Friendship

away-1500168_960_720

I recently told an old friend that I was a pagan now. Her response was, “Wait, what? Me, too!” I laughed and wanted to cry a little. The world is a wonderfully strange place sometimes.

She and I met in grade eight, and became friends. We bonded over Star Trek: Voyager and our irritation with the obnoxious thirteen-year-old boys and our love of books. Over the summer we talked on the phone and emailed each other back and forth, rushing to the computer after every re-run of Voyager to discuss our opinions of the episode. Together our discussions helped us formulate our nascent understanding of ethics (at least it did for me), and in her I found a friend that I could truly be myself with.

We now live in different countries, and I haven’t gotten to see her since I got married eight years ago. But every time we reconnect, whether through email or IM or letters or IRL, the years melt away. A lot may have happened in the intervening time but we are still ourselves and that friendship is still there, just waiting for us to come back to it.

It’s funny sometimes, how we’ve taken different paths but come into some of the same things. We had some similarities in our upbringings – middle of the road (sometimes left-leaning, sometimes right) Christian for me, right-leaning Christian for her, and homeschooled. We were those geeks who loved Star Trek and Simon and Garfunkel, who took Latin in high school because we could, and who fell for boys with the same name for a while just because (phone conversations would be “So, how’s your Matt?” “Fine, he still isn’t in to me. How’s your Matt?” “Same.”).

And then life changed us. We didn’t date, until we did. We were all for premarital abstinence, until we weren’t, trying to admit it to each other in a phone conversation, each hoping the other wouldn’t be upset. We both developed anxiety problems, problems that were probably present when we were in high school together, even if we didn’t realize it at the time.

And oh, we were really into Jesus, until suddenly we weren’t.

It’s not really a sudden process, or it wasn’t for me. I can’t speak as to her process since we haven’t gotten the chance to discuss it much yet. But we’ve ended up as pagans, both of us. It’s one of those odd coincidences that happen and seemingly must be there for a reason. I think it means that somehow, despite time and distance, we’re meant to always be friends.

Advertisements

Naming

wave-1215449_960_720

Depression. Anxiety. Mental illness.

These weighty words have truly only been part of my psyche for a few years, but the actual symptoms have been present for far longer than that. I was a deeply anxious child, who would probably have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, but then I only called it being afraid. My first bout of depression as an adult hit when I was only nineteen, for all that I had no idea what was wrong and didn’t seek any kind of treatment.When the symptoms faded over the summer after a source of major stress left my life, I assumed I was better. Until the next time.

About five years ago, in the middle of grad school, I finally started to get treatment for depression, and gave this thing that was wrong with me a name. Because my experience, despite being textbook in many ways, wasn’t what I’d expected of depression, I couldn’t name it for a very long time. I spent nearly a year in counseling, still unable to call it by name.

And then one day, shortly before I hit a breaking point and went to the doctor to ask for something to help, sitting in language philosophy class, my instructor started to talk about the importance of giving things a name. I heard, and I listened. And then my notes for class turned into the place where I named what I was experiencing and something changed for the better.

It took a little longer to name the anxiety for what it was, especially since the medication the doctor prescribed helped alleviate both depression and anxiety. After about eighteen months of antidepressants, I suddenly found myself pregnant and went off my meds abruptly. I survived pregnancy and that first year and a half of my daughter’s childhood without the medication (though there are times when life might have been much better with it), but eventually I found myself in the doctor’s office again. I wrote down my symptoms, thinking maybe it wasn’t so bad, and then when I saw the list, I realized it was. So while my daughter wandered around the exam room, I talked with my doctor about my symptoms, he took me through the standard questionnaires for depression and anxiety, and then told me that yes, I had depression and anxiety and he’d start me back on the medication I’d had last time so we could see if it was still a good fit.

That was over a year ago. I’m still on the medication, and there are days when it doesn’t always feel like it’s helping, and days where I am deeply grateful for its existence.

But that moment, five years ago, when I called it by name, I discovered the power of naming.

The old legends tell you knowing someone or something’s true name gives you power over it. There’s something to that. With mental illness, at least in my experience, it exerts far more power over me when I don’t know what it is. When it has a name, when I know that name and call it such, I take back the power it took from me and the sometimes daily struggle to live with it eases (sometimes slightly, sometimes more).

The Witch in the Sanctuary

falkensteiner-cave-767573_960_720

So, our family currently goes to a small Anglican church. I’m there these days mostly because of the community and not so much because of the church’s doctrines. Beowulf usually sings in the choir (typically the loudest voice), so I end up chasing Eowyn all over the building because she hates sitting still. Last week I actually got to spend part of the time in the service. There was a reading from Isaiah that pissed me off, one of those “worshiping other gods is an abomination and also so is drinking pork broth” passages. Then the priest talked about the Gospel reading, which was the one where Jesus casts out a legion of demons from a demon-possessed man (and then tosses them into a herd of pigs, which go nuts and stampede over a cliff, thereby destroying someone’s livelihood). She talked about magic, and Harry Potter, and mental disorders. She calmly informed us that yes, ghosts were real. So were demons. That the otherworld, so to speak, is very much real, but as Christians “we” shouldn’t try to tinker with it because it can be dangerous. That people are fascinated with the spiritual precisely because we have odd experiences that we can’t quite explain, but we should be careful about how we explore them. She later told me she felt kind of fuzzy about the homily, that it wandered a bit, so I was able to be less irritated by it, but then I started thinking.

I mused on what she said (well, on what I heard until Eowyn decided Beowulf wasn’t cutting the mustard anymore and it was my turn to be dragged hither and yon). It was nice to hear someone frankly stating that yes, that stuff exists. I get where the attitude about not tinkering with the otherworld comes from: it’s all over the Bible and there’s a lot of suspicion regarding other spiritual practices deeply ground in to Christian practice, even in a church that is as inclusive as this one is.

But I was sitting there with my travel altar in my purse and a Mjolnir pendent around my neck, thinking about what I’d like to do for Litha the next day, and not singing along with the hymns that just didn’t work for me and feeling a little glad that I wasn’t in the sanctuary during the creed bit.

Witchcraft is very much about this world, from what I’ve gathered as I’ve read and started to practice. We ground ourselves in matter when we work spells, through our tools, through our spell ingredients. We are of this world, the one we can see and touch and hear, the one we experience in concrete terms.

And yet we are also concerned with the otherworld, the spiritual matters, the things not seen, the things that go unfelt because we cannot touch them with our hands. Our spells unite the spiritual and physical together. These are separate things, separate planes, and yet they are still one, for they are still part of the universe and they are not independent from each other.

I do believe caution should be exercised in meddling with things of the otherworld, if only because we’re human and this world is where we typically live and I get the impression that the otherworld’s not quite the same and we may not always be aware of its potential perils. Interestingly, I heard the “exercise caution around things of other realms” twice in a week, albeit from sources that aren’t pagan and who don’t know about my current practice. But I don’t think the kind of caution they advocate is quite what I was thinking. I’m not about to try opening a portal or anything along those lines, but I’m not going to stop exploring possibilities (with my eyes open and with all due caution) just because of prejudice against that kind of exploration.

I’m starting to wonder what I can offer to this religious community that I’m a part of, when I’m continually moving further and further away from their beliefs, when I find myself thinking of the Eucharist as magick, and when I’d rather go read the Eddas than the Bible. But maybe that’s it: I can offer a different perspective. They’re open to other traditions’ views, but that’s mostly concerned the other Abrahamic religions so far. So maybe they need what I offer, which is both an inside and outside view.

For now, I’ll keep going, if only for the magickal ritual of the Eucharist and the encounter with deity I experience there.

Reacting

IMG_20160614_125605
Painted Hills, Oregon: A rock along one of the boardwalk trails

I’d tried posting this earlier, as a brief “out of town, here’s a cool picture I took, I’ll be back at the weekend” sort of post but the mobile site and my phone wouldn’t cooperate. So I’m back. We were down in the States with my family for the week, and we spent some time in the Painted Hills in central-eastern Oregon. I hadn’t really been in that area since I was fifteen and on a school trip (albeit further east than where we were this time).

We stayed in a brightly painted cottage overlooking a small cliff with my family. This particular trip included me, Beowulf, Eowyn, my parents, my grandfather, my three brothers, and the girlfriend of one of my brothers. And my parents’ dog. The place may have technically been a cottage, but it was definitely roomy enough that we didn’t feel cramped, though we did spend most of the full days we were there out hiking, so there wasn’t really time to feel cramped.

The Painted Hills and the surrounding area are very beautiful, but it’s an entirely different landscape than what I’m used to. The rolling hills, the rocks, the cliffs, the short pines and sage brush, the short bursts of drenching rain interspersed with wind and sun…it’s remarkable and amazing but there were moments when it felt like being on a different planet, almost like Spock and Kirk were going to come charging over the next hill, with aliens in hot pursuit.

I’m used to the Canadian Pacific Northwest, the rain that comes and goes, the tree and snow-covered mountains that ring the valley we live in, the rivers framing our cities, the greenness of it all. Stepping out into nature is to step into the forest and feel the ancient trees surrounding me.

In the Painted Hills, there’s no cover, no dense canopy to shield you from the sun and wind. And the land is ancient beyond words. The old growth trees I know are barely children in comparison to the layers of bright colour in the rocks that are millions of years old; the fossils they find in the area are older than the earliest beginnings of the human race. It’s awe-inspiring.

And in the midst of taking in all this, I was reading snippets about Orlando and Pulse. The first news coverage I heard didn’t even mention that it was a gay nightclub. It all seemed so far away – we didn’t even get cell coverage out where we were and the wi-fi at the cottage was a bit spotty at times. So my reaction was delayed, for all that when I heard I slipped outside so I could pray without worrying that my family might notice that I wasn’t praying just to Jesus. My emotions about it all hit yesterday, and I ached with grief and anger, but mostly grief and a bit of resignation, because mass shootings happen so horribly often in the States and I wish people would stop squawking about the Second Amendment and recognize that guns are fucking dangerous implements that are designed to kill people and that it’s stupid to make them so widely available (yes, there is gun violence here in Canada, though not nearly as much as in the States, and there are a lot of gun owners. But most gun owners tend to be hunters and that’s what their guns are used for, and you certainly aren’t allowed to buy assault rifles here). Oh, and yes, obviously, I’m a fan of gun control, and unapologetic about that.

For all that I’ve never been a nightclub person, for all that I am a bisexual woman who only came into a fuller understanding of my sexuality in my late twenties and am often perceived as straight (I’m out where I can be), I understand that these places have often been sanctuaries to the LGBTQ community, in a world that all too often rejects us. The murders at Pulse were not just horrific murders, violations of the sanctity of life and death, they were also violations of sanctuary.

I don’t know what to do, other than grieve, and try to send out some kind of prayers to whatever gods might be listening. I know there’s support stuff going on; Equality Florida has a GoFundMe that, when I checked just now, has raised over $5 million dollars to help support the families of the victims who died and for medical help et cetera for the survivors. There are small ways I can make a difference, but it’s one of those times when it all seems so overwhelming – there’s so much suffering and injustice in the world and it seems like it never ends.

And this is one of those times when I realize that I don’t precisely believe in an omnipotent god (or gods) anymore. I did once, I know that. Just not right now. Maybe I will again someday, but not today.

IMG_20160614_102343
Painted Hills, Oregon

 

Turning

labyrinth-1033404_960_720

Sometimes it feels like a deity grants me something to think about for the day, when a song or a story, or a few short words, or a picture come into my life and resonate deeply with me. It’s not always every day, but it often ends up being weekly. Here is what came to me this week, a blend of the religion of my birth and the religion that I’m slowly becoming a part of now.

While I was raised (to an extent, my music education also included liberal amounts of classical music and showtunes) on the folk music of the sixties and seventies (one of our regular lullabies was “Car Car” from Peter, Paul, and Mary), I either forgot about or somehow missed out on “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Someone gave us an illustrated children’s book version of it, and I still hadn’t gotten around to listening to the CD in the back when I listened to a children’s CD from the library (on my quest to introduce Eowyn to interesting music) that featured the song. That particular version has children’s lyrics, ones that aren’t based as much on the Ecclesiastes text, given that one of the lines is “a time for dirt, a time for soap.” After listening to it a few times, enchanted by the chorus, I pulled up The Byrds’ original version on YouTube and listened to that. You can find it here, if you care to hear it.

And now it’s not only stuck in my head, I’m musing on it (oh thinking…well, we all know where that leads). Ecclesiastes is one of those books in the Bible that I’ve always felt some connection to. I think it’s the fatalism. It appeals to my depressive side. Yet there’s a lot of substance in such a small, depressing book where the author continually bewails the lack of meaning in life. There’s wisdom there, and something about the “time for” section has always resonated with me. I was struck by it as a child when I first read the book, and I went back to it as a teenager, a young adult, and now I think about the words it offers yet again.

As I step into paganism, I’m struck by the importance of times for doing things: when is it best to do a ritual, what phase of the moon is best for what, and what season is it? In Wicca, is it the God or the Goddess dominating the current time, or is time for them to trade off again? There is a time for everything, and a season for all purposes under the heavens.

We’re not always so different. We humans like to draw lines between ourselves, to delineate our tribes so that we know who we are and who we are not. Yet we all face the same fact: our lives are short, and we will not always be here. No matter whether this is our only life, or whether we go on to a new adventure in an afterlife, or we are reborn anew, this is the time we have to be. The most important time is now, and that grants both a weighty burden, and a sense of freedom.

What time is it? It is time to turn. Turn and see that the lines that divide us are not worth fighting over. People of all faiths and no faith have been saying so for centuries. Maybe the time today is time to listen to the voices of those who came before us, and embrace our differences, for we are not so different from each other as we once thought.

Discernment

forest-1153898_960_720

So, it’s no secret that I spend a lot of time wandering around the blogs on Patheos. It’s an interesting place, with lots of ideas to consider. There are a few blogs on the atheist channel that I gravitate towards because they have so many good and thoughtful posts. I mostly stay away from the Christian channels – there’s a lot more “well, you’re going to hell because you don’t agree with me!” and other icky kinds of trolling for some reason. I wrote a guest post about parenting as a murky, not-terribly orthodox Christian for a blog there a while back and someone pulled out Revelations (you’re “lukewarm” aka God doesn’t like you anymore because you’re not hardcore enough) on me immediately, without bothering to engage with my legitimate concerns about all the crap in the Bible and how that might affect my child. I could laugh that off but it was still irritating. The pagan channel has a lot of different perspectives on paganism on offer, and some great dialogue going on, and as far as I’ve encountered, a lot less trolling. It was a starting place for me as I became more open to paganism, and I think it will continue to be an excellent resource. I’ve commented a few times as a newbie and gotten some lovely and helpful responses from people who are happy to point me in the direction of interesting resources.

One of the popular articles a couple weeks ago gave me a lot of food for thought. It’s from the blog Through the Grapevine, and it’s a guest post by Lauren Neuman, who is ADF. Her post, “Exploring Pagan Discernment” hits on a topic that came up a lot in some of the Christian circles I used to frequent.

Some context for what follows for those who are unfamiliar with this topic: In the Bible, there’s a number of books set after Jesus returns to heaven which detail some of what happens to his followers. Most of these are letters purportedly written by leaders of the early church to their followers (this is debatable; at least some letters were written by more than on person and many have been dated to later than they were “supposed” to have been written), and one is more of a history book which details the experiences of the first few years of the early church. One of the things that the early church experienced was called the baptism of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual connection with the third person of the Trinity that enabled them to do things like speak in tongues (i.e., languages they didn’t know), prophesy, have visions, perform healings, and cast out malevolent demons. One of the books written to a group of early Christians talks about how everyone receives gifts of the Spirit, but not everyone has the same set of gifts. Included on the list of possible spiritual gifts someone might have is discernment. It’s discernment of spirits, specifically, but the term’s become a bit broader than that. These days, some branches of the Christian church assume that all this interesting stuff was just for the church as it was getting going, while others vehemently argue that no, this still happens today. A church that seeks out and embraces gifts of the Spirit is often known as charismatic. Discernment is believed to be a gift some people have, which is to be used in interpreting visions and words that other people receive. So if you have a vision, you should go talk to someone with the gift of discernment, and they’re supposed to be able to tell you if it’s bullshit or not.

I was raised in a non-charismatic mainline (i.e., not evangelical) church by charismatic parents, which tended make things interesting (I know at least one other person besides my siblings who’s had that experience of being both inside and outside the church you grew up in; it leaves you feeling a little left out but also like you’re somehow special. I still don’t really know how to parse it all out). Overall, that experience left me with a love of and respect for ritual as well as a desire to seek out mystical experiences. I’ve spoken in tongues. I’ve had visions. I’ve fought with demons. My personal spiritual experience has been that these things are very much real, but some of the visions I had told me that the spiritual realm was a lot more nuanced than just good vs. evil. I didn’t really know what to do with that at the time (the Christian view of spiritual matters is binary in the extreme), so I just held onto those thoughts until I was ready to engage with them more thoroughly. Sometimes I talked with people about what their sense of my visions was. Whenever I had a vision that I felt like I needed to share with a specific person, I was always careful to qualify it with the fact that I am human and fallible and maybe this is just something my imagination came up with. But I didn’t always test what I saw myself because I wasn’t sure if I had a gift of discernment. I didn’t know if it was my job or not so I didn’t really try.

And herein lies the problem. In my experience, not everyone qualified what they said with the “hey, I might be wrong.” (The wiser people I met tended to, which is where I learned that practice). I didn’t try to learn discernment because it wasn’t presented as something you could learn. I didn’t educate myself on how to tell spiritual experience from my depression and anxiety disorder, or from my imagination being a little overactive (and let me tell you, the world inside my head is absolutely fascinating – if I appear to be zoning out, it’s probably because I’m on some crazy adventure in there). I spent a lot of time thinking God was telling me to pray for people when it was actually my anxiety making me feel panicky. The reason I calmed down was because prayer includes deep breathing and focusing on something else besides the panic.

So, after reading Lauren’s article, I found myself wishing that the ideas about developing discernment and learning to understand both yourself and your spiritual experiences were ones that I had encountered as a teenager. It would have been very helpful. I often wrote things down so I wouldn’t forget, and I thought about it a lot, but I didn’t try testing things as much as I could have, and I didn’t make any serious efforts to learn to discern things because I assumed that if it felt right, that meant it was right, and if it felt wrong, that meant it was wrong, even if my emotional state was volatile and perhaps something I should also take into account. I couldn’t remember anyone in the church talking about discernment in these kinds of terms. So I asked a couple friends.

They hadn’t run into anyone in the more charismatic church teaching others about developing skills of discernment either. And they agreed with me that this really would have been helpful in the past. (Interestingly, we’re all rather less charismatic than we used to be; I’ve wondered if it’s because we’re outgrowing some of the outright emotional manipulation that often takes place in that world, but that’s another discussion).

There’s a lot for me to take away from this. I don’t discount my spiritual experiences from the past, but I’m more inclined to look at a few of them more critically than I did at the time. Any that I experience in the future…I will write them down and examine them, and while I don’t want to overthink things (something I’m prone to), I do want to be thoughtful about any spiritual experiences I happen to have.

So when I get some odd vibes off of the tarot cards at the bookstore, I think about it. I wonder if those vibes felt strange because they’re new to me, or because there’s something off at the bookstore, or with where the cards came from, or because my personal energy is going to be more compatible with something else. I try not to immediately jump to “that feels weird, must be evil.” That’s a possibility; I do still believe in the existence of evil, just as I believe in the existence of good, but there’s a lot of things in-between those two options. Our intuition exists for a reason, but it may be wrong, so my first guess at what something means isn’t necessarily right.

For now I do try to respond appropriately when something happens. As I mentioned in my last post, I ran across a picture that made my hands tingle. I ended up purchasing a print of it, because it’s the sort of tingle that, in the past, has told me that something is or will be significant to me. It’s possibly indicative of runes needing to be a part of my future practice, or of that particular rune stave meaning that while I don’t entirely know where I’m going, the direction I’m being led in is the right way. It means something…I may not know what yet, but I’m willing to work towards the answer.

Vegvísir, VanCAF, and Tingly Hands

220px-vegvisir-svg

Beowulf, Eowyn, a friend of ours, and I went to VanCAF on the weekend. Beowulf and I did have to take turns chasing Eowyn through the halls (it’s expanded quite a bit since it started a few years ago), but I got to spend some lovely time wandering through and looking at pretty pictures. If you happen to live in the area or are passing through next year around this time, it’s worth checking out, and not just because it’s free admission.

There is a group of local artists working  on a tarot deck they’ve titled the Ostara Tarot. Prints from some of the cards were available, and I kept finding myself drawn to the artists with the tarot decks on display. Beowulf would probably blame this on my ability to find what I’m interested in at festivals and shows that don’t have much to do with whatever my thing is. I can find yarn and fabric pretty much anywhere, and I’ve had surprisingly good fortune with secondhand spinning wheels (which is why I own an antique Ashcroft Traditional that I paid less than $100 for even though it came with hand carders and a lazy Kate). This time though, I didn’t find the fiber. I found the magick. I didn’t buy one of the cute little matchboxes of magick spells available at Eden Cooke’s table, but I did consider it.

I did buy a print of one of Eden Cooke‘s pieces, “Vegvísir – The Signpost,” mostly because I swear it made my hands tingle when I got to that one in the stack of prints. She also had buttons available so now I have a button with a Vegvísir and one with the lífsstafur, to add to the purse I’m making out of wool blanket scraps next to my rainbow and bi pins (and yes, I am that kind of crafty sometimes).

vegvsir-the-signpost-prints

“Vegvísir – The Signpost” by Eden Cooke, prints available to purchase here. She has a lot of beautiful work so you should check it out. Once I find a frame, this is going somewhere in one of the public areas of our house because I really like it.

The Vegvísir is an Icelandic rune stave (the word means “signpost” but it’s sometimes referred to as a compass), which, according to at least some sources, has mystical properties for guiding the bearer in the right direction even when they don’t know where to go. There are a number of variations of it out there, loads of various items with it on Etsy (pendants, coasters, etc), and it’s apparently beloved by a few different branches of the very large and diverse tree that is Neo-Paganism and also popular as a tattoo (and if I was going to get a tattoo, I’d probably want one like that). I found a fairly comprehensive take on the Vegvísir and other galdrastafir here, written by Justin Foster. Fun read, especially if you’re into languages like I am.

I kind of went down the rabbit-hole of reading about galdrastafir the other day after VanCAF. I haven’t read in enough detail yet, but I’ve gleaned enough information to know that I’ll be returning to the topic. For lack of a better explanation, it sings to me. Or speaks to me. But when a picture I’ve never seen before makes my hands tingle when I come into contact with it, I do try to pay attention (and hope that that doesn’t mean it’s been dusted with mohair fiber since that leads to hives). Based on that reaction, and a few other things, I think runes may end up being a part of my practice. I have to do more research, of course. There’s a section on runes in Buckland that I’d already planned to re-read, and then I’ll have to see what I can find next.