In one of the rune readings that I received, I was told that I needed to start giving offerings. I normally think of offerings as what I do in service to my Gods, but he suggested offerings of food specifically on my altar at least once a week.
Giving regular offerings is something that I have never gotten into a good practice with before. I would start doing it, and then I would forget and the whole practice would be forgotten.
Now the runecaster suggested offerings for both my ancestors and for my Gods. He suggested I start with the ancestors by giving a piece of raw meat once a week on an ancestral altar. But to me that never felt right. My ancestors are not animals, they are human beings.
This morning during meditation however, it was suggested to me that I start doing some sort of offering practice, but it seems that the deity I am currently working with wants it, and not my ancestors.
The problem is, what to give?
My husband and I are home brewers. We have made mead, wine, ciders and lots of different types of ales over the years. I think my first offering to Loki is going to be the red wine that my husband and I made and has been bottle aging. It’s about 2 years old, so I think that would be fitting for him.
If anyone is willing to share what they offer their gods and ancestors, I would love to hear it as it may help me learn more about this practice.
The more pagan blogs I read, the more I realize there are a lot of different opinions out there about what it means to be pagan, who is ‘right’, who is ‘wrong’, where we are going as a community, where we should be going, where we shouldn’t be going, and so on and so forth.
I read all of these opinions, and all I see is human nature taking its course. Perhaps it is because I have done too much source work and am looking at it from a macro instead of microcosm, but inevitably all of this comes down to the nature of human beings to discuss, theorize and to disagree. Every spiritual movement has to go through this and every spiritual movement is going to be strengthened or weakened because of it.
The argument du jour that I seem to be getting a lot of posts is whether or not pagans/heathens must also be theists. Instead of theorizing on which way is right here (many people have already given their opinions already, mine is mine and it is acceptable to me). I want to discuss reasons why we have so many opinions. I think if we start really discussing why the ‘shields come up’ when we hear something that is different to what we believe, then perhaps we will start recognizing what really happens to us subconsciously when we hear something that doesn’t feel right or goes against our belief system.
Differences in opinion take us out of our comfort zone
I work for a medical device manufacturer. In my day to day job I work with engineers that need to propose changes to a device to make it work better. Every once in a while an engineer will propose a new way to test something, or a new tweak to a device that will allow our customers to use it better. After I start working with that engineer on how to verify the change will work, I inevitably get some sort of push back from the quality team on the proposal. 90% of the time, the rationale for the push back is something along the lines of “we have never done that before so we can’t change it.”
Because the change is unprecedented, I think it could sometimes look as the proposal is just downright not possible. In fact, some might think it is downright scary. How will we validate it? What will our customers think? Can we even do it and still stay within the guidelines and regulations for medical devices? Inevitably, the engineer and I investigate further, and most of the time find a reason why it does work and implement the modification.
The same type of scenario happens in religion. Only in religion and belief, the stakes are way higher. Our beliefs are our comfort zone; they are just as close to our hearts as our morals, and sometimes even more so. So when someone comes in and even makes a statement that contradicts what you hold most dear, it is uncomfortable. Here is this precious thing that you have held onto; this lifejacket that has gotten you through trials and problems, and now someone is saying it might not be right? That is scary. That is dangerous. That challenge is enough to start a war.
Acceptance of a different idea than what you believe is hard. Seriously HARD. But to accept something doesn’t mean that you agree with the point. All acceptance says is that you respect the difference of opinion. For me, when I cannot fathom accepting something, I use the term “agree to disagree.” At least with that term I am saying that the person has the right to think differently, even though I cannot understand why they have that belief in the first place.
Differences in opinion mean we aren’t as inclusive as we want to be, or mean that we shouldn’t be It is human nature to want to be included. It is so ingrained in our psyche that some people prey on this need in attempts to get us to do certain things, act a certain way and believe how they do. We fear being left behind if we start to have a feeling about how something else might work better. I say from experience (and I am certain others believe the same as I do) when I say that it is very hard to strike out on your own, and choose a belief that is different from families, friends and even from your coworkers.
On the other side of the coin, being pushed out of your group is also hard. Yet in world history, it happened often, and it is some of the reasons why have the diversity we see today in our systems of belief. Diversity is not a bad thing; but it feels like it should be if the belief system that someone holds so dear – their system that keeps them inclusive with others in their group or community – is challenged. It’s scary if for some reason you feel like you are not included anymore.
Many pagan organizations exist that have a specific theology. And then a split happens, and another organization is formed due to that split. I’ve seen this happen countless times. Now I’m not saying that splits are not necessary for other reasons, but we have to be willing to look within ourselves and find the true answer to why the split happened in the first place. Does it need to happen for the good of the organization, or is it something that might challenge our exclusivity? If you don’t follow me, here is an analogy that might help – Are we “picking up toys” because we are mad, or are we truly going to create a different type of sandbox that our toys might be better utilized for?
Differences in opinion activate our defense mechanisms
There is a big use of the acronym “UPG” when discussing another’s belief system. UPG stands for Unverified Personal Gnosis. It basically means that someone’s personal insights about religion are not verified by someone else, nor documented in historical documentation about that particular religion or God/Goddess. It seems to me it is not just thrown around as a label for a hypothesis that someone has, but also as a shield against trying to learn something new. It’s like some people feel that if something is UPG, it is therefore something they don’t have to think or feel about. I’ve seen people do that with other words too; words like “stupid”, “wrong” and “ridiculous”.
Whether or not the belief comes from lore or not isn’t the point. The point is that it is human nature to classify something in order to move it out of the reality that it may indeed challenge us. To some, if something is “UPG” it is therefore not acceptable to them to even consider. UPG is equal to “wrong”, “outside of something I have to think about”, or for some people, equal to the word “stupid”.
I’m not saying that any of the things that I have talked about here are the right way, nor am I saying they are the wrong way. What I want to get across is that there are psychological reasons to why we act as we do when we hear something that doesn’t fit our belief system. We as a community need to recognize that. We as a community also need to work to be more understanding of different viewpoints. And at the very least, we need to learn to respectfully agree to disagree. Because in the end we all go on our own personal spiritual way, and that is all that truly matters.
Upliftconnect.com on occasion has some articles that make you think. Currently I am having some very hard time standing still, as I’ve talked about in my last posts. So when I saw this post about how Awakening is a Destructive process, I realized that this topic is something that although discussed a lot, isn’t something that we truly understand unless it is currently happening to us at the present time. But it would do us service to remember it more often.
Psychologically, we as humans don’t do something unless we get some sort of reward out of it. An easy example of this is overeating. I still have problems with this from time to time. Inevitably, I get triggered by something that starts to give me uncomfortable feelings. It could be a problem at work, lack of sleep or a multitude of other things. But I know subconsciously, if I get uncomfortable with something, I can put something in my mouth, albeit chocolate, coffee, chips or other unhealthy things, to help me deal with that uncomfortable feeling. The food that I put in my mouth will inevitably allow my brain to release endorphins in my blood, which makes me feel better. That is my reward for eating, and thus, I also side step those uncomfortable feelings.
But those endorphins don’t last long, and sooner or later that uncomfortable feeling comes back. So do I eat again, causing myself more problems down the road by gaining weight, or should I start focusing on what it is that makes us uncomfortable? It’s a simple yet painful dilemma. I either get the quick reward from eating, or I travel the hard road of dealing with what makes me uncomfortable and take away the trigger.
Not only do we have to deal with psychological issues, but many of us on a spiritual path have to deal with the exact same thing in the spiritual realm as well. What I hear my Gods tell me is to surrender to the uncomfortable feelings and the suffering it brings. They tell me the only true way to deal with emotions is not to hide from them, but to lean in to that which hurts and find the root of the problem. Once that is done, we will have started to shatter that which has hold on us. Then are able to move forward. But this time, we move forward as more awakened beings who are more in tune to the earth and much more alive.
This destructive process is different for everyone. It’s even hard to explain to another pagan because it is such a personal experience. Over the years I have heard about many journeys and stories of reconciliation of struggle from friends, and many are vivid accounts of issues and problems that seem to melt away once they finally start to understand where the true suffering is coming from. Even though the experience and timing of these spiritual struggles various, the term ‘dark night of the soul’ has been coined in part because the struggle is shared by so many.
As we are starting to prepare for a new year, I am certain that many of the people who read this already are having struggles of their own, or will have to rise up to meet a struggle like this sometime soon. Remember that you are not alone, that the process will take as long as it takes, and that there will be an end to the struggle. And what will come out of the struggle is a stronger, more connected, more authentic person.
Enlightenment is a destructive process.
It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier.
Enlightenment is the
crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing
through the facade of pretense. It’s the
complete eradication of everything we
imagined to be true.
I am of the mindset of composer Gustav Holst, who once said “Never Compose anything unless the not composing of it becomes a positive nuisance to you.” This poem became a nuisance. It came out the day before I was to be ritually tattooed to recognize all of the struggles that I had come through. I made it through them, changed, but still moving.
Sometimes you just have to embrace the call of The Shadow and go howl with the wolves.
I am of the Blood The Spirit gathers I feel his presence like the calm before the storm. It surrounds me in its silent wave As It’s riptide pulls me under I can only watch and say goodbye forever to the comfortable shore.
The Spirit arises His hunger beckons Tastes of power and strength fill my mouth I smell the blood, sweet it is to my senses Fear fills my head, yet there is no wish to turn back. I feel it’s familiarity, dare I welcome it?
The Spirit howls I stir, aching longingly for the hunt A lost love’s touch found, a gentle whisper in my ear Will you accept the gifts I give? Tears fill my eyes as I answer It is time to come home.
The Spirit claims Forever changed as the Spirit meets my soul Part of The Pack I become His teeth forever in my skin Now, never alone We are joined as one.
Recently I saw an interesting blog post about someone discussing their beliefs on relationships with Deity. The post talked about about how Deities didn’t care about your personal life, your shortcomings and your personal development. Instead, they were only worried about what you could do for them.
I tend to disagree. Well, kind of.
There are different facets in almost every human relationship. A coworker is someone you work with. But if you are like me you also have coworkers that are closer than others, and you might have other conversations with them besides just talking about work.
School relationships are the same way. You may have classmates that you hang out with outside of the classroom, therefore making the relationship multifaceted. Even relationships with teachers can be multifaceted. For example my martial arts instructor and I have become good friends. I have helped her on her farm, we do yoga and frequently run together. But in the dojang, she is still the instructor and I am her student.
In my belief, the same multifaceted relationships can be held with divinity. Now you might not ‘hang out’ with them as you would a close friend, but I believe they can be teachers, confidants, and taskmasters. They can also be invested in your wellbeing and this push you to deal with baggage, your physical problems and other sects of personal development.
In my practice, the Gods are very much involved in my personal development. There is a big reason for this. I have chronic pain and fatigue and the winter is always very hard on me. It is imperative that I keep moving in order to deal with the pain and fatigue the cold brings. Therefore I am being pushed to keep moving, keep working and keep exercising. By doing these tasks, I help myself, but also honor them.
By worshipping the Gods we enter a contract with them. These contracts mean multifaceted relationships can be developed. It may be a relationship of devotion, of personal development or of service. But above all, I am of the belief that no matter the type of relationship we get out of it what we out into it. Every relationship takes work, including those with Divinity.
One of the biggest issues I’ve seen in pagan community is the (sometimes heated) discussion around pagan theology, labels and individuality. As I have said before, for years I have refused to label myself as anything but spiritual. One of the reasons for this was to keep out of this type of discussion. But now as I start to become more involved in pagan communities I have realized that it is time for me to organize my own thoughts on the subject.
Labels can cause more pain than they can help. Eckhart Tolle talks about labels as being a part of the suffering in the world. The meaning in people’s lives is usually associated with what labels they think of as “good”, and this good is threatened by the labels people associate with being “bad”. Simply consider the question “Who are you” and you are inundated with them. Your answer will most likely include something like the following, “I am a Technical writer (a job title label), a pagan (a religious label) and at times I am a fencer and martial artist (activity labels).”
While these labels define us as people, they also can divide us on a spiritual level, especially when we start looking at the definition of these labels. An example of this is the discussion between Sarenth Odinsson and John Halstead. While I don’t want to get into all of the specifics, Sarenth basically started to discuss his belief system and how his definitions didn’t fit the beliefs of people like John Halstead. John replied, and a part of that exchange can be found here. After reading the entire exchange, my personal belief is that the whole matter comes down to one specific thing; the definitions of the labels of “sacred” and “holy”. These labels mean something different to Sarenth Odinsson than they did to John Halstead.
What’s my take on this discussion? I think they are both right. And I believe this to be a clear example of the problems when trying to unify pagans under a specific set of guidelines or beliefs. Inevitably those beliefs include labels that have different meanings from one person to the next. And thus the separations begin.
On the other side of the dilemma, I understand now that labels are necessary evils. Without them I cannot communicate. The problem is that there is a fine line between using a label to communicate a concept and using a label to communicate a division between two people. A theology, defined as a system of religious beliefs or ideas, depends on these labels in order communicate a specific set of beliefs, practice and experience. Therein lies the problem; if we cannot completely agree on a definition of a label that does not divide any part of the pagan community, how are we ever going to agree on a set of these labels in a theology?
Going further, how can we attempt to put a pagan theology around an entire mass of people that cannot even put a theology around a specific subgroup of pagans? I don’t think we can. We obviously don’t see it right now in one specific set or style of heathenism/polytheism/paganism that we have today. If it was, then we would have only had Gardner’s version of Wicca, not the various traditional and nontraditional versions. We would have had the Troth and not the Troth/Northern Tradition/Asatru/Vanatru/Rokkur and so on, and so on.
Individuals are as varied as the shapes of snowflakes, and this is reflected in our belief systems. Sure you can label a snowflake group as six-pointed, four-pointed, heavy, light, big or small, but when it comes down to the individuality of each there is no way to specifically group them with the exception of labeling them snowflakes.
Will things always be this way? I don’t know. Will this belief of mine change over time? Probably. But I don’t think it will happen until we as a collective whole recognize the like mindedness nature in each other and push past our human tendency to label and divide. We have to recognize that no matter how we pray, do ritual, live and interact with others that we all have something that guides us forward, no matter the label. Once that is accepted into the pagan consciousness, then perhaps we can start the process to unify. Until then, I believe it we will only be a significant number of groups with different belief systems and sub-theologies unified under a very loose terminology.
I have spent a great deal of my pagan journey as a Wiccan. As part of this, I tried to follow one of the most well-known verses of Wicca Law, the Wiccan Rede. This is a moral code that most Wiccans become quickly familiar with when they start their spiritual journeys down the Wiccan path. What surprised me though is that there isn’t more of a breakdown of this code for aspiring Wiccans to follow; instead my teachers said ‘here it is, follow it’.
Now if you are like me, you want to specifically study what it is you are asked to follow, and not just follow something blindly. So I took the time to break down this code into each verse to understand its meaning further. And while I don’t call myself Wiccan any longer, I still believe in what I think is the intended meaning of this verse.
There are different opinions as to the origins of the Wiccan Rede. Some point to Gerald Gardner’s High Priestess, Doreen Valiente, who first publically spoke a verse similar to the one below in the 1950s. Others believe that the original verse was pulled together from Aleister Crowley’s “The Book of the Law”, published in 1904. Since its origins are still fairly new compared to other religious tenants, some question how something so ‘new’ could be considered a moral code. My belief is that like other holy texts, these were words written by man, but inspired by divinity. So no matter where the origin of the words, the meaning behind them is so great that we need to at least look at the verse and see if it stirs anything in our heart. If there is a stirring, perhaps there is a lesson or meaning there. For me, I recognize that each and every line of the Rede has meaning, and that those deeper meanings form a set of guidelines for a spiritual life.
If you do an internet search, you will be surprised at how many variations of the Wiccan Rede there are. Some are much longer and more eloquent, while others just point to one phrase. Below is what I learned originally when I first started studying Wicca:
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must In perfect love and perfect trust Eight words the Rede fulfill An it harm none do what though will Lest in self-defense it be Ever mind the rule of three Follow this with mind and heart And merry ye meet, merry ye part
I still prefer this variation because to me it gives you more guidance than just the one line, but yet it is not long enough that its meaning could become muddled.
So here is the breakdown that I feel is right for me, and I offer it here for contemplation:
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must…
All religions have guidelines that must be followed, and Wicca is no exception. In order to follow the Wiccan path, you need to follow the Wiccan law. This is a given. However, how does one go about following Wiccan guidelines? In my opinion, religion isn’t about where you can go to church and allow your spirit to be ‘nourished’ while you sit and grouse in the pew because the mass is taking so long. There is discipline that is needed here. And the more you put into following Wiccan Law, the more you are going to get out of it. This is the same with any set of religious laws, ethics or morals someone would have. The more you put into following them, the more nourishment and strength that is delivered to your spirit.
In perfect love and perfect trust…
What does perfect love and perfect trust mean? Many years ago, prior to the formation of the Christian religion, the early disciples practiced a discipline known as “agape”. Agape, which means ‘compassionate love’ in Greek, was the practice of loving all. This included loving your neighbor, loving your enemy, and loving your friends, and showing all of them compassion. As my original Wiccan teachers taught me, the terms “perfect love and perfect trust” are a newer interpretation of agape. You will hear those words in Wiccan circles extensively when calling on powers greater than ourselves. We use those words to show we are in a state of acceptance and do not have any ulterior motives. This also shows that we are open to the wisdom and aid we receive from those powers.
Another thought about this tenant is that we need to consider being in a state of acceptance trust in our daily lives. We have become part of a society that looks at things like ulterior motives, conspiracies and corporate greed as things that are normal. Because of this, we get into the habit of recognizing that another’s action is immediately meant to belittle, demean or hurt us in some form or fashion. It’s time to transcend that intent; give the other person the benefit of the doubt! That guy that just cut you off on the freeway may be racing to the hospital to be there for a loved one. That person in the staff meeting might be so scared to talk in front of the big boss that they aren’t fully recognizing what it is that just came out of their mouth. Someone could just be having a bad day (they happen to everyone!).
One last thought about this, and perhaps the most important thought. Yes, we need to show perfect love and perfect trust to others, but we also have to show that same behavior to OURSELVES.
Eight words the Rede fulfill…
This tenant is saying something important. It is telling you that the next one is one of the most important tenants of the Rede. In fact, the next tenant is the one that you hear quoted the most. If you can only live by one tenant, the next one should be it.
An it harm none do what though will…
I originally learned this as, “do whatever you wish, as long as you don’t harm anyone, anything or yourself, and you will be fine”. However it took several years for me to really grasp what that meant. How do you go through life without hurting anything? To survive we need to kill plants and animals for food, clothing and shelter. That is certainly harming other things!
So because we already have to harm things to survive, does this mean we are already breaking this part of the Rede? Not necessarily. This part of the Rede is really starting to ask you how you think about the reactions your actions will create. For some, this means that they choose to try to live off the land as much as possible; forgoing a car, living modestly and being a vegetarian, or other measures they feel are part of their discipline.
The problem is that it is not always plausible to do those things. In order to survive, we need to do some sort of destruction in order to create. Vegetarians have to kill plants in order to eat. Even in the society we live we have to do things that will cause harm just to survive. At one time I unfortunately had a 68 mile one-way commute to work. I drove this 68 mile commute in the only vehicle I had – in a Chevy Blazer (awesome truck, but horrible on gas mileage and carbon emissions!). I tried to find other options to make my commute shorter, but there was no public transportation that would go where I needed to go, no other coworkers near me that I could carpool with, and moving closer was unfortunately not an option. Therefore the drive was a necessity. So during the time I commuted, I paid extra for “carbon credits” to a Native American organization that helped to plant trees.
So the intent here is that everything needs to be in balance. Recognize the balance, and try to live by it.
Lest in self-defense it be…
Let’s talk about harm to someone for a moment. There are multiple ways harm can occur. There could be an accident where the harm was not intentional. There could be purposeful harm, where someone is purposefully ready to cause harm to someone else. There is also perceived harm, where someone believes they have been harmed, but truly they have not.
The harm that should be defended against is a purposeful harm. No one should ever allow themselves to be purposefully hurt by another. You have to love yourself enough to recognize the situation and trust in your own skills and in divinity.
This tenant states that when you find yourself in a situation where purposeful harm exists, you CAN defend yourself or do whatever you need to do to get out of it.
As a martial artist I have learned one more thing about this tenant. This is not a free pass to respond with excessive force. If in an altercation with someone that person pushes you and you respond by smashing their face into the ground, that’s not self-defense. That is responding with excessive force, and most likely you will end up facing both physical consequences from law enforcement as well as the karmic consequences from your action. There are many ways to get out of that situation without excessive force. Leaving the area, applying a pressure point or locking out a finger, wrist or elbow joint would get the assailant’s attention to not mess with you.
So basically what I am saying is that in a purposeful situation, get out of it if at all possible, or respond only with the force you are shown. This also applies to metaphysical forces. If someone is trying to purposefully cause metaphysical harm, (not as common as most people think!) things like a Witch’s bottle, warding and stronger shielding are usually enough to deal with the situation. (In fact, in my experiences with Witch’s bottles I find they actually take care of quite a bit of negativity. They may not be very nice to make, but they are extremely strong tools.) You should not immediately throw something back at the possible assailant. It just causes more frustration and drama than it helps.
If harm was not intentional, or you perceived harm happening to you that just wasn’t there, this tenant doesn’t cover you. Yes, do what you need to if something is thrown your way, but if someone looks at you cross-eyed, and you take offence, this doesn’t mean that you have the right to be offensive back in the name of self-defense.
Ever mind the rule of three…
This is the tenant made famous by the movie “The Craft” back in the 90s. Whatever you do the energy of that action will return to you threefold. So if you do something positive, the karmic energy of that good work will come back to you threefold. If you do something destructive, that destructive energy will come back to you threefold. This, in my mind, makes up for how we can work with the tenant, “An it harm none, do what thou will”. Since we cannot create without destroying, we need to be cautious of what we do because we shall inherit the karma of that action. So someone who is intentionally hurting a plant or animal shall receive a bigger karmic debt than someone who hurts a plant or animal accidentally.
Taking this even further, someone could make up for the karmic debt they are collecting. The carbon credits I purchased to help make up for my 136 mile daily journey is an example. Other examples could be the vegetarian purchasing as much food as locally as possible in order to keep their money in their local community, or the carnivore purchasing meat that was certified as humanely raised.
Follow this with mind and heart…
There is a tenant in Catholicism that I am very confused by, and started to mention it previously in this post. Catholics must go to mass every Sunday (or Saturday night now that things have loosened up a bit…) and they must take communion. Have you ever been in a Catholic church during those Sunday masses? Does anyone look happy to be there? According to Catholic doctrine, whether or not you participate in the mass, or are looking forward to going or not, you MUST attend and you MUST take communion because there is a transformation going on within your soul when you do these things. It doesn’t matter if you mutter ‘oh crap’ when the priest decides to speak the litany of the saints (a monologue that extends mass by 15-20 minutes – been there, muttering done), your soul is getting its nourishment. This never seemed right to me. You should be enjoying your time with divinity; not forced to endure it for your betterment. This is exactly what I think this tenant speaks to. You need to follow these tenants to the best of your ability, giving it your mind and your heart. You need to actively seek to do the right things by the Wiccan Rede. This is where discipline comes in. Sometimes the path will not be easy, and sometimes you have to make hard choices, but you always have to stick to your moral code. Like I said before, the more you put into any spiritual tradition, the more you will receive out of it.
And merry ye meet, merry ye part…
Everyone that we meet is for a reason. Whether it is the person you see on the street walking by you, a coworker you work well with, or even your boss has something to teach you. With all of the other tenants in mind, we need to approach each and every interaction we have without judgment or predisposition of whether or not it is going to be a “good” or “bad” interaction. We need to be mindful of our actions and how they are perceived, and make amends when they don’t go as well as we would like. We also need to be ready to learn, because learn we will!
We also have to be joyful of what it is we are learning and doing. You can do everything right, but if you do it with a crappy attitude, you aren’t going to get very far. Being joyful also helps make those harder decisions easier to execute.
Summing it all up, one could look at this doctrine and see that it is very similar to other religious doctrine out there. But whether or not you follow Wicca, I hope that just looking at this breakdown will help you consider looking at the spiritual doctrine you follow a little deeper. Perhaps you will find something that will help make your practice a little more rewarding.