Ave Maria, Magna Mater

If I were a bible-thumping, conspiracy-mongering Protestant, I’d have every reason to think that our local Marian traditions are nothing but veiled heathen attempts to endorse the idolatrous worship of Magna Mater. And who could blame me?

  • Riotous music involving cymbals and drums? Check.
  • Ecstatic street dancing until you drop? Check.
  • Effeminate dancers leading the parade? Check.
  • Divine motherly figure as object of worship? Absolutely.
  • Ritual castration? Well, none yet, but who knows?

Fortunately, I am not and have never have been a Protestant of that sort, so I couldn’t care less if our townsfolk truly worshipped the Phrygian Great Mother. In fact, I think that would be super.

As you know, I was raised in a deeply-but-loosely Catholic town — I say ‘deeply’ because we’re suckers for tradition and ‘loosely’ because nobody cares if you have buddhas in your home, too — and it has been this open, syncretic Catholicism that eventually led me to the older, less clandestine paganism of my ancestors. Indeed, the pagan persists.

Nobody knows why karakol (the processional dance in the videos below) is particular to our province or why it is the way that it is. Is it indigenous? Is it colonial? Both? Outside academics, nobody really cares. Heck, I’ve seen Protestants sway their hips to it more than once. Mary: 1. Biblical fundamentalism: 0.

So anyway, as promised previously, I present this year’s karakol for our pillar-perched patrona —

Here, the Lady leaves Her dwelling to dance in a sea of devotion waiting outside.

Not forgetting, the Lady’s ecstatic train of worshippers. Their hips don’t lie.

I think the main highlight of this year’s karakol is that, for the first time in for ever, the women-folk were invited to carry the Lady on their backs: let no man say that the daughters of our city are unable to carry their city’s mother.

Also, this year was the longest I’ve been to. We started noon and ended at 9! No corner of the city is left un-blessed by the Lady’s dancing, even if it takes the whole day.

The tradition of karakol is a well-loved one and I only pray that it survives and flourishes in the next hundred years.

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Eventful Octobers

It seems like Octobers are almost always eventful, and usually involving the Mothers.

The beginning of the month was especially blessed with the welcoming of a new member to our household pantheon, Nossa Senhora de Fátima:

A gift from a friend from far away makes Herself comfy in Her new home.

I’m not quite sure yet which godly power is behind the Lady of Fatima, but something tells me that she’s older than the biblical Mary. This stunning statue of the Lady comes from Galina who was kind enough to send it over as a gift. Here She is, bathing in bukhoor incense, a traditional gesture of hospitality in the Arab world.

Shortly after, our town fiesta happened, which is always a blessing of joy to our people, Catholic or otherwise:

Nana Pilar

It is always an honour for any man or woman to carry Her, our loving town patron of many years. She was exceedingly beautiful this year, our dearest Mother of wild dances.

[I will be posting a couple of videos later in the week.]

The Queen is finally home after an entire afternoon and evening on the streets. Truly, a Dancing Queen.

Here She is again, home after an entire afternoon and evening on the streets. Truly, a Dancing Queen.

Another festival honouring a divine mother followed right after as we celebrated the Maha Navratri in our home:

God is a woman, a fearsome mother. Jai Mata Di! Shubh #Durga #Navratri!

As the new moon of Ashvin rose, we welcomed Durga into our homes once again. Jai Maa!

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Of course, no Navratri is complete without a visit to the local mandir. She was especially beautiful this year in bright crimson.

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The other gods were just as beautiful in their new clothes.

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We are a relatively small temple, but the place is full of stout hearts. It’s always nice to be in a sea of devotees.

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Shiva’s coat was especially fab. (No living tigers were harmed in the making of the coat.)

Come late October, I revamped the house shrine:

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Our Agathos Daimon now sits comfortably between the Holy Child of Atocha (dubbed ‘Baby Hermes’) and Ganesha, the ‘Hermes of Hindustan’.

And, of course, never a month without the customary thanksgiving dinner:

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Of all the things we owe the Gods, this is but a small feast. This feast was dedicated not only for a month full of events, but also for our dear friend, Sannion.

Another eventful October, indeed, and by the looks of it, next year will be just as busy with the twin Great Mother festivals coming right after the other. Hail, the Spirits of October! Hail, the Two Mothers! Hail and hail again!

How I Met Your Mātā

Sing this day of Durga,
Om Jai Mahadevi!

Sing this day of Cybele,
Ave Magna Mater!

Sing this day of Rhea,
Khaire Mêtêr Theôn!

Sing to the Great Mother,
Goddess of ten thousand names!

Sing ever to the Great Mother,
Mother to gods and men!

***

Dear cousins in Hinduism,

My name is Aldrin, and congratulations, we just sang together up there.

By the way, I’m pagan (click it, if you’re not familiar) and I’ve come to you today in a spirit of brotherhood and community, and perhaps also gratitude. Well, actually, gratitude is the primary reason why I’m writing this letter.

Now, as there are countless beautiful things that modern pagans have to thank Hinduism for, I’m not going to explore all the facets of the diamond here. I wanted to thank Hinduism specifically today because of your divine mother, Durga.

I know she’s everybody’s mum on a cosmic level, but culturally, you are her children and I’m but a nephew. That said, who says you can’t love your auntie like your own mum, eh? So, thank you, cousins, for keeping her worship alive and vibrant throughout the centuries and making it possible for foreigners like me to experience the blessedness that comes from calling Durga “Ma”.

I guess, I wanted to write this letter because I never really thought about how I ‘met’ her until yesterday, when a Hindu asked me how I came to know the Mahadevi. Quite a good question, actually, since it’s not every day that you meet a non-Hindu who claims to be a devotee of Durga. (I was temporarily possessed by the spirit of inarticulateness at that time, so I am writing about it to make up.)

Interestingly, I was introduced to Hinduism early on in high school, when I would pray to Vishnu and Shiva to protect me from nightmares (perhaps, one reason why I could already be part-Hindu as we speak), but not to Durga Mata. Not yet. She came in rather late in my early twenties when I was reading on our own great mother goddesses in Hellenismos (that’s roughly “Hinduism for Greeks” FYI), particularly Rhea-Cybele who was referred to as Mêtêr Theôn (Mother of the Gods) and Magna Mater (Great Mother) by my pre-Christian ancestors.

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The Phrygian Great Mother, Cybele, seated on a lion, a symbol of power

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Rhea-Cybele, Mother of the Gods, enthroned and drawn by lions

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The Divine Mother of Hindustan

It wasn’t that hard to connect Rhea-Cybele with Durga. They’re both primal forces, divine progenitors, and are both associated with power, lions, mountains, and the best ecstatic music there is on either side of Alexander‘s empire. They’re not exactly alike, of course, but you get the picture.

From that moment on, I’ve only been in sheer awe at her beauty. I remember the first time I watched this video and just melted into ecstasy. “Holy shit”, I remember myself saying with pure devotion. BECAUSE SHE IS TOTALLY AWESOME OH WOW LIKE TOTALLY FREAK ME OUT I MEAN RIGHT ON DURGA SURE IS NUMBER ONE!

Here, watch this:

(I love that aarti to death, I swear.)

It wasn’t long after I met her that I came to know and love other deities such as Ganesha and Hanuman, too (who, to my delight, both resemble a great deal with my beloved Hermês). Call it self-affirming syncretism and I won’t argue. I mean, I am an unapologetic multicultural mongrel.

As finite beings who have to be born into a certain time or culture, it’s only natural for us to know and name the divine powers that move and preserve the cosmos in our own languages. But whether we speak their names in Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit, or whether it’s Navratri or Megalesia that we’re celebrating, it all boils down to our personal, honest-to-rta relationship with each other: human to beast, human to god, and human to human.

That and because I would rather sing of what we have in common than how we differ. (Luckily, it isn’t in our nature as pagans and Hindus to exclude each other as many Christians and Muslims do.)

So, thank you again, dear cousins. I wish for the continuity of our life-affirming, celebratory traditions for ten thousand more years. Hail the waters of the Indus! Hail the encircling lands of the Mediterranean!

May the Great Mother keep you safe.

From Alexandria with love,

Your Hellenistic cousin

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