Make the Damn Decisions

Some time ago I had a conversation with a newer pagan business owner.  This person was someone who claimed to be an Omnist.  I think that term is pretty loaded in this day and age, so I pressed them for more information.  Upon my further questions, this person continued to be insistent in their belief that ALL religions and faiths are true in every aspect, and all of them deserve recognition and respect.  That seems pretty straightforward, and fair, for the most part, but it was still enough to give me significant pause in dealing with them.

The definition of Omnist, according to Merriam-Webster, is “one that believes in all religions.”  There are some that feel the term needs an updated definition in that there are some truths in all religions, but not all religions are 100% truthful.  And if I would have gotten that specific definition from this person when I continued to press, this would be a non-issue.

But instead, I received their personal definition of Omnist, that they truly believed all religions are fully correct.  This was why the red flags came up.  Because in essence, this person is saying they believe in Scientology, a cult masking themselves as a religion that has hurt many of its members deeply.  They also believe in Odinism and Folkish Asatru, sects of Heathenism that believe only those with a white ancestry can follow the Norse Gods and whose followers are mostly downright despicable racists.  And they are also saying they believe in specific sects of Evangelical Christianity…the same Christian sects that are currently working to curb my rights as a woman as well as bully anyone who doesn’t act and believe exactly as they do.

Ultimately, by using this personal definition, this person is saying it’s OK these groups do horrible things; that these so-called religions all have a right to say and do the things they are doing to other people based on their faith.  And even after I continued to press this person, they made it clear that they weren’t going to take a stand on any injustices based on someone’s religious beliefs (and even became very uncomfortable talking about it).  To me, it was easy to see that they were too wrapped up making sure they don’t break any eggs, step on anyone’s toes, nor make any potential customers mad.

I do give the person credit in that I don’t believe they were taking this stand out of purposeful choice.  Instead, I realize they took this stand out of ignorance.  But even that fact – that they took this stand out of ignorance – is also a grave concern in my mind.  It means that they were not tied into the pagan community enough to understand what exactly has been going on.  They aren’t aware of Declaration 127.  They don’t understand why it had to be written in the first place.  And they aren’t recognizing that the problem of racism and exclusion is getting worse instead of better.

If that wasn’t bad enough, this person is purposefully choosing not to step out of their ignorance.  They would rather be ignorant and choose to not make any decisions regarding what they consider to be right and wrong in an effort to not upset possible customers, even if the opportunity for more information about an issue presents itself.  Because they were so insistent about this stance, it’s not a far jump to conclude that they also refuse to make hard decisions about their own personal truths. Instead, they are ready to accept anything called a religion at face value and label it as truth, and that is very scary to me.

While I fully understand and agree that someone’s personal religious beliefs deserve respect, we are not in a day and age where someone can simply accept another’s belief without questioning their ethics as well.  We have to ask the hard questions, and we have to get the real answers.  Then and only then can we determine whether or not we want to patronize this person’s business or allow this person to be in a private circle or blot with us.  Yes, that means you may hurt this person’s feelings, or even make them angry with you.  All the more reason to do it.  Perhaps they may realize their mistakes and become more inclusive once they are singled out because of their own preference for the exclusivity of people that look, act and believe exactly like they do.

Paganism is not a happy-go-lucky religion.  It’s not a religion where you are so fearful of your Gods that you don’t try to reach out to them.  It isn’t about letting others tell you what you should do and what you believe and why.  This religion is about making choices to better your life and the lives around you.  It’s about owning up to your shortcomings, and figuring out what to do about them to make yourself stronger.  It’s about building relationships and standing strong in the face of adversity.

Pagans have an active religion; we are the ones that truly know what we can and cannot do, and we understand the circumstances and (mostly) the outcomes of the actions we take.  To call yourself a pagan (or in the case of the person above, open up a business that caters to pagans) is to step into the world of your own responsibility.  There are no apologies to God to forgive you and simply take your shortcomings away.  Sure, you can still absolutely apologize for your wrong action, but that doesn’t mean you skip the responsibility of making it right.  And just as much as it is someone else’s responsibility to take action and make the decisions for inclusivity, it is my responsibility to ensure that my patronage is for established businesses that ensure that inclusivity.  Because if I don’t do that, I am just as guilty as the person who refused to make the decision in the first place.

Decision making in paganism doesn’t just end with whether or not you are inclusive.  Because we have a living, active religion, we also have to make decisions daily about our own personal actions.  This goes way beyond what place of business you patronize.  As a Pagan, I live by my religion and ethics.  I am honest and truthful in my personal dealings with people.  I stick by my promises and oaths.  I strive to take care of myself and the people around me.  Even more importantly, as someone who does work within my pagan community for others, I strive to be honest and truthful in what it is I can and cannot do.  I recognize and understand that sometimes I have to be the one that has to give the hard truths to someone who needs to hear them (and in many cases, they have asked me for these truths).  That is something I cannot trust someone else to do, especially when they are unwilling to speak for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings or losing a customer.

In Paganism we don’t have a black-and-white guidebook.  We ultimately cannot tell someone else they are absolutely wrong.  But we do have our own morals and ethics that we have to strive to keep.  We have our oaths and the Gods that guide us, and we strive to keep right relationships with those around us.  It is my responsibility to take my ethics, my oaths, and my understanding and make decisions based on these things in order to continue to pursue my religion the best way I know how.  And because of these beliefs, I actively choose to ensure inclusivity in all of my dealings; whether they be part of my local pagan community, part of my workplace actions or simply dealings in public.  My hope is that others would also be willing to make decisions based on their own morals and ideals and live by those decisions, as it is greatly disappointing when someone chooses otherwise.

 

 

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Winds of Change

How much is your work contribution truly valued in some companies?  I can answer that with a quick visualization exercise.  Imagine a bucket almost full of water.  Then put your hand in that water.  Finally, pull your hand out.  The space left by your hand is the amount of value you are as a worker in many establishments.

It’s painful to think of your job or career like this.  But in this day and age, I’ve found it to be the truth about 90% of the time (with the 10% being extremely small companies or startups that have so few employees that they may go under if they lose another).  Sure, there are many corporations that will still treat you better than others. Perhaps they will have a better compensation or benefit package.  Perhaps they have a proper hierarchical structure set up that allows your complaints and concerns to be heard and things to be actually done about them.  Perhaps they have zero tolerance policies in place that make you feel very comfortable working there without worry about being bullied for being in a minority in some way.    But even with the benefits and ethical treatment of employees, this is still the norm.

I saw this visualization posted in a coworker’s cube one day, many years ago.  And it was painful to think about, at first.  But then, I changed my perception around this visualization, and even though it’s still uncomfortable to think about, I think it has made me better able to handle the constantly occurring change in every aspect of my life.

And yes, I did say EVERY aspect of life.

This visualization is especially true in pagan communities that exist solely on social media platforms.  Groups form, people join them, people leave them, groups change, and groups die.   There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to change this cycle, and there is nothing that will make one person less expendable than another, no matter who you are, what you have studied or what you have claimed to have done.  Some have a tendency to get tied up into the identity of a group so much that it becomes a piece of ‘who you are,’ much like a title of Priest or Priestess.  The very nature of the change in these groups, however, makes this dangerous.

It’s even worse if you take the opinions of those in the group as downright fact.  There are too many people in these types of situations who have extremely low self-worth, or no one to physically talk to about the subjects tossed around in the group.  Those types hang on every word, hoping that they will get the reassurance that they need to feed their severely malnourished spirit that they indeed are making the decisions they are supposed to be.  And they also beg for those reassurances that they are hearing and seeing the things they think they have.  Sometimes things get so bad the group becomes an echo chamber for a specific set of criteria; you need to think like this, walk like this and do this, and then you will be doing things ‘right’.  It doesn’t matter that the criteria are based on one opinion; if the group thinks it’s right, that is all it will be.

What is even more painful is the realization that even in local organizations the bucket visualization is also true.  The organization doesn’t have to be religious, either.  While face-to-face community organizations don’t have as many dangers as the social media groups, they still have the same aspects when it comes to group participation.  It doesn’t matter how much you contribute, volunteer or are simply present, there will always be someone else ready to pick up the slack and fill in that hole left by your hand in the water.  The sooner peace is made with that and you grieve what is lost, the sooner you can move on.

The bucket visualization is also very true when it comes to personal religious practices. Now, realize I work with two very distinct deities.  One has aspects of a change-bringing-trickster, the other has aspects of a wanderer seeking knowledge, and was willing to give up his own eye to get it.  Not everyone is going to be in the same boat of personal change that I am.  But many that work with the blood brothers will have upheaval to deal with sooner or later.  And right now, it’s my turn to do just that.

The thing about change is that it is inevitable.  Nothing stays the same; not your relationships, not the titles you are given or give yourself, not your place of employment, not your practice, not your home…nothing.  But recognizing that truth and keeping it as a mindset to be prepared for, especially in spiritual work, allows us the freedom of being able to see more clearly the real things that we need to carry with us, and see those that are weighing us down.  You learn to only take what you need with you and are more able to release the rest back to that where it came from.  Because ultimately, the excess baggage that you are carrying isn’t going to be of any service at your next destination.

 

 

 

 

The Pain of Division: Why the Native American Taunting Hurts So Damn Much

I hate that I hurt enough to write this. I hate that I sit here, partially in tears, thinking about the division that has everything in this nation polarized. This incident this weekend is already making the rounds on the right and left, with people already camped out and digging in their positions on both sides. And until now, I’ve been doing my best trying not to become entrenched.  I’ve done my best these past years trying to not let the horrid atrocities I see on the news get to me. I’ve been carefully navigating my way through each new situation, each new bit of news and its revelations with my heart still intact, hoping that sooner or later there would be a solution and we would just get back to all being united in SOMETHING.

But seeing this weekend’s horrible video of Elder Nathan Philips being taunted by a group of ‘Catholic’ kids broke me. It hurt. It made me angry and made me want to throw up all at the same time. It made me angry cause I recognize that demeanor and that sense of entitlement, and it sickens me because where I see it is in my own extended family.

 

My upbringing
I grew up Roman Catholic with blue collar, Baby Boomer parents. Thanks to my Grandparents payment of the fees and at their request, I was put in private, Catholic school. And while the school’s religious doctrine was significantly lacking compared to other Christian schools in the area, the same, simple teachings were expressed over and over. Love one another. Treat others as you wish to be treated. For what you so do to the least of my brothers you do onto me. These are the lessons an impressionable youngster like me took to heart, and I still do my best to follow them.

The same lessons weren’t taught at home. I asked my mother one time why she wouldn’t let me wave hi to a group riding motorcycles as we were going into a restaurant one time. “We don’t associate with THOSE type of people,” was her reply. My father taught me about ‘reverse racism’ and used to point out examples – anytime a black person ever stood up for themselves it was labeled as ‘acting entitled.’ The migrants (that was their name; never immigrants, Latinos or other culturally appropriate titles) that worked in the fields around our small city were ones to stay away from, because they were uncivilized, stupid and dangerous. I still remember a garage sale we had where I accidentally opened up the second garage door at the same time a family of Latinos were looking at what we had for sale. My opening the second door allowed all of the tools my father had that weren’t part of the sale to be seen. He was mad for weeks after, fully expecting his garage would be broken into at any moment.

It didn’t stop with cultural racism. When a new priest came to town, he decided to teach meditation and even did a laying of hands and prayer ceremony after mass one time for a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer. I remember her being in tears, thanking all of us who participated with hugs. I was so very excited at learning from this new priest as I knew these were things that would make me feel closer to God. But of course my parents saw it differently. They joined the group of parents that worked to get him kicked out of the parish for teaching “Buddhism”.

Of course, my religious questions continued. Dad had taught me the Nicene creed, the Catholic statement of faith, had a line that said, “Of all that is seen and unseen”, meaning that we believed in spirits and life after death. I think he wished that he hadn’t said that later, because his demeanor changed after I started asking more questions he couldn’t answer. When they became too profound, he said I shouldn’t be asking them. “The meek shall inherit the earth,” he would say, “Be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He told me I was thinking too much. I had to start taking things at face value and stop asking questions.

 

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The beliefs I grew up with and were ‘supposed’ to have didn’t feel right to me, and so, after moving away, I studied for myself and found out that many of the things I was taught were wrong. There is no such thing as ‘reverse racism.’ People of color DO have more issues trying to live in any society in the United States because they are still dealing with the after effects of decades of laws that did not allow them to become as financially stable as whites during the Jim Crow era. I know now that many of the immigrants that come from that southern border are fleeing from horrible situations. They have nothing, and they are simply coming here to find hope and to live their life as they wish, much like my own family came from Germany, France and England many generations ago.

But you have to go back and visit sometime. And for the longest time I did go back like a dutiful child. I tried like hell not to bring anything up that would cause problems. I wanted them to be proud of who I had become and of the life I made for myself. And most important to me was that I wanted them to recognize that I still believe those things that I was taught so many years ago in that private Catholic school. Love one another. Do onto others as you would have done to you, for what you onto the least of my brothers you do onto me. Perhaps I wasn’t going to mass regularly, but I was still searching, doing what I could to find my religious place in the world and make it balance with still being accepted by my family.

It never happened. Even up until ten years ago I was still trying. I’d bring something up to my father that another minister had said and he would immediately end the conversation with, “that’s too liberal.” Months later I tried again as I found common ground in Oprah Winfrey’s talks with Eckhart Tolle. I brought up to my father some of the topics and how they connected my personal beliefs with their Catholic teachings. “She’s a reverse racist.” He quipped.  The worst of it was seeing the anger he had in his eyes when I brought a book for him to read.  I saw he was reading a book written by John McCain during the last time he ran for the presidency.  So I brought Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” into the house. I was hoping to switch books with him so we could find some common ground. After he told me to get that book out of the house, I stopped trying.

 

The Familial Reality
I know now that there is absolutely no common ground with my parents when it comes to beliefs about culture, religions and privilege. The Trumpian madness has just made things more clear than I ever wanted to know. I had put boundaries on visits with my extended family because of the gross chasm of different beliefs. Stupidly, I relaxed those boundaries this past holiday season and was hit in the face with more talk about how ‘we’ are getting ripped off by ‘those’ illegal immigrants; how heaven has a wall, so we should too, and how there is no such thing as racial injustice in this country. I left the Christmas family celebration feeling alienated and betrayed, painfully aware that there was nothing I could do to change their minds, and that they had become even more feverous in their beliefs. I liken it to a cultish fervor now.  And it doesn’t stop with my parents anymore. Many of my aunts and uncles share the same beliefs. Some even more radical.

I have spent the past month trying to come to terms with this new normal. I’m going to have to make tougher boundaries, because I cannot even fathom how to face the fact that my family are racists.  It hurts that they are so comfortable in their privilege that they refuse to see anything else. Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, they refuse to stop looking at shadows on the wall because they like what they see. Worse yet, I will always be treated as ‘different’ when I visit. Perhaps they think I’m too intelligent for my own good, or just have too big a bleeding heart for others. I don’t care anymore. I have spent too much of my time trying to bridge a gap that no one else is reaching a hand out to help with.  A gap that they claim I’ve put there myself in the first place.

 

Why The Covenant Catholic Incident Hits so Close To Home
I am no longer Catholic. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have feelings toward the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. Yes, many atrocities have happened in the church. I don’t deny that. But there are also very good people out there that are Catholic. My Grandparents were some of the good ones. My Great-Grandparents were as well. My sister teaches in Catholic school, and although she can be a bit bossy (she’s a Virgo after all) she is still a damn good woman. My Godparents were damn fine people who raised damn fine daughters of their own. I saw one of them post on Facebook about being just as appalled as I am of this incident.

But what still hurts is I already know that my parents are echoing the language of the priests and the parents of these boys. ‘That man was pounding his drum in my boy’s face.” “Why don’t you play all of the tape so you can see the real issue here and not make it about my son who was defending himself.” “We don’t know everything that happened here, so we can’t truly judge who was at fault.” Every time I hear or read someone say something in support of the discrimination both in this situation or anything that is pro-prejudice, it’s heard in my father’s voice. Because that is what he has become, and he doesn’t see anything wrong with it.

 

What Do I Do Now?
There is a reason why I haven’t gone to many marches, joined a resistance organization or done anything else but donate money since these things all began. The fact of the matter is I can’t. It just hurts too much. It hurts because I know people on the other side, and these people were supposed to be the loving, caring individuals that I grew up with, and should be living the truth they taught.

Now, it’s a lot worse for me.  Since Christmas I have been doing everything I can to not be overwhelmed at this new reality of boundaries I must now consider. I’ve already unfriended family on facebook, I refuse phone calls and only responded to the occasional texts. And even that little bit of communication feels uncomfortable as hell. But right now, I just don’t know what to do. Even my ancestral veneration work feels solidly off.

All I know for absolute certain is that I have to do what is best for me and my immediate family. I need to take care of myself. Those boundaries aren’t because I am being mean, not ‘listening to both sides,’ trying to ignore some ‘truth’ or because I’m just being a bitch.  They are there because of the pain I feel. I may even take a break from social media for awhile, even though I don’t really want to do that as it will also cut me off from facebook friends that have been my support. I’m still figuring it out as I go, but I am damn proud of myself for recognizing where I am at and that things do need to change, for better or for worse. (And to be perfectly honest, this post is either going to make things worse if they ever see it, or make things better because I’ll feel better once it’s posted.)

 

The Takeaway From All Of This
If you have read through all the way to now, thank you for reading. And just please know that there is such a thing as a good Catholic, and even a such a thing as a good Christian. Know that there are also good, caring individuals out there that for whatever reason, they refuse to step away from watching a shadow of what is really going on in the world. I may not agree with everything my extended family says, but they do try to care. And they, along with many others, don’t deserve hate. Perhaps pity, but not hate. Save that for the ones who are making the speeches and performing the actions that are further dividing people.

As for me and what I’m going to do in this new normal?  I’ll still keep my eye out while I’m in public, prepared for something that could go awry if someone decides they are going to go public with their racism. I’ll still donate to charities as much as I can, and I’ll still pray for justice and peace.  But that is really all I can do.

Ordeal Results (Confession Time Follow Up)

In my last post spoke about ordeals, and the fact that I was going through one.  So I thought it only fair to write a post about what has happened and what I learned from the said ordeal.

 

What’s an Ordeal Again?
In any spiritual or religious tradition, there are times when you are tested.  My belief is because we are having a human experience in a physical world, there will always be tests of some sort.  I think that each struggle we have in this human existence is here to help us learn and to become stronger both physically in this world, but also emotionally and spiritually.

Many ordeals won’t have a clear-cut beginning, nor ending.  My recent ordeal was a mixture of my own doing (going to graduate school, choosing to work with Odin in more of a fashion he likes), the environment (the hubby losing his job) and various other micro decisions that I have made over the course of my life.  A lot of times a physical ordeal feels like it just sort of happens.  You can’t point to an exact issue or decision, but all of a sudden, you think you are in one, and sure enough, you get a sign that says exactly that.

Spiritual ordeals can also be initiations, as I mentioned in my previous post.  And yes, I’ve had several of these over the course of my spiritual progression.  But what is interesting and what I tried to explain in my previous post is that most ordeals are actually physical; in 25 years of being an active pagan (‘active’ being defined as in one who was tied to some sort of community and came out as ‘pagan’ to friends and family) I can think of less than 10 instances that were actual all-out initiations that could be considered ordeals.  But those are a lot of what we hear about in the pagan community.  They are the ones that sound awesome and dramatic.  It’s neat to talk about the weekend retreat where you became an initiate of something or was accepted into a specific group or underwent a rite.  It’s not as fun to talk about the day-in / day-out grind of doing additional disciplines because you promised you would do them in exchange for certain knowledge (or because you are required to do so as a priest/ess or devotee…).

 

Darkest Before the Dawn
I also want to note something here about the worst part of an ordeal – just before it is over.  There were days in November where I was screaming at Odin.  Literally.  Here I was, doing all this work in his name, and he couldn’t even make sure I had a stable financial base so that I could focus all my energy on what he wanted me to do in the first place.  I felt left behind, alone and scared, and wanted to make sure he knew all of it was his fault.

At that point, I was angry, tired, frustrated and damn near broken.  Down in every possible way but not quite out.  Incrementally, in very slow, deliberate moves that made baby steps looked like a freaking sprint, I was moving.  And that is another thing about ordeals; you think you are going to break, but inevitably, you don’t.  You break just enough to release that which you needed to release.  In the darkness, you find a faith in yourself that you never had before.  It’s a faith that tells you that you CAN make it another day, and somehow you keep going.

It was after the worst of this that I reached out to another of Odin’s claimed to see if his experiences with the old man were anything like I was experiencing.  It turns out they were, and he chastised me for not asking for help sooner.  And that is a very good point.  I didn’t ask for help.  I probably should have, even though I knew there were lots of points about my ordeals that I had to get through myself.  But even having an ear to bend about the frustrations thrust upon those who work for someone that is at times called “You Bastard…” would have helped.  A lot.  So I encourage those who think they are going through ordeals to reach out – even if it’s online – to fellow devotees.  It will help you understand what exactly you are going through as well as make you feel better about the tasks at hand.

 

After the Ordeal Is Over
There are many times when I have undergone spiritual ordeals that I was literally exhausted both mentally and physically, but at the same time, I was emotionally pumped.  Sometimes when this happens the only thing you want to do is sleep, yet that is the last thing that crosses your mind.  It’s a very weird state to be in. (A fun state sometimes but a very weird state nonetheless.)

The physical ordeals are much different, especially because of the autoimmune crap that is fibromyalgia and other maladies I deal with on a daily basis.  Most of the ordeals were over in mid-December (at least the largest portion of it).  But even now we are almost to mid-January and in many ways, I am still exhausted as I piece together the outputs of my struggles.

My personal ordeal also has me in a bit of a state of ‘weirdness’.  Although a large portion of things in this ordeal are done,  I still have more classwork to do.  The hubby’s new job has meant finances have been a large question mark for three months, only to be (hopefully!) settled in February when he starts getting regular paychecks.  And now I need to contend with creating new boundaries for those that have changed their reactions toward me because of the changes I have made in myself.

But even though that weirdness is there, I recognize I’ve made some huge advances.  My trust in myself and my skill levels have expanded.  I also know a granthi has been undone.  A granthi is a Sanskrit term for a knotted area of energy in the body that blocks the flow of potential.  Now that this phase of my ordeal is over, I know where this particular granthi came from, why it was there, and what happened to make it go away.  I now also recognize that this area needs special care in word and deed to ensure that the granthi does not come back.

And because of that change in my potential, there are now more requests being made of me.  Recently I was asked (repeatedly, because I said no first) to do what I call a ‘deity reading’ for another pagan that scared the hell out of me.  A deity reading is when a client is asking specifically about what a deity requests of them.  I don’t like doing them because it means I’m speaking FOR that particular God and didn’t trust my gifts enough to be able to clearly relay the message.  Yet a couple days ago I found myself in that position.  And now I know I was meant to be there; I was meant to give the advice I did because once I started the message flowed very well.  There are other advancements as well, but I expect to be writing more about those in time when I finally have words to express them.

So again, I put this all out here again for others to see for the specific reason of letting others know what an ordeal actually looks like, what the intentions are, what can be understood about them and to help people recognize that they are not alone in going through them. It is also for me; to document where I’ve been.  Perhaps I’ll come back to this post in a year and recognize so much more that happened during this ordeal.  Because that is part of their nature as well; the ripples in the psyche made during one of these experiences also go through every aspect of your life.

If someone reads this and thinks they are going through one, I hope they will reach out if they feel they need to so they recognize that they are not alone.  Paganism may be a very personal religious path, but it’s not one in a vacuum, and many times the ordeals are shared.  But you won’t know unless you reach out.

 

 

Working Through Ordeals (Confession Time)

adult blur books close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is one of those posts that I don’t want to write, but I need to write (and have been asked to write). And so, I’m going to write it.  But note that this is under duress.

You see, I am going through an ordeal right now.  I have been for months.  And the fact of the matter is, it’s of my own choosing.

Well, kind of.

I am choosing to write this for a couple of reasons.   I think the biggest reason is that I need to finally come out and say what the heck is going on in my life, and why I haven’t blogged in two months.  But it’s also because I don’t know if many understand what a spiritual ordeal actually is, and what it means to go through one.  I’ve seen many people focus on the spiritual aspects of a goal and not recognize the ordeal that needs to be gone through in order to achieve that goal.  Or, people only focus on the spiritual aspects of the ordeal only to deny the practical disciplines that need to go along to achieve the spiritual goal.  That is one of the reasons why I’m being asked to share this right now.  To use the well-worn phrase, be careful what you wish for people.

Let’s get some clarifications out of the way before I go further.

 

The Background of an Ordeal
First, what exactly is an ordeal?  The definition of an ordeal, through a very quick Google search, is, “a painful or horrific experience, especially a protracted one.”  Now, with that definition, why the hell would anyone want to go through one?

The quickest answer I can come up with is to become stronger.  Or, to become wiser.  And, well, to live.  We actually are going through ordeals almost daily in this world.  Sickness, trauma, arguments with others and many other things can be considered ordeals.   For a while, there was a meme going around that said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Those battles spoken about in that meme are other people’s ordeals.

So my belief about these ordeals is that since we have to go through them anyway, why not learn from them?  Why not try to approach the ordeal in a manner that will help you further your understanding about a specific topic or issue? Or even better, how can the ordeal help you work on uncovering and dealing with issues that you carry?  For me, that is a very specific point of my spirituality; to use ordeals to better understand the world around me and for my own self-improvement.

So as someone who gravitates toward a self-centered concept of paganism, who only 6ish years ago found deities that she agreed to work with directly after a multi-year hiatus, and is starting to find her voice again in the community, it makes perfect sense that my mundane ordeals would have a spiritual aspect to them.  It also makes sense because I am doing intimate work with specific Gods.  And those specific Gods expect that you clean up after yourself and work towards a common goal.

These ordeals are a blessing in that when you are done you will be absolutely shocked at the mountains you have climbed, the struggles you have gotten through, and that you did all of the things that you thought you couldn’t do.

Ordeals are also a curse because you are about to go climb those mountains, work through multiple struggles, and do all of the things you think you can’t do right now.

It seems like many pagans today seem to equate ordeals with spirituality only; as in, they only focus on spiritual struggles (initiations, rites, and other journeys)  and assume they are the only path for spiritual growth.  Some even focus so hard on the spiritual aspects that they literally are hiding from the physical issues of their life (which in fact, are their actual ordeals).  Still, others may focus on the physical as not an ordeal, but something else.  They may, in fact, give the physical issue a spiritual cause (e.g., someone is out to get me).  That is where discernment is absolutely necessary to understand what is really going on.  In my case, yes, there are other reasons why things are happening in my life right now, and I recognize the cause and effect of those reasons. But at the same time, I know my issues are part of an ordeal and that this ordeal is physical and spiritual in nature.  I say that because I see the results of the struggle that I am in. There are both physical and spiritual benefits to this to this struggle.  That in my mind classifies this as an ordeal.

 

The Path to My Own Ordeal
Looking at things as ordeals comes naturally to me.  Long story short, I’ve set myself on a path of reinventing myself once before, and although it took some time, I’ve come through those struggles beautifully.  I’m proud of what I have accomplished, and because of those accomplishments, I’ve caught the eye of a certain one-eyed deity.

Odin is very much a deity that appreciates people dealing with their own crap.  And I’ve done several cycles of dealing with my own crap already – once doing a full reinvention of myself, and multiple times in overcoming significant obstacles and fears.  Looking at that resume that I am so proud of, it makes sense that he’d want me to be working for him (to put it bluntly).

Other than following through with the self-improvement, I wonder if Odin also works with me because I have developed skills to handle new ordeals.  I’m disciplined (for the most part), and I have the drive to push myself forward, even sometimes at the expense of overdoing it and hurting myself.  I’m also stubborn as all hell and if it meant proving a point, I will take on detrimental actions that in the end will cause more trauma than it will likely be worth (but I proved my point, dammit).  So there are lots of pluses and minuses here.

Anyway, Odin comes along, and I agree to work with him.  And in the span of a year and a half, I start a new spiritual training program, decide to go to graduate school, find a degree program that matches my interests, start it, take on a larger role in my work life, and find my intuitive readings becoming more and more accurate and specific as well as going into deeper spiritual issues.  And I often find myself being drawn to do specific readings at specific times, giving the client “exactly what they needed to hear” (their words, not mine).

And if that wasn’t enough, the energy of my household raised to the point where my husband started feeling it and started his own road of improvement.  And just as he started his own training, he was laid off of his work (which I think was all part of his spiritual development as well).  Overall, being laid off will be a good thing – he was being underutilized and there was no room for growth at his former employer – but the finding of a job has added a level of deep stress for him and I to both be dealing with.

Again, you can see spiritual ordeals are not just spiritual tasks.  You face things that you are holding onto that are detrimental to your growth.  You go out of your comfort zone, taking risks you wouldn’t normally take, and most importantly, changing your habits and mindset to allow for more understanding and compassion for yourself and others.  After all, ordeals are meant to open yourself up for a clearer link to the spirits and to the Gods, and sometimes it’s shadow work that is keeping you from them.  Shadow work cannot be cleared up by spirituality alone.

 

Now Onto My Confession
To put it bluntly, this ordeal is kicking my ass.

It’s taking me places in my psyche that I haven’t talked about, haven’t dealt with before, and couldn’t even define with words until a month or so ago.

I now realize that I have a very, very deep animosity for myself, my intelligence, my skills, and my abilities.  I believe this animosity to be a learned behavior, but also a congenital one.  And that animosity has influenced my life in ways I’m still realizing.  It’s one of the reasons why I (still) cope with overeating.  It’s the reason why I haven’t followed through in some of my past self-improvement endeavors, and it’s the reason why I sometimes push myself so hard I break my own body.  There are other things I’ve realized too; other things that I haven’t really articulated before (and if I tried to explain, I’d take up two or three more blog posts just to describe), but the animosity is the one I’ll confess now as it is front and center in my head.

But now that I know it is there, the ‘mental tape’ that was buried for so long just reinforcing self-defeating behavior is now something I hear loudly being played over and over again as I continue to step out of my comfort zone.   While I’m doing homework in my class (that I have to pass with a B or better just to stay in the program – no pressure) I am constantly fighting it beat me up and telling me I will fail.  I get tapes at work telling me I’m not good at my job and will be laid off soon, making me lose my house and my security because we have no other cash flow.  At home, I’m not doing enough, I’m ugly, I’m fat, and I’ll never be any healthier.

Why are there multiple tapes going on?  Because this animosity was buried so deep it has become a habit, so just acknowledging that it is there isn’t going to stop it.  I need to figure out and establish new tapes to replace the ones that keep flooding my brain, and ultimately, create new habits that will replace the bad ones.

So while I’m dealing with all of the uncomfortable feelings of this animosity, and with the insecurity of my current financial status, I have other questions about the success of this endeavor in my head.  What if I do succeed in getting rid of this animosity?  What then?  Who will I be?  What will replace it?  What will my comfort zone look like?  Will it be a place I want to be, or am I asking for something I really don’t want and don’t know it?

And from a spiritual perspective, the question about why Odin is pushing me to do this is also at the forefront of my mind.  Don’t forget, Odin is a God of manipulation as well.  He does things for reasons we won’t always understand.  And that manipulation may not have any right or wrong to it; in his mind, it is all for the greater goal.

To say all of this has brought up insecurities, anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings is an understatement.   I’ve had panic attacks, bouts of anger, bouts of depression, frustration, tears, and so many other emotions I’ve lost track.  But while all of these emotions are being sorted out, I’m still working 45ish hours a week (in a job I like, so that is good), putting in about 35 hours a week on my graduate studies, trying to get in some sort of healthy exercise, keeping up spiritual disciplines and trying to be support to my job seeking husband as well as helping to keep up the house and try not to let my emotions get the best of me so that a fibromyalgia pain flare-up doesn’t sideline me.

This shit is hard.  But it’s meant to be.  And I keep getting reassured that each and every piece of this ordeal has meaning.  Every struggle day in and day out is part of the ordeal.  And I do know this won’t last.  My husband has had 11 interviews in two months.  The only reason he isn’t working is that the firms he’s interviewed with are taking their time due to the holiday working schedules (it happens at this time of year).  He’s putting in the time so the financial security will come…sooner or later.  I’ll be finished with my class in mid-December (after I finish a final examination, which has its own negative mental tapes playing in the background).

I keep reassuring myself (and getting reassured) that I’m doing everything I can, and I’m doing it all right.  I’m making the mindful choices, I’m sticking with things and putting in the time I’m supposed to be doing.  I just need to keep moving on.

 

Final Thoughts
I’ve been focused on self-improvement work for the past 16 years.  I’ve done a lot, and I’m still always surprised at the requirements that are laid out before me to achieve another personal goal.  I know I do more than many others do when it comes to spiritual discipline, but I also recognize that there is give and take here.  If I want to do more, or am asked to do more, I have to be ready to accept the burden of the ordeal to prepare me for that endeavor.  I also have to accept the responsibility that comes along with the tasks I’m asking to take on.

Not everyone is fit to be a teacher, a mentor or a spiritual leader.  Not everyone is meant to be a Priest or Priestess.  But yet we all have something to contribute to the pagan community as a whole.  Our task, if we want to be a part of a pagan community,  is to find that thing we are meant to do and serve our community as we can.  This means that we will have to go through at least one spiritual ordeal in our lifetimes.   And while my personal ordeal is tough, I am recognizing that it is also very much about finding that place in the pagan community as a whole.  So I will continue with it to the best of my ability.  There is still a chance I may fail, and I accept that.  Either way, I will be continuing to learn, and that is the most valuable thing I can do.

Logic, Discernment and Paganism: A Discussion

A man with severe anger issues that have caused significant criminal repercussions for himself decides that the reason he has so much anger is because of his past lives.  So he seeks out a friend who is a past life guru and they decide to do all of the past life work they can with the belief that once he is done dealing with past life pain his spirit will shine brighter than the sun.

A couple with a history of arguments recognize their fights are getting more and more acute and almost violent.  They decide to look for a witch that will help exorcise the demon that they feel is connected to each of them so that they will no longer be angry at each other.

These are only two of the many situations that I’ve seen over the years that clearly demonstrate how someone who focuses on metaphysical work can lose sight of clearly logical explanations for issues within their own lives.  It’s something that can be a danger in any religion, really.  Anytime someone is claiming that a deity intervened directly because of a specific sin someone committed reeks of lack of discernment.  Anyone who tries to claim that they are being attacked or cursed needs to carefully vet the situation as well to ensure that a logical explanation is not the root cause of the issue.

Now the above examples of the man and the couple are extreme cases, and those cases are somewhat rare.  Yet the topic of discernment is one that comes up again and again in the pagan community, especially within discussions of Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG).  For many of us, there are no tangible rules to our spirituality and metaphysical practices.  This forces us to look at what others have done (historically and in current practice) and learn what we can from them.  Then we rely on ourselves and our personal experiences to fill in the gaps.  Some things are easy to accept.  For example, Odin liking hot coffee as an offering.  That’s a pretty common personal gnosis among those who work with him.  Others, like being a God-spouse or God-slave, are a bit harder to personally accept.  Harder still to accept are some of the personal, deeper experiences people have had with divinity – solitary rites of passage, ordeals while journeying, even conversations with a Spirit, God or Goddess could be suspect.

If things weren’t complicated enough, looking to the answers to whether something is ‘made up in your head’ or actually happened can be so personal that the answer may not be the same for everyone.  I’ll take an example from my own life.  When I was a child, I dreamed of my current husband.  In one of the vivid dreams I remember of him, he was in a martial arts uniform, taking instruction from his teacher and practicing kicks.  In another dream, I saw his house.  Did I really dream of my future husband?  Romantically I want to say yes, I did, but I couldn’t truly believe it until I verified with my husband details about the dreams.  And after those verification conversations that included verifications that he and I both agreed upon, we both believe we dreamed about each other when we were little.  Someone else could look at this and say it isn’t possible and it didn’t happen, and that’s fine.  However for my husband and I, we believe we did dream of each other, and what others believe about the dreams doesn’t matter.

But where is the line drawn between something that could happen, and something made up in the mind of the individual?  This is a question I am butting up against quite a bit, especially when discussing Gods, magic and divinity with other people on social media.  Add to this the fact that I do significant amounts of work with a trickster god and that’s a recipe for even more frequent questioning of events, and VERY frequent questioning as to whether or not my personal discernment is good enough!

But as much as I question myself, I don’t seem to see others question their own discernment, which I think is a concern for many of us in the community that do follow more of a magical path.  A misguided spell  or judgement call can lead to many situations where someone needs to clean up the mess that is made after the misguided event has occurred.   At the very least, the person who believes something that is incorrect could become a physical, mental and emotional drain on the people around them.

If you think this is starting to sound like a psychological problem, you are right.  Many times the person who is creating events don’t realize why, and those events could be utilized as a ‘mental escape’ from trauma that has occurred (or is still occurring) in their life.  They also could be simply young, learning on their own (or simply doing very quick google searches for answers to questions) and are making mistakes when deciphering what they believe are signs and symbols.  Or, like in the very first example that I posted in the beginning of this post, the person could simply not be ready to assume the responsibility of the trauma that they caused to their children and their (now ex) wife, and never will be.

A final reason for someone misleading someone else in a UPG situation is that it could be deliberate.  As in the case of pastors pushing for more and more money to be given to their church because of the ‘tithing’ belief, or other priests claiming a God requires devotees to have sex with them, there could be ulterior motives for the lies.  I wish this didn’t happen often, but it happens enough that it needs to be considered.

So what are we supposed to do here?  How can we recognize when a UPG situation is verified, and when it is not?

I think the very first thing we have to consider is the state of mind of the individual who had the situation occur in the first place.  Is there trauma going on in their lives that they are addressing, or still reeling from?  What is the mental age of the person?  Someone who has had significant trauma in their life could act younger than what they are in physical years due to the brain’s own methods of protection from trauma and abuse.  Does the person think logically on a regular basis, or are what others would call ‘down to earth’ about things, or do they crave being in a spotlight?  Has the person been found to have caused situations that could be considered dramatic or drama filled in the past?  Those are all things to consider when helping someone vet whether or not a situation is truly divine in nature or is something that the ego has made up.

A second and just as important item to consider is the logic of a situation.  Is there a physical explanation for the event?  Could the apparition be a shadow cast by the sun, or could something not be sitting as solidly as you thought when it fell over?  If I wake up in the middle of the night with red bumps and scratches all over my body, was it a demon torturing me, or did I happen to have windows open in the height of summer with screens that have been ripped up by cat claws, and said cats are using me as turn four in their kittyopolis 400? (Anyone who has cats knows what I’m talking about.  For those that don’t have cats, they love to run around at night.  A lot.)

Most importantly, the questions I pose here should not just be ones we use to look at others situations and stories.  These should be ones that we regularly ask ourselves when we try to verify whether or not something is metaphysical in nature or just happens to be something with a physical cause.  If we don’t keep asking these questions of ourselves, we end up committing the greatest error of all, which is to delude ourselves and others into false situations and use false guidance as our personal truths.  That is why this issue is so serious.

To bring this subject up and seriously look at the issue and its implications can be hard.  Many people will be defensive about it, and that is expected.  I’m talking about possibly denying something someone else believed truly happened.  In some ways, you are denying someone their belief of a personal truth.  They may get mad.  They may get defensive.  They may not listen.

How do I know that someone would act that way?  Because when I was in this very situation where I had my own beliefs challenged, that is exactly how I acted.  I went between anger, surprise and disbelief, and uncertainty.  It was downright painful too.  Here are people that I trusted with my own personal beliefs and yet they were cutting them to pieces right in front of me.

Guess what…They were right.

I’m of course talking about a time over 20 years past, when I was in my teens, JUST starting out on this pagan road on my own.  I wasn’t too much of a drama queen, but boy I caused my share.  And I had no idea why I was doing it either, until I realized years later that I had trauma that I had to deal with.  And it was that trauma which goaded me into thinking what I was hearing and seeing was right.  That’s why I recognize now that there is a learning curve here.   And not many people are ready to go to those places to understand why they are wrong, because ultimately that will mean dealing with that trauma.  Sometimes those issues are just too powerful, and those ideals that we are trying to break down for the person as being false are actually shielding them from that trauma for a reason.

That discernment earning curve can be further influenced by the person who is trying to help show them the issue.  Sometimes that person trying to point out those issues does it in a manner that will help, and sometimes that becomes part of the problem too, especially when someone does it just to boost their own ego.  Even if there is a PERCEPTION that the discernment push is being done by an ego boost, it can still cause a longer learning curve.  That isn’t the fault of either party, it’s just what happens.

Even after all the care, planning and gentleness  utilized to try to help explain to someone else that something may not be exactly what they think it is, the whole situation could still turn sour.  In those cases, it’s best to let it go.  Let each person  do what they can in order to take care of their own energy and their own mental and emotional health.   Not attack the other, simply let things be as they are.  In my own case it took a move away from the coven I was with, a marriage and a divorce before I dealt with the trauma that allowed me to see metaphysical issues more clearly.  And that is a much shorter period of time than many take – I was motivated.

I wrote about this because I’m seeing more and more posts where people talk about their own discernment, and I think it’s not enough to simply put out there how someone discerns for themselves their own dealings with divinity.  I think we also need to talk about the ‘why’ we have to have discernment, and talk about why it varies between people so much.  I hope I’ve given some good things to ponder here, and I hope the conversation continues.  And as always, I’d love to hear other’s opinions.

Thanks for reading.

 

Death…and Detroit

Language warning here – just sayin’…

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 31: Anthony Bourdain films Parts Unknown Queens in New York, New York on November 11, 2016. (photo by David Scott Holloway)

Anthony Fucking Bourdain. Gone before his time from a disease that doesn’t give a shit if you are rich, are poor, physically healthy or have the best supportive care network on this earth.

I’ll admit, I thought Bourdain was a big time jerk and arrogant ass until he took his show to Detroit for the first time.  And I realized when I watched that, he ‘got’ it.  He ‘got’ Detroit. Bourdain loved Detroit. It didn’t all come out on that show that night, but I could see it.  He understood the grim reality of those who live there.  He understood their loss, he understood their resilience, and he understood how they just continue to move forward when everything feels so very much stacked against them.

“Detroit looks like motherfucking Detroit.  As it should.” he said in the show.  “Those who watch this show, smugly thinking, “That could never happen to my city” are dreaming.  Detroit’s problems are America’s problems.”

I’ve been a “Metro Detroiter” on and off for about 17 years.  I wasn’t born in the city, but still I have a fondness for it and it’s hardships.  I’ve been angry about the ‘ruin porn’ and I was pissed as hell about the fact that Detroit entered bankruptcy and screwed the pensioners that still called the city home.  I’ve driven 8 Mile, Telegraph, Gratiot and 696 back and forth to work, worked in the RenCen retail areas and when I was really lucky, took in the occasional Wings game at the Joe.  I even scored a pair of tickets to the Auto Show at Cobo center for my boyfriend and I once when I barely had enough money to scrape by.  That was back when the auto industry was still doing somewhat well.  But that changed soon enough.

And now, after hearing the news today, I now understand a little better why Bourdain got Detroit.  And perhaps I understand it a little more than the average person does.  Because depression fucks with you just as much as the people of Detroit have been fucked over by the auto industry, politicians, the state of Michigan and by billionaires like Matty Moroun making riches even now off the city’s blight.  Depression sucks your will to live ever so slowly, making mincemeat out of the joys you once held dear, making you think that you aren’t worth the air going into your lungs.  It hurts, and it hurts bad.

“Detroit’s Problems are America’s problems.” Bourdain said.  He’s right there too.  Suicide rates in the past decade have gone up 33% in Michigan, compared to the national average raising by 30%.  Both are grim statistics.

Perhaps one reason Bourdain had a love of the resilience of Detroit is because he willed that resilience within himself.  If he had anything like the depression I’ve battled with, I’m sure thoughts like that crossed his mind.  I bet he had days where he was proud of himself and his resilience, beating those demons for another chance at another day.  I bet he’s thought of the Detroiters he met while he filmed Parts Unknown on those days where the battle came to a draw and thought, “if they can go one more day, so can I.”  And he’s probably thought of those Detroiters on the days where he couldn’t bear to go on, wondering how the hell they actually did it; how they survived and made it bearable day in and day out in an a place that he compared to Chernobyl.

Maybe he was trying to get some of that resilience to rub off onto him.  After all he was working on a documentary about Detroit before he died.  And he consistently spoke fondly of the town in almost every interview, even going so far to say he wished he could say he was from Detroit, because that would be the coolest thing he could ever say.  In one interview he described Detroit as:

“Beautiful. Magnificent. The boundless hope and dreams and optimism of its builders is reflected in the architecture. I feel anger seeing the extent to which it has been allowed to crumble. I feel hopeful. And I feel a tremendous appreciation that people have stuck it out and are proud of their city. They’re loyal to it. It’s truly a great city and the font of so many important American economic and cultural improvisations and movements. That it could have been allowed to come close to failing is a national disgrace.”

And the fact that he, like many other people in this nation couldn’t openly talk about the depression they faced is also a national disgrace.

Now, in the aftermath, perhaps knowing that this larger than life person who said he had the best job in the world lost his battle means that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when I fight my own battles.  Perhaps I can recognize a little better that my own struggle is real, and it’s hard enough to take anyone down.  Perhaps I can start being a little bit easier on myself on days when it’s the worst, and push off those harder tasks until tomorrow, when I might have a bit more mental strength.  Maybe I can try to find even more healthy coping mechanisms to keep fighting.

Maybe this Metro Detroiter can find that resilience Bourdain was looking for.

Lifeline Suicide Prevention Hotline

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