The Gifts of Hawks

When I spoke to the gods on Samhain night, I was asked to research my totem animals. Among these totem animals, I have already established that the animals that I need to research throughout the year are the Hawk, the Cougar, the Bear, and the Turkey. I should back up momentarily: my patron God and Goddess make an interesting pair: Hanuman, the monkey god of the Hindus, and Athena, the warrior goddess of the Greeks. Needless to say, it is the equivalent of an older sister bickering with her younger, trickster brother.

The next morning, as I was walking to class, I nearly stepped on the remains of a small, unidentified bird which had been torn to bits. Lovely animals, hawks. The day before Samhain, I had taken a walk into the woods and found a Turkey feather, which I mistook for a hawk feather. Personally, I think it was Hanuman’s way of apologizing for not making my totem clearer to me. Turkeys are important, yes, in the grand scheme of things, but it seems someone wanted me to recognize that hawks are there too, and play an important part in my life. It was like a twisted apology.

I don’t normally laugh at death, but I’m pretty sure, with the state of the remnants of the bird I found, that it died quick and relatively mercifully, and I couldn’t help but to smile, knowing that my brother, Hawk, was still flying above, watching me – even if I couldn’t always see him. I also don’t ask for signs of outright proving of my faith often – but I believe I did, in the case of the hawk. I imagine that the gods get tired of proving they exist – so instead, I ask for smaller signs, occasionally, that I am going in the right direction. Unfortunately, the beauty and bane of magick and our spirituality lies in the manifestation of those wishes in a not-always-pleasant manner.

I’ll be writing a multitude of posts in advance of the weekends, and hopefully posting them every other day until December starts, when I can resume my normal posting amount. At least then, I’ll be regular.

What omens have you received from the gods during this sacred time? Were they as obvious as mine? Or more hidden? What will come of this year for you? Mine is the year of discovery – I plan to make great advances in my life and amount of knowledge. After all, I’m halfway through college – and I’m loving every minute of it!

Blessed be.

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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.