Sunday, June 16, 2013

Worship - It doesn't mean what you think it means

It seems that some people feel that “worship” means bowing and scraping ones forehead on the ground in some slavish humiliation to the gods.

It does not.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1 chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)
2 reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also: an act of expressing such reverence
3 a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
4 extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem

And reverence, from the same source:

1 honor or respect felt or shown : deference; especially : profound adoring awed respect
2 a gesture of respect (as a bow)
3 the state of being revered
4 one held in reverence —used as a title for a clergyman

See? There's nothing in there about bowing and scraping, chanting “We're not Worthy”, humiliating yourself, or slitting a goat's throat.

I think some folks in the pagan world see the word “worship” and flash back to something in their Christian past that made them feel less than great, and the word gets a bad rap. Personally, I treat my gods like friends and family (the ones you like) and dedicate acts of kindness and charity to them.

Some hard-core reconstructionists probably won't agree with me, but that's OK. I'm not telling anyone they have to do things my way, or live in accordance with my will. I'm just sharing what works for me, because it works so very well for me.

Worship is a word. A perfectly reasonable word. If you have negative associations with the word, go do some Shadow work, write some spells to help you get over it in your journal, and move on. Just think, when you're done getting over this issue, you have one less thing that pisses you off. Won't that be nice?

Peace out, Witches.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Gods, Heroes, and Violins...

The recent pagan blogosphere explosion over comic book heroes being likened to gods as expressions of the same archetypal ideas is.....



Honestly, it's an old and trite conversation that anyone who's been around the pagan community more than 10 years has heard before, although perhaps not with this much vitriol.  Generally we have these sorts of conversations while trying out someones latest batch of home-brewed mead or something.  It's right up there with the same tired old "what is a pagan, really these days?" conversation that I'm not going to get into.

So here's my thinking on the subject, do with it what you will.

For "cerebral pagans" who intellectualize everything and analyze everything, it's a perfectly fine conversation to have, speculating on parallels.  Anyone can see that in many ways Superman is the Heracles mythos revamped for a more modern era.  Still, it's a fun intellectual exercise, but not really the basis for a serious philosophical approach to the pagan mysteries.

For a hard polytheist, it's a borderline insulting conversation.  Frankly, I can't imagine how ticked off I'd be if I was a hard polytheist who worshiped Thor, seeing the comic books, cartoons, and movies basically making a mockery of my personal deity.  If Christians started seeing Jesus action hero figurines, and Jesus comic books where he's less than perfect, portrayed as having faults, and showed his bare bottom, they'd probably be incensed.  Making a mockery of someone else's sacred and holy god/tradition/thing is just enormously assholic.

If the conversation were a little different, where Superman and the other comic book heroes were likened to heroic archetypes instead of gods, maybe the whole thing wouldn't have gotten quite so explosive.  But I think it's too late to interject a note of reason into the larger conversation stream, unfortunately.  I almost wasn't going to comment on it at all, really.

But on the way home from work tonight, I was listening to National Public Radio as usual, and the most interesting story was running.  It totally made my inner music geek sit up and squee with delight.  Story link is here:  Playing Mozart

In the story, people were talking with excited reverence about seeing, touching, and actually playing Mozart's instruments.  The real deal from the 18th century.  It made me realize that these people, while not worshiping Mozart as a god, were treating his instruments as almost holy relics.  This was literally the high point of some peoples lives, and I don't blame them for their feelings at all.  I mean geez, Mozart touched those!

In the story, there was a comment made that struck a huge nerve with me:  "They're quieter than modern instruments and produce less brilliantly colored tones. They force the audience to lean in to appreciate them."

Maybe we, as a pagan community need to remember that sometimes the louder and more flashy things aren't as precious as something that requires our energy to pay attention to.  Open all of your senses and revel in the glory of a sunrise, the next time you're up that early.  Give your first sip of tea or coffee in the morning all the attention of a devout monk in a cathedral listening to the Pope for the first time, and really enjoy the experience in all of its minute details.  Maybe by living a more reverential life, we can more easily treat each other with reverence.

But what do I know?  I'm just a guy whose first word was "Batman", after all.

Peace out, Witches.

Monday, June 10, 2013

To Dare: Throwing off the shackles of other peoples limits

The title for this blog post is a bit misleading. It doesn't really take courage to reject other peoples limits or expectations, you just have to do it and accept that there may be consequences you can't foresee. You don't have to prove to anyone that you're "pagan enough", because you set your own limits for who and what you should be.  Back in the days of PI (Pre-Internet), when Llewellyn only had a few books out and everyone was trying to struggle through Drawing Down the Moon, if you were lucky enough to find a teacher of Wicca one of the earliest things you learned was the Witch's Pyramid – To Know, To Dare, To Will, To Be Silent. With a heavy emphasis on being silent about what you were learning, who you were learning it with, and what you were doing.

These days, lots of people have broken their old oaths and broadcast everything on the Internet. Well, almost everything... some of us old-timers still have plenty of secrets we don't make public. Unfortunately, the down side to everything being so public and so accessible is that people are learning everything on their own (not always bad), from potentially questionable sources (bad), without any structure or proper monitoring of their energies while learning new psychic and magical skills (potentially awful). Think of it like a weight lifter without a spotter – if your form is wrong or you're lifting too much weight at once, you can seriously injure yourself.  If you were learning to juggle, a smart person would start with tennis balls.  Some people are trying to learn to juggle with swords, and hurt themselves because they don't have the skills yet.

The really big problem I see with this learning model is the complete and utter lack of self-confidence. A lot of self-taught pagans these days haven't done the deeper Shadow work to throw off the mores and expectations of their previous religion. That, my dear readers, is the part that takes courage. Self-examination, objective analysis of your own motivation and patterns, and finding a way to live free of those old patterns. If you're looking to others for your validation, you're looking in all the wrong places. While it's true that in an initiatory Mystery tradition you have to be initiated by someone to really be a part of it, that's not the only valid path in the meandering forest of paganism. Without having someone around to validate what you're learning by teaching you, it takes more work to validate it internally - but it's totally doable with enough internal objectivity.  However if you haven't thrown off the need for validation or example from someone else, you're doing yourself a disservice, and the gods a fair amount of disrespect.

And here's why. Your connection to Deity is YOURS, not someone else's. Oh, a good teacher can help you find the way to build your own connections to the Elementals and the Gods, but in reality you don't always need us for that. If you ignore your birthright to connect to the Mysteries of the Universe, you're basically throwing the gift in the trash. Everyone has that access themselves, if you look deep inside enough and learn to listen without your ego getting in the way. That's what a good teacher is for – to help you find your own power. My happiest moments of teaching in the past have been when my students have realized that their connection and their way of touching the Divine was different from mine, but correct for them.

You're going to have a more difficult time finding and keeping your connection to the Life around you if you haven't let go of old patterns, though. There are many choices other people make with their spiritual practices that I simply don't agree with, and don't or can't understand. But you know what? My opinion doesn't matter, because that's their path. I just hope they're doing what's truly right for them and fulfilling for them in every way, without being damaging.

So become your own role model. Establish your own parameters for what a “good” pagan is, and then figure out how to live up to it. Routinely (at least once a year) re-examine what you're doing and how happy it's making you, to see if you need to tweak something to be happier and more fulfilling. Don't be shy about asking for opinion, but don't take anything someone else says as gospel. See how you feel about it, internalize what works for you and get rid of the rest. Don't be a sheep, be a nice independent goat.

And don't put other pagans up on a pedestal. They're human, just like you are. Celebrate their wisdom as part of the tribe, but don't pretend they're some Catholic saint, because they're not. Expecting them to be is really unfair. I adore Selena Fox, I celebrate the marvelous hard work she's poured into public paganism and the amazing strides she's made for all of us over the decades. That lady totally found her passion and dared to make it a reality. But she's human. She laughs, she gets sad, and I'm sure once in a while she even has moments where she loses her temper, or farts or something. I would love to meet her, and some of the pagan authors I admire, but only because I think we'd have a great time hanging out, not because I think they're going to poof me into some neo-angelic being with their presence.

Am I making any sense, or have I rambled too much? Feel free to comment or leave questions, I'll do my best to answer. Just remember, I'm not perfect and I don't know everything. Just like you.

Peace out, Witches.