Reflections on building cultus

I began to look seriously into Hellenic religious history a number of years after Poseidon introduced Himself to me. I am grateful, almost on a daily basis, that He helped me to build a firm foundation between the two of u/Us regarding what my devotion would look like, what forms it would take, and what outside influences would and would not touch, before I branched out in my studies. I dove in to Germanic religious history study before I approached the Hellenic side. I suspect that Poseidon’s urging me toward including His Family into my awareness finally came when I began expanding worship beyond Him. It meant I was ready to move beyond the small pond of just the two of u/Us.

As anyone who has an eye toward Hellenic paganism knows, the vast majority of the source material we have comes from Athens specifically. Oh, there’s source material from elsewhere, but it is neither as plentiful nor as accessible as the material that Athens lends us. I read a number of the classics. I gobbled up Homer and Hesiod, I read the other poets that one is supposed to read. I turned to the secondary sources, and I cursed my inability to read German. (And I laughed that my study of Hellenic religion would lead me to wanting to read German). I learned about Hestia, traditionally honored first and last, known as the hearth of the home – and I realized quite early on that such a practice was not for me. I learned about the Noumenia, the beginning of the new month, and the following days that were, and are, held sacred to specific gods and spirits – and I realized through practice that, aside from a few and aside from inspiring an adoption of specific week days being special in my practice to specific gods, such a practice was not for me. I learned about Hekate, and later about the Deipnon. I can’t say that my practice regularly includes the practice of Hekate’s Deipnon in the same manner it was observed in the past by others, or even that it looks like what contemporary worshipers do now, but I do mark the Her deipnon monthly – not because of any relationship I have with Hekate, but because Poseidon made it clear early into this exploration of mine that Hekate is important to Him. Her worship came into my practice before even any worship of Zeus or Hera – that is how important She is to Him. I read about the festival calendar of Athens, and of other places, too, but mostly of Athens, and I noticed something pretty early on.

Poseidon had an honored status in Athens, of course. We have stories to explain to us why that is the case, and we know how much sea travel was for the various Hellenic cities and settlements were, so it’s easy to see why He would be honored. He has a place of honor in a number of the various festivals that, at a glance, don’t seem to have much to do with Him. At the same time, though we know of the Athenian month Poseideon, and though we know that the months were often named after important festivals that fell within said month, and though we do know that there was a Poseidea festival marked in Athens in this month, and though we do know a bit bit about what transpired in other places in the Hellenic world during their Poseidea festivals, we don’t really know much of what happened at the Athenian festival named for Poseidon, whose name gives us the month Poseideon. We have a calendar rich with festivals to Dionysos, and to Apollon, and to Demeter. We have festivals to honor Hermes, and Zeus, and Hera, and Artemis, and of course, of course, to Athena, and so very often if Poseidon was included it was in a place of honor, but not the place of honor.

As a devotee of this god, discovering this was extremely frustrating. It also made sure that I was only somewhat interested in pursuing a more Hellenic focused path. Poseidon was not going to be my gateway-god to Hellenic paganism. What I wanted to find was something in place where Poseidon was the center of the tradition, not just a part of it.

It became clear pretty early on that, if I wanted a year of Poseidon festivals, looking to the past was not going to do it for me. And so, I found myself with the wonderful, caring, loving, good god who deserved, I thought, just as many festivals as Dionysos received, just as many rituals and libations and offerings that the year provided for Demeter or Apollon, just as much praise as Athena received (if not more!) and a veritable dirth of material.

So I began to build. At first, I’ll admit, I was more annoyed than anything else. Bear in mind that a lot of this was happening while I was trying to make sense of being “dual-trad” – I was identifying equally as a Heathen and as a Hellenic polytheist at the time, and trying to keep the practices somewhat separate. This was reinforced by having an in-real-life community of Heathens to sumbel with, at which times the honoring of non-Heathen gods was not allowed (which is fine; your house, your rules). I admitted even then that keepig my worship of Odin and Poseidon carefully delineated wasn’t going to work for me, but I was keeping two different set of calendars, I was trying to keep my Hellenic stuff in a proper ritual context, and so on. I felt lonely in my Hellenic devotion, and I was frustrated that we could go and hail Odin or Thor or Freyja or even Loki in a public setting, or that we could go and spend a weekend with people who shared much of our world view, or that we could schlep a shrine for Odin on our backs for people to use as a place to pray and meditate or otherwise commune with Pops, and then I’d come back and my rituals for Poseidon would be small and private and lonely.

The growing of the festival days was a slow process. I began marking a day for Poseidon Hippios first, possibly before I left Massachusetts, but definitely before I moved in with Beth. I’m not sure when it became less frustrating and more freeing – this creation of new festivals to honor Poseidon, many of which have no real meaning for anyone other than me (the celebration of our two anniversaries, celebrating a particular day of epiphany). At some point I became incredibly grateful that I was not bound by tradition or history, or at least, not in a way that tradition or history trumped His input. I did not – I do not – include a prayer to Hestia first and last in my festivals for Him, because Poseidon made it clear very, very early on that He is my Hearth. Zeus and Hera and Aphrodite have places of honor in my devotions, but They have such because of Poseidon. So, too, with Hekate and Rhea, Demeter, and Gaia. So, too, with Selene. My festival calendar is dominated by special days for Poseidon – rituals if not festivals – and except for the inclusion of Poseidea in our Yule festivies, they are all rituals, festivals, and holy days of obligation, that w/We have built together. Some are important to me and thus He accepts them. Some are important to Him and thus I observe them. Some are important to w/Who w/We are together, and thus they are celebrated.

In this way, though I am devoted to a Big Named God Known From Antiquity, who had temples and throngs of people sacrificing to Him (which He likes to remind me on some of my more bratty days), I know at least a little bit of what it’s like to build a tradition from the ground up, or to be focused on a lesser-known god or spirit. It’s not quite the same, I’ll grant you that, but it’s also not the same as having loads of detailed information to build from, either. Poseidon is this massive power. He is known, right? And boy does He have Connections. Yet, so much of what I do in my devotion to Him, in the building of His cultus, is rooted in the now, not in the past. It’s rooted in intimate relationships forged now, not resurrected from history. Knowing what I know of what, in my experience, matters most to Him, I have to wonder – how much of not having a ton of resources to cite regarding how things were done in His cultus from ages ago is on purpose?

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8 thoughts on “Reflections on building cultus

  1. The biggest problem is that there is so much lost to time that it is easy to fall into irritability when you know that there is something there. Such as at Delphi where Poseidon has a shrine and whom once owned Delphi before trading it with Apollon for one of his islands. You know that there still had to be depth of rituals….but there is no information. And honestly as someone who leans more towards the not-Athens, I find myself often frustrated too and just making stuff up lol. Also while I do honor Hestia I am kinda as yourself, and probably don’t put as much emphasis on her as would be normal for a Hellenic household because Apollon is always foremost in my worship. She does get worship and offerings but..yeah. And as I am starting to go dual trad based off of syncretism (will keep separate when with others but not really caring in my home lol) I can only imagine what a tangled knot that was for you!

    • Don’t get me started on Delphi. I have my own, quirky, probably out there doxa regarding it, and Him, but yes. Gods, yes. I want the Things. Well, the history things. Except, also, it’s sorta neat to not have them.

      Syncretism has been, so far for me, largely intellectual and not so much in practice. I haven’t even gotten to the place of having representations of bit of Him as I see through Other Faces on the shrine yet — though this whole Vishnu and especially Narasimha angle really . . . well. Well. Dual trad. My sympathies? 😉 In my mind, when I was trying it, dual-trad was this rigid *thing* rather than a tool to use to engage with other humans. As a tool, I can see it’s usefulness, but in home practice, for me, it just does not work, not even when dealing with Others who are not Immediate Kin. It’s part of why I started just calling myself a polytheist rather than Heathen or Hellenic or whatnot. Because it’s easier, less limiting/less misleading . . . or something.

      Words. Labels. Gar.

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