Gods of the Month: June

June (Junius) is dedicated to Juno, the Patroness of Women. It is unclear why Juno is honored by Romans at this time, since only Juno Moneta has a festival day in June. However, marriages in the last two weeks of June were considered especially blessed by this Goddess of Marriage.

VESTA

The main focus of June is the Vestalia from June 7 to 15. The Inner Sanctum of the Temple of Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth, was opened to women. The temple was cleaned, purified, and rededicated. (The rubbish was then into the Tiber River.) In the Roman religion, Vesta is the Perpetual Fire, Who keeps the Pact between the People and the Gods.

HERCULES

I have personal cultus to Hercules, who is considered to be one of the early founders of Rome. Some of the Greek mythology of Heracules was grafted onto Hercules, the Roman God Hero. However, Romans had their own particular myths about Him. For example, the focus of Hercules’ worship, the Ara Maxima (the Greatest Altar) is where He killed Cacus, the monster who terrorized the early Romans.

Two temples of Hercules have dedications this month. Hercules Magno Custodi (the Great Custodian) has one on June 4, and Hercules Musarum (of the Muses) on June 29. The first was vowed on the orders of the Sibylline Books in light of Hannibal’s victories against Rome. The second was where poets and others would come to pay their respects to Hercules and the Muses.

SUMMANUS

Another God, I have a cultus for is Summanus, the God of the Nocturnal Heavens. He ruled the night as Jupiter ruled the day. His festival day is June 20, when people offered round breads imprinted with wheels to Him.

Gods Recruiting: Buddhism and Westerners

“Buddhism” was the term used by the British to denote the myriad religions of Asia that featured worship of the Buddha. These religions include those practiced by the Japanese and Tibetans, as well as the Thai and other peoples. Originating in India, Buddhism is actually a missionary religion. In the 6th century, monks from Korea went to Japan to spread Buddhism. After World War II, priests of various Buddhist lineages emigrated to the West and set up temples for Europeans and other Westerners.

During the various exchanges, Buddhism both transformed and was transformed by each culture. Because of the evolving nature of each culture, there is no one “pure or authentic” Buddhism. Instead, there are many lineages and sects instead.

In the exchanges with the West, Western philosophy permeated Buddhism. Western scholarship methods are now taught in Buddhist centers. Students read commentaries of the Holy Scriptures in English. Meanwhile from living in India, the 14th Dalai Lama has adopted the ahimsa of non-violence taught by Gandhi into Tibetan Buddhism. In contrast, the 13th Dalai Lama told Gandhi that he had no idea of what ahimsa meant.

The Gods in Buddhism are a cultural part of the religion. The Goddess Tara, a popular Goddess in Buddhism has many forms, but most Pagans worship Green and White Taras. (Security and Compassion, respectively.) Tara, Herself, was formed by the tears of Avalokiteshvara, the original bodhisattva. She is considered by some to be a Mother Goddess.

Another Goddess that Pagans revere is Kuan Yin (Wade Giles spelling), whos often regarded as the Mercy Goddess. She is another form of Avalokiteshvara. Kuan Yin is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of All Buddhas,” and is similar to the Christian Mother Mary. (Tara is from the Indian tradition of Buddhism, while Kuan Yin is from the Chinese.)

In venerating these Gods and others of Buddhism, Pagans should be aware of several things. First, the Buddhism that permeates popular American culture is an invention of Henry Steel Olcott. (Note 1) He reimagined the religion as rational, free of dogma, and with no rituals. His reinvention has Buddhist tenets based on Western science.

Secondly, the Shangri-La myth (Note 2) of popular culture presents Tibet as the place of all wisdom, with the lamas as the “old wise ones.” By romanticizing Tibetan Buddhism, this myth gives Westerners the notion that this is the purest form of any religion. The Shangri-La myth spoke to the Western psychological needs of being unrooted in a modern world.

One Pagan that I knew regarded the Green and White Taras as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deities.” (Note 3). He viewed these Goddesses to be non-judgmental and compassionate. He often spoke of Them as helping him to heal and to be a happy human being. As he told me about Them, I thought of the Taras as therapeutic constructs for him.

I think that Pagans who worship Buddhist Gods should know their cultural origins. Not only that, but what sect of Buddhism are They a part of. Context will aid in knowing who these Gods are. This helps in keeping these Gods from becoming psychological devices to meet the particular needs of the worshipers. Once Pagans understand the cultural roots of these Gods, they can be better able to adore Them.

Notes:

Note 1: Olcott (1832-1907) is regarded to be the first American convert to Buddhism. He is a co-founder of Theosophy with Helen Blavatsky. He is also credited with the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Note 2: James Hilton (U.K., 1900-1954) presented a Tibetan utopia called Shangri-La in his novel “Lost Horizon,” written in 1933. This book became one of the most popular novels of the 20th Century.

Note 3: Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton coined this term in 2005 to describe the beliefs of American teenagers. They define Moralistic Therapeutic Deism defined as:

A God exists who created, ordered the world, and watches over human life on earth.  The God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in The Bible and by most world religions. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. The God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life, except when this God is needed to resolve a problem. Good people go to Heaven when they die.

For Further Reading:

Tibetan Buddhism in the West: Cultural Issues: Info-Buddhism.com

Study Buddhism from Dr. Alexander Berzin: StudyBuddhism.com

Previous Post in this series: Gods Recruiting: Hindu Gods

Gods Recruiting: Hindu Gods

While some people have been recruited by various Hindu Gods, the vast majority have attracted to these Gods for other reasons. Many Eclectic Pagans have a statue on their altars of Lord Genesha, the “Elephant God,” to remove any barriers in their lives. This means that Lord Genesha shares altar space with non-Hindu Gods, and may not receive the proper reverence.

Other popular Hindu Gods among Pagans are Kali Ma, the Dark Mother and Tara, the Mother Goddess of Tibet and India. The Goddess Religions will add to these Goddesses, Kuan Yin (Wade-Giles spelling), the Chinese Goddess of Compassion to complete the trio. Within these religions, each of these Goddesses is a part of the Great Goddess.

Begun in the 1970s, in the West, the Goddesses Religions reject the over-emphasis of the masculine divinity in monotheist religions, and the subjugation of women. These religions focus on uniting the cross-cultural feminine divinities found in other religions. (Note 1) The result is that the Goddesses of many pantheons relate to each other rather than to their Gods of their own cultures.

However, all of these Gods and Goddess live in a richly textured eco-system where they relate to the other Gods of their Pantheon. Taking Them out of their religious and cultural context creates a loss of relationships and meaning. Fitting these Gods and Goddesses into an alien context causes Them to lose their original purpose of being. It changes Them in becoming something other than Hindu Gods. Some Hindus have complained that this practice weakens their Gods, and saps Their Power. As a “hard” Polytheist, I see differences between Kali Ma of Hinduism and Kali Ma of the Goddess Religions.

For me, this tendency to “plug and play” seems to manifest itself with Pagans who have eclectic practices or see the Gods as archetypes. I wonder if this is a carry-over from the propensity of New Age and Theosophy practices of using the cafeteria approach to Eastern religions. Or is it an offshoot of combining Eastern and Western religions into one belief system as the New Age and Theosophy does? Or is it simply a part of being a part of a monotheistic culture that tries to have all things be homogenous?

Each of the Hindu Gods cannot be distilled into to a single purpose or character. Kali Ma, who has many forms, is the consort of Shiva. She can either purge people of their anger or be the force of destruction. Lord Genesha, the Son of Shiva, has thirty-two forms and titles. His titles range from the God of Scholarship to the Granter of Prosperity to the Lord of Beginnings. This is an example of the horizontal aspects of a God. (Note 2) Each “piece” can be worshipped and called upon separately but together they make up the whole. In their vertical aspects (Note 3), Gods can move from cosmic and unknowable to personal. We as humans can only guess at their True Natures.

Hindus themselves have called Westerners who worship Hindu Gods but remain wedded to the Western lifestyle as “half-Hindus.” They do understand the need of the person to seek their soul purpose. However, many Hindu religious leaders regard these “half-Hindus” as being separated from their old faith but not fully embracing Hinduism. Added to their concerns is the history of predatory and disruptive conversions by Christian missionaries.

How does someone ethically worship Hindu Gods? Some religious authorities have suggested to first study the basics of Hinduism. For example, they counsel practitioners of yoga to know about the religious sources of their discipline. This will deepens the practice by understanding its underpinnings. I think that this can apply to Pagans as well. By studying Hinduism, they can forge the proper relationships with the Hindu Gods that they venerate.

Note 1. “Goddess Spirituality is a movement ¦ a practice ¦ a belief system made up of women and men…  A belief in Goddess as the primary divinity, the Creatrix, is one of the common factors of those who identify with Goddess Spirituality.  Ways of worship, ceremonial practices and expression of Goddess Spirituality is fluid and reflects a “being-ness” rather than dogma and there are no set rules.  Goddess Spirituality can exist within traditional religious frameworks and can also exist without any framework at all.”   From The Mother House of the Goddess http://themotherhouseofthegoddess.com/goddess-spirituality-priestess-practices-resources/

Note 2: “Dealing With Deities” by Raven Kaldera discusses these concepts in depth. Kaldera defines “horizontal” as the aspects where the difference is in the sphere of influence, not the distance from the person. If you call upon a deity using a particular epithet, that is how They will appear.

Note 3: Kaldea defines “vertical” as “how personal and close to humans, or how impersonal and close to the undifferentiated Divine.” The higher aspect is more distant and archetypical, but still the essence of the God.

——

To learn more about Hinduism as explained to Westerners: Kauai’s Hindu Monastery: https://www.himalayanacademy.com/readlearn/basics/god-and-gods-of-hinduism

Their book: “How to Become a Hindu” (which is a free e-book) focuses on the questions of conversion and Westerners. https://www.himalayanacademy.com/view/how-to-become-a-hindu

Gods Recruiting: Shinto of Japan : My previous entry in this series.

Periodic Cicada: The Nexus of Time

cicada1Right now, my area is experiencing a cicada emergence. I have found these insects to be magical in their own way. Even their singing has an otherworldliness to it.

In the eastern half of North America, Periodical Cicadas from Brood X invade the countryside every 13 and 17 years. Crawling up from the ground, They emerge at once, in May and June, leaving behind their exoskeletons. For a brief month, Male Periodical Cicadas fill the air with a deafening sound, advertising for a mate. These large Insects spend their brief adult lives with only one thing on their minds – mating. When a Female Periodical Cicada is ready, She will “click” to the Males, “Here I Am!” After mating, She lays her eggs in trees. When They hatch, the Offspring will move underground for another 13 to 17 years.

Living longer than any other Insects, Periodical Cicadas emerge as a single Brood. Each Brood is spaced 13 or 17 years between emergences. This long period prevents Predators from timing their activities to eat the Cicadas. The prime numbers of 13 and 17 insure that nothing can adapt to the Brood Cycle.

Called Periodical Cicadas (Magicicada)), these Insects differ from their cousins Locusts. Unlike Locusts, Periodical Cicadas do not jump. They seem like Locusts because of their larger broods that overwhelm predators by their sheer numbers. After spending many years developing underground, They come up for only two months. Then, the Adults mate and die. Then years go by before another mass emergence.

Besides Periodical Cicadas’ size and numbers, what also makes Them outstanding is their song. Male Periodical Cicadas makes the loudest sound in the Insect World. By vibrating the ribbed plate in a pair of amplifying cavities at the base of his abdomen, Male Periodical Cicada can make his sound heard for long distances. A whole chorus of these whirring sounds resembles a deafening roar of hundreds of kazoos played at once.

Many people have heard Periodical Cicadas, and have not realized it. The sound tracks of many science fiction movies that feature UFOs use the Cicadas’ droning to signal the sound of the alien space ships. Think space aliens, and you associate Periodical Cicadas with them.

The lesson of Periodical Cicadas is living at the nexus of time. For Periodical Cicadas, time merges into one Brood. When They emerge in the present, Periodical Cicadas encourage people to remember the past. Also, They prompt people to think about what the future will bring. In the present, their numbers simply overwhelm people. Periodical Cicadas bend time into a prism of past, present, and future in one moment.

God of the Month: Mercury

Mercury (Mercurius) was not originally a Roman God. However, He was assimilated so early that He became one of the Di Consentes (The Twelve Great Gods). Mercury came to Rome via the grain trade with Sicily, which was then a part of the Magna Graecae (Greater Greece). The Romans first considered Hermes, the Greek God, to be the God of the Grain Trade. Later as Mercurius, He became the God of Trade and Merchants. However, Cicero that one of Hermes’ aspects – the Messenger of the Gods – was carried over from the Greeks.

In 495 BCE, Mercury’s temple was built outside the Pomerium (Sacred Boundary of Rome). The Mercuralia, his major festival, held on the Ides of May, the day when his temple was dedicated. Since his temple is located halfway between the temples of the Capitoline Triad of the patricians and the Aventine Triad of the plebeians, Mercury also became the Mediator Between Social Classes.

On May 15, the merchants would make offerings to Mercury and His Mother, Maia. With a bough of laurel, they would bless themselves and their wares from the aqua Mercurii, the water beside the temple. (Modern Romans bless their financial instruments (checkbooks, etc) and their banks.)

Prayers to Mercury:

From: Q. Horatius Flaccus

It is well. Nothing more ample do I pray, O Maia’s son, save that You will make these my gifts last throughout my life. May You, Mercurius, make plump the riches of my house and all else there, spare my natural talents in any case, and as usual, may You remain the primary guardian over me. – Datura 2.6.4-5;2.6.14-15

From Ovid:

“O Mercury whether I have falsely called You to bear witness in the past, or deceitfully called upon Jupiter not to hear my empty promises, or if there is some other god or goddess that I knowingly deceived, wash away my past perjuries to make when the new day dawns, and make the gods be indifferent to my lies. Grant that I may profit, grant joy in making a profit, grant I many enjoy once more swindling my customers with deceitful words.” Fasti 5.691-90

Lemures and Lemuria

 

umbilicusurbi

the Mundus (Opening to the Underworld)

 

During the Lemuria (the feast of the Lemures), the Lemures try to find a home among the living. Some want to have a proper burial or justice be administered for their wrongful death. Others want a family to adopt Them, and give offerings in their memory. They want people to establish a cultus for Them.

Di Manes (The Dead) are separated into several groups. Di Parentes are the direct ancestors who guard the family line. The Lars (Lares) are the guardians of the home and the land. The Lemures (Note 1) are the Wandering Dead and can be considered “unwelcomed family ghosts.” Finally, there are the Larvae, who wish to do the living harm.

The person who encounters the Lemures has several choices. They can adopt one but they really do not know who these Lemures were. The person can place offerings on their property outside their home. These Lemures will become the Genius Loci, the protectors of the place. Placing offerings at the boundary of the property will entice Them to become the Lares Compitales, the Guardians of the Crossroads. Most people will chose to place offerings at a crossroad, where the Lemures will become the Lars Viales, Guardians of the Roads and of Travelers.

Traditional offerings for the Lemures are three piles of grain, milk, honey, salt and oil. They should be placed on broken crockery, so that the Lemures do not feel at home. Give water to Them so that the Lemures may clean Themselves. No meat or wine should be offered.

Traditional Roman activities for Lemuria entails the paterfamilias (head of the household) rise at midnight to perform them. He walks through the house backwards making the mano fico (Note 2) (folding fingers around the thumb). As he does this, he spits out black beans into the corners of the house. Then he says nine times, “Haec ego mitto, his redimo meque meosque fabis.” (With these beans, I redeem me and mine.) Then the rest of the family would bang bronze utensils or pots and pans. They shout nine times, “Manes, exite paterni.” (Paternal ghosts, get out.)

As the head of the household spat the beans out, the Lemures would come and collect the beans. Supposedly, the beans were in exchange for the people. The clanging of the pots is to ward off the Lemures. This is how Romans perform an exorcism.

Modern Roman Polytheists will stay inside after sunset on the days of the Lemuria (May 9, 11, 13). Drawing the curtains and covering the mirrors, they prevent the Lemures from seeing and claiming them. Also, modern Romans Polytheists will sprinkle water into the corners of the house. Corners are sacred places in the home where the roof, floor, and walls meet. (Note 3).

Note 1: The lemurs, near-primates of Madagascar, are named after the Roman Lemures, for their ghostly eyes.

Note 2: The mano fico is considered to be obscene by some modern Italians. Besides being a sign to ward off evil, it is also one for sexual intercourse.

Note 3: Corners of a house are the home of the Lars and other spirits.

Further Reading: Books by Claude Lecouteux: “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” “The Return of the Dead,” and “The Tradition of Household Spirits.”

Gods Recruiting: Shinto of Japan

Another in my on-going series of Gods recruiting and religion.

Within Shinto, Inari, the God of Rice, Prosperity and Foxes, will recruit Westerners. Often times, these Pagans are not sure what Inari wants from them. The cultural and language barrier of Japan often stands in the way. Also, Shinto itself is tied to the landscape of Japan. In response, many of these Pagans have been listening to Inari for direction of what to do next. Many have learned Japanese and setting up a kamidama (basic altar).

Shinto could considered an open religion in the sense that the Japanese are bi-religious. In Japanese practice, the Shinto and Buddhist altars are kept in separate rooms, and tended at different times. People will be married in a Shinto ritual, but will have a Buddhist funeral. Therefore, a Pagan can be a follower of Shinto and still practice their form of Paganism. They have to be careful to keep the two religions separate in their daily practices, as the Japanese do.

Since Shinto is a living religion, non-Japanese also need to be careful for other reasons. One is that others, who are unfamiliar with Shinto, regard what these people do to be Shinto. Moreover, many Shinto rituals have specific meanings, and are done in a particular way. People need to know and understand the ritual technology of this religion.

People, not from Japan, should be mindful of interjecting their own cultural ideas into Shinto. The desire to be become a “cultural colonialist” is a strong impulse for anyone to be wary of. That means the person decides what Shinto is or is not for them. It also entails taking a cafeteria approach to the religion – deciding what to follow and not to follow. To know Shinto means to see it within the terms of the Japanese culture and landscape.

In addition, many Westerners are conditioned to think that in religious terms, they can only be mono-religious. Since monotheism, in different forms, permeate Western culture, this is understandable. There is a long cultural history of punishing people for practicing the wrong religion at the wrong time and place. Therefore being multi-religious like the Japanese is a foreign concept. However, Pagans can embrace it in their practice of Shinto, always being mindful to keep both of their religions separate.

To read more about Shinto: The Encyclopedia of Shinto from Kokugakuin University (in Japanese and English).

I lived by Izumo-taisha Grand Shrine, the oldest Shinto Shrine, in Japan. From Shimane Prefecture: Izumo-taisha.

Gods Recruiting: Closed Culture: Native American – the prior entry in the series.