Everyday Pagan: The 8 Things I Learned from “D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths”

My mom got me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths when I was a kid. She was excited to get it for me. Up until that point I didn’t know what myths were so I was felt neutral about the gift. But she was insistent it was a Good book, I and thought that was interesting because she’d never been excited about one of my books before. So I gave it a try and was immediately hooked. I read it and re-read it. Sometimes I’d just flip through and study the glorious artwork. I kept coming back to it. Recently I bought a new copy and came back to it yet again. Until I reread it I didn’t realize that the love of mythology and the Greek Gods that it gave me were fundamental in my becoming a Pagan.

Close up of the book's iconic cover.
Close up of the book’s iconic cover.

Here are 8 things the fabulous D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths taught me:

1. A creation story that was consistent with science

I was raised Christian, but even young me thought the bible creation story didn’t make any sense. I asked my mom “How was the world created in just 7 days when the dinosaurs lived for thousands of years before humans?”

In the Greek creation story I learned from the book, the earth was created in darkness and that the combination/union of the universe/sky (Uranus) with planet earth (Gaia) was the genesis for creating the first living beings (Titans). Later, earth’s second husband, the waters of the world (Pontus), brought all plants, animals, and humans into existence. The creation of earth and life from the universe and the fact of all plant, animal, and human life originally coming from the oceans are both scientifically correct. I might not have made that connection as a child but instinctively I liked the Greek store more because it actually made sense. It set the stage for my later search for a religion that wasn’t antithetical to science.

2. Recognition of the Gods by their symbols

Towards the beginning of the book there is a drawing of 13 Gods in Olympus. Though the picture isn’t labeled with their names, they are clearly recognizable from their symbols. Now when I look at images of ancient Greek statuary or pottery, I frequently known which God is pictured by their symbol and I gained this skill from D’Aulaires’.

No matter how different artists envision the Gods their symbols become their ID cards, clueing you in to their name and attributes. For example, Hermes is sometimes depicted as an mature man with a beard and sometimes he is pictured as a beardless youth. However, if you see winged sandals, a winged cap, or a caduceus you immediately recognize his identity. This gave me the foundation of knowledge about the Gods that has served me well as the Pagan. I honestly don’t know if I would have found Paganism without reading this book.

3. Hubris

In an ancient Greek context, hubris is thinking you are better than the Gods. A non-thiestic interpretation would be having dangerous overconfidence or foolish pride. The theme of hubris showed up frequently enough in these myths that even young Andrea learned that thinking yourself better than the Gods was a BAD idea and would usually lead to harsh consequences. It included the stories of Arachne (turned into a spider), Niobe (children killed), Marsyas (skinned alive), and Bellerophon (crippled and shunned by Gods and men for life).

Learning an ethical concept like hubris early in life from these examples of others instead of having to suffer through the consequences of dangerous overconfidence or unwarranted pride yourself can only be a good thing.

4. The sacred cycle of seasons

Before reading this, I of course knew of the 4 seasons. However their link and relation to each other in an ongoing cycle was not clear to me until I read the myth of Demeter and Persephone. The story of events in the God’s lives causing the seasons. The joy of spring, the productivity of summer, the loss in fall and the grief of winter… This idea of the sacred cycle of seasons is a foundational Pagan concept that I first learned from D’Aulaires’.

Raffaello_concilio_degli_dei_02

5. Don’t ask for things unless you understand their possible consequences

There are a number of the included myths that contain stories of Gods and mortals suffering the consequences of having something they asked for not turn out they way they expected. Stories such as Helios and Phaethon, Eos and Tithonus, Zeus and Semele, and King Midas’s golden touch all contain such consequences.

In the story of Eos and Tithonus the dawn Goddess Eos falls in love with the mortal Tithonus and asks for him to live forever so she may be with him. He lives forever but does not stay forever young so shrinks down as he ages until he becomes a shrunken cricket that Eos is forced to hide away. Eos’s sister, the moon, Selene, learns from her sister’s ill-thought-through request. When she falls in love with the mortal Endymion, she asks that he always stay just as he is when she first saw him, asleep next to his flock. Her request is granted and because she thought to ask for him to stay forever young, they go on to have many children together. As these characters learned to be careful what they ask for, I learned the lesson as well.

6. Respect everyone

Respect, especially respect of strangers, is another virtual extolled in the myths. The hero Jason met Hera, disguised as a crone, who wanted to cross a flooded river. Without any thought to reward, because it was the right thing to do, Jason volunteered to carry her across. Though she became heavier and heavier as they crossed, he persevered and got her across the river.

You never known who is a God in disguise so treat everyone with respect.

Oh the legacy of D'Aulaires'! (From left to right: Athena, Dionysus, and Artemis)
Oh the legacy of D’Aulaires’! (From left to right: Athena, Dionysus, and Artemis)

7. Gods frequently come to earth and interact with mortals
This was a radical idea for a Christian kid who had learned that the God of the bible did not come to earth and thus distant. Someone that was hard to known because of the distant relationship. You had to take His existence on faith since he didn’t act directly on the world.

The Greek Gods, however, were much more knowable. They could wear human faces. They had likes and dislikes, and a physical body that looked a certain way. They were more like people you weren’t afraid to talk to or ask for help from.

8. The end is not the end

The book’s last paragraph states that the rule of the Olympians ended with nothing left but broken temples and statues. This left me unaccountably sad. The Gods, that I had just come to know and love through the vivid stories and imagines, were now dead. I thought about their crumbling temples and the unfairness of the Gods no longer being honored many times growing up. Other books certainly didn’t leave me feeling this way.

When I found Paganism, years later, and realized that the Gods were indeed still being worshiped and were not forgotten I was so happy. My old friends were not dead after all!

Untitled design

Go, (yes, right now) and buy this book for yourself. Even better, buy it for the kids in your life. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

I’m also sure I’m not the only one that was influenced by D’Aulaires Greek Myths or D’Aulaires Norse Myths. Please share your experiences of these books in the comments.

Lamp & Labyrinth: A Mystics Perception of Subjective Reality

The 5th time I experienced imbas forosnai, an unvisited philosophy I had been innately using exploded in a wave of integration that sprung from the island of my intellectual core outward onto the water. It rushed fathoms in my mind toward its edges. When it got to the border, the magic turned into beings and kept going beyond Otherworldy barriers. I followed it and ended up speaking to our deep ancestors for an hour.

Part of this philosophy I had been developing since youth. For example, Imagine the emotional loathing people project onto legal jargon in contracts. People who dislike reading it but for some reason are made to, this may be you, cannot wait to stop and return back to the real sane world of normal social interaction or the homeostasis of their lives over the tedium.

A Druid Using a Hammer, from Welcome Images via WIkiMedia.  CC 4.0
A Druid Using a Hammer, from Welcome Images via WIkiMedia. CC 4.0

When I conceptualize legal jargon, I fail to project loathsome feelings onto it. I am fully aware that if we all made agreements via normal social interactions, both parties would walk away with two separate understandings. And so… legal jargon, as I see it, is a byproduct of human behavior, thinking and programming; which by its own nature produces separate understandings of reality. This occurs even among the most lucid of individuals.

This is precisely why Indo-European judges were practicers of mysticism. I believe they nitpicked their reality to find and eliminate delusion and false understandings. Druid judges described as truth seekers and as the most just of all people ought to mean something real for the psyche. By this I mean, some part of them clicks over and transforms because of what they experience. Their abilities, both magical and scientific, must stem from their way of perceiving the world, and what more would affect a worldview than full illumination of the halls of wisdom, if only for a few hours, minutes, or even seconds?

So legal jargon isn’t loathsome because it is tedious. What makes people really loathe it is their own entitlement to being understood. A worldview is cherished because it is your own, and that cherishment causes expectations to be broken with a greater emotional consequence. Therefore, people hate that when they communicate and understand, the models of conception in your head and the heads of others are not matching reality to one degree or another. The structure we perceive is not the eternal house, being the world as it really is not as it’s perceived. It is for this reason our brothers in the east say the eternal tao cannot be named.

If you represent something wildly whole and magnificent in reality by way of the world of words and other symbols to another individual, you run into this problem of each of the symbols being interpreted through the lens of that person’s own unique experiences. In childhood we learn other people have their own experiences, but we may never realize that another person’s experience is so different from our own even if we feel they relate 100% and share all the same good feels.

If you feel this is no real enlightening gnosis, then the illusion you dwell within is thicker because of this early spiritual development. It is so because you may live in a worldview where you expect others to be more competent than they are. If this is you, you might waste lots of energy expressing that you don’t understand people. There is always a multitude of invisible factors that are mathematically and causally perfect. This order then works upon a layer of chaos. Both the chaos and the order we can’t see are wild and make no sense to us. *Constantly expressing it either feeds the secret enjoyment of furrowing your brow and throwing your hands up.* The pride in these actions and sub conscious enjoyment in them are tied to feeding ego and self image. In this trap, to love your competence and intelligence, one must fein balance by having contempt for the stupid and incompetent. Cunning folk avoid this way of being. (Make sure you relate this concept with your flexing muscle analogy using something super common like tense shoulders.)

What people loathe is the secretly held common knowledge that all worldviews are falsehoods. The spirits in the subconscious know this: they told me so and that people already know this nihilistic truth, but avoid facing it to cling to comfort. This is not a weakness as everyone clings. If you don’t have a few things to cling to, the mystic ascends and sheds their body.

Scientists build faith in objective realities, they test them in their labs and go about their business. But just as the reader wants to return to the sane world of what that person considers social interaction and living, even if that person is single, lives alone, and talks to no one but a single store clerk… that scientist leaves objective reality and reenters the subjective world of delusion and forgetting. A scientist is not immune to needing legal contracts himself, and therefore when he gets a job offer, for example, he needs to know what ’employment’ the word-symbol actually means. Standing alone it means nothing, it is a representation of two understandings that are supposed to be in sync. Contracts are for laying out details so that everyone agrees on what ‘success’ and ‘failure’ means. The lab, the law office, and the nemeton are all sacred spaces where bias gives way to truth and a deeper understanding of order and truth, both the same word in Irish: Fírrne.

"Druids Bringing in the Mistletoe" by Edward Atkinson Hornel.  From WikiMedia.
“Druids Bringing in the Mistletoe” by Edward Atkinson Hornel. From WikiMedia.

These false worldviews are given to you, the Observer, mostly by the Storyteller, your internal bard and interpretation device… which all of your experiences pass through. I think this is the perceived devil on the left side of the shoulder: your fear cheerleader, though a dualistic view splits the Storyteller into two parts assigning some of its action to your conscience.

A mystic recognizes that each of us including themselves, adds a 2nd story on top of objective reality and that magic is precisely causing that 2nd story to corrupt reality. We are all co creators but also copers. When you cope with a problem instead of creating a solution, you can recognize it by seeing if more problems are created, and if the problems reflect a reality that you feared.

A clingy breakup is preceded by an anxiety about clinginess. A person unhappy with their exterior will avoid looking at it and end up more unkempt. Gay sex is gross to a homophobe due to their fear, the disgust does not exist in nature. A person who is timid is steamrolled due to the communication by their body language that they don’t have a stake in driving conversation.

And so as a co-creator of reality, it is irresponsible to not see the 2nd story I put on things. I must see it and train my Storyteller to co-create the best reality for my tribe and family.

For a year or so after these experiences, I was refactoring so many parts of my worldview at once that keeping sane was an voluntary task of re-emerging myself back into my delusions once in awhile. Childhood cartoons are a good source of this.

Conclusion

The Cartomancer: Forgiveness As a Hook

lenormand, forgivness
Maybe Lenormand by Ryan Edward, 2015 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

In my work with the cards I get to see a lot of regret: Regret that this relationship didn’t go anywhere, regret that the dream job wasn’t scored, regret that one’s relationship with teenage kids is lousy.

But what I observe beyond this regret is a desire for forgiveness. The bottom line is that people want to be forgiven or offer forgiveness for what they perceive as failure (theirs and others).

But what if there’s nothing to forgive?

This whole business of forgiveness is a cultural thing that insists on keeping you hooked to the past: ‘Such and such was done unto me, and I cannot forgive it.’ Or, ‘I’ve done such and such, and I cannot be forgiven’. Or, ‘I’ve done such and such, and I cannot forgive myself.’

I sigh, shuffles the cards, and say to myself, ‘such a waste of time,’ upon hearing the insistence that ‘I must’ (ask for forgiveness or grant forgiveness).

The main religions have benefitted well from the business of forgiveness. But how useful is this business for the individual at the individual level?

Most who follow me here know that I’m elsewhere inclined than towards what religion can do for me.

I live according to a weird form of Tantric principle that situates itself somewhere between Tibetan Buddhism (the Kagyu school), and Zen and Dzogchen splashed with a dash of Shaivism.

This means 1) that I don’t hold any beliefs whatsoever, and that 2) that I don’t regard forgiveness as possible.

If you stand your ground in the present moment – which, by the way, is a very irritating attitude where all things culture are concerned – then there’s no way you can experience forgiveness whether you’re at the giving or receiving end.

When you’re not hooked to the past, what is there to forgive?

The ‘now’ does not acknowledge the presence of intangible thought. Let alone, the idea of ‘I must forgive (myself and others) because it feels good afterwards.’

There is no such thing. If you hold your ground in the now, there’s no causality open to accommodating forgiveness or resentment.

Be that as it may. People want to ‘feel good’, so how might we address this desire in a consultation with the cards?

Here’s what I do as a matter or regular practice: I make the inconcrete concrete.

In fact I never do anything else when I read the cards but this:

  • Materialize the immaterial: ‘How can I be happy?’ ‘Like this.’
  • Concretize doubt: ‘Does he love me?’ ‘No’.
  • Make the unconscious conscious: ‘How can I know my heart’s desire as I vacillate between selling crystals and gambling at the stock market?’ ‘By acknowledging that the ludic is transcendental for you, relishing in risking the heart’s own radiance.’

This latter example may well sound very oracular, but the statement about risk is one that people can know very well in their hearts. Hence it has a concrete edge that lands the answer about a vacillating heart in motivation. And if you know your motivation, it goes without saying that you know how to act.

If your motivation is not aligned with your action you’re screwed.

In light of such commonsensical principles, let us then go back to the business of forgiveness and ask the cards this question:

What is the most concrete manifestation of the intangible idea of forgiveness (if we insist that it must take place) so that forgivness won’t function as a mere hook to the past?

Let’s use the Lenormand cards for this, especially as rumor has it that these cards are not suited for ‘wisdom questions’.

I laid down 5 cards in mirror positions, going from the center to the left, right, and then left and right again.

Maybe Lenormand by Ryan Edward, 2015 (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Maybe Lenormand by Ryan Edward, 2015 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

The string is this, in these positions: 4, 2, 1, 3, 5.

Lily, Coffin, Star, Clover, Letter

Well, now very nice of the cards to be ever so concrete and actually nod at my weird Tantric continuum:

When forgiveness (Star) is not a hook to cultivating (Lily) a dead past (Coffin), it acts as awareness of the instant (Clover) and fleeting (Letter) moment.

So the concrete manifestation of forgiveness is to ‘know’ that, to know about impermanence in relation to relative truth; get that memo (Lily + Letter).

Put differently, we can say that the elegance (Lily) of taking the high road to putting shit to rest (Coffin + Star) is the best bit of luck you can send your own way (Clover + Letter).

So the concrete manifestation of forgiveness is given in your own attitude: you simply forget about forgiving (Coffin + Star).

Maybe Lenormand by Ryan Edward, 2015 (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Maybe Lenormand by Ryan Edward, 2015 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

In other words, what the Star says is that forgiveness is only possible when you know that it has no effect whatsoever beyond its hooking function to the past.

The past is dead and buried. Whether you still have an opinion about it or not, is completely besides the point, besides your act of living in the now, which you do by default.

Acknowledge that, and see how much you still need forgiveness.

Thus we we know what not to waste our times with.

Hop on board my Lenormand Class if you want to learn more about what exactly you can do with these cards, from predicting fortunes to forecasting position. Registration is now open.

The Other Side of the Hedge: Restoring Virtue

We’ve lost our virtue. And we’ve lost it so badly that we hardly even know what that means.

Virtue is not what we’ve been taught. In the West, “virtue” is an old-fashioned word. It’s tied together with purity, and sometimes it’s even used as a euphemism for virginity. As a culture, we’ve lost our understanding of what it means to be virtuous.

"Vision of Cornelius the Centurion" (adapted) by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout.  From WikiMedia.
“Vision of Cornelius the Centurion” (adapted) by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout. From WikiMedia.

The origins of virtue are the courage and strength (L. virtus) of the military man of Rome. But its deeper meaning rests on the wisdom and prudence of the ancient Greek philosophers. We Pagans talk of finding the hidden magic of the ancients. Virtue is part of that power.

Over the past half-millennium in the West, there has been a furious dialogue over the meaning of power. On the whole, it has been an argument between Judeo-Christian monotheism and materialist-positivist science. Each side begs us to join, casting disdain or eternal condemnation on those who would disagree.

Yet something quieter calls to us, wordlessly reminding us that truth is neither of these lies. Virtue comes from within. Words might be used to describe it, to point to it, but they can never contain it. Virtue comes from integrity, from authenticity, and from a deep connection to self.

CHRISTIAN VIRTUE

I don’t usually consider it my place to speak about Christianity. In this case, doing so is needed if we want to understand what virtue is, and where we lost it. While Christian virtues are not my virtues, four of their seven have a pagan origin. It was the ancient Greek philosophers who first described virtue in the West.

In antiquity, Plato codified the four virtues as temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. Christianity added faith, hope, and love – three words of slippery meaning, indeed.

Christian virtue began as an expression of the human soul when bathed in the light of their God. It was shown through compassion, right action, and a turning away from worldly things in service of something greater. But in short order, these virtues became a yoke to be worn, values to be aped without understanding and without sacred basis.

From WikiMedia.
From WikiMedia.

By the time of Roman Emperor Theodosius I (347-395 C.E.) and Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.), Christian virtue lost its home in the sacred and became worldly law. That law held a stranglehold on the West until the rise of science.

Certainly, there are Christians who express virtue, and they are to be esteemed. But there are many more who have turned away. They have bent these sacred virtues into mundane values, and what were once sacred gifts have become mundane culture, wielded to measure and distribute earthly power. However good their intentions, there is no virtue in that.

TURNING OUR BACKS ON VIRTUE

Over the last five hundred years, in a rising crescendo, a materialist positivism has risen in the West. It has attempted to put paid to any true notion of virtue. Driven by the need to break the Christian church’s hold on worldly power and knowledge, the scientific narrative has become the new status language of the West.

Once the West stood with the virtues of Christianity, using its spiritual power to bolster society’s status quo. But now a new narrative has emerged. Soaring rhetoric has been abandoned in a struggle for naked power. Popularity has replaced civic virtue. As this new narrative has intertwined with society, scientism (not science!) has arisen as a new judge of right and wrong.

Especially in the last two generations, this shift has meant abandoning the sacred. It’s understandable. One side claims that everything they know about the sacred and the world is true. They believe that they possess perfect knowledge, passed down in words from generation to generation. The other side knows that such claims are poppycock.

And unless we delve deeper on our own, only these two choices are laid before us. One tradition is steeped in more than a millennium of grasping after temporal power. The other tradition tells us to abandon all knowledge of the sacred and the spiritual.
It’s a false choice.

RECLAIMING VIRTUE

Virtue is not simple goodness. It’s not about being kind, or, nice, or friendly. It’s a power that you can find within yourself, and it comes from expressing your deepest self into the world. Not the best part of yourself. Not your fantasy of yourself. Your deepest, most authentic self.

Virtue is real, sacred power. We don’t lose it by taking part in the world. In fact, virtue is not found only in people. It might be found in anything: a tree, a rock, a walking stick, an idea, or a mountain. Anything might, or might not, be virtuous.

“Mudang’s Tree” ©2008 Polly Peterson – Used with Permission
“Mudang’s Tree” ©2008 Polly Peterson – Used with Permission

If this is confusing, remember that virtue isn’t some strange thing waiting out there for you. It’s just you, coming forth. Virtue is not complicated. Like so many things we struggle with in life, it is very simple and yet very hard.

HOW TO BEGIN

The two watchwords in seeking virtue are integrity and harmony. Train your heart through prayer, your mind through meditation, and your body through discipline. Understand that harmony isn’t passiveness, but an active stillness of spirit. Delve deeper into yourself, and bring that self into alignment with your surroundings.

If that all seems a little much, then sit. Breathe. You’re not seeking virtue. You’re learning to hold still long enough for it to find you.

Virtue comes from within, but from a place we are never taught to reach. That is why it cannot be claimed; it can only be cultivated. And the path to growing it within yourself starts from where you are.

Urban Earthwitch: Needful Trees, Life and Limb, and Urban Warriors

”We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
       -Henry David Thoreau-Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Our unspoiled wildernesses are unfortunately disappearing. Swaths of forested land are felled so abundantly and quickly as to be immediately observable from space. As the resulting climate disruption unfolds and temperatures rise, fires further the destruction and belch more climate-changing CO2 into the atmosphere.

"Living Wall" photo by Citrix Systems via Flickr.  Slightly modified by the editor.  CC 2.0 License
“Living Wall” photo by Citrix Systems via Flickr. Slightly modified by the editor. CC 2.0 License

We seem to be grasping at straws for solutions to repair the damage and the means to stop the forces exacting the destruction. As difficult as it is to come to terms with, we are powerless.

Or are we? Can we summon the power as a collective to stop the destruction and appease the spirits of the land?

More and more policy makers involved in city planning are pushing for the inclusion of more parks and trees, even vertical gardens, or living walls on building faces, to offset the carbon load of traffic and buildings in dense urban environments. It’s only a dent, really, into the problem of the burgeoning CO2 in our atmosphere, but it is one of many solutions to bring us into a carbon neutral existence. However as quickly as we naturize our cities, trees are coming down all over our planet in faster numbers. For every petunia planted on an apartment or office balcony, an acre of trees is chewed up by machines and robots.

As an urban-living Earthwitch I have come to see these small cultivations as my genus loci. And we’ll hear no scoffing about that! Hybrid trees and flowers need love, too, and certainly a good dose of sympathy for being placed surreptitiously in an environment of concrete … I digress. Not only do I appreciate both the biological and spiritual health it infuses into our cities, it keeps me spiritually healthy to perform the magic I work to defend our planet’s ecology. I am an Earth defender, an Earthwitch and, if you insist on the label, yes, I am a tree hugger.

(I’m frankly alarmed at the numbers of pagans who are not environmentally and ecologically conscious, saying they don’t need to be a liberal tree hugger to be pagan.)

Photo by Marina del Castell via Flickr.  Modified by the editor.  CC 2.0 License
Photo by Marina del Castell via Flickr. Modified by the editor. CC 2.0 License

If you look up tree hugger in slang and standard references, you’ll find the term is considered pejorative. In this day and age when the benefit of trees in our world is well known from everything as simple as shade, food and medicine to the complex interaction of trees with the CO2 in our planet’s atmosphere, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would think badly about people concerned with their welfare. The impact of deforestation is an issue that at least rings a bell with most people, if not looming in the minds of most people even slightly concerned with climate change. (For me it produces feverish nightmares.)

Granted the tactics of protestors chaining themselves to trees (the activity that helped coin the term) to keep loggers from proceeding with their work, seemed a little over the top. I’m in line, generally, with people who do intelligent activism by contacting lawmakers, boycotting makers of consumer goods, etc. The other really abhorrent resistance tactic that came out of that period was that of tree spiking, putting loggers at risk of literally life and limb. That will definitely give a tree hugger a bad name. But usage of the term tree hugger has seemingly expanded to include anyone who has a concern for our planet’s ecology, and in most cases has to do with more than just trees.

The archeological records of earth-based cultures the world over show great reverence for trees, adopting them into their archetypal mythologies, even in some cultures raising their status to deity, such was their critical importance to the very existence of people. The importance of trees was not lost on our ancestors, but our post modern, industrial culture takes this importance to a level of pernicious greed. Trees are exploited for resource to serve an exploding globalist economy.

I shudder every time I see the benefits of a tree product rise to popularity. Coconut and palm oils are simple examples. The deforestation of Indonesia is the tragic result. Ecosystems become disrupted, climates shift at alarming rates and fires rage out of control, causing further deforestation. Vast numbers of species are displaced to extinction. Soil erosion occurs at such an alarming speed that even attempts to cultivate the trees to make their use sustainable are for naught.

Izapa Stela, photo by James Q. Jacobs via WikiMedia.  CC 3.0 License.
Izapa Stela, photo by James Q. Jacobs via WikiMedia. CC 3.0 License.

Images of the damage to the boreal forests in Canada where trees considered in the way are removed to excavate tar sands, proliferate on the internet. Photographs of displaced baby orangutans from the felling of trees in Pacifica roll past our eyes daily. No, that’s not a just wheel barrow of cute monkeys you’re seeing, it’s a load of baby orangs who’ve lost their parents and siblings to sickening, dismembering deaths. If the animal extinctions don’t do it for you, consider the dismembering (yes, dismembering) and displacement of First Nations of homo sapiens who occupy these forests, sacred to them as ancestral lands. The land is needed by ranchers. The trees are in the way, and so are the First Nations.

The raised awareness serves to raise our anger to the good of vast, intelligent activism. People boycott manufacturers, write letters to political leaders and manufacturers and sign metastatic petitions … often, and sadly, to no avail. (Are we beginning to understand the heroics of the tree huggers of the 80s now?) The machines rage on, and the deforesting continues.

The technology being deployed to do this is mind bogglingly efficient and horrifying. Take a look at this. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in economics to see the kind of revenue that must be generated by these marauding deforesters to develop and use technology like that. Entities with that amount of resource wield weighty influence with policy makers who would otherwise hear our pleas. If you find yourself musing that deforestation has gotten out of control, you’d be right. What are people to do? What can be done to stop the war between machine and land?

Tree huggers, the physically disruptive kind, have become more sophisticated and subversive now. Green Peace, the folks who brought us the tree spikers of the 90s, look peaceful, compared to groups like Deep Green Resistance. Their tag line: Decisive Ecological Warfare. I didn’t have a lot of money to send at the time I heard of them, but I was eager to help by taking action in whatever way I could. After reviewing their information packet it didn’t take long for me to figure out I was not the “right stuff.” I mean I was in my mid-fifties with arthritis in every bone in my body. These people are serious and savvy ecological cowboys risking life and limb to be project saboteurs, occasionally spending time in jail.

Types of resistance reported by Deep Green’s News Service include such acts as sabotage of rail lines dedicated solely to delivering raw fossil fuel product to export terminals on the coast. Resistors will pour concrete over an impressive length of track and call ahead to warn train operators of the hazard. It will be ages before the resources can be procured to repair the track, taxing an already languishing fossil fuels industry which relies on exports.

(At this point I should tell you that such acts of infrastructure sabotage may or may not have anything to do with Deep Green. Their news service simply reports these instances. It’s quite more savvy than even that, if you get what I mean. And I should be clear I am not recommending my readers engage in their own heroics.)

Other resistors have made it their business to defend the Earth in court, making ecocide a real deal. Attorney Polly Higgins is my frigging hero! She will bring these environmental despoilers to international courts to be made to pay for the wounds inflicted on our planet. Check. It. Out! Mother Nature has a lawyer, and she is fearsome! Send her money! Tell other people about her and ask them to ask their friends to send them money. Hold bake sales and send the proceeds.

And send them magic. Yes. It’s powerful. Here’s where the armies of warriors, armed with the ability to make change happen, can make a difference. (One such of these magical warriors, Sarah Anne Lawless has become a leader in a growing contingent of ecological and human rights magical warriors. Read the blog post and read her cited references if you need fire in your cauldrons.)

I engage in full on rites of magic to assist these people. I enlist the powers of the spirits of the land, be they petunia and snapdragon and carnation or tulip or violet, my ragtag fleet of urban anima. I enlist and command them to enliven my magical rites with their spirits, knowing that all life is connected, and knowing that their powers are the same as their kith and kin, mandrake and digitalis, and the mighty trees. I keep myself alive spiritually by communing with them.

You see, I happen to believe those non-native locust trees down the street have deep stories to share of the spirits of the land. I also believe you needn’t tax the infrastructure by purchasing root of mandrake and crystals or a magically crafted candle, to be delivered to your door by a gas guzzling UPS truck. I believe you don’t need a nearby boreal forest to harvest magical goodness when you can use the herbs and spices in your kitchen cabinet, and I believe the gravel and dirt from across the street can be used to raise the power you need to direct energy to these fierce protectors of the flesh of our planet.

As much as you urban pagans might angst about living in the concrete jungles of the world and seek solace from the trinkets and crafts of other witches on the internet, while you read on the internet and watch on TV about species extinctions and oil spills and deforestation and oligarchy and human trafficking, you can do something about it.

Step away from your devices. Switch off your TV. Go outside. Feel the heat from the sun. Let the air raise the hair on your arms. Let that power enliven you. You can connect to earth energies in your bare feet, standing in the dust on your balcony. You can perform powerful ritual with a chime candle anointed with olive oil and dressed with herbs from your kitchen. The gravel you find in the gutter can be elevated to being your sacred stones to call upon the element of earth. A joss stick from the corner gas station can enliven your circle no matter the scent. Purify and imbue your sacred city gravel and dust. Call upon it. Command it. Give it a sacred mission.

You Don’t Need that pentagram affixed candle holder or cauldron. You don’t need those exact types of tumbled crystals. You don’t need that medieval styled dagger or that crystal-tipped wand. Don’t, please don’t participate in the further globalization of industries by buying things from the internet. Stop! You have your hands, your fingers and your mind to be a warrior in this battle.

"Weeds in Waterloo, Ontario" by Lupin via WikiMedia.  CC License 3.0
“Weeds in Waterloo, Ontario” by Lupin via WikiMedia. CC License 3.0

All things are sacred and connected. All forms of life have power and spirit, even the blades of grass in the park and the weeds in the cracks in the sidewalk. Feel their presence. Honor their existence. Include them in your sacred rites.

Connect to earth energies wherever you are. You don’t need to live in a pristine nature preserve to accomplish your highest good. You don’t need to angst and wish away your magical power while you watch witches in Glastonbury celebrate sabbats in what is arguably the witchy, magical energy cauldron of the planet.

You can become an ecological warrior, an Earthwitch, where you are.

Time is of the essence.

Tree City Witch: A Witch’s Grief & Advice for the Living

I hate that she’s not here, my Cleo, beloved feline.

Her story is in my book that’s coming out next year, in part because she died during the writing of the book, and she died during my Saturn transit. My book is about Saturn.

Cleo with cards.
Cleo with cards.

I was under a Saturn square Moon (and Pluto) transit, to be specific, and there were other astrological clues as well that foretold her death, especially in my Solar Return.

This is not to say that every Saturn square Moon transit will bring a death to your life although Saturn is, generally, associated with death, among other difficulties. The Lord of Karma, Saturn, doesn’t take your feelings into account. In one way or another, while under Saturn, you will die. But as good astrologers, and witches, we know that death is not the end.

A HISTORY OF DEATH

Cleo died in late December 2016, shortly before the chilly Florida New Year, and it was a sudden death, like many but not all of the deaths in my life (father, mother, other beloved pets), and for the first time since my early 30s, I had one cat, not two, not three. We were a family.

I know not every person is an animal person and not every person, not every witch, is a cat person. I am both although it wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t until the pest control gentleman back in 2002 suggested I get a cat to keep away the mice from my first Brooklyn (basement) apartment.

I’ll never forget, literally, sitting on the toilet, and a mouse running across my foot. I was ready to do WHATEVER, even get a cat. I remember at the time thinking: uh oh if I get one, I will get attached. I’ll never want to leave the house. Cancers (I have my Sun, Mercury and Mars in Cancer) never want to leave the house anyway, but I decided to take the risk.

Goldy.
Goldy.

I was hesitant because I had known some troubled felines in my years, but Kitty, my first born (as I began to call her) changed my life with her kindness, intelligence and humble maternal nature.

She passed in December 2015 and then Cleo in December 2016. Now it’s just me and Goldy my boy, my tabby.

WHAT’S A WITCH TO DO?

What’s a witch to do but talk to the dead?

We are supposed to, right? Pierce the veil or whatever it is that hangs between us and them? Neither mediumship nor necromancy is taboo around here.

A card and book reader.
A card and book reader.

Having lost my parents so young and perhaps for other reasons as well (easily seen in my natal chart), I am not quite here. I am not quite “there” either. I live between worlds. I carry messages back and forth through time and past lives. Virgo Rising, ruled by Mercury the messenger. “Real life” like math, is hard, but for witches the invisible is super real.

Now, not every witch is a necromancer and not every psychic or astrologer is a medium although I am a medium for clients sometimes (it happens). I also have a First House Pluto (another death planet) which means my Pluto has a prominent place in my chart. I am Pluto. I present as Pluto. And when driving past a cemetery I feel awfully wistful. Let me stay. Energy never dies but my bleeding heart feels it more amongst the dirt and cemetery silence.

HUMAN ARMS

I am not a Ouija Board kind of person and I know of no seances locally (I went to one in NYC) and one time I asked my regular Tarot Reader her opinion (did Cleo suffer? Is she okay?), but when I am home and the mood hits me (meaning that I feel torn apart by grief) I try to reach Cleo on my own. (And I make a distinction between “reaching her” and just the daily awareness of her here-ness or not-here-ness.)

What I do is reach across that thing that I failed to describe earlier, that veil wall bridge thing. That’s how it feels to me, a tall stone wall, seemingly impenetrable, even though I can smell her and touch her fur.

I try to storm it, I try to break through whatever keeps us apart, to hold her in my human arms again. Having a prominent Pluto helps with this because Pluto has that laser beam focus. It burns away the barrier.

I know what I describe here is clumsy but it’s one of many ways to reach the land of the dead. Storm it.

And, actually, it’s a drawbridge. The wall can come down.

Goldy and I.
Goldy and I.

GRIEF IS LIKE AN AXE

This morning I was thinking about a client who I’ve been working with for a couple of months now. Her husband recently left this world. He was sick. He was dying. I spoke to her before it came to pass and I spoke to her after.

Sometimes I use the phrase “hard cases” to talk about the type of client I tend to attract. I mean this sweetly, affectionately, in that I may also be a “hard case” to those from whom I seek consolation. What’s a hard case? No easy answers. Emotions. You have to pull from deep inside of you to help them. But, see, she’s not a hard case at all.

We have so many sides (I wrote on my Facebook). The strongest person under the “right” conditions can fall apart in a sobbing heap.

Feelings don’t make you weak, my friends. They open you. They cut you open.

I felt exactly that, this morning, as I finished up this column. I felt a perfect slice from my collarbone to the top of my pelvis, my head and lower half intact. It felt like opening a book. Here are my pages. Read me.

And as I wrote those words my Goldy strolled over to me and offered up his commentary, his usual squawk-like meow.

Banging on the door of the dead is but one way to reach them. Grief, however, is like an axe. Sometimes you gotta swing it.

Lamp & Labyrinth: Witches & Mages, Borderfolk at the Threshold

Drui and the Witch walk on the outside edge, between the wild and the village. We are the Borderfolk, and we are mystics who guard culture and keep it. Therefore, we cannot take part in it the same way we once did. We give a pouring at the crossroads because it is our place and it is the right thing to do at thresholds. Here, we call forth vile droughts of death spells and magics. A suspended place of power is found at the threshold between fear and love, positive and negative thinking.

"The Wonders of the World in Nature" by Robert Sears.   From WikiMedia.
“The Wonders of the World in Nature” by Robert Sears. From WikiMedia.

The Threshold Minded

We are as a sailor in a coracle on the current with no ability to choose our direction, when we aren’t suspended at the Threshold. It is for this reason that the people worry. Reacting to stimuli as is natural, in many of us, removes us from their seat of our power. Pagan wisdom traditions must employ a level of detachment. We need a new detachment from personal impulses and reactions, and not from the sensual joys of life. Pagan mystics experience joy and sorrow, ascribe meaning to it, but we do not let the stimuli itself move us to reaction or impulse without the consideration of virtue, honor, and what is right by the Sovereignty of others.

Practice devotional honor and worship of the cosmos in this liminal state, and you’ll be able to hold communication and information flow with other beings. This betwixt psychological state is something that the non practicing critics will never understand unless they set aside bias and work to experience it. Bias is a force of ego, just like an overwhelming sense of shame is still a self centered framing of thoughts. Frame your thoughts outside of bias and ego.

Wyrd Ass Atheists

Regardless of what the irreverent believe, mysticism yields the ultimate psychic power and control over our bodies, perception and lucidity. Even reverent and celebratory atheists who walk between worlds attain these states, and so belief isn’t even a real focus. There are perspectives from which all beliefs are true and false. Understanding this is part of embracing the contradiction that is our paradoxical world.

Notice the folks in your life that seem to flow people and events around them as if they’re knots in the world tree. They are fate weavers who weave unplanned wyrd and fírinne themselves as fíodóirí na ndán.

Pagan mysticism isn’t just for the super devout. It isn’t about not having limits, melting ice with our body heat, or breaking boards with chi. It is about safely stretching limits you do have so you can get out of the way of your destiny and potential. Get out of your own way and find your power seat, your true place in the Cosmos. Seek more objective reality and accept it, while considering as many subjective perspectives as possible, then you’ll find your power.

Stellar machinery is the flesh of the cosmos, folded in layers that writhe over one another like snaky dimensions of curled up pockets of time and space.  I have felt the blood-flow of all things rushing over me as a river thwarting me and upholding me. One day it will cover and destroy me. I no longer fear this day as my immortality and the immortal nature of every spirit has been revealed to me.

The rushing of the river of cosmic on-goings, it winds and sings songs of fervent reverence. It sings persistent creation of more and more complex natures.

"Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion" by William Blake.  From WikiMedia.
“Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion” by William Blake. From WikiMedia.

The Danger in the Liminal

The stakes are high here, higher than our lives. We only have one shot to weave the current pattern. The Borderfolk at the Threshold  shred our own souls to find out what we even are. We are looking for where our power and agency lies. We must become world destroyers and re-creators, to bring the will of the Shinning Ones to Earth.

Most of us are broken anyway from some trauma or othering which put us on the outside. Yet we’re still here and haven’t fully gone into the Wild. We strengthen ourselves and will this broken thing back together like Liquid Metal Terminator. You have this power. Hobbling, we tinker with ourselves until we sip from the Well of Chaos and Potential and we are revived. Sure the drink brings the drioganna of joy and of terror and sorrow, but Truth is fertile soil from which we regrow our Tribal Trees.

No Glory in Truth

Truth is the soil from which a new Story is grown. Only an Author at the Threshold can write their story.

Truth is the soil from which a new Story is grown.

Walking between worlds is not a gloried position. The veil is many layered and the true nature of all things can be known when the deepest veil, has been pierced. If I have not emphasised terror enough here, Piercing that veil, you may become disillusioned to parts of the world which make you happy or uphold your worldview. It is more than torture to consume a spiritual entheogen and to have every single one of these worldview supports knocked asunder.

Every person has a reason for existence and some of the more foolish reasons will be flash cooked from your mind leaving you adrift for months or even years after the experience. You may just learn what the terrifies the Gods, that this is an anything goes universe that has to be upheld and maintained, eternally. Personally, this is the route I chose.  I have run away a little, crawled back a lot, and the gods skinned me alive in their cast iron pot.

These membranes of illusion and thought and spirits can be pierced one of two ways, a spirit on the one side can bring you in, or you must break in and learn the way.

Cuchulain broke into Fairy and landed in the scary terrifying world of Scáth, where he encountered hostile fairy forces. This is what you can expect if you try to attain this liminality on your own. But I take that these allegories exist and are parallel to my experiential devotion, that I’m on the right path.

It is through devotional practice and magic, regularly and piously that we attain these states, gain the favor of the spirits, whatever they are to you, and get invited to their world.

Queer Femme Mystic: The Pagan Case Against Donald Trump

It’s time to provide a corrective to the pagans and witches who support Donald Trump.

As I was recently engaging in online discussions about the ethics of participating in the anti-Trump binding rituals that have made headlines, many of them sensationalized, since Inauguration Day 2017, I came across various individuals who claimed to be pagan and also Trump supporters. While this may be naive, I must admit I was astounded to first encounter this pairing of identities. How could anyone who claims a pagan path be so short-sighted and inconsistent in supporting a political leader so alien to the overlapping ways many pagans and witches view the world and the universe?

It’s nothing new, of course, for marginalized people to act in hypocritical ways contrary to their own self-interest and stated values. This is precisely how the Republican Party continues to exist to the extent that they dupe poor and working-class white people into voting for them. (I know this story well as a working-class white kid who grew up in Idaho.)

Picture assembled by Shannon Weber from open source images.
Picture assembled by Shannon Weber from open source images.

As a queer person, I know there are inexplicably gay Republicans, despite how rabidly that party attacks us on a consistent basis, and even gay members of the growing fascist movement known euphemistically as the “alt-right.”

I also know that so many people, tragically, cannot see past the ends of their own noses and seem unable or unwilling to put themselves in another’s shoes. This is made evident by white feminists perpetuating racism against women of color, gay people spewing transphobia, and baby boomers with economic security complaining about the whiner millennials who are six figures in debt from gaining an education and who cannot find basic employment despite our relentless work ethic and graduate degrees in hand.

And of course there is the case of the white Indiana woman who thought her own life would get better by voting for Trump and then was actually surprised when her husband was subsequently deported to Mexico.

But my question for my fellow pagans and witches is: how are you possibly able to claim a spiritual path of cosmic alignment while also supporting a president who viciously amplifies turning neighbor against neighbor?

With all our ideals and proclamations about seeing the divine everywhere and in everyone, we are supposed to be better than supporting and perpetuating oppression. Yet we are often not, as evidenced by situations such as the scandal surrounding Christian Day, the Salem- and New Orleans-based witch-cum-entrepreneur accused of misogynistically harassing Wiccan high priestess Lori Bruno. (In a strangely telling full-circle, Day described himself as “the Donald Trump of witchcraft … I say what I feel about whatever.”)

Do we raise our children with respect for women when they see their parents donating money to a presidential candidate who has sexualized his daughters literally since infancy?

Do witches drawing down the moon and communing with feminine energy actually respect that energy when they rationalize giving free passes to someone who has been accused of sexual violence and harassment by numerous women, including, at one time, the allegation that he physically attacked and raped his first wife Ivana?

Then there is the issue of the environment. What are we doing when we elevate nature as sacred and then support a president who appointed Oklahoma Attorney General and anti-environment villain Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency? The man who has sued the EPA thirteen times and whose nomination has been the target of protests by current EPA employees?

QFMystic

What are we doing celebrating the wheel of the year and the cycles of life while championing a president and a political party whose solution for improving the Affordable Care Act is to simply do away with it, in the process dooming 24 million people to fend for themselves and resulting in an estimated 43,956 deaths per year, according to a conservative estimate based on data from the New England Journal of Medicine?

Are we okay with condemning our fellow Americans to death? Members of our communities, our families, ourselves?

What are we doing as pagans and witches when we know, intimately, what it’s like to be scapegoated and cast out as “other” by a dominant religion not our own, yet then turn around and support a man who demonizes almost every marginalized group in existence, from women and Mexican immigrants to Muslims and people with disabilities?

How dare any of us stand idly by when others are subjected to twenty-first century witch hunts, told they are “bad hombres,” or rapists, or terrorists, and not worthy of being saved from the unimaginable terrorism they are actually victim to in their home countries?

And let us not forget that Trump chose a Christian extremist as his vice president, a foe to basic civil rights who probably reminds many of us of the outrageously toxic Christian cultures we fought so hard to escape from growing up.

If/when Trump is impeached, remember that Mike Pence and his theocratic horror show will emerge as the next presidential nightmare to attack so many of our precious communities with all the pent-up relish they’ve been praying to unleash since the Cold War and which they’ve been wanting to return to since Bush the second.

It is ludicrous to me that any pagans and witches could claim with a straight face that we honor and center certain principles specific to our path, such as the self-knowledge discussed by Wiccan author Scott Cunningham in his “13 Goals of a Witch,” when we participate in willful ignorance and make excuses for a narcissistic charlatan and pathological liar who cares more about the adulation of frenzied crowds than taking accountability for his manifold disturbing actions. Granted, Wiccans are far from comprising the totality of pagan and witch experience, but I can’t think of one pagan path that celebrates deceit, selfishness, and harming others for personal gain.

(Okay, so the disturbing white supremacists who latch onto paganism are a major exception to this. But that is for another piece, perhaps one I will write very soon!)

It is important to note that while the formal separation of church and state is a necessity for any thriving democracy — and is thus currently under attack by this administration — the daily practice of spirituality is not wholly separate from the political. In following our spiritual paths we stand for something, and that “something” has political implications that we cannot afford to deny. This is not a hypothetical discussion; this has life or death repercussions for many. The British witches who fought back against Adolf Hitler’s anticipated invasion of Britain through Operation Cone of Power understood this.

Do we want to live in the real-world version of The Handmaid’s Tale? Or are we going to align our spiritual practices with the basic empathy and social justice that is at the heart of the majority of our paths and fight back?

Where will you stand in the arc of history?

The Other Side of the Hedge: Everyday Magic

We benefit from strengthening, purifying, and expanding our spirits. Maybe the reasons for this are self-evident, but it’s worth touching on why we should put in the effort. A stronger, healthier, and more flexible spirit means a better and more harmonious life.

Our spirits govern far more in our lives than we give them credit for. It’s easy to imagine the world as spiritless and random, but reality is more complicated than that. This spirit-infused world goes far beyond the simple power of positivity or the laws of attraction.

Imagine a world where everyone and everything affects, and is affected, through spiritual laws as much as physical ones – where magic isn’t a special thing for a few, and life is permeated by the constant action of everyone’s spirits. That’s the world of the animist.

EVERYDAY MAGIC IS CALLED LUCK

People who have powerful spirits seem to find life easier. The things they want just seem to materialize. Barriers to their success melt away. Their coin flips might be statistically fifty-fifty, but they always flip heads when they need to.

Bastards.

"Hebrew Key of Solomon Held by 	Wayne Herschel."  Photo by 	Wayne Herschel.  GNU License.
“Hebrew Key of Solomon Held by Wayne Herschel.” Photo by Wayne Herschel. GNU License.

These people are the professional athletes of the spirit world. Their spirits are naturally strong, quick, flexible, and generally talented. For the rest of us, there’s hard work, discipline, and teamwork.

And just like I’ll never be a professional athlete, I’m not one of these naturally lucky people. Quite the opposite. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get in good spiritual shape, take care of myself, and keep myself clean. We can improve our luck, and it’s worth every effort.

We can’t just wave a wand and make everything better, and knowledge alone doesn’t change anything. If we want to change, we need to first understand, and then act.

WE HAVE TO START WHERE WE ARE

Even though people speak mystically and at great length about the human spirit — the aura – really, it’s about as mystical as your liver. Your own spirit is not the great unknown, it’s simply the unfamiliar. Our spirits are a necessary and normal part of who we are. And most people give them about as much attention as we give our livers.

Naturally, our spirits expand outwards from our bodies about as far as we can reach in every direction, from above our heads down to beneath the floor. They extend to the front, back, and sides. And they’re used to connect to others, to find things, and to sense the spiritual environment.

In living our everyday lives, our spirit retreats down to about the shape of the physical body. It becomes like a second skin, like armor. For each of us, there are a couple of areas that are naturally more developed. For people who have experienced deep trauma, there may be scars or unhealed wounds. But, for the most part, the active spiritual self resides inside or close to the body.

Further, the spirit is sealed to the body – there are few openings through which spiritual power can pass in or out. We talk to people from behind our walls, but do not allow for deep spiritual connection. Interestingly, those with traumatic wounds might be more readily able to connect, but experience those connections more painfully.

THE WAY OF THE FIST (SUCKS)

Now, if you’re only going to have one way to hold your spirit, this “closed fist” approach isn’t a terrible strategy. Life is tough. Most people spend most of their lives with their spirits metaphorically clenched like a fist. It protects the sensitive areas. It warns off danger. Useful or not, it feels safe.

Image by CristianChirita.  GNU License.
Image by CristianChirita. GNU License.

But walking around ready for a fight also instigates struggles we might otherwise avoid. Just imagine what would happen if we walked around all day with our hands clenched, staring at everyone, and ready for a fight. Not only does it increase the chance that someone might oblige, but other people would also look at us suspiciously.

By always being on edge, ready to protect yourself, you don’t really make yourself much safer – except that if someone ever actually starts a fight, you’re “ready.” Spiritually speaking, this is the way we are taught to behave.

OPENING THE FIST

For our spirits to grow healthier and stronger, we have to learn to metaphorically “open the fist.” If you want to get a taste of what it feels like, just remember what it’s like to be alone in the wilderness, away from people. Just you, the water, the trees, the stone, and land. It’s these times that your spirit returns to its natural shape.

But we can’t all spend our lives as hermits in the forest. The good news is that there are ways to develop our spirits. We can regain our own size and strength while living among other people. It’s hard work, but it can be done.

I’ve spent a few years of my life studying the martial arts. I’m no badass, but I know a little this and that. The big lesson that has stayed with me over the years was this: the people who didn’t know how to fight who were most likely to start a fight over nothing. It was most often the people shouting, “I’ll kick your ass!” who understood violence the least.

The same idea applies to our tightened and defensive spirits. The best way to begin to learn how to open that “fist” is to learn how to make one properly. Without training, we spend our lives looking for a fight to justify our readiness and prove our strength. With training, we learn that it isn’t always time to fight. We find ourselves less scared when we don’t need to be, knowing that we can be ready when it’s time.

EVERY DAY, IN THE WILD, & WITH FRIENDS

The path to improving your spiritual power, your “luck” as it were, rests on daily work. Discipline and effort are needed to affect change. But that approach alone is a grind, so I recommend a three-pronged approach. Not all parts of this will be easy or even possible for everyone, but every little bit helps.

Photo by Polly Peterson , used by permission.
Photo by Polly Peterson , used by permission.

The first part is to engage in some routine of spiritual discipline. I discussed that at some length in The Power of Daily Practice.

The second is to find avenues to get into nature. Exposure to nature won’t, by itself, rebuild the strength and resilience of your spirit. But it will serve the dual function of allowing your spirit to relax into its natural shape and training you to recognize how that feels.

Third, find a spiritual group that fits your values and beliefs, and join. Simply being a member of such a group often helps to increase your power. (If it doesn’t, quit!)

A trained spirit won’t turn away everything that life can throw at you, but it can help you face those challenges.

ProTip: Spiritual power is not anathema to worldly power. Anyone who tells you different is trying to rob you of one or the other. But that doesn’t mean they’re the same either. These two types of power follow different rules and will shape you into different people.

The Cartomancer: So what? On the tyranny of inheritance

camelia elias, soleone tarot, cassari,
Elisabetta Cassari, Solleone Tarot, 1983 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

As someone in the business of serving, I like to observe psychodynamics among people in the art of self-development.

I’m particularly interested in the triggers around re-calibrating inherited patterns.

For instance, it’s common knowledge now that there’s such a thing as inherited behavior patterns…

… like the recognition that if your father was a bully, chances are that you’ll be fighting with the demon of aggression too, both in your childhood as well as in your adult life.

If your mother divorced five times, chances are that you’ll also fight with the demon of instability in relationships.

If your grandfather was a gambler, chances are that you will also fight with the demon of scattered finances.

camelia elias, soleone tarot, cassari
Elisabetta Cassari, Solleone Tarot, 1983 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

The business of self-development is often about bringing to awareness such patterns, and investigating into their nature.

But what exactly do inherited patterns have anything to do with you?

This is a very good question, and one that springs immediately from the work of identifying what is wrong, when it went wrong, and why it went wrong.

What is often not stretched beyond is the more interesting question of, ‘so what’?

The question of ‘so what,’ is often dodged because it forces you to ask the question of ‘why?’

‘Why do I project? Why do I fill my head with the past (injustice, insolence, indifference, etc)? Why do I fill my head with fear or desire about a future I don’t know?’

‘If my father or my mother passed on to me their demons and shortcomings, why do I have to repeat what they did?’

‘So what if they were wrestling with demons? Their demons are not my demons.’

You’ll be hard pressed to find a reference point for your family’s demons actually also being yours. They are not, and will never be.

They CAN be, however, if your process of investigating into your inherited patterns of behavior ends on a note of blaming and then relegating.

You can get very good at describing so-called toxic and destructive inherited patterns. You can even outline these patterns in a tone of surprising astonishment, whenever you discover as yet undetected aspects of these patterns’ manifestation, for instance the idea that your mother’s emotional instability may be due to self-infatuation and narcissism.

camelia elias, cassari, soleone tarot
Elisabetta Cassari, Solleone Tarot, 1983 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

You can ask yourself:

‘How much of these inherited patterns inform my life, as I take a look at it and see that I also have a problem with love, money, shame and guilt, or whatever other concept in vogue that happens to come to my mind?’

What I’m interested in is what people do with this identification: ‘I also… (experienced the trauma of abuse, of not being seen, of not being taken seriously, etc).

Try posting something related to inherited patterns in the social media, take a step back and then watch how many join the discussion, responding to what you say with ‘I also…’

The question that begs itself is, however, this one:

So what?

Try to observe how many, if ever a single one, who upon acting on the relatable story, actually takes it further, and perhaps says, ‘I also… but, so what?’

As in, ‘I also suffer from this, but so what? At the end of the day, if my father had a money problem, and I also have a money problem, I can actually change that by simply saying ‘no’ to temptation.’

You don’t go and book a trip to Paris, when you can’t even afford a pack of 10 tins of beans that you can stash in your kitchen for hard times – because, hey, you’ve inherited this fear around scarcity, and the trip to Paris is there to validate your self-worth.

The point is this:

There is inheritance, and then there’s the tyranny of inheritance.

Consider how many times you relish relating to people’ stories and their experiences as they mirror yours. All fine. This is how we function, by learning from our experiences and those of others.

Now consider also how many times you never stretch what you relate to, or the relatable story, to a level that’s actually liberating.

Saying to yourself, ‘I also… but so what?’ is very easy. It requires no self-development course that will teach you a special method for how to deal with what you’ve inherited, because all it takes is two words: ‘So what?’ (or maybe three, if your inherited demon is anger, ‘so fucking what?’

To make it more interesting, you can take your cards, and ask them:

What demons have I inherited from my family, and how do I repeat destructive patterns?

Take a close look at the cards. See if you identify anything familiar to you. Then take a look at the cards from some distance, and say: ‘So fucking what’?

You are what you see yourself as, not what you see your parents as, whom you can always conveniently blame.

As Philip Larkin put it: ‘You parents fuck you up.’ So fucking what?

You are what you dwell on. You are the words you use to describe what you dwell on.

Do you prioritize the list that describes just how many bad habits you’ve inherited, or do you take the high road to self-liberation: ‘This list is a goddamn long list, but so what?’

‘So what?

… is a magic phrase that disrupts all behavioral patterns, whether inherited, familiar, or self-made.

‘If you can name it, you have power of it,’ they say, and they are right. If you can name what you suddenly see is not useful in your life, you have power over it.

But how do you use this power?

Don’t prioritize accord (I also…)

Prioritize action (I also… but I can choose not to…)

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