Reblogging – Wise Words

Once again, a long silent spell. So sorry. I really am interested in writing here. I just haven’t had words lately.

I was going through my blog roll and read a long and wise post about skepticism and doing one’s homework when it comes to choosing teachers.  This is true in pagan circles (as she points out) as well as other circles.  There are many people who are cults of personality just waiting for someone to fall for their story hook, line and sinker.

So take a read of Sarah Anne Lawless’s post.  It’s a good reminder that we must maintain a healthy dose of critical thinking when we are choosing teachers.

http://sarahannelawless.com/2013/09/19/evaluating-our-teachers/

On prayer

Morrigan, show me strength so I may model strength;
Mannanan, show me fluidity so I may model fluidity;
Brighid, show me creativity and practicality so I may model both.

I was praying to my gods while on the bus, on the way to work this week.  I was not looking forward to my day and thought that perhaps a quick prayer to the gods would help.  Perhaps it would remind me of the traits that I know I need.  Perhaps it would bring the thought of my gods to the front of my mind so that I could more mindfully enter my workplace and do the work that I am expected to do with the skills I know I have, but that sometimes get buried under all the associated junk of peoples’ emotional baggage and stress.

But as I was sitting there, looking out the window, crafting the prayer in my mind, I was struck by something.  The way that I could pray and the way that I was intentionally crafting my prayer was different.

I could have prayed in this way:

Morrigan, give me strength so that I can make it through my day;
Mannanan, give me fluidity so I can pass over my problems;
Brighid, give me creativity and practicality so that I can apply both to my issues.

You see how that is different than the  prayer above?  Not only is it more negative, focusing on the problems and what I need help for, but it also externalizes all the good qualities as something I inherently need.  It makes it seem like if I don’t get the results of my prayer, then the gods weren’t listening, or they have some mysterious reason for not fulfilling my request.  It’s like a test.

And that’s not how one should be approaching this.  At least, not in my spirituality. The gods aren’t like Santa.  You don’t send them your wish list and hope to get the shiny new bike under the tree at the predetermined time.  The gods are inspiration.  They guide us by being the example.

In my final version, I am asking for examples of what strength, fluidity, creativity and practicality look like, so that I can emulate it.  It’s asking for my ability to build that in myself.  I’m not assuming that I can’t do it.  In fact, even my prayer is flawed in that I am not sparking it in myself, but sometimes one needs to look to their archtypes for help.  Sometimes, that’s why we’re praying because we can’t see it in ourselves, and we need the reminder of what it looks like to be able to find it.

I wrote an interesting prayer poem years ago that I recently unearthed in a quick cleaning of one of my boxes of papers.  In it, I do ask for Strength, Wisdom, Prosperity, Courage and Favours, but the Goddess doesn’t give me any of them.  She gives me Difficulties, Problems, Brains and Brawn, Danger and Opportunities.  Thus She requires me to build these things within myself.

Praying for a deity to give you something easily is a cop-out.  It externalizes the help and the blame.  It absolves you of the responsibility to do it for yourself, and allows you to continue to blame outside forces for you not achieving, not getting what you want, not having a happy life, not marrying the guy of your dreams, not loving your job, not having that baby.  It allows you to continue to be a victim of circumstance and it prevents you from growing to deal with these problems.  If you pass all your problems on to God to handle, you don’t learn how to handle them yourself.

And so, why not pray to whatever deity you wish to help you grow, help you to build skills, build strength, develop the abilities to deal with your own problems, to chase your own dreams, to live your own life? Why not remind yourself of the example and emulate it, rather than making a wish list and hoping to receive it someday. Pray actively. Live actively.

(Originally posted on December 4, 2012)

Flakiness

In the next couple of posts, I’ll deconstruct some of the ideas that I introduced in my previous post.  The first one I’d like to attempt to tackle is the flakiness idea.

Imagine, for a moment:

She looked up from where she was kneeling, eyes falling on the carven image of the man hanging from the cross.  His expression is one of pain but peace.  She prayed in his name – asking for help, for guidance, for some way of knowing the right thing to do.  She left the church feeling peaceful – perhaps not knowing exactly what she needed to do, but feeling that she could try.

A simple story of communing with one’s God.  Seemingly acceptable – one prays for guidance, for help.

Imagine again:

She looked up from where she was sitting on the cold stone.  The vast expanse of the sky shining above her with millions of stars and the darkness in between.  She whispered her call to the night and flicked the lighter to illuminate and then ignite her message, sending its essence into the air through the smoke and destruction of the paper which bound it.  She bowed her head and touched her fingertips to the middle of her forehead in a salute and then lifted her eyes to the sky once more.  Her intention sent out to the universe, she poured an offering of whisky out onto the ground before returning to her home, prepared to work on her intention.

The unfortunate part of my spirituality is that I often feel awkward trying to explain it in terms that won’t bring up the potential flakiness issue.  This is the power of language.  The difference between a prayer and an intention, for example.  Consider asking God versus asking the universe, or the life-force, etc for help.  Even the actions speak volumes – the difference between praying with hands clasped and sitting in a field, on a rock, looking up at the sky and burning a scrap of paper which has an intention written on it.

The strength of the language and the meaning of the words will cause certain reactions.  Even amongst the extended pagan tribe there is judgment against ‘fluffy bunny’ by the more ‘serious’, against the ‘fashionable’ by the ‘down-to-earth’.  It’s all very reminiscent of any other human interaction.  Someone, for whatever reason, believes that they are superior/are following the ‘right’ way, and those who don’t seem as studious/serious/ get-down-in-the-dirt-and-muck-about enough are judged.  And I don’t want to come off as anti-judgment.  Clearly if we weren’t critically thinking people then anything would be acceptable, nothing would be wrong and there would be a raft of other issues to deal with.  Yes, we need to apply critical thinking.

However, when it comes down to a ‘more pagan than thou’ argument, or a judgment about someone’s dearly held beliefs because what you hear makes you want to change them, correct them or cure them, then we have a problem.  Because that isn’t dialogue, that’s judgment and a ceasing of listening.  To be able to converse, we first must be brave enough to listen and set aside our little internal judges.

I stumble because I have an internal censor sitting right beside my internal judge as well.  In addition to the concern that my explanation be well-received because of the word-usage, I have to dance through my own mental minefield.  I will judge myself as I use words, second-guessing the way I’m explaining something and wondering whether a certain term will set off someone’s internal judge.  So I try to be careful with my language.

For example, a good friend of mine once asked me how my beliefs interacted with my scientific background.  It’s a fair question, and one that I think most scientists receive regardless of their spirituality.  He was interested in the beginning-of-life question.  I thought about it for a moment, and said something along these lines:

My spirituality does not really impact my perspective of the beginning of ‘life’ on Earth.  To me, evolution explains how life developed to the present day.  The energy around life just is – it is a network.  I don’t really have a Creation story.  That’s the Big Bang and evolution story.  My gods and whatnot exist within it fairly happily because I don’t need them to have Created the world.”

He was intrigued by my answer.  I should say that he and I share a similar spirituality, so speaking of ‘energies’ with him didn’t necessarily frighten me, as I figured he would know or guess close enough to my meaning (depending on what ‘energy’ means to him.)

In trying to explain my beliefs to a non-pagan friend, I stumbled more because I was describing my concept of the gods as forces of nature, and feeling no need to worship, per se, but perhaps appreciate and respect being better descriptors of the veneration aspect.  Mainly because I have a feeling that worship doesn’t matter as much to forces of nature – why would a force of nature be concerned with the adoration of a human?  (This concept was first introduced to me when I was reading a book by Emma Restall Orr and I had an “ah-ha!” moment.)  My friend was able to relate to the idea of worship not being strictly necessary because why would a god/God care?

I also attempted to explain why I felt that it was  important to have female deities within my pantheon.  Firstly, I am a woman so I can relate to a female archetype.  Secondly, to encompass the natural generative force, or more simply, because females give birth and it makes sense to me that they have a hand in the constantly renewing world.  But here comes the internal censor and judge saying, “But gods don’t need to give birth actually, right?” to which I reply, “All is symbol anyway.”  In addition, the archetypes that these goddesses stand for resonate with me.  “Isn’t that cherry picking?”  Not at all, one honours all gods, but can be drawn to certain ones because of what they stand for.  I know I need to rein in the internal censor.

So where does the flakiness come in?  Is it flaky to believe in unseen energies, forces of nature, or god and goddess archetypes that symbolize important things in one’s life compared to one big-g god who runs the whole thing?  Is it flaky to revere the amazing things that the Earth and nature can produce and do?  To get goosebumps at the sheer force of a thunderstorm or the surging ocean?  Or is it flaky to think that crystals may have different vibrations and energies that can be tapped to create change in one’s life through a spell?  I will address that question in an upcoming post (or two).

I don’t have the answer.  Flakiness is subjective.  But by creating a dialogue to foster understanding of different viewpoints, I think we can go a long way to breaking down the potential judgments on all sides.  An open mind can create more opportunities for learning.

(originally posted April 24, 2010)

Writing about spirituality

The challenge of writing about a spirituality that is wholly personal, is that basically you’re putting *yourself* out there.  There are no generalizations.  You can’t speak on behalf of your brethren.  You speak on your own behalf.  Perhaps through these words, I can give a glimpse into a personal spirituality that many may consider flaky, strange, alien or even something worse (and I have been called worse).

I self-identify as pagan, with a small p.  That lumps me into a large and eclectic group that spans many different cultures, from the Heathen/Asatruar, to Egyptian, Italian, Greek, even technically Hindu pagans.  I could narrow it down further to say that I am drawn to Celtic mythology, partly through it “feeling” right and partly through heritage.  I am, by blood, a UK mutt for all intents and purposes (although my family tree has not been rooted in that soil for several generations).  Narrowing down to the Celtic pagans does reduce the population of the group I claim.  But not fully.  You see, we seem to be a group of like-minded, completely independent folks.  So my way of seeing things may not reflect the opinions of *any* other Celtic pagan-y type person.  There are also many different ways to approach Celtic paganism.  There is the Wicca-inspired Celtic Faery Faith, the Celtic Reconstructionists, the Druids (which may or may not be the same thing, depending on who you speak to)… the list is as long and varied, especially since there are a few pantheons that can be identified in the Celtic realm – the Irish, the Welsh, the Scottish, the Gallic, the German… Personally, I am drawn to the Irish pantheon, and there is enough overlap in concepts that I don’t feel left out in the cold if, for example, the Welsh pantheon is being referred to.

Now, I will introduce the concept of my being drawn to the practices of the druids of old.  This is where it gets tricky from the perspective side (i.e. flaky or worse), because mentioning the d-word can bring up mental images of the old bearded guys in the white robes with flashing knives, human sacrifice and mobs of people descending on Stonehenge for Summer Solstice so they can drink and party and be weird together.  *sigh*  Yes, I have a cloak.  It’s green.  But no, I haven’t gone to Stonehenge, and if I did, I’d try to choose a day that I thought would have the smallest crowds.  Mainly because I’d want to experience the environment of it, not the ritual.  I’m definitely not a Romantic Ceremonialist, and am a little more on the Hedgewitch side (oh, darn, I just said the w-word…)

Okay, so witch… right… I knew this was going to be a slippery slope.  Witch is a loaded term, and I don’t necessarily self-identify as a witch, per se.  But the natural-knowledge part of what I like to do does fit into the witch side of things, I suppose.  The little charms, herbal work, the crafty side of things.  I’ve a long history of doing that sort of thing.  But no, it’s not like Practical Magic or The Craft – man, if we had special effects like that, it would be way sexier to self-identify as a pagan-witch-druid-thing.  As far as discussing the charm/herbal work/crafty side of things, perhaps I’ll leave that to another post.

But, but, but!  While I may self-identify as an Irish Celtic pagan with druid interests, I don’t restrict my spiritual influences to only Celtic sources.  I greatly enjoy learning about other religions/spiritualities.  I’m highly influenced by the ideas in Buddhism, for example.  I’m currently reading the Koran, as well as a pagan philosophy book on moral living from a Pagan perspective.  Comparative theology and understanding other faiths perspectives and how they evolved are very important pursuits for me.  So much so, I almost started a comparative theology graduate degree.  I may still – time will tell.

Not all Celtic pagans feel this is a good practice.  They feel that it is too eclectic, and that it introduces foreign concepts into a not-yet-fully-recovered ancient faith system.  I accept that they wish mainly to study and tease out the details of the Celtic faith system that was practiced in the British Isles pre-Roman invasion (and conquest).  My perspective is that the Celtic faith system would have evolved since then.  And as I mentioned above, I prefer to also study comparative theology.

I’m not “active” in the physical community of paganism in my city.  A part of me doesn’t want to share my experiences physically.  Another part of me doesn’t want to do the ritual aspect of it.  I was, at one point, part of a community.  I was even one of the leaders of that little community.  I think perhaps my spiritual development needed it then, and right now I have a different focus.  Perhaps I will rejoin it.  I know of one effort currently underway that I would like to be a part of, potentially.  We shall see.  It might just take me following up on it.  If I’m able to, I will blog about it.

(originally posted April 12, 2010)