Maintaining Memory

Ancestral Altar

                               Ancestral Altar

If my family got together and spoke to me once a year and walked away thinking I’m all better for it, they better think again. How do your ancestors feel? Samhain/Shadowfest/Feast of the Dead shouldn’t be the only time we commune with our beloved Dead. They have a right to commune with you, to be fed and honored.
Honor your past so that your present has meaning and your future is blessed.

It’s That Time of Year
This time of year is interesting in the NeoPagan world, because many of the people and groups influenced by Traditional Craft and are DIY Wiccans honor their ancestors on Samhain. By the by, DIY Wiccans is now my term of preference rather than “eclectic Pagans” and “NeoWiccans.” Feel free to use it. Anyway, Samhain is an important part of the NeoPagan Wheel of the Year. If you pick up any 101 book, it’s a night of sorrow and joy to feast with the departed. Many will even state that it’s a wonderful night to divine, and mediumship is popular. Black robes, lit candles, and processional chants with shrines hallowed for passed loved ones (including animals) are the highlight of the festivities. Some folks incorporate what’s known as a “Dumb Supper,” a silent meal shared by the community in honor of the beloved dead.

My quote above is not to go against the Wheel of the Year and be disrespectful towards this sacred day or the people who celebrate it. It is special and very important because it connects the community with the realization of Memory. But if the dead are so powerful and existent, why not continue to celebrate them beyond Samhain/Shadowfest/Feast of the Dead? They subsist as you and I do, but in a different reality than what many of us are used to. In this blog I won’t go into hauntings and my personal take on them. I don’t want to lose the focus here, which is that many modern communities, for the most part, have severed themselves from the living well of Memory. To many the dead aren’t as interactive and alive, or if they are they are not fed to maintain their egregore with the family unit.

The Wellspring of Memory
An abundant stream of consciousness that finds its source in the Underworld cauldron of wells and trees, the Wellspring of Memory is the most powerful contact that a people have with their lineage. It is something within our very DNA that births and links generations upon generations with their past, so that they might carry on the continued work of their ancestors. We honor the past by being alive, by overcoming the odds and becoming more than what we are on a daily basis. Each time we grow into self actualization, we are culminating into the peak of what our ancestors have fought and conquered so much for. Memory is a living fabric connected to the strings of Ananke, of Fate: a golden thread which connects all people. But in a family unit, a specific clan within a tribe within a nation, the clan is banded together with their own stories and songs which may be similar or different than the tribe and nation they belong to. And these stories and songs of the ancestors were passed down to succeeding generations at one time. People were proud of their heritage, and some still are. My own family is just discovering our lineage through mementos and photographs. We are informing one another, thanks to my mom who set the whole thing up, about our family histories. Knowing these informs me of my own spiritual practices. Why? Because I believe that blood and bone never die.

The Body of Memory
The immense information held deep within the blood and bones of who we are, the Body of Memory is the vessel that is evidence of the past succeeding into the present. It is the caricature of triumph held within our very flesh. Like I said above, if my family all spoke with me once a year and thought that was okay, they better think again. Many of us hate to be disconnected and feel alone. Loneliness is the requiem of companionship, and humans are nothing if not social creatures. We evolved that way. It’s how we’ve been able to thrive for hundreds of millennia. It’s not enough to know you meet someone and you have similar tastes in music, art, films, drinks, food, etc. It’s not enough to simply have a family or even friends around us, because loneliness is a disassociation of the soul: the soul has forgotten why the connection to the living exists in the first place. It has forgotten the message of Memory, the stream of consciousness connected to Ananke that underlies all of us. There is no clan, no Mythos, no tribe, no rites of passage to pass on the past to the present and give us hope for the future. We have forgotten that our bodies are a living testimony.

The Shrine of Memory
As the living are lonely, so are the dead. They aren’t frightening, just sad. Many folks have a shelf or several in their homes that has photos of the their departed loved ones. They frequently look at them and smile, saying, “Happy birthday dad” or “I miss you brother.” Today lots of folks also have Facebook pages up to memorialize the deceased. This is commendable, because it demonstrates that within our very being we are desiring to acknowledge that our bodies are the central whirlpools of energy within the stream of Memory: in other words, we are desperate to remember and keep something alive within us. The only way to be truly alive is to maintain the shrine of Memory. A shrine is a shelf or flat surface that acts as a house. This “house” has photographs and mementos of the beloved dead. Candles may be lit and offering bowls may be present. This shrine is the external manifestation of the internal stream. This is the central point that our inner energies are connected to. The building and maintaining of a shrine to the dead is not only ancient, but it is where we actually weave the strings of Memory and Ananke to tie us always to the spirits. We establish the foundation for an egregore. After that, it is up to us to continue to remember the dead not just by being alive, but by helping them to not be lonely. We need to acknowledge them all of the time. We need to feed them, care for them, and speak with them. They are desperate to speak and help us. Many, myself included, are learning or have learned to ask them for assistance rather than a Deity because the ancestors are closer to us. In my temple, we honor the dead before we call on the Gods, because it was our ancestors who taught us the stories of the people. They revealed the spirits and Gods. They contacted the Old Ones and shared these so that we might be able to have an identity and be a part of something greater than ourselves: to bring honor to them. Honoring ourselves is honoring them.

Oracle of Nyx

The Star Goddess

The Star Goddess

In Darkness is where Wisdom and Knowledge can be found. In the things we choose to ignore and not give any attention to – those are the very things that we should face and find the answers we always search for. We cannot runaway from the inevitable. Hekate teaches us to face the Dark and, not to confront it, but to embrace it. To unite and become integrated with our shadows, our fears, and ourselves.

In ancient times, Nyx was not only the personification of Night. She has a wealth of importance in the Witchcraft Traditions that are influenced by the Samothrakian and Orphic Mysteries. She is the First Mother, the Hermaphroditic Demiurge that masturbates to bring about the origins of the macrocosm. She is also the First Oracle, pronouncing Her utterances from Her Cave that exists at the very edge of the Kosmos. She is heavily linked to Underworld Deities such as Hekate and Persephone. But what does this mean?  It means She is there to teach us to dance to the rhythms of the universe as it whirls, that She is there to teach us that things in the background are ever-present. We transcend from Hekate teaching us to embrace the Darkness, to Nyx teaching us to live without fear and understand that the Darkness itself is Divine. Every part of us is Divine, and everything that we face, no matter how difficult and fearful, is something we must endure. Here is the pronouncement of the Nyx Oracle:
“I am the First Mother, the Dreamer whose Dreams weave the fabric of the Kosmos.
Raise your eyes and look into the Stars; My Body, My Being, is always Watching.
Out of Love I bore you, and out of Love I watch and embrace all that you are.
Raise your eyes and look into the Stars; I embrace you, hold you, always Watching.
I hold all things in Harmony, for Themis is my Daughter.
Raise your eyes and look into the Stars; they are my Light reflecting back to you.
In the Darkness Hope shines, patiently, from life unto life.
Raise your eyes and look into the Stars; Harmony and Balance burn and decay – to which shall you hold onto?
I am the Constant Void, the Eternal Dance, the Whirling Mother.
I am the Night that Breathes, and you, My Children, are My faces that shine from My dreams.”
Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
~Oracle~

What is the Ophic Strix Tradition?

Temple of Hekate Ritual

Temple of Hekate Ritual

People have often wondered what exactly my temple teaches. Our temple, the Temple of Hekate: Ordo Sacra Strix (Sacred Order of the Owl), is the only existing temple thus far of the Ophic Strix Tradition. In Traditional Initiatory Wicca, the word “Tradition” when pertaining to a specific lineage or group, is only used if that branch survives at least 3 generations. For example, if High Priestess Willowroot founds a coven and it is called “Coven of the Sacred Flame,” and her coven begins to combine aspects of Celtic Reconstructionism with their mother Tradition of Gardnerian Witchcraft, then this is something new. From there, if a daughter coven hives off, and then another hives off from theirs, it can be said by those members that “Coven of the Sacred Flame” is a candidate for a new lineage or even Tradition in its own right. The oral customs and values passed on have a different meaning than the core of Gardnerian Witchcraft. This doesn’t make it greater or worse, it simply is. That is how Traditions work: they evolve and aren’t stiff and stagnant, contrary to popular belief. A NeoWiccan group composed of Intrapersonal Students who weave together a coherent system that works and branches 3 more covens successfully can also use the word “Tradition” in this way.

Our temple uses the term in a slightly different way, since we have only one existing sanctuary. I will add that our temple is not in any way affiliated with Traditional Wicca or Hellenismos. We are an independent entity in our own right. Our students have studied Greek lore and history in-depth, along with Hellenic Reconstructionism. We have also researched the various Mystery Traditions and oracular practices of the ancient Hellenes: Pythagorean, Apollonian, Dionysian, Orphic, Eleusinian, Samothrakian, the neckromanteions, Delphic Oracle, etc. Included in our explorations are ancient Greek folklore, folk magic, goetia, sibyls, ancestral veneration, healers, philosopher prophets, Thessalian strixoi, and the powerful female figures of Myth. But, our emphasis lies not in Classical Athens but in the customs and observances of Southern Italy, Sicily, the Near East and Anatolia (modern day Turkey). While academic in nature, much of our praxis is a careful harmonious dance between these and our own personal experiences. We carefully record and converse on these as a group to discuss whether these encounters are relevant or not (as classical Occultists once taught: approach it like science). By doing so, we have successfully arrived at a pragmatic spiritual juncture where we honor our flesh and spirit ancestors, and we tap into an Occult current known as the Ogdoadic Tradition. The Ogdoadic Tradition is the other half of the Western Mysteries, with roots in the Mediterranean, the Near East, Arabic mysticism, the Italian Renaissance, and from thence to Greece as well as north to England via Spain. The rituals and stories reflect these influences. Our temple found this a perfect complementary fit for the folkish magical practices (thaumaturgy), the lore of the Evil Eye (Gk. “Kako Mati”) and bewitchment (Gk. “Vaskania”).

We are a living Tradition, a child of the Ogdoadic and Hellenic occult currents. We adhere to the philosophies of the pre-Socratics, along with the Underworld, Dionysian and Orphic Mysteries. We practice ancestral veneration and nekromancy traced from the Nekromanteion in Baia, Italy. We dance beneath the full moon pasted in white with our tribal symbols, calling inward the frenzied possessions of Dionysus and the various spirits conjured. We keep the Greater and Minor Festivals to pray, give honor, and worship our Gods and spirits, who keep our system alive. We participate in the 3 Hearth Feasts of the Deipnon, Noumenia and Agathos Daimon. We are the children of Hekate, the cattle of the Raving One, and the progeny of our temple’s pantheon of Gods and spirits. Spirit alliances and contracts are seriously taken, as are initiations. Our ways are both written and oral, and we have an extensive Mythos that pertains to us and us alone.

Thusly in our own right we are a Tradition. Nyx is the Mother of All, the androgyne Star Goddess. Her firstborn are the sacred twins of Eros and Thanatos, Desire and Death. They were born in sexual embrace, becoming the First Order of the Cosmos, which is the very flesh of Nyx. Evolution is the great love story of Nyx as She attempts to reach Attainment within Hirself by continuously evolving, changing, bringing chaos and order within Hirself. We exist, and one day we will collectively return to the flesh of Nyx, our atoms and dispersed, our energies taking root elsewhere. Our hope lies in the life we fully live here and now. We are the people of the Serpent and the Owl. We are Strixoi, and we praise the Gods!

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
~Oracle~

Let the utterances commence!

Copyright 2012: Photo Courtesy of the Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture, and Sports

Copyright 2012: Photo Courtesy of the Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture, and Sports

I want to formally welcome you to the Cave of the Oracle! For those of you who know me, no introduction is needed. Still, hopefully new readers will join you all and will want to get to know me better, so I’ll talk a bit about why I chose the name for this blog.

My name in the Pagan Community is Oracle, and it has been since 2004 when that Name revealed itself to me, for lack of a better term. Some people might not know what I mean by a “Pagan Name” or a “Craft Name.” In Pagan parlance, a Craft Name (also known as a Magical Name) is a word or words that encompass one’s identity in our faith. A Name is usually picked and chosen after great deliberate care and research; or it should be. The Name may link a person to a specific sacred animal or plant (e.g. Raven Digitalis, Running Deer), a patron Deity (e.g. Selene, Artemisia), or may be unique in that even the person who has the Name may not fully realize what it means yet. Some Names are selected, although there is a subtle feeling that it’s more of a “connection.” For myself, my Name was given and revealed. It doesn’t make it better or worse, it just is.

At the time, I had just dedicated to Paganism and to whatever-was-out-there, and I was meditating and thinking about what was “me.” I didn’t really have any strong Pagan connections to anything, or as far as what I understood Paganism to be about in the first place. Lots of 101 books encouraged Nature, the outdoors, and being one with it. Well, not only do I live in Florida where stepping on the ground barefoot invites vicious attacks from all sorts of things, but I am a bookworm who rarely gets out of the house, and it was even worse then. I had no reason to be out-of-doors, especially in the Summer when the A/C was more holy than the burning Sun. My dissonance being evident at that time nonetheless, I had discovered a faith that was relevant to me and I wanted to feel as if I were a part of it. So I continued meditating on what exactly my Name would be. I had heard of other rather cool sounding Names that many had like Moon Willow, Skydancer, Azure Sea, Ocean Star, and more. Some were in another language like Irish Gaelic or Egyptian because the Names were unique to that Pagan path. Yet I had nothing. I wasn’t even sure what my “path” was to be honest. For those reading and not in the know, a Pagan path is a specific paradigm wherein one learns about the Pagan pantheons, magico-religious affiliations, or any other Pagan-related subjects unique to that way of interacting with the world around you. A “path” may be a specific Tradition or School of Thought, or it may be a mishmash of one’s learning along the way.

Anyway, back to my Name, since this is what it is about. (I am fairly long-winded, and cannot resist giving backstories or roundabout explanations in order to make sure that anyone I am speaking to is on the same page with me; call it communication OCD). After a month of wondering, I basically just forgot about it. Then while lying in bed the words literally flashed in my mind and floated across my eyes. It was an internal echo: “Oracle, Oracle, Oracle…” I wasn’t sure if anyone else had that Name, and frankly I didn’t care. It was mine, and no one could take that away from me. Immediately I announced it, did a mini-ritual to affirm for myself that Name, and have carried it since. The funny thing about Names, especially given ones, is that you can guess why you have it all you want but it will not be for many years until its true significance is revealed to you. A Name is more than a moniker to make you feel different and cool (some unfortunately use them like the code names featured in X-Men). It has unique Occult significance in that you are unveiling your Soul Purpose, as I call it. Many Gods and Goddesses had “secret Names” that were known only to Them or to Their priesthood, to be used in special times or unusual circumstances. Names have Power; the Power of association, identification, and bestowing recognition and life to something. This is evident especially in the Bible when Adam names all of the animals, or in Egyptian Mythology when Ra reveals His True Name to Aset (Isis) after being tricked. If you would like to have a better grasp of Naming, one of the most interesting stories to showcase this is Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Series.

“Oracle” in and of itself meant little to me at the time. It wasn’t until many years down the road I came to the realization that the Hellenic Divinities were calling out to me, and loudly at that. My Work with Them is precisely what began unveiling the significance of my Name. My first encounter with a Hellenic Deity was when I was 8 years old with the Titan Goddess Hekate. I had watched the film Jason and the Argonauts, and Medea’s dance and interaction with Hekate were enough to leave an impression of Her to me at that tender age. It was not until 20 years later that I formally dedicated myself and began my Work with Her. That was when She led me to the rest of the Hellenic Pantheon; as a consequence my research revealed a lot more about the place of “Oracles” in the ancient Hellenic world.

I came to realize that an Oracle was a person who acted as an agent of the Gods, a mouthpiece and spokesperson. People would come from everywhere to have an opportunity to have insight into their own fate; they wanted to hear the Voice of the Gods. While the most famous Oracle known is the Oracle at Delphi, there were numerous other places that were sacred to various Gods and spirits which each had their own Oracles. Oracles were both men and women, but their most common theme was their connection to the Underworld. Some of the earliest Oracles had shrines and seats in caves that were sacred to the chthonic Deities (i.e. Hades, Persephone, Dionysus, Apollon, Gaea, etc.). Often utterances from the Gods were given while the Sacred Vessel was in a trance-possession, a state known as enthousiasmos. But as important as the function of the Oracles were in the antiquity, I learned much more about the persons who were anointed to become the Sacred Vessel of the Gods.

Whomever was chosen as the Sacred Vessel, they were said to be wedded to the Deity for whom they spoke. Hints and clues are given about the Oracle at Delphi that she (the Pythia) was the Bride of Apollon (1985, Greek Religion by Walter Burkert). They spoke in riddles and veiled terms, the Greek language allowing for several meanings for one word. They were often misunderstood, the real meaning behind their sayings only clear perhaps after the prophesied event. The Oracles were the properties of the Gods, being loyal to Them. This is important to understand, because it is never an easy thing not to belong to yourself. Now, while information in the written record may be difficult to glean as to what qualified someone to be an Oracle, I can only take examples from my own life and the trials and tests I have endured to hopefully give a glimpse of what being an Oracle means. One of the main differences I have learned the hard way is grasping the difference between a psychic and an Oracle. The notion that an Oracle is a Seer and not a psychic can be an uncomfortable dilemma for many, even though we use the terms “Seer” and “psychic” interchangeably.The Greek word for “Seer” is manteis (prophet, seer). An Oracle was a Seer, a born prophet (2008, Ancient Greek Divination by Sarah Iles Johnston) . The gift could come at the time of birth or later into adulthood; but the premise is that an Oracle was touched by the Gods Themselves to be Their Vessel. Some of the metaphors include having bees drip honey onto your lips (bees and honey were sacred to the Nymphai) or having one’s ears licked by serpents/dragons. Oftentimes one was gifted because of charis, or Divine Favor (such as Cassandra). These traits separate psychics from Oracles/Seers. Conversely the ability could be taken away if displeasure were brought to the Gods.

Psychics basically train (or are naturally skilled) to use various techniques and become sensitive enough to tap into another’s energies in order to give them information. But Oracles, whether a skilled psychic or not, can only see and reveal what the Gods want them to reveal. They cannot simply pick up on another’s energy or life story and ramble, as there can be consequences. Just because I see something doesn’t mean I am at liberty to discuss it with you. I have to wait until the Gods tell me, because sometimes knowing your immediate future is not the insight you need. Sometimes people experience hardships and need to go through them, discovering insight for themselves. As I studied more in-depth, I came to realize that even the Gods Themselves punished prophets for speaking too early or revealing too much. As an example, the Thracian king and manteis Phineas was blinded because he gave away too much information (and too clearly at that). I know I cannot always give clear and concise answers; I am a humble guide who must allow you to use your brain and natural talents to come to your own epiphany. I may know about your past, your present, and your future, but that doesn’t mean I can just tell you anything. It’s a fine line and a difficult road to walk. One of the ways in which this lesson came across was when I tried making a little extra money by doing readings on keen.com. I had a profile and you could call in and pay. Sadly, the people wanting a reading and the information I needed to give them were two separate things. It was frustrating for everyone.

I clearly recall one example when a woman called to ask me if she was going to have any children. I waited to hear something, and I told her, “Yes you will have a son. But while you are hearing that, you also need to hear this…” I began to talk to her about some issues in her past, what she did when she was 21 at the bar one night, and her encounter with a man that carried pain and bitterness for the past several years. After her sobbing and astonishment, she asked “Wait, you said I would have a son? But I want a daughter.” I told her, “I’m sorry but it will be a son.” She then started getting testy and saying that she really wanted a daughter; why can’t God give her what she wants? I had no reply. She pressed me, “Can you tell God I want a daughter?” I told her “I’m sure God already knows.” She wouldn’t let it go, and already the conversation about her bitterness that she needed to heal from was quickly forgotten. All her attention turned towards the fact that she desperately wanted a daughter. By this time, I shrugged and said, “I guess. Okay. It’s not up to me, but I hope you understand what we needed to speak about.” The call ended and I still didn’t make enough. Another time a man wanted to find out if his business would take off the ground, and I told him that rather than his business, he needed to stop planning an affair with his business partner. His wife was pregnant and he would regret the pain that was coming. All I heard was “click.” No wonder I stopped being called, now that I think about it…But it’s okay, because I cancelled my account on there anyway. I just can’t give people what they want I suppose.

Back to the topic: the one who is an Oracle will not live an easy life. There are many, many problems which come, including the “Cassandra Syndrome.” Basically giving someone the counsel they ask for (or not), and then not being listened to. No one doesn’t like being listened to, especially when they have been asked. Rejection is not easy to bear, but one must bear it nonetheless. This is the first lesson of any budding Oracle/Seer: that your gift will make you an outcast, different, and oftentimes lonely. Because you belong to the Gods, you are on Their agenda, not yours. It may also take many years before you come to realize the full potential of your Gift.

And that, I have learned, is part and parcel of this job.

So, basically, welcome to my Cave, my sanctum. Now, everything that I wrote above may be perceived by some as sounding pretentious, but rest assured I am anything but that. None of that means I am infallible – Gods no! I am a human being with faults and errors, and I have opinions to share. They are subject to critical analysis and debate, which I hope to spur through this blog. If anything, I am hoping to let out these musings which oftentimes will sound as if I’m bonkers. I’m a Dionysian child, so I’m okay with that. I’m okay with the fact that I have been known to break boundaries, challenge assumptions, and perhaps can see some things that others may miss. I’m okay with the fact that I court controversy with my stances on things. I’m also okay if we disagree. Bringing intellectual discussion to the tables is what I’m all about anyway, and these words will reach whomever it is meant to reach. I have a passion for my faith, and I want to see it grow in the right direction. I want to see us understand one another and what we have in common. There are also many issues which should be dealt with in civility, and hopefully in future blogs that can happen as well. If you want to have an opportunity to see about some of the things I have previously written about, look for my articles at The Witches’ Voice. Just search for my name, Oracle. One of the main reasons I am also writing a blog is because unfortunately they are always backed up, and I want to have a different avenue to be able to express things my way at my time. I am grateful for them even starting me in the first place, and giving me the confidence to assure myself that I can write and have something worth saying.

So, anyway, welcome again. Make yourself comfortable, and be prepared for the madness to commence!

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
~Oracle~
Luis A. Valadez