religion

GoodGod!

December, 2018

Meet the Gods: Mithras, the Pagan Christ Child

 

(This figure of the Persian god Mithras is at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.)

 

Merry meet.

Mithras, god of the sun in ancient Rome, was born around the winter solstice and experienced a resurrection around the spring equinox. The ancient Persian-Roman religion called Mithraism thrived before Christianity, dating back some 4,000 years. It gains attention because the similarities between his story and that of Jesus are numerous.

He was born of the virgin Anahita on December 25. He was, according to an article on truthbeknown. com by Acharya S. and D.M. Murdock, “wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by shepherds.”

He traveled far and wide as a teacher and a master who performed miracles and had 12 companions. He was omniscient. Both the lion and the lamb were his symbols. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, the Lord’s Day, or Sunday, was said to be Mithras’ sacred day. Baptisms were important, midnight services were held and he was often said to carry a lamb on his shoulders. Mithraism’s scared rock was Petra.

As the ‘great bull of the Sun,’ Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace. He ascended into heaven. Mithra was viewed as the Good Shepherd, the ‘Way, the Truth and the Light,’ the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah,” according to the article.

Mithra was worshiped as Mitra or Itu in the Indian Vedic religion. It is believed he was born in a cave on December 25 and was the mediator between man and god.

 

(In this relief from the 2nd century AD, Mithras kills the sacred bull and from its blood and semen arise the plants and animals. Source: Neues Museum, Berlin)

 

His cult spread from India west to Germany, Spain and England, and was supported by soldiers of the Roman Empire, becoming the primary rival to the newly developing religion of Christianity. In 307, Diocletian consecrated a temple on the Danube River to Mithra, “Protector of the Empire,” as stated in britannica.com.

According to myth, Mithra was born, bearing a torch and armed with a knife, beside a sacred stream and under a sacred tree, a child of the earth itself. He soon rode, and later killed, the life-giving cosmic bull, whose blood fertilizes all vegetation. Mithra’s slaying of the bull was a popular subject of Hellenic art and became the prototype for a bull-slaying ritual of fertility in the Mithraic cult,” according to the entry written by the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Mithra, also spelled Mithras, was the god of light in ancient Indo-Iranian mythology.

The Persian version of Mithra was a benevolent solar deity bestowing wealth and health.

He was mighty, strong, unconquered and king of the gods, and was often portrayed as a sun disc in a chariot drawn by white horses.

Winter festivals, common in cultures around the world, were intended to strengthen the fire of the sun so that it would return. They were celebrated in the name of Mithras, who can be called as a god to your circle this Yule.

Merry part. And merry meet again.

***

About the Author:

Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.

Bringing Up the Next Generation of Witches

November, 2018

October is quickly coming to an end, and I have never been more thankful. October brought sickness and trials. It was a difficult month to say the least.

But with October coming to a close, Samhain is fast approaching.

Samhain (or Halloween as Little Bear calls it) has always been one of my favorite holidays. Even when it was banned from my childhood home life.

The veil is thinning, the days grow darker, and the nights become almost black.

Living in the Midwest means the weather is unpredictable at the end of October. It could be sunny and hot, or rainy and wet. As a child, “Halloween” meant snow. I can remember more snowy Halloweens than not.

Little Bear and I will make the best of it regardless of the weather. He has his costume picked out. He is going as a zombie SWAT guy. He’s talked me into being a zombie also. He’s a bit obsessed with The Walking Dead right now.

This year, I let Little Bear go wild and decorate the whole house. We put up window clings, black garland, laid out fake spiders, decorated foam pumpkins, and hung up door covers.

Yesterday, we visited the local pumpkin field/corn maze. They have so many activities and it’s a must every year. They have goats, chickens, rabbits, long horn cattle, corn boxes, corn mazes, pumpkin guns, tug a war ropes, inflatables, wooden trains, etc. It is a full day.

Tonight, is pumpkin carving time. I’m sure that my excitement is at a way higher level than Little Bear’s because of the pumpkin seeds. I have dug out some recipes from Pinterest and plan on trying at least three. I have to do normal salt pumpkin seeds. But I’m going to try a sweet version with cinnamon and brown sugar. The other one I haven’t decided on because there is so many variations that can be done. However, I’m leaning towards a savory that uses sea salt and white vinegar. Not sure how it’ll turn out, but we shall see!

One of my favorite traditions for Samhain is the dinner. Eating dinner at the table is something that rarely happens in our home because of scheduling. But when Samhain rolls around, I take the day off. I plan a meal as if it were Thanksgiving and I set the table. I always set a spot for my sister who we lost back in 2015. It helps to bring her close. Little Bear gets excited and will start talking to her spot as if she never left.

Little Bear started asking questions again about “God” last week. This is a conversation that we have quite frequently as he has a hard time understanding something that he cannot see. So, I go into the explanation again. We have talked about the many different religions of the world. Although I am raising him in a Pagan home, I understand that the Pagan path may not be for him.

I found a wonderful series that touches on the spiritual side without focusing on one certain religion. It’s the The Giggles and Joy series. A three-part series that focuses on positive poems. It’s a neat series that I recommend. You can check out my review on them in this same issue!

Spirituality Without Religion

October, 2018

Spoiler alert: this piece is not really about Spirituality without Religion. The way of the shaman is certainly not exempt from paradoxes and miracles.

It was August 5, 2018. My Chinese calendar predicted it would be an auspicious day for rituals but a bad one to embark on a long journey. Rituals it was. I went to my favorite café in Bangkok, the city where I was living, and put fingers to keyboard.

It had not been a good week; I had submitted a piece commissioned by a website that receives nine million unique visitors a month, and it had been turned down. My agent pitched the site for an article about living in intentional communities. I was happy to write about that topic, since I had lived in a spiritual, environmentally friendly community in Scotland and had first-hand knowledge of what the experience of communal living was about. Moreover, my first steps in shamanic practice took place during that stay, so it was a subject dear to me.

However, the editor of the website had understood that the piece would go over actionable strategies for people to create more intentional and meaningful relationships in their own communities, like setting aside time to walk around their neighborhood, join new groups, etc. Would I be open to pivoting the piece to touch on this idea?

It had not been an easy piece for me to write; the website preferred articles written in third person, very much “news you can use” and tips with quick, easy takeaways about how to improve the lives of their millions of unique visitors. About 700 words was best. Which was exactly the opposite of what I do: I write long articles, in the first person, reflecting on the perplexing circumstances of modern life, concluding in general that the world is a very confusing place and that most of the questions we ask ourselves are probably wrong. I wish I had easy takeaways to offer; I would be the first one to benefit from them. It is a happy day when the unique visitors to my site reach two digits.

Still, I wrote the piece, but it was turned down. Of course, I was open to pivoting the piece. I was in the middle of the promotion of the recently published Shaman Express, a novel I cowrote that had sold less than one hundred copies in its first month. Any chance to promote the novel was welcome. Take every opportunity you can to post your writing to different platforms was the advice of a blogger writing about how to make a living as a writer. When you first set out to freelance, you’ll have to stomach crummy pay, cantankerous editors, and take on all assignments that come your way. Let’s be honest, in the beginning, you can’t afford to be picky was the more radical advice of another blogger writing about going freelance. I spent the following week honestly trying to pivot the piece to touch on this idea of the neighborhood.

I started by reviewing my most recent experience walking around my neighborhood, which at the time was funky Banglamphu in Bangkok. I spent the first month in a cheap, murky, no “chocolate on the pillow” hotel. I divided my time between writing at a the café downstairs and attending a spiritual group that had me absorbed to the point of firmly believing that everything that surrounded me was a transient, repetitive cycle of suffering based on attachment. Why generate additional suffering by creating attachment to my neighborhood? Then I moved to a condo for the following two months, apparently built for the sole purpose of sheltering young and fleeting Airbnb travelers. After a few days I started recognizing some faces at the next-door Family Mart where I did my late-night shopping. Still, we would not greet each other in the elevator. And I did not use the gym; that alone qualified me as an outcast. No good luck in drawing from my experience here either.

Before setting out on this trip, I lived in a house in Buenos Aires for several years. I could think of only two times in which I had connected with the neighborhood. The first one was a failed attempt at bribing the neighbors with bottles of wine on the eve of my fortieth birthday party. The strategy did not prevent the neighbors from calling the police, in fact repeatedly, with a noise complaint. It was a loud party. The next occasion that I reached out to them was when the Armenian church across the street installed a cellular antenna the size of the Eiffel Tower in their backyard. I attempted to gather signatures to file a robust complaint against the cellphone company that owned the antenna, with the hope that the lucrative agreement between church and big business would be terminated. I asked my pious neighbors to choose between brain cancer hazard, the naughty neighbor I had been, and the powerful grip of the Armenian patriarch. Naturally, I ended up filing the complaint alone. This did not make me any more popular in the neighborhood and killed my chances of being admitted to the Armenian kitchen supper club.

The harder I tried to pivot the original piece, the more evident it became that more than a pivot, I had been asked to perform a quadruple somersault. If you have nothing to say, there’s no point in singing it was the advice of yet another blogger who writes about tech, culture, and startups. To make matters worse, or perhaps better, I had started to study The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I learned that, surprisingly, once we get accustomed to the omnipresent possibility of death in life, we feel greatly liberated. So I resolved the article conundrum by deciding that no matter how strongly I wanted to promote Shaman Express, I had to be honest and not write that piece. The sense of immediacy of freedom was exhilarating.

Then came the possibility of writing about Spirituality without Religion for PaganPagesOrg. My initial idea was an inflammatory article against the Roman Catholic church. I gathered all sorts of evidence and set to reading Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World and Betthany Hughes’ “Ruination in the Name of Jesus.” Simultaneously, I reread the Vatican documents A Christian Reflection on the New Age and Aspects of Christian Meditation, where the Vatican sternly warns its adepts against mixing Christian practice with Eastern approaches to spirituality.

I might have moved from the murky hotel to the Airbnb condo, but I was still attending the same spiritual group in Bangkok and studying The Tibetan Book of the Dead with renewed energy. I was being taught about such spiritually edifying principles as belief means reliance, not defiance. I had sat in meditation to be rid of negative thinking, intolerance, and cynicism. My spiritual teacher showed me money, fame, food, Facebook, fantasy, series, social media, sugar, gaming, gossip, love, lust, work, war, pain, power. The list is without end — and so is the condition. I had even tweeted, We realize that all compulsion is only based on the illusion of substantial continuation, enduring substance, binding essence. Hence, I could not respond to the opportunity of writing about Spirituality without Religion with the cheap line of debasing the world’s oldest continually functioning bureaucracy.

Cornered, I asked for guidance in meditation. I reflected on how to bridge the infinite void of separation. Bob Thurman, in his translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, explains that there are no boundaries to our interconnectedness with limitless dimensions and universes. Buddhism can only have drawn this from shamanism, the earliest form of spirituality in the planet. Later that day, my spiritual teacher talked about a God, not in a religious dimension, but as a form of spirituality that was different from the one I had departed. It implied a connection with the Universe. It was about a psychospiritual change and awakening. He talked about a higher force that we can all plug into, nothing at all like a human relation in the Judeo-Christian system of belief. Not an out-of-body experience either, but a practice that needed training to be perfected. We could find it where we thought there was no possibility of anything to exist. The spiritual part is rather the absence, the space around it, not the object itself, he taught.

He then proposed I should create a balance sheet. On one side I was to list all the reasons I could for believing in such higher force, and on the other side a list of all the reasons for disbelieving. I came up with this:

Reasons for believing:

1. The direct experience of the divine in meditation, yogic practice, and shamanic journeying.

2. The guidance of Helping Spirits that present themselves as friends, fellows, and teachers, recognizable from previous lives.

3. The intuitive knowledge of previous lives in such encounters and thus of the fallacy of separation.

Reasons for not believing:

1. Playing the atheist as an intellectual stance.

2. Scientific information.

3. The toxic political play of major religions, namely Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

My teacher nodded and explained that religions are man’s attempt to organize the spiritual experience. Organized religions, even if organized in an honest, earnest, well-meaning attempt, are always corrupt, because they are about men. A futile attempt indeed, because we know that the spiritual part is rather the absence, the space around it, not the object itself, he insisted. In this quest for spirituality, what we need is to have no escape, so we can experience what happens. Time, then, acquires a different dimension. Space has a different dimension. There arises a new possibility in Spirituality, where before it was just a necessity.

“Very well,” he concluded after reviewing my notes, “your first column is Spirituality, the second column is Religion. That is how you can have Spirituality without Religion.” I was speechless; my teacher had just written the article for me. Spirituality, not Religion, is the faster road to that greater freedom we all seek. The way of the shaman is certainly not exempt from paradoxes and miracles: he who is blessed with the guidance of a wise teacher shall learn to perform formidable pivots.

***

About the Author:

Omar Beretta is the co-author with Bénédicte Rousseau of Shaman Express. A former lawyer, yoga instructor and publishing company owner who – after a near-death experience – left his corporate career to practice yoga and shamanism, Beretta is now a traveling writer. For more information, see www.yacarevolador.com

 

Shaman Express

GoodGod!

January, 2018

Meet the Gods: Boreas

 

 

Merry meet.

When the wind would blow and the windows or the screen door would startle her dog, my aunt would say, “That’s Maria,” referring to Kingston Trio song from the ’60s, “They Call The Wind Maria.”

When you hear the cold north wind blow this winter, you can call it Boreas, the Greek god of the cold north wind and the bringer of winter. His name meant “North Wind” or “Devouring One” and is the source of the adjective boreal, meaning of, relating to, or located in the northern region.

Like Maria, he will wail, whine, blow the stars around and set the clouds a-flying. The lyrics continue, “Maria makes the mountains sound like folks was out there dyin’.”

The same can be said for Boreas, only without the banjo, guitars and matching outfits.

He was the son of Astraeus and Eos; Hesperus, Zephyrus, and Notus were his brothers. Boreas lived in a cave on Mount Haemus in Thrace. Beyond his land was a northern land known as Hyperborea that was said to be a place where people with extraordinarily long lifespans lived in complete happiness.

Some legends have him the father of Cleopatra and the Goddess of Snow, Chione; along with the Boreades, a pair of winged heroes; three giant Hyperborean priests and 12 horses.

 

 

According to Myths and Mortals (Greek Mythology) – Wind Gods on wattpad.com, Boreas is closely associated with horses – as were the winds from all directions – and is said to have taken the form of a stallion and fathered 12 colts that could “run across a field of grain without trampling the plants,”

Boreas is depicted as very strong, with an equally strong temper. “He was frequently shown as a winged old man with shaggy hair and beard, holding a conch shell and wearing a billowing cloak,” according to wattpad.com.

Often he is shown with winged human feet. His wings are purple. Another representation depicts him as a face with puffed cheeks blowing cold winds, in keeping with the belief he’d sweep down from the cold mountains of Thrace, his icy breath freezing the air and bringing snow.

Legends say the people prayed to him and sent winds that destroyed ships that were to attack the Athens, and that he assisted the Megalopolitans against the Spartans who honored him at Megalopolis with an annual festival, according to the “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.”

As the Athenians of ancient times, commanded by an oracle, prayed to Boreas to be saved from attack, today’s pagans can call upon the North Wind to blow something away, keeping it from harming you. You could also recognize his arrival with the Solstice and presence during winter, thanking him for his cold that brings the world rest and offers a time of reflection, wisdom, visions and insight.

Instead of making sacrifices to honor him, an offering would be more appropriate – perhaps snowflakes cut from folded paper, or a snow globe. And when you feel him against your face, thank him for his gifts.

Merry part. And merry meet again.

 

***

About the Author:

Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.

Finding the Pagan Way

April, 2016

findingpagan

by: Boy So Blue Graphic s and photography

With all the right wing and reactionary posts which have seeped into many pagan groups in this last year, I have been forced to reappraise my own position. I did not feel comfortable posting to pages that shared narrow-minded and bigoted views. I stepped back for a while and looked to my own beliefs. I realised that participation in group activities is not totally necessary to re-affirm our own personal stance. I turned my focus to what is important to me as an individual.

I have friends from many mainstream religions and I detest Christian bashing as much as any other form of xenophobia and fear mongering. All creatures react with fear at times when it is necessary, but only humans nurture fear and build it into the bedrock of their lives. Most of us have some element of fear motivating us, but we need to face up to it and understand its corrupting influence on our lives. We all excel at self-deception, but by accepting the underlying current of fear in our lives, – we can allow it to flow through us and eventually, reduce its impact on our lives and our actions.

One thing that helped me was to look at the core of my beliefs and remind myself why I became a pagan. The concept of the Lord and Lady and the balance which they bring to the world, helped me to bring balance to my own life. Likewise the turning of the seasons, and realising my own place in this, grounded me in a way that Christian mysticism never did. But this is a matter of personal need and personal choice. What helped me may not be so useful to another person. For me, the best way to explain my beliefs is through my poetry. I can express much more in rhyme than I ever could in any other way.

The Sacred Marriage.

The Lord and Lady glide about the forest, as the softly sighing leaves are whispering in the silver light.
The dwellers of the woods are quiet and still, and dark eyes gaze upon the scene entranced,
No man, nor beast would dare disturb the ritual of this night.
Above, the Goddess lights her emissaries, as the moon and earth enjoin in Sacred Dance.

Tall and stately like a silver birch, the Lady flows like liquid moonlight through the trees,
Laughter, like the tinkling of a golden bell, caresses sensual lips and flutters off into the waiting night.
Great Pan himself, is so enamoured of her beauty that he pauses in his play, to place a kiss upon her knee,
Then He resumes His Dance and placing pipe to lips, He fills the Still night air with merriment and pure delight.

Fire to speed the coming of the Sun, blazing high, as sparks are flying to the sky’s,
Warm the Earth!
Writhe like new-grown saplings reaching to the light!
Naked feet, caressing and cajoling Mother earth, can feel Her Spirit and Her Power rise,
And Spring, is surely hastened with the coming of Her Lover, at sunrise.

I was not there, I cannot tell this tale in full.
Perhaps my senses are too numb, perhaps my mind to dull.
But every day I ask the Goddess that I may Awake,
and every night I look up to the Moon for guidance,
for the journeys I may make.

Patrick W Kavanagh

I believe that there is much yet for me to learn, even after 50 years of searching. I know that when I touch the core of life that these are the images and emotions that flood my mind and heart. I am aware that I have an ongoing and evolving relationship with spirit which has guided and helped me for many years. There have been thousands of messages and hundreds of times when Spirit has physically helped me. There have also been hundreds of times, when I did not listen and paid for my own stubbornness. This is my journey and not anyone else’s, but, I hope that by sharing what I have been given, I can help others to make sense of some parts of their own journey. This is why I write.

Lord of the Woodlands

Dawn brings a cold grey light beneath a moody sky
that does not seem to greet the day with joy.
A sleepless night is followed by a solitary walk.
I long for peace, – but expectations are not high.
The glistening grass has soaked my feet,
and chilled me to the bone.
I curse myself for such a choice of routes,
but still I’m grateful for this time alone.

The woodlands beckon me with sheltered paths
beneath its softly sighing trees.
Perhaps in such a sheltered grove
My aching mind may find some ease.
So I wandered in that twilight world
that held the dawn at bay,
beneath its gently waving arch of green
that kept the world away.

The woodlands watched me as I walked,
Though lost in morbid thought,-
it’s little voices whispered gently in my ear.
Inviting me to share the home they loved so dear.
Slowly, carefully I walked,
in case I should disturb the woodland creatures at their play.
Watchfully, I carried on, fearful to arouse the beings
who live within the pause between the night and day.

But there He stood, despite my care.
Wreathed in mist, the sparrows nesting in His hair.
As He walked, the flowers bloomed beneath his hooves,
and though I wished to run away I could not move.
Eye to eye, I thought that I would die from fear.
But as I held His gaze, I felt my misery dissolve.
Emotions flooded through me, and then they washed away as tears.
For only goodness flowed from Him,
and if He wills it,
I will walk with Him for all my Years.

Patrick W Kavanagh

 

Spiritual Seeker

September, 2013

I feel like this month has not been very spiritual productive, and so I had a hard time writing this column. I spent several days trying to come up with a topic that I could write about that would allow me to show some sort of progress. But, this was a month of dark nights of the soul, failure, and stagnation.

 

My biggest failure was my attempt at meditation. I signed up to take part in a 21-day guided meditation program with high hopes that it would provide the impetus I needed to get back into a regular practice. The daily program was short; I just needed to find fifteen minutes a day to fit it in. By day three I had already fallen behind. And, when I was able to make time, my son could race cars around my feet or decide it was the time to try to have a deep discussion with me about his latest Lego creation. I tried to explain to him what I was doing, but needing time to not think doesn’t make a lot of sense of a five-year old.

 

By day five of the program I was done. I decided that talking about Lego and watching videos with my son was a better use of my time. He isn’t going to be small for much longer, and I want to cherish my time with him. And, when I stopped to think about it, I’m pretty sure I learned a greater spiritual lesson by making this choice than I would have learned by sticking with a meditation practice that isn’t working right now. However, when my little guy is back in school in a few short days, I will develop that meditation practice. The few moments of peace I was able to achieve this month through meditation showed me that it is something I should be working into my spiritual path.

 

Without getting too personal, the dark nights of the soul that I experienced this month taught me a few things too. There are parts of my life right now that I love. I am so blessed to be a stay-at-home mom, and I’m also blessed that my husband is able to work from home the majority of the time. We get to spend a lot of time with our son, and I am very grateful for that. I’m also lucky that I can pursue my interests with relative freedom, and that there isn’t anything that I need that I don’t have. But there some things that cause me a lot of mental strife, and sometimes those emotions break loose. Working through those emotions calmly can bring spiritual peace, and so can the practice of recognizing our blessings. I still need to work developing some equanimity, though.

 

The petulance I was feeling this month meant that I didn’t spend much time reading holy books or spiritual writings. I felt like my attitude would somehow sully the words I was reading. But, now that I think about it more clearly, I realize that reading one of those works would likely have helped me regain my even keel. Don’t most of us turn to religion for comfort and wise words when we are feeling out of sorts? We pray to God or the Goddess, we meditate, we study holy books, read Tarot cards, or speak to our co-religionists. I did none of these things. I sulked, hid, and ignored the spiritual help that was there for me.

 

This month I’ll be back to work, most likely focusing on ways to bring, at least at this point, a sort of generic spirituality physically into my home and life. I’ll also be back to reading books, perhaps the Koran and some of Rumi’s poetry. And, of course, I’ll try facing my old bugbear, meditation, yet again.

 

Barefeet on an Earth Path

September, 2013

Dismissing Paganism

     A woman I was talking to the other day was telling me about how she’d been involved in a Wiccan women’s group back in her college days.  She went on enthusiastically about how Goddess spirituality is very affirmative for women.  That’s cool, I thought.  Remarkably positive, compared to the sort of vague, confused nod a lot of people give me when they find out I’m pagan.

“Paganism is really good for you right now,” she said.

Right now? I wondered.  Well, okay, I guess so.

“It gives you a lot of room to grow and is a great thing for now.”

Wait a minute.  She didn’t say it just once, so it wasn’t some thoughtless phrase added on to the end of a sentence.  It meant something.  What she seemed to be saying was that paganism is great, affirmative, freeing.  The perfect religion for your college days, while you’re still learning who you are.  But once you figure it out?  Well, then it’s time for, you know, a real religion. Time to stop screwing around with your pentacle necklace, trying to rebel against your parents.  I mean, come on, how could the religion of black-clad teenagers offer any sort of lifetime fulfillment for grown-ups?

If you think about it, it’s not too hard to imagine the genesis of this sentiment. A majority of neopagans are Wiccan, and Wicca does have its fair share of rebellious teenagers.  Maybe they thought their parents were stupid, or didn’t want anything more to do with church.  Just saying the word “Goddess” felt rebellious, so they googled the forbidden and ended up in our fold. Many didn’t stay long.  They read some books, maybe went to a group or two, and felt nice inside for a while.  But then they moved on, possibly giving the impression that that’s what we do.

But not all do.  I’ve heard of a lot of people who initially looked into paganism or witchcraft because of something like The Craft.  While it sounded odd to me at first, I really don’t think it matters all that much how we got here, whether because of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or because we were running from our faith of origin.  If our reasons remain shallow, we’ll likely drift away.  But if we learn what real paganism and witchcraft are and decide to stay, then the initial spark is inconsequential.  We’re here now because something within paganism speaks to us.

The bottomline is that we’ve got a lot of dabblers, and that makes sense.  Most of us had to dabble a little to figure out if this set of religions we’d barely even heard of was right for us.  But what is it that makes people take us less seriously than other religions?  I think it’s, quite simply, lack of knowledge. As I talked further with this woman about my religion, I discovered that she wasn’t at all familiar with the eight sabbats and seemed pleasantly surprised by the symbolism I work with at each sabbat toward personal growth.  Paganism holds so much depth that the softcore dabblers have never even touched and probably never heard of.  I know it certainly holds much depth that I have yet to touch and, I’m sure, even hear of.  We’ve got traditions, theology(or thealogy), spontaneity, wisdom.  I believe swift judgments on the supposed lack of depth of paganism, of an entire set of rich religious and spiritual traditions, is likely based on a shallow, elementary overview.  Add to that our remarkable diversity, the fact that I can stand next to an atheist in circle and they can stand next to me and neither of us be bothered one bit that the other sees paganism in a vastly different way, and the situation is ripe for confusion for outsiders.

Really, I can’t be the poster girl for long-term commitment to paganism.  I can’t say “Look at me. Clearly I’ve found fulfillment because I’ve been here for fifteen years.”  But I can say that paganism doesn’t have to be just a way station for me.  That if I find what I need here and want to stick around, I don’t need to move on to a more “serious” religion.  There is as much room for growth here as anywhere else.  As much wisdom, as many beautiful traditions.  And I might be a little biased when I say, perhaps a little more magic.

Musings of a Massachusetts Witch

August, 2013

Is Wicca a Valid Religion?

 

Many individuals perceive Wicca as a religious system that allows those of us, who identify as Wiccan, to follow a path that “caters to our desires” instead of “following God’s Commandments” and because of this they consider Wicca to be our own invention and not a valid religion. Well, honestly, while others may perceive the religion of Wicca, my religion, in this way – I do not. Wicca is a valid religion.

 

Wiccans view our planet Earth as a living being. She is Gaia, our Mother and all life (animal, planet, mineral) that flows from her is sacred. No one life is more important or more valued than another. This belief guides our daily interactions not only with the land we reside on but also with each other, as we are all children of Mother Gaia, making each of us brothers and sisters. We also have the guidance of: The Wiccan Rede, The Law of Return, The Witches’ Pyramid and The Eight Virtues, to direct us along our unique paths. We are encouraged to take personal responsibility for our words, behaviors and actions regardless of whether the outcome was as intended or not. We are never encouraged to shift blame to outside forces or entities such as Satan. You will never hear me say, “The Devil made me do it” nor will the words, “I was tempted by Satan” escape my lips. I am fully aware that I always have choices. I always have control. And I am always empowered. Wicca allows each of us to understand and be aware that our life is what we create it to be. We are not controlled by anyone or anything. We are not victims. These belief and realizations are the foundation of my magicks.

 

Every religion has a starting point. There was a time when Christianity didn’t exist. In fact wasn’t Jesus Christ a Jew following the traditional Jewish customs? The birth of a religion begins with someone experiencing a personal gnosis and sharing it with another who shares it with others; over time a religion is created. Does that make the new religion any less valid than one that was already established at that time? I’m sure for some individuals, it does. But for those who believe the new ideas of that religion and for those who feel the presence of God in them – it does not. At what point does the new religion become a valid religion? Who decides? At what point did Christianity become valid? And at what point did the pagan religions loose their validity? Why would one religion invalidate the religions that were practiced in the lands at the time Christianity appeared? Is it just because someone, perhaps a leader in that religion, declared it so? Who gave that individual the authority? “God”, you say? What if I did not worship or follow your god? Does that automatically make my religion invalid?

 

It is my belief that all religions, spiritual truths, ideas, concepts and paths originate with deity and it is that Divine Source, which holds the authority to validate or invalidate a particular religion. For an individual, a physical human being, to imply that they alone hold that power to judge whether a religion is valid or not for anyone other than his or her self, simply illustrates to me that he or she doesn’t comprehend the nature of Deity and ultimately with their limited judgment of any religion or spiritual path, disrespects not only that form of spirituality but also Deity itself.

Spiritual Seeker

June, 2013

I’d like to begin this month’s column by saying thank you for the warm welcome I received last month, and also for the wonderful suggestions. I’m delighted that so many PaganPages readers are open to the idea of an exploration of faith that is going to move outside of traditional Pagan boundaries.

About midway through May I began my project. Rather than jump right into to my search with a heavy theological tome or holy book, I decided to start with something a bit lighter, a spiritual biography of a sort entitled Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine. In it, Eric Weiner, a self-described “gastronomic Jew” decides to explore several religions in an attempt to find a spiritual home. He whirls with Sufi Dervishes, meditates with Buddhists, does a Shamanic workshop, and even takes part in a Wiccan ritual. Reading this book let me live vicariously through an eclectic mix of religious experiences: my favourite kind of living.

Okay, true, reading about religion is not at all the same as experiencing it. And Weiner freely admits that his “seven-eighth-assed participation” (his term) in a lot of these rites didn’t and couldn’t lead to real religious experiences for him either. To know a religion, to feel it in your soul, you have to really try to live it. That, I think, was my problem with Wicca. I studied it and I knew it well, I even lived the morals and ideals, but I didn’t live the rituals. I didn’t make them my own. Saint Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” That wasn’t how I was living my spiritual life.  I guess you could say I was a library or bookshelf Wiccan.

I’ve spent the past several years saying “I don’t know what I believe, but I do know what I don’t believe.” Reading Man Seeks God helped me to find a few more things I don’t believe. I’m good with the Golden Rule, which finds its way into Wicca as the Rede, and into Buddhism as “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”, and into numerous other religions in similar but different words. I’m also all for prayer and/or meditation, for charitable deeds (as long as I can stay clean), for contemplation, and possibly even for fasting.  In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James describes people for whom “religion exists not as a dull habit but as an acute fever.” That is what I want, and that is how I want to believe.

One of Rumi’s most famous sayings is “Either appear as you be or be as you appear.” I think this might be one of the touchstones for my search. Do the practices and beliefs of the faith cause a fever in my soul, or do they land me back on the bookshelf?

What about you? Do you live as Saint Francis did, demonstrating the gospel of your faith through your actions, or is more a mental exercise? I’d love to hear from, either in the comments below or via email.

Rebel Rede

June, 2011

My Heart is a Temple and My Religion is Love

“My heart has become capable of every form; it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Ka’ba, and the tablets of the Torah and the book of the Koran. I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take, that is my religion and my faith.” – Ibn Al-Arabi

Wow right? That is what I said when I first read this quote recently. I was so inspired by the imagery and message in this Al-Arabi quote! How much more peace and happiness would we have in the world if everyone followed the religion of love instead of religions of hate, intolerance, segregation? I think this quote is great food for thought and an opportunity for us Pagans to take a look at ourselves and our religious community. Are we a religion of love? Are we offering up ourselves and our services to all people and to all religions?

I was reading through a list of Pagan jokes yesterday and one of them was a list of “you might be giving Pagans a bad name if…” things. The surprising thing about that list is that a lot of Pagans I know do the things on that list and the things listed are things that could potentially really turn people off to Paganism. Ironically many of the traits listed are things that other (meaning non-Pagan) religious people also do, and they are the same things that the Pagan community often complains about. It always makes me sad when I see some of the things I disliked about Christianity creeping into the Pagan community. We need to be careful that we do not allow our religion to become as closed minded and closed off as some of the other religions have!

When people think of words like intolerance, hate, or segregation I would hope that they do not immediately think of Pagans or Paganism! I have seen many a Pagan who think that just because they are open to the GBLT community that means they are tolerant and loving people. Are those same Pagans as tolerant and loving towards Christians or Muslims though? Would a Christian feel as welcomed at a Pagan event as a gay person would? Are Pagans separating themselves from the “mainstream”, just like so many Christians claim to do? Or are Pagans a part of this world, integrated with the many diverse people and religions of this planet? We are not separate from the mainstream because the mainstream is made up of people, just like Paganism is made up of people! We are all living on this planet earth together. We may worship the Divine in different ways, but we are all still Divinely created!  Let us work towards making sure our Pagan community is a community of love, tolerance, and unity! I think it would be beautiful if one day we could all claim the religion of love. A day when people not only associate Pagans with the word love, but that they associate all people and religions with the word love! It is time for us Pagans to offer our hearts up as temples for all and to live out a religion of love!

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