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 . . .

Gods and Fountains

[As always, I need to clarify that I am a *terrible photographer*, so please note that I did NOT take any of these photos – they were found from all over the web.  I did, however, visit all three of these fountains in the last week.]

 Fontaine, Place de la République (Limoux, France)

The Broken Fountain
by Amy Lowell

Oblong, its jutted ends rounding into circles,
The old sunken basin lies with its flat, marble lip
An inch below the terrace tiles.
Over the stagnant water
Slide reflections:
The blue-green of coned yews;
The purple and red of trailing fuchsias
Dripping out of marble urns;
Bright squares of sky
Ribbed by the wake of a swimming beetle.
Through the blue-bronze water
Wavers the pale uncertainty of a shadow.
An arm flashes through the reflections,
A breast is outlined with leaves.
Outstretched in the quiet water
The statue of a Goddess slumbers.
But when Autumn comes
The beech leaves cover her with a golden counter-pane.

Neptune Fountain (Ville Basse, Carcassonne, France)

The Fountain
by Charles Baudelaire
(translated by Anthony Hecht)

My dear, your eyes are weary;
Rest them a little while.
Assume the languid posture
Of pleasure mixed with guile.
Outside the talkative fountain
Continues night and day
Repeating my warm passion
In whatever it has to say.

The sheer luminous gown
The fountain wears
Where Phoebe’s very own
Color appears
Falls like a summer rain
Or shawl of tears.

Thus your soul ignited
By pleasure’s lusts and needs
Sprays into heaven’s reaches
And dreams of fiery deeds.
Then it brims over, dying,
And languorous, apart,
Drains down some slope and enters
The dark well of my heart.

The sheer luminous gown
The fountain wears
Where Phoebe’s very own
Color appears
Falls like a summer rain
Or shawl of tears.

O you, whom night enhances,
How sweet here at your breasts
To hear the eternal sadness
Of water that never rests.
O moon, o singing fountain,
O leaf-thronged night above,
You are the faultless mirrors
Of my sweet, bitter love.

The sheer luminous gown
The fountain wears
Where Phoebe’s very own
Color appears
Falls like a summer rain
Or shawl of tears.

 

Fontaine du Titan by Jean-Antoine Injalbert (Plateau des Poètes, Béziers, France)

The Fountain
by Sara Teasdale

Oh in the deep blue night
The fountain sang alone;
It sang to the drowsy heart
Of a satyr carved in stone.

The fountain sang and sang
But the satyr never stirred–
Only the great white moon
In the empty heaven heard.

The fountain sang and sang
And on the marble rim
The milk-white peacocks slept,
Their dreams were strange and dim.

Bright dew was on the grass,
And on the ilex dew,
The dreamy milk-white birds
Were all a-glisten too.

The fountain sang and sang
The things one cannot tell,
The dreaming peacocks stirred
And the gleaming dew-drops fell.

 

A Pagan Walking Tour of Paris – Day One: Garden Nymphs, Hero-Poets, and Divine Allegories (oh my!)

We arrived in Paris on Tuesday after many, many hours of travel and very few hours of sleep.  We’re staying with a friend on L’île Saint-Louis, the little island in the center of Paris, on the Seine and next to L’île de la Cité (where Notre-Dame is located).  We’re about a block away from the tiny apartment we lived in from 2000-2005.  This is my first trip to Paris since Wildstar’s big art show in 2007, but that was a really short trip (and our entire focus was the art show), so I feel like I haven’t really had a chance to experience this beautiful city since we lived here seven years ago.

And yesterday I experienced The City of Lights as I best remember it from our starving Bohemian artist days – by walking.  And walking.  And walking.  I must have walked at least 12 miles yesterday, maybe more (it’s no wonder we were so much thinner when lived here).  Wildstar and I began the day by crossing La Seine (aka Sequona, our beloved River Goddess and one of this city’s patron deities) to the Right Bank and Le Marais (the gay/Jewish neighborhood), where we had our morning coffee with fresh croissants.  There’s nothing like sitting in a Paris café and watching all the people walk by, and there couldn’t be a bigger contrast to our quiet life in our remote woodland cabin in the Northwest.  I love this city, but I definitely don’t miss the stress and the struggle and the constant activity.  That being said, Paris is still such an amazing place to visit.  In my opinion it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

We walked all over the old neighborhood to regain our bearings and prepare for the upcoming walking tour we’ll be leading.  We traversed the same old passageways, passed the same Gothic architecture, and despite the sudden proliferation of Starbucks (there were *none* in Paris when lived here before, now they’re everywhere), we were pleased at how many of our favorite old shops and restaurants are still in business.  This was even more clear when we walked back to L’île Saint-Louis.  It’s almost like nothing has changed.  The same shops, the same two women at the bakery, the same butcher, the same guy making crêpes at our favorite crêpe stand, even the same old woman (who vaguely resembles Quentin Crisp when he was in his 90s) sitting at the same desk looking out onto the street while she works.  It was all very surreal, like walking through a memory . . .

[Note: None of the photos in this post came from me, I found them on the web.  I am a terrible photographer so these will have to do.]

On the island we had to pay our respects at three important places:

1) The benches on the riverbank, where we once spent many days and nights, making many offerings to La Seine/Sequona.

2) The gilded balcony that was once home to the Club des Hashischins, a private club in the 19th-century that was attended by many cultural luminaries, including many of our poet-heroes:  including Charles Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval, Gustave Flaubert, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac, and especially a poet by the name of Théophile Gautier, who wrote an incredibly surreal story about this club (containing a hallucination of a man with screaming mandrake roots for feet, and which inspired the name of the Rozz Williams album, Daucus Carota).  This place is significant to us because I once had an elaborate and vivid dream about the club, and the name Théophile Gautier, long before I’d ever heard of either of them, and before we’d even moved to Paris.  I spent years trying to understand the dream, and one day I found out about the story, and the club, and that this club was located on the exact block of Paris where we were then living, just a few doors down on the other side.

3) Square Barye, which features a monument/memorial to one of my favorite sculptors, Antoine-Louis Barye. When we first moved to Paris, I fell in love with the work by Barye at the Musée d’Orsay, especially a beautiful series of allegorical figures (who happen to be male, which is rather rare as far as allegories go). I became somewhat obsessed with Barye, started seeing his work all over Paris, and it later turned out there was a full-scale monument to the man in a park about two blocks from our apartment, which included two of those allegorical figures, Order and Force:

We then went over to the Left Bank, stopped by Shakespeare & Co. (the American bookshop and one of my old hangouts), walked through the Latin Quarter and over to the St. Michel fountain, which I have *always* associated with Hermes despite the overtly Christian imagery:

At this point, a severely jet-lagged Wildstar needed to go back to the apartment and rest, but I decided to continue my walking tour and visit a few old haunts.  I headed a long way down the Seine to the gorgeous Jardin des Plantes, a huge botanical garden and park where I would often sit for hours and write.  This also gave me a chance to revisit one of my favorite neoclassical statues, Amour captive (Love Captured) by Felix Sanzel, which stands in the middle of an incredible rose garden:

Another statue, though, which has no title or attribution, has always puzzled me.  Perhaps someone reading this might be able to help me out. The following statue is clearly a classical philosopher, but which philosopher would be portrayed holding an egg?  Any ideas?

There are so many amazing plants and flowers and quite a few very ancient trees which I also spent time communing with.  I daresay there are more dryads and other nymphs (garden nymphs? park nymphs?) in the Jardin des Plantes than almost any other park in Paris I’ve visited.

I then walked to the Fontaine Cuvier (dedicated to the zoologist Georges Cuvier) – a fountain with an allegorical statue representing Natural History, and which features a stern-looking goddess figure surrounded by animals.  I’ve always found something particularly numinous about this fountain and another tiny fountain across the street, so I paid my respects to the fountain nymphs here:

Nearby are the Arènes de Lutèce, the Arenas of Lutèce (Lutèce was the Roman name for Paris, hence “City of Lights”), which are a Gallo-Roman gladiatorial arena and amphitheater from the 1st century CE that is now a public park.  Years ago I remember a bunch of young football/soccer players running around, beating their chests and exclaiming “We’re the lions now!”  I loved to sit in the amphitheater and read or write while the “lions” rampaged below.

The park was packed on this beautiful sunny afternoon, and beneath me were about 50 guys in a tournament playing the jeu de boules (that game so popular in France where metal balls are thrown into the sand . . . I have no idea how it’s played).

After the Arenas, I felt a strange compulsion to stop inside an old church I had never visited before, St. Etienne du Mont.  In the United States I never set foot inside a Christian church unless I absolutely have to for some reason (usually for a funeral).  But churches in Europe, especially in France, are different.  They’re aesthetically far superior to their counterparts in North America, they’re often built on pagan sites and frequently contain many pagan elements. I’ll talk about this more when I discuss Notre Dame in a future post, but yesterday I heard a voice calling me to stop in and pay a visit.  And sure enough, I was immediately led to a side chapel containing a beautiful allegorical statue of Esperance (Hope) holding an anchor. This lovely statue was made in 1826 by one S.-J. Bru (I cannot find a photograph on the interwebs).  Divine Allegories were everywhere yesterday, and so I paid homage to the Goddess of Hope and moved on.

I headed to The Panthéon, (which became the Temple of Reason during the French Revolution), where many French cultural heroes are buried, including  Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Toussaint Louverture, and Marie Curie:

Outside I poured libations to the Goddess of Reason, as well as my poet-heroes Voltaire and Victor Hugo (I was reading Les Miserables on the plane . . . such a wise and beautiful book).  I then sat for a while beneath the temple columns and read a few favorite passages of Plato’s Timaeus in the cool shade.

My next stop was the Luxembourg Gardens, which were originally built at the behest of Marie de’ Medici.  The park is filled with over a hundred different statues and fountains, including many of my poet-heroes (George Sand, Charles Baudelaire, Stendhal, Paul Verlaine, Leconte de Lisle), a series of Classical Goddesses, and many others.  Below are a number of those statues, starting with one that is particularly interesting in terms of hero-cultus – Le Marchand des Masques (The Merchant of Masks) by Zacharate Astrue.  It depicts a trickster-like lad holding up a mask while surrounded by a ring of masks depicting the actual (rather creepy) death masks of a number of 19th-century writers, artists, and composers – Hugo, Balzac, Dumas fils, Delacroix, Corot, Berlios, Fauré and others:

Dancing Faun by Eugène Louis Lequesne

Le Triomphe de Silene (The Triumph of Silenus) by Aime Jules Dalou

Monument in honor of Leconte de Lisle

Musicien by Jean Valette

The Medici Fountain (above) is a particularly numinous spot and a great place to sit in a chair and read or write.  The fountain portrays Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea, and there’s this uncanny mirror-like effect in the water that photos can’t really convey.  It’s surrounded by some particularly large and beautiful trees.  I honored the fountain nymphs and the dryads before I left.

My final stop was the Musée de Cluny, which is primarily known for being a Museum of the Middle Ages, with a lovely medieval Jardin d’Amour and, most famously, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.  However, what few pagans realize is that the Musée de Cluny sits on top of an ancient Roman bath-house, and is home to one of the two statues in Paris of our beloved Emperor Julian, who is a hero to most pagans I know.  If you’re a pagan and you’re visiting Paris, you should definitely stop by the Musée de Cluny and pay homage to the last pagan emperor of the Rome.  (The other statue of Julian used to be at the Louvre, where I would visit him often, but the Louvre statue has unfortunately either been in storage or on loan since at least 2005!)

And speaking of the Louvre, I spent many hours immersed in the Greek & Roman antiquities section(s) today, which will be the subject of my next post!

Chinook Blessing Litany

I’m working on longer posts about Hestia and Neoplatonism, Reviving the Poet-Heroes, and Passage Meditation.  But today was spent on the beach teaching poetry, reading poetry, and writing poetry, while hawks and ravens flew overhead and a little deer wandered right into the middle of my Poetry Workshop.  I found this blessing in The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions edited by Andrew Harvey.  I read it to my poetry group, and decided to share it with you, dear readers, on this beautiful Northwest day.

Chinook Blessing Litany

We call upon the earth, our planet home, with its beautiful depths and soaring heights, its vitality and abundance of life, and together we ask that it

Teach us and show us the way.

We call upon the mountains, the Cascades and the Olympics, the high green valleys and meadows filled with wild flowers, the snows that never melt, the summits of intense silence, and we ask that they

Teach us and show us the way.

We call upon the waters that rim the earth, horizon to horizon, that flow in our rivers and streams, that fall upon our gardens and fields, and we ask that they

Teach us and show us the way.

We call upon the forests, the great tress reaching strongly to the sky with earth in their roots and the heavens in their branches, the fir and the pine and the cedar, and we ask them to

Teach us and show us the way.

We call upon the creatures of the fields and forests and the seas, our brothers and sisters the wolves and deer, the eagle and dove, the great whales and the dolphin, the beautiful Orca and salmon who share our Northwest home, and we ask them to

Teach us and show us the way.

We call upon all those who have lived on this earth, our ancestors and our friends, who dreamed the best for future generations, and upon whose lives our lives are built, and with thanksgiving, we call upon them to

Teach us and show us the way.

And lastly, we call upon all that we hold most sacred, the presence and power of the Great Spirit of love and truth which flows through all the Universe, to be with us to

Teach us and show us the way.

Hestia, The Queen of Fire – Part Two

For Part Two of my initial reflections on Hestia (Part One can be found here), I want to first examine Hestia’s role in politics, followed by the details of an ancient Hestia festival which seems perfect for a creative reconstruction.

Since there are so few visual representations of Hestia, I decided to embellish this post with paintings from one of the more overlooked minor themes in art history:  portraits of aristocratic women depicted as Vestal Virgins:

Vestal Virgin by Jean Raoux

Hestia and Politics

While much of the focus of contemporary pagan worship of Hestia has understandably centered upon the private sphere and the domestic household cult, we should keep in mind that Hestia is connected to the public sphere of politics as well.  Just as every home had its central hearth-fire, likewise most cities had a civic hearth in their Prytaneion, or City-Hall, which served as the seat of the city’s government.  Just as the domestic hearth-fire represented the warmth and life of the home and family, the civic hearth-fire represented the sacred light that united the community. Marcel Detienne has a fascinating chapter on Hestia in The Writing of Orpheus: Greek Myth in Cultural Context, which focuses on “the political Hestia” and her relation to the notion of autonomy:

“The figure known to the Greeks as Hestia provided the city with one means of exercising and building up its own autonomy.  Her name was commonly understood to mean “fire,” the fire in the hearth or the fire on the altar, which was connected both with eating and with sacrifice:  with sacrifice because it marked out the fixed center of a cult, rooted in the earth yet at the same time a human construction, the work of an architect.  But for this hearth or altar to become the Common Fire, Hestia Koinē, it was necessary for it to absorb the values developed from the idea of the equidistant center and focal point of fair distribution.  Various practices and new liturgies, creating a whole new ceremonial, were evolved to proclaim the special powers of Hestia.” (p.62)

The idea of the hearth-fire as “a fixed center, rooted in the earth and yet at the same time a human construction, the work of an architect” reminds me from a euhemeristic line in Diodorus Siculus (Historical Library, 5.68), in which Hestia was the woman who first “discovered how to construct dwellings, and for this benefit she has a consecrated place in every home among practically all peoples and receive honors and sacrifices.”  Previously I discussed my view of Hestia as a poet, but the notion of Hestia as an architect also makes thematic sense.  But as for the political Hestia, Detienne continues:

“For those who took part in public affairs, the politeumenoi, the sight of Hestia as herself and as represented by her statues, her agalmata, meant the city council, the Boulē, and also the place where the city’s wealth was stored, the public treasury. For ordinary individuals, idiotai, Hestia represented the fact of living, life itself.  And for a king, basileus, or a governor, archon, she was power, the dunamis of his own power, his own archē. The symbolism extended from the individual life of each separate household’s hearth to the collective and public power personified by Hestia in the three manifestations of her single being: the city council, the public treasury, and the power of authority itself. The political Hestia, who was linked through her power to the life of each individual, established around her a space for the exercise of her autonomy, a space that took the material form of not only the Prytaneion, the home of the magistrates in power, but also her altar and her particular attributes. The “first” Greek democracies were set up under the sign of Hestia.” (p. 63)

I am fascinated by this notion of the political Hestia, and I even think it’s reflected in her surviving mythology.  The myth of Hestia rejecting the marriage proposals of Apollon and Poseidon could actually be interpreted as a shrewd political move.  Poseidon and Apollon may have avoided battling each other in the Iliad, but the idea of an outright war between these deities would destabilize the pantheon and throw Olympos into chaos.  Hestia was able to avert a conflict and maintain peace, all while negotiating with Zeus to achieve a position of absolute autonomy, a presence (via the hearth) in every god’s temple, and reserving both the first and last offering of all sacrifices and libations for herself.  This type of political savvy reminds me of England’s Queen Elizabeth I, who navigated her way past many potential suitors, all the while officially preserving her virginity in order to retain her sovereignty, preserve the peace, and preside over a Golden Age of culture and prosperity.  Sounds like Hestia to me.  And while Elizabeth I was often compared to Artemis/Diana or Athena/Minerva, there is one portrait representing her as the Vestal Virgin Tuccia:

Elizabeth I of England. The Sieve Portrait by Quinten Massijis

Hestia and the Ordered Cosmos

Elizabeth I naturally leads me to Shakespeare, and the role of Hestia in both the public and private spheres reminds me of the concept of macrocosm and microcosm found in Shakespearean tragedy.  I believe the idea first appears in E. M. W. Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture, in which he describes how all of Shakespeare’s major tragedies display four levels of being that are thrown into violent disorder in the course of each play:  The Individual, The Family, The State or Community, and The Cosmos.  This reflects the psychological crises and breakdowns experienced by the individual tragic hero (madness, paranoia, nervous breakdown), turmoil within the (now dysfunctional) family unit (husbands vs. wives, parents vs. children, siblings vs. siblings), political chaos and uprisings impacting the state (usually a war, coup, or invasion), and even signs that something is wrong in the fabric of the cosmos itself (an eclipse, strange omens, uncanny weather patterns or strange behavior in the animal kingdom).  If you think about Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Julius Caesar, or Antony and Cleopatra for a moment . . . each play contains examples of how all four of these levels are thrown into disorder at some point (and many college essays are no doubt written on this topic).  In fact, most tragedies in our lives reflect conflict and disruption on all four of these levels.  The macrocosm reflects the microcosm and vice versa.  As above, so below.

I see Hestia, in contrast, as representing order and harmony in all of these spheres.  At the level of the Individual, I believe Hestia represents the divine spark or light within us, the immortal and unchanging part of ourselves, the Higher Self (the Atman of the Upanishads).  In terms of the Family, Hestia represents the warmth and light provided by the central fire and the shared meal.  For the State, Hestia is the public hearth which embodies the ideals of the community.  At the Cosmic level, she is the central fire within the Earth’s core, the Sun’s fire at the center of our solar system, and she tends the sacred hearth at the center of Olympos.  I will go so far as to associate Hestia with Plato’s form of the Good itself.

When we carefully tend to Hestia’s hearth at each of these levels, we are rewarded with warmth and light, harmony and illumination.  We find unity in ourselves, our homes, our communities, and our relationship to the cosmos.

It’s no wonder there is so little surviving mythology about Hestia – universal harmony does not make for a tragedy (or even a comedy, for that matter), and all good stories involve a conflict of some kind.  Hestia is the antithesis of drama. Mary J. Blige even wrote my favorite contemporary Hymn to Hestia on this subject, which I can imagine Hestia singing to herself after she resolved the conflict between Apollon and Poseidon 😉 .

Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin by Angelica Kauffmann

Portrait of a Lady as a Vestal Virgin by Angelica Kauffmann

The Prytaneia – An Ancient Festival in Honor of Hestia’s Birthday

I haven’t seen that many contemporary festivals, reconstructed or otherwise, dedicated to Hestia (and if you know of any, please tell me in the comments!).

But I recently found a remarkably detailed description of a festival in honor of Hestia at the Greco-Egyptian city of Naukratis, which was the first permanent Greek colony of Egypt.  The description comes from Athenaeus quoting a Hermeias, which I found in the following dissertation:  Naukratis, A Chapter in the History of the Hellenization of Egypt, by E. Marion Smith p. 53-54, found in Ancient History Pamphlets, Vol. 2: Dissertations.

The Prytaneia in honor of Hestia Prytaneia or Prytanitis:

“For the cults of Dionysus and Hestia at Naukratis, we have the evidence of Athenaeus, himself a native of Naukratis.  He is quoting from the book which Hermeias wrote on Grynaean Apollo, and says that at Nauktratis they dine in the Prytaneion on the birthday of Hestia Prytanitis, and at the Dionysia.  The ceremony on these occasions was a follows:  All of them came “in white robes, which even up to the present time they call garments of the city-hall (Prytaneion).  And when they have sat down, they rise upon their knees, making a libation, while the herald of the sacrifice repeats the prayers which have been handed down from their fathers.  After this, they sit down, and each of them takes two cups of wine, with the exception of the priests of Pythian Apollo and Dionysos; for to each of these is given a double quantity of wine and of the other portions.  Then a loaf of white bread is set before each one of them, made wide and flat, on which another loaf is placed, which they call ‘Cribanites’ (i.e., baked in a pan), and pork, and a little dish of barley or some vegetable which is in season, and two eggs and a cheese and dry figs and a cake and a garland.  And whatever maker of sacrifice prepares anything beyond these, is fined by the magistrates . . .”

Smith then clarifies with commentary:  “It is hard to understand the birthday festival of Hestia in the Prytaneion.  In the proper personal sense, Hestia had no birthday at all, since her anthropomorphic tradition was never sufficiently developed.  She was a relic of animism, the spirit of the hearth, and Farnell accordingly interprets the festival given in her honour as “the feast commemorating the foundation of the Prytaneion or of the public hearth,” i.e., “the birthday” of the public hearth.  Every Prytaneion cherished such a hearth fire.  Farnell seems to be mistaken in regarding her birthday feast as part of a festival of Apollo, for Hermeias implies that it is a distinct festival.”

If this festival marked the foundation of the public hearth with a celebration of Hestia’s birthday, why not celebrate a festival of Hestia Prytanitis in conjunction with the founding of our own households and communities?   While the original Prytaneia was a civic festival celebrating a public hearth, very few of us live in a community of pagans large enough to support a large public festival.  Since most contemporary pagan worship consists in the private sphere, I think the Prytaneia would be an appropriate way to honor Hestia by celebrating the birth/foundation of your own household and hearth, wherever you live.  If you rent, this could be the anniversary of when you moved into your current home or moved to your current city.  If you’re a home-owner, this could be the anniversary of when you purchased your home.  Or it could be celebrated in conjunction with a wedding anniversary, the birth or adoption of a child, the dedication of your household shrine or altar or hearth, or any other significant date which connects to the beginning your current household (however you define it).  I can also envision the creation of a Prytaneia festival in which you celebrate the founding of your city or a local community organization, or even to mark the foundation of an online community.

One item of note:  The original Prytaneia festival in Naukratis was restricted to males unless you happened to be one of the flute-player girls.  I think this has much more to do with the rights of citizens at the time (only upper-class males could vote) than the creation of a “male-only space” (otherwise why would they allow the flute-playing girls?).

Which brings up an important point in reference to reconstructing ancient festivals.  I think the idea of a festival honoring Hestia’s birthday by celebrating the foundation of our household or the foundation of our community could be a powerful and positive experience for an individual, a household, or a group.  But I DO NOT believe that non-flute-playing women (or any gender for that matter) should be excluded from a contemporary reconstruction of such a festival.  We do not live in ancient Naukratis, and I’m glad that the women in my community have the right to vote (thanks to Susan B. Anthony and so many others).  I do not want to own slaves or be enslaved by another human being.  I could go on and on and on about this topic, but for now I just have one thing to say:  If we’re going to look to the past for inspiration and wisdom and beauty, then we also need to learn from the past and not repeat the errors and limitations of our ancestors.  We need to draw from the best and leave the rest behind.

Maria Giuseppina Teresa di Lorena with her sister Charlotte (Artist Unknown)

Portrait of Charlotta Sparre as a Vestal by Donatien Nonotte

***

In Part Three I will take a look at the various philosophical and theological interpretations of Hestia, especially among the Neoplatonists!

The Dead Poets Society (Reviving the Ancient Greek Cult of the Poet) – Part One

In addition to the gods and goddesses, daimones, nymphs, spirits of the land, and other divine beings in My Personal Pantheon, I am especially devoted to a fairly large number of heroes and heroines.  These tend to fall into a number of categories, but one type of hero I would like to discuss is the concept of the poet-hero:  a writer and/or philosopher who, after their death, is granted divine honors.  They are usually accorded the status of “hero,” but in the case of poets like Orpheus and Homer, this could even include an apotheosis to the level of the gods themselves.  But I’m already getting ahead of myself.

I honor the poets.  And before anyone accuses me of being “an eclectic neopagan” (a term I welcome and have absolutely no problem with whatsoever, by the way), the reconstructionist part of my personality wants to let my readers know that there is a well-documented, ancient tradition (with ample textual and archaeological evidence) for this practice.  This idea actually occurs in a number of ancient cultures (most obviously in Greece, India, China and Japan, but I would argue that there is plenty of evidence in the Celtic and Germanic/Scandinavian traditions as well), and there are also interesting modern/contemporary examples (which I will discuss in a future post).  But I want to begin with my primary tradition (Hellenic) and the abundance of information on poet-hero cultus in ancient Greece.

If this topic interests you at all, then the single best book you will need to obtain is Archilochos Heros: The Cult of Poets in the Greek Polis by Diskin Clay, which was published by the Center for Hellenic Studies/Harvard University Press in 2004.  This book can be purchased locally through Village Books or your own local independent bookstore of choice (Buy local!  Independent bookstores really need our support right now!), or at Powells, AbeBooks, or Amazon.  Also, most public libraries offer inter-library loan as a free service, and you can almost certainly find this book through that route as well (Support your local library!).

Here’s a link to the BMCR review, which praises “the variety of disciplines that Clay brings to bear — religion, literary criticism, epigraphy, archeology, numismatics, art history” and “the vast amount of evidence that [Clay] adduces . . . [which] succeeds in showing how widespread the phenomenon of poet cults was in ancient Greek cities.”

Another book I have drawn from (and to which Clay also refers) is Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality, by Lewis Richard Farnell, published in 1921 as almost an addendum to his still-useful five volume series, The Cults of the Greek City States.  While Farnell’s work (available for free via Archive.org and Google Books, though paperback reprints are nice if you’re like me and prefer reading paper instead of a computer screen) is certainly outdated and contains some condescending Victorian ideas on Greek polytheism, the amount of information and the organization of that information is extremely valuable, and has no doubt influenced and been updated by contemporary scholars like Diskin Clay and Jennifer Larson (whose three wonderful books – Greek Nymphs: Myth, Cult, Lore; Greek Heroine Cults; and Ancient Greek Cults: A Guide – I wholeheartedly recommend).

But back to Clay’s book, which focuses on the poet-hero cult of Archilochos on Paros, a cult that “might have lasted eight centuries and in its duration rivaled the cult of Athena on the acropolis of Athens.”  The cult of the poet-hero was therefore not just a Hellenistic phenomenon, but (if you agree with Clay’s thesis, as I do) can be traced all the way back to at least the late sixth-century BCE, if not much earlier.

If you’re not familiar with Archilochos, he is considered one of the founders of personal lyric poetry (one of his particularly racy erotic poems was jokingly called “Last Tango on Paros” by Peter Green).  He was both a poet and a soldier, and if you’re interested in what survives of his work, I highly recommend 7 Greeks by Guy Davenport (which also includes translations of Sappho, Alkman, Anakreon, Herakleitos, Diogenes and Herondas).  Archilochos, like the more familiar heroes of myth and epic and and history, was honored on Paros with a proper hero-cultus, including a temple, libations and sacrifices, votive offerings, feast days, and a thiasos (a religious community centered around his worship).

And Archilochos is not the only poet/writer/philosopher to be so honored.  The cult of the poet-hero (and likewise that of certain philosophers and historians) is widespread throughout the entire ancient Greek world, as the following quotation suggests (pardon the misogyny in that annoying line about Sappho):

“At any rate, the Parians have given Archilochos honors, even though he insulted them; and the Chians, Homer, even though he was not a Chian; and the people of Mytilene, Sappho, even though she was a woman; and the Spartans made Cheilon a member of their body of elders, even though they have hardly any taste for literature; and the Italians [honor] Pythagoras; and the people of Lampaskos gave Anaxagoras, who was not from Lampaskos, a public burial and they give honors even today.” – Aristotle (quoting Alkidamas), Rhetoric 2.23.1398b11-17 Kassel
(translated by Diskin Clay)

Based on Clay’s staggering collection of evidence and overall conclusions (though amplified by my own speculative research on the subject), there is evidence for many poets who were honored with hero-cultus, including such prominent names as: Homer, Hesiod, Archilochos, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Aesop, Alkaios, Alkman, Anakreon, Menander, Mimnermos, Posidippos (of Pella), and Stesichoros.  I am also pleased to learn there is evidence that many women poets were also honored:  Sappho, Korinna, Telesilla, Praxilla, Anyte and Nossis among them.  And don’t forget the philosophers – there’s evidence for Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes, Herakleitos, Empedokles, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Epicurus, Bias of Priene and Cheilon of Sparta (two of the Seven Sages), as well as the orator Demosthenes and the historian Herodotus.

This doesn’t even count the more obscure figures poets/writers/philosophers (some of whom are so obscure we only know about them through the chance discovery of inscriptions, and which points to the idea that poet-hero cultus was far more widespread than we can possibly know):  Antigonos of Knidos, Apollonios of Pergamon, Aratos of Soloi, Aristeas of Prokonessos, Aristias of Phlious, Balakros of Pergamon, Dionysios of Marathon, Epicharmos of Syracuse, a Herodes (Clay suggest this is possibly Herodes Atticus?), Peisandros of Kamiros, Philitas of Kos, Poseidippos of Kassandreia, Theodektas of Phaselis, Theophanes of Mytilene, and Timotheos of Mytilene.

Likewise, a number of mythological/legendary poets were honored with hero-cultus (and just because they’re “mythological” doesn’t mean that they did not actually exist at some point as living, breathing historical persons . . . in fact there’s more evidence for the historical existence of some of them than the founders of a couple major religions I know).  These mythical poets include Orpheus, Amphion, Linos, Mousaios, Thamyris, and Arion (who straddles the line between legend and history, since the story of a poet being rescued by dolphins is not beyond the realm of possibility).

The evidence of hero-cultus ranges from conclusive (Orpheus, Homer, Hesiod, Archilochos, Sappho, Aeschylus, Aesop and numerous others, who were certainly honored with sacrifices, feast-days, cult-statues/agalma, altars, and even temples and priesthoods) to the more tentative (a number of poets listed above were definitely honored via statues or coins or grave memorials, which Clay argues is a strong indication of a possible hero-cultus).

Many of these poet-hero cults were of a local nature, honoring poets who were born or who died in that particular locality, or who served the community in some way.  Others were created at the behest of oracles, while some (such as Orpheus and Homer and arguably Plato) were of a panhellenic character.  Homer alone was honored at Alexandria, Amastris, Argos, Chios, Delos, Delphi, Ios, Kolophon, Kyme, Nikaia, Olympia, Pergamon, Salamis, Smyrna and Temnos.  In Alexandria, Ptolemy Philopator “constructed a temple to Homer and elegantly placed a statue of him in it, arranging around the statue all the cities that claim Homer as their birthplace” (Aelian, Varia Historia 13.22) and there are some other great quotes in there about the Ptolemies in Alexandria and their patronage of “the cult of learning,” which I will save for a future post dedicated entirely to the Apotheosis of Homer.

As Clay notes:

“Cities honor themselves by honoring the great men and women of their distant past and the cult of the poets gained ground as it spread through the Greek-speaking world.  The cult of poets (and philosophers) differs from the cult of warrior heroes, founders, or ancestors in that it is not exclusive or a manifestation of antagonism with other city states.  It’s source of power is the international fame claimed by a local heros or heroine.”

As we now live in a cosmopolitan, global society that is constantly struggling with our own forms of antagonism between nation states, I think this is the perfect time to revive the ancient Greek cult of the poet-hero and poet-heroine, at both the local and global level (see my Global Literary Canon page for a list of ideas, though many of these writers are fortunately still living and writing and therefore not eligible for hero-cultus yet).  I think now is an ideal time in our history to honor those poets and philosophers from all over the world . . . from Homer and Sappho and Plato to Shakespeare and Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; from Enheduanna and Rumi and Matsuo Bashō to Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich . . . these writers and thinkers changed the world through the beauty and wisdom of their words and ideas. Percy Bysshe Shelley once famously said:  “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”  So why not take time in our spiritual work to acknowledge the important contributions of the poets, to establish forms of practice in which we can honor the poet-heroes and poet-heroines whose words have enriched our lives?

In Part Two, I will look at some of the ways we can incorporate the cultus of the poet-heroes into our own personal practice.  Thanks for reading!  And if this is topic is of interest to you, please let me know in the comments below!

A Local Artist of Note: Ann Morris

Yesterday I took my Poetry Workshop outdoors to the Sculpture Woods:  The Studio Grounds of Ann Morris.  Ann Morris is an amazing bronze sculptor whose work really must be seen to be believed.   From the visitor’s guide/map:

With myth and metaphor, Ann Morris’ sculpture speaks of the relationship between Nature and humankind.  On the fifteen acres of Northwest forest which surround her studio Art and Nature converge.  A wild quiet provides the setting for these figurative bronzes which appear to emerge from the ancient earth.  It is a landscape in which to walk, look and reflect.  While here please honor the land, the tranquility, the art and the privacy of the artist.

The artist understandably asks that photos not be taken or posted on social media sites, so I am respecting her wishes (and ask that everyone else do the same).  Which is why I would like to direct you to her website to have a glimpse of her beautiful work:

Sculpture Woods:  Ann Morris

I think her work will be of great interest to anyone interested in myth and art in connection to the natural landscape, as each bronze sculpture is a part of the land itself, surrounded by trees and moss and ferns and flowers growing right there and contributing to the overall aesthetic experience.  In fact, the lovely photographs on her site do not really do justice to the scale and setting of this incredible work.  It’s one thing to see a photograph, but it’s quite another to see a pair of bald eagles soar overhead as you approach the Backbone of the Universe, hear the cry of a raven as you approach the trio of sculptures based on Merlin (Becoming Merlin, Not Merlin, and Merlin Wakes?), spot the hoofprints of deer as you enter the grove of statues portraying The (Horned) Goddess of Cycles (Will There Be a Place for Me?, Her Cry, and Life/Death/Life), or discover the fresh spiderwebs adorning the oracular tripod of Ask Gaia.  Yesterday I followed a periwinkle butterfly down a forest trail to one of my favorite sculptures – Gifting the Giver, which portrays a being who is simultaneously male and female and neither, arms raised in a praise offering to the spectacular seascape below.

Much of her work is inspired by bones and skeletons, and in works like Trinity she manages to collapse the boundaries between plant, animal and human life.  In other works, like Death’s Sister, her work is so organic and lifelike that it is almost impossible to distinguish between the bronze and the actual living plants which surround the piece.  The studio grounds also contain a gallery exhibition room displaying her smaller scale bronzes, such as the Bone Journey series, in which bones are transformed into vessels or boats, which the artist explains are “a symbol of our own journey through Nature and Time” (Ann Morris, from the visitor’s guide).

The Ann Morris Sculpture Woods and Studio Grounds are open to the public on the first Saturday of every month, and are also often open during the island-wide Artist Studio Tours (which happen three times a year in May, August, and November).  If you live in the Pacific Northwest or intend to visit the region, I highly recommend visiting The Sculpture Woods to see her inspiring work for yourself.  For those of us who live here, it is like having a museum, a temple, and a lush forest occupying the same sacred ground.

And if you aren’t able to visit this area any time soon, there is a gorgeous coffee-table book featuring 137 photographs and the artist’s own words about her work, which can be purchased here:

Sculpture Woods: Studio Grounds of Ann Morris

I am a . . . Pacific Northwest Polytheist.

This is my second post in the “I Am Series,” in which I intend to discuss the often contradictory terms I’ve used to describe myself on my About Me page.

So what is a Pacific Northwest Polytheist?  I first encountered this term, as well as a related idea – Local Focus Polytheism – on two of my favorite blogs:  The House of Vines and A Forest Door.  In fact, I believe the term was coined by Sannion and Dver . . . (though I should probably check with them to confirm).  I have included some links to their thoughts on the subject below.  The basic idea is that, as polytheists who believe in many gods and other divine beings, we should pay attention to the landscape around us and honor the local spirits and powers that inhabit the sacred places in which we live.  This concept appears in most pagan/polytheist/indigenous cultures, including ancient Greece.  Even a cursory reading of the writer Pausanias will provide countless examples of the many local nymphs, rivers, mountains, and heroes/heroines honored by the ancients, and these divine beings varied widely from one locality to the next.

Which is one reason I have always tried to honor the local spirits of the land in every place I’ve lived.  When we lived in Paris, for example, Sequona (the goddess of the River Seine) was especially important to us.  But the Pacific Northwest has been a constant and significant part of my identity.  I was born in Portland, Oregon and I mostly grew up in Spokane, Washington.  My mother is an incredibly gifted artist, and she supported us by selling her work at arts & crafts fairs throughout the Northwest, so much of my childhood was spent traveling all over the region.  We went camping or on trips to the coast every summer, and my grandfather took me fishing in countless lakes.  And on my 18th birthday I moved to Seattle, where I came of age by attending the Great Books program at Seattle University.  In my senior year, on the second day of the current millennium, I met my beloved husband Wildstar, who was born and raised in Washington himself.  We moved to Paris, France (where we lived off and on for about five years), and then to Los Angeles, where we spent six years focused on our careers.  But I always longed for home.  I longed for evergreens and rain and the Cascades and the Salish Sea.

There was one sweltering L.A. day in August . . . I was wearing a suit and tie and waiting for a bus in the San Fernando Valley.  The bus was 45 minutes late.  The asphalt was steaming, the smog was suffocating, and there wasn’t an inch of shade.  I was reading a lovely little book called The Pacific Northwest Reader, in which my best friend Pandora had recently published an essay.  Pandora wrote the following lines (in reference to our freshman year outdoor orientation retreat): “We went on nature walks and had meditation time, and with each new foray I found something different.  Leaves the size of my face, curtains of moss the most vibrant green you could dream of, spiderwebs laden with dew that made them visible for yards in every direction.  Everything was so dense and lush—especially compared to the harsh, bright-light desert I had called home a week before—that my brain went a little haywire.  Part of me wanted to walk right into the forest, lie down on a mossy rock, and watch the animals, insects, and sky until I, too, was covered with green.  Another part of me, the atavistic self-preserving part, kept to the well-worn paths for fear of being swallowed whole by the wildness of it all.”  Reading those beautiful words, my memories and love of the Northwest came flooding back upon me.  And the contrast to my own life at that moment was staggering, overwhelming.  It was time for a change.  Six months later we were living here in our Arcadian cabin nestled in the woods on top of a mountain, in an idyllic pastoral setting we affectionately call Oread Island.  And Pandora’s words were the catalyst that brought us home.

There’s much more I could say, but first I want to direct your attention to some fantastic posts on the subject of Pacific Northwest Polytheism/Local Focus Polytheism.  In fact, the following three blogs were my primary inspiration for creating the blog you are reading today, and I would like to take this moment to personally thank Dver at A Forest Door, Sannion at The House of Vines, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus at Aedicula Antinoi for the amazing and inspiring work they do.  Go read their blogs and buy all their books!  Each of these talented individuals has a completely unique spiritual perspective and style, and their writings are filled with beauty and wisdom.  In my humble opinion, their books should be required reading for anyone who calls themselves a pagan and/or a polytheist.

Posts from Dver at A Forest Door:

Deepening Reconstructionism Locally

Land Spirits

Delphi and Cascadia

Posts from Sannion at The House of Vines:

Changes

Local Focus Polytheism and Cultural Appropriation

Honoring the Kings of Alexandria on the shores of the Willamette

Weird and wonderful Oregon

Posts from P. Sufenas Virius Lupus at Aedicula Antinoi:

Earth Day must be every day to be worthwhile…

River Gods and Antinous Observance

Gone Hikin’ and Photos from Yesterday (High Points Around Fidalgo Island)

Other Pacific Northwest Polytheism Resources:

Pacific Northwest Polytheism page from Wildivine.org: An excellent resource from Sannion and Dver.

John Michael Greer on A Pacific Northwest Ogham

A Gallery of Northwest Petroglyphs: Shamanic Art of the Pacific Northwest.  A petroglyph here on the island led me to discover the goddess Tsagaglalal (aka She-Who-Watches).  I will have much more to say about her in a future post.

So what does Pacific Northwest Polytheism mean to me?  I had planned to write a short essay on the subject, but after a long hike in the woods yesterday, I decided I would leave you with three pagan reveries instead.  The following three poems/passages/reveries were written at various points last year, our first year back in the Pacific Northwest after the six hectic, career-focused years we spent in Los Angeles.  These reveries are an attempt to convey in words my deep love for this region and my spiritual connection to this beautiful land.

Three Pacific Northwest Pagan Reveries

Looking at Canada from Oread Isle

Scattered rocks and shells across the sand.
Crashing waves, a cosmic rhythm.
Crystal sky adorned with a vortex-wisp of gossamer clouds.
Bright sun burning, yet I recline in shadow upon a plastic chair.
The sound of sea-spray, sparkles of sunlight flashing from the wave-crests.
Enchantment.
Beauty overflowing, almost too painful to gaze upon directly.
A light wind refreshes.
A speedboat and two kayaks glide past.
A lone sailboat in the distance.
There is a border here . . . a border between nations.
But the cosmic rhythm of crashing waves,
the refreshing light wind,
the burning sun,
the crystal sky and vortex-wisp of gossamer clouds,
make all such borders meaningless.
Two crows glide past.
A lone plane soars in the distance.
Crashing waves,
the sound of sea-spray,
sunlight flashing from the wave-crests.
Enchantment. 

6/26/11

A Forest Quest – The Mountain Trail

Hiking deep into the woods, deep into the embrace of Grandmother Earth and up to the top of the mountain.  The first part is the hardest.  We sweat, we toil, we verge on despair, yet we trudge on, onward and upward.  Earlier, Brother Hawk guided us here, and yesterday a wedded pair of bald eagles circled the quiet lake while we toasted to our anniversary.  Last night, Jupiter was brighter than ever before, the Seven Sisters were smiling, and we were dazzled by three shooting stars.  But now, it is hot.  We sweat and we toil as we trudge onward and upward, deeper into the woods, higher up the mountain.

We stop at a sacred grove.  Three giant tree stumps, elegantly crowned with plumes of growing fern.  They resemble three distinguished matrons, wearing their newest fashionable hats to court.  Or three stately high priestesses with elaborate headgear, presiding over a secret woodland rite.  After pouring a libation to the sacred grove, the scale upward becomes slightly less difficult and the songbirds serenade us on our journey.  Moss-covered arboreal denizens begin to take shape, dazzling us with an array of emerald forms:  snakes and ships and caves, ogres and trolls and imps, vibrant old jesters, solemn queens, orgies of satyrs, battalions of jousting centaurs, wild gangs of grimacing gorgons, a row of sleek beardless youths poised for a race, pairs and groups of lovers locked in the throes of passion, mothers giving birth, a nurse trunk with a full-grown adult tree sprouting forth, two trees entwined, two trees spooning, two trees with clasping hands or clasped embrace, a titanic glove holding a spear, a surrealist series of crutches propping up a diagonal temple frame, trees with deep roots whose trunks are precariously, improbably positioned over pathways, families and schools and entire tribes of trees of every shape.  Then we notice mushrooms clustered like mussels or stacked like bookshelves or layered in pockets.  Fungus growths like beehives, beaded necklaces, dried seed-pods.  A distant goldfinch catches my eye and I look up with my binoculars, only to see a wondrous treasure:  a tree oozing trickles of golden sap – not mere amber – but lustrous, shimmering, metallic and glittering like gold.  I bow in reverence and silently we move on.

The ground levels as we ascend to the next stage of the trail, and the chorus of songbirds increases, punctuated only by the cackling laughter of the occasional woodpecker or the nearby rustling of a rabbit darting about the underbrush.  At last, we reach the look-out point and think we’re done.  The view is exquisite – islands upon islands upon islands, islands scattered like tea leaves, spaced like bits of sediment in the bottom of a wine-glass.  Distant, yet vaguely numberless, so many shapes and sizes and types, from gentrified upscale communities with multiple ferries, to lush unpopulated nature preserves with multiple faeries, to tiny specks of rock with sunbathing seals.  The cliffside is sheer, the sky is baby-blue with patches of fluffy clouds, the sea a green-blue, pale-blue hazel-grey.

We recline on a rock and read the posted map.  We think the quest is finished, but we’ve only reached the half-way point!  Where will the trail lead us?  To another look-out point?  To the mountain’s peak?  Or will it just suddenly stop in the middle of the wilderness?  We decide to press onward.  A grey rabbit scampers down the trail in front of us, like he was leading the way, only to be followed by a low-flying peregrine falcon, who dives down the path in hot pursuit.  Moments later we hear the ominous, baritone, almost helicopter-like sound of flapping wings as an enormous raven plunges down the same trail.  Rabbit and falcon and raven could not be wrong.  This must be the way.

Much later, we encounter a jagged rock formation that looks like the sculpted face of a stern and serious elderly man with a wild beard overgrown with moss.  It’s the face of the Old Man of the Mountain!  We pour a libation of water and utter a prayer of praise and respect to the wise and ancient king, the grizzled god of the mountain himself, the ancient son of Grandmother Earth, the hermit hidden in the woods, the solid force beneath our feet, the primeval power behind the entire experience.

Throughout the journey, there were moments of sheer aesthetic arrest from the sublime, transcendent beauty that permeated the entire landscape.  At one point we were both overcome with euphoria, a light-headed sensation accompanied by a burst of adrenaline and endorphins, possibly brought on by the combination of high altitude, intense physical exertion, and remarkably pure air.  Or perhaps it was just the overwhelming beauty and truth and wisdom and power and freedom and goodness of this sacred place.

It was a magickal three hours immersed in enchantment, and yet it also cemented the realization that my previous life in the so-called “real world” of a prosperous career in the big city was only a fragile illusion.  The higher reality is right here in these woods, on top of this island mountain with the trees and moss and mushrooms and rabbits and falcons and ravens.  Here with our fellow children and grandchildren of Grandmother Earth.

8/24/11 [Wildstar’s birthday]

The Perfect Gift

Vision of purple in my mind’s eye.
Vision of green, and the blue-grey sea.
A striped seashell from Father Poseidon,
a cackle of distant gulls,
the silver clink of beach stones underfoot,
steady pulse of wave-rhythm,
saltwater finger-tips and kelp-scent.
Islands cloaked in cloud-clusters,
the snaky tide scatters quivering jellyfish
and crab remnants across the rocky shore.
On a driftwood log beside my Beloved,
I pour a libation to the Lord of Waves,
while he discovers a jettisoned chopstick,
an ornately carved memento,
an exotic messenger from another land
who surely traveled far to greet us.
A light breeze whispers past,
my Beloved kisses my forehead
and I am perfectly happy,
completely in love,
and entirely at peace.
At peace with life,
at peace with the world,
at peace with the gods of this world,
at peace with the love that permeates this world,
the love that permeates all of existence . . .
I have found the Good.

9/18/11 [my birthday]

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