Purified

The last post was really just a forerunner to this one, and I know it is out of the ordinary for me to post two articles in a day. Consider this one for Saturday and Sunday. I felt that the last post may be confusing to those who exist outside of my brain. Therefore, I will go on to explain my perception, the act of, and the result of purification.

To be purified is to be centered, balanced, and ready to enter a circle. I tend to think of purification as taking the trash out – disconnecting all of those little energy lines that have gathered on you since the last time, wiping yourself clean. Historically, this has been done and described in many fashions. One such fashion that sticks out in my head is that of Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter.

In this novel, one of the main characters flogs himself to the point of bleeding. There is one very dramatic scene which relays this, and although I read it close to three years ago, the memory is still there. He flogs himself for punishment, and also to try to feel clean again.

This pattern of physical abuse to achieve purification is littered throughout Western history. Christianity especially, makes use of it through monk/priestly purification (not in recent days, I don’t believe), Catholic school discipline(we’ve ALL heard stories) and of course, the heinous religious wars throughout history intended to subdue or eliminate other religions – we’ll leave the Witch Hunts and the Crusades alone for now. The beating of the slaves was used to keep them in line, and in their place, and justified (either rightly or wrongly, depending on the opinion of the day) through the bible and its text.

It is not only prevalent in Christian culture. The use of flogging in formal Gardnerian and Alexandrian rituals is normal. Sensory deprivation, starvation, and other things which place the body under stress are also found in Greek and Native American cultures. I am unsure of other cultural significances of stressing the body across the world, but I am almost positive that 80% more than half of coming of age ceremonies (a purification and a rite of passage) involve some form of bodily abuse.

It is not exactly a mystery as to why this happens. Through many cultures, we have adages that echo something to the effect of, “Only the Strong Survive”. It is the strong that are pure, and best, and closest to God(s). To be strong and wise are things which are striven for. Keeping this base in mind, let us continue in order to examine the relevance of physical abuse to purification.

Coming of age or rites of passage are the ultimate ‘purification’ rituals. These are the biggies. In native cultures, it is during the coming of age ceremonies that you receive your purpose in life. This is why the knights of the round table held a night long vigil, to receive the mysteries from god. This is why some Native American boys were blindfolded, brought to a remote section of woods, and told to either find their way back, or find their purpose, then find their way back. It is the human collective reality that, when under extreme amounts of stress, our mind becomes separate from the affairs of the body, and we are able to receive intelligence from God(s).

As pagans, we are not expected to have a revelation each time we step into circle. Well, we are. But we are not always there for spiritual consul. Sometimes, it is simply to gape at the beauty and awe of our Great Goddess, her Consort, and her beautiful Earth. And so, we do not receive flagellation(bodily stress), except when participating in an initiation, or a special ritual.

So, the flagellation in ritual is the stress that the body needs to free its mind. But, can it be so? The counting of the blows tends to indicate more of a trial than a purification or a search for knowledge.

I contend that the flagellation in ritual is Gardner and Sanders’ interpretation and recognition that there needs to be a trial, to prove one’s worth. Although the text may indicate otherwise, the scourge in initiation is not for purification. In each of the other instances, ideal purification occurs when the mind separates from the body. If there is something as solid as counting for the mind to hang onto, it may wander to, “Only 21 left!” and detract from the process. In some instances, knowing how much is left, etc, focusing on the numbers, may actually cause more pain and discomfort than not knowing.

There is a beauty in pain. I am not speaking of the pain that comes from an aching shoulder, or from tripping and falling in the mud. I am speaking instead of the bearing of pain. In any test. When a test becomes too great, we reach that threshold, and when we emerge, we are purified. We are changed. We are clean.

Gardner has a ritual in which there is consensual flagellation from a willing partner until an answer or revelation is achieved. This separation of body and mind due to physical stress is what I will refer to as major purification. Anyone who has ever reached a new limit, in running, or bicycling, or any event in which they push themselves to the limit has had major purification. Cultural rites of passage focus on this.

If this is major purification, then what is minor purification? Minor purification is what you do daily. When you ground, and center, and visualize, or anoint, you are performing minor purification. You are cleansed, but you are not cleansed to the point of change. It is like emptying the recycle bin on your computer, versus wiping the entire thing and starting fresh. As we are Witches, and we need balance, we need both forms. In the coming weeks, I will most likely speak of specific methods regarding each form.

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Double Bind: Sex

I won’t go so far as to say I grew up in an active Christian household. But my parents, probably like the majority of Christians in America, hold the ideal that the most important, the only true religion, is Christianity, with one God, and Jesus. They never pushed it onto me – don’t get me wrong. But, between that overall feeling and the general atmosphere of my town, I learned two things:

  • Sex is bad.
  • Sex should not be mixed with religion.

Of course, Wicca teaches the opposite. Sex is a life affirming action that we respect and hold to be respected in the highest. Sex should be revered. I also learned something from growing up that is equally hard to overcome:

  • We don’t talk about sex.

Now, here, I come to a slight problem. Between these three, how am I supposed to perform any group ritual? All initiation rituals involve some sexual aspect to them. It is hard for me to come to terms with the idea that my rituals may turn me on. It seems as though the arousal would be distracting from the true purpose of the ritual. But is it?

I hesitate to speak of which parts of the rituals would leave me aroused, but suffice to say that there is always the possibility. Arousal aside, I see much of life being acted through various forms of domination/submission, some of which are played out in our rituals. Life, sex, and domination/submission go hand in hand in hand, and I realize that the acts are an integral part of not only our religion and its rituals, but also, life.

But, I am also working off of the assumption that purification, through the scourge, must be painful.  Pain is bad.  Therefore, purification must feel bad.  But…what if…we accept the pain for what it is?  Fear is the only thing that makes anything excessively painful.  So, if we switch up a few things, we solve the puzzle.

  • Pain is not bad.
  • Fear of pain makes it feel bad.
  • Purification does not have to feel bad.
  • Don’t fear purification.
  • Ritual does not have to be validated by painful purification.

Since sex was not painful, I did not before, classify it or arousal under “pure act”:

  • Sex is not bad, nor is it painful
  • Sex is okay to include in ritual
  • Sex is a pure act

Now of course, I understood these to a level before today.  But the change between understanding these concepts, and being comfortable with them is not always the easiest.  Does anyone else find themselves in a situation similar?

Pressing Plants

When I began this blog, I really wanted to emphasize those things which were both applicable to today, and practical.  I’ve attempted to do this with all of my articles, whether they be about every-day spirituality or current controversies regarding the pagan and Wiccan paths.  Today, I am going to review a concept that everyone – regardless of spirituality should know, but especially those who wish to discover more about herbs, etc.

Herb magick is probably the oldest form of Witchcraft still being practiced today.  Countless stories through the ages are told of wise-women, shamans, etc, using local herbs to heal ills, and promote wellness.  But, to get any college level education, most find themselves in city or relatively urban communities to do so.  For those of us who do not have access to miles of pure forest, we may not be as connected to the earth as we should be.  Plant pressing is a great introduction.

One of my goals for this year was to find out more about plants.  I am currently taking Plant Biology, and among the other things we have to do for our class, we have to press plants.  There are many ways to press plants, but there are two ways that I am doing it now, which are essentially the same.  In class, there are two pieces of board a little bigger than books, with two adjustable strength straps that criss cross, like wrapping a present.  The set up involves placing one of the boards on a flat surface, placing a piece of cardboard on top of it, then laying your specimens between layers of newspaper, labeled with information about when and where you collected it.  After all plants have been laid, another piece of cardboard and then the board are laid on top.  The straps are tightened.

Pressing plants involves a very basic method.  The aim is to dry the plants, which is why newspaper is used, to absorb water as the leaves, berries, stems, etc, die.  The chlorophyll and coloring may fade, but some of it remains.

As I collect plants out of class, I have a makeshift press in my room.  It consists of a text book I am not using, some other heavy books (music books stacked on top of each other), and computer paper.  I just laid my plants between the surfaces and in between computer paper.  I’m letting gravity do the rest.

Basically, you just need weight for the pressing, and something to absorb the water that will leave the plants.  I’ve heard it takes between 6 and 8 weeks – basically, until they’re dry.

I know there are other ways to manipulate plants.  This is mostly for display.  But, display may be what you need – like I do – when you’re still trying to identify plants.  As I go on this journey, maybe you’ll join me!  I’ll be posting as I discover just how practical methods are that are outlined in books, etc.  You shouldn’t have to spend hours and get a college education in herbology to enhance your spirituality and magical effectiveness.

My plant press here, in my 10′ by 10′ dorm room, is stashed on the bottom of my small plastic-cube made book shelf.  Any one can do it.

Til tomorrow!

Race in Our Day

I’m going to take a step off of the ‘pagan’ platform for now, and instead focus on my age and peer group, along with that super special imaginary line that divides North and South.

I hate all things to do with race.  I am not racist – and I’m not so set on equality that I fail to see the gaps in the wealth and socioeconomic status by race.  But I absolutely hate race arguments.  I hate Affirmative Action, and I hate that weird thing colleges are trying to do account for race in applications.  I hate the idea of any segregation – legal or other non-legal methods of doing so (“All of these people in this neighborhood can go to this school only…”) .

A mixture of incidents and situations within my own life has made the need for me to address this apparent issue.  With discussions of the “Jena Six” in one of my classes, as well as discussions about race and poverty itself in two of my classes, concluding with the reading of My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass, it seems like the only thing I have been thinking about is race!

It’s absurd.  And it’s all your fault.  It is not MY generation’s fault that there is a socioeconomic gap between races or genders.  I’m 19 years old.  I wasn’t even considered a person until May of last year, when I turned 18.  You guys have had since 1964 to fix these problems!  Come on, now.

I was fortunate to grow up in a very good school system.  There were no local prejudices about blacks.  Or Asians.  Or Native Americans.   Or even those of Arab descent.  We were a primary white school – until high school, I doubt there was more than 20 or 25 blacks within our class of 400.  There was no mention or perception of Native American or Asian racism.  And, when September 11 happened, we didn’t look at the people around us, in our schools and on our work force, and go, “Terrorist!”  I guess there are some benefits to living in a little town in Western NY.

That aside, I recognize now, at college, that many people come from different backgrounds.  And those people who didn’t grow up on the ‘everyone is equal’ bandwagon, have their racism almost built in.  I also recognize that the majority of my audience will not be those people.

I think your generations are going to be surprised when my generation takes over.  I’m pretty sure we have a liberal majority.  And, party lines aside: we’re sick of this crap.  The media is what is making the Jena Six thing blow up.  The media is still in your generation’s control. So, if you’re in that generation, don’t screw things up for us.  Don’t teach our children that race matters at all – just teach them that they should use a different crayon.  Stop using the media as a tool to incite the masses – the blacks against the whites, and the whites against the black.  Ignore the Klan…or throw them in jail, already.  Be fair – race should never, ever be an issue.  And if you have to make it in an issue, then let’s face the issue right now:

Color of skin has never mattered.  It is instead the culture of the people in question that is causing the tensions.  If you don’t understand or you can’t connect with someone coming from a different cultural background, of course you’re going to react badly.  I’ll be honest – I’m just as frightened by the white people with the pants halfway down their legs(referring to Georgia decency laws) as I am by the black people with their pants halfway down.  It has nothing to do with race.

Well, I think I’m out of time for the day.  But, to wrap it up with a pagan note…we don’t discriminate either (13 Principles):

In seeking to exclude those whose ways are contradictory to ours, we do not want to deny participation with us to any who are sincerely interested in our knowledge and beliefs, regardless of race, color, sex, age, national or cultural origins or sexual preference

Til next time!

Wheel of the Year

Okay guys, apparently I’m now an officer of Environmental Club as well, so I’ve gotta get a move on, on school stuff.  However, I promised my tradition’s breakdown of the wheel, and so, here it is.  Albeit brief and not controversial, I swear I’ll get something up for discussion soon – I loved what the Tarot and the Politics articles did for my hit count 🙂  Read the descriptions, then go farther down for information about the seeds I speak of.

Samhain – The Witches’ New Year.  It is also the third harvest, and represents harvesting of spiritual gifts.  It is a time for reflection, and also a time to begin planning for the next ‘planting’ season.  It is also the time when the veil between the realms is thinnest, so keep your eyes peeled for omens, signs, and communication.   Great time to meditate and commune with the gods and ancestors.  Traditionally a time for initiation within my path.

Yule – The Winter Solstice.  The time of greatest darkness.  This represents that deep within spirituality.  A time for reflection as well, it is a great time to contemplate the cycles and symbols related to the evergreen conifers (Christmas trees…pines, etc).  Start of winter.

Imbolc – Candlemas – The  height of winter, but also the beginning of the light overcoming the darkness.  A great transformation holiday, named for Brigid in some traditions, as she is the blacksmith goddess – one who can shape what was hard into an entirely new shape.

Ostara – Spring Equinox – The beginning of spring, a time of balance, much like the balance of the fall equinox.  This is when light is finally dominant.  Great for fertility rites, etc.  This is the time to ‘plow’ the fields – not planting yet, unless the ‘seeds’ will take time to grow.

Beltane – May Day – This is the height of spring, and another time when the veil between worlds is thin.  Look for omens, but take time to ‘plant’ your seeds.  It represents commitment, marriage, etc.  It is when the gods consummate and bless the fields.  I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Litha – Summer Solstice – This is the beginning of summer, and a great time.  The general energy is growth – so you should be hard at work, but also celebrating – your seeds should be sprouting, and its the summer!  Go have some fun.

Lunasa – Lammas – Height of Summer – This is the first harvest, and also when, in some mythology, the god begins to die / dies.  It is for the ‘first bread’, and is a great time to check your progress within your physical seeds.  Its still summer – go have some fun.

Mabon – Fall Equinox – All about the balance, this holiday is also the height of harvesting, and within our spiritual calendar, the second harvest – for mental gifts. Yesterday‘s article spoke of Mabon, and so I will leave it be for now.

the harvest and planting

Alright, if you haven’t figured it out, my tradition has meditations accompanying each holiday.  In the beginning of the year, at Samhain, general goals are established for the next upcoming year.  Generally I try to keep to things that:

  • Are feasible  to accomplish
  • Are things that I want to accomplish

I also try to keep a balance.  I limit myself to small goals, and maybe a few big ones, and try to keep the balance between the physical, mental, and spiritual goals.  A sample year might be below (Sorry, this is a long article!):

Samhain – I establish goals.

Physical/Mundane

  • I want to bike at least 300 miles over the summer
  • I want to stop picking at and chewing on my nails
  • I want to maintain and learn more about healthy living
  • I want to grow a small herb garden containing…

Mental

  • I want to read and work with John Milton’s Paradise Lost
  • I want to compile a book of readings I’ve done with my Tarot Deck
  • I want to (get a more challenging job, internship, course load…)

Spiritual

  • I want to practice visualization of my patron gods
  • I want to practice awareness to recognize spiritual omens
  • I want to maintain my Book of Shadows with meditations on each esbat

Yule

At this point, I would have begun the meditation on each esbat (obviously) and perhaps purchased materials if I needed to for the other goals laid out.

Imbolc

This is the final reflection holiday, and now is a great time to begin the habit changes I mentioned, plus any holiday specific events, etc.

Ostara

This is the time for tilling the fields.  Meditate on the actual tilling of your spiritual field – what should surround the places with your seeds?  be creative.  What will your seeds look like?  Will they look like seeds?  Capsules?  Pictures?  What is your dirt?

Beltane

This is your planting.  Plant the seeds. Do some need to be in water for emotional health and well being, or spiritual needs?  Do some need to be thrown in the fire to incite passion?

Litha

This is the time you should really be working on all of your goals – you’re past the halfway point for the year!  This holiday is all about growth – are your seeds sprouting?  Are your pictures making movies?  Your capsules bursting open?

Lammas/Lughnassadh

By now, your physical/mundane goals should be about ready for harvest.  Harvest them – pick the fruit.  How successful were you?

Mabon

By now, your mental goals should be about ready for harvest.  How did you do?

Samhain

Spiritual goals, and a new year to think about.  What a year!

Alright, I’m over 900 words, which is about 400 more than I wanted, so I’ll catch you tomorrow with something less informative.

Til next time!

Mabon in Perfect Balance

Yesterday was Mabon, the fall equinox….the first day of autumn, the second harvest…where night and day were (theoretically, depending on where you live) the same length.

It always seems to me that some holidays *cough*YULE*cough*BELTANE are a little more popular than the others. My personal favorite is probably Imbolc because of the symbols and spiritual meaning of the holiday. But, since we’re at Mabon, let’s discuss it.

Looking outside, I see the common colors of Mabon as being green, yellow, and orange. Out around here, the leaves are starting to turn, though it’s a bit early. In terms of the harvest, it’s in full swing now, and in honor of Mabon, I went out and picked over 30 fruit off of our Apple and Pear trees at home.

If you’re like me, and in an urban situation without a lot of (or any) private land to worship on, and no real private space at all to cast a circle, there are little ways that you can celebrate each of the holidays. As we progress through the year(s), I will touch on these around those times. I apologize for doing this after this holiday.

One good activity is to press leaves. It can be easily done. Collect some good samples, and then get a large book. Lay some newspaper on the book. Put your leaves down in between layers of newspaper, cover with a final layer, and then put some more, heavy books, on top. This will allow the leaves to dry.

From a magical standpoint, I know that some herbs should be collected at this point. Unfortunately, I am not that knowledgeable about plants that should be collected right now – so you’ll have to find another source for that.

Taking a nature walk is a great idea for any of the holidays, but you should remember, in the fall, like right now, hunting seasons are starting. I woke up to gunfire at home – and it wouldn’t really be wise to take a walk through any forest unless it was a protected state park without hunting.

I always like to look to the birds right now, as it’s going to be the last time you’ll see some of them before the spring. A great book to pick up is Ted Andrews’ Animal Speak, available at any big bookstore or your local pagan store. I’d link it, but I don’t want to bias you to a particular online retailer. It’s kind of pricey, but both my High Priest and I agree: it’s a must-have.

As I mentioned above, harvesting is a great way to honor any of the three harvest festivals (Lughnassadh, Mabon, and Samhain). Tomorrow, I will post the ‘wheel of the year’ in my tradition. That way, when I talk about the second harvest, you know to what I am referring.

As long as you get outside and feel the earth between your toes, or raise your arms to our Lady, or kneel before her, and you worship, and feel the joy that is Her inside of you, and let it exude forth, you’ll have given due worship (allusion to the Charge).

And, in the manner that is so fitting of our gods, let these words echo in your heart:

Let My Worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

Enjoy your day!

Tarot For Pay

(Saturday and Sunday Post here…I know I won’t get to it)

Forgive me for being a bit of a traditional hard ass when it comes to this. But, although I don’t agree with much of what Gerald Gardner lays down in his laws, writings and what-not, I do agree with one thing: we, as witches, should not accept monetary compensation for our divination. There are several reasons.

When I see a tarot reading festival or a booth in a festival going on at my college, or in my hometown, I watch the people who walk out of the booths. More often than not, they don’t have the look of awe that they should after an in-depth tarot reading. They come out, they immediately kick up conversation with their friends, to let them know how their super special ‘occult’ experience was, and what the wise woman/man had said inside for a small fee.

The tarot is sacred, because it is a tool for us to divine the situations that we find ourselves in that we cannot always see as clearly before hand. Accepting money, the tarot reading done by myself, would be clouded by the fact that if I did a good job, I might get a better tip! Now, I realize that not all card readers are like this. But nevertheless, your cards will feel the influence of money and your new intentions. I say this, and you may smile, but consider the following:

Your tarot cards are specifically yours. If handled correctly, each reading you do, each card you consider, is given your energy, becoming more attuned to you. So, technically, your readings will become more accurate in several years of time with the same deck because

  • You are familiar with the cards
  • You are more adept at interpretation
  • The cards are used to you

When the cards are being used for money, we tend to stop listening to them. We tend to influence the general publics’ opinion of the paths that we walk, and we influence our own cards’ readings. As a result, the readings are more geared at what the person being read wants to hear, and less what they need to hear.

What if the cards are being used for a good cause? A mandatory donation to some fund in exchange for a reading? No. The person being read should always have the choice to donate time or money as they please.

A voluntary donation? Perhaps. But charging for your magic? What if those ever-present parent Gods of ours decide to take the privilege away?