Daily Archives: October 13, 2011
Now for something completely different… Amateur Religious Ethnography Botched, Or the Pagan Interviews, Part 4
Interview with Blackbird O’Connell.
Back in 2007, I started interviewing people of different religious world views for a web magazine that no longer exists called the Green Triangle. This is not part of that project, but in this particular branch of my botched ethnography, I had background information from prior interviews.
Skepoet: What is your religious background and how did you come to it?
Blackbird: I was baptized a Roman Catholic and went through the normal sacraments, but when I got to high school I began questioning religion as a whole. I refused to get confirmed because I wouldn’t stand in front of anyone and promise to follow God and Jesus. I considered myself closer to an atheist at that time partially I’m sure as a rebellion, but in my senior year of high school I went on a search. It helped that a friend of mine worked in a local headshop (with bootleg CDs, Blacklight posters, Pot Leaf pics all over and “Pagan” books and statues) so I was introduced to neo-pagan books that way. I was actually doing a lot of study into Laveyan Satanism at the time when I came across Scott Cunningham’s “The Truth About Witchcraft Today.” I read it and became interested in the “Goddess” aspect of things so I began studying what I could find and found there were “Witch” chat rooms on AOL. Since I knew there was no way I could take anything like that to my parents I started asking questions there still studying various “pagan” traditions I read a lot of new aged books, but my focus was always on my ancestral history and there is a lot of new age books on “Celtic paganism.” A few years in I met a “Celtic Reconstructionist” online who pointed me in the direction that I was really looking for which was “What did the Celts ACTUALLY believe?” My heritage lies with the Irish so that was always a focal point. I’ve been CR (specifically Irish) for over 10 years now.
Skepoet: What is your academic background?
Blackbird: I have a bachelors degree in Technical Theatre and Design with a minor in philosophy and religious studies.
Skepoet: How do you see these interacting with each other?
Blackbird: My minor is self explanatory, but I look to my major as a form of “Bardic” studies. I took courses in Acting, Scene Study, History of Theatre and Design. I directed a few short plays and even wrote one as my final thesis project. I worked as a professional stage manager for up until a few years ago. It was my way of bringing a relevant story to life. As the Bards used song and poetry to tell stories that would resonate with the people – I used my hands in building sets, my mind in designing costumes, and my multi-tasking & leadership to help get a play on it’s feet and keep it going onstage even if it was falling apart backstage. It was my creative contribution to the community.
Skepoet: Celtic Recon is often considered one of the most difficult given what we have left for sources. Have your views changed any since you started in Celtic Recon?
Blackbird : Yes. I used to be very stuck on “Celtic” only and no other influence. As a Reconstructionist (especially early on) I got tunnel vision and while I took in all the other interactions that our ancestors may have had that influenced them I had this want to dismiss them. I really think it was in reaction to “I am not Wiccan” therefore anything deemed an eclectic influence was a no no regardless of how much the actual history spoke differently.
My years of growth, study and practice as well as interactions with others various members of the Neo-pagan community have changed many of my initial views. We can not separate the Roman influence, both pre and post Christian, from what we know of the Celts. Rome occupied Gaul and Briton (to include Wales, Scotland and Cornwall) and the majority of recorded Irish legend was recorded by Roman Catholic Monks and even many of those were written post Viking, Norman and Saxon invasions. Even in Gaul the Romans confused the Germanic tribes for Celtic tribes because of similarity and cross over between the tribes. There is no existing 100% Celtic worldview to study even if we (as I do) focus on Ireland where there wasn’t a pre-Christian Roman occupation. The simple fact is I don’t live in a tribe, I have modern conveniences, and what we do have left over from the “original” writing of the time and books that are as close to the time of the pre-Christian Celts are influenced by those who not only wrote about them, but eventually conquered them. Through the years I have come to realize the simple fact is that I will never completely understand an untouched Celtic tribal worldview and I’m okay with that.
As a CR I’m not trying to go back to what was, I’m trying to use what was to influence what is and what could be within a modern worldview.
Skepoet: Is there one or a few deities that you feel particularly close to in the Celtic Pantheon?
Blackbird: Yes, when I first started my studies years ago toward the very beginning even before I found CR I had a vision of a beautiful black haired woman who seemed to have black feathers in her hair, wearing all black that also seemed to have feathers wearing a scabbard with sword. She didn’t speak, but I will never forget the image.
Since the Celtic pantheon wasn’t hard to come across in the books I was studying at the time, I soon came across the Morrigan and knew that She was the vision I had. I’m a military brat who was debating joining the military at the time. I was the Commanding Officer of my JROTC unit in high school and I’ve always been interested other various activities that I now recognize were part of the “warrior” path which coincides with my Págánacht path. When I began learning more about her it made perfect sense. She is also the reason I am “Blackbird.” Years later, after 3 days of being beaten over the head with “Blackbird” references in songs, on tv, as well as being followed by them I finally got the hint.
Skepoet: Do you have a connection with a particular aspect of the Morrigan?
Blackbird: I specifically honor Morrigan daughter of Ernmas. I’m aware of the theories that The Morrigan may be have different guises, but as a hard polytheist I tend to view her as specifically one of the 6 distinct daughters of Ernmas as she is referred to in the Cath Maige Tuired.
Skepoet: What language skills does one need to deal with the sources and which primary sources do you use?
Blackbird: Like the majority of religious thought our faith revolves around deity and we come to understand our deities, the Tuatha De Danann, through the legends. Our primary sources are those collections of the originally oral pre-Christian legends and part of our reconstruction is filtering through the later written Christianized versions. Books like The Book of Leinster, The Yellow Book of Lecan and The Annals of the Four Masters that contain the stories of the Irish mythological cycles including the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Taking of Ireland) from the Mythological Cycle, the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) from the Ulster or Red Branch Cycle, the Dindsenchas that makes up the Acallam na Senórach (The Tale of the Elders) from the Fenian Cycle and tales of the High Kings like Niall of the Nine Hostages from the Historical Cycle are those primary sources.
There is an Irish proverb that goes “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam” that translates to “Country without a language, country without a soul.” The Irish government has made it a priority for all the children of Ireland to be taught Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic) though those who speak it regularly after graduation is less than half. There are regions whose main language is Gaeilge known as theGaeltachtaí, but the majority of Ireland now speaks English. Regardless of why, this is a fact of the country’s history and evolution. I don’t believe that those who follow Págánacht (Paganism a.k.a. Irish Reconstructionism) have to know Gaeilge to have faith and study the history and legends, however “Celtic” denotes a group of people who spoke a similar language and Gaeilge is an evolution of one of those languages. Modern Ireland also views it as part of the core of the country’s heritage so to connect with the language is to connect with the people. I will always recommend taking classes and learning at least the basics of the language. This is still something I struggle with personally due to lack of time as well as languages have always been hard for me to pick up and apply.
In regards to the language impacting the study of the sources, that is a whole other issue. Most modern classes are teaching modern spoken Gaeilge, however the sources are written in Middle and Old. To delve into those you would need a scholastic study program generally found at the college level or a very generous person who has already done that study that is willing to pass it on to you. While learning Middle and Old Irish can be beneficial to one’s personal first hand reconstruction of the legends it is obviously not necessary since the majority of the above mentioned sources have been translated into the current language of Ireland which is English. I also don’t believe that the Gods themselves would be unfamiliar with the current language spoken by the majority of those who still live upon Their land.
Skepoet: What do you think about or deal with many of the popular traditions in he Neo-pagan community which often make claims to being rooted in Celtic lore? Have you noticed a change in the claims made in such groups?
Blackbird: I guess it all depends on the actual claims of the group. If you’re speaking of Wicca well, Ron Hutton has done well to delve into that history. In regards to any conversations, discussions, or debates I have on any subject if there is information being passed on that would generally be considered false due to my study I will correct it and point said person(s) to better material and my sources for clarification.
I don’t know if I’ve seen a change as much as I don’t pay as much attention to the groups that make such claims anymore. After a while, when you see the same thing over and over, you tend to tune it out. I just try to point seekers to the books that I have read on the subjects of Neopaganism as well as Wicca and hope that they want to research the material that is grounded in fact and not unsubstantiated claims of antiquity.
Skepoet: I was vague deliberates because I was wondering about both Wicca, which is covered by Hutton and even acknowledged by some Wiccans now, and about Neo-Druidism, which seems to a practice for which with have little historical record for what was actually done. Many years ago I was interviewing some of the people who wrote the Celtic Reconstructionist fact for a web-site that no longer exists, but they kept telling me that had to go into Wikipedia regularly and make sure bad scholarship didn’t get put into any C.R. entry. I haven’t heard about that as much. What do you think about the field of religious studies in terms of Celtic area studies has it improved in your life time?
Blackbird: Ah…okay. See, when it comes to modern Druidism I’m pretty ambivalent. The largest groups in the UK and US both seem more “philosophy” based then “religion” based. The simple fact is that when one can be a Christian Druid or a Roman Druid then Druid obviously isn’t tied to any “specific” belief. As such, I don’t even look at it in the same sense as any of the Neopagan religions.
I will say that I have been a member of ADF and joined so that I would have a group backing in case the military gave me issues about my religious beliefs, but there was never an issue. I’m still a member of the Henge of Keltria because they are the closest to what I agree with and I even have some issues with their particular practice (it revolves mainly around the honoring of 8 holy days and not 4). As Asatru (and essentially the whole Reconstructionist movement) was a reaction to Wicca, Celtic Recon was a reaction to Neo-Druidry utilizing a title that we associate with years of study and service to a community (and some CRs view it as a title not even achieveable at all now). With all that said through, I personally respect the Neo-Druid movement and what those who follow it have achieved and there are many Neo-Druids I have a lot of respect for, so even though I don’t agree with certain practices or claims by those organizations without Neo-Druidry CR wouldn’t exist.
I know that the founders of the movement have gotten us very far in regards to laying a good foundation through their work with live journal and creating the CR Faq. While I am actually in contact every once and a while with some of them (thank the Gods for social networks) a lot of what they did was while I was still on the seeker level so I wasn’t even aware of all the issues I’m sure they encountered which is a testament to their heading off a lot of the “fluff” that could have potentially gotten mixed in had they not been firm initially.
As for the question posed I’m not sure I understand it. Are you referring to understanding the possible “religion” of the Celts in regards to the scholarship available to study?
Skepoet: Has the study of Celtic religion gotten a lot better in available literature in your opinion?
Blackbird: No. Most of what is out there for any type of Celtic pagan religious focus new or old seems to perpetuate the same old “history as we want to believe it” as opposed to what we are actually piecing together. There really hasn’t been any definitive CR book to come out and those who have claimed to have published one are usually found to have published nothing that the CR community would find worthy of the claim. It is now as it was when I started and before me, the best books we have to understand our particular path are the legends, the history and archaeology based ones and those that speak about the surviving traditions still practiced in the regions we focus.
When it comes to the ritual structure and the “spiritual” side of things UPG or Shared Gnosis seem to work just fine as gathered through the limited community we have (again, thank the Gods for social networks). When others try to put those in a book and claim that “all” CRs believe or practice this one way that is when the true issues start. CR isn’t about dictating anyone’s individual practice because we don’t know how the Celts practiced. We as CRs come from a core study and shared belief in the Gods. How we honor them and practice our faith as individuals can never be captured in any one book because not one CR practices like another.
Skepoet: Do you think the completion of the Celtic Reconstructionist FAQ helped at all?
Blackbird: Absolutely! I believe the CR Faq laid out, in one area, a concise foundation for seekers to understand what Celtic Reconstructionism is about and answers a good majority of the questions that those seeking to know more tend to ask. It’s existence makes life easier for those guiding others as well as helps keep those of us connected to CR focused on why we started on this path in the first place and helps keep those individuals in check that may claim to focus on CR, but don’t actually represent what the tradition is about. The CR Faq gives enough wiggle room for our own individual focus, but is not obtuse enough to shut down those who would like CR to focus less on scholastics and become more of a “make it up as we go along” tradition.
Skepoet: What do you think of historical syncretism as opposed to eclecticism? Such as Celtic-Heathen or Celtic-Roman tradition?
Blackbird: This goes along with my other response in regards to knowing that there is no 100% Celtic worldview. I have those I consider friends who have found a way to honor more than one pantheon and still respect both individually keeping them separate. I have a friend who focuses specifically on the Scottish Highlands and there is most definitely a cohesiveness to the tradition that does involve some Norse overlap. There is no untouched by the Romans Celtic tribal society that we will ever understand because there isn’t anything left of the pre-Roman Celts for us to understand outside of conjecture.
With that said it’s not for me and those types of terms make me involuntarily cringe inside, but to each their own. I can respect anyone with any view as long as they can speak about it intelligently explaining why they choose to mix those two cultures together. It’s their journey and if they have truly down the study and it makes sense to them who am I to tell them they’re wrong? Now if they make such claims and can’t speak intelligently about either culture I won’t take them so seriously and will more than likely do as I do with all those others who make ridiculous claims – point out what’s ridiculous and send them to sources that might actually give them a clue.
Skepoet: Is there anything you like to say in closing?
Blackbird: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about something I’m very passionate about. It’s been a fun few days for me.
I try to keep my personal life to a minimum, but while I am visiting my wonderful girlfriend in the city of Daejeon. I will be monitoring and hopefully involved with the Occupy Seoul. I have been waiting for announcement that something would be happening in Seoul. As a foreigner here, I am reluctant to get involved in local political affairs. While I have supported and watched in solidarity with Union workers and the anti-G-20 protests, I also trend lightly as in many ways I don’t want to be pushing my agenda on local leftists. Some of which are often protesting their governments trade actions with my home country. Korea social action has traditionally had a slightly more nationalist flavor than the left in Europe and North America is probably used to.
I suspect this is partly from the siege mentality Korea has had to develop between the Japanese occupation and then its place as a strategic pawn in the cold war has a lot to do with distrust of outsiders as much as its history as the “Hermit Kingdom.”
The agenda in Yeouido and Seoul is more specific than the Occupy Wallstreet: much less nebulous and much more in line with Korean populism since the 1980s. But this statement in the as reported to the International press:
“Angry Americans are occupying Wall Street, the origin of the world’s financial capital, and we believe the protest is targeting the nerve center of greedy U.S. capitalism,” the groups planning the protest said in a statement.
“Many people in Korea have fallen victim to rampant speculation by domestic financial institutions out to bag huge windfalls in short periods of time.”
Which is about as close as statement of clear solidity with the American left as we’d expect. But the reference is specifically to the recent indications of a Korean’s saving’s bank scandal that begin in June. That quote is from KOFICA which still has pretty limited interested. In a way, Occupy Seoul has little radical inclination at moment. Furthermore, Still corporate corruption is and has been a serious problem for Korea.
One wonders what the turn-out will be, and if the government will stop student groups from participating like during the G-20.
The details as follows: Occupy Yeouido will begin in the afternoon and Occupy Seoul that evening. Both are decidedly on a much smaller scale than the US counter-parts. I hope to take part as best I can: 제대로 한국말 외국인으로, 그런 도움이 아닙니다.
Back in my nation of birth: The battle for the narrative in Occupy Wall Street has really begun. On Facebook groups, there has been an increasing number of leftists of various stripes and Union organizers calling for the occupation to adopt a posture of General Strike. A move which I hardly encourage. Some of my friends in the Socialist Party of the United States have been reporting that while some of the calls for this are getting louder, many involved are pushing back.
Furthermore, as some of noted in venues as far away as the Eurasian Times: There seems to be deliberate attempt from the Democrats to take the message. I am noticing not only the Occupy the Polls campaign, but increasing claims that Occupy Wall Street is about supporting Barack Obama. Notice that Adbusters definitely was not aiming for that.
I have seen statements like this: “P.O.T.U.S. Asked For A Little Help With His Message,Republican Congress , We Can’t Hear YOU !!” In fact, someone I have missed from my perch inside my red batcave in East Asia, that House Democrats had endorsed Occupy Wall Street. I suppose I should have suspected as much as soon as we saw Michael Moore there.
Anarchists have been trying to kick-up of the steam. Crimethinc’s “Open Letter to Occupiers” has really kicked a bit of interest as well. As a writer for Jacobin has pointed out many within the Occupy Wall Street are worried about the anarchists:
It’s become even more apparent in the streets. When I was at Occupy DC over the weekend, a guy who I would guess circles his A’s complained about being pushed from the street into the police-protected march by another occupier. I’ve seen the same thing happen in New York, and I’m willing to bet it’s happened elsewhere. There have been rumors out of Chicago that some occupiers have printed out flyers with the names and pictures of “known anarchists,” and certain committee members at Wall Street have grumbled about rooting out autonomous actors.
He then goes go on to attack Jodi Dean for something she said, which I actually remotely worry about myself:
First, Ron Paul supporters. To the extent that Occupy Wall Street remains open to and for multiple political persuasions, it is not a left movement at all. There is a difference between left and libertarian. The easiest rough initial cut is between those who begin with an emphasis on equality and those who begin with an emphasis on freedom; another crude cut would distinguish between those who begin from an emphasis on individualism and those who begin from an emphasis on collectivity, solidarity, and a commons. I am not saying that there are not ways to reconcile equality and freedom and individuality and collectivity. I am saying that they are different starting points and that these points influence the kinds of politics that end up being supported. As I understand it, Ron Paul supports an odd notion of free markets; he thinks that individuals make better decisions than groups and that a social safety net damages freedom. If there is space for this view in Occupy Wall Street, then that’s not my revolution. In fact, it seems like a version of the one that hijacked the country in the 70s.
Second, the language of occupying occupy wall street that I am using suggests that any attempt to hegemonize the space will be a problem for the ‘movement.’ That is, to remain the movement it is (18 days in), it has to resist any and all efforts to channel the message. But that then implies not that the priority is a contestation among people to forge a way ahead but instead that openness and indeterminacy are themselves the goal, that which is to be protected. If that’s the case, then there is something wrong, a kind of built in (self-deceiving?) confusion: the goal is just to keep the occupation going, not to use the occupation to overthrow capitalism or bring down the banks, or redistribute wealth at all. In fact, it’s probably wrong for me to call this confused or self-deceiving: it’s explicit in a number of different statements about democracy and discussion and raising questions. This language is a language of process rather than ends. Or, the process is the end. To the extent that this is the goal, rather than a means of overthrowing capitalism and working toward putting in place a communist solution, then that’s not my revolution.
But, third, neither one or two are given. They are elements in the battle, issues and sites to be fought over and won. Lenin emphasizes finding and using opportunities, compromising when necessary, all with eye to (now my language, via Alvaro Garcia Linera and Bruno Bosteels) the communist horizon. With respect to Occupy Wall Street, it seems to me that the keeping the building phase alive is crucial while at the same time pushing for the exclusion of some views–no Ron Paul, no compromise with and support of the Democratic Party, no narrowing to a focus on campaign finance or corporate personhood. So, keeping alive, supporting, and growing is crucial, and this needs to be combined with work to hone the message.
I am not a fan of Leninist vanguardism, but have to admit: It currently appears Dean was right about this movement will be fought for. Of course, there are those who think we– all should let them be :
With this openly shared message in mind, is important to push back against the rhetoric of “disorganization,” or “a movement without a message” coming from left, right, and center. Occupy Wall Street is practicing an ethic of radical democracy: every voice counts and every action is meaningful. Eschewing hierarchies of charismatic leadership, narrow messaging, or sound bites, the movement makes room for multiples, and asks that disagreements make room for one another. The thousands of voices, bodies, minds, and hearts on Wall St. everyday do not have to agree in any constricted sense in order to be effective. Indeed, space for multiple voices and multiple concerns defines the movement. It is stronger in its multiplicity.
The process of “occupation” (hundreds of people camped permanently in Zuccotti park) is modeled explicitly on the occupation of Egypt’s Tahrir Square. Zuccotti Park has been renamed Liberty Park. The movement is overtly international in its influences and scope, and routinely invokes similar occupations of public space not only in Egypt, but also in Spain, Greece, Senegal, and elsewhere, where citizens have also been demanding less precarious lives: affordable education, food, shelter, and health care; the right to a fairly-remunerated livelihood.
Yet, the blogger at Social Text doesn’t seem to get the warning. Even Former Tea Partiers warn of the dangers of co-option:
1- The media will initially and purposely avoid covering your dissenting movement to cause confusion about what your movement is about within mainstream audiences. It might feel like this is to enrage you and make you appear unreasonable. Perhaps you will feel even invisible.
2- While the obsfuscation is happening, stooges will infiltrate and give superficial support, focus and financial backing to the targetted movement. In the tea party movement’s case, it was the religious Republicans and Koch Brothers. In this case, it’s many unions that cozy up to the Democratic Party (the organizations as quasi-human entities, not the members themselves) and Ultra Rich liberals who pretend to care, but frankly do not serve liberators and freedom seekers but rather the interests of some union leaders and the Democratic Party. Democrat, Republican, these parties are all part of the same corporate ruling system. Case in point: http://www.debates.org/
3-The media will cover the movement only after this infiltration succeeds. Once the infiltration is completed the MSM will manufacture public media antipathy towards the movement by using selective focus on the movement’s most repulsive elements or infiltrators on the corporate Conservative media side, while the corporate Liberal media will create a more sympathetic tragic hero image — this is the flip side of the tea party, but same media manipulation tactics. I go into greater detail on this tactic: http://vaslittlecrow.com/blog/2011/09/08/how-the-media-and-ideological-groups-manipulate-your-beliefs/
4- Someone in the Democratic Party will feign sympathy for the movement and falsely “non-partisan” entities provide tons of funding and unwanted organization, just as was done with the tea party movement by Republicans. Once people assume that the pro-corporate government operatives are their friends, they will hijack the movement and the threat of your movement will be neutralized.
It’s eerie that pretty much everyone sees the threat as it is happening. Some say this is a vindication of Hardt and Negri. I see it as a crucial moment that hinges on what exactly people want. It ‘s clear there are grievances and even Business Insider admits they are legitimate.
Meanwhile, the Square itself is being emptied “temporarily.” We sure do live in interesting times.
Now for something completely different… Amateur Religious Ethnography Botched, Or the Pagan Interviews, Part 3
Interview with Lykeia, artist and poetess
Skepoet: What is your religious background and how did you come to it?
Lykeia: I am a Hellenic following Orphic tradition and a devoted follower of Apollon, as well as his sister to a different extent. I can say that things really started when I was 12 and I got my first book of Greek mythology (a gift from my teacher), but I did not begin to actively start worshiping the gods until I was 14 years old and via the public library discovered that there was modern worship of the gods in practice. Artemis was the first and foremost deity I worshiped for the larger part of my life, and while I did considerable reading of books written by contemporary pagan authors, I found myself more and more likely to read books of ancient religion, myth, and literature as I could find it. When I was in my early 20s I began to more actively recognize Apollon, initially under the epithet of Lykeios (which refers both to light and the wolf) but as time passed I discovered that more of my personal gifts and interests were more deeply connected with the domain of Apollon and experienced an increasing attraction towards that god. In my mid-twenties I expanded my worship to include the other Olympians and some other gods of Hellas which culminated into a trip to Hellas in 2008 where I had the opportunity to visit Delphi, Sounion, Mycene, Athens, and Olympia. Since then I have continued expanding my knowledge base of my religion and give active worship to the gods with my family. The gods that seems to get the most personal attention in my household seem to be Apollon, Artemis, Hera, Zeus, Poseidon and Aphrodite, though all of the Olympians are given cultus.
Skepoet: What is your academic background?
Lykeia: I hold a BA in history with a GPA of 3.56 with a minor in Literature
Skepoet: How do you see these interacting with each other?
Lykeia: Well in pursuit of my BA degree I learned a great deal about historical research, so this taught me a lot regarding resources on how to find information that I have found invaluable for expanding my own knowledge. On the other hand, my minor in literature gives me an educational background to explore deeper into possible meanings of the literary works I read which is particularly useful for a lot of the plays. It also helped me (together with my history studies) to develop my own writing style in my sacred poetry and essays to communicate effectively what I understand.
Skepoet: The concerns for Hellenic reconstruction is often different from other reconstructionist traditions in so much that we have more complete sources that are also not influenced by Christian interpolation as strongly. However, a lot of the mystery traditions did not leave records. Does this complicate your Orphic practices?
Lykeia: Not necessarily because I do think that a lot of valuable information can be inferred by insights that are offered. Much of the philosophies have a strong root in Orphics, and Aeschylus himself was an initiate of Eleusis (the mystery rites being founded largely by Orpheus). So I think that there is much material available if we look for it. Also the preservation of the Orphic house in Pompeii is quite interesting I think, and there is a beautiful altar from Gabii that matches astrological connections between certain gods and the symbolism of certain signs that were written off by a philosopher and astronomer from Alexandria. Forgive me that the name escapes me at this time. His writings, and the altar from Gabii illustrate the Orphic pairing of the gods that influences the progress of the soul, a progress which is represented by the sun moving through the signs, which is in represented in the journey of Dionysos through 12 levels (that seems to be reflected in a 12 stanza paean to Dionysos from Delphi…or at least it seems so to me as it illustrates the meeting between Apollon and Dionysos at Apollon’s altar on Olympos and the instruction thus delivered for Dionysos’ divine journey not unlike that which Apollon delivered to Herakles). So I do think that there are many clues to be found. The Orphic hymns themselves are valuable resources of insight, as are the orphic fragments.
I do think that there is much of value to be found if we look at it with a careful eye.
There are also people in Hellas who practice the Orphic tradition, and I had the privilege to learn from some excellent individuals there.
So for myself, I don’t see it hindering me at all, but rather offering a valuable insight onto myths and giving me a greater appreciation for the philosophies.
Skepoet: This may be outside of your realm of knowledge, but how much do you think traditions that we do have extensive records for such as Neo-Platonists are helpful guides?
Lykeia: Unfortunately that is outside the realm of my knowledge I have read quite a bit of Plato but I am still working through the rather large volume of his collected dialogues, and still need to read Republic. And have a large reading list of other philosophers…I believe I plan on reading Proclus next and I have a book of Plotinus that I plan to get to eventually. So that said I am just at a very beginners level with the philosophy and don’t really have a lot of background to be able to comment on Neo-Platonists.
Skepoet: What do you see as essential reading for Hellenic pagans?
Lykeia: I think any of the poetic literature is a great place to start. It is a great way to see how people saw the gods, usually played out through myth since a great many of the tragedies are based in myth whereas the comedies tend to go more into other areas of the socio-political arena with more “contemporary” (for the time) pieces. But even the latter has a great deal of information buried within it in regards to their contemporary worship and beliefs. In short I think it is a great way to get a more personal dialogue about the gods through the lens of the author. I am particularly fond of the work of Aeschylus and Euripedes, as well as several plays of Aristophanes. As for poetry the Orphic and Homeric Hymns and general work of Hesiod are at the top of the list, followed by Aclaeus, Pindar and Kallimachus. Naturally this includes the epic poems of Homer and the Argonautika of Apollonios of Rhodes. Really any ancient poet brings a great wealth of information in a most beautiful form.
For history (including mythic history) I would recommend Apollodorus’ The Library, The Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus, the History of Herodotus, Pausanias’ Description of Greece, Plutarch’s Lives, and Xenophon’s various works, not to mention the Geography of Strabo.
For philosophy a good place to start is with Plato and Plutarch, the latter’s writing on the delay of divine justice is fascinating, and what I have read of Proclus is rather valuable but since I haven’t gotten that far into my philosophy reading this list is much shorter.
I really don’t have any contemporary authors to add to this list since most of my reading time is taken up with the abundance of ancient text, many of these which can be found as free downloads at Googlebooks in older out of copyright additions. There is so much to read from ancient texts it seems to me like the very best place to start.
Skepoet: How do you find sacrificial rituals working within your tradition?
Lykeia: There seems to have been at some point (and perhaps still ongoing) debate about the appropriateness of sacrificial rituals. As an Orphic I do not and would not consider offering an animal sacrifice. In fact I am developing an offering blend for my own rituals based off of an offering that was used for Elean sacrifices made from wheat and honey. That said, I personally have no problem with the concept of others performing a ritual sacrifice, particularly since in most occasions (with the exception of chthonic rituals) a large portion of the sacrificed animal was consumed by the participants…so that sounds more like a barbeque done in a religious festive spirit than what I imagine is usually connotated from the word “sacrifice”.
It does seem that there are folks do an abbreviated form of this, especially since many of us in this day and age, and the advent of the refrigerated grocery stores, have the skills necessary to slaughter and butcher animals. So it is not unheard of for people to purchase meat for sacrificial ritual. . . .which always makes me think of a scene from major league that involved a bucket of KFC in place of a live chicken. It is all good.
So to make a long answer short, whereas I wouldn’t do it I have no issue with others who make that a part of their rituals and can see how it would be a nice addition to their socio-religious spirit not only in sharing this food stuff with the gods but essentially enjoying a barbeque together in community spirit.
Skepoet: Are there areas in which Reconstruction of ancient practices are difficult for you or in a modern context?
Lykeia: I think one of the most difficult things is that in modern times most of us do not live in large communities for celebration and worship. Though the domestic worship was a very, very important part of Hellenic life, the public festivals are an element that most of us do not get the opportunity to enjoy. Since I have no fellow worshipers outside of my family my domestic worship is all that I really have, and therefore I often find myself modifying festivals that would have been historically participated in on a large scale (with processions, music etc) in a very limited fashion adapted for a single worshiper or pair of worshipers.
This includes such activities as the weaving of Athena’s veil for the Panathenaea which was done by numerous girls working cooperatively together. As such because we lack the real life social community that was historically part of Hellenic festivals, it also removes us, and most significantly the next generation of Hellenic children, such as my daughter, from having these beautiful landmarks in their development marking their passage into adulthood. Many of us come into our religion as adults, and so have more or less come to terms that there are certain things which we won’t be able to experience personally, but it is unfortunate that they are also amiss from the development of our children when many of the festivals were participated within by boys and girls, and youths and maidens.
Therefore in short it seems that we are missing the social celebration that not only brings people together in honor of the gods but is part of the spiritual development of all of us as we pass through certain periods of our lives by traditional ritualistic roles that would have been engaged in whether that be the matrons of the city tending to the city hearth for Hestia, or girls dancing as bears for Brauonia. The socio-religious portion serves in part to mark our physical development which echoes the spiritual progress of the soul from infancy to maturity and as such this festival atmospheres are social recognitions of this process.
Skepoet: Do you think the geographic distance between Hellenics is a problem for the community to overcome?
Lykeia: I don’t see it necessarily in the light of something to overcome, but rather a fact of life at this point. Where most people choose to settle rarely has anything to do with fellowship in worship, (sadly those who would like to move for being close to fellow worshipers are often in the situation of economic feasibility) but is often based on other factors, though we all hope to find this fellowship in whatever locality we are living. This tends to be easier with some religious communities than others. Ideally I think most of us would like to have a real life community as something to aspire towards and hope for, but in the end the most important is the domestic worship and we may have the good fortune to find other interested parties to worship with. One issue that keeps us small is that Hellenismos is not typically widely known of, therefore those who love the gods of Hellas are usually unaware that we exist and fall in with other religious groups. It might be easier to foster local communities if we are a bit more visible. Granted we have alot of self-published writers and even a few private publishing presses through amazon.com, not to mention an assortment of websites, but most of these resources are less likely to be found in generic searches. Not that there is anything wrong with the resources that we have, we just need to make the person effort to make ourselves more visible so folks know that hey we are here and this is a possible direction you may find fulfilling if you love the gods and culture of Hellas.
Skepoet: What do you think of the current status of Hellenismos oriented organizations? Do you belong to any?
Lykeia: It seems to me that many of the various groups and organizations are experiencing a bit of a lull, part of this may be due to the rising popularity of social media such as Facebook, or people being more inclined to find people locally to connect with, or may be do also to economic pressures which reduces a person’s access to available internet. There may be a lot of factors contributing to a decline in online organizations. That said, because resources such as Facebook have been come more and more mainstream I think people are relying less on organizations to find peers, but are connecting with each other via these social media outlets by which you can communicate with a broad number of people effectively.
For this reason it seems that online organizations are fairly obsolete unless they can provide some kind of service behind which people can get together for the benefit of worshipers. While organizations that were net-working focused were extremely valuable in the past they seemed to have outlived that kind of usefulness and would survive better if they could focus on community projects and services.
As for groups, I am a member of several such as Neokoroi (I write for their quarterly ezine He Epistole), and Kyklos Apollon. I was a member of Hellenion but my membership has lapsed temporarily until I am in a position to be able to renew my membership.
Skepoet: Are there any trends right now you find particularly worrying in the community?
Lykeia: I wouldn’t say that there are any trends that problematic, at least not that I have seen. Perhaps the biggest thing that has been remarked upon is that a lot of new people tend to feel intimidated or unwelcome based on a kind of scholarly level that many worshipers prefer to keep to. But that seems to be more of an interpersonal problem since the problem usually comes from people who lack a bit of diplomacy in dealing with others and will challenge anything that is posted as fact but unsubstantiated. Therefore new people, who really have no in depth background other than bits and pieces of information they have picked up here or there and no idea of what is expected within the group, can potentially feel jumped upon and attacked and will judge the whole community based off a bad experience with one or two individuals.
I have noticed that there is a lot of more academic discussion than anything else which may intimidate some people or make them feel that it is an academic community rather than a worship community. I believe this is because a lot of people enjoy talking of their religion and sharing new things that they have learned, but less talk about their own rituals or what they do.
Skepoet: Anything that you would like to say in closing?
Lykeia: In closing I would just like to say that Hellenismos is a lifestyle (because it is more than just religion but an entire way of life) that is full of beauty, containing layers upon layers of meaning in the myths, and within that we can find a wonderful balance between scholarship, experience and personal spirituality. And perhaps one of its most redeeming features is that Hellenismos is not JUST a nature religion but it is a religion that is in accordance with nature and its laws while embracing the goods of civilization, as well as providing for the progress and benefit of the soul. That it is such a vibrant way of life is probably why I have been in love with the gods for 15 years now, without a day of indecision or uncertainity, and see myself having this same love grow over the following years of my life to whatever length the fates are kind enough to grant me.