Saturday, March 30, 2013

Our Fragile Little Lives

Fragile is not a word I want to associate with this time of year. Yet I'm getting daily reminders of how short and precarious--and how precious--our lives may be.

The egg, the chick, and the rabbit are showing up everywhere now and must be handled, if at all, with gentle hands, to preserve the new and eager life within. But these aren't what I am talking about.

The daily reminders are a bit more personal and human, I am sad to say. At this time of year, at least two of my Pagan friends have been reminded that even their own existence is not a given, that this life could be taken away before its time, whether by illness or by someone else's petty prejudice.

It is tempting to get on the soapbox about these things and say 'Bad things happen to good people because ____' or 'Look, Pagans are still being persecuted.' But when you are in that moment and have just confronted your own mortality--on this plane, at least--reasons don't exist. Everything you have ever known seems far away, and you are left with some sort of wordless thought in your head and nothing else. It cannot be described.

Nor is it always a noble and dignified ordeal. The more I think about it, the more I think it just can't be a storybook experience. It is by nature the opposite of neat and pretty. Like Inanna descending into the underworld, we lose the reasons, the beliefs, all that we know and are and even all that we love. Nothing of ourselves is left but the body.

 I can't speak for my friends, so I'll simply tell you about my own undignified experience.  I wasn't shedding seven garments to venture down to Ereshkigal herself. I was watching X-Files with friends in a dorm room many years ago, sitting on a bottom bunk, when the top bunk collapsed over me. There was a lot of wood-related noise and I heard one of three people screaming somewhere over my head. My head was pinned to my chest and I could not move.

Due to my slouchy posture, it was not the gateway to the underworld it could have been. I experienced a lot of pain afterward, but that was it. So many others have suffered more and ventured further to the other side of the veil.

What is there to say about the very thought of a life cut short? I don't have any good answers. The only thing I know to do is make the most of this life. One thing I manifested at the Ostara chant circle last night was to live a full life.

I will do this partly by simply living it, and partly by recognizing the great gift it is. And for that, I must say thank you.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Feeding the Phoenix Phyre

My feet were hungry for the feel of fallen oak leaves on a fertile pasture far away. I was craving stars and trees, hugs and honeyed drinks, sky for my skin, and song for the little bird in my soul. I required a lovely fire to match the dancing flames within us all. Most of all, I needed the sacred purpose within all of these things. So I went to Phoenix Phyre, a small and friendly Pagan festival at a ranch in Lakeland, Florida.

Last time, at Autumn Meet, I spent a lot of time around elders, listening to learn whatever I could hold in my mind. This time was more about being nurtured and recharged and feeding my spirit. If that meant indulging in an Access Consciousness mini-treatment, I did it. If that meant participating in a round-robin group massage session, I was there, enjoying every minute. I even got the chance to be on the receiving end at the healing circle, surrounded by kind and gifted people and nestled in the shade of a wonderful old oak tree that fell on its side years ago and still continues to live and thrive.

You might say it was a very hands-on weekend. Yet the hands also worked and played for other reasons than my own enjoyment.

My hands joined other hands when someone else took a turn on the healing table. Later, I carried the libation vessel for a modified blot employing the unique names and deeds of all attending it and their ancestors and deities. Our hands also joined together to create tiny seed bags in preparation for the main ritual, and to raise energy in the ritual itself. I was pleased to feel like just one more member of the family and yet still very much myself.

Even when the rain beat down on the pirate party and the power went out, we just gathered under the big tent in the middle and let the family reunion continue by lantern light. I got to know an older couple from Germany whose idea of family togetherness was wrestling alligators for fun. The younger pirates at the party, mostly members of a fire spinning group, sang vivid songs about shipwrecks while the storms roared around us.

The ritual fire never went completely out. It burned high and bright throughout the frankly frightening weather. When the rain was still pouring down, ten or fifteen people peeled off all their wet garments and danced around the fire. I was feeling dancey myself, so I joined in.

I want everyone who is reading this to understand that it wasn't about the male gaze or any other gaze really. While we all appreciate the beauty of dance or the human form itself, in this setting it was not for the benefit of anyone watching, although they were welcome to do so. The real gift of the dancing was in the dance itself. It is sacred and sensual all at once, even when no carnal meaning is intended. It's a celebration of being alive.

So, too, were the fire spinning, fire eating, and fire breathing. I missed another chance at fire eating because it was too windy the day of class, but I got up close and personal to pods of flaming Kevlar anyway when we practiced spotting the fire spinners with a wet towel. I was scared of the fire and had trouble putting it out, but I did it anyway and learned how to do it better. I also practiced throwing poi, minus the flames, while coached by a 13-year-old fire spinner.

The best thing about this festival is the egalitarian flavor of it all. It doesn't matter who you are or who you aren't. I didn't hear a lot of fancy titles. The staff stays mostly in tents and welcomes everyone at their hearth. The sages cook and serve lunch on Friday for everyone in the place. Someone else serves homemade soup at her camp every night for anyone who wants the comfort and the company.

Even main ritual involved everyone. The planning continued for days, during festival itself, employing anyone who showed up for the class. Although one person was in charge, he seriously considered suggestions on chants, the strengths of each individual for various roles, and even the structure of the ritual itself.

It might have sounded like quite the cluster--I might add that the high priestess needed to be changed out--but everything went smoothly when the time came. I heard many comments on how powerful and beautiful and joyous the ceremony had been. It was certainly one of my favorites, the intention being to heal and nurture and build our faith community.

I think it's working.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Cleaning, Pagan Style

I knew someone in college whose first step to cleaning her room was always to take the pictures down from the wall. She worked her way down from there. I never considered that step to be necessary, but I understand the mentality behind it.

When you are manifesting new things, you can't always build on what you've got. Sometimes you have to set aside everything that is not necessary. Sometimes you even have to specify what that is--as quickly as reasonably possible, of course, so that you can move on to creating rather than destroying.

Recently my brother has been remodeling parts of the house that were damaged by water. The previous residents had just slapped wood over the particleboard the floor was originally made of (okay, it's a mobile home and an old one at that) and called it a day. This didn't solve the problem of essentially shoddy construction but only covered it up. When we opened up the floor and the wall, they were filled with nests of big red ants. When I think of what I was sleeping right next to, it still makes me shudder. It had to come out, and fast. (For any that didn't get out of my house on their own, I wish them lemon-fresh bliss in the ant afterlife. Go in peace.)

So there's been some rebuilding going on there. In my spiritual life, I'm still in the process of removing the rotten stuff and whatever feeds on it. I need to be clear about what is not welcome in my sacred space in addition to what is.

And in some cases, I just need to take the pictures off the wall and get down to the bare essentials.

I don't need any glamour when I get together with my spiritual community. I declare that stuff busted. Now.

I don't need a Pagan version of Disney World. The real world, inside and out, is breathtaking in and of itself.

I don't need to frak a Pagan to have a good time (not every time we gather, anyway). That's missing the whole point.

I don't need to support anyone who doesn't recognize the Goddess in me. She is there, even when it's inconvenient or disturbing the status quo or just not 'nice'. Goddess is in all of us, to be respected and cherished, and that means there's no place for hierarchy upon hierarchy or ego games. Go in peace, if that's your bag, but just go. (There's no bug spray for humans, as far as I'm concerned. You gotta stay alive wherever you're going.) I'm keeping the friends I love, along with their naturally beautiful souls and generous work ethic, and tossing the rotten situations that surrounded our meeting. (Once uncovered, some of these can be rebuilt better than ever.) And of course, I'm keeping my Divine nature and theirs.

Since there are healthier and safer settings where we can manifest wholeness and truth and community, let's do this. It doesn't have to be fancy, backbreaking, or expensive. It doesn't have to look good in pictures. It just has to be real.

Let's wake up and make it real.

*snaps fingers*