Thoughts, lessons, and theology from an eclectic witch from a varied background.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Serving in Love.

February's full moon is known as the Hunger moon. At one time, this was the month where winter supplies were very nearly exhausted and game became scarce for our ancestors. It is a luxury for many of us that this month is not such a lean time. This luxury, however, is not something we should wallow in. Dea calls to us to serve as bearers of her light in the darkness of this season. Among the ways we do this is by serving our community.

In honor of the coming Hunger moon, I ask you, gentle Reader, to take something from your pantry stores and give it to charity. There are many people in the world who are going hungry for want of food. Food pantries and similar programs struggle to meet the needs of these people year round. Following the glut of giving that comes during the 'holiday' season, the abrupt drop of resources given makes this month all that much harder for those programs to provide for those who are in need. I ask that you take from your largess and give to your neighbors who are in need out of a sense of love for your fellow man.

If you are unable to donate food, find another means to give back to your community. I personally am continuing to make hats for the local NICU and I will be making additional articles to give to the homeless to help them stay warm through out this bitterly cold season. It is my dear hope that we might show the world that our gods care for them as well through our actions. Love only grows greater when it is shared. And our communities grow stronger and healthier the more we share that love with them through compassionate action.

If you are in search of places you can possibly donate and you are in the WNY area, consider the following:

Food Bank of WNY

Rochester Homeless Shelters and Services for the Needy
Buffalo Homeless Shelters and Services for the Needy

Chances and Changes (Domestic Violence Program)

Teresa House Comfort Care Home (Hospice for the Terminally Ill)

When all else fails, do a web search with your zip code in and the terms "food bank", "homeless shelter", "domestic violence", and "hospice." Or contact your county's department of social services. They can direct you to programs that are always looking for another pair of hands to help lighten the load.

Go out there and do some good, my friends. And thank you.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book In Progress.

I have been working on a companion book to Rose Petals. It doesn't have a title yet. This frustrates me because I feel like all of my projects must be named. It is an almost ritualistic element to my writing, I'll confess, but it feels necessary so I do it. This current project has me stumped. It is a book of daily meditations that takes one through the Filianic calendar year. At the head of each page is the date according to the Filianic calender. Then a quote is presented (usually from the Gospel of Our Mother God but there are some from my forthcoming book of mystic experiences). After this is a brief meditation. At the bottom of the page is the corresponding Julian calendar date. As of right now, I have two of the months finished and a third near completion.

About that book of mystic experiences, it focuses strictly upon my encounters with Dea. I've had visions of her since around when I hit puberty. I didn't talk about them when I was a kid for two reasons. One, I was terrified that I was going to be declared insane and shipped off to a mental institution. Two, I didn't know of anyone else ever having this kind of experience and it scared me. It was a very strange thing to go from the profound sense of connection and ecstasy that came from Dea's touch to the stark terror that I was going to be considered raving mad almost immediately after. I still have times where I get scared of being declared insane.

To say the least, the gods laugh at me for this. While I struggle with mental illness and I have been declared disabled due to it, I have official documentation to say that I am not schizophrenic or have dissociative identity disorder. Between this documentation and my medication, I have plenty of things to hold up and say "This is why I am not hallucinating things." I still struggle with that fear, though. From what I have been able to determine, others who are god-touched have the same struggle. This heartens me and leads me to believe that perhaps my experiences with the gods are normal, or at least as normal as they can be with the range of deities I interact with.

The book about my mystic experiences is titled Drowning in Light. The title really captures for me what it is like to experience Dea's touch. I feel as though I can not breathe, though I can perfectly well. I am blinded by the brilliant light that fills my vision. This light also fills me with warmth. It is not the terrible sensation of burning alive that some would describe as much as it is like being outside on a hot summer's day in the direct sun. Additionally, I feel as though I am in some sort of liquid, as though I am in a deep, deep pool of water, if water were made of light. The first time this happened, I came out of the trance laying prostrate on the ground where I had been just sitting up against a tree. It was a jarring thing to discover myself laying on the ground when I knew I had been sitting up moments earlier and having no recollection as to how I got that way.

The other visionary experiences have not been quite as overwhelming as that first one, but I still have times where I find myself in a position that I have no memory of getting into. I've been told that when entranced, I sometimes shudder. There have been occasions where I was entranced and my eye color changed, but that was a little different then when Dea puts her hand on me. That time, I was acting as a medium. Almost every time I have acted as a medium, I don't remember anything about the experience. When I have visions from Dea, I may not remember what happens to my body but the vision remains burned into my mind.

I started studying the experiences of Catholic saints after I heard about Hildegard von Bingen. The more I read, the more I saw my own experiences described, though with a distinctly different deity. During the brief period (about 1 year) that I was seriously considering converting to Catholicism, I had two visions sent to me. One was from the blessed virgin Mary. The other was from Jesus himself. (I'll talk about them later this week, they're actually kinda interesting.) The message from these visions were that Catholicism was not the path I was to follow. That lead to a year of silence on the spiritual front.

Going from having visions and hearing the gods and the dead speaking to you to utter silence is a horrid experience. In that period of silence, I stumbled about desperately wanting to have back what I had taken for granted. Thankfully, it did come back. But it was a harrowing experience to have that silence there. The memory of it stays at the back of my mind and reminds me not to take for granted what I have now. Because it can be easily taken away.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Remember to Breathe.

Some days are a struggle from the moment you get out of bed. The kids may be throwing a temper tantrum because they don't want to go to school. Your hair may refuse to cooperate with anything except for looking like a porcupine. The dog may get sick on the carpet. And your loving spouse may be in a foul mood because they're going into work at a job they have come to hate.

In all of this, it is hard to remember that the gods are there for us. In some cases, it may even feel like they have abandoned us or perhaps we have been hallucinating their presence in our lives. Faith when things are challenging is not easy. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest aspects of religion. No one talks about it because no one wants to admit that sometimes they have difficulty believing.

Today was not an easy day for me. I'm still feeling unwell because my ribs are bruised from being sick. I haven't slept well for a little while because of said bruised ribs. The kids were fussy this morning and argued with me up until it was time for them to get on the bus. My morning was pretty much eaten up by the nap that I unintentionally took when I sat down on the couch to rest for a few minutes before I started on my chores for the day. It was like a typical Monday but on a Tuesday.

Sometimes faith come attendant with rainbows and warm fuzzy feelings. Sometimes it is simply the stubborn refusal to give up in the face of difficulty. We are not called by the gods to be happy and blissful all the time. Nor are we called to be filled with deep spiritual wisdom and transcendent peace in even the most trying of times. All that they ask is that we believe. Some days, it is hard for me to say that I believe that the gods care for me. On days where it seems like everything is going wrong and I can't do a single thing right despite how hard I try, I get angry at the gods for the challenges in my life. Those days, I want to rail and insist that they fix things so that it isn't so damn hard.

Faith is one of the hardest things because it is so simple. All it is boils down to a choice. Do you choose to believe that the gods are there or not? It's alright to get angry with the gods. It's alright to get angry with the whole situation you are in. The same is true for any other negative emotion that might come up. We can't be happy and peaceful all the time. We're just not wired that way. Faith is a lot like love, I suppose.

People assume that love is just an emotion. It is more then that. Love is an action. Every day, I choose to love my husband, children, and the gods. I choose to have faith in them. No matter how angry or desperate the situation makes me, I still have that choice. The trick is remembering that you can make that choice. Why do I choose faith and love when all of my difficulties are encouraging me not to? Well, some of it is because I get stubborn and refuse to be bullied by life. (Seriously, the fastest way to make me decide to oppose you is to start trying to push me around.) Some of it is because I value the relationships more then I value the temporary satisfaction that might come from not making the decision to love and have faith.

Is it easier? Not always, but I think the results in the long run are worth it. Fighting your personal battles to stay at the side of those you value honors them as much as it honors you. The fact that you are willing to take on that struggle for their sake, that is what the gods treasure. That is faith.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pouring out wine for the gods.

It has been a challenging week around my household. Between recovering from illness and attempting to put the household to rights after the holidays, I found myself struggling to keep up my devotional activities. Some days, all I could manage was a tired prayer of gratitude for the ending of the day. Other days, I chattered away at the gods as I did my work and generally attempted to keep a positive focus.

Keeping a positive focus is hard to do when you're sick. When you're in pain and depressed, it is hard to focus on anything other then your own misery. I sat down at the computer this evening at something of a loss for what to post. I had lit my candles. I poured out an offering of wine. I did my level best to put myself into as receptive of a state for contact with the gods as I could manage.

I can not say that there is deafening silence. I know they are there. To a limited extent, I can interact with them. But there is so much noise between us, that it is very hard for me to feel the connection with them. At one point, I would have given up on the effort. I would have declared my attempts at contact a failure because there wasn't immediate information flowing to me. I also would have been very angry with myself because I would have viewed this as a failing on my part.

Now, I recognize that it is enough that I make the attempt. Indeed, when I am not feeling well and the act of making said attempt is challenging, I suspect that is what makes it even more valuable. The Christians have a parable of a poor widow giving her last coin in offering after a wealthy man gave riches. The apostles asked Jesus if the widow's offering was of lesser value because she gave so little compared to the wealthy man. He replied that her offering was of greater value because she gave all that she could, where as the wealthy man did not do so.

Some days, all I can manage is a prayer before I go to sleep. Other days, all I can manage is to think of the gods because I haven't the strength to pray. Then there are the days where I can move easily through ritual acts of devotion and make greater presentations of my homage to them. Doing what you can with what you have is, really, what is at the heart of keeping up one's devotional activities.

If you are struggling like I have been, forgive yourself for what flaws you see in your work. The gods know far better then we realize just how much that 'flawed' work has cost you. And they treasure it for the effort that you have extended on their behalf. Don't hold yourself up to the standard of your best days for your everyday worship activities. And don't set the bar at what you can only accomplish on your worst days. Judge each day on its own merits. Let today's worship be today's worship. Don't compare it to yesterday because today was radically different from them. And don't anticipate tomorrow to be like today, because it will be just as different from today as today has been from yesterday.

Be kind to yourselves. May the gods keep you close and give you boundless love.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Devotional Polytheist Meme Question No. 24

What have you inherited from your ancestors?

This is a big question and I honestly had some difficulty figuring out where to start. I am the descendant of heroes and people who were born to rule. While some would scoff at this statement, I could produce a genealogy chart going back 14 generations where the noble blood is proven, and the heroes are scattered along the path like gemstones. As I was growing up, I was told about my illustrious ancestors. I was shown that genealogy chart as my grandmother traced the line back farther. I was shown pictures of people that we had photos of. In many ways, I grew up surrounded by the love of the lines that birthed me and my ancestors were familiar people to me.

When I look at the life I am leading today, I see the reverence for those who came before me as a very visible thread going back through the lineage. I see pride there as well. (In some of us, it was pride to the point of foolishness but it was still there.) I have inherited a level of relentlessness that some have declared intimidating. I suppose that comes with the warrior stock in my lineage. My love of knowledge and thirst for wisdom is very much a product of the educators that I am descendant from. I suspect it goes back farther then that, though it gets difficult to trace it back.

Aside from these personality traits, I can point at the actions of respect for my ancestors as part of my inheritance. While a shrine was not formally kept, pictures of all members of the family that we had access to were in my grandparents house and all of the children knew who they were. The hoarding of books and the celebration of the wisdom therein is a comparatively recent phenomena in my lineage (from about when books became easier to acquire in history).

The willingness and action to stand up for what we deem as right and just has been present for as far back as we can trace it. This manifests in different ways for each generation. In the Revolutionary War era, my ancestor Joseph Knight fought in the war for the revolution because he believed in the cause and that it was the correct thing to do. I have people who fought on both sides of the Civil War (US) that sincerely believed they were standing up for what was right. And then there is my great-grandfather's generation, who so vehemently opposed the actions of the Weimar Republic and the budding trends of antisemitic policy that he left his nation of birth to emigrate to the United States (coming from a family that started off financially relatively comfortable). He left towards the beginning of the Weimar Republic. I am sure that I have people who fought on either side of World War I. In my grandfather's generation, I am related to a hero who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, amongst others less well known. My brother continued this warrior heritage and served in the USMC for a period of time.

The more peaceable elements of my heritage lends themselves towards actions to care for the community I am in (because a great deal of charity and social activism is present) and actions to care for the environment (because I come from farmers who know how vitally important the health of the environment is). I also have ancestors who were people of deep faith. My paternal grandfather's grandfather was a renowned minister in the hinterlands of Michigan. The theme of building a rich spiritual life and keeping one's faith in their actions is perhaps as frequent in my ancestors as heroism, if not more so.

All of these things are traits and behaviors that I treasure. Partly because it forms a vital part of who I am and partly because they are the best of what my ancestors have handed down to me and what I keep in sacred trust for my children. It is my hope that this continues forward but if it happens that the line ends with my sons' generation, I sincerely believe it will end well because of the values that we have cherished and the deeds that we will have done.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Devotional Polytheist Meme Questions no. 22 & 23

What customs are associates with home and family in your tradition?

Some of the customs seem a little odd to people who visit me. I always strive to do my best to be hospitable to my guests. Among the things that I do, I always offer them food and drink. Some people think this is merely being a good hostess but it goes deeper then that. When the weather is inclement, I am prepared to give my guests what I have accessible in my home to provide them with warmth, shelter, and respite from the elements. When my guests are distraught or experiencing difficulty, I feel honor bound to give them what aid I can. This is not simply a case of being compassionate but rather, it is a duty that comes with my being mistress of my home.

I always work to make sure that there is at least one additional portion left from any meal that I prepare so that I can provide for any who come through my door. I feel duty bound to render aid to any who are struggling on the property that I live upon, when it is within my means to do so. As the lady of the house, I am bound to be gracious, helpful, and hospitable to any who come to my door, even people whom I despise. This is because hospitality is sacred. It forges and reinforces the bonds that keep society functioning.

I strive to keep my home tidy for more reasons then the fact that it is hygienic and practical. In maintaining a home that is at the very least orderly, I drive away malevolent influences that would take up residence in the chaos. It is for this reason that I keep a broom at my door. It drives away unwelcome visitors upon many different levels. I also keep a weapon at the door (an ash stave that is seasoned and a poplar stave that is not yet seasoned). I feel that I am the first line of defense of my home and that I am the doorwarder, in addition to the mistress of the house.

I keep a shrine for the beloved dead and regularly give offerings to them. It is placed in a prominent spot in my home to keep their presence with us. I make a point of using items that have been passed down through the family to keep those links to the past alive. This is because I feel that I am responsible for making sure that the line does not die out in memory, for the genetics part was looking dicey for a little while there. I keep up family traditions in the effort to pass on the wisdom of my ancestors to my children and to keep them alive in my actions. This is why I share old family jokes and keep little 'superstitions' going.

When did it dawn on you that the gods are real?

Honestly, it has never entered my mind that the gods were not real. Even when I found myself in a position where I was seriously challenging my beliefs, I have always known that the gods existed. It was very confusing to be a polytheist in a community of monotheists and I found it difficult to carry on conversations about faith with my peers when I was young. But, I have felt the influence of the gods in my life for as long as I have had the capacity to be aware of them, which started at a very young age.

Most 4 year olds don't think about the big questions of religion. It never occurred to me to question the validity of my experiences until I was older, but even then I questioned my ability to perceive the true nature of the situation rather then the cause of it. It was humbling and mildly disturbing when I learned that other people didn't have the experiences of the gods that I did. To learn that most people can not hear when the gods speak or that they didn't have moments when their awareness was flooded with something so completely different from what they were presently immersed in, it jarred me. That was when I started to question my perception.

It has taken me years to recover from that experience but there are times, like when I am severely depressed, that I question myself terribly. I struggle with accepting that the gods accept me as I am. I also struggle with the idea that the people around me do so as well. I have some major self confidence issues that I am still working on resolving (both at the direction of the gods and at the urging of my mental health providers).

Devotional Polytheist Meme Question No. 20 & 21

Does your religion help you be a better human being?

I can say with all certainty that it does. When I find myself struggling to choose what is the proper action to take, what is the most compassionate of my choices, or what is the kindest of paths to follow, my faith guides me. It motivates me to assist others and to see the goodness in them. It encourages me to be an optimist, especially when life is at its hardest. My religion helps me to be courageous when I am struggling with terror. It helps me to be self reliant, but also willing to accept help when I am in need of it.

Most of all, my religion helps me along the path to self knowledge and self actualization. It encourages me to continue my quest to know the truth of the world and to be a force for positive change. I can see how I could do all these things on my own but my religion assists me in these actions and helps me to teach these positive things to my children. And I am firmly of the mind that I am here to leave the world a better place then it was when I was born, even if it is in some small way.

Have you ever had dreams or visions sent by the gods?

In a word, yes. At one point, someone described me as unhinged, but in a good way. God-bothered is a phrase that gets thrown around on a semi-regular basis. I have such dreams and visions on a regular basis. Some have brought me great comfort and others have challenged me significantly. And still others have confused me and left me wondering what their meaning might be.

Sometimes, I grow afraid of how much I am 'in tune' with the psychic elements of the world. I engage in reality testing to an almost vicious extent. I carefully examine my psychic input and probe its validity often. Some would say that I doubt this but it is less a case of doubt and more a matter of making certain that what I experience is truly psychic phenomena rather then wish fulfillment or signs of mental illness.

Having experienced psychosis, there is a distinct difference in tone and content between what is illness and what is truly psychic insight. At the same time, I struggle with times where I question the validity of my experiences. These lapses of faith usually come when I am in the midst of deep depression and my faith in myself has been severely shaken. I have no words for how thankful I am that the depression lifts and I find myself more fully able to believe in what I experience.

It is my goal to cultivate my faith in myself and what I experience so that even when I am in the grips of deep depression and the unhealthy thinking that comes with it, I will still be able to keep some semblance of that faith. It is, however, an ongoing task that takes a great deal of effort.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wishing you a blessed Epiphany.

From Here
Today is the Filianic feast of Epiphany. In ancient days, the celebration of the maiden goddess Kore happened approximately this time of the year. Kore, like the aspect of Dea known as the Maiden or Anna (others within the Filianic and related community know her by the name Inanna and consider both names to be related), is the daughter of the mother goddess and was celebrated as being revealed to the faithful at this time.

Epiphany comes this year on one of the coldest days of the winter thus far. Within the warm confines of my home, I find myself drawn to gratitude for the blessings that surround me and how this good shows forth the goodness of Dea. It is the final celebration of the Nativity season and one of the first of the new calendar year. I look to the Maiden, who is revealed to us in her mother's arms, and feel hope for the coming spring.

May it be that the light kindled in the Mother's arms shines upon you in warmth and love.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Devotional Polytheist Meme Question No. 19

How do you incorporate movement into your worship?

Moving meditation is probably the most common aspect of movement that I incorporate into how I worship. When the weather is warm and tolerable, I like to use walking meditation. When I am not able to go out for a walk, I strive to make my daily activities prayerful. This takes a significant amount of mental effort to remain both in a prayerful mindset and to be focused on my task at hand.

Some activities lend themselves to being prayerful better then others. I find that spinning (as in the act of making thread/yarn with a spindle) is very well attuned to this. I'm not yet at the point of having a similar sense in knitting, though I am beginning to experience it with crochet. Tasks that I can, to some extent, do on 'autopilot' serve well as something to help me quiet the mental noise of my anxiety and illness and frees up my mental energy to focus on other tasks.

A goal that I have for this calendar year is to become more physically active. Part of the reasoning for this goal is because I wish to be healthier. Another part of this reasoning is that physical health and activities that help me stay 'embodied' and focused on the sensations of being within my body are something that Freyr wants me to work on. Exercise and building up my physical health is a good way to do this.

Small physical movements, such passing prayer beads through my fingers, are a great deal like spinning. They work to quiet the mind because they are repetitive and they are active enough to keep me focused. While some people find that yoga or martial arts are great for entering into an altered state of consciousness, I'm not really in the physical shape for that level of activity, yet.