The Power of Inaction

isaYesterday, I pulled the rune Isa.

Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery;
it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems;
it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.

Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem

In a casting, Isa is often read to suggest that a response of inaction be considered. Things are brittle, and frozen, and to try and force them to bend to your will would to be risking them breaking.

It brings to mind one of the four powers of the Sphinx, from Thelemic Magic—to be silent.

And this all goes back to something I say quite often to my sponsees- “It’s amazing how much of a good relationships depends on what you DON’T do and what you DON”T say.”

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Dependence

Pagans, in general, are a pretty independent bunch.  I think many Pagans are drawn to one tradition or another because it offers them a way to be spiritual without a hint of being servile.  It honors their independence, encourages them to develop their own philosophies, and does not demand that they subscribe to one specific dogma.  Many traditions are explicitly bound together by common practices, rather than common beliefs.  In the local cell of the tradition I have recently become involved in, there are hard polytheists, soft polytheists, Wiccans, pantheists, panentheists, people who follow a very specific pantheon, and others who go in and out of atheism.  It doesn’t matter to anyone, as long as circle etiquette is observed and peoples beliefs are respected.

I’ve noticed many Pagans have an uncomfortable relationship with the words worship, submit, humble, dependence.  They were drawn to Pagan traditions out of an expression of independence and they are not going to begin getting on their knees and crawling on their bellies before their God/dess now. Many of them came to Pagan traditions from religions with an authoritarian God that issued rules and regulations.  A recent blog post from Brendan Meyers titled The Worship of the Gods is Not What Matters started me thinking about this.

 In my relationship with Herself, I do not bow. I do not obey. I do not ‘worship’. Perhaps this is one of the last remaining strands of my Catholic upbringing, but to me the word ‘worship’ means absolute unquestioning affirmation of the authority of the deity. I’ll not have that in my life. If you are wise, neither will you. The gods, if they exist, are just the people who happen to live on the other side. And they shall be friends to me, or strangers to me, the same as any of you.

Teo Bishop posted a response in which he wrote

When I light a flame for my goddess, and I invite her to transform me, to refine me, to envelop me and change me into something better, I do it without reservation. My rationality does not dissect this action. This is a relational act. A devotional act. One might say it is an act of faith, and I’m not sure they would be wrong.

But I also see the refinement of myself as something for which I am solely responsible. Should I wish to walk this path and prepare myself for a life committed to service I will need to shore up my strength and charge forward alone. If I make the choice to pursue this line of study, to commit myself for the next four years to being a student of knowledge, it will not be faith that carries me through: it will be conviction, perseverance, and courage. This will be a human endeavor, a human challenge, and ultimately, a human goal.

The gods may be with me, in my heart and in my mind, but it will still be — as always — a solitary journey.

In the comments to the original piece, this was posted:

I was trained (via Feri Tradition) that we don’t have to kneel to the Gods, that we do stand with them as equals (in moral terms, even if not in scope and power), and that worship is about celebrating that reciprocal and mutually-affirming relationship. But I will add that I’ve since learned that submission to the Gods can also be entirely positive – in just the same way that we might sometimes submit and surrender to a lover, as an act of devotion and ardent play. It is in that spirit that I worship my Gods. The important thing to note here is that there is never an abnegation of the will of the worshiper involved. That is, I think, the defining difference between worship in a Pagan context and that of monotheisms.

Obviously these do not represent the beliefs or all, or even most of Pagans.  These are just three opinions.  But these viewpoints are extremely troubling to me.  Not that there are people out there, believing this—No, I am happy for a wide breadth of ideas, opinions.  But when I read other people’s ideas, I allow them to challenge my own.  And these ideas make my own beliefs uncomfortable.  I am uncomfortable with the idea that I should not bow or worship the God/dess.  I am uncomfortable with the idea that any pursuit of mine is solitary; she is always with me!.  I am uncomfortable with the idea that I am the equal to God/dess (not that I think I am dirt on God’s shoe, but God is all and knows all.  I am operating a much smaller ship).

Let’s examine why.

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success.  On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good.  Most people try to live by self-propulsion.  Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way.  If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great.  Everybody, including himself, would be pleased.  Life would be wonderful.  In trying to make these arrangements, our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous.  He may even be kind, considerate, patient, generous, even modest and self-sacrificing.  On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest.  But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens?  The show doesn’t come off very well.  He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right.  He decides to exert himself even more.  He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be.  Still the play does not suit him.  Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame.  He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying.  What is his basic trouble?  Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if only he manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants?  And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show?  Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

Alcoholics Anonymous, page 60

This was the nature of my life before I entered recovery.  I was focused entirely on getting what I wanted out of life, and I was willing to do whatever was required (lie, cheat, steal, manipulate) in order to get it.  When other people stood in my way, I felt self-righteously resentful.  Didn’t they understand that I was just trying to please everybody by putting on a great show? Didn’t they understand that I suffered from a great deal of pain and that as such I was excused from the normal conventions that everyone else hewed to?  My life was one great struggle between what I wanted and what society (my mom, school, friends, my job) expected from me. As the Big Book says:

Selfishness—self-centeredess.  That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.  Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some point in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making.  They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.  Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness.  We must, or it kills us!

Alcoholics Anonymous, page 62

So what’s the solution?  Let’s see what Recovery proposes. First of all, try not to mind the Christianesque language.  This book was written in the 1930’s by Christian men.  Their intention was that each person should choose a higher power that made sense to them.  They stated explicitly that:

“Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception of God.  Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with him.  As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps.  We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him.  To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek.  It is open, we believe, to all men.

Alcoholics Anonymous, page 46

Creative Intelligence?  Spirit of the Universe, capitalized?  Realm of the Spirit?  Those are pretty progressive concepts in the 1930’s for a bunch of Christian dudes.  They were pushing the envelope REALLY far for their time and place, and even though in this day and age their language can seem extremely Christian, I am honoring their intention, which was to be wide open and welcoming of all spiritual beliefs. I’ve been Pagan the whole time I’ve been in a 12 step program and never had a problem with it.

With that out of the way, let’s find out what recovery programs say we should do about the problem of how selfish we addicts and alcoholics are!

We had to have God’s help.  This is the how and why of it.  First of all, we had to quit playing God.  It didn’t work.  Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our director.  He is the Principal, we are His agents.  He is the Father, and we are His children.  Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.  When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things followed.  We had a new Employer.  Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well.  Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves and our little plans and designs.  More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.  As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, as we enjoyed peace of mind, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow, or the hereafter.  We were reborn. We were now at Step Three.  Many of us said to our Maker, as we understood him: “God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.  Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.  Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.  May I do Thy Will always!”  We thought well before taking this step, making sure we were ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to him.

Alcoholics Anonymous, page 62

Okay, so…Submit my will to God. Ask explicitly to be relieved of self-will (bondage of self) so that I can better do God/dess’s will.  Do this because God/dess knows what is best for me and I do not.  Do this because otherwise my own self-will run riot will twist me again towards selfishness.  Abandon myself utterly.  UTTERLY.  

Result? Feel new power flow in. Enjoy peace of mine.  Discover I can face like successfully rather than hide from it or feel the need to manipulate it. Lose my fear of today, tomorrow, and the hereafter. Be reborn.

And guess what.  It worked.

Suddenly (and I do mean, SUDDENLY) I was relieved of not only the compulsion to shove numbing agents into my body, but also the need to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate. A whole lot of change came quickly at once to bring me to a level where I could function as a near-normal person in society, and since then has come hard-won slowly throughout the years, each bit treasured and earned.

I still submit.  I still humble myself.  I do not believe that I know what is best for myself.  I do believe that my self will is broken.  I have a broken compass in my brain and body.  It will take me only to dark places.  I have to remain deeply connected and deeply humbled so that I can borrow my higher powers compass when I need to know where to go.

And why do I worship?

Because a night came where I couldn’t imagine going on with my life and I couldn’t imagine changing my life.  I felt hopeless, powerless, and alone. There was this thing I wanted to stop doing more than anything in the world, but I could not stop.  I just couldn’t stop, no matter my plans or how much I promised or how much I swore or how much I tried.  I kept doing it.  I lay on the beach and cast a circle and within that circle, with the sounds of the waves filling my ears, I begged her to help me stop.  By Earth, by Air, by Fire, by Water.  Since that night I have not done that thing again, even though I spent the first two years in recovery utterly surrounded by it.   She was with me.  She lifted me from total darkness.  She gave herself utterly to me, so I give myself utterly to her.  

She saved my life! Of course I worship her. Worship means to revere and adore.  I owe her every breath, every happiness.  I love her.  I submit to her because she sends me in the right direction time and time again. She’s proven herself.   She is love itself.

And I am personifying the Divine, which cannot fully encompass the totality of what I believe. The totality of what I believe also means worshiping and submitting to the fact that I am made of divine matter, just like everything else. Submitting to Her means submitting to my inner Divinity, and listening to the message coming from the source from which I was born, a message that tells me how to attain my highest form of expression.

Among a sea of independent people, I stand dependent.  I desperately need the Divine Power as I understand it to provide me with guidance, courage, strength.  I try and align my will with the will of the Divine, because I do not trust my own.  Is being dependent a bad thing?

Let’s examine for a moment this idea of dependence at the level of everyday living.  In this area it is startling to discover how dependent we really are, and how unconscious of that dependence.  Every modern house has electric wiring carrying power and light to its interior.  We are delighted with this dependence; our main hope is that nothing will ever cut off this supply of current.  By accepting our dependence upon this marvel of science, we find ourselves more independent personally.

Alcoholics Anonymous, page 36

And so is introduced the idea that through dependence, we become more independent. I cannot agree more.  There are things I do not have to do today, or worry about today, due to my dependence on the Divine.  Like trying to control the future, what other people think of me, what other people do.  Not having to use drugs or drink.

Maybe someone needs to be fully dependent on some kind of harmful addiction in order to understand the freedom that can come with being dependent on a God.  Maybe you need to have experienced how debased and degraded relying on your own willpower can get you before you are willing to see the grace and honor in putting your entire life in the hands of the God/dess. Because it is an honor.  It is an honor to be alive, an honor to be connected, an an honor to kneel before her in love and gratitude. It is an honor to be of service.

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Intention / Attention

Sarah Twichell had a new post at her blog today that, shortly and sweetly, illuminated the mundane disaster that unfolds in the middle of my, and I suspect many other peoples, spiritual lives.

All of those sayings about the importance of goals and the examined life serve to remind us that we are in motion.  If we aren’t steering, then we are swept along.  (Perhaps we are swept along anyway; I consider this a matter of personal theology.  But either way, the choice is to go where the current takes us or to steer.)

Sigh.

And just a few sentences later…

 To what do you regularly give ten minutes of your undivided attention?  Your job?  Your loved ones?  How about your body, the news on television, Facebook?  Your gods?  But one good way to change is to add in what you do want to have and let things you don’t need fall away.

Sometimes I feel that in my life I am like the little kid addicted to sugar who is hiding behind the curtains furiously sucking down pixie sticks.  Surely some kind of parental figure is going to come around the corner any minute and force me to start eating vegetables, right?

Until then, I tend to ___ ALL THE THINGS.  Etsy all the things.  Facebook all the things.  Pagan blog all the things.  Downton Abbey all the things.  If you don’t have a clue what I am talking about, do yourself a favor.

I often say in the rooms that the relationship between what we get out of a spiritual effort and the actual size of the spiritual effort is really kind of insane.  We tend to get a lot for a little.  Sometimes I joke that the Divine is a little bit of a people pleaser, maybe a little co-dependent. But seriously, the benefits of doing what Sarah is talking about– for example, taking out TEN MINUTES- is vast.  Those ten minutes could mean 24 hours of an open and free heart.  And how often do we sacrifice those ten minutes to another ten minutes on Facebook? Why are we shortchanging ourselves? Why are we robbing ourselves?

She ends by asking, “What are you steering towards?”  And this reminds me, that my intention is only as good as what I am paying attention to.

I have to be mindful.  I have to be the adult demanding the vegetables.  I have to make my attention align with my intention.  I have to begin each day in meditation and prayer to even have a chance of hell of this happening.

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Torch, Kenaz

kenazThis morning, I pulled the rune Kenaz.

The torch is known to every living man
by its pale, bright flame; it always burns
where princes sit within.

Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem

A few hours later, as part of a daily practice forum I am a part of, I was invited to take a look at the Honor point on the Pentacle of Autonomy.  I Googled it to get some thoughts going, and in an article by Thorn Coyle read the following:

To live with honor is to shine with our own light, not needing to steal a lantern from anyone else.

Kenaz also relates to fire, to the hearthfire of the home.  Fire relating to energy.  Later in the article Thorn mentions how we can only live with honor when we are guided by long-term consequences rather than by short-term gain.  The battle over where I spend my energy and the long term consequences over the short term gain has been a big once for me lately. Over the past few years, I’ve been committed more and more to service in A.A., and I love doing it. It feeds my spirit. But I have to find time to feed my body, and my marriage, and my magical interests.  I’ve come up with a schedule that balances all of these, and my challenge to myself is to consider the long term consequences, stop being such a people-pleaser, and really try hard to tell people NO.  I am actively trying to be less flexible.  That seems backwards, but it is what I need right now!

I need to shine with my own light, and to do so, I need to take care of my physical and magical manifestation.  I woke up at 6:30 am this morning and fed my body with Rise & Shine yoga.  I sat in front of my altar last night and did energy work and fed my magic.  In this case there is long term and short term gain.  Win/Win.

I will keep shining this torch over the landscape and seeing what I come up with today.  It is gray and rainy out and my energy level is much lower than it was yesterday, when the sun shone brightly.

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Day, Dagaz

Runic_letter_dagazI pulled a rune this morning after doing a Three Souls Alignment prayer (hey, look at me, developing a daily practice) and it was the rune Dagaz.

Day, the glorious light of the Creator, is sent by the Lord;it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor,and of service to all.

-Anglo Saxon Rune Poem

I stepped outside around 1:30pm to go on an errand, and the day was wild with sunshine against a cold blue sky.  My heart leapt, in a way I haven’t felt in awhile   I turned my face towards the sun. “Why, hello,” I thought, with reverence and love.  My mind went immediately to my craft friends, hoping they were somewhere they could enjoy this, and wishing we could be together, outdoors, raising energy under this sky.

Thank you, Divine Power of Love, for sending sunshine, for sending blue skies, for making this world so beautiful. This light is beloved to me.

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The Purpose of Ritual

Saturday night while lying in bed I was checking Facebook on my phone (bad habit!).  Teo Bishop is a Pagan writer I have come to enjoy and scrolling through my newsfeed I saw his status update said, “I think my whole life just changed” with an update to a beautiful post on his blog. Quite clearly, Teo had one of those transformative experiences in a ritual led by T. Thorn Coyle at Pantheacon and his response was to realize the following:

My focus has been directed toward liturgy, which I continue to believe is a valuable tool. But at this moment, charged with the energy of an army calling out to a Queen, I recognize the need for something greater than just ceremony.

Ritual and ceremony are not the same thing.

The tools we use for ritual are tools, and they are not the same thing as the juicy, bloody, fleshy, powerful potential of what ritual can be. There must be magick.

There must be.

There must be a movement of that stuff in the belly of bellies, in the gut of all guts. The words you speak are only useful if they mean something. They have to mean something. If you are going to speak — if you are going to stand before an altar and recite words to your Gods — you better say something that matters.

Wow.  My heart beat faster just reading what he wrote!  I’ve been there.  Those moments in ritual where you get that searing kiss from the divine, you are forever changed.  Those moments demand a response.  You cannot go back to living your life the way it was before.

Just the next day, I read the latest post at The Allergic Pagan.  John has found himself in a spiritual slump.  He sees that his passion has been misplaced, perhaps.  He finds joy in creating liturgy, in writing ritual, but when it comes down to performing ritual the spirit leaves him and he is uninspired.  All his work falls flat, at the very moment where it is supposed to rise up and perform.

The ritual words and gestures become disconnected from the acts of imagination which brought forth the ritual in the first place.  Many people advise going through the motions, faking it till you make it.  But I think I am at an age now that I can safely say that I just do not have the constitution for this.  I have to feel it, every time, or I quickly become disillusioned.  Ideally, every word and gesture of ritual would come to me as “something unique, never to be repeated, and inexhaustible” (Heidegger) — the antithesis of what many people associate with the word “ritual”.

I want ritual to feel like Geoff Bartley’s “The Language of Stones” (sung by Sarah Stockwell):

The strangest landscape begins to look familiar.
I can walk this country in my sleep:
signs of divination,
the Maze of Emergence,
the ritual dreams for saving the soul of the world.
The sounds are as intimate as breath.
Our lips move over the syllables like a blind woman’s fingers over the face of her first-born.
Insects hum at the forest’s edge and the sun stops overhead.
Smoke rises from a ring of river stones and the ashes are thrown downwind.
The smell of sage and cedar will be on my skin forever.
Everything becomes sacred.
Bits of thread flutter from the bushes,
as if marking a trail.

This is, I think, what Novalis described as the “romanticizing” of the world, which makes us aware of mystery and wonder of the world, and  educates the senses “to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite.”  But how to accomplish this is the question.

Too often ritual, even my private ritual, seems more like the Prairie Home Companion skit “Midsummer Unity Festival”, a series of mechanical gestures disconnected from the rest of my life.  The tragedy of this is that the purpose of ritual is precisely to create the sense of meaning and experience of connection.  I need to find a way to connect the enthusiasm I have for ritual creation with the actual practice of ritual.  In other words, I need to find a way to make ritual feel like an act of (re-)creation, rather than an act of repetition.

Teo and John are experiencing ritual on opposite ends of the spectrum right now.  One, caught up in the shaking joy of an ecstatic experience that he did not expect.  The other, held hostage by his inability to become enchanted and surrender to the moment, despite his clearly dedicated work to do so.

What is ritual for?  Why do we do this?  What is the purpose of lighting the incense, calling the quarters, purifying ourselves?  Why do we work to set clear intention and imbue everyday objects with magical significance so that we can work with them as symbols?  Why are we doing all of this?  What is the purpose?  Are we sure that we have a purpose?

I remember reading a scene once, I think it was from the Mists of Avalon.  A Priestess was calling on the Goddess.  She likened it to being a small child, standing at the feet of a great and powerful mother, and reaching up and tugging on the Mother’s skirts.  Yes, the attention will be given.  It will be given freely, and with love.  It will be given wholly.  It will be given without reserve.  And you have every single right to ask for it.  You deserve it. It is your birthright.  But you are asking the sun to stop moving across the sky and to focus only on you.  What are you going to say?  What is your spirit calling for?  What is your need? Are you fully committed to the moment, to the transformation, to the miracle that could take place?

I come to Ritual to be transformed.  I come to Ritual with a need for change.  I come to Ritual because there is a seed within me that needs the full shining of the sun to grow.  I come to Ritual because I am ready for the energy that will be raised to begin a shaking and quaking inside of me that will rearrange my being.  Sometimes the transformation is small. Sometimes it is large.  But it is always necessary for me to become more fully of service on this earth.

This is how I understand Ritual: It is the process of seducing Talking Self into suspending her disbelief so that Younger Self can take control, understand my need, and then go whisper it into the ear of God Self.  That is the mechanism that is occurring.   That is the art of changing consciousness at will.

I am grateful to have found my way into a tradition that understands ecstatic practices, the importance of raising energy, the energy of improvisation in ritual, and that I am learning how to use those methods to enhance Ritual as a means for transformation in my own life.

What does Ritual mean for you?  How does it operate in your life?

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A Daily Practice

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a daily practice and what that would look like for me.

I know from my work in 12 step recovery the importance of spiritual discipline.  Causing myself to conduct the same activities every single day reaps tremendous rewards. I’ve learned this by writing daily gratitude lists, making regular meetings, daily prayer and meditation, etc.

Here is a list of activities that could be good components of a daily practice.  What does your daily practice look like?  What WOULD your daily practice look like if you had time for one?

  • Morning prayer/meditation
  • Pulling rune or tarot card each morning
  • Stretching/sun salutations
  • Chanting/singing
  • Grounding/Centering
  • Having a certain number of intentional moments during the day to bring my focus inward
  • Some kind of action at my altar whenever I walk into my house at night (is this realistic?)
  • Purification aspect to morning shower
  • Others TK….

I need to think about which one of these I want to try and make a commitment to doing each and every day. Morning meditation and prayer I already do.  I would enjoy the rune and tarot pulling and it would help me become more acquainted with these practices.  I think I would like the chanting/singing aspect but privacy is a concern.  Maybe in my car? Stretching and/or sun salutations would no doubt probably bring the biggest difference to my life.

I will begin to incorporate some of these and report back on how they are changing my day-to-day experience.

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