October 10, 2013

Neither Fish Nor Fowl Nor Good Red Flesh

That's how I feel sometimes. That's how I feel sometimes. I'm on the edges of neopagan communities because I'm a little too attached to my one pantheon and my classically-informed views of my gods. I've always been too independent to join an established tradition, too much of a hard polytheist, and too focused on research, classical understanding, and cultural context to have get along with members of most of the Wiccan traditions I've encountered, and most solitaries, too. I'm on the edges of reconstructionist polytheism communities because I still feel like there's too much we don't know about ancient ritual and symbolism, and stringing together the bits we have just doesn't always make a satisfying enough ritual; I don't want to give up the modern ritual structures I've been using for many years now that have lots of meaning for me; and I have a deep and intense personal relationship with a couple of my deities that parts of recon communities frown on, apparently. I don't follow a strict enough round of observances, either, apparently. It's not just disagreements about practice, theology and theory, either. So many recon are complete condescending, self-righteous assholes (seriously, I have not only been told I was Doing It All Wrong, and couldn't possibly combined any genuinely ancient bits of religion with anything modern, but when I politely said I thought perhaps this was not the space for me, I was told by a 23-year-old that I was being childish), and so many Wiccans insist that they can have their own facts as well as their own opinions. (And so many are assholes, too.) I've kept a solitary practice for nearly twenty years now, since long before I knew about any reconstructionism, because I never fit in anywhere, and because I'm really just too cranky to be much of a joiner.

I ran across a blog called Suzsmuses recently, and this entry really struck a chord with me. Like Suz, I'm just never going to really fit into either group. I don't even really want to, not for the purpose of practicing together. But I do want, sometimes, to just have people to talk to about it all, about research and ritual and experiences. Even that is so hard to find. I mentioned above my experience at one Hellenismos discussion board. The moderators there claimed that they had the True Hellenismos, told me I couldn't call myself a maenad, and didn't really understand Hekate, and then expected me to stick around to be insulted and talked down to even more, under the guise of "learning something." A neopagan board I tried on somebody's recommendation had me frothing at the mouth within ten minutes from the sheer factual incorrectness, and my choices were basically say something and look like an asshole myself, not say anything and fume, or leave. I left. I don't even remember what it was that set me off that time. It was comparable to the member of a local Wiccan church who told me that Hekate was a Celtic goddess as well as a Greek one, and that she was thousands of years older than the Hellenes. No. Just no.

I've taken up reading various pagan and polytheist (oh, and don't you dare call reconstructionists "pagan," by the way! that's a bad word! and Wiccan is an out-and-out insult, enough to start feuds) blogs again, and occasionally participating in the comments. We'll see how long that lasts before they start frustrating me too badly.

I've been describing myself as an Hellenic-Eclectic Solitary Wiccan for years now, but as my practice slides further towards the Hellenic, I'm starting to think of myself as a Neohellenic. That's an actual word, by the way, and not from the context of any religion, meaning someone who holds classical Hellenic ideas and philosophies, but applies them modernly. I might start using Neohellenic Wiccan, at least in some contexts. Wicca is a religion of praxis: it is defined largely by the rituals and holidays you keep, and I will probably never drop all of the Wiccan elements from my practice. I still cast circle, my working altar has an athame, wand, chalice, pentacle and cauldron, I mark the Wheel of the Year, although mostly as seasonal rather than religious observances. These things mean too much to me now, and I've used them for too many years, and I won't abandon them just because the recons think they're too "fluffy". Of course, many Hellenismos groups and individuals use neopagan elements, too, even if they don't always acknowledge it. I saw a video on YouTube of a Hellenismos wedding in a group in Greece that used handfasting, which dates to the middle ages and is from the British Isles. (Ancient Greek weddings were community festivals rather than religious ceremonies, with no priest presiding over the wedding, although both bride and groom made preparatory sacrifices and underwent ritual purification beforehand.) After all, reconstructionists have to fill in the missing spaces with something, and this is handy. And, of course, they're browsing from fragments of ancient practices scattered over hundreds of years and dozens of cities. (Much of ancient religion was civic rather than personal -- with some mystery cults being exceptions -- and practices and mythology were highly localized.)

But it's ancient understandings of the gods and the world that resonate with me, that best match my experiences, rather than modern ones, even while it's often modern symbols and ritual components that are most functional for me. So I pick and choose the people I'll talk to as carefully as possible, try to ignore the things they say and do that I think are really absurd, and concentrate on shaping my practice to best suit my needs and the wishes of my gods. It's all I can do.