This month has been a difficult one, especially the last couple weeks during which I have been extremely sick with some kind of super bug that’s going around. Yesterday, however, I still managed to do my monthly trip to a cemetery for Hermes, even though it was more walking than I’d done since falling ill. It was the fourth of the lunar month and therefore an appropriate day, and I felt a strong call to go on a walk with my gods. I went to the Masonic Cemetery, the one closest to my house and also the one I’ve spent the most time in. There’s something special about this cemetery, spread out over a wooded hillside, that makes each visit magical.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Originally posted on The House of Vines:
Dealing with spirits is much more an art than a science; the rules are few and fluid yet only once you’ve mastered them can you effectively break them. Most of your training will consist of unlearning societal conditioning and learning how to get out of your own way. Intuition and spontaneity are vital; but to truly get anywhere it takes many, many hours of practice, as well as discipline and a sincere bordering on obsessive commitment. But you’ve also got to be as open as possible and comfortable around things that are largely invisible to others, and which often cannot be measured or objectively proven and thus hold little value in our society. All of your truly great moments will not be yours alone – they are the product of mad genius and divine inspiration. And finally, only in death will your work find completion.
About a month ago, I was looking over my festival calendar for the year and wondering what to do about Dionysos. I wasn’t really feeling right about continuing some of the festivals I’d been doing in recent years, and felt it was time for yet another change in my practice to reflect changing relationships, but didn’t know what to do instead. Then it suddenly came to me that I could go back to basics, to the original Athenian festivals I started with: Lenaia, Anthesteria (both of which I’d already done this year, as I do every year), City Dionysia, Oskhophoria and Rural Dionysia. I could supplement these with some of my personal additions as well – like the ones I do for Yarilo-Dionysos, or the anniversary of my first ecstatic state – but mostly I’d focus on these five ancient festivals.
So I began trying to figure out what to do for City Dionysia, since it was coming up quickly. I figured it ought to be based on seeing a play, since the theatrical competitions were the main event in ancient times. Plus, that would locate me nicely right downtown, where all of the theatres are, which seemed appropriate for the City Dionysia. I looked through all the plays that would be showing during the weekend it was scheduled, and nothing was looking good, until I found it:
It couldn’t be more perfect: a festival of ten-minute plays. Multiple plays, comedies and tragedies both, selected from a competition. I felt like Dionysos had given me the stamp of approval on my idea.
To flesh out the festival, I decided it needed two other main components from the ancient tradition: alcohol and phalloi. I made three clay phalloi and painted them in His colors. I bought nine tiny bottles of liquor, and made tags for them with a variety of Dionysian messages. And I bought some easy-to-carry red wine to drink.
On Saturday night, my partner and I headed out on the town. I was wearing what I think of as an “urban bassarid” outfit – my wine-colored satin khiton, vintage fox-fur stole, and beaded crown of metal-dipped leaves. Before we even got to the theatre, I found an amazing hat just left on a pole – angora rabbit fur, dyed the color of a red fox. I considered it a gift in honor of the festival, and will always think of that night when I wear it.
We went to see the plays, and they were great – especially the one about a clinic that helps people who are trying to stop drinking to START drinking again… I mean, it was too perfect. Then we went around downtown leaving gifts of alcohol for the other revellers out and about.
And I placed the phalloi in flower-filled planters here and there. Finally, we found a quiet spot, drank our wine and smoked mugwort-and-tobacco cigarettes, poured libations to Dionysos, and walked home in the beautiful night.
Perhaps this would have been unrecognizable as the City Dionysia to an ancient Athenian, but I think I hit all the notes and it felt very right. This is something I will be talking about in my upcoming book on Hellenic festivals – how you can take the main thematic elements of something ancient and put it into an entirely modern context. Io Dionysos!
For my third visit, I chose Mulkey Cemetery, a small but fairly old cemetery that also happens to be the site of my initiation into Hermes’ Mysteries, which I performed almost exactly eight years ago. (I did actually do a Mystery rite a couple years before that, in Montana, but felt it hadn’t quite clicked – although later I understood that it simply planted a seed that took years to grow.) I had not been back to Mulkey since that night, and things looked quite different than I remembered. This has got to be the most well-tended cemetery in Eugene, unsurprisingly in a fairly upscale neighborhood, with lots of flowers and elaborate plantings surrounding the tombstones.
Going to be offline most of this week due to a family visit, so just wanted to check in here and note a few things:
- 20% off coupon in my Etsy shops lasts through Friday
- Have been really excited by all the responses to my post on the Hellenic festivals book. This is starting to look like my next project (while I work through the vast research for the amanita book). If you haven’t responded but have ideas or questions, I’m keeping this post open for comments throughout my planning period!
- I’ve modified my Carnival Talk website a little bit recently. Now that WordPress allows Paypal buttons, I’m selling the books and postcards directly from the site – no more Etsy shop. Much simpler this way. And I’ve added the first quote in the Share Your Story section.
- Another project in the works is that I’ll be officially offering my book-design services to the greater public soon, including e-books. I will announce it when the new site is ready, and will offer some kind of discount for my fellow polytheists.
- For those of you who chose the signed book perk during my fundraiser, your books are going out in the mail tomorrow.
- Happy Spring Equinox in advance!
I am considering writing a short book on celebrating festivals in a Hellenic polytheist context and wanted to get some feedback from you all. Basically, I have spent 15 years doing various iterations of Hellenic festivals, both ancient and wholly modern, including the many years Sannion and I spent creatively crafting our own festivals together, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of that experience and knowledge with other polytheists who might be struggling with the festivals, which are so important to the Hellenic tradition. I am well versed in the ancient festival calendar, but am more interested in how to distill the basic concepts of ancient festivals and put them into practice in a totally contemporary manner, one that both properly honors the gods and daimones, and is also personally fulfilling and enjoyable. I was thinking of covering topics like:
* why festivals are important, and reasons why they are created
* what the core elements are
* calendrical issues – whether or not to use the lunar calendar, etc.
* bringing festivals from secular culture or other branches of paganism into a Hellenic context
* how to invent your own festivals, and adapt the ancient ones
* how to have proper festivals with only one or two people
* how to incorporate your local landscape and spirits
* activities beyond formal ritual to flesh out a real festival
* little ways to make every aspect of the celebration special and meaningful
* budgetary considerations – doing a lot without spending a lot
* lots of specific examples from my own experience (like I did here with Anthesteria, for instance)
So I have two questions for you all (obviously this is primarily geared toward those practicing some form of Hellenic polytheism, but if you’re interested in any way, I don’t really care what your tradition is):
1. Is this something you’d like to see published and would be likely to buy?
2. Do you have any questions or concerns about celebrating Hellenic festivals that you’d want to see addressed in such a book?
As part of my Year with Hermes, I already shared my playlist of songs for Him, now I wanted to share some of the images I have saved for Him (especially as today is Khutroi, the third day of Anthesteria, when Hermes Psychopompos is honored). I keep similar folders of images for all my gods and spirits on my computer, and set them as a slideshow screensaver on holy days (my usual screensaver just runs through all my images). I’ll begin with ancient images:
And then modern depictions meant to be Hermes or Mercury:
And here are some that I personally associate with Him, regardless of the artist’s intent:
You’ll notice some themes here – the Magician is obvious, but the crow/raven connection is a personal one (although of course Hermes has a traditional association with birds, especially birds of omen). I will also note that while I prefer the bearded version of Hermes, as seen in herms and many other ancient depictions, almost all modern images specifically intended as Hermes show Him as clean-shaven, younger, and usually have the whole winged sandals/cap thing in there somewhere.