Friday, April 25, 2014

PBP: Week 17- Initiation

I have been on my path for about two decades now, and things are quite a bit different today than they were when I first started. The vast amount of information available, not only in print, but for free on line, is almost staggering. And the expectation for beginners is different as well. When I started learning, the expectation was that you could kind of muddle around as best you could alone, but eventually you would join a group, and they would lead you through a learning process. As you progressed, you would go through initiations to recognize where you were and what you had learned as well as to open the door to the next stage of your progress.

My concept of practice definitely revolved around the year and day learning that led up to a first degree initiation. And yet, in my two decades of practice, I have not apprenticed to a group and worked through any official program. I have done a couple of self study programs, and done my own versions of initiations along the way, which has worked well for me.

I got into a discussion on the power of initiations with some friends on a forum a while back. The question raised was whether or not an individual could preform an initiation for themselves (if they were solitary) and if group initiations had any worth (can anyone besides yourself bring you to a higher level of practice). There were a lot of opinions. Some thought that initiation ritual were just window dressing. They may celebrate advancement on your path, but they don't create that advancement. Others thought that in a group situation, an initiation ritual could be used to demonstrate a mystery which the initiate could then meditate and reflect upon which had the potential to open up their mind to a new perspective they might not have been able to reach as easily otherwise.

I'm of the opinion that initiation be many things, but at it's core it is an acknowledgment of accomplishments. As human beings, we like being noticed for the things we have done, especially those things that either changed who we are on a deeper level or things that were personal struggles for us. We may have preferences as to how many people celebrate with us (much as some of us like small parties with just a few very close friends and some of us like huge wild parties where everyone is welcome to show up).

You might have noticed that I use the word initiation kind of loosely. When I talk about initiation, I am not only talking about entrance into a group or a level within a group. Traditionally I know that there are three (or more) levels of initiation, and as you prove you know certain information and are skilled at particular practices, you have 'earned' that level of initiation. But just as many groups had slightly (or not so slightly) different qualification for different initiations, you can become initiated into different 'groups' entirely. Many of the hallmarks in our lives are a form of initiation, we just call them by a different name. Marriage 'initiates' you into the group of married couples. Loosing someone close to you is an initiation into death. Puberty is definitely an initiation (though one that we often don't even remark upon anymore).

I think that initiation plays a different role if you are part of an organized group than if you primarily practice on your own. In an organized group, initiation is a way to show your place in the group structure. It is a way for the group to recognize your work within the group and honor it. If you are solitary, initiation is often a very private matter, where you set aside a time to recognize the growth you have made or a particular hurdle you have gotten past.

But I don't think we need to stick to only doing group or solitary work. Many modern groups now host larger rituals, but much of the individual's daily work is still done on their own (or in smaller groups at least). And many solitary practitioners now meet up with others in their area or others of like interests online. There is a lot of room for bringing initiations across to other realms beyond our primary one.

There is no reason why you can't do a solitary initiation ritual even if you are a part of an organized group. Especially for work that centers around yourself and your personal growth and is not really focused on the group you are part of. Not every group recognizes the same accomplishments with ritual, so if you have something that was a huge step in your life, but wasn't something that your group would mark, then you have the option of honoring it on your own. I think that solitary work has a very different flavor from group work, and brings different things to the table.

When I work on my own, there is stillness and a silence that isn't present when I work with a group. Even if I am speaking, singing or playing music, that quality, almost of waiting, is present in the air. I am a pretty open person, but there are still things that I prefer not to share even with the people I am closest to. And I also think that no matter how close you are to the people you work with, some things just can't be said or shared, and when you work with these things in a group a part of you holds back, no matter how hard you try not to.

On the other hand, working with others often can be freeing in a different way. Working with a small group of people I know well and am comfortable with builds me up and helps me to be more than I can be on my own. Every time I have worked with others, I have learned things, not only about how they do things, but about my self, seen through the reflection of the other person. Working in a larger group, especially with people I don't know at all, has a different kind of energy as well. I think that larger groups call me to be a part of me that I am not always comfortable with (because I don't always do well with either groups or strangers), but it is a good kind of uncomfortable (the kind you get when you are growing and haven't quite come to terms with the new you yet). I also think that larger groups there is a sense of anonymity that can be very different for a solitary person. I work differently depending on what role I am taking in a group working.

There isn't a lot of precedence for initiation rituals in a 'group' of solitaries. Most of the published group initiations are for progress within a group, and wouldn't be useful for use in a less formal group. In the past couple of years I have seen a lot more talk about life-initiations (things like puberty, marriage/divorce, birth, death), which can make great initiations for any group. But I also think that you could do personal path initiations and invite others to attend.

For example, lets say I have decided to dedicate myself to the study of Runes. I start learning, and practicing, and working with the Runes, and after some time I feel that I am experienced enough with them to consider myself proficient at them. I would like to honor this accomplishment and decide to host a ritual and invite several others I know to come to recognize my abilities as a rune-caster.

Often part of an initiation ritual includes small demonstrations of skills that were learned as part of the initiation. I might plan to have small rune necklaces made up for everyone who comes. As part of the initiation, I might present each person with a necklace and then explain what the rune means in general. Later, I might speak with each person individually and give a bit more personal insight: how I felt that rune spoke to them.

Another part of many initiation rituals is gifting, where the other participants gift tools or supplies to the initiate that they will need for their new practices. It can make a very nice gesture, especially if you request that gifts be inexpensive or handmade. If I were thinking of a gift for a new rune-caster, I might sew them a bag to keep their runes in, find a nice journal they could use to record their impressions in, or draw a picture featuring runes for them. Another option is instead of requesting a gift for the initiate, to ask people to bring a small offering for the initiation altar. If you want to add more participation, you could ask them to go for a walk and bring back an object they found while walking, and then offer it up with a blessing for the initiate. The items could then be collected into a pouch and used by the initiate when doing future workings with runes.

If you are a solitary, and the only contact you have with others is online, it may be a bit harder, but you can do a sort of virtual 'write-in' initiation. You can write up a bit on what you have been learning and where you are at. If you have done a personal ritual of initiation to mark the event, you can share some or all of it (depending on how personal it was and how public the medium that you are sharing it is). You might ask people to share their stories about what you have learned, which could lead to some wonderful connection. Some websites offer virtual shrines, and you could do something similar. Perhaps ask people to light a candle and offer you a wish or blessing in your path, which could be shared on the thread.

Ultimately, I believe initiation comes from within. We change, and through that changing we see the world in a different way. And most times, as we have changed, so the world sees us differently. That difference is what we celebrate with initiations, whether those initiations are done alone or in a group. Whether we are laughing or crying together, we are together, in heart and spirit if not in body.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

PBP- Week 16: Hexing and Harming

Another week, another late blog! So here is the story: life threw us a curve ball, and I spent yesterday trying to catch it. I always intend to write my posts ahead of time, and have only managed it a couple of times, and this week was not one of those times. I had picked my topic before writing the last post, kind of a 'flip side of the coin' concept, so as much as this weeks topic fits into what is going on right now, that is sort of coincidental.

Before I talk more about why it applies to my situation, let me talk just a bit about my thoughts on harm. Harm none is one of those mini-phrases that gets tossed around a lot. If you talk about any type of hex, love spell, compulsion, or pretty much using magic on anyone besides yourself, I bet you will have someone quote you 'harm none' as if it were some kind of truism. I have a lot of problems with harm none.

Firstly, not everyone follows it, so trying to use it as a way to tell other people how to act...well isn't that breaking the rule? Lets assume for a minute though that you feel it is something you should follow. If you take it at face value, how can you follow it. Harm is a very broad term, and technically most of what we do in a day causes 'harm'. If I were to follow the letter of this law, I couldn't eat meat. What really bothers me about the vast number of people who quote this is that most really haven't thought about it.

I think harm mainly comes in two forms: intentional and by neglect. Intentional harm is what hexing is. Your goal is to cause harm to someone or something. By neglect, harm is caused when you take an action and you don't think it through and harm befalls someone else. The first is pretty cut and dry. Either you choose to cause harm or you don't act. The second can be a bit trickier. There might have been no way for you to know that your action would harm someone else. Or you could just have been hasty or hadn't bothered to really think about what the consequences of your actions would have been.

I don't follow harm none. I also don't go about hexing people left and right. I think it would be wonderful if we lived in a world where no one tried to hurt other people, however sadly we don't. And yes, it is often possible to be the better person and overlook slights, or find a way to resolve a situation that doesn't involve acting in kind. But sometimes, there is no other path. Sometimes you get backed into a corner and the choices are to act in a way that may cause harm or to let harm be caused upon you (or your loved ones). I can turn the other cheek a lot, I can take a lot of abuse, but there is a line that can be crossed and I won't be a victim.

So what stops me from just doing whatever I want and using whatever means I have at hand to get my way? Pretty much the same thing that stops me from shoplifting, hitting people or doing other harmful actions. The things we do have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are easier to see from physical actions. If I go up to someone on the street and try to take their wallet, I know that they will probably try to stop me. The reaction is both immediate and obvious.

Energy work can be much more subtle. Sometimes the results come in obvious ways, and if we try to do something to someone else, it may literally backfire and we may end up the target of our own working. Most of the time, it tends to come back in other ways. Guilt can be a powerful repercussion that is often underestimated. When I do something that I know was not done for the right reasons (especially if I tried to justify it to myself and convince myself that I was acting in a proper way), even if nothing else happens, I will have to live with my guilt. In my book, if I feel guilty or shameful after doing something, then I shouldn't have done it in the first place.

And I don't think actions stand alone either. If I do a working with the best intentions and then find out later that I had caused harm through my actions and I do not take further actions to help alleviate the harm I caused, then I am still causing harm through my inaction.

I think emotions need to be mentioned as well. There is a pretty solid debate for whether or not workings should be done while emotionally charged. Emotions can lend a lot of power, but they can also cloud our judgment. I think part of knowing whether you should work while emotionally charged comes with knowing yourself. I tend to be pretty hasty if I act without proper consideration. I do dumb things in the heat of the moment. But I also know that emotions give me great strength. My personal method is to ride the emotion and see where it wants to lead me, then step aside from it and take the time to really think about whether or not what I want to do is smart. If I decide it is something worth doing, then I build the emotion back up and use it to fuel my work. If my original action is not something I can live with, then I may work on finding an alternative. At the very least, I always give my emotions an outlet, as I know that if I don't, and they end up bottled up, then I can't always keep as level a head as I might like.

I had a hard week. I found out some news that is going to impact my daily life quite hard for much of the year. And I very much wanted to lash out at the people who I felt were responsible. But in this case not only would it not help, but I'm also not exactly sure who is behind it all. While I definitely could work something up that would be more like a seeker, looking for anyone who acted with malicious intent, at this point all that would do would be to keep the issue in my mind.

I view magical offense just like I view physical offense. Most of the time, it is not an appropriate response. Most of the time, I never need to become violent. Even if someone brings violence to me, often the situation can be diffused without taking it to the next level (which is safer for me as well). But once in a while, violence is necessary. I am not a violent person in my daily life. People around me don't wonder if I might all of a sudden just go crazy and start hitting things. However, a lot of people who know me well also know that if the situation became dire that I would do anything and everything in my power to end it as quickly and finally as possible. I take this same attitude into my practice. If you back me up against a wall, I will respond. But unless someone deliberately targets me and won't let up, I have no need to act against others. My live works so much better when everything is in harmony.

Ultimately I don't believe in the threefold law. I don't think there is some kind of mystical balance out there that measures out and makes sure things are equal. I definitely don't think that our actions always return to us multiplied, that just doesn't make any sense in my mind. What I do think is that if you take an action, you should be prepared to pay whatever price that action requires. If you feel the need to make excuses or justify your actions, then you probably weren't really committed to it or you didn't feel like it was worth the price. My goal in life is to be at peace with myself and that means not doing things that leave me conflicted.

Friday, April 11, 2014

PBP: Week 15- Helping and Healing

Spend any amount of time in a Pagan forum or Facebook group and you will see people asking for healing energy to be sent to them or their family or loved ones. This is one of those requests that I feel somewhat awkward about. If it is a personal friend of mine, that is different, I think because I know the person (even if I may not know the actual person for whom the energy is being sent). Combine this with the pure amount of energy requests that I see in any given day, and if I were inclined to spend time with them all, I would literally wear myself out.

I have heard of a lovely way of handling this though. If you keep a list of people who have asked for energy, and then once a week do a ritual to send healing energy to the people who need it. This helps keep you from getting overworked (especially with the vast number of online requests). I also spend a moment saying a prayer for the person anytime I type a response that I will keep them in mind or send energy. This way I have set the intention in my head from the start.

I also sort of have a thing about healing. I remember, a long time ago, being introduced to the concept that healing someone should never be done without their permission. And I stopped to think about this. On the surface, if you are trying to heal someone, you are trying to make their life better, which is a good thing isn't it? But the argument was that it falls under the free will category, and that person might not want to be healed (especially in the case of someone who is terminal or elderly, where a period of 'feeling better' might just draw things out and actually make them more miserable).

But this puts many of us in a tricky situation. If we can't heal people without asking their permission, how do you ask someone (especially someone devoted to another religion that doesn't accept things like personal healing or sending energy) if you can 'work' on them? Sometimes you can get around this by asking if you can pray for them, but depending on how you send energy this may feel false to you.

The more I thought about it the more I just didn't like the concept that it would be bad for me to try to help someone. In my mind, it would kind of be like if someone was in a car wreck, horribly injured and unconscious, but the hospital couldn't do anything to help them until the person woke up and said it was okay. The hospital would treat the person until the person told them to stop.

I do think though that sometimes things are meant to be and no matter how hard we fight them, bad things happen. There are many people struggling with serious life threatening conditions, and I know that many of them very much want to live. It isn't a matter of believing in healing power, or having something to live for. Sometimes we are trying to pour water into a leaking bucket and no matter how much water we pour in, it will eventually all drain away. And sometimes, if we put too much water in, the bucket will just break.

When I look at healing work, I look at is as an offering, like holding a door open for someone. I have made the option open to them, but it is up to them to walk through the door or not. I often do healing work with two caveats: I send energy for the person to use in the way that is most needed by their Self, and I ask that if recovery is not an option that their way be smooth and that they may find their own peace.

I think a great part of love is setting our own needs aside and listening to what other people are really needing. Sometimes the temptation is there to try to push our loved ones to recover because we can not bear to think about life without them. We need to be mindful that we are acting from a place of love and not from a place of fear. I strive to always give support to my loved ones, in whatever form they need. I know quite a few, very stubborn, people that I care about, who struggle with ongoing illness, some quite serious. And for most, it is not my place to tell them they should or shouldn't be doing certain things. It is extremely hard sometimes, to watch someone you care about make bad choices.

I also think it is somewhat interesting that the community seems to have decided that everyone is a healer. I rarely see requests for other types of energy, though sometimes when people have big life changes coming about, they will ask for good wishes or energy. Most of the time though, it is healing requests (or bereavement, which is sort of like healing for the family of the deceased). And the assumption is that everyone can send healing energy or works with a deity they can pray to and ask for healing energy to be sent. I sometimes wonder how true this is.

I don't really consider myself a healer per say. In fact I more consider myself a caregiver (as strange as that sounds to me), probably much closer to a server. I do things for people. I care through service. I have never made it a big part of my practice to study healing. I tend to forget to approach ills or hurts on my self in a magical way, until after the fact, then I wonder why I didn't! I have sought out particular deities that have affiliations with healing, so that when people I care about need help I am not trying to approach a deity I have never worked with asking for help. That just feels rude to me.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

PBP- Week 14: Green Living

((I can't believe I forgot to get this written ahead of time!  My apologies to all, a bit belated but here it is))

Green has been a hot topic in the community for a long while, especially with so many people having a very earth conscious (if not earth centered) practice. And green products and practices have been gaining a lot of popularity in the greater world as well, it is quite common now to see things in the grocery store being advertized for their green qualities.

My practice is not entirely earth centered, however it definitely is earth conscious. I don't feel the entirety of my practice is nature oriented. I don't shun modern things, technology or man made stuff, and I don't feel like I should have to in order to honor the earth and the natural way. I definitely feel that we, as people, are part of nature, and the things we create can be as well. I don't think that we, as a species, make the smartest of choices, and in the long run, I believe we will be our own greatest 'predator' (in the sense that we will either find a way to regulate our population and effect on the planet or we will end up destroying ourselves).

I believe that being mindful of the earth and our footprint on it is a good thing, and that being respectful is also a good thing. I grew up recycling and reusing and not being wasteful, and I still believe in these things. But I also acknowledge that it isn't always feasible to do the things I would like to do.

We live in a society that prizes cheap, disposable things. Finding things that are good quality and that will last is much harder today than it was when I was little....and much more expensive. There are a lot of things that I would love to be able to do or have that are just outside of my means.

I have seen quite a few people in the community get very preachy about green living. There is a sort of mythical ideal that anyone who is Pagan should be living on a farm somewhere 'off the grid', growing their own crops (with no pesticides or other modern aids), raising their own livestock (though often not eating them....because vegetarianism is often touted as being the desired way of life as well), making our own everything from scratch and living a life that is entirely centered around making every moment some kind of sacred connection with nature.

If this is your thing, I am happy for you. I think it is wonderful that you might be able to go and do this and have the kind of life you want to have. It is not the ideal life for me, and it always tickles me to see people preaching for this kind of reversion life...on the internet! I do not feel I am any less of a good person, or a good Pagan, because I eat meat and use disposable plates. And I definitely don't think that my personal practice requires anything so extreme as moving off the grid.

One thing that is a factor in my own personal life is that I have a family. My husband and son are (of course!) important to me. Our house runs on a mutual respect and care for each other's wants and needs. Though they don't share my beliefs, I definitely feel support from my family over the things I believe. And I don't think it is is fair of me to force any of my beliefs on them. I would never try to make them go all green (if I felt it was something I needed to do), and for a stranger to come in and try to tell me I should be doing this with no regards toward the people I care about is ridiculous to me.

I also think this kind of judgment is bad for the community. People tend to be stubborn. If you open a conversation about earth consciousness with an attack on their personal life, their faith and their worth, they are much less likely to listen to any arguments or suggestions you might have. If instead, we try to open discussion about ways a busy, modern family (or single person) might be able to start working green living into their life, I think that will work out much better.

I love finding new ways to re-purpose old things. To me, this very much fits into my practice and life. If I can take something I am already using or that a product I use came in and find a way to use it after it's original purpose is finished, I am very happy. And it is definitely helpful for the budget if you can find a way to use something you already have in a new way instead of having to go out and buy new things!