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!

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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