In Awakening the Sacred Body, the author asks a hard question: "Who does your spiritual practice benefit?" That question isn't asked often. In fact, I can count on one finger the number of times I've come across this question in all the books I've read. It makes me wonder why this question isn't asked more often, but I think we can answer that by simply recognizing that a lot of the focus in spiritual books is on helping a person improve him/herself. Ironically, what isn't recognized is that in some ways what this encourages is a lot more focus on the self than on other people.
I think there's an assumption that goes into spirituality, which is that if a person is engaged in spiritual practices they somehow are becoming better people or more enlightened, or whatever else, but the problem with that assumption is that there is no guarantee that being engaged in any type of practice automatically makes you a better person. And that may not even be the point of the spiritual practice. Spirituality isn't always about making a person into a better person. It's a relationship, but what comes out of the relationship is also informed by what goes into it. Why we engage in spiritual practice is ultimately a personal matter.
With that said, asking who does your spiritual practice benefit isn't a bad question. It's a question worth asking and worth answering. The author shares the following:
"Reflect upon your relationships with yourself, with your family and friends, and within your professional life. Consider your life as a citizen of this world and reflect upon your contribution. These are the arenas in which you want to see changes in a positive direction. Any meditation done with the intention to benefit other beings should certainly benefit the people you live with and see on daily basis. This prevents us from hiding out in spiritual practice or simply being caught in theories of fascinated with abstract principles."
Much of the focus on my own spiritual work has been done with an eye toward improving my life and how I connect with other people. The elemental balancing work, as well as meditation practices were originally started because I recognized how chaotic my life was and how much I contributed to that chaos, both for myself and people connected with me. Doing that work gradually helped me to work out a lot of the internal issues that affected my relationships with other people, but it wasn't always easy for those people because doing such work necessarily brings those issues to the surface. However that's part of what doing such work involves. You bring to the surface what has held you back so you can examine and work with it and then release it. What must be considered is that while you do such work you keep the impact on others to a minimum.
Even if your spiritual work isn't focused on the purpose of changing your life, its still important to examine the impact it can have on yourself and others. If nothing else, such an examination helps you better understand why you practice the spiritual work you practice. It also helps you see it in context to the rest of your life. Ideally you aren't divorcing your spirituality from the rest of your life, but it can be helpful to really examine the relationship it has with your life and the people in it.
What are you doing to ground your spiritual practice in your life? Who does your spiritual practice effect and how do the principles of that practice show up in your life and how you live it?]]>
Deinde Februarius Solmōnaþ...
Solmōnaþ dici potest mensis placentarum, quas in eo diis suis offerebant.
According to the Venerable Bede, an early English scholar and historian who sought to show the triumph of the church in England as inevitable, the inhabitants of the land had a name for February that fit the agricultural nature of the time. In chapter fifteen of his study on the reckoning of time, De Temporum Ratione, he tells us the English names for the months that had been used in the past.
After telling us that January was still part of Giuli [Yule], which is why it was traditional to keep your holiday decorations up, Bede says
Next is February, Solmōnaþ...
Sol is not the Latin word "sun" but "mud"; while we may still be knee-deep in snow (at least we are up in the north where I am) in the more temperate times of medieval England, the thaw would likely have already begun and the signs would have been all around. With the melting snow and spring rain, mud would have well been omnipresent. Think how good it would feel between your toes after the long winter.
How did they celebrate this period? Bede offers us a hint:
Solmōnaþ could be called the month of cakes, which they offered to their gods.
Cakes and ale had to start somewhere, right? Perhaps this is where one thread of tradition comes to us. He doesn't say much about what kind of cakes. Others have suggested that the cakes that appear in field charms like Æcerbot might have been intended and show us a way that ritual might have occurred. Sympathetic magic, feeding the earth so she feeds us, seems a likely form. Though surely there were cakes enough for everyone.
The wonderful medieval cookery site Gode Cookery has a lovely and simple seed cake recipe you might try this February.
See more of my work and buy my books at my website.]]>
I apologize for the formatting wonkiness of my posts to this blog. I think I've exhausted potential remedies. However, I still want to keep in touch with readers and share my thoughts to those who may be interested in reading them. Therefore, this time at least, and possibly in future, depending upon Pagan Square policies, I'd like to share what I've been struggling to post here by directing you to my Broomstick Chronicles blog here: http://besom.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-power-of-north-wisdom-of-earth.html
Yours in changing culture,
This particular blog is focused on divination, and on giving readings, but the idea of developing habits that support good practice can be generalized to many other situations.
I've been doing tarot readings and astrological consultations for a few decades now, and one of the first and most repeated lessons that I learned from my teachers was the importance of telling the truth, especially when it was difficult to do so. Of course, this is difficult to do at first. In part because of uncertainty in one's skills as a novice reader, and in part because very few enjoy being the bearers of bad news. Over time, it becomes a matter of habit to speak what you see with less and less concern for the reaction that it may produce. Through experience and insights, often won through painful or embarrassing errors, it becomes possible to frame the bad news in ways that are more likely to be heard. It also becomes clearer that there will be times that the information cannot be heard no matter how it is reframed. I am grateful that I developed this habit. I'm grateful that it was ingrained into me by my teachers. I was told again and again to be grateful for all the information that I received whether it be something that I categorized as good, bad, or neutral.
The habit of telling what you see when doing a reading is more than simply a matter of being an ethical reader. It also has a long-term impact upon the quality and the accuracy of the material that comes through in your readings. The intuition, images, and words that well up from deep within ourselves are mediated and synthesized by the sum of all our different parts, not just by our conscious waking selves. When you develop the habit of censoring yourself, you are also, slowly but surely, creating filters against the truth that will eventually lie outside of your conscious awareness. These filters become harder to remove. Then you have less choice over how and what you tell the querant, the person receiving the reading.
About three years ago, a woman who'd come to my shop for a number of years, for whom I had done a couple of readings, came in for an important and difficult reading. She appeared ill, and indeed she was. She reported that she had been to several doctors and that there was little doubt that she had terminal cancer. Her question was which of the treatment protocols that she had been offered would gain her the longest stretch of life. We had a brief conversation to clarify what it was that she truly wanted from the reading. She made it very clear that she was less concerned about the quality of her life as she was about its length. It was her desire to live long enough so that her daughter would be legally an adult. I'll leave out the details, but it was important that her daughter not end up in the hands of her biological father or the remaining family members for a variety of reasons.
I cleansed us and the room with saltwater and incense. I had both of us do breath work, and grounding and centering. Silently in my mind, I sang the chant that I use before doing difficult readings, and then I did my best. I did a separate reading for each of the treatment protocols, and we found the one that seemed to have the best chance for longer life. She thanked me, and we cried together. I canceled my other appointments for the day, and I took a break from doing readings for about two months. I was also taught not to give readings unless I assessed myself as being ready to be clear and balanced. I gave thanks for having adhered to the teachings that I had been given, and for having developed the habit of telling the truth. She did pass away, but she did live long enough for her daughter to legally become an adult and have control of her own affairs.
Blessedly most readings are not as momentous and emotionally difficult as the one I just described. In fact, without any statistical methodology, speaking from my gut I would say that three quarters of the readings that I've done aren't all that important in the grand scheme of things. Though I will admit, from the perspective of the querant who is emotionally invested in the questions, they are a big deal. I and others I know who do readings with some regularity, will often complain about how many readings are about money, love life concerns, and matters that could of been puzzled out with just a bit of clear thinking. Although I did not believe it when I began my training in various types of divination, the rule about treating each reading and each question the same has served me well. All the practice that came through the giving of readings of lesser consequence, developed the solidity and the habits to do well when the stakes truly are high.
What I hope you take away from this story, is that there is value in following some of the time proven guidelines that you might be taught. Also that you become what you do, and the things that you repeat the most become ingrained within you. I hope that over time you strengthen those internal structures that uphold you when the need is greatest.]]>
San Diego, CA
Day Two: Saturday Afternoon
After lunch I duly went to the joint session of “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”
No regrets, but to do this I had to pass on three other sections scheduled at the same time slot:
The panel brought together “papers exploring the fluid, antagonistic, and overlapping boundaries of the secular, spiritual and religious…how various across draw these boundaries differently be relying on multiple understandings of the religious and the secular and by creating hybrid identities that cut across religions traditions or the secular/religious divide.”
Again, as a Pagan who has always considered her religion to call for efforts at social justice and political change, this panel called to me.
Such papers as “Switching, Mixing, and Matching: Towards an Understanding of Multireligiousness in Contemporary America” and “Qualitative Research on Spiritual but Not Religious ‘Nones’: Heterogeneous yet Conceptually Converging,” seemed that they would have addressed some of the attitudes I’ve encountered frequently in my interfaith activities.
- o Massimo Introvigne on “Painting the Southern Border: New Religions, the Mexican Revolution, and the Visual Arts”;
- o Stephanie Yuhas on “The Relationship of Dark Green Religion to the Spiritual But Not Religious Movement”’ – definitely Pagan flavored.
- o Erin Prophet on “California Science Fiction, Atlantis, and New Age Apocalypticism: The Constructino and Influence of Frederick S. Oliver’s Dweller on Two Planets by Phylos the Thibetan”;
- o Shannon Trosper Schorey: “’The Internet Is Holy. Code Is Law’: New Religions and Sacral Materiality at the Intersections of Technology and Policy”; and
- o Donald Westbrook on “’A People’s History’ of the Church of Scientology: Conclusions from Ethnographic Research in the United States.”
Here’s the session I went to: “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”
Arrived to greet several Pagan scholar pals, only to see someone who’s a rock star in my world, Ronald Grimes, now retired professor of Ritual Studies. I’ve heard him speak at past Ritual Studies Sections of the AAR. I’ve read several of his books, and require students to read them when I have the opportunity to teach ritual theory and liturgical design. In particular, Rite out of Place: Ritual, Media, and the Arts, and Deeply into the Bone: Re-inventing Rites of Passage. So, feeling emboldened, I went up to him and told him I’d been worshipping him from afar for years, I loved his work, and I used it in teaching. I actually told him he was a rock star in my world. After all, we’re both of an age (the same age) and I have nothing to prove one way or another, so appearing like a teeny-bopper fan girl didn’t concern me. It needn’t have anyway, because I found him to be a lovely fellow. He immediately invited me to sit next to him during the session, which I did. Unfortunately, I seem never to remember to take photos, so I blew the opportunity to be in a shot with him. Oh, well…
I was disappointed that Donna Seamone was unable to present her paper, “’The Path Has a Mind of Its Own’: Eco-Agri-Pilgrimage to the Corn Maze Performance – an Exercise of Cross-Species Sociality.”
Folklorist Sabina Magliocco spoke on “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Animal Spirits in Contemporary Pagan Religions.”
* * *
Samuel Etikpal, from the University of Oslo, spoke on “Transition Concepts in Ghanaian Festival Performance,” specifically the annual Kundum Festival, “during which diverse participants ritually express their conceptions of and wishes for a health environment, spiritual protection, and socio-economic prosperity, bringing into play those other-than-human agencies expected to uphold or oppose these goals.”
First recorded by a Dutch trader around 1704, the festival takes place in the Jomoro District. With drumming, a canoe regatta, the pouring of libations, the eating of special foods, for eight days or longer the people seek to honor their ancestors and elders, and to ensure good health and abundant crops. In rituals involving communication between humans and non-humans, they appeal for protection. They honor a “God creator” and Mother Earth Yaba.
Earth Mother Yaba
Local river goddesses are also honored, for they are seen as good mothers, providing a place for swimming, an artery for traveling, and fish for eating. Today these rivers are threatened by oil drilling -- all the more reason to employ any and all means of restoring balance and repairing damage caused by human activity.
Samuel also showed some photos of a Kundum Festival held annually in Atlanta, Georgia. He has not attended the one in the U.S.; rather, a friend sent him these photos. Since, he’d emphasized the rituals honoring the local river goddess in Jomoro, I asked him if the festival in Atlanta connected to the Chattahoochee River in any way, but he wasn’t certain it did and suspected it did not.
* * *
Sami Flag by Jeltz
I found fascinating Graham Harvey’s paper, “Indigenous Cultural Events, Sovereignty, and Inter-Species Relations,” about the Riddu Riđđu Festival he attended last Summer. Held in ‘the land of the midnight sun’ at a time of year when the sun is visible round the clock, the festival, Sami in origin, is described as “an international indigenous festival, which annually takes place in Kåfjord in Norway. The festival has programs for the whole family. The program includes worldwide indigenous music, art, theater and dance, youth camps with artistic and political workshops, children's festival, seminars, film and literature.”
They begin with a traditional greeting:
From our rivers to your rivers,
From our mountains to your mountains,
Form our people to your people.
Riddu Riđđu does not encourage travelers from afar because it discourages anything that increases one’s carbon footprint, which air travel obviously does; they nevertheless do welcome other indigenous peoples. This particular year Maori people from New Zealand were among the participants.
Singers perform traditional Sami joiking, a personal and evocative vocalization in which the singer “sings” or “becomes” persons, animals, and landscapes.
In semi-underground lodges and outdoors they perform rituals around speaking to the food (meat and plants) when dining. They emphasize inter-species communication. They ask not “What do you believe?” Rather, they ask “What do you eat?” or “Whom do you eat?”
Just as the health of the rivers of Ghana (and elsewhere) is threatened by oil drilling, so too is the health of the rivers in the circumpolar regions. As Earth’s atmosphere heats and glaciers melt, at temperatures of 30º F. and higher in the arctic summer, rivers flood, resulting in the inability of trout to swim upstream to reproduce because the rushing water is too strong and too cold.
More to come.
[Apologies for funky formatting.]
One of the pop culture magic systems I work with is Dehara, based off the Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine. We're currently doing some work on the next grimoire and as part of that work I've been immersing myself in reading the Wraeththu series, as well as fan fiction set in that universe. By immersing myself in the pop culture artifacts I attune myself to that system of magic, as well as to the characters that may show up as a result. Scientists call this type of immersion experience taking. I get caught up in the pop culture world and change my behavior and thoughts to match that of the characters. Personally I think the concept of experience taking sounds a lot like invocation.
I've been integrating my work with Dehara into my daily work, doing path workings with the various beings I'm contacting as I help to flesh out this system of magic. What's been most fascinating for me though is that my work has shown up in my dreams. I've dreamed of myself as a hara having adventures in the Wraeththu universe. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I'm doing this magical work and also re-reading the series at the same time, creating this immersive experience that effects my imagination and makes my dreams more receptive to continued interactions and work on this system of magic. In both my meditations and dreams the experiences have been lucid. In one case, in the meditation the Hara version of myself experienced a burn on his hand, and my physical hand had a similar reaction, though there was no burn on it.
Immersion in pop culture can occur across multiple forms of media. Video games are obvious examples of such immersion, but what makes reading different is how it engages the imagination differently. A video game or television show provides you the sensorial content, but reading requires you to use your imagination to fill in that information and consequently I think it can draw you in further. If you've ever had the experience where you feel like you've disappeared into a book, its likely because your imagination is fully engaged and placing your awareness into a different space as a result.
Another way you can tell you are engaged in pop culture is when you start to create your own content. The fan fiction of Harry Potter is a good example of such content. Some of it is wish fulfillment about existing characters, but in some cases its also writing about new characters, characters that are modeled off the person writing the fiction. In my own work with Dehara, I've felt compelled to start writing a fictional story set in the Wraeththu universe, a channeling of the experiences my Harish self is having when I do my meditations. I've started writing it and I felt that its deepened the experience even further. I'm investing myself in this identity as much as I'm investing myself in the magical work I'm doing around it.
What makes pop culture magic work is a combination of understanding the principles of magic and the ability to invest your identity in pop culture enough to make it real for you. While for anyone else it may not be real, if you can give enough of yourself to it and accept it as a possible reality, then what you discover is a resonance that allows you to connect with the characters and make them part of your life beyond the immediate gratification of entertainment. The stories come to life for you, and you take part in the experience. The pop culture is no longer just fiction, but something deeper, made so by the simple fact that imagination is so much more than a flight of fancy. Imagination is the compelling realization of sacred possibility provided form and substance by the practitioner and what the practitioner is engaging.
My work with Dehara is an engagement of my imagination, an immersion in pop culture, an a form of identity that allows me to meaningfully make that form of pop culture a part of my spiritual life. Someone else who'd want to work with the system would need to take a similar initial approach, immersing themselves in the Wraeththu series and related works, but more than that they would need to engage their imagination as a way to connect and interact with that world and the characters within it. The same applies to any other system of pop culture magic that a person wants to learn. To make it real immerse yourself in it so that you engage your imagination and connect with the characters who are part of that pop culture. That's the beginning of your work with pop culture magic.]]>
Communing in a circle in my garden out in back.
Sitting still as stones they were, implacable as sin.
But one of them was smoky grey; his brother got him in.
I've seen a bowl of flowers by my dying mother's bed
Reaching not to sunward, but toward her face instead
As though they loved her energy and would draw away her pain.
I turned the bowl around as proof; they bent towards her again.
I even healed a land-line phone, disrupted by some bug
In the wire somewhere, 'twixt the handset and the plug -
Held it firm and sent the strongest vowel I could recall
Till it leapt to life again and let me make a call.
Helped a long-hair cat of mine who jumped and sprained his spine;
Placed my fingers on his back in a ritual benign
Which I learned from Rosicrucians, a soothing strong technique.
In fifteen minutes he was fine, and ran off like a streak.
There've been phones I couldn't fix, spines I could not give relief.
I've witnessed some prayers answered and some not, despite Belief.
The Powers that Be care more about our destined roles within the Game
Than what we choose to call ourselves, or which Avatar we claim.