Wormwood Crow

A virtual crossroads of my own path and yours.

Little Boxes

I discriminate with candid fervor. I like labels so much my totem animal must be a label maker. The spices in my cupboard are arranged with tags facing forward, alphabetically. My computer folders are given appropriate and helpful designations. I give my gaming avatars names that would earn a nod of approval from Tolkien, rather than names like Ikillu or Oompriest. Like most people, I have a need to categorize the world around me, to make sense of the many shades of grey, and to orient myself in relation to everything else.

Chair. I can sit on that.
Meat. Beef. I won’t eat that.
Wine. Red. Dry. I could drink that.
Movie. Romance. Vampire. Sparkles. I won’t watch that.
People. Games. Cards. D20s. Fantasy. I could play with them.
Person. Blonde. Leggy. Smile. Cute. Smoker. I won’t ask out.

We discriminate all the time. We assess, analyze and judge everything, and everyone, around us. If we’re wise we limit the judgment to how it affects us and not make gross generalizations, but… Bottom line is we spend a lot of brain power putting labels on things. Some things are faster to label than others, as the above example shows. Judging people is usually a complicated task that requires several steps, and that’s just to get a general sense of someone.

That’s a problem we have with the label “pagan” or “Pagan”. It’s only a single word that means different things to different people. I don’t want to engage in the logomachy of who should use what labels in the pagan/Pagan/Neopagan community, but I did want to disclose a little about myself. It’s spring, a time when new growth often leads to new things that need names, and I wanted to explain some of the names I use to describe my religious orientation.

This is a relatively new activity for me, because I don’t have many opportunities to talk about me and religion to others. Most of my friends are atheists. My family is Catholic. The atheists are uninterested in the subject of religion, and the Catholics get a little riled up during discussions. Thus, in the past I have only talked about my own religion in the broadest of terms, since my audience has been uninformed not to know the difference, and disinclined to ask for clarification.

So why start self-labeling? Well, such words help me understand myself better. Words aid us in keeping track of our running autobiographies, recording our own experiences in our minds even if we never bother jotting it down. I was this. I am this. Again, these labels help orient us to everything else, including ourselves. As we transform through life we can monitor what labels we apply to ourselves to check up on our progress, like looking back and reviewing the stepping stones of our life.

Labels help me find others who apply similar labels to themselves, and ultimately identify those people who do not. This is important in forging relationships. Labels also allow me to seek out material I can relate to better. A Google search with certain labels I apply to myself are more likely to take me to Witchvox than to Pope Francis’ Facebook page.

Most importantly, applying labels to my self means I’m in charge of how I want to see myself and have others see me. If I’m vague about myself to others, I’ve left the door wide open for others to (mis)interpret me. 20 years after striking out on my own path and I still get accused by relatives that don’t really know who I am spiritually with gross labels because I don’t know what to call myself. While this summation of where I stand spiritually is fueled by their own agendas to return me to The Fold, it is true that I have been resistant to calling myself by some of the more popularized names. MacMorgan, in her book Wicca 333, discusses the importance of being specific when disclosing one’s religion. To be vague is to be nonsensical; you can’t have a discussion about something, especially religion, if you don’t understand the terms involved. Vague terms lead to a vague understanding. And vague understandings lead to misunderstandings, assumptions and accusations, which can result in trouble.

“Narrowing the field, and narrowing it again, as often as possible, is the only way to speak coherently about one’s religion. It’s not about making boxes and putting people into them, but about not allowing people to put you into the boxes they’ve designed.” (MacMorgan, 2003)

I am spiritual. I differentiate spiritual from religious as a personal need to connect or transcend to something greater than myself; a personal awe or fear of something greater than myself. I am religious because I am spiritual plus I identify with a larger community—the pagan community.

I am a pagan. This is an umbrella term. I am not a Neopagan, because there was no previous religion that identified as Pagan so I don’t see myself as being part of the newer version of that non-existent religion. Knowing that others can define paganism differently, I am pagan because I harbor a sense of wonder for nature/Nature, I utilize magic, and I practice rituals that are oft recognized as being pagan in nature, circular as that sounds.

I am a humanistic pagan. There are four elements I use to define myself as a humanist pagan: meditation (to learn about myself), relationships with mythology (to learn about my past), responsible action (to better my present and future), and naturalism (as a reflection of my view and position in the cosmos).

I am a pantheist. The universe/multiverse is greater than our imagination or knowledge. I am in awe and fear of it. We are all cells of this vast system, and if the cells behave wholesomely, then the system as a whole chugs along. When the cells act against the overall health of the system, cause and effect dictate a response of some kind. I see myself and everything within this system as connected and invested in keeping the system healthy. Including the gods.

I am a polytheist. The gods are part of the multiverse. Perhaps a greater part than myself. (Or perhaps a part of my psyche. The jury is still out on that.) They are distinct, though interconnected, as you and I are distinct and interconnected. And as part of the system they have a natural interest in keeping the system healthy. They can choose to use us as a means of attaining this goal. Really, I’m a detached polytheist. Without truly knowing whether gods are real I maintain respect for them, though I am not a devotee. I am not asked to perform for anyone, and I ask for nothing.

I am solitary. I am uninitiated. I do not worship with others. On a personal level I am independent, though my connections to the greater pagan community remains via blogs and vlogs, forums, reading material, personal correspondence, workshops, etc. Hence, I do not call myself Wiccan, though as a self-taught pagan from the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble, my rituals could easily be described as Wiccan-esque in appearance. I see Wicca as a religion of the initiated. Maybe someday I will be Wiccan after the proper steps have been taken, but I can’t simply call myself such now.

I am a… witch? A shaman? That’s complicated. It’s a descriptor I’ve been battling with for years. I see witches and shamans sharing much, as they would with other magical practitioners. Without cultural context these labels can mean several things. I perform magic. I have had experiences with the deceased. I push for protection, prosperity and health, but can expand beyond that when motivated. I work with what I consider spirits, and with elemental forces. I engage in ecstatic ritual to alter my mind. These practices are familiar when describing what a witch/shaman would do, but separate from culture or community I am hesitant to announce myself as such.

Yet, I would call myself by the colloquial term of kitchen witch. I enjoy cooking, both for my health and my happiness. People seem to enjoy my meals and I make a point to shop and prepare the foods I use mindfully. Even magically. I cross-reference herbs I want to include. I’m aware of the colors invested in the presentation. I sometimes even take care to stir the pot deosil.

Finally, I call myself a shapeshifter. Shapes can be anything. Shapes could be things, myself included. I can shift into animal shape when I journey/meditate. I can shape my physical body to resemble someone more confident by keeping my chin up and making eye contact. I can shape others by how I relate to them; if I mirror them I can encourage them to open up to me. I can shape fortune with irrational spells coupled with rational steps; a talisman in my pocket and a vigilant attitude means I’m less likely to get mugged in Los Angeles. I can shape my body/health with irrational chants and rational diets/exercises. I shape my mind when I cast circle, shifting consciousness from mundane life to the sacred space. I can shape how I and others perceive me by shifting how I label myself.

All these labels fall short without the adjoining paragraphs because most of these terms lack concise definitions. And even if they did I could be share this about myself to someone who’s unfamiliar with these words and then proceed into explanations.. I’m learning that regardless of the flaws, I have to start somewhere, mostly just for myself. The power to choose my own boxes gives me a lot of advantages in how I relate to others, and how I relate to my present, past and future selves. Maybe in the future I can call myself something more specific, like Wiccan, but in the interim it’s important that I approach every existing label respectfully rather than as a conqueror.

 

 

MacMorgan, K. (2003). Wicca 333: Advanced Topics in Wiccan Belief. (p. 137). Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc.

Cathexis on Rain

Rain has finally come to the Los Angeles area. They say that this weekend’s storm will bring more water to the area than we’ve had in two years. That’s not saying much since throwing a bucket of mop water outside would have beaten the record for the last two years, but… We need the water, so I’m happy about this weather.

I’m also happy about this weather because I really just happen to like the rain. I place a lot of cathexis on rain, probably because it is so infrequent here. When water falls from the sky it feels like a magical event. It is as if I’ve been transported to an entirely different realm where the sky is grey instead of blue, the wind blows cold instead of warm, and the sensation on my skin is the result of raindrops massaging me rather than sunlight slow-roasting me. My mental state is improved as well. Soft light coming through the windows and soft drumming on my roof is very meditative, even when I’m chasing after my dogs to wipe their paws after they come in from romping in the yard. And as the storm washes the air it leaves me feeling energetically cleansed, despite the house smelling of wet dog.

I’ve invested significance to rain here in southern California because it is scarce. The Wicca Wheel of the Year is an interesting model, but the seasons portrayed in those eight holidays simply do not exist in a desert environment. I adopted the Wheel’s holidays specifically because my home area is devoid of seasonally changes. In a land where the sun shines consistently about 300 days a year it’s easy to forget a “natural” wheel of the year turns slowly over. This lack of seasonal notice is further reinforced by living in the suburbs. Even if this storm proves heavy and we do get plenty of water, paved streets and unobstructed drains will simply wash away most problems associated with rain.

To give me a sense of progression outside of my own sunny backyard I turn to what amounts to an artificial construct. While the Wheel has little practical value for timekeeping in the desert, it has significant value for emotional timekeeping. Because I’ve spent almost two decades investing it with value. The themes typically found in the Wheel’s rituals and symbols allow me to visit my own personal unconscious stomping grounds. While some people will state that these themes have appeal to the universal unconscious, I found that a lot of individual work had to be done to get my ego to see that.

Time and energy has been spent instilling meaning on my tools and pagan related bric-à-brac, as well as such abstracts as runes, elementals, and deities. When I am creating sacred space I am reinforcing previously determined cathected items and actions with intent. Yet none of this is inherent when pagans and any other religiously and/or magically inclined people proclaim the meaning or power of objects or rites.

As a pagan I reverence for a great many things (everything), but as a humanist it’s my prerogative to find significance in the world. Profound information won’t be found in a book, from an elder, or even from some momentous experience unless I assign some psychologically rewarding value to that material. I can’t tell for certain if the gods exist, or if magic is real, or if anything spiritual is True (capital “T” emphasis), but I can look inward to see what kind of real effect all this hocus pocus is having on ME.

If a prescribed time to recognize the contributions of the agricultural community is at a point of the year when my hometown is experiencing the worst heat and I haven’t a cornfield for a hundred miles, I can still enjoy a holiday in honor of the harvest season. I can take the time to make sacred space and reflect on the hard work of farmers, despite not owning a hoe, just as I can appreciate the jubilation they might feel at the first shoots growing in spring. An aspect of paganism is being attuned to the local environment, but another is recognition of global events. While I do not have the personal experience of four seasons I can take it upon myself to appreciate what others do in my stead elsewhere using a community developed timekeeping system. And though its construction was done by others, how I relate to it and its personal meaning to me was entirely my own legwork. It’s not something I figured out after reading a few books or running the gamut of a year-and-a-day, but the experiences and reflections and ponderings of many years. My attitudes and ideas about the symbolism behind the Wheel has changed, but so have I. I’ve read more books, experienced more year-and-a-days, and have allowed myself to be receptive to what has come along, both in my own backyard and all over the world.

While I have spent years investing meaning to my tools and rituals, I have also spent years reinventing meanings for them. Few changes have been spontaneous and paradigm shattering. Changes usually started with a thought or feeling, one that would be investigated thoroughly before implementation. Sometimes I’ve backtracked when an innovation proved inharmonious. I wonder how my attitude toward rain might change if I moved to Washington State, where cloudy days are in excess of 220 days a year. Would seasonal depression kick in on drippy days? Would the energetic and cleansing feeling I experience during storms simply turn to a half-hearted shrug as I don a raincoat? Would every holiday strike me an emotional blow because I’m finally living the seasons of the year, or would some of the magic fade because muddy boots becomes mundane? In southern California the Wheel is an artificial construct I foist on my calendar year with deep personal satisfaction. Elsewhere it might be too real to be magical. At least until I’ve had enough time to re-invent a new Wheel.

For now I will enjoy my winter storm. I will sip hot chocolate, listen to the plinking of water on my air-conditioning unit outside and be thoroughly appreciative that I’m not suffering through a “polar vortex”.

Methodology of Magic

Pagans tend to be terrible record keepers; at least about keeping records about being pagan. Terrible record keepers do not make good scientists. You need to be able to take comprehensive notes about an experiment if you want to collect data. Thus, pagans have a terrible track record of collecting reliable data about their own magical experiments. We make claims, and we believe in possibilities, but we have little corroborative evidence to prove our magical prowess. This isn’t terribly surprising either, since magical skills range widely within the community and are made manifest in varied, unusual and often unexpected ways. These are not traits desired in a scientific experiment hungry for reliability.

There’s been a number of attempts to prove magic’s efficacy. From individuals to government agencies, many have sought convincing evidence of real magic: the ability to predict the future, a sixth sense, powers over mind and matter, anything. And people have conducted research to disprove magic. Admittedly, it’s certainly a lot easier to explain away a purported supernatural phenomenon with science than it is to prove the supernatural. As explained, magical anything isn’t reliable. Science seeks reliable and when it fails to find it will resort to classifying phenomenon as a hoax, fluke, wishful thinking, etc. Just because something is rare doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

But I’m less interested in finding out whether people have answered the “Is it real?” question (mostly because I don’t know whether we can, yet), and more interested in seeing how and why people approach the question. The why is usually rooted in a desire to validate one’s own beliefs or to undermine beliefs held by others believed to be considered ridiculous. Every research has bias, but studies revolving around magic harbor particularly strong bias.

As for how the question is approached the methodology tends to be sketchy, from both parties. Methodology is about formulating a question about a perceived problem, and then devising a plan of attack to best approach the problem. The biggest issue with developing a methodology to study magic is determining what you consider magic and limiting what elements you think you can test. You can’t very well test ALL magic with a single experiment. Fortune telling is not the same like spirit possession. House blessings are not the same like alchemical transmutations. For the same reason that a single experiment can’t test ALL of science, a single test can’t be applied to everything people have every considered magic.

Which is really the problem I had with the conclusions mentioned in the article: “‘Sixth Sense’ Can Be Explained by Science”. I have no problem with skeptics working to disprove something. I’m not offended by lack of belief in what I believe. I am annoyed when evidence is used that has little bearing on the question asked.

The experiment summarized in the article was published in PLOS, and explains how people can be aware of visual changes in the environment without knowing what the exact changes were. This is because our brain is cued to measure visual metrics: “such as darkness, color, verticality or contrast”. The brain registers changes in the environment but doesn’t always consciously know what changed. The article states that it is this division between the brain registering change and our inability to articulate the change that encourages people to harbor the idea that they possess a sixth sense. The study included a variety of tests that flashed images to participants, then the same image with modifications. People felt they knew something had changed but couldn’t pinpoint the changes.

I’m not sure how flashing discs of red and green translates to experiences with supernatural phenomenon, especially when the article’s interview with the lead researcher said he was inspired by rather unrelated phenomenon: a previous student of his claiming she could sense when events occurred that she didn’t witness, such as her friend getting into an accident. Now I understand the ethical dilemma in devising an experiment that tests whether a person can sense whether a friend of hers is being hurt, but how do you test the idea that a person can sense things she can not see with an experiment that targets your sense of sight? This is a poor methodology for the question asked, once we’ve narrowed the focus from “sixth sense” to asking whether something like precognition exists.

Visual metrics might be (emphasis on might) an explanation for a different question in the broad field of “sixth sense” phenomenon: why do people see auras? The experiment found that people were good at recognizing changes in the environment, but less stellar at identifying them. It’s possible when an aura reader claims to see a shift in another person’s aura, that the reader has simply been unable to consciously register subtle changes in the other person. The reader then interprets subconscious cues as changes in a supposed energy field surrounding the other person.

Let me be clear, I’m not making a statement about whether or not auras or reading auras is a real, doable, or testable ability. I’m just positing a potential question that could be explained with the methodology developed in the experiment concerning visual metrics. A crime drama television series on a few years back called “Lie to Me” dealt with the application of identifying microexpressions in people. Microexpressions are expressions made by people so briefly that most people do not observe the occurrence, but can be a clue on the true feelings of the person making these expressions. According to Wikipedia the show is inspired by a professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine who assists police and anti-terrorist groups, so this isn’t research whose application is centered on the paranormal but on immediate, observable issues.

Experiments on microexpressions and visual metrics might (emphasis on might) provide answers to questions concerning aura reading. Visual metrics would not suitably answer a question regarding precognition, spirit possession, and alchemical transmutations. The methodology of magic is certainly a difficult horse to tame since the spiritual overtones encourage strong reactionary bias, but if we really want answers to questions about the “sixth sense” pairing the right methods to the right questions is the first step. Let bias remain where it should be, behind the rigors of experimental reliability. With good methodology, personal opinion about magic can be set aside. It wouldn’t hurt if journalists would stop misrepresenting the results of these kinds of testing, regardless where their own bias lies.

And it wouldn’t hurt if each magic user took some time to jot down more complete notes concerning his or her own results. While devising an experimental methodology isn’t for everyone, plain observation is still useful data.

Elements Online

I made chai tea for a quiet evening tonight. A homemade brew with all the fixings: cinnamon sticks, cardamom, astragalus root, orange peel, etc. I’ve been sitting and sipping the spicy sweet concoction while reading; the warm glow of a Youtube hearth fire flickering away on the screen in front of me while I burn some alder incense nearby to create an illusion of authenticity. See, I used to have a fireplace growing up and every Christmas it would be lit, first roaring and then smoldering throughout the night. Staying up the latest gave me the chance to watch the fire take its first steps at licking the newspaper kindling to finally dying in the ash. I’d go to bed cold and exhausted, but I never missed a Christmas hearth fire. Nowadays I don’t have a fireplace and I have to settle for a basic elemental projected to me from cyberspace.

People have done amazing work at capturing the essence of elementals online. In addition to benefiting from someone taking the time to record and upload three hours of fireplace footage, some truly talented individuals have created masterpieces revolving around the four elements. Zev Hoover (Flickr: fiddleoak) offers photographic art that pulls the viewer into the elements.

King's Elements

Violin, animated dance, and exotic costuming is the means in which rising star Stirling gives life to the elementals.

Despite neither artist being pagan-oriented (I’m pretty sure), I get to benefit on a personal, spiritual level because of their talent. It’s an element of the online world that warms my heart this holiday season in a way that my Youtube fire falls short of doing. I would like to wish Mr. Hoover and Ms. Stirling a merry Christmas. And I want to wish anyone who passes through here a festive holiday as well. Cheers!

The Solstice of Paganism

Yule was a short one for me this year. I enjoyed a morning ritual, but had to cancel further possible plans for the rest of Saturday. Someone I knew was in the hospital-to-hospice limbo that bureaucratic archons seem to enjoy leaving ill people in, so I made myself available to cajole, threaten, and generally cause mayhem until forms got filed and procedures got rushed so that a sick person could be moved and made comfortable.

But this isn’t about Yule. Or ritual. Or sick people. I’m just sharing.

And while I’m sharing, I thought I’d share some yet unsolidified thoughts concerning paganism. I love labels. I think it’s a fantastic way of organizing the world, even if it’s frequently incomplete, unwanted or just plain inaccurate. Labels are names, and with names we have the ability to make sense of a jumble of sensory input. To be a pagan is to have a label. It tells the world about a person. The problem is we don’t actually have a functioning, agreed upon definition of what is paganism or who is a pagan.

There’s some talk about defining what a pagan or what paganism IS. It IS about –isms: polytheism, animism, or pantheism. It IS about ritual and/or magic, whether they are original works or formulae copied down through tradition. It IS about reconstructing past belief systems or about being inspired by past belief systems. It IS about honoring the gods, or summoning the gods, or recognizing the gods are part of the mental psyche. It IS about embracing the term pagan. Or Pagan. Or neopagan. Or contemporary pagan.

You may have noticed there is more than a few “or” in the above paragraph. So many people are trying to define what a single word means to so many people that the only –ism being established is schism.

Paganism is often used as a means of describing what a person is NOT. A pagan is not a Christian. A pagan adopts beliefs against traditional, monotheistic society. A pagan is someone moving away from the socially accepted center. (And for the sake of brevity, I’m simply overlooking the growing movement of pagans trying to incorporate Christian symbols into their own paganism.)

A solstice, by definition, is simply an astronomical term describing the two times a year when the sun is farthest from the equator. A solstice is not an actual thing, but rather a moment in time. After the solstice, the sun makes a return journey where it will hover over the equator, restoring balance at the equinoxes.

I wonder if paganism, or being pagan, is less about describing something or someone and more about describing a journey. We know where we are journeying from (traditional Christianity, etc.) and we know we’re walking the path(s) away, but we are still trying to figure out the destination. Maybe paganism isn’t the end goal of the journey, but rather what the path(s) should be called. Perhaps that’s why we continue to run in circles with the ISs and IS NOTs, which is certainly a scenic route but not always necessary.

Paganism and pagan are words that will continue to be used to describe a belief system and its adherents, though it will probably remain incomplete or just plan inaccurate. People will adopt these terms. Others will shun them. They will be thrown around both scholastically and mundanely. Subgroups of the greater community will establish labels for themselves with ever stricter lists of what they ARE and ARE NOT. Wicca, and its many offshoots, is one familiar branch (or branches?) of paths. More will follow as other pagans clump together and make names for themselves. Paganism, as a path, will fork many times and find terminations in labels. Paganism, as a defiance of previous beliefs, will be a nurturing home for wanderers scathed by traditional religions. Nurtured, these spiritual nomads may return to the equator and find comfort from new traditions, traditions fed from the watershed of paganism.

More traditions will be the result of furthering schisms. Paganism as an umbrella term may simply fall to the wayside as better, more accurate terms are invented to describe the numerous belief systems developed as the pagan population continues to grow. Global unity will give way to more localized loyalties, and a new source for zealotry may develop as a result. It’s hard to predict with a movement which prides itself on not proselytizing, but is known to do so with fervor. Some would call it the growing pains of a new –ism. This may simply be the seasonal changes found within any religion’s evolution, of people’s innate need to feel part of one group by distancing themselves from others. I can only advise to dress appropriately and bring an umbrella.

See goat run.

Nature is a subject discussed a great deal within the pagan community. Usually in abstracts. You can feel the reverence emanating from people when they share about their hikes (in the park), their close encounters with wildlife (ie. grey squirrels), and how important it is to get in tune with the natural world (while turning up the thermostat when it gets below 70F). The underlining need to feel connected is certainly there, but I think there’s miscommunication between what the person is feeling and how that person wants to address said feeling. And I would guess that the need for connection is being fed best when a group of people gather together and share tales of squirrels, freezing temperatures, and days spent outdoors. You want a feeling of connection? Establish it with something within your sphere of understanding. Other people are good places to establish connections. We understand people. We know how we think, and we know how to share, and we know how to be friendly.

Nature is not friendly. Even to other nature. Especially to other nature. People have done a fantastic job of browbeating Nature so that it wipes its feet on the doormat before we let it in to visit. But Nature likes to eat its own tail. There’s a certain ruthless beauty to the balance established “out there”, but the denizens of nature are probably focusing more on the ruthless rather than the beauty when running for their lives.

When we think mountain goats, we recognize an animal completely at home on craggy peaks, making a living digging up grass from snowdrifts. Animals who make leaping from one crumbling ledge to another look easy to our drive-thru ensconced sense of mobility. Mountains and mountain goats go hand-in-hand like super-sized beverages and cup-holders. And yet Nature will not hesitate to dump a mountain on a few mountain goats. The goats’ entire existence is tied into the mountain. Food, shelter, other goats, etc. If goats could burn incense they might even have goat shrines to a pudgy mountain god. Yet, the goats are completely on their own in terms of survival when Nature gets agitated. And the nature of goats is not even uniform; some run and some stand their ground. They all happen to survive, this time, because the agitation wasn’t so severe, they were very lucky, and because they didn’t count on the benevolence of Nature.

In the worst case scenario only the human onlookers would have mourned the goats. And that says something about our nature. We want to feel a sense of connection to something greater than ourselves, but what we’re seeking is a reflection of our own inner greatness, anthropomorphized “out there” so we don’t feel so alone. Yet we have each other. Lots of each other. We may play different roles in helping one another, but we can still do it even if we don’t always agree. Even as the goats broke into two groups with differing tactics for survival, one group took after a leader while the second gathered together to brave the rushing snow.

Paganism is seen as a community because we see ourselves as facing off against some sort of avalanche together. Some of us may be following the leader to race ahead of the crashing snow. Some of us gather in a circle to protect ourselves. Yet we’re all goats. The mountain is our home, and we need to learn to live upon it with understanding and respect, but don’t expect the mountain not to hurt you. Make a connection with those who can connect back. Whether in a circle or a synagogue, it’s the people that matter. The craggy peaks may be majestic, and may be worth anthropomorphizing in stories, but the snow could kill you. A fall could kill you. The cold could kill you. A mountain lion could kill you…

It’s the people you connect with who will mourn you.

Inner Demons

I’m a big fan of conceptual photography. This is in no small part because it’s something outside the scope of my capabilities, both technically and imaginatively. (FYI: my range of interests is wide while the scope of my skills is narrow; grass greener elsewhere.) I dabbled in photography during my early years of college (I met someone and we got to talking apertures with one thing leading into to another and we experimented some in a dark room), and while I had an eye for composition my technical skill floundered. It didn’t help that my first camera had all sorts of things wrong with its innards whose symptoms I kept misdiagnosing as my own ineptness behind the lens. With that shaky start I never got the momentum going to really pursue that avenue of creativity, but I really appreciate the work of others. And conceptual photography is a fascinating outlet to express one’s inner demons.

Christian Hopkins (Flickr: Capt. Truffles) was interviewed in a Yahoo! article describing his work. Having battled depression for a while he nearly killed himself, but was able to find a method of therapy in conceptual photography.

It started becoming a form of therapy I could use to fight my depression. I would create an emotion I was feeling so that I could see it. Once it was on the page it was no longer in my head and that was incredibly relieving. Creating this image and knowing that I have the control to know what it looks like, to decide whether it’s happy, sad, positive or negative; that control was the therapy for me, that is what gave me that freedom.

Hopkins’ favorite piece is titled Inner Demons, which is something many pagans will be grappling with during the post-Samhain season/dark half of the year. Following a holiday that has us confront death, Death, and other elements we fear or consider taboo, introspection makes sense. And the longer nights coupled with the recent time change has all of us coping with seasonal changes that can trigger strong emotional responses. It’s just that time of the year.

Shifting to a cooler, darker time is actually very emotionally lifting for me. I live in Los Angeles, but I’m not of those types who are energetic and happy in warmth and sunlight, so this time of the year gives me an energetic boost. That’s not to say I’m not aware of inner demons that have collected over the course of the year. I make an effort to clean house, remove the buzzing gnats from psyche, and basically recharge. Ironically, the cooler weather makes that so much easier for me. I can spend more time outdoors, hiking, visiting the ocean, getting out on the street and seeing the sights, because I don’t feel like I’m walking through a furnace (I really don’t like the heat). I can start projects at home that will engage me during the quieter evenings that descend so much earlier these days. I’m fortunate that the convergence of seasonal changes and a culturally approved period* of introspection and recharging are so much in my favor here. Now if I could just do something about the rest of the year…

Two pieces of Hopkins stood out for me with ringing clarity, so I think I will be setting those aside on my desktop for further contemplation over the next few weeks. One is Defense Mechanisms, featuring a bound heart in the chest cavity. The other is an untitled piece whose simplicity only enhanced the message, a pawn chess piece whose reflection in the mirror reveals a king piece. Yet, when I see this image I think of the Mirror of Erised. (“It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.”)

During the next few weeks I will be brainstorming some guided meditations for myself, as I usually feel inspired to do at this time of year. My psyche will dredge up all manner of phantasmagorical imagery during meditations which I’ve only written notes about in the past. Perhaps, when I have a little extra time during the longer evening hours, I will dig out my camera and conceptualize some of these inner demons. Such pictures would certainly make more useful aides in my work, even if the technical skill is seriously flawed. Right now I’m in the mood to play some online chess.

 

*I think it’d important for people to find the most advantages when facing inner demons. If seasonal depression makes the dark half of the year difficult to do so, consider Samhain’s counterpoint, Beltane. Themes of eventual death, rather than death materialized, as well as emotions running rampant, paired with sunny days could make that confrontation easier.

Bats in the Belfry

I had the opportunity to see a bat again tonight. Of all nights, I know. It’s been several years. I think the suburban disease has taken its toll of the local bat populations here in the Los Angeles area. I imagine increased use of insecticides coupled with several very dry years (insects breed where water just sits) are the major culprits. I’ve never heard of any organized movement to reduce the bat population.

I really like bats; I’ve always felt more kinship to mammals than to birds, in no small part to the fact that I’m active at night. The fact that bats can take to the air like birds, but at night (yes, like owls, I guess–stop interrupting!), certainly sparked my imagination. I used to build bat boxes, shoebox-sized bat homes, and hang them under the eaves of my home. When a number of larger trees in the neighborhood were cut down the owls and bats went elsewhere.

Ted Andrews includes Bat in his dictionary of animals. It reads like an interpretation of The Tower card, which is curious since he likens Bat to The Hanged Man. Basically, the depth of his analysis reads a bit shallow. I have no problem with Andrews’ work, or at least the parts that make the reader work, but I find the dictionaries tedious. This is especially the case when my relationship with spirits (or mental constructs) involving animal guises bear altogether different fruit than what Andrews predicts.

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I’ve worked with Bat (in a totemic sense for the sake of simplicity here) for many years. I’m an insomniac, which is weird since I’m an avid and competent lucid dreamer. I just have trouble turning off all the programs running in my head that get started throughout the day. Working with Bat I’ve managed to curb what could have amounted to a chronic problem to a more manageable issue without the use of pills.

Wiki tells me a thousand bats can consume four tons of insects a year. That’s a lot of night time work and that information has been helpful in handling a lot of lying-in-bed-wide-awake-can’t-sleep-why-god!-why-is-it-so-late-already!? episodes I’ve had over the years. I imagine that the random thoughts, worries, stresses, images, and other unwanted mental trespassers are insects buzzing around in my head. Annoying little pests making annoying little sounds while I’m trying to get a good night’s sleep. So I call on my friend Bat to bring his colony and clean house if you will.

So, bats in my belfry actually help keep me sane.

Mabon: Hot and Dry

Bread in the oven,
Clouds in heaven,
Red in the leaves,
Gold in the sheaves.
V’s in the sky,
Berries in the pie,
God in the earth,
Goddess at the hearth.

This might be an accurate description of my Mabon if I lived in, say, Salem, MA. The Witch’s Wheel of the Year derives its visual appeal from a classic New England (or rather Merry Old England) series of seasonal cues. I do not live in New England. I live in Southern California. It’s a dry, hot environment which sports two main seasons a year: hot and dry, and less hot and dry.

My house is an oven,
Scorching sun in heaven.
Red is high in the thermostat,
Cold drinks needed, fizzy or flat.
I wear shorts and a t-shirt,
Berries top my frozen yogurt.
God watching the match in air-conditioning,
Goddess on the lounge outside tanning.

How Dumb Do You Feel?

So yesterday Yahoo! News posted an article summarizing a recent study that indicates that religious people are less intelligent than atheists. The study lasted decades, followed the lives of hundreds of gifted children since 1921, and showed that intelligent children grasped religious concepts faster, but ultimately rejected religious truths, orthodox beliefs and pro-religious attitudes.

It’s evident the article is drawing a line between two parties here: those who believe in God and those who do not. And the God believed in is based on the Christian framework. Where does that leave those who believe in gods, for instance? Or Goddess? Or…?

Or people who are religious but perform spells? I’m zooming in on one paragraph in particular:

The answer may, however, be more complex. Intelligent people may simply be able to provide themselves with the psychological benefits offered by religion – such as “self-regulation and self-enhancement,” because they are more likely to be successful, and have stable lives.

Spell work (and I’ll be generalizing within a Wicca-esque framework here; sorry), is all about self-regulation and self-enhancement done by the spell caster. This is different from certain religions that beseech aid from outside forces and do little to nothing from the end of the beseecher. When a witch casts circle, raises energy and finally grounds, this is self-regulation in a religious framework. Spells aren’t really appealing unless some self-enhancement is the end goal. (Have you ever heard of a witch who wanted to turn herself into a frog?)

So are Pagans part of the intelligent group for rejecting “God”, or part of the less-intelligent group for invoking deity in circle? Does magic make a person more intelligent while religion makes them less so? How do you determine such delineations for a group who utilizes both? Does it matter when you consider all the types of intelligence? Is it better to be happy than smart?

And on a personal note: what makes you most happy about your Pagan practice?

Sarah Anne Lawless

A virtual crossroads of my own path and yours.

Thorn the Witch

Magic, Paganism, and Assorted Woo in Charlotte, NC

Therioshamanism

All spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder, and nature is a window into that wonder. - Richard Louv

Humanistic Paganism

A community of Humanistic and Naturalistic Pagans