My personal practice: keeping track

As I have added additional layers to my personal practice, one way I have kept it simple is with a system of keeping track. It’s got two components: keeping track of what is to come, and keeping track of offerings already made.


A calendar is critical to remembering what’s to come.  My daily offerings don’t vary much, but there are weekly and monthly obligations that I write down.  I use a lunar calendar, and most of what I do is triggered by the dark of the moon.  Looking up helps, but I also use an app to track the exact moon phase.

It’s the yearly stuff that is trickiest for me; I nearly forgot about the festival of lilies this time around and need to step up my game.  Luckily my observances tend to be stacked upon each other; honoring my ancestors, flowers for the gods, vigil for the bulls.  I only need to remember the first to recall each in succession.  While I’m loathe to depend too much on electronica, it serves better than paper for me.

A couple of years ago I began the habit of writing down the offerings I made, much like my ancestors did.  It was inspired by a combination of Galina Krasskova’s moneyworking class and the work of PT Helms, who himself pondered adopting this old way.  These records were quite particular in antiquity, noting how much oil to the dram and otherwise being precise, but my focus is on the what, not the how much.  Each day after my worship I jot down that “what” in a formerly blank book.  While I wont say that this constitutes an offering in itself, it extends the period in which I remain in a state of worship, particularly receptive to any gifts which they may desire to bequeath upon me.

This act of writing down also serves as a record of what I’ve offered in the past, as a guide of what to offer in the future.  Not all of my offerings are attested to in ancient records, and it’s good to be able to seek inspiration in my own past, and to see patterns as they emerge in my practice.

Book review: Arc of the Goddess

2daca1_0f13271010e44147b896ac66a54cb04fGenre: Paganism

Title: Arc of the Goddess

Author: Rachel Patterson & Tracey Roberts

Overview: This is a book that takes on the challenge of putting the “practical” into a yearly cycle of goddess-focused practice. It’s set up to follow the course of a calendar year, and the reader is invited to focus several different kinds of devotional activities on a different goddess each month. If you jump in with gusto, you’re going to feel and look radiant thanks to a monthly home-made beauty product, and you’re also going to have the opportunity to indulge in a wide variety of cakes thanks to the twelve delicious recipes within.

Based on a course that Patterson and Roberts developed, each chapter includes information on goddesses from many different religions, as well as feast and celebration days from antiquity forward that are celebrated during that month. After studying the material, the student is provided the text of a guided meditation during which the month’s goddess is ascertained. Much of the information about spell work, rituals, altars, and related activities is repeated in each unit (fulfilling a promise that the reader can begin with any month), but with month-specific variations on the activities. Herbs and stones that are aligned with the season are also discussed and then used in mandalas, crystal grids, oils, and the aforementioned beauty product. The cake recipe is tied into the feasting component, making me all the more eager to dive right in.

What’s valuable about this book is 1) the framework for someone to explore relationships with different deities and 2) the extensive information about known goddesses and holy days to guide that exploration. I can see it used as a springboard to develop a much deeper relationship with a particular goddess, or built upon to develop a strong, personal polytraditional practice. Either way, this is definitely not the worst tool for upping one’s game if one isn’t part of a clearly defined tradition.

Also, did I mention cake?

Quibbles: There’s nothing wrong with taking a personal tone while writing a book, but the way it’s done in this book is less intimate than it is confusing. That’s because there are two authors, but the text is dotted with “I” statements that don’t make it clear which of the two is sharing an opinion or experience. It’s possible that they are of one mind, but I could also be projecting.

Quirks: An implicit assumption in this book is the subscription to the idea that all goddesses are, at least to some extent, one goddess. That doesn’t mean that the material can’t be used by someone with a different cosmology, only that the language used may be distracting.

This book is British, which means that some of the ingredients in the recipes may be unfamiliar. It’s nothing a decent search engine can’t resolve, and it adds a cultural flavor that I am glad was not stripped out for American audiences.
Title: Arc of the Goddess
Author: Rachel Patterson & Tracey Roberts
Publisher: Moon Books
ISBN: 978-1-78535-318-5

My personal practice: epithets

When I look back at how terrified I was to get things wrong as I attempted to honor the theoi, particularly around the use of ancient Greek, I’m amazed that I didn’t simply smile and decide that this path wasn’t for me.  I did before, when I was invited to join a group of people who aspired to Druidry and ADF membership.  Yes, I’ve probably got more Irish blood in my veins than anything else but no, I didn’t have any interest in wrestling with Gaelic or whatever language it was that I’d have to master.  I’m good at one language, and I don’t believe for one second that specialization is for insects; in fact, I think it’s one of the great strengths of humanity to be able to specialize.

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Der Narr und die Närrin.

Long before I ever thought about Hellenic gods, I was a fool, and I still take the job very seriously.  I’ve assumed the office of jester in a coven, inducted people into the mysteries of Bill the Cat, and tales of what transpires when I draw down the Lord of Misrule are recounted years after the fact.  Being a fool is to master the art of applied ignorance, and I always considered Socrates to be my role model in that regard.  (Yes, writing this makes me realize I probably should be paying him hero cult, but I don’t wish to get ahead of myself.  Baby steps.)  One step that I took in my Hellenic education would be considered quite foolish to some of my co-religionists:  I joined Tumblr.

Here’s another thing I’ve learned by being a fool:  you can’t consider the source.  More specifically, there is no value in dismissing a source because they happen to use a lot of profanity, or they were born in this century, or even because they got started in their religion because of some guy’s books.  If I considered the source, I would never have found a particular blog on Tumblr, written by a particularly potty-mouthed someone who clearly reveled in blog-battle.  As it happens, one of that really nasty blogger’s posts laid out the structure of a basic Hellenic ritual in a way that, for some reason, clicked with me.  I was probably at close to two years of formal instruction by this point, but the presentation spoke to me in a new and important way.  I can’t find the post, and frankly I’d rather not link to it anyway because there’s no need to invite trouble, but it got me thinking about epithets.

It was the notion of calling a god by many epithets, “or whichever name you wish to be known by,” that got my gears grinding and enabled me to level up.  This is something I can anchor in time, because I distinctly recall that when I attended the Polytheist Leadership Conference, I was proud that I had memorized seven for Poseidon.  It took a few weeks to commit all of those to memory, and to be honest I’m still not convinced I’m pronouncing most of them correctly.  Still, that was the beginning of a process which has exploded for me.

Poseidon, by Grace Palmer

Poseidon, by Grace Palmer

Honestly, I would have been quite content calling Poseidon by seven epithets important to me, reading a simple hymn of my own creation, offering barley and a libation of coffee.  Longtime readers may recall that I was challenged — from several sources — about whether I was doing enough for him, and that ultimately he assigned me the task of writing hymns for each of those epithets, and a whole lot more besides.  Those hymns are the core of my book Depth of Praise, promised for well over a year but finally in the design phase.  That’s exciting in and of itself, but I expected that my daily practice would calm down after I wasn’t writing something new every day.  The creation time did fall away, but somewhere along the line the number of epithets that are part of my standard practice ballooned to 29 different titles.

That means that over the course of roughly five years, I went from making a fixed number of offerings to one god in return for a favor, to layers upon layer of daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal practice.  There is no question in my mind that I could not have and would not have started on this path if I was told that this would be expected of me down the road.  He who shakes the earth also knows how to move the ground with an imperceptible slowness, allowing me to feel like it was no change at all.

The task for me, and for anyone with a few years of practice, is to see one’s own practice through the eyes of a neophyte, and understand that this is not where anyone should begin.  Even if they take on a multilayered calendar of offerings with zeal, they are likely to burn out.  Even more common is what I decided about the Druids:  “Thanks, but no thanks.”  Who knows what opportunities I missed?  Who knows how many doors I might close to someone simply by showing them what I do on a regular basis?

By the word of Hermes, I will lie and deceive to avoid scaring a seeker.  I will hide my practice and reveal my knowledge only when it requested, and then in appropriate measure.

By the word of Apollon, I will try to recognize how much truth a seeker is ready to know, so I dole it out at a pace the gods decree, rather than let my passion and excitement trample over the curiosity of another.

By the word of Poseidon, I will root myself in the patience of the tectonic plates themselves, and trust that it is through me, and not from me, that wisdom may flow.

There is more to tell about my personal practice, but it’s mostly frills and shiny things.  Stay tuned.

He approves

As it happens, the Vigil for the Bulls ends just prior to my birthday. I arose this morning after my first night of sleep unbroken by devotion, and awaits me on the family altar were gifts! Okay, not entirely a surprise; that’s how we roll.

The card my wife gave me had a wishing-well theme, so she decided to enhance it with an actual coin from her collection.  She grabbed an old British penny, sporting a profile of King George circa 1920.  Apparently, she never looked at the reverse, but I did.


A seated figure, holding a shield and trident? I’ll take that sign right to the bank.

It ends

It ends in the light
once the last bull has run
through the gates of the ring
where the killing is done.

Great Poseidon, we mourn!
Sacred beasts, all mistreated
have been dispatched from this realm
in the end, all defeated.

We remember the light
and soul in their eyes
and the unanswered question
we can quickly surmise.

The vigil is over,
but the need is not sated.
For the bulls, for Poseidon,
We stand witness unabated.

I determined to observe the Vigil for the Bulls, and I made it out the other end.  What shape I’m in has not yet been determined.  Yesterday I thought it was today, and today I thought it was tomorrow, so it’s possible I either lost or gained a day somewhere along the line.  Once I catch up with myself, it will be easier to assess my condition.

During the time of the vigil, out in the world, a lot of people were gored by bulls, including a matador in another part of Spain who was killed.  During that same period of time, 48 bulls were run through the streets, then exhausted, tormented, and stabbed into submission until they were finally killed in a display of machismo that many Spaniards oppose passing on to the next generation, and 73% of Mexicans oppose.  During the vigil, I chose to look at this specific cruelty, rather than look away.  There is so much pain and suffering and injustice in the world, that it can be easier to turn aside rather than to let it all in.  This one, this time, I let it in.

During the time of the vigil, as is all-too-common during this festival, sexual assaults skyrocketed in the 24-hour party atmosphere.  During the vigil, while I did not feel able to fast, I practice abstinence, which was my personal counterpoint to the abandon with which some men threw themselves into the role of predator.

wall_street_bubbles_-_always_the_same_-_keppler_1901

During the time of the vigil, the bull market in stocks passed a record, now second only to the one that ended in 2000.  One thing that ties bull markets together is the sense that they will never end, and to the fevered investors seem harbinger of a new economy where the rules are different; they always, in the end, are proven wrong.  During the vigil, eyes barely focused on the page I scrawled down the idea that the running — and the fighting — of the bulls is an act of hubris, for instead of reserving the first portion for the gods as it proper for a sacrifice, the entire life essence is sucked out to test the manhood (always, it seems, the manhood) of the human participants, who ignore the simple fact that with odds so stacked in their favor no possible honor or glory can come of such brutality.

I know Taureos better than I ever have before, and I also have a better understanding of the kthonic aspects of Poseidon:  Psychopompos and Kthonios.  In some ways, I have always known these aspects of his, but at the same time they are entirely new.  The sea gives life, and the sea takes life back into itself.  Such it is, such it ever shall be.

The only thing of which I am confident is that these pieces will come together in due course, even if it requires sitting vigil for the bulls again.  Tomorrow, I need ot redo the temple to lift that which descended upon it, but tonight I shall, for hte first time in over a week, be free to sleep through the night.

Vigil, interrupted

Today’s personal observation about the Vigil for the Bulls:  I find myself reflecting upon my personal experience as I review news reports from Pamplona, and there seems to be a relationship.  I hit a situation that blocked me from observing yesterday (July 11), and the spate of stories about gored runners and matadors in Pamplona and elsewhere around Spain seemed to stop.  I was back at it overnight, and now the news is of sexual assaults.

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It is unfortunately nothing new that women expect to be groped during the St Fermin festival, and that shameful truth exposes how broken the practice has become.  Bulls are and have been celebrated as an expression of masculinity, but that’s been twisted into shameful and heinous acts against the unsuspecting.  How can we abuse these symbols of virility and not expect it to have an effect?  This can be metaphysical, but it also can be psychological:  in the festival atmosphere where one tests one’s mettle against an uber-masculine animal, it might not be such a large step for some men to try expressing their man-selves with their man-bits.

There are no occasions upon which rape, sexual assault, or any sort of non-consensual sexual contact are acceptable.  These types of things happen in many other places and many other times, but I am particularly unsurprised that they happen during a festival which abuses the sacred relationship between human and bull.  The entire situation is broken, and Poseidon is surely not the only bull god who takes a dim view of the proceedings.  I’m looking at you, Dionysos Taurophagos.  These depredations are simply another aspect of the festival that I am now being asked to focus on during the vigil: miasmic sexual energies.

I knew this might be difficult, but I didn’t expect it to be filthy.

Is this real life?

To be fair, I never paid much attention to the running of the bulls before.  I remember learning some time ago that, despite the dramatic pictures, there are only six bulls involved in each run; the danger to humans is in fact quite overrated if one considers the sheer number of them in the streets.  I didn’t even know that it was associated with bull “fighting” until a year ago.  That’s why I have to wonder if it’s really always such a violent time.

Quick, run! Here come the bulls!

Two more men were gored as the vigil continued overnight, and a bull killed a matador in Teruel, the first such death in 31 years.  (None of the reports I’ve read indicate if the audience threw flowers to the bull on occasion of his victory, but somehow I doubt it.)

So far as I know, my participation in the vigil this year doubles our number, and frankly I wonder if that has anything to do with it.  I definitely don’t think I’m all that, but maybe Poseidon is getting juiced that this issue is getting more sacred attention.

In addition to writing blog posts — something which I am actually a bit surprised to find time for — I’ve been writing more hymns.  A new one to Poseidon Kthonios came out, for honoring the dead bulls not sacrificed, as well as all the other dead which he claims.  No interest in debating if Poseidon could even possibly have a kthonic aspect or if that’s just his brother; the answer is definitely “yes” to that.

The circles that I have noted as emanating outwards are also bouncing back within, and they are threatening to shake things loose, break walls down, tear barriers apart, likely to mold me again when the process is complete.  This is a surprisingly emotional experience for me, because it’s stripping away those protective layers of “don’t want to think about it” which protect me from the pain all around.  I’m not a bleeding heart environmentalist any longer because I hardened my heart to suffering that’s not in my face.  Sure, I recycle and compost more than most and I recycle far more than most people would be bothered to, but when I allow myself to feel what we collectively do to the denizens of this world, the sadness and anger tend to make me . . . let’s call it “anti-social.”  Shielding that sensitive part of me allows me to function and move forward in my own small way towards a planet that is populated by compassionate beings that don’t bring suffering to all of their neighbors.

I may have to find another way, because there’s four more nights of this ahead, and I don’t know what there is of me that isn’t going to get swept away.