Wednesday, December 25, 2013

To Eat or Not to Eat

First, Tess Dawson wrote an entry for people who believe they are perceiving a god’s call, but are not sure. Her advice, in part:

Find something to represent the deity in question: picture from the internet, a symbol, a rock, a book, a cup, a doll, whatever. Set the image up on a table. Pour wine, vodka, good fruit juice, olive oil, milk, beer, kefir, perfume, or another fine beverage or liquid in a bowl or cup before the image. (Unless the deity in question has a history of wanting something like kool-aid or soda pop, you may want to avoid these.) If you’ve not been able to find out what liquid would be appropriate, go with your gut feeling. Bow down, prostrate yourself before the deity’s image, and pray. If you’re in this situation, the best prayer you can make is the one that is honest—there’s no formula here, no magic words, no formulaic incantation. 

Do not consume the liquid that you pour for the deity. Wait a cycle of a full day and night, then pour the liquid into the earth outside. Yes. Pour it into the earth. It is not "wasteful"--it was given to a deity and the deity consumed the essence of the liquid. By pouring it out, you are completing the process of sending it on to the deity. By drinking it instead, you may have interrupted this process (again, it can depend on context). 

Then she got flack from various quarters, offended at the idea that they should not consume the offerings themselves.

Galina Krasskova came to Tess's aid. After pointing out that her entry was specifically about deities one does not know -- and not those longstanding relationships where sharing the offerings might be an established practice -- she concludes:

(W)e act as though it is such a burden to give the least amount possible to our Gods. It should be a joy to give as much as we possibly can. ..and we wonder why our community is so fucked up. To my mind, it starts right here: with the penury, stinginess, and downright hostility toward sharing anything with the Gods. It starts right here. We have the community we deserve and oh we are so incredibly fucked.

Tess wrote a follow-up here, with links to some of the criticisms.

I generally don't share in the offerings I give to my gods, although we do allow our household canine nature spirit to consume offerings to Frigga after a period of time. It's not because I fear the gods would be offended or insulted so much as a desire for the gift to be a gift. However, we have ample evidence that offerings to the Greek and Roman gods often came in the form of a public event including a meal shared with the gods -- i.e., the people ate the meat, the gods got the bones and fat as a burned offering.

So I come down right in the middle on this topic. I do not agree that offerings should never be consumed by the offeror, but I do think it's a very good idea to not do so until you're sure it's ok with the deity in question.

Mostly, I would like for everybody to stop fighting over such things. Eat or don't eat the offerings as you choose, and let others find their own devotional practices. There is no pagan Pope or Magisterium to divine proper doctrine and enforce it on the laity in our religion. Discuss, debate and disagree as needed, but then go forward as fellow travelers on the path.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Multiplication Problem

Dec. 1, 2013

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void, and the spirit of God hovered over the waters. And God said “Let there be light,” and there was light.

These are familiar words to most of us, the first lines of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. It establishes the primacy and power of God at the very start, as he wills into existence the heavens and the Earth.

Now, there is good reason to believe, as most scholars do, that these words are not the oldest in the Bible despite appearing first. Nevertheless, they are there in those opening lines for a reason. Jews and Christians who seek to read their scriptures from start to finish encounter their singular God right away, in all his omnipotent glory, the one who makes worlds through sheer force of will. The first chapter of Genesis brings God forth in power, might and majesty, which colors every subsequent story about him. Muslims also share this mythology, with some variations added in the Koran.

Now, consider some words that may be less familiar, the story of creation that the Hellenic poet Hesiod relates in his work called Theogony.

At the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, and Eros, fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them. From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus. And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. And she brought forth long Hills, graceful haunts of the goddess-Nymphs who dwell amongst the glens of the hills. She bare also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, Pontus, without sweet union of love. But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos.

The differences between this polytheistic creation story and the Judeo-Christian monotheistic one are apparent in this comparison. There is no single God creating things. Hesiod tells us that Chaos “came to be” without further explanation, and through sexual union in the divine realms came Earth, night, day, heaven and ocean. These are the primordial gods of the cosmos, and from them come still more divine powers.

In an Egyptian creation myth, water exists before anything else. The god Ra emerged from the chaotic water and began to give it form, creating other gods and shaping the cosmos. In some mythologies, such as the Norse, Babylonian and Hindu, creation requires the sacrifice of a first being.

When we talk about different religions, when we compare faith traditions or individual beliefs, one of the aspects that we consider is the view of the divine power. We talk about monotheism, atheism, polytheism, pantheism and other prefixes for the word theism with an assumption that we all understand the definitions. One God, many gods, no gods, etc. However, the really important contrasts between these perspectives are not merely mathematical. It’s not about multiplying the number of deities from one to many, or subtracting from one to zero, not in its essence.

The creation mythologies provide an immediate example of this. The God of the Jews – and later, Christians and Muslims – is shown from the very first words of the scripture to pre-exist. Before anything else was, God is. God creates the heavens and the earth and then gives them order and form. God is omnipotent, able to create a universe from nothing. God decrees the way things are to be: there is to be light, darkness, a sun and moon, land and water, plants and animals and, ultimately, human beings.

None of this way of thinking has a place in Hesiod’s story. There is chaos, and it organizes itself enough to bring forth the Earth and the power of love – Eros – from which comes all else. We see a similar pattern in other mythologies, no matter what specific stories they tell. The gods may shape the entire cosmos after they come to be, but they do not exist apart from or before its essence.

So what difference does this make? Isn’t this still basically about a number?

In our lives, we experience death, pain, injustice. People lose their livelihoods or their lives. People are persecuted for their beliefs, or their race or sexuality. Natural disasters injure, kill and impoverish billions of people. Epidemics of disease, or famine and drought, cause untold suffering, sickness and death. In every way, the world is less benevolent and more capricious than perhaps we think it should be. Explaining why this is the case is a challenge for any theistic religion.

For the past few millennia, in the Western world anyway, the most common religious answer has been that this world is only an imperfect, fallen creation in need of redemption. Religion has offered a set of principles to effect that redemption, the salvation of the world, principles derived from the revelation of God rather than our own senses and observations. The material world is profane – that is, ordinary – while the sacred lies in heaven, in the God who created the universe but stands outside of it, transcendent.

The extent to which anything in the world can be held sacred, in this view, is only inasmuch as it reflects the will of God – obedience to God’s laws, submission to God’s sovereignty. It could be argued that this is the basis of a moralistic approach to religion, a binary division of right and wrong, sacred and profane, godly and ungodly, virtue and vice, sin and righteousness.

This dualism is the prevailing view of the world today, and it pervades even schools of thought that reject the idea of deities. Atheism is usually defined as the lack of belief in God, or a belief that there is no God. It is contrasted to the monotheism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and left at that.

As much as this monotheistic dualism has dominated the western world’s view of the world for thousands of years, it was not always this way. Polytheism was the norm for a long time. Even the ancient Jews, generally assumed to have been monotheistic from the start, were actually polytheists – they believed the god Yahweh was one of many gods, the one who had chosen them as his people and forbidden them to worship the gods of other peoples. The idea that Yahweh was the only god, and the supreme omnipotent creator of the universe, developed much later in Israel’s history.

In the mythologies of most polytheistic religions, the gods are usually born from the universe; they are within it, part of it, not its external creators. To the polytheist, all of nature reflects the sacred, even the things that seem harsh, violent or tragic.

As author Dan McCoy puts it in his short but profound book, “The Love of Destiny:”

Where monotheism is a moralistic worldview, polytheism is a sacral one. The sacred is not remote from the world; it is the very essence of the world. All that is profane speaks to us of the sacred if we listen attentively enough, for the world we inhabit is the very flesh of spirit, its organic manifestation. The plural character of life, which mocks the moralist’s attempt to reduce it to an absolute good and true side, and an absolute evil and false side, is an expression of that which prevails on the divine plane, with its plurality of gods and goddesses. The polytheist does not wring his hands over the struggles and contradictions with which he is confronted, but confronts them in turn. Her overcoming of the world and being overcome by the world is the sacred’s overcoming of itself. She stares unflinchingly into its terror, its pain, its ruthlessness, and its unfairness – and, understanding that these are inseparably coupled with prosperity, joy, pleasure, and love, she is capable of seeing the sublime at work everywhere and of affirming the whole without exception.

McCoy, I think, summarizes the really important difference between monotheism and polytheism very well here. To the monotheist, the world with its pain and suffering and injustice is a thing – an object to be manipulated, to be used, to be exploited and, when it can be done, to be fixed. To the polytheist, the world with its pain and suffering and injustice is itself a spiritual entity, with which we must live in relationship. The monotheist sees the world as a broken thing in need of being redeemed. The polytheist sees the world as a living, interconnected system where pain and pleasure, life and death coexist in necessary balance.

This is an oversimplification in some respects. Any individual will have his or her own attitudes in conjunction with those implied by a religious point of view, and no one fits neatly into a categorical box. As an overall assessment, however, McCoy’s description is apt.

In a sense, religion in general is concerned with what is sacred, that is, divine or set apart for reverence – and what is profane, that is, ordinary, for common use. The French scholar Mircea Eliade, who did most of his work in the mid-20th Century, notes that neither state can exist in pure form. Eliade did not grapple specifically with monotheism vs. polytheism; rather, he saw a divide between what he termed religious man and profane man.

We should remember that as Eliade uses the term, “profane” is not meant as an insult; it merely refers to a concern with the ordinary over the sacred. As Eliade saw it, profane man has desacralized the world. A tree is a tree, a river is a river, the sun is a ball of hydrogen. Religious man, by contrast experiences breaks, discontinuities, that connect the ordinary to the sacred.

However, neither kind of person can be completely within the worlds Eliade describes. Religious man lives in the ordinary world, and enacts rituals to establish a sacred space, a sacred time, to render ordinary objects into something more. In our rituals with ADF, for example, we light a fire, fill something with water and establish a representation of a tree, or, ideally, designate a real tree. In ritual, these things become portals to the world of the spirits, sacralized by our intention.

Profane man, on the other hand, sees the world as entirely ordinary, yet even he acknowledges some places or times as set apart – a birthday, the site of his wedding or his father’s grave, for example. These are vestiges of a religious sensibility that even the most secular person is likely to retain.

As I said, Eliade is not primarily concerned with distinguishing monotheism from polytheism, but coupled with the work of other scholars, we can see some connections. The monotheist, seeing the world as the unfeeling creation of a transcendent higher power, finds his sacred time and space in designated houses of worship – a church, a synagogue, a mosque. If he finds spiritual power in nature, it is as the product of the Creator. Nature is to God as the Mona Lisa is to DaVinci. The polytheist, on the other hand, finds spiritual power in nature because it is itself divine.

I’ve been using the terms monotheism and polytheism as a kind of shorthand here, but this divergence of worldview is broader than that. Monotheism informed the Enlightenment and the rise of secularism, while polytheism is related in its view of the sacred to animism and pantheism. In any of these isms, the difference, I would argue, is less about the specific beliefs regarding the number or nature of deity, and more about whether the material universe is regarded as inherently sacred or inherently profane. Even those who believe in no gods perceive the world as mechanistic or as alive, as sacred or profane. Dan McCoy counts modern science as a monotheism, not because of any scientific tenet regarding a deity, but because the assumptions that underlie science arise from the monotheistic view of the world.

The person that Eliade would call “profane man” experiences the world as a predictable place, governed by scientific laws and rules of society. If the man believes in God, his God is transcendent and apart from the creation. The sacred, for the profane man, may not be entirely absent, but it is not of the world; it is reached in prayer and in church ritual. In addition, God establishes morality and sets rules for his people to follow. And if he has his people, there are also people who are not his people. To this person, the world is subject to binary divisions.

The person who sees the divine power as infused in nature – whether he believes in the many gods of polytheism, or the diffuse god of pantheism, or a naturalistic humanism – perceives the world as a wondrous thing, alive with potential and power, every leaf, stone and creature holding inherent worth and identity. The sacred may not always be obvious, but it is always present, in any place, at any time. For this person, morality is more relative, polyvalent, not dictated by any single higher power but deduced from a blend of empathy and self-interest.

I do not argue that one of these views is superior to other, or even that either of these broad descriptions is likely to exist in pure form in anyone. I only wish to suggest that, like so many things, these simple labels for varying theologies have great depths of meaning that might not be apparent at first glance.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What's Cooking: Nov. 11 - 17

We managed to stick to the meal plan script pretty closely last week, with only one carry over intention (because there were enough leftovers from other days to allow for a no-cook leftovers day).

The Farmer's Market turnips were a success and we'll be doing those again.  We also both enjoyed our "Chili Cheese Fries" (chili over roasted sweet potatoes) very much and will put that on regular rotation this winter.

Here's the plan for this week.

Monday Nov. 11
Ate out (we were running errands)

Tuesday Nov. 12
Argentinian Loose Meat
Steamed Cabbage

Wednesday Nov. 13
Italian Sausages 
Butternut Squash

Thursday Nov. 14
Michael's Cooking

Friday Nov. 15
Pumpkin Soup
No-Grain Bread

Saturday Nov. 16
Eating out?
(plan to be in Baltimore)

Sunday Nov. 17
No-Grain Pancakes
Sausage or Bacon

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Love of Destiny

I just finished reading a deceptively short book – deceptive because despite its length (well under 100 pages), its ideas are an important contribution to polytheistic religion.

"The Love of Destiny" by Dan McCoy draws on the mythology of the Icelandic sagas to illustrate animism – the view of the world as infused with sacredness, contrasted with the monotheistic concept of the world as profane, separated from the divine. While the book is not specifically about animism, this pervasiveness of the sacred in the natural realm reflects that philosophy.

In McCoy's definition, "monotheism" and "polytheism" are less about the number of gods, more about the perception of the physical universe. In a few pages he ably sets up these definitions, describes the dominant monotheistic groups (including modern science) and contrasts them to polytheism and, more importantly, the understanding of the divine that undergirds polytheism. As McCoy sees it, monotheism, envisioning the divine as something apart from the material universe, lends itself to binary division: sacred/profane, good/evil.

Polytheism, envisioning the divine as infused throughout the material universe, is not prone to such divisions. Morality is polyvalent. As an example, he retells the Icelandic myth of the Nordic god Tyr, normally as upright and honorable as they come, swearing a false oath for the purpose of binding the wolf Fenrir. While the oathbreaking was a dishonorable act by Germanic ethical standards, binding Fenrir was the greater good. This is an example of the "plurality of norms" that McCoy contrasts to the monotheist's "objective moral standard." In a polytheistic universe, indeed, one god's moral standards may differ from another's, yet this is not a contradiction.

The challenge for modern polytheists is to try to shake 2,000 years of monotheistic dominance and return to this earlier perspective. A "mere multiplication of the number of deities," as McCoy puts it, is only part of the difference.

McCoy is hardly the first contemporary writer to embrace and seek to describe animism. Emma Restall Orr's work is well-known, and McCoy's bibliography lists several other authors and works on the topic. What he adds uniquely is his tie-in to a specific cultural mythos to connect the dots. In the Germanic understanding of existence, time is cyclical. The story begins with the emergence of the universe from Ginnungagap, aided by Odin, Vili and Ve and the death of the giant Ymir. It ends with Ragnarok, and then begins again.

The final section of the book expands on this concept, suggesting a correspondence between the web of wyrd (destiny) and the web of nature, interdependence and interconnectedness integral to each.

Click the Amazon link above to support this site through your purchase, or buy it direct from the author (PDF format) here

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Root Veggies and a Roll-Your-Own Finish

This weekend, the Farmer's Market was full of turnips.  I think Michael and I have decided we are pretty much in favor of just about any root vegetable, but neither of us are all that familiar with turnips.  Even so, we bought a basket of them - small and tender and smelling earthy and somewhat like radishes (mmm, radishes), and last night we prepared them along with some sweet potato, and the result was delicious and tasted like Autumn.

This is what I love about going to the Farmer's Market - it makes it so easy to stretch your food repertoire.  Occasionally, you may not like the result  but most of them time, you find something new and wonderful (or in the case of turnips, classic and wonderful).  We paired our baked turnips and sweet potatoes with a hamburger patty topped with cheese and some sauteed mushrooms.  Delicious!

Baked Root Vegetables

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
6 small turnips, well scrubbed, stems removed
2 cups homemade beef or chicken broth (optional - can just use water)
2 cups water (approx)
1/2 cup melted butter
2-3 T. brown sugar
salt and peper to taste

(The amounts given are only suggestions - estimate how much your family will eat.  Our turnips were quite tender so we didn't peel them, but if you want to, go ahead!  Apparently this is a matter of opinion.  And of course, feel free to mix up any other root veggies you like!)

Put broth and root veggies in a deep pot to cook, adding enough water to cover.  Let come to a boil and then simmer briskly for about 25 minutes.  Remove from pot and let cool enough to handle.  Mix butter and brown sugar in a bowl large enough to hold the vegetables. Chop veggies into bite sized pieces and turn into the butter mixture, stirring to thoroughly coat.

Place in a rimmed shallow pan and spread out to a single layer.  Season to taste, and bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes.

Next time, I'm going to try them in a more savory recipe rather than with sugar, but this was a very fine introduction to turnips.

Meanwhile, I have to show this off, because I've been working on it since May, and it was such a pleasure to stitch!  This is from Ink Circles and is  the first of her Roll-Your-Own series of mandalas - she sets up the pattern, but leavs choosing the color scheme up to the stitcher, with tons of support and help picking colors.  It's been a terribly fun experience, and I have the graphs for her follow on sequel charts, although I think I will need to turn to other stitchery for awhile before tackling the next mandala.

But isn't this lovely?  I chose these colors hoping to evoke the shades in peacock feathers and I think it worked out quite nicely.  I can't wait to put this into a square frame and hang it.  (Also, it's my first finished project signed with my new married name, so it is quite special and appropriate to hail the colors of Juno's peacock!)

Shared with:  
Anti-Procrastination Tuesday, Backyard Farming Connection Hop, Fat Tuesday, Penny Pinching Party, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Time to Sparkle, Totally Tasty Tuesday, Traditional Tuesdays, Tuesday Greens, Tutorial Tuesday, You're Gonna Love It Tuesday.
Allergy-Free Wednesday, Down Home Blog Hop, Fluster's Creative Muster, Gluten-Free Wednesday, Healthy2Day Wednesday, The Inspiration Exchange, Lovely Ladies Linky, Make-Bake-Create, Party Wave Wednesday, Penny Pinching Party, Show & Tell Wednesday, Waste Not Want Not, Wednesday Fresh Foods Link Up, Whatever Goes Wednesday, What's Cooking Wednesday, Wicked Awesome Wednesday, Works For Me Wednesday, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wonderful Food Wednesday, Wow Me Wednesday.
DIY Accomplished, Fabulously Frugal Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, HomeAcre Hop, Homemaking Party, Open House Blog Party, Showcase Your Talent Thursday, Thursday Favorite Things, Thursdays Treasures.          


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

High Day: Samhain (DP Entry)

The prime directive of this blog is to document our ADF Dedicant Program work.  Obviously, it has grown into more than that, but still.  Since we started, Michael completed, submitted and had approved his DP documentation and I have procrastinated at great length about getting mine written at all.

My commitment for November is to focus on getting a good chunk of this done, so there should be a lot of posts coming, and some of them won't be particularly seasonal as it includes a requirement for essays about of the eight High Days, so bear with me on that.

The actual submission requirements include a pretty rigorous word count limitation, and while 'extremely brief' makes absolutely good sense as a submission policy (both to avoid having the reviewer go insane from reading it all, and because if you can't explain what you know in a reasonably short bit of verbiage, extra padding is not likely to help), it's not really my voice to spit out thought in just a few words - so I'm just going to say it here the way I do and then do some ruthless editing to submit.

Here then, is my draft essay for Samhain.  The requirement is:  Short essays on each of the eight ADF High Days including a discussion of the meaning of each feast. (125-375 words each)

High Day: Samhain

Samhain (generally pronounced SOW-en) is an Irish word for an ancient Gaelic period of feasting which is also found in the Irish word for "November" - it did not denote simply a day but a longer time of year as Winter approached.  Traditionally, this was the time when livestock were brought in from their summer pastures and herds were culled.  It was a matter of economic and actual survival that those animals that were fed and cared for over Winter were only those few most likely to grow next year's herd, while the majority of the herd was put to use as food for the coming months.  This then, was the meat harvest, the last of the three periods of harvest before the long, lean period of the dark season of the year, and it was a period of feasting and plenty. 

Additionally, Samhain occurs at the liminal period of the year when Summer gives way to Winter and is regarded as a time when the veil between the worlds is thin. Spirits of the dead and the fae could easily cross  the veil and wander the earth, and for this reason, many Samhain customs involve protection magic and staying close to home and others involve honoring and welcoming the spirits. Many of these customs are alive and well in modern Halloween celebrations, from disguises and jack-o-lanterns to welcoming strange visitors and offering a treat to avoid a trick.  Because communicating with the dead is easier when the veil is thin, this also is a time that is regarded as favorable for divination.

There are many holidays in other cultures around this time of year that are also related to similar themes. 

For example, the ancient Greek celebration of the Thesmophoria occurs sometime around October to November (depending on the lunar calendar) and was a women's ritual that centered around a re-enactment of the story of Persephone and Demeter.  When Persephone was abducted into the Underworld, her mother's response in her grief and anger hurled the world into a season of cold and death where nothing would grow.

Other examples include the Norse celebration of Winternights, focused on honoring the Ancestors, and celebrating abundance before the coming of the cold months, and the Mexican custom of Day of the Dead, which combines elements of Catholic Spanish customs and Native American ancestor worship by feasting with their family ancestors in cemeteries and depicting them as happy skeletons continuing to lead normal lives.

Pope Gregory IV, in 835, moved All Saints Day (All Hallows Day) from May 12 to Nov. 1, quite likely to line it up with popular pre-Christian customs already in place.  However, since so much of our lore was written in the Christian era, it is difficult to pinpoint which customs were practiced in spite of Christian influence, and which because of them.

Monday, November 4, 2013

What's Cooking: Nov 4-10

This weekend, we made our rounds of the Farmer's Market and a local area farm for our meat.  We haven't been eating as healthy as we'd prefer over the past month, so I'm hoping to jump back on the wagon, avoiding grains, loading up on good seasonal veggies and grass-fed and pastured meats.

This is my menu plan for this week - if I remember to  take pictures, I may post a recipe or two later in the week.

Monday, Nov 4
Hamburger Patties
Caramelized Onions
Buttered Glazed Turnips

(take down chicken for Wednesday)

Tuesday, Nov 5
Begin making Kimchi
Roasted Chile, Sausage and Egg Casserole

Wednesday, Nov 6
Slow Cooked Stewed Chicken and Veggies

Thursday, Nov 7
Leftovers/aka Michael's cooking

Friday, Nov 8
Sweet Potato Chili Fries

Saturday, Nov 9
Eating Out

Sunday, Nov 10
Argentinian Style Loose Meat over Veggies


I'm starting a deck/card of the week here on Mondays.  This week, the deck I'm using is the Tarot of the Hidden Realm - I just recently bought this and I am totally in love with it.  The artwork is a beautiful rendition of the fey, and is neither childish or too dark - it hits just the right notes.  Each card depicts a figure (or more than one), and they are rendered in a delightfully evocative way.  One of the things I love best is that they are borderless, with only a small strip on the bottom listing the name of the card.

I drew three cards for a weekly reading:

Theme of the Week: Eight of Pentacles
This card depicts a nice (buff!) male figure working a forge to create Pentacles.  It reminds me of Hephaestus, the skillful metalworker of Greek lore.  It is interesting to see such a fiery card in the earthy suit of Pentacles, and it indicates to me that the theme of this week has to do with applying energy to concrete tasks.  Eights tend to have to do with creating order, often in a way that involves clearing away what is unnecessary or unhelpful, such as decluttering, getting rid of distractions and others things that steal focus away from the task at hand.  Finally, the 8 of Pents speaks of repetitive practice, and learning to be proficient enough at something that it gets solid repeated results.

As a theme for the week, this is clear:  This needs to be a work week, clearing away disorder and engaging in disciplined effort.  In addition to several householdy things, I intend to spend this month really forging ahead (hah!) on my ADF Dedicant Program - so this seems like an auspicious confirmation of where to apply my energy.

Challenge: King of Wands
This card looks rather 'bruised' to me - the coloring doesn't feel as energetic as might be expected from the Wands suit.  As the King of Wands (Fire), this speaks of the challenge of managing my energy - neither wasting it or failing to use it, but also overdoing it and winding up getting nothing done at all.  The King is in charge of his suit, and my challenge is to maintain awareness and sovereignty over where and how I use my own energies this week.  

Together, these cards both speak of controlled and mindful effort - disciplined activity.

Advice: VI: The Lovers
This last position speaks of how to meet the challenge of the Kind of Wands. How to control and remain mindful of where I put my energy - the Lovers speaks of making good decisions, based on love and compassion for self and others. The couple in this card are very organic, aren't they?  This is what I need to be mindful of - the natural needs of my own body, keeping Michael and other relationships in mind as well.  It suggests that I think of what is natural and life-affirming as I choose how to handle household disorder, as well as  the DP work I do.  If I value the signals my body sends, I will be able to read them and take breaks as needed.  If I remember the value of what it is I am doing for myself, others and my spiritual walk, I will keep in mind the value of staying focused and not let procrastination and distractions lead me to frittering away my time.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Learning to Love the Darkness

 An excited pre-post-script before I start this entry - for those that read yesterday's entry about Cedarlight Grove's community service project for Samhain.... we were featured in a really amazingly written article in the New York Times.  If you're curious about Druidry or Samhain, or ADF or the Grove, I highly recommend this article.  Often mainstream media handles these sorts of topics either highly inaccurately or disrespectfully.  So refreshing to see this!  "If a Druid Rings a Doorbell"

Samhain Blog Hop 2013

This entry is a part of the Tarot Blog Hop, which happens every High Day - follow the links above to continue on your journey.  The topic for Samhain 2013 is, just to be challenging, "Love".

I don't recall ever being particularly afraid of the dark - in fact there may have been a period of time as a child when my parents wondered if they had Wednesday Addams on their hands. There seemed to be a period of time when Death was constantly dancing around the edge of my very young life.

When I was 4, my grandfather on my mother's side died.  I didn't know anything about him - later I would realize there were good reasons for that having to do with my mother's relationship with him.  At the time, I knew the event had upset her and led to a trip to a small town outside of Cleveland to attend the funeral. I met my grandma - a very sweet grieving woman I liked but would not know in any real way until years later. I met my cousins, and we played and competed with one another as cousins do.  I remember a ridiculously creepy clown doll up in the attic in what had been my mother's room as a girl.

And mostly, I remember the funeral reception because what happened there haunted me for a good long while, and cemented that a certain aunt-in-law of mine would never be a friendly relative for me.  While my parents weren't looking, this aunt hoisted me up for what has got to be one of the most horrible customs some people practice in this country - kissing the corpse goodbye.  Mind you, if you want to do that, that is your business and I respect that - but Aunt Eve decided I needed to do it.  She picked me up, dangled me over this strangers dead body and of course I proceeded to turn into a four year old whirling dervish of panic, kicking and screaming and punching her, the coffin and (I will never know if this part is real or the stuff of years of nightmares) my grandfather.

My mother rescued me at that point, but it caused, as they say, a 'strain' in the visit, and I lay awake for the remaining nights we were there, listening to the creaking of the house and worrying that perhaps it was my dead grandfather, come to punish me for (maybe) kicking him and refusing to offer him a kiss.  It wasn't the Dark I was afraid of - it was what was in it, and I was under no illusion that the light would be enough to dispel him.

He has never appeared to me in my thoughts any other way.  Between this and learning actual truths about what sort of person he was, I cannot even begin to think of any sort of positive relationship with this particular ancestor.

At around age 6 or so I came across an issue of Psychology Today that had Death as its theme.  I still recall that cover - it showed a brilliantly green meadow. The sort of green one associates with Ireland, or Middle Earth.  In the center of this beautiful sea of grass was a perfectly angled rectangular hole - an open grave, but no mound of dug up earth, and no way to see down into the darkness to see how deep it went or what might be hiding there.  It was, for me, heartbreakingly beautiful, and mysterious, and frightening - but not in a spooky terrible way. Instead it felt like the same sort of fearful sensation that a first crush would later feel - fluttery heart, wonder and nervous excitement and trepidation.

I struggled through the long questionnaire in the magazine about attitudes toward Death - the questions themselves as well as the possible answers offered gave me an in-depth (and only somewhat over my head) explanation of what Death might be, and it fascinated me.

Oddly, I never associated any of that with my grandfather - but it did help me mentally lay him to rest.

The magazine thing worried my parents more than the earlier encounter.  After the dozenth or so time of removing it from my room only to find I'd taken it again, they sat me down together and asked what it was about it that was so interesting.  I think I described the green grass and asked them a couple of questions... I can't recall anymore, but the conversation must have been a good one, because they stopped worrying and I stopped being so obsessed with  that issue of Psychology Today.

Around that time, a new obsession was there to take it's place - Dark Shadows!  Barnabas Collins introduced me to vampires, and the soap was populated with ghosts and witches and werewolves and all sorts of Gothic melodrama.  The Collins house had secret rooms and dark, locked basements and everything was secrets and mysteries.

I was coming to love the idea of mysteries - there was so much potential there. It was as if the ordinary world had this whole extra layer most people never saw. And if much of it was dark and dangerous, that was okay, because much of it was also transcendent and magical.

Sometime around then - I could not have been more than 8 or 9, I had a friend over to spend the night.  She also loved Dark Shadows, and we spent an entire afternoon making little paper handpuppets (somewhat like these), drawn to look like the main characters, and then - after we'd spent a couple hours acting out the plots - we decided they all needed a place to live and so we made them all little paper boxes as caskets, and gave each of them little Popsicle stick headstones, setting the whole thing up on a large piece of flat cardboard.

When it was time to go to sleep, we slid the whole thing under the bed and then kept each other up all night, daring the other to let their hand or foot peep over the bed and risk the graveyard full of dead people reaching out to grab them.

She likely forgot that 20 minutes after she'd gone home, but I kept that paper graveyard for months, and it offered me much nervously fearful entertainment for as long as I had it. My mother hated it.

Eventually the ordinary concerns of growing up took over - worries about being liked and boys and the horror of having picked out the wrong clothes for school trumped vampires and ghosts and then there were adult years of finding out what sometimes really truly lurked in the darkness - of learning about the dark dangers of being in the wrong relationship, of dealing with despair and depression, of learning that it wasn't fangs that were the most dangerous thing about other people.

Now, in my 50s, I find most of those issues past - life is good, and the darkness is once again a magical place with a little thrill of fright and excitement at what might be in shadows.  I like to think my early enchantment helped me during truly grim times and also like to think those real horrors help me love and appreciate the darkness from a perspective of safety.

At some point, I'll get up close and personal with that mysterious dark, possibly empty grave - but I don't fear it overmuch.  I'm counting on that green, green meadow.


This is a TAROT blog hop, after all, and so I cannot end without a little reading for the occasion.  How about a simple spread on the subject of Darkness?

1. What lies unseen in the dark?
2. Why does it lie in shadow?
3. What is there to love about the darkness?
4. What will happen if I turn on the light?

I'm using the Aquarian Tarot, because this was the first deck I ever had and the one I learned on.  I'd lost mine many years ago, and just reacquired it last week, so we are happily getting reacquainted. 

The question I'm asking has to do with a situation involving a decision a committee I am on must make shortly.

1. What lies unseen in the dark? 
IV - The Emperor

The Emperor has to do with power - about who is in charge.  This is very much the unspoken element at play regarding this decision.  People are urging for their position less because it is what they think is best than because letting go of their position represents a loss of power, and a precedent that will be set.  It is 'in the dark' because no one is openly dealing with the power issues that are at play.

2. Why does it lie in shadow?
Three of Pentacles
This issue of power lies in shadow because outwardly, the stance is that everyone is working together, with each person operating cooperatively according to their areas of expertise - this is the official purpose of  the decision.  No one is willing to alter this official stance and be perceived as being more concerned about matters of control.
3. What is dangerous about the darkness?
 Five of Cups

In a word - morale.  Everyone hears that power monster lurking, but no one wants to acknowledge it's there, and as a consequence, issues and opportunities that should be welcome opportunities are greeted with negativity and moroseness.  Everyone is growing more and more negative and less able to see a good thing when we're presented with it.

4. What is there to love about the darkness? How does it help?
 III - The Empress

The darkness can be a place of fertile, dark rich earth in which things can grow.  For those willing to acknowledge that there is a conflict regarding power and leadership buried in the dark, this period of not directly addressing it can be a time of letting their position grow and develop to the point where it can withstand the light of day.  

5. What will happen if I turn on the light?
Three of Swords whatever point the issues of who is actually in charge of the decisions that must be made comes into the light, it is not going to be pleasant, and it's going to be a very unhappy and painful conversation.  This is a truth that is going to hurt some people who believe they are in charge of things that are not,but - the 3 of Swords is about Painful TRUTH, and cutting away all the BS that clouds the issue.  This is probably going to be necessary before anyone can move on.   

Not fun! But maybe needed, and if it is, I might just wind up being the one  that flips the lightswitch, because neither the darkness - or the light - scares me all that much.  What scares me is watching a group that, at its core, really does care about each other, letting things crumble away out of a fear of dealing with what lies in the dark.

I hope you'll continue around the Blog hop and see what others are doing with the idea of Love this Samhain.
Samhain Blog Hop 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Honoring the Ancestors Through Work

Over the last couple years, I have come to value and love the time spent with my Grovemates at Cedarlight Grove.  Because we live south of DC, and they are located in Baltimore, we miss a lot of what happens there.  In addition to High Rites, they hold weekly Sunday services, regular Reiki sessions, workshops, guided meditation journeys, lunar rites, etc.

My path has not only been one of growing familiar and comfortable with ADF - but also with the whole notion of being a part of the group - of any group.  I've moved from "I'm not really a joiner." to enjoying High Rites with the Grove, but still regarding myself as mainly a solitary who occasionally gathers with the group, to really identifying these wonderful collection of people as my trip and half seriously joking that we should move closer to Baltimore because we are missing All The Good Stuff!!

A big part of what we miss is the enormous amount of work my fellow Grovemates put in on a near constant basis - all the usual internal volunteerism that goes with maintaining a large and vibrant group, but also the unique aspects that go along with actually owning permanent space.  Cedarlight Grove owns and maintains an early 20th century house in Baltimore which - as old houses do - takes a lot of ongoing maintenance and renovation.  The surrounding yard was just that several years ago - a yard.  Through countless hours of hard work, it has become a showcase garden sanctuary, with several distinct shrine areas and a happy home to plants and butterflies and birds of all sorts.

Not being able to get up there for maintenance work does make me feel more on the outskirts of the group than I wish to feel as I come to feel a greater urge to be a full and complete member of CLG.

All of which is background to say that we had one of the most meaningful experiences yet with the Grove this past Sunday, and I am still feeling a sense of peace and accomplishment and blessedness as a result.

Just a few blocks from the Grove, there is a small cemetary surrounded by houses that had been abandoned when the caretaker died back in the 1980s. The headstones date from the mid 1800s to mid 1900s, most around the turn of the century. The neighborhood irregularly tends to it but it had been awhile and there were fallen trees, tipped over and broken headstones, and tons of ivy and other weeds.  CLG decided, as it's community service project for Samhain, to go do a clean up.

The perimeter of cemetery was full of garbage - it's pretty clear this has become a dumping ground for nearby residents.  I walked around it with Taryn, using my cane when needed to scoop debris closer, and we had got a good way to filling an entire contractor sized bag by the time we were done.   While that wasn't officially in the cemetery, I'm hoping the effort will lead to a bit more mindfulness about tossing trash there.  Once that was done, I spent most of my time taking pictures of the progress and of the headstones.  There was talk of getting some pencil rubbings on a later day, especially of those that are becoming illegible before it is impossible to tell what they say.

Meanwhile, the more able bodied were cutting weeds, pulling up seemingly endless lengths of ivy, and attempting to either put headstones upright or, when that was not possible, to straighten them out to reduce further damage to them.

The biggest obstacle was a felled tree - a rock-hard large tree that had fallen a few years ago, crushing headstones beneath it.  Our senior Druid spent two days breaking it down in manageable lengths that could be rolled away, freeing the graves beneath it.  The wood will be chopped into firewood for the Grove's High Rites.

I have honored the Ancestors through stories, songs, libations and ritual - but this concrete, mundane work has been the most satisfying I have experienced.  These markers bear the names of the streets we drive to get to Cedarlight.  By helping this resting place return to a place of haven and beauty so that those who are buried there might be remembered awhile longer, I feel that we honored their memory and connected ourselves better to the geography and history of the place we have planted our Grove.  We are discussing adopting this little cemetery for ongoing care and attended, and I very strongly hope that we do.

This experience has affirmed for me that we need to find a way to be more involved in Grove activities between High Rites These are our people. We are a Grove.


On a different note, I've decided to bring my other blog, The Auld Grey Mare, to a close.  I have used it to talk about food, crafts and other more mundane parts of my life, and I'm finding that separation to be increasingly arbitrary.   What this means is that there will be entries on those things here, whether or not I directly tie them into our  spiritual walk or not.  It is the whole that makes up the life Michael and I are building together - I hope those who are interested in only one part or another aren't too unhappy about this, but I trust that those who are interested in us will not mind at all.

~ Lynda

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Down Home Blog Hop, The Inspiration Exchange, Whatever Goes Wednesday, Whimsy Wednesday, Works For Me Wednesday, Wow Me Wednesday.