I have talked before about some of the work of maintaining a relationship with the gods and goddesses. Keeping them welcome and satisfied requires attention – made concrete in the form of prayers, candles, incense, offerings, and other devotions. As with a relationship with another human, time and attention are key.
But the work doesn’t end there. Relationship with deities are not like vending machines. Two prayers, a stick of incense, and poured out glass of wine doesn’t mean that you get a package with your heart’s desire, ready to use. To truly receive and truly appreciate the gifts themselves, we often must engage – physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Without an ongoing engagement, we miss the true benefits of these relationships and their gifts.
In my personal practice, I am particularly devoted to Apollo and Ceres.
Ceres is a longstanding connection for me, and my interest in her is closely related to my interest in food and plants. She is the one who makes plants grow, which is the cornerstone of all food, all sustenance. Ceres’ gifts are very concrete – she makes plants grow, and she delivers abundance, at least in season. But anyone who knows about farming, or even gardening (my experience) knows that it requires a fair amount of labor to turn her gifts into something usable for humans. Naturally occurring, readily edible foods are fairly scarce. Most types of plant foods – grains, vegetables, nuts, and legumes – require effort to plant, cultivate, harvest, process, cook, etc. Fruit can often be eaten directly after picked, but even there, the planting and harvesting requires human input. Her gifts are abundant, but they aren’t usable without work.
Apollo is a god who chose me, in a sense. One day, he just started talking to me, which surprised me. I don’t think of myself as particularly “sunny”, so I wasn’t sure what a sun god wanted from me. But Apollo is a god of knowledge, culture, music, theatre, philosophy and clear thought. He is a god of divination and oracles. He can shine a light on knowledge, but he leaves the wisdom, the reflection to each person. What he reveals is often, frankly, puzzling. In short, his gifts require work, processing, contemplation. Sometimes, he leaves humans like Cassandra – with a knowledge of future disaster and no tools to avert it or even warn anyone.
I am also devoted to the gods of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, an emergent tradition that I have written about in the past. Each of these gods have a face and personality that requires reflection and lessons. Our writings, our rituals, our tradition gives us guidance as well as a chance to interact with the god. Some of the gods are clearly reflected within ourselves and it’s easy to find an affinity, a connection. Others can be harder to find, but we continue to show them respect and hospitality, knowing one day they will have lessons to impart.
One of the main goals of the Brotherhood, and a prime purpose for our interaction with the gods, is to explore aspects of ourselves as men who love men – gay, bi, queer, trans men in a broadly defined scope. Some conceive of these gods as archetypes that men who love men can relate to, when often the archetypes of other Neopagan traditions seem to exclude us. I have worked with them long enough to see them as distinct personalities and I think of them and treat them as distinct gods. They have often given me unexpected messages that are not simply the result of some abstract idea. They require self-examination and work toward embodying their lessons in a way that is authentic to our self and our identity.
This is the season of The Healer, and I have been thinking about the lessons of this god. What does it mean to be The Healer, a healer of oneself and of others? I have embraced some tools. I grew up in a medical family – my father was a medical technician and then manager of a hospital laboratory for years. My mother went to nurse’s training. Other members of my family worked in medicine in one way or another. Hygiene, nutrition, general health maintenance was a frequent topic of conversation. I embrace using food as an avenue to health, and I am always eager to learn more about the properties and processes of healthy food, as well as making it appealing to those who enjoy it (i.e. cooking).
On the other hand, I am less successful at embracing the healing properties of exercise. My inclination is often to be a homebody, rather than craving activity. I love some types of exercise, such as a walk in the woods, but it is an effort for me to get out and move. Also, I know I fail at stress management. I let stress build up in my body, tightening my muscles and making my stomach churn. It can literally make me sick, and I often fail at reaching out for ways to alleviate the stress and its effects. I also have bouts of depression, mercifully less severe than what I experienced when I was younger, but still present. It can be challenging to reach out for the help I need to ease my situation when those hit. The despair and disconnection can take hold and become a self-reinforcing loop.
So, having taken stock, I will call on the Healer to help me embody some of these better habits, and help me heal myself. I will also call on the Healer to guide me to be open to helping others with their own path of healing – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. This is how I will hope to gain the gifts of the Healer and take another step toward my own transformation.