Good Advice from Three Wise Sages

“Do not give your attention to what others do
or fail to do; give it to what you do or fail to do.”
— Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha, from The Dhammapda, verse 50 (translated by Eknath Easwaran)

“Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people—unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind.”
— Marcus Aurelius, from Meditations, Book III, chap. 4 (translated by Gregory Hays)

Weapon after weapon conquers
Everything but chaos,
Business after business provides
A craze of waste,
Law after law breeds
A multitude of thieves.
Therefore a sensible man says:
If I keep from meddling with people, they take care of themselves,
If I keep from commanding people, they behave themselves,
If I keep from preaching at people, they improve themselves,
If I keep from imposing on people, they become themselves.
— Lao Tzu, from the Tao Teh Ching [The Way of Life], 57 (translated by Witter Bynner)

Plato’s Birthday (sort of)

The traditional birthday of Plato was said to have occurred on the 7th day of the ancient Athenian lunar month of Thargelion (which next occurs on May 17th, 2013), while modern (solar) calendars give Plato’s approximate birthdate as May 21st. However, there is also a modern tradition, stemming from the Florentine Renaissance, of celebrating Plato’s birthday on November 7th, as the following two extracts show. And while I’m not sure if anyone else will understand why, I found the second article especially amusing. It was published in a Victorian-era Neoplatonist magazine (ah, the good old days when there were Neoplatonist magazines!), though it sounds like it was originally written for a local society column. It relates in great detail (so detailed that I only included a few excerpts) the November 7th, 1889 philosophical festivities of the “Plato Club” in Bloomington, Illinois! The whole thing is so damn charming that I totally want to start a Plato Club now.

The Celebration of the Natal Day of Platon
[from Roscoe's Life of Lorenzo de Medici]

The Florentine Academy was still more influential for good, during the lifetime of Lorenzo de Medici, who was enthusiastically devoted to its interests, and who spared neither wealth nor influence to extend its usefulness and fame. He established the Platonic festival, which had been celebrated from Platon’s death to the days of his disciples, Plotinos and Porphyrios, but which had been discontinued for the long space of twelve hundred years. The day fixed for this purpose was the 7th of November, which was supposed to be the anniversary not only of the birth of Platon, but of his death, which happened among his friends, at a convivial banquet, precisely at the close of his eighty-first year. The person appointed by Lorenzo to preside over the ceremony at Florence was Francisco Bandini, whose rank and learning rendered him extremely proper for the office. On the same day another party met at Lorenzo’s villa in Careggi, where he presided in person. At these meetings, to which the most learned men in Italy resorted, it was the custom for one of the party, after dinner, to select certain passages from the works of Platon, which were submitted to the elucidation of the company, each of the guests undertaking the illustration or discussion of some important or doubtful point. By this institution, which was continued for several years, the philosophy of Platon was supported not only in credit, but in splendor, and its professors were considered as the most respectable and enlightened men of the age.

Platonic Celebration
[From Bibliotheca Platonica: An Exponent of the Platonic Philosophy. Vol. 1. November-December, 1889. No. 2]

We note with great pleasure that the holding of an annual Symposion or festival in celebration of the “birthday” (mundane descent) of the Divine Plato, revived by the Editor of this journal in 1888, will probably become a permanent custom. We hope to see the time when the birthday of Plato will not only be made a national holiday, but will also be celebrated throughout the civilized world by Platonists and all others who love Wisdom, and worship in the temple of truth. We are indebted to Mrs. Julia P. Stevens for the following report of the Symposion held at Bloomington, Ills., under the auspices of the Plato Club of that city. In justice to Mrs. Stevens it should be said that much of the success of this celebration is due to her indefatigable work and enthusiasm.

In imitation of the nine Muses, nine persons are accustomed to assemble at stated times for the purpose of making a study of the works of Plato. Their names are:
Miss Sarah E. Raymond, Miss Effie Henderson, Dr. E.W. Gray, Mrs. Mary A. Marmon, Miss Nellie Fitzgerald, Miss Clara Ewing, Prof. A.S. McCoy, Mrs. Emelie S. Maddox, Mrs. Julia P. Stevens.

This Club gave a Festival on November the 7th in commemoration of the Terrestrial Descent of Plato.

They met in a Symposion, with about fifty guests, among whom were the most cultivated people in the city. Three daily newspapers kindly lent their aid in presenting to the public the object of the meeting, viz. to attempt to awaken an interest in the Platonic Philosophy.

Music of a very high order was rendered by resident musicians, Prof. Benter, Miss Carrie Crane, Mrs. Eva Mayers Shirley, Mrs. Lydia Sherman.

Miss Raymond welcomed with cordial greeting, not only the Philosophers who appeared in response to the invitation, but those from suburban towns, distant cities, and our own home friends.

She gave likewise a short sketch of the Life of Plato. Mrs. Stevens stated briefly the reasons for fixing the Celebration on the 7th of November, rather than in May, November corresponding to Thargelion the eleventh month of the Attic year, and the time observed by the Florentine Platonists.

Several letters expressive of sympathy and an appreciation of the movement were read from friends deprived of the pleasure of attendance. One says:
“Your invitation is both beautiful and original. I like the idea of celebrating Plato’s birthday in Illinois.” [ . . .]

Rev. George Stevens read a paper by Alexander Wilder M.D., of New York City, entitled, “Philosophic Morality.” Then an anonymous essay was presented on “Euthyphron or Holiness.”

Both these papers provoked discussion. Many insisted upon concisely formulated definitions of the two qualities, morality and holiness; and some murmured at not having them shaped into jewels, to be borne away as keepsakes.

Mrs. South, of Jacksonville, Ills., recited a little poem, “Looking Backward,” contrasting the socialistic scheme of Edward Bellamy, with Plato’s Republic.

At the evening session, although the rain fell in torrents, there were about sixty souls present. The session opened with the following poetical tribute to Plato, which was read by Mrs. Julia P. Stevens:

I.
“Immortal Plato ! Justly named divine !
What depth of thought, what energy is thine !
Whose God-like soul, an ample mirror seems,
Strongly reflecting mind’s celestial beams,
Whose periods too redundant roll along,
Grand as the ocean ! as the torrent strong.”

A few are always found in every age,
“To unfold the wisdom of thy mystic page.”

II.
And now, though hoary centuries have fled,
We wish to honor still, the illustrious dead,
Dead ! Did I say ? Ah no ! He yet inspires
All lofty souls, with heavenly desires
To mount on Reason’s wing, beyond the sky,
Where truly beauteous forms can never die,
Where prophet, saint, and sage in bright array,
Behold the splendors of eternal day. [. . .]

Mr. Johnson, Editor of the Bibliotheca Platonica, read a paper entitled, “Plato and His Writings.” Much interest was manifested by various questions, at the conclusion of the reading.

Dr. Hiram K. Jones, of Jacksonville, Illinois, who declared that his “lucid interval” was in the morning, rather than in the evening, delivered a most eloquent extemporaneous discourse on the “Symposion of Plato.” [ . . .]

The audience after joining in the song, “Auld Lang Syne,” dispersed.

The next day, November 8th, was almost entirely occupied in conversations and discussions on Platonic topics; and I hold in grateful remembrance all the good things uttered both by Mr. Johnson and Dr. Jones.

The success of the Symposion was mainly due to the energy of Miss Raymond, who, gifted with appreciation, is the embodiment of generosity, and ever seeks to bring the best of everything to the citizens of Bloomington.

The next Celebration will be held on the 7th day of November, 1890, at Jacksonville, Ills.

Ariadne by H.D.

Ariadne in Naxos – Evelyn De Morgan

Ariadne
by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

(From a lost play)

ARIADNE:

You have beaten me with swords
but not with words,
and I, my lord, am thankful:

you have flayed me with an ox-thong,
not a kiss,
and I, my lord, am grateful:

you really were a panther, a wild-cat,
who tore me limb from limb;
my thanks for that.

I.
Heaven shod, heaven sandalled and heaven found,
the long waves break,
the under-tone
comes back again,
furthering the message—
you were never dead—
I am still living—
listen to the sea,
break on the pebbles,
listen to the pine,
wait for the chant of sea-gulls
on the line
of swaying kestrels,
they will write my words,
heaven sandalled, heaven found, heaven shod:

you were no man, being God,
yet you were men,
the manifold armies and the shattered host;
you were the ghost
rising at night-fall
and the silver dawn
found you, my lover,
heaven-sandalled, and heaven-bound
waiting to leave the cities
where the ground
ran mingled blood of armies
you were those seas
of blood that ran, that ran across the sand,
O pitiful shattered land—
O land of beauty and of memory
O land of hosts
and hosts of singing voices;
land of the sated ghosts
that left being tired of blood-shed,
O bright coast
O lofting pinnacle,
Hymmetus, Lycabettus like a shell
through which the sun shines
crimson or pale opal,
O beautiful white land,
olives and wild anemone and violet
mingled among the shale,
and purple wings
of little winter-butterflies
say, here Psyche, the soul, lies.

II.
Here is the intricate offering of my loom,
lady,
to hang from pillars
in the room,
dedicate to your altar;
here is bloom
of wide white roses
showing where Love trod,
and here is God,
set round about with stars,
and here is Mars,
lordly to save the Hero
bred of war;
here, near the floor,
is pattern of wild pansies
and a child;

Lady,
bend near;
your sweet cold hands have banished
heinous fear,
your cloak was wide,
your helmet and your spear
ready to save,
ready to extirpate
a woman
banished by an island monster;
the child and she were set afloat to drift
but there was light about the little boat,
a chest
flung on the water;
these are the Dioscuri
hovering near;

There was no god
in all the circling host
who had forsaken
the outcast and lost;
your infinite loveliness,
O violet-crowned,
comes first;
but see,
the others found
gifts,
old portents and old worship
drew them near;
Mars with his spear,
weary of battle
said, I will protect;
Hermes said,
magic never shall be dead;
the exquisite holiness of the sea-born
laid
offering,
white lilies
lilies that were red;
Eros spread wings
about a child’s small bed;

See,
I am weaving here;
the colours glow
with blue, sea-blue and violet;
I have dipped deep my thread
it will not fade,
I have long practiced stitch and counter-stitch;
the frame is firm;
the pattern clear but spaced
with subtlety
and symbol
those will know,
who have faced at the last
the ultimate,
ultimate fear;

You stand beyond me
at the temple gate,
and know not fear nor hate,
for there, emblazoned on your aegis rim,
is image of all evil,
no cruel whim
can strike beyond your cruelty
when you care to strike,
and none may dare
to counter you who know
when to withold and when to deal the blow;
and you will strike
those whom you will and where
you will
who have defamed your holiest inner shrine;
that is your care,
this mine—

only to weave
to make the pattern clear,
the woven tale
to lay upon your altar,
to hang from pillar
to exquisite
wrought pillar,
so that men stop,
astonished
at its colour,
its gods
outlined with delicate woven contour,
men stop—men speak—men stare—
there must be real gods
see, the painted gods—
how fair!

Proclus the Eclectic Neopagan

Recently I’ve found the following passage (from The Life of Proclus or Concerning Happiness by Marinus of Samaria) to be extremely interesting and inspiring, especially since it concerns some important insights into the spiritual behavior (and practice) of one of my most beloved heroes:

“Every month he [Proclus] sanctified himself according to the rites devoted to the Mother of the Gods [Cybele] by the Romans, and before them by the Phrygians; he observed the holy days observed among the Egyptians even more strictly than did they themselves; and especially he fasted on certain days, quite openly. During the first day of the lunar month he remained without food, without even having eaten the night before; and he likewise celebrated the New Moon in great solemnity, and with much sanctity. He regularly observed the great festivals of all peoples, so to speak, and the religious ceremonies peculiar to each people or country.

Nor did he, like so many others, make this the pretext of a distraction, or of a debauch of food, but on the contrary they were occasions of prayer meetings that lasted all night, without sleep, with songs, hymns and similar devotions. Of this we see the proof in the composition of his hymns, which contain homage and praises not only of the gods adored among the Greeks, but where you also see worship of the god Marnas of Gaza, Asklepius Leontuchus of Ascalon, Thyandrites who is much worshipped among the Arabs, the Isis who has a temple at Philae, and indeed all other divinities. It was a phrase he much used, and that was very familiar to him, that a philosopher should watch over the salvation of not only a city, nor over the national customs of a few people, but that he should be the hierophant of the whole world in common.”

– Marinus of Samaria, from The Life of Proclus or Concerning Happiness (translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie)

There are three extremely important points here:

  1. Proclus “regularly observed the great festivals of all peoples, so to speak, and the religious ceremonies peculiar to each people or country.”
  2. The hymns composed by Proclus praised “not only the gods adored among the Greeks, but . . . all other divinities.”
  3. Proclus believed that a philosopher “should be the hierophant of the whole world in common.”

In essence, what Marinus is really saying is that Proclus was a true polytheist, who took his polytheism seriously enough to honor the goddesses and gods from many pantheons and traditions.  I find this inspiring, and it resonates deeply with my own beliefs and spiritual practices (which I’ve started referring to as “Eclectic Hellenism”).  And yet, if Proclus were around today, there would be a vocal segment (I’d like to hope they’re a minority) of the contemporary Hellenic polytheist community who would immediately dismiss (if not outright condemn) one of the most sophisticated Hellenic philosophers and theologians of all time as “just another fluffy eclectic neopagan.”  I find this both ironic and rather sad.  But after a recent encounter where my own “eclectic” views were completely dismissed (and where I was basically condemned/admonished for “not being a good Hellenist”), at least I can count myself in good company!

I’m fortunate to have mostly surrounded myself with like-minded (or at least equally open-minded) people.  I’d wager that every single person in my Grove of family and friends probably has a completely different set of theological/spiritual views and beliefs from everyone else.  We honor many different pantheons and many different traditions in many different ways.  And we’re okay with that.  In my world, diversity is a good thing.  Shouldn’t polytheism also promote pluralism, individuality, non-conformity, multiplicity, and an openness to encountering, experiencing, and honoring the divine in many different forms?  Is there even a place for such a thing as orthodoxy (or even orthopraxy) in a truly polytheistic worldview?

Anyway, I’d be curious to hear in the comments if others out there have had similar experiences with intolerance in your own dealings with the various sub-groups/traditions that make up contemporary paganism/polytheism . . .

Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? (An Eclectic Hellenist’s List to Remind Himself What Matters)

I haven’t posted anything personal in awhile, so perhaps this will fit the bill. This is not a poem. This is a list. I tend to make a lot of lists. It’s something I do. The past few months of my life have not been easy, and a number of events have made me extremely disheartened, a bit more disillusioned and disappointed in the quotidian world than usual. Some of these events would be obvious to the regular readers of this blog (like the death of my grandmother, which I’m still struggling with); others are so subtle I’m not sure if I could really explain them to anyone. One subject in particular has been bothering me: I find it downright staggering how many useless distractions pervade our lives. Almost everything out there in the mainstream culture seems so meaningless, so shallow, so completely devoid of wisdom and beauty and inspiration. Utterly fed up with it all, I decided to make this list for myself, to remind me what matters. It’s really long and I don’t actually expect anyone else to read it. But here it is anyway. If nothing else, it should at least provide a window into some of my tastes in literature, art, music, etc. For those who are interested, it includes a series of snapshots about my spirituality in general, some scattered insights into my beliefs and practices, some of my primary gods and spirits and heroes and ancestors, and examples of the many cultural and philosophical traditions I draw from. I list quite a few writers and books, so I suppose this could also be seen as my stab at generating an “Eclectic Curriculum” or “Eclectic Canon” or “Eclectic Great Books Program,” from the perspective of a multicultural queer feminist, epic poet and ardent bibliophile who happens to be an eclectic Hellenist and devotional polytheist (say that ten times fast). I had to limit myself to the number of items I included on each list-within-a-list, as this whole thing could easily have been 100 times longer than it is now. It is therefore necessarily incomplete (as all such lists always are).

The title and the refrain (yes, this list has a refrain – I see no reason why a list can’t have a refrain) were inspired by the title of a book by Harold Bloom. I’ve read almost all of Harold Bloom’s major books, even though I vehemently disagree with his rather Eurocentric/Western slant (which, to be fair, is also his area of expertise). He’s a self-proclaimed Gnostic (and his books are filled with Orphic and Hermetic themes), but I’ve also noted a distinct bias for the Abrahamic traditions, often to the detriment of the Greco-Roman Classics (one of his blind spots). All that being said, Harold Bloom is a brilliant gem in the otherwise rather dross world of literary criticism, and he remains one of the few contemporary literary critics who I constantly return to for inspiration. I’ve discovered countless authors – books that changed my life – from his insightful commentaries and introductions. And I have always admired his uncompromising commitment to literary excellence, regardless of mainstream trends. As Bloom explains in his introduction to Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?: “I have only three criteria for what I go on reading and teaching: aesthetic splendor, intellectual power, wisdom. Societal pressures and journalistic fashions may obscure these standards for a time, but mere Period Pieces never endure. The mind always returns to its needs for beauty, truth, and insight. Mortality hovers, and all of us learn the triumph of time. ‘We have an interval, and then our place knows us no more.’”

Which pretty much says it all, as far as I’m concerned. The following list was directly inspired by the above quote, by the mind’s eternal hunger for beauty and wisdom and inspiration. In an era where meaningless distractions pervade everything, I wrote this list to remind me what matters.

Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?
(An Eclectic Hellenist’s List to Remind Himself What Matters)

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the poets:
in Homer and Shakespeare and Walt Whitman,
in Hesiod and Sappho and Ovid,
in Enheduanna and Li Po and Rumi,
in Matsuo Bashō and John Keats and P.B. Shelley,
in Friedrich Hölderlin and Gérard de Nerval and Charles Baudelaire,
in Emily Dickinson and C. P. Cavafy and W.B. Yeats,
in Rainer Maria Rilke and Fernando Pessoa and Yannis Ritsos,
in Mina Loy and Ezra Pound and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle),
in Antonin Artaud and Langston Hughes and Robert Duncan . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the sages:
in Socrates and Plato and Diogenes,
in Lao Tzu and Confucius and Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha,
in Marcus Aurelius and Plotinus and Proclus,
in Montaigne and Emerson and Thoreau,
in Thomas Taylor and Nietzsche and Black Elk,
in Edward Carpenter and Emma Goldman and Carl Jung,
in Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thích Nhất Hạnh,
in Jiddu Krishnamurti and Eknath Easwaran and Harry Hay,
in Iris Murdoch and James Hillman and Gloria Anzaldúa . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the novelists:
in Petronius and Apuleius and Lady Murasaki,
in Cervantes and Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens,
in Herman Melville and George Eliot and The Brontë Sisters,
in Leo Tolstoy and Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka,
in Thomas Mann and James Joyce and Nikos Kazantzakis,
in Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf and Zora Neale Hurston,
in Marguerite Yourcenar and Jean Genet and Yukio Mishima,
in William S. Burroughs and James Baldwin and Gore Vidal,
in Mary Renault and Toni Morrison and John Rechy . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the storytellers:
in Chaucer and Boccaccio and Scheherazade,
in Aesop and The Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang,
in Edgar Allan Poe and Lewis Caroll and Arthur Conan Doyle,
in Anton Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield and Jorge Luis Borges,
in J.M. Barrie and Kenneth Grahame and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,
in Lloyd Alexander and Rosemary Sutcliff and The Golden Treasury Readers,
in J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman,
in Guy Davenport and Leslie Marmon Silko and Roberto Calasso,
in John Crowley and Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the epics:
in The Iliad and The Odyssey and The Aeneid,
in The Metamorphoses and The Argonautica and The Dionysiaca,
in The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Enûma Eliš and The Shahnameh,
in The Mahabharata and The Ramayana and The Heike Monogatari,
in The Táin Bó Cúailnge and The Mabinogion and The Poems of Ossian,
in The Eddas and The Nibelungenlied and The Kalevala,
in Beowulf and Parzival and Le Morte d’Arthur,
in The Sundiata and The Popol Vuh and The Diné Bahane’,
in The Epic of King Gesar and The Lusiads and The Faerie Queene . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the classics:
in The Seven Sages and The Nine Lyric Poets and The Greek Anthology,
in Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides,
in Aristophanes and Herodotus and Plutarch,
in Dante and Milton and Goethe,
in Rabelais and Voltaire and Oscar Wilde,
in The Harvard Classics, The Great Books Foundation and The Lifetime Reading Plan,
in The Western Canon and The Pāli Canon and The Global Literary Canon,
in The Norton Anthologies and The Longman Anthologies and The Heath Anthologies,
in the many shelves of anthologies and literary collections that line my home library . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the margins of literature:
in Anyte of Tegea and Claudia Trophime and Christine de Pizan,
in Nezahualcoyotl and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Phillis Wheatley,
in Wu Tsao and Mark Akenside and Richard Henry Horne,
in Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt and Skaay and Uvavnuk,
in Zitkala-Ša and Radclyffe Hall and María Sabina,
in Witter Bynner and Mary Butts and Adelaide Crapsey,
in Melvin B. Tolson and Aquah Laluah and Marguerite Young,
in Harold Norse and Kate Bornstein and Will Alexander,
in Leslie Feinberg and Werewere Liking and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the sacred texts:
in The Upanishads and The Bhagavad-Gita and The Dhammapada,
in The Lotus Sutra and The Pure Land Sutras and The Questions of Milinda,
in The Tao Te Ching and The I Ching and The Analects of Confucius,
in The Homeric Hymns and The Orphic Hymns and The Rig Veda,
in The Hermetica and The Chaldaean Oracles and Plato’s Timaeus,
in The Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Bardo Thodol and The Orphic Fragments,
in The Navajo Night Chant and The Odú Ifá and The Kumulipo,
in The Emerald Tablet and The Stanzas of Dzyan and Leland’s Aradia,
in Crowley’s Liber AL vel Legis, Yeats’s A Vision, and Jung’s Red Book . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the mythographers:
in (Pseudo) Apollodorus and Hyginus and Pausanias,
in Jane Ellen Harrison and Walter F. Otto and Karl Kerényi,
in James G. Frazer and Robert Graves and Giorgio de Santillana,
in Franz Cumont and E. A. Wallis Budge and Leo Frobenius,
in Hilda R. Ellis Davidson and Heinrich Zimmer and Joseph Campbell,
in Franz Boas and Thelma Adamson and Robert Bringhurst,
in Georges Dumézil and Jaan Puhvel and Alex Fantalov,
in Mircea Eliade and Michael Witzel and Wim van Binsbergen,
in the myths and legends and folklore from every land and every era . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the visual arts:
in Praxiteles and Michelangelo and Caravaggio,
in Antoine-Louis Barye and Katsushika Hokusai and William Blake,
in William Morris and Harriet Powers and Hosteen Klah,
in Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon and Erté,
in Evelyn de Morgan and Vincent Van Gogh and Séraphine de Senlis,
in Sonia Delaunay and Marsden Hartley and Frida Kahlo,
in Man Ray and Salvador Dalí and Joseph Cornell,
in Romare Bearden and Jess Collins and Herbert List,
in Ana Mendieta and Judy Chicago and Jean-Michel Basquiat . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in music:
in Hildegard von Bingen and Henry Purcell and Hector Berlioz,
in Frédéric Chopin and Fanny Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner,
in Gustav Holst and George Gershwin and Miles Davis,
in Édith Piaf and Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone,
in Miriam Makeba and Cesária Évora and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,
in John Lennon and Jim Morrison and Patti Smith,
in Brian Eno and Ryuichi Sakamoto and The Master Musicians of Jajouka,
in Sandy Denny and Kate Bush and Sainkho Namtchylak,
in The Cocteau Twins and Rozz Williams and Dead Can Dance . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in film:
in Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst and F.W. Murnau,
in Carl Dreyer and Charlie Chaplin and Jean Cocteau,
in Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles and Jean Renoir,
in Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa,
in Satyajit Ray and Michael Cacoyannis and Ousmane Sembène,
in Pier Paolo Pasolini and Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Derek Jarman,
in Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage and Stanley Kubrick,
in David Lynch and Peter Greenaway and Jane Campion,
in Pedro Almodóvar and Julie Taymor and Darren Aronofsky . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in my fellow pagans and polytheists:
in H. Jeremiah Lewis and Sarah Kate Istra Winter and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus,
in Edward P. Butler and Kallimakhos and Lykeia,
in Isaac Bonewits and Ian Corrigan and Skip Ellison,
in Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova and Kveldulf Gundarsson,
in T. Thorn Coyle and Starhawk and Scott Cunningham,
in John Michael Greer and Poke Runyon and John Opsopaus,
in Alexei Kondratiev and Erynn Rowan Laurie and Ceisiwr Serith,
in Valiel Elentári and Brian A. Kenny and M.A. Rivera,
in all the bloggers and podcasters and columnists who inspire me daily . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the loved ones of my Grove:
in the poetry, music, art, cuisine, and impeccable taste of my beloved Star-Prince,
in the quilts and cloth sculptures and textile creations of my wonderful Mother,
in the writings and photography of my best friend and ally Pandora,
in the handmade jewelry and the amazing green thumb of Clover,
in the constant creativity and ingenuity and aesthetic sensibility of Scarlett,
in the quests and adventures and inventions devised by Will,
in the magnificent garden and the poems and countless talents of Pam,
in the homespun crafts and the illuminating astral charts of Capella,
in all the eccentric denizens of The Island of Misfit Toys . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the Hellenic Gods:
in Hestia and Hera and Demeter,
in Zeus and Poseidon and Hades,
in Hermes and Apollon and Dionysos,
in Artemis and Persephone and Athena,
in Hephaestus and Aphrodite and Ares,
in Hekate and Pan and Gaia,
in Asklepios and Herakles and the Dioskouroi,
in the Muses and the Heroes and the Nymphs,
in the Olympians and the Titans and the Protogenoi and the entire Hellenic pantheon . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in all Deities:
in Thoth and Isis and Horus – and all the Gods of Egypt,
in Freyr and Heimdall and Loki – and all the Northern Gods,
in Brighid and Lugh and Sequana – and all the Gods of the Celts,
in Ganesha and Mitra-Varuna and Krishna – and all the Gods of India,
in She-Who-Watches and Raven and The Changer – and all the Gods of Cascadia,
in Perkūnas and Veles and Mari – and all the Gods of Old Europe,
in Antinoüs and Oya and The Rainbow Serpent – and all the Gods of the World,
in the Unnamed Gods and the Unknown Gods and the Gods of our Ancestors,
in All Members of All Pantheons, All Goddesses and All Gods . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the Heroes and Heroines:
in Narkissos and Achilles and Patroclus,
in Orpheus and Abaris and Pythagoras,
in Harmodius and Aristogeiton and Diotima,
in Polydeukion and The Emperor Julian and Hypatia,
in the Sages and Teachers and Leaders,
in the Mystics and Prophets and Visionaries,
in the Poets and Artists and Scribes,
in the Musicians and Performers and Sacred Fools,
in The Men Who Loved Men, The Women Who Loved Women, and The Gender Nonconformists of all eras . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in my Ancestors:
in my maternal Grandmother – my second mother, who gave me the myths,
in my paternal Grandmother – my third mother, the storyteller and palm-reader,
in my two Grandfathers – my fathers, the gardener and the cowboy,
in my Aunt Vi and my Uncle Ray, whose spirits have guarded me since childhood,
in my Greek Great-Grandfather, born in Arcadia and buried beside his best friend,
in my Norwegian Great-Grandmother, the seer who was raised by a witch,
in my Irish ancestors, descendants of The Liberator, so many of whom died in the mines,
in my English ancestors, The Plantagenets, descendants of Queens and Kings,
in my Bohemian ancestors, my French ancestors, my African ancestors, and all my Blood-Kindred . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the Spirits:
in my Agathos Daimon and The Torch-Bearers and our Household Lares,
in my childhood guardians – The Cat, The Owl and The Eagle,
in The Dandelion Faerie, The Pine White Butterfly and The Oreads of the Island,
in The Old Man of the Mountain, The Basket Ogress and The Rain-Makers,
in The Wounded Sentinel and The Nooksack River and The Salish Sea,
in The Thunderbird and The Sisiutl and the Stl’eluqum,
in the Elves and the Elementals and the Faerie Folk,
in the Spirit Guides and Animal Totems and Greenwights,
in all the Nymphs and Spirits and Daimones and Sidhe . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the animal kingdom:
in the Barn Owl and the Red-tailed Hawk and the Bald Eagle,
in the Raven and the Bluejay and the Hummingbird,
in the Seagull and the Cormorant and the Chickadee,
in the Mountain Lion and the Coyote and the Raccoon,
in the Black-tailed Deer and the Squirrel and the Rabbit,
in the House Cat and the Box Turtle and the Tree Frog,
in the Orca and the Salmon and the Jellyfish,
in the Butterfly and the Dragonfly and the Honey Bee,
in the Cricket and the Spider and the Ladybug . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the green world:
in the Douglas Fir and the Red Cedar and the Western Hemlock,
in the Grand Fir and the Bigleaf Maple and the Pacific Madrone,
in the Shore Pine and the Sitka Spruce and the Pacific Yew,
in the Quaking Aspen and the Paper Birch and the Willow,
in the Rhododendron and the Wild Hyacinth and the Blackberry Vine,
in the Stinging Nettle and the Sword Fern and the Bull-Head Kelp,
in the countless Mushrooms and Mosses and Lichens,
in the Fairy Slipper and the Pathfinder and the Forget-Me-Not,
in the Slender Hawkweed and the Hairy Cat’s-Ear and the Dandelion Puff . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the stars:
in the Sun and the Moon and the Milky Way,
in the Morning Star and the Evening Star and the Pole-Star,
in the Red Planet and the Jovian Planet and the Senex,
in the Messenger and the Magician and the Mystic,
in The Virgin and The Bull and The Twins,
in The Lion and The Eagle and The Dragon,
in The Bears and The Swan and The Lyre,
in The Hunter and The Dog-Star and The Seven Sisters,
in all the planets and constellations and celestial objects . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the symbolic teachings:
in The Fire, The Well and The Tree,
in Yin and Yang, The Two Substances and The Two Powers,
in The Three Realms, The Three Worlds and The Three Kindreds,
in the Four Noble Truths, the Five Elements and the Six Cardinal Directions,
in the Seven Chakras, the Seven Principles and the Twelve Natural Laws,
in the Neoplatonist Triads and Hebdomads and Dodecads,
in Gematria, the Zodiac, and the Planetary Spheres,
in the Runes and the Ogham and the Tarot,
in all the systems of esoteric correspondences created to comprehend the Ineffable . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in many spiritual traditions:
in Paganism and Polytheism and Animism,
in Hellenism and Heathenry and Kemeticism,
in Druidry and Witchcraft and Shamanism,
in Hermeticism and Neoplatonism and the Orphic Tradition,
in Buddhism and Taoism and Shinto,
in Vedanta and Theosophy and Transcendentalism,
in Devotional Polytheism and Local-Focus Polytheism and Eclectic Reconstructionism,
in Hard Polytheism and Polycentric Syncretism and Religious Pluralism,
in Classical Humanism and Romantic Modernism and Visionary Mysticism . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in ritual:
in my thrice-daily devotionals – morning and evening and night,
in the recitation and composition of hymns to the gods,
in burning incense and pouring libations at our household shrines,
in creating sacred space and raising magickal energy,
in trance journeys and astral dreaming and pathworking,
in meditation and mantram and prayer,
in the mask and the bonfire and the drum,
in offering a sacrifice, walking the labyrinth and dancing round a maypole,
in celebrating the lunar cycle, the festival calendar and The Wheel of the Year . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the simple things in life:
in a fresh-baked loaf of bread and a good bottle of wine,
in the sound of crashing waves and the patchwork colors of sunset,
in a pocket full of beach stones and the feel of rain on my face,
in a hike through the forest and the notes of birdsong,
in a potluck feast followed by a game of cards,
in the laughter of friends and the smile of a beautiful soul,
in a shelf of well-loved books and a notebook full of scribblings,
in a home-cooked meal and a table set with candles,
in curling up under a blanket and the kiss of my Beloved . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty all around me:
in the North and in the South,
in the East and in the West,
above me and below me,
before me and behind me,
and deep in the center within me.
I walk in wisdom.
I walk in inspiration.
I walk in beauty.
I walk in beauty . . .

Mirth – Birth – Reverie: Remembering Nico (October 16, 1938 – July 18, 1988)


I can’t let this day pass without remembering a beloved heroine – the great singer/songwriter, poet, composer, musician, fashion model, actress, Warhol Superstar, and self-described “international pagan,” born on this day as Christa Päffgen, but known to the world as Nico.

Nico is probably most famous for her association with The Velvet Underground, but her solo albums are absolute gems, extremely influential and decades ahead of their time, filled with haunting melodies and exquisitely beautiful lyrics . . . bursts of poetry charged with mythical and mystical symbolism. The following two songs are both from my favorite Nico album, her 1968/1969 masterpiece – The Marble Index.

[And for a brief but remarkably astute analysis of Nico’s life and work, which places Nico in the visionary tradition of “Jung, Kafka, Genet, Ernst, Anna Kavan, Jean Rhys, H.D. and David Lynch”, while perceptively noting that “Nico was like a Greek oracle, both voice and vehicle of the gods” – check out this excellent review of The End (Nico's 1974 album) by J.E. Barnes here.]

Nibelungen
by Nico

Since the first of you and me asleep
In a Nibelungen land
Titanic curses trap me in
A banishment of stay
Symbols vanish from my senses
Stem and stave the view appears

Symbols captured in a trance
Vanish from my glance
For the various defenses
I enforce a strike the alarm
For the various defences
That choose to be here and there
And lose the direction everywhere

Since the first of you and me asleep
In a Nibelungen land where we cannot be
Almond trees grow along the mountain trail
From their tongues the words are spelling
The telling numb

I cannot hear it anymore
I cannot hear it anymore

Since the first of you and me here and there
We lose the direction everywhere
Shrieking city sun shiver in my veins
In flames I run
In flames I run
Waiting for the sign to come

Will you spell the words for me
Will you spell the words for me to hear
Nibelungen
Nibelungen
Nibelungen land

***

Julius Caesar (Memento Hodie)
by Nico

Amidst water lily fields white and green
Grows a tree
And from the tree hang apples
Not for you to eat.

In a way it matters more
Than it did before
To see the East voyaging through
True hearts of dunes

Mirth
Birth
Reverie

There in harmony
Somersault caravans of fools
As he passes for reply
To sing his songs again.

He sways to kiss the horizontal ground
And from the ground a dove rises
And as a mark of honor
A mask is left behind

Mirth
Birth
Reverie

There in harmony
To gentle form and noble force
Calm and vast his voice cascades
From this gentle stage

Calm and vast the city lies
On a horizontal ground
Kind and calm Julius lies
For Octavian to prevail

Mirth
Birth
Reverie

In harmony
Traverses the peninsula
Aeolus with his whisperwinds to strike
With his gentle kisses the righteous
And wise and doom ambitious praise
With his will his will and order

Mirth
Birth
Reverie

Amidst water lily fields white and green
Grows a tree
And from the tree hang apples
Not for you to eat
Beneath the heaving sea
Where statues and pillars and stone altars rest for all these
Aching bones to guide us far from energy

Mirth
Birth
Reverie

Wit and Wisdom from the Divine Oscar Wilde (October 16, 1854 – November 30, 1900)


“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
― Oscar Wilde

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”
― Oscar Wilde

“The world is a stage and the play is badly cast.”
― Oscar Wilde

“America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”
― Oscar Wilde

“There are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely―or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
― Oscar Wilde

“We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.”
― Oscar Wilde

“I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity.” ― Oscar Wilde

“The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.”
― Oscar Wilde

“It is through art, and through art only, that we can realise our perfection.”
― Oscar Wilde

“To become a spectator of one’s own life is to escape the suffering of life.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.”
― Oscar Wilde

“All great ideas are dangerous.”
― Oscar Wilde

“I never take any notice to what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do.”
― Oscar Wilde

“The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.”
― Oscar Wilde

Wise Words from Václav Havel

“Keep the company of those who seek the truth – run from those who have found it.”
― Václav Havel

Then through my dream the choir of gods was borne . . .

Gustave Moreau – Phaethon

The Fall of a Soul
 by John Addington Symonds (October 5, 1840 – April 19, 1893)

I sat unsphering Plato ere I slept:
Then through my dream the choir of gods was borne,
Swift as the wind and lustrous as the morn,
Fronting the night of stars; behind them swept
Tempestuous darkness o’er a drear descent,
Wherethrough I saw a crowd of charioteers
Urging their giddy steeds with cries and cheers
To join the choir that aye before them went:
But one there was who fell, with broken car
And horses swooning down the gulf of gloom;
Heavenward his eyes, though prescient of their doom,
Reflected glory like a falling star;
While with wild hair blown back and listless hands
Ruining he sank toward undiscovered lands.

 

Gore Vidal on Monotheism

“Monotheism is easily the greatest disaster to befall the human race.”
― Gore Vidal

“It is astonishing to think that millions of people in my time—now, too, I suppose—actually thought that at a given moment in history two human beings had evolved to a higher state than that of all the gods that ever were or ever will be. This is titanism, as the Greeks would say. This is madness.”
― Gore Vidal (from his novel, Creation)

Gore Vidal (photograph by Carl van Vechten)

Today (October 3rd) is the birthday of the eminently quotable Gore Vidal, who recently died this past July.  Gore Vidal has always been one of my heroes and role models, and I daresay his novel Julian should be *required reading* for anyone who identifies as a pagan, polytheist, or Heathen.

Gore Vidal was a remarkable writer and a remarkable man.  His many books and essays are the sublime creations of a true public intellectual, a self-described “gadfly” with razor-edged wit, and the incredible ability to write historical novels that are often more insightful and illuminating than anything you’ll find in a history textbook or in a “nonfiction” book written by a more traditional historian.  I daresay Vidal’s Narratives of Empire series (Burr, Lincoln, 1876, etc.) may be one of the great American epics and certainly one of the best chronicles of this nation’s history.

Many years ago, I had the privilege and the pleasure to meet Gore Vidal after a book reading and lecture/discussion series.  A friend of mine had somehow gotten tickets to the cocktail party following the event, and when Gore Vidal finally entered the room, my precocious 20-year-old self (at the time I was just a pretty blonde slip of a youth), marched right up to him, with my beloved copy of Julian under my arm, and enthusiastically thanked him for writing one of my favorite novels.  I was quick to proudly exclaim that “Emperor Julian is my hero!”  Gore Vidal (who had a remarkable presence – he seemed larger than life, and he absolutely radiated both charisma and gravitas) then stared directly into my eyes, as if he was boring right into my soul.  Having apparently found what he was looking for, he huffed in a deep breath and loudly barked:  “He’s my hero too!  I wish he’d won!”  And then, in a booming voice that could be heard by the entire room, he bellowed out:  “MONOTHEISM!  It’s gotta go!”  I was delighted, especially when he followed with:  “And I have the solution!”

“What’s your solution, Mr. Vidal?”

He took time for a dramatic pause (everyone was listening now), as he proclaimed:  “Tax the churches!”  We then had a relatively brief but fascinating conversation about the separation of church and state, Julian’s life and philosophy (he dismissed Julian’s Neoplatonism as “absurd but harmless,” though certainly preferable to the alternative represented by Constantine and his Christian heirs), and how different the world might be if Julian had lived and found time to solidify his reign and launch a dynasty.  Vidal then signed my battered and well-loved paperback of the novel.  It was a remarkable experience that I will always remember, and I still can’t believe the grand old gadfly has left us.  However,  his words definitely still carry a sting:

Gore Vidal on the United States:

“We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing because we remember nothing.”
― Gore Vidal

“America started out wanting to be Greece and ended up Rome.” ― Gore Vidal

“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”
― Gore Vidal

“The American press exists for one purpose only, and that is to convince Americans that they are living in the greatest and most envied country in the history of the world. The Press tells the American people how awful every other country is and how wonderful the United States is and how evil communism is and how happy they should be to have freedom to buy seven different sorts of detergent.”
― Gore Vidal

“I believe there’s something very salutary in, say, beating up a gay-bashing policeman. Preferably one fights through the courts, through the laws, through education, but if at a neighborhood level violence is necessary, I’m all for violence. It’s the only thing Americans understand.”
― Gore Vidal

“Today’s public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can’t read them either. ”
― Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal on Writing:

“Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. ”
― Gore Vidal

“Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all. Write what you think, what you imagine, what you suspect!”
― Gore Vidal, The Essential Gore Vidal

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
― Gore Vidal

“Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head.”
― Gore Vidal

“In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler. If you think you’re a great writer, you must say that you are.”
― Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal on Life:

“The unfed mind devours itself.”
― Gore Vidal

“The malady of civilized man is his knowledge of death. The good artist, like the wise man, addresses himself to life and invests with his private vision the deeds and thoughts of men. The creation of a work of art, like an act of love, is our one small yes at the center of a vast no.”
― Gore Vidal

“Because there is no cosmic point to the life that each of us perceives on this distant bit of dust at galaxy’s edge, all the more reason for us to maintain in proper balance what we have here. Because there is nothing else. Nothing. This is it. And quite enough, all in all.”
― Gore Vidal

“Of course his dust would be absorbed in other living things and to that degree at least he would exist again, though it was plain enough that the specific combination which was he would never exist again.”
― Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
― Gore Vidal

***

If you are interested in learning more about Gore Vidal’s life, I highly recommend the documentary The Education of Gore Vidal, which aired on PBS as part of the American Masters series (it also used to be available on Youtube, but it appears to have been taken down).  Though there are also a ton of great clips of Vidal online.  This Youtube user has many wonderful examples.  And here are two more:

***

We’ll end with a few more marvelous quotes, all from Gore Vidal’s Julian:

“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“We are given our place in time as we are given our eyes: weak, strong, clear, squinting, the thing is not ours to choose. Well, this has been a squinting, walleyed time to be born in.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“Nothing human is finally calculable; even to ourselves we are strange.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“Never offend an enemy in a small way.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“History is idle gossip about a happening whose truth is lost the instant it has taken place.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“I have been reading Plotinus all evening. He has the power to sooth me; and I find his sadness curiously comforting. Even when he writes: “Life here with the things of earth is a sinking, a defeat, a failure of the wing.” The wing has indeed failed. One sinks. Defeat is certain. Even as I write these lines, the lamp wick sputters to an end, and the pool of light in which I sit contracts. Soon the room will be dark. One has always feared that death would be like this. But what else is there? With Julian, the light went, and now nothing remains but to let the darkness come, and hope for a new sun and another day, born of time’s mystery and a man’s love of life.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

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