Category Archives: The Gods

Our Lady of Themyscira

There are people out there who worship superheroes.

I am not one of them.

But after having watched the new Wonder Woman movie, twice, one could almost…,

Oh, I’ve heard all the rationalizations, the misapplied references to Jungian archetypes, the quotes lifted reverently from Joseph Campbell’s books, the endless suggestions that the gods are merely manifestations of the collective consciousness, and that the superheroes, having achieved iconic status within western culture are every bit as valid a target of our mental energies as any of the “old gods”…,

I’m not buying it.

But if that’s your gig, the writers and marketers are certainly happy to sell it to you.

No, the superheroes are not actual gods, but when handled correctly they do have the power to inspire us, to lift us up from our own troubles, and to free us from the limitations which society and gravity would impose upon us, if only for a little while.

And, for a long time now, Wonder Woman has been my favorite.

Oh sure, I started out pretty firmly in the Superman camp.

I mean, what little boy doesn’t want to discover that he has amazing powers due to his secret alien parentage?

But we grow up a bit, we become angsty, our worldview darkens, and we glom onto the Batman, reveling in his trauma induced war against a bizarre criminal underworld.

Or, anyway, that’s what happened with me.

And I still buy his books, along with those of the Green Lantern and a smattering of other titles.

But it gets expensive pretty quickly.

If you’re one of the popular superheroes, a Superman or a Batman, you’ve probably got a dozen titles with your name or image on the cover, including monthlies, crossovers, and one shots.

Wonder Woman really only has the one title.

They say it has to do with marketing decisions, and the difficulty in writing a female lead who will be interesting and popular among young boys.  And sadly, that’s probably a big part of it.

But it’s not just the woman in the title.

The gods are in there too.

And I think that scares the crap out of them.

I love Wonder Woman because, even before they revamped her origin and made her a child of the gods, she was a gift from the gods.  Sculpted from clay by her mother the Amazon queen, she was given life by the Olympian gods, and sent to the world of men as an ambassador of peace.

I have always been perplexed that, in a medium where literally ANYTHING is possible, comic book writers almost never treat the gods as actual gods.  They are invariably aliens with magic seeming technology, livings in some dimension, removed from our own.  Or they are creatures of limited power, created by human thought and belief, languishing in a universe that no longer prostrates itself before them.

The gods are almost never written as actual gods.

Except in Wonder Woman.

For a long time, I thought this must have something to do with the publishing houses not wanting to rankle a largely Christian audience.  But I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard any of my Christian friends complaining about the presence of Hera or Apollo in a Wonder Woman comic.

Mostly they just seem put off by the fact that she doesn’t wear pants.

“She’s dressed like a whore,” one of them told me, a few years back.

Yeah, you try to think the best about a person, and then they make an idiot remark like that.

But for a while there, the artists gave us a Wonder Woman in pants.  And it looked terrible.

Oh how this new movie must be making their heads spin!

So I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new movie, and for the most part it has exceeded my expectations.  But the revelation, in the first few minutes of the movie, that Ares has murdered all of the other gods of Olympus…,

It seems as if the bravery of the comic did not translate so completely to the silver screen.

If the gods are dead, we don’t have to write for them, we don’t have to explain them, we don’t have to be worried that people will be offended by their presence.

Maybe Ares was right, and we don’t deserve them.

But it’s not about what we deserve.

It’s about what we believe.

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Filed under Comics, Culture, Heroes, Modern Life, Religion, The Gods

Sacred Space: Finger Bones

My hands ache.

I am acutely aware of the weight and shape of every bone in my hand.

I can feel the tendons stretching and relaxing as my fingertips dance over the keyboard to write these words.  The movements, subtle though there are, carry their own slight discomfort to the pain centers of my brain.

The tenderness is unfamiliar, and irritating, and strangely welcome.

It means that I’ve actually been working.

***

These posts, in my Sacred Space series, are supposed to chronicle my efforts at building a small private temple on my property.

The tree, which I mean to carve, stands untouched.  The ground where the fire pit will eventually go, the fountain and small reflecting pool, the spiral walkways…,

It’s all still a grassy patch of nothing in particular.

The plans are there, but the time, and the will to begin, remain elusive.

***

I took half of the month of May away from my job.

Beltane was celebrated with fire and feast and a flurry of creative exertion, as I broke ground on a new workshop in the backyard.

There was digging, and then backfilling, and leveling.  Lumber and nails were unloaded and then transformed into floor and walls, and eventually many-jointed trusses arched overhead like the bones of some terrible beast.

I took a break from my job to do work, to build a place where I hope to do even more work.

And that probably seems just a little insane, in a world where vacation time is ideally spent in some sort of leisure activity – or even better, inactivity.

But while the job I go to every day puts bread on the table, it lacks true satisfaction.  I spend most of my time creating nothing, adding nothing of substance to the sum of my time on this planet.  I find, instead, that true satisfaction comes about when channeling an idea through the body and forcing it to take shape in the material world.

***

So I haven’t built my temple yet, but my workshop is almost done.

And maybe that’s not so bad, because I think a workshop is a sacred space in its own right.

The stories that my ancestors have passed down, about the gods we worship, tell us that they were not only masters of warfare, and magic, and healing.  The greatest of the gods, the ones who were heroes among their own immortal folk, were the masters of every art and craft.

At the woodworking bench, at the forge, at the loom and the wheel, wielding hammer and saw, and torch and trowel…, through hand and heart the very energy of creation is focused in the places where we make the things that will last beyond our fleeting lives.

We reshape the world in our image.

How better to honor the gods of our fathers?

***

My hands ache – and that is as it should be.

A hammer is scarred by every nail it strikes.

That is the sacrifice we make to change the world.

Even the bones in our hands can be a sacred space!

Lace your fingers together.

Do you remember the rhyme?

“Here is the church…here is the steeple…,”

This is the eleventh post in this wandering series, following the thoughts, planning and eventual construction of a small temple space on my property.  If you wish to follow along, you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.

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Filed under About this Blog, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion, Sacred Space, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

An Audience of None

book of the dead

Who will judge us, and by what measure?

We closed our eyes upon the living world and awoke to find ourselves standing in the presence of a powerful being, being both jackal and man.  We do not fear him, but rather the great set of scales besides which he stands.

In one hand he carries a single feather, plucked from the wings of the goddess of truth.

He places that feather upon the scales, and then reaches out toward us, into us, and though we are not harmed, we see that he carries our heart in his easy grip.

This two he places upon the scales.

A heart weighed down with a lifetime of regrets, and a feather infused with the weight of justice.

The scales tip, one way or the other, and we are judged.

 


 

The taste of the coin lingers as the small boat finally comes to ground.

We step eagerly over the shallow rail and onto solid earth, with only a brief glance backward to see that the cloaked ferrymen is rowing away again, into the gloom from whence we came.

There are three paths before us, and three kings, sons of the sky father, the keeper of oaths.

In life, their judgements were fair and true.

In death they will not fail us.

Our story is all told, we need only an ending befitting our tale.

Was our life one of goodness, or evil, or were our deeds unremarkable, our life wasted?

The story goes on, and we are judged.

 


 

Our ticket to eternal reward has been purchased in blood.

And now, after a long sleep, we shall rise and collect our due.

All around us they gather, the people we knew and loved and feared and hated.

But we have no eyes for them, nor they for us.

Our attention is arrested by the light which drew us from the grave, a light that touches every part of us, that burns away the shadows so that we are revealed completely to him.

Did we store our treasures in the old world, or in the new?

Eternity yawns before us, and we are judged.

 

Always we have been judged.

We crave it and we fear it like no other thing.

For as long as we have walked upon this earth, we have given ourselves to the gods for judgement.  The names change as we move from tribe to tribe, as do the specific details, but in the end we imagine ourselves laid bare in the eyes of those who will rule, finally, upon the content of our lives.

I have wondered, sometimes, if the gods and the ancestors volunteered for this duty, or if we somehow pressed them into service?

Just lately, I have wondered if their long obligation might be coming to an end.

We have found a new God of Judgement, it seems, better than those we have previously known, more responsive and immediate in both its praise and especially in its condemnation.  This new god does not wait until we are dead to pronounce judgement upon us.  It watches us with a billion eyes and when we are found wanting, the punishments of this new god are immediate and scathing.  No more waiting around for the privacy of the grave, no more scriptures or doctrines to follow and uphold.

Have you guessed it?

We did this.

We reached out and opened the eyes and ears of the world.  We gathered them all together in one place, where they could speak in one voice.  And before the echoes of our celebration had died away, this shambling titan began to reach out in complete and utter condemnation of everything within reach of its great and dissonant voice.

For once, we’ve given the atheists what they wanted.  We’ve swept aside the old gods and shown that we can do things far more efficiently by ourselves.  And what a job we’ve done!

But I think I was more comfortable when Anubis was weighing our hearts against the Feather of Ma’at, than I was a few weeks ago, watching a young woman torn apart on Twitter because she didn’t put her hand over her heart when the national anthem played.

I don’t care for this new god.  It is hungry and arbitrary in a way that makes the most capricious of the old gods seem tame by comparison.

It is not a god we can fight.  There are no temples to burn or idols to smash.

If we would not give ourselves fully to this new god, we must then seek to starve it, to deny it our attentions and concern.  We must live our lives freely, without casting arbitrary judgement on others and playing our brief parts for an audience of none.

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Filed under Death, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, The Gods

Maybe (a prayer)

Maybe they danced,

Talked,

Caroused,

Flirted.

Maybe they couldn’t stand the crowd and longed for the trip home.

Maybe they felt the pulsing energy around them and couldn’t tear themselves away.

Maybe…,

I don’t know.

I didn’t know them.

But I know they were beautiful.

And I know that they found beauty in each other,

And in the love and freedom that surrounded them.

And they died for it.

They died,

Because some people…,

Maybe just a few,

But too many,

Can see only ugliness in that which they do not understand.

So their lives were cut short, their spirits released.

And I wonder which God will step forward to shelter them?

Which Savior?

Which Prophet or Saint will guide their way?

If none of theirs, then I offer mine.

Freely.

May the fair Goddess on black wings guide them swiftly to better shores then these.

As worthy as any soldiers, these spirits, slain in someone else’s war.

Let her keening rise up until the heavens crack.

Until all the priests,

And the politicians,

And all who trade in fear and hate,

Have fled at last beneath the shadow of their empty pulpits.

And then,

In the quiet that follows,

Those who have eyes to see beauty,

In all of its wonderful diversity,

Will be free to dance,

And to love,

And to live,

Finally without fear.

That, my friends, may be too much to hope for.

But is such a thing too much to pray for?

It may be.

But if enough of us raise our voices,

If we join our cry with her’s,

And all the gods hear us,

Maybe not.

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Filed under Death, Modern Life, Prayer, Religion, The Gods

Idolatry 101

Idolatry Eagle

“Why are you all still sitting there?!”

A friend and I were sitting, with about fifty others, in the audience of the Birds of Prey exhibition at Scarborough Faire, a renaissance festival located just outside of Waxahachie, Texas.

I grew up just a few miles from the Faire and have attended at least one weekend for almost every year since it opened back in 1981.  I know the grounds like the back of my hand, and most of the better acts by heart, but mostly I just enjoy dressing up, and spending some relaxing time outside people-watching over a nice cool tankard of mead.

I’ve probably attended the Birds of Prey show a couple dozen times over the years.

I love watching them fly the hawks, or the occasional falcon.

They usually open with a Turkey Vulture and close the show with an American Bald Eagle, and this year was no different, right up until the end.

For some reason, as the trainer brought the Eagle up onto the stage, the love theme from Braveheart was being piped over the sound system.  She paraded around the stage holding the eagle on one gloved hand, with her other hand pressed over her heart.

When she completed her circle across the front of the stage, the head trainer spoke up from his throne at the back of the stage and said, “Let me ask you a question, why are you all still sitting there?!”

Okay, this was new.

“Why,” he continued, “didn’t you rise to your feet and place your hands over your hearts when you saw this magnificent bird, this symbol of liberty and freedom…,”.

As the scolding lecture continued, and the chastened crowd began to rise like schoolchildren who had been caught short, my irritation grew.

The very obvious answer to the gentleman’s question is that we didn’t rise because a bird, even the national bird, is not a flag!   We don’t rise for birds, we don’t place our hands over our hearts for birds.  It’s just not something that we have ever been asked to do.  Nor should we be.

Should I likewise stop along the side of the road every time I pass a field of Bluebonnets (the state flower of Texas) to show my proper respect?

As I sat there, watching the sheep around me lurching guiltily to their feet, it occurred to me that after a couple thousand years of being told that Idolatry was a horrible thing which should be avoided at all costs, people in the western world are just really REALLY out of practice.

I mean, they all still do it, but by and large they absolutely suck at it.

Maybe, I thought, there should be a class, something like a continuing education course that people could take over the course of a few weeks.  Such a class could be taught by folks from within the pagan/polytheist community, as a kind of community outreach.  Something we could do to help out all those unfortunate folks who just haven’t got a knack for it.

And once I’ve had a thought like that.., well, I know from experience that it is just going to fester in my mind until I find a way to get it out of my system and move on to other things.

And so I present to you, my pretend lesson plan for a continuing education course that will never actually exist.

Enjoy!

Idolatry 101: General Course Description

In the classic sense, we think of the idol as a statue usually secreted deep within the bounds of some ominous temple.  Surrounded by cloaked priests and clouds of incense, it is brought forth on special days, whereupon the people may fawn and bow before it, offering up sacrifice to be burned in its presence.  This is a profoundly limited view, influenced by religious propaganda and literary cliché.  This course will seek to expand upon that narrow view, by exposing the student to the many forms and functions of the Idol throughout history and into the modern era.

Week 1: When is a Door not a Door?

Synopsis of Introductory Lecture:  In the holy writings of all three of the great monotheistic religions, there are stern warnings against the practice of Idolatry.  In modern usage the word itself is, in almost all cases, used in a pejorative manner.  But what is Idolatry, really?  While there may be many related definitions, for the purposes of this course, Idolatry will be understood to mean the process by which a tangible, real-world object, is used as a point of focus for the worship or reverence of something otherwise intangible.

History shows that Idolatry is something that is second nature to the human animal, and is present in almost every facet of human activity both ancient and modern.  Furthermore, it is the foundation upon every great religion, including those which so frequently preach against it.

Witness, for example, the sacrament of the Eucharist in which bread and wine are symbolically transformed into the body and blood of Christ, whereupon it is consumed by the faithful as a means of taking the holy spirit of their god into themselves.

Now compare this modern religious tradition with that of the far more ancient cult of Dionysus, which held that the vine of the grape was the mortal embodiment of their god, and that wine was the blood of their god, fermented by his yearly passage through the underworld.  By the drinking of this specially prepared wine the spirit of the god was believed to first enter and then manifest within the devotee, in the form of holy intoxication.

The idol, as we will see, may take many forms.  It may appear to us as an emblem, a statue, a natural feature of the landscape, and even the blood of the vine.  But in whatever form it takes, the idol is a doorway to something we understand to be bigger than ourselves.  Unable to touch what lie beyond, the door itself becomes a vessel for our reverence, invested with prayer and worship, with ritual and sacrament.

It is not the business of this brief course to render judgement for or against the practice of Idolatry.  Instead, we seek only to recognize it when we see it, to understand how the practice has shaped the human condition, and to gain insight into the beliefs and motivations of those who openly engage in this practice.

Written Activity: Write a quick (1,500 words) explanation of your personal beliefs regarding the practice of Idolatry and what you hope to get out of this course.

Week 2: And Everything in its Place

Lecture and Slide Presentation:  Moving forward from the previous lecture, we will further expand the perception of what may or may not be an idol, by touching briefly upon the subject of Spiritual Geography.  The accompanying slide presentation will show multiple locations where either a man-made or natural feature of the environment has been invested with spiritual significance.  Special attention will be paid to the concept of the Axis Mundi as a point of connection and focus between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Written Activity: Briefly (6,000 words) compare or contrast any two of the following locations:  The Umbilicus Urbis Romae in Italy, The Kaaba in Saudi Arabia, Mount Kailash in Tibet, The Hill of Uisneach in Ireland, Delphi in Greece, or Teotihuacan in Mexico.

Week 3: Desecration and Empowerment

AphroditeSmallLecture and Slide Presentation: We begin with an overview of the rise of Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire and the rising tide of attacks upon both temples and statuary dedicated to the gods of the Roman pantheon.  The slide presentation will detail the ways in which images of the various gods were damaged, including beheadings, the gouging of eyes, and the carving of crosses into these objects.  Lecture will end with a brief catalogue of similar desecrations by various groups through history and into the present day, to include the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by Taliban forces in 2001, and the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra ,Syria, by ISIL in 2015.

Written Activity: Write a brief paper (2,000 words) exploring one of the following questions:

1.  Is your faith empowered by the desecration of someone else’s holy icon?

2.  Is it possible to desecrate an object that is not already sacred?

3.  Does an act of violence against an object reflect the significance of that object in the heart of the believer, or in the mind of the one conducting the act of violence?

Week 4: Stars and Stripes Forever

IdolatryFlagsClass Discussion: The American Flag is often treated as an object of deep reverence.  Citizens salute it, they pledge to it, they treat the display, folding and storage of it with ceremony and ritual, and will retire a worn or damaged flag in cleansing flame.  Desecration of a flag is a crime in many locals, and people have been known to react with violence to public protests that included flag desecration.  Does this same reverence extend to all manifestations of the American flag, including the little disposable plastic ones that people often wave, en masse during parades and patriotic celebrations?  If not, then what makes those flags different?  What about flags printed on t-shirts, bumperstickers, and the like?  What, if anything, makes one flag sacred and another not?  The instructor is encouraged to keep the debate on-topic but to otherwise allow the discussion to guide itself.

Week 5: Ubiquity and the Profane

Lecture:  A brief explanation of the symbols used by various secret societies to identify members to one another, leading us into a discussion of the Christian Cross.  Once a secreted symbol revealed only to those who could be trusted, the Christian Cross has become an everyday fashion accessory for millions of people in the western world.  In recent years, a number of christian groups, in their defense of large crosses displayed on public lands, have suggested that the cross, through its ubiquitous nature, should not always been seen as a religious symbol, but may have any number of secular meanings.

Classroom Activity:  Break into groups and debate one of the following questions?

1.  Does wearing a cross have any significance in a culture where the general expectation is that any individual you may encounter in your day-to-day movements is almost certainly a Christian of some variety?

2.  Can a holy symbol be made profane though repetition and commercialization?

3.  A non-believer wears the symbol of your faith – empowering or sacrilege?

Week 6: Where does the power come from?

Final Lecture: In whatever form it takes, the Idol has the power to instill powerful emotions in those who encounter it.  For some, a particular idol may illicit feeling of deep reverence, joy, fear, or disgust, but the question remains, where do these feelings come from.  Is the power that the idol seems to possess over man a function of the object itself.  Is the physical object imbued with a special nature that brings out these feelings in those who come near it?  Does the particular arrangement of stripes and stars on a length of cloth change the nature of the fibers of which it is composed?  Does the wine become the blood of a god, or is it simply a tool which we use to feel closer to the divine?  If entirety of an idols power rests within the hearts and minds of the men and woman who react so strongly (one way or the other) to its presence, does not our reaction to Idolatry say more about ourselves than it does those we might feel compelled to judge?

Final Essay (6,000 words): Expand upon your original paper from the 1st week of class.  Have your feelings regarding Idolatry changed as you have considered the materials presented.  If so, how has your attitude changed and why?  If not, please explain how this course may have reaffirmed or strengthened your previous feelings.

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Filed under Culture, Interfaith, Modern Life, Mythology, Religion, The Gods, Traditions

The Final Treasure

This is a time of endings and beginnings, a ‘thin’ moment in the turning of the year when death becomes life, and past becomes future.  It is a time of short campfire stories meant to raise gooseflesh, and for sombre reflection upon the grand themes which shape our existence.

Allow me a moment to set the scene:

In an age long before the first mortal man set foot upon the Emerald Isle, there were four great cities hidden across an impassable sea, far to the north and west of that land.

It was in these cities that an ancient race of gods, the Tuatha Dé Danann honed their great skills before taking to the sea, riding within a great mist, and settling finally upon the shores of Ireland.

And when they came out of that otherworldly realm, they brought with them four great treasures – objects of such power that, in their absence, each of the great cities crumbled into the sea, even as our own mortal world was forever changed with their arrival.

The Sword,

The Spear,

The Cauldron,

The Stone.

When I first began writing here, in April of 2012, I considered the Four Treasures to be of only limited consequence.  That I named this blog after the fourth of those treasures, The Stone of Destiny, had less to do with what the Stone represents, than with my belief that in visiting the Hill of Tara upon which the Stone is said to rest, I had reached a major turning point in my life – the ending of one journey and the beginning of another.

In the intervening years, I have found that the process of writing things down brings with it a clarity that I hadn’t known I was missing.  Years spent studying comparative mythology, symbolism, folk tales and spirituality was meaningless until I began to use what I’ve learned as a lens through which to view my own life, and the world around me.  The process of writing has revealed connections between fable and form that I had not previously recognized.

And as I have wrestled with my understanding of the gods, who are sometimes near enough to touch, and sometimes incredibly distant…,

And as I have cast my nets again and again, seeking that ever elusive Salmon of Knowledge who always seems to be swimming just out of reach…,

I find that my thoughts turn again and again to the four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and I begin to see that they are more than just the magical tools of the gods that the stories make them out to be.

In fact, I have begun to believe that their power is in many ways greater than that of the gods, although, unlike either gods or men, the Treasures have no power to act on their own.

It was not until November of last year that I felt confident enough in my thinking to write down my thoughts regarding the Third Treasure – the Undry Cauldron of the Dagda.

As for the Sword and the Spear…, I had hoped to write down my thoughts concerning them both before now, but each time I try they dance just out of reach.  Their purpose seems so obvious, and much has been written already by people with greater scholarship than I on the subject of magical weapons.  But I feel as though there are connections there which run deeper, and which I have not seen clearly enough yet to speak of.

And as for the Final Treasure…,

I have only just realized that I’ve been talking about nothing but else from the very beginning!

The stories that have been passed down to us say that it is simply a stone of coronation.  In these tales, when the rightful king of Ireland comes into contact with its surface, the stone will roar with a sound that echoes across the countryside for all to hear.

Which is no small thing, but easy enough to dismiss in this modern age when monarchs are few and democracies (at least in principal – if not in practice) are the rule of the day.

But I have recently come to believe that there is much more to the Stone than its functioning as some kind of magical ‘king detector’.  Not when the other Treasures are so much more powerful.

Before the Tuatha Dé Danann brought the Stone with them out of the wreckage of fair Failias, its master was a great teacher known as Morfessa, a name which means “grand knowledge”.

When the Dé Danann arrived in Ireland, the Stone was not bequeathed to any single god, as was the case with the Sword, the Spear, and the Cauldron, but was installed at the Hill of Tara, which served for both gods and men as the political and spiritual center of the island until well into the Christian era.

The Stone of Destiny.

The Stone of Grand Knowledge.

The Stone is not an object of myth.

The Stone is Mythology.

It is that special realm of understanding that does not make the common mistake of conflating truth and fact.  For most people in this modern age, dominated as we are by the twin monotheisms of Abrahamic Dogma and Rationalist Thought, it is truly a foreign shore.

And yet, the more I watch the people around me, the more I listen to them, I am convinced that there is a great yearning in the human spirit, to find those fields again.

People have been taught, as I was, that mythology is the stuff of lies.

If an idea is not found within the covers of a certain holy book…,

If it is not reproducible within a laboratory setting…,

It must be a deception, to be avoided, or laughed at, or simply ignored.

People have an inborn yearning for mythology and they have been taught to avoid all the roads that would lead them there.  Folks have become so used to the blinders that they wear that they don’t even realize there is an entire perspective that they are not even seeing.  And when they do catch a glimpse, it’s like a whole new world opened up for them – which is exactly what has happened.

I’ve been lucky enough to see that transformation happen within a tiny handful of people, and it is, every time, a joy to behold.  And maybe I’m greedy, but I want to see it again and again.  And I want to see it on a bigger scale.

And I don’t think a handful of blogs is going to do it.  Neither will the occasional Pagan Pride Day in the park, or the yearly spat of “What do the Pagans do on Halloween” stories on the local news channel.

I think the answer is in the mythology itself, it’s in hearing the voices and seeing the faces of regular people who experience the connection between the ancient and the modern within their daily lives, and in hearing the tales told with a passion and belief that most have never experienced outside of a Sunday church service.

That is something that I don’t think I can do alone, with a once-a-week blog post.  And that is why I’ll be suspending my regular writing schedule for the time being.

But I’m still going to be around, and I’ll post here again just as soon as the spirit takes me.

In the meantime, I’m going to be looking for the means and the skills and the voices to make something happen.  I’ll be reaching out to people in the coming months, but if you’ve got any ideas that you’d like to contribute, or if you have questions, please oh please, feel free to contact me in the comments!

Finally, I could not close without a heartfelt Thank You to everyone who has supported me this little endeavor of mine, to those who come back again and again to read these musings, and to those who have, over the last forty-two months, taken the time to leave me comment.  I could not have come this far without you all.

Slán go fóill (bye for now).

Tools of the Trade

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Filed under About this Blog, Celtic Polytheism, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Without Knowledge or Lustre or Name

On Monday last I went, with a friend, to see The Martian, that new Ridley Scott / Matt Damon drama that everyone has been raving about.  Based on the book by Andy Weir, the movie follows Astronaut Mark Watney’s struggle to survive alone on the surface of our sister planet, having been marooned there during an aborted expedition in our not too distant future.

If you have read the reviews, or if you’ve seen it for yourself, you don’t need me to tell you, it’s a great piece of cinema.

It did all the things I expected of it.  It made me feel the loneliness of our hero.  It allowed me to share in his triumphs and defeats.  And it left me wondering how long I would fare, given similar training and supplies, under those circumstances.

Growing potatoes in manure?  Don’t need to be a botanist to know that trick.

Hot-wiring the communications system on a buried mars rover?  Ummm…, probably not.

I’m not even sure how he did it, unless someone left the users manual lying around.

As is my pattern after watching a movie of this kind, I have found myself drifting back to particular moments in the film, looking for themes and connections I might have missed before, trying always to see things from perspectives outside that of the storytellers narrative.

Among those moments is the one that has Watney lying in his bunk, conversing with the wooden crucifix which he has been cutting up as fuel for his vapor-farming contraption.  It is the one overtly spiritual moment in the movie, and even then, it is hard to tell if Watney’s words are intended to be genuine or ironic.

And it was while pondering that brief scene that I began to wonder, and not for the first time…,

Will we bring our gods to Mars?

Or are there gods waiting for us there, already?

The first question fires my curiosity.  The second fills me with a sort of dread.

With the exception of the killer dust-storm, ‘The Martian’ does not exaggerate about the hostility of that world.  The atmosphere is unbreathable, and the lack of pressure causes our bodies to erupt after only momentary contact.  There is no magnetic field to protect us from solar radiation and the soil there will yield no crop.

While the recent announcement by NASA, that some sort of brine-water occasionally trickles across the surface is an encouraging development, it is still clear that the fourth planet from the sun is every bit as hostile to our presence as the third is nurturing.

Many of us with a polytheistic outlook, tend to view our relationships with gods and land spirits as cooperative in nature.  Our interests are similar and often complementary.  Both we and they exist as part of the environment which surrounds us, shaped by and shaping the natural world which moves and grows around us.

It is all well and good for those who believe in one universal god to cling to the idea that every speck in the heavens was put there for our benefit.  But those of us who deal with the divine on a more personal (and personable) basis have to deal with the reality that it’s not all about us.

So if there are gods on Mars, will they welcome our attention?

Or will they feel our first steps as an unwanted intrusion upon their cold and naked sphere?

And what of our own gods.

Will they follow our descendants into the sterile void so many of us long to explore, or will we finally have ventured beyond their reach?

No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.

—Christopher Columbus

On this day, October 12th, in the year 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in the ‘New World’, bringing with him the Christian God.

He also brought the slave trade and a lust for the exploitation of natural resources…,

So that worked out well.

Some five-hundred years later, there is some debate still within the Pagan and Polytheist communities as to whether those other gods, the gods of our ancestors, of Europe and Asia and Africa, ever made the big jump across the Atlantic.

Most of us, I think, believe the answer to that question is “Yes”.

But from time to time I encounter someone who feels that we in the States have usurped their gods, dragging them from the hills and barrows they call home and transplanting them here within our own wishful thinking.

Why would the gods, many of whom were historically understood as creatures of ‘place’, choose to uproot themselves and wander into foreign lands already populated by gods and spirits and followers of their own?

Are the gods truly beings rooted to the natural features that we have named for them?  Or are they beings with a will of their own, who will go where they choose if and when the mood takes them?

Did they follow us into the new world?

Did we follow them?

And will they journey with us again, when we eventually fling ourselves into that ultimate void which surrounds our small blue and green sphere?

I hope so.

Because, however foreign the gods of the new world may have seemed to the European explorers of centuries past, they were still beings with an interest in the cycles of planting and growth, of death and renewal.  They were and are beings which make their home in and on a living breathing world.

I am not so certain about any spirits which may lurk in the dark spaces between the stars.

And sometimes, when I gaze into the heavens, I wonder what they will make of us.

I have seen the dark universe yawning,
Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge or lustre or name.

— H.P. Lovecraft, Nemesis

Deaths Head Nebula

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