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Seven Layer Cake (Connecting the Dots, Part 2)

Now, commercial television isn’t supposed to kick off philosophical thought, but it accidentally did last night. I watched “Bones” and a character talked about fish having souls. As I was drifting off to sleep, I thought about having a conversation with that character about reincarnation. That reminded me about an Otherkin-inspired essay I wrote a while back about reincarnation and whether or not souls reincarnated across species (for example, fish in one life, cat in the next, person in the one after that). And in my bouncy before-sleep brain, that led to me thinking about connecting the dots (previous essay). In brief, I came up with the notion that we are all made up of dots (or nexuses) that can exist in multiple planes. Last night I put the matrix of dots and reincarnation together and came up with the next level.

What if, in each incarnation, our dots more or less form a layer, and this incarnation’s layer is on top of the previous incarnation’s dots. Maybe remembering past lives or having some experience that connects us to whatever “other” we were previously occurs when a nexus from this life overlays one from a previous life? When dots line up sufficiently, we get a glimmer of what went before. In some ways, you can picture this like a seven-layer cake. Each incarnation is a layer of cake, separated by time in the Summerland (or Void or wherever you may think you go in-between lives, provided you believe in reincarnation at all) as represented by the layer of crème or icing. Have you ever baked anything, and stuck a toothpick in it to see if it’s done? If it isn’t quite done, the toothpick comes out with a little bit of stuff on it. I know that you don’t bake a cake with the icing on it, but go with the imagery for a minute. If you did that, you would be moving tiny amounts of cake and icing through the layers as you move the toothpick. That would be the process of remembering (or maybe even seeing the future??). And what, I hear you say, does the toothpick represent? Perhaps meditation? Intuition? Those things that help us see past and forward in any case. But going from the cake metaphor back to the dots (which are a metaphor anyway), dots aligning between layers wouldn’t even have to be in contiguous layers, hence getting things from past lives but not necessarily the most recent one.

Does any of this make any sense to anybody? Is it familiar? Something I’m unintentionally pulling from some long ago philosophy class that I otherwise forgot? Or have I convinced you all that I’m a raving loon?

Do I fervently believe this is how things really are? Dunno. But I have some ideas. (For a great take on belief versus ideas, go watch Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” if you haven’t seen it already. Or maybe even if you have.)

(April 16, 2008)

Connect the Dots

I recently did my initiation for the Autonomatrix, a chaos magic guild. As part of the ritual, I did a meditation. During that meditation, I gained some insights that I want to explore in a bit more detail.

Since the meditation was for entrance into a group whose title combines “autonomy” and “matrix”, I was hoping to make some connection to “something” that went along that theme, and the script for the whole ritual included a declaration along those lines. To get into the meditation, I put on some music and used my chaos rosary to count off “I am Air” ten times, “I am Fire” ten times, “I am Water” ten times, “I am Earth” ten times, “I am Spirit” ten times, then “I am the Universe” seven times (once for each planet bead) but continuing until it seemed right to stop.

I saw myself floating in space, getting small enough to see between the parts of the atom, into quantum space. (For an interesting discussion of some experiments about being able to affect the quantum field, read The Field by Lynne McTaggart.) A line from the Tao Te Ching, which I just re-read, came to me. “So the profit in what is is in the use of what isn’t.” Years ago, in a discussion on tantra, several of us had held on to the edges of a blanket. When one bit of the blanket was tugged, we all felt it. It was an interesting demonstration of how everyone, every thread, is connected. I now realized that this view was insufficient. I am actually not one mass connected to the rest of the universe, I am in multiple places at the same time. Imagine a connect the dots picture and all the background is dots as well. I am a dot here, a dot there, connected below and above and through other dots. The dots that make up “me” change and the pattern of dots that are me can be added to and subtracted from. Understand that the dots that make up the universe (and me) are not laid out in a two-dimensional or even three-dimensional structure. Think of it more as pan-dimensional. Our dots or nexuses occur in the physical, but also the ethereal as well. It’s why we can travel to the spiritual, part of us is already there. It doesn’t matter if we are travelling only in our heads or imaginations, as all of our parts are connected but not all contiguous.

This is also why our minds work in so many layers, why it is so hard to have all the parts of your brain concentrate on one thing at a time. You know what I mean here – you’re reading this and thinking about it and scratching your nose all at the same time. It’s also why it is so powerful when you do focus on one thing. Bringing all the layers of your mind into alignment is the means for magic, it’s gnosis. When we don’t scatter our energy, we can accomplish amazing things

My pattern is just one of the patterns in the Great Web, which is a term I use to describe the “all” that is the stuff of the universe, what connects us all. I wanted a term that was more mystical than “quantum field,” less primal than “primordial chaos,” less monotheistic than “God,” and less philosophical than “Tao.” In my meditation, I then had an image of the Great Web (giant spiderweb with stars behind it) and a bunch of other symbols (yin/yang, pentagram, Autonomatrix symbol, phoenix). They all seem like anchors/access points to the Web. I think these and other symbols and what they represent are methods for us to approach understanding something we can’t really understand (okay, sounds rather Taoist of me, and I’m good with that). I think that understanding that these (and many more) are methods of approaching the indefinable both helps us inch toward it and allows for us to be okay with someone else using a different doorway, different access route.

My new understanding of being a connect-the-dots pattern in the Great Web felt like a shift in my core (whatever that is). It deepens the connection between me and the rest of the universe. It’s no longer like someone else affects me by tugging on my arm to get my attention. Instead, the pull is on my molecules.

There’s more here I haven’t gotten at yet, more to be explored. Keep in mind, I’m not saying this vision is capital-T-True, but right now, for me, this is the truest I can get.

(December 21, 2007)

Reincarnation

I was reading something the other day that related to the question of cross-species reincarnation and it started me thinking about exactly what I think about reincarnation, in somewhat more detail than I have before. I’ve believed in reincarnation for a long time. It seems to me that all of our parts, our molecules are infinitely recycled by the universe (matter can be neither created nor destroyed, after all), and so, if I believe that the soul (or whatever term I want to give it) exists, then we must surely live multiple lives. But even given that as a starting point, there are lots of variations and questions. So here is a bit of my thought processes and questions and conclusions. Take them as food for thought and nothing more, as I don’t know any of this.

Is there cross-species reincarnation (for example, might I have been a dog or a cow in a previous incarnation) or do we only reincarnate in our own species? This thought led me to the question of whether or not I think living creatures other than humans reincarnate — which relates to whether or not non-human creatures have souls. I don’t know about you, but I look at my dogs, the two I have now and the ones I’ve had in the past, and no one is going to convince me that dogs do not have souls. And anyone who tries to tell me that, when I die and go to the Summerland or wherever, if anywhere, my four-legged friends won’t be there with me, can give up wasting their breath. I know I’m not alone in this. The people I know with dogs and cats and horses know we aren’t the only ones on this planet who live beyond the corporeal. So what about souls moving from one form to another? Unless there is an infinite pool of souls just hanging out in the ethereal somewhere (and that may be), I’d say there has to be crossover, because there are many, many more people on this planet now than there were even 100 years ago, let alone 1000 years ago. Three possibilities occur to me:

  1. There is a pool of souls waiting to be born and the souls in that pool may wait centuries.
  2. Not everyone has a soul. Maybe only a select few are born with souls. Or maybe, we sometimes gain a soul during our lifetime. (See A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore for a hilarious fictional consideration of this approach.)
  3. Souls cross species and therefore a soul may inhabit a bird, then a human, then a dog, etc.

About option 1, it seems to me to be a little wasteful. I think that reincarnation is that our souls can learn and grow and experience things that can only be learned in the physical. If that is the case, then hanging out for centuries waiting for humans to be born seems like time that could be better spent. Now, I realize that may be a physical-centric perspective, there may be things that can only be learned in the ethereal (probably many), but I sort of figure that some important things can only be learned here — that’s why we keep getting incarnated.

For option 2, I admit this has some nice touches. We can all think of people we might be perfectly convinced have no soul. But then we do get to the question of whether we need a soul to live (or live as more than just a shell, we’ve probably all read or seen some horror story to this affect). Unless we wind up with “death merchants” moving “soul vessels” around (you really should read Christopher Moore) this doesn’t seem incredibly practical.

For option 3, it seems that this allows for sufficient numbers for humans with souls. This does lead to the question of whether all animals have souls. Based on the dogs and cats idea, I’ll assume for the moment that mammals have souls. What about birds? Reptiles? Insects? Let’s look from another angle for a second. What can we learn from these different creatures? What can we learn from an ant? Or a spider? Or a cockroach? Maybe we can learn how to work in cooperation with others, without seeking individual glory? Or how a small motion in one part of our world can be detected far away because everything is connected? Or how to survive by staying hidden?

Now, I don’t know how many souls there are or how many at any given time would need the lessons that might be taught by a billion or so cockroach lives, but this thought process has gotten me to “maybe” instead of “no.” Or maybe souls kick in somewhere in the species and genus and family tree. I don’t have a real answer there, but I do feel like I answered my original question was about cross-species versus same-species reincarnation. I think there are lessons that can be taught by non-humans, and what better way to learn those than by being the thing that experiences those lessons best? The same way I think that souls incarnate to learn from the physical, why should I think the only physical incarnation worth learning from is in human form?

(May 20, 2007)

Shadow Play

Shadow is often thought of as a way of identifying our “dark side”. Shadows are not possible without light – but also note that light cannot exist without causing shadows. The “opposite” of light is dark – the absence of light. Shadow is the meeting of light and dark – it is the balance. It is the reflection of light. By that, I mean that a shadow approximates and is related to the light and what is in it – shadows aren’t simply amorphous blobs, but maintain a connection to what causes them.

Reflections are not exact, but they are closer to what they reflect. Reflections fool us into believing they are what they reflect easier than shadows do, but they aren’t really any more True.

By saying shadows and reflections aren’t True, I don’t mean that they are Wrong or Bad or False or not Useful. On the contrary, remembering that they are not accurate portrayals of ourselves opens up doors. If they don’t accurately portray us, what do they show? Our inner selves? Our shadow selves? Our higher selves? Inner child? Inner monster? Light a candle. Watch the shadows play.

(May 28, 2005)

Legalese

The group I am with is currently going through the process of paperwork to become 501(c)3. For those who aren’t aware of the term, it means you try to get the government to recognize that you are a church of some sort and you get various tax advantages out of it. I’ve been contemplating how the logistics of this affect the running of the group and also whether or not I, when I hive off, want to go through this process. I’m aware that the following thoughts may change as I gather more information.

At the moment, my opinion is that incorporation, 501(c)3, trying to be tax exempt, etc., are all attempts at getting external validation that ours is a legitimate religion. Not to say that some larger groups, particularly those that own land as a group, don’t have real practical reasons to do this. I’m talking about us smaller fry. All of that stuff drives having a board of directors, having to have minutes, etc. The government does not determine the legitimacy of religions — it’s stated in several cases at the federal and state levels that they do not do that. What the government does do is determine whether or not you are a church for tax purposes. And because it is for tax purposes, and hence financial, they get very sticky and very cranky. It’s the IRS, afterall. And because the layer of religion is there, individuals beliefs get involved, even when they shouldn’t.

I’m not looking for financial breaks from the government and I don’t want to be a church and I don’t need external validation that my religion is a religion (despite what the President thinks, and note I said “the” not “our”). Therefore, unless faced with strong persuasion otherwise, it is not my intent to incorporate or do any other official government paperwork to become tax exempt, etc.

And why should you care, you may be asking yourself. On Witchvox, when you put in information for your group, two of the questions you are asked is whether you are incorporated and whether you are a 501(c)3. I went to a Pagan Skills Leadership Conference in Richmond recently (an absolutely wonderful experience, btw) and was asked more than once if my group was incorporated and whether we are a 501(c)3. It seems like even the Pagans are using this government legalese to validate ourselves. Can we not do that, please? Except for the folks who really need to care about this stuff (again, especially folks who own land should have the tax breaks) let’s not use these external markers to vouch for our own legitimacy. That makes the smaller, newer groups second class citizens. And the size of a pagan group is far from the best or only way to determine anything useful about the group. It doesn’t tell you about the quality of their magic or their teachers. It doesn’t tell you about the experience of their members. It doesn’t tell you about the sincerity of a group’s leaders. Let’s not forget that we define what we are, not the government.

(September 6, 2004)

Contemplating More

Friends of mine went walking/meditating at Columcille. L comes back after catching a glimpse into the ethereal and gets an answer that besides what we know of the gods, there is More. To totally over-simplify her illumination, there is that which we and the gods are both of/from/part/contained. Her husband pokes me with the challenge to discuss the implications of this.

Many different cultures say we came out of something I’ll refer to for the time being as primordial chaos. For my purposes, this primordial chaos is equivalent to whatever is that top curvy bit on the Tree of Life chart (Ain Soph or whatever), for example. The interesting thing about chaos is that there is some kind of order to it. Not rigid order, but the kind of fractal craziness that gets discussed when talking about ocean waves or leaf patterns or weather systems. And order turns around and turns to chaos if left on its own. This kind of stuff is apparently talked about in chaos theory (see page 43 in Understanding Chaos Magic by Jaq Hawkins and see Chaos by James Gleick).

So, one tiny variation can, given the time (a term which doesn’t really make sense in this context) a universe or three can be created. And stars and planets and gods and people. We are all made of the same stuff. Some folks call it “star stuff” but I find that term New Age and it ignores that the stars had to be created out of something. At some point, I will find/create my terms for the primordial chaos and the stuff of which we are made, don’t have ’em yet. And I consider that the same type of variation which created “universes” created “planes” — the ethereal or the material – maybe made one from the other, maybe made at different times, maybe the same time, but coming from the same original Unnamed stuff. If I’ve been too Star Warsy I may call this the Source, but I don’t love the term either.

Another (tangential?) take on this is Peter Carroll talking about Chaos, Kia, and the Aether. Kia is sort of equivalent to soul/spirit/spark. See my blog entry for the ideas that went around this before. “A thing is said to exist and exert certain properties…Every phenomenon is seen to be caused by some previous thing…The “thing” responsible for the origin and continued action of events is called Chaos by magicians…[chaos] is the force which adds increasing complexity to the universe by spawning structures which were not inherent in its component parts…Between Chaos and ordinary matter, and between Kia and the mind, there exists a realm of half formed substance called Aether.”

This description makes Aether different from what we generally call the ethereal plane in that it is not “elsewhere” but is the connecting force between everything. Sort of like jello with fruit floating in it, where we’re all the fruit (yea yea I made a funny) and the Aether is the jello. Anyway, using Carroll’s idea, presumably his Chaos would the primordial ooze we’ve heard about elsewhere, but the additional concept of Chaos increasing in complexity is what prevents the primordial ooze from remaining primordial ooze and therefore gets you my term of primordial chaos.

I’m also thinking there may have been layers of creation between the primordial chaos and the universes. And that my friend’s More may be either the primordial stuff or one of those layers. It may even been Carroll’s version of the Aether.

The original question had to do with implications, so here goes.

Implication 1:
The first implication re-enforces something I’ve believed/felt for a long time. We are all made of the same stuff, right (we know this, molecules, atoms, they get exchanged all the time, we don’t hold on to our original selves forever – we are completely recast every 7 years), so how can someone really be OTHER than we are? Look at it this way, to be technical. I eat a tomato. I digest it. Somewhere down the line, my physical output becomes fertilizer for another plant. Say, a lovely ear of corn. You eat the corn. You digest it, etc. etc. Matter cannot be either created or destroyed, and so on. So we aren’t all just made from the same stuff, we exchange our stuff on a regular basis. To me, that throws out prejudice, bigotry, you name it. I’m not saying there aren’t individual people I wouldn’t like to throttle, that there isn’t behavior exhibited by my fellow beings that I think is ridiculous or downright abhorrent, but I still remember that we are all connected.

Implication 2:
If the gods are made from the same stuff we are, then the differences between us are matters of degree. More or less (or lower or higher) vibrations. More (or less) age. Bigger, smaller. Denser or more tenuous and ethereal. Does this make them more accessible? How does it affect the question of whether they created us or we created them? On the question of whether deities are archetypes (may be psychological or energy constructs) or purely psychological or so real you can touch them (on this plane or another), now what? Of course, I start with the premise up above that the gods have been created of the same Unnamed stuff as we mortals, so where I started precludes the purely psychological interpretation of deity.

And this only gets us to the question of energy/matter versus primordial chaos versus Aether, without getting us further. But that will have to wait for another day, my brain is cramped.

As always, comments and questions are welcome. Come you guys, philosophize back at me.

(August 18, 2004)

Acceptance in the Pagan Community

On the whole, Neo-Pagans are amazingly accepting people. I’ve seen conversations in which one individual reveals the most non-mainstream, off-the-beaten-track, or, I’m sorry, just plain wacky, aspect of their personality, beliefs, sexuality, interaction with things that go bump in the night, locations of tattoos and/or piercings. And the audience response has, at a minimum, been a shrug of the shoulders followed by “That’s nice” or some vanilla flavored equivalent. Often, the reaction is “oh me too!” I applaud this acceptance. I’ve found myself doing it. My group teaches acceptance of all paths and I strongly believe it.

I do, however, want to make a distinction between accepting an individual’s path/beliefs/piercings and accepting an individual’s behavior. We talk about our willingness to accept someone’s behavior, for example, swinging his or her fist, stopping “at the end of my nose”. I think we all know where the end of our nose is physically, and most of us wouldn’t put up with someone stepping over the line in a violent physical manner, but where the line is in other ways seems to be very vague indeed. It has to be, because everybody’s line is different. We have to determine what “over the line” is for ourselves and that line may shift depending on circumstances and mood. For example, we tell our students that, when welcoming a new person to one or our open rituals, ask before hugging them. Many people are so used to being greeted with a hug in that environment that they forget not everybody is comfortable with being hugged by strangers. Let’s take this a step further, though. You may be comfortable with that stranger hugging you. You may be comfortable with that stranger hugging your significant other. Are you comfortable ten minutes later when the stranger hasn’t let you (or your S.O.) go? If not, there may be a place here for a conversation, a joke, a distraction, whatever.

This is still a fairly obvious situation though. What about that bane of every elementary school kid, teasing? We’ve all been teased about something. There’s good natured teasing from a friend we’ve known a long time. And there’s teasing that’s less friendly. There’s stuff you’ll take with a grin from someone you’ve known for years and that you’d be highly offended if said by someone you don’t know well. There are jokes at your own expense that you’ll laugh at the first time, or second, but not the tenth. You may find yourself talking to someone who thinks really personal questions are okay, and you don’t.

Feeling uncomfortable (isn’t that a very P.C. sounding word) or uneasy or annoyed or squirmy is okay. It does not mean you are a prude, a wuss, or a killjoy. It means that you have a sense of self. Respect that. To paraphrase a friend’s advice from when I was having an issue with determining where my line was in a situation, “This is a religion that teaches you to trust your intuition, so why wouldn’t that apply to this situation?” Enduring behavior that makes you uncomfortable diminishes you. You are saying to yourself that you aren’t worth the effort – and you’re listening. Don’t reinforce behavior that diminishes your self-worth.

I’m not advocating an extreme reaction, but I’m trying to reinforce that acceptance is not equivalent to saying “I’m a rug, walk on me.” Try the phrase “dude, that’s not cool,” or “funny, not” or whatever. There’s a side note to this. On some level, the annoying party may be trying to get your goat or make you feel uncomfortable – in which case letting it continue is playing into their hand, or they may be truly socially inept. By pointing out (in a hopefully non-confrontational manner, if possible) that the behavior isn’t appreciated, you may be making them aware of their affects on others and possibly helping them to grow. In the long run, you are doing them a service as well as yourself.

I do want to point out that I’m not trying to suggest anyone be the “morality cop” here. It is not your job to decide that either a) what makes you uncomfortable must therefore make everyone else uncomfortable too, or b) you must redefine a group’s interaction. I’m not talking here about something directed at you. What is the interaction among other members of the group? Are they okay with someone’s explicit conversation? Is someone truly seeming picked-on, or is it really jaunty banter among folks who have known each other a lot longer than you’ve known them? All this needs to be taken into consideration. If you are uncomfortable with the group (notice I’m saying the crowd as a whole, not an individual), then you may need to do some examining of the situation from a different perspective. Does this group have other benefits that you may gain from? Is it a case where you may need to loosen up just a tad? Or are you and the group so far out of sync that this is just a bad match, live and let live and go on your way?

Bottom line: draw your own line, trust your intuition, respect yourself.

(January 10, 2004)

Brain Stretch #1

So once again I’ve been reading oddly diverse materials and making strange connections betwixt and between. The items in question are “Hekate Soteira” by Sarah Iles Johnston and “Liber Null” by Peter J. Carroll. If you know anything about Hekate and you know anything about Carroll, you may be thinking “okay, so they both have something to do with magick, but so what?” And without familiarity with both, you’re really wondering where I’m going. Furthermore, Johnston’s book goes down an academic road that is even less familiar, unless you happened to be a serious student of Greek philosophy. Here’s a quote from Johnston:

“The functions and qualities of Plato’s Cosmic Soul can be summarized as follows: the Soul sits at the center of, yet encloses, the Cosmos, thereby representing the threshold between the Sensible World (to which the term “Cosmos” regularly refers in philosophical literature) and the Intelligible World. It is composed of and unifies opposing principles that are essential to the functioning of the Cosmos. It contains within itself the divisions and proportions (mathematical, musical, etc.) that enable man to structure his world usefully and harmoniously. It plays an essential role in the development and recognition of correct opinion and knowledge. Finally, it is a constituent and thus a partial source of the human soul, which also includes mortal elements. “

Here’s some stuff from Carroll:

“The thinking mind has the property of splitting everything it encounters into two, as it is a dualistic thing itself. Yet there is a part of man which is of a singular nature, although the mind is unable to perceive it as such. Man considers himself a center of will and a center of perception. Will and perception are not separate but only appear so to the mind. The unity which appears to the mind to exert the twin functions of will and perception is called Kia by magicians. Sometimes it is called the spirit, or soul, or life force instead.”

“A thing is said to exist and exert certain properties…Every phenomenon is seen to be caused by some previous thing…The “thing” responsible for the origin and continued action of events is called Chaos by magicians…Between Chaos and ordinary matter, and between Kia and the mind, there exists a realm of half formed substance called Aether.”

So what is that connecting force? What is that insulating, translating, negotiating element that Plato calls the Cosmic Soul and associates with Hekate and that Carroll calls Aether? This Soul/Aether is surrounding, connecting, synthesizing. This is, I would suggest, also equivalent to (or the residence of?) the collective unconscious, the Akashic records. What do you call that concept that is described so similarly 2000 years apart? Soul? Aether? God/dess? I suspect you may have YOUR answer – maybe there isn’t any such thing as THE answer. Sometimes the question’s the thing. My point here is not to provide answers, my point is to ask you odd little questions that will bother you in the occasional quiet moment. How did I do?

(December 24, 2003)

Ability and Morality

The other day I was thinking about the phrase “Nothing is true, everything is permissible.” I’d been writing to a friend of mine, exchanging ideas on chaos magick, which is where I ran into this phrase. I told my friend that I am interpreting “permissible” as “possible” rather than “allowable.” I see this as a statement related to ability rather than morality. Then I started thinking about these two things, ability and morality, and the fact that they are different things, but that they influence each other.

Morality is, according to Merriam-Webster, “a doctrine or system of moral conduct.” Both “doctrine” and “system” imply the involvement of human thought processes. “Doctrine” is something that is taught. “System” involves interrelation and interconnection. Following this train of thought, morality is a group conduct that is taught. Many of us know this, but many of us, much of the time, forget that morality is something external to us as individuals. Morality goes hand-in-hand with group mind. Ability, on the other hand, is internal and individualistic. It is that individuality, versus the group mind required of morality, which struck me. Is the point of morality not just to control “bad” behavior, but also to limit the actions of those with ability beyond the normal range of the group? There are benefits in a small, tight-knit society to having a group mind. It helps in fight-or-flight situations. It can help alleviate some of the need for actual written laws and a police force. Changing and evolving morals can bring about changes in law. But what if morality is a limiting factor designed not just to restrict socially unhealthy behavior but also to keep those with greater ability under the control of the group? Morality is then about power — the power of the group controlling the power of the individual. This then takes us to fear and stagnation versus growth and progress. If an individual strives to do something new, something different or beyond the ability of his or her colleagues, he or she is more likely to be derided or dismissed, if not outright suppressed, than he or she is to be encouraged. With sufficient opposition, people may ignore their ability in order to remain a part of the group mind and to take part in the security of societal acceptance. Morality influences ability.

This works in reverse as well. Limited ability builds limited morality. Morality implies judgment, that is, you either follow our teachings of conduct or you don’t. It is not, however, possible to judge something of an ability or understanding greater than your own. For example, I can’t look at a scientific statement by Einstein or Hawking and know whether it is correct or not. My parameters for understanding are limited by my ability. Buddha became enlightened and gave up his place in society, much to the chagrin of his family. They couldn’t see what he saw and therefore couldn’t understand his actions.

When you are about to judge someone’s morality, or see someone else judging, stop a moment and think about it. Are you interpreting morality in the sense of social safety or in the sense of limiting ability?

(August 23, 2003)

LBRP vs Chaos

When my classmates and I were working toward our 3rd degrees, we had what felt like a lengthy list of things to accomplish, papers to write, and rituals to perform. One of the things on this list was to do the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. If you are not familiar with this, the LBRP is used for cleansing space and banishing negative junk. The mechanics of it involve tracing pentagrams in the air, vibrating phrases in Hebrew, and invoking the archangels as guardians. This is high magick and is a very effective ritual when done correctly.

As far as I know, the LBRP is mostly used by ceremonial magicians and that probably works well, since ceremonial magicians are not exclusively Pagan. Much of the history of ceremonial magick comes through Christianity.

The problem many of us had (keep in mind we are an eclectic Wiccan group) was too much Judeo-Christian baggage and a distinct feeling of discomfort when it came to some of the verbiage involved. The Kabbalistic Cross, which contains the end of the Lord’s Prayer, was a particular problem, and the Kabbalistic Cross is used at the beginning and the end of the LBRP. Our teacher has apparently worked through any J-C baggage she had and is not only comfortable doing the Kabbalistic exercises, she does them damn well and knocks your socks off in the process. Unfortunately, at least a few of us hadn’t reached that point in our development.

The advice she gave that helped me the most was to think of the vocabulary as sigils. That gave me the freedom to not think about what the words mean — if you’re using sigils in magick you want to get to the point where you aren’t thinking about the meaning. As a result, I managed to do my Kabbalistic exercises with good results. When you do this stuff right, the texture of the air changes, the temperature in the room changes. And yes, I can tell the difference between doing it well and not doing it well — things just lay flat if it isn’t done right, the room is electric when it is.

One of the results of all this was that I decided I would look for some reasonable alternative for things like the LBRP. I am an eclectic Wiccan – steal the best and make up the rest, as our Elder High Priestess is fond of saying. Well, saying that I’m eclectic Wiccan may give some sort of definition to my religious beliefs, a possible framework to my ethics, but gives less form to my take on magick. Most of what I’ve done has been along the lines of “low” or “folk” magick — candle spells, small cleansings, etc. But I began to be restless for more. Doing those rituals I wasn’t fond of, but which you can tangibly feel, told me to get off my butt and start pushing the envelope.

Now I know that, in many egroups, Wiccans, especially eclectic ones, are great targets. Some folks (magicians, reconstructionists, whoever) think that we are all fluffy or too shallow or brain-dead to go horrendously in-depth in one particular area. I found in some cases that this goes hand-in-hand with folks who are from a more homogenous culture than I am. I grew up near New York City and my schools were fair examples of the melting pot of 30+ years ago. White, black, brown, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, etc. My own house was a mixed-bag, religion-wise. So eclecticism comes naturally to me. That, tied with tons of curiosity, set me on whatever path I am on.

So when I went looking for a magickal system, I started poking around in much the same way that years ago I started poking around looking for a religion. Read something here, research something there. What clicks, what doesn’t. Am I ceremonial? Nnnnah. Am I a Thelemite? Nope. Am I more shamanistic? Nah. Am I interested in seidth? No, but rune magick…hmmm. And so I poke around more there. And what about chaos magick? Hmmm again, what about chaos magick? There’s a similar “do what works” philosophy that appeals. So I got my hands on “Liber Kaos” by Peter Carroll and found, I’ll be darned, a substitute for the LBRP that doesn’t have any reference at all to religion, J-C or otherwise. Now mind you, I understand that some of the power of the LBRP is the very stuff that bugs me — archangels aren’t exactly wimpy. Also, the fact that the ritual has been done thousands of times over the years helps build up the resonance of it. This other ritual, the Gnostic Pentagram Ritual, is only a few years old and doesn’t bring any deities into the picture, and therefore was exactly what I was looking for.

I did the ritual last night. Was it as powerful as the LBRP? Maybe, maybe not. I will tell you that I did this in the coldest room in the house, and when I was done I was sweating. The temperature changed, the texture of the air was different (not the same as with the LBRP but different nonetheless). In order to confirm what I felt, I asked my husband to go down into the sanctuary when I was done. I hadn’t told him what I had been doing, but he came back saying that the room was downright warm and it felt nice and welcoming. Hmmm yet again.

I might just like this stuff.

FYI – see Kraig’s “Modern Magick” (or any of several other places) for the LBRP.

(August 8, 2003)

On the Edge

So I was laying in bed last night, over-tired and having consumed just a smidge of brandy to try and relax my over-tired self, listening to my dogs breathing next to me and my husband clacking away at the keyboard in the next room, and these were the ingredients in the mixed salad of my brain:

  • Evanescence singing “Wake me up inside” from Bring me to Life
  • Tool singing “push the envelope, watch it bend” from Lateralus
  • Various bits and concepts from Octavia E. Butler’s novel The Parable of the Sower — “God is Change”…”We shape God”…
  • Various bits and concepts from Peter J. Carroll’s Liber Kaos — “Nothing is True, all is permissible”…”shadow time versus ordinary pseudo-time”…
  • “Harm none” is a non-achievable goal, but a worthwhile one nonetheless.
  • Things in the dark require further study.

I felt like I was on the edge of something I couldn’t grasp. I am aware that every day, I change. Some days the changes are infinitessimal, unmeasurable. Some days they are chasms leaped across and viewed from the other side, from the perspective of a new, perhaps unsteady, perch. So does that make me “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough”? Does it make me a space cadet? Or something else for which I don’t yet have a name?

(July 31, 2003)

Making Change

“Nothing is constant except change.” I’m sure that’s a quote from somebody somewhere. Ok, I hear somebody saying, what about death and taxes? Well, anybody that really reads Tarot cards knows that the Death card is really about transformation, and death itself is one darn big change. And anybody that does their tax return two years in a row knows that stuff changes all the time. But really, that’s some external, non-life affecting kind of change, and doesn’t really count. Real change, metamorphosis, growth — these things are required for life. Without change there is stagnation, boredom. Even the pyramids change, albeit slowly.

“Ontogeny” — the development or course of development especially of an individual organism

So anyway, I find myself a third degree in a newly hived-off, eclectic Wiccan Circle, and about to jump off the board into the waters of teaching. Finishing my third year of study, being elevated to Adept, taking part in my teacher’s group hiving off, and beginning teaching my first class, all have taken/will take place in less than a month’s time. In the odd moments in between trying to fit together the puzzle pieces of my life, I’ve taken a few seconds to contemplate how my classmates and I have changed over the 3+ years since we first got together.

I remember some of those first classes. How any of us managed to stay on track, I’m not sure. Our teacher was teaching her first class (us) and had to contend with her teacher and also the elder High Priestess not only looking over her shoulder, but kibitzing on a regular basis. And then there was the herd of kittens that invaded, climbing on furniture, chewing on shoelaces. It explains why my notes for the first few classes are pretty much white space. I’m not sure how T managed to breathe during this time, since he is majorly allergic to cats. I guess this just shows how determined he was to get something out of the experience. Not that I realized he was allergic to cats at that point. It took a while for us all to actually talk. We had various levels of experience, ranging from none whatsoever, to two of us who had taken a class together a few years previously. Two people never asked questions without apologizing. We were a bit shy, awkward, and wanting to do everything “right”. Ok, we were anal.

Eventually, we moved away from the house of cats, which improved the teaching environment. We have gone through the process of relying on each other, of sharing our secrets, of learning that we love each other — even when we don’t expect it. I’ve seen what it’s like when, instead of judging someone, you hug them. I’ve seen people who used to whisper stand up and back people off, when necessary. I’ve seen folks who used to rush head first into the fire think before they leaped and actually avoid getting burned. At least two of us have dealt with deaths in the family and found a safe place to handle that. Some have learned that one of the best ways to give is to be willing to take, on occasion. We’ve become teachers and healers and guardians, priest and priestesses. And if you think any of this was easy, you’re nuts. We have occasionally pushed and pulled each other, driven each other bonkers and been the kind of nag that would make a Jewish mother proud (I know, I had one), but every last one of us has grown. And of course, none of us are done yet, “miles to go before I sleep” and all that.

And some of the fun, I admit, was knowing that it wasn’t just us student-types who were growing. Make no mistake, M was a really good teacher from the get-go, but she also did some stretching over the last three years. Being the annoying little grasshopper under her feet, I’m sure I only noticed some things in retrospect, but I can see that her confidence as a teacher grew, and I’ve watched her teach the same thing to different classes in different ways, adapting to the needs of the individuals. She’s tried to instill self-confidence in all of us, even in those moments when her own may have been lacking. Good example, that.

“Phylogeny” — the evolution of a genetically related group of organisms as distinguished from the development of the individual organism

So how does this metamorphosis come about, with a group like this? First, find a teacher that gives a damn, and that isn’t afraid to show that he or she gives a damn. Second, pay attention. Third, get used to the idea that a lot of the work you will do will be hard and a lot of it will be internal. Fourth, remember that your teacher is a human being — the same way you are (hopefully) willing to forgive your classmate when they are a beanhead or miss the point, be willing to forgive your teacher for occasionally missing the mark. Fifth, understand that we can all learn something from each other, every last one of us has something to offer and if you aren’t seeing it, maybe you’re looking from the wrong angle.

“Ontogeny begets Philogeny” — no nasty comments from biology majors, please, I know I’m using this incorrectly

I realize this sounds a bit like a sales-pitch for in-person teaching rather than taking classes online, and maybe it is. It depends on what you want. You may be happy with the distance even the best of online discussions seem to have. Maybe you really don’t want to work in a group, I didn’t for a long time. Maybe you’re better at building online relationships with people than I am. Maybe you don’t need the sense of love and accomplishment you get when your teacher and classmates congratulate you upon finishing leading your first circle with them (despite having done a dozen with friends). Maybe you wouldn’t get the same sense of joy out of seeing your classmates bond, and the class after yours, and the class after that…but you never know, change is an ongoing process. And I admit I may be a bit prejudiced, anticipating the next class coming in in less than a week, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot.

(May 28, 2003)

Embrace Your Inner Freak

Most of us have heard the term “inner child” — it’s a psychological term referring to a part of ourselves that never grows up. This isn’t a bad thing, if you know it’s there and don’t let it run your life. The inner child is often the part of us that remembers to have fun. While some of us never get passed the inner child, many of us just get too dang serious, worrying about bills and kids and work, etc. The inner child is also the part of us that curls up into a little ball and whimpers when stuff gets bad. It’s the part that gets hurt by mean words that our more adult, more rational, self could ignore. For more info, check Growing Down – Tools for Healing the Inner Child.

There is also the concept of the “inner monster.” I was recently introduced to this concept by reading “The Urban Primitive: Paganism in the Concrete Jungle” by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein. The “inner monster” refers to our shadow self. We all have a shadow self, some part of us that we don’t like to look at. Do not equate our shadow / inner monster with “bad” or “evil” or “negative.” That is putting a moral judgement where there is none. Our shadow self may be a bit selfish (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) or may be the part of us that gets angry or maybe simply the part of us that is “different” from what we were taught was acceptable when we were growing up. “Different” and “acceptable” are very vague terms, totally relevant to whatever particular group we are in at the moment and, IMHO, totally irrelevant on a cosmic level. If we remove the idea of what we are “supposed” to do or be, we have an approach to integrating our inner monster with the rest of ourselves.

A friend of mine introduced me to the concepts of “core hurt” and “core value”. These are things that have been with us since we were little. Our core hurts are the things that make us overreact, feel pain or anger out of proportion to what is happening now. Sometimes the reason we go ballistic when someone cuts us off on the highway is really only 10 percent being cut off and 90 percent that we feel invisible / ignored / unimportant. Part of how to deal with these core hurts is to find our core value. Something that reminds us we are loved and safe within ourselves. See Compassion Power for more info.

So the thought crossed my mind that our inner child, who reacts to those core hurts we all seemed to have endured, is protected by our inner monsters. Oh sure, our monsters may overreact, maybe were formed by the same hurts. But I bet it’s the monster that tells you to stand up for yourself when you were taught not to open your mouth. It’s your inner monster that says it’s okay not to be a cookie-cutter person.

The same way we can occasionally indulge our inner child, maybe by something as simple as having that ice cream cone our diet says we shouldn’t, we can occasionally indulge our inner monster. Maybe it’s as simple as turning up the volume when a song by Disturbed comes on the radio. Maybe it’s finally getting that tattoo you’ve wanted for ten years. In any case, the inner monster is just as important as the inner child, and for me, a considerably less fluffy concept.

Now, some folks will object to the whole idea of an inner monster. There are people who don’t like the “dark” aspects, who think that everything even vaguely gray is evil or frightening or just too hard to deal with. Well, that’s just fine, I guess, if you only want to see one side of the coin. The problem is, you can’t have a one-sided coin. Not really. You can have one with a picture on the front and nothing on the back, but you can’t not have a back. Just because someone may not want to look into the shadows, it doesn’t mean that the shadows aren’t there. And guess what? If you never look into the shadows, you never bother to see what is there, you will always be frightened of it. Try a flashlight. Give the shadows some further study.

(June 25, 2003)

Why Willow isn’t a Good Example of Wicca

Apologies to anybody who isn’t a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fan, most of this might not make sense, but take the ride anyway. There may be a useful nugget or two in here somewhere.

First, I admit that I am a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” addict. Just ask my husband. And I love Willow. She’s a techie and a witch and Alyson Hannigan has displayed a huge range of emotion and character development over the years. Perhaps even more than our beloved slayer, Willow has gone through some major changes. If you’ve watched the show over the years, you’ve seen her relationship with Oz and her one with Tara, but I’m not getting into the sexuality of characters in prime time TV, since that isn’t relevant. What is relevant is Willow’s transition from the soft-spoken, shy, nerdy girl who almost gets chomped by the first guy she talks to at the Bronze, to the powerful, “I can do anything I want” woman who tells Giles “Don’t piss me off.” And this is before Tara is killed and Willow loses it.

Willow’s Path to Wicca
Willow, not being afraid of research, began by helping Giles paw through those wonderful, musty old books. It then turned out that the computer teacher was more than she seemed. Jenny “Technopagan is the term and there are more of us than you think” Calendar opened the door to spells. Perhaps it was Jenny’s ostracism from the group or her untimely Angel-induced death, but Jenny never imparted a sense of karma or responsibility. Giles didn’t either, although to be fair, it was probably assumed that Willow already had a responsible nature. Giles says, during his verbal spanking of Willow after Buffy’s resurrection, that Willow was the one he thought he didn’t have to worry about.

What was forgotten by everyone, especially Willow, is that nothing occurs in a vacuum and to invade someone’s will, no matter how noble the reason appears, is vile. Maybe I can understand her flaying of Warren. Understand, but not condone. Everybody who watched the show likely wanted to do something nasty to him at one point or another. What bothered me more was Willow playing with Tara’s memory, not once but twice. When Tara called her on the first invasion, rather than realize she had hurt Tara, she thought she could fix the problem with a bigger spell. No perspective, no reality check. No willingness to do self-analysis or to actually work on the relationship. Power was what she had, so power was what she used. The fact that her spells did not have the desired result barely slowed her down.

Rather than catch-a-clue when Tara left, Willow turned Amy back into a human. Not because she was sorry Amy spent years going around a little wheel, but because she was lonely. Talk about going all avoidy. Personally, though, I admit that watching Amy call on Hekate one time too many and get turned into a rat was one of my favorite moments. Another example of “don’t behave like this” — never are deities conceived of as beings you might want a relationsip with, who might be Mother, Father, Guardian, Healer. They are tools in a spell or bad guys, nothing more.

Wicca for mere mortals, that is those of us that can’t actually shoot fireballs out of our fingertips, only really appears twice. When Buffy and Willow start college, Willow meets Tara at a meeting of Wiccans on campus. Apparently everyone in the meeting besides Willow and Tara is powerless, more concerned with bake sales than with spells, and is upset with Willow and Tara because they are looking for stereotypical witch stuff. Willow later explains to Buffy that the group is for “wanna blessed-bees” and says “Everyone with a henna tattoo and a spice rack thinks they’re sisters to the dark ones.” It’s a great line. I laughed my butt off with that one. The problem is, some of what the “wanna blessed-bees” had to say was valid. Willow and Tara weren’t interested in anything but how to zap stuff. Willow, and to a lesser extent, Tara, completely blew off the possibility that there might be something else they could gain besides power. Spirituality never entered the picture. Sigh.

It is only now, after watching her lover killed and discovering she can’t bring her back (control everything); after killing a human being, which even the Slayer won’t do; after nearly destroying the world; after finally breaking down in despair, like a regular human-being; after Giles takes her for training (at long last) rather than punishment, that we finally hear the name Gaia, that we hear words like “connected to the earth” and “we’re all one.” I know that Pagans have a tendency to disagree over whether “witch” and “Wiccan” mean the same thing. I have a habit of thinking “Wiccan” lends itself to religion being primary and magick being secondary, and “witch” being the reverse of that. Willow has been a witch for years. Only now is she maybe starting to become Wiccan.

Well, now I’ve sat here and complained about Willow, bitched and moaned about some of the stuff the character has done, and I started off saying how I love Willow. Do I love this character because she’s techie and a witch? Yes. Are those the only reasons? No. I love Willow because we have watched her grow and change and develop. She has gone from incredible highs to devastating lows, often in the same episode. And she’s not the star of the show. We expect Buffy to go through hell and back (sometimes literally) and she does. She’s our mythic heroine. She’s the reason for the whole show to exist. We love her for tons of reasons and that’s fine. Ah, but Willow… Joss Whedon once said that, after casting Alyson Hannigan to play Willow, the studio or network or somebody wondered why he hadn’t gotten someone more glamorous. Joss responded that they didn’t understand the character, that she was going to have the biggest following of anybody, and she pretty much does, thanks to Alyson Hannigan’s outstanding acting and the best writers on television. Buffy came back from the dead to friends who loved her. Willow came back from causing death to friends who didn’t trust her. And she’s learning balance, making an effort, starting over. And that’s why I love Willow, for all that, and for reminding the Scooby gang, and us, about friendship. In a weird way, it’s all about Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.

(December 4, 2002)