Hestia’s Rule: Simplicity of Posessions

Continuing on with the Twelve Principles from our Pagan Monasticism project, but first I wanted to mention that each of these is dedicated to (or you could say inspired by) a different deity. I’ll talk about each of them later. It is an eclectic assortment of gods, but we are an eclectic group. (Most of us actually focus strongly on one particular culture or pantheon or one specific god, in our personal practices, but when we come together, we all honor whoever is being honored by whoever is running the ritual.)

2. I will maintain simplicity in my possessions. Avoid rampant consumerism. Buy what you need and keep it simple. If you buy something new when your old one is still perfectly serviceable, find a good home for the old one. Recycle. If you buy for pleasure, make sure that it is something that will continue to give you pleasure for a long time.

looking-out-the-window-1547910This is one that has always come easily to me. I’m naturally extremely frugal. The path I’ve chosen in life isn’t one that leaves me with much disposable income, and that is okay. But stuff seems to accumulate anyway.

Growing up, this was never a problem. My mother didn’t like living in one place for more than a couple years, and every time we moved was a time to reassess each item you own to see what will come with us to the next house. Mom would say, “Here is your toy box. You can keep what fits in the box.” You don’t buy a lot of stuff when you live like that.

It was a hard adjustment for me, moving in with Raven. Living in one place, even for just a decade, you tend to accumulate a lot more stuff. (And Raven and Bella both like stuff.) They don’t actually buy much, but stuff just shows up, mostly gifts or barter. (“I don’t have much money, because my husband ran off with another woman last month. Do you want his circular saw? He left it behind.”)

Our house is sort of a retirement home for other people’s stuff. It is where stuff goes to live out its last few years before it goes to its final resting place, or to seek out some last hope of possibly being useful. Much of the stuff has already lived a hard life. Most of it is in too rough shape for a charity shop to take it. Some of it was of marginal value to begin with.

I’ll repair whatever I can, but there is a lot I can’t repair, and with modern manufacturing, paying for skilled repair is generally substantially more than the replacement cost of nearly anything I can afford. I love the idea of “Buy quality goods that will last a lifetime.” but the few goods still made to last a lifetime are generally laughably out of my price range. Besides, accidents happen. A few years ago, I bought a nice quality durable pair of pants, for the first time in my adult life. They cost almost ten times more than any other pair of (thrift store) pants I owned, meaning something like $60. I told myself they were a good investment. The second time I wore them I knelt down to see what had spilled under the washing machine and realized I was kneeling in bleach. I haven’t bought another pair since. Perhaps it is because a decade of owning things that were only two steps away from the trash heap has made me exceptionally careless with my things, but I’m at a point where quality goods seem like a foolish and risky investment.

I found that as my budget got tighter, it was harder and harder not to accumulate stuff, because I couldn’t let go of stuff as easily. “What if I need it?” became a much more serious question when replacing it was no longer a trivial option. Not long ago, we were given a secondhand blender. Our old blender (despite being chewed by the dog) still works, but I don’t know anyone who wants my dog-chewed stick blender. I can’t bring myself to throw away a fully functional blender. Eventually this blender will break, so why not keep the old one as a spare?

Anyway, I’m about to enter an exciting reevaluation of my personal possessions. I am moving into my VERY OWN ROOM next month, right after I put down flooring. When we were planning the extension on our house, I desperately wanted a room entirely of my own, and the only space available was a tiny little slice of attic. Wide enough for a bed at one end, a closet at the other, and a sloped ceiling that is only full height in the area right between the door and window. I can squeeze in some shelves, and maybe a little desk or something, but I’m going to have to be very selective about what I keep. (My computer and office stuff can go down into the new office downstairs, and my musical instruments can go with all the other instruments.) I’m excited about the new room, but I’m also excited about the challenge of making such a tiny space work for me, the discipline of cutting down to what is really essential.

Iduna’s Rule: Purity of Body

I will maintain purity of body. Take care to maintain the heath of the body. Give it what it needs and avoid what harms it. Listen to your body. Make as much of a effort as you can, given your means, to keep from ingesting the pollutants of modern industry and agribusiness.

ugly-70-s-fitted-kitchen-1474092That is Raven’s description from the Pagan Book of Hours site. Personally, I’m not exceptionally concerned with the health effects of agribusiness; my concerns with it are primarily environmental. (“Purity” shows up in a few of these Principles, and it is an odd choice of words, given that they are explicitly not about strictly defining certain things as “pure”/”holy” and other things as “impure”/”sinful”. But I’ll talk about that later.)

Maintaining and improving the health of my body has been a primary focus of mine for the past few months. Part of the motivation is that I had mononucleosis about a year and a half ago, and recovery has been a very slow process. It was a year before I was even diagnosed, and my doctor said that two years is not an uncommon time frame for full recovery.

So, for the past year and a half, I’ve been feeling pretty lousy. Not disablingly ill, but dragging through daily life, needing a huge effort to do even simple things. I’d been really busy with work, but I’d promised myself that over the winter, I would spend time taking care of myself. And I have been steadily working on that since November.


For me, the three big things are eating a reasonably healthy diet, getting decent sleep, and getting physical exercise. I get all neurotic about them – especially about food – but really I know that it is pretty simple.

It isn’t about losing weight – I’m skinny. It is about honoring my body. It is about giving my body what it needs to thrive. It is about experiencing the full joy of embodied existence.


I need to be eating primarily “food that is made entirely of food”. My partner is on a super restrictive diet to deal with his intermittently life-threatening chronic illnesses, and I am blessed with a body that responds pretty well to pretty much any food. I’ve got to take it easy with the sugar and caffeine, or I get kind of crazed, but aside from that, there is no reason for me to have a restrictive diet.

Right now I am just trying to get in the habit of eating a decent quantity of meat and veggies. Left to my own devices, I’d pretty much live on nuts, grains, and dairy. Mac & Cheese. PBJ and milk. Maybe the occasional eggs or tuna. No veggies. Not much meat. And if unsupervised – sugar, sugar, sugar, caffeine, and sugar. I actually really enjoy meat, veggies, and all sorts of food, when someone sticks them in front of me. I just never tended to bother.


Sleep is more problematic. I know my body wants to get up with the sun. My life does not. My longstanding habits do not. My lazy ass does not. My internet-procrastinating mind does not. But my body and soul want to get up with the sun. So I get into this pattern of staying up far later than I need to, and getting up far earlier, and being exhausted all day. Or laying awake for in bed hours. I’ve got a bunch of reasonably effective strategies to deal with it. It is just about having the discipline to implement it, especially when my partner often works until 2 or 4am.


Physical exercise is such a weird one for me. It is incredibly satisfying, but I procrastinate terribly on it. I’ve been doing yoga for years. I started doing kettlebell workouts recently. I go for short runs with the dog. None of these are loathsome activities. I’ve done some loathsome workouts in the past. These ones are pretty easy and and enjoyable. The yoga makes my body feel good, and the kettlebells are putting some muscle on my scrawny frame. I’m reasonably good at them too. Not great, but not at all discouragingly bad. And I see real progress when I put the time and effort in. Yet it is still so hard for me to do. I keep turning it around in my mind, like, “Why am I so resistant to doing this? Why do I drag my feet about it?” I don’t quite know why. It seems like all the other things that I’ve faced with similar reluctance are actively unpleasant, or scary, or discouraging, or overwhelming. The degree of reluctance just seems way out of proportion with the actual experience. It frustrates me, because I think of myself as a pretty self-aware person, but I really don’t get it. I keep feeling like, “If only I could get into a routine, this would be so easy.” So I’ve been trying on that, but life gets in the way and I don’t have the discipline to hold it.


So that is how I work towards Purity of Body. Oddly enough, my primary source of support and encouragement in this has been the online community at NerdFitness.com. And while my root motivations for this are solidly grounded in my spirituality, and I continually think about it in those terms, I am more interested in connecting with people whose fitness interests are similar to mine. I don’t have much desire, in general, to talk about the spirituality of it. I just want to talk about kettlebell stuff, and post recipes, and do enough handstands and pushups to help my Sith teammates crush the Jedi.

The Twelve Principles of Clarity

The prayerbeads have sets of three large beads (black, blue, and white) for the three Horae. Between that, they have four sets of twelve beads. The first and last of these are beads representing the Twelve Principles of Clarity.

I feel odd calling them rules, because they are hard and fast “You must X” and “You must never Y”. They are areas of life where you can focus your spiritual discipline, areas where we tend to get screwed up.

We asked for inspiration on what would be appropriate “rules” and there were twelve gods who stepped forward. I think this was the start of the “everything seems to be in twelves here”, but at some point Raven noticed that they line up with the astrological Houses.

When we were initially working on the Order of the Horae project, Raven wrote up descriptions of what each of these rules might look like for a Pagan monastic order. I’ll link to each of them as I go through each one, but I’m a little ambivalent about it. This is stuff we wrote years ago for a project that never got off the ground, not stuff that has ever seen real-life application. This was at a time when Raven had received a terminal diagnosis, and we were both doing a lot of thinking about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Fortunately, Raven is too stubborn to die just because the doctors tell him to.

The handful of other interested people have either gone their separate ways, or, like me, put this on the back burner. Whenever I look at that site, I want to edit the hell out of it, but it is hard to even know what to say. The subject came up a few weeks ago, and I realized that I’ve got a lot of raw emotions about it, a lot of anger and despair about our “imaginary monastery”. The next day, a friend who I’d never spoken to about the project, just spontaneously started talking to me about how she found inspiration in it, and that “something like that” is her “retirement plan”. I feel like that was a message for me, that something will eventually come of this, if only a handful of us doing our little thing together. So a lot of why I am writing here is to work through some of my feelings about this.

In the Name of Eirene…

In the Name of Eirene, Keeper of Peace…


(I’m pretty sure this is either “eye-REE-nee” or “eh-RAY-nay”. I tend to say the latter. It is also spelled “Irene”, pronounced the same, just another way to attempt to write “Εἰρήνη”. I generally have a strong preference for whatever version of a god’s name doesn’t sound like and isn’t spelled liked a different familiar word or name. If I write it “Irene” I am going to say it “eye-REEN”.)

Writing these posts, I’ve actually been doing a tiny bit of research on these gods. Generally it doesn’t come to much, but the case of Eirene, again and again you see Peace portrayed primarily as a time of agricultural abundance. Hesiod’s Works and Days 212 explains that when rulers are honest and just, the land will prosper. Not in the obvious sense that men who aren’t off at war can stay home to tend to their livestock, and invading forces will not burn your fields. That is obviously bad for prosperity. But this was directly, in the sense that a peaceful society invites the blessings of the gods, especially Eirene, which makes the land fruitful. For “men who do true justice”, “The earth bears them victual in plenty, and on the mountains the oak bears acorns upon the top and bees in the midst. Their woolly sheep are laden with fleeces; their women bear children like their parents. They flourish continually with good things, and do not travel on ships, for the grain-giving earth bears them fruit.”

(As an aside, this is the second time this month, looking at classical Greek stuff, where I’ve seen sailing casually contrasted with harmony and abundance. The other was a reference to the golden age before written history, when men lived in harmony and and did not yet know how to sail ships. I can make some guesses about that, but at some point I should ask one of my Hellenic friends.)

The concept that keeps going through my head is, “Do what you must to maintain Justice, but always, always, return at once to the work of Peace.” And the work of Peace is not diplomacy or mediation or non-violent protest – those are tools of Justice. The work of Peace is what you do when you are not struggling to obtain Justice. It is work that sustains and nourishes. Till the fields, shear the sheep, delight in art and music. Through your own labor, sustain yourself on the abundant earth, and you will have no need to seek wealth by conquest. Eirene “honours a city that reposes in a life of quiet, and augments the admired beauty of its houses, so that they surpass in prosperity the neighbours who are their rivals.” “How far peace outweighs war in benefits to man; Eirene, the chief friend and cherisher of the Muses; Eirene, the enemy of revenge, lover of families and children, patroness of wealth. Yet these blessings we viciously neglect, embrace wars; man with man, city with city fights, the strong enslaves the weak.” (Quotes from Theoi.com.)

I hate to reduce plain statements to metaphor, but I’ve got nothing to say about politics on a national or international scale. I think about this in terms of a small community, and an individual’s relationship with the world. How we should not be so quick to set our work aside, and fight. How when it is necessary to act in the name of Justice, we should return to the Peace which is our natural state. Unless we are truly called to be Daughters and Sons of Justice, and make that our life’s work, we mustn’t identify ourselves by the battles we face. And those Daughters and Sons of Justice, remember that what they fight for is for the people to live in Peace.

In the Name of Dike…

In the Name of Dike, Keeper of Justice…

Dike Astraea

An 1886 representation of Dike Astraea from the Vermont State House, thanks to Wikipedia.

First off, there seem to be a a few ways to pronounce this name. I prefer “DEE-kay”, solely because I have trouble not snickering pronouncing it like “dicky” or “dykey”, but either way it is two syllables. She’s generally depicted as holding scales, but unlike many modern depictions of Lady Justice, she’s not portrayed blindfolded.

So, we’ve got Rules and Justice. How are disputes mediated? How are rules enforced? When are exceptions made?

This post has sat unwritten, on my todo list, for more than a week. I’m not quite sure where to go with it, and it winds up being mostly questions with no answers. But perhaps that is appropriate? In any case, I don’t want to get stuck here on #2 out of 60.

So, who has the authority to interpret and enforce rules? How much authority do they have? What actions are taken to restore Justice to a situation? What will be fair? What will be for the good of the community? What if those are very different things?

I think the hardest bit is how to restore Justice without breaking Peace. Or at least breaking only mindfully, for good reason. Whenever you bring up an issue of injustice, someone’s peace will be disturbed. It is easy to say, “Well, it must be done. Justice is more important.” but especially on the scale of a small community, that mindset can lead to endless bickering over what is fair, and who owes who what, and whose side are you on. When do we put our grievances aside, accept things as they are, and just try to live together peacefully? When do we decide the injustice is too much, and something must be done to set things right?

But what should be done? What actions will restore justice? I’ve often heard it said that when most people say they want justice, what they actually want is revenge. They’ve decided that the only way to restore balance is for the other person to suffer in proportion to the suffering they caused. Punitive justice, rather than restorative justice. But then, things that work wonderfully in small, close-knit communities can become appallingly unworkable on a larger scale. And the difference is even greater when you consider an entirely self-selected, voluntary community, as opposed to one you are born in and have few alternatives to.

In a small spiritual community, I would thing the balance of Peace and Justice would tend heavily towards Peace. I’m likely terribly biased in this, because my own spiritual path has lead me, again and again, away from advocating for my own interests, away from logical analysis of what is fair and who is obligated to do what. Again and again, it has lead me to forgiveness, to generosity, to accepting things (and people) as they are.

I suspect that has nothing to do with the inherent value of Peace rather than Justice, and everything to do with how spiritual growth pulls us out of our old patterns, whatever they are, to give us a more expansive view. I’ve never been reluctant to stand my ground. I can easily see how for someone whose default was to yield to whatever injustices were imposed upon them, to accept unwarranted blame in the interest of reconciliation, they could find enormous potential for growth in learning to advocate for themselves, to seek justice for themselves and others, to stand firm when told to “not rock the boat”. Either path can be done poorly, and either can lead to spiritual transformation.

In the Name of Eunomia…

In the name of Eunomia, Keeper of Rules…

jacob_jordaens-_alc2b7legoria_de_la_pauWe start, and continually come back around to, the gods the Order was named for. The Horae, or the Hours, are Greek goddess of both the cycle of the year and the natural order of society. I am not a scholar and Classical stuff is really not my thing, but you can read a good deal about them on the Horae on Theio.

Monasticism, in general, is a way of living day to day deeply in harmony with whatever your order sees as the foundational elements of their religion. Life is structured to cut away what does not directly serve that purpose, to remove the various compromises made by normal people of faith who have day jobs and family responsibilities. Each order carves a slightly different path in that regard, some focusing on the study of scripture, some on  charity, some on asceticism. When we initially developed the concept of the Order of the Horae, we had to decide where we would carve that path, knowing that this was only one possibility among many.

We talked to others who were exploring Pagan monasticism, and we quickly realized we were specifically not interested in a Pagan commune where everyone just sort of does their own thing, and does occasional rituals together. There is a place for that, but we were envisioning something more structured. Something with Rules. And yet, we felt that rules need to be kept in balance with other forces. That is really at the heart of polytheism – that powerful forces are balanced by other powerful forces, and that is what makes a coherent whole. So what are the forces that balance Rules?

It was this line of inquiry that led us to the Horae. Three Greek goddesses, Rules, Justice, and Peace, with the idea that all three are needed together, in balance. Well, you could philosophize for ages over the that statement, argue for or against each one and come to many different conclusions, but that isn’t what we did. We had already established that the foundational concept of this Order would be the turning of the seasons, the cycle of the year, so when we found this set of gods, linking the natural turning of the seasons to structured human world of an ordered society, we knew we had found our keystone.

So, we start with Rules, Eunomia. Not even specific rules at this point in the discussion, just the concept of Rules. The concept that we could come together to live in community, and decide that we want Rules in our lives, Rules that help keep us on our spiritual path and Rules that define our social contract. The concept that Rules are not merely a stifling cage we must fight our way free from. Paganism is, at this time, very much a counter-culture movement, full of rebellion and rejection of authority. A lot of people need that, and they thrive in that free-flowing, largely undefined atmosphere. The Order of the Horae is not intended to suit everyone. It is just defining a specific path, and that path involves Rules.

The line continues:

In the name of Eunomia, Keeper of Rules, Horae of the Upraised Hand, I am bound by the Law of the Universe.

There is more to say about the rest of the line, but I’ll get back to it when this line comes around again. This is enough for now.


Back again, Prayer Beads

I’ve again got a temp job where I basically babysit an empty office for 13 hours straight, so it is a good time to do some writing.

Some years ago, a few Pagans interested in monasticism brainstormed what an eclectic Pagan monastic system might look like. From that the concept of the Order of the Horae. A lot of thought and prayer went into it, but it remain a fairly distant dream. None of us are in a place in our lives where we could do something with this, but it is something that a few of us continue to hold in our hearts, as our retirement plan. 

beadsOne thing that came out of the Order of the Horae project was the Pagan Book of Hours, a large collection of short daily rituals. Another was the Twelve Principles of Clarity, a set of ideals for behavior and attitude. And one small piece was a set of prayer beads, that are a recitation of those principles as well as short prayers to each of the gods that we were inspired by in this project. For the past month, I’ve been reciting those prayers every night before bed, and since I do well with having structured writing prompts, I thought I would go through, bead by bead, and write about each one.

Q19. How do you incorporate movement into your worship?

A few years ago, I went to a great workshop by Shauna Aura Knight about raising energy in ritual via movement and voice, and while it was great, my attempts to incorporate the techniques into our group rituals was not met with enthusiasm. In general it seems to be too far outside people’s comfort zone. We are coming up on Beltane, and even at a late-night bonfire with a fair amount of alcohol, I’d say that a solid half of the participants will not be at all interested in doing any dancing around it. I’ve heard from quite a few people in our group who would never go back to a group where they were expected to do “spontaneous expressive movement” or anything similar.

We’ve seen a lot of discomfort with asking the group as a whole to do any kind of participation beyond 1) Repeating short spoken lines, in unison. 2) Stand in a circle and hold hands. 3) Pass around items or put specified items on the altar. Chanting and clapping is usually okay, on occasion, provided they aren’t expected to show much enthusiasm. A few people will volunteer to read invocations off a card, carry a banner, pour an offering, etc. but “shy and awkward” seems to be the norm. There are less than a dozen who are okay with singing in a group, and a small handful who will do anything more movement-oriented.

In my private worship, I am more body-centered, more movement-oriented, but still, it is a challenge for me. My concept of “religious worship” growing up was about sitting politely in rows and following a well-defined script. When I see people who are able to unself-consciously do expressive, free-flowing, unrehearsed movement, I am really impressed, but I am just not there. It is one of those issues I can’t seem to wholeheartedly pick up, but I have not been able to put down. I can’t just look at it and say, “Eh. Not my thing.” because on some level I know that it is my thing. I’m just not there yet.

Q18. What does fertility mean to you?

Personally, my concept of fertility is fairly literal and biological. There is a spiritual dimension to it that goes beyond the act of procreation to a more fundamental expression of life, but the reproductive process is an essential manifestation of it. I don’t just mean human reproduction, but also plant and animal, and the latter is more relevant to me. When I think about “fertility” the main thing I think about is abundant food, and nature teeming and overflowing with life, not human babies.

I might feel differently about it if I’d had kids or thought I would ever have kids. (I don’t want to get into details, but even if I weren’t gay, I’m infertile due to a medical issue.) The closest I’ll get to raising kids is babysitting my partner’s daughter’s kids, when she eventually has some.

Even then, my primary focus of worship – Frey – is so strongly agricultural, so I think I’d still see fertility as primarily about food. I eat food every day. I have livestock that needs to get pregnant to give milk and to have babies we can raise and eat.

My impression is that many of the folks in my tradition either see “fertility” as primarily about human-procreation and don’t find the concept particularly relevant, or they have a more metaphorical understanding of it that includes any “process of creation” such as writing a book.

It is April, so we are planning for our Beltane campout and rituals. That is a holiday very focused on fertility, with an emphasis on the procreation and how the bringing together of male and female is what creates new life.

This poses an interesting dilemma for us. For our Maypole ritual, we want there to be a couple representing the Green Man and May Queen to embody that aspect of fertility. After extensive discussion and prayer, we decided that this means they must not only be fertile, but they must be quite comfortable embodying that biological role. That doesn’t mean the Green Man needs to be the manliest of all men, just that he be fully comfortable with the male role, comfortable with the idea of fathering a child, and have a fully functional male reproductive system. Same with the May Queen. Sure she could be a little butch, but she’s got to be able to deeply connect with that Maiden-becoming-Mother role and she’s got to be able to physically embody that role.

We also require that at some point shortly after the main ritual, they go to a private space and have sex. Because of that, we require that they be in some kind of long-term romantic relationship. That isn’t a gods-mandated criteria, just an attempt to ensure that they’ll find it enjoyable and natural to fulfill this part of the role, without emotional drama or nervousness. Also, if we’re going to ask people to have sex for our ritual, we want it to be people who were already having sex with each other and plan to continue doing so for a long while, so there isn’t any sense that we have coerced them into doing this. We’re not asking them to do anything they weren’t already doing. We are just asking them to do it in the afternoon in a tent in our woods, in complete privacy. We’ll take their word for it.

The first part of the dilemma is that some people who might want to fill the roles don’t qualify, for one or more reasons. The second part of our dilemma is that almost no one in our core group fulfills all the criteria. We don’t want to use the same couple over and over, so we’ve often got to look pretty far afield to find a fertile, heterosexually-paired (though not necessarily heterosexual) couple, both comfortable with embodying these reproductively-defined roles. They also have to be “Pagan” (under the broadest conceivable definition) and, most importantly, they must be able to give us a firm commitment that they will show up for the ritual!

So this year, we are still on the lookout.

Q17. What qualities should a leader in your tradition possess?

(image by Svilen Milev, on sxc.hu)

This is somewhat timely, as we’ve just started the process of training the potential next leader of our church in this past month. Our current leader isn’t ready for retirement any time soon, but he needed someone to take over certain responsibilities (at least temporarily) and the person who stepped up to help him — his daughter, Kricket — is someone who may eventually take his place in ten or twenty years.

If I’d answered this question a month ago, I would have answered very differently. I probably would have talked about skill at running ritual, diplomacy and conflict resolution, and inspiring others in their spiritual challenges.

But in light of this recent development, I think I’d have to say that the essential quality required of a leader is a lifelong commitment to serving this community to the best of their ability, and a sense of personal responsibility large enough to carry that obligation. The rest are skills that can be learned.

Kricket is young, and not very experienced. She shows good potential, but she has a lot of growing and learning to do in order to fulfill this role. There are other people in our group who have more skill and more experience, but Kricket is the person who stepped up. She is the one who has expressed the kind of commitment we are looking for, and that is what clarified for me that commitment is really the essential quality. Nothing has been decided at this point, and nothing will be decided for quite some time, but when it is decided, I think that anyone interested in taking on the role will be judged much more on their commitment and responsibility than on their skills, experience, or reputation.

It is hard to say exactly why that lifelong commitment is so essential, but I think that largely it is because we see this role as being the embodiment of a certain archetype, not just being the person in charge. When you take that role on, you are taking on a spiritual obligation that goes beyond just running rituals and mediating disputes. No one, no matter how skilled, would be accepted into the role without a deep understanding of that obligation.

The leader also would need to be approved of by the gods. That is how the first leader of the group was chosen – the three senior members drew lots. This time around, it would likely be a less “random” process, but something would have to establish that it was the will of the gods that this person take over leadership of the group.