Monday, July 21, 2014

And now to Athena

As I move on, I move on to the goddess that has been the one true constant in my life, Athena. I will start by retelling a bit about my life so that you understand why this particular deity has been so important to me. 

I was born on the island of Puerto Rico, a beautiful place with a lovely culture and a latinic language (Spanish) with a distinct dialect based in the Southern Spanish dialects of Al-Andaluz, or AndalucĂ­a. To many who speak Spanish in the Americas, the Spanish of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic often sounds a bit low class, because the Andalusian twang and rhythm is, in Spain, sometimes considered low class. However, these are lively, energetic, constantly evolving dialects that can be said to be like the Vulgar Latin of ancient Rome, which was often looked down upon by the elites yet was the basis for all the Romance Languages we know today. 

Puerto Rico is a land of heat, beauty, elemental change, and great history, including some of the first places in the new world where African Slaves were freed, or brought over as free people, to work and build a better life (as well as in chains, no desire to white wash that) and a place where what we often refer to as “Hispanic Culture” blossomed and was passed on into non-Spanish speaking countries such as the USA. (Mexican culture is another great spreader of what is called “Hispanic” though Mexican culture is quite distinct from most others, with the immense influence of native american culture that makes it so special)

So, I was born into a rich heritage that includes the influence of Native Taino, African, Spaniard, and American influences, and part of this is the mish mash of religious traditions, from Catholic and Evangelical to traditional African beliefs that over the centuries has become known as Santeria (it refers to Saints, which are used to represent the traditional African Orishas, or Gods, in a context made more palatable to the Christian rulers of the island for most of its recorded history. 

So through life I was aware of a variety of beliefs, superstitions, and odd practices while my mother rarely if ever discussed such things with us, her children. But I would eventually become semi-familiar with these things as I explored on my own.

It wasn’t an easy life for me. My father left us when I was nine years old, and my sisters were younger, and before that he was abusive to us and to my mother who was herself abusive having never known anything but in her whole life, and by the time I became an adult, I was a mess of a human being who found himself at a loss as to how to actually be a human being, much less a truly good one. To this day I still have trouble caring about people, and love, well, love is a mystery of divine proportions that I may never truly understand, though I admit to having felt something I think is love from time to time. 

I knew I was gay early on, and…

I am not sure this is the right place for  this, but I did experience sex a bit too early in life. I  don’t call it molestation or abuse because it was not an adult who did that to me, but whatever I call it, I only now find myself acknowledging that that experience also damaged me, almost as much as the beatings and verbal abuse of my parents and the absolute apathy of my grandparents.

Know that I do not tell you these things to make you feel sorry for me, you shouldn’t, that boy is dead. I grew out of him and put him to rest, but I did grow out of him, so I find it important to acknowledge him and remember those times when he was so innocent, so cute, so brilliant yet totally unprotected and completely lacking in any encouragement from any corner, be it at home or in school. No one expected anything of me, so I became nothing. 

I developed a dislike for Christianity fairly early on too, and though my mother was abusive and scary sometimes, she was never a religious zealot, so eventually she did acquiesce to my desire not to go to church, and partly she agreed with me, though she still had faith in her god, that the people of the church were little more than hypocrites. Mind you, I might say the same of her, but the bible did teach her to use corporal punishment on her children, so I guess she wasn’t actually being a hypocrite.

I rebelled against it and went full on obnoxious atheist, and by the time I was 13 I was telling anyone and everyone who even said the word Jesus in front of me that they were wrong and there was no such thing as God. But, to be honest, there was still a part of me that believed. Not in Jesus, but that the universe was not just what we see but it had another level, a divine level. Could I have said as much then? No, I did not have the vocabulary. 

It was during this phase in my life, the rebellious pseudo-atheist phase, that I developed an interest in ancient history and ancient myth. I read the Icelandic Eddas, parts of the Finnish Kalevala, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and novelizations of Homer and other ancient tales. I am by no means an expert, though, as I do tend to forget details, which often forces me to look things up that I remember only in outline, but that’s ok, the age of the internet was not so far away, and looking things up would soon become easy as a click, click, and a click.

My teenaged flirtation with these things became nearly obsessive later on, another one of my quirky traits, and I developed a desire to know more about these myths and started buying books by the likes of Kerenyi and Burkert, which allowed me to make a distinct connection between the fanciful myths, which I saw early on not as religious but as superstitious, and the honest faith of a people. Hellenismos. 

It never occurred to me that there could be people who still worshipped these Gods then, at least not early on, but at this point, I had become aware of neo-pagan movements. I knew no details, but as the internet age dawned, it became clear that there were things such as Wicca and Asatru out there, yet it never occurred to me then to search out people who might worship the Greek Gods, because at this point I still didn’t see the Gods and Goddesses of myth as part of a real religious system, I still saw them as anthropomorphized superstitions. But in hindsight I see a path developing here, a path that would lead me to Hellenismos. 

I already said, I am a mess, but I manage to hold down a job, barely sometimes, and what were once crippling issues have abated somewhat today, yet in this phase of my life, my issues were a real and constant problem for me. I had many jobs, some for as little as a month, but one at a restaurant in Stamford Connecticut, where my mother had moved us when I was 12 or so, had lasted me four years. When that restaurant closed suddenly (I could write a rant on restaurants doing that to their employees on purpose) I was able to get a job at another right next door, and there I befriended many people, including a lovely young Greek woman named Maria. 

I have always had an easy time being liked at work, though I find it difficult to make friends outside of work, because I tend to be sarcastic and funny and irreverent, and so one day she invited me to go with her to Greece. I was never able to make that trip, but I asked her to bring me back something, anything, that she thought might say “Hector” to her. 

She came back with tons of beautiful pictures, and some of our co-workers were there with her, and when she came back to work she made me an offering of a gift. A small statue of Athena. 

By this point all the cards were on the table. All the paths in time were heading toward this moment. All the reading, all the assimilation of data about these gods and their myths had lead to this. This moment when the Goddess of wisdom would “reveal” herself to me. 

OK, it sounds a bit like wishy washy superstition, right? I agree, but I don’t see this as some kind of divine sign. Athena didn’t make Maria buy me that statue, but I took it as a moment of revelation, of something that was already in my mind, already percolating in there, and caused it to come into focus, and that focus was Athena and her divine power. 

Understand that I tend to look at the universe and even religion in a rational sort of way. I see the Gods as fundamental parts of our cosmos, and that in their sentient and eternal power lies all the possibility and probability of the universe, but I do not see them as micro-managing the universe. They are not pulling our strings. They may encourage with their presence, inspire with their gifts, but they do not force us to do anything we do not want to do. 

And so it was that I was inspired to take a step onto a path, a path that had, probably always, been leading me to her. Athena, divine wisdom, divine protector of civilization and the art of thought (Science) and the inspirer of philosophy. 

I began my journey onto a path that will likely continue my whole life, a journey of control and self awareness to calm the demons that have plagued my mind for so long.

And so here I am, about to tell you what I feel and think about Athena, my patron deity, who is my guide and lead through life...