Friday, February 27, 2009

Seeds of Change, Seeds of the Future

It's not quite spring here in New England. There's still several feet of snow on the ground in most places, and it's cold out, especially at night. But the days are warming up, frequently reaching temperatures as high as 40 degrees F. The seed catalogues we poured over in January turned into seed orders that arrived at the beginning of the month, and now we have a plan for our planting.

So far, only two things have been started in little indoor greenhouses: artichokes and marigolds. As soon as they sprout up, they'll be settled happily in a warm corner with a grow light handy to keep them both warm and lit. Every day we're peeping into the box, looking to see if either has sprouted. Thus begins the waiting game for spring.

I've had a request to put on a pagan bash here at the new homestead, for the spring equinox. I'm thinking I'd like to do that. One of the things we're thinking of doing is building our fire pit and readying it for the weekend of the 21st, so that we can have a small bonfire with drumming and friends. I think it would be a blast, though of course it might be raining like the dickens. Still... it's nice to have the space to even think about doing such things.

Soon I will begin work on the temenos, which is up our hill and to the left. It has a large stone which I plan on using as an altar. It's large enough to build a fire on, making it very appropriate for a Hellenic altar. I will be setting up my shrines to Dionysos and Hecate very soon as well, as soon as it is warm enough to do things outside. Further shrines will eventually be added for Artemis, Pan, the Nymphae, Nyx, Rhea, and Persephone, Demeter and Hades.

Of course, it's going to take time to create all these shrines. And the rituals themselves will take place in the temenos, not at the shrines, but I wanted to have both. It seems appropriate. I just hope we have no problems with the local hunters and kids. I don't think we will - everyone here has been very open and polite about the use of our land. If it becomes a problem, I guess we'll just have to post the land, though we're trying to avoid doing that.

The potential I see when I look out the window is just amazing. I see our land, stretching up into the hills, as far as I can see. I see our fields, currently covered in snow, and know they'll soon be sown with corn or wheat. Our orchard will be started this spring, just a few trees to start, but with plans to add about a hundred trees in total. One side of the house contains our front area, where the dog pen will be, and where we may house goats, at least temporarily. On the other side of the house is our "backyard" where our berries will be, and our grape arbor, and firepit. Beyond that, we'll soon have compost bins and chickens in portable cages. And just past that, our Victory Garden.

I am so excited, so ready to do this. I know it's going to be a lot of work, but I think we can do it. Judging by the state of the economy, I suspect we HAVE to do it. It's expensive to feed our family!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lent 2009

Lent starts tomorrow, Wednesday February 25th, 2009. It's a time of giving up something. The actual Lenten time is 40 days (not including the Sundays that are within the 40 days) and it is a Catholic time of penitence. Ash Wednesday is the beginning, and is the day when Catholics go to church in the morning and are marked on the forehead with ashes to show visibly that they repent of their sins.

For me, Lent is not about repenting sins. I don't really believe in sin in the way that a Christian does. I don't believe in the "get out of hell free" card, as so many others do. What I DO believe in is the bettering of one's self through spiritual and emotional scrutiny. In other words, I believe it's important to take spiritual stock and go over my personal spiritual and mental growth.

One way to do this is to deprive yourself of a thing, and then watch your reaction to that deprivation. The first year I participated in Lent, I gave up coffee (which, admittedly, I will never do again). I learned a lot about myself over that 40 day time period. I learned that caffiene is a very powerful and addictive drug, and that I had the personal power to give it up. I also learned that I had to really white-knuckle it, and that it was a vast relief when it was all over. The first cup of coffee on Easter morning was like a hit of heroin to a junkie. It was a very fruitful exercise, in my opinion.

This year, Lent is 46 days long (when you count the six Sundays). Wednesday is considered a fasting day, but not in the modern sense (of not eating anything) but in the same way the ancients approached it: adults in good health ate only one meal on a 'fasting' day, and it was to be a healthy, well balanced meal. Fasting days would have included abstaining from alcohol, drugs, tobacco or other smokeables, and other such things. The idea was to make your one meal really count, and be flavorful but not "exciting" to the senses. We'll be having roast leg of lamb, which is a delicious flavor, but not spicy or anything over the top. Technically I'm exempt from fasting right now, being ill, but I'm not ill in a way that would be affected by not eating breakfast and lunch, so I'm going to not eat tomorrow until dinner time. I consider it a good practice.

Fridays during lent, Christians generally aren't supposed to eat meat. Most of you have probably heard of "meatless Fridays" and many may even remember them. The Church stopped insisting on them years and years ago, but there were a few hold-outs until more recent times. I am going to attempt to make Fridays the day that we eat fish, not because we're Catholic, but because it's healthy for us. In the spirit of the celebration as I practice it, it will be a day for focus on eating whole foods, healthy foods, and especially those rich in Omega 3s and 6s that our family is often lacking in. Salmon and tuna will likely play a large role in the next few weeks' Friday dinners. Of course, half of the family will be jumping for joy at the thought of more fish. Heh...

For the next 46 days, I intend to focus very much on myself, in respect to my spiritual growth and connection with Deity. This year, I am giving up cookies and cakes (baked sweetness), because they're something that has been slowly sneaking back into my diet more frequently than should be. I need to be aware of just how much sneaking in is happening.

What are you giving up this year, or what are you doing, to gain a better understanding of your relationship to Deity?

Monday, February 9, 2009

The End of Anthesteria


Well, it was an interesting three days. This is the first time I've celebrated Anthesteria fully, although it wasn't a very exciting celebration (being sick, it was mostly just a few minor things done in honor of the holy days). I enjoyed it, though!

On the last day of Anthesteria, I got everyone up and made Muselix for breakfast. It's this oatmeal, nut, grain sort of cereal stuff. You eat it hot, with honey drizzled over it, which just seemed way too appropriate. So I explained a short version of what Anthesteria was all about over breakfast, and we all enjoyed that and some grape juice.

Then, Farnham helped me hang ribbons (actually Tibetan prayer flags) in our front maple tree. I did swing there for a few minutes, though not for long. It's nice to look out my bedroom window and see the brightly colored things swinging in the breeze. It has a distinctly spring feel to it, even though I know a hard freeze is still on its way.

When everyone else went to do their daily chores, I strapped my brand new snow shoes onto my feet, took my bottle of imported Greek Ouzo, and went up to the graveyard on our property. I libated to Miss Sarah and Mr. Timothy, the original owners of this property, and asked them to watch over us as we continue our journey in learning to live closer to the land. I trudged farther up the hill, though not all the way (I have an upper respiratory illness.... snow shoeing is quite tough on proper wood-sinew snow shoes!), and made further libations to my own honored dead, and those who might have just "been around." I suggested politely that it was nice they visited, and they should head on home now.

I also uncovered my Olympic altars again, after being covered for a few days. That felt really good. This is the first time I've done that for a festival, and it definitely changed the feel of what I was doing. Because of where the Zeus and Hera altar is (on my wall, by my window... see the pic at the start of this post), seeing it draped was so odd. It was definitely RIGHT though.

All in all, I felt it was just right.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Anthesteria Poem, 2009

I wrote an Anthesteria poem last year, and so I am carrying on that tradition this year. :)

The Walking Dead

I sit in the dark and watch
As shadow people pass by
Their gauzy bodies drifting
Why did they have to die?
My heart yearns painfully
For moments in the past
I stretch my fingers forth
Into the void so vast
As if I could but touch
To quiet or appease
A single ancestor
To give honor and ease
On Anthesteria
We cherish and we fear
The dead who have passed on
Who for this night walk here
Among the living souls
Inhabiting our homes
Cherish, yes, with love
And fear that for us they roam.

Anthesteria 2009

Corrections to Anthesteria Post

Oops, I got an email from a friend who pointed out I made a few errors in my previous post on Anthesteria. I claim clouded brain from illness, but need to correct things. Let's see...

I said:
It was a day when Hecate opened wide the gates of the Underworld and ancestors were allowed to roam for a few hours among the living.
It was pointed out to me that this is not entirely correct. Mythologically and historically speaking, there is NO evidence that Hecate played any role in Anthesteria celebrations. I was working on the post late last night, and I allowed my personal understandings to mix with the factual stuff; a bad thing, indeed.

My personal understanding of Hecate is as of the Gatekeeper. One of her jobs is to hold the keys to the Underworld, to Hades' realm. So on this night, I see her as unlocking the gate, allowing the dead to roam. But that is wholly UPG, my own understanding, and not based on anything that is historical.
The third day of Anthesteria is Khutroi, meaning "feast of pots." ... It was also the day when the Basilinna led many of the city's women in a secret ceremony of marriage to Dionysos.
It was also pointed out to me that the Basilinna's ceremony was on Khoes, not Khutroi. Now, I have read *somewhere* that it was on the third day, but I'll be damned if I can remember where. However, the majority of references say it happened on the second day of Anthesteria (including the three sites that I offered for people to look through! lol), not the third. My bad!

The last point made by my friend was that the Basilinna was the only one going through the ceremony, and I had to go back and look at my post again to see that it read very badly. I had thought I was clear on that. The Basilinna "marries" Dionysos, but she is attended by 12 older women of the city, according to various historical sources. There are also mentions of other women attending the ceremony itself, but they are not the ones marrying Dionysos.

Sorry to anyone who was briefly led astray. I need to stop writing intellectual posts late at night when I'm sick *grin*

Friday, February 6, 2009

Anthesteria

Tonight is the first night of Anthesteria. This will be my second year celebrating it, although it'll be fairly quiet. Everyone's still sick here, getting over the remnants of the Creeping Crud, and partying is the last thing on our minds. So... before bed, I'll take a swig of wine as a symbol of the opening of the wine casks that would happen in other circumstances (and with luck will happen for real next year at this time!). I'll drink to Dionysos, in quiet joy.

My Zeus and Hera altar is covered, because Anthesteria is also a time when the dead are said to roam, and it was considered a time for the temples to close down. So for the three days of the Anthesteria festival (today, tomorrow and Sunday), I've veiled the altar. It's almost kind of sad, really, looking at it all covered up. But I understand that it is not the time for that kind of worship.

Pithoegia is the first day of Anthesterai, a day for opening the wine jars in honor of Dionysos. Pithoegia means "opening of the casks" or jars. The previous year's wine was placed in sealed casks and buried, and on Pithoegia it was dug up, and first tastes were shared around. Drinking contests were popular.

Khoes is the second day, and it means "of the beakers," named after the kind of containers used to hold the new wine after it is mixed. It was also a day of merrymaking, but of a more private nature. Doors were smeared with oils, and people wore protective amulets. It was a day when Hecate opened wide the gates of the Underworld and ancestors were allowed to roam for a few hours among the living. It wasn't considered a positive thing... no one wanted a disgruntled ancestor coming by to cause problems. Both Pithoegia and Khoes were considered "unlucky" days, or days of miasma, and so the temples were closed, and household shrines to the Olympians were covered or put away.

The third day of Anthesteria is Khutroi, meaning "feast of pots." It is a day that was marked by young women swinging in trees, in honor of Erigone, who hung herself in grief over her father's death on this day. She hung herself in a tree, and was discovered there. To help calm Erigone's spirit, young women and children would swing in her honor. It was also the day when the Basilinna led many of the city's women in a secret ceremony of marriage to Dionysos.

For more information, you can look at the following pages:

Tomorrow I have house preparations for guests arriving on Sunday afternoon, but I will have a bit of time to be alone. I'll spend the day thinking of my ancestors, and at night I'll probably take a few minutes to speak to each of them and wish them well. Sunday our guests will be here, but a traditional breakfast for the last day of Anthesteria is to have oatmeal (or some other grain) with honey and fruit... which I happen to have for this weekend. :) So even if no one else does, that's what I'll be having.

Simple, yes. I am low on energy and not feeling overly spiritual at the moment. But I am happy again, after a long emotional drought, and I want to do something for the celebration.

I leave you with a poem I wrote last year for Anthesteria.

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.

(c) Anthesteria, 2008

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quiet Moments in Temple


Farnham and I took a bit of time tonight to celebrate the weekly Neos Alexandria ritual. I haven't really done it in months, not since October basically. Oh, I've lit a candle and made a perfunctionary nod... I feel it's important to do least that much. But I haven't done more.

With all of the emotional stuff with our newest member of the family leaving (under a bit of duress, unfortunately), I just haven't felt able to face my gods. No, that isn't quite right... I haven't felt like I should face them. I had associated the feeling with the emotional turmoil that happened when sis lost the first baby at 16 weeks; I assumed that the feeling was an indication of miasma.

I am not so sure anymore. Thanks to Sannion's prompting, I decided to briefly touch base with Hecate first. He pointed out that she's the one who ferries the dead through the gates into the Underworld, and she frequently deals with people who are stained with miasma and it doesn't seem to bother her one bit. He's right, of course, and I did know that, but had forgotten it. I'm not sure why, as it's one of her vastly important functions, however it had passed from my mind.

All I did was light a candle last week. I lit the candle, and stood in front of her altar, and spoke with her. Again, I haven't done that in a long time. I used to talk to her frequently, but the toll of the past few months really took a lot out of me (not excuse, just an explanation).

She left me with the sensation that all would be well. And it has been. My mood lightened almost immediately, and I slept well that night, for the first time in weeks. I made it through some extremely stressful moments with reasonably good temper, and have felt much closer to the gods in general.

So tonight, we did a short but more formal NA ritual. I didn't follow any format. I simply washed up carefully, then put on clean clothes and brushed my hair. I entered the shrine area of my room, and began lighting the candles. I lit them all: Zeus and Hera, Aphrodite, Dionysos, Hecate, Nyx, Aesclepius, my household guardians, our ancestors, and the Nymphae. I gave to each a small offering of barley, and words of praise, thought up on the spot. Then I asked a small boon of each of them, to help me be a better worshipper and servant. Then Farnham and I asked the blessings of the gods on some prayer flags we got (yes, cross-cultural and -tradition mixing, so shoot me) and had a long moment of silence.

It wasn't a whiz-bang type of ritual. Nothing spectacular happened. I didn't even have a candle fizzle. But it was peaceful. Sometimes, like now, that's enough.

Learning and Suffering

Once again, Rachel of the Velveteen Rabbi has made me stop and think about my own beliefs, my own methods of worship and praise. She's very good at that. That's why I read her journal, of course!

In today's entry, she wrote about the Jews crossing the Red Sea and the subsequent drowning of the Egyptians. The story venerates their God for saving them, but also goes on about the violence he called down upon the Egyptians, killing them “horse and rider,” drowning them. Rachel's community only sings the more positive parts of the poem, leaving the violent bits to the one leading, because, “ . . . I've always understood that we fall silent at that point because after these opening lines the poem gets violent, and that's not the aspect of God we want to glorify.

That made me pause. One of the topics that comes up often enough in the Hellenic discussion lists and forums, is the question of whether we venerate the violent or unethical (by our standards at least) actions of our gods in myth. My usual example is Zeus – do we accept his philandering and sing praises to it? Do we sweep it under the rug and call it allegorical? What about Hera's abuse of Hephaestus as a child, or her hatred of Zeus's offspring by other females? Aphrodite's bed-hopping proclivities? Hestia's overweening submission? Dionysos' penchant for rape?

Rachel has hit on it, though. Whether these are truth or myth or something else entirely, doesn't matter. We should be aware of the flaws, or what we perceive as flaws, but not hold them up as acceptable, either. As Rachel states, “ . . . that's not the aspect of God we want to glorify.” I agree, wholeheartedly. Myths and legends teach us many lessons, and sometimes they teach us what NOT to do.

Rachel also goes on to talk of how her God chastised the angels for wishing to sing a hymn when the Egyptians were killed. He considers all people, Egyptians too, to be his children, and singing hymns or hosannas at their death is just wrong. She says that the Jews need to, “ . . . remind ourselves that because others perished, our joy in our liberation can never be complete.

These words, too, struck me as very wise. Can any of us be completely happy, knowing that others have suffered on our behalf? Americans are giving their lives in other countries right now to secure our own peace at home. The people in Gaza suffer horribly during their own crises. Right here at home, Native Americans were once pushed out of their ancestral lands because Europeans considered them savages.

I think I need to take time tonight, and offering up prayers of thanks to my gods for the things that I have, and the family that loves me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The "Longevity Gene"

Apparently, they've now discovered and confirmed that there is a real longevity gene, or rather a gene that appears in people who live to 100 years of age and older. There has been an independent study done in Germany, France, America and Japan, showing that it appears across race differences, which is quite the big deal.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-02/ku-llt020309.php

Have you ever noticed that Robert Heinlein was right about so many of these things? Sure, his timing was off -- his Howards, or long lifers, started their breeding program in the late 1800s -- but his ideas were spot on. That's just incredible. The fact that long life is a genetic thing means it can be easily passed (comparatively speaking) to offspring. Having two parents who are "Howards" would exponentially increase the chance of long lived offspring. We are now living in the universe of Heinlein's creation.

If you add to that the latest information about "world as hologram", it begins to be almost eerie. If our world is a hologram, does that mean that other worlds than ours may exist, other modes of existance? In some of them, does Hitler win the war? Or does Ceaesar never cross the Rubicon? It is always fun and exciting when fiction becomes reality, or even just touches on it. In particular, these two things are fascinating to me.