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At the Temple of Apollo

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 see.”

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…

Io Eleusis!

This extended Easter weekend I spent my time at Ft. Flagler on the tip of the Washington peninsula near the San Juan Islands, where we re-enacted and re-interpreted the Greek Mysteries of Eleusis. We use what we know about what happened at a religious center that continuously presented a yearly rite for almost 2000 years. The initiates take an oath of secrecy, which the state upheld, that called for death if anyone should reveal the content of the mysteries. What we do know that happened there that has been allowed to survive in writings, art and sculpture is what we can definitely say was NOT a part of the mystery there.

We know, for example, that it is based upon the mythology surrounding Demeter the Goddess of Grain, her daughter the Kore/Persephone, and Kore’s abduction/marriage/rape by Hades, the God of the Underworld. While there are many myths about this trio, the one that I think is among the most artful is the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The story tells of Demeter’s loss, and how the Mysteries at Eleusis were founded. Doing a bit of digging, I found some critical essays that talked about how this Hymn was likely written by and for women, the evidence being that Zeus, who is normally made out in the best light with the highest authority, is trumped by women–the writer seems to bite her thumb at Zeus’–and thus male and the state’s–authority. An interesting proto-feminist idea.

The myth explains the seasons, why we have barren times, and takes a mythological look at the growing of food. What makes it magical is that our Priests and Priestesses at the Spring Mysteries Festival will Draw Down or invoke the godform into them. While we know that the original Greeks did not do a theatrical show based on the myth, we use it because it is consistent with Greek culture and still speaks to us today. The rest of our festival is ritual journeying, in which we go into the Underworld to save Persephone, and witness how the events transform everyone, including the Gods.

Because the actors are invoked, the play takes on a whole new dimension. There is real energy being worked that radiates and touches the participants differently. Those who come to the festival come year after year because the Mystery changes and touches them differently. One year, I might really feel strongly about Persephone’s difficult decision between her mother and her new husband. Another year, I might totally identify with Demeter’s loss, victimhood and

A phallic "herma" of Hermes. You can tell it's him by the wand on the side of the block. This is from an Archaic vase painting.

perceived powerlessness. So when Demeter is healed, I am healed. The Mysteries demands a lot of us, and I found myself in tears several times this weekend.

My favorite part of our festival is the Shrine time. The Priests and Priestesses of the Olympian Gods invoke and attend the shrines we have built for them. The site has these individual little buildings that are basically 18×12′ . We decorate them with fabric, rugs, statuary, flowers and foliage, and anything else that might represent the individual godform. The Pan shrine, for example, had a 3 foot phallus made of, well, wood. The shrine also had animal skins, pine boughs, and a gurgling rock fountain. Anyhoo, besides the wonderful shrines, you can visit the Priests and Priestesses that have been working with this energy for months, if not years, and ask them questions. They are bringing divinity in a safe and tangible way, and visiting the shrines is an experience you won’t soon forget. It is something I’m writing and thinking about a lot for my book about invocation.

By the time the weekend is over, you’ve had several days of comradery with other Pagans who witnessed the same rights, visited the shrines, and ate the same food. It’s a fascinating way to create community and recharge your spiritual batteries.

I was really involved this year, and spent several months organizing things behind the scenes, so the end of this weekend represents an end to a great deal of work. The events themselves went off with fewer glitches than I had predicted. I expect that is because of the wonderful cast, crew and staff working so diligently. I’m sad that it’s over, but I recognize it’s time to turn my attention to other projects, like school…and this blog….and work. My inbox misses the attention, though. Every year I leave Ft. Flagler dreaming about next year, making new friends and connections in my practical and spiritual life. It is an event not easily forgotten.

Pagan Festival Prepares to Celebrate 25 Years

January 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The Aquarian Tabernacle Church of Wicca, founded in 1979, decided to throw a little festival back in 1985 to celebrate the return of Spring. Now, 25 years later, the festival has grown to include more than 300 attendees from all around the world. The festival takes place at Ft. Flagler on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State over Easter weekend. 2010 will see the festival Thursday April 1st through Sunday April 4th.

The pomegranate symbolizes Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld.

Dubbed the Spring Mysteries Festival, it re-imagines the Demeter’s mysteries at Eleusis. Although much of the exact ritual from Eleusis, Greece has been lost over the 2000 years, each year, a cast produces a version of the Mysteries which inspires and renews the spiritual well of the participants. The story always involves the 12 Olympian Greek Gods and focuses on Demeter, the Goddess of the harvest, and her daughter Kore. After Kore runs away with the Lord of the Underworld to transform into Persephone, Demeter’s grief consumes her and threatens the well-being of all humanity. The participants go on a dangerous physical and spiritual journey to save her, working through many obstacles.

Over the years, the festival has gained many traditions including: a blood-curdling adult right of passage in the bunkers; a row of Shrines to each God and Goddess present at the mysteries which is attended by a Priestess or Priest of that Godform; and a trek down to the sea to give honor and thanks to the Goddess Demeter as they did over 2000 years ago.

This year promises to be extra special, as each participant will get an opportunity to interact with a different Olympian on an intimate level. The schedule has been changed to include a “flash from the past” presentation with pictures and memories of previous years, and an 80’s dance party.

The staples of the festival will still be present, including a variety of merchants, delicious and plentiful food including Vegan fare, a talent show, educational workshops, a healing shrine, and an auction of wonderful items. All proceeds support the church in their many ministries, including hospital and prison ministry. Funds are especially needed to complete the dining hall and gathering space at the church in Index, which threatens to be shut down if the project is not completed during the alloted time in the permits.

Expectations are high for the festival, and beds fill up fast. Registration is open now and the fees increase as the festival nears. A recent tax code indicates that if you pay more than $170 to attend the festival, you can write the rest off as a tax-deductible donation. Include a brief letter indicating your interest in the registration packet.

Production for the festival is well underway. The cast has been selected and this month began a rehearsal process which includes acting and spiritual training to prepare for the festival. At the Dark Moon ritual held at the church this last Saturday, the staff has been selected for the kitchen, registration, and all the other parts of the festival. 2010 promises to be an exceptional year for this long-running festival.

The fact that this festival has been around for so long proves just how Pagans value community and their Gods.