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.

 

 

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The Struggle for Radical Inclusion

I’m getting very tired of hearing other opinions, especially when those opinions are openly against another person’s belief, the color of their skin, the way they dress, what they choose for themselves, or those against an entire religion. Yet, that feels like it’s all I’m surrounded by. And not only am I surrounded by those opinions I know now I have family members with those types of beliefs. And what is worst of all, it is now confirmed that people I chose to be a part of my chosen family and those I looked up to have opinions that demean and belittle others.

Each time I have heard about someone else close to me who has a believe that excludes others, it makes my heart ache. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s a story on the news about things that people are doing against each other, it hurts too. You pray for those affected and do what you can if there are monetary needs or petitions to sign. But when it gets close to home, things get really bad for me. Heartache turns to outright anger, bitterness and a whole hell of a lot of pain. But yet, when the talk from family or friends turns to those sore topics, I have still tried to be civil. I agree to disagree, or bring up reasons why things are not the way the person who is biased claims them to be. Even when my own uncle comes out against others for the color of their skin, I still try to ‘play nice’ for the sake of the family. I still try to listen, to understand, and to get them to understand where I am coming from.

There is a reason I was doing this. The thing is, one of the biggest problems this nation faces today is that we aren’t listening to each other. We aren’t recognizing there is an allowance for differences of opinions. There was a time when being ‘democrat’ or ‘republican’ meant that ideals were different, yet everyone believed in being civil, and both sides strongly felt they were doing the right thing for the nation. There was a time not too far in the past when civil debates could be held without fear and even political candidates stopped their constituents from throwing angry slurs at their opponents during rallies.

But unfortunately, those times are long over.

Today, it’s not just an opinion about whether or not to tax something anymore. Today, the differences of opinion are about large swaths of people and whether or not they have a right to education, a right to live and worship as they choose, or even just a right to exist. And I can understand why those beliefs are held. Some people that hold opinions against others do it out of fear, or they do it out of experiences they have, or they do it because that is what they were taught. And almost always those with the opinions of exclusion don’t think they are doing anything wrong. For example, I was recently told by someone that equality currently exists between a gay couple and a straight couple if the gay couple had at least a couple doctors to go and see. Sure, not all the doctors would be willing to see them because of their ‘christian’ faith, but because they still had a choice of some doctors who would take them as patients it didn’t matter if others wouldn’t see them. I couldn’t help but think if the situation was reversed that they wouldn’t think it was equal, no matter how many times they said they would feel the same way during that conversation.

No matter what it was justified it with, this person was talking about the exclusion of a human being. They were excluding another life, another spirit, another soul. They are excluding another in which, in many different religions, is believed to be that which has been made in a likeness of God – the very God they claim to worship. If that wasn’t bad enough, by excluding that person, many break a second tenant that is said in many different ways based on the specific religion, but basically boils down to ‘do not judge others’.

So here is where, in any conversation with someone whose opinion is being sliced to shreds, the cherry picking begins. Either I’m looking at something the wrong way, or I don’t fully understand the verses being spoken about, or another verse overrides what verses or holy books I’m quoting from. It doesn’t matter. In my personal belief system a human is still a human, and until they do something that clearly shows they don’t deserve it, respect for who and what they are matters deeply to me.

Automatic respect of others is radical. Automatic respect is the hard road. Recognizing the difference of opinion and accepting it (not approving mind you, but accepting) is ridiculously hard, especially in this polarized nation. But it’s what I’ve tried to do, time and time again. I’ve recently been in conversations with others that my husband has outright told me he would have immediately quit the conversation and stormed out of the room. Not because he nor I were being disrespected, but because the person was so passionate about their belief that they were right. This person wasn’t an outright hater or excluder, but they certainly were on the slippery slope to allow exclusion to happen and not find it to be wrong.

But I have to admit, even though I do my best, I still get shaken to my core. Recently in the Society for Creative Achronism (SCA), the ruler of a kingdom who has made racist statements on social media elevated a known racist to the highest honor of the kingdom, even while the other members who had a say vetoed the elevation. In another kingdom, months earlier, royalty decided to wear clothing with swastikas clearly sown into the embroidery. And today, I’m forced to recognize yet again that someone in my own household shares radical opinions about Muslims. This is someone who swore an oath to be kind to all, generous with their time, who is known as a caring individual, and yet, it seems to me now that these traits are just part of the ‘game’ that is the SCA, and not what they strive to be in real life. This is truly disheartening and sad.

Unfortunately, because I’m getting hit by this over and over, it makes me wonder about my own personal guidelines on dealing with these people. Do I give more benefit of the doubt than I should? Do I need to follow the example and turn away from anyone who even speaks about exclusion being right, even though it may not be outwardly racist or bigoted? And if I do, doesn’t that just mean that I’m becoming a part of the polarization, and not part of the solution? It breaks my heart that I have to consider these things. I have watched my own parents become bitter as they got older because of the beliefs and actions of others, and swore to myself that I would never become that way; that I would always seek the good in others no matter how hard it was to find, and only quitting if the actions of that person became threatening to me, my friends or loved ones.

Now I don’t know if I have the strength left in me to not be bitter.

But for now, trying to be open is the requirement I have set upon myself, not only as a personal ethical code, but for me, a religious one as well. So I keep trying. I keep listening. I keep trying to get both sides of the story, and try to change others minds when I can. Many are perhaps a lost cause. Probably many more than I’m willing to admit to myself right now. And perhaps there may be need of more distancing myself from those who don’t want to see another side. Perhaps those whose beliefs include exclusion of any kind should be distanced, their businesses not be patronized as much as I had before. And perhaps I withdrawal from the SCA even further than I have previously. And perhaps these things aren’t being done on my part out of malice or anger. Perhaps I simply need to do them for my own sanity. Perhaps then I might have more mental energy to engage someone who might actually listen and come to understand.

I can still hope.

Poem: Loki Speaks – An Explanation of my Oath to the Flamehaired One

I’m putting this out slightly under duress, but perhaps it’s time it comes out.

I’ve said I have an oath to Loki, and I do.  But the type of oath I have is one that in the past people have scoffed at, especially with the Marvel Loki being Tom Hiddleston, who is absolutely very easy on the eyes. I of course am talking about the oath of a Godspouse.

Pagans who don’t believe in Godspouses are going to scoff and claim it has something to do with either with a person not being mentally there, wanting attention in some way, kidding themselves, trying to feel more important than they are..and lots of other reasons.  Especially when it comes to Loki. When the Marvel Loki first hit the silver screen there was a litany of love for him from many a young lady. And that litany was full of fights between ‘spouses’…”He likes me better” and other youngling nonsense.  And frankly hearing all about this craziness is just what helped me push all of this under the rug as long as I have.

Pagans who believe Godspouse relationships happen often point to the belief that a Christian nun is “married to Christ.”  or that Christ is their ‘bridegroom’.  I don’t remember the actual quotes from the bible right now to get more specific than that, but I do know they are there. Pagans who believe in that type of relationship have also pointed to other cultures and oracles in the ancient time as well as the writings from that time to prove a spousal relationship is true.  And I don’t doubt the writings are there. For me however, I simply decided that if it worked as a relationship for someone else to have with deity, then that was what worked for them and I really didn’t have a right to say either way. I didn’t understand it, but perhaps I wasn’t meant to.

And once I made up my mind about whether or not a Godspouse relationship was ‘real’ or not, it happened.  A candle to Sigyn, the first one I had lit in many years in tribute to a Goddess for helping me through the fibromyalgia was put on my house altar.  And it was left to burn the entire night.  Loki took that as the open door. And he showed up in my dreams that night.  And the next night.  And the next night.  And every time he showed up, I forced myself to wake up. Because I didn’t want him around.

My husband thought I was sick as I barely had any sleep those first few days.  Until I told him what was going on.

After lots of talking, and lots of discussion and the figuring out of issues, I oathed to him as a mentor/teacher. The work I did in that relationship with him was very interesting, and it helped me tremendously. A year later after the mentor relationship was almost up, he said he wanted more.  And the Godspouse relationship was discussed…and discussed…and discussed…and finally taken.

I didn’t tell anyone about it back then.  Actually I only started talking about it openly a couple of months ago.  But now that it’s come up more than once in discussions on chat boards, I figured it was time to get more information and my stance on it out now.  And one of the reasons I’m talking about it now is because of the assumption that everyone almost automatically makes about it.

The Godspouse relationship I have with Loki isn’t about being his ‘bride’ as much as it is being in a relationship with someone who understands who I am. It’s a relationship based on understanding the deep and dark issues that I’ve had to deal with for a very long time.  it’s the type of relationship where the couple work through those things together. And the people in that relationship both heal and grow. Now perhaps Loki doesn’t need to ‘grow’ as us humans do, but I still think he gets something out of this.

As anyone who has been married for more than a couple years will tell you, husband and wife relationships are not just about romance and sex. They are also very much about talking and about getting things out in the open. In a healthy marriage, you can talk to your spouse about everything. And you must constantly adjust to new mannerisms, new issues, and new unexpected things popping up. This is a person that you are living with 24/7.  You get to see them at their worst, you get to see them at their best, and you get to see them in everything in between.

My relationship with Loki is very much like this. He has access to every part of me, and because of that I have nothing I can hide. And in return for that access, he has helped me get through some pretty rough things. He has helped to lift barriers that I could not move. He has calmed and taken care of me, and he has made me stand up for myself. He has put me in positions where I had to trust him completely, and he has shown me that I have more control than I think.

So where does the poem come into this?

As it did several years ago when he asked for more, he asks it of me again. And the first step I guess was to write this post and share the poem I wrote a couple weeks ago. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope I have made you think about something that is dismissed too easily as nonsense.

Loki Speaks

I hear you my love
Your call beckons me
What is it you require?
What, darling wench, stirs thee?

Do you not feel me enough?
Do you not feel my touch?
Dare I touch you further?
Take you every time you beckon?

I could, you know
Drive you to madness unknown
Drive your soul from corpeal form
Make you only mine forever

Yet you do not start at that
A price you ‘ve paid before
You know my madness
And revel in it

What do you ask of me?
What do you require?
More lessons, perhaps,
Learn to play in the fire?

No more lessons have I to teach
Your spirit is as whole as it shall be
Your strength now must be grown
Knowledge the reward for the persistent

Do not fear my love
My madness shall be your comfort
My chaos shall ease your stress
I am here, I will not leave my prize now

You may not feel my presence
You may not heed the heat of my desire
But I am just a breath away
You are and always will be connected

Remember these things.
Remember my touch
You will do well in your endeavors
I shall simply watch and enjoy

Finding a Path of Belief

Something occurred to me on my walk with my husband recently.  On April 24, it will be 19 years since my first wedding. It surprised when I remembered this, having divorced the man I was first married to in 2002.

There was so many things going on around that time that we should have never gone through the ceremony. My then fiance’s mother went into a coma a month before the wedding. Columbine happened, which was on the minds of many people. Exactly one month after the wedding, his father would die of a heart attack. Two months after that, we would take his mother off of life support.  Most of his extended family didn’t even come to the wedding, deciding that it was better if they stayed vigil at their Mother’s bedside instead.

I will fully admit I was young, inexperienced, and going through a lot of mental issues of my own at the time. I had no idea how to be a wife and to give all the support I needed to give through his trials.

But even if I could have given him the support, the biggest issue for me to deal with through those trials was that I couldn’t relate to him on any spiritual level.

As I have said before I was raised Roman Catholic, and at that point I had been studying paganism on and off for  9 years.  But this man was not raised with any faith.  In fact, when the issue came up, it was quickly dismissed in his family.  So when he was forced to deal with these losses, he had no belief system to fall back on; he didn’t even know where to start to comprehend the losses he suffered.

In the end, he blamed himself for these losses.  If he would have just been at his parent’s home instead of going to work, perhaps he could have gotten help for his father.  If he had visited his parents, perhaps he would have stopped his mom from eating the thing that made her sick in the first place.  If he would have been a better son, he would still have his parents; they wouldn’t be forever lost to him.  In the end the spirituality factor wasn’t the final breaking point of the marriage, but it did a lot of damage.

Fast forward to 2006. I elope with my then fiance to Las Vegas.  A week later, we get back home and he gets a phone call in the middle of the night.  His father is diagnosed with a bowel perforation and needs immediate emergency surgery.  He was a ‘snowbird’, having left Michigan for warmer Florida weather, which made things even more complicated.  My new husband flies down to be there for the surgery.  Several days later his father takes a turn for the worse and is taken off life support.

My husband was raised in a Catholic family, as I was.  And he also didn’t feel that path was right for him and was exploring paganism.  But because he had done enough exploring on his own to form his own beliefs, he knew his father was some place safe and that he WOULD see him again. Even though there was no dogma attached to his beliefs, and that he had no core religious or spiritual practices, he still felt a comfort from what belief system he had.  It was faith in that belief system that helped him grieve and helped him get over the trauma and be able to move forward.

Thinking back on both these experiences, I wonder if it would have made any difference to my first husband if he would have been raised in a religious family.  Would he have fallen back on that teaching?  Or would the teaching have sparked a hunger in him to find his own place, like it did for my second husband and I?  Did it hinder his development that religion was so glossed over in his family growing up?

It makes me wonder if we are teaching our children enough about belief and religion.  And maybe we need to go even further with that teaching.  Maybe we need to also teach them about other religions as well as the one they grow up in to allow them to make an informed decision when they become of age.

If we give our children consent to ask questions about beliefs and faith, it allows them many different options.  They may grow up and choose to become stronger in the faith of their family.  They may choose to take another faith as theirs, or choose to either continue to question the existence of divinity or not believe at all.  Whatever their choice, they will have (or at least start to have) a belief system that works for them.  And that system will help them answer some of life’s harder questions for themselves.  At the very least, they will know where to go to help seek out more information and find comfort.

From a Pagan perspective, I think we as a community are doing better at teaching our children to ask questions and grow in their own belief system.  However, I wonder if in time we are going to have to come to terms with those who choose Christianity as their belief system once they grow up.  Much like many Christian parents do when their children choose a faith different from them, we may become upset and feel rejected by the child that chooses a monotheistic faith.  But if we preach freedom of religion, we must allow our children to choose what they feel is right for them.  If we don’t, we risk another generation of children growing up angry at their parents for not allowing them to be themselves, much like many Pagans are now when thinking of their own upbringing.

However, even though there are still struggles with belief from parent to child, perhaps things have gotten better in some ways.  When thinking back to my grandparents raising my mother and uncles, things were much more strict.  Beliefs weren’t allowed to be questioned and obedience to religion was mandatory.  When I look back at my mother’s actions as I was growing up, it occurred to me that the faith she had was obedience to her parents more than anything.  And even though God was mentioned, it is more fear of their disapproval that kept her focused in that specific religion.

I really started feeling that way after seeing her reactions to a couple of situations.  One in particular still stands out in my mind.  I had met her for lunch at a buffet on a Lenten Friday. When she looked at the offerings on the bar, she became upset because she wanted to eat meat, but instead was confined to the fish and vegetable options due to Lenten obligations.  She told me that my Grandmother would be upset if she ate meat that day.  I replied that Grandma and Grandpa weren’t eating with us, and wouldn’t know.  She said it didn’t matter.  Those were the rules she grew up with, and those were the rules that had to be obeyed.

How sad it is to me that someone feels like they must obey rules that someone else made for them.  And that they don’t feel they can vet those rules for themselves.  To be true to your own heart and mind in your religious beliefs means such a significantly stronger faith than one would have because they are told to.

Hopefully this is changing.  Maybe because of the many sources of information that are out there things are getting better.  Or perhaps it’s changing because more people are more willing to challenge the beliefs that they grew up on to truly see if they fit their mind and heart.  I hope so, but then again, the term “recovering catholic” wouldn’t be utilized so much if there weren’t more stories out there like my mother’s.

No matter what way the world is going, I can only be responsible for my part, and to live the example of being proud of my faith and being willing to allow others to have their own.

I am very proud to have a Godson.  For his first communion I took the day off and stayed with him through his religious preparatory programs at school.  It didn’t matter that it was a different religion; it gave him comfort to have me there, and it showed that I was willing to help him with his beliefs, even though he didn’t see me at his church every Sunday.

My husband made certain that his niece had a rosary for her first communion when it looked like her Godmother was not going to gift her one.  Yes, he is also Pagan, but it didn’t matter.  This is the faith she is currently growing up with, and it’s important to her.  She already uses the rosary in solitary prayer, which makes the gift even more satisfying.

If my Godson ever has questions about faith, I’m going to do my best to answer as truthfully as I can.  This goes the same for all of my nieces and nephews.  To me it is important to have faith in some sort of belief system  and be open to the fact that others will believe differently.  And when the time comes that they decide what faith or spirituality is best for them, I hope they will be able to do so with the acceptance of their parents, because I want to see them growing up with a faith that is true to their mind and heart, not a faith handed down without question.  In the end, the faith in a belief that stands up to questioning will mean stronger support for the individual, the family and the community as a whole.

 

Poem: Think About It

 

You never realize how much you damage yourself
Until you take a hard look in a mirror
And finally ask yourself
What do I like?

You never realize how much you hurt yourself
Until you take a hard look in a mirror
And finally ask yourself
Who am I?

You never realize how unkind you are to yourself
Until you take a hard look in a mirror
And finally ask yourself
Am I enough?

Betcha your answers match mine.