Daunians

•05/30/2017 • 2 Comments

After reading more about Magna Graecia, I’ve been exploring my Italian heritage to look for hints of Hellenic influence.

 

My maternal great-grandparents came over from Deliceto, near Foggia, which is in Puglia, Italy. I was fortunate enough to have grown up with my great-grandmother (whose birthday I share along  with my brother). She spoke broken English and was illiterate but knew how to do things like divine using olive oil in water, or take the evil eye off of people. She was very Catholic, of course.

 

So I looked a little more into Deliceto. According to Wikipedia (not exactly the most reliable source but perhaps the most easily accessible one in English), Deliceto goes back to the year 1000. That’s not very helpful.

 

The village next to Deliceto, Bovino, however, is ancient. It was known as Vibinum and goes back 2000 years. It is suspected that Hannibal camped there during the Second Carthaginian War.

 

Vibinum was occupied by the Daunians who were an Iapygian tribe. The Iapygians were Hellenized early on and worshipped Hellenic deities (including Aphrodite!).

 

Now, this is all a very tenuous connection to the Hellenic deities.

I don’t know my great-grandmother’s story. I don’t know how long her family had been in Deliceto or, if they’re not native, where they came from before that. Furthermore, I don’t think 23andme includes ancient peoples like Daunians or Iapygians in their DNA tests.

 

I do, however, think it highly likely that my Italian heritage goes back to people that worshipped either Roman or Hellenic deities (perhaps even both) before becoming Catholic.

 

Does it matter? Ultimately, no. I find it interesting to know the culture in which I came from but I do not feel bound by it. I would someday love to see the region, eat the food, and perhaps get some traditional recipes. But other than honoring my ancestors, I don’t feel bound by blood.

 

After further research online, I found this site talking about recipes from the Foggia region which mentions:

 

Everything derives from the fact that thirteen or fourteen centuries before Christ, the territory of the Dauni – a peaceful people of Greek shepherds – was suddenly invaded by the Dorians, heading down from the North. Given the daunting circumstances, the Dauni chose freedom and embarked for the Adriatic coast, but unfortunately they did not have any marine experience and the short journey across the Mediterranean Sea turned out to be a very unfortunate adventure, ending in a disaster: many of them drowned and the few survivors who reached the coast were traumatised with an invincible fear of water and the sea.

This is why descendants of the Dauni weren’t skillful fishermen and as a matter of fact, they were not even keen on seafood. Today, of course, in the Gargano area there are various excellent seafood dishes; but the recipes are imported from other areas or they have been developed more recently.”

Intriguing. The Daunians are named as “Greek”.

There’s a recipe later on described as “peasant food” involving a fava bean puree over fettuccini covered in fried garlic, hot peppers, and fried breadcrumbs.

Since I’d been reading about Italy that morning, I had the desire to go to Eataly. It’s a huge complex in our mall, created by TV chef Mario Batali, full of Italian restaurants and groceries.

While looking through their produce, I saw that they had fresh fava beans on sale. So I bought them and made the recipe for my partner and I. It was actually really good.  My partner is vegan, so it was very cool to see a vegan recipe from my ancestral homeland. (We often avoid eating Italian when going out because vegan options are limited.)

They also had some really good bread. I’m a sucker for good bread. It was a huge rustic high-hydration loaf made with what they call “mother yeast” (probably a sourdough starter). Very tasty. Moist crumb. Not too sour.

I got some Apulian extra virgin olive oil as well to dip the bread in. It’s the good stuff.

Offerings will be made.

Post-script:

The link about food in Foggia with the ‘peasant food’ recipe also mentioned a dessert called “grano dei morti” or “grain of the dead” that is traditional for the area. I Googled it and found this page in Italian.

It links the dish to Persephone and Demetra. Curious that they use the Hellenic gods over the Roman ones.

Hellas

•05/25/2017 • 3 Comments

When I was an angsty teen, years before I’d heard of Paganism, I wrote a poem called “Hellas”.

 

If I recall correctly, it involved the imagining of an ancient Greek amphitheatre where if the wind blew just right, the bumps, chips, and cracks in the marble would release ancient voices like the grooves on a record player.

 

I don’t have it anymore, which is good. Because I’m probably describing in a way that it seems better than it actually was.

 

I was quite proud of it then, but I was also 15 and knew little about anything. (I still know little about anything, frankly…but enough to now know how little I knew back then.)

 

I don’t think I was ever read the myths. The first book I remember coming across was the D’Aulaires’ “Book of Greek Myths” in the public library when I was a kid. I borrowed that repeatedly from the library.

 

Then in a garage sale or something, I remember coming across “Heroes, Gods, and Monsters” by Evslin, Evslin, and Hoopes. Again, it was kiddie fare, but I bought it and kept it with me for years and years. I especially loved its version of the tale of Atalanta.

 

Later, when I was in high school….I came across a book called “Greek Mythology for Everyone” by Donald Richardson in my school library. I stole it. I kept it for many years with me since but it got discarded in one of my many moves.  (I have since bought a used edition. It used to be called “Great Zeus and All His Children”)

 

The D’Aulaires’ book was great for a kid. As was the Evslin/Hoopes book. But Richardson’s book told the stories in a compelling but more mature way. It talked about how Aphrodite was born from the semen that leaked out of Cronos’ cut-off cock as it sunk into the waves. This was heady stuff for a naive virginal child such as myself. (At least as naive and virginal I could be as a Howard Stern fan.)

 

I’m telling you this to indicate that even before I was a Pagan, I had an interest in the gods.

 

In fact, when I first got into Paganism, I was actually fairly disappointed that (to my knowledge then) there were no Hellenic groups. Locally, there were groups of Wicca and Starhawk feminist Goddess-worship (which was really just open to women)…but nothing related to the Hellenic gods. There weren’t books on the subject other than academic books about how the Greeks viewed religion or practiced it. But it wasn’t a 101 guide to Hellenic polytheism in the way that Sarah Kate Istra Winter’s “Kharis” is…which is what I would have needed back then.

 

 

 

 

However, I have little interest in reconstructing or replicating the culture of ancient Greece. First off, the culture was very patriarchal (even if they allowed for priestesses and women in other religious roles). Secondly…and this is a big one… as someone born intersexed, if I’d been born in ancient Greece, I likely would have been left on a cliff or in the woods to die as an abomination.

 

I’m not keen on that. Go figure.

 

But out of all of the Western pantheons, it is the Greek that I feel closest to and know the best. (Despite not being Greek in heritage. The closest I come is Southern Italian.)

 

I’ve reconstructed my altar to Aphrodite, whom I view as a sort of spiritual mother. I don’t think this will be a devotional relationship unless She wants it to be. I will go wherever the gods want. In the meantime, I felt it appropriate to give offerings.

 

Out of the many blessings I’ve enjoyed these past few years in my new life, surely the greatest of all is my amazing partner who is a constant inspiration to me in how to be a better person. That is worth any offering I have to the goddess of Love.

Paganism is Changing

•05/24/2017 • 5 Comments

Recently, hrafnblod over at Grennung Hund Heorþ posted a piece entitled “Paganism Isn’t Dying, It’s (Finally) Maturing” that’s a riff on the “death of Paganism” thing that’s been going around the blogosphere.

 

It’s a short but good read. Basically he says that Paganism isn’t dying, it’s changing…for the better.

 

Hraf uses the examples given in blogs about Paganism “dying” such as the decline of Cherry Hill and institutions such as OBOD no longer attracting the kind of membership that it once did as evidence that Paganism is no longer about these sort of institutions.

 

I definitely agree with that with the polytheist movement becoming prominent in the Pagan blogosphere and online discussion being a sign of growth to me. However, I don’t know to what extent conversations online or in the Pagan blogosphere have an effect to Paganism at large or in “real life”. Real life Paganism, to me, still seems very much Wiccan-based and unaware of many of the significant figures, blogs, discussions (or drama) that goes on online.  

 

So despite the failure of institutions, I do not think Paganism is dead or dying. Also, while any changes or growth seems substantial to those of us involved in conversations online, I’m unsure how much that affects Paganism at large or in “real life”.

 

I think that what we can all agree upon is that Paganism is changing. Some of it is good, in my opinion. (The serious belief in, and worship of, our gods, for example.) Some of it I’m not too keen on. (The higher profile and presence of fascist or racist groups or ideas.)

 

 

Mead starts off as honey. It is incredibly sweet. Perhaps too sweet and sticky to eat directly on its own. Mix it with water (and some ambient yeast) and it will eventually ferment. It remains cloyingly sweet for a while. First, effervescent..like a sort of honey-flavored soda. Eventually, as it matures, the fermentation imparts more complex notes and flavors.

 

I’d like to view Wicca and Wiccan-based Paganism as the cloyingly sweet stage of modern Paganism. Right now, I think we’re still in the “honey soda” stage but we’re maturing into mead. As we get older, we’ll be progressively less sweet until we’re not really sweet at all. Perhaps a little dry. But we’ll be a fitting offering to the gods and a gift to humanity as well.

Fellini Satyricon

•05/22/2017 • 1 Comment

A few months ago, as is my custom, I left for work early and planned on killing the time at a nearby Italian cafe. On the way there, I decided to check out the branch library.

 

Fortunate as I was, they were giving away DVDs. One of the DVDs they were giving away was “Fellini Satyricon”.

 

This was one of my favorite films a long time ago. It depicted a polytheistic culture and was frankly sexual. (Sex was far more important to me in my 20s than it is today, go figure.) It also challenged societal norms, which also appealed to me more then than it does today.

 

If you’ve never seen this film, I can’t say that I’d recommend it.

 

I recall reading somewhere that Fellini wanted to treat Ancient Rome as if it was in a sci-fi film which seems about right. It is not a straightforward depiction of life in Ancient Rome.

 

To be frank, it is fucking weird.

 

The first half revolves around two rivals fighting over the teenage boy they both want to be with. The second half depicts the two rivals as close friends.

 

There’s no real coherent plot or aims. It’s just vignettes of these two people, in a very bizarre world.

 

It’s in Italian. I’ve only seen it in English subtitles. Even the Italian looks badly dubbed. Probably intentionally. There’s a minotaur and labyrinth, a hermaphrodite, a witch, a great feast and apparently Richard Simmons before he lost weight.

 

Music and language is used in a constantly disorienting manner. The makeup and costuming is spectacularly interesting and makes no sense. The general feeling is that of sensory overload in many parts.

 

Looking at it now, I have a great deal of problems with the depiction of black people and women. But I also realize that, by and large, this was still very progressive in the art-house theatres that would show it back in its day. I have a huge problem with the pedophilia but I also recognize that this was true to Ancient Rome.

 

From a religious standpoint, there are some interesting tidbits but it doesn’t seem as if there’s a great effort anywhere to be historically accurate. That was definitely not Fellini’s intention here.

 

It’s a frequently panned film for one of the great masters of international cinema but I feel as if he was successful. It succeeds in its excess and weirdness, in its visual sense. (Only Jodorowsky exceeds him in this.)

 

As an intersexed person, it was probably the first time I saw someone like me depicted in a film. That was a very big deal to me then. Also, the depiction was that of a demi-god. (Though one that seems to suffer from severe illness, both physical and perhaps mental…but reputed to have healing powers.)

 

Because of that and several scenes that have stuck with me over the years, it has a place in my heart, despite my issues with it.

 

Like I said, I wouldn’t recommend it to others because experimental film isn’t for everyone’s taste. Especially one with frequent nudity and sexual content that depicts pedophilia frankly.
It makes me uncomfortable. But I think it was meant to.

Impostor Syndrome

•05/19/2017 • 1 Comment

Sometimes it’s just time to scrap everything and start again…

 

Whenever I start to worship a deity, it’s done with the caveat that the relationship is temporary. Until that’s asked of me, it’s not something I feel I can consider. It has yet to be asked of me.

 

Recently, there was a piece by author Neil Gaiman going around social media on Impostor Syndrome. In it, Gaiman recounts how he was at some sort of function of ‘great minds’…thinkers, creatives, whathaveyou.

 

It led him to have thoughts of self-doubt. He felt like an impostor, not fit to be counted among the brilliant people there. At the event, he encountered another Neil. This other Neil seemed to be having similar feelings.


It turned out that the other Neil was Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, who tried to minimize his historic event by saying “I just went where they sent me”.

 

When it comes to polytheism, I often feel like an impostor. These feelings led me to apologize to my deities and dismantle my altars.

 

I’m absolutely intrigued by Shaktism and Shakta Tantra, but without a guru, without a background in Hindu culture, without a community, I feel like an impostor. Especially when it comes to being a white person in an Indian religion when Europeans brutally colonized India. At what point does my religion become cultural appropriation?

 

Then there’s the polytheism community that was a reaction to modern Neo-Paganism. I relate the most to these groups and individuals but when I do not have an ongoing relationship to a European deity or deities, I feel like I don’t really belong in that group either. Not when I’m fully focused upon or writing about Shaktism or Catholic mysticism.

 

I became a Neo-Pagan in 1993. I’m not sure when I stopped but I know I no longer relate to it at all. A year or so ago, I went to a local group. They called it “Pagan” but it was sort of a Wicca 101 group with a bunch of new people and casual Pagans. They did a sabbat with the quarter-calling and circle-casting…and it just felt so foreign to me. I mean, I did that for years but it’s absolutely not a place I belong anymore.

 

What then? What next?

I’m feeling a call to get back into Hellenic Polytheism. Perhaps back with Aphrodite and perhaps exploring other relationships with other deities. But I’m not going to jump into anything.

 

I think jumping into a relationship with a deity does me, and especially the gods, a disservice.

 

I want to go where They send me. But I’m going to be trying to discern where that is for a bit.

 

I’ve written often about how devotional polytheism is not about YOU…or rather, me. As such, I feel like an enormous hypocrite in stopping my worship. Due to my insecurities, I’ve failed as a devotee. I made it about me, not my gods. I’m a bad devotee. Even now, in writing this, I’m doing it.

 

Sri Ganapati and I have been together about 17 years at this point, on and off. I am thankful that should I return, I feel as if He would welcome my devotion. That doesn’t make it OK necessarily but it does make me feel less like shit.

 

This has not been easy to write. It’s not easy looking vulnerable or flawed but I felt it was important to write about this and share it with others because if I have these feelings and experiences, it’s likely other devotionally-minded folks do as well.

 

If so, please know that my prayers are with you.
May the Gods guide us. May we know and appreciate Their sacred presence in our lives.

Thank you.

Snatam Kaur concert

•05/17/2017 • Leave a Comment

As longtime readers of this and my other blogs might know, I’m fond of seeing how devotion is expressed in a variety of other religions in addition to my own polytheistic religious practice.

On Monday night, my partner and I went to go see Snatam Kaur. She’s a Sikh kirtan singer whose singing I really enjoy.

When I’m feeling stressful or anxious when I’m alone, I’ll often cue up The Essential Snatam Kaur on my smartphone to relax and find some peace. I remember one time when I was in the hospital for an extended period of time, I found a peaceful channel of nature images (rolling rivers, animals, mountains, etc.) on the TV and played Kaur’s lovely peaceful kirtans over it to help with healing.

The concert was really lovely and beautiful. Very enjoyable.

 

 

 

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, playing a musical instrument and night

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, sitting, playing a musical instrument and indoor

A New Traditionalism?

•05/10/2017 • 4 Comments

There’s been a lot of talk in the Pagan blogosphere about the “Death of Paganism” and even my recent post “The Problem With Neo-Paganism” was referenced in one post about it.

I’m not necessarily looking for the death of Paganism. However, I would rather see the Pagan religions resemble religions (such as Catholicism, the many and various Hindu religions, Shinto, or the many ancient faiths of our polytheistic ancestors) rather than a Ren Faire or a swingers resort or a Goth club or a Gathering of the Rainbow Tribe. (Nothing against Goth music or fashion, mind you. I love it, myself. But our religion should not easily be confused for either of these things.)

I just want to see a Paganism that’s focused on the gods (as well as Nature, the spirits, and the ancestors). On prayer and worship and offerings. On practicing good spiritual hygiene, helping the less fortunate and oppressed, living a righteous life, making the world a better place for everyone.

I want to see a Paganism that’s not oriented towards the occult or magic/spells, or archetypes, or sex or drugs or the New Age. I want a Paganism that’s not about ourselves and what we want but about Them…as well as, in a lesser sense, our community.

I’m not the “Pagan Pope”. I’m not an authority of anything and in no place to make proclamations about Paganism as a whole. I’m not looking to impose this upon others. But that doesn’t mean I cannot share my vision for what I’d like to see in Paganism.

Having been born intersexed and infertile, I will never have children of my own. But I would love to see a new traditionalism that can be passed down through future generations raising children with respect and love for Nature, reverence for the spirits and ancestors, and devotion to the gods.