Hey everyone —
I hope that this Tuesday is treating you well. Things are gaining momentum at work, and I find that I haven’t been able to work on my book much in the last few days. However, in the spirit of keeping this blog regular, I have fifteen minutes before my next work obligation, and so, I’m going to share with you one of the major techniques I’ve learned and applied in my spiritual practice.
[[EDIT]] This took way longer than fifteen minutes to write.
Some consider Wicca (e.g., Hutton mentions it multiple times in “Triumph of the Moon”) a “mystery religion.” That is, Wicca is a religious practice which has “secrets” available to its initiates. It holds the promise of an individualized and sincere religious experience after initiation.
But a lot of this mystery is found in reflection, meditation, and analysis of your everyday life. Poems, stories, experiences, they all form the material from which you gain spiritual wisdom. These “secrets” aren’t revealed to you after initiation into a coven. Remember, if you can’t find the answer inside of yourself, you can’t go searching for it elsewhere. It’s within. Search harder. [[That’s my half-assed summary of the Charge, right there.]]
I’m going to share the basic technique of analyzing a new piece of information, with you. In the very least, this is the questioning that I use when I find something new, or I want to study it further. Not only is this technique applicable to religion; rather, it is inherent in all of what we do. It is part of what makes us human. We analyze our data, make predictions and/or draw conclusions. Conducting this sort of process in a conscious way, however, can lead to some interesting insights. I call it reflective thinking.
Reflective thinking is the art of analyzing information through multiple lenses. Reflective thinking is best learned by example, and so, we’ll take the first quarter of a poem I’ve never read before now, called “Ode to Psyche,” by John Keats.
O GODDESS! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung
By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,
And pardon that thy secrets should be sung
Even into thine own soft-conchèd ear:
Surely I dream’d to-day, or did I see
The wingèd Psyche with awaken’d eyes?
I wander’d in a forest thoughtlessly,
And, on the sudden, fainting with surprise,
Saw two fair creatures, couchèd side by side
In deepest grass, beneath the whisp’ring roof
Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran
A brooklet, scarce espied:
‘Mid hush’d, cool-rooted flowers, fragrant-eyed,
Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian
They lay calm-breathing on the bedded grass;
Their arms embracèd, and their pinions too;
Their lips touch’d not, but had not bade adieu,
As if disjoinèd by soft-handed slumber,
And ready still past kisses to outnumber
At tender eye-dawn of aurorean love:
The wingèd boy I knew;
But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove?
His Psyche true!
Okay. Step one: Just read it.
If you don’t know the story of Cupid (Eros) and Psyche, the basic summary is this: Psyche is so beautiful, that Venus (Aphrodite) gets super jealous of her, and bids her son, Cupid, to shoot her with an arrow so that when she wakes up, she sees some hideous being and falls in love with them. Unfortunately for Cupid, he scratches himself with one of his arrows while trying to do his mother’s bidding, and falls in love with Psyche. He refuses to follow through with his mother’s plan, and eventually, because no one will marry Psyche, she gets left on a mountain by her parents, and carried away to Cupid’s palace, where he visits her each night in the darkness. Her sisters come to visit, and tell her how, since she’s never SEEN her husband, he’s obviously hiding his ugliness. She tries to see his sleeping body, wakes him up in the process, and he leaves her because she wasn’t supposed to see him. She wanders, distraught. Convinces her two sisters that he wants them instead, and so they go jump off the mountain (no, I’m not kidding). Eventually, she ends up at an altar to Venus where she begs forgiveness, gets reunited with Cupid, and they live happily ever after.
Step two: Read and interpret in its historical context.
So if you were staring at this without my guidance, and someone told you to, “explain the historical context of this piece.” You’d probably head to Wikipedia and figure out that Keats is a poet who wrote a lot of fantasy, myth, and nature based poems. He only wrote actively for about 5 years before tuberculosis killed him in his mid twenties. I can tell you from further study that there was a large explosion of interest in the Greco-Roman pantheon and nature from the 1800’s into the early 1900’s, and that Keats was mixing “old” styles with “new” styles of poetry. You can also ask in this part, “What was the author’s intention?”
Step three: Read and interpret through a religious lens.
What can you draw from this text to enrich your religious experience? This is the question that helps you explore a piece more fully. You contemplate the piece — you ask yourself how it makes you feel. What lessons can you draw from the piece? Can you take a moral away from it? You ask yourself if there’s a place for this piece in your Book of Shadows. Would you want to reinterpret this piece?
For me, I would see this piece as a possible addition to my studies in aspecting a god/dess, which is part of the reason I chose one of Keats’ Odes for this example. I would file this away in “Ways to connect with Goddesses.”
Obviously, this method applies not only to text, but also art, video, music, and even concepts. And remember, human hands write all religious texts, despite divine inspiration. Human hands write all texts. We are not infallible. It’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with a writer. Or a musician. Or an artist. Don’t be afraid. You should never read a piece as the “whole and untarnished truth as it is so written by god.” A written piece is always just the truth as the author knows it at the time that they are writing it.
And it’s not only a religious method — you can take this idea of interpreting through lenses and change your lenses as an exercise in open-mindedness. For example: how would you interpret this piece in a cultural context?
Let’s take one more example, this time, a concept. Let’s talk about photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which a plant takes light, water, and carbon dioxide and converts it to sugar. This is a remarkably important process, and in fact, without it, we would not be here.
So, what’s religious about photosynthesis? Absolutely nothing. Well, I mean, it’s a pretty cool process, and I’d consider it sacred because of its importance, but I see no scripture or divine wisdom in “light + water + carbon dioxide = sugar.”
Except that, if I look at the equation, I see something else. I see, “energy –> manifestation.” I see transformation. I see magic. And I realize, when I start to study photosynthesis as transformation, it becomes a good analogy for magic. Put something in, get something out.
I’m not saying that photosynthesis is magic. Merely that, when contemplating photosynthesis, I can begin to use its concept and framework to put the world in a different light. Suddenly, I see my everyday choices as light, or water, or carbon dioxide, and I see what they give me as my sugar. My energy.
This is the art of reflective thinking. It’s not so much about what answers you come to, but rather, how you get there, and the things you learn along the way. I always begin a brainstorming or reflective thinking process with a question, but I almost never find the answer. I always get distracted, end up on some tangent, but it’s often those tangents that are most fruitful. If they don’t give me spiritual wisdom, perhaps they give me a new song, or a better understanding of something, or even, just a way to sleep a bit easier at night.
Reflective thinking is how you populate your Book of Shadows. Sure, in the beginning, you just collect correspondence tables and original documents in your Book of Shadows. But when you run out of that stuff to copy… you start to create. You start asking why, and how? Maybe you analyze a bad experience and come to conclusions. But its these lessons that turn a Book of Shadows into a Book of Wisdom; it’s this wisdom that turns Wicca into a mystery religion.