Finding Your Own Way

April, 2019

Chapter 10

Seeking Our Inner Child

In a world that has become very materialistic and stressful, many of us love to escape to childhood by watching one of the many fantasy films that are now so popular. For a little while, we can be transported back to a world of childish delight, as disbelief is suspended. That child still lives inside us and has much to offer. In that world of dragons and knights, of elves and faeries, lies a gateway to increased optimism and energy. We can learn to see the world in a fresh new light. Life is truly an adventure if we choose to see it as one.

It is a two-way process. By getting in touch with our inner child, we can unlock a source of creativity and enthusiasm, and learn to see the world as a place of fun and excitement again. We also bring the wisdom gathered from experience to bear, on previously unexamined, childhood beliefs. By doing this we can face old fears and forgotten assumptions that are holding us back in our efforts to build a happy and successful life.

Simply take a few breaths and relax, read the poem and take some time to gaze at the artwork. Then let any sensations or images flow through your mind without judgement. If you wish, then continue the exercise with one of the meditations.

I Remember Me

I remember me,
Suddenly, as plain as plain can be,
I see the world as clear as childlike eyes can see,
and I am young again.

Once more. I see the world is fresh and new,
and filled with wonder and amazing things to do.
Spider webs that sparkle with the sunlit dew,
and I am young again.
The colours of the garden fill my eyes,
Cool green grass, the warm sun flashing rainbows in my eyes,
The fluffy clouds that drift across the pale blue skies,
and I am young again.

What shall I do with this; – my rediscovered youth,
Shall I find a net and hunt for butterflies or newts,
Or shall I sit here in my quiet place, – it matters not,
for I am young again.

I remember me,
And all I ever was is here; – All in life that I held dear,
All that I have ever shared in love has never left,
And I can see it now,
And I am young again.


About the Author:

Patrick W Kavanagh, Featuring the inspirational art of Bill Oliver

Writer, poet, Patrick W Kavanagh was born in Dublin and now lives and works in Lincolnshire in a small rural town. Patrick became fascinated by the strange abilities of the human mind from watching his mother give psychic readings using tea-leaves and playing cards. With a lifelong interest in metaphysics and parapsychology, he has given tarot and spirit readings for over 40 years. He travels to many events with his wife Tina, exploring the power of shamanic drumming to heal, and induce therapeutic trance states. They also hold a regular drumming circle in the picturesque Lincolnshire Wolds.

By Patrick W Kavanagh available at most retailers:

Finding Your Own Way: Personal Meditations for Mastery and Self-knowledge on Amazon

The Sober Pagan

February, 2019

The Universe Has Your Back … and More!

One of the gifts I received at Yule was a set of meditation cards entitled “The Universe Has Your Back”. Beautifully designed by Gabrielle Bernstein, with artwork by Micaela Ezra, these are some of the loveliest cards I have ever seen. I was first going to review them for “Seeing the Signs” but after looking through them thoroughly, I realized that they weren’t divinatory in the classic sense but rather meant just for mediation. Not that Tarot cards, Lenormard cards and Oracle cards can’t be used for meditation – we all know that all these cards can be used very effectively as meditative tools! But “The Universe Has Your Back” belongs to a class of cards that are only for meditation. For this reason, I thought they were perfect for reviewing in The Sober Pagan.

First off, these cards are beautiful. Everything about them – the box, the back of the cards, the card stock itself, the feel of the cards. They are top-quality all the way.

The inside of the box has this little message.

This is the back of the cards. I really like this. Even before you get to any of the meditative messages, there’s this lovely image that begs for its own contemplative consideration. It’s as simple as haiku but every bit as effective.

For the past few weeks, I have used these cards in my everyday mediation session. Instead of using a Daily Mediation book, such as Twenty-Four Hours A Day by Richmond Walker or Each Day a New Beginning by Karen Casey or one of the many other AA-approved books, I decided to simply pull one card from the pack and meditate on it. I’m not shuffling the pack or doing anything like that – I’m just taking the cards as they come – one card at a time – one day at a time. Each card is beautiful. I find myself looking forward to seeing what the card is going to be each day!

So far, these are my favorite cards:

One thing I’ve noticed is that any one of these cards could make an awesome poster. Maybe I’m an elderly hippie but that’s what I think.

So who is Gabrielle Bernstein, the creator of “The Universe Has Your Back” cards? She is the author of The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith, published by Hay House. I have not read this book and the reviews were all over the place in terms of good versus bad.

To find out more, I Googled her and found her website. Here is the link to it: There are links to lessons on how to “Detox” yourself from being judgmental and how to pray for surrender. There’s another one for a “cord-cutting meditation”. There’s a link to her blog and a link to a place where you can “shop” for all kinds of stuff, including “The Universe Has Your Back” cards.

But of course, Gabrielle Bernstein is only one-half of “The Universe Has Your Back” card team – the artwork is by Micaela Ezra. Here is her website: Do yourself a favor and check it out. Although her artwork is based in Jewish philosophical thought, it is universal in its beauty and truth. I read a few of her blog posts and I look forward to taking the time to read them more closely when my surroundings are properly quiet enough for study. And as a craftswoman, I especially love her work with textiles.

So I am quite pleased with this particular Yule gift! Not only did I receive the gift of the cards themselves – and their meditative messages – but I learned about the creator of the cards and the wonderful artist of the cards. And every day – one day at a time – I have a very valuable sober tool with which to work!

I very highly recommend “The Universe Has Your Back” cards.

Until next month, Brightest Blessings!


Gabrielle Bernstein and Micaela Ezra. “The Universe Has Your Back”: A 52-Card Deck. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2017.

Gabrielle Bernstein.

Micaela Ezra.

The Universe Has Your Back: A 52-card Deck on Amazon


About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

Tarot Talk

January, 2019

The Nine of Wands

(The Four of Wands card is from the artist Ciro Marchetti**

This month we will go back to the 9’s of the Minor Arcana and talk about the Nine of Wands. This is a Minor Arcana card so we know right away that the message offered by this card will most likely be more immediate in nature, or will most likely be connected to more day-to-day issues. The easiest way to get a decent understanding of a Minor Arcana card is to examine its number, or in the case of Court Cards, its rank, and to examine its suit. We can also find useful information within the image on the card.

The traditional image of the Nine of Wands is a figure dressed in a red tunic standing in front of a wall of 8 Wands, sometimes with green leaves sprouting from the Wands. The figure looks tired and is wearing what appears to be a bandage on his head; he leans wearily on the ninth Wand. Wands symbolize support, stability, and singleness of purpose, particularly the Wand on which the figure leans. Behind the wall of Wands are green craggy mountains in the distance, or sometimes rounded hills, symbolizing past challenges already dealt with; the sky is blue with white fluffy fair-weather clouds that symbolize an idea coming from out of the blue. Occasionally, the figure is on one knee, leaning on his wand with his head bowed; one card even shows the figure from the back, as if the observer is standing behind that wall of Wands, looking in the same direction as the figure.

Let’s look at the number 9. I see the number 9 as representing the fullness or completeness of effect or manifestation. We are talking about completeNESS here, not compleTION or the winding up of a cycle. The number 9 represents our perceptions as we reach the limit of our understanding of or experience of a situation, just before we wind up the process and take another step up the ladder in order to begin the whole process again. In our spoken language, we say that we are going to “go the whole nine yards” when we intend to experience something to the fullest, and that is what the number 9 can tell us in the Tarot.

So just by looking at the number of our card, we already know that the Nine of Wands is going to present an intense experience. This will not necessarily indicate that we are done with the experience, but rather that we are at the “peak of the wave” just before the wave tips over and disseminates its energy onto the shore. Now, we narrow down our interpretation by looking at the suit of the card: the suit of Wands.

For this discussion we will accept that the suit of Wands corresponds to the element of Fire. This is not always the case, depending on the deck being used; some see Wands as being connected to Air. Besides the element of Fire, the suit of Wands corresponds with the playing card suit of Clubs, and the cardinal direction of South. In its natural state, the element of Fire is hot and dry. It tends to bring spontaneous change or impulsive and energetic effects. Fire is passionate and it transforms everything it touches, everything in our world. Fire can sanitize or cleanse, and it can destroy everything in its path; Fire can warm us and keep us safe, or it can kill us.

All of the cards of the suit of Wands (including the Nine of Wands) teach us about Fiery attributes like creativity, ambition, growth, passion and actions, and how their presence or absence can affect our lives. The suit of Wands represents our ability to experience joy and passion (including sexual passion), and the Wands cards can represent our creativity, our ability to be artistic or to be drawn to beautiful things. Fire often represents Spirit or the Divine Will, and Wands cards also can present the possibility of some interaction with Spirit or the Divine, or actions or passions manifesting in line with Divine Will.

The element of Fire can be seen as kinetic, or even electric. It has the power to create greatness (when we are inspired to be better than we think we can be), or destruction (when we believe we are greater than we actually are). Fire fuels innovation; action and energy are enhanced by this element, but so are destruction and oppression.

The astrological correspondence for the Nine of Wands is the Moon in the astrological sign of Sagittarius.

The Moon is our planet’s only satellite, and it is large enough for its gravity to affect our Earth. The Moon actually stabilizes the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, and it produces the regular ebb and flow of the tides. The lunar day syncs up with its orbit around Earth so that the same side of the Moon always faces the Earth. Astrologically the Moon is associated with a person’s emotional make-up, unconscious habits, rhythms, memories, moods, and a person’s ability to react and adapt to his or her environment. It is also associated with Yin energy, the receptive feminine life principal, maternal instincts or the urge to nurture, the home, the need for security, and the past, especially early experiences and childhood.

Sagittarius, the 9th sign of the zodiac, is often seen as the wanderer, but remember, not all those who wander are lost. Sagittarius is the truth-seeker, the enthusiastic consumer of information who loves knowledge achieved by traveling the world and talking to everyone. The life quest of a Sagittarian is to understand the meaning of life, using both spiritual and philosophical disciplines to digest what they learn. This is a mutable Fire sign, and thus while exploration and adventure are a necessary part of life, procrastination is also a danger. Sagittarius corresponds with Jupiter, and is expansive in all things, is an effective healer, and can be a bridge between humans and animals.

When the Moon is in Sagittarius, we have an ability to tap into instincts connected to emotions, dreams and rhythms. This combination of energies is active, independent and optimistic, and not afraid to create a unique path. Being in one place can feel confining, but the solution is to expand and learn and to teach others what we learn. These energies are optimistic, always expecting things to go well. And if they don’t pan out, the mutable Sag/Moon combination is very adaptable, and will go with the flow without hesitation in order to find a new solution.

Each of the 78 cards in a Tarot deck also has a home on the Tree of Life of the Qabalah; all of the Nines correspond to the sephira (or sphere) of Yesod. Yesod is the first sphere out of (and the last sphere into) the sephira that represents the physical world, Malkuth. Yesod is about things such as emotions and feelings, which are directly connected to our physical existence, but not actually physical themselves. Yesod is also the home of our life force, our personality, and the Self. It is only above Yesod that the Tree begins to branch out. This reminds us that emotions and feelings and an awareness of our life force and our personality are natural processes, and that exploring them and understanding them is an important part of our own evolutionary process.

The Llewellyn Welsh Tarot Nine of Wands shows the traditional figure leaning on a Wand standing before a wall of Wands; all of the Wands have leaves growing from their tops. This figure has a bandage on his head and one of his arms is in a sling, and he is gazing off to the side. Behind him are two rounded mountains. The keywords for this card are order, control, planning, experience, guarding one’s assets, anticipating hostility. Here we have a disciplined warrior who has experienced growth and achieved wisdom through successfully traversing a perilous passage.

The Nine of Wands of the Thoth Tarot is named “Strength,” and its keywords are strength (sometimes scientifically applied), power, health, recovery from a sickness. Here we have a steady force that cannot be shaken, and even if injury is present, recovery is not in doubt. While Crowley saw both the Moon and Sagittarius as weak, he still named this card Strength. However, the strength of the Nine of Wands lies in its ability to change. “Defense, to be effective, must be mobile.”

The image on the Wild Unknown Tarot Nine of Wands shows a view from the bottom of a stairway made from nine Wands. The stairway reaches far upward, and it appears that if we can find the strength and stamina to climb to the top, we just might be able to touch the beautiful golden crescent in the sky. This is an optimistic metaphor for the Nine of Wands, showing us that if we can keep focused on our own inner Fire and fine-tune our ability to direct the resulting energy for a sufficient amount of time and in the correct manner, we will make it to the top. Mental discipline and focus, and the right amount of exertion, will do the trick.

The Shadowscapes Tarot Nine of Wands shows a warrior seated on a mighty mythical steed, holding his Wand and gazing into the distance with clear eyes and an alert mind. This guardian is trained and ready but is untried in real life, and yet he sits tall and proud and at attention, whether the sun shines or the darkness gathers. This card is about vigilance, about keeping some strength in reserve, and about being prepared for any eventuality. We are also told to remember that sometimes our most powerful abilities do not show themselves until we are actually put to the test.

The Legacy of the Divine Tarot Nine of Wands shows a figure kneeling on one knee on rocky ground with head bowed, grasping a Wand with a crystal tip. Behind the kneeling figure are eight other Wands with crystal tips that glow in the rays of a setting sun. A large waxing moon shines in the golden sky. This card tells of great strength and endurance that have achieved much but have also taken a great toll. It tells us that we have one more challenge to overcome, and we will need to dig deep in order to struggle and overcome. Here we are told that if something does not kill us, it will make us stronger.

The Naked Tarot describes the Nine of Wands as a castle surrounded by a moat, grueling circumstances, the final push with almost-dead batteries, going the distance, running a marathon, and sticking it out. This card is personified by Rocky Balboa, Murphy’s Law, the Great Wall of China, and the final moments of a close football game.

The Nine of Wands tells of the practical application of wisdom that has been attained through resilience and focus. This card tells us that for the moment, we are in a safe place. We may be battered and exhausted, but now is the time to remain vigilant and focused so we can hold our position firmly for just a bit longer, and we will win the day.

The danger here is that we will surrender to the attitudes, habits or situations that have tempted or derailed us in the past. Unexpected challenges or close calls can make us want to give up, but we need to remember that everything happens for a reason, and we will gain something of value no matter what, if we just fond the strength to hold firm.

There is an overall theme here. The Nine of Wands is not about victory or defeat, but rather it is about putting up a good fight. It is about accepting that sometimes the very thing we are fighting for can’t be seen with the physical eyes because it is an ideal, not an item. Perhaps in the end, the victory we win will be against the stumbling blocks of pessimism and procrastination.

** We Feature the art of Ciro Marchetti as part of Tarot Talk. You can view his work and Decks at

The Gilded Tarot (Book and Tarot Deck Set) on Amazon


About the Author:

Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot Reader and Teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher.  Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog,, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.

The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding on Amazon

Coming Out of The Psychic Closet

October, 2018

Are You Afraid to Share Your Experiences with Others?

It is certainly encouraging that modern society is beginning to allow people to come out of their unique closets of personal truth and be accepted for who they are. 

Those people are finding the courage to reveal the true nature of their individual life choices and experiences. But what if you don’t understand the nature of your life experiences and don’t remember making choices to be psychic? How do you share such a thing with your friends and family? Will they reject you, laugh at you, or call you ‘crazy’ and force you back to the safety of your secret closet? And if so, how long might you remain alone there until you try again?

We asked medium and mentor, Sheri Engler, author of The Pearls of Wisdom: A Fairytale Guide to Life’s Magic Secrets For All Ages for advice to help one cope with burgeoning psychic skills, while finding balance between personal and social realities. She says, “It is important to first identify what your fears actually are. Then simply replace them with something more comfortable.” 

Here are a few typical questions and fears with some possible solutions to help get you started:

Does using the word “psychic” conjure foolish images of fortune tellers with crystal balls; spiritualists raising tables in shadowy séances; greedy scammers on psychic hotlines; or even new age, “airy-fairy” wannabe’s? —If so, consider using other words such as “intuition” or “high sensitivity to energies”. Try enlisting support from others by confiding that you are experiencing “metaphysical events” that you do not yet fully understand yourself. Ignite their interest and compassion, as opposed to judgment, by researching together the many resources online. Treat it as light and fun, and it will likely be less fear-provoking for all concerned. It is important to avoid trying to prove anything to anyone, as that quickly develops into a negative debate instead of the positive support you are seeking.

If you were to accept that you do indeed have “psychic ability”, could it suddenly take you over or invite dark energies? —The short answer is “No”. The longer answer is that having a fear of anything is the surest way to attract that exact thing to you. So don’t. Know that you have complete control over your own mind and your own personal space. You have a sovereign right to declare your space to be free of all negativity. It is as simple as that. Consider this… by the act of driving your car down the road, are you risking that your vehicle may suddenly take over your ability to control it?—Or could driving be construed as an invitation for someone to crash into you?… Of course not. You simply drive safely and go about your business, right? 

What about the reaction your religious acquaintances or your partner might have once you reveal your “psychic self”? Might they reject you? —It needs to be said here that not all relationships are supportive to one’s own growth. Inner and outer change and expansion are opportunities to houseclean not only your own belief systems but those of others as well. True love will accept you as you are. This may be a providential litmus test for your highest good. If you stick to the rule of “keep what serves and leave what hurts,” you will rarely if ever go wrong.

Ms. Engler advises those who are having unexplainable experiences to “Be calm and go with the flow. Don’t be afraid to discover who you are, but use discernment when choosing with whom you wish to share your exciting journey. Frequently, you’ll find that they are grateful to you for coming out of your psychic closet, because it offers them courage to come out of their own! This increase in energetic awareness is happening on a massive scale. Statistically speaking, it is more unusual to not have had some sort of psychic experiences than it is to have them. Survey your friends and see for yourself.

The truth is we are all born into this world as psychic beings. This heightened sensory ability is greatly revered in indigenous cultures. Modern society, however, begins at childhood to systematically shame away this basic component of our natural birthright to the extent that we have forgotten that the “supernatural” is natural and the “paranormal” is normal.

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with you—in fact, there is something very right with you. You are just as you were born to be, so be who you are.


About the Author:

Sheri D. Engler is the author/illustrator of The Pearls of Wisdom: A Fairy Tale Guide to Life’s Magic Secrets for All Ages(www.ThePearlsOfWisdomBook .com). She is an experienced mentor, medium, and metaphysicist with a background in psychology, counseling and research. She received a BA in Clinical Psychology at San Francisco State University.

Review: WitchEmoji by Pam Grossman

May, 2017

Hunt for Witches No More: WitchEmojis by Pam Grossman


Witches now have their own charmed emoji to use with iMessenger, thanks to Pam Grossman, a Brooklyn-based writer and curator who focuses on witches, magic and esoteric art.

I created WitchEmoji because I couldn’t find any great witchy, magical emoji to use in my texts,” she states on the website, adding, “Necessity (or obsessive desire in this case) is the mother of invention.”

Working with an emoji designer who created the icons based on her designs and direction, she then built the app herself. Costing $1.99, it launched early April 2017. The iMessage sticker pack is compatible with iPhones and iPads with iOS 10.1 or newer.

It became the number one sticker pack in the App Store in its first week, beating the likes of Star Wars and Kim Kardashian,” Grossman said. “It’s currently still in the top 20 and getting stellar reviews, which has been very heartening. Just goes to show how much the archetype of the witch is currently resonating with people of all ages.”

WitchEmoji’s 80 images include a besom, cauldron, Book of Shadows, pentacles in all colors, a chalice, a candle, an owl and a love potion along with witches of all hair and skin tones in a variety of situations from flying on a broom to honoring the full moon.

There are so many more emoji I’d like to add to the pack,” she said of her towering list. “It will just depend on what I can afford to develop, so hopefully the pack will keep selling well so I can invest in making more.”

Explicit directions on how to download and load the emoji can be found at


I’ve been a witch since I was very little – before I even knew to call myself one,” Grossman said. “Like lots of kids, I gravitated toward stories and artwork that deal with magical themes, and engaged in my own intuitive rituals and wild imaginings. Once I was a teenager, I began to read a lot and explore the path a bit more formally. But it was really discovering the surrealist artists and the writings of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell that opened things up for me, and made me realize that creativity is the surest path we have to the divine. My practice is very personal and syncretic, and draws as much on the art world as it does on spiritual systems.”

Last May her 36-page book “What Is A Witch,” was released. Illustrated by Canada’s occult sweethearts Tin Can Forest, and published by Tin Can Forest Press, it is described as “an illuminated incantation, a crystalline invocation, a lovingly-crafted celebration of the world’s most magical icon” and a “manifesto on witchcraft.”

Grossman’s blog, Phantasmaphile, can be found at

She is the associate editor of Abraxas International Journal of Esoteric Studies, co-organizer of the Occult Humanities Conference at New York University, and co-founder of the former Brooklyn arts and lecture space, Observatory, where her programming explored mysticism.

Grossman’s writing has appeared in “Sabat Sciences Occults,” “Huffington Post,” and MSN. Lectures include such topics as the occult in modern art and female magic in Western , and she also teaches classes on spellcraft, ritual and herbalism.

Meditation Moment

April, 2012

Using Images to Guide Meditation

For this exercise, you need an image that evokes strong emotion in you, a notebook, and a writing implement.  Choose strong positive emotion (makes you laugh, smile, wanna hug someone) if your goal for this exercise is progress along your path or spiritual growth.  Choose strong negative emotion if you feel ready to heal some fear, anger, or sadness.  Please take care of yourself – don’t explore profound fear or pain unless you know how to make yourself feel good again afterward (without drugs, preferably.)

The image can come from cards, paintings, photos, books, drawings, anywhere really.  Choose a picture that has no words, or that you can cover the words.  Especially if you are using a tarot or oracle card, cover the words.  Words are limitting.

Have your image and your writing utensils accessible in a place where you will not be interrupted for at least 15 minutes.  Leave your cell phone elsewhere or turn off the ringer.  Light a candle and burn some incense if you like.  Play some soft wordless music or turn on a fan to drown out sounds from outside your meditation zone.  Dim the lights so it is just bright enough to see your image.  Have a small snack ready to munch on when you are done, and a nourishing beverage (water, tea, etc.)

You can record the questions with appropriate pauses and play it for yourself so you don’t have to look from this page to the image and back.  You can have the experience with the image first and then write all about it, or you can write after every prompt, recording the experience and exploring with it on paper as you go.

Prepare your body by stretching every muscle you can think to stretch.  Rub your shoulders or neck if that relaxes you.  Massage your scalp (or scratch your head.)  Yawn.  Take three slow, deep breaths.

Gaze at your picture.

What about this image evokes strong feelings in you?  Is it the colors, the subject matter?  What stands out to you?

Imagine you are inside this picture, part of it.

What can you smell, or taste?

What can you hear?

What does your body feel?

What memories come up as you explore?  Sit with them.  What do you need to learn from these memories?  What do they have to teach you about your present and your future?

Does anything in the image inspire goals or hope?

Do you feel a sense of direction, or a desire to move through the image to a place not shown?  Explore if you feel moved to.

When you are done with this exercise, stretch and take a few more deep breaths.  Write down all the details you think are relevant, and meditate on the symbolism. Be open to guidance on problem-solving and on the next steps of your life path.

Before you move on to more mundane tasks, eat your snack.  Nourish yourself.

Until next month, Namaste.

Pagan Theology

September, 2009

Pagan theology short:  graven images

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God – Exodus 20 3-5.

Recently a member of our group got very upset over the loss of one of her owls.  It was a small, black owl that she had used in ritual several times, and now it was missing.  She was inconsolable.  It was as if she had lost a pet or a loved one.

What was going on?  Was she fetishizing an object, loving too much the things of the world and not the spirit?  Or had, through use in ritual, the owl taken on properties of the Owl?  Of Minerva, of the Lady.  Had it become the Goddess?

In the United States we often treat our stuff as an important member of our families.  We’d be lost without all our gear, and Pagans in particular seem to be given over to accumulating a large amalgam of ritual implements and other toys associated with the craft.  Some of that we can blame on the ritual magicians, with their wands and censers and swords, but we can also look back in time and find many examples of images of the Gods and Goddesses being used in worship.  Those toys we keep, particularly those that we connect with the Gods and Goddesses through may, in fact, be more than mere objects.  They may embody the deities themselves.

Idols are the fetishized [1] image or object, and represent an embodiment of deity, magical power, or magical spirit.  There are many different ways to approach a discussion of idols. We can discuss the question of incarnation, of the God or Goddess occupying an object in the natural world.  We can also discuss the creation and construction of magical or blessed fetish objects, such as wands or alchemistical materials.   We can also discuss what happens when we venerate the idol, both to the object and ourselves.    Obviously the book religions have a clear answer about what happens to you when you venerate idols, but those answers are meaningless to us [2].

This multitude of ways to approach the theological question of idols can be reduced to a set of basic questions [3]:

1) What property of the fetish makes it inherently special?

2) How does consecration or creation of the fetish make it different from other objects?

3) What happens differently in the viewer or reverent when they are viewing or interacting with a consecrated fetish, as opposed to a normal object?

This division breaks fetishes up into three components, the object itself, what is done with the object, and how the object affects the viewer or user.

The fetish itself

Is the God or Goddess inherent in their image or sacred object?

The ancient Greeks saw the temple as the place where the deity lived, or naos [4].  During Homeric times it was seen as the dwelling place of a particular God or Goddess, and was often used by the Gods and Goddesses as part of their worldly escapades.  Magical workings often use images such as poppets or dolls as stand-ins for the object of the magical working.  In the Roman lectisternia celebrations the God or Goddess was brought into the house to join in the celebrations [5].  The idea that the Gods and Goddesses join us through their fetish representation is neither new nor particularly radical.  It’s only strange in the context of the religious traditions of the books.

Casually, it is easy to say: “sure, since deity is immanent and exists everywhere, it is naturally in the statue of Aphrodite on my altar as much as it’s in the chairs on my patio.”  That is not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about specific immanence.  Is the God immanent in the image of the Green Man?  Is Cernunnos himself immanent in the stag on the altar?  Are they there?  Are they present?  And does that mean they are not somewhere else?

This is a far more difficult question to deal with than the one that arises from the immanence/transcendence argument.  Instead we have to ask a couple of background questions, the first being whether we believe in the Gods and Goddesses as individual entities at all [6], and whether they represent manifold spirits of a pantheon or are just a form of gendered monotheism [7]?  Because, if we believe in the general idea of the God and Goddess, and they are seen as in the larger world, then of course they are contained within the fetish object, and the function of the fetish object is to simply remind us of this fact.

If, however, the Gods and Goddesses represent a unique group of individual deities, with names and actions associated with them, then the fetish object can be more easily understood as associating with a unique, individual, deity.  This uniqueness provides for idols that become the deity when we consider them, that the deity is “there” and “not over there” when we view the fetish.  I argue this differentiation of the deity in the world, kind of a GPS for deities, is a key function of the fetish object.

The fetish idol or object says to the reverent:  the God or Goddess you seek is here, in here, and not anywhere else right now.  Here is where you focus.

This is of course anathema for book religions where the god is universal, omnipresent, and separated from the world.  Our deities [8], by appearing in idols and fetish objects, transcend the immaterial and the unnatural, and become one with the world.  They also allow us to visualize and work with them not only in the spiritual realms, but the physical as well.

This is the property of the fetish that makes it special, the “here, not there” that it brings to the immaterial.

Creation of the idol

The act of creation of an idol is what separates its function from that of the everyday object.   It is easy to list a series of sacred motions, inscriptions, and formula that are necessary for the consecration of a sacred object.  But fundamentally what all those formula are doing is telling you, and in some cases everyone else, that the deity or magic is “in here” and not somewhere else.  The action of consecration is to dedicate the object to a purpose that has no purpose in the world; instead it is inscribing the object with a purpose in the spiritual.

In this sense consecration of objects moves them, and their purpose, from the “real” world to the world of the super-natural.  And that means it really doesn’t matter what you “do” to consecrate the object, as long as that consecration affects how you view and feel about the object.  This separates consecration from blessing.  Consecrations focus on you and your intent for the object.

The consecration tells you the object is sacred.  Blessings seek to invoke the power of the Gods or Goddesses to establish the object as favored in their eyes.  To remove the negative that exists in the object, or the negative from the viewpoint of the Gods and the Goddesses, and to make the object into something that is positive.  A blessing may precede consecration of an idol, but its effect and nature are different.  Blessings empty, consecrations fill.  Blessings are static and have potential, while consecrations are active and have purpose.  Blessings are, consecrations do.

In the case of blessing the object becomes pure, in the case of consecration it becomes the pure.

Thus objects can become sacred through use, through ritual, or simply through the loving thoughts that we surround them with.  This gives us wide latitude in figuring out how and why we consecrate objects, and which objects we will treat as idols.  As long as we perceive the God or Goddess to dwell in the idol, they do.

The reverent

So what happens to us when we use consecrated idols in our worship?

It can be difficult to visualize the Gods and Goddesses everywhere in their immanent state.  They are spread out like radio waves [9], interpenetrating everything, but separate from everything.   It can be hard to grasp onto something that is everywhere, something that you cannot grab hold of, hold in your hand, feel but at the same time you know is real, is in the world.

Unlike those who wrote the books, we should be able to hold our Gods and Goddesses.  To smell, feel, hear, and taste them.  They are in the world as much as we are.  Idols become for us the houses, the naos, of the Gods and Goddesses.  When we say, “this is our God” we mean that this, this thing, is where our God resides more than any other thing.

By creating a separate place for the Gods and Goddesses we also change.  The material for us has become sacred, deity has manifested itself in front of us, and it dwells on our altar.  We are remained by the sacredness of our objects of the sacredness of all objects.  Because, ultimately, the Gods and Goddesses are everywhere.  Like many things associated with Pagan worship, there is a circle that comes back around for us.  We begin with the unfathomable connectedness of everything through the presences of multiple Gods and Goddesses.  We then bring that infinite macrocosm down to a microcosm of one God or Goddess in one consecrated place.  But what dwells in the microcosm is also everywhere and for all time.   “That which is above, so it is below.”

Idols and other fetishes allow us to relate to the Gods and Goddesses on our own terms, as we would relate to them as friends or colleagues.  We can make offerings to them, we can ask them questions, we can pledge to them, and we can hold them in our hands.  But at the same time the act of consecration, the act of knowing that the God or Goddess dwells in the fetish, reminds us of the sacredness of all things.  That anything we hold in our hands, whether it is person, an idol, or a stone, are the divine.  They are consecrated and they are holy.   And they deserve just as much care and love as if they were the Gods and Goddesses themselves.  Because they are.

[1] We’re not talking about pervy behavior here.  Rather we’re talking about the religious and theological use of the term “fetish” to mean a man made object that is somehow given magical powers or connected to the supernatural and given some form of reverence of deference.

[2] With the image of Christ on the cross, the black stone of Mecca, and the Torah there are any number of objects that sure look like fetishes in the book religions.  We’ll leave it to them to work those problems out for themselves.

[3]  This division roughly corresponds to the “Imago and Spiritus” “Iconoclasm” and “Generatio” divisions outlined in Daniel A. Schulke.  “Idolatry Restor’d:  Witchcraft and the Imaging of the Divine,”  The Cauldron, 133, Aug 2009.  This article literally arrived in the mail at the same time as I wrote my first paragraph.  I took it as a sign that I was at least relevant.

[4]  Walter Burkert.  Greek Religion, Basil Blackwell, 1985

[5] Ramsay MacMullen.  Paganism in the Roman Empire, Yale 1981.

[6] Remember my point of view on this:  the answer is: yes, they are discrete entities with individual, if somewhat complex, personalities, intentions, and existence.

[7] For a good discussion of the issues surrounding neo-Paganism and its relationship to indigenous Pagan belief, and the question of polytheism and idols, see Michael York.  Pagan Theology:  Paganism as a World Religion, New York University Press, 2003, pp. 63-64.  While I disagree with some of his assumptions, the argument is similar to the one I’m making here, and far more closely associated with facts and research.

[8] While I reference deity here it is also just as easy to talk about magical power, the sacred, or alchemistical understanding.  In all cases the object reifies the immaterial, causing it to manifest for us in a physical place.

[9] But for Hera’s sake they are not actually waves, quanta, or energy.  See my previous columns.