Archive for January, 2009

Rethinking Imbolc

Imbolc is the holiday celebrated at the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, and I’ve always looked upon it as such: the literal turning-point between winter and spring.  My husband has tended to look at it more as how it literally feels here locally, i.e. the dead depths of winter misery, when it’s still wretchedly cold and you’re sick to death of it but still have to slog through another six weeks at least of unmitigated suck. 

I’m now more inclined to agree with him.

Two days ago a fierce winter storm cut a swath across the country, and we were right in its path.  (Oddly, it followed to some degree the path that was cut by Hurricane Ike back in September; and did even more damage, it seems.)  From Tuesday around midnight, until about seven o’clock this evening, we were without power.  We were utterly dependent on our little fireplace to keep the house livable; all we could do was huddle round the fire and keep tossing logs on it, from a supply that was small to begin with and dwindling faster than we would have liked.  That gave me a taste, a not entirely pleasant taste, of what life at this time of year might have been like for our ancestors.

Survival is a foreign concept to most of us.  We have our houses and our cars, electricity, all the technologies that smooth the path before us.  Stripped of those things, we realize just how vulnerable we really are.  It was possible for us to dig the car out of the snow and ice, drive just a few miles down the road, and find hot food and warm shelter; we have friends and relatives who were not as badly affected who offered us hospitality.  People living agrarian, pre-industrial lives would not have had those options.  You would have lain in your stores of food and firewood and the necessities to see you through the long cold months, and you would have hoped and prayed that those stores would be enough.  If they weren’t, well, you might not have survived.  We experienced some distress, but no great danger.  But springtime has never felt farther away.


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I consider myself to be a pleasant and curious person.  I like to meet interesting people of different cultures and faiths and races.  Other peoples’ religions in particular fascinate me, and have since I was very young; I always want to know about their beliefs and customs and practices, what they do and what they believe and above all the whys and wherefores of it all.  Maybe this makes me insufferable instead of pleasant and curious; at any rate, rather than ask people such questions directly, I tend instead to read their blogs and websites and books instead, to gain the insights I seek.  The reason for that is quite simple: the more I read from people of other (read: monotheistic) faiths when they post among their own kind, the more certain I become that there can never be a meaningful dialogue between people of wildly divergent belief systems.  Gods know it’s hard enough to communicate with those ostensibly of your own path.

Jason at the Wildhunt put up a link to a story about a pre-inaugural ritual smudging of the White House.  To me it seemed pretty harmless, a pretty typical generic neo-pagany thing with smudging and chanting and such; not my thing, but also not a bad thing.  Despite the site’s being called the “Progressive Examiner,” a read-through of the comment thread indicates that the readership thereof is anything but.  I’m sorry to say, but such ranting screeds are what I’ve come to expect from those who call themselves Christians these days.  There may be–must be–certainly are Christians out there who are more moderate, more progressive, but it is always the voices of the unhinged fringe that rise above the softer speech of the reasonable.  Here are a couple of tastes, if you’re curious:

Yes, they are trying to use matter to invoke demonic spirits. Since, they don’t probably believe in Satan, they don’t realize what they are doing. They are probably thinking from a “naturalist” perspective, meaning that the world has it’s own powers, which, of course, it doesn’t. The only power that is ordered to the Good is God. They are harnessing Satanic power…

Or, how about:

What about the abortion demons? Where are those now? I believe they just moved into the White House and plan to stay.

There’s a fair bit of anti-abortion rhetoric along with the demon stuff, perhaps because of the President today rescinding the Global Gag Rule (which I will discuss on my other blog later).  One commenter stated “Make way for the infanticidal communist!”  I don’t really see how it’s possible to have a reasoned and reasonable conversation with people who have their heads shoved that far up their own holy asses.  If your worldview is that firmly divided between Us and Them, then there can be no understanding.  And those of us who are Them, and who would consider extending a hand in friendship or a heart in understanding, are only wasting our energy and our time.

Not that I intend to stop seeking and reading and learning, if only because I feel it behooves us to know what our enemies (for, unfortunately, that is surely what they are) think and say about us.  I do have hope for the future, if only because our new President made a point from the very start, in his first official address to our nation, to use speech inclusive of all faiths and non-faiths.  Some of the inroads made by extremist religious groups under the previous administration will not be allowed to stand, and we can perhaps move forward with the realization that this is one nation under many Gods and many Goddesses.  And maybe, just maybe, some of the more defiant and fearful (on both sides of the fence) will some day be able to recognize others as fellow Americans, even if they’ll never be able to meet as friends.

So mote it be.

(ETA:  Hahaha!  Now the commenters at the Examiner are dismissing the ritualists as “young people.”  HAHAHA! Could they be any more arrogant, dismissive or wilfully ignorant?

Oh, wait.  Yes, they could.  Never mind.)

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When President Obama took the Oath of Office on Tuesday, Chief Justice Roberts flubbed the wording slightly.  The President caught the flub and recited the words correctly, and he was duly sworn in; nonetheless, in the interest of dotting i’s and crossing t’s, the Oath was readministered, lest any question of his validity be put forth by a detractor based on the words having not been spoken in the correct sequence.

Sound familiar?   😀

Someone, on one of those lists I don’t admit to reading, hinted that the flub will raise issues from a ritual standpoint and wondered what this new Presidency will be like, as it was begun under a waning moon and during a mercury retrograde.  And I say, does anyone know under what baneful omens the previous administration began its reign? 

Why yes, yes they do.

At the time of Mr. Bush’s first inauguration, on 1/20/01, Mars was in Scorpio, a conjunction signaling the presence of vehement, fearsome enemies. We all know what happened later in 2001; OMG, does that mean astrology works?!  The moon was waning that year, too, and in 2005 during his second inaugural as well.  Mercury was direct on both those occasions, but it certainly doesn’t seem to have helped Mr. Bush’s communication skills any.  President Obama seems an effective speaker, so perhaps his abilities will offset any influence that a wayward planet might place upon him.

As far as the oath-taking goes, well, I’ve taken a few of them in my day; but these days I’m more swayed by the spirit of the law than the letter of it.  It’s not always about speaking every syllable exactly as ordered–and I say that both as a Kemetic and a British Traditionalist; of equal importance are the operator’s intent and understanding.  Clearly Mr. Obama had both of those things in place, and was able to correct Chief Justice Roberts and proceed accordingly.  The redo was less about his actual validity than his perceived validity in the eyes of those who for whatever reason might seek to undermine it; which is invariably the case, and thus made the retaking of his Oath a prudent preventive measure, symbolically important even if it was ritually unnecessary.

Oh, my aching brain.

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There really is no such thing as an original idea anymore; it seems people have been using their iPods as divination tools for at least a couple of years now.  Always the late bloomer, always behind the curve!

Nonetheless, I set my nano to shuffle, asked it about the immediate future of my happy band of infidels in view of recent developments, then pushed the button.  Blackmore’s Night‘s Morning Star was the result (lyrics below):

There are shadows in the sky
Dancing in the air
Calling to my heart
Saying, “If you dare,
We’re running fast
We’re running far
Trying to catch the morning star…”
And time and space
Our only shield
Keeping secrets
Falling night
Breathes in the dark
Trying to catch the morning star…
I can fly through my mind when I see them as they shine
Can it be so hard to try and charm the elusive morning star…
So within the chase
We soon will find
The light of the moon
Those left behind
Try to free the gypsy in their hearts
By trying to catch the morning star…
Now that the time
Has come and gone
Illusion has past
And we’re on our own
Know the dream is never far…
When trying to catch the Morning Star…

And from where I sit, that seems both fantastically apropos and very encouraging.


(Lyrics by Candice Night.  No copyright infringement intended.)

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Better Off Dead?

Barring those with suicidal ideation as a feature of a mental illness, why would anyone think that?

The neighborhood Southern Baptist Church has a lighted electronic marquee sign, and they change the message on it daily.  This morning’s genuinely brought me up short.  It read:

My life will be so much better…after I die.

Cast me as intolerant, but that seems so incredibly wrongheaded as to border on pathological.  Or, as I yelped in my early-morning brainfog, “That’s just crazy-talk!”  The illogic is stunning in its own right, but it goes deeper than that.  Of course your life won’t improve upon death, because you’ll no longer have a life.  You may or may not have an afterlife, but lacking any empirical evidence one way or the other I wouldn’t go putting all my eggs in that potentially nonexistent basket, either. 

Mulder:  Do you believe in an afterlife, Scully?
 Scully:  I’d settle for a life in this one.

              (Excelsius Dei, episode 2:11)

I freely admit that I have no concept of the kind of worldview that advocates such a total denigration of human existence, while on the other hand allegedly championing the value of “life.”  It looks, to this outsider at least, as though the only “life” to be valued is that which remains in a foetal state, or that which is dependent on machinery to keep it going; the healthy, independent human organism should be dead to the world, so to speak, and longing only for the next world–which one fervently hopes will be a pleasant place, but may not be.  My brain hurts just trying to wrap around this.

All right, yes, I know; I’m a big ol’ heathen and just don’t get it.  If I had a dime for every time someone, pagan or otherwise, had told me I didn’t get something I’d have no worries for this life or any potential others.  Maybe I get it and don’t want it.  The life I’m living now–this one, right here, on planet Earth in the 21st century–is the only life I’m absolutely assured of having.  Everything else is just conjecture.  I’m not enough of a gambler to risk the bird in the hand for the (theoretical) one in the (also theoretical) bush. 

My life will be so much better…when I start to fully live it.

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I went through my other blog (one of them, anyway) and pulled out some spiritual and religious-themed entries that I wanted to archive here. They’re mostly from 2005 and 2006, but I found them all still relevant enough for reposting. Obviously, I’m not in the same space spiritually or religiously or emotionally or anything else as I was when these were written, but neither do I want to lose what I gained from that time of my life and those experiences. And maybe someone else will take something away from one of them, as well.

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Oneness (repost)


“There is no part of me that is not of the Gods.”

This statement from the Gnostic Mass (by way of a Golden Dawn interpretation of an Egyptian inscription) is an amazing and powerful thing. Think about it: if you recognize your essential oneness with the divine, knowing yourself to be a part of everything and knowing everything to be a part of you, the illusion of disconnect falls away. You can no longer believe the lie that you’re fallen, inferior, sinful, bad. You are a part of the gods, and the gods are a part of you. (At this point, do not ask me, “But, taijiya-san, what about that other line in the Gnostic Mass that says ‘there is no god where I am’?” That is attributed to Hadit, in Liber AL II:23; and it’s in reference to something else entirely. Not feeling particularly pestilent today, I don’t feel like going into my interpretation thereof at the moment.)

But, yeah, part of the gods. The other day I’d got out my old Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and was reading the Easter Vigil rite, thinking that I might still find the flowery language appealing. I didn’t; I found it appalling, almost, because of the heavy emphasis on marking the worshipper as wretched, worthless, sinful and weak and fallen. Yegads, get that drilled into you from every sphere for long enough and you’re bound to take it to heart–and who on earth wants to live with that burden. If you can believe that you are the creation of a deity (itself a bit of a stretch), then why can’t you believe that you’re exactly as you’re supposed to be, just as your creator intended you to be–not a failure, not a fuckup, but the absolute crown of creation?

We are human, of course, even if we share in the stuff of the divine; and being human means that we are limited, fallible, liable to corruption and decay and every form of perversion and foulness imaginable–but there’s plenty of elasticity in the definitions of those things, and one man’s failure is simply another man’s challenge–(heh, and one man’s perversion simply another’s delightful diversion). If I am apart from god, as some religions teach, then I am forsaken and vile; if I am a part of god, then I am just as I must be, just as I was intended to be, and therefore capable of seeking out my purpose in life and doing my Will therein.

I like that second idea much better!

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To this day I wonder if I’m the only pagany person in the entire world who thinks that expecting a deity (or, as most imbeciles spell it, diety) will come when called like a well-trained puppy, Possess the desired person, dispense the desired Words of Wisdom, then depart again on command, is utterly ludicrous? I don’t doubt that at least some people who engage in invocative trances (by whatever name they’re called) believe wholeheartedly in what they’re doing; but I’ve yet to see or hear or experience anything that would convince me, and I have also seen/heard/experienced enough obvious bald-faced fakery to be highly suspicious of anyone who makes the assay and puts it forth for an audience. Invoking a particular deity form for a particular, personal reason can be a quite beneficial exercise; but the only reason to turn it into a spectator sport is for self-aggrandizement, the sort of occultier-than-thou posturing in which many take great delight.

I have ties to various traditions and organizations, and most (if not all) of them seem to feature some form of this activity, whether it be the relatively innocuous “aspecting” or a full-bodied, blackout, dissociative-episode full-trance possession complete with bizarre behaviors and pompous pronouncements. Opening my yap on this subject earned me no end of suffering as a Wiccan, since it would appear that the practice is considered by most to be the religion’s central feature. Um. OK. ::edges slowly toward the door:: Right, then. Generally, one does not consider wilfully inducing a dissociative state to be a desirable thing. Generally, one does not consider a person claiming to be embodying a god/dess to be anything other than a ranting, raving loon. Generally, most pagans would dismiss a Christian writhing about speaking in tongues and getting Slain In The Spirit to be a ranting, raving loon, so why is it different when you or one of your co-religionists is doing essentially the same bloody thing?

Do I even believe in invocation? Sure; it’s similar in character to what used to be called Method acting, to my mind at least. I can call upon a particular deity or spirit or what-have-you in a similar way to how I might “get into character” for a show, drawing the desired characteristics into myself to achieve a desired end. Does it work? Yes. Is it a “possession”? Holy crap, no. Do I believe in possession? I believe a belief in possession is likely to cause possession, how’s that? I believe some people have experiences in which they believe themselves to be possessed, either wilfully or accidentally; I’ve known at least one person who thoroughly believed herself possessed, and she did indeed exhibit classic symptoms–but she was also taking a prescription medication with known psychotropic contraindications (the same scrip had been a factor in one of her relatives’ suicide) and appeared to a degreed friend to be an undiagnosed schizophrenic to boot. So…make of it what you will. I’ve known plenty of folk in pagan and occult circles who were slightly less than stable–a few fries short of a Happy Meal, no mortar between their bricks, pick your metaphor–who also indulged, seemingly successfully, in various forms of possession trance (mostly the Wiccan “Drawing Down the Moon” type). And frankly, at this stage of my life and occult career, I’ve seen enough that were I to experience anything that seemed to indicate the possibility that trance possessions by deities were genuine, I think my first response would be to have an MRI done to make sure I hadn’t got a brain tumor.

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“Oral tradition,” to paraphrase Samuel Goldwyn, generally isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. That’s particularly true in an information-based society, where everything is predicated on fast and easy access to every imaginable type of knowledge. If you can sit down in front of your computer and in just a few clicks have spread before you a breadth of information that it would have taken our ancestors a lifetime or more to access, if it were even possible, then precisely how many hoops will you be willing to jump through to attain that same information in another way? Who has time to sit at the feet of a guru and hope that all the necessary bits will be transmitted? It just doesn’t seem to translate well into the modern vernacular.

There’s much made of Gardnerian Wicca (and the other variants of British Traditional Wicca) having an “oral tradition;” but (hehehehe) I question the validity of that model in modern times. I’m not convinced it was ever entirely workable; a system as complex and hierarchical as what Wicca has become seems to me eminently unsuited to being orally passed. There are far too many little details to keep straight. There might have been a time, in the dim and distant past, when it was still possible to share these details informally, in conversation, person-to-person; there might have been a time, in the dim and distant past, when there wasn’t such a climate of clench-butt conservatism where minor variations in transmission might not have caused such major schisms (oh, but I doubt it very much!). Somehow, somewhere along the way, the rather romantic notion of a good old-fashioned oral tradition got twisted into a method for control and manipulation. Want to screw a person? Neglect to tell them something, let them stumble, then claim it to have been a part of the “oral tradition” that they weren’t passed, thus rendering them “invalid.” Or pass different information to different people, then kick back and watch the fur fly. “That’s oral tradition,” they’ll claim, when pushed. It’s not written down. That’s a Secret. And while those who’d engage in such games will call you an Oathbreaker right to your face no matter how good your intentions, they’ll never cop to being Oathbreakers themselves–even though there’s a little passage in there about never denying the secrets to a brother or sister of the Art. I suppose there’s a caveat to that that’s also a part of the Oral Tradition, which they also conveniently neglect to mention!

Oral tradition, like the much-hinted-at but actually nonexistent Training, is a carrot on a stick. So many things are dangled enticingly, making you think–even when you damned-well know better–that there just might be something there, and if you only keep at it, keep looking, keep digging and working and struggling and reading and searching and dashing your brains out against the rocks, you just might find it someday. “And then what, taijiya-san?” You ask. “Once you find it, what then?”

That’s a good question; I don’t know. I never found it. Certainly not for want of trying. The only real Training I was ever able to detect anyone giving was more of a learning-by-example of how to behave very badly. The only Training in matters magickal was pretty elementary stuff; most of what you’ll learn you’ll be learning on your own, through independent study and research and experimentation. Most of the people I met–the great and almighty Third Degree High Priesthood types–seemed curiously flat and powerless, their rituals lacking any life at all. Perhaps that was because all of their energy was concentrated into politicking and backbiting and middle-school-clique antics, there was nothing left over to devote to the Craft they were ostensibly Protecting from those whom they believed were Profaning it.

I wish there had been something there, something more, something deeper, something of real value. I wanted to believe that for a long time. I was able to convince myself to keep looking, if only because I’d met a few people along the way–people who weren’t frauds or fools or utterly contemptible bastards–who seemed to be getting something out of it that I wasn’t. It was hard for me to accept that this was something that I really couldn’t bend to my will or reshape as I wanted, and I knew that I couldn’t/wouldn’t bend or reshape myself to fit the system as it stood. Did I “get it?” Some would claim that I did not; I would say that I did, but that I didn’t want what I’d got. It wasn’t what I was hoping for. Those were hard lessons, lessons that I did indeed Suffer to Learn.

I wish I could say I was part of something with roots that ran deep and true; I wish I was a part of a time-honoured tradition, a way of doing things, a clan or a tribe with its own teachings and knowings. I’m not, and I guess I never will be. I can imagine what that might be like; when I write Sango, I give her that kind of knowledge, handed down through her people and ending in her as the last of her clan. Having it vicariously will just have to be good enough for me–although as a writer I should be able to accept that as being the best way of all. I have another, original character in a story I’m working up who discovers rather late in life that she’s a part of a magickal line that she never even knew existed. Those are cool things, romantic things, exciting things. Those are things that perhaps a lot of people want rather badly, if only because it’s so alien to what most Americans have grown up with. I understand that. I lament that it’s just fantasy. I would have liked to have made it real.

(ETA–The above doesn’t exactly still hold true, here in 2009; I have in fact managed to bend certain things quite nicely to my will, and co-create something that is a workable blend of old and new, progressive and traditional. It just took a very long while and an intolerable amount of angst to get our minds back around to owning that.)

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One of the hallmarks of the effective traditional Wiccan High Priestess is her facility with self-aggrandizing at others’ expense. The more she does to make herself seem the repository of all witchly knowledge, while simultaneously casting aspersions on the abilities of those around her, the better a traditional High Priestess she is. Now, note that by “better,” I don’t mean “more magical,” or “more compassionate,” or “more effective ritualist,” or anything else of that sort; I mean “more thoroughly conditioned to behave badly,” or “more deeply programmed with methods of running down the competition to further the demands of her own ego.”

“They can’t teach you anything.” “She doesn’t know.” “You’re not ready.” “He doesn’t get it.” “That initiation didn’t take.” “They can’t, but I can.” “She won’t, but I will.” “He doesn’t, but I do.” And then the dog-and-pony show begins, there in the rarefied atmosphere of the ritual circle, where you’ve already been programmed to believe (oh, you want to believe!) that all actions really are being performed in perfect love and perfect trust, and because you’ve already been effectively conditioned in your muggle life to believe that there’s something inherently lacking in you, something that you must seek from without, something you can only get from a parent-figure, an authority-figure, an intermediary, a go-between, someone over you, you go along–because there’s something out there, the truth maybe, or something else, something you need and you’re certain this person (or some person, somewhere, someone who isn’t you) has it, and will dispense it in due time when you’ve proven yourself.

And it’s a lie.

The truth is this: the more posturing, the more self-aggrandisment, the bigger the show, the louder the boasts, the wilder the claims, the less they have to offer. To wildly paraphrase, wicca is the dung-heap, and they are the cocks who climb upon it to crow. Manipulatory antics, tactics of coercion and obfuscation in order to secure loyal sycophants, are employed by people who are themselves desperately lacking something; look inside and you’ll see a great gaping chasm that they can fill no other way. They behave so badly because the stakes, utlimately, are so small; it’s all smoke and mirrors with them, a fragile phantasm that would shred to vapor if examined too closely. And because it’s all they have, and to see that illusion shattered would be intolerable, they have a most profound vested interest in propping up that illusion and drawing as many others into the illusion with them as they can. And what is the illusion? That of control; of power; of sanctity and holiness and a direct connection to the numinous that is beyond that of Mere Mortals. To say that anyone can have that, that there is no part of me that is not of the gods, is an untenable position, because to a mind set into this programming there can be only one, like the Highlander, and they must be that One. If I have these great Powers, then you must be lesser; because if you were my equal, or gods-forbid-impossible my superior in any way, that would utterly destroy my self-concept. It must be a miserable way to live.

Which in no way excuses the bad behavior that comes of it. I’m not here to go into the potential reasons why people act this way, or to suggest courses of treatment; I’ll leave that to the professionals. I’m simply arguing in favor of other ways of being, ways that are perhaps healthier for all those involved. Refusing to be a part of the problem. Calling bullshit when you see it. Beating them at their own game by choosing not to play.

What, as a priestess, can I teach? That depends. I can facilitate guided meditations that can take you to various “places” that may, in turn, assist you in some way–if you’re up to doing the internal work that goes along with that. I can explain to you how I feel, or what I’m visualising, in a given situation, and I can provide you with examples, based on my experience and those others have shared with me, of what you might experience for yourself. I can impart factual knowledge of various historical, cultural, mythological, and other subjects. I can share philosophies with you. I can teach you the properties of various herbs and stones and such, and the folklore attendant upon them. I can teach you postures and breathing exercises from various cultural traditions, and explain to you as best I can how those things affect your physical body, thus impacting you on other levels. I can tell you stories, because sometimes the best place I can find for the truth is at the heart of a piece of “fiction.” Those things are valuable, and aren’t given lightly. Those things have to be enough. But from the standpoint of those whom I spoke of earlier, I really can’t “teach” you anything. Neither can they–but the carrot must be dangled, or else you’d resist the urging forward. You’d rightly dig in your heels and cry shenanigans on them. If I have anything I’d like to teach or impart, it’s the right and the need and the importance and the validity of that–of rising up and realizing what you are, and what you have, and what you don’t need from anyone else. The deceptions, inveigling and obfuscations cease to matter, because you realize there is nothing there for you–nothing you need, and nothing you want, because you had it all along and had only to figure out how to get at it. And that, my friends, is gnosis–satori–enlightenment. That is the key to the kingdom.

I won’t promise you mastery of the universe, or the gods’ cell phone numbers, or any other stupid shit that someone may hint at if you’ll only do as they say. There are no veils here, no smokescreens, no man-behind-the-curtain; it’s all WYSIWYG in my world. I don’t hold much with the mystic-woo-woo (which exists, it seems, only as a means to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate). Straightforwardness is the enemy of those with a control agenda to push. I accepted my enemy status on that count a long time ago.

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