Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Autumn Equinox Ritual to Demeter and Dionysos

The following is a ritual I developed to celebrate the Autumn Equinox by honoring Demeter and Dionysos as the Great Mother and Father of our physical and spiritual sustenance.  Enjoy!
Second Harvest Rite to Demeter and Dionysos
Autumn Equinox 2010

You Will Need:
Hestia candle
Icons of Demeter and Dionysos
A candle for each Demeter and Dionysos
Large bowl
Feast dishes (provided by participants)

Priestess of Demeter (lady of the house)
Priest of Dionysos (man of the house)
Priest/ess of Hestia
Priest/ess Panagia
Heirophantid of Demeter (youngest girl)
Heirophant of Dionysos (youngest boy)

-all gather in a semi-circle before the altar holding their dish for the feast, except for Priestess Panagia who holds the bowl of grapes for ritual-

-Priest/ess of Hestia approaches altar-

We begin this rite by calling Hestia who is first and last among all the Gods, who is Goddess of hearth and temple fire, of the spiritual center of our world and of all sacred places.

-lights central flame-

Hestia, beloved goddess of the spiritual flame, come and make all that is here holy and sacred in your name. Bring to us the peace and sureness of home and hearth. Bring your purity and beauty to us as we honor you who are the center of the spiritual flame. So mote it be.

-Priestess Panagia approaches the altar and faces the group-

At this time we will make our offerings to the Lord and Lady. Each in your family group place your dish for the feast on the altar with these words: “For Demeter and Dionysos this sacred offering to honor the Mother and Father of all.”

-Priestess Panagia places the bowl of grapes in the center of the altar in front of the Hestia flame. Each group places their feast dish around the table and recites the offertory words-

-Heirophantid of Demeter approaches altar, rings bell and says-

Now we will call the Mother Goddess who is Queen of the golden harvest. She is known as Demeter and by many other names as well.

-Priestess of Demeter approaches the altar-

Lady of all good harvests, our stores are filled again with your generous bounty. O you who are the blessings of earth, who sustains both body and spirit, hail!

-lights the Goddess candle from Hestia’s flame-

Beloved Demeter, you spin out your magic from the mysteries of the seed, bringing us the miracle of life and growth. The riches of the orchard and cultivated field are all born of your power and so we honor the Great Mother of the land. O mother of life, we were born from the infinite seeds of creation and live through the powers of earth. Our spirits rise with your beauty for you are everywhere, in every broad meadow and mountainside, in every lovely field and flower, and in every living and growing thing Today at the blessed Autumnal Equinox, the ending of the second harvest, we honor you, bringing you offerings and praising your name. We thank you for all that you give
and ask that you come and bless this rite with ease and joy. So mote it be!

-Priestess of Hecate approaches the altar, retrieves the athame from the bowl of grapes and turns to face participants-

By Hecate’s blade, the grain was separated from the earth so that the threshing could begin. It is fitting then that at the ending of the second harvest, when seed shall be separated from chaff, for us to note anything we no longer want in our lives and from which we wish to be separated. We approach the altar and raise the blade, praying aloud or silently for whatever it is that might be beneficial for you to be separated from, that it be done so now.

Begin with the words, “By her blade...” When you are done, breathe upon the blade. End with the words “Hail Hecate!” then place the blade back on the altar and return to the circle.

-Priestess of Hecate begins the ritual of the blade which proceeds until all are done-

-Priest of Dionysos approaches the altar-

Now we shall honor the Father God known as Dionysos and by countless other names who, at the Spring Equinox, the time of sacred planting, loved the Mother Goddess in the thrice-plowed field to ensure the bounty of the land.

-lights God candle-

Sacred one of both forest and field, from your own untamed spirit did you receive and then impart the liberation of the wild that lay the foundation for our deepest joy and pleasures, and, as emissary of the Great Mother, from August Demeter did you receive and then impart the arts of agriculture that lay the foundation for civilization. And so we honor you. So mote it be!
-Heirophant of Dionysos approaches altar-

Wise and Wild One, it is with food stores set aside that we may enjoy the luxury of time
in which to pursue our loves with your ecstatic abandon, in which to glorify the museswith your gifts of music, dance, drama, poetry and art, and in which we may honor the Gods with joyous festivals and celebrations. These are the blessings that you, Dionysos, in concord with Her, have given to all of humanity.

Priest of Dionysos:

Treasured God Dionysos, we thank and honor you as we bless this sacred place in your name. So mote it be.

-Priest of Dionysos uncovers the grapes, faces the group and gestures to them-

Grapes, warmed by solar light and nourished by the bosom of the Earth, have long been a symbol of wisdom and passion combined. It is fitting then that at the time of the second harvest, when we enjoy this sacred fruit in its abundance, that we note the abundance in our own lives and pray for abundance in harvests yet to come.

Now we will each approach the altar praying aloud or silently in thanks for what we have and supplication for what we desire, that it be done so now. Begin with the words “By his vigor...” When you are done, choose a single grape. End with the words, “Hail Dionysos...” then pass the grape over His flame before partaking of it.

-Priest of Dionysos begins the rite and each participant follows until all are finished-

-Heirophant of Dionysos fills a cup for each person and offers a toast-

Raise your glasses! Filled with gifts, the chalice of plenty overflows with good fortune. How blessed are we who love and honor the Goddess and God. May we drink from the royal cup! So mote it be.

-Priestess of Demeter and Priest of Dionysos approach altar and face the group-

Priestess of Demeter:

These are the rites of the second harvest and they are now complete in grace and joy.

Priest of Dionysos:

May her blessings proceed unto all. Now, on to the feast!

-Heirophantid of Demeter rings bell joyfully-

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Hero's Deepest Wound--A Memorial Day Plea to Ares

My father did not turn out to be a good man.

He was a brilliant child--he got fabulous grades, could play the guitar by ear, and, by the time he went to high school, he was a champion runner. But somewhere between his horrific childhood home life and his time serving as a naval corpsman during the Vietnam War, he did not, as I said, turn out to be a good man.

With a false glee, my dad used to tell the story of how, coming home one day after a high school track meet--which he won and which none of his family attended--he found that his family had moved without him. At sixteen, he wandered the desert streets of California’s “Inland Empire” for six days looking for them. When he finally found them--his raging alcoholic father, his promiscuous mother and all eight of his siblings squatting in some rathole by the tracks in Fontana, they laughed at him and told him he must have been very stupid to have taken so long.

My mother tells the story of my dad enlisting in the navy and, in the process of getting all his papers together, found the last name on his birth certificate did not match the last name of the abusive alcoholic he had grown up thinking was his dad. When he confronted his mother about this she acted nonchalant and said, “Oh yeah, your real father’s last name was Wyss--he was a DJ...I think.”

Then, in the navy, my dad served as a corpsman--officially a medic with the navy but traveling on the ground with the marines seeing to the dead and dying. Once, when I was thirteen, he dug his duffel out of the garage and showed me his gas mask, his boots with a bayonet hole in the toe and, most proudly, his white medic’s tunic still stained with the blood of some marine or other whose name, face, and fatal injuries he had long since forgotten.

All of this is to say that my dad had every right in this and any other world to be completely and totally screwed up--and he was. His depression kept him from ever holding a steady job. His anxiety led him to a devastating Valium addiction. His outwardly acted, self-hating, power-needy PTSD led him to violence and the alienation of both his daughters. All of these things together led him to die absolutely alone on March 1, 2009.

My dad was a brilliant, strong, heroic young man who valiantly served his country and the many, many young soldiers who died in his arms. I tell this story not to detract from the honorable things he did--because they are many--but I tell it to make a plea to Ares, Apollon and any of you who may know and/or love a similarly brilliant but tormented young soldier--that you may help them to heal--that the brilliance and honor may not turn into madness and ignominy.

And for those, like my father, who have already passed, send your prayers with them that in the Kingdom of Hades--in the gray Fields of Asphodel--they will be welcomed as the heroes they are and be given the courage they need to fight one more battle in that place--the battle to reclaim themselves from the terror they knew and had become.


Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hubris? Meet 2x4

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat--I am a Hellene but I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a hardcore reconstructionist. I am a revivalist.

In that vein:

Although I have a deep respect for reconstructionists of any stripe, there is a certain attitude among most Hellenic recons that does not sit well with me and is one of the primary reasons I do not count myself among their ranks. A good many recons I have come in contact with tend to ascribe to the notion that it is necessary to fear and appease Theoi in order to please them. I have no doubt this was a part of the ancient mindset. My fiancee and I were watching an episode of Carnivale last night that featured a horrendous dust-bowl storm. I thought, "If you didn't have the technology to know better, how could you not attribute something like that to angry Gods?" But, the thing is, we do have the technology to know better now--to know that natural disasters are either Gaia doin' her thing to sustain and renew herself or us screwing that process up. So why do some Hellenic recons still approach Theoi as if their worship will abate the storm? Why must we hold on to the ancient belief that we worship the way we worship mainly to keep Theoi from squashing us?

In the eyes of Theoi, I believe it is more offensive to hold onto this attitude when they have inspired us with the means to know better. Perhaps it was OK for the ancients to approach them that way because it gave them some comfort in a world to which they were extremely vulnerable--but what purpose does it serve now to attribute, say, devastating tornadoes to Zeus and allow the fear of same to distance our hearts from him?

But then, I am apparently very liberal about this sort of thing--believing that, in reality, it is almost impossible to offend Theoi unless you allow hubris (your perfectionism, your intellect, your fear), to keep you from a sincere and consistent practice.

Look, Theoi know you--every gritty little earth-bound nook and cranny. Attempting to hide these from them is foolish on the face of it and will severely handicap your relationship with them. Yes, it is good and respectful to wash in the khernips before ritual or prayer, but you must come to that prayer with both of your washed hands open--holding nothing back--not even the unwashed parts, inside and out.

I speak these things passionately because I have been guilty of them and I know firsthand how a raging, arrogant perfectionism can strangle a meaningful relationship with Theoi.  Many are the times I have needed, and received, a solid whack upside the head with a spiritual 2x4 when I have allowed that hubris, or worries over “not getting it right”, to get between me and my Theoi and stop us from talking.

I have discovered that If we humbly open ourselves up and keep calling upon Theoi, it will be given to us what it is they require of us, and usually it isn’t much except to stay in touch and honor the gifts they have bestowed.

Blessed by the Mystery,
(and the spiritual 2x4)
-M. Ashley

Family, Love, Sobriety, Travel and Gratitude

We have so many things to be grateful for in my house today. We have my fiancee's third-year AA sobriety chip presentation tonight. His actual sobriety birthday is the 23rd of May, which, as it turns out, is quite magical because it was on that date that he and I "met" through Pagan Dating last year, and this year, it was only two days prior that his son, who has lived in Thailand for the last thirteen years, came to live with us to complete his schooling. My praise to Dionysos who both entices to the vine and offers relief from it. My praise to Aphrodite for inspiring us to love. My praise to Hera who has brought our family together. My praise to Hermes and Zeus who saw the boy safely through the skies and to our home.

And finally we give thanks that my mother called yesterday to tell us that the lump in her breast was just an anomaly and not cancer after all--praise and thanks to Apollon of the healing touch and Artemis, protectress of women!

Hail all our beloved Theoi--whose blessings are innumerable and whose love is unbounded. May our eyes and hearts be ever open to you as our homes and shrines welcome you in. Hail!

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Everyday Altars: From Fridge Face to Sacred Space

A woman who is doing a paper on Paganism for one of her college courses recently contacted me asking me about the significance of the altar in Paganism. It strikes me that although human beings have been building and maintaining altars far longer than they haven't, the whole notion of a home altar dings the creep factor bell in many people approaching Paganism for the first time. I suppose an image of a long stone bench strewn with pig's blood and chicken feet comes to mind--thanks mass media! But nothing could be further from the truth.

The following was my reply:

Altars are a very personal thing and can be used for many purposes. Mainly though they are a place to pray, do spiritual work, meditate and honor the deities to whom you feel close. There is no general Pagan requirement for an altar, though certain traditions may prescribe certain things such as having the altar face east or placing items relating to Goddess on the left side and items related to God on the right. Altars can and are made anywhere, from a table, to a bookshelf, to the inside of an Altoid can--and yes, that is a current DIY trend--mini, portable altars meticulously constructed inside tiny mint cans. The only thing that I would say is absolutely common among Pagans regarding their altars is that they are regarded as a sacred place and reserved for spiritual devotion and practice--in other words, no putting coffee cups and junk mail on the altar table.

Some common things you will find on Pagan altars are: an image of the deity or deities being worshiped, items that represent that deity (such as peacock feathers for Hera or a quill pen for Thoth), a candle and/or incense, divination tools such as Tarot cards or runes, and a spiritual journal or "Book of Shadows"--though not all Pagans call it that.

People's altars tend to grow and change over time and reflect their current place in their spiritual path. For example, mine started out as very Wiccan in form and has progressed with my spirituality to now reflect my devotion to a Hellenic path.

Some Pagans have many altars in their homes dedicated to different deities and/or their ancestors, while others, limited by space or time, may only have a candle in a special reserved spot on their dresser that acts as their altar. Some also dedicate altars to specific purposes rather than deities. For example, while I have a private altar dedicated to Theoi in general, my fiancee and I also have an altar in more public view devoted to home, hearth, and love.
Humans seem to me to be natural altar makers--a process that is apparently so deeply ingrained in our collective subconscious that we do it without even realizing. If you look at most people's refrigerator doors, for example, you will usually find a natural altar to the family with pictures of loved ones, drawings, magnets that represent the personality of the family, etc. Or often people build an ancestor altar in their hallways by hanging pictures of their family members that have passed and, every time they walk by those pictures, their heart reaches out to them in love and respect.

This reaching out--a spiritual touchstone--is really the core meaning of any altar, whether built specifically with that intent by a Pagan using candles and feathers, a Buddhist with a singing bowl, a Catholic with a Saint's icon, or anyone else with a life-decorated fridge door.
May we all come to acknowledge the various altars in our lives--whether outward or deep within us, they enrich our spirits in ways we can only imagine.

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

*The above picture is the "Home, Hearth and Love" altar mentioned above. It is dedicated to Hestia, Hera and Zeus

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nutball Ex-Girlfriends...of the Gods!

A few weeks after I moved in with my fiancee, he received a raving email from his nutball ex-girlfriend that said, in part, "I feel sorry for that poor woman you dragged from Nashville."

We had a good laugh over it--dragged? Hardly! I leaped into his big van-shaped silver chariot with my critters and my stuff faster than you can say "nutball ex-girlfriend". But then, envisioning me being dragged off to Oklahoma by the hair must help her justify her view of him as a bad guy which, I'm sure, helps her cope with the fact that she lost him.

Which got me thinking...

Maybe the whole "all unwilling" version of the Persephone myth, (which--one absconded lady to another--I don't buy in the least), was started by one of Hades' nutball ex-girlfriends--jealous of the fact that Persephone got the hook-ups with the wealthiest god of all while she was stuck fending off the lusty advances of far less commitment-minded deities.

Well, that's my theory anyway.

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hades--Good Guy, Bad Press

After watching the wonderful Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I went online and poked around the IMDB message boards a bit, (yes, I'm that big of a film nerd). I found this post quite provocative:

Disney's Hercules, Clash of the Titans, and this...

In the original Greek myths, Hades was a fairly stand up guy. Yes, he ruled over the Greek equivalent of Hell, but he also handled the Greek equivalents of Heaven, Purgatory, the Pearly Gates, etc. Persephone's main complaint about being his wife was not that he was cruel- he lavished her with all the luxury he could afford, and he was the richest of the gods- but because he was her father's older brother, and thus considerably older than her.

Greek myth is full of awesomely evil monstrous beings, from Titans to the offspring of Typhon and Echidna, to those cursed by gods (of which, Hades was responsible for far less than many of his brethren... Athena, who's almost always portrayed as kind and generous, turned a woman into a spider for BEING A BETTER WEAVER for crying out loud). Why do modern storytellers think Hades makes such a great villain?

Mostly the responses to this post focused on what Persephone's real grievances were with Hades, which for me is far less interesting than the actual question posed, (especially because I don't believe Persephone actually had grievances with Hades. Standard Homer aside, I think she was not quite "all unwilling".)

In my opinion, the reason we see mainstream media vilifying Hades is that it is difficult for a mind steeped in Christian mythos to accept the ruler of "Hell" as anyone other than Satan himself. In this system of thinking, Hades being portrayed as he actually is would probably cause an outrage. Hades is the judge of souls for both good and ill and Persephone is the intermediary--the two together representing justice tempered with mercy--the exact dynamic between Christ and "God the Father".

And how dare we, even in the interest of accuracy, compare these Pagan deities so directly to the Christian ones? How dare we imply that the Christian mythos is not entirely original?

When a story dares to honor the Gods by educating a new generation about them, I think it is acceptable to make a few concessions like this to avoid the project being quashed before it ever sees the light of day. The real trick is making it provocatively accurate enough to inspire people to investigate the myth behind the myth and, hopefully, the deeply moving spirituality behind it all.

-M. Ashley

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hellenism: What I Believe, What I Stand For

The following is adapted from the original Y.S.E.E. mission statement to reflect my own viewpoint. I agree with the organization on almost all points of its cosmology, except that which posits the God/esses are neither male nor female (I believe they are distinctly either male or female); and all points of its mission statement except those that are bitterly antagonistic to Judeo-Christian traditions. I have great affection for all religions, and though I have chosen to leave the tradition into which I was born, I will always bear it, and those who walk that path, great respect.

In that vein I would like to say that the God/esses are who they are, regardless of what names we use for them, and in their infinite love for us, they don't care what we call them, just so long as we keep calling.

This is the link to the original document, should you wish to compare my version to it:

-M. Ashley (Andjelagenia Musaios)

(What We Believe,
What We Stand For
by Kresphontis on behalf of Diipetes,
published on Green Egg journal, issue no 109, Summer 1995
Edited and adapted by M. Ashley, Spring 2010

Hellenism (ELLENIKON ETHNISMOS) is not simply a Religion and Cosmology, it is a certain form of human consciousness and an everyday ethos.

Hellenism perceives Cosmos (KOSMOS, i.e. the Universe) as an ever-existing Being, which not only was not created by some "creator" God out of nothing (EK TOU MEDENOS), but on the contrary allowed the Gods themselves to be created through its procedures. Hellenism understands Cosmos as APEIRON (Apeiron, Infinity) in great, wonderful order and therefore in Hellenic language Cosmos means also jewel (KOSMOS, KOSMENA). Gods were born inside the Cosmos and live inside it -they are part of it. This is our real dispute with Monotheism; not the number of Gods (One or Many, Mono- or Poly-) but where the God or Gods stand in relation to the Cosmos. For Monotheists the Cosmos was created by an ever-existing Being outside it (so in this macro-historical level it is nothing more than a mortal creation). For Monotheists Cosmos is a creation that has to obey the laws of its creator. For Hellenes, the eternal Cosmos emerges always from inside itself (ANADYETAI AFS EAUTOU) and is the creator of all Gods, which have to obey its laws. In the Hellenic Cosmology, these laws are :

ANTIPEPONTHOS: Untranslatable into English, but roughly meaning "all events influence others" though without "cause and effect",
NOMOS: The entirety of the universal physical Laws), and
ANAKE: Need and Fate, which all Gods respect and obey.

Due to the eternal nature of Cosmos itself, the Hellenic perception of KRONOS (Time) is not linear (as the followers of Yahweh or the modern rationalists declare), nor circular (as many Judeo-born occult dogmas teach) through the OUROBOROS symbol (the tail-eater snake), but spiral and leading to APEIRON. Through this shape of Time, the annual circles, the lunar circles, the human (and all) life, and the art of Prophecy, are fully interpreted. History is never repeated, just similar to the point that identical events happen but always under different circumstances. And the death of humans (and of all mortal forms of life) happens as the philosopher Alkmaion declared, simply "because it is impossible for the end of the circle to touch the beginning". In other words, because it is impossible for the old to become infants again.

For the Hellenic Tradition, or at least its part not yet influenced by the "moral" ideas brought over from eastern civilizations by such famous philosophers as Pythagoras and Plato, no such thing as the "karma" of the eastern theocrats exists, and no "judges" exist in the skies or elsewhere. All dead become automatically holy and then they are born again until through ARETE (Virtue) one day their PSYCHE escapes from the spiral of Time, thus becoming primitive God, DAIMON, a word with a positive meaning for Hellenes, in contrast with Judeo-Christian definitions. We do not believe in METEMPSYCHOSIS (Re-incarnation) suffering or prospering in this life to pay for or be rewarded for the bad or good actions of previous lives, but instead simply in PALIGENESIA (Rebirth). This perspective distinguishes us from the theocratic dogmas that terrify their believers with "punishments" etc. We love or hate completely outside karmic designs and dualisms. No dualism of "Good and Evil" exists in the Immortal Cosmos, nor such things as the miscellaneous "moralities" that all the dualistic dogmas teach. We become virtuous only because we choose to be such.

Our Gods are many and we understand them as completing the make-up of the Universal Sphere of Cosmos to its maximum potential and whole. Thus, from the DODEKAEDRON, a geometric shape (that fills up the sphere to its maximum) we imagine twelve planes, each one presenting a God inside the Cosmos and we define our Hellenic PANTHEON (PAN TON THEON, All The Gods) as DODEKATHEON (Pantheon of The Twelve Gods).The Twelve Gods of ours live inside the Sphere of Cosmos and form its various behaviors.

Our Twelve Gods are also called OLYMPIOI (the Olympians) not because, as many want to believe, they dwell on Mt. Olympus, as the mountains with this name numbered not one but eighteen throughout the Hellenic World. This is just a poetic conception, similar to the one that wants Pan to dwell in the forests of Arcadia. The word "Olympus" comes from the verb LAMPO (shining). Our Twelve Gods are the "Shining Ones", and the real "Olympus" is not a geographical but a spiritual place, where the Gods really exist.

Another fact worth noting is that these Twelve Gods are not the same Twelve Gods for all Hellenes as some leave Dionysos out, some leave Hestia, etc., replacing them with others. It is the number that counts, not the names of the Gods which in any case number in the thousands- and we must underline here that Hellenism honors and worships not only conscious forces and energies of Nature (as almost all Pagan religions do) but also abstract Ideas, such as Harmony, Eunomia (personified Order), Justice, Freedom, Beauty, Luck, etc. For us, the Ideas are alive and have form and consciousness; they are real deities that simply show themselves through the functions of the human mind.

A basic ("for beginners") form of invocation of the Twelve Olympian Gods, a Pantheon that was worshiped at least since the 16th Century before the Judeo-Christian Era (they are named U-ru-pa-ja-jo in the Linear B inscription of Pylos), and openly until the 9th Century of our times (when the last remains of worship of the ethnic Hellenic Gods were exterminated in Lakonia, under the persecutions by "Saint" Nikon the so-called "Metanoite" i.e. "Repent") is the following:

(The Gods are being invoked in "couples" according to the elements and functions that each "couple" supervises).

* Hestia (the power or denization and of common ethos: all invocations start and end with her:
* The honored God or Goddess of the Hellenic lunar month
* Hephaistos - Hestia
* Ares - Aphrodite
* Apollo - Artemis
* Hermes - Athena
* Poseidon - Demeter
* Hera - Zeus

Understanding the structure, nature and distribution of the Cosmos in this way, Hellenism can be understood as a political and social "how to" theory that means to fill the every day life with its principles of Dignity, Freedom, Beauty, Honesty, Variety, Tolerance, Candor..

We represent an ethos and a cosmology that never allowed the existence of priestly castes, unquestioning obedience, fear or guilt (Hellenism knows nothing about the word "sin"), dogma, missions, or "sacred" books. We know that we tread the correct path and that the Gods support us.

We are in full solidarity with all groups and movements all around the Globe, that work for the restoration of their traditional/indigenous ethos and religions, and also with all the others who fight the multi-faceted war for Freedom, Tolerance, Respect for Nature and Direct Democracy in all levels of every day life.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Eleusinian Wheel of the Year: Sabbat Edition

After living with the moon-correlated Eleusinian calendar for a day, I have to admit I am still a bit unsatisfied. Perhaps it's the Celtic blood in me, but I am deeply attached to the eight high days. So, while I figure out which way I will eventually zag, I thought I'd post the calendar adapted to the eight-Sabbat system and provide a little more explanation about each rite. I'll start with the cross-quarter day the Celts used to mark their new year, as it is pivotal in the Demeter/Persephone cycle as well.

(Festivals written in caps are the main eight, while those in regular type are sort of mini-rites that prepare for the major high days. The dates I use are the actual astronomical dates for the quarter and cross-quarter days.)

November 7: SKIRA
Descent of the Maiden; Demeter Becomes Crone
This is a time to give thanks to the source of all life for your success; to take note of what you have learned and gained; to store resources in a place of protection; to face fear of the unknown; to celebrate courage, transformation, and independence while yet acknowledging the many ways your loved ones, both living and dead, have helped along the way.

This complex of rites includes the joyous Stenia Festival in preparation for The Mysteries

The 21st (Winter Solstice): Stenia Festival
Persephone Brings Light and Life to the Darkness; On Earth, Demeter is Cheered 
A time of great joy and celebration, remembering that the sacred aspects of sexuality and the renewing power of humor are integral to the ongoing creative process. This is a time to personally identify with the Earth and the creative power of the Goddess.

Dedication and Crowning as a Mystai of Demeter
The cycle of the blessed seed is shown as the mystery of the soul revealed. Initiates are cleansed, blessed and consecrated as Children of Earth--Children of the Great Mother--Kin to Queen Persephone.

Celebration of Demeter's Divine Laws; Remembering our Divinity
We pause in our lives to focus on the sacred values that a spiritual awareness imparts to the life experience. We consider the powers, influences and blessings of the Holy Mother and Daughter. We honor the Great Mother and our inherited Divinity.

This series of rites and festivals culminate with the ascent of Persephone from the Underworld.

March 6: Rites of Proerosia
Pre-Plowing/Planting Rites
At this time we prepare for our goals, considering not only the practical preparation, but also honoring the forces of divine power that are in play. A time of new beginnings requires sacred prayer, study, education, learning new skills and procuring resources.

March 13: Rites of Arkichronia
Creation of Fertility Talismans. Combining Earth and Underworld Powers
There is a magic that is born from the union of life and death. Now is a time to allow the highest influences to combine with your ideas and aspirations. Know that creativity has been influenced, even fed by the barren times. Realize and utilize the effects of the past on the present.

March 20 (Vernal Equinox): Rites of Nestia
The Sadness--Queen Persephone Must Leave Her Beloved Plouton
We celebrate both the value and sadness of sacrifice and honor right sacrifice as service and noble action. We give up a well-worn path in order to reach a future goal. We release the sadness of the past while retaining the beauty of our best moments as we proceed forward with our lives.

The Ascent of the Maiden. Persephone Becomes Kore. Joyous Reunion of Mother and Daughter
This is an ideal time to begin any new creative endeavor. The childlike energies of excitement and joy fuel the process. Joy and Knowledge are united to forge a powerful beginning.

Celebration of New Green Growth
We celebrate the early successes of new beginnings while continuing our right action and prayers. We are grateful for the source of our tools, materials, energy and inspiration. We continue toward our goal while maintaining a healthy sense of humor.

June 21 (Summer Solstice): FESTIVAL OF CHLOAIA
Festival of Flowers; of Verdent Demeter and Kore
All that we have worked for now brings its first rewards. We celebrate the pleasures of success while remembering to honor and thank the divine source of life. We continue to seek support through prayer.

The First Harvest. Demeter is Harvest Queen. The Seed and Maiden are Matured
At this time we gather in what we have sown, reaping the rewards. Blessings abound and now is a time to give thanks.

September 22 (Autumnal Equinox): FESTIVAL OF KALAMAIA
The Threshing. Freeing the Seed Grain from the Chaff. 
We see what is good in past experiences and choose to release those influences we no longer want. We make decisions of where best to spend our resources, keeping some for now, some for the future, and some to devote to the sacred. We honor the source of our bounty and those who taught us the skills by which we profit.


Blessed By the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Neokoroi Noumenia

If I haven't already mentioned it, Neokoroi--The Temple Keepers is a marvelous, active and intelligent group of Hellenic Polytheists. One of the things they do incredibly well is supply the community with extremely well-written and, most importantly, entirely do-able rituals. As day follows night, so the new moon follows the dark. The following is the Neokoroi Noumenia (new moon ritual), to be performed on the night of the new moon--the night after Hekate's Deipnon.


-wash face and hands-


O Athanatoi, (Deathless Ones) Gods of Starry Heaven, broad Earth, and the Great Below. Xairete, Theoi!

Hear, and attend. Bless us with your presence, as we would honor you.

Libations (spondai):

Receive these libations, and rejoice, for your joy is ours this night.

Hestia, Goddess of the hearth, keeper of the Sacred Flame, guardian of the home, for you I pour out the first portion, as yours is the first and the last.

-pour a portion of wine or other liquid offering into the libation bowl-

Be well disposed.

For the gods of the Noumenia, I pour out the next shares, for it is under your auspices we gather tonight.

For Apollon Neomenios, Lord Apollon, Phoibos, golden-lyred, Shining Leto's glorious son.

-pour libation-

Be well disposed.

For Selene, Titaness, brilliant, crescent- crowned, lamp bearer, who courses among the stars,

-pour libation-

Be well disposed.

For the Agathos Daimon, winged serpent, god of good fortune, beloved of Tyche, kindly one,

-pour libation-

Be well disposed.

And for all the Blessed Gods, resplendent, beautiful, immortal, I pour now
an equal measure of sweet milk.

-pour libation-

Be well disposed.

Reading of Orphic Hymn

Kind Zeus and Gaia, heavenly and pure flames of the Sun, sacred light of the Moon and all the Stars; Poseidon too, dark-maned holder of the earth, pure Persephone and Demeter of the splendid fruit, Artemis, the arrow-pouring maiden, and kindly Phoebe, who dwells on the sacred ground of Delphi. And Dionysos, the dancer, whose honors among the blessed gods are the highest. Strong-spirited Ares, holy and mighty Hephaistos, and the goddess Aphrodite, foam-born to whose lot fell sublime gifts; and you Plouton, divinity excellent, who is king of the Underworld. I call upon Hebe, and Eileithyia, and the noble ardor of Herakles, the great blessings of Justice and Piety, the glorious Nymphs and Pan the greatest, and upon Hera, buxom wife of aegis-bearing Zeus. I also call upon lovely Mnemosyne and the holy Muses, all nine, as well as upon the Graces, the Seasons, the Year; fair-tressed Leto, divine and revered Dione, the armed Kouretes, the Korybantes, the Kubeiroi, great saviors, Zeus' ageless scion, the Idaian gods, and upon Hermes, messenger and herald of those in heaven; upon Themis too, diviner of men I call, and on Night, oldest of all, and light-bringing Day: then upon Faith, Dike, blameless Thesmodoteira, Rhea, Kronos, dark-dwelling Tethys, the great Okeanos together with his daughters, the might of preeminent Atlas and Aion, Chronos the ever-flowing, the splendid water of the Styx, the holy Daimon and our beloved ancestors too. Then upon the divinities dwelling in heaven, air, water, on earth, under the earth  and in the fiery element. Ino, Leukothea, Palaemon giver of bliss, sweet-speaking Nike, queenly Adresteia, the great king Asklepios who grants soothing, the battle-stirring maiden Pallas Athena, all the Winds, Thunder, and the parts of the four-pillared Cosmos. And I invoke the Mother of the immortals, Attis and Men, and the goddess Ourania, immortal and holy Adonis, beginning and end too which is the most important, and ask them to come in a spirit of joyous mercy to this holy rite and libation of reverence.

Neokoroi section:

O, Makares, (Blessed Ones) as the moon in its cycle is timeless, waxing and waning, it ever returns, so we, the Neokoroi, return each month at the time of the New Moon in the timeless act of worship, echoing with our prayers and our offerings the moon's ageless promise of renewal and return. This night, beneath the new moon, we gather to reinstitute your worship, to reforge the sacred bond of xaris, and to renew the hope with which the Gods bless humankind.

Elthete (Come) Theoi, (gods) Bless us with your presence, and partake of what we offer in reverence of you.

-ennumerate offerings: At this point individual worshippers may choose to make individual or special offerings of their own, the list below may serve as an example-

We offer sweet milk, fragrant incense, and a hymn of praise as sustenance for your hearts. And with our prayers we entreat you:

Watch over us and sustain us. Look kindly on our efforts, for it is through you we receive all blessings.

-At this point individuals may offer prayers of their own, and may add anything to the ritual that they may want to include.-

Final Libations / Last Libation for Hestia:

-take libation glass and bowl outside-

Beloved Theoi, (Gods) we offer thanks to you.

-pour libation to all the Gods into libation bowl-

And for Hestia, as yours is always the first and last.

-pour libation to Hestia into libation bowl-

-pour libation on ground-

Hail Theoi, be well disposed.

-replace libation bowl on altar and extinguish candle-

Hail Hestia--the first and the last.

May this new month bring you inspiration and opportunity as bright as the lovely Selene herself.

-M. Ashley

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hekate's Deipnon--Light the Way to Change

I am at a point in my life where the old adage that "the only constant is change" has never seemed more true. As I discussed in my post "Surviving the Eleusian Face-Lift" most of these changes have been extremely positive. Now though, I find myself faced with some new challenges surrounding which there is much uncertainty. There couldn't be a better time to post the following ritual, Hekate's Deipnon or Hekate's Supper, which should be performed on the last day of the lunar month, (today is such a day), is all about asking this Great Goddess to light the way in uncertainty so that you may take the most positive and life-enriching course possible.

The things you will need for this ritual are: Hestia candle or lamp, milk for making libations, a libation bowl, an offering of non-perishable food for your local food bank, a small offering of perishable food for Hekate, and a private spot at a nearby three-way crossroads.

Hekate’s Deipnon

-sweep your home and clear out all garbage--

-wash face and hands; prepare a small libation glass of milk; bring offerings to the altar; light Hestia candle or lamp-

To Hestia
We call upon Hestia this night--you who are the first and the last--and we thank you for your constant care, love, warmth and protection. Ancient hearth mother, Goddess of the spiritual flame. Please come and dwell here. make of our home your home. Make of our hearth your hearth. Make of our temple your temple. Make of our hearts one heart--your heart.

-pour libation to Hestia-

-light incense-

To Demeter and Persephone
We call now to the Holy Mother Demeter--all that is born rises from within her. All that sustains us flows from her. We call upon the holy maiden Kore whose power is joy ever reborn. Teach us, O Goddesses, to tend to our lives with gentle wisdom and to our days with love’s compassion. Teach us to honor your rites and mysteries--to bring justice, peace and fertility. Bless us that we may know the cycle of the living seed as the mystery of the soul revealed. We praise royal Persephone who at our deaths will greet us. We praise the Holy Mother whose love is the light of eternity. May we know our immortal beings, and drink of her cup everlasting.

-pour libation to Demeter and Persephone-

To Hekate
We call upon great Hekate this night--Most ancient Goddess, powerful, swift, unseen. Ever watchful, nothing escapes your understanding. Your domain is unbounded. The secrets of the heavens, the earth, the sea
and the underworld are yours. You hear our dreams, our joys and our lamentations. In reverence we call upon you now that you might dwell among us, hear us, and come to our aid in our lives and in this rite.

-pour libation to Hekate-

To the Ancestors
Our dearest ancestors and our beloved dead who are among us, we call upon you now and offer our thanks for the many blessings your give us. We welcome you openly and without reservation into our home and our hearts. We honor your lives and ask that you use your wisdom to lead and guide us in ours.

-pour libation to Dearest Ancestors and Beloved Dead-

-place your hands over the offering you intend to make to your local food bank-

Beloved Hekate, companion of all who must travel in darkness, we offer you this (enumerate offerings to be made to the needy) that it may bless the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves--that it may feed them, body and soul, and bring your love and blessings into their lives, should they so desire.

We also offer you (enumerate offerings to be made at the crossroads) which we will leave at your sacred crossroads as a token of our devotion. We ask that you come to us in the days and weeks ahead, bearing light in your hands. Be our guide in dark places. Protect us from unseen dangers and richly inspire our dreams.

-take crossroads offerings to the spot you have chosen and leave them there on the ground-

Mother Hekate, this offering is in your honor. Bless us that as the crossroads of our lives unfold before us, we may make the decisions that will lead us to greater enlightenment, a truer understanding of our earth and our fellows, a more honest and open heart, an overflowing abundance, and an unwavering trust in your wise counsel and that of all our precious Theoi.

-informally ask Goddess Hekate for help with certain decisions that you will be making in the coming month-

As we return home, we pledge not to look back at this offering in honor of the ever-growing bond of trust between us. Hail Hekate!

-walk away from the offering site, not looking back. Return to the altar and take libation bowl outside in order to pour its contents on the ground-

Hail most gracious Theoi--this libation is made in your honor. You are most welcome here.

-return to the altar, replace the libation bowl and extinguish the Hestia candle-

Hail Hestia--you are the first and the last!

-bring offering of food for the needy to your local food bank as soon after the rite as is feasible-

May the right course in all your decisions be illuminated to you by Hekate's undying light.

-M. Ashley

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Rape of Allegory

The History Channel series Clash of the Gods has caused many a heated debate in the Hellenic Polytheist community--usually over how much or how little they "got it right" and how offended or vindicated we feel about that. For me, the concern is much less over how much of the myth they got correct--as "correct" isn't really a word properly applied to myths that have as many variations as the people and personalities who told and retold them--but rather my concern is with the way in which the interviewees analyze the myths--an uneasy and seemingly haphazard mix of literalism and allegory.

For example, in the episode on Herakles, they took great pains to equate the great hero's trials with vice, making the entire thing a spirito-instructional allegory for the triumph of virtue. I don't have a problem with this necessarily--I'm a veritable connoisseur of spirito-instructional allegory--but what I find troubling is that in a later episode on Medusa, they drop the allegorical interpretation for a socio-political one instead. Medusa, once a beautiful mortal priestess of Athena, was raped by Poseidon and, because rape made her impure, Athena punished her by turning her into the snaky-haired monster with which most of us are familiar. All of this, say the interviewees, is a sad reflection of how unfair Hellenic Greek society was to women.

Although Hellenic Greek society may have in fact been unfair to women--certainly a society where it seems normal for a story to contain a victim of rape being punished is not one where women are held in great esteem--but why, I wonder, the drastic shift from the pure allegorical to the pure political. Is it because lobbing pot-shots at the ancient Greeks for their attitudes toward women is more compelling for TV than another symbolism-laden discourse on allegory?

Perhaps it's because I'm a giant allegory nerd that this irritates me so much. Or maybe it's because the switch for sensationalism's sake robbed the loyal viewers, like myself, of a titillating discourse on what is a most pointed, poignant and useful spiritual allegory.

Let's take it as a simple equation: Medusa represents humanity--us; Poseidon, God of the sea and earthquakes, represents unexpected and unpredictable change; Athena represents wisdom; stone represents physical and/or emotional death.

Medusa, ravaged by unpredicted and sorrowful change, unable to properly and healthfully apply spiritual wisdom to pull herself out of it, becomes an unfeeling "monster" who is incapable of seeing others as sentient creatures--either feeling or giving love. When she sees a true reflection of herself, of what she has allowed herself to become, her spiritual death is complete--she herself turns to stone.

I probably won't win any feminist prizes for my interpretation, nor generate enough ad sales to support a nerdball cable network, but at least I can say that, unlike the interviewees on Clash of the Gods, I am consistent--an unholy allegory nerd to the bitter end!

-M. Ashley

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Field Guide to Forbidden Fruit: The Pomegranate

I imagine that even if Yaweh hadn’t forbidden Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit--which we are assuming for the purposes of this post was a pomegranate--they would have gotten about three seconds into an attempt at gnawing their way through the leathery rind before ditching the high-maintenance nosh for something sweet and easy like, oh, say, apples. But the myth of the matter is that it was forbidden, special--somehow hyper-symbolic of both the simple knowledge of good and evil and the knowledge that makes gods. 

If you’ve ever gotten into the lengthy and often frustrating process of getting the good stuff out of a pomegranate, you will likely already know that, high symbolism aside, at the very least it takes God-like patience just to endure the process of getting into the thing. I mean, honestly--who ever heard of waiting ten to fifteen minutes for about a half an ounce of snack? But even beyond that, there are a few other things in the preparation reminiscent of godly knowledge

First of all, you’ve gotta lose the crown. If you are ever going to get to the fruit or that higher place, any sign of pomp or pretension must go. No divas here, no royalty. No vestiges of the flower of the life that was. No crowns for comparison with the crowns of others. Simple, title-less, humble and ready--that’s how you start.

Next is sectioning--scoring symmetrical partitions into the rind--making order out of it, breaking it down into graspable pieces--cutting, wounding deep enough that the transformative water can get to the deepest part, but not so deep as to destroy the whole--at least not yet. 

Then submersion. I know, I know--about nine hundred and twenty-three baptismal allegories sprang to my mind too, but let me stick to just this one--water makes the fruit pliable. it makes the sections come away one at a time and loosens the sweet seeds from the bitter flesh. 

Now pulling the sections apart the treasure comes in clumps, clusters, and sometimes single grains. And every now and then you pop one into your mouth using your palate’s delight at the tart, uncommon flavor to drive you forward into finishing the separation--letting it whisper yes, it is worth it.

Finally, you strain the water and last bits of clinging flesh from the seeds, leaving them wet and sumptuous in the bottom of the bowl. You are hungry now, after the work, but the sensual burst of each tiny seed  has you sated quickly. En masse these seeds don’t keep well in the dark, so you save a few for when your hunger rises again and the rest you plant  to  ensure future harvests. 

If, as some suppose, the pomegranate was the forbidden fruit, this  intimate and intensive process of extracting the sweet essence buried deep in the bitter body had to be the “benefits” side of the serpent's infamously irresistible sales pitch. 

This is the knowledge that makes gods--humility, submission, order, cleansing, release, joy, eternity.