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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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Once in a while on Tumblr, where I indulge mostly my fannish interests and my love of birds, I post what I call a “Who’s your daddy?” list, where I ramble about who are the definitive actors in certain iconic roles. For example, Jeremy Brett is my Sherlock Holmes, Leonard Nimoy is my Spock of Vulcan, and Spock is canonically a descendant of Sherlock Holmes because he said so in Star Trek VI.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the gods and about the influences that have formed my conceptions of them. To do that, I have to look back to my childhood and think about the books I read.

I was a voracious reader as a child and a precocious one. I was always interested in myths and gods and religion, and I read and re-read a lot of books, both children’s collections of stories and adult books on archaeology, history, and world religions. The truth is, most of the children’s books on mythology I can’t remember, except for the ones with my favorite illustrations.

You know the books I mean. You read them, too, I’m sure. Many of them are still in print, a fact which gladdens my heart.

I somehow skipped over the D’Aulaires’ book on Greek myths. I cannot remember whether my neighborhood library owned it or not. But I don’t know how many times I borrowed their Norse myths book.

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That’s Thor. That’s always going to be what Thor looks like, in my head. A big man with red hair and red beard, tall, muscular, a hint of beer belly. The sort of guy who loses his temper quickly, shouts and crashes around, cools down and apologizes ten minutes later. A guy who’ll always lend you his ladder or help you move something heavy. Not Chris Hemsworth; more like Ray Winstone.

Anthony Hopkins made a pretty awesome Odin for Marvel, but in my head, Odin still looks like this:

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The D’Aulaires weren’t the only book on Norse myths I read, however. More influential in terms of the text than the illustrations was The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willy Pogany. Colum included the story of Sigurd the Volsung, which may be why I mutter darkly when I hear Wagner’s Ring operas–“Sigurd, not Siegfried!” It was Pogany, however, who gave me my images of Loki, in graceful Art Nouveau lines:

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Yes, Sif’s lovely naked breasts appeared in a children’s book. We weren’t quite so sensitive in those days. And my personal favorite Loki illustration:

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The determination and malice in Loki’s face as he eats the heart of Gullveig, knowing that he does not know what the consequences will be and not caring. Colum and Pogany sanitized the stories less than the D’Aulaires, I think. For all the delicacy of Pogany’s drawings, they carry a menace in them, a seriousness.

I think children’s books about the Greek gods influenced me less than photographs of the abundant statues and vase paintings that portray the gods. I even had a coloring book of Greek art that reproduced some of the most famous vase pieces. Likewise Egyptian art, which I liked very much as a child, was full of depictions of the gods in their human and animal forms. (For a long time I only drew human figures as the Egyptians did, in profile, with the eye looking out from the side.) Perhaps because I absorbed the idea so early, it didn’t seem odd to me that a god of writing should have the head of a bird, or a goddess of war and violence the head of a lioness, or that Zeus should become a bull, a swan, a shower of light.

People wonder if children can tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t, if they’ll confuse the stories in books and on television with accounts of real life. I’m not sure if I can say definitively, I thought the gods were real, or I thought the gods weren’t real, or I thought Jesus was real but not Hermes and Odin and Thoth. In a sense all the gods, and Jesus, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, Captain America, even, are all equally real to me because they are all stories. There are real stories and then there are not-real stories. If a writer creates a story which mentions an important book that doesn’t exist, is that book real? Is the Necronomicon real? Whose Necronomicon is real? Which is the “real” Bible–the latest translation, or the Authorised Version, or the crumbling manuscripts the translators used? Which is the real book of Isaiah, the Masoretic Hebrew, or the Septuagint, or the version from the Dead Sea Scrolls?

What is fictional is real to me. What is mythical is real to me. “News” is not real in my universe. Propaganda is not real. Facebook is not real. Yet I don’t want to pray to Captain America, I only want to write stories about him. I did not encounter Antinous in my childhood reading about the gods of the world; I only heard him referenced, later, as the lover of a Roman emperor, a beautiful youth who died young. But having discovered him as a god, I pray to him, and he responds.

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I’ve quoted this poem many times on this blog. I think I am finally beginning to understand what it means.

You do not have to be good. You do not have to be special. You do not have to have a god-phone, or a shamanic crisis, or a great epiphany.

You do not have to be a witch, a psychic, a sorcerer, a mystic, a shaman, a spirit-worker, or anything in particular, to approach the gods. You only have to be human, and willing, and courteous.

Bring an offering. It can be a cup of pure water, a tea light, a stick of incense, a portion of your meal. Pray aloud, using respectful words.

“Do ut des,” the Romans famously said: I give so that you may give. It might also be said: “I give because you have given.” The powers give blessings. Humans give offerings. It’s an exchange, a cycle, like the water cycle, or the conservation of energy and matter.

While I was writing this post, my pet cockatiel came to sit on my shoulder. He gave me a long serenade of clucking and whistling, pressing his face to mine and lifting his wings in a heart shape. This was nothing but a demonstration of his affection for me. We have been flockmates for fourteen years. I hope it does not seem blasphemous to say that if we can bond with animals through giving them food and drink, satisfying their needs for touch and companionship, and appreciating the ways they show us affection, we can bond with the gods in much the same way, sharing our food and drink with them, showing our reverence and devotion as best we can, learning from one another.

I don’t see visions of the gods. I don’t have voices talking in my head. I do feel things. Very subtly. A feeling of presence and of approval. A feeling like being nudged, or steered, or perhaps led in a dance. I never learned to follow as a dancer, but I think I am learning to be led in the dance by the gods. I am learning to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.

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I’ve been roaming the blogosphere lately, looking for new writers to read, and by curious chance (or perhaps divine guidance) I came across this post by Cat Treadwell, “Sacred Reading”. Cat, a Druid, writes movingly of reading a book about a woman’s stay in the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in Kentucky, made famous by enclosing the writer Thomas Merton, and being struck by the ancient monastic practice of lectio divina, sacred reading. Lectio is a slow, ruminative, prayerful encounter with the sacred, primarily in the Christian Scriptures, but also, potentially, in other texts and other ways of seeking meaning.

I myself was struck by finding a pagan Druid writing of Christian monastic life and spiritual practices when I have lately been restless and unhappy after immersing myself in much the same sort of reading for months. Now I was seeking pagan bloggers, druid bloggers, new pagan books.

In early 2013 I transferred my church membership to a new parish (new to me, that is, not to the area) and had contentedly identified myself as Episcopalian, no qualifiers, for the past year. At least, that has been my story. I put books on magic and pagan topics in empty Amazon boxes, determined to give them away, yet somehow they never found their way out of the apartment. My New Hermetics pantacle, my Tarot decks, my tiny statues of Buddha sitting zazen and Isis on her throne lingered in my possession, along with books I never even considered giving up. And since the beginning of this year, more or less, the words of the Daily Office have withered, disconnected from the actual relationship I am having with Jesus, and I have been missing another deity I used to have a relationship with: Antinous.

I have said all along that I think Antinous pointed me toward my Episcopal church and said, “Visit one more time. You’ll see.” I felt that if I asked for his help again, politely, he would be inclined to give it.  He has this in common with Jesus: He does not turn people away, regardless of who they are. He excludes no one. (Jesus’s followers haven’t always lived up to that principle, but I think the Gospels are pretty clear that it was his modus operandi.) And the Bithynian Boy has indeed calmed my anxieties and helped to clear my mind over the past few days.

The truth is, while I’ve been an Episcopalian most of my life, I’m not sure I’ve ever been a monotheist. I remember having two children’s Bibles, one with simple crayon-like drawings and retellings mostly of the Gospels, the other with “religious” paintings of a Protestant kind in which Jesus was, quite bluntly, a blond-haired, blue-eyed hottie. I know I spent a lot of time staring at the illustration of Jesus, naked to the waist, standing thigh-deep in the waters of Jordan at his baptism.

At the same time, I owned or borrowed from the library numerous books on mythology, especially Greco-Roman and Egyptian, and on world religions. There was a lavishly illustrated Time-Life volume I borrowed many times that included a two-page illustration of the Hindu pantheon, done in popular devotional style; photographs of Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox liturgies; cool black-and-white photos of Zen monks, and chapters on Judaism and Islam as well. I always read far ahead of my grade level and quickly graduated to the mostly-text books on the adult side of the library, on comparative religions, archaeology, and the ancient world.

As near as I can remember, if you’d asked me what those Greek, Egyptian, Hindu gods were doing now that everybody knew Jesus was The Real God, I would have said something like, “They’re retired now.” They weren’t in charge of everything any more, because Jesus, but they certainly existed. I don’t think I ever doubted that they existed. Maybe all those color photographs helped me to understand that all those other people actually took their religions seriously, even if they weren’t Protestant Christianity.

A chance mention somewhere, on someone’s blog, most likely, led me to look up meanings for the placement of Jupiter in my natal chart, in the sign of Gemini. I actually suffered the old cliche of a sinking stomach as I read that Jupiter in Gemini can be a religious dilettante, attracted by everything, always hungry for new information, but not very likely to settle down with one particular path or practice.

I thought about this, and prayed about it, and finally said to myself, I’ve just turned forty-eight. I could live another fifty years or more. Instead of trying to fight this trait in myself, how about turning a bug into a feature? How about just going with the flow and see where it goes?

So tonight the triptych I made for Antinous, my statues of Buddha and Isis, my stones and feathers, rocks and shells, joined my icons of Christ, the Virgin of Tenderness, and the Trinity on my mantel and on the table below. My best photo of my grandmother is there, along with icons of Julian of Norwich, my beloved spiritual mother these thirty years, and Perpetua and Felicity, early Roman Christian martyrs whom I venerate during Lent. Incense is burning and tea lights are lit, offerings to the holy powers. Tomorrow I will go to church, sing Lenten hymns, hear the Word preached, and receive the body and blood of Jesus at his table where all are welcome. Tonight, I feel calm. In the midst of this topsy-turvy time of warmth and cold, longer days, Lent over here and Purim over there, Ostara and Holi and at last the crocuses are opening, the birds are singing, I finally feel calm.

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In my wanderings of the World Wide Web today, I came across a fascinating post by a blogger new to me: The Allergic Pagan’s discussion of “Three (or more?) ‘Centers’ of Paganism”. John Halstead, to give the blogger his proper name (it’s on his “About Me” page) divides Neopaganism loosely into earth-centered, Self-centered, and deity-centered, or in the terms he borrows from Graham Harvey’s book What Pagans Believe, Celebrating Nature, Working Magic, and Honoring the Deities.

Well, give a druid a triad, and she’ll come up with at least nine meanings for it. Halstead’s triad resonated with me strongly; it suggested the three major power centers of the body, belly (body), heart (mind), and head (spirit), and the three major divisions of the spirits in much pagan thinking, land spirits, ancestors, and deities, and all the various correspondences to those triads that one can come up with. More importantly, perhaps, it mapped out my own progress within paganism. I began as an earth-honoring, nature-celebrating eclectic neopagan, incorporated Hermetic magic and theurgy along the way, and finally have gotten round to honoring, and working with, and coming to terms with deities.

I honestly don’t remember at this point how the first contact between my pantheon and myself was made. I might be able to uncover it by rooting around in this blog’s archives, or in my history of Livejournal blogging, but I might go into the labyrinth and never come out and finish this post. Suffice it to say that I do remember wishing I had a “patron deity”, because that’s what all the cool kids seemed to be doing, all the hot pagan bloggers–having intense, melodramatic relationships with patron deities.

… I’ve mentioned my tendency to have relationship drama in religion and not in my marriage, right? Just so we’re all on the same page.

My impression is that while I was wistfully wishing, without an awful lot of focus or really knowing what I was wishing for, deities began to show up. By “show up” I mean that I found myself thinking about them, researching them, and then having conversations with them, usually at their instigation and not mine. Many of the contacts came when I was walking to work, or doing dishes, or taking a bath or shower–that is, when I was in a light trance state due to repetitive activity. I vividly remember one contact that began with a conversation on the light rail: A god appeared to me and identified himself. He was tall, muscular, mature, red-haired, naked except for some jewelry, and… kind of shiny.

I say he appeared and talked to me while I was in a light rail car, riding back into the city from a run to the ‘burbs. What I mean is that he appeared to me in my imagination. Once in a great while I perceive magical or spiritual things with or apparently with my physical senses; it’s not impossible for me, but it’s rare. But most of my spiritual contacts are “just my imagination”. It’s just that I’ve always had the sense that the imagination is not simply a private laboratory where the mind cooks things up; it’s a room with at least two doors, and only one of them is the door from my mind. The imagination is a place where I make things, but it’s also a place where I can meet things. Ancestors, deities, fictional characters, dream people, my imagination is where they come to meet me.

I realized pretty quickly that there was a connection among the different deities who were tapping me. They were all Celtic, mostly Gaulish/Continental, and had been syncretized by the Romans with their own deities. The Shiny Naked Guy who visited me on the train identified himself as Grannos Apollo. The star goddess I was aware of around Imbolc wanted to be called Dana. Shiny Naked Guy had a shiny silver sister named Sirona who liked to visit me in my bath. I was at work when a quiet, gravelly male voice spoke to me from behind me, over my shoulder, and told me he could help me on the job. I never saw him, but I got an impression of age, wisdom, and physical ugliness. He identified himself as Ogmios, cognate to Oghma, inventor of the Ogham… and god of cataloguing?

My consistent contacts have been with Grannos, Sirona, Dana, Lugus, Rosmerta, Taranis,

Relief from Autun depicting Rosmerta and Mercury

Relief from Autun depicting Rosmerta and Mercury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sulis, Belenos, Ogmios, Nodens, and Catubodva. I have read what I can find about them; most, possibly all of the surviving evidence for their character and cult is in artifacts, not in literature. I go very much by UPG and I freely admit that. The interpretatio Romana and the slightly greater amounts of information available about their cognate deities in other cultures have helped. I have had enough melodrama with them to make an American television series–all of which, honestly, has been my fault.

I called on Catubodva recently, making a considered offering and earnestly asking for help, and she came through. I’m beginning to get little nudges from my pantheon again, to hear them. My intuition/psychism/whatever, such as it is, mostly comes through hearing rather than seeing. I listen to the voices, of a poem, a fictional character, my gut feelings, or a goddess. I am listening to my gods’ voices and, finally, daring to speak aloud their names.

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If you’re a science fiction fan, you may remember a show from the 1990s called Babylon 5. B5 was a bit like The Lord of the Rings in Space: A five-season show with a narrative arc that ran through the entire series, with a strong thematic interest in religion, politics, and the intersection of the two. One of the recurring motifs was that the main characters would, at key points, be asked certain questions by the powers behind the scenes: Who are you? What do you want? Where are you going? In the short-lived but intriguing sequel, Crusade, two other questions were introduced: Whom do you serve, and whom do you trust?

Recently some things have happened that have posed a new question for me, one that might be as important for me as those questions in the Babylon 5 universe. A dear friend of mine was being threatened by her estranged spouse, and my husband and I felt threatened by him as well because we were helping her. She had done all the right mundane things to take action against him, but it wasn’t stopping him from invading her privacy and damaging her property. Finally I had enough of this bullshit, and I did something I have never done before: I called on a deity for help, to protect our friend and us and restrain the malicious ex-spouse. As part of my request, I made an offering that required some time, money, and effort to assemble and present, well beyond the usual candles, incense, and water I offer to the spirits.

As we waited to hear whether the warrant for crazy spouse’s arrest had been executed, I kept asking myself, What will I stand up for? What motivated me to do magic now, when there have been so many situations when I haven’t?

When I was studying the New Hermetics, I successfully did workings to resolve financial difficulties, find a new job, and move house. At the same time, while I set goals to “lose weight” and “write more”, those goals never turned into specific workings with measurable results. I did many other less goal-oriented practices that resulted in greater self-knowledge and self-understanding, and overall, training in Hermetic magic convinced me that my mind could be controlled and directed to self-benefit rather than self-sabotage.

I’ve only just started to rebuild my often difficult relationship with my deities. I have said little about them here–probably that old-time Anglican reticence operating–but that is going to change. As of this afternoon, crazy harassing estranged spouse is in jail and has been since Friday night, when the warrant was issued and my initial request went out to the otherworld; he’s been denied bail, and he’ll probably be in jail for about a month, as a court date won’t even be set for two or three weeks. It’s no wonder that when I fired up a coal, burnt some incense, and prayed again this morning, I got a distinct response of, “Just shut up, it’s okay.” And it was.

Hail Catubodva, battle raven, crow goddess, who accepted my offering and intervened when I called on her. I, Mam Adar, thank you in the presence of my readers.

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