All cultures have special days such as America’s Thanksgiving Day, when we give thanks and rejoice in the gifts that the universe has given us. Dedicated thanksgiving days are useful reminders to value what we have; but as Pagans we are fortunate in having many celebratory rituals. Most rites will include offerings of wine, cakes or other food: points in the ritual when we thank the Gods for the gifts of the natural world that sustains us.
Giving thanks to the ancestors – Olivia Durdin-Robertson
At our festivals we honor and give thanks for a particular part of the seasonal cycle. We are at the mid-point between Samhain, the festival of death, and Yule, the festival of rebirth. At Samhain, we gave thanks to the ancestors – ancestors of blood, our relatives; ancestors of the land, the Pagans who came before us on the land we inhabit; and ancestors of spirit – those spiritual pioneers who have inspired us through their work, their writings and their lives. This month a new spirit joins the ancestors – Olivia Durdin-Robertson (13 April 1917 – 14 November 2013), co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis. A tiny lady, bursting with energy well into her mid-90s, her work for the Goddess never ceased. She was inspirational in her devotion to the revival of Goddess worship and also in her attitude to life, which was one of unceasing celebration and joy.
People come to Paganism for many reasons. Some find what they are seeking and stay; others move on elsewhere. We come seeking different things – spiritual growth, reconnection with nature, to develop spiritual and magickal powers, to find what other traditions lack. One of the reasons many of us stay is because we also find something that we were not expecting – a sense of joy and wonder. Paganism’s deep connection with the world of nature, and the deep bonds we form with others on the path, are a source of joy. From this joy, we develop a sense of thankfulness. When we are joyful, we see the world in a new way. The glass is now half-full, not half-empty. We appreciate and value the world around us and those with whom we share it.
Children of Earth and of the Starry Heavens
All Pagan paths emphasize the importance of enjoying life on earth and life in the body. This is a radically different view of the world from that of spiritual traditions that see life in the body as an exile from the Divine; a time of suffering that prepares us for a better life elsewhere. For Pagans, the Divine is present in all creation, so we can find the Divine all around us – if only we have eyes to see. When we wake up each morning we can be thankful that we are awake; that we are alive; that we are conscious beings in this stunningly beautiful universe that we share with our Gods; that we are in the words of the Orphic Mysteries, ‘The Children of Earth and of the Starry Heavens and there is no part of us that is not of the Gods.’
Compassion is closely linked to joy and is a quality of the sephira of Chesed on the kabbalistic Tree of Life. Chesed is associated with the planet Jupiter in the Western Magickal Tradition, which is the ruling planet of Sagittarius, the astrological sign we are now entering. As we enter Sagittarius, we begin the transition from focusing on death to the pre-Yuletide time of rejoicing as we wait for the rebirth of the Sun. It is a time to give ourselves to compassion and joy. We allow an inner movement of energy, by which we reach out to the universe and allow a certain type of feeling to flow from us – a loving warmth that is open and non-judgmental; a loving warmth that embraces the world. This feeling is what in Buddhism is called mettā, loving-kindness.
‘I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.’ –Mae West
Buddhist meditations often include a stage of focusing on mettā and sending loving-kindness to oneself and then others. Why begin with ourselves? Being realistic about ourselves and accepting our weaknesses and failings is an important step in spiritual growth. If we can accept our own imperfections, we can accept more readily the failings of others. Loving ourselves does not mean thinking that we are perfect, but rather accepting that we are imperfect but that we are striving to do our best in the world; as are those around us.
A compassion meditation is a good way to start and/or end any daily meditation that we do in the lead up to Yule. When we allow ourselves to become channels of loving compassion we are making an act of magickal will. Working with such energies is powerful and transformatory because they change our inner state and this in turn changes the way we interact with others. We allow ourselves to become conduits for something that is greater than ourselves. We become the over-flowing chalice of the Grail.
Visualize an image of yourself standing in front of you, radiate love and compassion towards your frail human self.
Visualize an image of someone you love to your right, radiate love and compassion towards him or her.
Visualize behind you someone towards whom you have neutral feelings, perhaps a work colleague or neighbor, radiate love and compassion towards him or her.
Visualize to your left someone with whom you have difficulties, radiate love and compassion towards him or her.
Visualize all four of you around you and radiate love and compassion towards the four directions.
Now allow your love and compassion to expand and flow out further; to fill the space around you – the room, your home, and then around your home and outwards over your neighborhood, and finally beyond into the distant horizons.
Be aware of others around the world who are also radiating compassion. You are not alone, but are part of a spiritual community working to make the world a better place now and in the future.