Category Archives: Spiritual Development

Musings on Gaining Understanding

The first step to gaining wisdom is admitting ignorance.

Several years ago, I frequented a number of online message forums that centered around discussing Witchcraft and Paganism.  On one of my favorites, I included the above statement in all of my posts. What most of the other posters did not realize was that I included the line as a reminder and comfort to myself, because it was a reality in my life I was struggling with at the time.

This was back when I was still relatively new to the Pagan paths.  I had a lot to learn (of course I still do and always will, as that’s the nature of any spiritual journey).  In many ways, this was frustrating to me.  Particularly because of my Christian background, which left me brimming with a great deal of knowledge about that religion and culture.  I could tell all of the major Bible stories, quote and explain several different verses in the Bible, and was even knowledgeable enough that I ended up preaching a number of sermons over the years before I eventually left my church and the faith I was raised in.

All of that was behind me.  Being the knowledgeable one was in the past. Instead, here I was having to learn everything about my new spiritual journey from step number one. Frustrating indeed.

I realized if I was going to progress on my journey, I needed to make peace with that reality. I realized that I had to accept that I didn’t know everything — or much of anything, really — so that I could get down to changing that.  So I typed up that sentence and started putting it places where I would see it, remember my goals and what’s needed, and even be comforted by the fact that it’s all part of the journey.

I’ve never forgotten that statement, because I realized there was a greater lesson there. Towards the end of my experience with the Christian faith, I had also grown prideful. I had started to think that I knew it all, which made the realization that my knowledge at the time would no longer serve me.  i was forced to eat a double portion of humble pie.  So I also remind myself of the above statement to avoid that trap of pride again. That sentence reminds me that even though it’s been over a decade since the first time I wrote it down and even though I’ve learned a lot over that time, there is still much I don’t know and understand.  That statement serves as a constant reminder to acknowledge where I’m still ignorant so that I can continue to seek out an even greater understanding, and hopefully do so in humility.

 

Prayer to Tyr for Justice

Having recently run across a couple of posts where I wrote various Pagan prayers, I decided to bring back the practice.  As today is Tuesday and I’m very much interested in social justice, I decided a prayer to Tyr was an appropriate thing to write.

Great Tyr, I call out to you on this day, which is named after you. Guide me and teach me to be an instrument of justice. Help me to be mindful of the ways, both large and small, that those less fortunate are wronged and harmed. Instill in me the obligation and help me to find the courage to speak out against those who would injure and exploit others.

You who gave your own hand in order to bind the Wolf of Destruction, remind me that justice comes with a price. Help me become more aware of the luxuries and comforts that I will have to give up so that those less fortunate may enjoy more freedom. Urge me to develop the compassion that I might make those sacrifices and count it both my duty and honor.

By your guidance and my will. So mote it be.

 

Spirituality Corner: On Teaching and Traditions

Over the past five or so years, I’ve found myself in the position to help various people on their spiritual journeys. Most particularly, I’ve found myself helping people to learn to communicate with spirit, be it spirit guides, individuals who have passed from this life, or even deity. My most recent experience has been helping someone make a connection to and contact with a particular deity he felt drawn to.

This last experience has been most interesting and even a bit challenging to me, as I have no real knowledge of or connection with this deity myself. If someone were ask me how to connect with and contact Freyja – or even one of the other Norse gods and possibly even a few of the Irish ones – I’d have a plethora of experience and knowledge to draw on. I’d be able to recommend stories to become intimately familiar with, suggestions on offerings to give, and recommendations on how to craft an invocation for calling out to that particular deity.

In this case, I simply had to show the other person how to figure out much of that information himself and explaining to him how he needed to enter a meditative state, set up a sacred space where he could meet the deity, and how to call out to said deity in his own words.

The good news is that it worked beautifully. Contact with the deity was almost immediate and awe-inspiring, which I credit to said deity’s own deep interest in working with and teaching this person. I am pleased that I was able to help make this happen, but I have no delusions that I was anything other than a helpful middle-man helping two individuals meet sooner than if they had to arrange said meeting by themselves.

Back to the struggle to help someone contact a deity I personally have no knowledge of or connection to, though, the experience has given me yet another appreciation for what it must be like to work with a more narrowly defined tradition. I imagine that those covens that focus on working with a specific deity or small group of deities must have a great advantage when it comes to teaching new members and interested people. I imagine they have a great deal of lore and very specific techniques (such as detailed visualizations and invocations) they can employ and teach those seeking to make that same connection. I imagine that said tools have been developed as a result of the tradition and learning what works best for that specific tradition and working with that specific deity or groups of deity.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t plan on leaving my eclectic coven to join or form a tradition with a narrower focus. Nor do I plan on trying to change my current coven into something other than what it currently is. I love my coven and its members exactly for who they are. They are my family and I wouldn’t change or leave them for the world.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t form an appreciation for the way others have come to do things.

Samhain Musings

Dark StaircaseToday is the day that Wiccans and many other Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere observe Samhain.  So happy Samhain!1

Among other things, Samhain represents the mythological and metaphorical descent into the underworld, the realm of Death.  It’s the traditional start of a season where life slows down (or used to, before our technology allowed us to keep a fast-paced frenzy going year-round) and offers much time for introspection and reflection.  It’s also a great time for deconstruction of oneself, one’s ego, and how one looks at the world.  In Gardner’s Myth of the Goddess, this is represented by the guardians to Death’s Domain when they challenge the Goddess and tell her she must remove all her jewelry and even her garments.  She had to bare her true self to descend.

I find it somewhat amusing that the modern adaptation of this holiday — Halloween — involves donning costumes and pretending to be someone or something else, when Samhain traditionally is also about divesting oneself of such pretense and facing the Darkness without one’s armor and accepting that such armor cannot truly protect.

Of course, that’s a frightening realization to embrace.  We tend to like our sense of control, especially over ourselves.  We like to think that we can present to the world who we want to be and have this accepted.  And there is some witchery there.  Letting go of that and becoming bare, vulnerable to any who may see the real us rather than the perfected image we prefer to present is a terrifying process.  It’s terrifying to let ourselves be confronted with the real us, for that matter.

But it’s also necessary.  To know who we truly are — stripped of all the pretense and illusions we create for ourselves and others — also enables us to improve ourselves and even reconstruct us.  Often, we can do that in ways so that we are more substantively like the person we imagine and project ourselves to be.  But making that improvement requires we first take a close look at admit we are not that person yet.

So to all my readers, especially any who follow a path where Samhain has meaning to you, I wish you a blessed Samhain.  May you find the serenity and courage to face the Darkness alone, naked (only figuratively, if you prefer), and vulnerable.  May you find comfort in the journey and hold tight to the hope of seeing the First Light of Yule.


1Happy Beltane to any Wiccans and other Pagans Down Under who are celebrating that instead.

Raised Right: Spiritual Warfare Goes Political

Carman

Cover of Carman

Harris begins chapter two of Raised Right with a description of a music video made by Christian pop artist Carman.  As I read her description, I found them eerily familiar, but could not place them until she mentioned the artist’s name.  I spent my teen years listening to and idolizing[1] Carman and I’m sure I saw the video in question.

Harris uses the video to introduce the importance of “spiritual warfare” that was ingrained into her when she was a youth.  She speaks of singing a familiar Sunday school song (“I’m in the Lord’s army”) and learning the importance of fighting Satan.  She describes one event she witnessed:

While Pastor John was speaking, one of my parents’ friends, Greg, came forward and lifted his hands to ask for prayer.  Pastor John reached out his hand and shouted, “I bind you, Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ!”  The moment he said “Jesus Christ,” Greg staggered as if shot through the heart and then fell flat on his back, lying spread-eagled on the floor with a smile on his face.”

While I got involved in a Full Gospel[2] congregation while in college, I was raised in an American Baptist.  My church — and as I understand it, Baptist in general — don’t really believe that “miraculous gifts” such as speaking in tongues, prophecies, or instantaneous healing.  They also tend not to believe in or expect to encounter demons in a direct manner as might be described in This Present Darkness or as recounted by pentecostal/charismatic believers.  So while I too sang “I’m in the Lord’s army,” learned to recite all the parts of the “armor of God,” and was inundated in the same spiritual warfare terminology, I suspect that I took these things things far more metaphorically than Harris and her Sunday school classmates.

Of course, this left myself and my classmates trying to understand the metaphor.  We had an enemy we could not confront directly.  We had no demons to cast out.  So we were left wondering what “I’m in the Lord’s army” really meant beyond being a silly song.  We wondered what it really meant to put on the full armor of God.  Sure, knew we were supposed to invite friends to Sunday school and church.  We knew we were supposed to read the Bible, pray, and be good.  But for what?  Surely these things were never meant to be an ends in themselves[3].

So in many ways, I think I was more primed for the transition that Harris describes as she continues telling her story:

Though I wouldn’t have put it in these words at the time, I came to believe that our battle was not against invisible demons but against evil people who brought the fight into the real world.  They were the spiritual enemy clothed in flesh:  abortionists, feminists, secularists, humanists, the people conspiring to destroy God’s witness by corrupting America.  Finally I had an enemy I could see and point out to others, one that didn’t require a mysterious intuition or the spiritual gift of discernment to identify.

I can understand that, wholeheartedly.  While Harris had an unseen enemy, I had no enemy.  So latching onto a concrete enemy was a gift from God Himself.  Furthermore, this new, tangible enemy offered a tangible strategy for fighting back:  politics.

Suddenly, “fighting the enemy” meant speaking out against abortion, homosexuality, and premarital sex.  It meant voting for the “holy” candidates so that they could defeat the “evil” ones and stop their “evil” plans[4].  Suddenly, there was a way to become a righteous crusader with a clear path.

Ironically, while this gave me a tangible “enemy,” what it did to my perceptions of the “enemy” was almost the exact opposite.  Adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, and all those other people ceased to become people and became caricatures in my mind.  My “tangible enemy” turned into smoke and mirrors again.  I find myself wondering if Harris intended this chapter to explain the need to reconnect with “flesh and blood” people discussed in the previous one.

Related Posts

I have created a separate page to track all the blog posts I’ve made regarding this book.  If this post interests you, I would encourage you to go check out the other posts as well.

Notes

[1]  Well, insofar as a good little Baptist is allowed to idolize anyone or anything.

[2]  “Full Gospel” is the preferred term used certain charismatic/pentecostal churches.

[3]  I strongly believe that even “being good” for the sake of “being good” is meaningless and pointless.  “Being good” is about doing something for others because it has a positive impact on their lives.  It’s about building a better world.  This is not something that I feel is always properly communicated to young Christians, nor do I feel it is emphasized enough.

As a former Sunday school teacher, I’d also like to suggest that this is in part that the much of the teaching materials for chidren and teen Sunday school classes are abysmal.  They do not treat the students like intelligent people who need to learn what it truly means to live a life that expresses the fruit of the Spirit and are ready to do exactly that.  If you are a Sunday school teacher, I would encourage you to re-evaluate your curriculum and honestly ask yourself if it insults, patronizes, and holds back your students.

[4]  I’m engaging in a certain amount of hyperbole here.  However, don’t overestimate just how much.


Devotion is great. I wish you’d focus more on it.

Personal Failure linked to and responded to a post about religious devotion.  Her response understandably focused on the slight the post made against atheists.  I wanted to explore this post a bit more myself though as someone who is also a strong believer in religious devotion*

After giving his speech about the importance of piety — a word I might have personally avoided, given the immense negative connotations that have gotten attached to it and even made their way into the dictionary definitions — and offered his patronizing disapproval of those who do not follow (his) God, Fr. Zuhlsdorf offers a quote from Pope Benedict:

If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves
totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away
from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant,
something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not
then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?

I’ll note that, in my opinion, this underlines the problem with many Christians’ understanding of piety and morality in general:  It’s about giving things up and refraining from things.**  When morality, piety, and devotion become nothing more than avoiding those things which are deemed bad, it’s bound to feel restrictive.  It’s also bound to leave people wondering what they should do.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf goes on to talk about sins of omission, recognizing that morality, piety, and devotion do require positive action, but he still speaks in negative terms, in terms of failing to act:

That is where we ferret out our negligence in regard to the virtue of religion, negligence in respect to God and to neighbor.

The problem with this approach is that if you’re thinking in terms of what you should have done and failed to do, you started a good thing way too late.  It would have been far better to go throughout your day asking what you should be doing, what good you can do.  This enables and encourages positive action rather than guilt over negative action or a failure to act.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf finally gets that idea, but only at the end.  And he glosses over it but briefly.

Second, during the day, silently to yourself, perhaps say a brief
prayer.  Pick one.  How about, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart: Make my
heart like unto Thine.”

His blog post would have been much better if he had started his missive on personal devotion with this prayer, especially if he had expanded on it.  It could have been a post on what it means to have a heart like Jesus, and what kinds of acts such a heart leads to.  Effectively, it could have led into something very similar to my own Prayer for Living Worship.  Such a prayer, written with passages like 1 Corinthians 13 and Galations 5 in mind, would have been a perfect lead in to a sort of devotion that any person — even one of those “awful atheists” would have trouble finding fault with.

*  My own.  Whether or not anyone else is religiously devoted is none of my business, let alone subject to any actual judgment on my part.

** I’ll note that this is a problem I have when many Pagans seem to reduce our ethics to nothing more than “don’t hurt anyone” as well.

Great Rewards Come in Small Ways

A little over a year ago, I joined effortswick-altar.jpg with a small group of people to form a new coven.  We came to name our coven The Wick, inspired by the song we play in the background while we prepare ourselves for ritual.  (I hope the songwriter doesn’t mind.)  Tonight, we led our first public ritual at Psychic’s Thyme as a way to connect with and give back to our greater community.  It was a wonderful experience, and had several people participate with us.

While highly enjoyable and well worth it, planning and leading public rituals takes a bit of work.  Our coven spent the past few business meetings working out details and revising our normal ritual structure to account for working with a larger group and people unfamiliar with the way we do things.  (We use a very different method for casting a circle, for example.)

Tonight, I was given an incredible reminder why that effort is so worthwhile in the long run.  My friend, Cari, attended tonight’s ritual an brought her two stepsons, ages nine and eleven.  In a conversation on Facebook, Cari had the following to say (quoted here with permission) about the experience:

On no the whole group was amazing and VERY informative, and patient with
my boys. They will never forget tonight and you all I have to thank.
Please pass it on to your other members. Colin is now making his own
Alter now.

I can think of no greater praise or reward than to know that the work that my coven-mates and I put into tonight’s ritual helped excite two young boys and even inspire one of them to start working on his own altar.  I don’t know where they’re spiritual journeys will lead these boys in the long run, but knowing that our efforts have helped move them along that path in any way is a great joy.  It’s the sort of thing that makes me want to do more such rituals in the futures.

May the gods be praised.  And may the gods be served.  And may those around us prosper as a result.

The picture in this blog show’s the coven’s basic altar set-up.  The song “We Are the Wick” can be found on Castalia’s second CD, Hidden.

On Community and Wyrd

Thread of golden light and red fire weave throughout the universe. the connect, intertwine, merge, and separate. This complex web hold everything together, binding and supporting it.

This is the web of wyrd, that runs through everything. It is not static, but fluid and ever-changing. Threads shift and reweave themselves, changing the tapestry and the very universe.

The very universe changes itself in this way. And as a part of it, you are an agent of this constant change. Each action, each choice alters the fabric of the universe, reconfiguring and recreating it.

This is why community is so important. Every individual’s changes in the web radiate outward, affecting all. Being aware of this calls for consideration for all those around you who are affected.

More importantly, community allows for communal efforts in the weaving process. Building and strengthening community strengthens the strands that connect the community’s members. It creates bonds that strengthen the whole web. And such community bonds allow for a greater reweaving of the web.

Life gets interesting

This afternoon, I decided to go to the psychic fair at the Henrietta Holiday Inn. While there, I decided to get an aura portrait reading (that’s where the psychic sketches the colors in your aura and explain what they mean and how it’s affecting your life) by one of the people there. The theme of my reading was that I need to begin working more on integrating my spirituality into the rest of my life. This wasn’t a surprising message, because I’ve been getting it from different angles. In fact, over the past couple of weeks, I’d say the gods have gotten more aggressive about this message. In fact, I think they’ve gotten to the point where they’re basically saying “do this or we’re going to do it for you.”

For example, a couple Saturdays ago, Marina invited myself and Rudi (a former dancer in the company) to come to her home for lunch after the beginner’s jazz dance class. While there, I mentioned that I had to run to Psychic’s Thyme at some point that afternoon. Of course, the other two asked me what that was, so I told them. I ended up telling them about my spiritual interests, which fascinated both of them. I ended up telling them about a couple of my experiences with seeing spirits (to my credit, I’m getting better at being open about the fact that I’m developing my abilities as a medium). By the end of the discussion, they both decided they want me to give them a reading after next Saturday’s class. And Marina has gone on to tell at least one other person (a student in her intermediate class) associated with the company about my interests. I suspect that by the time she’s done, everyone in or associated with the company will know. Hopefully, they’re all as open-minded as Marina and Rudi were. (Actually, I’ll be happy as long as no one tries to perform an exorcism on me.)

The second example of this came during this past week. When I got a break from work, I decided to quickly check my site stats for this blog. While checking them out, I discovered that someone visited my site from work on Thursday afternoon. I was quite surprised by this, and quickly confirmed that it wasn’t a visit I made myself. As I dug into this (I even downloaded the server logs for that day so I could check the parts of my domain that my two Sitemeter accounts don’t cover), I discovered that my visitor must have found my site at least somewhat fascinating. While they read only a couple of archives and two individual posts from this blog, they also visited my Dear Lover, Journey (I guess I’m out at work now!), my main site, and my photo albums.

I’m not sure how they found my site. The logs indicate there was no referring site, which suggests they typed the address in directly. I asked the two people at work who I thought it could be, but they admitted that they didn’t even know I had my own website. So I’m completely mystified. I really don’t care that someone from work read it all. They didn’t really find out anything I’m trying to hide. (I’m smart enough to avoid posting anything I want to keep secret.) Though I do hope that they talk to me about it at some point. I’d like to know who it was, especially considering the significant amount of surfing they did.

So yeah, it would seem that everything in my life is coming together. I think I’m okay with that, though. I’m just a bit shell-shocked.

Encouraging(?) Words

Received Saturday, 14 June 2008

In glory, the flame rises,
licking the cold air.
Its searing heat burns away
all impurities, carrying them into nothingness.
The fire of purification makes anew,
leaving that which remains stronger, more whole.

Fear not the times of trials and tribulations, for such are the tools of the smith. each blow of th hammer brings about new strength and greater resilience. Each time you are placed against the anvil of life, you are reshaped, being made into a better vessel, a more radiant tool of my will. With each change you endure, your purpose becomes easier to fulfill. So cherish the moments when your basic essence is tested and tempered, for it is for the good of all, including yourself.