Thursday, March 26, 2015

Repost - "Good Company"

Repost from my Super Duper Social Worker Blog, April 2013

What we know about the ancient Gnostics is that we don’t know much. We know that the people who modern people might call Gnostic never called themselves Gnostic. The word Gnostic might have even been used as a slang. (Kind of like how the people who modern people call Pagan never ever called themselves Pagan.)

Plotinus, who is considered by many modern people to be a premier writer of Gnostic source materials, often wrote about the Gnostics as those goofy radicals down the street. "It is NOT as the Gnostics say..." (Kind of like how modern Pagans often write about “those fluff bunnies”, even though two thousand years ago we might all be seen as fluff bunnies.)

In regards to the Gnostics, we don’t know more than we know. But what I’ve learned about the Gnostics is that they’ve always been misunderstood. We don’t know who they are now and no one knew who they were then. Which translates to me that anything can be Gnostic, nothing is Gnostic, nothing is not-Gnostic. (Which works out really great for me.)

We know that the Sethians in Egypt were considered to be the first Gnostics, about 200 years or so before Christianity. These people were a sect of radical Jews who were probably inspired by Mediterranean (Greek) mystery traditions. And these Mediterranean mystery traditions were probably inspired by the Ancient Egyptian mystery traditions, which were inspired by God Only Knows. But whoever the Gnostics were, they went on to inspire Christianity, the Kabbalah, Masons, The Golden Dawn, Wiccans, modern Pagans, comic book artists, rock songs, books, movies, and a continuing cycle of inspired texts and prophets (Dick, Hesse, Moore, Smashing Pumpkins, ELO, etc.)

What I love about the early Gnostics was that they just wrote stuff all the time, and some of it is crazy. I get the impression that if there is was aspect about their current Gnostic myth that they didn’t like, they just wrote their own. So this means as a modern person reading this stuff it seems confusing and contradictory, but contradiction only need to exist in religion if one is looking at religion from a literal point of view. But when looking at religion as something that is organic, changeable, and evolving, the Gnostic myths make perfect sense, especially from a Universalist point of view.  We’re all on a path towards God, we know that each path is different. We’re all just wandering around on a crooked path and at the center is God. 

So who were the Gnostics and what did they do? We don’t really know. But what I like to think is that two thousand years ago, Gnostics, Jews, Pagans, Christians, atheists, agnostics and whoever else got together in comfy backrooms every once in a while. I’d like to think that they were all friends. That they sat and breathed together, wrote stupid stories about talking snakes and laughing gods, chanted, raised energy, talked about God, shared wine and bread, laughed, told jokes, had ecstatic moments, and afterword, in the words of my Bishop, they sat around in joy and said “how cool was that?!”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TODAY - Mystical Fandoms: A New Theology

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 @ 9:00PM EST

Mystical Fandoms: A New Theology

Join Bryan and Amanda as they speak with special guest and Bryan's wife, Tracey Ouellette. Together, they present the "new mystical theology" of fandoms. They will discuss how popular shows like Doctor Who, Sherlock, Supernatural, and Star Trek have spawned their own mythologies and produced subcultures that engage them as viable archetypal belief systems, effectively creating unintentional new spiritualities.

If you think religion is dying, if you think God is dead, this show will show you that Divinity hides in the most unlikely of places and adapts to the most unexpected of circumstances. You'll never watch your favorite show the same way again.


Monday, March 23, 2015

The Pagan Experience - F is for Fasting

Wk 4 - Mar. 23 - Any writing for the letters E orF “I am keeping this familiar format on week 4 for those who have joined me from the Pagan Blog Project.”

F is for Fasting

I have mixed feelings about fasting.

I’m a fat girl who has always had blood sugar issues, so fasting isn’t easy for me.  (Though I understand it isn’t supposed to be “easy”…)  But the more I learn about the occult, the more exposure I get to the idea of fasting.  Back when I was a Baby Pagan I didn’t know anyone who ever fasted (unless it was for a fad diet.)  So while it’s not a completely foreign concept to me, fasting is not something I engage in very often.

I’ve been told that a light fast is good before a ritual, which would include eating simple foods like salads, brothy soups, fruits, veggies, and tea.  Sparse eating before a ritual ensures that your body isn’t too distracted by digesting your food.  It means you won’t get too sleepy or distracted that you can’t engage in higher processes, like chanting, charging an item, concentrating, serving as an oracle, or something similar.  I’ve also been told that fasting before sleep is really conducive for initiating active dreams.  A light-headed feeling allegedly helps you reach higher realms.

I know that I personally feel bogged down if I eat too much.  It makes me feel unwell, and if I don’t feel well I don’t want to engage in ritual.  But on the other hand, if you fast too much, you run the risk of getting too distracted from your hunger and bad feelings.  So, while too much food will bog you down and make you feel yucky, too little food may make you feel too light-headed and out of whack, which is also not conducive to magic and ritual.

from The Last Temptation of Christ
I’ve seen too many people get overly hungry in the middle of rituals.  They don’t eat beforehand, they don’t ground and center, they get loopy, their attention wanders, and they get whiney.  This isn’t just unpleasant to the person experiencing that moment, but it’s distracting for the whole group.  So what’s the point of fasting (a type of purity) if you just fill yourself with another type of impurity (negative and disruptive thoughts and actions)?

Certainly there is a historical precedence for fasting.  We’re all familiar with Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert before he decides to finally accept himself as a sacrifice.  Muslims also abstain from all food and water from sunup to sundown every day during Ramadan.  Certain groups of people rejected certain foods because of their supposed detraction from living a pure, religious life.  (Such as the Pythagoreans and beans, and Jews and pork).  So part of pre-ritual fasting may include abstaining from certain foods like coffee, tea, alcohol, red meat, processed foods, meat in general, or too much dairy.

Of course, while it’s advised to fast before ritual, it’s highly encouraged to eat after a ritual to make sure you get re-grounded.  I’ve seen people reach for the sweet (key lime pie), the salty (sacred Tostito chips), the carby (slice after slice of bread), the healthy (hummus and veggies) and everything in between.  I find that I personally feel better (post-ritual and in my life in general) with lots of protein, but with a fair amount of hearty carbs thrown in, too. 

There are examples of austere mystics and occultists who we admire because of their ability to fast and to reach higher realms, but this is something I rarely see modern people even attempting, let alone succeeding at.  All in all, it seems like fasting can be a useful tool, but that many of us don’t know our body’s strengths and limits enough to engage it effectively.  It’s all part of self-knowledge, I suppose, and of maintaining balance and health.

Please, chime in!  Do you fast?  How often, and for what reasons?  Do you cease the consumption of food and drink completely, or do you just cut back on certain items?  What are the pros for fasting, the cons for fasting?  What have been your successes or your failures?  I’d love to hear your thoughts?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mystical Fandoms: A New Theology

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 @ 9:00PM EST

Mystical Fandoms: A New Theology

Join Bryan and Amanda as they speak with special guest and Bryan's wife, Tracey Ouellette. Together, they present the "new mystical theology" of fandoms. They will discuss how popular shows like Doctor Who, Sherlock, Supernatural, and Star Trek have spawned their own mythologies and produced subcultures that engage them as viable archetypal belief systems, effectively creating unintentional new spiritualities.

If you think religion is dying, if you think God is dead, this show will show you that Divinity hides in the most unlikely of places and adapts to the most unexpected of circumstances. You'll never watch your favorite show the same way again.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Repost - "Now I'm Here"

My house is falling down.
We're renting, thank goodness. But since we moved into this place over five years ago there have been serious foundation problems: backed up plumbing, cracks in the wall and ceiling, damp spots on the floor, dirt in the bathroom...
I've had a strange relationship with this house. At first I was indifferent and uncomfortable. Haven moved from a really great place in Texas, North Carolina was weird and foreign. A friend visited with us a few months later and he said "oh, you have such a cute little witchy house!"
Hmm… maybe.
The indifference continued until a few years ago when I decided I hated this place. I was tired of it and all of its quirks. I wanted to leave, to rent or possibly by a new place. So, we shopped around for houses, looking at prices and financing. It was just not possible. Moving to another rental was also not really a good idea, either.

I'm not sure what happened first. Was it cocktails with my girlfriend, or my at-the-time Coven's ritual devoted to Hestia? But something changed in both my perception and relationship with my house. Slowly, but surely, it became my home.
As a group we devoted a ritual to Hestia/Vesta. I did a lot of studying on her before the ritual, and included a little lesson for the ritual itself. Though the ritual was focused around creating foci (in this case, a tool of devotional focus), looking back now I realize something else happened, at least for me. I finally bonded with my home. Most of all, I realized my physical space was not the source of my dissatisfaction, but I was depressed about more meaningful areas of my life. Changing my house wouldn't make me happy. I would have the same old problems but in a different box.

I needed to change the focus of my life.
In the center of my crappy little home is a huge fireplace, and while the Coven did rituals together in my living room, the fireplace was a natural center staging area, with the mantle and hearth serving as the perfect altar tables. I had always decorated the mantle with flowers and kitschy holiday decorations. But I found that over the years the mantle was less of a mundane seasonal piece of home decorating, but had become a seasonal shrine. And at some point I had begun using it as an altar, charging items or creating little charms. Over the years, my Pagan tools and paraphernalia weren't just hidden and tucked away, but were slowly migrating into the house and into my mundane life.
It wasn't just this refocus on my hearth that shifted my perception of my home, but the ritual itself and learning about Hestia. One of the ladies in the group was going through transitions in her own life and had suggested we do a ritual and lesson regarding reconnecting to our habitats, and Hestia was a natural choice for this.
Hestia’s domain is within the home. But she’s not just about cooking and cleaning, but about protection and nurturing energy. She’s about keeping our focus, and she’s about making sure our domestic energy translates easily into our public lives, and vice versa. The Vestal Virgins in Rome were priestesses who guarded the hearth and flame (may it burn forever!). Their energy in both a literal and a magical sense were devoted to the protection of Rome as both a micro and macrocosm, and this devotion and attention is a useful reminder to anyone who might be feeling a little scattered, a little discontented, a little out of sorts. In my experience, Hestia’s energy is useful for anyone who is looking for something with which to devote themselves.
After spending some time to Hestia, a shift happened in my life. I began to reconnect with and love my home. There was magic there now, in ways I hadn't realized. (Though to be fair, it's not like magic came out of nowhere. The magic had always been there. I just hadn’t really noticed it yet.) And an added and serendipitous bonus of working with Hestia was starting communication with Hermes, who is Hestia's total bff forever.
Most of all, this moment was a catalyst for meaningful change in my life. I got a promotion at work. I was given a car. I applied for graduate schools and was eventually accepted. I have a room now devoted to my Pagan tools and altar. Now I might even love my little house, even though the molding is coming down and my bathroom wall is rotting out.

Working with Hestia totally and literally change my focus, and that's powerful magic

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Pagan Experience - March Deity and the Divine
Wk 3 - Mar. 16 - Deity and the Divine - "This will be the third week’s topic every month and an opportunity for you to share with everyone those who guide, inspire and inform you."

Muse, tell me about Pan, the dear son of Hermes, 
with his goat's feet and two horns -- a lover of merry noise.

I was a bit stumped for this topic.  I’ve written about Gods and Goddesses before, but for some reason when I sat down for this post I had a bad case of writer’s block.  I went over to twitter and a friend happily chimed in with her suggestion.  Pan!”

Really?” I thought, “him?”  But the more the day went on, the more confident I got.  Yes, him.  I realized this was a good opportunity for me to do a little research, and to think outside of my box, too.  So, even though in many ways he's foreign to me, I decided to write about Pan.

Through wooded glades he wanders with dancing nymphs who foot it on some sheer cliff's edge, calling upon Pan, the shepherd-god, long-haired, unkempt.

I have never worked directly with Pan, though I know many who do.  My good friend and Sister-Witch has written about him extensively over the years, so you should go over and check her stuff out.  He is one of her patrons, and the joy in her eyes when she speaks of him is infectious.  She loves him so much, and from the joy she has in her life because of Pan, one can easily understand his appeal.

He has every snowy crest and the mountain peaks and rocky crests for his domain; hither and thither he goes through the close thickets, now lured by soft streams, and now he presses on amongst towering crags and climbs up to the highest peak that overlooks the flocks.

Pan is the son of Hermes.  He was abandoned by his nursemaid who was so frightened by his appearance.  Have you ever felt so ugly that even your nurse didn’t want you?  Pan may be conventionally ugly, but he gets enough attention from the lads and ladies that it’s almost like his horns and hair don’t matter.  (Or maybe it’s because of his horns and hair... tee hee!)

Often he courses through the glistening high mountains, 
and often on the shouldered hills he speeds along slaying wild beasts, this keen-eyed god.
Hermes found his baby boy, though, and was such a proud Papa that he brought him up to Olympus for the other gods to admire.  They all loved him so much, especially Dionysus.  Dionysus and Pan seem to be extra special friends, and I like to imagine that they are drinking and party buddies.  Like Dionysus, Pan delights in wild, sexy, musical, scary things (though their realms are a bit different.) 

Then all the immortals were glad in heart and Bacchic Dionysus in especial; 
and they called the boy Pan because he delighted all their hearts.

My friend was talking about Pan the last time we had rune study group, and she talked about him as a luminal god.  I’d never thought of Pan in this way before, and her words really stuck with me. 

Only at evening, as he returns from the chase, he sounds his note, playing sweet and low on his pipes of reed: not even she could excel him in melody -- that bird who in flower-laden spring pouring forth her lament utters honey-voiced song amid the leaves.

Pan is a poet, a philosopher, and a musician.  All of these things require extra skills and higher brain functioning.  They entail a certain sense of civilization.  But Pan is also a god of wild spaces, of the untamed, of the hidden nooks and crannies of nature.  He is half man and half animal, half civilized and half wild.  He can’t fit in either place completely, so he completely fits in neither. 
At that hour the clear-voiced nymphs are with him and move with nimble feet, singing by some spring of dark water, while Echo wails about the mountain-top, and the god on this side or on that of the choirs, or at times sidling into the midst, plies it nimbly with his feet.

My friend explained that sometimes Pan gets sad and lonely.  It’s hard to not fit in, to be abandoned, to be the butt of jokes, to be ugly and hairy (things none of us can relate to, right?).  So sometimes it gets him down.  He writes a sad tune, pens a melancholy poem… but then perks right back up again when a lovely nymph happens to wander by.  He is able to distract himself a bit, but the blues always returns… (nothing any of us can relate to… right?)

Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum.
On his back he wears a spotted lynx-pelt, and he delights in high-pitched songs in a soft meadow where crocuses and sweet-smelling hyacinths bloom at random in the grass.

The Victorian romantics were obsessed with Pan.  Being post-transcendentalists, they had rejected the age of reason and enlightenment, returned to nature, and idealized a classical, more civilized age.  They had been separate from the natural world for so long, that Pan, a figure who can walk both worlds (with varying success) became an ideal.  He represented nature in all of its wild, lusty, (intellectual?) perfection.  They composed poems and love songs to Pan, as if composing love songs to a forgotten age of their ancestors.

Ronald Hutton talks about Pan and the romantics to a great extent in his book The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft.  In his chapter “finding a God” he quotes a 1910 poem:

The odour of thy hair

They feet, thy hands shall bring

Again the Pagan spring,

And from our bodies’ union men shall know

To cast the veil from the sad face of woe…

But Pan!  Pan!  Pan!  And all the world shall be

Mingled in one wild burning ecstasy.
So while Pan may not be my primary deity (I’m pretty comfortable in my life as an urban Pagan and while tromping around the mountains sounds like fun it’s not the life for me), I have a deep appreciation for him.  I enjoy his stories and his imagery, and I especially love the Victorian poetry written about him.  Most of all, I love what Pan has done for so many, what he does for so many, throughout the ages.  He’s a sad, happy, lusty, hideously beautiful god, and I love him for that.

And so hail to you, lord! I seek your favour with a song. 
And now I will remember you and another song also.

Here are some previous articles I've written about Deity and the Divine: