The Calendar as a Catechism for Polytheism

The most popular posts, at my blog, are my monthly calendar listings for Roman and Babylonian Gods and their festivals. In following these calendars, a person can learn about the God that each festival honors. By focusing on celebrating the festival, people will come into the liminal spaces between humans and the Gods.

As “vertical time,” (Note 1.) festivals provide a gateway into the eternity that is the Gods (and the Ancestors). “Horizontal time” (Note 1.) is the daily life that is lived. Since vertical time pierces horizonal time, it acts as the axis mundus between the Worlds. Where vertical time touches horizontal time, liminal spaces are formed for the Holy Powers and the humans to meet. These are the thresholds that the festivals provide.

A particular festival holds communion with the Gods when They are the most active. For example, March and October are the traditional beginning and ending of the season of war. In the Roman calendar, festivals for Mars are held during these months. March is when Mars is at his most energetic. In October, the weapons are purified and soldiers return to being civilians. At this time, Mars is preparing to rest. During the various festivals for Mars, different aspects of His Being are experienced.

Neo-Pagans developed their festival calendar to mark the Turning of the Year in six-week intervals – the solstices, the equinoxes, and the cross-quarter days. Each festival marks a particular season. Unfortunately, the calendar is dependent on the climate of the Northern Temperate Zone. This presents problems for Neo-Pagans living elsewhere such as Australia, seasons and climates differ.

The various calendars of Polytheists do follow the seasons of the region of the original pantheons. However, the festivals focus on the Gods and their times of activity. For example, I follow the Babylonian Calendar although I do not live in Mesopotamia. I have noticed that although I am in a different climate, these Gods are stronger during the times delineated in the original calendar.

By celebrating festivals, people can experience the mysteries of the Gods (and Ancestors) in their spiritual realities. The festival recreates a myth of each God. Within each myth, the textures of time are experienced. The divine unfolding of things, and then the closing of these same mysteries are parts of the dance of living in the myth. These mysteries will be reexperienced again, at a different moment, in a different manner at another festival. To understand each myth is to become a witness to the creation when the threads of time are woven.

Each festival re-enacts a myth allowing all to enter with the God. For example, the Atiku of the Babylonians recreates Marduk’s battle with Tiamat, and his recreation of the world with her body. Therefore, a calendar becomes a catechism since it invites people into the myths of the Gods.

Notes:

Note 1. Horizontal time is experienced linearly in increments. People move from the past to the present to the future. In contrast, vertical time is mystical time. In vertical time, only the present moment exists, and everything occurs at once.

Suggested reading:
Christine Valters Paintner, “Sacred Time.”
Waverly Fitzgerald, “Slow Time.”

Magic of Mesopotamia

Ronald Hutton (1953-, U.K.) in his essay, “Framework for the Study of European Magic,” observed that the materials from Mesopotamia showed “no sign that human beings were believed to be capable of coercing deities… without divine help.” He continues that the peoples of Mesopotamia “made a practice of timing important actions in harmony with heavenly bodies.” Moreover, they had an acute fear of witchcraft (i.e. “magic employed secretly and maliciously by other human beings.”) A few years later, writing in “The Witch” in 2017, Hutton noted that magic was a part of official religion in Mesopotamia. Since the peoples of that region made no distinction between religion and magic, both were a part of their daily lives.

Hutton’s later perception agrees with the various experts of Mesopotamia – Thorkild Jacobsen (1904-1993, Demark), Jeremy Black (1951-2004, U.K.) and Anthony Green (1956-2012, U.K.). Knowledgeable about the cultures of this region, these three Assyriologists stated that the various cultures believed that the world to be numinous and immanent for the Spirits were indwelling. For example, a Babylonian would have regarded the Burning Bush differently from Moses. They would have recognized as Moses did that the God, who was separate from the Bush. However, they would also have worshipped the Bush as a place where the God resided at one time. For a Babylonian, a God could reside in an object without their power diminishing elsewhere. In the mind of a Babylonian, a statue (or bush) could be a repository of the God but not be the God. Therefore, in Mesopotamia, the capture of the statue of a city’s God would be a calamity.

Within the cultures of Mesopotamia, magic consisted of asking for intercession with the Gods (and other Beings). Rituals could involve redirecting a potentially bad event or bringing comfort and healing. Before doing any ritual, divination was used for learning what the person was dealing with. (Divination was also considered to be magic.)

If the signs from the divination were ominous, the ritual of Namburbu (“the undoing of potential evil”) was conducted. In this ritual, people would apologize to the various Gods (known and unknown). Since people could disrupt the order of the universe accidentally, the Surpu (“burning”) would be conducted. This ritual was for the “undoing of unknown ‘sins.’” (Note 1.) During this ritual, a person would peel and onion while reciting their actions, and then feed the fire with the peelings. Once the onion was burnt, the person became “right with the universe.” In the case of illness, a medical magician (Asipu) would divine the problem and address the demons of the illness in the name of the Gods.

My definition of magic is that it how a person participates in the Cosmos with the Holy Powers. For me, magic and religion are the same, since they both entail participation in the ecology of the Cosmos. Therefore, I feel aligned with the Mesopotamian sense of magic. As they did, I believe that we all live under the same universal laws (Gods, Humans, spirits). Sometimes we inadvertently disrupt the order and things happen. One way of setting things right is through offerings and prayers.

For example, when I sustained my brain injury, I did make offerings for healing. Since the injury was a random event, I could have, earlier, disrupted the ecology of the Cosmos, quite by accident. My usual practice is to do divination before deciding what action to take. By conducting rituals and prayers, I have recovered from the trauma of what happened to me. I still have the injury but I now feel “right with the Universe.” Thus, my sense of magic fits well into the cultures of Mesopotamia.

Notes:
Note 1. In Mesopotamian cultures, a “sin” is an “act or omission of offending the Gods and disturbing the world order.” Prayer can undo “sin.”

Works Used:
Bairgent, Michael, “Astrology in Ancient Mesopotamia.” Bear and Co.: Rochester (VT). 1994.

Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.” University of Texas: Austin. 1992.

Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Ebeling, J., Flückiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., Taylor, J., and Zólyomi, G., “The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature,” Oxford University. 2006. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/,

Davis, Owen, ed. “The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft & Magic.” Oxford University Press: Oxford. 2017.

Hutton, Ronald, “The Witch.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 2017.
—, “A Framework for the Study of European Magic.” Grey School of Wizardry Class Materials. Dell.Urgano, Ombra, “The Development of European Magic.”

Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 1976.

Koutrafouri, Vasiliki G. and Jeff Sanders, eds. “Ritual Failure: Archaelogical Perspectives.” Sidestone Press: Leiden. 2013.

Moro, Pamela, “Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Magic.” International Library of Anthropology. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/9781118924396.wbiea1915, .

Van Buylaere, Greta, Daniel Schwemer, et. al. “Sources of Evil: Studies in Mesopotamian Exorcistic Lore.” Koninklijke Brill NV: Leiden. 2018.

Review: Modern Guide to Meditation Beads

Modern Guide to Meditation Beads
Shannon Yrizarry, Llewellyn, 2020

Since prayer beads are important in my religious practice, I decided to read Shannon Yrizarry’s “Modern Guide to Meditation Beads.” Yrizarry writes that meditation beads “are great for both the deep spiritual seeker and some needing a tool to help them with more simple day-to-day things.” (She refers to “prayer beads” as “meditation beads” since they are a “cross-cultural tool that can be used for secular uses.”) In her guide, Yrizarry presents topics such as the use of meditation beads, their history, and how to compose mantras.

In her small book, Yrizaary wants to be complete as possible, since she is introducing people to their use. Yrizarry writes that “using meditation beads is a life-transforming tool.” Use the beads “if you are feeling like you want to make a change in your life but don’t have clarity on what needs to change.” She explains that this works by subconsciously reprogramming the mind to what is helpful. Moreover, fingering the beads can provide a sense of calm, as well as, remind a person of their stated intentions.

Because of my brain injury, I often commission beads for my personal use. I found the discussions of how meditation beads are constructed and what to include to be helpful. The book has suggestions on what would be appropriate for what purpose. For example, a person could can match the beads to the Signs of the Zodiac, and then set-up intentions based on their attributes. For me, Yrizarry’s suggestions sparks my creative thinking for designing new sets.

As a part of using meditation beads, Yrizarry explains how to construct mantras and intentions. Mantras work to direct the person’s energy through applied attention. Moreover, the time spent setting up the intention directs the mind as well to the desired thoughts.

To have an effective mantra, Yrizarry suggests the following steps. First, determine what are the goals. Then clarify which one is the most important. Refine that intention to be clear as possible. An excellent intention should state what is wanted and reenforce why. An example would be “I am calm so I can feel peaceful.” When using the beads, remember to include “thank you” when repeating the intentions.

As for me, I use the “meditation beads” for my prayers. For example, I have a set is for Nanna-Suen, the Babylonian God of the Moon. This set consists of 108 beads of aquamarine and dark green aventurine, beads in a pattern for the cycles of the moon. As I say my prayers. I am focused on Nanna-Suen. Since I pray before retiring to bed, this invites the God into my dreams.

Astrology and Tarot: My Insights

When I laid out the Major and Minor Arcana according to the Zodiac, I found clear patterns. The Lesser Malefic, Mars is the Ruler of The Tower (XVI). Subjecting the tower to bursts of destructive power, Mars frees the querent from The Devil (XV). (That card is ruled by Capricorn, which is ruled by Saturn, the Greater Malefic.)

Interpreting the Ten of Swords was once a problem for me. When I learned it was in the Last Decan of Gemini, it started to make sense to me. This Decan is the transition from spring to summer and possesses the mutable energies of Gemini. The Sun rules this Decan, burning and illuminating everything. This is reflected by the swords stabbing the man in the back. The mental energy of Gemini, enhanced by the Sun, pierces the truth beyond tolerance. Although the image is a dark one, the sun is rising. A sense of release, of transformation, infuses the Ten of Swords. Hope after destruction is the deeper meaning since the next card is the Two of Cups (according to the Zodiac).

My biggest insight is how Astrology makes the Tarot grow in various dimensions. Through the Planets and Signs, depth is added to each card, and hence to the reading. Like the double Mars of the Ten of Cups and Two of Wands, the Planets give hidden directions to the reading. Time is added by the Decans of the Zodiac. This gives a sense of the future or the past, thereby completing the reading. Knowing Astrology has deepened my relationship with the Tarot.

Works Used:
Chang, T. Susan and M.M. Meleen, “Tarot Deciphered: Decoding Esoteric Symbolism in Modern Tarot.” 2021. Llewellyn: Woodbury (MN).
Chang, T. Susan, “36 Secrets: A Decanic Journey Through the Minor Arcana of the Tarot.” 2021. Anima Mundi Press: Leverett (MA).
Kenner, Corrine, “Tarot and Astrology.” 2011. Llewellyn: Woodbury (MN).
Greer, Mary “21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card.” 2006. Llewellyn: Woodbury (MN).
Hall, Judy, “The Astrology Bible.” 2005. Sterling: New York.
Louis, Anthony, “Tarot: Beyond the Basics.” 2014. Llewellyn: Woodbury (MN).

Hero Cultus and Deified Humans in Polytheism

In Polytheistic traditions, various humans have been honored as Heroes, while others are raised to be Gods. Heroes are more than human but less a God. Meanwhile, “Deified Humans” (Note 1), having shed their humanity, are Gods.

Heroes are the Extraordinary Dead, regarded by others for their greatness. Since they are the examples of ideals such as courage or virtue, Heroes can be asked to help the living. A person would make offerings and ask for strength from Hercules or piety from Aeneas.

A notable Roman Hero is Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519 -430 BCE), farmer, general, and statesman. He was plowing his fields when the Senate appointed him dictator to defend Rome against the Aequi. Leaving his farm, Cincinnatus called together the Roman men and led them to victory. Afterwards, he gave up his dictatorship and returned to his farm. Cincinnatus is the model for public service.

Also, Heroes can be part human and God. Gilgamesh, King of Uruk (Sumer) is described as being one third human and two-thirds God. Romulus and his twin Remus of Rome have Mars as their father and Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. Hercules’ father is Zeus, while his mother is the human Alcmene.

Deified Humans are people who have been raised to be Gods (apotheosis) (Note 2). For example, the Egyptians raised the physician and architect Imhotep to be the God of Medicine and Healing. First, He was a chancellor to the Pharoah Djoser about 2600 BCE. In early Egypt, Imhotep was noted for his advances in medicine. Shortly after his death, He became a demi-god. Over time, people raised Imhotep to Godhood, calling Him “the Son of Ptah.” By 525 BCE, He was the Divine Healer.

The Romans raised Romulus to Godhood. After ruling Rome as its first king, He was taken up in a whirlwind by his father Mars. Then Romulus became known as Quirinus, the God of the Romans (who were referred as “Quirites.” (Note 3)). Being Quirinus, He guided the Roman people and the State.

Even today, people still deify humans and revere new Heroes. Modern Polytheists believe the musician Jim Morrison to be the incarnation of Dionysus. After his death, various Neo-Pagans deified David Bowie as a God. In the U.S. Capitol Building, at the Rotunda is the “Apotheosis of Washington.” This painting depicts George Washington rising to the heavens with Liberty and Victory.

Notes:
Note 1. In contrast, “Divine Humans” is a New Age theory that humans are essentially Divine beings.
Note 2. One academic theory is that the Gods are originally humans, who achieved divine status over time. However, early Polytheists in their practices did differentiate between the Eternal Gods and Deified Heroes.
Note 3. Romans in their civil capacity are “Quirites”, and “Romani” in their military one.