The world mourns the loss of beloved actor and director Leonard Nimoy, best known for his role of Spock on the 1960s television series Star Trek, which combined humanistic values, scientific principles, and mystical philosophy to create one of the most popular science fiction franchises. Additionally, religious writers discuss how their faith affects them personally, what it's like to exist as a member of a minority religion, and what non-denominational but spiritually minded people all have in common with one another. All that and more this Faithful Friday.
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I had been able to confidently say the gods are real because I could feel them as well as I felt other humans and animals. Then, suddenly, I couldn't feel them. Not the gods, and not other people. Not animals, not nature, nothing. This is how it happened:
Trigger warnings: physical health and mental health issues, mention of childhood abuse
It was 1997. I had a life-threatening medical problem, and was given a medicine which included in its listed side effects weight gain and depression. I gained 60 lbs. in 3 months, and I became depressed in an equally rapid and thorough manner. When I switched to a different medicine, I stopped gaining weight, but the weight I already had gained did not just disappear, it was still there. The same was true of the depression. It was still there, and I had to deal with it.
For me, depression meant not being able to feel the presence of other minds, not the gods, and not other people. Nothing felt real. All the color leached out of the universe. Clear skies were gray, and sunsets were gray, and chocolate was ashes. I was cut off from sensation and physical pleasure. I started having flashbacks to childhood experiences of sexual abuse.
None of the medicines I tried got my medical problem under control, I was constantly in danger of death, was in constant pain, sometimes was too disabled to leave my house, I could not work, and had to close my bookstore.
I tried everything I could think of help with both the physical and mental issues, including magic. I called on the healer goddess Eir, not knowing at the time that calling on her would provoke a healing crisis. That meant things would seem to get worse before they got better.
My insurance company canceled my policy, and when I looked for help dealing with the depression and flashbacks, I was going bankrupt and could not access for-profit doctors and ended up having to seek help from the state mental health system, which treated me so badly that in addition to my original problems I developed additional ones. The state doctor prescribed an SSRI antidepressant, which relieved fatigue and gave me enough energy to get things done despite still being depressed, and still being physically ill as well. In that time period, SSRIs did not yet list suicidal ideation as a known side effect. Eventually I found better help; I talk about my healing journey in my memoir, so readers interested in the details are directed to that book.
In the meantime, I had an experience that I was convinced should have killed me and that my body's sudden, odd resilience was uncanny.
A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts: My Triumph Over Dissociative Identity Disorder:
"In the days that followed, as I thought about the strange happening, I realized that I had to decide to what I would attribute it: failure or miracle. I chose miracle. I told myself, “Goddess won’t let me die.”
I still could not feel her presence. But I chose to believe she was there. For the first time in my life, I had true faith."
That was a major turning point in my life, and on my heathen path. Eventually, my ability to sense the gods and other people returned, but not until I healed myself with the help of a therapist. I had to get rid of the depression, and the flashbacks, and the panic, and become whole, before I could advance any farther spiritually. When I started being able to feel the presence of the gods again, I felt them more clearly than ever before. But if I had not experienced that, I would never have developed faith, because faith is the choice to believe in the absence of evidence, and until then, I had always had the evidence of my senses.
How we interpret the events of our lives is a choice, just like the existential choice of choosing whether to believe other people, the gods, and our own sensory lived experiences are real. I consciously chose my personal narrative of these events, and I chose this: Freya saved my life.
While today is traditionally a day of celebration, a day to toast the Irish and feast on corned beef and colcannon, my family takes a more serious approach. My husband and I are both of Irish descent, and yes, we'll cook our corned beef and pour the beer (not green, though...that's just weird) and play bagpipe music louder than usual, but we will do so not in honor of the venerable Saint Patrick, but instead in honor of the 'snakes' he drove out of Ireland: the Druids, the Priestesses, and the followers of the Old Ways that were murdered or driven from their homes.
We remember and pay homage to the people who died for their faith, and the survivors who lived in terror, keeping their traditions in secret, so that today Pagans and Wiccans the world over can hold their heads up and proudly claim their places in the world. By all means, celebrate today as you have always done...please don't let me rain on your Saint Patrick's Day parade. (Ouch. That was a terrible pun. I humbly apologize.) In the midst of your celebrating, however, pause for a moment, and light a candle for the ones who came before, for the ones who fell, and the ones that continued on, despite all obstacles, so that we could be here today....
Creideamh a' Bhata Bhuidhe: The religion of the yellow stick. A Coll priest of former times was accustomed to drive recalcitrant natives to church by a smart application of his walking stick, those who yielded were thus said to come under “creideamh a' bhata bhuidhe.” Another version says Hector, son of Donald Maclean of Coll, was the one who applied the yellow stick. Hector was laird in 1715 and as the religion of the yellow stick was introduced into Rum in 1726, it is beyond dispute that Hector was the author, or propagator of it. He was dignified in appearance and stern in manners and could no doubt wield the yellow stick gracefully and with efficiency. - Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary
I was raised a Jehovah's Witness and forced by my parents to attend Kingdom Hall three times a week. So you'll understand if I confess a visceral reaction to the prospect of being beaten with a stick for the sake of piety. In fact, I still deliberately linger in bed on Sunday mornings, and it's been nearly thirty years since I had to attend a weekend service. But that's one of the lovely things about being Pagan, isn't it? We don't adhere to a rigid belief system, so we don't punish our members when they fail to think or do what such a system might dictate. Rather, the religious beliefs of Pagans are diverse, perhaps far more than members of mainstream religions. Around the circle at any given public ritual, we might have Dianic Wiccans, Celtic polytheists, Heathens and others, each nurturing an internal spiritual narrative unique to her needs....
I'm currently going through an emotionally painful time in my life, which includes plenty of tears, and I'm not ashamed or afraid to admit that. It has got me thinking about a lot more about my future, my place in this universe, and not only what my spiritual path means to me, but where it's headed. I foresee a lot of change this year in my life, and it scares me. Recently, while having one of my less formal 'morning chats' with one of the goddesses, I broke down and began to cry at the overwhelming pressure and fear.
I live, work and play in sight of the Catskill Mountains. Although I've followed the Hudson River ever farther north in my life, always there were mountains. First there were the gentle Hudson Highlands, then the rocky faces of the Shawangunks, and then, finally the Catskills. It was those wooded peaks that made me finally love the Hudson Valley. I'm blessed to see the Catskills every day, whether glimpsed as I stretch for a peek from our driveway, or sprawling before me as I cross the bridge heading back home after work. They mark the days, the seasons, and I love them. This morning, as I drove home from the Farm Market across the river, my car fragrant with basil and my mind sorting out what to make with the tomatoes and zucchini I'd purchased, I reached the bridge and gasped. The mountains were...gone. Just not there, as if they'd been stolen away by the same villain who swiped the Moon in the movie Despicable Me. Where they usually could be found was only a smudgy gray haze.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post at my home blog entitled Acts of Faith http://mountainwomon.blogspot.com/2011/09/acts-of-faith.html . So often spirituality relies on faith as its foundation. After all, we can't know there's a Goddess, can we? We can't prove Her existence, can't touch Her, see or hear Her with our standard-issue eyes & ears. And yet, I've known there was Divine since the day after my older son was born 32 years ago. They laid him tummy down on my chest, and he managed to somehow raise his tiny head, and looked past my eyes into my soul. Yep, I know babies aren't really 'looking at' anything at a day old. I don't care; I know what happened that day, and first, that moment changed both our lives. Second, I knew at that moment there was a Divine Being. It would be years before I believed that Being gave a rat's patootie about humankind, and years before I would recognize the Divine as Goddess, but at that moment in time, there was no faith involved; I knew as surely as I know the mountains haven't really vanished. Humidity, fog, clouds have hidden them from my sight, but never my heart....
I have been focused on the art of surrender lately – I am deeply interested in what it takes for your average modern person to consciously live the Will of the Gods, what the difference is between partial and complete surrender (I have the sinking suspicion the latter feels like sitting between two stools, while the other feels like connected bliss) and what a contemporary mystic’s journey can be like…and in this case, how that journey begins.
When I was first exploring paganism and Reclaiming witchcraft (later coming to the Feri Tradition through Reclaiming) I hand-picked the Goddesses and Gods that I wanted to work with, calling to the energies which sparkled and sparked outside of me, just within the reach of my imagination. I found it intensely powerful to strike up my first Goddess relationship with Brighid, keeper of the forge of my heart. Over the years, I have worked with many Goddesses, as I have felt called…but the deepest relationships I have experienced with the Divine have emerged when I have trusted the Divine to choose me....