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 . . .

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The 39th Day

for Annabel Lee

Within the House of Hades
An Orphic Fragment

Your soul has departed.
You arrive at a well-spring,
beneath a white cypress,
upon your left side.
Don’t drink of this water,
the water of Lethe.
You’ll forget your whole lifetime,
forget that you’ve died.

Over there,
to your right,
is the Well-Spring of Memory.
The water is icy,
fast-flowing, and yet —
you must drink of this water,
this fast-flowing water.
Remember your lifetime.
Don’t ever forget.

The Survival of Paganism – Honoring Our Pagan Precursors

Much of my post yesterday dedicated to Thomas Taylor, “The English Pagan,” was inspired by an anonymous article I stumbled across, published in Fraser’s Magazine in November 1875.  The full text of the article can be found here.  While the article is rather lengthy, and at times condescending towards some of the figures it describes, I find it fascinating that an article published at the height of the Victorian era could contain so many interesting anecdotes about post-classical historical figures who defended paganism/polytheism and/or actively identified as pagans themselves.  Here are some further highlights that may be of interest to contemporary pagans (keep in mind this was published in 1875):

“Throughout the middle ages we meet with the most earnest sermons against idolatry; and indignant diatribes, like those of Eligius and Peter of Blois, show how much even of the ancient ritual still lingered in the popular observances which it was their object to destroy. In the darkest of the dark ages, the student of mediaevalism who penetrates beneath the crust of that singular literature of myth and legend which had gathered round the Christian story will find sufficient evidence that the divine fire of Hellas, although hidden and dim, was still alight, ready when the hour arrived to leap out, as leap out it did in that wonderful fifteenth century, to fill the world with a flood of light and beauty. From the Renaissance downwards the old creed has never been without hierophants or disciples.”

Gemistus Pletho [George Gemistus Plethon] (1355-1452)

“It was at Florence that we find the ancient learning brought face to face with the ideas of modern civilisation; and here amongst the distinguished scholars whom Cosimo [de’ Medici] gathered around him arose the first Academia Platonica of the revival. Of this institution, founded for the purpose of encouraging the study of Plato, the famous Gemisthus was for many years the great luminary. Only a few fragmentary remains of his works have come down to us, and we are indebted almost entirely to his enemies for what we know of his opinions; but it is evident that he was one of those enthusiasts who, like the Alexandrian eclectics, dreamed of a universal religion which should harmonise in one philosophical worship the varying religious instincts of all mankind. According to George of Trebizond, he entertained most of Plato’s opinions concerning the nature of the gods and the necessity of sacrifice.

‘I have heard him myself,’ said George, ‘when we were together at Florence, say that in a few years all men would embrace with one consent a single and simple religion. And when I asked him if it would be the religion of Jesus Christ or that of Mahomet, he answered: ‘Neither one nor the other; but a third, which will not greatly differ from Paganism.’ . . .

The principal work of Gemisthus was a treatise On Law, burnt after his death by Scolarius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who reports that it taught a plurality of gods, some eternal and others of late development, under the presidency of a supreme being whom he called Zeus.”

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) [and Luigi Pulci (1432-1484)]

“Ficinus, the next principal of Cosimo’s academy, was a worthy successor of Gemisthus. He is said to have cherished an almost idolatrous veneration for Plato, whose bust he kept in his chamber with a lamp burning constantly before it. In his writings we find that strange mixture of things, Pagan and Christian, which is so characteristic of the period of the Renaissance. . . . Although a priest, and holding valuable preferment, he proposed that preachers should expound the Parmenides and the Philebus [of Plato] alternately with the Epistles and the Apocrypha in the churches. It is the opinion of some of the best Italian critics that Ficinus assisted Pulci in the theological and metaphysical part of that very remarkable poem the Morgante, and that the bold arguments against Christianity which are put into the mouth of the fiend Aztaroth are especially his. Pulci’s conception of the Deity is essentially pantheistic, and in more than one place he ventures to predict the approaching extinction of the Christian religion. The publication of this book and the escape of Ficinus from any active persecution are striking instances of the freedom of thought which existed in Italy during the fifteenth century.”

Hemon de la Fosse (c. 1603) [and his companions]

“In the time of Louis XII, a young scholar of Abbéville, named Hemon de la Fosse, became so enamoured of the Olympian deities that he conceived the greatest hatred to Christianity. On the 25th of August, 1603, being at high mass in the cathedral of his native town, he suddenly snatched the host from the hands of the officiating priests, and dashed it to the ground, exclaiming, ‘What, always this folly!’ . . . The unfortunate Hemon was immediately cast into prison, but no persuasion or threats could induce him to abjure his opinions. He maintained before the priests who were sent to convert him that Jupiter was the sovereign Lord of the Universe . . . Language like this could have but one result. He was burnt alive in the market-place of Abbéville, after having both his hands cut off, and his tongue bored through with a hot iron. His last words were, ‘C’est ce que je ne puis faire; j’en suis bien fâché.’ [‘I am very angry and this is what I can do about it.’] Nor was this case a solitary one. We are expressly told that many of the Spanish students held similar opinions, and quitted Abbéville to avoid the fate of their companion.”

Voltaire (1694-1778)

“It is reported that when Voltaire first visited the ruins of the Coliseum, he was observed to make a profound obeisance before the great head of Jupiter, and being questioned as to his reason for this strange act of devotion by the scandalised ecclesiastics who accompanied him, is said to have replied, ‘I pay my court to him now in the day of his adversity, in the hope that he will remember me when his turn comes round again.’”

David Hume (1711-1776)

“He [David Hume] tells us in one of his essays that the Olympian system was too supremely beautiful, and too well adapted for the needs of man to have ever finally perished; and gives his opinion that even in these degenerate days it must still prevail in some part of the world.”

John Fransham (1730-1810)

“Another English Pagan of the last century was John Fransham, a poor scholar of Norwich, who had arrived at many of [Thomas] Taylor’s conclusions, while the latter was yet a child. In 1769 he wrote, but did not publish, a worked called The Oestrum of Orpheus, in which he openly avowed his belief in a plurality of gods. Bayle had said that a consistent Spinozist who carries out his principles to their logical conclusions must infallibly end in polytheism, and Fransham held himself to have proved the truth of the proposition. With Spinoza, he held that the first cause is uncreated and indestructible, but not intelligent–is no other indeed than the entire, eternal, and finite mass of matter composing the universe; but he refused to believe that this chaos was shapened and animated by a single co-eternal mind, but, on the contrary, held that nature through a thousand voices proclaimed the existence of innumerable, intelligent powers or forces, ‘plastic and designing,’ who ruled all sublunary affairs, and may most fitly be designated by the nomenclature of the Hellenic theology. He wrote a collection of hymns addressed to Jupiter, Minerva, Venus, and Hercules . . .”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and the German Romantics

“In recent times the Pagan spirit has been greatly diffused. In Germany for a century past it has many years in a growing tendency to accept the beautiful creations of the Hellenic cult as a graceful symbolism of the conclusions of modern science. The philosophical side of the revival we find in Heyne and Schelling, the aesthetic in Wieland and Frederick Schlegel, and above all in Goethe, who of all moderns was perhaps the most thoroughly a Pagan. The most singular reports used to circulate throughout Europe about Goethe’s heathenism.

‘It is not surprising,’ said La Liberté de Penser in 1832, ‘that we find the bust of Jupiter placed before his bed, and turned towards the rising sun in order that he may address his morning prayers to him on waking.’”

John Sterling (1806-1844) [and also Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)]

“In England, traces of the same feeling are to be found in Shelley, and more recently in Sterling, who looked with a loving and longing eye upon the poetical world of Olympus. In a letter printed in his Life by Archdeacon Hare, he expresses his belief that a time will come when, pedants having ceased to seek either true history or false religion in that beautiful creation, it will become known to all the earth, even to the now gross and suffering multitudes, as an inexhaustible treasure-house of noble joys. He relates also with great zest the story of Thorwaldsen, who one day dining with Bunsen at Rome, and becoming wearied of the theological conversation of his host, threw open the window, which commanded a noble prospect of the city over which the planet Jupiter was shining with great splendour, and filled his glass ‘to the honour of the ancient gods.’”

***

I find this Victorian-era article to be a healthy reminder that throughout history, there are countless “modern” (post-classical) pagan precursors for what we are all doing now.  This article highlights a few of those names, and just off the top of my head I can think of many more . . . Michael Marullus , Mark Akenside, John Keats, Richard Henry Horne, Albert Pike, and Louis Ménard (whose 1876 book, Rêveries d’un paien mystique [Reveries of a Mystic Pagan] was the inspiration for the title of this blog).  These are just a handful of our modern pagan precursors who lived and wrote long before the 20th-century pagan/occult revival. If you know of any others who you’d like to discuss, please feel free to share their names in the comments!

It may not be a single continuous tradition, but these heroes were out there, long before our time, defending the gods, honoring the gods, writing hymns to the gods, and even performing rituals to the gods, in times and places when it was extremely dangerous to be an avowed pagan.

And today, on the birthday of Thomas Taylor the English Pagan, I think we should all raise a glass (or pour a libation) to our modern pagan precursors and remind ourselves, that “[f]rom the Renaissance downwards the old creed has never been without hierophants or disciples.”

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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