I stand at the door of Apollo’s shrine–I’m not sure why I have come. Whether I am simply drawn by the energy of this place, or by the serendipity of a short line, I know not.
The Pithia is at the door. She’s the mysterious prophetess of Delphi, and the most powerful women in the world. She invites me to share in her fumes–a heady incense that would take me ages to recognize. It goes straight to my head. She speaks to me, but her words make no sense. By the time she motions me to enter the shrine, my doubt clears and I enter the door. I glimpse the mosaic ‘Know Thyself’ as I commit myself to crossing the threshhold.
Somehow, my frivolous hat with kitty ears seems woefully inadequate to wear when you stand before a god. I couldn’t take it off fast enough.
He is glorious. A young man in a shining chiton of pure white and gold. Clean shaven and well groomed–he looks like that hot professor I never actually had in college. Behind him, a sparse altar with symbols sacred to Him; a vase, a bust of Himself, a crown of laurel, some soil from Apollo’s own birthplace, and several offerings of poetry and writing.
For the scarcity of time, two are allowed inside, and when Apollo the Sun God asks kindly what brings us here, I defer to the woman next to me. She is to be the caretaker and healer of young boys who have seen real trauma and experienced great loss. Boys who have had violence against them and no true father figures in their lives as they were in and out of the system. Suddenly my own desires for Apollo’s blessing seem shallow and contrived. I turn my gaze to the young Sun God, joining in this woman’s beseech, “Lord Apollo, can you heal them?”
“Although I have felt many heartaches and pains that mortals normally bear alone, I am compassionate to your blight where other Gods cannot be. But I cannot heal these young men. I can offer my love, empathy and protection,” he touches the woman, “but you must heal them.”
I can see her breaking down–the weight of such a responsibility is heavy, yet she knows Apollo will be standing behind her, guiding her actions as long as her intention is pure. She straightens herself and seems so brave to me. I know of Apollos loves and losses from my mythological studies. His understanding is real.
He turns to me to ask why I have come. I wring my cat hat and shuffle my feet–I wonder if Hermes has stolen the words out of my mouth, for suddenly I seemed to have more words than I could edit coming out of my mouth at His shrine not fifteen minutes ago. Now I stand before the God of decorum, right action, poetry…and my words and body language reflect none of these things.
“Er, it’s like this…” I begin, “I have all these projects–too many, really. I went to your sister Artemis to ask for her help in finishing what I start. And She said I should see you about, er, getting organized with my writing. Or something.”
That sounded dumb, so I try again, “I’m writing a book, you see. Several, actually. I’m well blessed by your inspiration, my Lord. I just can’t seem to accomplish anything.”
Apollo, the God of inspiration, of song and civilization seems to contemplate me a moment, “Is it one thing you wish to accomplish, or one big thing?”
“It’s huge!” I gesticulate widely in demonstration, “A big idea–a vision–I want to give to the community. It involves several separate writing projects.”
I thought his statement ironic.
“What is the action you must do to begin and sustain this project?”
My mind races–research, interview, find time, support myself, keep the lights on, make the computer work for me…
“No.” said Apollo, reading my mind, “You have to write. What is a book but an accomplishment of chapters? What is a chapter but an accomplishment of pages? Empires and encyclopedias are gained and created by a thousand accomplishments inside a thousand accomplishements inside a thousand accomplishments. Begin with the page. Write what you know. What you put there will be honest, true and perfect for you at that moment. If, when it is done, you find it not to your standards, then you do one of two things: You might honor Athena and delve into research. Or you might honor my sister Artemis, and accept is as practice, and try it again.
“If you are open, I will keep you well inspired, but to become overwhelmed by the big idea and never make accomplishments toward it–that is failure. But looking where you are and seeing how far you have come shows your many accomplishments. It is not a failure simply because you are not at the end.
“The sign above the door says “Know Thyself”, but unless you are a God, it is an impossible task. The goal is to strive toward it. Everything you do something to enrich that is an accomplishment.”
He seems done, but the magic is broken by noisy events outside the shrine. From my place in Apollo’s presence, I peer out the door over the green. I can see Ares stomping away from the shrine he shares with Athene.
“If you would just listen to reason!”
Without a word, but with many grumbles and a flare of cigar smoke, Ares pulls off his armor and kicks it to the ground, piece by piece, and heads straight for Aphrodite’s shrine. He pushes through the long line of worshippers, even shoving Her mermaid attendant out of the way. He swings open the door to Her shrine, and I swear I could see Aphrodite dismiss the Lord of War with a wave of her hand.
Apollo and the other woman and I look out. The young Sun God shakes his head, “My family is so…dramatic, sometimes. O dear. He’s not going into there, is he?”
Indeed, Ares slams the door at the shrine of his lover, and proceeds to a group of Sirens–fierce bird women who would sing to you lovingly as they play with your entrails. Their song lures Him in as they dance and sharpen their claws–the woman and I look at each other with worry.
“Fear not,” Apollo touches our shoulders and invites us both back into his shrine, “If anyone can handle their play, it is my brother Ares. Now, where were we? O yes.”
He blesses us both, and I leave the temple inspired by what I’ve heard and ready to write. But first, there are other Gods to visit. I step out of the shrine into Apollo’s glorious sunshine, and inhale the sweet air of optimism. I spare a glance back for the Pithia, who snakes into Apollo’s shrine–no doubt to drink up the words of prophecy he sends to her. I wonder what my destiny will be, and the outcome of this project. But first, I know, I must write…
Dear Witchful Thinking,
Their seems to be a lot of debate about what is Pagan and what is Wiccan, is their a difference, is it a big one?
That is a loaded question that everyone seems to have an opinion on. Nobody likes to be told that the definition of the word they chose to call their spirituality is wrong. So much depends on who you ask, and in what context. Sometimes the words are interchangeable…and sometimes they’re not! So let’s get clear on some definitions.
How are your SAT analogies?:
Paganism: Wicca:: Christianity: Lutheran
Paganism is an umbrella term. If you are a Christian, than Pagan means “anyone who is not Christian”. This would include Muslims, Hindu, indigenous religions and atheists. However, in the Pagan community, the word has a more specific meaning. At minimum, Paganism is a earth-centered spirituality–that is, Pagans believe the earth is a sacred place. How that manifests is where the diversity comes in. Some believe the sacredness is in the form of Gods and Goddessess (polytheism), others in a belief that the whole earth is alive (pantheism) with spirits (animism). Still others believe that it all comes from a sort of sacred One which may be masculine, feminine, or gender neutral (monotheism).
Most authorities do not consider other polytheistic world religions to be Pagan. Paganism is characterized by its lack of central organization, which would disclude Shinto, Chinese folk-religion, Hindu and Santaria, for example. Because of the confusion, most ethnologists do not use the term, or may differentiate using “Neopaganism” to describe our religious movement. So when I say “paganism”, I really am shortening “neopaganism”.
To borrow the terminology, Wicca is a denomination of Paganism. It is a dualistic religion which believes that all Gods are one God, and all Goddesses are one Goddess. This does not prohibit someone from being polytheistic, and does not limit them to a pantheon. It honors the earth with seasonal festivals on the Wheel of the Year. Another typifying aspect of Wicca is the use of casting a circle to create sacred space, and inviting the elements or quarters in to the circle. The most common rituals are lunar rituals called Esbats, in which the Priestess Draws Down the Moon. It is most commonly a coven-oriented initiation mystery religion, but many Wiccans are now solitary practitioners. All Wiccans follow The Wiccan Rede.
I am a traditionalist and believe that if you do not practice all of the above mentioned things, then you are not Wiccan. You are probably Pagan. Many Pagans cast a circle to create sacred space, even inviting in the elements. And many Pagans worship the Goddess and exclude the God. And many Pagans do Esbats and Sabbats. But Wicca is a specific body of ritual and liturgy with its own system of symbolism and ethics. Pagans, on the other hand, are free to define their ethics in other ways.
The media has utilized the word “Wicca” when a character makes any use of witchcraft. Take the movie “The Craft”: the girls utilize many actual Wiccan liturgy, but have no system of ethics–therefore not true Wicca. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the character Willow becomes one of “the Wicca”, though she doesn’t do a single Esbat or Sabbat, nor follow any ethical code.
Most likely, the Wiccan practices are used by other Pagans as a base for beginning. But Pagans use a variety of other methods. Wicca does not use ecstatic drumming in its liturgy, for example, but that is a feature of shamanism. Additionally, Wicca tends to focuses its pantheons in European mythological traditions like the Celtic, Greek and Norse. I have heard tell of Wiccans using Hindu, indigenous and Voudoun deities in their work, but I consider this to be cultural appropriation (unless you have genuine ties to those religions) since those Gods are still working and living in their own religious communities.
Some other “denominations” of Paganism:
- Reconstruction: Hellenistic (Greek/Roman), Kemetic (Egyptian), Asatru (Norse), Romuva (Baltic polytheism), etc.
- Goddess Worship: such as Dianic and Reclaiming, both out of California. These both use a Wiccan framing for their rituals, but seek to understand the role of the Goddess for personal power and transformation.
- Neo-Druid: Ar nDraiocht Fein, and the British Druid Order are two examples of groups who recognize that what we know about Druid religion is too incomplete for a true reconstruction, so they utilize scholarship and modern philosophy to make this ancient knowledge applicable.
- Witchcraft: All Wiccans are Witches but not all Witches are Wiccans! Witches are folk healers and mediators who practice folk magic. Wicca is sometimes said to be the religion of the witch.
- Shamanism: Usually part of indigenous traditions wherin the Shaman mediates between the world of spirits and our world. They use trance work via drugs, songs, drumming and meditation to achieve their altered consciousness.
- Ceremonial: New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, Thelema and its offshoots. Many of these have roots in Masonic traditions.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure everyone will argue with what I’ve written, but here are some books to orient you some more:
- Which Witch Is Which?: A Concise Guide To Wiccan And Neo-pagan Paths And Traditions by Patricia Telesco
- A Popular Dictionary of Paganism (Popular Dictionaries of Religion) by Joanne Pearson
- What Do Pagans Believe? (What Do We Believe?) by Graham Harvey
- Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives (Religion in Contemporary Cultures) by Michael Strmiska