Monday, December 5, 2011

The Thing with Feathers

I want to be angry. I just don't know where to direct it. Angry isn't like sad. With anger, you feel that you could do something.

Should I rage at the chemical companies, the hormone companies, the polluters, for possibly harming my friend? Is it the doctors, the medical industry, for failing to find out what was wrong? Should I be angry at her family for giving her some sketchy DNA? I just don't know. All I know is she's under 30 and facing some scary odds. I didn't know how scary until I looked it up today.

Can I justify what's happening to her? Not really. I could say that Kali just loves her that much or Cerridwen is transforming her in her enchanted cauldron. While it may be true, it doesn't show the mercy of a friend. And my religion is more about kindness to my kindred than the grand plans of some wiser being; what is wiser than love?

At least my faith doesn't require me to look happy all the time. At this point in my life, that would be too much to bear.  Still, I can't scowl this away. Complaints--and money thrown along with them--may improve the longevity of future cancer patients, but I'm more concerned about this one, right here, right now.

If I can't complain it away, I also can't ribbon it away. If I were the guy from the movie Jeffrey who wore a jacket covered with awareness ribbons of every color in the rainbow, I could make all of them teal and it wouldn't bring my friend one more day of health.

Can I help her get better? Maybe by surprise. That sounds better than no.

When I do energetic work on someone with cancer, I get a distinct sensation. It's like pouring water into a bucket with a big hole. No filling up. No sticking to the sides. Any other time, I'd feel someone brimming over or perhaps bouncing back like bread dough after kneading. Some sort of signal that you're done, at least for now. I don't get that feeling here. (I'll still work the work, of course.)

It's strange not to even be able to know for sure of something I can do to make a difference.

And for this one situation, for this one friend, it's not enough to say 'I don't know' and be calm about it.

Now, it's true that every moment we are alive is a gift, a miracle, possibly a fluke but a wondrous one. The fact that it happens for any length of time is startling. Who is to say how long any one of us has?

It is beyond my control.

Where is hope, that 'thing with feathers that perches in the soul'?

I think of Adah, the genius wounded healer in The Poisonwood Bible, who found she could finally reach that thing with feathers with her one good hand, but only after it had fallen.

Yet I reach out, beyond my grasp, so that my friend may stand.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Healing One Another (I Think)

I got back from Florida Pagan Gathering earlier this month, but it seems like forever ago.

The theme of my experience this time was healing. Oh, sure, I got to work on other people--with better results than I expected--but I needed to let them help me, too. When one little point breaks off a wisdom tooth, it makes your whole mouth hurt. So when my camping mate inserted three tiny needles into my hand, it made all the difference. So did the nice people who drove out to town and got some specialized goop to shield my poor tooth.

Another highlight of that week was my first time in an Inipi (sweat) lodge. For anyone who may be wondering, the clothing-optional aspect here was anything but sexual. Believe me, when you are scraping for a place to sit inside a little dome with 20-odd other people, breathing steam, every pore crying out from the heat, it's hardly time for an orgy.

So, what is it time for? Prayer, that's what. You pray for someone different on every round. On the last round, you focus on an animal spirit and its message to you.

I had to ask Spider why she had spun a web across the front of my tent.

A peace sign? Really?

Well, Spider is my friend. So I tend to give her the benefit of the doubt, even when her web made me think of an old Far Side comic where two of her kind built their home across the bottom of a playground slide: 'If we pull this off, we'll eat like kings.'

Monday, October 24, 2011

Family Reunion, Without a DeLorean

Ah, Samhain...the time to remember your departed loved ones, and maybe hang out with them.

I must admit it still feels a little presumptuous, even after all these years, to ask them to join us here. I'll be polite about it, of course, but I can't help feeling a little shy.

 You see, there was only about one time it felt like I was being kind to them instead of just the other way around.  That was two years ago (could it have been that long?) when a friend passed away, too young and rather by surprise. He was born sick and didn't even reach drinking age when the swine flu got him.

I thought he might need some reassurance, some encouragement, to get where he's going and know it was all right to go there. I planned on helping him on Samhain night, when the veil between our worlds is the thinnest. Apparently he got the message before I got there. He thoughtfully left me some brochures in the dreamtime 'waiting room' to let all of his friends and family know he was all right and not to be sad.

Even there, he was doing ME a kindness.

I am considering what to do this year. Most of the people I've lost were family. I'll ponder the relatives who will give me an earful, relatives I am afraid to dredge up, and relatives who never knew me--and those are just the living ones. When I think of my dead ancestors, I realize how little I know of them, and them of me, despite in some cases spending years together in life. (Again, the same can be said of the living.)

It's fun to muse over what Grandma would say about my hair or whether my great aunt would have enjoyed skydiving (I bet she would). I won't ask them about these things, since I'm pretty sure they don't mean much outside the physical realm. Instead, I may simply invite them and enjoy their presence, if they desire, without asking anything else of them.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kung Fu Pagan?!

I finally found the words for what I've been trying to describe: wu wei. It's hardly indigenous to Pagan thought; in fact, it's a Taoist concept. Yet I believe it fits in perfectly with my beautiful patchwork faith.

Wu wei literally means no action. As I understand it, it's about acting instead of reacting.

Aesop described a field of reeds bending in the wind instead of falling like the unyielding oak. Yet what I'm talking about is more than plain old resiliency. It's being so here, so grounded in who and what you are and where you belong in the universe, that nothing outside of yourself can make you become something else. It is a paradox, like the words 'act natural.' It is acting natural, without acting.

What does it mean to me? It means I sing the songs that reflect my own beliefs, instead of trying to filk the heck out of someone else's. It means my attitude is not anti-something, so much as it is pro-something. And when I raise energy with a purpose, well, I was raising it anyway, so let's put it to good use while we're at it.

The corollary: if I am to be spiritually agile, ready to flow like a kung fu master, if I am to be centered and flexible enough to act on what I act on, I can't very well put my faith in a dusty old box with the holiday decorations, rummage around for it when I need it, and look at it once a year. It must live every day, the Divine moving within me, as me.

And it does.

I'm not perfect, but I'm here. It is good.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

1001 Uses for Chicken Feet

You could buy some chicken feet and if anyone asks, you're making soup. It could be true. People eat these things, even though they look almost like human hands. Here's a recipe if you need it.

Don't worry. You don't have to eat it if you don't want to. You could just play with it.

A friend of mine grew up poor in the South and says one year, he and his brothers each got a chicken foot for Christmas. It was all they could afford. It was sort of fun pulling on the tendons and making the foot move. Make the best of what you've got, right?

Of course, these uses are not the real focus here. Consider the context. You're thinking magic, perhaps spelled in some funky way to distinguish it from pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

So, what do you do?

Anything you want. That's the short, literal answer, not the real answer.

The longer answer, not to mention the real one: think of fire. Fire can be used to create a delicious meal or destroy someone's whole world.

Chicken feet are like that. So is anything you use in magic.

I don't believe that what you send out to the universe comes back seven times, or even three times. I do believe it comes back. It's a good idea to consider this before performing an action, magical or otherwise, which could bounce back on you. What are you willing and eager to have come back to you? Think on that, and do that.

Do you want someone to lose the mask they wear and start being honest with people? Consider whether you can take what you're dishing out.

Do you want someone to fall helplessly in love with you? How helpless would YOU choose to be?

Even a reflection can bounce back against a reflection, seemingly into infinity.

So before you choose whether to use that chicken foot for a good luck charm, a psychic weapon to scratch your enemies, or the base of a hot spicy soup, ask yourself, 'What do I REALLY want?'

Face it, y'all. It's too hot for soup. I'm sure you can think of 1001 other uses.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Phooey on Unicorns

Despite appearances, I never meant for my blog to fart sunshine and poop rainbows. I do not consider myself New Age or a lightworker. While white light is an integral part of my healing practice, that's mostly because it is a blend of all colors.

I do not like unicorns. I do not like angels. Even if I thought archangels were out there bringing us messages, I'm certain they would not always convey their prophecies to rich white housewives in their 50s. If they do, they're jerks. I could never be New Age with an attitude like this.

I tried to get into Dances of Universal Peace. They filled me with raw oozing rage. The very first dance wanted me to 'live welcoming to all.' Sorry, that's a good way to get kicked in the teeth. I respect the force who lives in me and believe I was given a drive for self-preservation for a reason, just like any critter in the forest or the sea. It is good to want to take care of yourself. It is holy.

Just the same, I do feel the need to look out for my fellow human beings. There's got to be a balance, and that is what I was going for.

My intention here is twofold:
1. To explain my faith and practice in a clear, positive, and soothing way; this needs to be a good place for someone who is emotionally or spiritually spent and needs reminders of the balanced life.
2. To present Pagan spirituality in a way that is active, not reactive: in other words, the opposite of my first days as a Pagan. Sometimes I need my own reminders about balance.

When I began this path in a meaningful and open-hearted way, it was out of great need and had quite the reactive flavor to it. I was depressed and despairing. Hundreds of miles from home, I wandered the woodland trails, just me and the moon and the trees. I had never moved from my bedroom in my house before, let alone away to college with no one I knew. I was hungry, angry, lonely, tired: all the things the shrinks tell you never to be all at once or you'll lose it.

I lost it.

'It' could be defined in many different ways, but eventually I got 'it' back.  This took years and much seeking and struggling and crying, and dancing and loving and communing. Getting 'it' back happened through the Goddess. She shone through Nature itself and through the faces and hearts of many people I knew and some I have never met in person.

This began with the moon. Call me crazy. I don't care. I reached out, and she heard me.

And then she laughed like a little girl.

It was a good start. It was exactly what I needed. And why not? Life has so much to be happy about.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Waking the Dragon

No, I'm not referring to the legendary temper of a character in A Game of Thrones. I'm referring to one half of an ongoing battle between...two forces. Not good and evil per se. Mercy and justice.

I associate so many names and faces with the Divine, frequently having many facets, as we all do. Folks in India dearly love Kali as Mother, yet we in the West are more familiar with her destructive aspect. Other Divine faces concern themselves with the not-too-different matters of both love and war: Inanna, Freya, Brigid. Even Kuan Yin, possibly the ultimate face of compassion, is often pictured riding a dragon.

It makes one want to say, 'What would Sybil do?'

It does seem odd sometimes that I experience the Divine this way. And yet, given how complicated even we humans can be, doesn't it make sense that we came from something or someone even more sophisticated? There is too much to fit into just one thought in just one brain, one feeling in one heart.

She is a mosaic to me. That doesn't bother me anymore. However, it does leave me wondering: if love is the law (and it is), why are there so many different and opposing ways to love?

Even if you remove sex and romantic love from the equation, it's still so easy to be cruel and kind at the same time. I don't know anyone who hasn't hurt someone else, and deeply, myself included. I remember this when one friend is accused of hurting another. How do I show love to both of them?

When does an unacceptable word or act become excusable? Does your position change if someone was drunk, off their medication, or simply had low blood sugar? What if there was a death in the family or some equally epic event? What tips the scales that far? What doesn't?

I just don't know. And I feel that I have to be all right with that. Yet life goes on, and so do the lives of those I care about. In a perfect world--no, a tame world--we would all be in a Hug o' War and no one would feel like a victim, a villain, an outcast. But we are wild and we are willed. We dance the dance of life, and in our passion, we stomp on one another's toes.

To continue the metaphor to its limits, some of us started the dance wearing cleats.

I don't like confrontation, but sometimes it's appropriate. The question is, when? When do you wake the dragon?

I still don't know.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Like Moontime, But Not

We just had a full moon and a lunar eclipse. In a few days, we reach summer solstice. The days are long and bright. The veil is thin.  There is so much to notice, it is difficult to concentrate on any one thing. Usually when I feel like this, it is because my body is defragging, at more or less the same time each month. This time, I have the same strange vivid unfocusedness, but without the pain and the fog. Might the cosmos be defragging? It's possible.

The energy is building up like the finale in a fireworks show, burst overlapping burst.

Over here on one side, I am recalling my lovely dream in which I embraced a young cleric, from Africa I think, and told him namaste and meant it. Such mutual sweetness, transcending everything we held that was both different and dear to us.

Over there on the other side of the sky, another great burst of sparks! The word samaritan. I always loosely translated it as 'none of the above', the way the Samaritans seem in the Bible. In other words, Pagan. I even saw a cartoon once where the Good Samaritan looked like a Hell's Angel. Yet Christians use the word for themselves in Samaritan's Purse and Good Samaritan Church of Wherever. This concept has long annoyed me, so I looked into it further to see if I was right. (OK, OK, I checked Wikipedia.)

Well, it turns out we were both off the mark. It wasn't so much Pharisees vs. Heathens as it was Hatfields vs. McCoys or Spy vs. Spy. Samaritans are and were on the Abrahamic spectrum. I sit corrected.

Above those sparkly thoughts, another one booms: my loved ones and the things they need: health, reassurance, relief from years of whatever has been tormenting them. I remember. I look for ways to be helpful. But mostly I remind myself that the sun will come up every day without my assistance. What is in me, who is in me, is in everything that lives. She loves me, loves when I live life earnestly and fully, because she is life; she does not, however, involve me in every last decision she makes.

There is much more exploding in my brain in far more than 'the' four directions. Infinite directions, that's more like it, but you'd never get done with the beginning of your ritual.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Third Time's a Charm

It has been weeks since I came away from my third Florida Pagan Gathering, cleansed and nurtured inside (the outside desperately needing a shower and a long sleep). When I finally snapped my paper bracelet off, I felt a force far greater than the physical pull. The circle was open.

Yet the magic continues, in a quieter way than it did before. I find myself listening for it more. And there is so much to hear.

It doesn't come in words, most of the time. I wish it did, because words belong to me.

Instead, the magic makes me do the work of paying attention, without emotion, without fanfare. It points me to people in need of healing, in need of affection, of the quietness that is not quiet at all. It reminds me how much I already know, when I didn't think I knew at all. It has a lot to tell me these days.

It makes me want to try planting those purple pole beans a third time. As a friend pointed out, the spring larvae would have grown up by now. Maybe now the leaves and tendrils can flourish.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Outdoor WHAT Starts Today?

What a difference a year makes. And what lessons we learn from parties and festivals!

Last year (well, early last year) I was still lamenting my age and the fact that I haven't had a mini-me. Even when I was a kid myself, I was sure giving birth was always going to be part of the plan.

As John Lennon said, 'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.'

I reached my late thirties, where I am now, and started to worry. People my age have teenagers already. I could have been young and stupid (in a very different way from my actual youth and stupidity) and lived long enough not to regret it anymore. I could have devoted my life to a kid and had it back by now.

(Yeah, right.)

You especially think about these things a lot when you are in the Pagan community. So much of our lore centers around consorts and fertility. Especially fertility. It makes sense. If the plants (and possibly animals) didn't have babies, we would all die. They reproduce, and we live. It's all about babies, babies, babies, or so it seemed.

And then one night, after a few Hand Grenades, I learned to live in the moment.

It wasn't a new lesson, but I needed a reminder, a major one, and I got it.  After planning my life and my future to death, I realized anew that my life is happening right now and I might as well enjoy it.

In the months to follow, I discovered a new Maiden-related aspect of myself, to put it delicately. I made up for my frankly somber teenage years. I made a few missteps and eventually righted them.  But mostly, I met men on a more even playing field than I ever had before.

You're not supposed to learn lessons at parties, especially not happy lessons, but I did. I am thankful to my friends for being a part of it. I may not have shown up at the same shindig this year--I was too emotionally sore at the time to celebrate any official or unofficial holiday--but I still appreciate the change it made in my life. I colored eggs a little late this year, but I remembered to celebrate every day of my life.

Happy Beltane.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eggs for Beltane?

Coloring eggs with natural dyes is a little bit like learning your Pagan path. You find a lot of information that's been passed along by people who never tried it or checked it out, just found it in writing somewhere. Some of it works and makes sense. Some doesn't.

And most people make it way too complicated.

You don't need a different vegetable or herb for each color of egg. Just start with the primary colors and dip the eggs in a second dye to achieve secondary colors. Beet juice makes pink. Red cabbage makes blue (yes, really). Turmeric makes yellow (you can use curry powder). Most of the other dye suggestions either don't dye the egg (spinach) or make it a color you don't want (gray from hibiscus petals--go figure). 

Heat up the dye bath before the eggs go in. I boiled mine IN the dye baths. Also, include a little white vinegar to make the color stick. It takes a while (hours, in some cases), but it works.

Oh yeah, the calendar. The Wiccan flavored Ostara was a month ago, but today is Easter Sunday. I have a single 'Easter lily' blooming out front exactly on time, which is unheard of. I say this Easter is as Pagan as the earlier one, except that we're past the spring equinox. Bunnies, chicks, flowers, and eggs are a lot easier to associate with new life all around us than with a certain theology.

I did participate in a lovely public Beltane ritual last night, except that Beltane isn't for a couple more weeks. Late Ostara, early Beltane.

Call this a spiritual brunch.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Vegetable Plants and Pizza Plants

Ever since seeing Wall-E a few months ago, I've been fascinated and horrified at the premise: a dusty, trashy world with not one plant (that humans know of). The more I think of it, the more I am comforted by how far away we are from the dystopia in the film. As much as our industry and our sheer numbers have done to Mother Earth, she still contains innumerable varieties of flowers, fruits, vegetables, trees.

And weeds.

I just go out to the yard, and I'm tickled. Never mind that the bulk of my 'lawn' is sandspur plants with the spur part mowed off. Never mind that something ate all the leaves off most of my pole bean seedlings. I think, would you just LOOK at the number and variety of green things? Some have medicinal uses I am aware of; others fit Emerson's definition of a weed: 'a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.'

The more I look, the more I realize the biggest hole in the plot of Wall-E: the amazing ability to replenish the world's biodiversity after finding one little vine growing in an old shoe. The folks on that spaceship couldn't even put back the things in my tiny yard in the trailer park. Forget about the birds here, the bees, arachnids, squirrels, different kinds of lizards, tiny crawling insects of many colors: they couldn't even put the weeds back. (Nor would they know how, considering the spaceship captain seemed to think even pizza grew out of the ground.)

You know what the best part is about weeds? They grow back. As much as we screw up, we still get flowers growing in sidewalk cracks.  We still get edible greens and mushrooms without planting them. We may not even be aware of this gift all around us, but it keeps giving for as long as we let it.

All I can say is thank you to my Creator, the mother of us all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Compassion Has a Thousand Arms

One of my favorite names for the Divine is Kuan Yin, 'She who hears the cries of the world.' A number of Asian nations just had festivals in her honor.  They all have their own take on her name, their own stories, their own religion through which they know her. So many view her as their own special protector. They may all be right.

She is known for her compassion. Often depicted as gentle and mild, her face is an approachable one, reaching beyond Buddhism to various faiths. Women ask her for her aid in conception, in guiding a baby's soul to its mother, then guarding them in birth. She is also said to aid the dead, freeing newly departed souls from the judgment of the underworld.

Yet compassion has not only a gentle face but a thousand arms.

One story of Kuan Yin's origins tells of her willingness to give her eyes and arms to heal a king. When at last the royal family thanked her for her unthinkable sacrifice, the earth trembled, flowers rained down, and her eyes and arms reappeared to them a thousandfold in the clouds.

I like to think we all are those arms. We work our work. We do what is needed simply because it is needed. We reach out and hug, type, hammer, lobby, support, plant, paint, chop, carry, caress, heal, manifest, applaud, and wipe tears away.

And when we can't be there, we ask Kuan Yin to be there and hear those cries.

(I'll talk about her dragon some other time.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Positively Pagan?

Pagan is not the opposite of Christian, or the opposite of anything really. It is who I am and what I am. It is me being, not desisting; acting, not reacting. It is nature, and we are all a part. (So why be apart?)

That's part of the 'positively.' Another part: most of us believe that like attracts like. Be positive as much you are able, and you attract the positive. It's not the only game in town, but it's the only one that I choose to spend most of my time dwelling on.

Do I have a dark side? Sure! Do I love and cherish it just like the rest of me? Yes. I compare it to swimming underwater. There are mysteries and treasures beneath the surface, as well as terrifying things. It's worth a look, certainly many looks, but if you stay down there, you drown in it. I have been in that drowning place many times over the years, longer than I would have liked to be, but I am still alive and I enjoy staying that way.

Some of Earth's creatures are nurtured by staying in darkness. They are nourished by consuming whatever detritus falls down to their level. So many others, myself included, require light in order to live and grow.

Sure, it's possible to get too much--as a lifelong resident of the Southern USA, I am all too familiar with the effects of the sun on my pale hide. Yet the truth remains: we need the light. We just need it gentle.

I strive for gentleness.