Yoga Wicca Buddha

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Leaving the Castle

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Everything’s perfect. But something’s wrong. 

And something has to change.

We’ve all had that feeling. At various times in my own life it’s led me to drop out of school, become a Pagan, or hit the ashram. Recently, I ran into it again when my coven read the traditional tale of “The Twelve Wild Swans” (as retold by Starhawk). I was struck by how the story of its heroine, Rose, echoed the Buddha’s story—and mine. 

Rose grew up a princess, an only child indulged and protected within castle walls. Nonetheless, she was haunted by a sense of disquiet. Eventually she discovered the secret her parents had been keeping from her: her birth had resulted in the exile and enchantment of her twelve brothers. 

The Buddha was also an only child whose privilege was used to insulate him from the truth. His father, swayed by a prophecy given at his son’s birth, had determined to hide from him all knowledge of illness, old age or death. The depth of denial here is evident when you consider that tragedy had already struck close to home: the Buddha’s mother had died shortly after his birth.  Perhaps it was not just the prophecy, but unassimilated grief,that led his father to shield Buddha so completely.

Both Rose and Buddha somehow sensed the lie, and so chose to leave their castles and risk the wilderness beyond. Like Pagans today, they turned to Nature for the truths they could not find within the walls of civilized denial. India’s ancient yogis did much the same, living rough in the woods, looking to “go beyond” through physical and psychic experimentation. 

But truth and freedom are not waiting for us just outside the palace doors. Rather, they lie at the end of a long journey, through a forest stocked with dangerous animals and cryptic, demanding elders. In the forest, an old women told Rose she must keep silent for years. In the forest, Buddha, following the extreme austerities of the yogis, nearly starved himself to death. In the forest,the yogis themselves confronted gods and demons and courted madness in their search. 

“Yoga is not about being good, it’s about being REAL” my guru used to hiss (usually after he’d put us into some impossible pose we were nonetheless determined to perfect). At the ashram where I trained, there was a sign: “Yoga means tolerating the consequences of being yourself.” The first time I read this, immersed as I was in my own search for perfection, my own austerities (no meat! no alcohol! no caffeine!) it absolutely terrified me. 

It still does. If I renounce the distractions and behaviours that keep me from looking at myself honestly, if I leave the castle of denial, what will I have to confront? 

The wilderness without and the wilderness within. The inner voice crying or whispering 

Here there is no place

that does not see you.

You must change your life.

           ---Rainer Maria Rilke

The forest sees me and dares me to see my own tangled undergrowth, messy and dangerous. Seeing and accepting—this is the first step, and the thousandth, on the sacred path through my own wilderness.

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.


  • Kari
    Kari Thursday, 07 November 2013

    I love your courage and humanity, my friend. I have been struggling with similar issues.

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