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.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Temple Agrotereion


Today, we dedicated a new temple for Artemis. Unlike for Hecate and Dionysos, I am not Artemis' priestess, but I am her neokoros, her temple keeper. I'm very pleased with how it all went.

Appropriately enough, we chose a spot that used to be a hunter's cabin, and transformed it into a small temple with an altar out front. Getting that stone in place was one heck of a journey, and involved four people, a tractor and a backhoe! However, it's in place, and it was just perfect!

Inside the temple proper there is a tall pillar which holds the statue of Artemis and several pieces of small statuary, two candles, and a red-tailed hawk feather. The altar itself was blessed with wine, water and barley. Offerings were made of statuary for the temple itself, and flowers fresh from the garden, food, and other items. I had two young ladies dedicate themselves to helping tend the temple space, and they were very excited to do so (and in case anyone is wondering, yes their parents know, and in fact are all for it).

The mosquitoes were horrid, but I think we made it through ritual with only a minimum of biting. The weather was perfect... not too hot, not too cold. There was a dappled bit of sunlight sweeping through the sacred precinct in front of the temple, which added a lovely feel to the entire proceeding.

Yes, it was a very, very good day.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Well... tonight's it...

Tonight I go before my church board and have my interview for the intern position. Though I know it's technically a shoe-in, I'm still nervous. The board is not the least bit concerned about my being poly or pagan or anything else, provided I can do the job. And I *can* do the job. I feel pretty good about that part.

It's just been so long since I interviewed for anything. Wow.