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So yesterday I did a thing which I have been thinking about for a while. And I am pretty amazed at myself–and praising the gods, too–because I actually did the thing.

I made a set of prayer beads for Antinous and devotional stuff generally.

I’ve always been really attracted to simple, repetitive prayer. I treasure my rosary of rosewood beads, which I used less for the traditional rosary prayers than for reciting phrases from the Revelations of Julian of Norwich. I meditated over her words on the bus and while working to work for years. And when I became involved with Buddhism, I acquired several malas and enjoyed saying and singing mantras, and still do.

Lately I’ve been sitting down and meditating and actually doing it fairly consistently, really for the first time in my life. At first I was just counting my breaths from one to ten, over and over, which is one of the Zen methods (the easy one). Then one day I began saying “Antinous” over and over, mentally, just as I exhaled. Subsequently it became easier to say the god’s name than to count breaths; I felt more focused. And gradually what had been a purely meditative/contemplative practice became more devotional.

Thus I started thinking about prayer beads for polytheistic devotion. I poked around online and priced some malas of amethyst beads, all of which cost more than I wanted to spend right now. As it happens, though, I live about four blocks from a beading supply store. While my laundry was in the dryer yesterday, I walked down there and came home with about twenty dollars’ worth of stuff and a rough plan for using it.

I have, somewhere, a board for beading. I’d swear I saw it recently. Of course, now that I needed it, I couldn’t find it, anywhere. I want you to know, dear readers, that it is entirely possible to lose something in about 250 square feet of apartment. I could not find my lovely beading board, but I lined those beads up on the table, lit Vesta’s candle and some incense, pulled up an image of Antinous on my laptop, and went to work.

Every so often I get this urge to make something. It must be a divine compulsion, because I failed scissors in kindergarten and have more thumbs than are strictly necessary. I once sewed a Tarot bag by hand out of a scrap of cloth a friend gave me. I’ve never tried to duplicate the feat. Despite my abundant thumbs, despite the crap lighting, I managed to string together what I wanted: Twenty-three sparkly clear Czech glass beads, two silver double-spiral beads, a red bead, a white bead, and a black bead. The red, white, and black beads are for Antinous’ aspects as the Liberator, the Navigator, and the Lover; the two silver spirals are for his association with the moon; the sparkly beads were the prettiest, twenty-three because I hear that’s an Antinoan number.

It’s sitting on his shrine in a little lavender organdy bag. I plan to use it for the first time tonight. I may even try to take a picture on my crap phone and upload it.

Ave Antinoe! In his honor, I did the thing!

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O Serapis, husband of Isis, I have no husband.

O Serapis, father of Harpocrates, I have no father.

O Serapis, father of Hermanubis, I am travelling alone.

O Serapis, bearded lord, sometimes I am afraid,

travelling alone, and then I am ashamed of my fear.

If you watch over me, Serapis, I would be grateful.

If you would send your son Harpocrates to wait for me

when I am out late at night, if you would send your son

Hermanubis to guide me safely out and home again,

if you would look after me like a father, Serapis, and ask

your holy wife Isis to look after me like a mother,

I would be grateful, and I would sing your praise.

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Yesterday I decided to do some decent cooking for the first time in a couple of weeks. I had everything I needed to make a quick ‘n’ dirty version of seafood au gratin with that frozen imitation crab stuff and a proper beef stew.

Putting the faux crab au gratin in the slow cooker was easy, but when I got into the beef stew, everything started to go wrong. One of the two packages of beef I bought had gone bad. I knocked over the bottle of wine–thank goodness, it was well corked. I cut up some red potatoes and raw carrots, once the beef and mushrooms were going strong, and pieces of vegetable were flying off the cutting board. Now, I am the farthest thing from Julia Child with a knife in my hand, but this was ridiculous. Things weren’t just popping off the cutting board onto the table, they were diving for the floor.

As I was bending over to pick up yet another wayward chunk of carrot, I suddenly said aloud, “The gods are hungry. You haven’t fed them in a while.” And it was true. If I cook something that takes a bit more effort than just opening a jar or a can and heating stuff up, I usually offer a portion the first time I eat it. I hadn’t done that for a while. I promised aloud that I would give them some of this stew, but I still had a few more mishaps to get through before my food prep was done.

When I was ready to eat the beef stew last night, I poured wine for the Powers and for myself. I lit candles and incense. I served Them a bowl of stew, then myself. The stew was delicious, one of my best efforts, and I felt a sense of appreciation and blessing flowing from the Powers.

This is how I understand sacrifice. It is not giving something up, or giving it away. As environmentalists say about trash and recycling, there is no “away”. An offering or a sacrifice is given to the gods, and/or ancestors or spirits, who are here in the world with us. But what we offer is made out of things that the gods have given us already, before we asked. The Romans said, “Do ut des,” I give that You may give, but they might also have said, “I give because You have given”.

The Christian theology of the Eucharist actually helps me out here. God gives wheat and grapes. Humans make bread and wine, which is then offered to God. Bread and wine becomes God’s flesh and blood. What gods and mortals give one another is always given back. It’s an exchange, a cycle. It’s animals breathing out carbon dioxide for the plants who breathe out oxygen for animals. It’s flowing water that doesn’t stagnate because there’s always fresh water coming in while old water is going out.

However you may feel about controversial topics like animal sacrifice, the exchange of gifts between gods and mortals, the seen and the unseen, is not optional. It’s just the way things work. Not to make offerings is like taking a deep breath and holding it, and thinking you’ll be okay like that.

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I’ve recently realized I am properly a dumbass polytheist. A dumbass polytheist is one who buys a nice bottle of wine, with a cork, as an offering to the gods, and then discovers the corkscrew went to her ex.

(I bought a new one this weekend.)

Now that I have that out of my system…. I did something yesterday which I’ve been meaning to do for weeks, namely, to visit the museum and look at the ancient art with an eye to god-spotting and ancient religious practice.

I’m pretty familiar with the collections at my museum, but it was eye-opening to look specifically for and at religious themes, religious art (with a couple of side tours into ancient jewelry… *sigh*). The Egyptian collection has a lot of representations of deities, all of whom I greeted sotto voce. In one area, two statues of Isis suckling Horus and of Osiris, each twelve to eighteen inches high, face one another, forming a quartet with the busts of a pharaoh and a priest. “Mery”, the museum’s resident mummy, lies in her painted coffin accompanied by four Canopic jars capped with the images of the sons of Horus, a box for the jars that also depicts Isis and Nephthys, and an array of amulets depicting or symbolizing Thoth and other gods. I saw images of Bes, Hathor, Amun, and Taweret in addition to the deities already mentioned, and the entrance to the Egyptian rooms is flanked by two images of Sekhmet as a couching lion.

The Greek and Roman exhibits have covetable jewelry but fewer divine images. I had hoped that I might see Hadrian and/or Antinous, but there seemed to be no representations of them at all. I saw Diana, Venus, Athene, Eros, and some other deities, but the highlight of the Greek and Roman collections was a splendid large head of Serapis. Even missing his basket crown and body, his image was beautiful and moving. I snapped a halfway-decent phone picture of him, thanks to the natural light in his location.

Altogether it was a worthwhile trip and a good way to get out of the house on a lazy Sunday. Hail to the gods and goddesses of Egypt, Greece, and Rome!

 

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Earth under my feet,

Water under the earth,

Fire under the water:

Such is Neptune.

 

Neptune, Poseidon, Nephew of the Waters,

Keep the earth steady beneath my feet.

Neptune, Poseidon, Nephew of the Waters,

Keep the waters flowing in the dry times.

Neptune, Poseidon, Nephew of the Waters,

Keep the secret fire alight, share with me its divine power.

 

Ave, ave, Neptune, khaire Poseidon,

god of the oceans, god of the waters.

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When the music starts playing, the dancers wait to feel the beat. They find the rhythm and then move into it. As the dance progresses, the rhythm moves into the dancers; it inhabits them and they inhabit it. At first you may have to think about what to do with your arms and legs, your head and feet, but the goal, the joy of the dance is to move beyond that self-consciousness and be the dance.

I’m starting to get a taste of that in my devotions: I think I’m in the beginning stages of grooving on the rhythm. Things have slowly crystallized into a daily practice and some customs for festivals.

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is greet my cockatiel, Rembrandt, and uncover his cage. I then proceed to make a pot of tea, sometimes with my bird’s “help”, sometimes not. I start my breakfast with a bowl of cold cereal and milk. Before I sit down to eat, I pour a small bowl of milk and put it near my potted plants, saying, “Good morning, house spirits. Here is your milk.”

By the time I have finished my cereal and am thinking about some protein, my tea is ready. Before I I drink my own and have something with eggs or yogurt, I pour a small cup, fix it with milk and sweetener, and offer it to the ancestors. My most important ancestor is Mom, my maternal grandmother, who drank tea and passed her preference on to me. I have pictures of her, my grandfather, my dad, and some other folks on my desk now as an ancestor shrine. I say good morning and ask them to be with me through the day.

When breakfast is done, it’s time for my morning writing. About twenty years ago, I started doing Morning Pages as recommended by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. I have done them on and off ever since, but in the past year I shifted from longhand writing to using 750words.com. (I got tired of using up notebooks only to store them and eventually throw them out or recycle them.) Before I start writing, I light a candle from my stove with a prayer to Vesta, and light incense as an offering to the gods. I make a brief request for blessing with my offering.

Because I am weird, and because I lived for a long time with a spouse who always had to leave for work before I did, showering and dressing are the last item in my morning routine. After I am dressed for the day, I pick up a small piece of amethyst and say a short prayer to Antinous composed by PSVL. The amethyst goes into my pocket as a reminder; I also sometimes carry prayer beads or a scarab bead I bought at a museum store. Then I put out the candle and start putting together my lunch.

On a normal day, that’s pretty much it. I sometimes make another incense offering in the evening. If I actually cook something for dinner, in a way that goes beyond just heating up food, or I order something delivered, I put a small portion on a plate and offer that to all the powers. If I indulge in ice cream, which I do more often than is good for me, I usually offer some of that, too.

If there’s a festival, I try to do more. I’m following the calendar of the Ekklesia Antinoou,which includes Greek, Roman, and Egyptian deities as well as dates specific to the lives of Hadrian and Antinous. This gives me something to work with, as Lupus often posts poetry for the festival and commentary upon it. I offer food, tea lights, incense, wine, and poetry, sometimes music. I decided a while ago that rather than trying to make friends with all the gods, all at once, I would use the festivals as a way of getting to know the deities and initiating a relationship. This has so far worked very well; I feel I made a strong connection with Flora and then Vesta during the Floralia and Vestalia. I’m particularly interested in the Roman deities and their festivals.

In addition to the daily and festival stuff, I read polytheistic and other blogs, translations of things like the Homeric Hymns and the Orphic Hymns, books on Buddhism. Some kind of study is always part of religious practice for me. I’m also trying to establish a sitting meditation practice (something which which I’ve never had much success).

The most interesting thing, for me, the best thing, is that my practice is passing my personal tests for determining whether a spiritual practice is working for me. Am I writing? Yes, quite a lot–fanfic, poetry, this blog, my Tumblr. Am I handling everyday stresses well? Yes, I am. Is my default position kindness to myself and other people rather than anger, irritation, impatience, self-criticism? Pretty much, yes. No fits of anger over tiny issues or panic attacks at every bump in the road.

The dance may get more complicated, more demanding as it goes on, but right now, I’m really enjoying just grooving to the beat.

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Has anyone else had this experience: Become involved in devotional polytheism, start cooking and cleaning more regularly?

I have an ambivalent relationship with housekeeping, though probably no more so than most women of my generation. My grandmother, born in 1899, held a factory job for over forty years, keeping it through the Depression while my grandfather took whatever short-term jobs he could get. My mother made a conscious (and resentful) decision to be a stay-at-home mom, but most of the actual mothering I got came from my grandmother, who retired when I was about four years old. I used to wish my mother would get a job and go out and do the things she loved; even in retirement, my grandmother remained active. (Yes, I have ancestor work to do.)

So I’m an indifferent housekeeper and a lazy cook. But I feel lately this constant nudging–I think of it as nudging, a tactile experience–to cook better meals and to clean up the apartment. To do the dishes and wash my hands before I make offerings for the evening. To cook something so that I can share a small portion of it with the numinous ones. Part of it is an expectation that if I’m going to invite the gods to visit me, by prayer and offering, then I ought to provide a pleasant place for them to visit, as I would for any guest. And part of it, which seems to be coming from the goddess Vesta, is a sense that “I’m worth it”; I deserve a clean, pleasant environment for my own enjoyment, and my home deserves my attention. There is not some higher value for which I can rightfully ignore dirty dishes or a backed-up toilet. No one else is going to do it for me.

And now that my backed-up toilet is fixed and my bathroom is finally clean, I am going to take a thorough shower and then make some offerings. Ave Vesta!

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