Heavenly Aphrodite

In the Philosophical History, Damascius describes his experience of seeing a magnificent statue of Aphrodite:

Upon seeing it, I fell into a sweat through the influence of divine terror and astonishment and my soul was filled with such joy that I was quite unable to go back home. I went away several times only to return to that sight again. The sculptor has blended into it so much beauty—nothing sweet or sensual, but something dignified and virile: clad in armour and as if just returning from a victory, with an expression of joy.

§63, trans. P. Athanassiadi

Simply reading this description fills me with a holy joy, though I’m sure it’s nothing even close to what Damascius experienced on seeing the actual statue. So I share the quote both in the spirit of passing along that joy, and also to ask:

Can anyone point me to a modern devotional image (whether a statue, a print of a painting, etc.), or a reproduction of an older one, that’s composed in the spirit of the image Damascius describes here? Thanks in advance!

Hail heavenly, shining Aphrodite!

Give Water to the Gods

Awkward confession time.

For years, I’ve heard other polytheists encouraging people to offer simple libations of water to the Gods. For whatever reasons—and even after searching my memory, I’m not entirely sure what those reasons were—I always ignored that advice, and even looked down on this practice. Whether it’s because those water offerings were sometimes framed as second-best (“if you can’t give anything else, at least give water”), or because of some other hang-ups on my part, I just didn’t do it. For years, I’ve burned candles at their shrines daily, offered incense regularly, and poured occasional libations of wine or other beverages. But until recently, never water.

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What is Tradition For?

Consider an antique telescope. There are two different ways of “looking,” with respect to this scientific instrument. I could look at the telescope: making the telescope the object of my study, inquiring into how telescopes were made in the 19th century, the materials used, the curvature of the lens, the mechanisms (or lack thereof) for making fine adjustments, etc. This might even become part of a detailed history of telescopes, or of the institution of astronomy over the centuries.

Or I could pick the telescope up, take it outside on a clear night, and look through the telescope, using the telescope as it was intended by its makers, to study the planets and stars. This latter project will, from time to time, require me to attend to the instrument itself: adjusting the focus, cleaning the lens, setting it up correctly in its stand so that it’s stable and ready to work. But none of these things are in the end, the goal, the telos toward which they are directed and from which they acquire their meaning. They are all in the service of allowing me to observe the heavenly bodies as they course through the night sky.

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Holy Fear

Not every religious encounter is an experience of unbridled joy, tenderness, and a warm embrace. Some are—and they can be wonderful!—but that’s far from the only type. Quite often, accounts of religious experiences involve some kind of terror or holy fear at the presence of a God, and I’ve had my own share of such experiences.

This post is an attempt to make some degree of sense of my own experiences in devotion over the years, by distinguishing three different types of holy fear that can occur in devotional or theophanic encounters. It’s not meant to be exhaustive: neither in describing these three categories in their entirety, nor in (necessarily) getting at all the possible categories that might be out there.

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