Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Freedom in Failure

For many years now I have done my annual offering ritual.  I do it after Yule, before the snow has left the land.  It has evolved over the years, the timing becoming more specific.  It’s almost always after Imbolc when the sun has begun to feel warm.  I do it during the day, when the sun is high.  It’s become more than just the offering now that I have a permanent sacred area outdoors. It’s now the waking of the shrine and the land, and it was surprising how well it worked.

I don’t talk to the children about rituals and offerings much, it bores them.  So the kids had no idea that I had ritually woken the land when they came to me the next day with tales of hearing the fairies all weekend.  They told me that they could hear them in the woods and could see the evidence of them, but hadn't seen them.  I was taken on a walk along with various children who were and were not mine on a sunny Sunday morning to tour the various fairy sites around the yard.  Those fairies have been busy.  I was told a war was brewing.  Most parents would just toss that news aside, with a mildly reassuring pat on the head, but I take that sort of thing as a bit of news.  It is a data point with which to understand my world more fully. 

The ritual itself was fairly simple.  I walked out with my crane bag and my staff, my cauldron, ogham and some simple offerings of milk, whiskey, and salmon.  I also had incense that I had made and my knife.

I walked to every shrine and altar and lit incense.  I follow a spiraling pattern that eventually leads back to where I started.  It is my own personal labyrinth of spirit.  I don’t always choose where and what altars are made.  People have come to the land and built shrines, some have come from many miles away.  I tend these shrines, improve upon them, and think about how to build new ones.   I give them offerings and talk to the children about them.  Our land is an anchor point for a local ley line and has a history for decades as being a place where people might be found dancing naked, at least according to the neighbors.  I wonder if they are happy or sad that the current occupants are just as odd as the previous ones.

So I lit the incense and felt myself slipping into trance.  I sat in front of the Land Spirits altar when I was done, and kindled a fire upon it.   I gave offerings and burned more incense and the piece of salmon for my bear spirit friend.   I slipped deeper into trance watching the wind whip the flame.  I took out my knife and cut the side of my hand. I let a few drops of blood drip on the white snow, made brighter by the returning sun.  Only once a year do I do this, and I’ve been doing it for a long time now. It’s primal magic, not druid, not witch, no labels.  Just the gods and I.

I saw the light and the dark and the line that divides them.  I thought about the black and the white and how they are not different and yet they were.  The shadows cast by the sun turned the thawing earth a rich dark brown, almost black. I sat and meditated as I do each year when I do this annual offering.  I held my staff and rocked and sang.   I asked for a vision for myself.  This year the vision was surprisingly simple.  No complicated instructions, no strange task to fit into my schedule. Simple words.

“You do the work. Keep doing the work. Know that you will fail and do the work anyway.”

Hard words. 

Those are not the words I would have chosen to hear.  Honestly, that’s one of the signals that I use to know when I have stepped outside of my own wisdom.  When the spirits say things I would not say I listen closer.  This is the moment when some might lead into a conversation about how dangerous it is to listen to the voices in your mind. We all know that conversation.  It is the source many fine tales told in novels and around a cup of coffee.  But it is not this conversation, because these words held wisdom.

“Know that you will fail.”

What do you do with that?  In my case, I gathered up my ritual gear, and wandered back inside, with my hound dog leading the way.  I ate the breakfast I cooked beforehand and felt a little dismal, to tell the truth.

It wasn’t until later that the wisdom unfolded like a flower in the sun.  I was talking with my husband and I shared my experience.  I told him my hard truth. He looked surprised and said, “That’s not a bad thing!” he said every time you go into a competition you have to be ready to fail.  Every time you sit down at a poker table you have to accept that you could lose it all.  Failure is part of the game.

His words spun me.  My perspective changed drastically in that moment, like that moment when a wad of folded paper becomes an origami crane.  I let that thought sink into my consciousness as I fell asleep, and I woke up with a feeling of freedom.  No longer did it matter if I succeeded at what I was doing.  That wasn’t the point.  The point was to do it.  It’s a lot easier to do a thing when you’re not afraid at the same time. 

Could that voice have said to let go of fear?  Sure.  But it wouldn’t have had the same kind of reorganizing effect on me.  I was given the gift of freedom when I was given assurance of failure.  It’s weird, I know. But when your goals are of the save the planet, live in harmony, build a new religion sort, failure is a real option.  It feels okay to say that.  We live in times of global warming, extinction, and peak oil.  That shit is real.  Accepting failure as an option is only sensible.  But it doesn’t stop me from planting my seeds, teaching my children, and writing these essays. 

The gods gave me a gift of perspective.  In return, I do the thing they ask. I do the work. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ostara Freebies!

For Ostara I decided to do a coloring page of Frigg, the wife of Odin and the All-Mother.  It's based on a piece I did for a friend in an art swap earlier in the year.  To get a print resolution image, click here.

I also wrote a simple chant for my grove's Ostara rite this weekend. I know it's hard to find good simple spring chants. I know this because I tried to find one. We are going to be honoring Ostara herself, and yes, I think she's a real goddess.  Jason makes a good argument that agrees with my thinking.  The nonsense refrain is inspired by English and Lithuanian folk music, both of which use nonsense words regularly to finish a line.  I sing the first verse two different ways and I found that both versions could be sung together and would sound good.  Also, the nonsense line can simply be repeated for all four lines.  Everyone should sing the second two line part together, it's not really meant to be sung with the first.  Here's a link to the audio.

Shining spring eastern light
Hey la hey la
Ostara goddess oh so bright
Hey la hey la
Greening haze all around
Hey la hey la
Flowers pushing up the ground
Hey la hey la

Thanks and praise for these days of warmth and sun
The season of the joyful child has begun

May the blessings of the land be upon all of us this equinox. I know I look forward to planting my peas and lettuces any day now, and have started seeds in my basement for when it gets warmer.  I hope you enjoy my freebies, dear reader, I give them as gifts from my heart in thanks for what my community and my pagan practice has given me over the years.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What's in a Name? The Power of Defining Meditation

Before we even begin to talk about meditation first we have to figure out what exactly that means. 

Meditation defined:

“The act or process of spending time in quiet thought : the act or process of meditating “ from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.

That’s a horrible definition. 

It’s circular in the first place, defining the word with the word by changing the ending.  It’s also entirely missing the point.  There are lots of ways to spend time in quiet thought. I can be calculating my gross income for my 1040 tax form and be engaged in quiet thought.  That is not meditation.

So what is it? 

Medtation as we think of it and as it has been studied comes from the many and varied Eastern traditions, all the entangled branches of Buddhism, Hinduism, Tantric practice and more.  Each group has a bit of a different definition, but from my own reading and understanding it is primarily focused on what one might describe as mindfulness meditation.  This is commonly thought of as the “emptying of one’s mind” enlightenment through letting go of the ego or self and the process of learning how to live within the present moment.   This is hefty, powerful work and I think it benefits anyone to try this sort of meditation.    But I’ve come to believe that there is more to meditation than the calming of the mind.

I’ve meditated to calm and excite my mind. I’ve meditated to heal myself, to heal others, to connect to deity, to connect to the land, to do magic, to prepare for an interview, to cope with grief and sorrow, and to prepare to lead. 

I would argue that meditation is more than just the stilling of the mind. It is the basis of everything we call magic and a lot of what we call cognitive-behavioral psychology.  A common definition of magic is changing consciousness at will.  I see meditation as the skillset that makes that change happen.  Meditation practice helps build willpower, which is essential for success at any endeavor.  Neuro-Linguistic Programming is an incredibly modern viewpoint on meditation and it has some fascinating insights.  We know that the ancient Europeans also had practices that one might call meditation, The Celtic poets had a process to inspire poetry which involved sensory deprivation and breath control where they went into a cave, wrapped themselves in a hide and put a rock on their chest.   They effectively found a way to cut out sound and sight, and putting a rock on your chest is certainly a way to make you focus on your breath.   The point of the exercise was to come out of this extended meditation with the power of inspiration in order to write grand poetry and song. 

Earth Mother Wakes
Some might argue that this is more like a trance technique than a meditation technique, but I would ask, what is the difference?  Both are physical and psychological adjustments to environment in order to create a certain mental and emotional outcome.    I would say that trance techniques are simply advanced meditation techniques.  If that is the case, then it makes perfect sense why so many teachers from various magical traditions suggest that meditation be a basis for practice.

Meditation isn’t just for Buddhists and it never was.

I would define meditation thusly:

Meditation is any of a large group of mental and physical techniques that willfully change the state of mind of a person.  This can include cognitive, emotional, and spiritual states of mind. 

That’s a pretty big category, isn’t it?

But I think it fits the evidence. I started meditating when I was pretty young. I didn’t even know that was what I was doing.  I had a babysitting gig the summer before high school.  The kids mostly weren’t home.  They went to their friend’s houses.  I was mostly there to answer the phone and make lunch.   I read and watched a lot of MTV.  Finally I got so bored that I just sat. I sat crosslegged in their living room bored out of my freaking gourd and did nothing. 

I found that nothingness was a place inside my head. It was profound.  In the moment between one breath and the next was a vastness that expanded in every direction.  It was beautiful darkness and I loved it. I’ve followed that beautiful darkness ever since that moment.   It was accidental meditation and I fell in love with that feeling.

It fits my definition as well as being pretty close to some of the other definitions that you can find around the internetz.  

So that is what I teach, and what exercise one and two are meant to demonstrate.  The first is a more traditional technique for calming the mind, the second is meant to bring it up to a quicker state of mind to ready the individual for something that engages logical thought.   These skills are incredibly useful and important.  Certainly, some people will be better at it than others, but like everyone needs to know basic math and reading, I think everyone should know basic consciousness changing techniques, aka, meditation. 

To name a thing is to begin to understand it.  Language has a profound impact on culture and by choosing to understand something in a certain way it becomes that thing.  I have heard it said that English doesn't have words for many spiritual concepts, but we can.  Just like our ancestors did before us we can learn to integrate the new and the very old into our worldview.  We have the power to better ourselves if we choose to do so.  What do you choose, dear reader?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

The smell of pine and juniper hangs in the air and my hands are covered in a fine dust of sacred powder.  The resins I collected from the balsam fir trees last spring have dried for a year and so I grind them to powder in my trusty olive-colored Oster blender.  Each different powder goes into its own container this year.  This is the year I will attempt to make my process repeatable and measurable. 

Science, art, and spirituality are all coming together in my life again.  This time it is incense making.  For some years I’ve been making my own blends of herbs to burn. I am incredibly sensitive to scents, and too often commercial incense is too much for my poor nose.  It’s no good to give myself a headache while meditating.  I’ve used Japanese incense for some years, but I kept wondering if there was a way that I could use local materials to create incense. I discovered that I could make a powder of the plant materials and simply make a little pile on a stone and light it.  As long as it was properly flammable it created a lovely natural smoke.    

Slowly over the years I’ve learned when and where to collect the pine resin, how long it takes to dry, the plants that smell good when burned, and the plants that the spirits want. (which are not always the same)  I collect the oak leaves before midsummer, the mugwort is cut before it blooms, the mullein leaves are picked when they are big and fuzzy.  Sometimes I rub them on the kid’s cheeks.  Everything from last year’s harvest has waited patiently for me to find the time to process it all.

A friend of mine came by later to pick up her son from our house.  We often have extra kids.  One friend’s boy calls our house “Day Camp”.  This particular friend is an herbalist and spiritual seeker.  When I told her about how I had come to make my own incense and burn it on a stone she said that she had been shown something very similar in Anishinaabe traditional ceremonies she had been part of.  I found it fascinating that I had created a similar method in the same place by trying to make an incense that was created out of local ingredients.  Certainly I have any number of river stones that I have collected over the years. Living in Michigan, beautiful river stones are a common thing to find.  Somehow, my experiments in finding the sacred in my place had yielded similar results as the Native Americans that had been here far longer.  It was a nice feeling to know that.

So here I am, with a process and a product and the thought that I could share the products of my labor.  In years past I simply tossed what I liked together, suiting myself and the spirits.  There were no measurements or record keeping.  For the first time last year I even bothered to write down the ingredients, but not the proportions.  Now I intend to come at my spiritual practice from a more measured perspective, recording methods and amounts, hoping to share my recipes and offer people the chance to use my knowledge and work while getting paid for my trouble. Just as I was working toward this, my friend (who also sells her wares) gave me insight into a connection I didn’t even know was there. In a way, the synchronicity was reassuring.

Logical thinking doesn’t need to be excluded from spiritwork.  It needs desperately to be included. I look forward to finishing my incense blends and offering them to the folk and the gods.  It’s all another small step toward living in balance. I still struggle with the idea of making money from my spiritwork.  But if I want to continue my work I need to be able to have the time to do that work. A "day job" would greatly impact that ability and flexibility of schedule. I wouldn't be able to do my job nearly as well.  I don’t see an end to my struggle with this process.  Money is the metaphor we have to work with and though I have been incredibly lucky to be a stay at home mom, which has afforded me time to support my grove and my community, I want to be able to hold my own.  I want to know if my work can stand up against the cold winds of commerce and capitalism.   Gentle reader, is walking in balance important enough to make it?

I’m gonna find out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Seven ways to live closer to the Earth

In my last post I shared a spring tradition that my Grove has built over the years.  It’s one tradition, certainly not the only one.  It is crucial that we as modern pagans take the time and effort to think about how our paganism fits into the world we find ourselves in.

As the winter snow begins to melt and I find myself deeply breathing the fresh smell of spring, the Earth Mother is close to my thoughts.  If we see the sacred embodied in the world around us how do we functionally embody that?  In other words, if we believe that the Earth is our Sacred Mother, what the heck do we do about it?

I’ve spent more than a decade pondering that question from spiritual, physical, and mental standpoints.  I’ve tried a lot of things.  I’ve studied organic farming, climate change, ecopsychology, ecology, herbalism, and deep ecology.  I’ve read the writings of Joanna Macy, E.O. Wilson, David Abram, Eliot Coleman, and John Jeavons. They’re all worth checking out.

For me, it has come down to living in harmony. The Lithuanians have a word: darna.  It means harmony, balance, and is spoken of as a way of life.  We humans are not in balance.  Not with each other, not with the other species, not with the Earth Mother herself.  We are immensely powerful, capable of destroying not only ourselves but everyone else we share our lovely blue planet with.  This is a hard thought to hang onto.  It’s painful, and mostly we are kept busy with making sure the kids are fed and taken to the dentist, the boss is satisfied with our work, and if we are lucky, some measure of joy and pleasure for ourselves is to be found.  But there are things we can do, and must do, even within that matrix of meaningful work.

 In my reading this morning I came across a post over at House of Vines about how to honor the gods of place.  His focus was on the challenges of working with local spirits and gods while respecting the rights of indigenous people, in particular, Native American traditional religion.  As I took my daughters to school my youngest pointed out a rivulet that had formed in the melting ice.  I thought about how it looked like a real river, seen from far above and how the microcosm truly does reflect the macrocosm.

 And within that image is the answer to the question, “What the heck do we do about it?”

Each of us is ultimately responsible for our own actions.  It is up to us as individuals to find our own unique way to walk in balance and honor the spirits of the land.  However, having studied the project for some years I have some ideas of what works and what doesn’t.  So without further ado I present you with seven ideas for how to live closer in harmony with the earth and the land spirits.

  • 1.     Food.  Food is basic in our lives, everyone needs it, and food is literally what we are built from.   Cook your own.  Learn to cook from scratch.  Worry less about if food is organic and more about if it’s local. Go to farmers markets and make friends with farmers. Grow your own if you can.  Look for signs in the grocery store that tell you where the food is from and pick close to home. I know all this education and cooking takes time.   I could go on and on about food. I’ve tried a lot of diets: vegetarian, raw food, whole grain, gluten-free, and corn-free.  Finally I went paleo and stayed there.  It works really well with local eating. We have a milk and meat share we get weekly from a farmer north of town. Make food a priority for you, your family, and your Earth.
  • 2.     Travel.  Let’s face it.  Petrochemicals are a big part of the human power imbalance, right?  Gas leads to hydrocarbons, leads to climate change, leads to Bad Things.   However, I’m not suggesting that you stop traveling, but I do believe that we should think about a hierarchy of travel.  Walking and biking should soon become a more viable option in the northern hemisphere. I intend to walk my youngest home from school today.  However, when we travel longer distances, remember that even though a car takes longer, from an ecological standpoint it’s way better to drive than to fly.  Make the extra effort to rideshare or take a train or bus if you can. A good rule of thumb is that the slower you go the better it is. Make the journey part of the adventure.
  • 3.     Stuff.  I’m not advocating just getting rid of all of it and going to sit on the top of a mountain in a cave somewhere.  I am saying we need to think about our stuff. In years past people had stuff that could make stuff.  Their collections weren’t of action figures, but of tools.  They could knit, or make furniture.  They could do things with their stuff, and stuff had purpose.  I would argue that your stuff should have a purpose too.  Ideally stuff should be functional, beautiful, and useful.
  • 4.     Community.  For a human, to walk in balance is for us to have community.  We are social animals, and at our best we support each other and share our successes and failures.  You don’t have to do everything on your own.  Walking in balance with the Earth Mother involves time and effort.  It is time and effort well spent, with dividends paid in the lives of our children, their children, and all the lives of the species we share our world with.  Finding people to do it with you will help. You can share techniques, you can share the work, and you can share the joy as well.
  • 5.     Simplicity. This is one of those concepts that is easy to say and hard to do.  Community can certainly play into making it easier, because it’s so much harder to find contentment in your life alone. Simplicity is about enjoying what is there around you, noticing the first blossoms of spring, taking pleasure in a favorite sweater, listening to a friend share a poem or a joke. Live where you are and find the beauty in that place and those people. It’s there.
  • 6.     Diversity. Value diversity in every aspect of your life.  Right now in the US most of the potatoes grown are one kind of potato.  This makes our food system very fragile.  Buy weird colored potatoes. Remember that there are always more than two answers and that most dichotomies are false.   Put value on the importance of different ideas and different people.  Monotheism leads to the belief that there is one right answer and one right way.  Ecology shows us that there are a multitude of ways to solve any problem.  Value people of different skin colors because humans are beautiful in all our colors.   Be polytheist in practice because it makes you more compassionate, flexible, and wise.
  • 7.     Time.  My husband once told me that the only limiting resource we really have is time. After thinking about it for a while I realized that he was right.  What this means is that I am asking you to take your most valuable resource and spend it differently. Take some time for the Earth.  I’m not just asking you to do this for yourself, but for your children and for mine too.  Think about how you could walk in balance with the earth and take the time to make sure your answer will really work.  Don’t give into greenwashing by companies who want to sell you things.  Do work to learn useful skills, integrate knowledge into your daily life, and take the time to notice the goddess that is always with us: the Earth Mother.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Weaving a Tug of War Tradition of Spring

Now let me tell you a story.  This story has truth, but is not true, has wisdom but is not wise.  Stories rise up from the earth herself, heard when the spirits whisper in our ears and so we share them.  May the gods find my words pleasing, and so may you.

In the time before time, when all things were not settled as they are today, there was a prosperous farm.  On this farm there lived a pious family who gave offerings to the gods and walked in balance with the land. They honored all the spirits of the land and their house spirits loved them very much.  They had many house spirits, as everyone did in those days.  Every thing had its place, and every thing had it’s spirit.  There was the spirit of the hearth fire, and the spirit of the ancestors of the household.  There was the spirits of the fields and rivers and the spirit of the barn.  There were two spirits who were sacred to the gods themselves.  The Zaltys, the holy green snake who connected the household to the sacred waters and was beloved of the sun, and the the Aitvaras, the powerful fire bird who connected the household to the holy sky and was beloved of the dark.  The family gave offerings to them even when the world was frozen and the sun was distant, when they wondered if the food would last until the green shoots of the blossom lifter would rise again in the spring. 

The youngest daughter particularly loved to give offerings of milk to the Zaltys and the Aitvaras.  But one year, winter did not end. It came early and stayed late and the cold froze everything. The ice was too thick to fish, and the plants could not come up through the snow.  Everyone, everywhere was hungry and there was not enough food, even when all shared what they had.  The girl didn’t have enough food to give as offerings and she was sad and hungry.  She closed her eyes tight and spoke to the Zaltys and the Aitvaras in her heart. She asked for their help for the people of the village and her family.  She saw a vision of them of them in her minds eye.  The green snake became a huge winding river of water and the fire bird became a streaking comet in a starry sky.  The two forces fought a mighty battle, and wherever they touched steam billowed and mist rose.  They spun together into a circle and the steam flowed outward across the land. Wherever the cloud touched water flowed and lakes formed. For as everyone knows, lakes are just clouds that touched the earth.   When she opened her eyes she knew what they had to do to help the earth thaw.  They had no food to offer but they could offer their strength.  So she went to the village children and told them of her idea.  They gathered their parents and siblings, their aunts, uncles and grandparents.  Everyone in the village had a party of purification.  They built mighty fires and poured water on the frozen things.  They dressed in costumes and at the end they had a mighty battle.  Now no one wanted to get truly hurt so they decided on a game of tug of war.  One side danced toward the rope in a long snaky spiral dance, and hissed and poured water as they came.  The other side ran and leapt high, singing all the while.  Each pulled as hard as they could, battling as the green snake and the firebird had done.  In the end, everyone fell down exhausted and laughing.  All that banging and singing, leaping and pouring did its work and slowly slowly the earth mother yawned and woke from her deep sleep feeling clean and refreshed.  The cuckoo bird came back from the southlands and the green shoots rose from the ground.  The people of the village rejoiced and sang, and every year after that they had a celebration at the end of winter called Užgavėnės where they gave offerings, poured water, lit fires, sang, and played tug of war.

Now we offer milk because we still have enough to share, but we also offer the strength of our bodies and the determination of our minds and the fierceness of our hearts as we compete to honor the battle of the Zaltys and the Aitvaras.

I wrote this story inspired by the traditions of Užgavėnės from Lithuania.  This is a celebration of the coming thaw.  It begins on Ash Wednesday and in terms of the modern pagan Wheel of the year it falls between Imbolc and Ostara.  When I have adapted the practices for my Grove, I have moved the celebration later, and held it at our Ostara high day.  The story is inspired by the hard winters we have been having here as well as a combination of a number of folk traditions.  It is not authentically ancient, but it is a reflection of an authentic modern practice.

Based on my research into Eastern European folk customs I created a ceremonial tug of war where the forces of fire and water battle in the spring in order to waken the sleeping Earth Mother.  I pulled together the tales of the fight of two spirits Lašininis (the pork spirit man) and Kanapinis (the hempen spirit man) which symbolized the fight between winter and spring,  a folk tradition in one area of Lithuania of tug of war fights in the spring, customs of pouring water all over everything to aid the thaw, knowledge of the fire and water duality in ancient Indo-European lore, and two spirits known to be connected to fire and water in Baltic legend, the Zaltys and the Aitvaras.

Both are household spirits,  the Zaltys is the name for the green grass snake and is connected to Saulė, the goddess of the sun.  The snake is also connected to the water, we know this by one of the most popular stories in Lithuania, Eglė žalčių karalienė or Eglė, Queen of the Grass Snakes.  I will have to tell you her tale another time.

The Aitvaras, is a different character altogether, a trouble-y trickster of a firebird that has a tendency to steal grain from your neighbors and bring it to you.  It’s a good friend to have, and a poor enemy, but they’re hard to find.  In most of the folklore they are seen as somewhat demonic, if of a friendly bent.

Taking all those threads, I wove a new thing.  Something with the old and the new combined to create a ritual moment where each member of the grove gets to identify with either the powers of fire or of water.  This is a moment where we move ourselves into the cycle of time, out of the linear passage of time.   We stand in mythic space, struggling physically with each other to wake the slumbering earth.

It’s a powerful moment every time we do it.  It starts rather ritualistically with one side shouting “Sacred Snakes wake the Earth! and pulling the rope, then the other side shouting “Firebirds wake the Earth!”  and tugging back.  The shouting and pulling goes faster and faster until it descends into a true battle of strength and will.   The kids love it. The grown ups love it.  No matter who wins, everyone who wants to can participate and everyone ends up laughing and panting in the end.

Time is the test of such a weaving. Does it hold up to reality?  Does the warp and weft of it stretch to fit different people and different needs?  When we create new narratives and traditions the goal is to find meaning and even more importantly, create meaning out of life and myth.  I hope you enjoyed the story dear reader.  I hope it made you think about your own life and relationship to the coming spring. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Priest Path: What is this need to speak of dreams?

 My friends and companions of a scientific bent mock the religiously minded as simple fools too caught up in their own emotional connection to tradition to see the logical truth as laid and caught by carefully constructed experimental designs.

Those who live within a realm of story told and synchronicity found sneer at the failure of those traps to catch their understanding. 

I am pulled to find a connection between the waking world and the worlds that resonate and move in dreams and visions.  It is one of the currents of my life, this no-man’s land between science and an unreal reality that lives with me daily. 

A while ago a friend quoted Carlos Castaneda to me speaking of how to do magic.  She said that magic was to leap from a cliff, knowing that if you did not transform you would plummet to your death.  In that moment I knew exactly what she was talking about.  Sometimes in life there are moments when all the reason and logic in the world cannot bridge the gap between one viewpoint and another. This dead man’s words resonated with us and helped us have a moment of connection about things that are often difficult to talk about. 

Later I came across an article detailing the sordid truth of Carlos Castaneda’s life.  How his work was published as non-fiction when it was a story compiled from ideas around the world.  How he claimed that Don Juan had been taught about peyote by an old Yaqui Indian when, in fact, the Yaqui don’t use peyote.   How in his later years he built a compound where he had young women living with him, claiming he was celibate while he slept with them, and how, upon his death, a number of them disappeared. Later evidence surfaced that at least one of them committed suicide. In the world of logic and evidence he seems more like a dangerous cult leader and less like an inspiration to leap into the sky.

It’s ironic that a moment of synchronicity reinforced my need for logic in my spiritual life.  You see, I have been grappling with ideas of spiritual leadership and what my role as clergy means.  I have begun teaching classes on spirit work and meditation for money.  There is a part of me that fears that leadership.  Will I end up someday as a feminine footnote to some masculine spiritual leader as Castaneda’s Witches did?  Or even worse, will I eventually become corrupted, fodder for stories told after my death? 

I have been participating in an ongoing debate about retired clergy as a part of my duties as clergy. It’s one of the things I do that isn’t often seen or known about by most people.  I argued:

“I believe we are again coming up against the challenge of discovering what exactly a priest does within an ADF framework.  If we look at it from a more traditional ecumenical perspective, a priest who was retired being the sole leader of a Christian church doesn't really make sense. There are certain expectations.  However we come from a different tradition, and while we are one of the most "churchy" of the pagan branches, our line comes from initiate traditions where every member is a priest.  Our membership is highly iconoclastic and self-directed.  In my experience the priesthood serves more as a guide or mentor for others spiritual development than a direct go-between for the laity and the spiritual.”

The priesthood in ancient times was comprised of both the spiritual and the logical.  The two were not divided in any meaningful way.  Those who worked with language and numbers did so to calculate calendars for ritual use as well as agricultural purposes.  The writers of epic poetry were also the judges and keepers of law.

I see this work I do as an outpouring of my need to re-connect these two realms of thought.  I work towards a rational spirituality and a dream-laden science.  I think the two are closer than most would like to admit.  The answers are there, just waiting to be found.  It’s my job to find them.

I’ve been reading about Mirror Neurons in a book called Mirroring People by Marco Iacoboni.  He’s this Italian guy who was part of a scientific team that discovered there are neurons in the brain that are specifically about imitation.  That basically, when we watch a person do a thing our brain, at a cellular level in our brains, pretends to do it too.  When you watch a movie you really do feel what the hero feels.  When you are in ritual and caught up by the magic, feeling the connection between you and the others there, it’s real baby.  Science proves it.   The funny thing is that those Italian scientists weren’t even looking for such a thing.  In a wonderful story full of synchronicity they all kind of figured it out together, noticing how monkey with brain probes acted.  (Mad scientists for the win!) One of them listened to the static sound of the recording of the raw data and noticed that it sounded weird when the monkey watched them eat.  Now the data from their experiments is affecting marketing research, politics, and policy at the governmental and corporate level. 

The knowledge that we really are connected is that powerful. 

Mystics have been saying this shit for millennia. 

I guess they knew what they were talking about.

I’ve been a lot of things in this life.  I’ve been a lifeguard and a tutor, answered tech  questions, been a baker, a farmer, and even a sandwich maker.  But I am also a priest, someone who walks the path between mystery and logic and attempts to translate esoteric knowledge into applicable, useful information and techniques for my community.  It is a satisfying twist to my personal story to understand my odd connection to both the realms of science and myth as part of my vocation as a priest and mystic.   I walk the liminal line between the two, finding power in the uneasy balance between the two.  As I finish writing this I find myself laughing quietly.  I am a devotee of the Dawn after all.  How could she want any less for me than to be balanced in the in-between?


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