Saturday, March 30, 2013

Quick of Wit

A good reading today, following an offering of incense and watered wine to Hermes. I've asked for some help with money, a windfall (which he is known to sometimes offer). The cards suggest he has something else in mind.

What do you need from me? The Magician. The Magician, in both of the decks I'm using right now, directly embodies Hermes. He needs from me to acknowledge him and to recognize that I am already in possession of the skills I need to succeed.

What do you offer to me? The Knight of Cups. This can have a couple of different meanings, but in this case I take it as an offer from him of relationship.

What else do I need to know? Three of wands. This suggests that the groundwork has been laid for a project that will be important but also that a lot of hard work is still ahead. This related directly to a conversation I had this morning, which I can't say much about right now but that could lead to something big.

I think I have here had a direct offer of a patron relationship, and a gentle declining to hand me some money but an offer to provide help and inspiration as I pursue a creative endeavor that could eventually pay off.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It

For the past year-plus, I've been following the Anglo-Saxon hearth, settling on that as my preference over Norse for a few reasons, not least of which is that my ancestry is much more likely to trace back to  England than to Scandanavia. (And because Woden the weary wisdom-seeker appeals to me more than Odin the battle-king.)

One of the beautiful things about ADF is that one does not need to limit oneself to a single pantheon. But it does simplify things to do so.

Which is why I'm surprised to find myself moving toward a dual hearth now. A few weeks ago, some force of the universe – the will of the gods and/or the Amazon recommendations algorithm – pointed me to a book called “The Gods of Reason,” by Timothy Jay Alexander. Subtitled “An Authentic Theology for Modern Hellenismos,” the description further says, “Within this introduction to Hellenic theology, written by the foremost author on modern Hellenismos, you will find a modern theology sourced and adapted from the history, culture, traditions, thought, and ethics of ancient Greece. “

I have been interested in theological thought for decades, and it's hard to come by in modern pagan circles. As a religion that is so much about shared practice rather than shared belief, it's easy to find a book that covers how to conduct rituals and what makes a suitable offering for a given god or spirit. It's not so easy to find one that talks about WHY we should do ritual in a certain way, or what is going on, in the spiritual realm, when we make offerings. Or why we believe there are entities who exist and to whom we should make offerings at all.

So after a few days of consideration and reading through the parts of the book available for preview, I decided that it looked like the theological principles Alexander was talking about need not be limited, that if they applied to the Greeks they would apply to any of the hearths encompassed in ADF. So I bought and read it, and discovered two things:

First, I was right that it was broadly applicable, and on that level I recommend it to any serious polytheist, ADF member or not. Whether you honor the Norse gods, or the Irish or the Gaulish or any other European culture's pantheon, this book will provide some anchors for your faith.

Secondly, the Greeks are fascinating. I had passed over them, and the Romans too, when I was early on trying to figure out where my attempts to develop a hearth should begin, I think largely because they seemed too familiar. We all studied the Greek and Roman myths and history in high school. But while Alexander was unpacking aspects of Greek philosophy and its theological applications, he was also showing me the Greek gods in a new way. Unexpectedly piqued, I then bought “Kharis,” by Sarah Kate Istra Winter – a more general introduction to Hellenismos – and finished it just last night.

Meanwhile, I've added a daily prayer and incense offering to Hermes (every day but Wednesday, which belongs to Woden) to my morning devotional practice. I chose Hermes because I'm currently in a situation where I could use some added income, and he's the one to go to for that. He may or may not become a long-term patron, but he is my starting point with the Hellenic culture.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Paying Attention

On our hearth altar in the kitchen, there is a wand-length wooden dowel with a round sleigh bell on the end.  It was a gift given to me a few years ago, and I use it on the hearth to open and close my daily devotions - 3 mindful slow rings to start, and again to finish. 

That it sits next to the refrigerator and is essentially a rollable object, one might think it's a fairly common occurance that he closing of the refrigerator door might cause it to move and make sound.  But that has never happened in the 3 months that it's been there, until today.

I closed the door of the refrigerator - not hard, just closed - and I heard, "ring.... ring.... .... ring". Three times, silence between, and so exactly like the rhythm I use that our dog, Sadie (who has developed some sort of Pavlovian attraction to the entire hearth ritual, and unfailingly spends it dancing around the kitchen like a maniac) ran out to see what I was about to do.

So ok... I'm listening.  I stopped to think, 'what was I thinking of when this happened?' and I was mulling over my Dedicant's work, and that I am feeling motivated and ready to begin - as a result, I'm reading through the completed Dedicant essays of some of my Grove-mates.  Just before I'd come into the kitchen, I'd come across Ashley's book review of  "The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory", which is one of the three books I plan to read - and she highlights something I'm annoyed with (and why I plan to read this book) - the unnecessary venom that seems to occasionally happen between those who believe something minus evidence, and those who don't. (this happens in all sorts of contexts - in this particular case it concerns the now mostly-debunked view of many 20th century Goddess worshipers that there was a period in pre-history where women ruled and were significantly honored in a way that was destroyed by the rise of patriarchy).

My thought as I walked into the kitchen was this:  Why do pagans who honor older myths as having meaning, regardless of their historical 'truth' - who seek to understand why these sacred stories mattered, what their purpose in being told was, as well as to understand what they meant - why do so many of these same people deride their fellow pagans for the modern myths that crop up?  We aren't outside of history - we have myths developed in the why aren't those also worth honor and respect even if they aren't a myth we personally believe?  There is a reason the myth of matriarchy came up - and deriding that is a rejection of our history and of many who worked to make paganry, in all its forms, a growing spiritual movement.  Instead of getting overly hung up on fact (it is fine to understand that fact - but sneering at the myth is unnecessary), perhaps the more mutually respectful approach is to understand why the myth was needed, and why it may or may not be necessary anymore.  Let's leave literalism to other people.

And  then the bells rang.  I don't know exactly what I'm meant to do with that - but I lit some incense in thanks for signal that this line of thought is something to consider further, and I'm recording it here so I don't forget.

Hail  the Kindred!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ambivalence at Ostara: Dancing Between Darkness and Light

This morning, I noticed that the DC Park Service has pushed past the expected peak time for our cherry blossoms to April 3rd or so - March has been colder than usual, and we expect it will continue to be cold and grey for most of the rest of the month.  Spring is struggling to arrive this year - but in spite of Winter's lingering hold, little by little the season is turning... each warmish day is a little warmer, each chilly day a little less chilly.

Astronomically, Spring (the Vernal Equinox) begins Wednesday, Mar. 20th at 7:02 am EDT.  To celebrate the day, a group of bloggers who enjoy Tarot are coming together for a Blog Hop - all posting on themes of ambivalence at this time when dark and light, warmth and cold are balanced.

This spread was one I came up with to explore a situation regarding a volunteer position I hold that has been causing me some concern and stress, but is one that I also find rewarding and important - in a word, something that causes me some ambivalence!  We are having a meeting to discuss a conflict that has created some combative feelings in a few days, so I'd like a little guidance before then.

Here's how the spread looks:

Lynda's Ambivalence Spread

           2/3          1/10        6/7

1. What is the situation causing you ambivalence?
2/3.  What aspects of this situation are fading into the past?
4/5.  What aspects of this situation are beyond your control or understanding?
6/7.  What aspects of this situation are increasing in importance in the future?
8/9.  What aspects of this situation are within your control to deal with?
10.   What focus will help release your ambivalence?

To further examine the idea of light and dark and balance, I'm reading each card in both a positive and negative light.

I decided to pull out a deck I haven't used very often, because its imagery reminds me of this wet Spring we're having - the Paulina Tarot.  Here, then, is my  reading - I found it to be very helpful in examining a situation that's been causing me some grief:

What is the situation causing you ambivalence?
The Hierophant 
The Hierophant in this case is the keeper of stories - the one who has been around for a very long time and knows the history of the organization.  In the situation I'm thinking of, there are some disputes and ill-feelings regarding some long term investments that have been made in the distant past in order to provide some financial stability for the organization's future.  I am very much a newcomer here, tasked with communicating desires, but I am well aware that what I know is entirely dependent on the willingness and ability of those who have been there a long time to pass on what they know in a way that supports our organization and not simply slants the tales to suit their position.  My biggest ambivalence in my role as liaison is that I am not sure, when faced with competing stories from those who are 'in the know', which is the most objective version.  I am very mindful about wanting to be a force for ending conflict, not accidentally exacerbating it.  Additionally, this card highlights that part of what's at play here is people operating according to 'this is how we've always done it' and being less than totally willing to consider new ideas, and some strong - and competing views - on what is the 'right' thing to do, so people are feeling self-righteous and also upset that it seems their opinions are being regarded as morally suspect rather than just a difference of opinion.

What aspects of this situation are fading into the past?
The High Priestess 
I think the High Priestess does not reflect a person, so much as the committee itself as the keeper of these 'big picture' investments and a lot of details that most of our organization doesn't understand, nor really wants to understand because the details aren't particularly exciting.  The committee is sometimes seen as a barrier - blocking the spending of funds, and  this is mainly due to a misunderstanding about how the invested money can be used according to the bylaws.  But because people don't really realize how it works, they think the committee is deliberately keeping them from that understanding and blocking access rather than protecting it from actions taken in ignorance.  I would like to see this idea of the committee as acting in the role of secret-keeper and thwarter done away with, but I do think it is very important that they maintain a layer of protection for and from those who haven't spent the time becoming informed first.  If that goes away, I am afraid several years and a lot of donations of time and treasure will be wasted, at the expense of our future financial security.

The Emperor 
The Emperor is tasked with maintaining order in this situation and this aptly describes one of the people involved - he's done an incredible job leading and managing the investments and feels a solid sense of responsibility for them.  At the same time, he is often seen (possibly unfairly, in my opinion - but again, I think I have been absent for a lot of the history that is feeding this conflict) as authoritarian, and not being willing to give up any decision making authority to those with different views than his.  If this is an aspect that is fading into the past, I strongly hope it is that view of his role, and not his willingness to continue to work on that committee.  It may require him to give a little on his position so  that people see him as working with them rather than over them.

What aspects of this situation are beyond your control or understanding?

5 of Pentacles
there is a sense of 'not enough' pervading our organization right now - a lot of hard choices had to be made due to lack of funds and everyone's feeling pinched and, I think, a little abandoned because they know this long-term money is  there and that it would - at least for a short while - solve the shortfalls we've experienced.  This card also suggests that by coming together, even those "out in the cold" can warm themselves by hanging onto each other.  But I do not know how to engineer this sense of co-operation in difficult times, and with this in  this position, I think perhaps this isn't what I should focus on trying to do.  People feel neglected and deprived, and it's not up to me to convince them otherwise.... these are fair emotions to have.

Page of Swords

The expression on this Page's face looks so combative.  As a Page, he's a student of information.... doesn't know all he ought to yet, but he seems to be looking for a fight.  This is also out of my control - some people involved aren't going to be satisfied with any answer they get, because they are looking mainly for reasons to feel angry.  And this is also something I can't control - while I can make an effort to communicate between committees, I cannot make everyone happy, and I shouldn't waste words trying to do so.  There is a lot of anger coming from several quarters, and perhaps what's most needed is that they be able to express it and get it out, instead of the way it's been brewing and festering (possibly for years and for reasons  that have nothing to do with this particular situation).

What aspects of this situation are increasing in importance in the future?

Ace of Pentacles
Some new material ideas are in the air - perhaps as a result of having this out, some of those who have felt mystified and left out of the investment decision making will take the opportunity to actually participate and donate instead of resent what others are doing?  At the very least, it's an opportunity to understand better why certain things are done the way they're done.  At it's best, from my perspective, this would indicate everyone getting back to regarding this as being about money and investments, and not using it as a platform for every personal dissatisfaction they have with others.  At its worst, this could indicate that this week's meeting is just the beginning, and we have a lot of conflict over this still to come.  But, even in that, there is opportunity for eventual growth and resolution, so I am taking this as a positive (if challenging) sign.  This problem was long in making - it will be long in fixing, I think.

9 of Swords
Coupled with that, the anxiety of the 9 of Swords seems to suggest that this isn't going to resolve itself easily.  This is in  the realm of ideas - fears, anxieties, nightmarish 'what-if' scenarios, and these worries are likely to drive people's perceptions and decisions.  Understanding that high emotion is being driven by fear is probably a good thing for me to keep in mind, and in this position, it's likely to get worse before it gets better.  I think I need to keep in mind  that this also includes my own anxiety and stress over this, and to take time to take a deep breath before speaking out of  worry and upset myself.

What aspects of this situation are within your control to deal with?

6 of Swords 
While this woman doesn't appear to be exactly happy, and seems to be a bit mired in place, with her swords about her, she is releasing a small bird which is singing a song of love.  One thing within my control is to operate from a place of compassion - the advantage of not having personal experience with all the history that feeds into this conflict is that I also am not burdened with that baggage - so I can be the voice that assures everyone  that they are worth hearing, and that this can get better.  Not to force it along, just to provide a little hope for improvement.  The downside is that while it is within my control to speak to better days, I can't hurry anyone through this process - the speed is slow, and I have to move at their pace.

2 of Pentacles

This card made me laugh - this perfectly describes how it feels to liaison between squabbling factions - juggling both perspectives while standing on one foot on the back of a galloping unicorn splashing along the shoreline.  I really, really don't want to drop the balls, or lose my footing or get hurt in the cross fire, but sometimes the whole thing seems ridiculously and needlessly complicated.  I like the assurance here that I can do this, as well as the reminder that the best way to get through it is to take it seriously but lightly, and that inserting a bit of humor into things make help others do the same.

10.   What focus will help release your ambivalence?
King of Pentacles
This King is riding a goose - feet on the ground, but able  to take flight,and looks quite comfortable, too.  As far as this situation goes, I would be best served keeping my focus on whatever bests keeps our investments stable and well-maintained, and not let conflict and wanting to make everyone happy distract me from that ultimate goal.  The happiness this card illustrates will follow as a result of keeping that purpose in mind - that all of this is about how to best preserve the future stability of our organization, and to remember that everyone involvd has a sincere stake in seeing to it  that that happens.

Final Thoughts - this is all combative mental energy and practical money matters - while the situation is greatly impacting relationships and raising emotions, and is a battle of wills, neither cups nor wands are involved.  This isn't ABOUT feelings, or ego - it's about conflicting ideas over how best to develop and use our material resources.  While I do think there are some grudges at play, that is something for those people to  work out on their own time.

Finally, the Major Arcana cards all occur to describe the overall situation and  those things that are fading - I take this as an indication that the larger concerns may be coming to an end, and everyone can work on the actual mundane details so this isn't sucking up so much energy for all concerned.  It might be wise not to attach more importance to the conflict than it warrants - it comes from a place of 'who are we as a group' but working out the actual details needn't define or destroy us.  It's new to me but they've been doing this - and surviving it - for a long time.

To travel the Bloghop, you can go back to Cloe @TABItarot or onward to Ania M, and Gleamings from the Golden Dawn has the Master List of everyone participating.  Happy Ostara!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ostara at Cedarlight Grove, 2013

Ignore those bare trees - it's time for Spring!
As Michael is getting close to wrapping up his Dedicant's Program work, I am just beginning mine, so I'll be posting about our High Days for the next year or so.

Last night, Michael and I attended this year's Ostara celebration at Cedarlight Grove.  While we may have been hailing the start of Spring, the weather was grey, cold - low 40s - and damp from passing rain showers.

This actually seemed fitting, as one of the deities of the occasion was Graine ("GRAHN-yeh"), a Celtic goddess who is the Winter Sun..the 'little' sun that gives us light but not much warmth, and who presides over the dormant and quiet part of the year that leads to spring's blooms.

I knew nothing of her, nor all that much of the other deities - the Celtic pantheon is something of a mystery to me (and I was a little disappointed that Ostara didn't involve, well, Ostara and the Germanic hearth culture from whence most of our current spring customs come - but it was interesting enough that I got over it).  Our deities of the occasion were:

Bardic Inspiration: Brigid
Gatekeeper: Dagda
Dieties of  the Occasion:
Graine - the Winter Sun
Sadv - the Dancing Deer
Aengus - son of Boann and Dagda, associated with poetry and romantic love

Many attendees shared poems and artwork as sacrifices, while Aurora took on the part of Sadv and did a dance for us.  Michael made an offering of homemade vanilla extract, and also made his oath to the Grove.  I made a silent offering of thanks to Brigid with incense, for healing and an accompanying upsurge of creative energy I've been experiencing since Imbolc.

Ashley took the omens by scrying. She used an iron cauldron of water that had been heating over  the Fire and cracked an egg into it, to read the shapes.  Some of the egg splashed over onto her scribe, leaving egg in her hair and a hummingbird shaped splash on her shirt.

The omen (paraphrased - it was hard to hear and I recorded what I could):  "If you look too closely at tragedy, tragedy is all you will see.  Calamities are like volcanoes, bringing pressure.  Listen to your guides, and you will see these volcanoes are fire bubbling up from below to heat your cauldrons and effect change.  Meow."

Yes...meow.  The first shape she saw was a cat.  No idea what that's about, but I'd be on the look out for cats adopting the Grove. hah!

(Here is the actual Omen Q&A:

Omen Question: We seek the wisdom of the Ancient Ones. What say the Ancient Ones?

Omen as Read: If you look too closely at tragedy, tragedy is all you can see; it clouds your vision. Calamity, like a volcano, can result from too much pressure. Change your perspective - your guides are with you, magic is with you, and the volcano is only fire coming up through the Earth, through your cauldrons, to affect change. Meow.

All in all, it was a chilly, fun night that seemed to be full of energy - for me it was less about the Deities than the Folk.  I never know from High Day to High Day which aspect will grab me - this time it was the community of people I've come to care about very much.

Grove Oath

Last night marked a milestone for me. At CedarLight Grove's Ostara ritual, I took the grove oath, sealing my membership and committing myself for one year.

I would have appreciated a rehearsal, I think. Even thought I've seen others take it, I was not fully prepared and stumbled over a couple of the cues to repeat. But all in all, it felt like an accomplishment, and a public acknowledgement of where my religious heart is.

On another note, I've recently started reading about the Greek hearth. Amazon brought the book "The Gods of Reason: Theology for Modern Hellenismos" to my attention and I ordered it. As I said earlier, good books on pagan theology are sparse and I am always interested in finding previously unknown ones.

While it's not as complete as I'd hoped -- the author assumes the reader already has working knowledge of Hellenismos, and I don't necessarily have it -- it's meaty enough that it intrigues me to go deeper and to retroactively brush up on the basics.

It's an aspect of ADF that I greatly appreciate, this ability to incorporate another hearth into one's personal practice; if my studies take me in the direction, I could adopt some Greek practice without having to displace Woden and Frige, and also without causing a tension between my interests and the organization to which I belong.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Theology Library

Theology fascinates me, but good, well-reasoned pagan theology can be hard to come by. On the hopes that other folks find it interesting, I thought I would take an opportunity to recommend a few books that have contributed significantly to my own thoughts on the topic, and a fourth that I think is going to.

A World Full of Gods by John Michael Greer systematically argues for the coherency of polytheism as a credible alternative to monotheism. Greer artfully demonstrates some weaknesses in the popular arguments for the existence of only one god, and argues that the reality of many gods better fits what we observe about the world. This book was my introduction to Greer's work and I've been a fan ever since.

Jordan Paper's book is another excellent explanation and defense of polytheism as a live option for religion today. He draws from Native American and Eastern religions as well as the more familiar (to us ADF members anyway) Indo-European cultures.

This is one of a couple of books that undermine the Jewish and Christian insistence that their religious tradition is essentially monotheistic. In fact, the ancient Israelites were polytheists until fairly late in the Old Testament era. Penchansky illustrates his points with stories from the Bible and with writings for neighboring cultures that illuminate the deities mentioned in the Bible in new ways.

Another book on early Hebrew religion, Smith is more detailed but also less accessible than Penchansky's book above. However, for someone interested in the topic, it's highly readable and worth the time.

An inspiring intellectual argument for the reality of the Greek gods, drawing heavily on Greek philosophy and myth, but applicable to other pantheons as well. (That is, if the philosophers were correct about the nature of their gods and the relationship of their gods to the cosmos, it stands to reason that Odin and Mannanan and Krishna are of the same nature.)