Paganism, Service Work, and Activism (Part 1 of ?)

Part 1: Where is there a place for service work and activism in paganism?

It’s no secret that I am a huge advocate for interfaith work. It has really worked to define my life as an undergrad. Service work and activism play essential roles in interfaith for me. When I first started doing interfaith work, my own religious foundation was shaky at best. I was the most general type of pagan out there, not following any gods or claiming to be a part of any specific group and not having a “real” practice of my own yet. So my own motivation towards service work and activism was honestly only based in following the herd. My group was planning an event and I was going to participate. There wasn’t anything religious motivating me. It has been a few years since then and I am a much more established person in a lot of areas, including my faith.

What got me thinking about paganism’s relationship to service work and activism was a combination of a few things. The first was, again, a more solid foundation in my own practice and better knowledge of other practices. The second was being aware of what was going on in the world. I lived in a bubble in high school and college made sure to pop it. The past few years, and certainly this past summer have forced me to look at issues that are normally not in my social spheres or things I concern myself with. The last thing, and what really put all of the pieces together was reading Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith. It was on my reading list for the summer and really served to inspire me to look into my own faith and find faith based reasons for service work and activism.

Now we come to the heart of the matter. Where is there a place for service work and activism in paganism? The answer is actually….a lot of places. Paganism does not have as direct a call to service work that other faiths have, at least to my admittedly imperfect knowledge. However, looking through our myths provides plenty stories that push us in that direction. The most prominent call to service work that I’ve found in paganism, broadly speaking, is hospitality.

Hospitality is a pretty common theme in mythology. Many people are familiar with stories of gods disguising themselves as beggars or travelers and going door to door to test their worshipers’ hospitality. The people that do accept the disguised gods are considered to be incredibly devout and in many stories are rewarded for giving the gods room and board. Conversely, those that refuse the gods are in many instances punished severely. Translating hospitality into a modern context is well…service work, at least in my mind. Modern hospitality to me goes beyond opening a single home, but rather opening the community. Food justice and housing (to name a few causes out of many) are the modern equivalent of giving a beggar some supper and a roof over there head. Hospitality, as I see it, should not be given because we fear that the person in need is one of our gods in disguise, who will punish us if we ignore them. Rather, we should understand ¬†that hospitality is something that the gods want us to give by default. However, it is something so often forgotten that they are forced to ingrain the lesson into us.

Offerings and sacrifice are also widely accepted practices in modern paganism. Service work can be a staple offering for people. You can be specific to your deity’s sphere of influence, such as working with veterans as an offering to deity’s associated with war. Again, however, community is such a core value in paganism that I have yet to meet a god that will not accept service work as an offering.

I have brought up community many times. I believe that a community should be welcoming to all people. That includes my local community, my state’s community, and my nation’s community. However, I know very well that my communities are not a welcoming place for everyone. Activism, for me, has been my way of trying to change that. Raising awareness and causing people to look at inequalities is how I, at this stage of my life, can do something. I draw upon the stories of deities and outcasts as well as the many people under sphere’s of influence that are not being treated equally in my community.

Philosophical concepts in paganism also lead towards service work and activism. Ma’at comes to mind. (Something I hope to eventually write an entire post on). Service work and activism seek to balance the world and keep Ma’at. The Wiccan Rule of Three, reads to me like a ripple effect. Service projects and activism can be a place that serves to inspire others. Or that what a person has, should in some way be given back to the community. Those are only two examples and I am sure there are more that could easily be applied to these topics.

This is getting long and preachy but here’s what I am saying. Service work and activism do have places in paganism. Faith can be a motivation for helping the community and does have textual support for it in mythology. I have only scratched the surface of this issue from my own theistic pagan background. I hope to delve further into my own motivations for service work and activism in later posts.

Ethics & Spirit Work: Introduction

Spirit work, regardless of whether it is done on the astral, in the physical, or in that strange in-between, tends to bring with it many ethical conundrums. If you have been doing spirit work for any significant amount of time, you should have some understanding that human rules, customs, and ethics don’t exactly apply neatly into spirit work all of the time or even most of the time. (Though the idea that there are universal human ethics is a conversation topic in and of itself.) Quite a lot of ethical topics have come up in my practice lately, both in situations I have been placed in, my friends have shared with me, or that I have just casually read about in passing. So, I thought it was high time that I write about these issues both for myself and for others to have an archived well-articulated response to the issues.

Obviously, when I am writing about these topics, I am writing from my perspective and my own ethical stance. I am not claiming that what I write is the absolute law of the land (though on some issues I cannot in any way see the other side’s perspective and will freely admit that). I am also not going to be able to cover every instance and variation of the topics I am discussing. In some instances my statements will likely sound harsh and cold. I assure you that there is a reason behind my positions, many of them difficult lessons. It is also worth noting that I am an anthropology major and as a result my discipline is going to come through in this series rather strongly. That will often mean siding with the spirit, the local culture, and its customs rather than the side of the human, the outsider. Spirit work requires research and caution, a lesson that the majority of spirit workers learn the hard way but is an essential one nonetheless.

Because I cannot cover any of these topics in full, I am also open to conversations about all of them. Ethics & Spirit Work conversations have been some of the most philosophical and enjoyable conversations that I’ve had with people.

Vacation Reflections: Water Spirits

Reflections and ramblings from my 2016 vacation in Florida.

I’m at the point in my practice as a spirit worker that my senses are pretty much always on or are very easy to access. Sensing spirits is like turning on a switch for me. There are instances where I turn off my senses, either out of respect or for my own safety or both. However, since I was on vacation, I figured that I was allowed a bit of sight seeing of the spirit variety.

My first day, or rather evening, in Florida made it very clear that I needed to respect nature in this place. I had landed after a delayed and turbulent flight, not exactly in a decent mood. However, it is tradition that we go out to dinner on the beach the day someone arrives. The restaurant was on the beach, and looking out towards the ocean. I have never seen such a picturesque image. The full moon was rising and was an unobscured beacon of light. Behind it large thunder clouds produced heat lightning. All of this was reflected on the ocean waves, rough because of riptide conditions, crashing against the pier. It was perfect and it was a reminder of who was in charge here.

The next day, we rented a boat and traveled along the inner-coastal. Canals weave together like alleyways in the city with rather expensive housing on either side. Soon after we left the docks, I spotted some merfolk. The looked more annoyed at us than anything, likely preferring the quite now that tourist season is mostly over and the canals mostly empty. Later in one of the areas where you were allowed to speed up, I spied water horses swimming to keep pace with the boat. I don’t think that they were hippocampi but I’m not familiar enough with water spirits to know one way or the other. I think that they mostly enjoyed the large wake of the boat more than anything.

Another day we went to the Everglades. I did not see any specific spirits here, but I did feel something. I have felt dying plant life before. I once made the mistake of trying to connect with a dying tree and the experience has stayed with me years later. The Everglades….felt a bit like that. They felt like decay, but not in the natural way. It was a reminder that nature can only take so much. Places that are considered natural wonders are not immortal. It was a somber reminder that I will not soon forget.

My final encounter with water was towards the end of my vacation. I have noticed that when I am outside and deeply connecting with nature, that I start singing and humming a song that was sung at a Lakota sweat lodge I participated in. I don’t remember much of it except a general tune but it’s a signal all the same. We had gone to the beach around dusk. I left to walk the beach on my own for a bit and began humming that song. I noticed that this beach had more tumbled stones than it did shells. One of my goals had been to find hag stones. I try to be aware of the environment in my craft though. I am teaching myself to only take what I need, and not what I want. I had picked up a fair few stones when I heard a spirit say “No more.” I agreed with them and stopped searching. Oddly enough, my grandmother, who had caught up to me and was actually combing the beach a ways ahead of me, also stopped looking at this point. On our way back I looked out toward the ocean. The spirit I saw could only really be described as a genius loci, a spirit of place. I feel like he was the spirit of the beach rather than of the ocean itself though. He was giant, easily a mile shoulder to shoulder. He was also very serious. I gathered that he was not happy with all of the people that took too many shells and stones, or left their trash in the sand to float out to sea. We didn’t talk much, this spirit and I. I doubt he has much interest in humans. Out of respect for his domain and a general respect for the land as a whole, I kept my word to take no more. I was tempted a few times and sternly reminded.

That was my last distinct encounter with water spirits on my vacation. Overall they left me with a clear message. One needs to have the highest respect for the land, wherever they are. It is not our role to take until there is nothing left, or to ignore the consequences of our lifestyles. The land is not immortal and it is not infinite. We need to be aware and be active in sealing the wounds we have torn open.

Vacation Reflections: Catholic Mass

Personal reflections and ramblings based on my 2016 vacation to Florida

This past week I was on vacation at my grandparents’ home in Florida. They are the side of the family that is very firmly in their faith, that being Catholicism and for younger members Evangelicalism. Now as I have briefly discussed in other posts, my relationship with my Catholic upbringing was complicated. For much of my teen years I hated everything that had to do with the church. However, my stance has since softened for several reasons: interfaith work, biblical study for my degree, Pope Francis, and even magical practitioners using Catholic traditions. This past Sunday though, was my first time attending a Catholic mass since my more hateful days. This service is what I will be talking about in brief here.

I should note that to my extended family, I identify as agnostic/spiritual. It saves me headaches and they tend to not ask further questions, believing me to just be the scholarly type. My reputation for adoring the fantasy genre since childhood serves to take care of any odd imagery I might be wearing as well. So I was not going to this service with them expecting me to participate as if I had never left. They understood that I was going in as a neutral observer, which was true.

In my nostalgia I have often said that if I were to ever return to being Christian, I would go back to being Catholic. Now, this does not mean returning to weekly mass, as community in religion has never really appealed to me regardless. I’ve often enjoyed remembering the mysticism that Catholicism holds and I was a bit disappointed that this church was more modern in design. However, it was the content of the service that had me interested.

I like to joke that being Pagan has made me much better at Christian theology. I really think it has though. It is easier to pick out the weight behind what is said during mass and the oaths that make up prayers and songs. As a pagan, you tend not to take omnipotence and omnipresence as a given with deities. You are usually taught (or learn the hard way) to watch what you say and who you make promises to. Deals are carefully considered matters and it is not assumed that the gods will take care of you. Having this perspective and being so used to being aware of my words truly made me appreciate all of the devotion behind a Catholic mass. It made me appreciate the praise they sing to their God and the oaths they renew weekly.

The transmutation of bread and wine into body and blood reminded me of many of my own personal rituals, such as the consumption of spent offerings that make me feel a closeness to my own god. Catholics wearing their crosses and crucifixes remind me of how comforting it is to wear my own devotional jewelry. Finally there was a call not to proselytize, but to make their community a healthy and welcoming enough place that people may find a relationship with God and comfort within their walls. I am oathbound to Loki because of the home I have found with Him. It has impacted me so much in such a positive way that I sincerely hope that people can have that relationship with a deity or faith. I saw the same urge reflected in that church.

This Catholic mass turned out to be a private exercise in interfaith for me. I saw much about what I love about my own faith reflected in the essentials of Catholic mass. Their passions were much like my own. Though I have no intention of ever returning to the Church, I believe this experience served as a reminder that religions do not need to be considered completely alone in every practice and that my own paganism does not exist in a bubble. It has been very much influenced by my Catholic roots. Different religions do not need to be wholly alien to each other.

 

Wheel of Time Pop Culture Work (Part 2 of ?)

Part 2: Post The Eye of the World Reflection

It has been a few days since I finished The Eye of the World, the first book in the Wheel of Time series. I’m holding off on the next one until I am on vacation and have some very long plane rides. There was a lot of note taking about how the magic system in general seemed to work. However, that wasn’t really the focus of this book, but I know it comes up more in the second.

The most practical technique I got from The Eye of the World was the Flame and the Void exercise that I mentioned in my previous post. I’ve been using it fairly frequently. It has been helping me clear my mind before I astral. It has also been helpful in just generally clearing my mind and helping me focus. I have a really bad wandering mind and the Flame and the Void has been helping me get back on track big time. I find it so helpful that it really makes up for the lack of detailed information on the Aes Sedai and the One Power in the first book.

I’m looking forward to finding more inspiration in the next Wheel of Time book. I remember there being some meditation related things in the second book that I am really looking forward to analyzing.

Wheel of Time Pop Culture Work (Part 1 of ?)

Part 1: Where I want to focus on and where I am at so far

I read the first book in the Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan maybe three years ago or more. I really enjoyed the first book but never kept up with the series after that, despite owning more of the books. I remember finding the magic system in the series to be really interesting and have been meaning to go back to the series.

Now that I have been debating getting into pop culture work, I finally decided to jump back into the series and pay special attention to the magic system and the Aes Sedai in the series. From what I remember, I will likely be able to apply these methods to meditation and energy work more than any other field.

As of today, I am not that far into the first book. I only just got to the event that causes the main character to leave his home town. Not a lot has been revealed about the Aes Sedai or the magic of the world. However, there is an interesting technique that appears within the first few pages of the book.

He was hoping his father had not noticed he was afraid when Tam said, “Remember the flame, lad, and the void.”

It was an odd thing Tam had taught him. Concentrate on a single flame and feed all your passions into it-fear, hate, anger-until your mind becomes empty. Become one void, Tam said, and you can do anything.

-Robert Jordan, The Eye of the World

My practice involves working with fire quite a bit, so I am really drawn to this technique. I look forward to using it as a calming/focusing technique.

I am looking forward to seeing what other techniques come up as I keep reading and plan to record my progress as I go, both generally on here and in more detail in my grimoire.

Scheduling my Woo Work?

If I am a master at one thing, it is procrastination. I am the person that does so much last minute. I have woken up at 5am and written and entire paper for my 9am class. So, I get distracted easily…. The internet or a video game, or a book sucks me in and suddenly the entire day is gone and I have gotten nothing done. It even happens with stuff I am really passionate about like my spirit work and devotional work.

So I am trying something new. One of my friends referred me to the site, Habitica. It’s a task manage site with an RPG twist. I’m not only scheduling everyday tasks, but I am also working in some of my spiritual practices as well. Things like making sure I give some time every day to Loki, meditating every day, astraling a few times a week….That’s really what I am going for.

So far (and by so far I mean a day) it is going well and I am enjoying planning all of this out. It makes me actually want to get things done and get back into habits I really enjoyed when I was newer at all of this.

Looking forward to seeing how this goes and am pretty optimistic about it all.

Pop Culture Work?

Pop culture work, that is pop culture magic, spirit work, astral work, etc., has been on the edge of my mind for quite some time. I have known that it was a practice for awhile now, but have never really delved into it personally. The more time that goes by, the more I am interested in it, though.

Media has had a fairly significant impact on my life. I never really had friends growing up, but was a heavy reader. When I was a bit older, I feel in love with video games for their ability to uniquely tell stories. A little after that I learned a bit about film and fell in love with the various ways that movies and television could tell a story. For a lot of my high school career, right up until I registered for college, I wanted to be a storyteller of some kind. That may have been an author, a screenwriter, or a filmmaker…I never full decided at the time. Regardless, immersing myself in media has been something that I have been doing for most of my life. I have had more heroes and more inspiration from fiction than I have from real life. Now as an active witch and spirit worker, pop culture work seems like it would be a damn good addition, right?

I think that there are a few reasons as to why I haven’t fully delved into pop culture work. Oddly enough, it isn’t disbelief. My woo life has made very little (with the exception of egotistical claims) too out there for me. Instead, I think the main reason that I hesitate is not knowing where to begin. Pop culture magic is easy enough to approach. That is just adapting something in media into my own practice. I would just need to go back and take a few notes. Pop culture spirit work though….I understand the basic concept but don’t really have any idea of how to get started. That and if I do meet a spirit from pop culture that I am interested in, I wouldn’t want to be weird about it. I have a bit of a tendency to fangirl with media I like…

I do think that I will be looking into pop culture magic possibilities in the near future. That means picking up the Wheel of Time series again, looking at Dresden Files magic in a bit more detail, and maybe casually watching some Charmed. Pop culture spirit work though will likely stay on the back burner. I already have so much to explore of the astral without adding in pop culture dimensions so for now it will wait.

I like keeping my practices adaptable and loose to a certain extent simply because I like having more than one trick up my sleeve. Pop culture work is certainly in my future with this kind of style. It’s also probably something you will see me writing about on here as I start practicing more.

Reflections on Midsummer 2016

Yesterday was the summer solstice. Normally I don’t celebrate the holiday. Summer heat has never been my thing and weather above 80 degrees Fahrenheit isn’t really my thing. It was the full moon that convinced me to get my magic on. The full moon acted to balance out the day for me. Both the sun and moon were at the height of their power in my eyes.

I won’t go into very much detail because I personally believe in the power of secrecy when it comes to magic. I did two magical things yesterday, one when the sun was at its apex and the other when the moon was at its apex. Balance was the theme of the day really. I was also lucky enough that I had the house to myself all day and all night due to the other occupants going to the beach out of state and spending the night.

The first spell was about taking in a sense. It was about declaring what I wanted/needed and bringing it to me. I did this with items that reminded me of the sun. Fire, plants that have been flourishing in the summer heat, objects that shine in the light…all of these were essential. I wasn’t able to preform the spell outside on account of the wind, but it was probably for the best because of all the chanting going on. It was a very involved spell and took quite a long time in comparison to other spells I have done. One thing that I found interesting was that the wind built up stronger and the clouds became darker as the spell went on. A thunderstorm hit as the spell finished. I took it as a very good sign and a parallel to what I was doing, power being built up and then released into the world. Over the years I have developed a serious respect for summer storms and their power, again adding to the significance.

My second magical act was very different. It was done late at night and was about giving. Balancing everything out. It was a much more private affair, quite and only between myself and the spirits I am close with. I gave back to them some of myself because they have given so much to me, including the magic I had done earlier. The weather had cleared up by then and the night was still. It was a calming end to the day and both acts were very memorable experiences.

The day went very differently than I thought it would be. I did not anticipate the theme of balance the day had, but it worked out for the best in the long run. I don’t know if I will ever celebrate the summer solstice again. It still isn’t exactly my thing. But I am extremely satisfied with how my magic went. I also learned more about balance and how it applies to my magic more than I had before. It will definitely be something I consider in my future workings.

Mentoring Young Spirit Workers

I’m going to start off by saying that I am by no means a master of spirit work. I am no elder, sage, or grand high poo-bah of the astral. I’m just a gal that’s getting close to doing spirit work for five years now and has made some observations about how to work with people just getting into this stuff. I’m also just as set in my ways as most other spirit workers are. This post is mainly in reference to knowing people face-to-face rather than over the internet.

Compared to other “woo” subjects, spirit work doesn’t really have a place in the public eye. Witchcraft is pretty well known in pop culture and a lot of people are aware that their are people that practice in real life, even if they aren’t sure what that practice entails. Mediums are also pretty well known in the public eye, but the majority of people think they are just scammers. Spirit work though, as in someone going to the astral and working with spirits that aren’t human or animal? That is something that is not nearly as common in the public eye. People might think of some “Ancient Native American Wisdom” (man, that was painful to write) but that is not a guarantee. What I am getting at is that if you are brand new to spirit work, especially if you don’t have any experience in other woo areas, you really don’t have a frame of reference for what’s going on around you.

So it makes sense that brand new spirit workers can be very excited when they meet someone that is more experienced than they are. I know I was super excited when I found the blog of someone that had been doing this for a few years. They introduced me to the term spirit work and helped me understand that what I was experiencing was something that others were too. It also let me know about some of risks and safety measures that I wasn’t even aware.

The question for me now though, is what do I do now that I am the experienced person and a new person is coming to me for advice? For me, the answer has been to be very general and ultimately try to get the person to do their own thing. Spirit work has a so much variety that really I can only speak in generalizations. The person will ultimately need to find out on their own how they best work with spirits and what kind of spirits they connect with. I can warn them to be cautious and to use discernment, but holding their hand is only going to make me a helicopter parent that refuses to let their kids learn things on their own. I can also teach them basic safety measures that they can modify themselves. I can also point them in the direction of good resources and warn them about bad ones. But other than some basic ground rules, etiquette, methods, and reading lists, I can’t do much more for a new person. I am one of those people that believes that you need to learn some lessons the hard way and sometimes you need to screw up so that you can learn from it.

I’m not saying that I am going to completely abandon a new spirit worker. If they have questions, I will answer them. (That is unless the person is excessive about their questions and is asking me for help for every single step of the way.) Something also worth noting is that spirit work can come in stages. Much of my work is currently done on the astral. That is the main way that I interact with spirits these days. I am not going to throw a new person into the astral just because that is what I am used to. I’m also someone that pushes working with spirit guides because they know what you need a lot better than I do.

One final note that I will make about this is about the mentor. Spirit work really doesn’t have a high retention rate in my experience. The amount of people that commit and make it to the two year or even one year mark is probably only around ten percent. While that can be for various reasons, I really don’t want to invest a ton of time and effort into someone that might not even continue down this path. I have also had quite a few people who have had either really bad egos or wanted to be seen as special to get attention. Me being vague protects my spirits and myself. I’m not going to deal with drama or egos when I have my own practice to get on with. The hands off approach tends to keep the people that really do want to practice spirit work ¬†going and finding out about themselves, while also not feeding egos or feeding the people that just want attention.

That’s been my experience thus far with mentoring young spirit workers, or just being the more experienced person at the table. My opinion on all of this might change in the coming years, it might not. Ultimately I think that letting people find their own path with spirit work is the best course of action. I give them some basic tools and advice and have them figure out the rest. I am there if they need me, but I am not going to make students that end up looking just like their teacher.