On my last trip to the university’s library, I happened upon a book. I was looking for some books that might talk about maraj lwa, because while that is not the primary topic of the book Sacred Marriage that Beth and I are working on together, we do want to mention it, at least in brief. As someone who is outside of the traditions, I’m sensitive to the fact that the various African diaspora traditions are often represented poorly, and I want to avoid that. I also want to bring the subject up for possible compare-and-contrast (though, at the end of the day? I suspect the differences are less tradition-specific and possibly more individual-specific) I’m realizing that I’m likely going to have to contact actual people with my horribly bumbling questions as they come up, instead of going with book and article research, and to that end, if anyone knowledgeable wants to point me in proper directions, I won’t say no, and you’ll get a proper thank you in the acknoweldgements portion of the book!
Looking at books, when this gem caught my attention.
I’ll be honest: my first thought was, ooh, this could help deepen my understanding of Aphrodite. I don’t have a Matron in the Matron and Patron sense of the word, nor do I have a “main” goddess. If I had to name one, though, Aphrodite would be it. She championed for me, and for my role in my marriage before I could do so myself. While I attribute Hera and Aphrodite both in playing pivotal roles in saving my marriage when I was bound and determined to destroy it, Hera’s interest in me — while being kind and generous and warm — is not personal. I’m important to Her because I’m important to Poseidon, which is fine, because She’s important to me because She’s important to Him. This isn’t necessarily a bad foundation to start a relationship. But with Aphrodite? It was more than that.
I have wiggly understanding of Her and the faces of various spirits and gods that have gone into our understanding of who She is. I’m a polytheist, but I still think the gods and spirits play it a bit loose (or rather, can play it a bit loose) with faces and names and such. So, while I don’t think that Aphrodite=Osus=Yemeya=Freyja=Venus=Astarte, I do think that hard and fast lines of division between Them might be more our invention than Their own. I also think “Families” of gods and spirits can help us understand our own better. For this I mean cultural-to-the-spirits and not so much to our human understanding. In my experience, there is a kinship/sameness/sharing-of-language/understanding/being to the “water” divinities that renders them a culture unto their own. This is how, despite my no experience with, relationship with, or devotion toward Manannan, the theft of his statue cut me. He is, an a way, a cousin of my Beloved, and an affront to one is an affront to the whole.
So, I picked the book up thinking, it’s peripherally related to research I want to be doing anyway, and it binged my Aphrodite connection, and worse comes to worse, it’s about a water divinity, so why not? Why not?
I went in bracing, because I am a person with a somewhat “open” head. That is, I sense the gods and spirits around us. Not all of them, not all the time, but . . . enough of them, enough of the time. Often, when I look, I can get a sense of Them “looking” back, even if it’s just a cursory glance. (and it’s often no more than that, especially if they’re not starved for attention.) Osun is far from being starved for attention, but She looked back, and She was kind enough. She brushed aside my “not the right sort of person,” with brisk efficiency. She humored my “Aphrodite, right? A little? Some?” while taking me to task trying to understand something based on its likeness (or lack of) to some other thing. She gifted me with greater insight into my relationship with my mother, and a better appreciation of the nuances to be found within the African diasporic traditions — that is, when you have people, you have people, and no hard and fast descriptor is ever, EVER going to work as anything more than a general representation.
She lead me to a podcast about Olokun (find below). Now, I’m sitting with that. Because Poseidon is laughing, and is still, and is possessive and is encouraging, and is having too much fun with making my head hurt.
I’m not at a point where I’m that much of a syncretist that I can look to Narasimha or Matsya or Olokun and think: different faces for Poseidon in different places and times. But He’s been urging me to expand beyond the Mediterranean, with my studies. There’s this idea that I can find Poseidon reflected clearly in the faces of Others, and there’s a reminder that so much of what we know of Their worship is how humans interacted with Them in certain times, in certain places, within certain frame-works. If you’re trying to be of that tradition or if you’re trying to recreate a tradition inspired by those of the past, then having a more narrow focus is desirable.
I’m not. I’m interested in Poseidon, and I find the past fascinating, and parts of it do inform my approach . . .but I want Poseidon. Here, and now, in this world, by the many places He shows His interests to be, in the faces of the people who praise, honor, and worship Him. I am not going to say Olokun = Poseidon, because my experience that the being I know as Poseidon is a bit loose with names and faces (they are containers, if you will, and we all know how water will conform to the container it is in; it’s a bit like that) but also because He tells me that, well, yesno. More of a yes than when I ask about Neptune (and isn’t that interesting?) but still yesno. It’s not quite the response I get regarding Vishnu. It’s enough that I want to look into this being and His worship and history and faces and stuff.
I can’t look at these sorts of things and help but hold cultural appropriation in my mind. Should I even be looking in this direction? But I don’t know that learning about or reaching out to various Powers not of my culture is cultural appropriation. I’m not setting myself up as some great Knowledgeable Devotee of Olokun, for example. I’m just curious. There’s a seemingly natural (to Them) overlap or kinship, kindredship, something, between the Germanic/Scandinavian Powers, for example, and a number of the Powers within the African diaspora traditions, enough that I’m all neck-craning and “Oh, what’s over there? Whose Pops talking to?” I’m just . . . interested, in reading, in studying, and listening to others talk about their experiences, and maybe, maybe, maybe eventually setting up something temporary to say, ‘hi. You matter to my Beloved in ways I don’t quite understand, and I don’t have to matter to you, but this makes me inclined to hold affection in my heart for You and, here, have this drink.”
I dunno. It’s an interesting place, right now, is all.
Er. So! If you’re interested at all, and you can get your hands on it, the Osun book is fascinating. It was informative, the essays were many and varied. There is a maturity to how they speak of their devotion to their Powers, and a lack of apologies for having “out there” beliefs that i see too much in some pagan (my own, included!) writing, there’s a frankness in their struggles, and while I realize that jealousy and “I’m right, so and so is wrong,” is part of human nature, from the writing, there seems to be less of being threatened by other peoples different experiences with a god or spirit. Different roads to Them, is how it’s talked about, and I like that — not just because of the road and traveling and Odin.
And, also, this podcast was interesting to listen to. If I giggled like an idiot every time he mentioned Poseidon in a matter of fact way, it’s only because I don’t hear people talking about Him much, and it made me very happy.