Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!
Our community is fond of supporting a kind of romanticized “warrior ethos,” and sometimes we can get so wrapped up in those ideals that we lose sight of the gods’ other attributes. So many people worship “Thor the warrior” that often “Thor the farmer” is overlooked. I’m not saying that a “warrior ethos” is bad, as most of the Aesir and the Vanir ARE warriors; but that’s not ALL they are. Tyr may be a god of war, but he is also a god of justice. Thor may be the Jötunn-Slayer, but he is also responsible for bringing rain to the fields so the crops can grow.
Perhaps the most interesting example is the Allfather himself to which the simple, one-dimensional title of “War God” is not only an inadequate descriptor, it’s a disservice to the depth of his personality. Óðinn is such a complex and multifaceted deity that it’s difficult to grant him a single, all encompassing title. This is evidenced by the fact that it would probably be faster to write a list of all the things Óðinn’s NOT called than to make a comprehensive list of all his names! So who exactly IS Óðinn?
Part of what gives the Allfather such depth and character is all of the apparent contradictions he seems to embody. One aspect of Óðinn is the Soldier: the commander of the forces of Asgard, the god of war who is willing to march at the head of his army into a battle that he knows will be his last. This is the aspect of Óðinn that constantly tries to teach us the value of honor and the importance of duty and who sings songs of glory unending in the halls of Valhalla. If the depth of the Allfather ended here, “God of War” might be an apt title. Óðinn the Soldier is a icon of strength, discipline, and masculine virility right out of the Iron Age.
What, then, of Óðinn the Skald? Just when we think we’ve got a handle on this warrior archetype, we are introduced to an entirely different side: the pensive poet, who plays games with men’s lives and schemes in dark corners. Where the Soldier was a paragon of twelfth-century masculinity, championing ideals of honest contest and honorable combat, the Poet is a more feminine figure of guile and wit, relying on clever games and sorcery to achieve his goals. This more feminine side of Óðinn is also practitioner of Seiðr (often seen as “Women’s Magic”). These two characters seem not only inconsistent, but completely inimical. These people don’t just sound different, they sound like they would probably LOATHE each other. Yet Óðinn embodies both of these figures equally.
Another aspect of the Allfather is that of the Scholar. This is the wandering wise man that, throughout the Eddas, pursues an unending quest for new knowledge. We hear his voice in the verses of the Hávamál that tell us to “Ask well and answer rightly,” and in the many stanzas on wisdom and exploration. The Scholar tells us to go out into the world, meet new people, and learn what they have to say. He is open to new ideas, with a passion for the pursuit of wisdom that borders on optimistic idealism.
Then, sometimes in the space of a single verse, he can change his nature to that of the Skeptic: the jaded cynic who watches everything with a critical eye and warns us to always be prepared. The mantra of the Skeptic is: “Watch carefully, and be ready for anything.” Among the names of the Allfather are Báleygr and Bileygr. He is called the shifty-eyed, the wavering eye, the flaming eye, the flashing eye: all kennings for one who is suspicious of everything. Where the Scholar seeks to know what others have to say, the Skeptic (a ruthless pragmatist) wonders what their motives are for saying it.
Óðinn as a God of Questions
The common element between the Scholar and the Skeptic is their shared verve for asking good questions. In fact, that seems to be a core virtue of Óðinn’s diverse and multidimensional personality. He forces us to question our stereotypes by breaking the mold. He forces us to question social conventions by routinely violating them. He keeps us on our toes, constantly trying to guess what role he’ll choose to play next. His stories show us the value of observing and understanding the world around us and learning to evaluate that information for ourselves.
When someone asks me if I worship “Óðinn the War God”, I tell them that I revere “Óðinn the Scientist.”I follow a god of Reason, Knowledge, Exploration, and Critical Thinking. I believe that the true wisdom of Óðinn is in knowing how to ask a question.
Wyrd Words is published on alternate Thursdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!
To our readers in the Northern hemisphere, I hope that like me, you’re enjoying some gorgeous spring weather! To our Southern readers, I wish you an easy descent into winter.
Since my last update, we’ve added the following blogs and columns:
In A Witch’s Ashram, Niki Whiting reflects on her dual practice (devotional Hinduism and witchcraft), parenting, and living in the Pacific Northwest. Niki has been a regular contributor to Pagan Families and A Sense of Place, so we’re thrilled to now be hosting her personal blog.
The Dance of Pagan Recovery is Jenya T. Beachy‘s biweekly column on addiction and recovery. Follow her to explore topics including rituals and prayers to help with recovery, what deities might support or detract from those efforts, and existing groups for pagans and others who might not feel completely comfortable in traditional programs.
Sara Amis is our newest columnist at A Sense of Place! Sara’s practice is deeply rooted in the South and in traditional Southern magical practices, and her writing reflects her talents as a poet as well as her mischievous sense of humor.
Brandy Williams, author of The Woman Magician and other works on ceremonial magick, joins us with Star and Snake: Thelema as a Living Tradition. Brandy had a great launch in April and is now covering basic topics in Thelema with her signature clarity and style. Check her out both for an introduction to the tradition and for a feminist’s take on it.
Paths Through the Forests is a collaborative project by Lupa Greenwolf and Rua Lupa dealing with ecotheology, permaculture, animism, bioregionalism, and more. They write, “Naming ourselves after the wolf is an expression of a desire to emulate its far reaching interconnections for a bountiful, harmonious ecosystem that we are a component of. As such, our hope here is to provide a source for making those connections and to be a place to share our stories and approaches to this way of life,” with approaches tailored to individual bioregions.
T. Thorn Coyle rejoins Patheos Pagan in a new format! Thorn will be posting biweekly, and one post a month will focus on study of the book The New Jim Crow. If you were following her in a column format, don’t forget to update your e-mail or RSS subscription.
Sarah Sadie is our newest contributor at Sermons from the Mound! An experienced poet and writer, Sarah opens her column by sharing her intense and newly found relationship with Wayland the Smith.
The Patheos Pagan channel is thriving! Whatever thread of Paganism stirs your heart–whether it’s polytheism, witchcraft, nature spirituality, Goddess worship, humanistic philosophy, animism, or body theology–Patheos Pagan has something for you. To learn more about what we have to offer, check out the landing page, search for your favorite topic, or subscribe to the Pagan newsletter.
My life has been filled with abundant insanity lately. I’ve been traveling a lot, promoting my books, and when I’ve been home, the work has continued. I realized I needed a day off when, after my husband suggested I take one, I stared at him blankly and said “What would I even do?”
Yeah. Time to take a break.
In the three years since I’ve shifted much of my work to focus on my writing, that’s one part of working from home I haven’t done very well with: knowing when to take breaks. The blessing and the curse of working from home is that the work is never far away, which means I can always be productive, but it also means I’ve stopped viewing my home as a place of rest and restoration.
Last week, I decided to take baby steps to change that, and I vowed to take a day off. I still didn’t really know what a day off at home would look like; lately, I’ve gotten myself spun into tunnel vision when it comes to taking a break, and I’d convinced myself that I could only take time off if I left my home. Still, I decided to slow down and consciously use my living space for something other than work, and I was surprised at the results.
I can’t usually sleep in, not because I don’t want to, but because as soon my husband leaves for work, I tend to wake myself up with nightmares and fears that someone will break into my house. (Very damsel in distress, I know.) For whatever reason, though, on my intentional day off, I found that I was able to sleep in and enjoy a little bit of nourishing rest. Score one for this experiment!
From those languid beginnings, my day off continued to be full of happy surprises. I did two loads of laundry and felt amazingly nourished to quietly attend to chores that I usually fit in between work projects. I went out on the back porch and enjoyed the sunshine while coloring a mandala, and I was amazed at how much brighter I felt after. Although I’m not very talented when it comes to visual arts, collaging, painting, and other forms of creation have become an important part of my meditative and magical practice, and the sun-soaked mandala was an impulse that I’m so glad I followed. Afterwards, I made myself a cup of coffee and curled up on the couch, reading a new book cover to cover. (The cat certainly enjoyed my day off, too; if she had her way, I’d spend far more time on the couch every day!)
I didn’t open the door to my home office, and I basically avoided that corner of the house like the plague, so maybe my day off wasn’t a total barrier-breaking success, but I did feel more at ease in my space and less frantic than I have for quite some time.
Have I conquered the danger of working from home? Probably not, but I did prove to myself that I am allowed to slow down, and that relaxation and restoration don’t have to take place away from my home hearth.
How do you renew and restore?
The Busy Witch is published on alternate Tuesdays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!
Mysticism is an important experiential practice for many people. In several Pagan traditions we believe that we can communicate directly with the Divine. We have different beliefs about the nature and origin of these Powers, and the information we receive varies. Heathen völva breathe the fumes of wormwood and mugwort and speak the words of Wyrd. Druid ovates sink into trances and speak the guidance of the ancient gods. Many Greek pantheists incubate dreams or seek the wisdom of Apollo. Shamanic traditions both ancient and modern use drumming, dancing and entheogens to travel the spirit realm and bring out its insights or heal the body and spirit. And modern Witches and Wiccan/ates draw down the moon and the sun so that we can talk directly to our deities. There is a firmly divided camp between the skeptics and the believers. What is this phenomenon? Where does it come from? How much does it have in common with the mystical experiences of St. John of the Cross and Hildegard of Bingen, Mohammed, or even the trance channeling of Jane Roberts?
A Question of Theology
Some Pagans believe that we are communicating directly with actual, tangible deities. To them, these beings are as real as you or I, with clearly-defined roles, powers, and personalities. In their belief, drawing down Hecate and serving as a cheval for Erzuli means that they are speaking and interacting directly with a personality that is independent and separate from us. These Pagans choose to serve individual gods or goddesses directly. They have consciously chosen to aspire to Valhalla or be remembered in Hades. To accept this belief accepts the literal existence of other deities and beings as well. Perhaps St. John really was talking to Jehovah and Joan of Arc really did hear the voices of angels; or perhaps not, as many Pagans who hold this view seem to believe that any religion that holds to some sort of “Overgod” who is greater than all other gods is false, but all the different cultural pantheons are true and real.
The Pagans who believe in literal gods can be strangely inconsistent when it comes to New Age matters. Some believe in the existence of the entity “Seth” or “Abraham” and the ghosts of their ancestors; some don’t, and those who don’t tend to be divided as to whether or not malicious entities who claim to be these beings are deluding us, or whether those who channel them are crazy or outright charlatans. Often for these Pagans, there is a literal Truth. For example, there is only one proper way to worship Hecate, and portraying Her differently in ritual or an image is “wrong.”
Some Pagans believe that we are speaking with egregors. An egregor is a thought-form, given a semblance of life and identity by the power of belief. Herne exists because we believe He does, and He has certain powers and qualities because we believe that He does. In this way, we create the gods as much as They create us.
By extension, we may also create elementals to do our will. Angels and demons also exist because we believe they do, and so to many (but not all!) who hold this belief, they can only affect us if we believe they can. Thus, the Christian God exists because so many people believe in Him. This is why it’s so hard to affect the Christian status quo with magick.
Those who believe this often trust that to the channelers, “Seth” and “Abraham” are quite real; but they might question the existence of ghosts and ancestor-spirits, believing them to be the constructs of memory rather than the actual spirits of the departed.
Some Pagans take a view that is colored by modern Jungian psychology, and they believe that the deities are archetypes. That is, gods are symbolic constructs that ultimately come from the human psyche, drawn from either the universal human experience or from a particular cultural experience. The deities, then, are names and personifications given to these symbols so that people can interact with Them on a human level. Aphrodite, for example, becomes a personification of Love, Sex and Relationships; Kali becomes a personification of the powers of Creation and Destruction. From the point of view of these Pagans, channeled New Age entities are either silly or a sign of schizophrenia, and ghosts are wistful thinking.
Manifestations of the Psyche
Some Pagans believe that the gods are merely aspects of ourselves. In the same way that archetypes are personifications of ideas and themes, we give personalities to internal feelings and thoughts, so that we can interact with them in a construct. They differ from those who belief in archetypes in that archetypes might be manifestations of a shared human consciousness; while these Pagans believe that the gods are entirely created in our own individual imaginations. Therefore, if we want to believe in SpongeBob Squarepants, for us, SpongeBob Squarepants becomes a useful internal construct that delivers messages we need from our own subconscious minds. Channeled entities, then, have just as much “reality” as any other manifestation of the psyche, and ghosts are constructs we use to remember our loved ones and come to terms with our grief.
As I wrote about in a previous column, one of the beautiful things about Paganism is that we don’t have to choose. Contradictory truths can be equally true. Most of the Pagans I know hold combinations of these beliefs; though I have rarely seen the literalists and the psychology advocates intersect. If you haven’t done so before, you might want to consider these differing points of view and decide for yourself where it is that you fall. For instance, I believe in egregors, formed from our collective archetypical consciousness, which then have real manifestations who can interact with us and each other. We create the gods, so that They can create us. They are beyond the limits of space and time because we believe that They are, and so They can do what we cannot – and They really can do it! But just because this is what I believe, doesn’t mean that it is more or less valid than any other belief; it just works for me.
Implications of Faith
What you believe about the nature of the gods has a direct bearing on your interaction with Them. How seriously do you take Them? When someone claims to be interacting with the Divine, through a vision, through intuitive insight or through possession-trance, when do you believe Them, and when do you doubt? If you had a dream that Cerridwen came to you and warned you not to go to work the next day, how likely are you to stay home? If a Voodoo Mambo is being ridden by Erzuli and Erzuli tells you that She wants you to quit your job and become a witch doctor, how likely are you to accept that as a vocation? Have you ever seen what you believe to be a god who looked as solid and real as you or I? (I have!) How do you react?
Using Our Discernment
The Gods Have Ulterior Motives
Above all, I think it important to keep in mind a few things about the gods, regardless of your belief in Their natures and origins.
Let’s say that the gods really are literal beings who actually exist. Let’s say that They choose us specifically for holy tasks. Why have you, specifically, been chosen? Is it because you are special and wonderful and unique? (Of course you are, just like everyone else!) Or is it because They, having personalities as we do, have realized that you and They share a common interest?
I have felt this kind of hand on my life only a few times. One is what led me to take my name – I am a daughter of Diana, Queen of the Witches, Who answered my prayer when I was a little girl and gave me a goddess to believe in and who aided my magick and my self-empowerment. In return She asked me to teach Witchcraft to the masses and liberate the oppressed. I am glad to do this. I share Her goals. And I think She knew it when She first came to me as I prayed to the moon at the age of ten; though of course, I didn’t know it at the time.
Some people call that “synchronicity,” or “guidance from your Higher Self.” They say that things fall into place when you follow it. But understand it for what it is. The gods, like us, probably have ulterior motives. Sometimes, They have a sense of humor. They want us to do these things because it’s something They are interested in. They might be willing to sacrifice you to the Greater Good. Remember, one of Odin’s epithets is “betrayer of warriors” because if you are a great warrior, He is likely to take you for Valhalla when you least expect it. By all means if you believe in a cause and wish to make that choice because you believe it is good, do so! But go into it with your eyes open. Blind faith and self-sacrifice is usually a Christian ethic. You should be getting something out of the relationship too, be it empowerment, love, or comfort.
The Gods Have No Bodies
Another thing to keep in mind, especially when you ask the gods for help, especially in magick, is that real or not, the gods are not physical. They do not have bodies. Generally, that means They do not understand that you have to eat, you have to have a roof over your head, and you have limited time in which to accomplish things because you are mortal. They do not understand these limitations, and unless you have developed a co-creative relationship with Them, you may find it difficult to negotiate. Because I know that They don’t understand, I think it’s perfectly okay to tell Them “No!” if They ask you to do something you’re just not capable of. And I think it’s okay to ask Them to hurry things along as well if the need is great. It’s not sacrilegious to parley.
The Gods Have to Use Your Language to Be Understood
I once read a book that was highly recommended to me by a friend of mine in the New Age movement. The author had channeled Gaia and was writing what she had channeled. I picked it up with interest. Gaia is a goddess (well, titan, actually) that I know; I’ve worked with Her before. Much of it was exactly what we, as Pagans, would believe were the words of Gaia. But then there was a whole section about Atlantis, and the Mayan calendar, and a lot of other things I associate with the New Age that I don’t personally take seriously.
How should we regard these sorts of situations? Most Pagans I know would immediately dismiss the whole book as garbage and the author as a nut or a liar. But I don’t think so.
See, our gods are not physical. They are beyond space and time. They are also beyond language. If They are speaking through somebody in a divine communion, a drawing down or a possession trance, They have to use the hardware and the software provided. In other words, whether you believe the gods come from without or within, all such words spoken by the gods must go through a mortal filter first.
A good trance channel, shaman, witch or cheval does his or her best to be a good conduit. We try to make our bodies and our minds into fiber-optic cables, carrying the messages of Divinity as clearly and as undistorted as possible. But the fact is that there is always resistance to the signal. There’s always our own dross to deal with. So the moment a word is spoken, even if the Morrigan Herself is animating the mouth, the message is corrupted. It’s like trying to interpret an omen. We do the best we can, but inevitably, even the best-intentioned message suffers in the translation. Often, our own agendas and feelings confuse the issue.
If you are the one drawing down, don’t make the mistake of confusing yourself with the Goddess. You are a phone line or a DSL cable, not the chosen avatar of Inanna. You are merely the messenger. Do your best to get out of your own way and let divine words come through you, uncensored and unedited. Try not to let fear, ego, judgment or pride distort the signal, but understand that no matter what, it always will. Be as open to different interpretations as anyone else.
When your High Priestess draws down the moon, listen with love and respect to the Goddess, but use your own discernment in your understanding of the message. However, don’t discount everything she says just because some of it doesn’t ring true to you. Like everything in Paganism, take from it what is of value to you, even if you don’t like it. Even a complete jerk or a complete moron can be divinely inspired. Don’t discount the message just because you don’t like or don’t respect the person.
I heard a joke (or perhaps a parable) once that the Goddess decided that it was time to bring Her wisdom back into the world. She looked all over for women to be Her prophets – and realized that the world was so poisoned with patriarchy and male privilege that appointing women to the task would be impossible. So She chose men, but because She resented having to do so, She chose the weirdest, most arrogant men She could find. Well, we all know the founders of modern Wicca were hardly exemplary in their behavior, but the result was the resurgence of Paganism.
Next column: The Doers and the Don’ters
Seekers and Guides is published on alternate Mondays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!
This week, Patheos is five years old! And at Patheos Pagan, we’re celebrating. I’m sure you’ve seen lots of posts on this by now and I’m sort of a Jane-come-lately, but I’m really pleased to be part of this excellent team. In five years, Patheos has probably become one of the most widely-read interfaith sites in the world, and among Pagan readers, it compares only to Witches and Pagans and possibly The Wild Hunt.
My most memorable experience was how I managed to put my foot so thoroughly in my mouth with The Importance of Remembrance, which several people took as a lack of support for soldiers because I said that I thought that the US did not put as much emphasis on the observance of Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day/Armistice Day as Canadians do. The reaction took me aback because especially for a Wiccan, I’m pretty supportive of the military and understand the relevance of soldiers! I’m even writing a novel series that’s all about a soldier suffering from PTSD. Very strange how that was misinterpreted. I refused to retract the sentiment, though I agreed my choice of phrase was poor.
I’ve enjoyed my time here so far. I find that the conversation is universally intelligent, and that even those who disagree with me generally (though not always) do so with thoughtful, considered arguments and an attitude of mutual respect. I look forward to many more years at Patheos, I hope, enjoying the benefit of this complex multi-faith dialogue. Thanks for having me, and thanks for sharing with me. Blessed be.
Seekers and Guides is published on alternate Mondays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!
“The Dance of Pagan Recovery” is a newcomer to the Patheos Pagan Agora blog, only appearing since January of this year. In that short time, I’ve begun to feel the juju that is available through this venue, how the conversations begin, how they seep out into the community at large. I’ve gotten great responses from many camps, drunks and addicts of all stripes. It feels good to have a venue to discuss the needs of those like me, who may have felt unwelcome in traditional recovery programs.
The most interesting thing I’ve seen since I began the column was the response to my article “The Season of Sex.” The ‘like’s and ‘share’s on that post were about 10 times that of any other thing I’ve written. Is “sex” really just that magic a word? Or was the article actually 10 times better than the rest? Time will tell!
I’m proud to be a part of this strong team of writers and looking forward to much more of the ‘conversation on faith,’ especially as it impacts clean and sober Pagan folk. Happy 5th birthday, Patheos, and many blessings for continued success!
I was having a conversation with someone yesterday at our community Beltane ritual about that tricky thing that happens to us as we get further along in our recovery process… you know, when you start questioning whether you actually ARE an addict or alcoholic? When you remember the innocent pleasure of just that ONE glass of wine, or brownie, or bump? It’s easy to romanticize the early days, especially if we began with an easy curve, especially if we were young when we started and so hadn’t developed the tools we have now for dealing with difficult situations or emotions. Hell, everybody does stupid crap when they’re a kid. Maybe if, today, we got back on that horse (aka “no longer on the wagon”) we wouldn’t have the same issues. Maybe we could engage in those behaviors in a normal way.
Oh, the beautiful maybe!
One of the first and best benefits of getting in the program for me was not having to think and question all the time whether I had a problem. I knew I did. I could finally release the idea that I was in control of what was happening. I got word that I was sick, and that my sickness was not something to be ashamed of, and I got to stop trying so desperately to hide the ways that I wasn’t like most people in this area of life. I know we’ve all heard the comparison of alcoholism to diabetes, or another life-changing and life-threatening disease. You can hate that diagnosis all you want, but are you going to keep eating candy for breakfast? And we’ve heard that meetings are like a medicine that you can’t always feel the effects of; you just have to keep taking it to keep you healthy.
When you get a little time under your belt, this can all seem so far away. Whether you have 5 or 15 or 50 years, the further you get from your last bottom, the easier it is to think that maybe you imagined it all.
It’s said that one of the most important reasons to keep going to meetings is to hear the stories of newcomers, to bring our own stories fresh into our minds, to remind us why we’re here. But honestly, many of us don’t keep going to meetings forever. After the first few years (or more), our social and spiritual lives get rooted elsewhere. Especially for Pagans, who might not have felt welcome in the rooms in the first place.
So what’s the answer?
Like so many other things in life, that depends on YOU. What’s at stake in your world? What if you did have that one glass or shot or smoke? Some of our addictions are more obviously dangerous. We can tell that if we’re shooting up, that’s pretty much always a problem. If we’re smoking meth, that’s pretty much always a problem. However, we are masters of justification and, when pressed, can probably find ways to decide that those things are okay in moderation. Haha.
But people all around us are having one glass of wine, or two, just enough to take the edge off that social situation. People are having fun and letting their hair down and relaxing with just a few fingers of whiskey. Why can’t that be us?
Why can’t diabetics eat candy for breakfast?
At some point, we figured out that we had a problem. We identified the problem. We named ourselves as a person with this illness of addiction and we had clear intentions to keep ourselves healthy and sane by avoiding the substances that were killing us. It was the hardest thing to allow that to happen. It took immense courage to clear our eyes and minds and hearts to allow us to see how out of control we were, in whatever form that took.
Maybe we could drink or drug or whatever-it-is now and that would be okay. But let’s do a bit of soul-searching first. Take just a moment (when you are in a safe space and mindset and have a sober friend with you) to visualize yourself indulging that desire. What happens? How are you different? What are you suddenly able to do that you can’t do clean?
Are you able to have that conversation you’ve been putting off? Tell that person how you really feel? Can you dance freely or make love wildly? Sing karaoke? Finally feel okay with yourself?
There are lots of reasons why people submit to their addictions. When we find ourselves in this danger zone, it’s important to look at what we’re really missing in our lives. What do we imagine that indulging ourselves is going to do? We need to figure out another way. Most of us can, if we’re really deeply honest with ourselves, see the slippery slope. We can see how “one is too many and twenty isn’t enough”. So where do we get courage? Where do we find peace?
If we can sort out what we’re missing, we can use our big beautiful brains to sort out how to get those things. Needing to have a difficult conversation? Read this really great book called Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Wanting to be freer in your physical expression? Find a practice which helps you to open your mind and know your body better, like Tai Chi or this crazy business. Seeking inner peace? The Buddhists have that equanimity and mindfulness thing down to an art. (This realization changed my life, again!)
The important thing is that we get to have those scary thoughts and feelings about our dis-ease and then we get to decide what to do. There’s a really big chance that, if you think you can have “just one”, you’re lying to yourself. But even if you can, what’s the real benefit of that indulgence? We know it won’t really make us smarter, or better-looking, or funnier, or braver, in real life. It will just put a fake foundation under us, which is likely to crumble just when we need the support. It will just assist us in letting unhelpful conditions continue to exist in our lives, when what we really need to do is change those things.
Remember those precious first moments of clarity? Your pink cloud? You saw the possibilities inherent in a cleaner, freer life. Can you see them now?
The Dance of Pagan Recovery is published on alternate Tuesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!
I just wanted to quickly chime in to wish Patheos a very merry 5th anniversary. Five is a powerful number; there’s the five pointed star, of course, and the additional power that is brought to a ritual when you call five elements (earth, air, fire, water, and spirit), not to mention the unique group dynamic that is present among circles of five.
A number of years ago, I was working in a circle of five women, and in order to include everyone in our rituals, we began calling five elements when we cast the circle. For awhile, I enjoyed the surge of power without really wondering why things were suddenly so much more magical, but then a conversation with a dear friend and taroist pointed out the force of five. She reminded me of the geometric stability of the number, and she pointed to the build of energy in the tarot that happens in the fifth card of each suit. The full promise of the cards may not have been reached, but by the time five appears, the foundation has been set down, and forward movement is almost a must. Our conversation made me approach future rituals with more awareness, and I think she’s right; so much untapped power rests in the number five.
So raise a glass (or five) today to the force of this number, and the magic of this birthday. I’m so grateful to be a part of this thriving, vibrant community, and it’s a pleasure to say happy anniversary and bon fortuna, Patheos!
The Busy Witch is (usually!) published on alternate Tuesdays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!
So, I was discussing which of my posts from over the years was my favorite, so I could link to it. The problem of course is they’re all my favorite. Actually, all the funny ones are my favorite. Never let it be said that I don’t appreciate my own sense of humor.
I can’t make up my mind (also typical) so I’m just going to leave these here, and you can decide…
So, there’s this story, about Inanna. Basically, she goes to the God of Wisdom, Enki, and is all, “Hey there, I’m Ereshkigal’s little sister, I’m the goddess of Lurve and Battles, and I’m smokin’ hot.”
Enki says, “Heh heh heh. Yes, honey, you sure are.”
This is a multi-part discussion on families, Family Covens and covens: what makes them different, what makes the similar and what makes them stick.
**Trigger Warning** This first section deals with biological families and may have triggers for readers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, past instances of child abuse, or incest.
Last night I was talking with a petitioner about the difference between Family Coven, families, and general covens. As usual, words failed me. There are mysteries in the Craft, and nearly all of them are the indescribable energetic workings and connections that must be experienced to be understood. For me, the energetic difference in Family Covens, families, and covens of a more traditional make-up is one of those mysteries.
Part of my struggle is knowing that how I frame my past and present involvements with family, covens, and Family Covens taints how I experience and then describe the energy of those groups. What I delineate as “family” is inexorably linked with parents who consistently abused, molested, raped, mentally alienated, and emotionally manipulated me. “Families” are not units where you go to be safe, nurtured, and unconditionally loved. They are the root of generations of abuse that is tied up with ancestors struggling to live in the Deep South married to ancestors who drank and raped their daughters.
I can see my husband and his link to his family where love and honor are part of the commitment they all have for one another. I cannot find myself comprehending his childhood. He played in the woods of Virginia. I hid in the woods behind my house to avoid beatings and molestation. He ran with “the boys” of his small town. My girlfriends would later identify me as the reason they were raped by my father. His childhood is one that was filled with adventure in caves and on the stage at the Trail of the Lonesome Pine Theater, with a father with whom he sang and played instruments. The most cherished memory I have of my biological family is a snap shot of us riding to my grandmother’s house singing four part harmony to a tape in the tape deck… one time. Just once when no one was yelling or hitting or fighting, and the harmony was more in the connection between the southern gospel music we sang than the people singing it. This single idealistic moment was shattered when my biological father suggested we start a gospel family quartet. No one sang after that out of the fear of the fighting and yelling such a proposition would create, more than we already dealt with.
Many years later, I would break this tenuous harmony completely when I energetically divorced my biological family. I changed my name. I privately and publicly disavowed them. I began to write down all their secrets and prepared to expose them through book form. I do not consider myself one of them any longer. They are they and I am not.
Yet, in the smallest recesses of my brain and heart, I know that blood is thicker. It is a kind of blue slime that once it has dribbled upon your skin at birth, once you have shared blood with the mother who gave birth to you, it is an energetic tie that only death can sever. Others may only be able to see it in black light, but I know, no matter what, it is there staining my hands, my body, my heart, my mind, my spiritual references. It is a constant pull and push on everything I do, everything I aspire to do, everything I hope for all the members of my blooded family and my spiritual Family Coven.
As I joined the world of Wicca, I found myself settling into relationships that mimicked my abusive past. If there was a crazy High Priestess out there, I would find her and align myself with her. If she was married to an abusive man? Even better! I was comfortable in drama and chaos. I sought it out, and it was easily attracted to me. Now the slime was green and I volunteered to paint myself with it. Where the blue of my biological family’s blood mixed with the green of an oath taken in circle, my body was painted a sickly aqua highlighting past bruises being recreated in my present.
Later I would end that cycle and begin to teach. Here again, I began to bring into my life people with emotional issues. Further, I proceeded to utilize some of these precious people to work out my own emotional issues around power, emotional manipulation, and possession of a sense of self importance. For some of these people I would become just as abusive mentally, emotionally and spiritually as my biological family was to me. For those I attracted with their own problems, I would slip back into the role of codependent participant in maintaining their spectacle.
I couldn’t seem to identify these people until they were creating drama and difficulty in my life. Some of these people would taint me with the passing color of red, and my interaction with others caused a blow back of yellow dots on the background of my mottled skin. After some years in the Craft and a lifetime with my biological family, there was no me left, only muddied layers of slime covering up who I was, who I thought I would be.
So, I started by deliberately sloshing off these layers. Ultimately, I think, I did it backwards. I started with my biological family. With the help of my husband and my certified counselor, we identified the low-lying anxiety I lived with on a daily basis as being connected to my interactions with my biological family. We had co-signed a car with my biological parents and in the guise of teaching us a lesson, the deal had been done in such a way to keep us tied to them and the vehicle for as long as possible. The feeling of being trapped reminded me of all the times I had hid in closets to try to escape the pounding belt or raised fists. I felt the suffocation of blankets holding me down in the dark while I waited for my father to come to my bed.
One day, I had my counselor read a letter from my biological mother. She had written it to me years before while I was in the midst of a divorce to my first husband. I had given it to the counselor because I was afraid of what my biological mother would have to say to me. In it, she exposed a truth to me that has held up under years and years of therapy and personal soul searching: blood is. It would be upon my skin and taint me as a child of that biological family until the day I died. This, she proposed, is why I had to find my way to some kind of peace with them. I had to find some way to have them in my life and forgive the transgressions of our shared past. Yet, that feeling of fear, suffocation, violation cultivated during years of abuse would not go away. Though I knew that black light would always expose my connection to those people, I could not find any peace, love, healthy relationships, or stability in my life while they were in it.
Blood is–I concluded–not enough.
I conducted a private Divorcing Ritual, and then I wrote in graphic detail and submitted to Family Court the reasons why I was giving up my birth name. I kept my first name, the one my biological family hated and never called me. I changed my middle name to reflect the rebirth, the fresh spring of life and love I would cultivate in this new incarnation. I took a maiden name attached to the most loving human being I had ever known, the one who sent me cards on my birthday and little gifts in the mail because she thought of me, full candy bars on Valentine’s Day and sessions of crochet she and I had shared. She had given birth to the second most loving human being I knew, and becoming her sister in truth was just as precious as gaining a mother. I toyed with taking two maiden names, and I think I wasn’t strong enough to identify myself with a healthy father figure despite having one in my life (although my name would have been more of a mouth full than it is now!). I am a Nettles, bound in as permanent choice as I could make it, to my mother and her daughter, my sister. A step away from the blooded family who brought my physical form into the world and then violated all the bounds of family. Blood is not enough, but it leaves a stain that no amount of energetic working will ever get out. There isn’t bleach strong enough.
Once I had knocked down the blue of my blood so that only odd refractions of light here and there could identify me as part of my biological family, I set to work on those green spots I had picked up all those years ago. I started with meditation and contemplation regarding the two most influential spiritual teachers I had when I first came to the Craft. The High Priestess had labeled me an oath breaker when I left because I had sought severance from her without an in-person visit, and our dissolution created a situation where I withdrew from other commitments I had made to a larger community. I felt she had betrayed me on a visceral level. She felt she had acted out of protection. Time had healed those wounds enough so that I could look back upon her and see her relationship to me for what it was, an attempt to finally get the acceptance of a mother figure in my life.
When blood is not enough, emotional anemia is inevitable.
Your head may know that your biological family is toxic, but your heart will long for the love and acceptance it never got. Little boys and girls will always want their mommies and daddies, and if they do not have them, they will pursue avenues that fulfill these roles. I felt that my first high priestess was married to an abusive man; in truth he may not be. He yelled at me and physically intimidated me out of some misguided belief that I needed toughing up. Truth was, not having had any training with women suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, not having any training in counseling battered women, I am sure that his intention was pure. Just like my high priestess’s intentions were pure.
Pure intentions are not enough.
Leaders have an obligation to have the proper training to deal with those who come to them for guidance. They should be able to identify those who need specialized help and have resources to direct those persons to. They have an obligation to create a larger community filled with other leaders who uphold beliefs through word and deed. Leaders are seekers’ and students’ safety net in this uncharted world of spiritual mystery. Leaders should not tolerate in their homes, in their friendships, and in the larger community behavior that is harmful to the leader or their charges. For me, my first and second high priestesses did not fail in their intentions towards me. It was a failure of execution. I would strike out from these well-meaning women and proceed to fail in my own execution. It is true that I was better at identifying people who had special needs; however, my own hubris caused me to come to some harsh realizations.
Pure intentions may not be enough, but condemnation will do a great deal more damage.
In my zeal to avoid failing victim, again, to people who spoke one truth and lived another, I destroyed my honor, my intention, and caused harm that I pray every day has been healed through miraculous intervention of the Divine. Goddess knows that the lesson I learned was difficult enough. Living with the knowledge that I have deeply harmed others in my learning leaves stains of yellow dotting my pocked skin. These splotches are on top, and for my spiritual eye, a constant reminder that condemnation should never be a tool utilized by spiritual leaders.
If not intention and condemnation, what about love?
It was all those fiery reds on my skin that made me think of love. The biggest failing of some is an all-consumption of emotion: Love taken to an extreme, love above all other things, love that left one in a blinding rage and everyone around them in awe of their hearts’ capacity. Most of the reds in my life needed no revisiting, because the partings had been just as fiery as the relationships. Bridges were burned on both sides and unlike those yellows, the parties left each other believing that “My path and theirs just don’t move together anymore.” A lot less “You suck!” was involved. In truth, the reds on my skin make me smile. They represent a burning love that is not passion for passion’s sake. It is some innate being within them, as if upon their birth, they glimpsed the purest of emotions and then spent their lives trying to find it again. This love they exemplify brought me a greater understanding of all my teachers. Sometimes love can be blinding and addicting and comfortable, like the love of a child for mom and dad.
Blood is not enough. Love is not enough, either.
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