Try the Doors
Long term trauma, shamanism, bodhisattvas. Alice down the rabbit hole sees a tiny door. Hear me when I say, "You will triumph."
If trauma is the door to shamanism, can long-term trauma make you a bodhisattva?
Yes, I made a joke. But not entirely.
What doors do you neglect?
What door is in front of you right this second?
Try the Doors
I wrote this blog as a contribution to recent discussions of polytheism vs. monotheism on PaganSquare when I noticed several people asserting that "most pagans" are "polytheists." I do not call myself a polytheist because while I affirm a multiplicity of images, for me they all point to a single divine presence in the world. I offer the below musings in a spirit of dialogue. I am interested to hear from those who call themselves "polytheists" whether they are speaking of a plurality of images and stories pointing to a "unity of being" or whether they are also saying that there are a "plurality of (sometimes) conflicting forces" that they would call "divinities."
In Rebirth of the Goddess I noted that monotheists were the ones who defined the term polytheism and wondered if in fact there really were any polytheists in the history of the world. I posed this question because monotheists assert that polytheists not only worship or honor a "diversity of images," but also insist that polytheists believe that there are a "diversity of conflicting and competing powers" in the world. Monotheists might even go so far as to say that polytheists deny that there is a "unity of being" underlying all of the diversity and difference in the world.
For me the notion that "the world is the body of Goddess" (or divinity) is more primary than multiply elaborated images, names, and stories about divine beings. I am less moved by myths of Goddesses and Gods than I am by images of the Goddess that incorporate plant and animal as well as human qualities. In one sense I am closer to animism than polytheism. It is the beauty of the world that moves me to reverence.
In recent years monotheism has been attacked as a “totalizing discourse” that justifies the domination of others in the name of a universal truth. In addition, from the Bible to the present day some have used their own definitions of “exclusive monotheism” to disparage the religions of others. Moreover, feminists have come to recognize that monotheism as we know it has been a “male monotheism” that for the most part excludes female symbols and metaphors for God. With all of this going against monotheism, who would want to affirm it?
This is part III of what will be a three or four part series on the social implications of Pagan religion.
Some Pagans probably found my previous essay on alternative forms of economic organization, such as the Mondragon workers cooperatives, far removed from a strictly Pagan site’s expected interests. At first glance it does seem far removed. Here is why I think it is not and in fact goes directly to who we are.
Among the world’s Pagan traditions NeoPaganism is particularly open to coexisting happily with the modern world. Our roots are in this world and most of us do not look backwards towards earlier Pagan times as being in most respects preferable to modernity. But there is one important point where we clash fundamentally with modernity’s dominant attitudes, be they of the left or the right. We see, and many of us have powerfully experienced, the world as inspirited. Not only human beings are expressions of Spirit, so is the world itself. In sharpest contrast, the modern worldview treats the natural world as a storehouse of resources that acquires what value it has by serving us....
“We need rituals of memory…because a political movement, the public policy and tactics of our movement, does not come from our ideas, but from the bloody and joyful substance of our lives. We need to be conscious about what our lives have been, to grieve and to honor our strength, in order to break out of the past into the future.” –Minnie Bruce Pratt
Last year, I was feeling depressed and discouraged after reading some really horrifying articles about incredible, unimaginable violence and brutality against women in Papua New Guinea who are accused of being witches as well as a book about human trafficking around the world (I wrote about this book in a post for Pagan Families). Then, I finished listening to David Hillman on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, in which he issued a strong call to action to the pagan community and to “witches” in the U.S. to do something about this violence, essentially stating that it is “your fault” and that rather than spending energy on having rituals to improve one’s love life (for example), modern witches should be taking to the streets and bringing abusers to justice. And, he asserts, the fact that they don’t, shows that they don’t really “believe”—believe in their own powers or in their own Goddess(es).
This brought me back to a conversation I had with a friend before one of our last women’s circle gathering…does it really matter that we do this or is it a self-indulgence? We concluded that it does matter. That actively creating the kind of woman-affirming world we want to live in is a worthy, and even holy, task. I’ve successfully created a women’s subculture for myself and those around me that comes from an ecofeminist worldview. However, is that actually creating change? Or, is that just operating within the confines of a damaging, restrictive, and oppressive social and political structure? Last time I facilitated a Cakes for the Queen of Heaven series, I made a mistake when I was talking and said, “in the land that I come from…” rather than saying, “in my perspective” or “in my worldview.” This is now a joke amongst my circle of friends, we will say, “in my land…that isn’t what happens,” or “let me tell you what it is like in my land.” I have to feel like that DOES make a difference. If we can share “our land” with others, isn’t change possible? Doesn’t “our land” have inherent value that is worth promoting, protecting, and populating?
Healing a family rift is a tricky thing, especially when it’s something that you didn’t know you wanted at the time you should be wanting it. It’s a matter of acknowledging a missing piece of yourself when you thought you were whole in the first place.
I thought I was whole and ready to marry my fiancé. I thought a lot of things. And I thought I could do it without my father and stepfamily in my life. And I was wrong.
Backstory: I hadn’t spoken to my father in 15 years prior to 2 days before my sister’s wedding last year. I knew he would be there. I knew I would have to face him. Knowing I would have to didn’t make things any easier... it was something I would have to face head-on.
This past week has been a tough one on the household budget. If money flows, then my household was at the top of a hill watching it flow down and away at an alarming rate. When money is leaving faster than it's arriving, it can lead to some interesting reactions . . . such as a stronger urge to spend what you've got, to stock up for bad times. Or to choke off the flow entirely and preserve what you've got, even though this will also likely stop the inward flow as well.
It's hard to save money when it feels like you don't have any.
On the other hand, it's a good week for this moneyworking Hellenist to continue saving anyway. Last week found me saving on Noumenia, and today is the eighth day of the Hellenic month, sacred to my patron Poseidon, who is the financial securer. I needed this reminder that money's flow cannot be stanched in one direction only, and that security should not be confused with stagnation....
You are a graceful goddess, our Earth:
poised on tiny feet, powerfully hipped,
you sing a song of becoming as you dance,
Money is a power that we have given disproportionate influence in our lives. One of the ways that some people -- Pagans and others -- try to deal with that is through voluntary poverty, avoiding the stuff entirely, or as much as possible. It's a choice that is controversial and poorly understood, and its impact isn't entirely clear. As part of my money ministry, I'm trying to wrap my head around the many ways we can relate to it, including its rejection.
One thing that has become apparent to me is that there are limits on how much one can change through voluntary poverty or other money-avoidance schemes, such as simplicity and joining an intentional community which doesn't use it internally. That limit is explained nicely by Lynne Twist in her book, The Soul of Money. In the first chapter, Twist tells the tale of Chumpi Washikiat, a member of the Achuar people of the Amazon, who has been designated by his community to go out into the world and learn about money. He moved into the author's home in the United States to do so. Twist writes,
"His education about money was more on the level of inhaling. Everywhere he went, the language and meaning of money filled the air, from billboards, advertisements, and commercials, to price cards on muffins at the local bakery. In conversations with other students he learned about their hopes, dreams, and prospects for life after graduation, or as they put it, 'life in the real world' -- the money world. He began to see how it is in America: that virtually everything in our lives and every choice we make -- the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, the schools we attend, the word we do, the futures we dream, whether we marry or not, or have children or not, even matters of love -- everything is influenced by this thing called money."
I opened up my Facebook account today and was greeted by a long discussion focusing on cultural appropriation, vis-a-vis belly dancing. It appeared to be based on a Salon article titled "Why I can't stand white belly dancers."
The first thing that struck me was the confrontational nature of the headline: It wasn't belly dancing performed by white people that the author couldn't stand, it was the belly dancers themselves. If this doesn't put people on the defensive, I don't know what will. Then again, it's part of the inflammatory nature of online "journalism" these days, which uses hot-button language to increase the number of hits. (Full disclosure: I'm white, but I'm no belly dancer, and belly dancing isn't something I go out of my way to watch.)
The author of the article describes an instance in which "a white woman came out in Arab drag — because that’s what that is, when a person who’s not Arab wears genie pants and a bra and heavy eye makeup and Arabic jewelry, or jewelry that is meant to read as 'Arabic' because it’s metallic and shiny and has squiggles of some kind — and began to belly-dance."...
Thanks to all you pancake-eaters out there: this week here in Minneapolis we had our first above-freezing temperatures in over two months.
Was Winter really appeased by our offerings? Do the gods hear prayer?
Reply hazy: try again later.
But whether they do, or whether they don't, we make our prayers and offerings because that's what we do. That's what our people have always done; they're part of our spiritual technology.
And pancakes sure are good food.
At the time of writing, several friends of mine are engaged in formal initiation proceedings, leading me to consider my own experiences with initiations. It was easy to pinpoint those formal initiations such as being initiated into the National Honor Society, or being initiated into a co-ed social group at my college that I can only explain as being modeled on the Merry Pranksters. But the experience that first came to mind when thinking of initiatory experiences was working the Twelve Steps.
Anyone who has a desire to stop using can become a member of a Twelve Step group. You do not have to work the Twelve Steps. However, the process of working the Twelve Steps is the manner in which one draws closer to the program or becomes truly initiated. It is how we begin to view fellowship as family. Since we work the Twelve Steps with a sponsor, we are forced to reach our hand out and ask for help. No longer are we able to sit in the back of the room, not talking to anyone. We must make connections in order to move forward. As we reveal ourselves to our sponsor, we learn how to become open and more vulnerable. We become open to taking suggestions, and learn about humility. These are essential elements for being part of a society instead of being a party of one. Not only does the process of the Twelve Steps change us into better people, but we also learn how to be with people as we work the steps.
The many tales of underworld descents provide a poetic structure through which to understand a program of recovery. Much of what we do is painful, and involves spelunking around in some of the darker neighborhoods of our psyche. If we persist, at the end of the experience we are reborn. As in the Sumerian tale of Inanna’s descent, there are seven gates (steps) we must pass through in the Recovery version of the Underworld, and at each of them we must turn over some part of ourselves just as Inanna was required to turn over a symbol of her power and wealth. In Step One, we hand over our attachment to the idea that we shall ever be able to exercise any power over our drinking or drugging. In Step Two, we give up the specter of self-sufficiency. In step Three, we turn over our will and our lives. We hand over denial and self-delusion in Step Four, and in Step Five we part ways with our pride. In Step six we relinquish our attachment to our character defects, and then in Step Seven we actually ask for them to be removed. As Inanna became stripped of the symbols of her holy priestesshood, so too do we become more naked and vulnerable as we go along. When we question, as Inanna did, why we have to do this or that, our sponsors or old-timer’s might snap at us as the Chief Gatekeeper, Neti, snapped at Inanna, “Quiet Inanna, the ways of the Underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.” We’ve all met the Big Book thumpers who talk like this!...
Pre-dawn yoga. As we flowed from pose to pose, the teacher’s words emerged from the rhythm of her own movement: “Since we were in the womb…the universe has never stopped… supporting us. That’s why…we are still…alive.”
I knew in my bones it was true. Looking at the moon, wandering the woods, touching the earth, I find that truth again. When I disappoint myself, I know the trees and the sky do not judge. Good or bad, I am held in the web of life and known by an awareness that goes beyond my own.
The other truth I know is that “surrender rules the gods.” Not in the literal sense of compelling the deities, but in the sense of finding power within through ceding outward control. I think of Shiva lying down on the battlefield where his lover Kali raged, trusting that when she came to attack, she would recognize him and drop her weapons. I think of Odin, pierced by his own spear, hanging on the World Tree to gain the runes....
The following practice was developed through my experimentation as a Yogi and meditator. Most mature practitioners, I think, will identify with my experience of working in prescribed ways for many years until I had gained enough "life creds" to begin adapting the techniques to suit my own inner promptings. Those who insist on slavish adherence to rock-ribbed, inflexible traditions may complain that our altering the old ways makes us apostates; but it seems to me that every famous spiritual teacher we can think of was exactly that sort of innovator. If the great religious, philosophical and scientific lights of our civilization had ceaselessly followed the old paradigms without adding some breakthrough insights of their own, we wouldn't be honoring their names today!
Another way of expressing this is, "Make it your own." For example, in order to convincingly portray a character such as Hamlet, whose story everyone knows and whom thousands of great actors have played in the past, today's actor must "make it his own." He must find the core truths about the part which resonate for him. If he is successful, his fresh insight will stimulate thought in others and make it worthwhile for audiences to buy tickets.
The same is true of any significant goal which we wish to achieve in our lives. Until we make it our own, we'll just be photocopying what so many others have already done before us. It's the difference between the beginner practicing scales and the maestro imbuing a concerto with soul. I would like to offer you a little concerto of my devising, with the hope that it may inspire you to create your own unique variation....
Creativity is my passion and the inspiration of the Nine Greek Muses has touched my life and those within it profoundly. This energy set the stage for my pursuit of a classical ballet career, ignited my love of music and stimulated my hunger for great literature. Heeding their call to inspiration has been the fertile ground from which the seeds of the efforts of my writing have blossomed and grown into a continual source of pride and joy in the sharing. With the coming of the Spring and the creativity of God and Goddess ready to reveal itself the call of the Muses is strong and clear in its intent to inspire; ready to awaken and weave their magick within all who answer.
This is the first of a series of articles about the Nine Greek Muses of inspiration and their impact on magickal and mundane practice. Their gifts of music, art and literature became the tools of expression that have continued to be the means through which humanity interacts, responds and finds resonance with our surroundings and others. And, my hope is that you will find the place of resonance within yourself as you embark on a journey of creative exploration with me.
The Nine Muses were Greek Goddesses who ruled over the arts and sciences and offered inspiration in those subjects. They were the daughters of Zeus, Lord of all Gods, and the Titaness, Mnemosyne, who was the personification of memory. The Muses have appeared throughout history and the development of cultural and artistic ages in varying numbers and attributes. Homer refers to them as one Muse and as many Muses, living on Olympus. Plato lists eight muses connected with eight mythical spheres. And, the Greek poet, Hesiod whose epic poem The Theogony relates the Greek Cosmology and order of the Gods, refers to them as the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who were born in Pieria, which is described as watered by the springs flowing from Olympus....
This poetic essay originally appeared in Eternal Haunted Summer Magazine 2011
The restaurant — hole-in-the-wall with age-darkened brick wallpaper, old-lady peony-pink damask table cloths, the color my Chicago adopted grandmother used to like in homemade church blouses, eyelet white lace curtains festooned with paper ribbons in the ceiling, entwined with silk flower vines, glitter easter-eggs, feather butterflies in “old-lady chic” the guidebook calls it, ribbons hanging from the trophy animals, dusty green-red pheasant I can’t see his tail, two deer heads with gold mardi gras beads wrapped ’round dead necks and antlers, soft orange carrot salad a feast of hunter’s stew between potato pancakes plump meat chunks tucked in a surprise the old man with Andy Warhol hair arguing cheerfully with the middle-aged waiter reading a conservative fantasy novel, this food is better than your mother’s he says with a straight face, expecting the rejoinder as my husband checks out, tart herbaceous currant juice, the color of crushed berries — it tastes like secrets –
Uni is the supreme goddess of the Etruscan pantheon. She is part of a ruling triad together with her husband, Tinia, and the goddess Menrva. The Etruscans were distinct culture that occupied a region north of Rome. They were most likely an aboriginal people conquered by a Near Eastern culture which was then influenced by Greek traders (as I understand it any way). Originally they overshadowed their Roman neighbors who took on a lot of the Etruscan culture, especially religiously. Eventually the Etruscans became subordinate to the Romans and essentially disappeared into the Roman Empire.
I spent a bit of time in my garden yesterday, and one emotion overwhelmed me more than any other: despair, and yearning.
Well, that’s a bit dramatic. But I’ve been doing a fair amount of thinking about the Wheel and how it relates to my practice, and the seasons too, and this season is definitely my least favourite. For me, the seasons are intrinsically connected to my practice, which is indeed earth-centred and intimately connected with the land. Working with, and not against, the land can be a challenge at times. Especially when the seasons turn harsh and the spiritual struggles that accompany, particularly the sense of ‘waiting’ can be the bane of the more impatient amongst us!
As Pagans, we're more used to being discriminated against than to discriminating against others. Those of us who run businesses or sell our wares are, especially in these economic times, generally only too happy to get a new customer. And so we're usually quite happy to read Tarot, even for the devout Christian who slips off to see us behind her pastor's back, or to perform a computer upgrade even for the atheist who thinks that devotion to any deity is a sign of mental illness. After all, we're pretty much a live-and-let live group. We're not out to convert others to our ways and we generally don't presume to determine what religion is best for anyone else. (Heck, I can think of a number of people whom I hope don't become Pagan.) Honest pay for honest work or honest wares is generally all we ask.
Our main concern with laws (such as the one that was recently vetoed in Arizona) that would allow businesses to discriminate based upon "religious convictions" has been the impact those laws could have on QLTBG, etc. people. Of course, those laws could have been used to discriminate against even those of us who are "straight but not narrow," as well. Wear a pentacle around your neck when you take your child to the farmers' market and the lady selling apples could refuse to sell your child an apple because her religion teaches her that you "shall not suffer a Witch to live," and selling apples helps you to live. If the sleeve on your jacket slips, the nurse at the 24-hour medical center could see your tattoo and refuse to sew up the cut that you got doing woodwork because he says that your pentagram offends his religious sensibilities. You finally grab a cab late at night in a sketchy part of town only to be told that the cab driver doesn't believe that women should be out, unescorted and won't give you a ride. If you get mugged a few minutes later, well, that just proves his point.
It's easy to imagine that the next step is some method that will allow the discriminating religious to easily determine whether the potential renter, car buyer, or restaurant patron meets all of the necessary requirements. (Why stop at refusing to sell a cake to a same-sex couple? What about a couple that includes a previously-divorced person or a couple not willing to specify that they are entering a "covenant marriage" where the man will "exercise headship." (Don't blame me; that's the way they talk!) What about selling nursery furniture to prospective parents who won't agree that sparing the rod spoils the child or selling a house to people who won't commit to attending your church every Sunday? To voting Rapeublican since they are generally more favorable to rightwing Christians?)...
One of the great things about Mardi Gras (and there are MANY great things about Mardi Gras) is that the people here in NOLA who make Mardi Gras happen know that the festival has its roots in Classical Paganism. Just look at the names of our parades: Bacchus, Orpheus, Proteus, Muses, Cleopatra... we know that in Roman Catholic practice, where one must atone for sin at Lent, the best sin is Pagan debauchery. That's what Mardi Gras is all about.
This year there was some very special Pagan awesomeness. The shining example, which I'll begin with, was the night of parades held by the Krewe of Proteus, and the Krewe of Orpheus....