Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Different isn't wrong

There is a very serious flaw in the way most of us were taught.  Think back to when you were in school....the teacher would assign a lesson, you would learn it, then you would be expected to demonstrate that you knew what was taught.  There was almost never any room for variance or perspective.  It was a fact-oriented education, we were taught facts and we were expected to be able to recite them.

Even in the more creative realms, there were 'right' and 'wrong' ways of expressing yourself.  There was a generally agreed upon meaning for just about everything, and if you didn't produce something that lined up with that understanding, you were graded poorly, because you 'obviously didn't understand the lesson.'

And this concept of learning persists in how we approach our spiritual learning.  There are so many different places where this idea of right and wrong exists, and we often aren't aware of it.  Sometimes we end up sabotaging ourselves because our experiences aren't what we expected, and so we tell ourselves we must have done it wrong.  We discount what actually happened because we had our sights set on the 'correct' outcome.

But while there are some things that do exist within these failure or success parameters (you either light the wick of the candle or you don't), so many more have many, many different ways of working (a circle can be cast in countless different ways).

Our brains want things to fall into nice, neat little boxes.  We want to think that all red berries are dangerous and that when we meditate 'successfully' we will be filled with peace and tranquility.  But for most of life there is no simple answer, no one true meaning, no ultimate correct way of doing something.

And this makes us feel unsure.  If we can't have some objective way to measure our success, then how do we know things are working?  If there is no ultimate meaning to a symbol, how do we know we are interpreting it right?  How do we validate our experiences without a yardstick to measure by?

I was lucky enough to have gone to a school that expected us to not just recite back facts, but to think about them and to explain those thoughts.  I had parents that had discussions with me, and I have always liked looking at things from other perspectives (and trying to imagine those perspectives were my own).  So, for me, it only seemed natural that different people, with different backgrounds, would experience things differently...and that was okay.

And yet, I still held myself to expectations of what 'should be'.  I struggled for many years with thinking I wasn't connecting because I don't have movie-quality visions.  I thought I wasn't grounding because the imagery didn't work for me.  I didn't feel like I was getting divinatory messages because it feels like thinking to me.

A somewhat mundane, and yet also somewhat perfect example is hair.  There are a lot of myths that involve long (and often unbound) hair.  Hair can be a vehicle through which we express ourselves (think of how many teens do drastic things to their hair).  And in magical circles, long hair is almost always the 'mystical' ideal.  There are many different explanations for why more hair equals more power or why cutting one's hair is bad.  But for me, I find it is the exact opposite.  Not only do I feel more myself with short hair, but it physically bothers me to have long hair.  And not just that it's so heavy it makes my head hurt, but also longer hair makes my thoughts sluggish.

It's not something I can logically explain, but I've lived it and it's real to me.  These are the experiences that I have and my truth, and it just doesn't make sense for me to subscribe to someone else's model of long hair meaning more power...because it doesn't work that way for me.  Whenever my hair gets too long, I feel wrong and bad, and every time I cut it I feel amazing.

And this works in other areas too.  Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way.  If I am thinking about whether or not my rune interpretations are right or wrong, I start to doubt myself.  I feel like an imposter, like someone who is trying to recall this book or that book or like I need to list my sources.  But I work with the runes every day and have for years.  I might not have academic, historic knowledge of them, but I know them.  And I can sit and talk about how they speak to me...if I stop worrying about being right and just talk.

I think it is an important skill to work on, and something that we may struggle with for a long time.  Because we are all new at everything at some point in time, and we do feel like we may need help and instruction.  It can be hard to leave those feelings behind, especially if we are self-taught and not going through some kind of certification process with tests and levels we can point to and say, "look, see, I passed this, someone else thinks I can do this."

Maybe it's not even a matter of being objectively capable.  Maybe it's more a matter of claiming our own experiences.  Of recognizing that our perspective matters, and even if it goes against everything that everyone else knows, it is still our perspective and that no one can take that away from us.  Maybe it just comes down to accepting and voicing your truth, no matter what form it takes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Divine Masculine....expanded

I looked back, and I actually wrote about the Divine Masculine last year.  With Father's Day coming up, my mind returns to this idea of not only the Divine Masculine, but how we relate to the idea of masculinity in our greater world and in our faith.

I think that we are starting to look at ideas like male and female in a different light, or more specifically in a broader spectrum.  Many of the qualities that were typically associated with being 'masculine' are now being looked at as less then idea...and we are realizing they aren't really tied to masculinity at all.  Things like strength, aggression, assertiveness...these are qualities that anyone can have and the lack of them doesn't make a person less masculine.

Things become a bit more convoluted when we consider the Divine Masculine though.  The Divine Masculine is an archetype, it isn't a specific person, or deity.  It is one half of the coin of Divinity, if you think about the sides as Masculine and Feminine as an archetypal duality.  The thing is, that this two-sided-coin way of looking at the world is one that we are starting to outgrow.  We realize that the world is more than just two sides, there is the edge, the rim, the interior and the 'not-coin' parts of the coin.

And yet, a lot of our practices still involve the twin ideas of Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine (even if you also work with other deity-forms and accept other expressions of gender), and I think this is because our dual-divinity is based on the creative is literally a divine reflection of our biological procreation process.

When we think about the Divine Masculine and Feminine, in a Pagan context, we are looking at the procreative powers of the natural world, the way that new things are made, and for most of nature this involves a male and a female.  We see the Divine Masculine as the archetype of all the male's of all species and types, in all the world, and the same for the Divine Female.  It is only through the two combined that creation (of new life) happens..for most of life on this planet.

But we don't always acknowledge this fact...that our concept of dual-divinity is based on this biological process.  We try to link similar qualities to the physical act, so the Feminine is the vessel, the one that holds and nurtures life, while the male is the protector and the spark that ignites new life in the female.  This is spirituality imitating nature, and it's all well and good until you really start to look.

There are lots of examples the break this mold, where the females are the hunters and protectors or where a couple-bonding doesn't occur, or where the males tend the babies/eggs.  As with most things, I think we are conditioned to accept information that we are given, and not really think about it..but it is through looking with our own eyes, uncovering our own truths and really thinking about the deeper meanings, that we come to our own experiences of how things are and what things mean.

We acknowledge the fact that our deities are not biological beings and don't always follow the same rules as we humans do.  And yet, we still want to humanize them in many ways, and the way we look at the Divine Masculine (and Feminine) illustrates this perfectly.

If you think, you can probably name off a handful of Gods who fit this very traditional role of Divine Masculine.  They are the warriors, the fathers, the strong.  But I bet you can also name off quite a few who are less traditionally 'masculine'.  These are often the tricksters, the poets, the dreamers, the artists...and yet they are Gods and we accept them as such. 

We see ourselves as reflections of the divine, that divinity lives in us.  And it doesn't just match up Masculine to male and Feminine to female.  We each hold both within us, and we can express either in any given moment. 

Looking back to the myths and stories of the Gods, we can see how different traits are beneficial in different situations.  If we are racing towards battle, with swords in hand, then being able to spin a compelling story with your words isn't that useful...but strength of arm and fierceness of spirit is.  But after the battle, when you are telling the children what happened, so they can take your experience and learn and grow from it, then being able to craft a story that will be remembered and that captures the essence of the experience is much more needed than knowing how to swing your sword.

The Divine Masculine is a part of all that is, but we may not be seeing it clearly.  Our understanding of the world is changing.  The way we treat each other in society is changing.  Right now, a lot is in flux.  And it may be time to revisit our understanding of the Divine Masculine and Feminine.  To look at how they manifest in our world and in our Selves, and to decide how we want to relate to them.  If we are working with outdated expressions and understandings, then it may be time to look deeper, to question what we know and why we have accepted it as truth...and to figure out where we are going in the future. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Celebrating the ordinary

To say we are living in interesting times would be an understatement, but I think we are opening our eyes and finally recognizing all the amazing, ordinary things that we have in our lives, the things we take for granted.  Now that we are faced with not having access to all the things we rely upon, we have realized just how precious they are to us.

When we think about our ancestors, we think about things like Sabbat celebrations and holidays, the big, elaborate festivals that celebrate big events.  But if you read and think about what these actually celebrated, they were often very basic, everyday things.  They celebrated the rising of the sun each morning, because it wasn't certain in their world view.  They celebrated the turning of the seasons because it meant seeing another year.  They celebrated births and birthdays as accomplishments because life was fleeing and a child who lived to see their first birthday was a miracle.

I feel like we have lost a lot of this awareness of the specialness of everyday occurrences.  We may appreciate the beauty of a sunrise, but we don't typically celebrate the fact that the sun rose and a new day has started.

Many people are being faced with the idea that life is fleeting, perhaps for the very first time.  This pandemic has shown that it can effect people of all ages, all states of health, all socioeconomic levels. Some people are facing the idea that they might die, not in some far away tomorrow, but that they might be sick, right now, without even knowing it, and that they might not live to see the end of the year.  This is a very new thing and it has made a lot of people recognize how ephemeral life really is.

Because, of course, life has never been certain.  There are no guarantees.  Live can change in an instant, and it can change forever.  And while this brings fear, this also often brings a strange new joy for many people.  Colors seem brighter, simple things bring them more pleasure, they are learning to appreciate the things they have instead of only wishing for what they don't have.

And this can be hard to do, in times of scarcity and restriction.  We don't have access to a lot of things that we normally would.  But what remains is still amazing and wonderful!  Here I am, sitting in my home, typing out words that will be shared online for anyone from around the world to read.  I can pick up my phone and call friends that I might not be able to see.  I can video chat with family.  I can go outside and feel the sun on my face and the earth beneath my feet.

Taking time to celebrate these ordinary things can help us keep our spirits high and are perspective firmly grounded.  When we start to get scared, or concerned about what is going on in the world (and who wouldn't be...there is crazy stuff going on!), when we need a break from all of that, we can turn to something as simple as drinking a glass of water, and appreciating the clean, cool liquid.  We can turn on a favorite show and give thanks for the ability to stream content whenever we want (or watch a recording over and over).

One daily ritual I have kept for years is to greet the day.  I say a modified prayer that greets deities and asks for blessings.  It's a way for me to start each day with a bit of gratitude and a bit of thanks giving.  Even though the words don't specifically focus on gratitude, for me, it feels like a gratitude practice.  I look out the window and see what the day has to offer, and I feel grateful to be able to do that.  I am grateful for my gods for the day they have provided, whether it is bright and sunny or overcast and rainy.  I am grateful for my health and for my ability to help others (two of the things I ask for in my prayer).  I am grateful for the earth I live on and all she has to offer.

 I often thank the things I use everyday, like my computer and my house.  I talk to my cats and I tell them how much I love that they cuddle with me or how cute they are.  I reach out to touch my husband, as he's sleeping, just because I am grateful he is there (snores and all!).  

Another practice that works really well for me is to stop and give thanks for things when they stop working.  It's based on the idea that we don't always think about things until they aren't there, and normally when something breaks on us, we get upset and angry.  But instead of focusing on the feelings of loss, I think that there is something really powerful in taking that moment to appreciate what we are missing.  When internet goes out, instead of fussing and getting worked up, I try to send out a prayer of thanks for the connection and freedom the internet gives me (and how our internet is normally very reliable!).

One great return of this kind of practice is it brings you out of that 'lack of' mindset and sets you back on appreciating what you have (even though you don't have it right at that's sort of an oxymoronic practice, but hey it works!).  It resets your mind back to a place of contentment and gratitude.  It's a bit of "this too shall pass," and focusing on the positive makes the negatives that much easier to bear.

So, even as the world is struggling and changing and life as we know it may never be the same, we can choose to celebrate the small moments, the ordinary moments.  Take the time to be happy the sun rose at night or that the night brings darkness for rest and sleep.  Appreciate the food and drink you have, and all the little, silly, strange, amazing things that you love, whether it is a feather you found, a tv show that makes you laugh, a loved one or a stain on the ceiling that looks a bit like a flower.  If it makes your life better, celebrate it, and through these celebrations you capture moments of peace.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Blending Faith and Fandom

Stories have always been retold and different versions have evolved, as the teller puts their own spin on the story.  For anyone who has had a relative tell 'their version' of a fairy tale, this is a familiar experience.  But we are seeing very modern versions of many of the old myths and legends, and for some people this creates problems.

Sometimes, the new versions vary greatly, changing so many details that the stories are only alike in name, but other times only a few details have been altered and the essence of the story remains true.  As modern Pagans, we are often faced with many versions of the stories and deities we work with, both historically (as the stories change and evolve), but also in our modern world, in the form of books and movies.

I am sure I am not alone in my love for the modern tales, and if you include a witch, Pagan deity or ancient myth in a book/movie/show, I will want to watch it.  I love consuming fiction that centers on things I am passionate about.

But I also find that sometimes these stories begin to flavor my own understanding and relationship with the deities and stories.  Often, this serves to personify the stories, as seeing a character acted out on screen means I begin to associate their image with the character, and hearing their words spoken (or reading them in several books, as actual dialogue), means I hear their 'voice' (tone of voice, mannerisms, etc).  They become real in a different way to me.

And I think part of this is that we have lost so much of the old stories.  We are hearing the academic retellings, the stories pared down to their essential facts and the most commonly shared details.  We aren't hearing the campfire versions of the stories, with all the embellishments that a good story teller would add.

So the 'official' tales, the ones we read in mythology books or the descriptions we get of deities are more clinical, leaving a void behind.  The modern versions, in their full technocolor drama bring those flat characters to life.

I feel like there is a tendency to fixate on either the first version of a story we hear of the one we feel is the most 'official'...and sadly official often translates to generic.  This often reminds me of the evolution of fairy tales, and how many of the early versions are quite different from the ones we grew up hearing.  The darker aspects have been edited out for a modern audience, as we tend to shelter our kids from the harsh realities of the world much longer now. 

But the different versions of the same fairy tale can highlight different parts of the same story.  They let you experience it from different perspectives, and it makes you think about what is really going on...and why it's important (and sometimes why it was changed).  I think the same kind of thought process is really useful, when looking at our deities and myths.

I've said it before, and I know I'll say it again, but we don't live in the same world our ancestors do.  And I personally don't believe our deities are static.  The deities I work with aren't stuck back in the middle ages or the height of their cultural dominance...because if they were they wouldn't be of much help to me (nor I to them).  In order for the deities I work with to be relevant, they have to had adapted to modern life.

We don't always think this through, but most of us work off of this idea.  We bless our phones or ask for help with internet situations, or maybe in getting that job interview...but if you stop and think, pretty much all of those things would be utterly meaningless to people who actively worshiped our deities in their historically active period. 

So modern retellings make sense, because not only do we need to feel like our deities understand us, we need to understand them.  Just as aspects of our life might not be immediately accessible to someone of a different time period, aspects of their life aren't always friendly to a modern mind.

There are LOTS of traditional myths that are pretty bad when held up to modern morality.  Even just looking at the ages of characters in stories, some of the tales become problematic.  We really are different from our ancestors, and so the way in which we relate to our deities and myths should be different as well.

And this isn't something that is either on or off.  This is a whole range of inclusion that you have to navigate and see what works for you and what doesn't.  You might love watching movies that feature deities you work with, but you don't see them as anything other than entertainment.  Or you may see them as modern myths, as a new lens through which you can find another aspect of a well-known deity.  You might love ancient art and wish to use only historical images in your magical work, or you may fall in love with modern artist's takes on how deities look.  You might enjoy using mass marketed statues (toys!) or you may not.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum of fandom and modern retelling, it is always good to remember that the storyteller is sharing their perspective.  These are not things that can be objectively proven with facts and records.  These are living, breathing stories, and they are flavored by both the teller and the observer.  Your relationship with them will depend as much on you as on the versions you are exposed to.  And even when you discover a version that doesn't click for you, it can be helpful to ask yourself why it doesn't work.  It is these thoughts and questions that bring us deeper into our relationship with our deities, and the myths that represent them.