This is my monthly update for March, which I’m doing now so I can be on the computer a bit less during the week — my mom may be visiting this coming weekend, so activities that I ordinarily delegate to the weekends will have to take place on weeknights, so this post can’t happen on a weeknight. 😅 I’d rather be on my Supernote for (most of) what I do need to use a screen for because it’s e-ink, and it’s more ergonomic. In fact, the post I put up yesterday was rescheduled from March 31 because I don’t want to be distracted while my mom is here if there are any notifications/comment followups.
I’ve divided this monthly update into three sections: Spirituality, Media, and Other. I hope that everyone has a wonderful rest of your March.
At the beginning of the month (okay, March 3) in the family group chat, this happened:
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
Sooooo that settles it. Γονεῖς αἰδοῦ, as the maxim goes.
At the tail end of February, I told my girlfriend about the VIA Character Strengths Test, and she took it. The results rank a set of positive traits from highest to lowest based on a series of answers you give in the Q&A, and it sparked a very interesting conversation between us. I love taking assessment tests because the insights that I see about my own thought process and patterns help me reflect on myself, which is useful for “know thyself”/γνῶθι σεαυτόν.
I took this test for the first time in 2018 — before the soul-rattling experience of reading Hermias’ notes on the Phaedrus lectures of Hermias and before the pandemic. At that stage of my life, these were my top five: Love of learning, judgment, spirituality, honesty, perseverance. My lowest (VIA emphasizes that these shouldn’t be viewed as weaknesses): Perspective, social intelligence, hope, love, humility.
The rank order is not necessarily what someone is “good” or “bad” at. It’s about strengths that are core to us and strengths that are peripheral — the peripheral are strengths that we may not exercise as much, that we may want or need to work on, or that take a bit of cognitive effort to do. Thinking back to my life in 2018, these lowest scores make a lot of sense. I was in therapy at that time, and often, the world felt senseless and hopeless, like I couldn’t do anything right.
When I retook the quiz in 2021, a lot had shifted. Here are my highest five: Love of learning, spirituality, appreciation of beauty and excellence, honesty, curiosity. My lowest: Perspective, teamwork, creativity, love, humility.
Previously, creativity had been highly-ranked, so it is a bit strange to me that it dropped so much. But I do wonder if a lot of the change has been that curiosity, love of learning, and appreciation of beauty are the core muscles that I’m exercising, with creativity filling in gaps as needed. Thinking of both 2018 and 2021, I actually care about perspective and sensemaking a lot; however, this does manifest more in curiosity and a desire to learn and grow spiritually. I’ve always struggled with teamwork because delegating makes me anxious. Humility has never come easily to me, and many of the ways in which I cause myself pain are related to trying to punch its opposite down — the way I grew up gave me a disorganized attachment style, which comes along with extreme uncertainty about belonging. Before I knew I had that attachment style, in my 20s, I often thought of being around other people with the analogy of all of the food being tainted with tiny shards of glass. You had to eat or you’d starve, but it would always be painful. And this is something I’m really working on — we’re all works in progress. One interesting thing about me is that I’d label my attachment style related to the Gods as secure, even though there were a few rocky points when I was in college and processing a lot. It’s always been people who have made me ultra-anxious. It will be interesting as time goes on to see how the love metric shifts now that I’m doing compassion meditation, but to be fair, I’ve always been more of a duty person than a love person.
My strengths look about what I’d expect from someone who is eyeball-deep in Platonism, to be fair. Those elements are all kind of important.
I started nine nights of prayer for Frigg near the end of March. On the third night, a Saturday, after praying for about an hour — first to the Gods of the fourth day (Hermes, Aphrodite, Eros, Herakles), then to Apollon (I wanted to sing for him; while I sang, I had a moment of unity and it was so beautiful, like a soul-hug) and then for Frigg, and then for the Muses — I had a dream. Part of it involved trying to find parking during winter with my girlfriend and trying to figure out what the snow ban permitted. The rest of it was another polytheist I know and I being at a table with a few people during a discussion of some kind. I think it was procedural brainstorming. I was using a book, and I was advocating for the perspective of Hades on some kind of issue. And then the man sitting next to me, the one leading the discussion, who was older and bearded, told me that the only women who have say are the ones who have had a child at their breast. The woman sitting next to him was nursing a young child. I think there was another woman at the table, but the rest were men. Somehow, he got that prohibition procedurally set down, and it meant that I was barred from being there, no longer allowed. And suddenly that was Oðinn and I guess the woman was Frigg. Maybe the people we had joined at that table were various Gods, and maybe my lack of realization of that had played into this, the fact that I had been as wordy and enthusiastic as I usually am in conversations, sometimes to an excessive degree. I don’t know. The other polytheist I know was a man, so he was allowed to stay.
I surged awake after that dream at 6:22 AM and started ruminating. One of the challenging parts of the novena has been that most of the prayers I’ve seen have been written by women with children, and they emphasize children and families. So that lifestyle difference has never been far from top of mind. My youngest sister told me a few months ago in the family group chat (she was being serious) that none of what I said carried any weight, that none of my thoughts and perspective matter, because I am not a fully adult woman due to not having kids and am, in her eyes, still a child even though I’m seven years older than her — in other words, she said that I’m not a real woman. It’s a twisted evolution of what she used to say when we were kids about me not being a girl because of the way I dress and act — she was a preteen and I was in my mid/late teens.
The dream made me feel cut off and less-than, a judgment of my mental and spiritual and social and civic capacity and the value of what I produce simply because I haven’t had the neurobiological changes that happen during a pregnancy. It was probably just an anxiety dream. I eventually fell asleep again for another hour or so, but it wasn’t a good sleep. O Athene, give me refuge.
Here are some of the goals that I have set down for the April – June quarter:
- Reread Ossia so I can start the rewrite.
- Publish The Village of Strong Branches one month after the artist completes the cover.
- Finalize outline for Candles in the Forest novella.
- Schedule a two-day writing retreat PTO bracket so I can bang out the Candles in the Forest draft in one go.
- Publish a creative commons document on a theurgic practice to do while studying Platonic texts after finalizing the draft.
- Do nine nights of prayers to the Dísir.
- Do nine nights of prayer to the Bear Goddess or to Athene — do divination about this first.
- Pray to Gaia on Earth Day and call a representative about the climate crisis.
- Read Iris, Artio and Artaois, From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao, The One: How an Ancient Idea Holds the Future of Physics, and The Anti-Consumerist Druid.
- Restart a foam rolling and restorative yoga habit for fascia health and graceful aging.
- Figure out how to integrate weights into my workout routine in a sustainable way.
- Be substantially more aggressive about resting because I am really bad at that.
On March 10, I was surprised in my mailbox by a Milkweed Press poetry chapbook, Rose Quartz by Sasha taqwšəblu LaPointe, which I remembered having preordered a while ago from the publisher. Over the next few months, I will have two more treats appearing at my doorstep — Tuệ Sỹ’s Dreaming the Mountain and Dan Beachy-Quick’s The Thinking Root: The Poetry of Earliest Greek Philosophy, all ordered at about that time. It will be a delight to devour them.
I recently watched a YouTube documentary of Thích Nhất Hạnh and a video from Cal Newport on leaving social media. The Thích Nhất Hạnh documentary is 28 minutes long, and it was inspiring. Seeing how someone brings a spiritual practice forth to face immense suffering — and the personal costs he suffered, like exile — really gave me perspective. Cal Newport directly spoke about the benefits of leaving social media, and I think he hit on most of them. I’d add that prohairesis is more easily honed when one doesn’t have a lot of external noise. I also watched a recording released in 2021 based on the week that Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama spent together talking about joy and happiness. Like Thích Nhất Hạnh, they, too, faced enormous life struggles. It was a beautiful film.
While reflecting on the two documentaries, I started thinking about how untrue it is that people are more moral nowadays than we were before — this myth of progress. We put most of our moral atrocities out of sight, out of mind — the children working in crystal mines, the young women locked in tinderbox fast fashion factories, the horrors of the 50 million person-strong modern slave market. We are so unused to seeing the raw horrors that people visit upon one another. I worry that many of us would freeze if we had to handle anything complex simply because we’re not called to do so in our daily lives, and in fact, regarding the moral horrors we do encounter in the USA, people do freeze and they do react with unhealthy avoidance and defensiveness. The immensity of human suffering elsewhere makes decisions like picking between almond, cow, and hemp milk seem very trivial. I look at the things that Thích Nhất Hạnh, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Proclus, Damascius, and others had to deal with, and I think … f–k. How does any of us know whether we’d actually be able to handle it? It really drives home how important it is to be globally aware, both in the context of what is happening in the present as well as what has happened historically, to avoid that sense of superiority-complacency.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is Thenmozhi Soundararajan‘s The Trauma of Caste: A Dalit Feminist Meditation on Survivorship, Healing, and Abolition. A blog post (is that what we call Substacks?) shared around several years ago got me thinking about gaps in my knowledge about the South Asian and South Asian diaspora religious climate. It wasn’t something I could get into until after I finished The Soul’s Inner Statues without burning out (and I sort of … did burn out … due to the pace at which I finished the first version of The Soul’s Inner Statues). This ignorance is not unique to me, but at least I am (somewhat) aware of it. Most pagans and polytheists whom I’ve interacted with online think that caste is a uniquely Hindu problem. While it has its roots in some Vedic texts, it is, in fact, practiced across South Asia in all religious traditions, including ones that were founded by people seeking to abolish caste distinctions. It’s a social evil; as Proclus wrote in his Essay 6 on Plato’s Republic, human beings’ reception of the Gods is degraded by corrupt forces in our own cultural substratum, and this impacts what happens when we write myths even when divinely inspired; it’s not difficult to extend his comment on myths to consider other elements of religious practice. It sounds like ancient rich people, motivated by the desire for power and pleasure — people who had just engaged in conquest — deliberately profaned the rites handed down to them by the Gods to fulfill their enagēs desire. Saying that the caste system is wrong is not Hinduphobic, I must emphasize, as this system is present in every religion in South Asia and its diaspora. To me, it’s unsurprising that the oldest Christian denomination in India — which has been there since long before European colonialism — is such a strong advocate for caste, as Christianity also enthusiastically embraced other systems like feudalism, chattel slavery, and so on; European colonialism was set up to benefit both people greedy for money and souls. (Then again, I’m primed to be uncharitable to Christianity because of what happened to me as a child after my family was outed as pagan in a predominantly Christian area in the United States. “There are no crimes for those who have Christ,” as the Abbot Shenoute said fifteen hundred years ago.) The situation in India reminds me a lot of Late Antiquity. Christianity, for example, gets power by converting marginalized people — in the Roman Empire, slaves, women, and lower classes — whom it then shoves under the bus once it has access to the upper classes. So: betrayal and a return to the oppressed status quo and the associated atrocities. (Emperor Julian knew this and had a plan for mitigating Christian hegemony through sweeping social welfare programs, as outlined in his surviving letters, which I’m guessing is why he was assassinated so quickly.) It’s impossible to curtail missionary activity without actually coming to a reckoning with caste and the horrific treatment of Dalits.
Privately, since the mid/late 10s, I’ve been trying to apply pressure to other devotional polytheists (you probably only know who they are only if you are one of those people) because that’s the route recommended by scientific studies for actually getting others to consider new perspectives — not social media callouts, which will lead to someone doubling down. (I’m a very solutions-oriented person and have regretted most public arguments I’ve had on the Internet, so the scientists are likely correct.) I’ve been told by a few people that the treatment of Dalits is insignificant and not worth getting involved in or saying anything about because it’s an “internal matter,” which sounds similar to what people used to say in the USA about domestic violence situations back when women could not even have our own bank accounts and you had to just let your husband or father beat the shit out of you if he didn’t like the way you made eye contact or prepared his tea or breathed.
When I started the book, I braced myself, but I found Soundararajan to be a compelling, strong audiobook narrator even when she was reading sobering and chilling murder and rape statistics, which takes a lot of grit. While I’ve read here and there about caste oppression in India for a while, and I did consider myself somewhat informed, I didn’t know the extent of the violence or about how much Dalit individuals have been denied spiritual personhood, let alone social and physical personhood. Telling someone that they cannot intone sacred chants or enter temples because they are inherently defiled from birth and must suffer punishment is like literally shitting in the Gods’ offering-bowls. It’s a spiritual atrocity, hands down. No wonder Earth is in the mess it is in. And, as I make my way farther and farther into the book, it gets worse. I just finished a section where she revealed that, during sexual violence, Dalit women often have their genitalia mutilated and are shaved and tarred by the ones who rape them, and then they’re prosecuted and jailed for reporting “false rapes.” India’s modern slavery problem involves plantations and factory estates with trapped Dalit workers who risk death by beheadings and other horrors if they step out of line.
I guess if you want to keep your head in the sand, you probably won’t want to read or listen to this book. If you do want to be an informed person, I recommend reading or listening to this book.
Beyond that, I’ve read Polytheistic Monasticism. I liked the essays I liked “On the Custody of the Eye” (Rebecca Korvo) and “Of Hearth and Shadow” (Danica Swanson) the most. A few of the essays seemed like they were simply sharing what a dedicated, quotidian religious practice looks like. While I was prepping to write The Soul’s Inner Statues, it floored me to learn that in Zen, lay practitioners/members are ultimately expected to dedicate two hours a day to their practice, so it’s not just Islam (with its mandatory five prayers a day) that has strong structure and dedication imperatives for its members. Emperor Julian recommended, at minimum, praying in the morning and evening. I also read a translation of Porphyry’s To Gaurus on How Embryos are Ensouled and On What is in Our Power. Previously, I had been one of those people who arbitrarily named the second trimester as the time when I became less comfortable with abortion, but Porphyry’s arguments are still metaphysically solid even though the underlying conception, pregnancy, and childbirth science has shifted, and I’m now comfortable with later-term abortions. The soul comes into the body suddenly and in totality when the ship is ready to receive its captain, so to speak, which happens when it becomes fully self-agenting at birth.
On March 17, the vet called me back about Yoyo’s bloodwork and diagnosed my cat with Stage 3 kidney disease (borderline Stage 4). The vet gave me a link to the end-of-life care chart for cats that’s designed to help pet owners know when euthanasia is the humane course of action. I’ve had Yoyo since I was 17, and I’m 35 now. I had a lot of trouble talking to the vet on the phone because it’s hard to regulate one’s breathing and speak at the same time, and I was trying not to cry (ultimately, I failed). Yoyo is 18 years old, and the indoor life expectancy for cats is 15-20, so this is to be expected. It’s not very professional to be crying in one’s office (where I was when I took the call), especially since we were given glass walls to be visible to students, and I’m hyper-aware that even silent tears harm the study environment and are distracting and disturbing. Thankfully, I was able to re-focus on reading a library database license agreement. The crying triggered a headache along the right side of my face when I awoke the next morning. That’s where I get hormonal headaches and where I had gotten shingles back in September. It’s also the side of my face where I get worse ear eczema from my severe dust allergy. The right side of my head is just a mess.
The upside is that Yoyo’s pain management for arthritis just got easier because there’s a new injection medication that came on the market, solensia, that does not interact with any meds, so she can have the monthly dose until the end. We had tried her on oral gabapentin, but she would stop eating any brand of food it had been in. What I pray the most for is that I make a just decision about when to do the euthanasia. This is a big decision, and I don’t feel prepared to make it. (Does anyone, ever?) May the Fates help me know where her thread’s cutting-point is marked.
As a heads-up, I’ll make a note of it here when it happens, as I’ll go quiescent on the blog for about a month after she passes. My best guess is that she’ll pass sometime around my birthday in June, or perhaps after we shift to summer.
I’ll leave you with the beautiful flowers a coworker passed out on International Women’s Day and which I took home to put on a bookshelf.
2 thoughts on “March 2023: Opening Jars”