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April 21st has a number of interesting events and rituals associated with it. Some time around this date in the year 125CE the emperor Hadrian went on a bear hunt in Greece (note, I don’t suggest that hunting bears is something that should be done these days or is ethical in our overpopulated world). He offered the bearskin at a temple in Thespiae to the goddess Aphrodite Ourania, (and her son Eros), the aspect of the goddess who presided over homoerotic love. He offered this inscription to Her and her son (translation by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus):

To Eros the Archer-son of the sweet tongues Cyprian

Aphrodite,

dwelling at Heliconian Thespiae

besides Narcissus’ flowering garden:

I say be gracious, grant acceptance

of the best parts of this bear from Hadrian,

the very one killed by a blow from horseback.

Thou, of Thy own accord, in return for this, may kharis soberly

be breathed on him by Aphrodite-Urania.

Of course the prayer was eventually filled with the arrival of Antinous. I mark/celebrate this as a beginning of their love, even if this was purely conceptual on Hadrian’s at this point. The day is also called the Erotikon.

The Ekklesia Antinoou marks this day as the celebration of the Megala Antinoeia which manifest today in a contest of poems stories, artworks, and so on and some kind of physical activity, as the original Sacred Games of Antinous initiated by the grieving emperor in 131CE consisted of various athletic competitions as well as artistic and theatrical ones. Check out the Aedicula Antinoi for more about this.

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Hadrian also moved the festival of the Veneralia, the feast of Venus to this date when he opened the Temple of Venus Roma Aeterna. A poem I wrote a few years ago is here shared:

“Venus Felix and Roma”

Hadrian set Venus to face the bloody

Coliseum, reinscribing martial Rome with amor,

Which, as the emperor via his temple

Architecturally ordained, is Roma backwards.

The temple where the two goddesses sat back to back

Was built on the site of Nero’s

Golden House and leaden crimes.

The shimmering green goddess,

The alluring one, cast her spell upon the city,

Backed by her sister; the cavalcade of history

Broke over the metropolis—churches and columns

Commingled, promiscuous in baroque subversions,

Bedecking a city no longer of empire but

Of La dolce vita, Fellini’s carnival.

O Venus Felix, your power, your seduction

Still washes over the city in perfumed waves,

Spins desire in elegance and glamour,

From the Spanish Steps to the Pincio, from

Santa Francesca Romana* to Castel Sant’ Angelo.

*The church of Santa Francesca Romana was built on the site of the temple.

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Of further note, this is the traditional birthday of Numa Pompilius the wise king and giver of the sacred laws to the young city of Rome, the peaceful lawgiver who succeeded the warring sovereign Romulus (and said to be the birthday of the city itself). Dumezil saw these as the two sides of sovereignty in Religio Romana, the terrible magical sovereign and the reasoned juridical legislator, with the penchant for historicizing mythology in that culture. Too bad that Rome was not more often governed by wise and just leaders like Numa and Hadrian. Hail the love of Hadrian and Antinous!

Herakleitos

I love Herakleitos. Here are some quotes.*

Fragment 5: Our understanding of the greatest matters will never be complete.

57: Many people learn nothing from what they see and experience, nor do they understand what they hear explained, but imagine that they have.

61: Men are not intelligent, the gods are intelligent.

63: The gods presence in the world goes unnoticed by men who do not believe in the gods.

72: Fire catches up with everything, in time.

74: There are gods here too.

79: There is a madness in the Sybill’s voice, her words are gloomy, ugly, and rough, but they are true for a thousand years, because a god speaks through her.

School of Athens, Raphael. Michelangelo was the model for the philosopher here.

School of Athens, Raphael. Michelangelo was the model for the philosopher here.

*From Guy Davenport’s translations in 7 Greeks (New Directions).

Hospitality can, at times, be a complex thing. It does lie at the core of our tradition. With the knowledge that we have in the 21st century of interrelationships of all life I think we should be able to recognize that we are guests on this planet ourselves. We are part of it but we have a limited time span. We should strive to understand better these interrelationships and do the deeds that each of us will feel compelled to do (which can obviously very widely). Maybe we will find we have certain geasa.

But on a more microcosmic level what about with our fellow humans? If we live in a republic, then surely that includes our fellow citizens (a word that seems kind of radical at this point in time, when powerful forces constantly insist we are simply consumers, which implies we are not in relationship at all).

Media forces, power forces in this particular republic (US) work to obscure for white people (as I am socially constructed) that many Americans experience life with much less privilege. The last few years images and incidents of police violence, what are ‘extra-judicial killings’ of young men of color, especially African-American and Latino, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Mike Brown, and the recent slaughter of Walter Scott, have broken through carefully attended facade for some. And yet for millions of whites complacency remains intact.

A month ago I found myself at an event where extended family, people I would consider rather distant relatives from geographically far off places (Midwest, South) had all assembled to celebrate my mother’s life. I found myself in the awkward situation of to some degree being a guest, as two of these relatives wanted us to stay in their place (which I was not comfortable doing in the first place). One morning I found myself having a bit of breakfast and coffee at the dining table with some of these relatives whom I don’t actually know and obviously perceived the world very very differently than I do. Suddenly disturbing remarks were being made. The key word was Ferguson. Outwardly, I stayed calm (something I wouldn’t have managed when I was young) and challenged the racist statements. I wish I’d done more like delivered a coherent lecture. At any rate the dictates of truth and justice overrode any specific law of immediate hospitality. I know some people won’t say anything in such situations; I think it is crucial that we do so. I think of the Druid revival phrase ‘The Truth Against the World’, in this case the world shaped by institutional racism. If truth is in our hearts, it must find fulfillment in our tongues (as the fianna Caílte once told St. Patrick).

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The killing of the world begins with an assault on the imagination. Across the planet the invaders from England, France, Holland, Spain spread, bearing guns and crucifixes, germs and fires, figurative and literal. New techniques of organization to regularize ‘things’, one way to order the numinous imposed on multitudes, one grand story of one sacrificed god, whose revelation had happened long ago, and the channels were not open for more. Missions, burnings of books—think the burning of the Aztec and Maya codices, erasures of ancient ways, and back at home, the reformations and the counter reformation to do the same to those who’d remained somewhat outside the bounds, outside the pale (the ‘pale’ being the area of Ireland under direct English control).

 

Today it’s carried out by Hollywood, by game designers, by the manufactures of America’s heavily processed landscapes, its simulations of nature, and of course the digitalization of everything. The steamrolling of mythologies into franchises, the proliferation of non-spaces like those of resorts, airports, malls, parking lots, convention hotels, business parks and tech ‘campuses’ and all the other ‘de-placed’ spaces. People would rather play Candy Krush on their phones than look at each other or their actual environment. Likely that the ugliness of so much of the man made environment creates its own feedback loop.

 

Recently a family reunion brought me into one of those non-places. A rich cousin whom I hadn’t seen since I was a little kid put us up in what was an obviously expensive but generic resort in Hawaii. I’ve long decried the massive development on what once were lava beds in a desert microclimate; golf courses and hotels and expensive condos distributed in a sprawl creep like mold over this one pristine coast. The first night I sat outside my room, opening myself up to the land, and I felt a terrible sadness, the intense suffering of the spirits of this place that had been essentially de-placed. Instead of vitality there was a listlessness. The next day my partner and I walked for quite a ways along the coast, walls and keep off signs in abundance; there, I felt the anger of the local spirits. I stopped and offered prayer, not knowing what else to do. The powerful ocean lapped against the shore of this tourist sacrifice zone.

 

 

The next morning we walked out of this enclosure and into a tangled wood of tough kiawe trees (a wickedly spiny mesquite, Prosopis pallida, originally brought from the desert coast of South America, nearly 200 years ago, which have claimed the arid coast to a degree where they seem native). Another world still prevails here, tough and shrouded, and elemental. The sky was wet, and soft droplets of rain fell. Out here are petroglyphs, an ancient ‘script’, a writing on the land by a people who saw themselves as part of it. Rough lava rocks and thorny branches clawed at our shoes. And then an opening, a flow of lava that seemed also an enclosure, but another sort, a sacred set aside—inscribed with this language that I cannot read but opens me up to awe. My own skin absorbed something mysterious from this field of inscribed black rock, as I breathed in the warm air, air moistened with the rain drops of Pele’s island, literally enchanted.

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The Imagination is a resource that humans cannot really live without, not as free beings worthy of the gods, at any rate. The Imagination connects us with that which is beyond, and with deeper relationships with the rest of life. Finally, I would say a democratic society cannot live without its citizens’ imagination. Late capitalism replaces everything with an ersatz inauthentic way of life. And we will require the unfettered imagination to get out of its erasures.

 

I’ve noticed so much confusion around social media lately about reconstruction, and Celtic Reconstruction in particular that I’m going to make my small part to hopefully unmuddy the waters. See Lairbhan for another effort on this for recon in general. One thing that really gets me is ‘the I like flush toilets, I need my insulin, I couldn’t really live on a sheep farm’ type statements. Yet no one has ever said that being a Celtic reconstructionist means living in an Iron Age reenactment (even if that were possible). Can we please stop saying these things? Reconstruction is not reenactment of a past age.

 

Then we get the stereotype that has been going for at least a couple of decades. Recons don’t practice spirituality, they “only” read books. From the very early days we had people like Erynn Rowan Laurie saying we are based on archaeology and aisling (vision/dream). That was always at the foundation. A few years ago this got refined to Aisling, ársaíocht, agus agallamh, with arsaiocht meaning lore, or basically antiquarianism and agallamh being colloquy, the discussion. https://finnchuillsmast.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/revisiting-the-r-word-toward-an-experimental-reconstructionism/

 

So a triad, and what could be more Celtic? Sure this does create tension, and balance, but this is a good thing. The lore and the vision should be in dialog. Nothing is just passively accepted (which seems to be what a lot of neopagans want.) Then there’s that ridiculous stereotype that CRs are ‘mean’, but some of this is from people having to repeatedly challenge the same nonsense from those who have suckled on some fantasy of Celticity, like that Wicca is Celtic.

 

Vision can’t but help but be a crucial element of the redevelopment of Celtic polytheisms, the filid and seers played a central role in traditional Celtic societies. They also received substantial educations and they had plenty of debate.

 

Unfortunately, in my opinion, a lot of people come in from a rather New Age-y context where people just make statements and debate is actually frowned upon, considered ‘negative’.

 

And that is part of the process where some CRs have downplayed aisling.

 

Another part of this, though, is that study is a form of piety too (of which I will write more of later).

 

Another common misunderstanding goes back to the Iron Age thing (our detractors seem to love that phrase). A lot of us, certainly myself while trying my best to learn how religion operated at that time before the coming of Christianity, see that plenty of the spirituality did survive, even if in a circumscribed way. Offerings to the Good People hardly stopped and plenty of the values of old Ireland continued on down the generations. The folk practices of the nineteenth century are a great treasurehouse for my own practices, even if they were interwoven with Christian threads, they reflect a profound connection to land, sea and sky that far predated the coming of the Church. The Carmina Gadelica is a key resource for such; I suggest checking out Morgan Daimler’s paganized versions in By Land, Sea and Sky: www.amazon.com/Land-Sea-Sky-Morgan-Daimler-ebook/dp/B00N5TWKYW/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427517405&sr=1-7&keywords=Morgan+Daimler

 

Finally, for Celtic reconstructionism the culture, the languages, are integral—this may not be so much true for some other reconstructionist approaches. For people who would challenge this, I ask them to remember that these are the languages that our deities manifested in and these languages open doors to understanding Them better. They also show a respect and responsibility on our part to both ancestors (of blood or heart) and the living communities.

 

*CR aims to recreate the old ways for our current times but our ways often challenge views of the so-called ‘overculture’.

ReWilding Poem

Here’s a rewilding poem for this vernal weekend.

 

I celebrate the return of the wolves

to California, the beavers to England,

The resurgence of the European bear

scouting the woods of Italy and Iberia,

The regrowth of the Caledonian forest and

The prairies of the upper Missouri,

Coyotes with sleek coats, content

In San Francisco’s parks,

Porpoises in the bay,

The millennium forests of Ireland,

The appearance of the golden lessingia,

And the rewilding of Romania.

The wild grows back

Pushing through concrete,

the floret of dandelions

In the storm drain, the crows

On the apartment ledge

With their huge messy nest.

With a little push here and there from us

It happens faster, there is no denying it.

A fire burns in our hearts,

Whether the seven-ton heart of the blue whale,

The supercharged one of the tiniest hummingbird,

Beating ten times a second,

Or the too often banked one of the human animal.

Smothering the green fire leads to the death of

Both imagination and soul.

 

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“In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Thoreau

A Book Review

I read this book a few months ago, when there was a lot of discussion on the subject in the blogosphere, and am at last getting around to putting this review up. I think it is relevant not only to those interested in Greek and Roman practices and attitudes, but for the wider Indo-European field, including Celtic.

 

Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient Victims, Modern Observers,

edited by Christopher A. Faraone and F.S. Naiden. Cambridge: 2012.

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This book focuses on Greek and Roman practices but has wider implications. In the latter part of last year ‘discussion’ flared up on the issues of animal sacrifice in pagan/polytheist contexts today. One can hear some proponents of the practice stating that it is “central” to their particular tradition. In fact it’s widely thought as of being the case among the two cultures of the title. The editors begin the book with an interesting statement, “In recent scholarship, animal sacrifice ranks as the central ritual act of the Greeks and Romans, yet this was not always so.” They go on to show how it was Walter Burkert and J. P. Vernant. (with Marcel Detienne) that gave it this central placement, and that their views became the norm. The French and German schools of interpretation were distinct but both agreed that animal sacrifice was a distinct practice and served social functions of political solidarity.

 

In recent years, many scholars have challenged Burkert’s and Vernant’s views, questioning its centrality. The Greeks lacked a word specific to animal sacrifice. The usual term thuein/thusia means to make smoke. The basic Roman words were sacrificare, meaning “any act by which something was put into the possession of a god.” 4 Also immolare, which meant to sprinkle meal. The central act of Roman worship, the authors say, was the burning of incense. Those who were suspected of refusing worship of the emperor were required to make an offering of incense and wine. The Christians like certain NeoPlatonics (see Porphyry, for example) were against the sacrifice of animals. I came away from this reading thinking it may have been the Christians who made it a separate category with heated disapproval (they believed Christ’s sacrifice was the only sacrifice), and then leading pagans to defend it, creating a conceptual category that had not previously been there.

 

Bruce Lincoln gives a history of modern western thoughts and theories on sacrifice from the late 19th century to the present. Fritz Graf discusses the abandonment of ‘great theories’ a generation after Burkert’s and Vernant’s works. John Scheid writes all acts of eating and drinking were shared with the gods, whether plant material, meat, wine.…” Certain vegetable offerings, like the pure wine and the incense, were themselves a representation of the gods, and were in a certain sense even more important than animal sacrifice, because by offering them the Romans made the gods present, and opened a space for ritual communication with them.”

F.S. Naiden problematizes the idea that the Greek animal sacrifice was a widely shared communal meal by marshaling a vast amount of archaeological evidence from recent years based on faunal remains, size of ancient animals, which were much smaller than contemporary ones, and other osteiological evidence. He concludes that with certain exceptions there just wouldn’t have been a enough meat for it to have been shared by a whole community.

 

 

Jas Elsner writes complexly on the evidence of Roman art and warns of the tendency to take it as realistic representation. Something striking though is in a change from 200CE, one of mostly depicting vegetal sacrifice and libations, although this is the period of the mounting Christian attacks on the bloodiness of Roman rites. The historical evidence does suggest a lessening of the animal sacrifice during the later Empire and he notes one religion of the time, Judaism had turned away from it after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE. I found his last sentence eye-opening: “The bigger ‘theological’ argument, however, that we as a scholarly community have systematically overrated the significance of animal sacrifice within the general ritual complex of ancient religions and specifically within Roman religions, by contrast with other elements within the sacred system (such as libation). In doing so we have effectively not only followed but swallowed hook, line, and sinker the suggestions made by our polemical Christian sources in their brilliant rhetorical rant against the religious world that preceded them” (my emphasis).

 

Richard Neer, an art historian reminds readers that what was often sacrificed were treasures, objects made by humans, and that some of the most famous temples of all including the Parthenon and the Hephaestium in central Athens show no signs of a much looked for altar for animal sacrifice, the buildings themselves being expensive offerings. I note that archaeological evidence from the Celtic world shows a similar propensity for the sacrifice of beautifully wrought human-made objects.

 

James Redfield writes on sacrifice in comedy and Albert Henrichs on the situation in tragedy, where sacrifice gone awry, especially human sacrifice like that of Iphigenia, what he calls sacrificial perversion becomes a common theme. Henrichs also reminds us that while English has the one term sacrifice, ancient Greek had half a dozen. Sacrificial perversion includes sacrificing animals for the wrong reasons to the substitution of a human victim. Animal sacrifice is central to Greek tragedy, and Burkert focused on the evidence of tragedy for his theories of the sacrificial in general. According to Henrichs, Burkert in some of his publications make “the intriguing equivalence of animal and man…that casts the shadow of human sacrifice over al those holy altars in front of the temples.” Henrichs counters “Nothing could be further from the truth…human victims and animal victims are treated the same as far as the sacrificial language and the ritual process are concerned, but from an ethical point of view, they are worlds apart, as the tragedians make crystal clear”.

 

In the conclusion Clifford Amdo writes “When the Arval Brethren adapted earlier ritual forms to find a place for divinized emperors within pre-existing conceptions of the world, various forms of cognitive and communicative work were performed, and new forms of social differentiation and corresponding patterns of deportment were granted the dignity of legitimation in light of such antiquity and authority that orthopraxis treasured and could bestow.” A bit dense, but carries an important insight for those of doing reconstruction, I think. Overall the books dislodges blood sacrifice from centrality, and on the other hand does not deny its importance; the reality was complex, differentiated, nuanced in time and place, and the evidence we have always comes through interpretative and partial lens. I recommend this work for any polytheist who really wants to know what scholarship currently has to say about this topic. It clearly shows that there is no one way for this practice.

 

 

 

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