Achilles_Lamia

Surprising Devotions: The Rage of Akhilleus

Rage is the very first word in The Illiad. The epic poem is about many things: Hektor’s love of his family, Helene’s hollow despair, Patroklus’ passion and ambition, and Priamos deep grief. But mostly it is about the rage of Akhilleus.

Not simple anger. Rage. Nuanced and encompassing, filled with despair, grief, humiliation, apathy, and bitterness. I expected my lunar month of devotions to lead me down more commonly trod paths, but instead they led me to the hero-worship of Akhilleus.

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Why was Akhilleus angry? I’ve heard people who consider themselves skilled in interpreting ancient texts write him off as petulant. Many times we tend to look at these ancient stories and the characters who inhabit them as flat, two-dimensional, and simple, rather than as complex and human. Akhilleus is not a cartoon character who flounced and bounced during the siege of Troy, and The Illiad does not hinge on his anger arbitrarily.

Agamemnon angers Apollo by taking the daughter of his priest as a war prize, which brings calamity to the Greeks. A prophet explains the cause and remedy, only under the promise of protection of Akhilleus that no harm will befall the bringer of bad news to Agamemnon.

The remedy is that Agamemnon, alone among the Greeks, must make amends and return the girl to her father. He is angry that he alone has angered the Gods, and he alone must pay. He deems it unfair that no one else should have to pay. Akhilleus, who is acting as protector for the man who gives Agamemnon such unwelcome news, tries to reason with Agamemnon that it is not reasonable for others to pay for his misdeeds. Then Agamemnon, in a fit of spite, decides that Akhilleus “war prize” Briseis be taken from him and added to the amends he must pay.

It is true Briseis was a “war prize” but the text makes it very clear throughout The Illiad that Akhilleus loved her, and that she was heavy-hearted to part from him. He refers to her as his wife, and compares their relationship to that of Menelaus and Helene.

Akhilleus is one of the most renowned men of the ancient world. A great fighter, a leader of men, and part-divine. He was the picture of success. Yet the pettiness of Agamemnon can rob him of his wife and humiliate him in front of the entire Greek army. He spoke up to Agamemnon to defend all Greek warriors against the injustice he was contemplating and Agamemnon flexed his power to remind Akhilleus who was in charge.

No matter how high Akhilleus might rise, how famed his skill and virtue, or how loyal he may be, this mighty warrior was just one hard truth away from Agamemnon’s boot on his neck. Haven’t we all been there? We work hard for a company, going above and beyond, becoming indispensable, and then we answer our managers with a truth they don’t like and we are suddenly disposable. Or we love someone heart and soul, being kind and supportive, willing to do anything for them, and then one off day or one unwanted request and they toss us aside like we are dirt?

What despair! What point in being the most famed warrior among the Greeks when at any time he wants to Agamemnon can take your wife in front of the entire army because he didn’t like your counsel? There is no freedom, no liberty here. Akhilleus is treated like property, like a dog whose bone can be taken from him whenever his behavior doesn’t suit his master perfectly. He is not treated like a famed warrior and integral part of defeating the Trojans. Akhilleus is treated like a dog.

Of course he’s angry. Of course he’s depressed. He’s honed his skill, earned his reputation, and proven his loyalty by following Agamemnon and Menelaus to a war he doesn’t believe in, only to have his wife taken from him as if he is a child whose toy has been taken from him because he playing too loud while the adults were talking.

RAGE. Rage! The rage of Akhilleus! What choice does he have but to withdraw? Agamemnon has shown him only contempt. Akhilleus cannot behave like a dog who has been kicked and then runs back to kiss his owner. He can’t follow a man who repays unwelcome counsel from a long-trusted adviser by ripping apart his home. Akhilleus can’t say “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. May I have another?” So in his rage he retreats.

Akhilleus rage heals. Not because Agamemnon makes half-hearted attempts to bribe him back to war (which only the death of his beloved friend will do), but because in his deep grief, humiliation, and despair he finds someone willing to acknowledge, witness and accept his pain. His rage is healed in meeting Priamos after killing his son Hektor. In Priamos does Akhilleus see his pain reflected. Priamos does not dismiss his pain, or suggest he is a petulant child. Priamos sees they have both lost people whom they loved, and in losing them they lost whatever dignity they had. Here are two emasculated men, impotent in their ability to prevent tragedy from befalling those around them. Even should they survive this war they are forever altered, and lesser than they were.

It seems strange that as a woman I identify deeply with Akhilleus. I, too, have worked hard to build a reputation and skill only to be dismissed and humiliated by people who needed me, but only wanted me as an agreeable and obedient servant. I, too, have had my love and affection demeaned as nothing more than a fling that can be replaced by material things. I have brought forth ideas to have them dismissed, made to feel worthless because of them, and then heard the same ideas lauded when they are stated in a male voice. I understand Akhilleus’ despair, depression, apathy, and rage. There is perhaps no emotion more encompassing and long-reaching than the rage of the disenfrachised.

I need someone who can help me work through my rage and heal my anger. I’ve started praying to Akhilleus, and beginning devotions to him. If anyone understands what it’s like to have the system against them, it’s the raging Akhilleus.

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Devotional Prayer for #PolytheistSolsticeProject

I am the kind of person who needs structure and goals, so I created The Polytheist Solstice Project to give me a framework over the next year. Today I begin renewing my devotional practice, and hopefully will come full circle this time next year.

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Hephaistos Klytotekhnês, Hephaistos Polyphrôn
Hephaistos Ambidexter
who has watched over me,
accepted my offerings,
and heard my prayers.

O ingenious God! O famed worker!
Give my hands honorable work,
give my mind challenging puzzles,
inspire my craft, inflame my creative passion,
and grace all my labors
with honest respect.

You who are both lame and resourceful
accept this song, this fragrant incense,
and grant me virtue and fair wages.
I open my heart to you
whether I make anew
or repair the broken.
Be gracious, and once more
aid Pandora’s daughter.

psg

Coming Home: Looking Forward To Pagan Spirit Gathering

I have tried to return to Christianity twice. Wholehearted efforts.

The first time was probably 10 years ago. I lived in a small rural town and all my friends were Christians. I’d identified as Pagan for over half a decade, but I was lonely. A friend invited me to her church and I attended for as long as I could. Between racist comments and being harangued for not being good enough, I knew I didn’t belong.

A couple of years ago I reached a crisis point on multiple levels and didn’t have anywhere I could find the support I need. For a little while it felt good to go to church and rest on the music and sermon. But I have grown too used to being in a community where everyone is welcome to endure a discussion about who is welcome and who isn’t based on sexual preference.

Not having community hurts. It’s painful. Emotionally. Physically. Bad community hurts too. You get let down. You get hurt. You get abandoned. You get taken advantage of by people you trust.

Then on January 29th I got an e-mail from Circle Sanctuary. I get a lot of e-mails from religious organizations because i am on lists and I did sign up for a bunch of these when I worked at Patheos. I usually unsubscribe or delete them, but this one was announcing music for this year’s Pagan Spirit Gathering. I like music. Music is a refuge in a way ritual and sermon and prayer and fellowship can’t quite match. You are safe in music. I opened the e-mail. The lineup was great. I had the money. I registered.

Then I thought, wow… I just signed up for a Pagan event. I said I would never do that again. This probably has spiritual implications…

Less than a week away from the event, I am beginning to understand why I am so excited about going to PSG. First, I’ve never been to a Pagan festival as a vacation. I’ve always been working in some capacity. So this time I just get to enjoy the event. It’s a new luxury for me.

But as I make plans and pack I realize that PSG is not a gathering of the elite. It is not a place book deals are made and networking happens. It isn’t restricted to the initiated. It isn’t cheap, but taking all things into consideration it is a much better deal than most hotel conventions (particularly if you attend every year and reuse equipment) and often more comfortable.

PSG is for people who don’t have community. For one week, people create the community they need. Basic community, not even religious community. My friend Kathryn says it’s a week where everyone gets your cultural references. If you are talking about Paganism as a culture, then PSG is that culture at it’s most down-to-earth authenticity. It is no insult but with great admiration that I say this is “low-church Paganism” at it’s finest.

Regardless of the type and grandeur of the rituals, when you hear people talk fondly about PSG their stories are about people. About mud. About weather. About inside jokes that you are in on the moment you hear “Welcome Home!” Nothing is exactly the same from year to year but everything is familiar. And although the community works together to pull this off, it is organized to seem effortless. If things go wrong you may never notice because the staff is on it, and you can relax and enjoy the event. No one is here to get drunk. No one is here to get stoned. No one is here to get laid. These things might happen, but this is no kegger. This isn’t Coachella or Burning Man. This is a place where your kids can play and so can your grandparents.

There is no guilt about attending ritual. No expectation of being “Pagan enough.” The culture is built on Circle Sanctuary culture, which is vaguely Wiccan, but contains enough unspecified open space for the spiritual experience you need. You can dance for yourself. You can drum for yourself. You can draw for yourself. You can chant for yourself. You can stare into a fire with old friends or new. You can play Magic: The Gathering all week. You don’t have to explain yourself.

Most of the rituals and workshops offered at Pagan Spirit Gathering are not my thing. They don’t resonate at all with my spirituality. Yet there is still space for me to be me. Everyone here is an outsider looking for community, intending community, building community. We don’t always belong out in “mundania” and so we all belong here. There is a real feeling of coming home.

PSG isn’t perfect. No festival is. Yet they get a lot right. And they try to do better.

I won’t be writing about PSG during festival or doing any followup pieces on this year’s experience. For that I’d need to get a press pass and I refuse to work this year. This is my year to just enjoy and get what I need. I don’t know what I am right now. A reluctant polytheist who find those who share my experience of the multiverse few and far between? Someone too square to be Pagan and too radical to be anything else? Someone with a deep need to sing and dance and spend time with people I care about under the stars? Whatever I am, wherever I have been, and wherever I am going, I know that “Welcome Home” applies to me too.

I was going to keep my presence at festival on the down-low, but as the event draws near I am so excited to see so many people. So I will be there sans pink hair. You can find me over in Quiet Camping or at my workshops: Hekate’s Supper: Crossroads of Fresh Beginnings and High Lonesome Sound & Joyful Noise.

Big thanks in advance to all the hardworking folks at Circle Sanctuary who make this happen. My supply run has run on far too long.

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Honor, Integrity, and Being True

Honor has been on my mind lately. A new friend mentioned it yesterday, reminding me certain things are not worth my honor. In seeking a new job it has been increasingly on my mind. Is it honorable for me to do this job? Do these people have integrity? In what ways will doing this work compromise my integrity? In what ways have I had to compromise my integrity and honor in past occupations that I can no longer tolerate?

At what point do honor and pride diverge? When does it become short-sighted hubris, or self-centered vanity? Is honor exclusive of humility? I don’t think so. Humility is recognizing our limitations and needs in a healthy way. We are none of us an island, even if we sometimes feel that way.

Does it show integrity to ask for help, or is it more honorable to be self-sufficient? This one troubles me a great deal. I struggle with unmet spiritual needs. I have asked for help and not found it. I have struggled in silence and found it unbearable. I have sought help in unlikely places. I have made uncomfortable, and sometimes shameful, compromises for brief moments of connection and wholeness.

Relationships become a tricky place where honor and integrity are concerned. I have friends who have had to make the decision to end relationships with people who espouse or defend racism, even ironic racism which is simply racism with a smirk. How are you friends with someone who is racist, or who insists on maintaining relationships with racists? How do you maintain a relationship with someone who is bigoted in other ways? Who denigrates homosexuals, women, the disabled, or judges people based on their age or appearance? How do you be friends with someone who believes in mutilating children? How do you maintain a relationship with someone who would rather subject their children to devastating disease rather than risk their child perceiving the world differently? Social media lays our friends and acquaintances bare in ways previously unimaginable, and makes us question the honor in our associations.

The world has always expected us to at least pay lip service to honor while accepting political pragmatism. But what would happen if we really did behave as honorably as possible? What changes would happen in our lives? What would happen if you made integrity a priority today? Right now, this minute? What would you lose? What would you gain?

Redneck Ritual: The Value of Common Culture

When I moved to the Midwest I was relieved to discover there are rednecks here. I can sip shiraz, discuss modern art, and enjoy avant-garde plays, but at my heart I am a woman who lights up when she hears “Hey y’all, watch this!”

Don't let your Beltane bonfire get out of hand, y'all.

Don’t let your Beltane bonfire get out of hand, y’all.

Some of my ancestors were well-off, and there are a few high-brow folks in my family, but mostly I come from a culture of pickup trucks, dirt roads, and fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes that drip juice all down your arms as you bite into a summer sandwich. I joke that in Minneapolis everyone listens to the same music: anything but country. Yet for all my Andrew Bird records, Jo Dee Messina, Martina McBride, and Patty Loveless make me incredibly happy.

So it’s probably no surprise that from all the festivals I’ve attended and private rituals I have been invited to that the Redneck Ritual at Pagan Spirit Gathering is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Sure, it’s supposed to be a “joke ritual” born off bad jokes and stereotypes, but it’s a really joyful celebration. We show up in cutoffs and revel in being joyfully tacky. There is no pretense of being more spiritual-than-thou. No one is using 20 dollar words or dead languages. There is no worry about being politically correct or even inclusive, because if you want to be a redneck then you are one. And if you’re a little different, well, hell, I got an aunt with a bedazzled peg leg and a Dolly Parton wig, but she’s good folks and so are you.

Aunt Tootie is stylin'!

Aunt Tootie is stylin’!

I would go as far to say that Redneck Ritual may be closer to English folk rituals than any number of Gardnerians chantin’ nekkid as a jaybird under a yeller moon. Because hobby horses and fool kings have more in common with velvet paintings of Dale Earnhardt and belching contests than titled priests who brook no nonsense. Being the high priestess of a Redneck Ritual is a little like coming in first place at a chitlin’ eatin’ contest: impressive but of dubious honor.

He really thinks I want to go to a party in a chicken house, bless his heart.

He really thinks I would go to a party in a chicken house, bless his heart.

Redneck Ritual is the most egalitarian of rituals. We all know that any hint of hierarchy is bullshit. If somebody wants to organize this shindig and herd folks through it, they ain’t any better or wiser than the rest of us. They’re just less lazy. Most of us are happy to sit in the shade and have us a cold drink while someone else gets the ceremony under way.

Yet once we do get the show on the road everyone is committed. You will never see a bigger group of proud and loud rednecks. There is no irony here. No hipsters. Everyone is very clear about what this ritual is and what their role entails. No one is checking their cell phone. Everyone is engaged and happy. And no one is ashamed.

Typical trouse.

Typical trouse.

You may have grown up in a trouse (a trailer with a house-like addition) livin’ off lima beans, but you ain’t the only one. Banana sammiches on white bread may have been proper nutrition in your house and shoes in the summer may have been purely optional. You probably have a few crazy people in your family and argue about which one of you is the black sheep. Instead of going to the club you may have hung out around a bonfire in your buddies backyard sippin’ beer and staring at the stars. You may have been dirt poor, but then so was everyone else you knew so it didn’t matter. And your trashy family might have kicked you out and disowned you, but, shoot, you sure ain’t the only one that has happened to either.

Sometimes you show up at a ritual (Buddhist, Wiccan, Catholic, etc…) and you feel like you don’t really belong. Maybe it’s the theology, or how proper everyone seems. Maybe you feel out of place, or certain you won’t be welcome if they know who you really are. But at a Redneck Ritual there is no doubt these are your people. You show up wearing tube socks with your Walmart knock-off crocs and feel right at home. There ain’t nothin’ in your past to be ashamed of here. Other people here have bought gas using spare change and sometimes catch themselves singin’ “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” in the shower.

There is a lot of concern about cultural appropriation, but you ain’t got to worry about that here. Rednecks come in every shape, size, color, gender, and ethnic background. Did your Greek grandma try to get you to eat a sheep’s eyeball? Do you explain your crazy Ethiopian uncle by saying he’s “from the bush?” Does your A.M.E. church choir cousin corner people at family reunions to explain why Michael Jackson is the greatest musical genius of the past century? Does your mother make 150 different kinds of tater tot hot dish? Did you grow up in Mastic Beach, Long Island? Well, I ain’t sayin’ you’re a redneck, but you might feel at home up amongst them.

Dang right!

Dang right!

It is true. Redneck Ritual ain’t anything for any festival to be proud to promote. Sagging tube tops, Trailer Trash Barbie, belching contests, and RC Cola with a Moon Pie is not what folks think off when they are looking for a spiritual experience. Yet if you want to see real community, fully engaged participants, and ritual grounded in American culture as-it-is, then Redneck Ritual is worth checking out. We may not have Stonehenge or the Parthenon, but we got oppossums, raccoons, the mighty Mississippi, Leadbelly, and sweet corn.

I don’t think Redneck Ritual is happening this year at PSG (even though I did promise Debby and Zan a pie) but that’s ok, because, as anyone who brought home a giant-ass watermelon knows, there can be too much of a good thing. And it is a good thing and we all need it. Sometimes the bullshit in life can get you down, and it’s good to know you’re not alone. Redneck Ritual is good for the soul, like a Little Debbie fresh out of the wrapper. And until we get to have that down-home communion, well, we got True Blood.

Hail Dale!

Hail Dale!

The Faith Of Life-As-It-Is

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the future, especially as I have made some decisions on instinct that surprised me.

I got an e-mail about a Pagan festival I have loved attending in the past and I registered. I didn’t think about the religious implications or how this would impact my faith journey in the bigger picture. I was just excited about the music and people and being safe and feeling at home.

I bought a bunch of advent books on the cheap in anticipation of Christmas, but instead I watched Hogfather and read The Odyssey.

I am realizing that not having the spiritual answers I need means I have to engage with my faith in life as it is and how it works.  I know some readers will be thinking “Aha! Practice-based! Do what works!” I still find that line of reasoning illogical. My beliefs never seem to change as much as I try to bend them and shape them to conform to the spiritual communities available to me.

But if you have no palpable faith community that shares your beliefs, and for whatever reason you don’t have the ability to reasonably build that community from scratch, then you have to figure out how to craft a meaningful life with what you have. Maybe sometimes that means you embrace a culture that at the very least tolerates you even if it doesn’t include you. Sometimes being simply tolerated is enough.

This isn’t really a dilemma specific to me. We all have moments when realize our life is never going to be what we imagined and hoped for, and so how do we move forward? What if we don’t find a life partner? What if we don’t have children? What if we don’t have a local spiritual community? What if we never have our own home? What if we don’t have family? How do we make a life that has meaning within the means (emotional/social/financial/geographic) that we currently have?

I struggle with that every day. I’m beginning to think it means just trusting my instincts and realizing my faith is big enough to embrace the life I have and the people I love. Practicing what I preach. Being content with part instead of the whole.  Embracing the things that fit within my core values without worrying about their origin. Embracing the people around me without worrying about their expectations of me.

And maybe reminding myself to be brave, and take leaps.

I hope you are loved, seen, and heard.

Coming Back to Life

There is a fat horned moon hanging in a bright sapphire sky tonight. I watched it as I walked home, down slick sidewalks still flecked with melting snow. It’s warm for January. Maybe spring will come early.

I meant to celebrate Noumenia this week but I was sick and dealing with an unusual amount of stress. I desperately need to shut down and enjoy some solitude for a few days but that doesn’t seem likely. I have to find some way to revive myself with the resources I have. I have to come back to life.

Last weekend was my father’s birthday and it was a rough day for me. I was ill and couldn’t mark the day by going to see Selma like I wanted. The other day I attended a memorial service for a friend’s step-father, and with us was a friend who had lost his father a couple of years ago. In the midst of grief I remembered my own grief at my father’s passing. I thought about how long it takes to come back to life when you have been visited by death.

In many ways all religion is about death. It is about how to make the most of what short time we have here on earth. How do we live knowing we will die? And in facing the death of a loved one, how do we continue living?

I am coming back from facing a death of sorts. I’m putting a lot of things to rest. And in this process it amazes me how often we face, process and return from death in our lives. It really is a continual cycle weaving through the length of our lives.

Maybe I missed this Noumenia, but it will circle back around. So will my dad’s birthday. So will illness, grief, and beautiful horned moons in bright sapphire skies.