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Going Home

September 10, 2011 3 comments

A view of Crete from Navigator of the Seas, 08/26/11

Last week, I got back from a seven day cruise in the eastern Mediterranean which was followed by several more days in Rome (and a day trip to Florence). We traveled to Sicily, Athens, Kusadasi in Turkey, then to Chania in Crete before returning to Rome. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I’d never been on a cruise before, but I jumped at the chance admittedly because I’d always wanted to go to Greece. My roots as a teenage Hellenist were screaming at me that I needed to go. This was pretty much my dream vacation, and despite the fact that I went with my family (born again Christians of the most obnoxious sort, to a one), I had an amazing time.

I have Many Thoughts about this trip, and I’m still processing, while getting over a cold bug to boot, but in a lot of ways it felt like a pilgrimage of sorts, that I was coming full circle back to the place I started. Because when I first started learning about Paganism as a young teen, I identified as a Hellenic Wiccan. Nowadays, my path is more…eclectic, and even though I sometimes loathe calling it that because of the various flakes and lack of scholarship that sometimes go hand-in-hand with it, it’s really the best way to describe it. I haven’t actively identified as a Hellenist in some time, even though I would so totally wear a “Hermes is my homeboy” shirt. He looks out for me a lot, even though we don’t really have any kind of formal arrangement. (Though at this point, I really ought to make it official.)

Even with the eclecticism, and the ever-changing nature of my path, I always seem to gravitate back to the deities of the eastern Mediterranean region. It’s my spiritual “home” for lack of a better term. So physically going to those places was really profound for me, in a way I wasn’t really expecting since it’s been so long since I actively identified as a Hellene.

A Herm at the Athenian Agora, carrying the infant DionysosGreek symbolism and mythos have always been hugely important to me, even before I knew there were actual Pagans still in the world in modern times. I always say that the single most influential book in my spiritual development was D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, which I read for school in the fourth grade. Even though the myths were sanitized for the most part, because it was a children’s book, the illustrations were really what hooked me. They’re ginormous and colorful and have a way of drawing the reader in, making the stories come alive. Those stories and characters were real, and relatable to me in a way the Bible stories I was fed in Sunday School never were. And one thing that struck me about the Bible stories is that God was just so very angry all the time. By contrast the Greek gods in that book weren’t distant and vengeful, though they certainly had their share of fits. They were actively involved in mortal lives (for good or for ill), and they were delightfully human in their foibles. They bickered, fell in love, played pranks, and mourned people they cared about. As a kid, it really resonated with me. It made sense to me. And one of the last pages of the book had a bleak image of broken statues, explaining how the gods were forgotten, and it made me cry harder than anything I’d ever read as a kid. How could anyone just forget them like that? It was baffling to me, and so sad.

Fast forward to my first explorations of Wicca, and when the time came to “pick a pantheon” as it were, it was a no-brainer for me. The first deities I ever worked with as a fresh newb were Apollo and Athena. They were always the two that jumped out at me as a kid, particularly Apollo, since I was always brainy and musically inclined. And they spoke to me. I sang, I played violin and keyboard, and I was a burgeoning writer; Apollo was poking me before I even knew what that was. And as a girl that was always a “brain” and into nerdy male-dominated pursuits, I could relate a lot to Athena. She was instrumental in what I like to call my “Bathroom Floor Epiphany” when I was sixteen, and for that I’ll always be grateful to Her. My first Craft name was Morboriel Parthenos. This is generally what I went by online, and is the name I was published under in New Generation Witches. The “Parthenos” there was deliberate, it was an identification with Athena. And even after I got sort of disillusioned with Wicca, I still called myself a Hellenist. But then I fell away from active practice, and, well, things got a bit complicated and I was disconnected from that for a long time.

When I moved in with Nancy, my abusive roommate, she claimed Hera as one of the house deities, since she worked with Her. Even when I was still identifying as Hellenist, I hadn’t really done any work with Hera, but I respected the rules of the house. One of Nancy’s favorite tactics for emotional manipulation was “channeling” the various deities she worked with, claiming to speak for Them (and, conveniently, Their wishes always seemed to neatly be in line with hers). I had a lot of unresolved guilt issues and a sense that I’d abandoned Apollo and Athena. I’d long since given up music (the violin because of a bitter and racist teacher I had, singing…because I don’t really know, to be honest), and I felt like I failed Apollo and was a bad Pagan. Nancy knew this. And like every clever abuser ever smelled blood in the water and went in for the kill. During one particularly ugly talking board session (one I wasn’t even participating in, just on the outside of), she claimed to speak for Athena and flat out told me She was furious with me for not working with Her anymore, and Apollo was furious with me for giving up my music. I was berated about how I was a terrible priestess and the Gods hated me and that I was never even to think about Them again. That I was utterly alone in the spiritual world. Afterwards, when we were talking about this “message”, Nancy said I just shouldn’t work with any deities at all since I’m broken and a failure and do nothing but piss Them off. And being a former Catholic and someone who still believed in Christian cosmology to some extent, she told me I should work with angels instead because they were “safer and more forgiving of screw-ups”.

Yeah, I got nothing.

Now, I’ve worked with Athena, as I said. I know how blunt She is at times. But that? That wasn’t Her. I recognize that now that it was Nancy playing games, trying to control people again like she always did. But at the time, I was so beaten down by her emotional abuse, feeling like I was a prisoner in my own house, that I was willing to accept her as an authority figure because I was so terrified of her. I was willing to believe any bullshit she claimed as a “mouthpiece for the Gods”, because if I didn’t…then what? I would be cast out, thousands of miles away from my home, with no friends. I had Stockholm Syndrome in a bad way. Just the memory of this is enough to make me cry. For as much as she bloviated and laughed off the allegations that she was running a cult (mostly because the grudgewanker with the website was even crazier and more abusive than she was), that’s really what it felt like sometimes.

Statue of Hermes at the Vatican MuseumI can’t emphasize enough the damage this one incident did to me. I was terrified even of thinking about Hellenic traditions after that. Nancy, in her infinite wisdom, decreed that I should work with Hermes because I’m a Gemini and He’s in charge of Geminis. Completely contradicting her previous statement about angels, but, well, that was Nancy for you. The hilarious bit is Hermes, being the /b/ troll he is, promptly turned up and said hi to me. Mind you, even when I was a Hellenist, I never worked with him. I mean, I always liked Him, but He was never really on my radar, which is kind of bizarre when I look back on it. He wasn’t high pressure at all, He didn’t try to put any claims on me or anything. He was just this quiet presence saying, “hey, it’s okay. If you need me for anything, just ask. Also, that chick is dumb, don’t listen to her.”

Have I mentioned I really, really like Hermes?

Anyway, I’ve since gotten actual confirmation that it was indeed bullshit, via my partner who works with Hades, but it did have a really bad effect on me. So much so that when the issue of this trip came up, I was still kind of scared to go to Athens even though the Parthenon was someplace I’d always wanted to go. What if I wasn’t welcome in Her space? I didn’t want to offend.

When we went to the Acropolis, all that just went by the wayside. Climbing the hill–and it is massive–is itself a kind of spiritual experience. It was terribly hot, being August after all, and dusty, and crowded with other tourists. But it felt like I was walking in the footsteps of the ancients, there’s really no other way I can describe it. And when I actually saw the Parthenon itself at the top, cranes and all, I was speechless.

The Parthenon, taken 8/24/11A funny thing happened then. I felt Athena. It struck me in such a profound way that despite all the tourists and the way that site has been not terribly well taken care of, that She was still there, after all this time. Her presence was, well, a little overwhelming. It was a beautiful feeling.

I didn’t know what else to do, really, so I knelt by the main plaque, kissed my fingers, touched my head and my heart and then touched the ground. I said a little prayer, I won’t even begin to pretend it was at all eloquent. I was awed and sort of wibbly and didn’t really know what to say.

I didn’t feel anger from Her, or like I wasn’t welcome on Her turf. I felt welcome. I felt peace. Mi casa es su casa, if you will. She didn’t say anything, but She didn’t need to. And it was like a massive weight was lifted from my shoulders. She didn’t call to me or ping me or anything–that time’s passed, and I understand and accept that I’m not Hers–but I did understand once and for all that Nancy lied to me, about basically everything. That my path is my own, that my relationship to the Gods is my own, and not for anyone to dictate. It’s something the Dark Lady has told me several times, over and over, but Athena confirmed it for me, and I felt really good about it.

The Library of Celsus, EphesusThat was probably the biggest Moment I had on this trip, but there were others. It’s one thing to read about these things in books, watch TV documentaries about them, and have intellectual knowledge of them, but it’s quite another to actually be there in the presence of history. I know that probably sounds incredibly cheesy, but it’s true. Walking in those ancient places, where people lived and died and worshipped every day was profound. In Turkey, we went on a private tour of Ephesus that I’d booked online in advance through Ephesus Shuttle, and our guide was incredibly well-educated and made a huge difference in the experience. The way she painted a picture of ancient life there made the ruins come alive. We saw the Terrace Houses, which were incredible. The energy there was still palpable. And one big thing that I took away from this stop, and from visiting the big Roman sites, was that syncretism was hugely prevalent in ancient times in the region, even more than I knew it was. It was deeply affirming for me, too.

As an aside, I don’t begrudge Recons at all, even though they admittedly frighten me. I understand that they find value in that particular approach, and I deeply respect the vigorous scholarship that goes into it. I also don’t pretend to have huge ~scholarly knowledge~ of these things–I took like one Classics 101 course in college. But I find the sneering at syncretic approaches sort of…baffling, to be honest. I see a place like Ephesus that was extremely cosmopolitan and diverse in population, where you see monuments and temples for all sorts of deities, and it only confirms to me that there’s nothing wrong with me for being eclectic. It was sort of the thing back then!

And it felt totally different than going to Rome and being in so many places that were once sacred Pagan spaces and deliberately turned to Christianity. I hate to sound like some dumbass fluffbunny crying about “The Burning Times” and flailing about ~teh ebol Chrischuns~ but the spiritual violence inherent in that sort of act was blatantly palpable basically everywhere I went in Rome, and it made me incredibly sad and angry by turns. The Pantheon was probably the worst, though the Temple of Romulus on Palatine Hill was just as bad. It’s what I can only describe as “Fuck You” energy. It’s no good at all.

What all this means for my path, I don’t know. I don’t think I could ever strictly work in one particular paradigm again; my worldview just isn’t like that anymore, if it ever really was. But visiting Greece awakened something dormant in me, and I’m feeling the pull again. Apollo in particular, I feel like I’m being drawn back to, which is sort of baffling to me since I’m a priestess of the Dark now. I don’t know how the Dark Lady would feel about me working with Him again, and given that I’m bound to Her, that’s sort of important. In my head, I know that She doesn’t make dualistic judgment calls about the Light, that She’s really very Taoist in that regard. But She’s also very Dionysian in Her approach to things and has a different kind of energy than He does. I don’t know if they’re necessarily compatible. It’s something I’m going to have to meditate on and seek guidance about.

There’s also some trepidation on my part because of the recon issue, and how I know I could never do that if I incorporated Hellenic ideas into my practice again. I look at the kind of wank that goes on in Heathen communities regarding people who rely heavily on UPG in their practice and wonder if Hellenists are any better (spoilers: not really). My chaote leanings don’t really help me much in this regard (hi, my patron Goddess is from a video game!). But I don’t think ignoring these stirrings is really an option, either, and maybe it’s time my paradigm shifted a little again. I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure this all out. In that sense, this trip was massively helpful to me. Anything that gets me thinking is something meaningful.