Local Gods: Portlandia

I imagine that Portlandia wonders sometimes how Athena managed with Athens.

Portland wants desperately to be a city of art and craft, of good food and progressive politics, hip and clever, full of small businesses and neighborhoods that are still full of neighbors, a beautiful city full of art and nature. And it is those things! It is also a city shaped by racism and gentrification, a city that wants artists but where artists can barely afford to live, and a city that fails to live up to its ideals.

Portlandia has been on the city’s seal since 1878. A tall woman bearing a trident, she looks out over the Willamette River and her valley. She is described as the Queen of Commerce and a star shines over her head. I was first drawn to her because of this; I saw her as a relative of my goddess Mara. New to the city and job-hunting, I made offerings that we might find work. Ultimately we ended up in a suburb outside of Portlandia’s domain, but I kept circling back to her and to the city itself.

A bit over thirty years ago, Portland installed a large (second only to the Statue of Liberty) copper statue of Portlandia above the entrance to the then-new Portland building. This depiction of Portlandia does not tower over the river valley, but instead she crouches down, holding her trident out to one side and reaching out to the city inhabitants below. There is an amazing amount of emotion in her face and body, and it was this statue that helped me make that connection with her.

She is the city, and like the city, she wants to be better. She wants to make things better for her inhabitants. She reaches out to help. She offers a hand up. I have gone to her for help finding work and for help finding housing.

I’ve never seen her work alone; it’s always in concert with other local spirits when I get results. I call her with the rivers, with the bridges, with the city ancestors, and with the spirits of smaller parts of the city. The offerings she seems to like best are public praise (Portland is a little bit self-obsessed), taking care of the homeless, and taking care of the city itself. Supporting local artists, local presses and local businesses is good, too. When you can, battle gentrification and racism, and hold the city government accountable.

Do your part to take care of Portland and Portlandia will do her part to take care of you as well.

This post was inspired by Sara Mastros’s American Gods Project; there’s plenty of good stuff worth reading over there.

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