With the Wind at My Back
Posted on December 20, 2022
Just under a week ago, I left New England.
I tendered my resignation at work, said “Goodbye” to the life I had known for the past half-decade. At two minutes before two in the morning I loaded what bags I had left in the back of my car and drove with my two very grumpy, very surprised, cats for ten hours.
Almost seven hundred miles later, I finally got to a new home.
It’s in a new region, with its own local slang, idioms, customs and expectations.
It’s in a different growing season, with variable temperatures, rain patterns, and new local geography.
So many things are different, more than you would really think to expect when you set out. Time itself is different, despite being in the same demarcated zone – the sun rises differently here and sets later, and it’s enough to throw me off. The air smells different. The soil is a different color. There are plants that, despite it being December, I do not necessarily recognize, or are in greater abundance than I had seen in New England.
Of course, in my life, I have moved. I’ve moved for school and for work, just as a matter of course. But school was a transitional period, and I never remained around the college(s) which I had attended for further employment. I’ve never really moved outside a two-hundred mile radius from “home”. For the Northeast, that covers most of it.
To me, it’s an interesting experience. It’s not interesting because I’ve been a lifelong resident of the various areas of New England (and, yes, I count where I grew up in Upstate New York as “New England” given that it is linguistically connected to one of the four New England English dialects).
It is interesting when viewed through the lens of polytheism. We, at least those in the circles which I am still present, often talk about the localization process. We speak to personal internalization of, and – if you would permit me – the customization of identity and locality into our realms of religion. The ‘how’ of divine interaction through our distinctly local sacred landscapes, how They manifest with the multitude of Their faces, guises, and intentions.
I don’t know that it is common for us to speak to the flip-side of that localization process – the act of letting go of aspects tied to the location when we transition to newer, different, locations and experiences, to those newer fields of view. We, and I am speaking to the American experience, are generally pretty transient – although geographic mobility has reduced in the past handful of years. When all things are said and done, Americans are more likely to change their locations than many of their counterparts in the world around them. There are continuing developments of identity among Americans regarding the economic privilege of mobility which are actively shaping distinctions in class groupings, a confluence varying factors that are creating new lines of division among peoples.
But we as polytheists take as our road map those peoples who were not necessarily as transient, less likely to travel far distances, at least with as great a frequency as ourselves. We can talk a great deal about how the Greek colonies around the Mediterranean spread and developed locally distinct identities, or how the Roman provinces incorporated local priesthoods or religious understandings as distinct from the City of Rome itself. While we speak to the mobility of various peoples in history, those timescales are just that – historic. Individual experiences are generally lacking from the record.
Clearly, people quite obviously moved, cults clearly spread outside of their native regions. But they were also working within a polytheistic milieu – one, perhaps, where they did not have to think quite so hard about moving religious cults. Even in the case of local cults, with their own idiosyncratic views of deity, it could have been taken as a matter of course that a suitable cultic reflection would invariably be found, or otherwise transplanted within reason.
Why this waxing about localizations? In January 2021 I contracted COVID-19 from work. My place of employment had resumed in-person office work in May of 2021, and I had only a few blessed weeks of working from home before a short stint of being furloughed. I’m still dealing with the after effects of that, physically, like so many others.
Without truly getting too deep into it, during the height of the illness I had a fever dream (or, perhaps, simply a fevered inclination) of a hyperlocalized, dark-eyed, “Apollo of Providence”. This notion then spiraled into developing a triad of divinities for the City of Providence where I lived, in the style of the Aventine, consisting of Apollo, Minerva, and Mercurius. Largely inspired by the historic nature and geographic foundation of the city, it included influences from the healing centers, the educational history, various iconographies and other comparisons with Providence. Epithets flowed, observances planned, with intentions for sites scouted for surreptitious offering locations prior to this move.
And now I am gone from that place, and that work has to be reevaluated, with some things set to the side and other things modified for the new locality in which I find myself. Clearly, I do not need to “leave” the triad of these Gods behind – They are certainly bigger than any one single human city, or single location. However, these localized cults of worship and emphasis drew heavily on the immediate landscapes, themes, and histories of the city in which I formerly resided.
As Akestōr (Ἀκέστωρ), of course, Apollo remains, as an epithet of that magnitude is transnational and pan-regional, not at all tied intrinsically to one fixed location. Contrast this to an epithet like the Napian Apollo, the Ἀπόλλων Ναπαῖος, tied to the city of Nape, a far more localized reflection of the cultic expression of Apollo there. And so, here, there is no Federal Hill. There’s no cultural expression which fed into my understanding of this Triad of Providence through the lens of being Italian-American. No College Hill where prayers to Minerva are offered, there is no port here to make prayers for Mercurius as trader and wayfarer.
Ultimately, that’s the nature of the beast – many polytheisms from which we can craft our religious views. In this process of regionalizing and localizing modern cults for deities, we see how much happens to change when we take ourselves out of that element, where the modern semi-rootless nature of transience meets what we popularize as fixed identities of static cults.
There’s nothing to say that parts of this cannot be carried with me, simply that there are bits that have to be let go or, at least, re-envisioned. I am thinking specifically of Apollo Smintheus, whose cult spread from a location near the town of Hamaxitus to the Island of Rhodes. Will there be an observance held in my life, in comparison to the Sminthia in that location, in honor of the time spent with the cult in Providence? Who is to say.
However, there is a mountain outside the back window of my bedroom now, where there wasn’t one this time last week. Who is it? Whose is it? Who resides there? How many of Them? Questions abound, and for sure, the one constant is that localization, local theophany and engagement with the numinous, never is really “done”. It’s always there, always needing to be engaged with, and expanded upon when our own horizons shift around us.
Tagged: Local Cult, Movement, Pagan, Paganism, Polytheism, Religion
This is beautiful. I’ve wondered how this move would hit you spiritually, being in a very different place. I’m looking forward to seeing how our home — the whole landscape and history of it — engages you.
Having just moved TO New England (where I grew up long ago) from 3,000 miles away, I can relate to this very much. I have been deeply enjoying the process of “getting to know the locals” insofar as spirits here, and excited to see what faces of my gods emerge in this landscape and climate. At the same time, part of me aches for those relationships I built over 15 years in the place I was living, the cultus that was specific to that city, that land. I do wish we had more personal perspective from antiquity from all those colonists who brought their gods to new places, and discovered new (to them) gods where they landed. Instead we have to just feel our way through. My challenge has been not to rush things, and to just see what develops naturally as I familiarize and introduce myself.
Welcome to New England! It’s certainly a very varied and old place insofar as this country goes.
Reblogged this on Buta Craxanti.