Rites of Passage

I’ll never forget reading a book about rites of passage in one of my college classes.
The entire class, in fact, was about rituals and rites and how we humans make sense of the world.  I read about some more culturally disturbing rituals, in which young men are required to “take their elder’s seed” into their mouths to receive the knowledge and strength of their elders (they perform oral sex on their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers).  But overall, the threads of that class — how a ritual is structured, the purpose of a ritual, and all of those things — I see them running through my daily life.

I witnessed a Ph.D. defense yesterday.  Well, the public part. They do the actual defense in private, but I had an opportunity to watch him tell a room full of people about his research. Although much like a normal presentation, an oral dissertation presentation has an additional layer of both nerves and giddiness. It’s not uncommon to hear jokes intended to up the ante, like, “We’ll leave all the questions to your committee,” or, “I’m sure they’ll talk about that later.”

Rites of passage are all around us.  From the training videos at national corporations like Target and McDonalds to the elaborate customs and decorations involved in handfastings and weddings, there are often symbols tied up in our everyday activities.

This line of argumentation or description may be helpful to you in your encounters with the non-pagan world. One of the more common arguments from others is that magic isn’t real, or even worse, magic is evil. Magic, if you remember, is the simple act of demanding change from the world. Any time that someone declares “I do” or “I will” in response to a question or statement, they are engaging in magic. From the court room to the DMV, magic and rituals are all around us. Pagans should not be demonized for calling what they do, what it is. The only difference is that the rituals associated with paganism are less common than the rituals associated with church on Sunday.

The Gym: Depressing or Uplifting?

Whenever I think about going to the gym, a negative voice starts creeping into my head.  It says to me, “You’re so fat” and “You’re going to hurt yourself” and “You know you won’t come back.”  You wouldn’t believe what my awful brain cooks up.  It’s all, “Look at yourself in the mirror” and “Look at how awful your clothes fit” and “You’re on par with her” (Yes, my awful brain even judges other people at the gym when I’m there.  It looks at the gym attendants and goes, “Wow, he must be laughing at you inside when you go to ask him about gym classes” and “I bet he’s watching your fat jiggle.”  Then, when I’m doing weights, my brain goes on and on, telling me about what a weak person I am, and how I used to be able to lift so much more.  When I’m on a treadmill, I’m not working hard enough.  Remember how fast I used to be able to go?  And by the time I come home, I’m so exhausted from this inner battle that I take a bath or shower and just want to sleep.

I tell you all of these personal thoughts to pose a question: Does this happen to you?  Or is this just a side-effect of my “migraine brain?”  I know that there are severe, uncontrollable mood swings with my migraines.  For gods’ sake, I’ve cried about wrapping presents because of migraines.  If I were a man, I would be laughed out of society.  Thankfully, I’m a woman, so apparently, emotional outbursts are mildly acceptable.  Although I usually contain them well and leave my tears for pillows and hot showers.

Everyone (e.g., the internet) says that the gym should be an uplifting place.  We go to the gym to better ourselves!  Not me.  I go to the gym to beat myself up.  Then I spend the next day in a “gym hangover” because I went a little too hard and now I need to take it easy.

My mom loves the gym.  She was never “fat” pre-gym, but she really toned up and lost weight when she started going.  She’s probably about 6 pants sizes smaller than me.  She can just hop on a treadmill or elliptical and go for half an hour.  She switches gyms all the time, but her activity/participation remains constant.

I need more mental stimulation.  Like classes.  Which brings us to the question, “Why did I sign up for a gym if I hate it so much?”  The answer is that I was under the impression that this gym, new at the time, would be offering lots of classes, soon.  It’s been a year and a half, and they have two: Zumba, and some weird toning class.  Both aimed towards middle age females. I hate dancing.  I hate things like pilates only slightly less.  I DO like Yoga, but Yoga isn’t offered at my $30-a-month-for-3-years gym.

Do you think, like I do, that maybe the reason people have an on-again off-again relationship with the gym is because they feel like I do?  For me, the gym is a place where dreams go to die.  I’ll keep using it, because I have to, or lose my money… but man, I wish it didn’t stress me out and cause me the sort of internal grief that it does.

Pagan beliefs summarized

Of course, if you’re looking for Wiccan beliefs summarized, I suggest you make your way over to the 13 principles page, but I want to talk about paganism in general.

Neo-pagans are characterized by usually believing in the following:

  • There are many deities / many faces of God
  • All living things are sacred
  • We celebrate our lives throughout the year on agriculturally important holidays
  • There is magic in action and prayer

In other words, pagans frequently believe in multiple gods, magic, and a celebration of life that revolves around respecting all living things and recognizing the cycles of the earth.  Of course, many pagans believe other things as well.  Do you have anything to add?

Beltane Blessings

So, I don’t perform rituals much anymore – I’m always in the wrong spot at the wrong time, etc.  I do have small ceremonies, often without tools like chalices or even food offerings for the gods.  Sometimes I just take some time to sit in silence and think, and pray, and maybe even sing a little.

Those were my activities on Beltane night.  I sat on a bench, feeling the cool breeze and the wet air, the promise of summer still far away.  I thought about my life and where it has come from and where it’s going, and also about my partner’s life.  My partner has been having some issues lately – the economy hit him hard and for a while, he was jobless.  We live quite a distance away from each other, and I can’t be there for him when I need to.

In any case, I ended up just praying that he would find happiness again, and not three days later, he made an opportunity for himself and he now has a job.  It was a surprising career choice, but you take what you can get, and I’m definitely not complaining.

In the end, that’s all I want.  For those I love to be happy and safe and well cared for.  I hope that this Beltane – or soon after – has found you all the same blessings.

That’s the thing about prayer.  You walk around in a fog for a long time before you sit down to pray – you complain, you think its unfair or too tough or none of it is your fault, etc.  You get angry at the world.  Depressed, sad, maybe you cry.  And when you’re done throwing your temper tantrum, what you do next is most important: Sit down.  Think.  Sing.  Pray.  Decide what you want and how you’re going to get it.  And then do it.

You have support when you’re at your lowest point.  Granted, our gods don’t carry you through.  They pick you up, dust you off, and remind you that you have two feet and a world of opportunity.  But isn’t that all we ever need?

The Importance of Thought In Conflict

So, I’m not a stranger to the social networking applications. For the most part, I use facebook, and the other day, I started a very long, semi-heated discussion with a conservative person from elementary school, about the United States and it’s new President. I wouldn’t have – I don’t like those arguments – but it really pisses me off when people make sweeping statements. “All pagans are crazies.” I don’t remember what his particular statement was, and I’m too lazy to look back, but it was something that irked me, and so I responded.

No, I don’t think our government’s intervention in GM is going to destroy us. What bugged me was that I knew he wasn’t seeing the simple idea of minimizing damage. He was standing on his high horse, and refusing to recognize the fact that what our federal government was trying to do was minimize damage.

The only reason the issue is close to me is because of what Kodak did to my city in the 1990s. Maybe early 2000s. Kodak, based in Rochester, NY, closed the majority of its factories, cutting tons of jobs, screwing people out of their retirements. Three close friends had fathers who lost jobs. None of them have really recovered. Hell, the city hasn’t recovered.

Imagine if GM went out? That’s not just one city. That’s…hundreds of cities in the United States. Full of skilled workers who are so specialized that they’re actually fucked if they try to find another job that pays as well.

And our conversation evolved from GM all the way to global warming, with routes through healthcare and education.

But the point is that both sides of the argument have the danger of falling into the Always-Never categories. And that sort of brash assumption is first of all, a weakness in your argument, and second, prevents open communication. If you’re going to sit there and tell me that we’re NEVER going to remove the domination of oil companies, so why bother trying – then what is the point of me continuing the discussion? You’ve made up your mind.

And when I call you out on it, I’m sure you feel embarrassed. For me, as a 21 year old (he’s the same age) – I find it ridiculous that he’s already lost the hope for change.

How can he look at me and say, “Things are never going to change?” What kind of generation is that?

And so, I request readers, please, be careful what you say. Don’t try to push your point so hard that you begin to look like a fool. Acknowledge your ignorance. Allow exceptions. The world is not black and white. It is this beautiful shade of gray.

The Give and Take of Mycorrhizae

This summer, I was lucky enough to get an internship that is National Science Foundation funded, to study plants in the desert environment. I’m living in Tucson, AZ for the summer, instead of New York. Last week, we decided that my project would be looking at the effects of mycorrhizal associated and levels of phosphorus on various aspects of plant growth. We will be measuring plant mass, root to shoot ratio, carbon to nitrogen ratio, and possibly the presence of heavy metals in leaf tissue.

Anyway, for those of you that don’t know what mycorrhizae are, since I’ll most likely be talking about them throughout the summer, I figured I’d give a brief background. Mycorrhizae are fungi which live in symbiotic relationships with roots. In exchange for providing plants with essential nutrients, fungi recieve carbohydrates and other byproducts of photosynthesis in order to survive. For the most part, mycorrhizal relationships are mutualisms – the relationship helps both parties.

The big problem for mycorrhizae though, is that the plants can kick them out if they’re not needed anymore. So nursery plants, for example, which caretakers are sure receive all of their nutrients, etc – never get the chance to make mycorrhizal connections, and they can suffer when they’re transplanted and suddenly on their own with no fungi to help them find nutrients where there are none.

So these fungi help plants to survive and grow. In the desert, there’s not really much known about how dependent plants are on ther mycorrhizal connections. The mycorrhizae are sort of hard to find, unless you go through a series of maneuvers that kind of draws them out. So we’re slowly figuring out which types of mycorrhizae can be found with desert plants, and now, I want to see how effective the relationship between the two is.

So that’s my experiment. Spiritually, I think that this experiment can reveal a lot of things. Mycorrhizae are obligate to their hosts – they can’t really survive without their hosts. And they can’t control the weather. So, in a way, the plants are sort of the deciders as to how far or how successful the relationship will be. If in making an analogy, we place plants::mycorrhizae as humans::magic, we can see a correlation in terms of magical success. If we need the magic to happen, and we give it our time and attention and energy(the plants’ photosynthetic byproducts) – we will grow faster, be more successful. If we have all the things that we need to do stuff on our own, the relationship won’t be as effective. Afterall, why give your time and energy to someone else when you can do it much easier yourself.

I think this concept of need is one that should be considered when working magic. The universe is a relatively good filter. If you’re praying to magically become thin, and praying, and praying, but you have opportunities for fitness or nutrition ALL the freaking time, chances are, it’s not going to work. At that point, the universe, your inner self, whatever – everyone knows that you can do it yourself.

Did you know that if mycorrhizae are attached and suddenly weather becomes good or nutrient levels grow, they almost become parasitic in nature? The mycorrhizae still want their energy – but they’re not really giving anything in return.

In the same light, by continually throwing your own energy at something you can do yourself…you’re allowing the magic to parasitize you, so to speak. You won’t have the energy to make the change yourself, because you keep throwing it away towards needless prayers.

Wow, that entire post was sort of depressing. Well, more like, it makes you want to smack yourself across the head if you’ve ever done anything like that. You know…”please help me get an A” instead of studying. “I need to do well on this presentation for work” without working on it at all…

Have a great day!

The Sacred Cords

And you guys thought I wasn’t going to post!  There’s something unique to the Gardnerian tradition, found in the first degree initiation, which I thought I would touch upon tonight:  The cords.  They’re said to take your measure, to bind you to the art.  During my self initiation, I never prepared cords for myself.  I made my oath, took my time to meditate, and that was it.  But, nevertheless, there is wisdom in the cords.

It is a physical manifestation of your oath.  The actual initation text reads:

Take measure: height (tie knot); around head (tie knot); around heart (tie knot); around hips (tie knot). Prick postulant’s thumb; catch blood on measure. Place measure on altar.

This cord is then, in essence, charged with your oath.  The cords are relatively easy to make – but I knew that when I was looking to make them – among other things, last week – I couldn’t quite figure out what material to use.  I chose a nylon rope of decent thickness from Lowe’s.  A 50-foot section came in a package for less than $7.00 .  No questions asked about what I needed the rope for(it would be rather odd to explain that I was using the rope to measure myself and create a scourge for a religious ceremony).

For the nylon rope – if that’s what you choose – realize that it frays quickly, and so beginning and ending knots should be tied as well to prevent the entire thing from falling apart.  Also, in case you were wondering – I did not give my blood as a binding signature to the cord.  I feel that I am a woman, and I bleed every month in a covenant to the gods.  Anything more or less is unnecessary.

An interesting, quick, and enlightening thing to do when thinking about your own upcoming initiation – especially if it has not been done before or you are self initiating, and want to experience the power in the tradition, but do not have the ability to make the actual ritual happen.

Blessed be!