Friday, September 27, 2013

Message to The King of Amethysts

...from your Golden Queen.

May this missive find you in good health and good spirits.

You will:
Remove the tarnish from my eyes.
Ferment my bitter into sweetness.
Make love to my shadow and turn it to light.

Upon this, I shall take my seat at my throne and rule once more.


Today is
22 Niqalu, Shanatu 86
It is the 22nd day of the lunar month of Niqalu in the Ugaritic-Canaanite calendar. It has been 86 years since the rediscovery of the Canaanite city-state of Ugarit in modern-day Syria.

Image Notes
Photo of amethyst Roman cabochon by Clio20, used under Creative Commons License

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Experiencing Athiratu

How to hold the roar of a lion in something as fragile and ephemeral as words? Not even spoken words, but words that pass swiftly and last even more temporally amidst the fragile inter-web? And yet this is my work today, describing to you how I experience the goddess Athiratu, and knowing that I must inevitably fail to capture her magnificence.

So many times in the past when scholars have bothered to dust off her tales, to unearth her narratives, they have simplified her personality into that of simply a "fertility goddess" and have managed to confuse her with her daughters, 'Anatu and 'Athtartu. And they've even gotten 'Anatu and 'Athtartu a bit convoluted, especially when it comes to Late Bronze Age Canaanite material. Athiratu is a goddess of order, wisdom, queenship, duty, motherhood and lineage.

But let's be honest. You didn't come here for a dusty lecture of someone else's academic opinion--you can get that yourself by visiting a library. You came here for a breath of sweet air, a spark of insight. I'll do my best to provide.

When I experience her, her voice varies from feeling as if it is jiggling the fragile bones of my inner ear to that of a soft breeze. A sound of a warm wind rustling through the tops of date palm trees. Her presence, her voice, is regal.

When I experience the force of her personality, she is the definition of a queen. I would describe her as matronly, business-like, in charge, dominant without being domineering, compassionate, strong, and honest--sometimes brutally honest. She hasn't time to mince words, although she will be as civil and as tactful as her duties will allow. Sometimes she will drop the small-talk and niceties to a bare minimum while still maintaining her decorum. She is the goddess who cares enough about you to tell you what you don't want to hear. Although she is mother to much of the Iluma (the Canaanite pantheon) she is not a "mommy"-type. If you fall, she may not kiss your skinned knee, but she will help you to your feet. Athiratu won't give you a trophy for mere participation. As a tough-as-nails ancient queen mother, she may seem stern and distant sometimes, but she will go to the ends of the earth to keep you whole. She is the kind of wisdom and compassion to allow you to learn for yourself and to nudge you where necessary or where asked, and her advice is wise, prudent, and timely. She is a loving goddess, in powerful unfettered since of the word "love"--not in the sense of insipid Valentine's cards, not in trite phrases, not in agreement simply to avoid conflict and maintain harmony, not in simpering sweetness.

The force of her reality is such that it can make a person feel laid bare, and that can bring someone not ready to face that reality into a state of fear, extreme discomfort, or even anger. And she doesn't really care if that makes you uncomfortable: sometimes that discomfort is part of her "teaching experience." For that matter, her presence has the capacity to do that to someone who is ready and capable of experiencing her. Also, in a day and an age where most of us aren't used to honoring monarchs, it can be doubly difficult for some people to approach her.

Athiratu doesn't appreciate disrespectful behavior or swear words. There are a few times when she may consider allowing a certain amount of this sort of behavior but only among those of equal or nearly equal rank whom she personally likes. Profanity is only allowable if in a witty and appropriate context. So, kids, get out that swear box, because you're going to need it. With her, it's more a matter of decorum and appropriate behavior for appropriate situations. At the same time, she has no qualms about representations of phalli.

She likes feasts, and honors community efforts. There are few things better than when people come together to nourish one another.

In her role, she oversees the cosmos to the most minute detail and she takes her duties very seriously. Although she has a love of finery, she will get her hands dirty and do what is necessary. Her essence is practical, far-seeing, and wise. Earn her appreciation and on rare occasion she will lobby other Powers on your behalf. She is slow to anger, but she can become angry if provoked or forgotten over time--this isn't just my experience, this is also borne out in Ugaritic texts where she curses a king for having reneged on a vow to her for seven years standing. But she becomes very aggravated when something interferes with her work. Aid her in her work, and she will aid you in yours.

"Heavy is the head that wears the crown..."

And here is a little more about honoring her.

Today is
20 Niqalu, Shanatu 86
It is the twentieth day of Niqalu in the Canaanite-Ugaritic calendar. It is the 86th year since the rediscovery of the city-state of Ugarit, a place from which we have gained much of our Late Bronze Age primary texts.

Image Notes
This is the crown of Queen Puabi of Ur, a Sumerian kingdom. The crown dates to about 2600 BCE. Although the Sumerians are a different culture than the Canaanites, they often share artistic motifs and inspiration. Photo is said to originate from the University of Tennessee and is in public domain. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Look Who I Found

Look who I found decorating my wine rack...

Isn't she magnificent.

Today is
18 Niqalu, Shanatu 86
It is the 18th day since the new moon. It is the Canaanite-Ugaritic month of Niqalu. It has been 86 years since the rediscovery of the city-state of Ugarit.

Image Notes
Photograph is my own. Give me due credit and please do not use without my permission. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cradling an Oracle

To hold an oracle, a vision, a dream, a meditation, a reflection, cradle it gently in your hands like water. If you grasp, all you will have are the leftover droplets clinging to your skin.

 If you forget to cleanse yourself first, you cannot have a clear canvas upon which to see the vision.

Only then can the images, the sensations, the emotions, the import of the vision etch itself indelibly upon you.

Only then can you experience the kiss of inspiration the vision provides.

Today Is
16 Niqalu, Shanatu 86
Our new year began with the previous new moon. It has been 16 days since the new moon (chudthu) and it is the Ugaritic month of Niqalu. It has been 86 years since the rediscovery of the Canaanite city-state of Ugarit (in modern-day Syria), a place from which archaeologist unearthed much of our Late Bronze Age primary documents written in Ugaritic alphabetic cuneiform.

Image Credits

Photo of hands holding water by Weldis, used under Creative Commons License.

Photo of messy hands by Danabooo, used under Creative Commons License

Photo of tattooed hand taken at the hilltop Rabari village of Bhadroi by Meena Kadri and used under Creative Commons.

Geminus by Frans Vanlent, released into Public Domain

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why are the Deities' Names Different?

This is a question I am asked frequently because it causes a great deal of frustration in one who is new to Canaanite polytheism. Why are the deities' names different? Why are the spellings different? Are they the same deity? Just what is going on here?!? I pick up a book and see Astarte here and 'Athtartu there. Huh? What's up with that?

The answer technical do you want to get? It is a surprisingly many-layered question, and I truly hope I do not make your head explode. But it's a good question and I will try to tackle it first through the example of the name for the head god of the Iluma (our "pantheon")--the god Ilu.

Ilu is the Ugaritic word for "god". It is also the name of the head of the pantheon. Ugaritic is a Semitic language that is older than Hebrew and has its own cuneiform writing--texts in Ugaritic give us most of our sense of the Canaanite pantheon. The word ilu can be used as a proper name, Ilu, the god of our pantheon (as in "God"), or it can be used as a noun as in the god Dagan, ilu Dagan.

El is the Hebrew word for "god/God." Hebrew is, of course, a Semitic language, but it is not as old as Ugaritic, and early in its writing uses the Phoenician alphabet. It is also the name of the head of the earlier polytheistic Israelite pantheon before the Israelites went monotheist.

Sometimes scholars use the terms Ilu and El interchangeably, likely because 1) the words are inter-translatable and both come from Semitic languages 2) the name El is more easily recognizable because people know the name from biblical studies 3) most people go into studying Canaanite religion with a goal towards elucidating biblical studies 4) most people go into Canaanite religious studies while adhering to a monotheistic--often biblical--religion 5) most people go into Canaanite studies having studied Hebrew language already 6) many scholars don't view deities as real, independent deities. Basically, if someone's name was Star and she moves to Mexico, she has the option of translating her name to Estrella--which means Star--or keeping her name as Star from English.

Now add to this matter years and years of biblical bias and the very concept of biblical archaeology*, then add a matter of Greek translation (Astarte for 'Athartu), changes over time, or even interpretatio graeca and interpretatio romana and you've got a perfect storm for problems.

Interpretatio graeca and interpretatio romana are techniques used by classical scholars for "translating" a foreign deity's name by using the divine names of Greek or Roman culture. The technique was originally meant to help a reader have a quicker understanding of a "foreign god" but it has led to some awkwardness and a few dubious connections for most modern readers--sometimes Ba'lu Haddu is "translated" as Zeus, but Ba'lu Haddu is not the head of our pantheon and doesn't hold the exact same position or responsibilities as Zeus. There is the matter of 'Athtartu and Astarte, an actual translation and linguistic shift of a name from a Semitic language into Greek, but in this case it also encompasses a shifting of ideas and I'd venture to say a different goddess: 'Athtartu in earlier Ugaritic-Canaanite material is not a goddess of sex and war, but a goddess of treaties, fairness, and hunting, but has little to nothing to do with sex.

Also, we're often looking at at least at two different Semitic languages, usually Hebrew and Ugaritic, but also Phoenician. Hebrew, Ugaritic, and Phoenician aren't the same languages although they are related. It is like looking at Latin then revisiting Spanish and Portuguese. Ba'al is the Hebrew word for lord, while Ba'lu is the Ugaritic word for lord. The -u you see on a lot of the words and names in Ugaritic is called a case vowel, and it denotes whether the word is in a nominative case (as opposed to genitive case or accusative case) and indicates that the noun is a subject and/or isn't being acted upon. By the era of Phoenician and Hebrew, the Semitic languages had largely dropped case vowels.

Add to this the fact that we're dealing not just with four different languages--Hebrew, Ugaritic, Phoenician, and English--and three different alphabets. Hebrew used the Phoenician alphabet for a long time in antiquity; square script, the alphabet usually associated with Hebrew, didn't come around until much later.

Both Hebrew an Ugaritic have letters which do not have counterparts in English. And Ugaritic has three "alef" letters which signify a glottal stop in combination with one of three different vowels, but they do not use consonants (matres lectionis) to represent vowels--this differs from Hebrew which uses only one alef (which represents a glottal stop plus a vowel), but also makes use of several consonants to signify vowels. Because Semitic languages are written with just consonants, and consonants that suggest letters,  the vowels may appear to be shifting or flat-out changing in the older forms of names and other words. This is because the vowels given are largely hypothetical and based on comparative studies through other Semitic languages--so this can shift as our understanding of these languages shift, or it can shift as a different scholar will have a different theory on which vowel is more correct. Basically, it is helpful to look to see if there is a similarity in the consonants.

Thus you can end up with multiple spellings--the moon god Yarikhu can look like Yarik, Yarikh, Yarikhu, Yariḫ, or Yariḫu, and that is just in Ugaritic. For a transliteration of Hebrew, you may even see "moon" translated as Yareach, Yareakh, or Yareaḫ.

Sometimes people will spell out the letters which do not exist in English, some people will use different tail-wagging apostrophes (one for an alef-letter and a different one for an 'ayin, while others will only use an apostrophe for an 'ayin and nothing for an alef), some will use consonant combinations for transliterating into English (examples: "ch", "kh", "sh") while others will use diacritics (ḥ, ḫ, š) and some computer systems don't allow for and/or misrepresent diacritics. Add to this that there are different systems of transliterating just Hebrew: sometimes people will use a -ph- instead of an -f- because the p and the f are symbolized by the same letter in Hebrew (and there is no -f-sound in Ugaritic).

(*There's no other archaeological field that combines a literary narrative with archaeology and sees it as a serious field of study. I've never seen Vedic archaeology or Chaucerian archaeology... Traditionally, the Bible has been taken as literal fact, with archaeologists setting out to "prove" it. Thankfully, this is changing, but it changes slowly.)

My sympathies to those of you who now need an aspirin.

Today is
14 Niqalu (Malatu), Shanatu 86
It is the fourteenth day of the first month of our year, the month Niqalu. It has been 86 years since the rediscovery of Ugarit, the city-state from which we have gained most of our primary religious documents. Today is the malatu, the full moon.

Image Notes
Persian Sybil by Guercino, 1647. Public Domain.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Devotions to Athiratu

Because of the recent oracle I received from Athiratu, I've been asked how a person may set up a small devotional practice to honor her. Here are a few things to get you started:

First of all, it helps to know more about the goddess herself, and her image. Also, it helps to have a general idea about setting up a shrine, Canaanite-style. Please read these items first.

If you already have a shrine set up with a different cultural context in mind, Athiratu doesn't seem to mind being honored alongside deities that are outside her own pantheon. There is a great deal of cultural precedent for this: the Hurrians, neighbors to the north of Canaan, honored her. The Ugaritans (people of the Canaanite city-state of Ugarit, in Syria) honored Hurrian and Assyrian deities frequently. The Egyptians worshiped Rashap and 'Anatu, Canaanite deities. So, it is a custom that the Canaanite deities are accustomed to. Find, create, or run off an image of Athiratu from the internet. I would suggest an image more of Athiratu than of Asherah.* Although the imagery is slightly different, you can use an image of the "snake goddess of Crete" with the flounced skirt and bared breasts--it's not her, but Athiratu seems to respond to that image and it is similar to the Ugaritic image often associated with her. Do a little divination to figure out if she's ok with having her image near the deities you intend to put her near, but do a little divination to figure out if the other deities at your shrine would be alright with the situation. Not all deities are going to get along with one another: if you have a specific question about this matter, feel free to ask.

Make sure the shrine is up off the floor, as well as clean and clutter-free. She will not approve of a neglected shrine at all. Make sure pets aren't climbing all over the shrine, too. When you approach her, make sure you are clean: since it is an informal situation, just make sure to wash or rinse your hands or make sure they're not dirty. I like to keep nearby a bowl of Lebanese rose water or water with a few drops of marjoram or myrrh essential oil as a way to rinse first--this must be changed every few days. Sometimes taking off your shoes and covering your head  is helpful. She approves of bowing or prostration, so if you hope to get her attention you should at least bow.

She does not like pork or items cooked with pork right next to them, game meats (she prefers farmed meats), shellfish, "fast food," tobacco, tobacco smoke, dirt and clutter, strong bad smells, harsh chemicals and harsh chemical scents, associations of death or illness, human blood offerings, or bad behavior or foul language right in front of her. (That is, don't start or answer in a fight, or use foul language while standing or kneeling at her shrine.) If you wouldn't do an activity in front of royalty, don't do it right in front of her at a shrine. She generally doesn't like lentils, beans, or garlic; she seems ok with hummus but she prefers other items more.

If you make a vow before her or to her, you will have to make good on it in at least seven years or she will collect.

She does like:
  • Flowers-- Asiatic pink lilies, white lilies, light colored or white roses, palm fronds
  • Meats--Lamb, goat, beef, chicken, squab
  • Sweet red wine. Sweet blush wines (added 29 Sept 2013).
  • Olive Oil
  • Whole wheat flour with olive oil poured upon it, sometimes with myrrh resin added.
  • Soft white goat cheese, or labni--a soft cheese made from yogurt. Sometimes sweetened kefir, sometimes Indian lassi especially sweetened, with fruit added
  • High quality sweets and candy, especially baked goods (cookies, baklava), fruit cookies--Make sure these are from the bakery and not from a box on a shelf. 
  • Candy and sweets (added 29 Sept 2013): anything marzipan or almond-flavored
  • Honey. Flower-petal infused honeys (added 29 Sept 2013).
  • Bread, especially whole wheat flat bread. 
  • Henna, henna painting
  • Silver, gold, shining objects, coins, jewelry, beautiful things
  • Scented fragrance oils: use real over synthetic, or use a very high quality not-overpowering synthetic. 
  • Scented olive oil: add her scents to olive oil and place the oil in a bowl before her. 
  • Incense: High quality incense in her favorite scents or in myrrh.
  • Scents: Cistus/labdanum, lotus, rose, lily, cardamom, some kyphi, almond. Sometimes lilac. Likes fig scent/incense (added 29 Sept 2013). 
  • Fruits--Dates, figs, pomegranates, and apricots. Sometimes apples and apples with honey. 
  • Nuts--Almonds and candy-coated almonds. Sometimes walnuts and pistachios. Sometimes carob-covered nuts (added 29 Sept 2013)
  • Colors--Purple, turquoise, white. Gold (added 29 Sept 2013)
  • Olive oil lamps or beeswax candles
  • A soft sound of bells, tambourine, or sistrum
  • Linen or wool cloth. Her preference is for linen, but she doesn't turn down quality soft wool.
She also approves of offerings made to charities that help people, especially in your immediate local area. 

Of these, her favorite frequent offerings tend to be incense, meat, wine, and olive oil.

Today is
8 Niqalu, Shanatu 86
It is the eighth day of the month of Niqalu (the first month of our year), starting with the new moon. It has been 86 years since the rediscovery of the Late Bronze Age city-state of Ugarit, from where much of our primary documents originate--texts which are at least 3200 years old.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Reflections on "She Rides a Pale Donkey"

It's come to my attention that some folks have misread one of my previous posts. They insinuate the notion that I support violence, or they seem to think I have no compassion for human suffering, or that I am hiding unworthy opinions by putting them in the context of an oracle.

None of this could be further from the truth.

I submit that the opinions others have of me in this regard are their own reflections.

People either believe the deities as real, living powerful beings, or they don't. People either believe that I can receive an oracle from my deities, or don't. If a person has checked "yes" in either "don't" category, then whatever I do is suspect from there. How you read an oracle is a reflection of your belief or your lack thereof--either in the deities, in myself, or in either. If you don't believe in the deities, I can't help you there on that matter of faith or experience. If you don't believe that I can receive an oracle from the deities, you only have my word that I do, and the words of others who do and have experienced likewise and can confirm this. For some of you, that won't ever be enough. I can't make you live through and experience what I or other polytheists have, and there's the rub. For that matter,  I don't want to "make" you live through anything, and it's a moot question anyway for I do not have or want that capacity: I am a firm believer in free will.

The nature of oracle is what it is. If I were to edit my goddess's words for content and style, I would feel that I had failed in my duty to her and to others who need or want this message. If you don't believe that what I wrote was an oracle, if you don't need or want this message from her, you are at liberty to ignore it.

My post does not reflect an anti-Israel stance, and to suggest that it does is to try to use an emotional hot-button topic in an effort to shush me. Besides, ancient Canaan encompassed more than just what is now Israel, including areas of Syria and all of Lebanon. As such, I am also not anti-Palestinian. I am against some Israelis and some Palestinians alike if they resort to escalating violence. I am not pro-US involvement in Syria, or anywhere in the region. Europe and U.S. have done enough to mess up the Near East since the twentieth century and before. I am against violence. I am not a complete pacifist, but I am strongly opposed to the horrors of war, if they can be at all avoided. I am especially opposed if I believe the war is unjust or greedy in nature. I want the fighting there to come to a decent and peaceful resolution. At the same time, people have a right to protect themselves, their families, and their homes. I want the people of these lands to figure out for themselves just how they want to live together. But what I want and what I say about these issues doesn't matter two thiqlu-weights.

The words in the oracle of Athiratu reflect a parent's frustration, anger, and sadness when her child is screwing up his own life and refuses to listen. If you misread that for "Tess is pro-war! Tess eats babies!" then you failed to read the post without your own cynical reflection overshadowing and coloring the words. If you read the oracle of Athiratu thinking "Tess wants all religions but her own destroyed!" it is because you failed to read the post without your own fear in the words.

Or perhaps it's almost as if some folks were specifically fishing for a way attack me and my work.

In my post and in my experience with the oracle, Athiratu's words carried with them a sense of "until there is room there for acceptance of the deities and a polytheistic religion that respects the indigenous traditions, war will continue because there is no room for secular government and thus no room for support of diversity in religion and freedom of thought." And also "I can't help people who slap my helping hands away and pretend I don't exist or forget that I do exist." And there is indeed real persecution of polytheists, Pagans, and people of alternative religions or even of no religion--even atheists even run into trouble in the Near and Middle East.

There also have been some vile insinuations that I may be antisemitic. Before putting someone in the same philosophical camp as Hitler, an actual anti-Semite who was a murderous megalomaniac, it is wise to ascertain her true opinions. I have a deep respect for Judaism. Indeed learning about Canaanite polytheism has only furthered my respect. There are strong connections there between Judaism and Canaanite polytheism, even as there are strong connections between Celtic religion and Irish Catholicism. My problem regarding monotheism (which includes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) only lies in the tenants or proponents of monotheistic religions which/who stamp out polytheism in practice, deed, and rhetoric. When people rob museums in Egypt with intent to destroy the polytheist artifacts, this is a real problem. When you cannot obtain citizenship in Lebanon without listing that you're either Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, this is a real problem. The indigenous polytheism of the Canaanites is practically outlawed or at the very least disallowed by strong social mores in its own homeland which stretches through Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian territories, and the western edge of Jordan.

In some instances I do what I can to hold my ground by speaking out, even as  Pagan would speak out against having "creationism" taught as a science or in having Christian prayers in a US school. Speaking out against creationism and Christian prayers in school does not make a person anti-Christian or bigoted. And to casually and carelessly throw around a term like "antisemitic," especially as a gag tactic, is disgusting. It is the old story of Peter and the Wolf, of crying "wolf," when there isn't one. Even more, it is grossly discourteous to the beloved dead who died because of antisemitism and religious bigotry, and those who still carry the scars--both emotional trauma and actual physical scars.

I find it especially poignant to be making this response post on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks in the US, a day when religiously-oriented violence killed thousands. There is a world of difference between disagreement, discussing disagreements, and using words instead of explosives. We can disagree, we can hold our opinions, we can maintain healthy boundaries. We don't have to all agree with each others' opinions and beliefs to get along and coexist.

A note for Sannion, who writes "Tess Dawson, I publicly and from the bottom of my heart apologize to you. You do not deserve any of this. Your service to your gods is far cleaner and purer than anything I will ever be capable of and yet by trying to use The House of Vines to promote your work I made you a target. I am sorry."  I am honored and touched by your kindness, and I feel no need for an apology for someone else's dubious behavior. Be blessed: may my deities bless you, your family, and your ancestors, and may your god Dionysos be forever revered.

And yes, I will be heavily censoring comments in the comment section.
If you post something in the comments as "Anonymous" it is common courtesy to give your name if you hope to engage in further discussion.

Today is
6 Niqalu, Shanatu 86

Image Notes
Photography by Garry Knight, used through CC License.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Piety can be measured

     Not just by how you treat your own gods

          But in how you treat "foreign" gods. 

Today is
4 Niqalu, Shanatu 86

Image Notes

Sunday, September 8, 2013

She Rides a Pale Donkey

You pray fervently for peace in the Near and Middle East. If your eyes could well up with blood for tears, they would. Your desperate words: do you wonder why they hit a wall? Do you wonder why there is silence?

Your hearts say you want to know, but your livers will be bitter. There are many reasons. I, the Mother of Lions, will tell you if you really want to know.

You pray to the wrong gods.

You pray to this god from Greece or that god from Norway, or maybe the gods of the Celts, of the Indians, of the Romans... They are good gods, bold gods, true gods, but they will not interfere here. Or you pray to a one-god--and that is a multifaceted issue for another day. You forget that there are...or were...gods here. The neighbor gods in Sumer or Assyria, in Egypt, or the Hittites and Hurrians of Anatolia: sometimes these neighbors were our allies, but sometimes they were our enemies, but their gods sometimes appear in our lists here.

Or you could bother for once to look up who the original gods of Canaan were: but no. You pray for peace but you are too lazy or too fearful to learn our names. You couldn't be arsed to leave us a puny stick of decent myrrh incense and a few kind words.

Perhaps you do pray to us. What then? Why do we not answer? Have you even noticed that we do not answer? Do you really even care?

Imagine for a moment that you have a son, a beautiful glorious, strong, vibrant, intelligent, handsome son. In your son you see all the hopes and dreams of yourself and your lover represented in his breath, in his eyes, in his very veins. He comes of age and decides that you were wrong about everything. Others have poisoned his mind and he refuses to listen. Even now, he lies there in the gutter, in filth, wounds festering, his soul ready to expel like vapor through his nostrils. You come to him to help, you come to him to take him to a healer, to clothe him, to feed him, to give him shelter, to ease his pain. He can only waste his strength to spit at you. Perhaps this situation goes on for a long time as he wastes away. Ten years, twenty years, forty years. You have grown old and weak in this time, and your fortunes have declined as others have forgotten about you. Again you try to help, again he spits at you if he even remembers you. There is only so long before you become too weak too help, or you realize that there is nothing you can do: he will accept nothing from you. This is how things are to me. This is why there is not peace.

It is not that we do not speak. It is not that we do not answer. It is not that we would not help. We are not without compassion. It is that we desperately yell, we scream, we shriek until our throats swell with rawness, and still you do not hear. It is because we have extended our hands countless times before only to have them bitten off.

The viper that encircles your feet, the poisonous snake that rises up against you: we did not call it. You called it. It is yours, it is your doing. The venom it spits is your own. You deal with it.

You ask where are we when you need us? I ask: where were you for the past two thousand years...? We are still spit on today. Out of all of the gods the world over, we have suffered the most. Our shrines are defiled, our holy places destroyed, our sacred items defaced, our names blotted out, to say nothing of our representatives and the horrors they've experienced over time. Where were you? I shall tell you where you were--you were on your knees in temples of deceit, with your minds distracted and your mouths filled with garbage.

I love you all. I am your queen and I have never stopped loving you, my people, everywhere--you stopped loving me. Love me or love me not, but at least love yourselves enough to awaken, to fill your eyes with light, to fill your mouths with sweet clean water, and to let the wind free your minds. These things I cannot do for you; you must do them for yourselves. You must take responsibility. You must heal the rift, you must make up for those who break faith with me. Peace will come to the land of our origin when we are once again accepted there; not merely, barely tolerated. Peace will come again when oppression no longer weighs like summer heat-haze on the dusty cracked city sidewalks. It can come, it will come, eventually, but I cannot make happen what you will not accept.

How can I heal you, how can I lead you, when you doubt every word from my lips? When you turn a blind eye to me? When you allow that my crown is broken, my scepter bent, and my purple mantle tattered with poisoned thorns? When you will not invite us into your homes and feed us at your tables? You treat your dogs better than us. What should we do for you? What could we do for you? A burnt bridge cannot be crossed: it must be built anew. A dry oasis yields no water. An olive grove chopped down and used carelessly as firewood can give no oil.

For now, it is better to live in tents in a foreign land as refugees surrounded by strangers who love us as family than to be surrounded by family who would rather we be strangers. It is cold in these foreign lands, but not nearly as cold as our "reception" in the place we once called home.

You cannot ascend to your roof when it is on fire.

Addendum, Sept. 12, 2013:

What you read above was an oracle given to me by the goddess Athiratu.

People either believe the deities as real, living powerful beings, or they don't. People either believe that I can receive an oracle from my deities, or don't. If a person has checked "yes" in either "don't" category, then whatever I do is suspect from there. How you read an oracle is a reflection of your belief or your lack thereof--either in the deities, in myself, or in either.  The nature of oracle is what it is. If I were to edit my goddess's words for content and style, I would feel that I had failed in my duty to her and to others who need or want this message. If you don't believe that what I wrote was an oracle, if you don't need or want this message from her, you are at liberty to ignore it.

Please also visit Reflections on "She Rides a Pale Donkey"

Today is
3 Niqalu, Shanatu 86
It is the third day since the new moon; the month is Niqalu. It has been 86 years since the rediscovery of the city-state of Ugarit (in modern-day Syria) from whence came many of our holy texts.

Image Credits
Picture by Crystal and used under Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Different Strokes

In Defense of Being a Specialist and Why It's Ok to Be a Layperson

In reading a recent article about laypersons in polytheistic and Pagan religions, and in reading the original article it is based on, and it has inspired me to make a few observations about being a layperson, being a priest, and the nature of hierarchy. The positions of layperson and priest carry different expectations, different responsibilities, and different statuses.

I will never be a star basketball player. I will never be a rocket scientist. I will not invent the cure for cancer. I won't be a decent architect, ever. I have my own unique set of talents and gifts--as do we all!--and I appreciate the amazing talents other people have. Everyone is gifted in some particular way and that is what makes a person special in their own area of expertise. This is why we have the word "specialist."

Polytheist priests are special: they are specialists. They are better than a layperson at connecting with the deities and of maintaining devotional practice to the deities and the ancestors. This is what they do. And they have worked tremendously hard to be where they are and to do what they do.

A concert pianist playing Chopin on a grand piano is better than someone ineptly tapping out Mary Has a Little Lamb on a toy piano. Eventually, with enough work and enough devotion, the one tapping out simple tunes can eventually become a concert pianist. But if you compare them at that moment when one is a concert pianist and the other isn't, the two are not the same. One is clearly better than the other at playing piano. It's wonderful to embrace that moment of a learning process, whether or not the person will ever become a concert pianist. But it's misguided to act as if the two, master and layperson, are of equal value at that task at that time.

Some laypersons can experience the deities while others don't. That's ok. It's good to work at devotion to try to grow in one's connection to the deities whether or not one experiences them. Improvement, learning, and just plain simple devotion are laudable goals. And it takes a tremendous amount of devotion to honor the deities while never having a divine experience--sometimes it's outright painful. It takes honest assessment to recognize where a person is in matters of religion and to cherish that place. Indeed forcing an encounter can be detrimental and damaging.

Being a layperson has fewer responsibilities, requirements, strictures, structures, and sacrifices that are demanded of a priest. If you're a layperson, be that, be that fully, and live a strong, beautiful spiritual life. Being a layperson is a different practice, of a different weight, in a different position than what a priest does. This is not a competition: we all serve the deities as best as we are able, layperson and priest alike. One can embrace the place one is in while still respecting a specialist. One can even support a priest with one's own expertise. I'm not good at making devotional art, so do I ask another priest who is also bad at making devotional art? No. I call an artist!

I would accidentally nuke myself if I ever did my own electrical work. Electrical work is nothing to take for granted: it is dangerous--so is being a priest. Would I love to become an expert electrician? Sure, but I don't want it badly enough to overcome my own talent deficiencies in that area, nor to devote a good chunk of my life learning and becoming certified in the area, or paying for the education. Just because I'm a layperson in that area, it doesn't make me any less of a person to appreciate the electrician's gifts, her hard work, her knowledge, and her status. Appreciation of another person's higher status in a field does not make us less of who we are.

What makes a priest special in comparison to a layperson in religion? Years of devotion, knowledge, and leadership make them special. What they do on behalf of the community is special. Physical, financial, and emotional sacrifices make them special. Undergoing the dangerous rigors of spirit on behalf of a community makes them special. It makes them worthy of respect. It makes a priest a religious specialist.

If you don't want to become a priest badly enough to serve the deities with your very breath, body and soul; to honor the ancestors, and devote your life completely to these matters; to take on some risky spiritual tasks at times; and suffer sacrifices far beyond the point of convenience on behalf of community who may never know or thank you, that's ok! You don't have to. If you need someone who will do these things, it is time to call in a specialist and give them the honor they're due for their expertise. But it would be misguided to put oneself on the same status as a priest because one believes that "What I do is just as good as what a priest does. Besides, I want to do these things to be a priest, but I can't! Life just gets in the way. If it weren't for all of that, I'd be a priest. So we're all the same. I mean, they only make a couple more offerings than I do anyway, right? They're not so special!" This attitude demonstrates a lack of understanding in what a priest does and what a priest is. Also, in this matter, can't is a code word for won't, because being in the priesthood means making the sacrifices so that can't do becomes will do anyway. There is a hierarchy in the system. And thank gods for that. Just as I wouldn't trust my electrical work to a layperson, I would not trust my religious needs to a layperson.

I used to be the type of person to think we are all completely equal in this area. At least a decade, plenty of hard work, listening to some tough words, and making many painful personal sacrifices later, I have learned that this is not the case: I was wrong. To believe that we are all equal in religion and spirituality is just as erroneous as believing we are all equal at Olympic figure skating. It cheapens the accomplishments of an Olympic figure skater. It also takes a competent non-Olympic skater who embraces her passion and gives her instead unrealistic goals and forces her to meet expectations that aren't compatible with her own life's work, her talents, her needs, and her wants.

Living in an era of participation trophies has lessened that which is special and has given false significance to meeting--but not exceeding--a baseline expectation. An aggrandized acclaim for the normative at the expense of expertise may save a few fragile egos, but it does so at the expense of failing our deities and our communities, and giving us an exaggerated sense of reality. It's made us hesitant to speak openly about hierarchy and expertise. We are uncomfortable with an honest assessment of abilities, goals, needs, and wants. And sometimes it leads to a false pride which makes it awkward, even distasteful, for us to honor or even admit a difference in status. Sometimes it's even led to artificially inflating one status while denigrating another. Hierarchy was a big deal in many ancient polytheistic religions. In ancient Canaanite culture, letters have formulaic greetings depending on the status of the letter's writer to the receiver. It is common to see "seven times seven I bow to you from afar." Even in a king's letter, he mentions bowing to his mother at least one time in the letter's greeting. So hierarchy is an important matter to our ancestors, and worthy of our consideration. Do I bow to people in respect, and do I bow to people at appropriate times? Yes, I do--both figuratively and physically.

To put a priest on the same level of hierarchy and expertise as a layperson is to misunderstand a layperson's role and to give a layperson spiritual work that isn't in keeping with her own life goals and talents. And it is to disrespect a priest, the priest's learning-lineage, the priest's knowledge and sacrifice, sometimes even the priest's ancestors, and certainly the priest's deities who can act through the priest. Oftentimes the slight is unintended, but it is there nonetheless.

Being a layperson is great, and so is being a priest. If you can't dedicate your life to your religion like a priest does, that's ok. It's not expected of everyone. Whatever it is you are, whatever it is you do--do it well, be it well. Be passionate about it. Live with honor and put the deities first in your life. Make your ancestors proud. Respect your elders, and appreciate your experts. This is what is expected of us all.

Today is
28 Ra'shu Yeni, Shanatu 85
It is the 28th day of the lunar month of Ra'shu Yeni (the month of New Wine). It has been 85 years since the rediscovery of the city-state of Ugarit (in modern-day Syria) from whence we have gained our sacred texts. Our next holiday approaches shortly--'Ashuru Mothbati, the Festival of Dwellings. It falls on the eve of the next new moon and signifies our new year. This year, it occurs on the evening of September 4th.

Image Credits
Photo by Wakalani, used under Creative Commons License.