This post describes my current spiritual practice and the cyclical routines I’m cultivating in my life. I had the idea of sharing this a few weeks ago, but several conversations recently (and also reading someone else’s post about their current practice) prompted me to sit down and write this up. As I mention in The Soul’s Inner Statues, seasons of our lives change, and right now, my own direction of coming-to-be is driven by my lifestyle commitments, particularly those in the context of the Platonic tradition and its Anglosphere subschool, the ever-elusive dance of work-life balance, and my personal history/upbringing inputs.
What this post covers is — first — some preliminaries specific to being in a Platonizing practice. I follow it up by talking about daily and weekly practice and end with a discussion of where I am now with annual practices and how I hope to shape and shift them in the future.
Plotinus wrote that our object is not to be without sin, but to be as Godlike as possible. “To be as Godlike as possible” involves cultivating the virtues and theurgic fluency in the context of daily life. On a deep level, my quarterly (and, previously, annual) goals center around addressing what I have judged from my own observation and from others’ feedback as my weak points to improve my foundation (habitual/ethical and civic virtues). At the same time, I have growth goals that are focused on cultivating that deeper level of knowing.
Emperor Julian, in his Letter to a Priest, writes:
All this, at least, we ought to study to do, and we ought also to pray often to the gods, both in private and in public, if possible three times a day, but if not so often, certainly at dawn and in the evening. For it is not meet that a consecrated priest should pass a day or a night without sacrifice; and dawn is the beginning of the day as twilight is of the night. And it is proper to begin both periods with sacrifice to the gods, even when we happen not to be assigned to perform the service.p. 329 of the Loeb Volume II translation
Most of us are only officiants of our own household rites, not those bound within a specific temple or spiritual community. Especially for those who are the leaders (by default or custom) of their own household rites, the general expectation is that those rites are maintained. This is even more important when thinking in Platonizing terms when looking at Marinus’ Life of Proclus; Marinus points to Proclus’ observations of the times of the day and of paying appropriate honors to the dead philosophical ancestors/predecessors when discussing what a good philosopher is.
For a while now, in one of the reading groups I’m in, we’ve been reading foundational texts. I’ve slowly been modifying my own practice to conform to what seems to be a tacit vibe — like how people who enter a group start to move in tandem with it even though it may not be apparent who is making the decisions and who is not.
As I have said, death is rest; and night harmonises with rest. Therefore I think it is fitting that business connected with the burials of the dead should be performed at night, since for many reasons we ought to forbid anything of the sort to go on by day. Throughout the city men are going to and fro each on his own business, and all the streets are full of men going to the law courts, or to or from the market, or sitting at work at their crafts, or visiting the temples to confirm the good hopes thatthe gods have vouchsafed. And then some persons or other, having laid a corpse on the bier, push their way into the midst of those who are busy about such matters. The thing is in every way intolerable.p. 191, Letter 56, Edict on Funerals (Volume III of the Loeb)
This is one of the passages that I need to think on a bit more — it didn’t stand out to me until a friend mentioned it in a conversation. In what follows, I mention what I already do on the ninth day of the lunar calendar related to worshipping the heliacal Gods; overall, though, the prayers I make at night before bed are cozier. I think that that cozy restorativeness is definitely something to cultivate; the Muses’ connection with Mnemosyne and (in my practice) Nyx is perhaps why I subconsciously gravitated to honoring them every night before sleeping. (Speaking of nighttime, I was reading an essay in Polytheistic Monasticism about an incubation center that has chill yoga and ambiance and Norse chanting and really craved what I was reading. That sounds so, so nice.)
Someone I know online (whom I respect for his piety and what seems like a strong community orientation to service) mentioned, when we were talking a bit about The Soul’s Inner Statues, that his emphasis is more on the total integration of spirituality with life. We worship in different praxis modes (I barely worship any Egyptian deities or know their theologies), so there are some differences that are informing our interpretations of the Platonic tradition, yet I ultimately agree with him. All from the ancients to Shaw to Butler to Layne and the Addeys recognize the inherent demiurgy of being here and the beautiful divine overflowing that we participate in. (As Alan Watts said, reality is gorgeous.) In SIS, I had to walk a fine line between presenting a Platonizing perspective/background and overreaching. Some readers of that might prefer Yoga philosophy, Stoicism, &c., and each of those involves a very specific set of lifestyle commitments. Tim Addey’s The Unfolding Wings and Mindy Mandell’s Discovering the Beauty of Wisdom are, in my mind, the two books to read right now for onboarding into Platonism proper and getting that foundational structure. Change is a process, and that’s why I set small, achievable goals to focus my attention.
One complication and struggle in my life over the past few years has been work-related burnout and disillusionment. While I have prayed to Athene and Hermes on the first work day of the week for guidance for years, dating back to the beginning of my professional life, there is a hollow wound in me that was not present years ago. I know the truth of what is in Plato’s Laws X and in Proclus’ writings about divine pronoia, but what is cut apart takes time and care to heal. Lockdown, the out-of-control-to-a-toxic-extent helper-mindset culture in librarianship, and a coworker’s death fifteen months ago from overwork and fighting for years for our workplace to give her health accommodations (which I think was the cause of the meningitis that killed her) are shocks that I am still grappling with. Honestly? It’s probably 70% of why I had a shingles (chickenpox sequel) episode in September, the other 30% being stress related to Internet drama. There’s a lot of raw emotion with all of this that I haven’t processed to the extent that I should, in addition to it simply being messy and complicated. The Gods display pronoia towards all that is coming to be. When shaking everything up — the primate instincts of our species, the genes I’ve inherited from my parents, and the social mores from my upbringing — it can be hard to see the unified core within. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle, a saying often misattributed to Plato, is definitely getting at something. The ideal is to do what one can to be in that mythic mode and to recognize the trials of each of our lives as operating in the same mode as Heracles’ or Psyche’s labors. That conversation online about integration was well-timed, in other words, due to it reminding me of a place where I’ve struggled and the opportunity I have now to address these things now that I’m much less online.
Daily and Weekly Routines
My time at shrine, all said and done, is time that I really love. There’s an inner sense of taking a breath when lighting the hearth candle and when saying the opening prayer, of resting in that presence. Perhaps that’s why my cat Yoyo likes the shrine area so much in her old age, often sleeping on her little chaise, often coming to me to rest her chin on my hands when I’m in meditation for chin scratches, often laying out behind me on the rug I set down to keep my feet warm and knees cushioned. I do kneeling meditation/contemplation because that’s what my spine prefers for keeping proper alignment, and while I know some polytheists worry about kneeling positions because of subservience symbolism from dominant faiths like Christianity, I don’t have any negative priming, so I’m fine with it.
The first thing that happens in the morning is not prayer. As soon as the kitchen light goes on, my deaf 18-year-old cat — who has been staring towards the kitchen — starts screaming at the top of her lungs. I feed her wet food with medication in it and clean her litter. Because she’s on thyroid medication, both of these are done at the same time. I am supposed to wear gloves when handling her food and waste products, as thyroid medication can be absorbed through the skin. I am uneasy with the amount of medical waste this produces, so I pay a bit more for gloves that supposedly break down in a few years in the landfill. Even if they don’t break down as quickly as advertised, it’s still likely better than the other options.
Once I’ve calmed my cat down, I take my multivitamin and probiotics, brush my teeth, and make matcha or coffee. (Usually matcha, although coffee 2-3 times per week doesn’t seem to increase my anxiety like it did when I drank it every day.) I salute the Eastern sky in a toast, take a few sips of matcha, and do two sun salutations (symmetry). Often, I think about Socrates drinking the hemlock, but not always. Then, I journal for a few minutes while finishing my drink, use the bathroom, and take a shower. After I shower, I meditate.
My morning prayers involve two shrines — one small nook-shrine for the Creative, Intellectual, and Professional Gods that I put up during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, and the other general shrine where I have all divine icons. I pray to the household Gods, daimons, and ancestors, followed by all of the Gods, and then to Eir and Apollon. I follow that with a brief offering to the CIP Gods.
I have a wood icon of Athene. I put my hands together and briefly bow my head after I get in and before I get settled into my work chair. In the United States, Athene is intertwined with higher education, and icons of her are found all over supposedly secular campuses, often accompanied by student rituals focused on academic success. So … our American interpretation of the Goddess makes her very important to honor for those of us who work in higher education, regardless of how visible our job is to students or how burned out we feel by academia after the “yay I’m staying in the ivy-covered halls for a job” honeymoon phase.
In another place and time, the Muses may have had this focus, as in the Library of Alexandria with its Mouseion/Musaeum or Plato’s Academy. Because I am American, though, I follow the American custom in this particular context.
To prove my point about this, both of my sisters attended Wells College (before transferring out due to problems with mental health accommodations), and one of the neat traditions at Wells was related to a statue of the Goddess Minerva there, who is syncretized with Athene and who is probably the same Goddess imo. Just this week, when looking at a scanned copy of a public-domain book, I saw this book plate in it showing someone propitiating the Goddess:
And there is an entire story about an Athene statue’s academic display saga (cw: impiety), which I saw shared around a while back.
It doesn’t seem like anyone (really?!?!?!?!) has written dissertations comparing the iconographies of Athena and Minerva at US college campuses and the rituals that students develop around them, so if you’re looking for a dissertation topic related to higher education, secularish cultural rituals, and history, this may actually be a good fit for you.
Sometimes I briefly salute the Moon by raising my hands to my chin in prayer position and murmuring a few words. The door I take to go home faces the southeast, so the moon is rising for part of the month or is visible in the high eastern sky when I leave the building. I admire Proclus’ life for his bold prostration to the Moon upon entering the Platonic Academy, but I am nowhere near as brave as he, and I am also wearing a backpack that weighs 10-15 pounds.
I pray after doing dishes and brushing my teeth — at about 9:30 PM or so. I start with another meditation. I pray to the Gods of the lunar day, venerate any deity who is receiving focused attention from me for whatever reason, and close by reciting Proclus’ Hymn to the Muses. The one exception to the evening veneration is the 9th day, when I pray to the heliacal Gods the following morning; I spend the evening before praying to Rhea, the Muses, and Mnemosyne.
All in all, I spend about 40 minutes doing prayer and post-prayer contemplation every day. I spend a variable amount of time reading, depending on the rhythm of the week and my other obligations. In addition, I spend 15-25 minutes meditating, depending on how hectic my day is. The meditation time is because I am prone to anxiety and racing thoughts, and my mind quickly unravels when I don’t give it some space — it’s an important wellness tool that supports my entire life. I could say more about meditation in a Platonizing context, and indeed the entire approach to the spiritual lifestyle, but I choose not to do so at this time.
On Saturdays, I pray to Hermes in the morning. On Sundays, I offer a prayer to Belesama. I’ve recently written a hymn to the heliacal deities to complement the one I’ve written for the lunar deities, which I might memorize and offer during my daily sun salutations, but I may also save that for the lunar prayers on the 9th day of the lunar calendar. On the first day of the work week, I pray to Athene and Hermes. On Mondays, I ask Apollon and Hermes to show me the Greek Alphabet Oracle and three Delphic Maxims that will help me improve in arete.
During the first three days of my period when I’m fatigued and bleeding very heavily (300-400 mL a day), I try to take it easy, but I still pray. There’s a special prayer sequence I and at least one other person do (but not time/day-coordinated) on a regular basis. It usually happens on Saturdays or other days off for me because I need much more prayer time to do it (and chill in ambiance afterwards), but I never do it when I’m bleeding heavily — it only seems appropriate towards the end. I also never do this during the final five days of the lunar month.
Insofar as other observances are concerned, I classify holidays in two ways: occasions that I can venerate with other people and times that were historically sacred to a deity and celebrated in an ancient polis that I am now celebrating privately, with contemplation, as a way of participating in that deity’s sacred time. I also make special offerings to my daimon and Apollon on my birthday.
Open to co-celebration
New moons, full moons, solstices, Samhain, Lucia’s Day. Literally if any of my family is around we could do these together. Lucia’s Day is usually a text message comparison marathon of whose saffron buns are the best. (Mine always lose because they’re gluten-free and gluten-free dough doesn’t rise fluffily.) These are also the holidays that are, from my standpoint, easiest to celebrate in groups among people who are coming from different perspectives.
Privately-celebrated for theurgic attunement
- Anthesteria (Feb/March, depending)
- Eumenideia (Feb/March, depending)
- Thargelia (May-ish)
Many surviving Greek festivals from antiquity are very related to what is happening in a specific city-state. Anthesteria, the Eumenideia, and Thargelia all have personal components that are related to purification. Anthesteria is three days, and each day symbolizes part of the soul’s journey (in purity and impurity, abiding-proceeding-reverting) and links the individual soul to the encosmic ruler Dionysos; the Eumenideia propitiates the Kindly Goddesses and is meant as an act of repair for the errors we have made towards our fellow-humans, especially the dire mistakes; and Thargelia is focused on personal purification through the guiding light of Apollon. I celebrate them in that capacity.
While I would embrace celebrating these alongside people with the same general spiritual outlook as me, it would be very hard to adapt most of these to an ecumenical polytheistic/pagan setting.
- Proclus’ birthday (February 8)
- Socrates’ birthday (first day of Thargelia)
- Plato’s birthday (second day of Thargelia)
- Thomas Taylor’s birthday (May 15)
At the close of the lunar month, I give offerings to my ancestors in general. I also have a candle that I light after hearing of the passing of someone I know, and I pray at my ancestor/Chthonic shrine for them. For figures important to me for social reasons, like Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny (I think fondly of them due to my reaction to reading The Gay Revolution by Faderman back in my 20s; their lives really stuck with me because they were the first activists mentioned after a grim chapter on institutionalizing and lobotomizing lesbians), I don’t give an offering on their birth or death day, but I do try to remain aware of the sacrifices they made that are the root of why I can live a life with workplace protections in my state.
It only makes sense to celebrate these alone or with people who venerate the same ancestors/predecessors.
Things I want to celebrate but am still working on figuring out because routines are hard to establish even when you’ve got a lot spiritually dialed in
- Dísablót (Feb? March? Possibly solstice-time in the modern day? Can I get my family involved because it’s family-related like Samhain?)
- Mothers’ Night (mid/late December)
- Mouseia (Platonic holiday for the Muses attested in a variety of sources, not sure when it was, we should pick a time if nobody knows; probably makes the most sense to celebrate collaboratively)
- Fridays for Frigg sounds fun?
- Caristia (February 22)
A lot of my “hmmm let’s see” is related to trying to figure out what an “act of repair” practice looks like and how to integrate household God and worship and the veneration of spirits/daimons related to my heritage into my main practice, which is very much centered around those Gods who are heavily emphasized in Platonism. This is part of my efforts to have a more ethical practice in general, hence emphasizing secular-ish American traditions and the home culture sometimes.
My mom was technically our materfamilias because she (a) was my family’s breadwinner and (b) had the greatest influence on the home culture of us girls growing up, which is why we celebrate Lucia’s Day and keep some other Scandi traditions. She is technically still my materfamilias given that I’m unmarried, if one wants to go super-traditional, but this isn’t the ancient world, so that likely isn’t relevant. However, witness what happened in our group chat earlier this month:
Me: Mom, since you worship Hekate a lot and we’re your kids, does that make Hekate the household Goddess of our forebears? 😀
Youngest sister: Haha
A Few Words on Attire
I wear a wool fillet when I give offerings to the Gods. Here, fillet is in its traditional sense — you can see classical art and Victorian Neoclassical paintings that show the cords in the hair. Mine is essentially a ribbon-thick headband with a tie behind the head. I wear this for theurgic reasons because the symbolism of bound hair, for women, has important resonance: We have historically had a strong relationship to liminality, life, and death. I can easily provide contrast to when I (a) pray to Dionysos and (b) pray to Chthonic Gods and ancestors with my hair unbound. If I were married and had a better hair texture, I’d bind cords around my hair, but since my hair is so flat that you could use it for topological physics experiments, it just wouldn’t go well.
In a general sense, given my lifestyle commitments and philosophical inklings, I tend to go for natural fabrics (synthetics creep me out — they have this feel to them, and the oils they capture can’t actually be cleaned out very effectively; I only wear them during workouts because natural workout clothes are not that affordable). My workplace “uniform” is the Fair Indigo mock neck tee (95% cotton) with a pair of slacks, with either a scarf or lightweight cardigan. I switch that out for linen clothing and lightweight cotton dresses in the summer for temperature regulation. A few of those items are patterned, but it’s harder to find work-appropriate solid-color clothes, and for my summer work dresses, I have made sure to watch videos on the history of block printing on fabric. (Banana Republic has great linen clothes in the summer and runs frequent sales, and so does Uniqlo; my cotton dresses are from eShakti.) Sometimes, in moments of appetitive weakness, I will get novelty T-shirts or other clothing items, which I usually regret within hours of putting them on. We’re all works in progress, and I’m getting better at remembering the consequences of my actions. Taking a stand against consumerism is important, even if it’s not as good as our entire system moving towards a de-growth ecosocialist economy. I can do what I can as an individual now and make decisions to support long-term wellbeing in the voting booth.
All of that to say that I wear ordinary clothes when I worship most of the time — my work clothes (because I’m about to leave for work) or loungewear (in the evening). Sometimes, on purification-related holidays like Thargelia, I will switch into white linen clothes. I have a dress in my closet specifically intended for that and a second linen dress that I had to buy for Smith College’s Ivy Day during a reunion a few years ago (alums and graduating seniors do a parade) that has a more opaque liner. (I usually wear the Ivy Day one.) My general bare-minimum attire ballpark (most relevant on the weekends) is that if I wouldn’t be comfortable answering the door in something, I shouldn’t be wearing it at my shrine. This means that I wear a lounge bra under my shirt or a lounge shirt with a built-in bra. I have some cotton Uniqlo sleeveless shirts with a built-in bra and I love them. While I don’t care about covering my shoulders, I watch my necklines and dress length. One thing about Zoom is that a few shirts I can wear just fine around are too low for Zoom because they’re just out-of-frame — it’s embarrassing when I forget that. When answering the door braless, I put on a hoodie, and I sometimes do that in the winter at shrine in the evenings, too, even though that’s definitely the lazy way to be modest. I saw a Muslim woman in Aldi a few years ago who was wearing pajama pants and a tightly-fastened hoodie in lieu of a more traditional hijab, so I think this actually speaks to how versatile hoodies — and how resourceful women — are.
It wasn’t until reading Polytheistic Monasticism this weekend that I (re)learned that the general stereotype about polytheists and pagans — the idea that we’re all extremely sexual and that we dislike modesty. I think I’ve mentioned that I’m a bit of a prude and that I tried overcorrecting when I was younger when my social group shamed me for being such a naïve prude, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve re-embraced modesty and decorum because I now realize that I was not wrong. In my 30s, I understand that these practices are not about denying sexuality or the body, but about setting boundaries — coding in clothing and conduct a similar, but not identical, kind of restraint as what Proclus mentions when talking about speech:
Writings of a genuinely profound and theoretical character ought not to be communicated except with the greatest caution and considered judgment, lest we inadvertently expose to the slovenly hearing and neglect of the public the inexpressible thoughts of god-like souls. The human mind cannot receive all the contents of Intellect, for there are some things known to Intellect but inconceivable by us. Nor do we think it proper to put in speech all that we think of, for there are many matters that we keep secret and unexpressed, preferring to guard them in the enclosures of our minds. Nor do we put in writing all that we express in speech; we want to keep some things in our memories unwritten, or deposit them in the imaginations and thoughts of friends, not in lifeless things. Nor do we publish indiscriminately to all the world everything that we commit to writing, but only to those who are worthy of sharing them, indulging with discrimination our eagerness to make our treasures common property with others.Proclus, Parmenides commentary, 718, trans. Morrow & Dillon
What I’m getting at here by quoting this passage is the idea that there are differences in what of ourselves we show to a lover or partner; to a family member; to a friend or close associate; to extended family; to coworkers and colleagues; and to acquaintances or the world at large. Modesty is ultimately a register of encoding levels of various kinds of social intimacy (not just romantic or sexual; we are way too fixated on that as a society). It doesn’t need to be tied to toxic belief systems for us to receive the benefit of being intentional about visual and interpersonal language. To use another analogy, the art I put in my bedroom — which nobody but my girlfriend and I see — is different from the art I put in socially accessible spaces in my home, and it’s definitely different from the art pieces in my office. I think social media makes us forgetful of some of these boundaries.
This is a bit about my current spiritual practice, and I hope it offers a small window into what I do, how, and why. A bit was held back — specifically, a Platonizing structure that I’ve been pondering in a bulleted list both alone and with others for some time now — but it should be enough to give a small idea of my daily life.
8 thoughts on “Prayers and Spiritual Practices: What I Currently Do”
I read, but comment very little. I think writing of our practices give each other ideas and hope of being able to do devotions regularly. I think our devotions are a work in progress that changes over time depending on the Gods and Ancestors.
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Yes, it’s so helpful to know what others are doing, even if the gritty details aren’t given.
Beautiful post. thank you for sharing this. Btw, I’m quite taken by the knowledge that students petition Athena and/or Minerva…I had no idea.
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It is a common practice from Roman times. Nice to know it still happens.
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The reason it would make a great dissertation is because it’s a combination of Athena and/or Minerva worship and hero/predecessor worship (founders, famous former students) — whoever has a statue on a campus, if it’s a full-body one and physically accessible to students, ends up being the recipient of student rituals. It all pops up organically, and it often involves costuming the statue and some propitiatory rituals.
Thank you sharing this in such detail. I’m in the process of expanding and modifying my own practice which is also engaged with the Hellenic Gods and have been enjoying your writing on the subject (I am about to start reading The Soul’s Inner Statues as well).
Side note, I’m also a Smithie!
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Hi!!! I’m a Chapinite.
Re: rituals, you’re welcome! I’m so happy the writing has been helpful.