Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Unity at Pagan Pride

This weekend, central North Carolina celebrated Pagan Pride Day (PPD) with a weekend-long festival. We are blessed to have a lovely little corner of the state fairgrounds in Raleigh, with trees, a lake view and some privacy for those still in the broom closet. Being so close to Mabon was an extra magical blessing for the festival as well.

This year I was able to spend the entire weekend at the festival, and I'm so glad that I did. I've been in the Raleigh area for five years now, and I'm beginning to reap the harvest of community building for myself. It was hard to get anything done at the festival, because I constantly kept running into friends, colleagues and acquaintances. This is a joy and a blessing to me, and truly a new thing.

I won a gift bag from Tree of Life Designs!
Though I have been an actively practicing Pagan for over 20 years, I haven't always been this lucky. To me, it is still a beautiful and wondrous thing to know so many wonderful Pagans. I know a couple of vendors. I'm familiar with the local shops. I know drummers and dancers, hoopers and fire spinners. I know people from several of the local groups. I now run a local group myself. We're coming up on our one year anniversary, in fact - this December will mark a year of South Wake Spiritual Community!

All this only strengthens my passion for community building. I truly believe that we are stronger together, no matter what our individual path may be. Of course, as an interfaith priestess, I believe this about all people, but right at the moment I'm referring to the Pagan community. We have become so incredibly diverse, and this year's PPD showcased that fact as well. I had a lovely discussion with a gentleman at a local Heathen group's booth. I met a gentleman who is a veteran of years of Pagan community building in the northeast.

I was honored to assist the Triangle Area Pagan Alliance (TAPA) with the group ritual on Saturday. The ritual focused on the spirits of place and it was lovely. I acted as a den mother for the people in the southern quarter of the circle. We called out to the land spirits, to the nature spirits, to the bounty of the fruit harvest in this fertile area. TAPA, for those that don't know, is a group committed to bringing Pagans together in this area and to connecting people with local groups.

My roundtable discussion, Nourishing Healthy Elder Culture, was a success. My goal was twofold: I wanted to introduce the concept of elder culture into our local community and to gauge the needs of our local elders. It turns out that our elders need to connect with each other and to receive training in how to assume the role of eldership. These are some pretty achievable goals, and I will be happy to help. I plan to facilitate an Elder Council at next year’s PPD. I’d also like to organize an elder-led ritual at PPD. I’ll also create a forum, whether it be on Meetup, Yahoo Groups or Facebook, for elders to connect with each other.

Somewhere in all the chaos, I also got to attend a workshop on bellydance and one on the magical uses of seven day novena candles. Both were delightful and very useful to me personally. I did some shopping. I danced. I also chatted with a few people about the South Wake Spiritual Community.

But most importantly, I basked in the positive energy of our local Pagan community coming together in unity at PPD. It was a joy and delight just to be there, people watching and listening to music. So many kinds of people, all harmoniously co-existing. Each marching to the beat of their own drummer. All sparkling threads in the tapestry of our community. To me, this shows that peace is possible. It can be done and we're doing it!

Blessed be!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

30 Days of Deity Devotion: Day 9

Balance of Body, Mind and Spirit

As I mentioned back on Day 4 of 30 DODD, performing devotion to a goddess like Artemis requires embodied practices, in my humble opinion. She is into physical pursuits; though not competitive sports like many of the other Olympian deities. This is not the sort of Goddess who lounges around the house.

"Callimachus made frequent reference to Artemis' skill with the bow in his hymns to her: 'whose study is the bow and the shooting of hares and the spacious dance and sport upon the mountains'." *

How can one perform devotion to Artemis solely in one's living room? Surely, there are times when this is all that is possible. I doubt that Artemis, or any deity for that matter, would spurn any prayers in this overstimulated digital age. But this cannot be the sum of one's life, again, in my opinion.

This would be like worshipping Ares while holding the ideal of pacifism. Or perhaps an aquaphobic devotee of Poseidon. Does not compute! Artemis is all about the wilderness. Go outside and seek Her there. Feel Her with you when you draw your bow. Know She is watching when you hunt your prey. Follow Her footsteps as you climb the mountains. This is the way to know Artemis.

The ancient Greeks also believed in the balance of body, mind and spirit. So far as I know, they pioneered the concept of holism - treating the whole being. Early physician philosophers like Hippocrates and Galen** wrote extensively about this concept. They believed that preserving health was even more important than treating disease, but it went beyond that. To be a good and whole person, one must strengthen the body with exercise, exercise the mind with learning and enliven the spirit with music***.

This idea strikes a deep and powerful chord with me, especially in light of my martial path. Eastern martial arts philosophers have the same idea - that to be a warrior or complete martial artist, one must of course have a strong body. But more than that, one must learn about the world and the arts as well.

Looking back at my life so far, I'd have to say that this is what I've been up to the whole time. There's been a whole lot of studying history, philosophy and random topics. A whole lot of training my body. A whole lot of music. A whole lot of expanding my consciousness with spiritual practices.

Certainly this was my intention when I finally got to study martial arts. I got really into the philosophy, studying the Book of Five Rings, the Art of War and classics of that nature. My goal was to become a complete warrior, capable with a variety of techniques, weapons and strategy, but also skilled in intellectual and artistic pursuits.

But recently…I realized that life and relationships have gotten me off track at times. This cannot be. Especially in light of my recent ordination, I need to stay on top of this. I need to be in good shape. I need to make time to backpack and do some mountaineering. I need to not only practice self-care, I also need to set a good example for others.

Artemis deserves no less of her priestess.


*Artemis: Virgin Goddess of the Sun and Moon, Sorita D'Este; Callimachus, Hymn 3 to Artemis

**Galen Class II - On the Preservation of Hygiene

***Plato's Republic makes many references to this, saying that one must study gymnastics (physical exercise), hunting, philosophy, music, general intellectual learning and the virtues of justice, wisdom, temperance and courage. Please note that Plato's Republic was written after the peak of Artemis worship, but his work was based on earlier philosophers and was not a new idea.

Monday, September 15, 2014

30 Days of Deity Devotion: Day 8

I'm working on a post for this series about the Greek ideal of balance of body, mind and psyche. That's what I really wanted to post today. But I feel like I ought to back this up with a bit more scholarship, rather than just giving my own opinion. So instead, I give you a song about Artemis by the very talented Kellianna. Go buy her CDs, they are awesome!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Putting my Money where my Mouth Is: Self-Care

The past few years, I have been putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak, in the area of self-care. Historically, that has been a tricky and spotty thing for me. It's ironic considering my career in helping others improve their health. This year has been especially good and I'm proud of myself. One thing I have noticed is that I do best when I am able to carry out my dinacharya (daily routine) without rushing.

I get thrown off track when life gets too crazy with things like big emotional upsets, early morning work and moving. Surely this is the case for most people. Ironically, the practice of Yoga that is so dear to my heart is meant to support us through the vicissitudes of life. I can attest that it does work. The times that I'm truly out of sorts have gotten smaller each year. I do occasionally "fall off the wagon", but I get back on pretty quickly these days.

“As spiritual searchers we need to become freer and freer of the attachment to our own smallness in which we get occupied with me-me-me. Pondering on large ideas or standing in front of things which remind us of a vast scale can free us from acquisitiveness and competitiveness and from our likes and dislikes. If we sit with an increasing stillness of the body, and attune our mind to the sky or to the ocean or to the myriad stars at night, or any other indicators of vastness, the mind gradually stills and the heart is filled with quiet joy. Also recalling our own experiences in which we acted generously or with compassion for the simple delight of it without expectation of any gain can give us more confidence in the existence of a deeper goodness from which we may deviate. (39)” 

― Ravi RavindraThe Wisdom of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras: A New Translation and Guide by Ravi Ravindra

As regular readers of this blog know, I experienced one of those life upsets almost two months ago now. Overall, I'd have to say that I've done fairly well during these two months of transition. There has been a good amount of Yoga, meditation, massage, time outdoors, time with friends and other supportive practices. There have been some dark days, but compared to how it could have been…say ten years ago, it's been a cakewalk.

Today I decided to take up the practice of abhyanga, or self-massage with oil. When I did my Ayurvedic self-experiment this spring, I wasn't too hot on the idea. Too messy and too time consuming, I thought. Why bother? It's humid in North Carolina! This isn't Colorado, where lip balm and skin lotion are two of the 10 Essentials of Survival.

But three things:

1. It feels really good.
2. I do want to incorporate anointing into my practice.
3. I do like to wear a scent, usually patchouli.

Abhyanga could combine all three into one step to save time AND give me some more health benefits. Behold, my plan:

I will make an aromatherapy blend with the base oil of coconut. In Ayurveda, the type of oil is matched to your constitution. I am a pitta-kapha constitution and it's still summertime, so coconut oil is good. In the cold months, I will likely change to almond oil. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

For the essential oils, I will use primarily patchouli for its mood balancing, cellulite/wrinkle reducing, and insect repelling properties. Alleged properties, anyhow. I like the scent and feel good when I wear it - that I know. As for the other oils, I have some cedar and sandalwood on hand, so I'll see how I like that blend. I may add lavender too, because lavender is love! It's been a while since I've practiced my aromatherapy, so this will be a good refresher.

Most likely, I will reduce the amount of oil used in the massage and will not shower afterwards. Coconut oil absorbs pretty well and when I did this today, I didn't need to shower. Also, I will not be applying this oil to my head and hair. I do plan to do oil head massage, but I will do that at night and have a different oil and herbal blend in mind. More to come on that later!

Today's abhyanga was a rushed affair. I got some plain coconut oil from Whole Foods and hurriedly rubbed it into every part of my body that I could reach. I was pressed for time, and didn't get to feel the meditative, super spiritual self love aspects of the practice. But my skin felt great the rest of the day!

Stay tuned for the results of this new experiment in self-care!

30 Days of Deity Devotion: Day 7

On Devotional Practices

I'm certain that Greek reconstructionist groups are doing something different than I am in the worship of Artemis. I don't know for certain what they are doing as I have experienced a strange diffidence toward learning about it. Someday I will, but I'm not interested in re-creating anything. I am interested in creating a new practice - something fitting to these times and to the place in which I live. Something that feels right to me.

Here are some of the devotional practices that I have created or that I use:

I have created a special Yoga class just for Artemis.

I dedicate my hike to Artemis whenever the moment feels right. I have also created a method of devotional hiking in which distance is tracked and prayers are offered at regular intervals.

I have a whole set of rituals that I follow when it's time to hunt. I like to prepare myself with meditation, a ritual bath and a light fast. I have found a quick dedication prayer to say and also a longer bowhunter's prayer. Of course my bow and arrows are also consecrated to Her service as well.

I pray to Artemis when I practice archery. Some days I dedicate the practice to her. I'm working on creating a formal devotional archery practice.

I find myself getting more and more devotional this year, when in the past that was not at all my focus. Interesting! I have lots more ideas, too.

What do you practice that is specific to Artemis?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

30 Days of Deity Devotion: Day 6

Day the Sixth: Other related deities and entities associated with this deity.

Today I'm going to focus on one deity that is associated with Artemis, because he is also important in my personal pantheon. Pan. Do you know him? Lusty god, always drinking and chasing nymphs? Yup, that's him. But he's also Lord of the Forest and God of the Hunt. He is the flute player, the patron of shepherds. He is the watcher at the border of the wilderness and cultivated lands, visiting both, but never fully belonging to either. 

He is a deeply soulful and poetic god. I think in our days of intensely controlled, urban lives…that he is quite lonely. Gone are the wild days when Pan was celebrated and loved. These days, people seem to think there is something coarse and base about Pan. But no. This is not truth. There is far more to Pan than the stink of goat and an erect phallus. At another time, I will give him his due - an entire 30DODD just for him.

The story goes that Artemis went to the forests of Arcadia and met Pan. Pan gave her thirteen hunting dogs - seven female and six male*. She was impatient to try them out and built a fire to light the woods. She captured six golden horned stags to pull her chariot**.

Pan also chased the handmaidens of Artemis. She generally was very protective of her nymphs, but in Pan's case…she seemed to let it slide. Perhaps she was grateful to him for her hunting hounds…or perhaps she had a soft spot for His Goatiness. They were friends, even though he was constantly trying to get in her toga. Hey, everybody was. Artemis is gorgeous, tall and has a banging figure. Euripides called her "fairest of all that are". Somewhat ironic for a "virgin" goddess who will never marry. Can you blame Pan for lusting after her? I say nay.

*Or some number, various sources cite different numbers of dogs.
**Callimachus, Hymn III to Artemis 46

Sunday, September 7, 2014

30 Days of Deity Devotion: Day 5 - World Goddess Day

Happy World Goddess Day!

From the World Goddess Day website:

"THE WORLD GODDESS DAY PROJECT emerged to unite the Mother Goddess' worshipers world wide through their many expressions and manifestations. The purpose of the Project is grant to the Goddess one day of visibility to share Her many myths, stories and worship diversity, so everyone will remember or will know that the first religion of humanity was the Worship of the Goddess."

I hosted a World Goddess Day event with my interfaith spiritual group at a local park. In the interest of being inclusionary, the event was a relaxed, non-denominational affair. We shared a potluck lunch, strolled through the lovely forest, napped, shared our experiences and meditated to heal the Earth.

It was so lovely. I sincerely wish we had planned an even longer event. I love to use my energy for a good purpose, and there aren't many that trump healing the planet. I also could not think of a more fitting topic for today's 30 Days of Deity Devotion post. What higher form of sacrifice is there than to give your time and energy to the Gods? To gather people together, connect with others around the globe and do magic for the good of all beings. For the good of our home. 

This, all human beings ought to be able to agree upon. We may disagree on everything else, but for this purpose, we must unite. We need to work together to find a way to heal the conflict between human beings, between nations, between religions, between genders, between races.

We need to find a way for the human race to live in harmony with the needs of the greater ecosystem. This is essential for our survival as a species on Earth, though most days I retain enough optimism to think that She will carry on even if we self-destruct. Her way is one of implacable victory and irrepressible adaptation.

At the end of our meditation, I taught the group a song, "The Earth is Our Mother" (see video at right). She is Mother to us all. From Her, all of creation has sprung. To her, we must all return. It does not matter what you call Her, or that you even think of this swirling ball of elements and energy as a Deity or as Goddess…our Earth is our Mother. We must take care of Her. She will take care of us.

I leave you with a lovely prayer, adapted and expanded from "Artemis" by Kat Brown

Mother of Life, hear our prayer

Light into dark, dark into life

Queen of the Earth, the sea and sky

Mother of all

Artemis, Artemis

We call to you, Mother
We honor you, Goddess of the Crescent Moon
We walk in beauty 
Each step a prayer
Upon your sacred Earth.

Love, healing and peace be upon you and all beings. May the love of the Goddess be ever in your heart. Blessed be! 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

30 Days of Devotion: Day 4

Or, Our Heroine Breaks the Rules To the Surprise of No One

So the 30 Days of Deity Devotion format wasn't working for me. It was essentially asking me to regurgitate facts. In this information age, what's the point? Go to the library or consult the Google.

No, today I want to talk about archery and hunting season. Deer season starts next Saturday, September 13. I am, of course, in a fever of anticipation. Here in North Carolina, archers have their very own hunting season before anyone else gets started. This is my favorite time of year. Just before Mabon, harvests are coming in, summer is ending and fall seems both tantalizingly near and impossibly far. Today, for example, it's approximately eleventy million degrees outside.

But still. The magic of the bow and the allure of the hunt work powerfully upon me. It doesn't matter how hot it is, how many bug bites I will get or how busy I am. It doesn't matter that this year, I truly have nowhere TO hunt. It's almost hunting season!

I've gotten a fair amount of practice in this summer, mostly while teaching students. A few times, I have gotten out with peers to bend the bow. I belong to a traditional archery club - they have several
hundred acres of wooded land and a whole passel of 3-D targets. In August, I took second place in the women's division*. My favorite hunting buddy and I shot together for four hours one afternoon. Fantastic training in a beautiful place with good company. A new archery buddy invited me to a BBQ, at which we took a walk down by the river for some stump shooting**. Not too shabby!

Fist-sized group shot with my longbow.
Meanwhile, I finally broke down and bought myself a practice target. There's a lot of backstory to this fact, but it's not important here. I'm so excited to be able to shoot whenever and wherever I want! It's a dense foam block rated up to crossbow. More than enough stopping power for my bows. This week I'll be sure to practice every day.

But what does this have to do with deity devotion? Everything, when you're a priestess of Artemis. I truly don't know how other people's Artemis-centric traditions work, but in my tradition…skill with a bow is mandatory. The practice of hunting is mandatory, though harvesting an animal is optional.

Practicing these skills is an embodied form of devotion. I choose that word, embodied, deliberately. One of the things that drove me batty about the religion of my birth (Catholicism), is that it is so dis-embodied. I have no interest in denigrating that faith, but I think it's safe to say that deep down, the church fathers wish we didn't have these messy, demanding vessels of sin (by their lights, not mine). Especially us dangerous female bodies!

Artemis, though, she's fully embodied. It's hard not to be when your main activities are hunting, shooting bows, exploring the wilderness, sporting with nymphs and kicking it with Dionysus. She is also into music and dance. This isn't some theoretical, discorporeal deity you're dealing with here. This Goddess can run as fleetly as any deer all day and dance and play the lyre all night.

As of now, there are seven days to hunting season. Seven days to train. Seven days to purify my spirit so that I may be prepared for what, to me, is a truly sacred time. A time when normal rules don't apply. It helps that I live in an area where nearly everyone is crazy for deer hunting. I may be the only one who is performing a sacred devotion when I hunt, but they needn't know that. All I have to say around here is "I can't come, it's bowhunting season", and all is forgiven. This is the one time of year that I'm totally justified in my endless wandering through the woods. That I don't stand out when I have to stop at the gas station in knee high boots and camouflage clothing. That no one takes it amiss when I jabber on with buck fever.

This is the time of year when I feel most myself. This is Artemis's time.

*Don't get me started on the fact that they HAVE a women's division. Let's not go into feminism and human rights today, it's too hot. I'll just say this: I don't like it.

**Using blunted arrows to hit random targets like stumps, leaves, discarded bottles, etc.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

30 Days of Deity Devotion: Day 3

Day the Third: Symbols and Icons of this deity - Artemis

For me, what resonates most is the deer and the bear. I have also recently gotten the insight that her colors are white and sky blue/turquoise. I don't have any source material to back that up, so perhaps it's more of a UPG (universal personal gnosis).
  • Golden bow and arrows (I've also read silver bow and arrows)
  • Spear
  • Chariot drawn by four golden-horned deer
  • Sacred animals - bear, deer, dog, boar, hare, partridge, quail, buzzard, bees
  • Lyre
  • Two long torches
  • Crescent moon

Here is a blanket roll strap I made in Her colors, with a deer to honor her as well.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

30 Days of Deity Devotion: Day 2

Day the Second: How did you first become aware of this deity?

That is an extremely good question. I really don't know. Presumably I learned about her in school,
when we studied Greek mythology. But how I came to know her in my own life is another thing.

When I was a baby pagan, I struggled with knowing which Goddess to call upon. As far as I can remember, I used the generic "Goddess" in my ritual and workings. I always wanted to have a statue, but I never saw one I liked. At one point, I wrote that when I think of Deity, I see stars…like an infinite universal star soup.

Meanwhile, my journey with mountains, woods, streams, archery and hunting has been lifelong. At some point in there, I realized that the presence I felt, the Goddess I was searching for…was Artemis. And she'd been with me the whole time.

I don't know precisely when it happened. Pan now, I have known of him walking beside me for many years. He's my buddy! But Artemis…I can remember feeling so alone in the many years of my spiritual solitude. Feeling alone in my life and in my pursuit of shibumi (more on that in another post; let's say "simplicity" for now), archery, martial prowress and wilderness exploration. I felt a power when I did these things, but it didn't seem to have a face. I was drawn to that power without being able to identify it. I also felt set apart by my independence. I love people, but there are so many times in my life I simply must be alone. I can't be tamed or possessed. Many times I have felt like a mountain lion, prowling alone. 

Somewhere in there, I finally figured it out. What a blessing. It is such a relief to work with her on a conscious level, after so many years of unconscious connection. I do remember telling some spiritual friends about Artemis and Pan a few years ago…and saying that they are as familiar to me as my own skin. So true.

Hail Artemis!

Monday, September 1, 2014

30 Days of Deity Devotion: Day 1

Tonight the crescent moon told me to start my month of deity devotion. I may follow the 30 Days of Deity Devotion (30DODD) format, but I will also change it up. 'Cause I'm like that.

Day 1 of 30DODD is intended to be a general introduction. For this 30DODD, I will be writing about Artemis. She of the crescent moon, Huntress of the Golden Bow, Goddess of lonely peaks and clear running streams, is my patroness. She is a powerful and multi-faceted Goddess of the Greek pantheon. She is the Lady of Wild Beasts. She protects women, children and baby animals. She is also connected to music and dance. To the stars. To mountains, to lakes and rivers. She is the Light Bearer, she is the Savior.

Much has been written about Artemis. Instead of an exhaustive introduction to her as a deity, I will instead share the story of a recent hike and how I connected with her in a new way:

I connected with Artemis in her guise as she-bear, the great mother, today.

"Bear, Bear, you who rule the heaven, the stars, and the whole world; you who make the axis turn and control the whole cosmic system by force and compulsion; I appeal to you." - PGM VII:686-702

I don't now recall how it came to pass, but I do think a lot when I hike. I tend to cycle through all the subjects until my spirit is calm again. At any rate, today, I particularly remember thinking about it when I was on my hill. My Inner Temple is based on this place and today as I hiked up the hill, I felt a strong connection to the she-bear. I remembered that this is one of the faces of Artemis. A light began to shine in my mind.

I began to reconsider my interactions with bear out in the wilderness. I have been both attracted and afraid. That's a signal that a lesson is brewing, but until now I have never understood what this meant.

Part of the lesson of bear, in animal medicine terms, is facing fear as a pathway to power. So previously, I just thought about the lessons of earth power and the cave/bear den. I really hadn't connected the dots with the feminine divine or with Artemis.

Consider my trip to the Black Canyon of Gunnison. I hiked alone down into the canyon, even though the rangers warned me that a bear had been spotted on the trail no more than thirty minutes before I began. Sure enough, I heard a bear, so I began to sing. The route down into the canyon isn't really a trail; it's more of a drainage. It requires a bit of rock climbing technique at times. Once you begin, there aren't a lot of places to stop, nor is it particularly practical to change your mind. 

The bear was with me all the way down the mountain. That kept me awake and aware during a really dicey descent. I doubt I would have been quite so careful had I not been concerned about the bear. I met some folks at the bottom that had been scared by the bear too. We ended up camping together for the night, which was fun. Great folks! At any rate, I was feeling paralyzed by fear and still remember lying awake in my tent, listening for the slightest sound. Which, sure enough, materialized. The bear walked all around our camp, snuffling and breathing audibly.

At other times I feel bear is near and I don't feel afraid. I also have a strong aversion to hunting bear, though it is legal in my area. Surely this is partially due to my hunting ethics - I don't hunt predators in these days of rampant habitat destruction and systemic extermination. But perhaps there is something deeper at work…what if that is the way She shows herself to me? I do feel she's come to me in women, as well. But that's a topic for another post.

The She-Bear. It makes sense. Another piece of the puzzle has fallen into the place. Hail Artemis!