On Having No Baggage

I have no baggage.
Jesus was never thrust on me, unwilling. In fact, we had a great experience together, once, at a youth group skiing trip for over-privileged private school kids. He was totally buddy Christ, hippie Jesus, Socialist Jesus, Ragamuffin Gospel Jesus. I was there because my best friend was there; she was there because a guy she had a crush on was there. She ignored me the whole time, so I paid attention during the nightly sermon and singing. I had already begun to identify as a Witch by this time, but there was nothing about my claiming of this title that was about a rejection of anything else. It was simply an affirmation. And so getting swept up in the romance and energy of the story of Jesus’s sacrifice was very easy for me, that week at an isolated ski lodge. I felt something dawn inside of me that was natural and so I reached out and accepted it.

I think I identified as a Christian for a few months after that. I remember sitting in front of what had been my altar, making the sign of the cross in the air trying to banish the sign of the pentacle that a coven-sister had traced there with words indicating it would hang there forever. But slowly I returned to my Pagan ways, called by a deep connection to the land on which I lived, the many bays that surrounded me….Isle of Wight, Assawoman, Sinepuxent, and of course, the Great Chesapeake. Growing up in the Coastal Bays Watershed, what chance did I have to not be a witch? I grew up on 40 acres on the Bay. Nature’s glory at my doorstep. Of course this happened. Blame my parents.

Leaving Jesus behind (on friendly terms) was no struggle. My parents were not ardent Christians. I barely remember going to Church except for Easter and Christmas. My parents split when I was 9, so regular Sunday church-going where we met my paternal grandparents ceased after that. I have some fuzzy memories of Sunday School but not many. So, like I said, no baggage. When my mom found out I was practicing witchcraft, she wasn’t upset about me going to hell. She was more worried about me embarrassing her (because the snooty school I went to knew all about it and we were in trouble!) and getting involved with dangerous people. So I had to hide it, but not for long.

I tell all this to reveal that I am unprepared to understand the baggage that many Pagans bring with them when they step into Paganism. And furthermore, I am unprepared to understand the baggage that many Pagans bring with them when they step into 12 step recovery. I was about to be in ritual last night with several people, and I jokingly said something about being inspired by “the Holy Spirit”. Several people in the room recoiled visibly. They explicitly reject that language as it is so strongly tied to something they were forced to endure. Whereas for me, it is a concept that can be owned by a Witch just as much as it can be owned by a Christian.

The same disconnect exists for me in 12 Step Recovery. When I discovered that some Pagans used rewritten versions of the Twelve Steps, I was disconcerted. It really bothered me. “Just another example of an alcoholic thinking they are unique precious snowflakes who can’t do it the way everyone else did it,” I thought. But I have to look beyond that initial response and question where my blind spots are. I have no trouble in a meeting where people say “He” when referencing their higher power. Damn, I first joined 12 step recovery in Ohio where people said “Jesus” and I was ok with it. I guess I fundamentally took the whole “God as you understand it” part to heart. I’ve never felt like anyone judged me for speaking my truth about my own conception of a higher power, and no one has ever challenged me or told me mine was wrong. But other people are coming to these meetings with years of struggle, years of being treated as different, years of being told, “What you believe is wrong.” Does that fall firmly under the heading, ”Their shit”? Sure it does. But if it gets in the way of their recovery, then it is a problem. And maybe then, it makes sense for someone to have written alternative steps.

When I look at the “Spiral Steps”, the issues that Pagans seem to struggle with become clear. There is no admission of powerlessness. The reliance on a higher power to restore the addict to insanity is replaced by a vague belief in “hope for healing”. The decision to turn the will and life over to the care of God is supplanted by an honoring of the connection with the divine and an acceptance of the process of change. The sixth and seventh step, where traditionally the addict and alcoholic prepares and then asks their higher power to remove their character defects is replaced by a willingness to seek a higher good, and a letting go of dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors.

Where my Twelve Step alarm bells start ringing is that the complete and total removal of a reliance on a higher power. This is Twelve Step Recovery 101. You tried to do it on your own, you failed. Now, do it God’s way. I understand why this is problematic with Witches, who have learned to do deep inner work, move energy, and be frankly powerful agents of change. To suddenly surrender so much agency, will, and sovereignty seems to go against everything they have been working towards. Why would they ask their Higher Power to remove their defects when they can do it themselves through ritual or kala? Why would they surrender their will when their will is holy?

I can sympathize with this because I am coming at it from the other direction. After not being active in Witchcraft for several years, and very active in Recovery, I have struggled with being more assertive, more willful, and more proud. I am currently working the Iron Pentacle through Thorn Coyle’s Fiat Lux program and each point seems to be a real struggle as I break down my initial, recovery oriented reaction to it. Pride? Power? Self? Oh my.

I know there is somewhere in between these things. I know, because I am finding it. I have found fulfillment in the Pride point on the Iron Pentacle and I am still working my third step. I am beginning to use words like claim, own, birthright and will and am understanding them in a way that is informed by my recovery and by my witchcraft. I am finding the alchemy that happens when these worlds are brought together in a place of love and curiosity. The authors of the Big Book spoke of a “Broad Highway” and I think this is where I am currently walking. In future posts I hope to explore some of these particular sticking points-like will- more closely.

I know there is somewhere in between these things.  I know, because I am finding it.  I have found fulfillment in the Pride point on the Iron Pentacle and I am still working my third step. I am beginning to use words like claim, own, birthright and will and am understanding them in a way that is informed by my recovery and by my witchcraft.  I am finding the alchemy that happens when these worlds are brought together in a place of love and curiosity.  The authors of the Big Book spoke of a “Broad Highway” and I think this is where I am currently walking. In future posts I hope to explore some of these particular sticking points-like will- more closely.

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I’ve just created a Facebook Page for this blog, so please “like” me on there for an easy way to be updated when I post a new piece of writing here.  I will also be linking to other interesting blog posts and articles from across the internet.

The 12 Step Witch on Facebook


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This Sunday I attended my fourth holiday ritual with my local Witchcraft community. My fourth ritual with them since Samhain. Not so long ago, but so much has happened since then—I’ve taken their introductory core class, spent time socially with members of the community, and started to feel a “part of.” Still, I was surprised when they asked me to play one of the four central roles in this Vernal Equinox ritual.

Was I nervous? Yes. And ironically enough, I was invoking the emotion “fear” and leading the group in a journey about that emotion. You can write what you think you are going to say, and say it aloud in the car, but when you are in front of 20 people, and drums are rat-a-tatting and boom-booming behind you, and suddenly you need to make your voice fill the room, it is a lot different. I also went last, after three priestesses who really brought down the house. I mean, seriously. Not easy acts to follow. They knew how to work with the drums, they knew how to let the energy in a room build naturally without feeling anxious about trying to push it to a specific place. Whereas I was like the nervous girl on a date rushing to fill every silence in the conversation with inane nattering.

Priestessing is not easy. I do not know why this did not occur to me before but of course it isn’t! It is performance and a spiritual act all in one. You need to let yourself be spoken through but also hold your presence. You have to be large enough to lead people but not so big that you crowd out their personal experience and expression. The challenge of trying to evoke a negative emotional state in a large group of people through words, chanting, sounds, and then leading then through an exploration of seeing that state as a possible ally… Quite the order for my first priestessing gig.

Things happened that surprised me. I did not expect to begin full-throated singing about halfway through my invocation. But that was my response to the moment, my response to the fear, my response to the flop sweat that was starting to bead on my forehead. I told people I was afraid, afraid of what I was doing right at this moment. And I asked—will you join me now? And they did, beginning their own singing. Fear we sang. You will not destroy me. Fear, please transform me. That was when I felt the energy of my invocation begin to shift.

You can’t tiptoe around the topic of fear when you are a member of a recovery program. Your sponsor will hit you with obnoxious sayings like “You can Fuck Everything And Run or you can Face Everything And Recover!” You will be writing a list of your fears and reading them to another human being. You will be facing your fears by making amends to people, by tackling situations sober that you previously could only handle while under the influence. Here’s what the AA Big Book has to say about Fear:

This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread: the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling. Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble. Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 67

What happens when we look at the shadow of the shadow? When we look at fear not as an enemy, but extend our gaze beyond the obvious and ask “In what ways can you be my ally?” Yes, fear can paralyze us. Yes, fear can fill us with anxiety. Yes, fear is uncomfortable. But what actual function is fear playing in my body? Have I ever been about to take a shortcut down a dark alley, and fear has whispered in my ear, “No. Not this dark alley”? Have I ever been about to go somewhere with someone I just met and the hair has raised on the back of my neck and told me, “Not with this person.” If I was running for my life, would fear make me run just a little faster? Fast enough to make the difference between being caught and not? Has fear ever been a beacon? Has it shown me what I SHOULD do because I am so afraid of it? Have I ever been so afraid to die that I realized how very much I wanted to live? What is that knowledge worth?

Can fear drop down deep into our bodies and become instinct? Can it become intuition? Can it become one of the ways I hear the wisdom of my unconscious self?

We had planned that day to have other people do the elemental quarter callings, but in the end the four main ritual priestesses ended up doing it, with little notice. When I called North, I was unprepared, and I truly felt that space inside of me that is God Hirself turn hir head up and speak with me. What is deep in the caves of the Earth? We asked. What is deep within the mountain? What message is held there? What will we find there? Will we fear it, or will we claim it? Later, I entered the cave. I entered the mountain. I feared it. And then I claimed it.

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What is already mine

The wheel keeps turning, and has brought us around again to Spring.

I snuck out of work today and walked around the  old military fort down by the water.  It’s shaped like a pentacle and surrounded by water on three sides.  It was cold down there but warm when the sun broke through the clouds.  The sun played hide-and-seek.  It reminded me of this holiday, the way it proclaims Spring as Sprung, though the earth is still hard and the trees still bare. 

The wind blew fiercely, making water crash against the seawall, making my ears burn with cold.  Air, bring me clarity.  Sun, cleanse me with your fire.  Trees, show me how to root deeply. Water, teach me how to adapt.  I am surrounded by the elements all the time. I am made of them. I feel cradled by them, caressed by them.

I walk across the grass.  I see a small blue weedy flower I learn later is called Creeping Veronica—what an amazing name! I pass by the twenty-four foot statue of Orpheus, the ancient Greek hero of song and poem, and my pick for most idiosyncratic statue in town. He holds his lyre and a fierce look in his eye.

I leave this place reluctantly.  I want to bury my face into the dirt and rub my knuckles against the rough bark of a tree.  Today everyone is celebrating balance, but I am more intrigued by what this holiday promises to come.  Rising sap.  The quickening of earth.  The explosion of so much sex energy, so much qi.  At Imbolc I said I was going to “Walk with the Bear”.  The Bear awakens in the spring.  She awakens hungry.  Where will I go for food? What will I chose to eat?  

I have things in need of growth.  Needs that have languished beneath the ground, beneath the soil for far too long.  They’ve lacked for water, they’ve lacked for sun.  In this springtime, when both become increasingly ample, I claim my share of sun and rain.  I claim healing for myself.  It is my birthright.  It is my destiny and my will.  So mote it be. 

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Examining Ecstasy, Part II

Last week I shared my experiences of spiritual ecstasy.  This week I want to look at why experiencing ecstasy is important-at least for this witch.

There are some excellent articles on ecstasy that have been published in Witch Eye, a Feri tradition journal. One I really enjoyed was Ecstasy and Transgression in the Feri Tradition.

Ecstasy derives from the Greek “existanai” which means “to displace, or drive out of one’s senses.” That is the key to ecstasy, that it drives one out of a sense of ego or thought-centered experience, into a place where one can enter the mystery directly. The experience of ecstasy allows us to make a distinction between the essential self as opposed to the conceptual self, a self that is socially constructed. It is by displacing the conceptual self that we enter into union with our gods and our universe, without trying to figure them out intellectually. We are able to attain a sense of moving beyond ourselves and into the experience of all. This is not the easiest thing to do, especially in an individualistic culture where we value the separate person and preserve the ego at all costs. To intentionally drive oneself beyond your senses means violating some major cultural norms and mores.–Cholla

I will admit that I resent my ego.  It causes me tremendous pain.  I often imagine it as a ball and chain that is shackled around my ankle.  It is constantly bombarding me with cries of, “I want!  I want!  I need!  I need!”  Witchcraft traditions celebrate desire, the material, and the body.  It elevates want and desire from a place of sin to a place of acceptance and celebration.  I appreciate that, but I’ve been driven to dark, dark places by my wants and desires, by my cravings.  I wonder sometimes if people with addiction issues simply feel and relate to wants and desires differently than other people.  These cravings and wants can drive me to a self-centered existence where I am focused only on meeting those desires. God is turned out.  It can feel like quite a battle when I am engaged in ego-centric behavior. I have to work a program of daily spiritual maintenance, humility, and willingness in order to keep those things at bay.

“Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity.  If I keep on turning my will and my life over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me?  I’ll look like the hole in the doughnut.”  This, of course, is the process by which instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 36

I always smile when I read that sentence, and think of the newcomer who is afraid of becoming the doughnut hole.  I crave deeply the concept of being a nonentity, of melting into the divine.  Of achieving a state where I am no longer an individual with an ego but instead just a spirit in complete union with God/dess.

Ecstasy is the result of the transpersonal, the divine, temporarily (or permanently) infusing the personal. Ecstasy is surrender. The Talking Self gives up control, structure, expectations, and its network of preference and aversion. We have in that moment our own experience stripped of analysis and fear, suffused with the power of the divine, the radiance and awareness of Ether as pure consciousness. In those moments we experience the world as it really is, not as we think it is, or think it ought to be.–Gabriel

I love the word surrender.  Simply reading that word can send a wave of relaxation through my body so strong that you could see it happen physically.  Surrender is a big concept in recovery, and one we place in a positive and loving light.  Surrender is when you stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Surrender is finally see the world as it is, and you accept it.  Surrender is when you begin to work with the tools you actually have. Surrender is when you pry the boards off the windows and let the sunlight of the Spirit shine in.  Surrender is when we stop being motivated by fear and start being motivated by love.  I can have an educational experience of surrender.  In that case, the entire process unfolds over time and I deal with it emotionally and cognitively.  In a moment of ecstasy, this process of surrender, often such a long and arduous one, happens quickly and somatically.  My bodily separation from God/dess is quite quickly annihilated.  I am not possessed by God/dess, but I am possessed by the shining light of their presence. When the light fades and I am able to put together thoughts again, changes have occurred.  There is a larger space inside.  A truth may have been revealed.  Something previously hidden is now come to light.

And yes, it feels GOOD.  Sometimes it feels exhilarating,  sometimes it feels primal and animalistic, sometimes gentle. But it does feel good.  I do like to feel good.  I do like transcendent experiences.  This is why I did hallucinogenic drugs, in an attempt to shake those experiences from the tree.  But while having ecstatic experiences for the simply pleasure of them is not a bad thing (I guess, but I am actually struggling with this concept), the real usefulness of the experience reveals itself elsewhere.

In the article I mentioned above, the authors suggest that ecstatic experiences offer two things: 1) a state of profound compassion for self, and 2) “a way to know the heart’s desire without having to sort it out from what everyone else desires for you.”  The first I can acknowledge. I’ve come down from my ecstatic experiences with a new understanding of how very human I am.  I come down with a new sense of compassion for how hard I am on myself, and begin to bring into my life an awareness of how much more I may be able to experience if I could just let go of some of the judgment.  As for the second, since I have started having ecstatic experiences in the past year, I’ve begun to have more clarity about the things I need to do in order to claim my purpose. I’ve begun making concrete steps towards that. Things have shifted quite a bit since my first experience.

Ecstasy has also led me to become more aware of the shining light of divinity within me.  It has helped me to surrender to my own divine reality, my own divine power.  My own holiness and basic bodily sacredness.  Once you have been filled with the light of the Divine you cannot help but make space for that in your body all the time.

Ecstasy is a lot of work. It requires physical and psychological effort to overcome the powerful cultural bonds that restrict the witch. One of the problems is that you need a lot of time, and you have to be willing to dedicate that time and openness to what can happen. Chanting a line or two for a few minutes is not going to cut it. It takes persistence to keep chanting the same lines over and over. You have to slip into that place where words have no meaning, and it takes awhile for that to happen. -Cholla

To this point, I’ve had ecstatic experiences unexpectedly.  There is a long tradition in Reclaiming and Feri witchcraft of working to achieve ecstatic states through dancing, chanting, breath work, and singing.  Over the next year I’d like to bring more purpose and awareness to this area and begin to get to a place where I can play a more active role in interesting these states.  I believe they hold important work and messages for me.

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Let’s Talk About Love

Teo Bishop got a great conversation going this morning when he asked the question Why don’t Pagans talk more about love?  He compared the Pagan take on love to the Christian, where talk about love seems to be all the rage.

How is it that something that can be so intrinsic to me (and I presume to others) can be a subject that doesn’t come up much in my religious community? Is it that we don’t have a context for talking about love? Are we convinced that love wasn’t that important in the Old Ways, and — more importantly — are we satisfied with that conclusion?

Or, are we afraid that if we talk about love in connection with our religious lives that we might start sounding too Christian?

I agree with Teo’s assessment that Christians are more comfortable speaking about love in a spiritual context.  I’ve had some of the best spiritual conversations of my life with Christians expressly because they were able to connect with me on this issue of love.

Many people weighed in from the comments section.

Conor Bryan O’Warren said:

I don’t think we talk about love much because it isn’t necessarily relevant. Christians must talk about Christ’s love for humanity, it is the basis of his sacrifice for them. For us, things are different. The Immortals are not “all-loving”. We have no mandate to love our neighbors. Look around us though, for lack of speech, does it mean lack of action? I’d say no. Look how many Pagans are involved in social justice issues, things like human-trafficking, child slavery, Equal rights and protections for people around the globe, social welfare programs. . .the list goes on. We do more than we talk I feel.

Eran Rathan shared:

I can’t love someone I don’t know. I can empathize with them, or have compassion for them, or treat them with kindness but I don’t think it is possible to love them. Like with so much of life (magic especially!), its about connections. Without any sort of meaningful connection, without having some tie to another, how can you know them, let alone love them?

Cu said:

I know love for those of my self defined clan and certainly I know a world shattering love for my mate of 22 years, I don’t see nor understand those that claim to have love outside of their circle. I don’t see love as an overriding theme in the natural world, I see predator and prey. The destroyer and the destroyed (though at times that is part of the natural cycle). I try to put myself between those I love and the “other” and defend them to the best of my ability. It is something I struggle with, as I don’t want to be someone that can’t be accepting of others beliefs and actions, nor as someone that can’t make new friends and grow my circle, but to be true to my own beliefs I am cautious of new folks, I am protective of my kith and kin, and it certainly takes more than existing to earn my “love”. I don’t mean this as an attack to those that see the world in a more open and loving way, but only to state that I don’t see anything wrong with those that look at the world and see enemies among it’s people.

There is lots of other good stuff there, all definitely worth reading.

What was so interesting to me what that people instantly went to this concept of Love  as the feeling of affection and devotion to a person.  Of course, that kind of love is important, but to only concentrate on that definition is so limiting.

Like Teo, love is at my center of my practice and belief system. My definition of love, however, is broad.  When I consider love in a spiritual context, I see love as  the opening and leading note in how we approach not just relationships but everything we do–how we eat, how we drive, how we exercise, how we wait in line, how we speak to an obviously overwhelmed airline employee, how we work, how we motivate ourselves and others, how we handle being stressed out or angry, how we show up for our friends when they need us. Love is an emotional and spiritual space we can occupy during the day, and invite others to step inside–and bring ourselves back to when the day takes us to less peaceful places. This is sacred space we can carry along with us.

It does not mean that we love all equally, or that we apply our love indiscriminately. It doesn’t mean we don’t act cautious when we are possibly in danger, or that we skip among the daises acting like everyone is our best friend. It just means that we step forward, pregnant with possibility, open to what may unfold

Love is a feeling, and an action.  But perhaps most importantly, it is a state of being. When the Divine taught me how to live in a state of love, it revolutionized my life.  I spent many years unable to truly love myself, my friends and family, or my community. I was taught how to do that, and now it sits inside me, in my chest, beaming.  Some days it is very dim.  I am not always the best torch keeper. But when I can get the wick clean and the oil filled and the glass shined up, through regular spiritual maintenance, I shine like a lighthouse.

I wonder about my experience in a 12 step program and how that may have given me a different perspective from many of the people who speak about only being able to love those they know.  12 step programs foster deep identification with people who might be total strangers. We often speak about how we can enter a room full of people we don’t know and yet feel 100% recognized. We are taught to compare in rather than compare out. We train ourselves to see the similarities  not the differences between our stories and others. Members regularly take total strangers “under their wing” and begin going out of their way to provide these strangers with rides, companionship, and guidance. When I see a new person come in, eyes wide like a frightened deer, I feel responsible for carrying the message to them. I don’t care who they are, or what they look like, or where they are from.  I know they need help and I know I can provide it. My reward for that is seeing dead people come back to life. It is more than a bargain.

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The Magic of Letting Go

Yesterday I felt like someone judged me and I did not like what they determined. I felt like my words were being misunderstood, or worse—that I had been careless with my words, and now I was being punished for not being perfectly explicit. I wanted to scramble to clear my name, to say, “No—I see what you think and it isn’t right! That isn’t what I meant!” But that kind of desperate scrabbling after a person’s determination of me almost never bears fruit. I have to do what a twelve step recovery program has taught me and practice attraction rather than promotion. Promoting myself to you won’t work—but if I can just be myself, maybe you will become attracted to that and reconsider your opinion.

This is _so_ hard for me. I can’t tell you what internal discord this created within me for several hours. Knowing someone that I wanted to impress had a bad (and I thought, wrong) impression of me really bothered me. I have to close my eyes, breathe, and feel the edges of my own awareness soften. Little by little, I let some of the anxiety go. It flows out of me into the web. Eventually, understanding flows in. I did say some troubling things, or at least said things in troubling ways. The person was right to pull my attention to them. And the person meant to, and did, provide me with an enormous opportunity to reexamine my language and reconsider the importance of how I say and present things in the future. In the end I was able to thank them for being a teacher.

This, to me, is Magic. Not all magic needs a cast circle, the calling of the elements, the invoking of a deity. I have no tools save those that are the most important—my desire, my will, and my desperation. This is a spell I’ve been working for years, a spell to tear down my defenses and fears and to encourage opening, opening, ever more opening. These massive shifts in perspective could not happen for me without being open to the possibility of being transformed. Could not happen without the willingness to be uncomfortable for a few hours, the willingness to let the message unfold. This is the magic of letting go of my idea of how I should be seen.

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Fear of Theology

I’ve been thinking about theology lately and it has brought me to some thought provoking gems from other blog writers.  From Alison Leigh Lilly’s wonderful blog Meadowsweet & Myrrh:

Theology is a tricky thing. It’s no coincidence that the history of religion is just as full of heretics and apostates as it is of saints and theologians. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible to tell which is which.

Imagine, for instance, the human body. Laid out on the table, splayed open, its skin peeled back, its heart exposed and raw. What does this valve do here? Well, nothing now. And this webbing of veins and arteries, furry with capillaries, rooted in flesh, wrapped around bone — now they are all limp with the loss of blood, deadly still and pale on the autopsy table. We imagine that when this body was alive, it quivered and thumped with the rushing pulse of life. We imagine that when this dead heart quickened at the sight of its beloved, a great deal might have happened within these dried up vessels.

This is the dilemma of theology, too. We want so very much to understand our gods, to know them intimately, to see how they work in our lives. It is tempting to dissect, to analyze, to categorize. And sometimes, it is necessary, even beneficial. We are categorizing creatures, we human beings. We pick out patterns as a matter of survival. When it comes to our gods, we reach for them not only with our prayers and offerings, but with our reason and our intellects — we would know them with our whole selves, in all their parts, in part so that we might know our own selves better in all our parts. The challenge is to delve into theology without killing its subject, to try our hand at analysis and critical thinking without pretending that the numinous divine is a dead thing that will hold still beneath our careful knives. Theology is not dissection. It is much more gruesome than that; it is vivisection.

I love that.  It is so raw and real.  I read the blogs of so many smart Pagans/NeoPagans/People who other people call Pagans but who say they aren’t and it can truly be intimidating.  I want so badly to be able to join in a conversation with them because I find their ideas fascinating.  But quite honestly, I am nowhere near their level.  They’ve examined and developed their personal theology to a point where they can describe, define, and defend their point of view on an academic level.  I feel like I am playing with crayons while they are painting with fine oils.

I’ve had transformative spiritual experiences in my life, close interactions with some sort of higher power. I don’t worry that my experiences or practice are shallow.  But when I try and define what I think this higher power is exactly, and what my specific relationship to it is, and whether or not this higher power has a feeling towards me that could be described as love–my scalpel begins to shake.

Step 2: Came to to Believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

Twelve step recovery programs are purposefully vague when it comes to theology.  They know people come in jumpy about the whole spirituality issue.  You’ve got people who still hiding from the angry Gods of their youth.  Some people feel betrayed and abandoned.  Others look at their past and can’t conceive that any cosmic force could possibly motivate the universe.  In order to overcome all that, the Twelve Steps say, “Believe whatever you want.  In fact, you don’t have to even believe.  All we ask is that you be willing to believe.”  Other than that, nothing else is said.  No one tries to define what God is or isn’t.  Some people use the word God for their higher power, some don’t.  Some use the pronoun He, some use the pronoun She.  Some don’t use any pronouns. I used to hear “the Lord” but that was only when I lived in the Midwest.  I haven’t heard that since I moved to the East Coast, but it didn’t bother me then and it wouldn’t bother me now.  Most people just say “my Higher Power” and leave it at that.

So there is no  pressure to define what you think your higher power is and how it all works in terms of a universal theology. But, most people share a general sense that there is a force, it wants the best for all living things, and you can somehow tap into its flow for positive benefit. So when I begin to set myself to the task of defining a personal theology, I admit that I wonder if I am treading on ground better left untrod. Recovery programs usually advocate keeping it simple, and theology can get very complicated. What happens if, upon critical examination and in an attempt to craft a cohesive theology, my current sense of what Divinity is collapses?

If I decide that I can no longer believe that there is a power that feels love for me, what would that mean in the future if it came to a point where my higher power was all that was in-between me and my compulsion? Would I be less likely to resist?Would I be able to cultivate the same sense of gratitude if I didn’t believe anymore that a divine force had personally intervened ten years ago and taken away the compulsion that was killing me? If in my darkest moments, I no longer felt that a great wave of Divine love and strength was rising up to meet me, would I still be able, or willing, to crawl out of them?

How could I live without fear eating me alive?

If I went down the path of trying to truly perform theological vivisection, and God/dess turned out to be nothing that could restore me to sanity, accept my burdens, help me remove my shortcomings, and hear my prayers–how would I  continue to work the 12 steps that saved my life?

I think about some of the people whose blogs I read.  I imagine themselves asking these questions, and I imagine that they would forge ahead.  The truth of the divine, the truth of reality being what matters. I imagine that they would be brave and determine that they would accept the nature of the divine as they found it, and work with it regardless.

But, as the Big Book reminds me, I am bodily and mentally different from my fellows.  That stakes are higher for this witch. This business is infinitely grave.  I might be willing to be ignorant, in exchange for continued access to the delusion (if that is, in fact, what it is) that assists me in remaining free of the compulsive behavior that enslaved me.

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I am a feel-good junkie.
And I am not alone. Studies show that people with substance abuse problems usually show problems early in life with delayed gratification, discipline, self-control, etc.
In other words, we want what we want–and we want it NOW.
When I find something that feels good, my first thought is usually “Where can I get more and how quickly?”
In the eternal words of Calvin and Hobbes, “Happiness is not enough! I demand EUPHORIA!”
Or, ecstasy will do.

I read a definition of ecstasy as a state in “one in which man’s spirit is caught up to the most immediate union with the divine”. I agree with that.

My relationship with Ecstasy has changed over the years.

My first experience with Ecstasy was taking a cruise on the Carnival Cruise ship of the same name. I was nine. I wouldn’t say anything about the experience was too ecstatic, but sneaking into the casino onboard and playing with the slot machines was fun.

My second experience with Ecstasy was taking the drug, Ecstasy. This occurred several timed during my senior year of high school and the summer directly following. Again, I wouldn’t describe any of those experiences as ecstatic. Was I high? Sure. Did it feel good? Yup. But I didn’t feel ecstatic.

I have had three experiences that I would consider truly ecstatic experiences. They all happened while I was clean and sober.

My first real ecstatic experience happened -where else-on Phish tour. Dancing at a Phish concert is one of my “happy places”. It is a spiritual experience for me. As I focus on the music, I give myself up to something larger than myself. I forget to worry about my wants and my worries. Self seeking slips away. I am fully in the moment, fully present, and joy and gratitude fill my entire body. I am so happy. I have had many pre-ecstatic experiences at my 98 phish shows, but the truly ecstatic experiences were fundamentally different.

It occurred in Ohio last summer. I was dancing with friends in the sunken walkway between two sections of seats in the venue. It was dark, and sweaty, and people were throwing down. Bodies were everywhere, and the air was so wet and hot it felt like I was swimming. The feeling that came over me really cannot be described, Words are mere suggestions at what it was actually like. I suddenly felt that I was animal, blood and bone and spit and sex. Raw and primal and tribal. I was connected to these people around me. We were pack mates. Divinity was immanent in us and expressed through us. We were powerful and vital. My head felt like it cracked open like a raw, runny egg. I may have howled. I am sure if you had asked my name I wouldn’t have been able to answer.

The second time this happened was also at a Phish show, just a couple of months later. I was dancing, with friends, and this time the energy vibrated much higher. Where last time it has been very primal and raw, this time it felt very uplifted (I was in Denver, the Mile High City!). I remember it swooping down on me all of a sudden, and I jumped up and down several times. I believe I cried out. I felt fireworks go off in my head. I know it happened just as the song ended and I stood there with my head in my hands and cried tears of wonder. I had been directly connected to the divine, a deep soul kiss, a searing exposure.

I became introduced to the Reclaiming tradition of Witchcraft late in 2012. I attended their Samhain ritual and it was during the power raising that I tasted a little bit of the feeling I so often get at concerts. Then, at the Yule celebration, I had a full on ecstatic experience. We had been singing for several minutes, and I admit I was starting to feel a little disappointed. That inner voice was going, “that feeling isn’t happening.” At that point one of the women in the group motioned for all of us to take the hands of the people standing next to us. We gathered into a circle and raised our joined hands to the sky, still singing. Suddenly, I felt it float down on me, gently, like feathers–ecstasy. It felt like the softest of down, like champagne bubbles, like snowflakes. My heart felt full of candlelight and silent, watery beauty.

Each of these experiences was so different. One was raw and primal, another energetic, another calm and soft. But they each left me with clear sense of being touched. Those experiences and the energy that ran through them felt fundamentally different than anything I had experienced before.

I hope to have more of these experiences, and one of the main reasons I am attracted to Reclaiming Witchcraft is because it bills itself an ecstatic tradition. I want those experiences. I daresay that I need them. I am naturally wired as the kind of person who seeks transcendent experiences. That is why in my pre-recovery life I was so attracted to using LSD, mushrooms, and other drugs. But in my clean & sober life, I need healthy ways to have those experiences. I’ve found those through music and witchcraft.

Next week, I will write about why I think ecstatic experiences are useful.

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Raido, Ride


This morning I pulled Raido in my rune casting.

Riding-to the warrior in the hall-is easy,
But very strenuous for one who sits on top,
Of a powerful horse over long miles.

Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem

Today, this rune of the traveler and the rune of the journey is a reminder to STAY. In the moment.

If I am going to open my arms wide and proclaim, like a New Age bookstore owner, that “life is a journey!” then how am I faring? I am missing most of my trip. Instead of visiting the local sights I am fretting about the size of the closets in the hotel. I am worrying about whether there will be western style toilets. I am concerned about the exchange rate. All of these things are taking me out of the moment, stealing my attention from the sights and smells and tastes that are all around me.

Raido has come into my life today to remind me that YES, life IS a journey. It is a journey from birth to death. Like the sun across the sky, I rose and I will set. What will I shine on? What will I direct my energies towards? Will I take hold of this amazing opportunity, or will I squander it?

It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worthwhile. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grace. We have found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.
Alcoholics Anonymous, page 66

Being on a journey means that I am constantly moving. I can take things with me as I move on, or I can leave them behind. I need to choose carefully. I’ve had an awful week. I was standing in my closet this morning, screaming to my husband about how someone I work with is a fucking idiot, a fucking asshole. This happened about twenty minutes after I spent fifteen minutes praying and aligning my Triple Soul. Whither goest enlightenment? Resentment is powerful. When I am sitting in prayer, or sitting in a meeting, the process of riding along the journey without picking up resentments seems infinitely easier than it does when I am out on the horse, pounding out the endless miles of life.

So for now I just lean down, wrap my arm around the mare’s neck, and hold on for dear life. With a smile.

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