The Masks They Wear

Well, it’s certainly been a while now, hasn’t it? And not for a lack of anything to say, in fact it’s been a very busy, interesting, frustrating and enlightening year. And that was part of the problem, really: what to say, how much to say and how to actually get any of it out.

This is not the first time I’ve sat down to write this very post, it’s the fifth. The first time was early spring, so these attempts were spaced out. I would get so far with it, and then something would cause me to stumble, I’d glance over what I’d done and it would strike me as all wrong. It served as a good indication that I had not actually gotten to the bottom of the matter yet. So it will be interesting to see if I finish this time and hit that publish button, it might be the final sign that I’ve reached the end of this particular puzzle.

But let’s go back to the beginning. I started the year on a high note, I had managed something I had always struggled with: a consistent daily ritual routine. I’ve been over this before, but to review: my self discipline is garbage and the various disorders that I live with can make that worse. I tried to tell myself, and others, that regular practice was not necessary, that it was an overstrict and unreasonable expectation from overstrict and unreasonable people. I did that for a long time, but eventually I had to sit down and have one of those hard conversations with myself – do I think that because it’s what I actually believe, or do I want to believe that because it’s something I have a hard time with? And I had to admit it was the latter, and furthermore that such people had a point: if you’re going to master something, be good with something, you need to work at it every fucking day. Sporadic attention will only take you so far, and that’s fine if so far is where you want to go; I didn’t, I wanted more, and being as reality will not suspend its rules on account of my difficulty, I needed to change myself.

And I had managed it, for over three months (if I’m being honest it wasn’t every single day, the time covered holidays that involved busy schedules and travel and no time at home, but they were the exceptions, I hadn’t worked out how to deal with the exceptions yet, I was very aware of the ritual’s absence and got back into it the very next day, so I still consider it a win). I was excited, I was going to come on here to brag; and then I hit the wall that has been my obsession for the rest of this year.

It didn’t come out of nowhere, there had been signs along the way (going back a number of years), that I wasn’t sure how to interpret beyond noticing the pattern, that I kept in the back of my mind while focusing on other things. I don’t know if it was a matter of too much time going by, or if it was the string of wins I was wracking up, the layer of solid ground that was developing under my feet, that the gods decided to stop letting me ignore it. There was a shadow growing over everything I did, a certain discomfort building.

You’re missing something, what you’re doing is not adding up. Something is different, something has changed. You need to figure it out.

So I gave up my routine, even knowing I’d have to struggle back up again from the bottom of the fucking mountain at some future date. Some would say I should not have done that, never stop your devotions, and I can see the point of that, really, but at the same time I didn’t know what else to do. Something was wrong and I had no idea what, the only plan I could come up with was to suspend all operations and start systematically poking at the every surface until the problem reveals itself.

So that’s been my year (well, barring the summer where I had wilted into uselessness): poking, testing, getting hints, reading, studying, weaving elaborate theories, making many, many mistakes along the way, often ones that should’ve been easily avoidable. I have, by turns, felt close to the gods and hopelessly distant; intrigued by the new information and the strings of weird coincidences, and ready to slam my head against the wall just to make this stop.

Times like this, my solitary status can feel like a burden. I think back to when I had circles of like minded friends and distant acquaintances I could bounce these ideas off of; people who had been there, done that, and could assist a confused person with a diagnosis. The internet could be helpful with that. But then I also remember echo chambers, spreading trends and cults of personality; I can look back to a couple years worth of alleged gnosis I’d written down that read like inane jumbled horseshit to me now, all from when I’d (inadvertently, and stupidly) drifted into a very insular group where everything was tightly focused on one person’s fantasy life. Questions and gnosis and difficulties can be spun in any number of interesting, and flagrantly incorrect, directions if one is determined to look at things through a particular lens and, intentions aside, someone can be lead very far off course.

And I can do that myself, as well. I’m very much a head person, I live in my own mind and I think, obsessively. It’s both a strength and a character flaw. And left to my own devices, it can run wild. I can lose track of where an idea came from, did it originate with me or outside of me, or if it’s something I noticed in the course of reading does it really have the weight I’m attaching to it? That is a point where I do think having another knowledgeable person to bounce these ideas off of would’ve helped, someone else might’ve better caught some of this before my mind got carried away. It’s often possible to draw lines between things if you look at them long enough, and I don’t mean it’s bullshit sometimes those lines are genuinely there, but it doesn’t mean it’s relevant to you (or not in the way you’re looking at it). There was one error I’d gotten hung up on for a couple months, because I could make a lot of logical sense of it, it all tied in with each other in a way that looked a little too neat and tidy – in my own mind, that is, when put into actual practice it instantly fell flat. I remember the divine commentary on it much later, after it had been put to rest: It was a really interesting coincidence. Still a coincidence.

So why don’t you put it into practice earlier, I can hear someone asking me, since that is the arena where all theories must live or die. And I agree, I know, and yet I don’t do it, I get lost in my own mind and ignore the physical world. And probably end up wasting a lot more time that way. I recognize this, I’m trying to do better, but it’s not always easy to pull yourself out of that spiral.

And another cause of that spiral is left over baggage from the Dark Years: the mental break, the time with that very insular group, the circumstances which produced the inane rambling horseshit that was a big tangled knot of my projections and insecurities and other people’s projections and insecurities. Those years are firmly in the past, but this is the first time since then venturing out into the murky waters of let’s call it spirit work, and I’m finding it intimidating, dealing with UPG or making grand proclamations about how things have changed, when I was so wrong before. I understand better how those mistakes were made, I’m not in a depressive headspace, but there is still that worry, that shadow of doubt. And I need to confront that, I need to get over it; if this is what my life is going to be, and I want it to be, this is one of the conditions that come with that. I have no doubt part of this is all about getting me past that intimidation, and I’ve stepped up to the plate, I haven’t shrunk back from it, from any of the mistakes or only partial truths of recent months; I’m just overly cautious on this first run, and thus obsessing over things maybe a bit too much, maybe demanding a lot more evidence ahead of time than I really need.

And it’s also possible that I’ve been subconsciously dancing away from the truth, every time it rears its head, hints at its existence, for reasons that may range from simple disbelief that this could be the case to maybe a fear of what it will mean. That I keep explaining it away and retreating to a proxy scenario, something that feels safer, something that is close, yes, but not still not right.

That is a possibility that’s become harder and harder to dismiss. I’ve systematically poked and prodded every wall, but there was one place I’d ignored, because it had not occurred to me it was on the table – the surroundings, sure, not the central pillar. But no, it’s all on the table, even, maybe especially, that central pillar.

I’m not ready to make any (semi) public announcements here, past experience has also made me gun shy about rushing into such things and this, I think, is a lesson I should keep. But I am ready to say two things, one that was an early revelation and has since solidified; the other, well let’s say I am also very certain of part of it, even if I am still working out the full extent of it (and if this time I finish and publish, I may take it as an omen that I’ve reached the correct ballpark).

The first was the total abandonment of a Greek cultural framework. That came through early, it was very clear and unambiguous, and my mind had no reason to try and make it so. Probably this message came through years ago, though I had interpreted it as leave the Hellenic Reconstructionst community, which I did, and then had little opportunity to further explore. I actually suspect this has been in play all along, as I think back to the struggles I went through trying to include other elements or other gods from the pantheon, because I felt like I should, and it never working out, often because Hermes himself stepped in and put a stop to it. In trying to pick up a practice again, that was where I defaulted, it was what I knew best, diving back into reading about ancient culture to reacquaint myself and find a good starting place, to maybe follow up on a few things I’d long had an interest in there, and then the foot came down. Forget it, all of it, it’s not meant to be.

Yet the underlying instinct to look for tradition, rather than the grab bag of whatever you feel like, was still present and that brings us, in part, to the second item.

This has been a very slow process, a slow understanding and acceptance, and I think most of the research I’d been prodded on was ultimately about bringing this to light, if in a somewhat roundabout way. That the aspect of Hermes I interact with is a syncretic one. I do not know if this is a more recent phenomenon, if, as in the phrasing I frequently see in oracles, something has changed, or if maybe it’s always been this way. That is one of those questions my overactive brain could take and run away with in a desperate attempt to fully understand this whole mess; I doubt I will ever really know, one way or the other.

The way Hermes appeared to and interacted with me had seemed starkly different from what a great majority of Hellenic Polytheists described (at the time): I didn’t see the Messenger of the Gods, nor the Light Hearted Lord of the Marketplace, or the more recent Holy Hipster of the Internet. I had noticed at the time, but thought little of it. I’d had a few friends then that also counted Hermes as a patron of sorts and saw him very similar to me – I remember remarking on it to them, at least once, that I hardly recognize my Hermes in the poetry shared on e-lists, and having the sentiment agreed with, so I was not in the boat alone. But gods are complicated and some more complicated than others, there were likely very good reasons why we saw the face we did and other people did not, and vice versa. I find it to be a point of curiosity now, lessened perhaps by the presence of those old friends who were then, and still are now as far as I know, interacting with Hermes. Of course the both of them also had far more ties to the rest of the Greek package, whereas he was the only thing keeping me there.

He also rarely showed up with the classical trappings that Hermes ought to have. And I don’t know if that was always true and it just took me a while to notice it, or if it changed at some point. The downside of not journaling I suppose, but I doubt small details like that would’ve struck me worth recording. He did come with a few other trappings that were not attested to in ancient lore or practice, but were very consistently present for me. Again, I didn’t worry about this much, then, only started raising an eyebrow at it when it began growing in more recent times. Because every one of them was something that made logical sense, that looked like it belonged in his sphere even if the Greeks did not recognize it as such, and I could explain it to people in a clear way that they would understand, so it never seemed a problem.

Thing is, the reading I got prodded into doing, even the initial quick bits I was finding through internet searches, all of those extra non Greek trappings, they’re all accounted for at the other end of the syncretization line. All of it. It’s been a little eerie, watching all that come together.

It’s been an interesting journey that has kind of gone all over the place; at the end of this trip through online information, what I could find in my local library (and that could be better) and, *massive tired sigh* very brief glimpses into certain corners of the Pagan community, that I very quickly abandoned lest the insane amounts of drama, argument and infighting I saw front and center put me off the entire endeavor.

(I’m not pretending the community was wonderful when I was a mostly happy part of it, there was always drama, argument and infighting, but it’s not just gotten worse over time, it’s kicked into overdrive. I had seen discussion, among those few people I still pay attention to, about how bad it’s gotten, and yet I was still surprised. I no longer have the energy nor the patience to deal with shit like that, the benefits are not worth the cost. Now I also hear from those same few people, about many small private groups that keep to themselves and just practice their religion; I hope to eventually cross paths with them. Until then.)

Anyway, I ended up mostly focusing on two cultures, two points of interest, one entirely new and…well, one that just kept on coming up, even in my research of the first, but I kept moving away from it, talking myself out of it.

Syncretic deities were nothing I’d ever thought much about, because (or so I believed) I’d never run into one. It’s the sort of thing my brain could also run away with, down some rabbit hole I’d never find my way out of: how does it happen and what does it mean? Does it create a third being, or a meeting place of sorts, a mask that both separate gods have access to? Interesting questions to contemplate, that I could distract me forever until I have what grasp on it my limited mortal view can manage, and the lingering intimidation can make that look like an attractive path (understand what you’re getting into before you get too far off track again). I have to actively push it back.

Thing is, I could’ve dealt with a syncretic Hermes, there would’ve been some perspective adjustments, but that’s fine. But oh noooo, no, there’s got to be another curve ball.

Said curve ball was thrown many months ago, when the syncretic thing was just dawning on me, a brief direct message that had jerked me out of meditation, wait a minute, what the hell does that mean? No further elaboration came, and it stuck firmly in my head ever since, hovering on the sidelines, trying to work itself out.

You may need to get used to calling me by a different name.

I thought it would be a epithet, an addition, a nod to the syncretic side. I’d certainly found quite a lot that would’ve been very relevant. I’d focused most on that first culture and the clear link there, the one that was new and thus unfamiliar. And there is something there, a legitimate connection, I had that confirmed, in an odd bit of UPG I’m not prepared to get into. But said UPG did not involve two figures alone, the number given was three: Hermes, Option One and….oh, I mean I think I know who the third is, probably, but I’m just not sure, sooooo, let’s not worry about it!

*sigh* Fuck it. I know what it is. I know what the name is.

It’s the thing I keep inching up to, and then dancing away from, back to the new and unfamiliar, the close but not quite. Because that other thing, it’s very familiar, from way back. I put myself in the Hellenic community once because Hermes, but aside from them who were the people I was meeting? What did a lot of them have in common? The worldview I quietly absorbed through a good deal of second hand exposure, culture specific terminology I still use? A direction I was nudged into once and has never really been that far away, however much distance I (unconsciously) try to create?

Why that distance, though? Why have I, as I now acknowledge I have, been finding excuses to push it away? There are a couple of potential reasons that spring to mind. One may just be an association with certain people and the headaches they cause me, something that once acknowledged should be easy to sweep aside. Other possibilities might have more to do with me, the implications, what this could mean for me, that might require some introspection, self work, acceptance – a little bit more of what I have been doing as of late.

It could also just be the whole can of worms this opens – the question of who am I now, and have been, dealing with.

From a logical, outside perspective, I can see this makes sense. If I am told to leave the whole Hellenic package behind, if I am prodded to pick up a world view from the other culture, then why keep only the name? Why not make the full move, right? But why request worship in a foreign culture, using someone else’s name, unless…

So what the fuck, my brain screams, what happened here? Will I be dealing with Hermes in a skin suit? Or am I, right now, dealing with you in a Hermes suit? Did something on this syncretic line shift from left to right, from one to the other? Did a change occur at some point and I never noticed? Or was it always this way, and I never realized?

There is something I’m reading right now, not a book I’d sought out but kind of tumbled into my lap through chance just as I was working my mind around this, a book that has answered a few questions, closed a few of those holes in the theory, the what about X, I know X is true and Y doesn’t look like X so what about that – well, here’s another way to look at it, here’s some fine details you may have missed, and maybe that actually isn’t a contradiction. According to what I’ve seen there, that bit about the Hermes suit, that’s very possible. Not just possible, it would almost be typical. Doesn’t mean it’s true, it may have been a change, it may not even be permanent. But it’s not a possibility I can continue to ignore.

Ugh.

I am resolving not to get lost in the literal endless stream of questions and doubt, to act as if and see what happens. It is in action, not contemplation, where all theories live or die. This idea won’t go away, so run with it, flip to the other side, call the other name, worship the other god; if it’s not true I will learn that quick enough, as I have with every other misstep in the last year.

First impressions – uh, yeah. Wow. We are still in the beginning, a reversal could still conceivably happen, something else could still occur, at this point who knows. Quite the start though, like after months of something watered down I got suddenly hit with the real stuff.

And I finished this post. So there’s also that.

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