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
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.