Friday, April 18, 2014

PBP: Interpretation of signs

Divination played a fairly large role in Hellenic every day life. Oracles given directly, like at Delphi, were rare and called chesmomancy. All other forms of divination practiced in ancient Hellas were performed by seers, not oracles. Seer staples were divination through the spotting of birds (ornithomancy and augury), dream interpretation (oneiromancy) and animal sacrifice (hieromancy, haruspicy, empyromancy and extispicy), but other forms of divination were definitely used, including cledonomancy (listening to words spoken by a crowd), oneiromancy (divination through the reading of birthmarks) and phyllorhodomancy, the reading of the sound rose petals make when slapping them together with your hands. The biggest difference between oracles and seers was that oracles gave long answers which usually needed some for of interpretation while seers usually answered yes-or-no questions.

Divination of any kind was rarely turned to, to predict the future. To desire knowledge of the future was considered hubris. Instead, oracles and seers were petitioned to help answer questions about the present or to advice on a decision which had to be made in the very near future. 'Shall I go to war?', ' Shall I put my sheep out on the high pasture?'. Most often, oracular questions were posed in a way which made it easy for the God(dess)--and the seer--to answer; they did not ask 'Shall I go to war?', they asked 'Don't you think I ought to go to war?'. Most likely, the answer of seers (and perhaps even oracles) depended on the offertory; if it was large enough, the answer was 'yes', if the offertory was dissatisfactory, the answer would be 'no'.
Seers, in general, were considered touched by the Gods, and their gift was passed down through the blood line, often traced back to famous seers from mythology. These mythological people were considered gifted with the gift of sight and interpretation, and it could be passed by blood all the way down to the then-present. Some seers managed to make a good living from their job, others not so much and were rushed out of cities and towns when the answers they gave were not the desired ones.

In modern times, divination has become a game everyone can play. There are some who still position themselves as seers or oracles, but in general, many of us perform at least one type of divination, and all of us keep our feelers out to maybe find out what the Gods want from us--be it sacrifice, taking or not taking a job, going or not going somewhere, etc. There is an art--a skill--in interpreting signs, and it comes with a lot of practice. I remember starting out many, many, years ago and thinking everything was a sign while doubting every sign I got. In general, I have discovered a few things about interpreting signs:
  • Almost always, that sign you think you have gotten is either some random occurrence without meaning or your inner sockpuppets talking to you
  • It doesn't matter if it's the inner sockpuppets or it's simply a bird flying overhead; if you feel you must or must not do something in your gut, then do or do not do it--the opinions of the Gods matter, but yours do as well
  • Saying you speak for a certain God had best come with a boatload of proof
  • Making fun of someone who says they speak for the Gods is never okay
  • It's okay to believe someone speaks for the Gods, and it's equally okay not to make use of their talents if you don't believe--or even if you do
  • Divination is a beautiful practice, but it's hard to find true meaning in--mostly because of said needed skill and the inner sockpuppets; use divination as a guide, not a law, if you make use of it at all
  • Don't be afraid to interpret (or misinterpret) signs; the Gods will steer you right eventually, and most likely you won't even notice
  • Go with your gut; always go with your gut--an always be respectful to the Gods and those who serve them
Divination is a hot topic in the Hellenic community, mostly because of the historical foundation the practice is built upon. I rarely--if ever--use divination, but I do listen to my gut all the time. If I feel someone requires sacrifice, I'll do it, if I feel I'm meant to do something or walk away from something, I do it. Are those the Gods talking to me? I don't know, but I tend to believe they have instilled in me the qualities and wisdom to figure out my own life, and I have faith in Their willingness to steer my actions whenever I do something incredibly stupid. Interpreting signs is hard, and you will get it wrong many times over; that's fine. Keep at it, and once day you'll find the delicate balance between hope and faith.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hymn to Eris

It has been a while since I have hit this level of 'it's not going to happen'. Circumstances caused me to get about three hours of sleep last night (and none of them were me having a good time), so I'm going for a run to get rid of some frustration and then I'm going back to bed. Sorry guy, tomorrow is the PBP, and I'll make sure to have something good for you then.

Somehow, I have the feeling I have pissed someone or Someone off enough to have a few crappy days. Before I go back to bed, I am making ample libations to Eris in the hopes that, if it isn't Her directly, She will feel inclined to speak to whomever it is on my behalf. Eris (Ἔρις), Goddess of discord and strife, doesn't have a surviving hymn to Her name, but I have one for her, regardless, puzzled together from existing sources:

Hymn to Eris
"To Eris, the fearful Battle-queen, beheld of none, but cloaked in clouds blood-raining: on she stalked swelling the mighty roar of battle. From small to huge that Fury's stature grew; her arms of adamant were blood-besprent, the deadly lance she brandished reached the sky. Earth quaked beneath her feet: dread blasts of fire flamed from her mouth: her voice pealed thunder-like kindling strong men. Swift closed the fronts of fight drawn by a dread Power to the mighty work.
Sister and companion of murderous Ares, she who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She who then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walks through the onslaught making men's pain heavier. You, who are the last of the Gods to close an argument; hear my prayer today and pass your judgement kindly upon me. Be a good friend to mortals, and a friend to me."
[Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 10.51; Homer, Iliad 4. 441 ff; Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 1057 ff; Hesiod, Works and Days 11 ff]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

'Some say that the fairest thing upon the dark earth is a host of horsemen...'

Okay, blogging today is still not going to happen, so I'm going to leave you with one of my favourite poems by Sappho.

Sappho (Σαπφώ) was a Hellenic lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos (Λέσβος) around 620 BC, although the exact date is unknown. She wrote beautiful and highly romantic poetry that comes and goes straight to the heart. One of my favorite hymns is by her: the Hymn to Aphrodite. Today, you are getting a poem on love, on fate, and on everything that matters in life, indexed usually as 'Some say that the fairest thing upon the dark earth is a host of horsemen...'. Enjoy and hopefully, I'll have a real post for you tomorrow.

A troop of horse, the serried ranks of marchers,
A noble fleet, some think these of all on earth
Most beautiful. For me naught else regarding
Is my beloved.

To understand this is for all most simple,
For thus gazing much on mortal perfection
And knowing already what life could give her,
Him chose fair Helen,

Him the betrayer of Ilium's honour.
The recked she not of adored child or parent,
But yielded to love, and forced by her passion,
Dared Fate in exile.

Thus quickly is bent the will of that woman
To whom things near and dear seem to be nothing.
So mightest thou fail, My Anactoria,
If she were with you.

She whose gentle footfall and radiant face
Hold the power to charm more than a vision
Of chariots and the mail-clad battalions
Of Lydia's army.

So must we learn in world made as this one
Man can never attain his greatest desire,
[But must pray for what good fortune Fate holdeth,
Never unmindful.]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sorry, sick, have a video on the Hellenic Gods

Oh boy, I woke up feeling slightly miserable, but my girlfriend is a sobbing mess of sickness, so I'm not going to be able to get anything up today besides a video I haven't even watched yet. If it's offensive, sorry if it's offensive. If it's bad information, sorry it's bad information. I clicked through it and it seemed pretty legit. Time to take care of my girl. More tomorrow.

"Greek mythology is the body of myths and teachings that belong to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. It was a part of the religion in ancient Greece. Modern scholars refer to and study the myths in an attempt to throw light on the religious and political institutions of Ancient Greece and its civilization, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.

The oldest known Greek literary sources, Homer's epic poems Iliad and Odyssey focus on events surrounding the aftermath of the Trojan War. Two poems by Homer's near contemporary Hesiod, the Theogony and the Works and Days, contain accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of divine rulers, the succession of human ages, the origin of human woes, and the origin of sacrificial practices. Myths are also preserved in the Homeric Hymns, in fragments of epic poems of the Epic Cycle, in lyric poems, in the works of the tragedians of the fifth century BC, in writings of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic Age, and in texts from the time of the Roman Empire by writers such as Plutarch and Pausanias.

Archaeological findings provide a principal source of detail about Greek mythology, with gods and heroes featured prominently in the decoration of many artefacts. Geometric designs on pottery of the eighth century BC depict scenes from the Trojan cycle as well as the adventures of Heracles. In the succeeding Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods, Homeric and various other mythological scenes appear, supplementing the existing literary evidence. Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the culture, arts, and literature of Western civilization and remains part of Western heritage and language. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in the themes."

Monday, April 14, 2014

The 13 Gods of the Internet Pantheon

As someone who spends most of her free time on-line in some form or another, I came across a listing of 'The 13 Gods of the Internet Pantheon'--based loosely on the Greek and Roman Gods--and laughed a lot harder than I should have. Technically, this has no place on this blog, but I have very little time today and I needed a decent laugh. Here is to hoping you do, too. If not, well, sorry--come back tomorrow. Also, who do you identify with most? I'm mostly drawn to Athenapedia, but I pray to Poseodon for most of what I say. Created by Nathan Yaffe.

PS: for once, I encourage you to read the comments.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Menstruation and ritual

Yesterday I received a wonderful e-mail from someone who would like to stay anonymous because of the subject matter of the question they asked me--a question undoubtedly many others are struggling with; many women, especially. That subject matter is the menstrual cycle in relation to active ritual, and if that is reason enough for you to stop reading, read on, because that attitude is exactly why women today are in the bind we are in. The full question goes as follows:

"I have a question - woman to woman - I'm too embarrassed to ask openly on the FB group; which is: What about the monthly week of menstruation and ritual? - Once I realized that menstruation causes miasma, I have not done ritual when on my period, but that is one week out of four! and every month it feels like I'm getting "out of touch" with the Gods. (I don't even touch my shrine when I'm bleeding, which gets me down even more as I then also don't keep Hestia's flame.) What to do? Is there a way of doing ritual respectively a special way of purification? - or is there something like a "ritual substitute"? How do you handle this delicate subject?"

First off, there is no 'delicate' subject; woman to woman and pre-op trans men, we all know that there is absolutely nothing subtle about our periods, is there? Most months it's a battlefield down there, and then I'm not even talking about the pre-menstrual fun of headaches, exhaustion, muscle fatigue and all the other joys. If you're lucky like me, you only deal with some cramping and exhaustion, if you're unlucky... well... I salute you for your bravery in the face of the lining of your uterus tearing away every month. I wish you strength while you suffer through the nausea and vomiting, through the pain that confines you to a bed, with the inability to eat or the craving to overeat. Men, if you think I'm being crude, think of our periods like this: you have seen the movie 'Prometheus', right, where the doctor ends up cutting open her own uterus to fish out this alien squid baby? It's like that but for days on end. Imagine that, if you will. There is nothing cute or fluffy about our periods, and it's not like the commercials at all, and if a woman ever takes your head of for making fun of her pain, you deserve it. With that PSA out of the way, let's get to the point I'm trying to make.

Women in ancient Hellas had periods just like us modern women, although due to improper dieting and hard labour, there is no guarantee it affected women as often then as it does women today. When it did, they would have most likely suffered through the same symptoms as we do. Sadly, we actually have no idea how the ancient Hellenes handled active worship when a woman was on her period. I suspect this comes down to two things: women tended to take a passive role in ritual, and history was written by men who tended (and tend) to get a little uncomfortable around the topic. As such, it was studiously avoided.

The ancient Hellenes had an odd view of blood; for one, they made a very clear distinction between human blood and animal blood, where animal blood was a purifier and human blood a contaminant. To a modern practitioner, 'blood' most likely has a negative connotation to it. Miasma--the lingering aura of uncleanliness in regards to a person or space through which contact is made with the Gods--is a constant concern for the modern practitioner, and judging by the amount of purification rituals and methods we have available from the ancient Hellenes, it was for them as well.

Human blood has connotations of death; bleeding is a human thing, a weakening, an act that brings us closer to death even though we may have only cut our thumbs. We still spill our life's blood. Because the ancient Hellenes studiously avoided talking about menstrual blood and the menstrual cycle of women, this reasoning is exactly why I feel menstruating women were most likely barred from religious rites: especially to the men who dictated these rules, a woman loosing blood would be a terrifying thing; a literal bloodletting and something that brings the woman closer to death and more in tune with her humanity. Miasma are those things that taint us as human while we long to be in the presence of the Gods, and take it from me, very few things make a woman feel more humbly human than suffering through her period.

Next to piety, being ritually clean is one of the most important things to adhere to within Hellenismos. We all incur miasma, every single day of our lives. It is a consequence of living. We breath, make decisions, come in contact with others, and along the way, we become too human--for lack of a better term--to petition the Gods. The divide between the purity and cleanliness of the Theoi and our human mortality and imperfection, keeps us away from Them.

The greatest barrier in understanding miasma and katharmos--the act of getting ritually clean--to me, is our modern frame of mind. On the one hand, we know too much about personal hygiene, about the human body and about science as a whole, on the other hand religion in general has become something separate from life in general. As a result, we colour ancient Hellas with our 'hygiene brush'. Secondly, not everyone has faith, our society does no longer revolve around it, and as a result, we--as modern religious people--struggle for a mind-set of simple, all-encompassing, unquestionable worship. There might be a few remnants of 'Original Sin Thinking' lodged in there as well.

Miasma is not about being physically dirty, although that is a part of it, and katharmos is not about becoming physically clean, although that is a part of it. Men would sometimes come to public rituals fresh off the fields, dirty, sometimes cut up and scraped, in rumpled daily wear. With a washing of the hands, and the sprinkling of the body, they would be considered clean from the daily miasma, although they were almost as physically unclean as they were before their cleansing.

I know I have written about this before, but I can't find it on my blog despite my best efforts; after a lot of research into the workings of miasma, I have come to the conclusion that miasma is linked to distraction. Anything that takes your mind off of the Gods during ritual can be considered miasmic. For example, murder causes miasma (when not committed as part of a war, soldiers were not tainted with miasma for killing their enemies), but only once other people became aware of the fact that you had committed an act of murder. As such, if you were exiled and you travelled to another town where no one knew what you had done, in essence, you were not miamic to the rites and people around you. Men being terrified of women bleeding from their vagina's for a few days a month would undoubtedly have taken their minds off of the ritual at hand, and it would seem logial to me that women were barred from attending ritual because men were uncomfortable.

In ancient Hellas, the kurios was always the male head of household; if menstrual blood indeed caused miasma, the woman could simply not attend when she was having her period. Speaking from my own experience, I am not in a household where this is the case: I am kurios, for all intents and purposes, so how do I solve my monthly problem? Personally, I take extra kathartic steps to avoid miasma, because dropping a week's worth of worship every three weeks is not something I feel comfortable doing. I make sure I shower before my rituals, that I wear clean clothes, and I use tampons so blood does not leave my body during my rites. I spend extra time performing my kathartic rites, and keep my rituals short. If I'm in too much pain or I'm too distracted, I don't perform my rituals, but the danger of that is--for me--really only the first two to three days. Us women know how to get through a whole hell of a lot of pain and still perform well in a society that demands it of us, after all.

What your thoughts on this are depends on who you are and how badly your period affects you. If you practice in a group, it might be something to bring up; perhaps women who have their period can take on a more passive role in the ritual, but can still be allowed to be there to receive kharis? Whatever the case, it's a difficult subject because we have zero concrete examples or evidence from ancient Hellas to go on. This is something we have to figure out for ourselves, but I feel that with the proper preparations, the week of non-practice can at least be shortened to such an extend that you won't have to feel guilty for neglecting the Gods.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

PBP: The Hermetica

Another reader question today; where does the Hermetica fit in with Hellenic Polytheism? The short answer is going to be: wherever you want it to, but let me expand on that a little.

For those unfamiliar with the Hermetica, they are Egyptian-Greek wisdom texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, which are mostly presented as dialogues in which a teacher, generally identified as Hermes Trismegistus ('thrice-greatest Hermes'), enlightens a disciple. The texts form the basis of Hermeticism. They discuss the divine, the cosmos, mind, and nature. Some touch upon alchemy, astrology, and related concepts.

The Hermetic tradition represents a non-Christian lineage of Hellenistic Gnosticism and has greatly influenced the Western esoteric tradition. It was considered to be of great importance during both the Renaissance and the Reformation. The tradition claims descent from a doctrine which affirms that a single, true theology exists which is present in all religions and was given by God to man in antiquity. Many Christian writers considered Hermes Trismegistus to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity.

Like with the Greek Magical Papyri, or Papyri Graecae Magicae--another body of papyri from Graeco-Roman Egypt, dating back to the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD, which each contain a number of magical spells, formulae, hymns and rituals--inclusion of these obviously muddled texts is up to the practitioner.

I have stressed before on this blog the importance of narrowing down your practice to a time period and even a location. The reign of the Hellenes lasted for roughly 650 years. During that time, several major changes took place within the culture and religion of these people. Trying to reconstruct all these practices is not only impractical but also impossible. As a Hellenic Recon, it therefor becomes important to find out which classical, Hellenic, period speaks to us--and if we want to go beyond the scope of those time periods into the Graeco-Roman and Graeco-Egyptian. Of even more importance, perhaps, is if you want to follow or include mystery Traditions, like those taught at Eleusis, or by the Orphics, or even those found in the Papyri or Hermetica.

So, again, if you feel the need to include the Hermetica, if its words speak to you on a religious or spiritual level, then by all means include them. You'll probably be a minority within the religion, but if you feel that is how you can best serve the Gods then go for it! Personally, I steer clear of both the Hermetica and the Papyri, but I've read both, and there is great beauty there. It's just not for me.