About this time last year, I was having a walking meditation/ conversation with Apollo. This is not an uncommon thing for me to do and I often have the best conversations with my gods this way. I talk about my puny mortal problems and the Theoi graciously humor me, often offering very helpful guidance and often rather unhelpful but true guidance as well. This particular conversation mainly consisted of me babbling and Apollo saying pretty much one thing:
It was not a suggestion.
It was also not an unsurprising thing to come from him, what with purification being one his things. I had lots of questions about what and how and why, but the only response I could get was “Purify.” It wasn’t long after that, within days, that I found out that our attempts to conceive our second child had been successful. The command to purify wasn’t just for me and it wasn’t going to be something I could opt out of. I gave up alcohol, of course, reduced my caffeine intake, started taking prenatal vitamins, drank water like it was going out of style, and watched what I ate so that I got enough of the right things. There was no specific ritual action, I just did what I’d been commanded to do.
Months later, I found out that I had gestational diabetes. This was not a surprise to me, but my diet needed further attention. More focused purification had to take place. My first one was over nine pounds and I am not a large woman. The last thing I wanted was another big baby, so I gave up sweets, kept a food log, checked my blood sugar, and ate an absurd amount of vegetables. I still had a nine pound baby, but was grateful that she was only nine pounds. More than that would not have been ideal, to say the least.
I must admit that the period of time wherein I needed to deal with gestational diabetes was very frustrating and I felt deprived and like I was somehow at fault because my blood sugars weren’t perfect. But the commandment to purify was not about making me feel deprived or ashamed or about taking things away. This was not about making me suffer, but rather about being mindful of what I’m eating and making sure I got what was needed to grow a baby. Apollo is the physician, father of Asklepios, brother of Artemis, and because my dietary situation was particular to me, the method by which I chose to follow his commandment was also particular to me. That was what I needed to be healthy and to purify. Every pregnancy has different needs and there is no doubt in my mind that Apollo the Physician and Artemis the Midwife would help each woman who appeal to them in a way that is healthiest for mother and baby, whatever that means. I eventually figured out how to game the system, as it were, so that I could have enjoyable meals and snacks that didn’t leave me feeling deprived. Hippocrates said, “Let food be your medicine,” but I refuse to believe that medicine has to make you suffer to be effective.
Now that I’m breastfeeding, I have a little more flexibility in what I eat and drink, but the command to Purify still stands. What goes in to me also goes into Miss *Sunshine. What I eat, she eats. What I drink, she drinks. I want her to have good milk with good stuff in and without bad stuff in, so I need to eat and drink things that are good and pure. For me, this means as much local and organic food as fits my budget, meat grown without hormones and unnecessary antibiotic use, plenty of water, very very little alcohol rarely, and home cooked meals with ingredients recognizable as food. I don’t do a perfect job of this; I took Miss *Rainbow out for a hot dog from Sonic last weekend, but I continue to work toward the ideal. And again, it’s not about making me suffer, it’s about helping me be healthy so that I can help my kids be healthy.
I feel that the Theoi are with me, supporting and encouraging this effort to achieve dietary arête (excellence). The effort toward arête is in and of itself an act of worship. It’s a state of mindfulness that indicates to the Theoi that I am thankful for their gifts, intend to use those gifts wisely, and will “pay it forward” by treating the Earth and my fellow beings with due reverence and compassion. My gods wish for me to be skilled at being human and I try to do that in whatever way I am able.
Just like the food and drink I take in should be good and pure so that the little one can grow strong and healthy, my actions and my words must likewise be so. They both will feed on these far longer than they have been or will be on the breast and my words and actions will shape how they grow into capable, strong women. To that end, I try to follow the Noble Eightfold Path as a way to be skilled as a parent and a human being. Put succinctly, the Noble Eightfold Path consists of working toward Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. More detail can be found here and at the link above. I get to Apollo by way of Buddha because it works. Buddha was just this guy, a teacher, who figured out a way to alleviate or eliminate suffering. He points the way to the light. Apollo isthe light.
So, as my Pagan friends observe the Lenten season, I’m passing the one year mark of the commandment from Apollo to purify. It’ll be almost two years by the time we’re done breastfeeding and I am beginning to understand that the commandment is not just a one time thing where I do it and then I’m done. This is my life. This is something I have been and must continue working on as a constant act of devotion for my sake and for the sake of my two girls. I will continue to purify not only because Apollo said so, but because it’s the right thing to do. I take joy in this process and see it as a challenge to better myself because when I am healthy of mind, body, and spirit, that ripples outward through my family and through the generations. The Delphic Maxims, commandments given to seven wise men by Apollo at Delphi in the 2nd century BCE, urge moderation, virtue, and wisdom, but not at the cost of happiness. I’m not a renunciant or a martyr, just a mom and priestess seeking arête for myself and for my kids.
*Sunshine is the youngest at three months old and Rainbow is the eldest at eleven years. These are nicknames to protect our identities. I’m not nearly enough of a hippie to name them Sunshine and Rainbow, though their given names are suitably Pagan without being too weird.
In addition to her personal and group practice as a priestess of Apollo, Sunweaver works as interfaith clergy with a diversity of religious groups in the Middle Tennessee area. She is a founding member of the Rutherford County Women of Faith and has worked with the area interfaith center, Wisdom House, to help bring positive awareness to the non-Abrahamic religions. She is a fiber arts enthusiast as well as a mother and a Master’s student in biology.