So my partner sent me this picture of Hermes and what we think is baby Dionysos last night. I find the portrayal of Hermes beautiful. Apparently this is in Union Square too! I"ve never noticed it, but you can bet next week when I go back to school i'm going to stop there and hunt for it!
I have started keeping an eye out when I go about my travels in the city--looking for things that reflect the Gods. In purely architectural terms, there's more than one might think! Starting with the statue of Mercury atop Grand Central Station, New York City is replete with images of the Gods, especially the Greek and Roman Gods (not so much the Norse, i'll admit). It makes every journey into the city a treasure hunt, if i choose it to be. I do love seeing images of our Gods.
Usually I do major sacrifice for the Gods around the two solstices, but this year a windfall came unexpectedly into my lap: one of my colleagues had the opportunity to acquire two four-legged animals (what we tend to call sheep, goats, pigs, etc. -- any large farm animal with --you guessed it--four legs) for half the price they usually would cost. I jumped at it and arranged with that colleague--my friend A.T-- to do the actual offering.
Normally I would do my own sacrificing, but I'm recovering from a shoulder injury (which is seriously problematic when working with larger livestock) and my colleague A.T. is a *much* better sacrificial priest than I. I'm good but I have little to no rapport with animals. He has the gift of serious animal mojo. He can lull the most contentious or frightened animal to calm serenity. His ability to communicate with them is pure magic. For anything larger than a chicken, i am more than happy to cede to him the role of knife-carrier. It's more important to me that the animal not suffer, that the sacrifice be done cleanly, respectfully, and with all necessary protocol than that *I* be the one doing it. A.T. graciously agreed to do both sacrifices asking only that I provide the appropriate prayers and ritual structure, which I gladly did.
So over the past two days, House Sankofa gave one animal to Odin (it was sacrificed Wednesday night with all appropriate prayers and ritual, butchered properly and some of the meat given to the one on whose property the rite occurred. Usually He gets full immolation and nothing is shared, but He didn't require that this time) and today one animal was give to Dionysos.
Both rituals went beautifully (in fact, the one to Odin proceeded with what A.T. termed "almost mathematical efficiency") and the little four legged given to Dionysos today, all on his own accord, decided to nosh on a grape vine on the way to being sacrificed. I took this as a rather good omen given that he was being given to the God of the vine.
Sacrifice is important. It's one of the holiest and most sacred of our rituals. When we engage in sacrifice for our Gods, we are entering into the flow of a very ancient, very, very profound contract We are entering into something tremendously powerful, something that reaches to the very core of our traditions. This is what brings renewal. This is what brings grace and blessing to the community. This is one of the things that nourishes our Gods and in turn nourishes us. It completes a sacred cycle and there is very little if anything that may serve as a truly adequate substitute.
For this reason, I give thanks for those clergy, of all our various traditions who have dedicated themselves to the task of learning and restoring these rituals and protocols. I give thanks to the Gods and ancestors for those who teach and those who do, for those who take up the knife so that our Gods may have the offerings best suited to Their glory. I give thanks for our sacrificial priests (and yes, I am one, but I give thanks to those who taught me, to those from whom I continue to learn, and to the Gods for Their continued patience). I give thanks to the farmers who provide the feast for the Powers. I give thanks to the fire that carries the fullness of the sacrifice away via immolation and I give thanks to those who dress and prepare the sacrifices for feasting, when that is appropriate. I give thanks to the knife and the ones who craft it. I give thanks for the animals and I give thanks for the land that catches the blood as it is spilled. These things are sacred. The hands of the sacrificial priest are sacred, and the process and cycle itself. For these things, I am grateful. I know how they nourish wyrd. I know what it means to restore these rites after two thousand years of our ritual places lying fallow.
So yesterday and today were good days. They were blessed days and that is my wish: that Odin and Dionysos may each be pleased, each be nourished, each be reverenced and that through the process of sacrifice and veneration, Their blessings may flow.
Today is the feast day of Mercurius
the God of the Road,
Opener of the Way,
Cunning, Strange, and Wise.
Today is the feast day of the Mercurius
Hermes, Who knows every path
and where they lead,
Who blesses thieves,
magicians, and scholars.
Who bears the gift of healing,
and the challenge of mystic vision.
Brilliance in motion,
implacable as thought
let us always praise You.
Let us bring You frankincense, fruits,
and rich red wine.
Let us adorn Your altar with gifts:
chocolate, cinnamon, coffee,
odd coins, pretty paper,
and the unchecked flow of
Let us give to You,
a sacrifice of roosters,
and kindness to strangers,
whose guise You may wear.
We shall praise You always,
pouring out offerings
with ready hands
and devoted hearts
and if this pleases You,
Swiftness of the Gods,
and Ever in Motion,
perhaps You will grant us
(Mercurius/Hermes is one of the Gods commonly honored within House Sankofa, at least on occasion. Its founder is a Classicist in training after all).
I belong to a savage God. i don't think anyone Who has had any in depth experiences with Odin would argue with me on that count. Even those who merely know HIs nature from reading the lore, often know enough to understand that He is ruthless and capable of great savagery in His causes. I don't think anyone would question that.
This morning, Sannion posted an article about Dionysos as savage God, the impossibility of fully knowing a God, and the inadvisability of trying to fit Them into narrow mental boxes:
When I read this, I was struck that anyone would question whether or not Dionysos could be savage or militarily adept. I'm not a Dionysian, but I am training as a Classicist and while, as Sannion notes, one ought not depend on single sources, for me reading "the Bakchai" in the original Greek was the alpha and the omega for things Dionysian. If i ever questioned whether or not Dionysos had the potential to terrify, to dominate, to bring the scent of tremendous (justified, i might add too) violence, this play -- a mystery play if ever there was one---put those questions to rest.
One passage stands out for me particularly, a section of the opening wherein Dionysos says that first He is going to come to Thebes (where a mad and impious king, Pentheus, rules and where those who honor Dionysos are persecuted) and show the people there that He is indeed a God, but then He adds:
ἢν δὲ Θηβαίων πόλις ὀργῇ σὺν ὅπλοις ἐξ ὄρους βάκχας ἄγειν ζητῇ, ξυνάψω μαινάσι στρατηλατῶν.
(but if the city of Thebes should, in anger, seek to drive my Bacchae out of the mountains by force of arms, I shall rise up against them, a general at the head of my army--literally "being a general with His army of maenads"). Eur. "Bakchai" lines 50-52.
Later in the play, we see Dionysos take a swift, cunning, and bloody (very bloody) vengeance on Pentheus. I look at this, as someone belonging to Odin, and three things stand out:
1. The God in this play refers to Himself as a general. Euripides was the product of His culture, a culture in which Dionysos was venerated. He didn't pull this attribute out of thin air. I don't know, maybe it's simply that belonging to Odin as I do, I know the scent and smell of savagery when it shows its face in Divine guise. I can smell a God drenched in blood and wine and recognize what that scent means. But I digress...
2. No God Who has the power to bring that much bloodshed, lacks comprehension of the arts of war. I'm going out on a limb here, but the level of violence, the associations in other sources with Maenads being given the strength to drive back soldiers in battle (it happens in "The Bakchai" too, where their ivy wrapped wands turn to spears), where they are blessed with frenzied passion and violence…these things are kin to that which is found in battle. Do moderns dismiss His battle-face because His army is one of women? that would be stupid, people, really, really stupid. READ "The Bakchai" again and pay attention to what some of those enchanted women can do. Also, I think we need to be very careful not to project our modern ethical sensibilities onto the Powers. Just as They cannot and will not be bound by our limited and narrow preconceptions, so too They may not choose to be bound by the narrowness of our ethics, particularly our knee jerk unexamined ethics. Gods like this are Gods that carry within Themselves the fullness of every possible hunger and passion, not just those with which we moderns are comfortable. It is not for us to dictate which ought to be given expression.
3. most importantly, I believe we can tell much about the nature of a God by the gifts that God bestows on His or Her devotees. Look at the Maenads and tell me Dionysos isn't a God of violence. Just look. Go. read a book, read a classical source and think about it.
I note this, because I occasionally do see the same type of thing coming up with Odin. A couple of years ago I was castigated by a fellow spirit worker for calling Odin the God of the ordeal (because you know, hanging oneself in a tree, plucking out an eye, getting strung up between who raging fires, gender-play, and all the other things Odin habitually does couldn't possibly be ordeal, it couldn't possibly have meaning). I was accused of calling Him a sadist and psychopath, I suspect because the idea of ordeal was deeply triggering to the person in question.
Then of course, there was the fact that He wasn't coming to this person in that guise. Newsflash folks: just because a Deity doesn't behave in a specific way with you, does not mean that He or She treats all supplicants and devotees the same way. They are *individuals* as are we. There are no cookie-cutter templates here. More to the point though, i think that in acknowledging Odin as a ruthless, vicious, savage God, a God of the ordeal, a God who would embrace sadism without a second thought if it brought Him closer to what He wanted, if it furthered His agenda was a terrifying thought for spiritworker X. It should be. It doesn't fill the heart with warm fuzzies. Why? Because if Odin is showing those parts of His nature to me, if He is demanding ordeal of me, when at one point our (mine and spiritworker X's) experiences of the Old Man were very similar, then what's to stop Him from suddenly turning around to her and showing that face as well? What's to stop Him from suddenly demanding that which she was afraid to give (the answer, by the way, is not a damned thing except Odin Himself)?
Our gods can't BE that. They can't be cruel. They can't be mean. They can't be harsh, or brutal or savage. They can't demand things of us. They can't violate consent. Those things frighten us, they terrify us and they should because oh indeed the Gods can be all of those things and more. It's easy to ignore …until you have living examples of spirit workers who embody this truism walking around right in front of your eyes, "flaunting" it in ways that can't be easily hidden or dismissed.
In "the Bakchai," Dionysos is a dread and savage God. He is not so, however, without provocation and justification. There are reasons for the extremity of His anger. He does not unleash Himself until Pentheus has been given multiple opportunities to adjust himself and his attitudes. It is only when the women who belong to Dionysos are threatened, and His mother's name impugned, that He goes on the warpath. For me, upon first reading, the whole play was a charge against impiety.
Likewise, i would say that Odin is not a cruel and savage God without reason. When He chooses to show those sides of Himself --and make no mistake, they do exist--there are reasons. Those reasons may be His alone to know but they are there. There is nothing arbitrary about it.
still, it's frightening. It drives home how little control we have over the experience of the Gods when we actually engage. Liberation and freedom seem to always be frightening--why so few people seek them out, i suspect. Falling into Gods like Odin, and like Dionysos too I would posit (though I am hesitant to speak for one owned by Him) carries with it the potential for finding those elements of the Gods' nature in ourselves, for becoming in however small or large a way, transformed by Them, by the contact, transformed into becoming a bit more like Them in outlook…i've seen it happen with spiritworkers. It happened with me. And then it's possible to see in our Gods aspects of Being that terrify us to our core, that make us question everything we've been taught to view as 'good,' to drive home that in the Presence of the Holy there is no safety here.
What it should also bring home is the need to question the paradigms with which we've been raised. Rather than wailing and thrashing and calling on the power of lore to compel you, instead of denying that these dangerous elements exist in our Gods, maybe we should instead ask why they exist and what that means for us as devotees. Maybe we should ask how we can better and more productively embody everything our Gods bring to the devotional table, not just those aspects that comfort us, or with which we are content. Maybe we should stop trying to define our Gods and what They can do, and how They can be and instead throw ourselves into honoring Them. Maybe we should gnaw on the fear and the terror They bring and let it eat us up. Maybe we should remember that these Beings are *Gods*.
I'll tell you something too: i'm glad Odin has those sides to His nature. It means there is nothing in me that I need fear to acknowledge in His presence. There is no part of me that is too intense, too harsh, too awkward, too violent, too passionate, too…anything that I need feel shame over it in His presence. It frees me to stand in a place of tremendous openness, tremendous vulnerability, tremendous liberation. I am grateful that my God has these dark and bloody complexities about His nature. In the microcosm of my heart, I do too. It is yet another thing we share and in the end, that doesn't terrify so much at all. It brings spice. Edit: Sannion has written a follow up post here: http://thehouseofvines.com/2013/03/11/the-inability-to-accept-savage-and-wrathful-gods/ that is pure brilliance.
(The artwork here is by V.E. Hardy. Used with permission).
Today is the first full moon in 2013. This is a good time to make a special offering to Mani.
Our House tends to make special offerings for the last full and new moons in December, and the first full and new moons in January. It seems significant, the crossing of the threshold of the year, and Mani is well loved in House Sankofa.
Truly, He's difficult not to love. Mani is a deeply alluring God, as the moon is alluring with all of its magic and secrets. He is possessed of a certain sweetness, gentle, and as a friend of mine said recently, a God Who transforms through fierce compassion. (Thank you, L. for this apt description!). It's a particular joy to love one's Gods, to have a bond not only of obligation but of love, devotion, and affection. It's a good thing, a grace and one that Mani is particularly deft in evoking. He is a god that fills the hearts of His devotees with joy. It is a joy to praise Him, a delight to pour out offerings and in the whirlwind that devotional work can sometimes be, that is as it should be.
Who dances in the House of the Moon.
Hail this God,
Ornament of Night,
Who watches over
Saturday is weird. It's the one day wherein the name that's come down to us pulls not from Heathen traditions but from Rome. Saturday really means Saturn's Day and obviously Saturn was not a Norse Deity! To the Norse tribes, as far as I've been able to tell, Saturday was a day for cleaning. Specifically, it was a day to do your laundry and take a bath. This amuses me. It didn't amuse Viking age Christians though. Complaints have come down to us from Viking Age English chronicles of Christians whining that the Vikings got all the ladies---because they bathed once a week, combed their hair, and washed their clothes. Heaven forfend!
Rest assured, I bathe everyday not just on Saturday. LOL. Instead, I use Saturday partly to clean my altars and shrines. When you have a lot of them it's painfully easy to let them go a bit too long between cleanings. I make it a point to clean at least five or six of them each Saturday and then I just rotate out Saturday by Saturday until they're all clean. Then the cycle starts again.
I also use Saturday as a day specifically to honor Loki and Sigyn. Long ago when I started following this weekly cycle of offerings, I decided that since Saturday was a 'free' day insofar as offerings went, I was free to ascribe it to any Deity I wanted. It made sense to me, since I love Them dearly, to add Loki and Sigyn to my weekly rotation. Besides, the grace notes of domesticity are something that I very strongly associate with Sigyn. She knows how to maintain a space, how to keep it so clean that nothing negative or malignant can find any purchase at all. On a spiritual level, being clean in one's motivations and free of miasma are essential qualities.
So on Saturdays, I pour out offerings to Sigyn and Her Husband. I maintain several shrines to Them both in my home: the first is downstairs in my foyer, just as one enters my home and this is where I leave offerings to Them. This a shared shrine: both Loki and Sigyn have Their space there and there's a framed image of Them plus Their sons Narvi and Vali hanging right above -- an icon created by artist Grace Palmer that hung over my adopted mom's altar for several years. I leave glasses of wine, whiskey, and often milk and bread for Sigyn. If i have any chocolate or candy in the House, I'll usually give some of that as well. I put out offerings to these two Deities quite frequently, not just on Saturdays because I have an ongoing devotional practice to both of Them, but even so I make it a special point to put offerings out on Saturdays too, regardless of what I have given Them the rest of the week.
i like that there is a day worked into the Norse week devoted to cleansing. Of course we want to be clean physically but it's also fundamental on an energetic and spiritual level. it's important. It sets the stage for doing authentic work with integrity. That's no small thing.
Goddess of the Staying Power.
Goddess of small things
that in the end aren't so small.
Help me to love You
rightly and well.
Help me to be clean
in my work.
Husband of Sigyn.
Let me never lose sight
of the joy that can be found
in the intricacies
Hail Loki, Hail Sigyn.
Thursday is Thor's day and He is perhaps one of our most popular Deities. That's true, by the way, both in the time of our polytheistic ancestors and in the contemporary community. Tbor is the God of the common man, the protector of human kind and He helps to gird the world against dissolution and destruction. It's fitting, by the way, that He should have been given the day that falls right after Woden's, since He is Woden's son.
His hammer mjolnir is a manifestation of HIs sacred might, of His power, the force that He is able to embody and utilize as part of HIs proffered protection. He not only guards Midgard, the human world, but He is also the Protector of Asgard. It does not hold,however, as some Heathens seem to think, that He just randomly goes around killing giants. He might kill a Jotun should that Jotun prove a threat but He is not a wanton killer of any race. In fact, quite often He takes counsel from Jotun women perhaps something He learned from His father.
I think because His primary attribute is great physical strength, there's an unfortunate image of Thor as strong, but not too intellectually bright. I"ve never understood that. First of all, this is Odin's son we're talking about. He was fathered by the God of knowledge. Secondly, the surviving tales themselves don't bear this out. The picture I've chosen for today is a strange little drawing depicting a scene from the Eddic poem 'Alvissmal." in this poem, Thor protects His daughter from the machinations of a scheming duergar named Alviss by means of a contest of wits. This is one of the reasons that He's called "Deep-Minded." I wanted to highlight this because all too often I've seen Him presented as a strong, powerful Deity but non-too-bright: the 'all brawn, no brains' type when nothing is farther from the truth. Thor is every bit as wise as His father wise enough to allow Himself to go under-estimated, i might add.
In offerings, I have always found Thor to be fairly low key and down to earth. I pour Him a drink, usually whiskey and set it out with a small prayer and that's it. Now, someone dedicated to Him, or someone with a deeper devotional relationship to Him than I might do more but I suspect He's pretty "no frills" about these things as a matter of course. A plate of food: meat and potatoes type food, good sausage, things that 'stick to your ribs' as the saying goes are good offerings too. I'd love to hear what other people give Him.
Protector of MIdgard.
Wise as His Father.
You bless Midgard with Your might.
I was born on a Tuesday and it's a day that belongs to the God Tyr. The Romans syncretized Him with Mars as a God of war. I understand that. For me, it makes sense not because He is our sword-God but because He is the God of the necessary action….not the honorable action, not the "good" action, not justice and mercy in the way that Forseti (a God of magistrates and judges if ever I saw One) might be, but necessary action and that is a thing that warriors know well. It is one of those shadowy realities that lie at the core of warrior medicine: an understanding of necessary vs. good and a willingness to do the former. That is where Tyr stands. That is His warrior's wound. That is the source of His power.
Tuesday is His day: Tyr's Day. I don't have much of a relationship with Him beyond the most peripheral despite my work with the warrior dead. There are other Warrior Deities that came calling for me first. Still, I honor Him on His day with simple offerings.
Usually I give Him a glass of whiskey or whatever other strong spirits I have in my home (usually whiskey). I will offer a brief prayer and then set it out on generic altar space (He does not have a shrine in my home--not for lack of respect but for the simple reason that I've never felt called to give Him one and with upwards of 47 shrines in my house, i only really put them up when I feel a push to do so) and I offer a small prayer. Duty done until the next Tuesday.
So hail the God of a warrior's justice,
the God of necessary things,
that defy the honor
He did what no one else would;
and paid the price others fled
Today is Mani's day. Monday actually means "moon-day" and in our tradition the moon belongs to a lovely God named Mani. Monday is His day and a good day to make offerings to Him. I try to do a little something for Him every Monday. Sometimes I forget--i'm human and I make mistakes. My mindfulness occasionally has its lapses--but I do my best to be as consistent as possible. Fortunately, even when I slip up, Monday will always come round again.
I like to give Him little things whenever i can. Usually, I make my offerings in the evening, because I like to do so when the moon is visible in the night sky. Sometimes though ,He rides high and proud, winking at us from the lightening hues wrought by His sister's passage and for me, there's a special delight in that and then I will honor Him when I rise, making my offerings with the brightening day. Offerings like this need not be enormous. I usually give Him a glass of either sambuca or, more recently, Smirnoff's marshmallow flavored vodka. He seems to like it. I spend a few moments in prayer and that's that until the next Monday. It's a stabilizing consistency to the crazy roller coaster of my life.
Some of you might find it strange that we honor a moon God and not a Goddess (our Sun Deity is a Sun Goddess as well --and Mani's sister-- to complete the juxtaposition) but we are not unique in this: Japanese and Egyptian religions also have moon Gods and if i went looking, I suspect there are a few more as well, but I'm feeling lazy today so I'll leave that research to you, my readers.. One wonders though if all the moon Gods are companions….
When my adopted mom was small she used to call the moon Luna Lunera and would watch as She (my mom of course as a small child thought the moon female) showered the earth with the blessings of her gentle light. She said her father would stand on a balcony of their home while she played in the garden --oh she must have been very small---and throw candies down and she thought they came from the moon. Maybe, in a way, they did.
I never thought about it one way or another until I encountered Mani and then I knew what it was to love the moon. He is beautiful and compelling in His ways. Even I am not immune, though it amuses many and probably Mani too should He ever catch wind of it.
January's moon is traditionally called "wolf moon" and Mani is chased by a wolf called Hati. Hati keeps Him on course in the meandering road of night. I wonder if there is a connection or if it is more that our ancestors found the wolves in the forests to howl with hunger in the frozen coldness of winter?
Today I think I shall give Him flowers, white flowers like the starkness of the moon shining over a field of ice-topped snow. For those of you who love Him too, what offerings do you usually give?
Silently You watch
lovely in the hall of Night,
tempting all the worlds.
A Jotun told me
tales of You, that long ago
Your name was Longing.
It is a fable,
his heart's wish and yet my lips
whisper too: longing.
I am very, very
excited to announce that Neos Alexandria/Bibliotheca Alexandrina has just released a new devotional to Hermes.
I've been awaiting this one for a long time and from the table of contents provided on their site, it looks to be a promising and thorough exploration of a very complex God. I have one small prayer in this book, as I honor Hermes because I am training to be a Classicist and He is, among other things, the Greek God of language.
Anyway, the book is called "Guardian of the Road: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Hermes" by KS Roy.
Folks interested in obtaining a copy can do so here: http://neosalexandria.org/bibliotheca-alexandrina/current-titles/guardian-of-the-road-a-devotional-anthology-in-honor-of-hermes/
. This site gives all the information for ordering. This devotional will soon be available on amazon, but that takes a couple of weeks. It's available now on createspace. Check it out!