Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: When A Pagan Prays

Religion and prayer go hand-in-hand and paganism is no exception to the rule. Nimue Brown has here written a lengthy treatise on the place of prayer in pagan religion, and offers many useful insights. She discusses the ethics of prayer, its actual practice, the balance of prayer and action and its place in magic and ritual, to name just a few topics.

Brown began the work that became this book out of intellectual curiosity. She is a Druid, a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), and -- significantly for readers of this book -- a nontheist. She  rejects the label atheist because "it seems too much like certainty to me," but nevertheless, she does not include gods in her pagan practice. Her spirituality did not include prayer per se because, without deities, to just whom is one praying?

Buy the book

When she became interested in prayer, she looked into Christian, Buddhist and Shinto practices among others to gain insight into how prayer manifests in various religions. An early and important revelation was in a book by a Christian author who wrote that prayer is "about entering a mystery, not getting a result." From there, Brown launched into a personal experiment with prayer, from which this book eventually emerged.

She explores each of her topics in considerable depth, and brings a great deal of scholarship to bear. Attempting to summarize it would not do justice to it, because watching her thoughts reveal themselves in full measure is one of the pleasures of reading this work.

As an OBOD Druid, Brown has a particular perspective, as would a Hellenic Reconstructionist or an Asutruar. "Pagan" has become too big a word to mean much specific; however, she says emphatically and frequently through the book that she is intending only to describe her thoughts and experience, not to issue proclamations that everyone should accept. With that caveat in mind, she has written an interesting and useful book.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Further along the initiate path

I am now done with the fully academic courses in ADF’s Initiate Program. Those that remain require several months of practice, journaling and distilling essays from the journals.

I am finding the coursework really rewarding. General Bardic Studies I reawakened my interest in writing poetry, and it has also fed my devotional work as I’ve been writing poems for the gods in the course of getting to know them. I have written for Poseidon, Demeter and Athena, and Apollon is next on the list.


Poetry awakens an alternate language of a sort. My approach, as a tool for initiating a relationship, has been to find a personal connection between my own life and the god’s nature (my love of the sea for Poseidon, my interest in justice for Athena) and then developing a metrical poem that expresses that. The deities seem to appreciate the effort, if the omens are any indication. 

Historically, poetic forms have been an important aspect of every oral culture. Meter and rhyme make words more memorable, easier to pass along, easier to preserve across generations. Hymns and prayers are often in verse, so this practice is time-honored.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Poseidon, Do-Over

My plan to honor the Hellenic deities one at a time is underway. After good rituals offering to Zeus and Hera came a disastrous one to Poseidon.

I read up a bit on him and wrote a few words, making an offering of Nori (seaweed sheets used in sushi). The omens made it clear that the gods didn’t think much of the ritual and the effort I put into it; you can’t reap what you haven’t sown, was the gist. Even the suet block we put out for the birds (nature spirits) has gone untouched.

I was duly chagrined by this, but determined to redouble my effort. Rather than moving on to the next deity on the list, I approached Poseidon anew. I read more, including some original material from Homer as well as secondary sources. And I composed a poem, the first time ever that I’ve written an original bardic offering. (For now, I'm not going to share it, as it was an offering for him; I may in time.)

When it came time to draw the omen, I asked (as I had last week) the single question: Have we honored you well?

The first tile, Lamba, slipped out of my fingers, hit the altar and bounced to the left into the liquid offering bowl. Its meaning:

“The one passing on the left bodes well for everything.”

Next, Alpha:

“The god says you will do everything successfully.”

Finally, Sigma:

“Phoibos (Apollon) speaks plainly, ‘Stay, friend.’”

After that we drew three more, one for each of the three kindreds: Ancestors, nature spirits and gods. They also were positive, and for the gods I drew Psi, which is shaped like Poseidon’s trident and means “You have this righteous judgment from the gods.”

Overall, I take this to mean: Poseidon was pleased with the second effort, happily accepts our offerings, and the gods overall share this judgment.

The gods ask us to approach them as the powerful beings they are. They are not coming over to help us clean the garage, they attend our rites, if they do, to accept honor, worship and offerings. They are not buddies (though some, like Hermes, can become pretty chummy with time), and rightfully require some respect.

The experience reminded me of a principle I’ve long held to: It’s better to not do a ritual at all than to do it half-assed. The ritual I put together last week was fine from a ritual mechanics point of view, but lacked any sort of personal connection. I had no real reason to call Poseidon except that it was turn, and he had no reason to respond to the call. The second time, I found that personal connection and built the ritual around it. It made all the difference. 


Hail Poseidon! And thank you for the firm hand. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Trial Run

I am now working on the Initiate Path in ADF, and one of the courses, Liturgy Practicum I, requires me to document home worship for at least four months.

In the spirit of starting fresh, I created a full ritual for the Hellenic hearth. I did not write most of it – I adapted it from a rite ADF member Jeremy Baer wrote and from prayers by Hester Butler-Ehle from her book “Devotion” – but I did write a portion for the agathos daimon, and adapted some of the Baer material.
Here’s the basic structure:

Chime
Ground and center

Purification

A child of the Earth approaches the Kindred to offer honor and welcome to the Earth Mother, the spirit of the house, the ancestors, nature spirits and the gods and goddesses.

{Conduct Two Powers for ground/center)

GATES/COSMOS
Beneath us are the waters of the earth.
The waters are dark, still and powerful.
The waters contain the memories of countless ages.
Behold, the waters are the Sacred Well.
Sacred Well, flow within us!
Above us burn the flames of heaven.
The flames are bright, quick, and dazzling.
The flames contain the vision of ages to come.
Behold, the flames are the Sacred Fire.
Sacred Fire, burn within us!
At the center of the world stands a stone
The Omphalos, the navel of the world.
It holds all, in all ages past and all ages hence.
Behold, the Sacred Stone.
Sacred Stone, anchor us!
Beneath our feet stretches the land!
The land is powerful, the land is ancient.
It teems with the flow and ebb of life immortal.
Hail to the land!
Hail to the Land!
Above us spans the sky.
The sky is vast, the sky is ancient.
It stands above us triumphant and ageless.
Hail to the Sky!
Hail to the Sky!
Beyond us rushes the sea.
The sea is deep, the sea is strong.
The sea surrounds us always and forever.
Hail to the Sea!
Hail to the Sea!
We stand at the Sacred Center of All Things. All places and all times. From this place all things were born, and to this place all things return. In this place all worlds are entwined. In this place, all beings are conjoined. We stand before eternity to meet the gods and spirits. Be it so!

EARTH MOTHER
Earth mother on whose sacred soil we tread, we are your children. We eat your food, drink your water and breathe your air. Boundless is the bounty you bestow upon us. We honor your gifts.
(Offering)
Earth Mother, accept our offering!

AGATHOS DAIMON
Agathos daimon, you protect us. You safeguard our home and you guide us to right decisions. Your guidance steadies our steps. We thank you and honor you.
(Offering)
Agathos Daimon, accept our sacrifice.

THREE KINDREDS
To the spirits of the dead,
Who dwell in the halls of death,
and who are buried in the Earth Mother's bosom.
Look kindly on the living.
Gift us your love and your guidance.
Hail to the Ancestors!
(Offering)
Ancestors, accept our offering.

To the spirits of the Earth.
Fur and feather, root and branch
May we be at peace with each other.
Look kindly on us,
and gift us with your bounty.
Hail to the Nature Spirits!
(Offering)
Nature Spirits, accept our offering.

To the gods and goddesses,
The folk give you honor.
We stand before you strength, your wisdom, and your hospitality.
Look kindly upon the Folk,
And grant us your many Blessings.
Hail to the Gods and Goddesses!
(Offering)
Gods and Goddesses, accept our offering.

HELLENIC GODS

The text below or a similar devotional:

Hestia, heart of the house, first born and last: for light and warmth, home and hearth, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Awesome Zeus, mightiest of all the gods: protector and rain-bringer, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Noble Hera, defender of marriage: for family and fidelity, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Poseidon, lord of the ocean depths: friend to sailors and seafarers, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Demeter, best of mothers, gracious one: for fertile fields and fruit-filled trees, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Hades, ruler of the vast underworld: for a gentle end to a long life, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Athena, grey-eyed daughter of great Zeus: for wisdom, for skill, for victory, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Shining Apollo, archer unerring: for health, for art, for music, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Artemis, first-born child of fair Leto: protector of our children, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Hermes, clever son of Zeus and Maia: for wit and luck and humor, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Glorious Aphrodite, kind one, fair one: for love, for lust, for passion, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Ares, who takes joy in combat and strife: for strength, for will, for vigor, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Skillful Hephaistos, maker of marvels: for craft and invention, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Dionysos, beautiful god of the vine: for rapture and transcendence, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Great Hekate, ever-watchful maiden: torch-bearing guide and guardian, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Persephone, lovely queen of the dead: you who will welcome us all, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Goat-footed Pan, roamer in wild places: for instinct and unreason, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Eros, irresistible force of desire: for mindless, ruthless passion, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Asklepios, wisest of physicians: for health and for healing, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Fair Tyche, provider of all good things: for luck so kindly given, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

Nike, patron of athlete and soldier: for all our victories, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.
Gaia, ancient one on whose flesh we tread: for our lives, for existence, we thank you. One voice among many, I honor you.

(Offering to the gods)

Gods and Goddesses, accept our offering!

SPECIAL DEITY OF THE DAY IF APPLICABLE
[OPTIONAL]

We have honored the gods and goddesses, the spirits of nature, the ancestors and the agathos daimon. Now it is time to ask them for their guidance and blessing.

(Omen)

We thank you for your blessings. Now I charge the waters of life to bear these blessings, that we may drink deeply.

(DRINK)

Hail to the Gods and Goddesses! Hail to the Nature Spirits! Hail to the Ancestors! Hail to the Agathos Daimon! Hail to the Earth Mother! Thank you being at this rite! We honor you always as we walk the Elder Ways.

This rite is ended.

(CHIME)

I gave the ritual a trial run today. I performed it as written above, but with special sections added for Hermes and Hera (whom Lynda and I feel most close to), and Hestia (the patroness of every home.)

I showered for purification, and gathered up offerings. For Hestia, incense; for the ancestors, black coffee (my dad and grandmother were both aficianados); the Earth Mother and the nature spirits, grain; the gods and goddesses in general, frankincense recels; the Greek gods specifically, watered wine; Hera, incense; Hermes incense.

I used the Lycian Oracle for an omen, and I believe the upshot was: The kindred like this ritual, but caution me not to undertake it without commitment to carry it out regularly, even when I might not feel like it (zeta clarified by eta); they offer me patience, probably meaning the patience I’ll need for long term regular practice (rho), and ask of me perseverance (omicron).

I think it went well, and smoothly. I am sure I will refine it further with experience. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Amends

On the heels of figuring out where I went wrong, I felt I owed Hermes an apology. After an early shower (combining ritual purification and regular hygiene for efficiency), I made offerings to Hestia and to him, at their respective shrines.

To Hermes, I explained what I had figured out, and offered wine in addition to the usual frankincense. Then I turned to the oracle. Here are the results and my interpretation.

Am I correct in my understanding?

Eta: Yup. The unworthy motivation of my earlier offerings was plain to the gods.

Is this offering sufficient to make amends?

Gamma: Yes, but always remember that reward comes from labor. That is, honor the gods continually rather than coming once in a while to ask a favor.

Any further advice?

Phi: Take responsibility for your actions; don’t blame the gods for your own mistakes.


Honored Hermes, my patron god, thank you for your instruction. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lesson Learned

The moments before we departed on our trip seemed auspicious. We poured a full bottle of wine, with water, for Hermes, with two requests: Keep us safe on our travels, and grant us good fortune in Vegas.
We used the Greek alphabet oracle and drew what seemed to be a positive response. So off we went, all optimistic.

Our first flight went fine, but then our second one was delayed several hours due to mechanical problems. Luckily we had no more connections to catch, but we had about four hours of sitting idle in Detroit waiting. Then we had great difficulty finding dinner in Vegas, involving cabs, crowds, noise, way too much walking around getting hungrier by the minute, finding two-hour waits for overpriced food before finally getting what turned out to be a good and reasonably-priced dinner at Margaritaville.

Our gaming also sputtered. I think we lost around $20 or so in the slot machines, although there was one point I could have stopped about $17 ahead.

Then it was on to California for the family visit that was the main part of this trip. After a couple of decent days, I got a stomach bug and spent Saturday with the rest of the family touring a ghost town that luckily had decent public restrooms, because I needed one about every twenty minutes.

After that ordeal, I had to drive myself three hours back to Vegas to come home (Lynda is staying out an additional week), still fighting the stomach upset. And once I finally landed, it took me an hour of wandering around the airport parking lot to find my car.

Thanks, Hermes!

It certainly seemed like he was ignoring my prayers or even deliberately screwing with me, but having had a couple of days to think about it, I’ve had some notions of why. I think I am guilty of doing just what I’ve advised others not to do: Treating the gods as wish-fulfillment machines.

Here I come to Hermes, after months of very inconsistent worship, suddenly approaching with a bottle of wine and a smile and a ‘by the way, could you maybe … ‘ “Hermes is not an ATM” is the wording that crossed my mind.

And I think there it is. Reciprocity. The gods are not amenable to being hit up for big favors after months of neglect. He didn’t let me down, and he certainly granted the most important part of the request, safe travels. But he did rather firmly remind me that this is a two-way street.


Hail to the fleet-footed, quick-witted shining one. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

So I'm out

On May 2, I came out. It was National Pagan Coming-Out Day (not a federal holiday), and I shared the graphic on my Facebook wall.

So, yeah.

I'm not sure how much of a step it was given that I have not been especially subtle about it for a couple of years. The only thing that has really kept me at all reserved is a relative who I expect will not understand and will feel sadness or even stress about it. (But also who has certainly figured it out and simply chosen not to pursue a conversation about it, which is fine with me.)

But, the time has come. I've been "exploring" for several years now, and delved deeply enough into study programs to be sure that this is my religious identity.

So, I'm out.