Category Archives: scholarship

Producing a Lexicon of Queer Witchcraft

This post was originally written several years ago, while I was still in the Sunrise Temple.  For some reason I can’t recall – possibly because it didn’t tie in neatly with the Ceremonial Experiment – I decided to post it exclusively to my Tumblr.  I repost it here, now, because I was looking to link to it as I was drafting my response to the Ruth Barrett issue and was irate that I couldn’t find it.  It was, probably, my most popular Tumblr post, and I think that the discussion is still relevant, and I am still struggling to think clearly in the wake of post-festival and post-tragedy collapse.  The below post has been slightly edited for spelling and grammar.

This is a thing that has been on my mind for a while, and I’m going to float it here before I begin drafting a larger post for the main blog.

I know for a fact that I am not the only genderqueer witch who doesn’t fit comfortably under the trans umbrella.  I strongly suspect that many like me share my struggle to find language to describe their experiences.  The one word I know that comes close to describing the way in which my spirituality and gender identity intermix–Two-spirit–is not mine to use.  Being a Classicist, though, I have access to two whole lexicons from which to less problematically adopt words:  Attic Greek and Classical Latin.

Let me, therefore, propose a word for those of us whose spiritual genders embrace a combination of masculinity and femininity: digenes, from διγενής.  Literally, it renders as “two kind”, but is more commonly taken to mean “of dual or ambiguous nature”.  For those who wish to explicitly embrace a broader spectrum, the neologism polygenes (πολυγενής) can be coined: many-natured.  If you don’t like genes, phusis can be used: diphues (διφυής) or polyphues (πολυφυής): literally two- or many- natured.  Digenes is historically testified to describe Dionysus (citation pending), and diphues to describe Eros in the Orphic Hymn.

So: the proposal:

digenes, diphues, polygenes, and polyphues

Attic/Koine Greek borrow-words and neologisms to describe the experience of genderqueer spirituality for those of us whose traditions do not come equipped with such words.

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Star.Ships Calling

As a yet-unpublished writer, the last eighteen months have been rough on me: the list of people I know and admire who have published before I have has grown immensely.  Rufus Opus, Lance Tuck, Luna Teague.  Most recently, now, Gordon White has blown onto the scene with not one but two books in the last fewmonths: the first with the most prestigious occult publisher of our age, and the second with the largest.  My hat off to you, sir, you fucking grand over-achiever.  Holy shit.

On the off chance that you don’t already know who Gordon White is, stop what you’re doing and check him out now.  Gordon runs the twin pulpits of his blog and podcast, Rune Soup, whence he pontificates on a wide variety of subjects, mostly culture and  the paranormal.  He speaks from a Chaos Magick and animist perspective, which is refreshingly off-center, and he is very, very clever.  Some day I hope to be cool enough to win an interview on the podcast.

for book page

The first and (arguably) more ambitious of his two books is more theoretical.  Star.Ships gathers up a wide swath of archaeological loose ends from the late paleolithic and demonstrates how they may lead to the earliest portions of history.  Gordon weaves his argument from the recently discovered paleolithic monuments of Gobekli Tepe to the infamous heads of Easter Island to the submerged ruins off the coast of India.  He draws on cutting-edge linguistics and genetics research to illustrate how the now-widely disseminated 1990s theories of human migration desperately miss the mark, and turns into the analysis of geologists and engineers regarding a variety of ancient “mysteries”.   In doing so, he attempts to fill in the “missing links” of western esoteric tradition, and argues that great swaths of human history have been influenced by a handful of stellar powers.  He also, almost incidentally, condemns the current state of scholarship in general and the field of Egyptology in particular.

I am, by training, a Classicist.  This is to say, on the one hand, that I know little or nothing of the paleolithic sites Gordon points to to illustrate a number of his arguments — particularly Gobekli Tepe, to which he points so often — and I look forward to spending a fair bit of my spare time over the next year looking up everything in the bibliography.  On the other hand, however, it also means that I know better than most how much a shambles academic knowledge is regarding the moments just before “history” (that is to say, the things we wrote down) begins.  I mean … there are Classicists who still believe there was a Dorian invasion, but no city of Troy, and that Pythagorus invented the math he clearly stole from Egyptian engineers.  It was a professional hairdresser who demonstrated how the women’s hairstyles of Roman statuary were physically possible and not sculptors’ flights of fancy; it was the engineers of a century ago who provided the first viable theories of how the Egyptian pyramids might have been constructed; and I have personally seen at least three drunk construction workers on YouTube demonstrating how single individuals might have erected the megaliths across the British Isles.  Finally, having given up my dreams of pursuing a Doctorate entirely because of my own experiences navigating the politics of the academy, I am entirely sympathetic to his condemnations of that institution.

This late to the game, however, there is almost no point in writing a full review of the book.  To that end, I have only three more things to say on the subject:

  1. Unlike so many, Gordon White does an excellent job of distinguishing between his data and his conclusions.  If you are uncomfortable with his conclusions, he cites his less mainstream sources very clearly and has an extensive bibliography at the end.
  2. The most important thing Gordon has to say in Star.Ships is not actually his core thesis, but the mantra he repeats as he makes each of his points: it is the task of science to accumulate data; it is the task of the magician to provide meaning.
  3. Go buy the damn book.  Gordon White’s Star.Ships from Scarlet Imprint

</fanboi squee>

 

 

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Orphic Hymns to the Sun: Translations in Action

A great deal of the current work being done with planetary magic right now relies heavily on the use of the Orphic Hymns, chiefly the 18th century translations by Thomas Taylor.  Long-time readers may recall that I am uncomfortable with those translations, and have argued that the more recent and more accurate translations of Apostolos Athanassakis be used instead.  It was not only inevitable, then, but entirely by design that my first week of conjurations put these two translations back-to-back to see what differences might be discerned in their efficacy.

For those magicians who are not also ancient language geeks (how have I not bored you to death?), the gist of it is that the Ancient Greek in which the Orphic Hymns were composed was written in meter rather than rhyme, and hammering the verses into a simple English rhyme-scheme takes some serious torture.  Also, archaeology is amazing, and we know more about the languages of Hellenistic Greece today than Taylor did, so some of his mistakes may be rooted in bad dictionaries.  Some magicians, equally if not more geeky and educated as I, believe that the Taylor translations work better magically for all sorts of reasons, but I ride this hobby horse to hell, regardless.

Taylor’s rhyming cant does, I must concede, a certain something for the brain of the English speaking magician.  We have this whole thing with magic and rhyme, and any good Chaos magician knows how valuable it is to tap into that sort of unconscious power source.  Moveover, between their ready (and free) availability, and the work of Rufus Opus (among others), the Taylor translations of the Hymns are explicitly tied to the planetary rites of the modern Western magical tradition.  All this goes to say that when I used the Thomas Taylor translation of the Hymn to the Sun, by itself, as a part of RO’s Seven Spheres rite, and as a part of conjurations of my own design, I already knew something of what to expect.

The warmth of the Sun responds readily to the hymn, and one may ride that way direct to the planetary current, and the Archangel Michael or the Titan god Helios respond equally readily to accept the offerings laid out before them.

The translations of Apostolos Athanassakis are aimed at the casual enthusiast as much as the professional Classicist, so they are not as sharp-edged as some might fear — the pages are unmarred by indications of broken text in the original, or annotation regarding the academic infighting of one translation versus another.  Moreover, in the particular case of the Hymn to Helios, the differences between the two translations are much less stark and more stylistical than other Orphic Hymns.

The Sun that responded to Aradia and I when we called by this hymn, both by itself and as a part of the Seven Spheres rite, was startlingly different from that which answered to the Taylor translation.  It was tarnished, or perhaps brazen rather than gold.  It was older, more aloof, more … Titanic.  Aradia described the experience as having used a back door to the sun.

It was the Athanassakis translation of the Orphic Hymn to Helios, substituted for Taylor in the Seven Spheres rite, which produced my most vivid experience of the experiment so far: the sensation of having ascended to an old, cooling, and abandoned region of the Sun, and of being observed by a vast red-gold eye, the size of a planet, staring widely at my from within an almost understandably vast head.

 

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Seven Spheres in Review

I ordered my copy of RO’s Seven Spheres the second day after it was released.  I think it’s telling that people who ordered the day before I did got their copies ten days before I did.  My copy is numbered 120/1000.  I was already half-familiar with a lot of the material from the Seven Spheres in Seven Days project and the magical experiments that came before and after, but I took my time going through the book.  I took my sweet time performing the rituals, too, and even longer processing the effects before even beginning to write this review.  In the intervening time, more people than I care to count have already reviewed the book in great depth, so I will keep my own comments brief and largely personal.

The book opened with a preface, “On the Gender of Kings,” that makes good-faith effort to reconcile the highly gendered language of the rites with the much wider reality of the occult community.  It falls little short in that it doesn’t question the legitimacy of male-as-default, but as an opening gambit by a straight white male hermeticist, it’s a sea-change.  So thank you for that, Fr. Rufus Opus, it means a lot.

The following chapters go one to provide a rough outline of the neo-Platonic theology upon which the book hinges.  After, he goes very specifically into the theology and philosophy of the kingship metaphor.  These sections are both interesting and helpful, but, based on Aradia’s struggle to understand some the material, I don’t believe that they are fully comprehensible without a decent background in either Classical Studies or the wider world of Hermetics.

While the Seven Spheres does not actually contain a complete philosophy (a good thing, in my opinion), it does contain a complete ritual structure.  With only a little outside knowledge and no outside ritual, one could actually use the Seven Spheres as the basis for an entire ritual practice.  Rufus Opus has combined the Stele of Jeu the Heiroglyphist with the Trithemius’ spirit conjuration and the Thomas Taylor translation of the Orphic Hymns into an elaborate but effective and accessible rite.  Each of the seven conjurations is largely the same, substituting the names of the appropriate archangels and planets at the appropriate times and reading the (loosely) appropriate Orphic hymn.

I have only three complaints about the book, one of which is editorial and two of which are academic.

The first academic issue is one of a citation.  In the chapter about the Sun (p.50), Rufus Opus makes reference to Supernatural Assistant in the Greek Magical Papyri.  Unless he is refering to the Stele of Jeu, itself, which never uses that language, the only such rites I know of (or can find, quickly consulting the table of rituals) are PGM I.1-42 “Rite”  and PGM I.4 “The spell of Pnothis”.  The first opens with the “deification” (drowning) of a falcon, which is to then be stuffed and made offerings; the second requires the head of a (the same?) falcon.  I sent the good gentleman an email for clarification at the time, but never received a response.  This saddens me immensely because I want to read those rituals, damn it.

The second academic issue is one of translation.  Thomas Taylor’s Hymns may be good for magic, and beautifully ensconced in the public domain, but the are awful English representations of the Greek.  Athanassakis is the only legitimate English translation currently available.

Finally, there appears to be a transcription error in the ritual script.  On page 114, one is instructed to say, “…prepare now the way between myself and the sphere of Mercury…” regardless of the sphere one is conjuring.  Because there is no explanation elsewhere in the book as to why one always trucks with angels via the sphere of Mercury, one suspects that this is supposed to read “… sphere of [Planet Name]…” even as the space for the Angel’s name is noted at the bottom of the page and again on 120.

Aradia and I began our journey through the spheres on Thursday the 1st of January.  It took us about nine weeks to make it through six of the seven spheres — we never felt called to conjure Saturn.  Each time we conjured the archangels of the spheres, we asked for their blessing that we might be beloved of gods and mortals, and that they appear before us that we might know them.  In each of those rites, I drew the Powers that I saw.

The positive effects of those rites are still reverberating through my life.  I’ve finished my first novel and gotten it out to several friends for editing.  I’ve opened a portfolio site to sell my photography.  I’ve decided to go back to school for my Master’s degree.  I’ve begun an ambitious artistic and magical mask-making project for the main ritual arc at this coming Heartland Pagan Festival.  I’ve found a new lover.

I cannot possibly recommend this book strongly enough.

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ξένια: The Ethical Implications of Hospitality and Witchcraft

Behold, ξένια (xenia):

“… There you have my lineage.  That is the blood I claim, my royal birth.”

When he heard that, Diomedes spirits lifted.  Raising his spear, the lord of the war cry drove it home, planting it deep down in the earth that feds us all and with winning words he called out to Glaucus, the young captain, “Splendid–you are my friend, my guest from the days of our grandfathers long ago!  Noble Oeneus hosted your brave Bellerophon once, he held him there in his halls, twenty whole days, and they gave each other handsome gifts of friendship.

Come, let us keep clear of each other’s spears, even there in the thick of battle.  Look, plenty of Trojans there for me to kill, your famous allies to, any soldier the god will bring n range and I can run to ground.  And plenty of Argives too–kill them if yo can.  The men must know our claim: we are sworn friends from our fathers’ days till now!”

Both agreed.  Both fighters sprang from their chariots, clasped each other’s hands and traded pacts of friendship.

Iliad VI.251-279.  Translated by Robert Fagels.  Penguin (1990).

From ξένος, “stranger” (though, specifically a civilized neighbor, not βαρβαρος ) and often translated as “guest-friendship”, ξένια was the ancient Hellenic practice of hospitality that assured travelers a safe place to stay, on the one hand, and the good behavior of guests on the other.  In a very real sense, the reciprocal obligations obligations of hospitality among mortals mirrored the reciprocity of piety and patronage between mortals and gods: it was a covenant.  Guest and host honored their duties alike, because it was one of the founding ethics of their society; to fail to do so invited chaos.  The central conceit of the Iliad, after all, is that Paris/Alexandris violated the terms of hospitality when he abducted Helen (willingly or unwillingly, the primary text is unclear … and how does being brainjacked by Aphrodite, as Helen implies she was at III.460-5, calculate into discussions of consent?), and the otherwise un-unified whole of Greece went to war for it.  For further examples, the whole Odyssey is basically a treatise on what goes wrong when you violate the terms of hospitality.

This is one of the Hellenistic practices that translates almost directly into my own life: all who come under my roof come under my protection–for the duration of their stay, at the very least.  Those who partake of my hospitality may always expect (at the very least):

  • clean water, and what food and booze I can afford to share (all my friends being as poor as I am, that painful caveat is mutually understood)
  • a safe place to stay at the end of the party and an intervention of they are too intoxicated to travel on their own
  • a safe place to stay when traveling through my territory
  • the use of my shower and laundry facilities
  • that, barring simple accidents, their bodies and property are safe within my territory
  • that they may always request a change of subject, excepting only if an intervention is taking place
  • that, while sexually charged situations may arise, sexually predatory behavior will never be permitted
  • that, should anyone encroach upon them, I will always take their side

But the idea of sacred hospitality also intersects, in my mind and heart, at least, with Hermetic notions of the Kingdom and with my feminist notions of witchcraft.  For those who partake of my hospitality on the regular, the protection follows them home.  And, however problematic it may be, I expect the same of them.   They are allied nations, in a sense, and the standards by which I judge the hospitality they offer are raised considerably.  Although I have never been handed this law as a taboo, it is the only position I can hold given my particular background of neo-Hellenism, Hermetics, and feminist witchcraft.  Simply put, fair or not, I hold the hospitality of others to my own ethical standards as a matter of spiritual obligation.

The thing of it is, though, these are not just words.  Ideas have consequences–ethics in particular.  What does one do, then, as a modern neo-Pagan neo-Hellenistic feminist witch, the divinely-charged manager of one’s own spiritual world, when one learns that a friend–the lord of an allied Kingdom–has grossly violated the laws of hospitality?

Clever readers will have already noted that this is a particularly neo-Pagan spin on one of the fundamental issues in feminism and other social justice movements: how do we police our own spaces?  What is the best way to respond to racist, sexist, and homophobic language when it’s coming out of the mouths of people we love?  What do you do when your friends exhibit sexually predatory behavior?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, unfortunately.  Confronting bigots in the wrong way often leads to them doubling-down on heir biases; socially isolating predators can lead to faster escalation.  Do we bind them then?  Curse them into oblivion?  Feed them to the Furies or to Tartaros, himself?  But I’m tired of seeing these issues blown off in Pagan circles as “divisive”, or being the fault of people who just can’t hack it (whether “it” be the liqour they’re drinking or the permissive atmosphere of festivals or whatever), or dismissed as “politics” and therefore unrelated to spirituality.

I am, however, hereby formally proposing that, at the very least for those of us who see a sacred component to hospitality, these are issues of spiritual consequence.

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Orphic Hymns: Taylor vs. Athanassakis

English: Orpheus

English: Orpheus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Classicist Apostolos Athanassakis recently released a new edition of his English translations of the Orphic hymns—previously released in the 1970s and, to the best of my ability to determine, the first new translation since Thomas Taylor’s in 1792.  I’ve been going over the hymns and notes for the last month, and using the hymns in my rituals for the last two weeks.  I must admit, that I’ve been rather surprised by the results.

Firstly, the Athanassakis translation is every bit as different from the Taylor as I would have imagined: no anachronistic rhyming couplets, no 18th century euphemisms or evasions, no substitutions of Roman names for Greek.  Because Classical scholarship has come a long way in the last two hundred years, I do not hesitate to assert that the translations are more accurate for reasons other than the brutal mangling needed to turn Koine iambic hexameter into English rhyming couplets.  And, to my delight, my own translation of the Hymn to Phanes ends up looking pretty solid.

For worship of the Hellenic gods, the new translation is by far superior: epithets are better preserved, and Athanassakis pointedly maintained what he felt to be the religious feel of the texts.  Dionysus, Phanes/Eros, Hermes, and Aphrodite have all responded well in my private rites.

For in/evocation of the Planetary powers, however, and to my extreme surprise, I have found the Taylor translations to yield much better results.  This is partly because, however I may despise them aesthetically, rhyming couplets make great magic.  This may also be partly because the Taylor translations have been so thoroughly incorporated into the Hermetic tradition, and thus provide better access to that magical current.  Further, the actual textual differences between the texts(coincidentally or otherwise) align the Taylor translation more closely with the Planetary powers than with the divine mythology.

Thus, while I must strongly advocate that any Hellenic-flavored neo-Pagan invest in the Athanassakis translation, as well as anyone with a scholarly interest in the hymns, ceremonial magicians have no need to do so.

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Dionysiac Sketches

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A pair of sketches from the last few days: a female satyr (unattested in the 5th and 4th centuries Greece, but appearingin the Roman era and rife in later neo-Classical periods) and a Dionysiac phallus.

From Eric Csapo:

The zoomorphic concept of the phallus is pervasive in Greek thought-one has only to think of the many representations of phallus birds in Greek art.  It is also essentially Dionysiac. The phallus icon of Dionysus and the phalli carried in Dionysiac processions are always regarded as independent living organisms, of which the glans is a head, equipped with eyes and sometimes with (phallic, horse-like) ears and other animal attributes (see Plates 1A, 1B, 1C, 3, 4, 8A, 8B).41 The eyes, ears, and the phallus are the essential organs of the Dionysiac creature, but especially the eyes and phallus, because, though one can be possessed by music through one’s ears and possess others through theirs, it is by one’s own eyes and phallus that one is both possessed and takes possession.
— p.260 “Riding the Phallus for Dionysus: Iconology, Ritual, and Gender-Role De/Construction.” Phoenix. 51. no.3/4 (Autumn – Winter, 1997): 253-295. Emphasis mine.

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Tables and Triangles

The  sacred geometry of conjuring circles has proven one of the most surprising difficulties in my study of ceremonial magic.  Even as someone who can draw well, there’s something about concentric circles brings out more of the OCD than the artiste.  So I started playing around with my computer.

This first image was designed with a Trithemian table of practice in mind, but I haven’t quite mastered circular text in either the GIMP or Inkscape, the two image programs I can afford.   In my studies of ceremonial magic, freely available electronic templates were of immense use to me, so I offer this one here in the public domain for use by anyone for anything.  It’s not perfect, but it’s better than anything I could find royalty-free.  Enjoy

Triangle in double circle

This second is the first stage of a prototype based on the Trithemian table, using the Agrippan planetary characters rather than the names of the archangels.  My thought is that I, or anyone else, might substitute the elemental or directional powers with whom they are most intimate for the four angels Trithemius prescribes.  I share it here for private use, and I would be delighted to hear about any experiments performed with it.

triangle of art with characters

This third and final table that I’m going to share today is the one revealed to me by the powers of Saturn during the Seven Spheres in Seven Days challenge.  I share this, too, for personal experimentation only.

saturnian triangle of conjuration with notes

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The Dweller at the Threshold … Again

At the beginning of the summer, I took on two projects that have given me much more trouble than I anticipated.  To my frustration, the trouble has not been that the work, itself, is beyond me, but rather the emotional crisis that it has precipitated.

Skylights

With the conclusion of the 2012-13 academic year, I have been studying and experimenting with ceremonial magic for two years.  I have conjured my Natal Genius and Daemon.  I have journeyed to each of the seven Spheres via both neo-shamanic visionary techniques and by conjuring archangels to lead the way.  I have employed electional astrology to create talismans of great power, and conjured the powers of the planets to influence the shape of politics.

I recognize that this is a pittance, and that I have barely scratched the surface of the subject matter.  I have dabbled in the Golden Dawn and Agrippa the Picatrix and the Arbatel, mostly via Christopher Penczak, Rufus Opus, Christopher Warnock, and a few other modern authors.  Although I await Aaron Leitch’s new book eagerly, I have not yet even made the most cursory study of Enochian magic.  Although I have read Crowley/Mather’s Goetia, I have never conjured any of those demons.  There are countless grimoires of which I know precisely nothing.

With that said, however, I think that the products of my experiments—my insights and my struggles—may be useful to others.  There are core concepts in ceremonial magic that are simply alien to anyone coming from a witchcraft background like my own, and straightforward presentation of the core techniques are few and far between.  As such, I think that I might be able to shed some light on the path, at least the first few steps, and have committed myself to writing a chapbook on the subject by the end of the summer.

The plan is to publish the results of my experiments so that others may build upon them.  As I said on tumblr, I would like a few beta-readers who have more experience with conjuration than I have so that they can tell me how far off the mark I am, and a few beta-readers with no experience in conjuration to try to see if my UPG works for others.  I have one volunteer for the former and two for the latter, but would like one or two more of each.  (Hint.  Hint.)

Translating the Stele of Jeu

I began performing the Stele of Jeu as a part of my Esbat rites at the end of 2011.  Although I no longer perform the ritual quite so regularly, I still find it to be an exceptionally useful part of my practice.  Because of the difficulties that one of my friends is having right now, I believe that the ritual would benefit her a great deal.  Unfortunately, however, she is not of a mindset which will permit her to simply perform the ritual: it’s too alien.  So I have taken it upon myself to annotate and, where possible, rephrase the ritual for her benefit, and the benefit of other witches who find the peculiar language of Greek-translated-for-scholars to be incomprehensible bordering on intimidating.

In my magical fantasy world, this project will culminate in my writing a version of the Stele for witches of an eclectic Wiccan background what Crowley did for his own students and peers in writing Liber Samekh.  Unfortunately this has been hampered by my inability to locate any scholarship on the subject, forcing me to rely in unseemly fashion on my personal experiments and UPG, and on the research of Mr. Jack Faust.

The Crisis

The crisis these projects has engendered is twofold, but the components are embarrassingly straightforward.

Firstly, I am plagued by the question, “Who am I to pose as an expert of any kind?”  The fact of the matter is that I know how little I know.  For all that I’ve been practicing magic for upward of fifteen years, my neuroses and social circles have somewhat limited my avenues of research.  Attending college in Indiana has also been surprisingly limiting to my options for interlibrary loan.

The fact that I am explicitly positioning myself as a fellow Seeker, not an expert or teacher does not seem to assuage this fear at all.  The fact of the matter is that I want to be a community leader somewhere down the road, have said so before, and only a fool could fail to put two and two together: Yes, I am hoping that some day, when I have something more substantial to offer, people will remember that I had clever things to say before.

Secondly, somewhat in light of the above, I find myself asking the question, “Is this where I want to focus my efforts?”  I am just old enough, at 32, that I am beginning to really feel my own mortality.  There are so many things I want to study, so many experiments that I want to do, so many books that I want to write.  Every time I choose to focus on one of them, I am potentially closing off others simply by virtue of the limited time available to me.

Is planetary witchcraft the thing I want to focus on?  What about the visionary work?  What about the alchemy?  What about the elemental powers I have touched, or the Chaos Magic I’ve dabbled in, my experiments in art as magic?  And where does that leave time for my novels?  Or my formal, public scholarship?

And, oh, yes, that whole thing where I want to seek out my gods but am deathly terrified to do so.

So I find myself stalling.  Sure, I needed to take advantage of this long weekend to actually relax and get some things done around the house.  Yes, I need to work my job to pay my rent and save up in hopes of being able to study in Greece at the end of the coming school year.  Damn right I need to actually get caught up on my sleep.  But I don’t need to do any of these things to the exclusion of the Work.

ETA: Edited to provide link and correct the spelling of Mr. Leitch’s name.  My apologies, sir.

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My Liberalia

English: Dionysus is equated with both Bacchus...

English: Dionysus is equated with both Bacchus and Liber (also Liber Pater). Liber (“the free one”) was a god of fertility, wine, and growth, married to Libera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Calendars are a problem.  The more of them you have, the harder they are to match up.  At this stage in my life, I’m struggling to reconcile four: the Gregorian, the academic, the lunar, and the Wheel of the Year.  Sometimes, it can be a fucking mess, especially as I try to splice in ancient festivals AND keep everything relevant to the life I actually live.

So, it was very much to my delight last year when I learned of an interesting coincidence: namely that Saint Patrick’s Day (an “Irish” American drinking festival, for those who don’t live in the USA) and the Liberalia fall at about the same time.  Even more fortuitous, both coincide with the beginning of Spring Break (an academic American drinking festival) at my particular institution of higher education.  My celebrations last year were impromptu and (mostly) solitary.  But I did start a batch of mead with this year in mind.

Now the date approaches and  I watch with some curiosity as Sanion anticipates Anthesteria. I am trying to find time to do research into what “traditional” festivities would have included, and then decide / beg for divine inspiration as to which elements to maintain, which to adopt from other festivals, and what to make up whole cloth.

There will be wine, of course, and mead: both drinking the mead I started last year and will bottle in about a week, and the starting of a new batch for next year.  And feasting: I never open the Sunrise Temple without providing food.  Offerings aplenty to the God, and a special altar erected to him for the occasion.

But what else?  I don’t really have the resources to put on a play of any kind, and playing movies in the background seems … a weak

Statue of Dionysus of the "Madrid-Varese ...

Statue of Dionysus of the “Madrid-Varese type”. Roman artwork based on a late Hellenistic original (ca. 125–100 BC). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

substitute at best.  (Besides which, all the appropriate movies that I own will be played for the same people three weeks prior at my Midsem party.)  Perhaps I can encourage participants to declaim from the various hymns to Dionysus; a lot of them are thespians, they’ll probably get a kick out of it.  And should I bring in elements of the Urban Dionysia, which falls about the same time of year (depending on the vagaries of the lunar calendar) but much less fortuitously in terms of free time to devote to worship?

I’m thinking that there may be some ritual (and playful) flogging, both to purify and to excite (though, contrary to Pausanius’ Skiereia, it will be everyone getting lashed).  Possibly arts-and-crafts, especially the making and donning of masks and thyrsoi.  I may encourage cross-dressing, in honor of the god’s youth spent hiding from Hera, and in memory of Tieresias and Cadmus, who donned women’s clothing that they might participate in the rites when the other men of Thebes followed Pentheus’ lead in denying Dionysus.

Hopefully everyone will have enough fun to get naked, because … Maenads and Satyrs, duh.  Should that happen, face and body paint are great games.

I have numerous Tarot decks, and it might be an interesting occasion on which to employ the oracular powers of Dionysus.  Also, the ouija board.  (Of course I have a ouija board.  Don’t look at me that way.  You have one, too.)

All this would be just a little easier, of course, if I had a more concrete relationship with the god.  When I do my thrice-weekly offering rites, I hail him as I pour the libations: “Dionysus, Liber Pater, Lord of the Vine, source and surcease of madness.”  But if those things were all that he is to me, then I would not need to have a festival: I would simply meditate on what passes for my sanity whilst drinking until I cry.  But Dionysus is more than that.  So much more.

I struggle in my search for how best to honor him.

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Filed under hedonism, scholarship, witchcraft