Yesterday, about half an hour after sunset, a package arrived with the olive branches I had ordered to put on the shrine for Athene. I pulled them from the box, slashed into the tough stems, and put them in a vase with water.
While creating my open access project, I have been reflecting on ordinary household activities — the refreshing of one’s space and the ways in which we clean out the old and welcome the new. The winter and summer solstices, the new year, and the beginning of spring are excellent times to create such shifts within the home. There is a laurel wreath in my kitchen near the entry door to my apartment — in my old apartment, it was in the front room, which was that location’s main entryway — that I offered to Apollon, asking him to ward from afar. It has been hanging up for several years, and I decided to switch it out for a fresh one (which hasn’t arrived yet). Going forward, I want to be more mindful of when I rotate such things — a winter and summer wreath budget and a refresh of my spaces.
There is a passage in a book, I believe The Final Pagan Generation, that describes the uneasy terror Christians felt in Late Antiquity when going into a traditional home, where the scents could either be secular deodorizing ones — the ancient world didn’t smell great because the sanitation infrastructure was not as good as ours — or the lingering afterglow of offerings to Gods and spirits. Christians were told by their leaders that breathing in these sacrificial odors would infect them with evil spirits. It reminds me so much of growing up in the Midwest and how the super Christian kids in school were taught to hate themselves and always be on guard against Satan. We had enough to deal with from constant tornado warnings, unhealthy family dynamics, recessions, and the other uncertainties we stumbled into this lifetime. Why did their ministers add such a terror for the fate of their souls that made them awaken with panics over seeing nonbelievers (or themselves, if they misbehaved) tortured for eternity? Of course, during the huge Christian push to convert people in various places and eras, such social taboos were used to isolate people in the same way modern-day cults isolate followers through fear and setting exclusivist group norms. Finally, a tangent: The handyman who services my building has a large Jesus tattoo, and he always says my apartment smells amazing when he comes over to fix things.
That tangent about the prevailing circumstances aside, I’ve mentioned elsewhere, despite being a continent away and having grown up in a very different culture, I love the mental image of a home perfumed with the scents of offerings. Wreaths, reed diffusers, floors washed with uplifting scents, dried herbs — preferably natural products, as the industrial chemicals in many fragrance products have a weird after-smell that annoys me.
Alongside the olives for Athene, I bought a bouquet of dried lavender, which I set on my table. It wasn’t offered to any deity in particular, but I wanted something to brighten up the space. Before taking the photo below, I cleaned my table — and yes, I did stage my Kobo with Acts of Speech on it. The drink in the cup is sencha.
Last night, I took some of the lavender stems and put them in a cleaned-out small jar. While breaking down the box, I found a stray bit of lavender and several olive leaves. I set these last night on my creative-professional-intellectual shrine for the Gods. This image was taken this morning. I think the dried herbs and stray olive greenery bring such brightness to the small shrine area.
Of course, it was good that this came in after dark yesterday. On the 5th, 15th, and 25th days of the lunar calendar, I’ve decided to pare down the rituals for the Hellenic Gods to the essentials because those days are sacred to the Erinyes, Eris, and (at least the fifth day) Horkos. Yesterday was my first day implementing it. I prayed to Hestia, then to the Gods I just mentioned, and last to Athene and Apollon, to whom I’m praying every day. I am leaving my CIP shrine fallow on those days. After dark, it technically became the 26th day. The lighting after dark wasn’t good for photos, but the Gods are the ones who are important.
This is part of my attempt in 2022 to fine-tune my prayer practice and get more in sync with the lunar cycles. Taking the end of the lunar month (1-2 days before the new moon) to give my main prayer space a rest is something I’m trying out, too — I’ll pray to ancestors (intellectual, family, professional), a few underworld Gods, and light an in memoriam candle for the departed. I don’t pray to the Chthonic Gods and spirits at my main shrines. In the first photo in this post, you can sort of see it (by the bookshelf) — it’s a low table that was advertised as an altar table. It’s at meditation cushion height. I kneel there with my hands on the ground when I pray to the Erinyes, as just one example. I pray to my ancestors at my ancestral practices shrine, which is primarily for a half-dozen Nordic (and a couple of Gaulish) Gods and spirits in addition to them.
The in memoriam candle will be especially raw when I do this practice for the first time in a few days — one of my coworkers died suddenly of meningitis on 24 December. I didn’t hear until the 26th, and I lit a candle that night for her and prayed for her safe passage to her next life. It was a cinnamon-clove candle I had added to a grocery delivery on a whim, and it was delivered right around the time another coworker texted to tell me — so eerie how that happened. I did divination, and it indicated I’d be pure after showering, as she wasn’t family, so it hasn’t impacted praying. The grief comes and goes, though. She was a good, dynamic person who had a lot of trauma from her Christian upbringing (she’d been taught she was a sinner and wasn’t good enough, and she wasn’t religious anymore, but it still really impacted her) and a strong desire to do good and promote justice and equity in the library profession. She was very effective, with tremendous energy, and she deeply cared about teaching students what they needed to know to successfully navigate government documents — which are really overwhelming for a lot of newer researchers. Someone contacted me on LinkedIn about it yesterday, and the communication brought the feelings of intense sorrow back. She spent so much time overworking herself, and while we were friendly and enjoyed spending time together — she was one of the only people I could talk to about menstrual issues — there were so many days at the office when we said we should chat more, or go for a walk, or go for coffee, but rarely did. Completing our work matters, as it was what we are being paid a salary to do, but it got me thinking about how transactional life has become and how I don’t want to be lulled by busy-ness into neglecting friendships and close acquaintanceships. She was one of the only people in my office I enjoyed talking to beyond work chat. Apart from that personal thing, in general, we are on track in the United States to losing a million people in the pandemic — grief and anxiety are hitting us all differently, and it’s important to make space to remember those who have passed on.