Words Mean Things

or an introspection on labels, practices, etc.

Extremely early on in our relationship — we’re talking hours, if not minutes — Poseidon stressed to me that “names aren’t important.” This has stayed with me through the passage of time, and it’s been a guide for me. As a writer, parts of me balk at this — words mean things! A problem that communities face around the world is people don’t seem to realize that words mean things, they mean specific things! Arguably, this is a pet peeve of mine. I’m Odin’s as much as I am Poseidon’s, and you cant tell me names don’t matter to Him. I’m a big proponent of word-power. Furthermore, I think knowing yourself is a huge deal, and I don’t know that I’d be able to study myself without having labels to give myself for these strengths, those weaknesses, these habits. Self-mastery makes words necessary.

Context matters. Poseidon’s comment came on the heels of my insisting to know His name, and I have to point out that I was in the midst of my very first nervous breakdown. His point was important: names didn’t matter at that time, and even to this day, when I reach the point of names and words and articulation mattering more than the substance of my practice, He’s quick to point out that names and words have ceased to matter and have begun to hinder. Things are only tools until they no longer are useful, and then they need to be set aside.

This is a nice preamble. I’ve been reading Elani Temperance’s blog Baring the Aegis since she started posting over at Witches and Pagans (a nice assortment of blogs, if you’re interested) and enjoying her posts. She posts primarily regarding Hellenismos, her practice, and essays on various theological issues. She posts a lot, so be prepared if you head on over to check her writing out. Anyway, I’ve been reading her blog, and a number of others of various traditions that I don’t generally have exposure to otherwise (yay Internet!). And, as the dark of the year carries on for me, and I’m more and more inclined toward more ceremonial rituals, I’ve been poking at myself a bit, in a curious way. I know I don’t identify with Hellenismos, I know that I tried for a while, but ultimately the label didn’t stick. I know that I say things like, I’m more Heathen than Hellenic, but, in practice, why is that and what does it look like?

(Does it need to be said here that your miles may vary? Consider it said.)

The unfortunate fact is, the majority of the primary source material that is available to us regarding religion and the gods of Greece is Athenian. Not all, of course, but the majority. There is emphasis on civic-duty, which includes proper homage to the gods. There is emphasis on pomp and ceremony which only makes sense when one is dealing with orchestrating a ceremony involving a large group of people. I’ve led rituals for large groups, I understand the usefulness of this. We come back to words meaning things. So what does it mean when one takes the label of Hellenismos for oneself? Honestly, as I sit and try to pick it apart — the worship of all the gods rather than the henotheistic approach I have, wherein Poseidon’s influence determines those I honor? Incorporating a hearth flame for Hestia and taking up the honoring of Her first and last? Keeping to the Athenian ritual calendar? Incorporating the concepts of miasma and it’s limitations into your life? — I’m not sure that I can pin-point the one thing. If I had to, I’d point to Hestia-as-hearth; Poseidon has stressed all along that He be my hearth. Now and again I consider incorporating time to set aside to honor Hestia, especially as I strive to maintain my home as sanctuary, but it always fizzles out. To a smaller degree I’d argue that miasma plays little part in my life, too, but that’s only with regard to my immediate Family.

This, here, is the heart of it for me. Within Heathenry it is stressed that the gods are our Elder Kin. There is a sense of understanding by the various heathens that I’ve interacted with over the years, that the gods are genuinely among us, are interested in us, and the approach is a pragmatic one. It isn’t cluttered with form, structure, and restriction. Form, structure, and restriction are not inherently bad things, but they can and do work at times to detract from the actual experience of coming before the gods.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s entirely possible that above all I’m drawn to the “low-church” approach one finds within Heathenry. I know, too, that our Heathen ancestors held ceremonies that had form, structure, and restrictions. Mostly, there is a sense of the gods being closer to us within Heathenry that I find lacking within Hellenismos. My gods are my Family, even as They are the Undying Ones. Everything else is formed around that.

At the end of the day, these labels matter little. Beth and I largely do not interact ritually with others, and I tend to favor “pagan” and “polytheist” before other labels, mostly because I don’t fit into either box comfortably. I learned a long time ago that trying to compartmentalize my religious practice led to heartache and frustration, and I’m not interested in going back there. However, I do enjoy picking up things and examining. “You’re dedicated to Poseidon. Aphrodite, Hera, Zeus, and to a smaller extent Hekate are part of your worship, and you make nods toward the rest annually. Why don’t you identify more as Hellenic? Do you want to incorporate some more into your life again? Are you okay with where you are at?”, and so forth.

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2 thoughts on “Words Mean Things

  1. I feel like there is a similar something trying to come to a proverbial head in my own mind. I have such a wide range of influences, and no real inner drive to create formal or ceremonial practices, but at the same time I wonder if I’m missing out on something by letting myself be so laid back. I blame part of it on my schedule, but that’s only good so often as an excuse. It’s true that my gods are Hellenic, but my daily practice and my own “favorite flavor” of magic is definitely of a sea-witchy type. I make do, and I move where tide and whim see fit to move me. Dragons and land spirits don’t “fit” into Athens-inspired modern Hellenismos. I have no idea how to make this work smoothly. Maybe I should take my own advice and worry less about labels and more about meaning.

    • To a point, labels are only necessary when trying to communicate with other people. I’m not sure they’re necessary in worship, alone. I’ve gotten comfortable (finally!!!!!) with the ebb and flow (hehe) in my practice, with my desire for more formal ritual and my desire for informal ritual, depending on the time of year. There’s something to be said for being laid back. Our gods guide us as they will. I suspect that if being laid back was an issue between you and your gods, they’d let you know.

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