Don’t Look Back

Dead things…dead things everywhere! It is that time of the year when the veil is thin and it is so much easier to walk back and forth between the worlds. Lately, on our walks through New Orleans, we have been finding many dead things.

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Found dead, Acadian Flycatcher, photo by my S.O.

The weather is finally cooling off here in New Orleans and Fall is upon us. My mother sent me this beautiful picture from her garden in Ohio.

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Fate is weaving her web for the new year and it’s time to get ready for the winter.

This is of course the time of year when the Goddess is making her way to the Underworld and it’s hard not to think about Persephone and Inanna and all the other various Underworld Goddess tales we know. The Hades and Persephone myth is probably one of the most well known tales in any tradition or culture and at least here in the US, one that most of us find fairly early on. I grew up loving this story and it has been interesting for me over the years to see how my understanding of the tale changes over time and through aging.

I stumbled across this favorite tumblr meme recently and it always makes me laugh a little.

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The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is of course an excellent example Hades allowing a soul to leave. Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies and Orpheus, who loves his wife so much, goes to the Underworld to ask Hades to allow her to come back to life.

(You can find a beautiful reading of Virgil’s Orpheus and Eurydice in Latin here).

I’ve always disliked Orpheus. His inability to not follow Hades’ directions to not look back bothers me. How can you go through so much to give up at the last minute?

Orpheus is impatient and this is his downfall.

Looking at the dead or the divine or the sacred is a taboo in many cultures.

Semele looks at Zeus and is completely destroyed.

Those who look at the Gorgon are turned to stone.

Pysche looks upon Eros and is cast out of her home and away from her husband and she must venture to the Underworld to win her right to her divine husband back.

Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt.

Peeping Tom peeps at Lady Godiva as she rides by and is blinded for his lack of respect.

But why this rule in the case of Orpheus and Eurydice?

It is often believed that if Orpheus had looked back at Eurydice while she was still technically dead, he would have seen secrets that he, a mere mortal, literally couldn’t stand to see and would, like Semele, be obliterated by the sight of such immortal things.

In the mortal world, we find it important to look someone “in the eye.” Anyone who can’t do so, is generally considered to be deceitful or up to no good. So it’s interesting that not looking is such an important part of myth and fairy tale.

There are many recipes for salves to put on one’s eyes to allow you to see fairy. Of course, if the fey figure out that you can see them, there are also many stories of those who use the salves being blinded by the fey who know what they are doing.

It is never good to attract the attention of the divine or magical.

I stumbled across a short video series by Gia Coppola and Gucci for Vogue, the series is a retelling of the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice using fashion and NY to express the familiar tale.

It’s beautifully done and I love this video series, because Coppola manages to make you understand why Orpheus looks back. In this scenario, I might have looked back too!

 

 

 

 

Aristaeus plays a big role here. In some versions of the tale, Aristaeus fell in love with Eurydice, chasing her so that she is caught unawares by the snake that bites her. Here it’s interesting that Aristaeus is a woman in red, which symbolizes things like love and lust and vanity. She cannot quit watching Eurydice, inadvertently killing the very thing she wants, which is later echoed by Orpheus himself: “Orpheus’s bomber is stitched with the words “L’Aveugle Par Amour”– blind for love. In the film’s last scenes, we hope Orpheus will heed the phrase and keep his eyes off Eurydice, even as we—and he—know that he won’t” (Studeman, 2016). Orpheus is so distraught over losing Eurydice a second time, that he disdains women for all time. Later, the Maenads tear him apart for this hubris.

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I think that one of the things these videos proves is that the old myths are never actually old. They are still relevant to us today and still have many things to teach us, even though things have changed so much between their origins and now.

Don’t look back at the things the gods give us. They bring us only heartache and ruin. The gifts of the divine, especially when we transverse the Underworld, should never be taken for granted.

Don’t eat the fruit of the gods or fairy, unless you’re willing to be entrapped and don’t look at the divine unless you want to lose everything.

During this time of year, when the veil is thin, this is an important lesson to remember.

 

References:

Bonaparte, M. (1954). The fault of orpheus in reverse. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 35, 109. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1298189715?accountid=14437

Studeman, K.T. (2016). Gia Coppola’s New Film Takes Downtown Cool to Mythic Levels: A cast of Gucci-clad scenesters animate the director’s Orpheus series. W. Retrieved from http://www.wmagazine.com/culture/2016/06/gucci-orpheus-gia-coppola-lou-doillon/photos/

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Wicca and Personal Gnosis

One of the most important parts of a  traditional Wiccan training is to teach a seeker how to talk to the Gods on their own, with no intervention of a Priest or Priestess. While the job of a Priest or Priestess is certainly about assisting people in communication with their Gods, any initiate of a Wiccan tradition should be taught how to be able to do this on their own. In my tradition, a great deal of the work and training I do goes towards being able to talk to my Gods directly. I always hate it when I see people complaining about Wicca because “who needs a Priest or Priestess to speak to their Gods for them, isn’t that what Christianity does?” These people clearly don’t understand that the whole point of this process is to put you, the individual, in a position where you can communicate with the Divine. A great deal of the training you receive in a BTW coven deals with how you can talk to the gods directly, on your own: with the knowledge of how to do the work to create a relationship with the Gods and how to do it safely so that you don’t burn yourself out, get stuck, or burn your house or your neighbor’s house down. Speaking to the Gods directly can go really, really wrong if not done properly. Look at the myth of Semele, the mother of Dionysus. Hera tricked her into making Zeus show himself to her in all of his true divinity. She was pretty much obliterated on the spot. There are a lot of stories like this out there. We have learned, through the ages, and a great deal of trial and error, that there are better and worse ways to speak to the Gods, and that it is usually wise to be careful about these sorts of things.

semeleWe do traditional invocation in my coven, which is where a Priest or Priestess gives their body and voice up to their God or Goddess so that that Gods can speak directly through us. We don’t simply do an elaborate reading the Charge of the Goddess or some other reading in Circle; our Gods inhabit us. There is a great deal of training that goes into that as well as the knowledge that this is inherently dangerous to the one who is invoking.  We speak directly to the Gods. When my partner invokes, he doesn’t remember what he’s said or what he’s done, he isn’t there any longer. When I invoke, I go so far into myself, all I see is Her. My physical presence is no longer there, my body is no longer a consideration, what is going on in Circle is no longer important for me to be aware of. I am held entirely by Her presence in me.

So, with all of this talking directly to the Gods, as one might expect, there is a great deal of unverified personal gnosis involved. The tradition itself has it’s own personal gnosis and stories about experiences with the Gods, and each individual Priest or Priestess has their own personal gnosis that they bring to their covens and their teachings. These are part of the things that my tradition would offer you: other traditions inevitably have their own personal gnosis in regards to the Gods as well. Different paths treat personal gnosis differently. This is a part of the body of work that any tradition would offer to teach you. This is why it is also generally important to take the Gods that a tradition or coven works with into consideration when you are considering joining that group. If that tradition doesn’t work with the Gods and Goddesses that you do, it probably isn’t the right tradition for you.

Personal gnosis is something that differentiates modern polytheism from the polytheism of the ancients. It is something that proves that our Gods and our mythology are an ever living, ever evolving religion. As a modern practitioner, the experiences I have of my Gods aren’t stuck in the past. My own personal experiences move my tradition forward for the next generation of practitioners. We are constantly adding to the traditions we practice.

But, and I think this is the important part, your own personal gnosis doesn’t just simply wipe away the body of everything that has come before.

As a Priestess, it is my job to be a repository of all of the traditional myths and legends of my particular Gods. Before I worked to invoke for myself, I was responsible for learning those myths and learning how to interpret and discuss those myths. Just because we end up with our own personal gnosis does not mean that we get to ignore the creation myths and the early stories of our Gods. Our personal gnosis doesn’t negate those principle teachings.

Part of understanding those early stories is understanding the cultures and the history that created them. It’s in looking at how we know those myths: the Greeks and Romans wrote them down directly for us to read in the original today; the Celts had their mythology translated by Christian monks who either deliberately altered them, or simply didn’t understand that these were myths about the Gods. (Look at the translations of the Mabinogion…we know that these are stories of the Gods, whereas the monks who translated them, changed them into stories of normal humans who do some magical things). How does this change our perspective on these myths and how we interpret them?

Reading, learning and understanding mythology is a lifelong task. Add personal gnosis to the mix and we can begin to see why traditions don’t just die out. Personal gnosis keeps us continually on our toes when it comes to our religious paths.

But I also think it’s important to remember where myths and legends of our Gods came from in the first place. Your personal gnosis is relevant to you, but maybe not to the person who works elsewhere with the same God or Goddess. Elani Temperance summed this issue up beautifully over at Pagan Square. She said:

One of my major struggles with UPG [Unverified Personal Gnosis] is that the mere mention of it often seems to cut short any form of discussion about the subject or, and I find this more worrying, UPG gets used to prove a standpoint. The problem with UPG is that it, by its very nature and definition, can’t be verified. It can therefor never be used to give credit to or discredit a viewpoint or hypothesis. I can’t rightfully say: ‘Athena’s eyes are blue’. What I can say is ‘I believe Athena’s eyes are blue’.

Personal gnosis is important in anyone’s personal path with deity. Some of my most important moments have been through personal gnosis. But my personal gnosis is very small in the face of the wider body of work around my Goddess and God. As a priestess (or priest) I think it’s important to remember that.