ecstatic dance, moving back and forth between the wall and the altar. People were singing and chanting, and the energy really moved in the room.

Blessed oil was put on each person's hand, and you were supposed to smell it, and waft it over your head. There was enough incense to make the room cloudy. Farnham and I had to come home, strip immediately, and shower before we got near anyone. It was quite intensely stinky.

Overall, I'd say that my impressions were positive, even if it isn't the kind of thing I myself would like to do. The people at the temple were very devout, and believed what they were saying and doing with all their heart. It was much more interesting than the standard "sit down /kneel /prayer" circuit that most churches today are stuck in.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thoughts on Hinduism

I'm in the process of reading the Bhagavad Gita for my seminary class, and it's certainly been a learning experience. Not only is it beautiful on its own as a sacred text and as "prosetry" (at least in English), but it is an interesting manual for living. I am also startled by the similarities between the Hindu gods and my own!

There is a certain amount of cross-over. People sometimes refer to Vishna as a "face of" Zeus, etc. But I'm just shocked at how similar some of them are. Take Krishna here. He's the one with the blue skin. When you do some reading about him, he's a pretty practical guy, but not afraid to enjoy the finer things in life, either. He has a very feminine look to him, too, which is a Dionysian trait. I just find it fascinating.

From watching videos on Youtube, I am getting a feel for Hindu worship. There seems to be two types, which is again similar to Hellenismos. There is the home shrine tending, which is somewhat informal and done at the same time each day. Hindus seem to tend to want to do their home worship in the morning, right after their bath.

I watched one young lady in India explaining (in excellent English, I might add!) how she tended her family's shrines. She told us that she's "just a daughter-in-law" so the task falls to her, but she likes it anyhow. I found that somewhat funny. She carefully put yellow and red powder on the foreheads of each picture or statue of her family's gods (there were about 8 or 9), offered each some rice, and burned some incense. She spoke prayers and sung songs, though I couldn't tell you what they were as she was speaking in Sanskrit. It was beautiful - you could see the love in her eyes as she tended to her duties.

This is similar to my own morning proceedures right now. I get up, get the kids up and out the door to school, feed myself and whoever eles is here, and then go up to work on school work. Before I do, I stop before my altar and light a candle, turn on the fountain, and take a moment to pause, say thanks, and ask for guidance throughout my daily work. It's been nice, a real break for my soul!

The second type of Hindu worship is the temple worship. I know less about this, because there aren't as many videos of what goes on in temples, and the ones I have managed to find are broken into badly filmed sections. However, I see the incense, the chanting, the altar with its large statues and images. Again, it seems very reminiscint of the Hellenic worship of the Theoi.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Elaphebolia Photo Hunt


From Thista Minai:

I am pleased to announce the 2009 Elaphebolia Photo Hunt. The Elaphebolia celebrates Artemis as both a huntress of and protectress of all wild creatures. Enjoy the thrill of the chase and show your appreciation for nature with the Elaphebolia Photo Hunt. Take a picture of any wild creature you find and email it to cataleos@gmail.com by October 13th. For more details on how to enter and how to vote, visit http://www.cataleos.org/actcont.html

Good luck and enjoy your hunt!
I hope that many of you will consider entering this contest. You need not have a perfect photo of any kind. Just have fun "hunting" for natural creatures!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Eternal Haunted Summer

Announcing the launch of Eternal Haunted Summer, an ezine dedicated to Pagan poetry, short fiction and reviews. So far as we know, Eternal Haunted Summer is the only ezine of its kind: one which gives voice to modern devotion to the many Gods and Goddesses of our ancestors. Poems and stories celebrating the Deities and heroes of the Celts, Norse, Germans, Romans, Etruscans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Canaanites, Sumerians, Egyptians and many, many others are all welcome. We pay a flat rate of $5 for original pieces. The submission period for our Winter Solstice 2009 issue is 15 September through 1 December. We look forward to hearing from you!

http://www.eternalhauntedsummer.com

The Newest Altar


My New Seminary classes ask me to do various religious observances that aren't appropriate at my Hellenic altars. So this morning, as a bit of self imposed homework, I created a new altar just for use over the next two years as I journey down the seminary path. Above is the central area of the altar, a golden (for autumn... it will change with seasons) top cloth over the red altar cloth. In the center is a water fountain that shows a parent and child, gender indeterminate, with a rotating crystal globe between them. It's a piece that I've always wanted to have out, but which does not fit with any of my current shrines or altars. Here, I am using it as a focus for the universal principle, the All, or the Big Thing No One Really Understands. I cannot think of a more fitting image of the All, than a parent and child embracing.

To the left is a small black cauldron from my Wiccan days. I am burning a small tea candle in it (large candles are impractial on this particular altar). This, for me, is a representation of the divine feminine force in the universe. To the right is a chalice on a paton or offering plate. Within the Wiccan traditions, the chalice is a feminine tool, but with its associations with Dionysos and my worship of him, it has taken on a decidedly masculine feel to it. So I am using it to represent the male and masculine in the universe.

My angel for the class is "Faith" and I pulled out the beautiful angel doll that I got for myself and my (far away) daughter. We have matching dolls, ostensibly fairies, but easily standing in for my angel here. I think she looks quite nice! Beside her is a very large amethyst chunk which I have used in healing workings in the past. While I don't do a lot of that type of healing these days, it has strong connotations of health, vigor, and comfor for me, and balances the altar well.

I'm sure anyone in the class will recognize the acorns. If you click on the image you'll get a good close-up of the acorns, showing just how connected they are. Eventually (hopefully today but more likely by the end of the week) these will be planted in a small pot, and encouraged to grow as I do, slowly perhaps, but steadily. I want to be able to focus on their growth as tied to my own, and perhaps be able to hold onto that slow, almost invisible growth when my own spirits inevitably flag.

Behind the acorns is a small box with a latch. This is the container for my worry dolls. When I find myself obesessing over something, or discover that a fear is beginning to paralyze me, I pull out a worry doll and I whisper my fears (or secrets, at times) into her ear. Then I put her in the box. She keeps the worry or fear or secret for me, until I no longer need someone else to hold it. When I'm ready to dissipate a fear or worry, I take out the doll, and put it in the sunlight and moonlight for 24 hours. For me, this has been an incredibly valuable technique for dealing with fears that sometimes seem overwhelming. Right now, all my lovely little dolls are empty, waiting for a new crop of fears and concerns to hold onto for me!

Here's a picture of the whole altar in one shot. It's right at the end of my bed, slightly to the left (as I'm sitting here doing my homework). It sits against the wall right beside the largest window in my room. As I sit in bed, it is really the focus of the room, as my Hellenic altars are off to the other side (those who want to see them can look here) in a corner. I'm pleased with how it turned out, although I'm certain that the currently stark look will soon be bursting with different items of strong meaning for me!

This month I'll be reading about Hindu beliefs. I find that I actually know a little bit already, as I am familiar with concepts of karma and have read parts of the Bahgavad Gita in the past. I also am a (not very steady) practitioner of yoga, and so for this month I will be reviving my daily yoga practices. Perhaps I'll actually stick to it after the end of the month!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The New Seminary - The First Class

My first class was yesterday, Saturday September 12th, 2009. What a day it was!

Farnham and I hopped out of bed (okay, okay, we sort of rolled and then shuffled a lot, but who's editing this piece??) at 4:15am. By 4:45am, we had coffee, a packed lunch with snacks, and I had showered. We were on the road, travelling from southern New Hampshire to New York City. I admit that the first part of the ride was pretty much a haze - I don't do well before the first coffee or 10am, whichever comes first. At 5am, NOTHING comes easy for me. Well, except sleep...

We got to The New Seminary at 8:30am, pretty much on the dot. We were a half hour early, but had the potential to be very, very late if traffic had gummed up anywhere. We waited outside for a while, then he helped me take my books and lunch upstairs for class. I was very excited, very nervous, and extremely happy. It's been a long time since I enjoyed a "first day of school" and I rode the high of this one as long as I could.

I met other students (including one in New Hampshire, not so very far from me), talked to my teachers and deans, and shook hands with the directors. At 9:30am, class started, Farnham left, and I found myself sitting on a chair with no shoes on, listening as Dean Deb began her morning prayer.

We did some interesting "getting to know you" exercises that turned out to be a lot more about getting to know ourselves. The energy in the room was very high, and even I found it a bit ... I don't want to say oppressive, because that gives a negative connotation, and nothing about this experience was negative. I felt as if I were sitting in a pressure canner, and all the air was pumping out. Not right or wrong, just very intense!

We did a nice meditation, and then took time to jot some things down on a piece of paper. My notes are somewhat garbled for anyone who wasn't there, but I will describe my own experience.

We engaged in meditation, and I found myself in my long-ago made altar room in my mind. The thick, stone walls were as warm and solid as ever, and no dust covered any of the nooks and crannies. I found that interesting, sort of in passing, because when I don't go to my inner meditation/altar room for a while (and I haven't - it's been well over a year!), it begins to look dusty and neglected. This time it did not - it was pristine. I feel a small amount of pride about that.

In place of the heavy stone altar that usually resided in the north, there was an altar of bright, flawless marble, pure white and shining with an inner glow. It had veins of golden color through it, but mostly I noticed the white, and the brightness of the light emmanating from it. None of my usual altar tools were on it. Instead, it bore a single silver chalice, not large, not ornate. It was quite plain, and it is not a chalice I've used or envisioned before.

I was thrown off a bit by the use of the directions and correspondences at TNS, as theirs are vastly different from my own. At first, I found my hackles going up - the warm, the familiar was not there. But I realized I was there to learn about different ways of doing things, and this was not MY ceremony but THEIRS, and I needed to "shut up and learn." I quickly got over the confusion, though I still am unsure of the reasoning behind the directions being called as they were. I need to ask about that at some point.

In my hands, I found an old, very beautiful blown glass bowl. This is an altar item that has been in that particular sacred space for... oh, about 16 years. Maybe more. At one point, that item was broken, within the sacred space, and though I kept the pieces in my mind's eye, they were never reunited. Seeing the bowl in one piece, with not a mark on it, was VERY surprising.

I filled the bowl with my fears. I tried to fit them all in, but a few "ran out" the sides. I tried not to worry about it (yet another fear), but instead put the full bowl onto the altar, an offering to my gods. Once my hands left the bowl, it was empty. I am hopeful that my gods will hold those fears, keeping them for me until I no longer need them at all, and can let them go completely.

The empty space within me I asked to be filled with confidence. As I jotted down in the faint pencil, "Not bravado or white knuckle courage but true confidence in my own abilities."

The ritual we did after was a true opening for me. The oil on my palms felt like a physical connection between myself, my teachers, and my fellow students. The faint scent of the oil was refreshing, slightly grounding (a good thing, as emotions were running high, for me at least), and not overpowering. I felt empowered, energized, and a part of something much larger than myself. I felt great.

Later on, Rabbi Ross gave us each an acorn from his tree at his home. One of the large trees had been dying, and its last year it produced thousands of acorns, a last attempt to reproduce itself before it passed from this life. When I reached into the bowl and pulled out my acorn, it happened to be a double acorn! The two caps are melded together, grown that way quite solidly. The nuts themselves are completely separate. I picked twins, so appropriate for me, I think. I smiled to myself a lot during this part of the class, because I had just put a bunch of hand picked acorns from our own forest, onto the new altar for Artemis.

We were instructed to put our acorns onto our altars or in a shrine. I have decided that rather than just put mine onto the altar to look at it, I will instead plant the acorns in an appropriately sized pot, and see what grows. It seems somehow appropriate, and gives me a definite focus on my altar.

Speaking of altars, I have got to get myself set up with a TNS altar. The acorns, the angel, the various religions I'll be exploring... these do not belong on my Hellenic altars. This isn't about Hellenic polytheism at all. I think I've decided to use the top of the bookcase right by my window. It's low (it's an old credenza from a desk, now sitting on the floor), and firmly attached to the wall so nothing will be jiggled off. A few small things have already gathered there, as if in preparation for the class. The addition of a potted acorn and a few other small things, plus whatever imagery I need for my class work, should be quite nice there. It's kitty corner to my Hellenic altars, which seems fine.

Tomorrow I will set up the new altar. I always enjoy setting up altars... it's a cleansing of the mind as I clean the physical space. Placing the items I've chosen onto the altar seems to bring to life the intent that I have for that sacred spot.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Living Memorial

Out of the ashes of the horrific 9/11 attacks, a positive custom is taking hold.

Since 2002, victims’ family members and friends have joined with community nonprofits, faith-based groups and others to mobilize Americans to mark the anniversary of the attacks with useful volunteer service. Under a provision of the larger national service measure signed in April by President Obama, Friday will be the first 9/11 anniversary to be commemorated as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

Read the rest of this article here.
What a wonderful thing.

I know that on 9/11 I always find myself in need of a few private moments, especially on first waking up. In a lot of ways I am afraid to look at my computer, because that's where I first heard the news. I popped into an IRC chat room where I routinely had a morning chit chat over coffee with friends, only to find people going around claiming someone was bombing the United States.

At first, I thought it was a hoax. I wasn't awake yet, the coffee hadn't kicked in, and my eyes were bleary. Maybe they were pulling our legs? Unfortunately, it was no hoax, and I was quickly brought up to speed and ran to my television in time to catch a terrifyingly spectacular vision of the second plane going into the Towers.

I didn't believe my eyes. How could this be happening? How could something so terrible really be happening HERE... in my world? Suddenly my heart leaped into my throat as I realized that my love was supposed to be working in or near the pentagon that day. Another friend was scheduled on an early morning flight to be IN the World Trade Center on business. My mind filled with horrible visions of the people that I loved, and those who were "mere" acquaintances, being trapped in that building.

I remember crying for a long time. I remember walking rather than driving to school to pick up my daughter, because I was afraid I would crash. I remember trying to explain the ugly visions on the television to my then-6 year old. I remember frantically trying to reach the people I knew who had any reason to be in NYC that day, and getting only that fast busy that was so terrifying.

At the time, I lived far away from NYC, but the disaster touched my life in so many ways. Tomorrow morning, when I wake up but before the coffee hits my system, I'll sit as I always do on 9/11, and have a good cry. I'll cry for the thousands who died on the unprecedented attack on our populace. I'll cry for the joy of not losing the people who mean the most to me, through what I can only call a direct Act of God. I'll cry because I had to explain such an awful thing to my young child.

Then I'll stand up, and start my day... because you can't let the bastards get you down.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pray for Peace



Please consider pledging one minute of your time on September 21st. It's the Autumnal Equinox, a moment of balance that is planet-wide. At noon on the 21st, Odyssey Networks is attempting to get a million minutes of peace. Why not lend a prayer? :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Spiritual Grilling

Well, THAT was intense. Tonight, I had my interview with the high muckity-mucks at my church, to see if I could take on the position of intern to Rev. Alison. The initial answer is "no", but only an official no. I can certainly work with her, and work under her, and I am being very supported in that. The church just isn't ready, at this time, to embrace an interfaith minister with Hellenic polytheistic leanings. I can live with that.

I will still be going in and helping Rev. Alison whenever she needs me. I will preach on the occasional Sunday. I will lead a study group of some kind, and do whatever other work they come up with for me. The only thing I'm guaranteed not to do is filing or phone answering. I have to volunteer separately, as a plain ol' church member, to do that. *chuckle*

The picture to the left is me speaking a blessing over the barley, above the new altar dedicated to Artemis. It took four husky people, a tractor, and a backhoe to get that rock to where it sits, but it was worth it. It's just lovely, and it centers the sacred precinct perfectly.

We did a full procession up the hill, as you can see in our picture here. I beat on my drum as we walked, and Thista rode a "chariot pulled by a deer" as befits a priestess of Artemis. Modern times call for modern measures, and our chariot was a box and our deer was the John Deere variety, but still! Everyone in the procession had a musical instrument of some type, and we went up the hll to drums, bells, tamborines and shakers. I think the children liked that part best, though for the most part they were all very well behaved.

I have three virgins to help tend the shrine and temple of Artemis. They range in age from 12 to 16, and have parental permission (enthusiastic permission, in fact). While they're in service, they must retain their virginity. No recrimination if they give it up; it's just that when they make that leap to adulthood, it will be time to lay down their task so another can take service. I have no idea how long I'll be able to keep that part of it going, but I am hoping it catches on. I'd be very pleased to have a strong and vibrant spiritual reason for local girls not to "give it up" to the local boys.