Monday, October 19, 2015

I'm not a Maenad, and never will be

I am not a Maenad, and never will be.

I am a cisgendered, female follower of Dionysos who engages in ecstatic trance with the god, and I commune with him through wine and revelry.  But I am not a Maenad, and there are a number of reasons why.

What Maenads Are


called Lenae, Maenades, Thyiades, Mimallones, Clodones, Bassarae or Bassarides, all of whom are represented in works of art as raging with madness or enthusiasm, in vehement motions, their heads thrown backwards, with dishevelled hair, and carrying in their hands thyrsus-staffs (entwined with ivy, and headed with pine-cones), cymbals, swords, or serpents. Sileni, Pans, satyrs, centaurs, and other beings of a like kind, are also the constant companions of the god. (Strab. x. p. 468; Diod. iv. 4. &c.; Catull. 64. 258 ; Athen i. p. 33; Paus. i. 2. § 7.)

Seneca, Oedipus 401 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
now midst Cadmean dames has come a maenad [Agaue], the impious comrade of Ogygian Bacchus, with sacred fawn-skins girt about her loins, her hand a light thyrsus brandishing. Their hearts maddened by thee, the matrons have set their hair a-flowing; and at length, after the rending of Pentheus' limbs, the Bacchanals, their bodies now freed from the frenzy, looked on their infamous deed as though they knew it not.

 He has subdued the scattered Gelonians; he has wrested their arms form the warrior maidens [i.e. the Amazones]; with downcast face they fell to earth, those Thermodontian hordes, gave up at length their light arrows, and became maenads. Sacred Cithaeron has flowed with the blood of Ophionian slaughter [i.e. of Pentheus]; the Proetides fled to the woods, and Argos, in his stepdame's [Hera's] very presence, paid homage to Bacchus.

What does all this mean?  Simply put, Maenads are female* followers of Dionysos who engage in a type of madness I call (and some others call) Maenadic Frenzy.  That Frenzy involves a few key elements: ecstatic trance (obtained through dance), loosening of the hair (which was worn up), brandishing a thyrsus, sword, cymbals, or serpents, and a type of dance that involves the head "thrown backwards," becoming "disheveled" and "raging with madness."  Attaining this madness is a type of initiatory experience, 

I'm particularly struck by the last quote above, in which the Amazon women become maenads once their weapons are taken from them.  Maenads were the ones who ripped Pentheus to shreds (a process called Sparagmos, which also happened to Dionysos on a few occasions, and also famously happened to Orpheus).  The fury of a warrior, without her weapons, produces a Maenad.  And yes, it's as terrifying as you imagine.

*: This originally referred to cisgendered women, and some say it still does.  Dionysos is a god of the trans* and genderqueer communities, but they have their own mysteries.  I don't hold an opinion one way or the other.  You do you.

What a Maenad is Not

Any female follower of Dionysos.

No, I'm serious.  There's a bad habit I picked up from the internet of referring to any female follower of Dionysos as a Maenad, and it's simply not the case--I didn't even realize it for myself until a few months ago.  There are a number of reasons spiritual, mental, and physical why I will never be a Maenad.  I have watched Maenads dance: the fury, the prowling, raging, madness, the face paint and crazed eyes.  It was both beautiful and horrible, as it should be, but it's a state I will never attain, nor do I want to anymore.

Why?  Well, simply put, it would be mentally bad for me.  I've mentioned before that I have a disorder called Bipolar 2, which involves periodic episodes of hypomania, alternating with severe depression.  Mania, the characteristic symptom of Bipolar 1, is characterized by expansive, elevated mood, delusions and hallucinations, a lack of need for sleep, increase in "goal-directed activity" (being super productive), and a few other symptoms.  Hypomania, the characteristic distinguisher between Bipolar 2 and Depression, is a milder form of that, without the hallucinations and delusions.  The nasty part about hypomania is that, frankly, it feels GREAT... until you realize it's happening.  You see, hypomania, for me, inevitably involves a severe crash afterwards--like coming down from a good high, except instead of returning to normal, you become SEVERELY depressed, even suicidal.  Simply put, my moods are unstable and uncontrollable unless I manage to follow a fairly strict routine.

That's the mental reason.  Physically, I'm incapable of dance, due to a number of factors.  There are other physical "things" too, but that's not why I'm here, writing this.

Spiritually, it's interesting.  I chose the name of this blog, Joyous Madness, originally to represent what I thought of as a Maenadic Frenzy.  I had made it my ultimate goal to attain such a state, not realizing that it would likely not only trigger a mood episode for me, but was not my particular path.  Now, I've come to realize that the blog title is apt, but for a different part of my personal spirituality: the initiator and healer roles, which I fit into a LOT better than any Maenadic hat I've tried on.

You see, my chosen profession is as a mental health therapist.  I chose that track for my career because I have experienced madness: Bipolar 2 is notoriously hard to treat among the spectrum of mentally interesting, and I went through the wringer of medications and therapy until I got stable enough to function as an adult.  I'm 27 and just now finishing school (I'll graduate 2 weeks before I turn 28), having had this as a goal for the last ten years.  A two year program has taken me that long.  So yeah, I'd say I understand that side of the fence.  And I wanted to do for someone what my therapist did for me--if I can do it once, it's worth it.

I've also made a point of developing my personal trance practices. I function best in a state of liminality, of in-between, which makes me pretty uniquely suited towards guiding people to and from those ecstatic states.  I can enter and leave trance as easily as I breathe most of the time, and trance is where I do my best magical and spiritual work.  However, my trance is not dancing, mad trance: it's seated, eyes closed, looking for all the world like I'm taking a nap.  A friend who spotted for me when I did my last experiment with working temporarily as a Neos Dionysos said she could feel the trance coming in waves--and also confirmed for me that the trance was genuine, as my mouth was spouting things my brain had no way of knowing about.  That's what I am, and that's my role: as a tranceworker, as a healer, as a madwoman who knows how to release from madness.

Practically, Maenadic Frenzy is off limits to me.  Even were that not the case, though, spiritually it still wouldn't be a fit.  I have another path, one I was set on by my god, and I couldn't be more blessed to have it.  Maenads and those who experience that Frenzy are savage and beautiful and I could sit and watch for hours their crazed dance--but at the end of the day, I will ring the bells and bring them home, bring them back from that madness.  Not everyone is a Maenad.  Not everyone should be.  And that's perfectly okay.

Non-Maenads, unite!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The rest is all details

There is a conversation I want to have with you, friends.  And it stems from my tumblr fixation.

I wish I were joking about that last part.

I don't post a whole lot on tumblr.  Or anywhere, really.  I prefer to read: to take in, to watch, to wait, to learn.  I'm pretty similar in person a lot of times too--it takes some pushing to get me to interject into debates or conversation, or even to partake in good-natured story telling, which I've discovered a bit of a passion for.

What that means, practically speaking, is that I joined tumblr mostly so I could see pretty pictures.  Most of the folks (if not all the folks) I follow post mostly pagan or polytheist related "stuff"--quotes, discussions, images of altars and paintings of gods.  There is a lot of beauty to be found there, even amidst the typical drama.  And I enjoy it... but.

But I'm tired.

This could be a facet of the nature of my tumblr and internet use in general, but I am overwhelmed.  I see beautiful altars, read writeups of amazing and intense ritual, hear about folks' daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal devotions, with intense trance, divination, elaborate sacrifices, preparations, etc.  I think it's WONDERFUL that we have that kind of devotion happening in our communities.

But friends... I'm tired.  I've been tired for a very, very long time.  My struggles with Bipolar Disorder (type 2) are very real, and very present: my mood tanked in May, I started medication, it helped, but I was taken off of it due to side effects three days before my grandfather died (which I'll be writing about when I'm emotionally capable of doing so).  As you can imagine, the mood got worse.  I'm tired, to my very core.  And those beautiful devotions, those elaborate rituals, just seem... overwhelming, instead of inspiring.  Exhausting, instead of awe-inducing.

The dust on my shrine is a lie: I still do devotions.  I still make offerings.  I still do trancework.  But my devotions are a couple of words when my heart beats faster, my offerings are a blown kiss to a statue, my trance is the shifting between dreams and reality that happens when I wake up and cannot sleep.  This, friends, is what I want to hear about.

Those tiny acts of devotion are not always spurred on by necessity.  They are not always the "best" you have to offer.  I imagine many of us have small acts--a couple of words here, a touch of a fingertip there--that help maintain our relationships with the Kindred, when we are away from the shrine.  And I want you to tell me about them.

Tell me about the way you always incline your head when you pass the State building, because Athena sits perched on its apex.  Tell me about the briefest prayer of thanks to Dionysos when a drop of wine touches your lips.  Tell me about the surge of joy, the remembrance of Zeus, when lightening flashes across the sky--gone in an instant, but enough, for that moment.  Tell me about the simplest acts of devotion in your life.

Devotion, and religion in general, does not have to be elaborate, or expensive, or even lengthy.  There are times in everyone's lives (and for some, it is their whole life) where even three bowls and a stick are too much effort.  And that's 150% okay.

Pomp and circumstance and fancy altars and statues and elaborate poems and hymns are all well and good, but they aren't what makes a religion.  Religion, as I see it, boils down to love: love for the spirits, love for the land, love for the folk around you, and love for yourself.

The rest is all details.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Xenia: An Ancient Concept in a Modern World

Xenia: Guest-friendship, the responsibilities of both guest and host.

It's Saturday night, mid-January, and your friends just went home after a long evening of board games and beer.  You and your dog are quite ready to settle in for a long winter's nap--the temperatures have been dangerously cold, and even in your nicely insulated house, you can feel cold drafts coming from the windows.  It chills you, and you grab an extra blanket and bump the thermostat up a notch on your way to bed.

Settling in with a book, your daydreaming is suddenly interrupted by a knock at the door.

It's midnight, you think.  Did someone forget something?  Shit, I should check, if Dan forgot his phone again his girlfriend will give him hell.

You open the door to a sight you never expected.  A man stands before you.  He is skinny, "gaunt" as the old poets would say.  His thin jacket is tattered and dirty, his jeans have holes in the knees.  His shoes may have once been white--now, they are black with dirt, and you'd guess they are worn smooth on the bottom, many years past their usefulness.

What startles you most is the man's face.  His eyes are wide, desperate, pleading.  His cheeks are hollow, the stubble on them uneven, as if his last shave had been without a mirror... or even a razor.  His lips are tinged blue, and the rattling of his teeth is audible.

The man falls to his knees and clutches at your fleece pants.  "Please," he begs.  "It's so cold.  So cold."

Startled, you take a step back.  "What do you want?"

"Just a snack, a couch.  It's freezing out here.  Just one night, I promise, and then I'm gone.  Nothing is open, no one will take me."

What do you do?

This is a familiar story to those versed in Hellenic mythology.  Baucis and Philemon took in Zeus and Hermes, disguised as weary, poor travelers, and were amply rewarded, while the rest of the town was destroyed (or had some such catastrophe, depending on who's telling the story) for refusing to exercise Xenia.

Have the gods' expectations of us changed?  Does the presence, or absence, of a shelter, a hotel, a 24-hour McDonald's absolve us of responsibility to take in those who seek our aid?

What do you think?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Fundraising for the community

So, Sannion is trying to do some fundraising to allow people to attend Many Gods West.  The folks in question are travelling to help host a Dionysian ritual out there, cause there's no way Sannion can do it himself.  He's got a lot of cool stuff he's offering for donations, but I wanted to throw something in a little cheaper and see if I can give back to my community some.

So, for every $13 donation he receives (the details are in the link above), I'm offering a three-draw reading from the Greek Alphabet oracle.  Just include your email address with the donation you make to Sannion, and he'll forward the information to me, so I can contact you and do the reading.

I'm asking for these particular donations to be exactly $13 (13 is my number), primarily because he's offering more in-depth divination for larger donations, but I know not everyone has $35+ they can donate.

Remember your community!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

What is a leader?

WARNING: This is gonna be long.  Reeeeeally long.  Like, I've been writing for two weeks and haven't exhausted my thoughts long.  TL;DR: Yay leadership!

Sannion recently posted an article addressing an aspect of the recent talk of leadership that is sorely missing from polytheist and pagan conversations about leadership.  Namely... what makes a leader?  Specifically, he asked:
What makes a good leader? Is this primarily a religious or social role, and what’s involved in it? Specifically what tasks should leaders be performing? What special qualifications should a leader have? What ethical and other considerations are involved in the role? What kind of power and authority should we invest our leaders with and to what ends? How should leaders be appointed and more importantly removed from office? Are leaders accountable to their people and if so in what areas? Do we even need leaders?

I wanted to take the time to actually respond to this in full, instead of giving some canned answer out of a textbook or workshop.

Ironically, the dictionary definition of "leader" isn't exactly helpful (from Miriam Webster's English Dictionary):
  • a person who leads
(The first definition actually referred to plants, believe it or not: the initial or terminal shoot of a plant, which might be more relevant than anything else, since... y'know... pagan.)

All right, well, let's look at "to lead":
  • a :  to guide on a way especially by going in advance
    b :  to direct on a course or in a direction
    c :  to serve as a channel for <a pipe leads water to the house>
 Still better, but not as specifically applicable as the discussion needs to be.

 So maybe one of the first discussions we should have is WHY someone should be a leader.  Why should someone lead?  Why should someone not lead?  I'm not talking about qualifications, either: I'm talking about motivations.  What are some good motivations, and some bad motivations?

I was fortunate enough a couple of weeks ago to go to a professional conference where we discussed qualities of leadership and ways of becoming a leader.  This particular organization is professional, not religious, in nature, but a lot of the discussion around motivations for, and against, leadership.  So I want to touch on a few of those motivations here:

Why should someone be a leader?

  • To further the goals of the organization
  • To bring outreach on behalf of the organization at a higher level
  • To give back to a community which has given to them, donating time and money for the cause
  • To use the title to advocate for the community and the folks the community serves in the public sphere, influencing legislation and other areas where the community as a whole is impacted
Why should someone NOT be a leader?
  • For the sense of power or prestige
  • For the money
  • To gain followers or to force personal ideas at an organizational level
This isn't a comprehensive list, by any means, but a few key patterns can be seen:

A good leader is someone who gives of themselves for the betterment of the community.

A bad "leader" is someone who takes of the community for the enforcement of their ideals.

Again, this isn't a COMPREHENSIVE definition, by any means, just a theme I've noticed in my own personal discussions regarding leadership (I should mention, as well, that this particular organization, as a professional one, is democratic in nature, with all offices elected at a local or national level).

So wrapping back around to Sannion's original question: What makes a good leader?  A good leader is someone who gives and leads by example, who advocates for real changes and makes a difference in their community based on the community's needs.

I would even go so far as to argue that leaders don't need to be recognized with titles or positions to BE leaders.  I can think, within my own communities, of at least ten individuals who have no special title, but whom I consider to be leaders because of their example.  A friend of mine has amazing personal devotion, and a wonderful ability to critically self-examine while maintaining self-love.  This friend has no title, has completed no study programs (yet), has no national recognition... but I still consider her a leader, because her example inspires our community towards devotion and piety.

This view makes the rest of Sannion's questions exceedingly difficult to answer, because the answers are going to change depending on the organization or community.  So I'm going to try and tackle this from a personal view of society as a whole, and again: PERSONAL view here.

So, question two: is this a primarily religious or social role, and what's involved in it?

Ask three groups of pagans that question, and you're going to get 16 different answers.  Seriously.

Here, in my own life, are two distinctly different answers, based on views of two distinctly different communities: ADF is headed by the Mother Grove, which is elected, but also has ordained clergy, who serve as spiritual leaders for the community, and have undergone special training to be such. I would define ADF's clergy as primarily religious, not social leaders, but I would define the Mother Grove the opposite way: as primarily social, not religious.  The difference to me is more about function than anything else.  A large number of current and past members of ADF's mother grove are clergy, and as such, fill both roles, but not everyone does.  But the Mother Grove tends to deal with bylaws, money, and technology, whereas clergy tend to be ritually-based at their core.

The Thiasos, on the other hand, is run by five folks who fell into that position by accident, and are still trying to figure out where we're going and what we're doing.  Right now, the leadership is organizing calendars, chats, and encouraging discussion between members, but have not defined any dogma or anything of a religious nature FOR anyone but themselves (with one notable difference, the idea of animal sacrifice, which was touched on in a previous post), and the community as a whole doesn't even HAVE a predetermined ritual structure, or a current need for things like weddings or funerals which may require an officiant.  Eventually, the Thiasos may have clergy.  The Thiasos may have initiates.  Maybe not--maybe it will remain a social group, focused on learning and teaching one another without any kind of deeper involvement.  Time will tell--ADF has had 30 years to figure this out, the Thiasos has had... one.  One year.  We're getting there.

So, the social versus religious leader is a tricky subject, and depends on organization.  I don't think there's a SINGLE correct definition--there are as many definitions as their are gods (see what I did there?).  For the rest of the questions then, I'm going to stick to Sannion's words: social leaders, and religious leaders.

So the next few questions deal with tasks and qualifications.

Again, this is going to be defined by the community served, so I'm going to be pretty general.  I would say that the primary tasks of social leaders deal with community management and involvement.  Dispute resolution, organizational structure, logistics and planning, communications, advocacy and social justice, etc.  Religious leaders, on the other hand, are responsible for the religious and spiritual well-being of the community.  This is going to take different forms depending on the community, but for me, my religious leaders do such things as lead rites, officiate at weddings, funerals, etc., make a point of inquiring as to the spiritual well-being of individuals in the community, and make offerings and pray on behalf of the community.  Again, there can be a lot of overlap between social and religious leaders, so I think the difference falls into where the RESPONSIBILITY lays.  If the person in charge of managing a group's money is AMAZING at personal devotion, is incredibly caring and kind, looks out for members spiritually, but never bothers to check the bank account balance... then they are a poor social leader, and are not fulfilling their responsibilities.  That doesn't make them a bad person, or a poor leader in general, just maybe they're not in the RIGHT leadership role for their style.

Qualifications are a little more clear-cut for me.  Social leaders need to have social skills: the person in charge of money needs to be able to understand budgeting and tax law, for example.  The person in charge of social media management should probably use social media regularly, and have knowledge of various platforms.  Can someone be a social leader without an actual position title?  Absolutely, but they're still performing the same sorts of tasks: communicating with everyone, volunteering time and money/services, checking in on quiet or withdrawn members to ensure all voices are heard.  A title isn't necessary to lead in that sphere.

Religious leaders' qualifications, then, start with a personal religious devotion.  If you cannot maintain your own devotion and piety, then you cannot maintain group devotion and piety, period (hence why I'm not personally cut out to be any form of religious leader).  Beyond that, I would LIKE to see religious leaders go through pretty rigorous training before they are recognized publicly as such: either self-lead training, or the completion of pre-approved study programs (like seminary type education, tailored for polytheists and pagans).  I'm trying to intentionally avoid using words like "clergy" and "priests/priestesses" here, because those terms are very weighted based on the background of the individuals reading them.

The most important, and only universal, qualifier of what makes a leader is this: that your community recognizes you as one.  The term leader implies the "followers" correlate: if no one follows, one cannot lead, if no one leads, one cannot follow.  This is not to imply that non-leaders are all sheep lead to the slaughter; by NO means should anyone reading this take that away from what I'm seeing.  But in order to be a leader, at least some segment of your community must recognize you as one.

Next up: Ethics.

Hoo boy.  Guys, I'm a counselor trainee.  We have a 23-PAGE long code of ethics we are required to follow in our practice.  We have to have months of training during school, and continued training each year after we graduate to maintain our license.  Ethics is NOT AN EASY SUBJECT TO DISCUSS.  So you know what?  I'm saving that for later.  Sorry, but this post is long enough as it is.

MOVING ON... power and authority, appointing and removing leaders, and accountability.

Again, specific procedures are going to be determined by the community, what we would call "stakeholders."  Not touching on specifics.

As far as power and authority, this is where I feel a community can turn into a cult (and I mean that in the Americanized, modern way, which is to imply a dangerous and controlling community).  How do you know if you're in a cult?  Well, Isaac Bonewits came up with one way.  And yes, a lot of it has to do with power.  If your personal power to do what you wish is EVER taken away by a leader, then that leader has too much power.  Now, I don't mean that anyone can do what they want at any time, and still say "I'm with this group."  I mean, if your ability to LEAVE the group is taken away... then you should leave the group.  Seek help, seek shelter, GET THE FUCK OUT (pardon my French).  Communities can define their own rules for what is acceptable behavior, though, and anyone failing to conform to that behavior has, by definition, distanced themselves from the community (the Thiasos ran into this with animal sacrifice: you cannot be part of this particular religious group if you're not okay with animal sacrifice being done humanely and on behalf of everyone in the group, including you.  That doesn't mean you can't worship Dionysos, or call yourself an Orphic, you just can't claim to be a member of the Thiasos of the Starry Bull, sort of like how someone who hasn't done ADF's clergy training and isn't even a member of ADF according to ADF's rules can't call themselves an ADF priest).

Appointing and removing leaders: see above.  Personally, I think social leaders, board members, etc. should be democractically elected, and the eligibility of sanctioned religious leaders should be determined by a set of bylaws applied across the board to everyone who wishes to be a sanctioned religious leader.  But that's just me.

Accountability though... are leaders accountable to their followers?  Abso-fucking-lutely.  A leader is not made of their own power.  See above: you cannot be a leader if your community does not recognize you as such.  Period.  Leaders are MADE by the community, and are accountable in that the community has the power to remove the mantle of leadership FROM the person, in a number of ways (officially, or by mass exodus, if for some reason the "rules" don't allow for the removal of a leader who is not fulfilling their duties or has committed a gross wrongdoing to the community).

So, now that I've talked too much, the last question of the night.

Do we need leaders?

Even if the answer to that question is no, we will still have them.  We will always have folks who act when others do not.  We will always have folks who go above and beyond in giving to their community.  We will always have folks who advocate for growth and exploration, when others are okay with maintaining the status quo.  We will always have folks whose personal devotion extends to devotion on behalf of their community.  We will never stop that, even if we wanted to, even if we refuse to hand out titles and have official ceremonies.  Any time there is a gap, any time there is a need, someone will step up and fill that need.  In that moment, the person is a leader, as ther est of the community watches them fill that need.

Do we need titles and ceremony and garb?  To each their own.  I like having that, especially in larger organizations, because it allows me a way of knowing that a person has been vetted, even if I don't know them personally, and I will afford them a measure of trust because they HAVE been vetted by the community.  I like it.  I value it.  I might even say I need it, because without those leaders, I don't think my communities would grow and thrive the way they have been.

I can't answer that question for anyone but myself.  And my answer is yes: I need leaders in my community, at least my primary religious community.  Not to tell me what to do, but to do the things I cannot, or would not, or should not. 


Friday, March 6, 2015

From chaos, peace.

It's been nearly three months since I posted anything.  Life is kicking my ass, guys.

Virtually everything spiritually and mentally important to me has been put on hold in favor of the mundane.  Classes, work, and now a practicum have taken so much of my time, sapped so much of my energy, that I don't remember when I last cooked a meal for myself, or when I last did a devotion that wasn't tied to a holiday or some sort of special event where someone outside my own head was reminding me to do it.

And that, my friends, is NOT GOOD for me.

My schedule is down to the minute.  I schedule class, work, and practicum hours.  I schedule driving.  I schedule sleep and showers and trips to the pharmacy.  I even schedule my sex life, which is WEIRD if your partner isn't on the same time crunch as you.   "Sorry honey, we're going to have to make this quick, I have a paper to write."

It's driving me up a wall, in all honesty.  It's not even that there aren't enough hours in the week, it's that everything I need to get done has to be done within the standard business hours (8-5, Monday through Friday), aside from homework, which I dedicate most or all of my weekend to.  And this means that the things I never schedule, like devotions, trancework, and religious study, are all fallen to the wayside.

I even have a list of stuff on hiatus that I need to do, but don't have in my schedule:

  1. ADF's Initiate's Program.  I stalled on this one back in December, with a visit to family, and it just hasn't picked back up again.  I'm EXCEEDINGLY grateful for the online component, though, because when I DO pick it back up, I'll be able to at least have a sense of what I need to be working on, and when I should be working on it.
  2. Thiasos holidays and other assorted "stuff."  I've not really been doing my part on keeping the group up and running (which is why I'm even MORE grateful for the other four of y'all than I already was).
  3. Prepare for the workshop proposal I submitted on ritual intoxication.
  4. Meditate, or better yet, regular trancework.
  5. Going along with #4, in part, is taking time to just... chill, and pray.  To sit with my gods and talk to them, keep them in the loop on all this crap that's been happening.

My boyfriend finally put his foot down tonight, when I was teetering on the edge of a panic attack, and forced me to go and take a bath.  I wasn't allowed to come out for at least half an hour, he said.  Gods bless him.

I remembered, laying there in the water, what life was like for me a few years ago.  Not as busy, but still as structured.  I lost my mind, in a very literal sense, to rigidity.  I fell into the trenches of bipolar disorder, lost in madness I couldn't control, because I tried to control too much.  I had to learn to let go, to go with the flow, to accept and adapt, to keep from being lost again.

Dionysos did that for me.  He taught me to embrace the uncertainty, to move like a dancer through the ups and downs of my own mind, to hear the rhythm of the music in my soul and play to the drum instead of trying to change the beat.  He restored my sanity by teaching me to embrace madness.

See where this is going?

I'm doing it to myself again.  I'm trying to control too much.  Trying to fit everything into tidy, neat little boxes, everything in its proper place.  And when one of those boxes gets tipped over, or the contents are not what I expected, the entire system falls apart.

Better to be rid of the boxes, I think.

This isn't a set of resolutions.  I'm going to screw this up again.  Things are going to be chaotic, I'm going to panic or become depressed, I'm going to neglect myself more than I should.  It'll happen.  But for now... I'm going to talk to Dionysos.  I'm going to ask for him to step into the role he has always played in my life, and free me from burdens I can't bear on my own.  I'm going to tell him everything I've never admitted to anyone: that for all my outward successes, I still feel like I am failing, and the world is running away without me.

I'm going to go pray.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A reflection on an experiment

Saturday night was an exercise in preparedness for me, and it's one I failed.  Not for the reasons I expected, but... more on that later.

A friend of mine has been hosting full moon rites honoring each of the Olympians (with Hestia being honored during those odd years where there are 13 full moons).  She uses Hellenion's libation calendar, which means the full moon for Dionysos fell on December 6th.  Normally, I can't make the drive for those rites, as it's about a two hour drive for me, but December 6th was a Saturday... and this is Dionysos... hell yes, I went.  Not only did I go: I led the working for this particular rite, a liberation working and type of oracular horsing.

The idea behind the working was fairly simple in thought, but not quite in execution: When the working began, I secluded myself in a room with certain symbols of the underworld Dionysos, and brought myself into trance.  Within the trance, I completely opened myself to Dionysos, my body and my mind, to let him take over--something I've done before, willingly and joyfully, but never with others present.  At the same time, in the other room, the participants were also entering a light trance, preparing to journey to the underworld.  Once they reached me, they offered a stone they had been given at the ritual's beginning, symbolic of something they wished to be RID of.  The idea, then, was to present the worst in your heart to Dionysos, and ask him for freedom.  He would then use me to say whatever needed to be said to the participant, who would return to the upper world, rid of their cares, wash with khernips, and the next participant would come in.

The main purpose of doing this this way was twofold: to see if I COULD trance like that for a group of people, and for my friend to see me IN that kind of trance state so she can spot for me if and when heavy trance is needed in my life.  A kind of spiritual precaution, if you will.

There were four participants, plus me.

I was not prepared.

I don't remember a single word said to me or by me, only vague visions of Hera and a few other trance images.

I was not prepared.

I REALLY didn't think through the implications of this quite enough.

The little feedback I've gotten so far seems to be mostly positive--it worked, so far as I can tell, for the participants.  Somehow, though, I miscalculated what this would mean for me.  I was so wrapped up in thoughts of whether or not I could sustain trance that heavy without getting tired before we were done that I failed to consider what would happen to me AFTER the rite and into the coming days.

Four participants, giving the worst of what is in their heart to Dionysos.  Me, horsed by Dionysos, accepting those offerings on his behalf, letting him use me to speak.

I failed to consider that I was accepting the struggles of four very strong, very passionate, very spiritual people into myself.  I can be an idiot sometimes, you know?

Sunday, I was mostly distracted by the realities of life.  Sunday night was another story.  I felt off, I felt wrong, I felt heavy.  That heaviness continued into Monday night, when I lay in bed alone, and simply... cried.  The weight was too much.  I called to Dionysos, asked him what was happening.

"You didn't know you were asking for this, but you asked for it."

I thought of the four small black stones, sitting wrapped in cloth on my altar, waiting to be purified and cast out.  I thought of the emotional and spiritual energy I had opened myself to.  No amount of khernips can clean something you willingly take into yourself, not of that magnitude.  The weight of the hearts of four strong individuals is something I simply cannot bear.

I asked him what I should do.  "Understand.  Carry the weight, and when the weight is gone, carry the memory of the weight.  Lesson learned."

The stones and the weight will stay with me until Saturday.  Saturday, I will cleanse them and cast them out, leaving only the memory of the weight in my heart.

I will not do this for a group again.  I will come up with another kind of ritual for Summerlands next year, but I will not do this for a group again.  I may, on occasion, do this for a close friend who is in desperate need of healing--Dionysos has taken my burdens from me in the past, so I should continue to pass that blessing onto others.  One at a time, though.  I cannot handle more.  I don't WANT to handle more.

I am sorry, my friends, that I failed you.  I am sorry, Dionysos, that my hubris blinded me from reason.  Lesson learned.