From Lover to Mother

•09/21/2016 • Leave a Comment

When I first started learning about the path of devotion, there was no devotional polytheism. Polytheism as an understanding of taking the gods as if they are real was not yet something discussed among many Pagans.

I came to the concept of bhakti through learning about Hinduism and interacting with Hare Krishnas.

I was a very insecure young Pagan. I was shy and did not have much success with women. I lacked confidence in myself. I obsessed over the few women who showed me the slightest bit of friendship and called it “love”.

So, my first take on bhakti was viewing the Goddess as a sort of invisible girlfriend. “Divine Lover”, I probably would have said then, but essentially, “invisible girlfriend”. Some lofty ideal of femininity that I could use to fluff up my ego.

To be honest, I didn’t have much success. But also, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

I’m thankful that I took time away from the path of devotion in order to grow as a person. I regularly gave offerings to Ganesh but I didn’t quite view it in the same way. Much as I love the Lord, it’s certainly not romantic.

I have a great life, a job I like, a place to live in that I love, an amazing girlfriend whom I love very much, and…most importantly…I love who I am. Sure there are things I want to change, but it’s out of love.

When I had hints of Aphrodite calling to me earlier this year, it brought a lot of those old issues to the forefront. I did honor Her and did devotions regularly. But after it was over, I didn’t feel the need to continue. I don’t want a Divine Lover. I don’t need an “invisible girlfriend”. I already have someone that loves me whom I love. That space in my heart is, y’know, occupied.

But yet there’s something about Devi (Lalita Tripurasundari) that’s different. I always viewed Goddess as Divine Lover but Devi, beautiful as She is, I associate more with being Divine Mother. Maa.

Since I lost my mother to cancer back in 1999, I do still feel the need for that maternal presence sometimes. (Not that Maa can ever replace my mother in my heart, nor would I want Her to, but I do miss that sense of unconditional maternal love that a mother can provide.)

I feel as if I’ve had great success with this shift in approach, from Lover to Mother. Aphrodite never felt maternal to me. Maa does. Maa is. According to some Shakta scriptures, Maa created everything and everyone.

That said, I’ve been struggling a little in incorporating Lalita sadhana into my daily practice.

So there’s a particular piece of Shakta literature (mentioned previously in my post on Lalita), the Lalita Pancharatnam (which means the Five Gems of Lalita, referring to its five stanzas). It’s meant to be chanted in the morning and involves a description of Lalita Devi.

It just so happens that most mornings, I wake up around 4 or 5 am to use the bathroom and take medicine with some water. When I couldn’t get back to sleep, I’ve been using that time to worship. Usually about 30-45 minutes. Sometimes as long as an hour.

I light my ghee lamps, offer a little incense, and there in the warm glow of the lights, chant the Pancharatnam, and then do some japa (OM AIM HRIM SAUH).

I really enjoy this time with Maa.

The problem is that I then have difficulty getting back to sleep, which screws up my day. Especially on a workday. Then I drink more coffee or tea in order to compensate for the tiredness which makes it harder for me to sleep at night. It’s a vicious circle.

It gets to the point that I’ll often choose to abandon worship on a few nights a week just to get some sleep. Which leaves me feeling like a bad devotee. It’s a work-in-progress. Just need to find that sweet spot.  Good thing I’m close to a certain Remover of Obstacles…

Ganesh Chaturthi

•09/05/2016 • Leave a Comment

Today is Ganesh Chaturthi, the holiday in which Hindus around the world celebrate our Lord Ganesha, Lord of the Ganas, Remover of Obstacles!

Since I have to work today, I did my major celebration yesterday.

Last year, after feeling like my daily sadhana (spiritual practice) wasn’t traditional enough, I bought a puja kit for Sri Ganesha. However, it was specifically for Ganesh Chaturthi, so I kept until Ganesh Chaturthi came around and celebrated “traditionally” yesterday.

Hindu pujas can be a delight for the senses: The flowery smell of incense, the buttery scent of ghee from lamps, brightly colored powder like vermilion-colored kumkum or the familiar yellow of turmeric, the tall phenolic camphor flame for arati, and the sweetness of the treats offered as prasadam that He takes the essence of and bestows his blessings upon.

Out of devotion, I fumbled over and mangled Sanskrit mantras. I tossed turmeric-colored rice at the decorated clay image of the Lord. I anointed my temple bell with sandalwood paste.

When the celebration is over, I will immerse the clay image in water until it becomes one with the river. Just as I hope to one day become one with the Divine.
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI!

My Daily Practice

•09/02/2016 • Leave a Comment

Over at A Forest Door, Dver writes:

“What if we made September a month of polytheists blogging about their actual practices? No talking about what other people do or should do, no politics unless it’s an integral part of the religious practice described, no controversies, no denouncing, no complaining about how other bloggers make us feel. Just sharing our religious lives, the things we are doing in this month to honor the gods, spirits, ancestors, nature, or whatever.”

I think this is an awesome idea!

My daily practice is probably going to be very different from most other Pagans/polytheists due to the majority of practice being based on worshipping Hindu deities.

Basically, in the morning after showering (washing myself with sandalwood soap), I start my morning worship. I go to my shrine for Sri Ganapati (Ganesha). I purify the space with a little benzoin. I light some sandalwood incense. I put on a saffron-colored prayer shawl that has images of the Holy Family (Devi, Shiva, Ganesha). I ring a small bell to signify my presence and sit silently for a moment. I open the door to the shrine and chant some Sanskrit. I list His attributes and praise Him.

I offer a cup of water, light from a ghee lamp (fire), incense (air), and a food, generally laddoo, a sweet Indian baked good that Ganesha famously loves (earth). I’ll recite a mantra or a few in Sanskrit.

Then I talk to Him about my life and ask for what I need that day or pray for others.

If I have time, I’ll repeat His 108 names or His mantra 108 times. (108 being a sacred number in Hinduism.)

At night, before going to bed, I do the same except without the offering of water/incense/food/light.

That’s just for one deity (the focus of my practice).

For Devi, I don’t have a regular practice yet. I’m working on it. I also offer Her light and incense but do not do the food/sweet that I do for Sri Ganesha. I like to chant the Lalita Pancharatnam to Her in the morning, one or more of Her mantras 108 times and sections of the Saundarya Lahari to Her (See my recent post on Lalita for more information). I have been looking through a Sri Vidya worship of Lalita that takes about 30 minutes to perform. There’s also the Lalita Sahasranama (Her 1000 Names) that also takes over 30 minutes to perform. I might post more about the Sri Vidya piece in the next week or so.

When I worship Aphrodite, I will offer resinous incenses over burning charcoal like frankincense and myrrh and offer mead or apple cider. In the past, for a set period of time, I gave Aphrodite Limenia flowers and wine at the harbor near my work.

I also will offer apple cider or mead to Brigid.

I’ve also offered mead to Devi. Though it’s not traditional in conventional Hinduism to offer alcohol, Lalita is said to be fond of mead.

My practice is still changing, still evolving.

 

 

 

Lalita: She Who Plays

•08/24/2016 • 2 Comments

Lately, I find myself going back towards Shakta Tantra. I am not a practitioner because I am not initiated and have no guru. So I’m loath to call myself a Tantrik but it’s something I’ve had an interest in for years.

 

I think my first real introduction was as a member of the now long defunct Z(Cluster) online chaos magick list where there were a few people that studied real Tantra. From there, I got into Phil Hine’s work on the subject here and here which led to both to Mike Magee’s ShivaShakti website and to Lalita.

 

Lalita (also known as Tripura Sundari) is a Hindu goddess worshipped by some Shakta Tantriks. (Shakta, in this instance, referring to Tantriks that worship Shakti, or the Goddess.) Lalita means “She Who Plays”. She is a beautiful enchanting woman known for her playful attitude and glittery shining appearance.

 

For those devoted to Her worship, Lalita created all of existence. Everything is part of Her. Including Her consort, Shiva.

 

As someone with a very playful side myself, the concept of a benevolent playful Creatrix of Existence has always been greatly appealing. I tend to view Her and Shiva as parents of Sri Ganesha and, as such, have periodically been placed on altars and worshipped.

 

As is the case with many Tantrik deities, Lalita is worshipped in different forms. Her image (that of a beautiful woman with long dark hair, dressed in red, often holding a noose and goad, as well as a sugarcane bow and 5 arrows) is one such form.


Her mantra is another. The mantra is Om ka-e-i-la-hrim |  ha-sa-ka-ha-la-hrim | sa-ka-la-hrim. (Yes, it’s a mouthful.) This is considered to be Her.

 

Her third form is the Sri Yantra. A yantra is a sort of sacred diagram in Tantrik Hinduism (almost similar to a mandala among Tibetan Buddhists). Like the mantra, this yantra is another form of the Goddess. There is a particular way in which it is drawn, each angle is a different deity and has different significance. (There is a short video here.)

 

One of the advantages of worshipping Hindu deities is that there are well-established prayers, chants, and songs about them. I’m going to talk about this in the context of Lalita.

 

While understanding Hindu Tantra itself is dependent upon having a background in Hinduism as well as understanding Tantrik approaches and vocabulary, I’ve found that one can often get great results simply by focusing on traditional texts with prayer and a devotional attitude.

 

I’d like to look at three texts relating to worship of Lalita.

 

The first is the Lalita Pancharatnam. It’s a short piece in Sanskrit that employs vivid imagery of Lalita’s image as a form of meditation. Phil Hine did a blog on it here which includes the text in English but there are also videos that involve performances of it. This video has the text in transliterated Sanskrit and its meaning in English below the video.

 

Someone interested in Lalita worship can recite this each morning as a form of devotion (and as a daily reminder of prayerful beauty and joy).

 

The second piece is the Lalita Sahasranama which means “The 1000 names of Lalita”. It is an ancient text that mostly involves the reciting of the 1000 names/epithets of Lalita. About a year ago, I attended a recital of the Lalita Sahasranama at a Hindu temple not far from me. They do it every Friday night. It’s also a daily practice among worshippers of the “hugging guru” Ammachi who claims to be an incarnation of Lalita.

 

As there are 1000 names, it takes a long time to get through them. Here is a video (30 minutes long) of the Lalita Sahasranama conveniently with English meaning right on the video. Additionally, Amma’s group has a good English translation that I’ve used that can probably be found at an inexpensive price among the used books on Amazon.

 

I admit, this is a little much for me. But I have the audio track on my smartphone (performed by the Priya Sisters) and listen to it on my commute into work often. Though it’s hard to follow along with the different names sometimes.

 

Finally, there is the Saundarya Lahari. This is more advanced.

 

This is a piece involving Lalita Devi which functions both as a hymn to Her but also as a Tantrik guidebook to Her worship. Phil Hine has done an excellent series on the Saundarya Lahari which I highly recommend checking out. Phil’s piece uses the translation by Francis X. Clooney in his piece “Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary”.

 

The language often gets into Tantrik imagery and can be obscure and difficult, but there are some beautiful passages in there.

 

Also, there is a wealth of information at Mike Magee’s ShivaShakti site linked above. However, it’s a little overwhelming and difficult to follow if you’re new to Tantra.

 

Hell, I’m often confused by it and I’ve been studying this stuff off and on for years.

 

The best book on the subject of Hindu Tantra is Christopher Wallis’ excellent Tantra Illuminated. It goes deep into the philosophy behind Tantra and is excellent. It is, however, a little lacking on practical techniques. It is about Tantra (though Wallis does teach). Wallis’ book does feature a small section on the Sri Vidya branch of Tantra.
There’s also this cheesy but excellent video involving a mantra of Devi.

Pagan Atheism, Animism, and Non-Theists.

•08/20/2016 • Leave a Comment

As some of you may know, I tend to ‘hang out’ on /r/pagan over at reddit.

While I generally agree with the mindset there that a Pagan subreddit should be about Paganism (we tend to attract a lot of people asking about New Age stuff or crystals and other things that have little to do with Paganism), where I disagree with the subreddit (and with some Pagans) is where they stand on non-theist Paganism.

Basically, the mods are opposed to the idea of non-theists being Pagan. This includes pantheists or animists as well as Pagan atheists like John Halstead (who got into several arguments in /r/Pagan as a result of this stance, which he featured on his Patheos Pagan blog).

I’m all on board with the Polytheist movement. I don’t believe it’s OK for atheists to go around calling themselves polytheists. But Paganism has always sort of been a big tent that attracts a wide variety of people.

While I may take issue with extending that tent to include New Age folks (though there is often overlap with Wicca and New Age stuff), I honestly don’t see why non-theistic or atheistic nature worshippers should not be included.

Hinduism, much like Paganism, is not one religion but many different ones. There is definitely room for nature-worshippers, non-theists, atheists, animists and all sorts under the Hindu umbrella historically and philosophically.

I use that as my model for Paganism.

While I disagree with the atheist Pagan types, I will definitely consider them to be Pagans.

 

•08/08/2016 • 1 Comment

I’ve been practicing some form of Western Hindu polytheism since 2000-2001.(Mainly worship of Sri Ganapati.)

What I really wish there had been for me when I was starting out was a guidebook that oriented Westerners to the Hindu religions, with an emphasis on practice. Almost all that I found was informational (i.e., about the religion, not about how to practice it)…or written for Hindus using a great deal of terminology unfamiliar to the non-Hindu.

There were plenty of books on Tantra and yoga for Westerners. Often, uninformed and poorly written with an emphasis on the sex and magical end of things. (Though I will highly recommend Christopher Wallis’ “Tantra Illuminated” as a great book on Tantra. Well-researched and informative but gives only little in the way of practical application.)

I struggle with claiming the “Hindu” term for myself. I was not raised in the culture and it feels wrong for me to claim it. It echoes of cultural imperialism even if I’m well-intentioned.

There was one path available that was very open for white Hindus, ISKCON (Better known as the Hare Krishna movement.) I like the Hare Krishnas (though the organization has had their share of scandal and shitty behavior), but I’m not a Krishna-worshipper. I had no interest in giving up sex, onions, or garlic…but I love their vegetarian food and their emphasis on bhakti yoga.

Hindu temples were either unfriendly or inaccessible. I had no idea what to do or (importantly) what not to do. I did not want to offend the gods or the other HIndus. I kind of needed my hand held there and being (rightfully, considering how much Hindu culture has been exploited by the West) skeptical of outsiders..no one offered. It wasn’t their place to. This was not ‘my space’. I was an outsider.

There’s a great Kali temple (in a beat-up old strip mall!) not far from me that was very friendly when I visited. However, I don’t have a car. (I’m in a city with fairly good public transportation.)  If I lived closer or had a car, I would go there for worship. (Though I’m not particularly a devotee of Kali, they also have Sri Ganapati and repeat the Lalita Sahasranama (1000 Names of Lalita Devi) every Friday night.

Instead, for the longest time, I relied on Western sources. Mainly through the chaos magick writings of Phil Hine. I read through Mike Magee’s ShivaShakti.com (a vast resource of original Tantrik materials, though little context is given).

As I grew closer to Sri Ganapati, I wanted to learn more authentic Hindu practice. Thankfully, there were better resources on the Web than there had been when I started. Additionally, through research, I had picked up a basic Hindu religious vocabulary.

There is still a LOT I don’t know. Hinduism is thousands of years old and more complex than just about any other religion out there.

But, from a cultural standpoint, how would one go about creating an approach to the worship of Hindu deities..geared towards Western polytheists? I would want it to be respectful of the mother culture in which these gods come from. But I also don’t think that we must convert to Hinduism in order to worship Hindu deities.

Sri Ganesha is worshipped throughout Hinduism as well as in Tibetan Buddhism, even Japanese Shinto (Lakshmi and Saraswati are also worshipped in Shinto). Clearly these deities are not limited to traditional Hinduism, so why not Western polytheism?

I just want it to be done with respect to these deities and to Hindus.

 

 

 

Starry Bull Tradition

•08/05/2016 • Leave a Comment

I’m happy to see that there’s now a new website for the Starry Bull tradition, The Bakheion.

I’m still learning about it but between this site and what Sannion (founder of the Starry Bull Tradition) posts over at The House of Vines, I’m very intrigued.

I’ve been going through the material at The Bakheion in the past day or so (I’m recovering from surgery and thus have a lot of time on my hands this week), and it’s good. This is the kind of thing I love to see in polytheism.

(Sannion may not use the term “Pagan” but when I became a Pagan, this is what I wanted to see in Paganism. Revivals of ancient religions, inspired by and directed by the gods. Especially an ancient mystery religion. That to me is much more “Pagan” than the varieties of Wicca being called Pagan today.)

Historical scholarship, plus actual devotion to the gods.

This might not be my tradition but I enthusiastically applaud such efforts and wish we had more of it.