The Urban Polytheist (1)

As devotees of gods and goddesses whose worship originated in places often very distant from where we reside, an important part of practice can be finding outdoor locations (and I feel there is much value in extending our practices beyond home shrines) that feel appropriate for prayer and rite. Perhaps there is more impetus to this for city dwellers than for suburbanites, as in the suburbs people often feel comtent to confine their rites to backyards. An advantage in cities is there are often locations with classical artwork, statuary and other associations for the deities (this is, of course, particularly true for Greco-Roman ones).

Any such place is a good pace to start, perhaps sitting first with prayers and simple acknowledgements. Even if you live in a city without overt artworks and emblems, there are many starting points. If you are a devotee of Dionysus is there a vintner in your locale? An impressive theater? Are there cemeteries where you can worship underworld deities? A library might be suitable for Hermes. There are always crossroads…

A festival that has become a moving one for me over the last few years is the Hermaia Propylaia (Hermes Before the Gate) developed by Sannion and Dver. While ideally this is celebrated in a cemetery, I have adapted it to my local landscape which is lacking in cemeteries (for a long time, San Francisco has only allowed burial outside its borders, mostly in nearby Colma, known as the City of the Dead). But I explored and found places resonant with imagery of the dead, one example being planted with cypress trees, which have long carried a symbolic freight of associations with the underworld and the dead. I suspect the golf course where I have performed the rite the last couple of years does have burials, but whether or not that hunch is correct, performing the rite at this site has resulted in deep experiences and contacts.

Fountains are great places to remember that throwing the coin into the water is actually a rite, and should be accompanied by a prayer to the nymph. Art museums are often full of artworks depicting the deities and are homes of the Muses, but these are worth articles of their own.

One of the Sutro Lions, 1880s. By the Belgian artist, Guillaume Geefs.

I will give a more detailed example though. San Francisco has a gorgeous park called Sutro Heights that was once the estate of Adolf Sutro, a 19th century mayor who could well be thought of as one of the city’s benefactors and builders (a category of people I think can well be offered honors). The site is on a bluff that falls precipitously to the strand of the Pacific (and with Cliff House right below). Nearby are the ruins of Sutro Baths, a popular bathing establishment during Victorian times, which held up to 25,000 gender-segregated bathers at a time. Much, including the mansion, is long gone, but Sutro had filled his gardens with classical statuary and opened them to the public. The statue of Diana remains, along with a couple of her deer. This statue often has flowers and other offerings left on the pediment, and has long been a place for Dianics, Wiccans and other devotees of the Lady of the Wild Woods to offer devotion. I had long been familiar with this statue and when seeking an outdoor place to offer devotion to the god Antinous I thought it would be an ideal site. Historically, Antinous had a connection with Artemis/Diana. At Lanuvium, a location south of Rome near the Lake Nemi sacred to Diana and the famous locus of the Golden Bough, a second century inscription was found that revealed that Antinous and Diana had a joint cult and templethere. In that era, funeral societies (collegia) were important civic groupings for common people; pooling their resources they could hope to decently bury their dead. This society met for monthly feasts and fundraising. Knowledge of this ancient connection made the Sutro location seem a promising one. Also, the main entryway to the park is flanked by two massive lions (copies of the badly weather-eroded originals which are in National Park Service storage—this is a locale of fog and salt-laden winds off the Pacific)). Antinous and Hadrian are closely connected with lions, particularly through the mythos of the Lion Hunt, where Antinous cast a spear at a dangerous man-eating Egyptian lion but missed and Hadrian saved the day. The slain lion’s blood was said to have changed into a beautiful red lotus flower by the following morning, and so became a symbol of Antinous. So more strong imagery! I should mention that the statue of Diana is set in a grove of cypress and pine trees (with eucalyptus nearby). At a location close to but a bit removed I found an ideal ritual spot, easily demarcated.  I have offered devotions there including the reading of poems, prayers, the practice known as invoking the obelisk in Antinoan practice, and giving small offerings. The connection is strong; it’s a great place to offer to Antinous as well as to Diana/Artemis. Further practice only makes the association/link stronger with time.

I greatly encourage people to seek out such sites of their own.