What is a picture worth?

Ever since Labrys first published the English version of their book, Hellenic Polytheism Household Worship in 2014, there has been something of a controversy in the English speaking Hellenic communities over the use of pictures on shrines.  The book unequivocally states that statues must be used on shrines and that pictures are prohibited.  I would give you an exact quote, but I gave away my copy of the book when I moved to China.  If anyone has a copy and wouldn’t mind leaving a quote in the comments, that’d be very helpful.

I bought the book when it first came out, and I was in communication with the author, Christos Pandion Panopoulos, via a Facebook community.  The English translation is riddled with errors, and I volunteered to find them all and offer corrections as they were planning an e-book version of the text where they would be able to correct all of these errors.  I do not believe the e-book has come out, yet.  In any case, through this communication, I was able to get some insight from the author on some of the more controversial statements in the book.

From what I recall, the reason that Panopoulos and his group believe that one should never use a picture (two dimensional artwork) of a deity on a shrine is because the deity literally inhabits a statue (three dimensional artwork) that is on a shrine but cannot do so with a two dimensional object.  I have had many statues with shrines, and when I have felt the presence of a god, I have never felt it to be in (or only in) a statue.  I have always felt it near me, behind me, in front of the shrine, perhaps even filling the entire room.  I don’t think a physical vessel is necessary to hold a god.  I think they will come if they choose to, and I don’t think any physical object can hold or contain them.

In my opinion, I think the Labrys community is reacting to the use of ikons in Greek Orthodox Christianity and in wanting to set themselves apart, they have come to believe that pictures are bad but statues are good (whereas in the Greek Orthodox Church, ikons (pictures) are good, and statues (idols) are bad).  In other areas of the world, we react to other things in the dominant religions around us, either incorporating them into our practices or rejecting them wholeheartedly based mostly on our own personal histories with those religions.

If you are considering artwork for a shrine, consider why you want it.  Is it a gift for the god in question?  Is it beautiful and inspiring?  Does it remind you of your prayers in a mnemonic kind of way?  If any of these are your reasons, that I don’t think whether the piece is in two or three dimensions really matters.  If you really want to know if a particular piece is ok for a particular shrine, the best advice that I can give you is to get divination done by a trusted diviner.  The gods can and do make their opinions known.  You do not have to believe everything you read.

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Making Offerings

Why do we make offerings?  For some of us, this question is incredibly easy to answer.  Giving a gift to those we love brings us joy.  However, some people do not (perhaps yet) have the same personal connections that give them a feeling nearing love or have the same desire to please the gods.  Why should they make offerings?  What differentiates an offering from partaking in some activity that you enjoy that is tangentially related to the domain of the god you profess to worship?

We aim to have reciprocal relationships with the gods.  In most cases, this goal is not actually realized.  There may be a god to whom we pray and make offerings that takes no notice of us, or there may be a god who has helped us that we didn’t take notice of.  However, the surest way to get the attention of a god is to consistently call their attention to you in a positive way – prayer and offering.

An offering is a gift.  If the god does not get any benefit (even if you don’t fully understand how they benefit, ie. you don’t understand how they partake of the wine or other item you’ve offered), it is not a gift.  Your enjoyment of an activity is for you, it isn’t for the god in question.  Finding joy in giving is not the same as sharing.  At the school I work for, I recently noticed a motto or saying painted onto the vertical portion of the steps that lead up to my classroom.  I am misquoting from memory, but it essentially says that it is better to share than to give.  I, personally, neither agree nor fully understand this sentiment.  It is nice to share, often, sure, but there are times when sharing leaves neither person fulfilled or satisfied.  There is also a misconception that having someone watch you do something that you enjoy will also be enjoyable to them.  It might be.  They might really enjoy listening to you play music (if you’re good), or watching you dance (if you’re good), but people rarely enjoy listening to a beginner play the violin.  The difference here is that if you are good at playing music, you are giving an aural gift to the listener when  you play.  If you are a beginner, listening to you play is not a gift, no matter how much you enjoy practicing.  Is there an element of enjoyment for the spectator of your activity?  When attempting to turn an activity into an offering, it is also very important that your prayer clearly state that intention.  There is quite a difference in inviting someone to listen as you play music just for them and in asking them for something and then ignoring them while you play music for yourself.  Your action is the same.  You are still playing music.  However, the feeling of the spectator, inclusion and gift or exclusion, is quite different.  Consider what you are actually offering and whether or not you have successfully made it clear that it is indeed an offering and not just something you are doing for yourself.

When we are able to, we burn our offerings.  When we burn offerings, they are exclusively for the use of the gods.  We cannot share them.  Since this is the ideal manner in which to make offerings, it stands to reason that we are not meant to share in what we offer to the gods.  This isn’t to say that you can’t also have a glass of wine when you offer wine to a god, for example, but the wine that you poured out for that god is not for you.  It is wine from the remainder in the bottle or from another bottle that you can drink.  You’re not sharing what you offered, you’re just also having the same thing that you offered.  I think this distinction is important to understand.

While I do not agree with all of the views put forth by this author, I think his explanation of why we give offerings in the section of this page titled Mortals, Ǽrohs, and the Gods is quite beautifully written and says much of what I have said in different words.  Please note that this author writes from a specific Orphic perspective, one that I do not share.

An offering is a gift, an expression of love.  When love is shared, joy is felt.  Find your joy.

There are times when a particular god might indicate to you that They intend or would like for you to share in something that has been offered to Them.  This is significant and unusual.  Do not assume that this is the case for all gods or all offerings.  It is a special situation.

Death & Dying

As we navigate our way in the world, we encounter people who impact us profoundly and who are taken from our lives far too soon.  Would there ever be a time that wasn’t too soon?  I know that I often find myself at a loss when someone has just died.  People tell us to pray in our time of loss, but I find myself wondering just who I should be praying to and why.  I have faith that the gods will do what they can for the deceased with or without my prayers.  Am I praying for my own reassurance that this is the case?  Am I begging for something that wouldn’t be done otherwise, or am I begging for something that is already happening?

Apollon is connected to death in His own way, and I would love to see some people explore that connection in art and the written word for the devotional.  Below, I offer you some suggestions of epithets.  I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

I’d also like to reiterate that submissions are accepted in any language, so long as an English translation is also provided.  If your submission is accepted for publication, both your original piece and the translation will be published.  If you feel uncomfortable writing in English (you feel that your English translation is not as good as what you wrote in the original language), I am completely willing to work with you to edit and revise your translation.

  1. Agraíos (Ἀγραῖος), Hunter, Slayer
  2. Ekataeveletaes (Εκατηβελετης), Far Darting
  3. Erithius, God of Reapers
  4. Hekatebolos (Εκατηβόλος), Who Strikes from Afar; the Far Shooting; the Shooter from Afar
  5. Hekatos ( Έκατός), Who Kills Many (with plague); Shooter From Afar; He Who Shoots From Afar; the Far-darting; Plague-Bearer
  6. Lykoktonos, the Wolf-Killer; the Slayer of Wolves
  7. Parnópios (Παρνόπιος), Grasshopper; Locust, Destroyer of Locusts
  8. Sauroktonos, Lizard Slayer
  9. Smintheios (Σμινθευς), He of the Mice (Mouse-Catcher?); Lord of Mice; Rat Slayer; Mouse God; He of Prophetic Powers; Destroyer of Mice
  10. Soranus, Guard of the Cemetery
  11. Thanatos, He of Death; Striker; Destroyer; Death-Bringer
  12. Paián (Παιάν), Healer; Deliverer from Evil or Calamity; Battler; Striker; Destroyer; Physician of the gods; savior; Deliverer from Pain

Finding Inspiration

He Who Rules with Honey is continuing to accept submissions indefinitely.  After extending the deadline several times, I have come to realize that this might turn out to be a much longer term project than I had initially anticipated.  With the sheer number of Apollon’s epithets, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise that a book of this scope would turn out to be a huge project.  I hope you will continue to bear with me and submit as the muses inspire you.

Today, I thought I would offer some of Apollon’s epithets related to the muses and inspiration for your consideration.  I would love to see your prayers, poetry, songs, essays (both academic and personal), artwork, and photography.

Kitharohdós (Απολλων Κιθαρωδος), Lyre-Playing Singer
Moúsarkhos (Απόλλων Μούσαρχος), Leader of the Muses
Musegétes (Απολλων Μουσηγετης), leader of the Muses; Patron of the Muses, Companion of the Nine Muses

Feeling Disconnected

My feeling of spiritual disconnection has not really improved since the last time I wrote.  Sometimes, I find that flying to China allows me to leave things behind.  I remember when I was in college, I had seen a horror movie that gave me, while not quite nightmares, horrific visions.  I would have my eyes open in the dark before sleeping and see images from the movie.  When I flew to China to study abroad in Beijing, the visions stopped.  I joked that the nightmares couldn’t fly as fast as the plane, and they lost me.  Have a broken heart that won’t heal?  Fly to China.  Things just feel different here.  Unfortunately, not every aspect of that is positive.  It’s hard to pray.  It’s hard to remember to pray.  I don’t keep up with devotional actions (for lack of a better word) that I used to do regularly.  I haven’t even covered my head in over a month.  I want to.  I think about it.  I just don’t get there.

Reading this, I think it sounds like I’m depressed, but I’m really not.  Overall, I’m pretty happy.  I’ve been meeting people and going out and seeing new places and new things.  I like my job.  I’m doing well, but one really important part of my life is missing.

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View from Dragon Back, Hong Kong (Melia Phosphorou, October 2017)

A few weeks ago, I went to Hong Kong.  It is completely different from where I live.  It’s quite beautiful with the mountains very close to the sea, which is one of my favorite geographic features.  I said it jokingly, but it wasn’t really a joke – you can see through the air there.  Those of you living in America with routinely single or double digit AQI (Air Quality Index) numbers may not understand what it is like to live in a city with an AQI of 159… in October… on a relatively warm day…  which means it is going to get a lot worse.  In the winter, the AQI can get over 1,000 here.  Anyway, back to Hong Kong.  I was not just there on vacation, but I did get a chance to visit the Big Buddha,

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Big Buddha, Hong Kong  (Melia Phosphorou, October 2017)

which is situated next to an active monastery.  I loved the area, and I felt very peaceful there, which was a really nice change of pace.  Even though I’m not Buddhist, I very much appreciate Buddhist temples in China because they are active worship spaces.  Visiting the monastery was very beautiful.  There were nuns going about their daily business and signs posted warning visitors to not touch the ritual implements.  I remember looking around and thinking, “oh, ok, that’s what you do”  at the way they handle visitors while they are praying or doing whatever else it is that they do.  It was slightly awkward as I entered temples and made my sort of greetings with someone who prays in the proper fashion, but I was also with someone who was just gawking.  I’m sure the three of us made an interesting group had anyone known what they were

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Po Lin Monastery, Hong Kong  (Melia Phosphorou, October 2017)

looking at.

I wish we had temples like that for our gods.  Public places where priests or other caretakers work regularly, where devotees come to pray and make offerings, even making pilgrimages to do so, and where visitors come to see the beauty of the place and perhaps have an experience or encounter that changes them profoundly.

Upcoming Festivals

I’ve been sick for almost two weeks now, so I haven’t been fit for regular daily worship let alone planning for festival days, but even though I am sick, what I can do is provide this information for you.  I hope it is of use.

Eleusinean Mysteries – We are in the middle of this festival right now.  It will continue through the daylight hours of September 12th.  It isn’t one that I celebrate personally for a variety of reasons.  Among those reasons are the fact that I am not an initiate and the reality that I don’t have any relationship with Demeter nor with Persephone.  For those who do choose to celebrate this time, we do have some information about what was done in the past.  Pigs were traditionally sacrificed to both Demeter and Persephone, so if one has the means to do this safely, respectfully, and properly, then this is certainly the time for that. Other more vegetarian offerings known from later sources include cakes, poppies, pomegranates, figs, fennel, and ivy.  I’m not sure how long it would take one to walk from Athens to Eleusis, so while it’s probably that everyone had arrived in Eleusis by the fifth day of the festival, it’s possible that some were still on their way.  If you’ve wanted to take a pilgrimage to Eleusis yourself, planning to be there for this time next year might be a good idea.  Next year in Eleusis?  (and cue all of the Jews groaning….sorry)    Let the dancing begin!

Offerings to Apollon – This is a day from my personal ritual calendar.  Beginning after sundown tonight and continuing through the daylight hours tomorrow, if I were not sick,  I would make offerings for Apollon.  Since I am sick, instead, I am writing here.  Let me take this moment to encourage you to write or create a submission for the devotional.  I have recently been introduced to a program that should make it a lot easier than I anticipated for me to assemble the book and get it ready for publication, but I can’t do that until we have a lot more submissions.  Please feel free to e-mail me and request an epithet if you work better with an assignment.

Offerings to Athena – Beginning at sundown tomorrow and continuing through the daylight hours of September 12th – this is the 21st day of the lunar calendar, a day that I typically set aside for Athena.  My connection to Athena has been tenuous at best since I’ve been here, but with time, I hope it will strengthen.  Unfortunately, the swelling in my tonsils and lymph nodes doesn’t make me feel like it will be likely that I will be doing the necessary work to strengthen that relationship this month, but if you are in better sorts than I am, please take notice of the day and make offerings to Her.  Do not let your own relationships lose their strength.

I do keep an updated calendar that can send you e-mail or text message notifications of these holidays (holy days) if you like – the link to join is here.

Enjoy your week.  I am looking forward to reading your devotional submissions honoring Apollon.

 

 

Change

Two weeks ago, I finished giving away most of my belongings, packed some bins for storage, and I left the country with a suitcase, two backpacks, and a carry-on.  I am living on another continent in a country where freedom of speech, religious expression, and a multitude of other things that Americans generally take for granted are not only not my right, they are things that I know not to expect.  This has changed my religious practice a lot, and I’m not back on my feet yet.  Days that are on my calendar for religious observance come, and I am aware of them and feel not only guilty but also at a loss in how to observe them.  One thing that I do know, however, is that the gods know where I am.

I used to keep 12 “permanent” shrines in my home.  All of my statues are currently living on top of the dining room hutch at my mother’s house where they will be kept safe for me but not used in any kind of religious worship.  Many of the bits and pieces of the shrines that I kept have gone to live with other devotees of those gods or gone with people that I trust to be burned for me.  Where I live now, I have no statues.  I cannot burn offerings even as simple as incense or a candle.  The walls are thin, and I’m concerned that my boss who lives next door can hear me praying in the morning.  When I first arrived, I wondered how I could let the gods know where to find me without being loud, without a flame.  Thankfully, I have a relationship with one god that is so strong that a tug on my end of a heartstring is all that I need to know that He’s on the other side.  Through Him, I’m confident that the other gods can find me as well.  I don’t, though, feel like I’m doing the best for them.  My offerings are lacking, and my shrines are nonexistent.

I was going to include a picture of my current shrine for Apollon to illustrate my point, but uploading one picture proved to be too much for my current Internet connection.  Suffice it say, it consists of a prayer card, a tin of solid perfume, three tiny glass animals (a dolphin, a mouse, and a swan), and a symbol of warding.  With me, I was able to bring my collection of prayer cards and some tiny trinkets from other shrines.  I would like to decorate a bulletin board with all of the prayer cards and make one shrine at least, but so far I have been unable to locate a store that sells bulletin boards…  I did find a tiny shot glass shaped like a tripod, so that is ready for libations, but I feel so very weird about not being able to light a flame with the offering.

I’ve also been covering my head for a number of years.  It has been a part-time practice for me, covering only on the days of religious observances.  However, my job has a very strict dress code, and I already get stared at plenty when I go outside.  I did some divination, and I got a very unexpected response regarding my covering.  They say that it’s ok for me to stop covering, that it will make it easier for me to meet people and live a life here if I stop.  They didn’t say that I had to stop or that I had to continue.  The practice has always been my choice though it has been accepted and encouraged by several gods.  Stopping covering cold turkey has actually turned out to be quite difficult!  It feels so wrong to me deep inside to go out uncovered on days that I would have covered in the past.  I’m continuing to cover on the weekends, and I get comments and looks from my other foreign co-workers (we all live in the same building), but I don’t think anyone outside stares at me any more than they usually do.

I suppose all this is just to illustrate that even through extreme change, the gods remain, and if we want to worship Them, we’ll eventually find our way.  I’m still working on finding my way here, but I’m sure I will.  These aren’t relationships that I’m willing to let go of.