Dividends Part I

Some days it amazes me how a little effort gets one a long way–a spark creates a raging fire, a smile a date, or some whispered words a swelling wave of action. I have felt acutely aware in recent days just how the littlest things reverberate and cycle up like electricity in a capacitor, causing tiny currents to grow into palpable and powerful surges, enough to move entire groups of people. This is of course how reciprocity–a cornerstone of both Hellenic religion and human interaction–works.

I read a great article earlier today which, though vulgar, made me really think about the community as it is changing now. Some folks may not think it has changed much, but for me it has. I have changed in relation to it, too. I don’t want to jinx it, but it *almost* seems like the polytheist community is -gasp- growing up and into its own. How do I know? To take a leaf from John Cheese’s article:

#5. We’ve Become Embarrassed of Our Past Selves (And Then We Let It Go)

When I started in Hellenismos about five or six years ago, it was because I was tired of eclecticism in neopaganism, which seemed to be a common thread to many other Hellene’s conversion stories. At the time, I was definitely embarrassed about my roots; I was definitely a Silver Ravenwolf kid. A part of my still cringes writing that, but when I really reflect back on it, that woman did more to pique my curiosity in alternative religion than any other author I know. That’s me letting go. That’s not the end of the story, though. I was a very aggressive in my anti-eclecticism in my early days as a Hellene. I knew a lot of other youngish firebrands who were the same way. Eventually, however, I noticed a lot of people started to mellow out. At least in the circles I currently associate in, we’ve (mostly) moved past breaking things down into building things up.

 

#4. We’ve Started Double-Thinking Our Actions

 

From my contacts with polytheists, I know a lot goes unsaid and undone. I’m always cautious before committing words to the page; it’s tough to balance what I feel everyone should know about Ares and what I personally feel about things. We’ve begun to really acquire a self-awareness of how our actions affect others in the polytheist community. As Cheese’s article states, “You know you’ve made a huge step toward adulthood when you start regularly thinking about how your words and actions affect other people. Especially when dealing with anger.”  There was a huge upset over the summer regarding the effects pop-culture has on paganism/polytheism which led to the Silent July protest. The ripples caused by that protest are just now returning to the center from the edges of the blogoshpere. What amazes me is that, for the most part, the Silent July event did more to cement our small community’s values than talking to folks ever could. By writing letters instead of blogging–by writing letters in a physical medium rather than typing–I got to know other polytheists more than I could by reading. It’s that sort of intimacy that creates the environment necessary for building real relationships, which in turn creates real community. Sometimes that means caring even when you could care less (because there’s really only so many times you can read about how utterly awesome my chihuahua Chloe is).

 

#3. We’ve Stopped Following Through on the Desire to Break Shit

This one goes back to the whole pop-culture debacle, too. While Cheese is correct in saying it’s mostly a guy thing, it can occur with women, too. Remember a year or so ago when some polytheist women started veiling and were called regressive, damaging to women’s rights, and even racist for somehow marginalizing the plight of women forced to veil in the Muslim world? Because that happened. Yes, trolling still exists, but in my experience at least, things have died down or gone underground. Part of my struggle as a devotee of Ares is certainly about using a blanket “kill them all” solution to communal strife, because it’s not a practical (or even really desirable) solution. As I mentioned earlier, we’re beginning to move away from breaking things to building things, as evidenced by the Polytheism Without Borders project and Thessaly Temenos’ Hellenic Revival.

 

#2. We Learned Ways to Make Responsibility Suck Less

This is really more of a mish-mash of individual achievements lately. A lot of folks are stopping talking about creating community and are doing it. While the two projects above certainly are the largest and ambitious so far, there’s a lot of little stuff going on, too. Community building is a long, tedious process, one which we are all responsible for. Silent July really helped this when everyone decided to write letters. Yes, we created a new responsibility/chore for ourselves; writing a letter means taking time out of a busy day, buying paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps. That’s right, we had to spend money–a book of stamps costs around $20 right now, pens can be up to $5, and a ream of paper or box of envelopes are about $2. If you’re like me and like to write everyone at once, that means sacrificing about an hour or two of your day. But you know what? That shit is worth it. There’s no better feeling than opening up the mailbox at the end of the day and finding something other than a bill, a fistful of ads, or some stupid notice from the VA telling you something you already know. It makes the effort and the expense worth it. The mutual obligation and responsibility also create shared experiences and esprit de corps, two very necessary elements in molding a group of very different people into one cohesive whole.

 

#1. You Realize That if Something Happens to You, Other People Are Fucked

A lot of people don’t know they’re important to other people. Part of the reason we  as a species record and pass on information is that we’re mortal, and any day can be our last. Even in cases not involving mortality, things still change or come to an end. Some people stop blogging, and if you’re the only one who’s got the info on a particular subject, everyone loses out if you somehow go missing. I’m not sure if any of you have noticed, but for one reason or another, the voices of Apollon’s worshipers have gone pretty quiet lately, at least for the blogs I follow. I’ve been contacted by folks as far afield as Brazil and France saying they thought they were the only ones who worshiped Ares. I’m glad there are more Areisian voices out there, but I feel bad when I don’t post enough, because there is a desire out there to learn about my god. For those of you that were members of the Hellenismos.us forum, it was pretty disappointing when it was shut down for (silly) political reasons involving its creator (thankfully a few folks there created the Olympianismos forum instead). Its nice to see that a lot of polytheists are noticing this and are doing more to spread the knowledge and experience around, as well as mentoring and supporting each other.

 

 

Don’t think that because you aren’t writing a blog, starting an event, or creating artwork that you aren’t integral to the community. There are plenty of polytheists I interact with on Facebook or other places that don’t write, but they do support me and I in turn support them. Just because it was religion that brought us together doesn’t mean we don’t have other things to talk about. Plenty of you are parents, which I’m not. Some are artists, some are cooks, others are students. You want to know what Lady Imbrium I talk about most? Goats. I really look forward to her letters because I love hearing about her goats and the rest of the farm. She’s doing some pretty awesome stuff, and supporting her outside of the religious sphere is my duty and privilege as a friends. In the end, no matter what you do, that’s what community building is all about: support. Keep doing good work folks.

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Ares the Avenger

Once again, we find ourselves at the anniversary of the terrorist attacks that attacked both the United States specifically and the West generally. Over 3,000 people died, and still many suffer from health complications related to burns, smoke inhalation, PTSD, and other injuries. The DoD has updated its official US casualty numbers to 6,750 as of 9/10/12. Countless insurgents have been arrested or killed, as have innocent bystanders, who have been either “collateral damage” or worse, targeted by their own countrymen. It’s easy to see, from this data, why some folks disapprove of violence and violence’s god, Ares. Violence begets violence, and it’s never fun.

I have written before that Ares is a violent god, and that he actually does like violence. One could reasonably argue that the whole mess we find ourselves in today is quite amusing to him in one way or another. Ares, while mythologically speaking may be a god of violence-for-violence’s-sake (as clearly given in the Iliad), was not worshiped as violence-for-violence’s-sake sort of god, with the only possible exception being in Thrake, though the sources are probably biased. No, Ares is most often an avenging, reactive, and protective force bent on punishing or destroying those who transgress various boundaries.

As I’ve described before, outside of Homer, Ares’ mythology is rife with examples of him acting as an agent of retribution and justice, and this is a major theme in the plays of Aeschylus. When Ares’ daughter Alkippe is raped, he kills the rapist in retribution. When Thanatos is captured by Sisyphos, it is Ares who brings the criminal into the hands of Death (he kills that guy, too). Ares rages against Hephaestos when his brother traps their mother on a throne, and he punishes Leto’s adultery by denying her shelter to give birth to his new siblings.

Ares also shows us however that violence and its application aren’t always perfect or just, and that those we entrust with violent authority aren’t perfect, either. In a jealous rage, Ares transformed into a boar and killed Adonis. While known for punishing adultery in others, Ares himself has a famous affair with Aphrodite. Ares is often shown as a coward who whines when he is wounded and flees from battle the moment he is hurt.

And this brings me back to our anniversary. The West went to war shortly after 9/11 against radical Islamists to avenge the transgressions of one people against both us and their own. As Ares, we were not perfect, and committed transgressions of our own. Yet let not this anniversary be dominated with the litany of transgressions, but rather the litany of those whose lives were lost because of this event. In the end, all the silly excuses, from WMDs, oil, to plain old ass-hattery are just that: excuses. Today is about the dead, and avenging those dead by keeping their memories alive so that they never really die. Let it stay that way.

Into the Light

Apparently, veiling is bad. Or at least, that’s what many of the comments on Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom‘s coverage of the 1st annual Covered in Light Day let on. It also seemed to me a minor negation of this post about Pagan “fundamentalism”. This is what I get for actually spending time over at Patheos, I guess.

Back to veiling, though.

As an Arabic linguist and analyst who extensively covered Mid-East politics, culture, and religion, as well as living a mere 6 miles from Dearborn, MI (the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East, where the show All American Muslim is filmed), I’ve encountered veiling. A lot. I have to say, I’m really quite attracted to a woman in a veil, but then those that veil, in my experience are generally the nice, quiet religious types I usually go for (my girlfriend is a practicing Catholic). Never have I met a woman who veils because she was forced to. Yes, I have seen news reports about the rare incident of this happening, but those reports generally accompany news of honor killings and family dysfunction.

It is interesting that a simple, non-intrusive personal practice can get people so riled up, but I guess when you touch that one little nerve, some folks just go off. Maybe it’s a liberal versus conservative fight, though that just seems too simple, like a cop-out answer. Maybe it’s a traditionalist versus progressive fight, but even then, that boils down to essentially the same thing as the previous argument.

Either way, I feel that veiling has a valuable place in our pagan culture. In my mind at least, it conjures up a romanticized notion that the veiled woman is taken, if not in marriage than by her god or goddess. Is it submission? Maybe. I also view it as armor. It is an aspis against the world, a safe-haven for one’s peace of mind. There’s also a certain class to the veil. Something that says, “I don’t need to show off my body”. In this world where sex sells everything, it’s kind of nice to see someone who consciously avoids flaunting it.

And you know what, covering up isn’t just for women. For a very long time, gentlemen wouldn’t be caught dead outside without some form of hat. This tradition is maintained in the military, where one never removes their cover (headgear)outside, except for where doing so might be dangerous, such as on a flight line. I myself prefer to at least wear a hat when I wear a suit, whether it be my fedora (a real one, such as those worn in the 50’s) or, for very special occasions, my top hat. Truth be told, I own more hats than shoes, and not a single one is a baseball cap.

The whole hubub reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in the Seven Against Thebes. On the shield (an aspis/hoplon) of Polyneices, a veiled Dike leads Ares, clad in gold armor. This leads Eteocles to realize his father’s curse is finally upon him– he must now kill his brother, as Justice brings the curse of War to his gate. Doesn’t sound like oppression to me (at least for Dike).

Anyway, to make this long rambling short, Aspis of Ares supports Covered in Light day, and this warrior will be glad to relieve the role of Dike, and stand before the van in defense of those women, Pagan or otherwise, who choose to don the veil.