Strong Juno, Queen and Protector

Juno Regina by Camilla Laurentine
Juno Regina, clay and paint

Galina Krasskova is running an agon for Juno until February 14th, and I would encourage everyone to send a prayer or piece of art in Juno’s honor for this.  This is my entry.  I’d been waiting for the statue’s clay to dry, and Galina’s announcement gave me the last little kick I needed to motivate me in completing this.  For that I’m very thankful.

This statue is going to be placed for the first time on my shrine tomorrow for the Kalends of February, which happens to be Juno’s die natalis, or birthday, as well.  Both Juno and Janus recieve cultus in my home on the Kalends of the month, and She has a special place here, having been openly prayed to at my wedding to my mortal husband.  I will have to remove the on a sunny day to put a protective coat over the paint, but I’m very pleased with how She turned out.

It seemed natural to sculpt Her first.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my return to art after so many years of walking away from art school.  We were recently looking through my portfolio of work from my high school years, and most of the drawings and paintings were related to mythology.  I’d always considered myself a figurative artist, but looking over it recently I realized that my focus had always fallen back to Deities and Spirits.

I look back at my critiques in Chicago, and I think beyond my depression and pain I felt from my work being torn apart, I was told regularly my art fell in the genre of fantasy.  I had (and still have) quite a bit of technical skill to master, and I was never unaware of that.  However, I have always felt a sense of sacredness to the work I do in the realm of art.  Meditating upon it now, I feel a deep awareness that I didn’t take those critiques as simply a technical critique…  Those pieces of art were my statement of my belief in the Gods, and even as a teenager that was a very serious thing to me.  My art has never been fantasy any more than a Christian would call a painting of Jesus a piece of fantasy.

It’s taken me years to get to a place where I feel comfortable making art again, and it’s only with that comfort that I’m realizing that I didn’t just feel attacked on my talent and skill but my very beliefs.

This ramble is basically just a note of thanks to those reading my blog and encouraging me to continue creating.  I’m so happy to have found others who believe in the Gods as I do, or close enough that we can consider each other co-religionists.

Thank you.

Also, be looking out for an exciting announcement coming from me!  (Not the opening of my art store either!)

When Heathen Gods Crash Your Roman Holiday

Or: A Spirit-Worker’s Year in Review

I haven’t written much about the way Odin has really turned my world upside down in the last year. Not a lot, at least. I think partially, because I’m not really sure where it’s going in regards to where I fall within a religious practice. I think, perhaps, in my private practice I’m coming to terms with simply being a Pagan and Polytheist without a cultural descriptor ahead of it. But I’m not there yet. It’s funny to me that I’ve spent so many years debating the usage of Roman in my label that shortly after finally accepting it, I would be clinging to it and uncomfortable leaving it behind while Gods scream in my ear “Go Heathen, go Gaul, go somewhere else…”

December 17th was the beginning of Saturnalia, which was the first Roman festival I ever celebrated. But last year at around 1 in the morning on that day, I was up too late reading in bed. Suddenly I heard howls coming down the large stoney cliff and over the creek in my back yard. Then I felt a Presence standing outside of my window, which due to the split level is directly above my head. I got the very distinct message that I wasn’t supposed to peek out the window, and honestly I was too terrified to look anyway. In my mind’s eye I saw a pair of brown work boots and dark blue jeans.

My first thought beyond staying as still as possible, like a deer locked in the gaze of a predator was, Holy shit. It’s the Wild Hunt.

Slowly the howls traveled up my drive way, out into the street, and further down it.

The next day, I set about trying to figure out what had happened, because surely I had been in the presence of a God. But it wasn’t Hekate. It wasn’t Apollon.

By the time morning came around, I’d decided to not go with my original instinct, because at the time I was obsessing over Romanizing the local world around me. I quickly talked myself out of the Wild Hunt theory.  That was not my thing.

I asked Facebook. Coyote was brought up. Local Gods. Silvanus. I decided Silvanus was a good enough God for me, so I ran with it despite feeling like I’d gotten something wrong.

The following day, I caught sight of Someone standing on the hill, watching me. I felt Them in my home despite drawing the very specific line of You shall not come into my house. Mr Foxglove reminded me that he’d watched a man walk up the incredibly steep almost cliff-like limestone hill only to duck behind a tree and disappear. I’d rolled my eyes at the time, telling him that there must have been a small hill the man had gone behind.

What scared me the most about the situation, though, was that I had local apples that earlier in the day had been absolutely fine. Suddenly there was one that was so rotten that it was nearly seeping through the hanging basket it was sat in. I threw it out.

About an hour later I turned around and the apple was back again. Along with the Man on the Hill.

So I proceeded to flip out. It had been years since I’ve particularly terrified of things like this happening, because in my life these things happen far too often not only to me, but those who are have contact with me. Non-believers. People who have to believe on some level, because shit happens and Gods arrive. Gods come into my loved ones’ lives like ghost stories. Sometimes They stay. Sometimes They were just there for a fleeting moment. Hekate on a street in Los Angeles, letting an internet friend at the time know that She was watching; Her presence clearly giving me warning that I ignored at the time that another point on my spiritual path was about to be unlocked. The Man with a Hat, now understood to be Odin, chasing off boyfriends in high school as a ghost… Even Mr Foxglove saw Him in the house in Iowa the first time he came to visit me there; I told him it was simply an angry, drunken ghost who lived in the house.

Gods arrive in my life like a knife in the ribs; none of them particularly gentle in Their handling on first contact. I suppose my stubbornness is a strong bolt on the doors They walk through, and when They discover a gentle shake isn’t going to be enough to get my attention, They get out the battering ram…

They stand outside my bedroom window with howling creatures and cause me to panic. That is how you get my attention. I’m almost ashamed to admit it.

The following day, I grabbed up the remaining apples in my home, some pork I’d made the night before, and a jar of milk. I made the trek up and around the block to the hill at the back of my yard. I’ve discovered the logistics of living on the edge of the Ozark Bluffs makes even a small hill one you have to walk around the block to get to the top of. It screws with your spacial understanding… There’s a magic to it, though. Almost like the Tardis, a world bigger on the inside than it seems from the outside.

From the top of the hill, it is another world. It’s a place completely ignored by man, save for people occasionally making a jaunt up the steep almost cliff-like hill to cut across it. It’s surrounded by urban expansion such as a school, golf course, and homes, but for the most part it’s simply an abandoned .6 acres that was possibly meant for constructing houses upon before someone thought better of it. It’s filled with discarded street cement. It’s wasteland. And, amusingly, due to that fact it’s filled with native plants such as horsenettle, which I would have never learned about had I not gone on that walk. In fact, any time I wander up there, I find myself learning something new about the land. I notice a plant or a certain quality of stillness. Coyote droppings. A deer herd. This is the magic world of the liminal, and I understand that is why I love it the way I do.

At the top of that hill, my home looks a million miles away.

And now, randomly during meditation, I will find myself dropped into the middle of that space again and again. I’m a gray squirrel running up the hill towards it. I am laying in the weeds naked. And the Spirit of the Hill, who is wild and far too interested in me now that He’s aware that I’m aware of Him, regularly comes to show me something new.

On the day I left my first offering, I didn’t know any of this was coming. I wanted to be left alone. I asked politely to please stay out of my house. I promised to compost in offering, which has only manifested recently in a place I was shown would be where to take dying plants… A place my husband picked out one day after yardwork, and my mother followed suit. The neighbors, before they moved or died, put their own yard scraps in that place as well.

That day, the first day I was up There, I walked home with my eyes to the ground. These were the days where rocks were appearing as I found myself becoming more and more in tune with the land of my blood. I plunged my hand into the Missouri River 2 months before when It called me to the point where I could no longer ignore visiting it, and pulled out rocks to take home. While getting family pictures taken on a day the winds were ridiculously strong, a rock fell from the sky to my feet. The adults with me looked at it with confusion, wondering aloud where it had come from. When no one was looking I made sure to calmly tuck it into my pocket and carry it home. The golden limestone I brought home from the hill is large… Nearly the size of a baseball. That was the rock I was given that day.

It wouldn’t be until February that I woke up one afternoon from a nap, having dreamed that Odin came to me. We talked of obligation, the blood of my people, and other things I could no longer remember upon waking. He gave me a golden, jeweled cup to drink from that was filled with blood. We both drank from it. I woke up wondering what it all meant. I had spent my time avoiding the Norse pantheon, because I had no interest in it at the time… Or perhaps I was a little scared of it.

Slowly it started to occur to me that Odin has always been in my life. On looking over His Wikipedia page, a picture of Him peering from under His hat made my blood run cold. In my teenage years, I was haunted by a shadowy figure that was the shadow man in a wide-brimmed hat. At times I would catch glimpses of Him about the house, watching me in mirrors for instance. But most of the time I would smell beer or whiskey, feel Him around me. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to Him standing over me and talking in a mumbled language I could never understand. Others started having run-ins with this ghost.

The day it really hit me this was a possible reality, I remembered that shortly after my daughter was born, my mother hand put a letter into my hands from a psychic in the United Kingdom I’d written to in 2001. She said, “I thought you might want to see this.” I remembered it spoke of the Man in the Hat, as I called him. I hadn’t actually re-read it at the time, but I scrambled to find it when it came to mind.

It read:

I do pick up spirit activity around you – You are especially susceptible – he needs to touch your hair he tells me. “You have such beautiful hair.” I know that he means you no harm and is simply there to watch. If you desperately want rid of him, tell him loudly and firmly to “Get lost.” It may take a few goes to get through to him, but he’ll get the message eventually. If you’re okay with him, let him stay. He’s harmless enough.

The other one is not like this. He’s dark and not so happy. He’s old and has beer around for a long time. He says his name is “an old family name in the village.” Sounds like Edward or Edwin. He has clean hands, so he’s never done hard work, but he says “All of this was our farm.” And if you go to the bottom of your land, you’ll see a boundary or a wall, which was a bit of the farm yard. (I would like to see this myself. Nice little bit of history.)

He speaks with an accent, which seems to be broken. Like Swedish or Norway by the sound of his “S” like “Ssss.” Take care, because he’s bossy and used to having his own way.

As a note, the house I was living in was a farm house, but the letter had always been a mystery to me. She was correct about the beer and the darkness. However, I’d spent a good amount of time researching. There were never any Edwards or Edwins that owned the land my house was built on in the town. There were no Scandinavian people. There was no boundary wall. And yet, I didn’t write off the letter; I just brushed it off at the time I was researching. Psychics are rarely 100% right.

Edwin, however, is one of Odin’s names. Reading it now with what little education I’ve gathered of Odin is an exercise in understanding His sense of humor. Finding the letter somehow confirmed momentarily that I wasn’t completely losing my mind, which honestly is something a person who is God-touched likely fears even more than the average person.

Things have gotten stranger and stranger… This last year has been nothing but an exhausting, wild ride as my physical health has turned from bad to worse to tolerably terrible yet hopeful. I feel like it’s just about time for me to start trying to piece it together into a chronological timeline… Like all the things I’ve been experiencing, things I don’t even have the energy most days to talk about let alone write about. Dreams I only have fragments of… The Gods who come to talk to me… Gods I’m not even sure I know who They actually are… An insanely complicated and convoluted language of symbols that I’ve yet to fully figure out what they all mean.

All this year has gotten me is the absolute deconstruction of the very core of my beliefs, friendships, and my body. And yet I have faith. Some argue that faith isn’t a Pagan value… That we don’t intrinsically hold faith as a polytheist value… But I do. Some days I’m not even fully sure that I exist, because more and more my life seems like some novel I should have read in my early teens.

But the Gods exist. The Gods are real. They are here. With us. Meddling. Forcing us to grow.

The Gods are here. That’s my message through all of it. They are real.

Two nights ago, a bomb was dropped that left me uncomfortable and alone. It ripped out my heart and caused me wonder exactly what the end game to this journey actually is. I’ve been told over and over again that the reward will be great, but sometimes I have to wonder if perhaps the reward will be great for someone other than me… And then I’m disturbed by my own internal urge to keep walking the path I am without actually knowing where I’ll end up.

I was told my time with Apollon is over, and I understood that the love is still there. Part of this journey is attempting to find this God’s light in the darkness again, but He is no longer Apollon…

I don’t know who the God I’ve loved all these years is anymore. My mortal mind finds this a hard concept to adjust to. Syncretism is painful, my friends, as much as it is joyous and beautiful. The same could be said about spirit work and mysticism… The Gods are not always beauty and joy. We carry this truth in the pit of our bellies, and despite our attempts to step away from the concept of appeasing the Gods we still seek Their hand in our life with each offering laid out to Them.

I can almost remember the point where I realized that I was to spend my life seeking to make each moment a prayer to Them. Each action a direct connection, an example of how They work through others. People may not know that I am a Pagan, but I try to live my life in a way that gives honor to the label and the Gods we carry in our hearts as if they did should they ever find out.

I said at one point that we shouldn’t seek to be martyrs of our religions, but I’ll openly admit that I sometimes wonder if that’s exactly what some of us are destined to become. Because if we touch the Gods, if we find ourselves woven into the fabric of the World where the Gods truly are, then we run the risk of being wounded by the truths w/We make with each other. We may not be made in the likeness of our Gods, but we are made of the same emotions… I would argue that, truly, our emotions are part of what makes a spark in each of us reach towards the possibility of our own divinity within us.

There is a path taken. The choice must be made on some deep soul-level to walk it. But walk it we must, because sometimes the only other option is to die. So perhaps it’s not a road but a river… Swim with the current or die. Or, in my case, give up and let the current take you where it will.

I don’t know where I’m going. But I know that, even if I wanted this all to stop, They wouldn’t let that happen. The Gods don’t always take no for an answer. There’s no point in being upset about it, because that’s not something that’s going to change. And that, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Why would I honor Gods who didn’t know better than I do?

Yet I can see why Odin would give His eye these days. I understand that desire to see everything, know how it all will end.

Hail, Apollon. Thank You for Your lessons. I’ll forever love You.

Hold on tight, y’all… I’m heartbroken, but I get the feeling this has just turned into a very interesting ride…

(Hail Florence, patron saint of godspouses everywhere…)

Musings on Our Relationship with Food

Note: This is oddly not what I set out to write tonight when I started writing, but apparently it’s been bouncing around in my mind without me really noticing it.  This is, as always, just my personal take on things.  If you find truth in it, that’s great.  If you think I’m a raving loon…  Well, the world fortunately has a place for all kinds of people and beliefs. 😉

The plants in my garden are starting to develop actual vegetables. This is, as far as I’m concerned despite having confidence in my abilities, nothing short of a miracle. Plants as a whole are magical, miraculous, living beings that I am constantly left in awe of even with understanding some the science behind them. This growing season, they have taught me a great deal including helping me develop my patience, refusing to grow faster simply because I make impatient demands on them. They’ve given me quite a few lessons in worry, resiliency, and the insect world. And they’ve taken my hand and led me to understand that I can, in fact, tolerate being out in the heat if need be. I am not a delicate flower… And in truth, I’m no longer sure there is such a thing as a delicate flower in the plant world.

Oddly enough, my gardening has also affirmed that for me, personally, I’ve made the right moral choice for myself in not being a vegetarian. I only purchase local, small farm meat, and most of the people I buy it from are pretty vocal about treating their animals with respect. It might be skewed thinking from a girl that’s emotionally tied with plants, but I’m pretty sure that livestock owners on small farms treat their animals with more reverence than many do produce. They’re plants. They don’t have feelings… It’s hard for me to shake the feeling that they are sentient beings, which to me says they have to have some concept of feeling though perhaps not exactly like ours (this debate wages on in my household due to Mr Science sometimes thinking I’ve absolutely lost my mind). I find it oddly cruel that plants work so hard to grow and reproduce… And it’s so easy for us to come along and eat all that hard work.

So many of us hold thanks and compassion for the animals we eat (as we should), but we overlook the silent plant who seems so foreign and different from us. It’s easier to recognize the pain and suffering of animals… Not so much with plants unless you’ve spent time with them. The truth is that in order to sustain our lives as humans, we must eat. And eating in all forms comes from death… Eating a tomato will not kill a plant, but it kills the potential for those specific seeds in the fruit to carry on its genetic lineage. Eventually we rip the plant from the ground once its time and dispose of it some way, and since so many of us don’t practice seed saving from non-hybrids, the genetic diversity offered by the plant we grew is gone.

And don’t get me started on pest control… That’s a whole different topic that’s currently giving me nightmares. Actual nightmares. Involving squash bugs.

This is possibly the biggest lesson my plants have taught me this season… My existence is fueled by death in all its forms. I’m trying to really dig deep into this thought and learn the difference between needless killing and necessary – Which sometimes is not as clear of a line as we typically think. My garden is not fully necessary in order for me to survive. I have grocery stores and farmer’s markets that I can depend on. But at the same time I’m not about to let the bugs have full reign of the plants I take care of… For the most part the plants are helpless to their attack. In some cases it appears I am helpless, too.

I find veganism admirable. I was a vegan for a while. But I have a hard time placing a hierarchy of importance on the food I eat and finding where to draw the line on what is okay and what isn’t. To me a plant is no less sacred, wonderful, and worthy of my compassion than a cow. In farming with plants, bugs die or your crops die, and if your crops die, nobody eats. When harvesting (especially in row crops), animals die accidental deaths. And in regard to honey bees, the local apiarist is our ally in making sure our bee population stays healthy and strong as the mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder continues on. (I’m not talking the traveling hives or mega-farm beekeepers, but the local, small scale folks once again.) It’s important, because we need the bees. And, at the moment, the bees need us.

I understand the abhorrence in the exploitation of animals. Honestly, I’m pretty horrified by the reality of our modern food system myself, which in part is why I’m going into agricultural work. But this summer, working out in my garden and considering my future, I’ve learned something… Life is exploitative. In order to survive, all animals must exploit another living thing. As a Pagan, my understanding of the world is that the world is a living being from the dirt to the sky to the plants and animals. Everything. It’s an ecosystem, and that ecosystem is its own being. The plants take from the dirt. The herbivores take from the plants. And so on and so forth…

To fully remove ourselves from exploitation in its simplest terms would force us to die. The problem isn’t our survival. The problem is a lack of reverence in the harsh reality of life. I admire vegans and vegetarians both for seeking to lessen their blow to the world around them. But I feel like the answer to the problem of where we stand in the world as a post-industrial society that has removed itself from agrarianism isn’t to practice harsh asceticism. The carbon footprint of a vegan is a small drop in the bucket to that of a typical omnivore, but I think looking at mass-produced, pre-made substitutes for things such as meat or dairy products are made in a petroleum-based world that is just as exploitive of the world around us as eating animal products is probably just as bad and more overlooked.

I believe in moderation in all things as a virtue. If one swings to one extreme or another, it can have disastrous results on countless levels. The answer, then, is not to deny or glut yourself with things. The answer is, instead, to practice mindful moderation. Do not close your eyes. Do not ignore the fact that your survival requires other beings to die, which is partially how we’ve gotten into the mess we have today. Instead realize that your life requires the sacrifice of other living things to survive. In all forms from plant to animal, those beings likely did not really want to die.

It is absolutely necessary that we as a people come to understand this. Our attempt to ignore our uncomfortable feelings about this fact has caused us to become more and more removed from our food, which has turned into poisoning ourselves and everything else in the world. The answer is not to ignore the situation. The answer is to hold and understand this fact of life as sacred and to be thankful.

Your understanding and personal relationship with food and survival may lead you down the road to abstaining from certain things, and I think that’s fine. My fiancé, for instance, is a vegetarian who grew up on a livestock farm. He understand the truth of how things are on family farms, and how animals are treated in that situation is not why he’s a vegetarian. Our agreement is that if I bring meat into the house, it’s locally-raised from a small farm that practices compassion and sustainability.

This is because we both accept that, on our own terms, we are closer to the source of our food in this manner. The system isn’t perfect, of course, but to me there can’t be perfection because survival leads to suffering and/or death of other things.

The closer you are to your food, though, the more respectful of it you become… Thanking the sacrifice another living being makes is what is necessary. Understanding that we humans are animals, despite attempting to remove ourselves from that realm, is imperative to restoring the balance of things. Accepting that we are animals is part of a spiritual journey, and we should hold this task as sacred.

The Death of an Enemy and the Ghost of Another

(Note: This was written when I should be sleeping, so please excuse rambling, typos, misspellings, and generally wackiness.  I should probably wait until I sleep to post things, but what would be the fun in that?)

Yesterday was International Pagan Coming Out Day. I was going to talk about it, but between my body declaring it International Stay In Bed Day and all this bin Laden junk I sort of lost sight of where I stand on being out.

It’s funny to me how the whole Pagan Coming Out Day and bin Laden’s death sort of melded together for me into one giant bucket of yuck. I made the personal choice not to draw attention to myself any more than I had to… I’m not exactly in the broom closet, but I wanted to take a moment to let people know what my experience has been like. People who don’t read my blog and probably don’t know it exists. People who are Facebook friends with me…

But then I started reading all the things people were saying about bin Laden. I have my own feelings about the whole deal, but once again I’ve decided that it is easier to just keep my mouth shut while emotions are running high. I will tell you, though, that I am absolutely horrified by the sheer number of times I read “may he rot in hell.”

It’s odd what will re-open old wounds… Apparently for me it was seeing the judging, harsh words of people I have known/know in my life over the death of an enemy.

You see, I was obnoxiously out about my new found religion back in my teenage years. I didn’t have much to lose then, and I was rightfully prone to outrage over people not accepting me for who I was. In a way, that has probably become a piece of my social anxiety. I don’t think I deflected as much as I stored away the bullying and harassment for later in life.

Being out as a teenager didn’t accomplish much of anything… Other than almost 11 years later my high school still has a dress code policy that bans “occult jewelry and make-up.” Way to go, Indianola, Iowa! At some point (when I’m in a better place to revisit the memories), I will talk more about being a Pagan in high school… Today isn’t it.

Today, though, I saw people who battered me with their religious views in the past not practice the compassion their religion asks of them. I saw judgment being passed. I saw lots of God talk. And I don’t know… This little box shoved into the dark corner of my mind was opened, allowing memories of sobbing in anger during the week of graduation, because I simply couldn’t understand how my high school could sanction religious events as a public school while not allowing me to wear a small sign of my faith and being so angry that people were willing to condemn me for my beliefs when I tried my hardest to be a good person.

It’s amazing to realize how much pain is still there for me. Last week, I was told by a spiritual advisor that I needed to let go of the past. I was pretty sure that I had, but apparently I’ve just pushed it pretty deep instead. It kind of makes me nervous to think what else may be lurking underneath the surface.

I’m in an odd place. Knowing that I am walking the path of healing myself so that I may go into ministry without finding myself crumbling, I have to stop and screw up my face over the absolute fear of being judged by people. About a month ago, though, I quietly changed my Facebook religious view statement from Unitarian Universalist to Eclectic Pagan. This may seem slightly minor, but I’m Facebook friends with my grandmother… Who has on more than one occasion said some very, um… Disconcerting things in regards to her totalitarian view of religion… Involving but not limited to my having a hole only Jesus can fill.

I also had the International Pagan Coming Out Day icon as my photo on Facebook for a few days… So right. Not really in the closet for the most part? But I wanted to share a bit more of myself with those willing to pay attention…

You know… Until bin Laden’s death reminded me that sometimes the people I know and/or love can be really judgmental, mean, and lacking in compassionate thinking… Or at the very least lacking in the ability to keep from publicly showing it.

My heart is broken over it all. I think, at least for tonight/today, I’ll blame it on hormones. The block of cheese and half a bag of pretzels I just consumed while writing this, the cramps that are plaguing me, and the fatigue I’m experiencing may very well back me up on this one.

I think all I can do tonight is go to bed, say my prayers and a few extra, and pass out.

(Haha, I said block of cheese and back me up in the same sentence!)

So. That was my International Pagan Coming Out Day… Did you do anything for the day? Did you blog about it – Either in support of or in criticism against it? Please share with me! I’m really curious about how things went and how the entire concept was received by the general populace but also the Pagan community!