The Balm in Gilead – Refuge

Safe space

The question posed to us for this article was regarding the concept of shelter. What did we see as a place of refuge, of safety, of security – a constant in a sea of change.

Pangaea Revisited – Refuge on the Pagan Path – Thru the Eyes of RavenHarte

This is an amazing time to live, a tumultuous time, a scary time even, but an amazing one. As a female in our society, if I weren’t living in THIS country, during THESE times, I couldn’t be who I am right now. I couldn’t be an “out of the broom closet” Pagan female, let alone a Priestess and leader in my spiritual community. In fact, even in this same country at this same time, I couldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for constant and scary change – change both in our country and populace, AND change in myself.

I freely admit, I have not suffered the hardships many in our country have had. I have always had a home to live in, clothes, food. I have always been relatively physically healthy, and have always had a job good enough to help support my family and sometimes even my friends. I have been lucky. Some might even say I’ve had it easy, but NO ONE makes it through this life unscathed. I have suffered bodily harm at the hands of others, more than once. I have suffered bodily harm by my own hand. I have been betrayed. I have been heartbroken. I have had property loss, financial loss. I have lost people I loved dearly and would have given my own life to save, if I could have. But there is no unit of measure for pain. It’s completely subjective. What one person might brush aside as minor breaks another’s spirit. It is the same with stress and change.

So if we all process pain differently, experience stress differently, it follows that there can’t really be one place of refuge either, no one shelter that will work for us all. In fact, I don’t even have one shelter for myself. What I find comfort in for one issue may do absolutely nothing for me in a different situation.  For example: when I recently realized that many of my bodily ailments had to do with developed food intolerances to VERY common foods, my shelter became my love of research, knowledge and experimentation. I am coping with the stress of having to restrict my diet (which turned shopping & cooking for a family of 4 into a nightmare) by reading everything I can find on the issue, testing theories, researching new foods, logging, charting, you name it.

However what research and reading would have given me refuge when my father died? There is no such animal. For that I relied on friends who had also lost a beloved parent, people who knew the pain personally, didn’t just sympathize. I found shelter in shared pain, in the knowledge that I wasn’t alone, and by seeing that these people were where I was, I found balance as I waded through it.

When I was betrayed by the people closest to me, my shelter was a group of friends out of state who were not only separate from the situation, they weren’t affected by it, and thus only cared about ME, and what I needed. They were literally my refuge, the place I ran to to get away, to give me time to breath and think. They were the people who didn’t look at me with pity, or rage with anger, or judge me on my actions and reactions at all. They were just there, just for ME.

So as I’ve shown, different stressors have always required me to find different forms of solace. However that said, I do think that there are some constants in how I find my own peace. I found mantras to remind myself of them when I need something quick to “grasp onto” and so I present them here as places of refuge that might help you too:

#1. “This too shall pass.”  My spirituality is one that wholly embraces change. Pagans revere the cycles of nature and you cannot have the reaping without the fallowtide. The Wheel of Life ever turns.  So even when times are low, I know they will rise again eventually, but only if I embrace what I’m given and not fight against it.

#2. “The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are, for what we could become.” By my very “Aries” nature I prefer abrupt and explosive change. Give me The Tower in Tarot, Hagalaz in Runes, Gevurah in Kabbalah. My patroness is a battle goddess whose totems are ravens & crows. These are carrion birds, those who rid the world of that which is no longer needed.  I truly know that sometimes radical change, complete destruction, the sacrifice of what is outworn or outmoded is necessary to accomplish the greater good. We humans rarely grow through positivity and happiness.

#3. That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I am the sum of all that has ever happened to and around me. I can look back at even the most horrible things that have happened and see what roads were formed from them. I can see where it all has led to the now, even if I wished some had never been. By the changes I have had to endure, I have been more effective at helping others cope, which in turn continues to allow me to cope.

And besides, “If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.”

Dogmas, Catmas, ummm RavenCaws?

Elements

Pangaea Revisited – The Tenets of The Pagan Path through the eyes of RavenHarte

How does one learn the teachings of your tradition?
In general, most modern Pagans (sometimes called neo-Pagans) can be “self-taught” through the myriad books now available on Paganism, Wicca, Witchcraft and the like; or may learn through public workshops and classes if they cannot find personal groups or teachers.

For my specific Tradition, a Western Mystery branch of Paganism, and for many degreed Wiccan Traditions, one must be an initiate of a coven and learn the Tradition as is taught by that coven’s individual priesthood. This is accomplished through written lessons, papers, books, rituals, and practical hands-on training in my own coven, much of which comes from my Tradition’s shared Book of Shadows (book of rituals, poetry, prayers, meditations and stories).

Does your tradition accept an authoritative body or council? If so, how active are they in the every day life of the practitioner?
There is no ultimate authority or governing body over all modern Pagan spiritualties, no. However each individual Tradition (which is similar in concept to a Christian denomination) of modern Paganism or Wicca usually does have its own Priesthood or council who has direct and constant contact with their participants.

In my own personal Tradition, each coven within our clan does have its own priesthood who are the authoritative body for that coven. They are extremely active in the everyday lives of the individual practitioners because they are not only the leaders and mentors of the group, but friends & family to the practitioners, a CHOSEN spiritual family. Priesthood spend much of their time, social and spiritual, with their students, as most families do. The clan itself has an Elder body comprised of all the 4th degree High Priesthood, to whom we council with when matters cannot be handled at an individual coven level. This body has little to no interaction with ALL the individual practitioners, but does have routine contact with those in their own covens.

Does your spiritual tradition acknowledge a higher power? If so, what is the nature of this higher power? Is it a personal divine being or a non-personal energy or state. How do you refer to this higher power?
Most Pagans believe in a Divine higher power, though there are as many different ideas of how this Divine energy manifests Itself as there are Pagan spiritualties to believe in them. Most Pagans are pantheistic, believing the Divine is immanent (existing within the living world, including ourselves). Many are panentheistic, believing the Divine is both immanent and transcendent (existing outside of the mundane world and beyond). Many are also polytheistic, believing that the Divine energy manifests in a multitude of different forms, gods and goddesses, each embodying specific energies and attributes of the whole, IE a god of war, or goddess of love. It is through the polytheistic view that one will often find those who have personal patrons or patronesses – manifestations of the Divine as a god or goddess personal to the practitioner.

In my specific coven, I teach my students to view the Divine as one ultimate energy infinitely too complex for us, as humans, to understand in its entirety. So I suggest they see the human brain as a prism, like a diamond, and the Divine as one white light entering this prism at its crown, then fracturing into its myriad different colors, which we understand as the individual gods & goddesses. Each color is then a specific aspect/energy of the Divine as can be seen by a particular angle – but which is no less then the one white Divine energy itself.  We then learn more about the Divine whole by understanding all the different “parts” as told through the different mythologies of the world – most specifically through the Celtic deities and Arthurian archetypes.

Our coven does have a specific patron and patroness, a god and goddess whose mythologies and attributes signify the traits we wish to learn from and strive for. Also practitioners might also have their own patron deities, ones whose mythologies “speak to them” on a personal level, or with whose energy they might be working on to understand a particular aspect of themselves. All are encouraged to find ways to relate to the Divine in whatever way is comfortable and natural for them.

In fact, in general no Pagan is limited to a specific understanding of the Divine, not even within a particular coven or tradition. We are each meant to view the Divine as is personally significant to us, and as such we each refer to this Divine in many different ways: sometimes generally such as “the Divine” or “the Gods”; sometimes gender specifically such as “the God”, “the Goddess”, “Lord & Lady”; sometimes by title or aspect such as “The Great Mother”, “Blessed Mother”, “The Horned Lord”, or “The Sun God”; but more often by the individual god/goddess name appropriate for the situation, prayer, ritual etc.

What is the relationship between Divinity and humanity?
Many Pagans believe we are in a working partnership with the Divine and most believe that we have no need of intermediaries, people who must speak to the Gods for us, or “lesser divinity” who we must pray to to intercede for us. My own Tradition teaches that the Divine is a part of us, working within us and through us to allow us to better ourselves, and life around us. When we speak to the Divine, we are calling to that which is greater than us, a part of everything, AND that which is within us, so that we can do what we need to do to shape our own Paths.

What is the relationship between humans, animals, plants and elements?
Most Pagans believe that all life is comprised of the four elements (air, fire, water and earth) and imbued with Spirit or a “soul”, the sentient energy within that is eternally a part of the Divine. Stemming from this belief, many Pagans, also believe all life forms are interconnected, and not just through the “food chain” ☺, though that is important as well. As such most revere and respect the cycles of nature and life, and as the more “evolved” of the species of the earth, feel a responsibility for the stewardship of it.

In your tradition, is there a conception of matter and of spirit, and if so, what is the relationship between the two?
There is definitely a concept of matter, or the mundane, as being separate from spirit within Pagan spiritualties, but at the same time, there is also a belief in spirit dwelling within living matter as well, as I have already described above. The relationship between the two is very much the “as above so below” concept. That the microcosm that is our own bodies, or our own earth, even our own universe reflects that which is the macrocosm or our concept of the Divine and visa versa. Spirit affects matter and matter affects spirit.

In my specific Tradition we believe in the idea of matter as it relates to the creation myth of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, that EVERYTHING is created from sparks of the Divine energy, and has the Divine within, not just the “matter” which we as humans believe is “alive”. Therefore every part of life is Divine and sacred, even those things we see as matter or mundane. All aspects of life have the capacity to help us evolve our own souls, and have a constant relationship with the Divine.

Is there something that stands out to you that people “outside” of your tradition misunderstand about your tradition. If so, please set us straight.
Where do I even begin? There are MANY misconceptions regarding the Pagan spiritualties. Here are the ones that come to mind right away.

A. As the above already illustrates, Paganism is not a GODLESS spirituality. We do believe in a force greater than ourselves, have many varied ideas of what that Divinity is, and respect and revere that Divine energy.

B. Most Pagans do not revere or worship any personification of “ultimate evil” such as Satan, or Lucifer. We believe that ALL sides of life, good and evil, happy and sad are necessary to allow us the lessons we need to learn in order to grow and evolve our own souls. For crops to grow healthy and strong there must always be a fallow-tide. Therefore all aspects of life are “of God”. Evil is a perspective of man, and to be honest many Pagans feel that personifications of Evil such as Satan are convenient entities other religions blame for the failings of man. Most Pagans who are consciously evolving soul strive to take responsibility for their own actions, and hold other humans directly accountable for theirs, so we have no need for scapegoat entities like Satan.

C. Most spiritual traditions of Paganism do not engage in animal sacrifice. As stated above we revere all life as part of the Divine and therefore do not believe in giving another’s life to obtain something for ourselves. Sacrifices are usually made figuratively; as in the giving of time or money, work on charitable efforts, etc. Sometimes an individual will make a personal “blood sacrifice” by donating blood/plasma/platelets to a blood bank, or sometimes by finger stick – but even these are not common Pagan “ritual” practices (though many Pagans are blood donors altruistically). I cannot however say that NO Pagan spirituality makes the literal form of sacrifice because most of the religions of Ifa, such as Santeria, do make ritual offerings of live animals as part of their practices, where it is legally allowed.

D. Most Pagans do not practice ritual naked. First of all, we tend to use a lot of candles in our rites, would you want to be naked in a room full of fire and hot wax? 🙂 Seriously though, while certain ceremonies in SOME Traditions might call for a level of brief nudity, in general Pagans dress in robes because the robes help with the psychological shift from “mundane” time to “sacred” time.

E. Most Pagans do not perform “sex magic” or use sex as part of their ritual practice. Though some of the originating Traditions of modern Wicca, and more indigenous or Reconstructionist Pagan spiritualties have in the past used a transfer of energy during sex as part of initiatory practices, during the past 20 years, especially since the rise of AIDS and other STIs, most modern groups have completely eliminated any “actual” sexual practices from ritual work. Symbolic forms of the sexual union, such as the blade to chalice, are now more the norm to be found within a rite for fertility, or for transfer of power.

F. Pagans do not proselytize. We are not trying to convert anyone to our way of thinking. Most of us have come from backgrounds in more conventional religions. We have done the research and work needed to find the spiritualties which speak to our own souls. We intrinsically know that spirituality is a personal experience, and there is no one spirituality that will suit all people. If left to our own devices, we generally will not talk about religion/spirituality at all because we are so often harassed ourselves.

Night’s Plutonian Shore – My Pagan Path

asabove

About 5 years ago I was asked to be the Pagan perspective on an interfaith “ezine” called Pangaea Revisited. The ezine series has since ended, but I loved the format that each edition’s questions came in, so to put that info back out to a new audience, I’ll be reposting my articles here over the next few weeks. Hope you enjoy.

Pangaea Revisited – RavenHarte’s View of the Pagan Path

Terminology we should know?
I actually have a page on my website that has all the terminology I use which might be “foreign” to others. I’ll try to be sure to think of that in my answers, but in case I use a word that you would want to have my own description for, and I don’t clarify it, here’s the website page http://www.clanncaladvwlch.com/ListOfTerms.html

What most attracts you to your chosen path?
I was attracted to the Pagan path during my original search for spiritually by the feminine aspect of Divinity. However I have continued walking this path for the past 20 yrs because of the freedom it affords me to examine my own ideas of the Divine and spirituality, without the dogmas and doctrines of others limiting my view.

What is the goal of your spiritual practice? Do you consider this the goal of life?
The goal of my spiritual practice is to continually find new ways of consciously evolving my own soul, while staying connected with the Divine within and without. I consider this goal to be the purpose of my soul’s journey, but I believe my goal in this life is to “Know Thyself”, by experiencing my humanity as fully as possible by living life authentically, learning from every part of it, and then passing on what I have learned to facilitate the process for others.

What is the predominant spiritual practice you use right now in your life and how do you see it benefiting yourself and your interactions with others?
The predominant spiritual practice I use is ritual. Unlike mantras, meditation, or prayers, ritual is a spiritual practice which is most often shared with others; and by that Sharing it inevitably becomes something more than it would be performed by me alone.  Even when I have written the ritual myself, so have visualized it in my own mind, it becomes more rich and alive when it is enacted with others. The emotions, expressions and Experiences of each person within the rite change it, and give it body, which benefits us all By our shared experience of the Mystery we are personifying. It also benefits us by providing us with a common ground for the exploration of our experiences of the Divine, which vary not only from person to person, but ritual to ritual.

What is the teaching or story from your tradition that has had the greatest impact on how you live your life?
The Pagan path I walk is the Western Mystery tradition, specifically Celtic Arthurian, so the stories that have had the greatest impact on the way I live my life have come from the many variations of the Arthurian legend now available. Specifically, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s book “The Mists of Avalon” was the most influential in my seeking the spiritual path of the Priestess, though I have always had a warrior’s spirit. It showed me that one can be, and often has to be, both Priest and Warrior.

In general, the Arthurian stories that have impacted the way I live my life all have to do with the codes of chivalry and honor. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” in particular stands out for me because it is in this story that you finally get the sense that Camelot, and the way the court at Camelot functions, is an ideal and not a reality, even in their own world. It is something separate and apart.  The Green Knight and Bertilak’s castle both represent a more earth-based idea of what chivalry and honor entail. They show the reader, through Gawain’s realizations, responses and actions, that yes it is important to have ideals and to strive for them, but that the mortal world has challenges and perils which we can only face with honor when we are fully cognizant of our own faults and weaknesses, and thereby achieve humility.

What is the ultimate expression of the highest teaching of your tradition?
Paganism encompasses many different spiritualties, from many different cultures, so there is no one “highest teaching” which can be said to stand for all, therefore no one ultimate expression. As a practitioner of a Western Mystery tradition however, I think one of the highest teachings I constantly remind myself of comes from The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, which is  “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing.” Most people would know this statement better as “As Above So Below”. For me this statement means many things, however in the context of an ultimate expression I would have to say it reminds me of my belief that the Divine is within me as well as outside of me, part of my microcosm and the macrocosm as a whole.

So the ultimate expressions for me would be the creation of a ritual circle and Drawing Down the Moon. The ritual circle expresses the Hermetic axiom because it is a Divine space created from our mundane space, which was ultimately a Divine space anyway. Drawing Down the Moon is a ritual magic practice by which a Priestess connects her conscious mind with the energy within herself and all around her that is the Divine Feminine, then aligns that energy and alters her consciousness until she IS that ultimate expression of Divine Feminine in that moment. She is then both human female, and Divine feminine. Drawing In the Sun is the practice a Priest would use to achieve the same goal.

As Robert Heinlein says in “Stranger in a Strange Land”: “Thou art God, and I am God, and all that groks is God.