Faith in proof

A few days ago there was a back and forth on a friend’s social media account about the differences between faith and proof. One person asserted that they didn’t have faith in the gods because their past experiences provided them with proof of the gods’ (presumably positive) influence in their life. Furthermore, in the unfolding of the conversation, ‘faith’ and identifying as ‘of faith’ was attributed to Christians only (and presumably those who had yet to jettison whatever conditioning came along with being suffused in a culture colored by these particular faithways).

Several other people pointed out that faith as a concept was not unique to Christians, nor was having faith in the High Ones (by whatever names or attributes we ascribe to Them) something that characterized Christian faithways as such. I pointed out (with some degree of snarkiness, I have to admit) that non-Christians were just as likely to describe their own faith in their divinity-infused worldview in terms of proof, as well. That is, we have faith because we have been giving proof of some kind. In other words, we have a trusting confidence – and/or a hope, and/or an optimism – that the Powers we are in relationship with will continue to relate to us in a meaningful, increasing way. Whether that means we hope that the gods will help us endure difficult times, or whether we will be aided towards successful outcomes, or whether we desire ongoing emotional reciprocation in a way we can recognize and respond to doesn’t much matter. Something has to have already happened such that we feel it’s worth our mental effort to expect – or hope, or desire, or even leave the possibility of maybe just maybe please – future reciprocation will occur.

We have faith carrying us towards the future because something happened in the past.

The religious milieu I was raised in made me elaborate promises about the rewards of faith, about the rewards of trusting that a god was there listening to me and caring about me. And while I remain open to the possibility that that deity is there, somewhere, they and I clearly didn’t click on some level. Reciprocation was never in evidence, regardless of my child’s confidence in the words of the people around me. Many people discover – and fail to discover! – divine reciprocation in precisely this manner. A particular deity or face of divinity is championed by their devotees, and a person might be persuaded to invest some emotional confidence in that deity. If that confidence pays off, the person then has the emotional proof they need that their initial faith was, indeed, rewarded. If that confidence doesn’t pay off, the person may wander off to find something else entirely to invest emotional confidence in or they may be open to trying again. It depends on what they think they stand to gain (and lose) as a result of making that first emotional investment.

Because let’s face it – people don’t usually make formative decisions about their spiritual lives based on the kind of metrics that govern most other choices. (Sure, there are those of us hijacked into various practices, and who persist as a matter of self-preservation, but that’s a rather separate conversation.) We’re not choosing deities to love or traditions to participate in based on future employment prospects, household financial goals, miles per gallon, or whatever. We’re balancing ideas we have about complex, subtle concepts like the soul, afterlife, sacred emotionality, sacred community, the continuation of tradition, and so forth. We come up with equally complex and subtle metrics by which to see how they fit into any new spiritual practice or relationship we might consider taking up; when balancing currently-held ideas against the emerging proof offered by new spiritual experiences, a fragile battle can occur. Here we might even find a crisis of faith.

In a way, faith or confidence in the networked complex that includes the Powers and the relationships we share with Them rises out of what experiences we judge worthy of being called proof. While individual traditions might provide guidance on what faith is, how it is cultivated, and how it is expressed, what it means (and even what it should be called) is by and large up to us to individually decide. At the same time, trying to ‘splain why someone else should not have faith is entirely unhelpful. The hidden soil in which one’s confidence and yearning for the Powers is sown is quite private; even through close self-examination we can’t always say what grows there.

**

People have sometimes asked me why I worship Loki. The best answer I have is that He has proven Himself worthy of worship. Although I hold up almost two decades’ of experience with Him as the foundation of faith in Him, my heart feels weak at the enormity of the expansive mystery that continues to surround Him. My confidence is based on proof that comes from past experiences, yes – but my faith is rooted in knowing that I am willing to always face whatever mystery He turns towards me. I have confidence in Loki, and I have faith in myself.

PantheaCon and SpiritCon programing

If you’ll be at PantheaCon, you’ll be able to find me presenting Beginning Devotional Practice and Sweet Idolatry: Image Veneration in Paganism and Polytheism. Both will take place on Monday (assuming the schedule doesn’t change, which it always could). Sweet Idolatry is a brand new session, and I’m super excited to share it with everyone. PantheaCon is held in San Jose, CA; this year it goes from Feb. 15 – Feb. 18.

This year I’ll also be sharing Advancing Devotional Practice in the Temple of Antinous hospitality room at PantheaCon. I’ve updated the talking points this year, so if you’ve been to this session in the past, feel free to join us again for a fresh take on this conversation.

Unlike most conference sessions I do, this one is a guided conversation where participants are encouraged to share their experiences and thoughts to a level they feel comfortable. I hope to build personal and collective confidence in ourselves as able to address the complex situations that arise during long-term emotional engagement in polytheist and pagan religious traditions. Please join us! (Exact time/date to be announced.)

advancing devotional practice na 2019 sample

I’m planning to offer divination at PCon, which is something I’ve done most years. I have to sign up first thing on Friday, so I won’t know for sure which time slot I have until I get there. I’ll keep y’all updated with details as they develop. My rate is $20 for 20 minutes; I’ll have some tarot and oracle decks. If you want to schedule a reading, let me know ahead of time and I’ll be sure to make some time for you.

If you’re in the Salt Lake City, UT area, be sure to stop by SpiritCon taking place March 30 – 31 (you can find the info on Facebook and on their website). I’ll be presenting Sweet Idolatry there, too. I won’t be vending or offering readings at SpiritCon this year, but I’ll be around to talk and catch the other programing. I’m excited to support this homegrown UT convention in its second year.

 

All Names, All Forms

Before I begin, I have to disclaim what I’ll be saying. Everything I’m saying here, I’m saying on behalf of my own practice. Although a number of teachers and traditions have given me the immense benefit of their wisdom, I don’t speak on their behalf; I am not interpreting these teachings except insofar as I have received these teachings and strived to understand them within the context of my own spiritual practice and longings. That is, my understanding of the teachings I have received will always be limited, and although I continually hope for improved knowledge and greater insight, the understandings arising in my heart and mind will always be uniquely my own, subject to change and growth.

I don’t have the authority to provide you with a vision of a teacher’s or a tradition’s body of wisdom, so don’t look for those kinds of authoritative statements here. If, however, the practice you do and the practice I do happen to have some similar points, or if you feel that the particular homework I’ve done as a student is helpful in your own studies, I can be glad that we have found ourselves in the same classroom at this time and place.

Let’s begin.

**

The Devi said,

“This world that you are experiencing now is nothing but my power. The only remedy for your ignorance is to worship me as your innermost Self. Surrender yourself to me with one-pointed devotion and I will help you discover your true being. Abide in me as I abide in you. Know that even now at this very moment there is absolutely no difference between us.”

This excerpt is from (one translation of) The Devi Gita, wherein the Divine Mother speaks on many important subjects. Here, She tells in us several ways that She – Her power, specifically – is our only experience. All this experience includes us: our self-awareness, our proprioception, our vibrant kinetic being as well as the indwelling knowledge of our personality in all our boundaries and estuaries.

When read in the private echo chamber of our own head, this can seem like an astonishing and profound statement. That goddess, that radiant speaker who encompasses all of reality, is right here, at the foundation of my being! She’s me, and I’m Her!

When applied outside that little bony echo chamber, this statement can become a little harder to swallow. Sure, we can certainly acknowledge the Divine Mother in the eyes of our sangha, the community of worshipers and devotees who share our practices and path. Sure, we can probably acknowledge the Divine Mother in the eyes of our familiar circles – blood relations, friends, acquaintances, and so forth. Maybe in an abstract way we can apply this principle to all of reality – including humanity as a whole! The work of taking in and fully digesting this basic principle is the work of a lifetime. The work of many lifetimes, if you like.

There are any number of people who like to suggest that “goddess worship” (whatever that means) is the entitlement of a particular flavor of person. What the precise and universal recipe for creating this flavor is anyone’s guess, although there are a handful of common ingredients that people reach for when attempting to set aside times and places for flavors-of-people to get busy with the above-mentioned “goddess worship”. While I am, of course, entirely incapable of explaining the mental gymnastics that must be undergone to reach this desired conclusion within anyone else’s tradition(s) or practice(s), I can point this bit of scripture (and others) to reach a clear and straightforward conclusion about who is entitled (*cough*) to go about honoring, revering, celebrating, communing with, and yes even worshipping this supreme principle within the scope of my own engagement with a worship tradition.

Everyone. She’s speaking to everyone. “There is no difference between us.”

There is no convolution of personality, no quirk of physical manifestation, no boundary of psychology that prevents Her full and unrestrained power and personality from being present at every point in all of reality.

Yes, we may select times and places, and create conditions under which it becomes easier to *notice* this basic truth, but that doesn’t make the basic truth any more truthful. Similarly, this basic truth it doesn’t become less truthful just because we fail to acknowledge it – or choose to ignore it.

The selection and creation of times, places, and circumstances to notice this first and utmost truth must be done in a manner that references its wisdom at every stage. Rituals must be created so that all have the potential to self-include, else we run the risk of failing to acknowledge the pervasive and unrestricted presence of Who we are claiming to worship in the first place. These opportunities for worship and celebration can be created in a manner that preserves the integrity of a tradition and its manner of passing along knowledge. If, however, the human-level mechanics of a tradition – that is, the explanations and justifications for why people must be prevented from having the option to self-include, then a tradition must be reassessed as to whether or not it really takes seriously the Who that is being celebrated.

Who this Divine Mother is, what Her nature might be, and how She might choose to manifest is beyond my ability to contemplate. What I do know is that She is present in the people before me, as well as in all the other expressions of reality that I might come in contact with on a day to day basis. I can choose to remember Her words, or I can choose to forget them.

I welcome trans gender, gender variant, gender expressive, gender expansive, and gender peculiar human realities in my practice, along with those who identify in ways not mentioned. Whether or not an individual personality gets along with mine, or can abide by the rules of time/place/condition, or even wants to be part of my practice are all secondary considerations behind this first. First they are welcome – then they can choose to participate, or not, or to take care of their shit for a while and try again another time. First they are welcome – not because of my personal history, or the personal history of my friends, or the personal history of people I know, or the noble words people have spoken, or the hatred that makes me want to find a counterbalance in a sphere I can control, but because of a fundamental principle underlying my long engagement with a spiritual universe that leaves me continually humbled, speechless, and cherished. Ignoring that truth is to ignore the path itself; thus far I have never chosen to do so. Thus, all are welcome and will be welcome.

**

This blog entry has been written as part of a social media campaign utilizing the hashtag #TransphobiaIsASin . It was launched by the Co-Editors of the #BlackTransPrayerBook to “reframe the conversation about trans people in faith spaces on Tuesday, Jan 15th[.]”

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Coucher de Lune. Thomas Bresson Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (Wikimedia Commons)

 

transphobiaisasin

Odin and Brenda

At the very beginning of the year we heard the news that a particular species of Hawaiian tree snail died out when the last of its species, a member named George, passed away at age 14. The loss of a species – any species, no matter how apparently humble to tastes deliberately acculturated to charismatic megafauna – is something that should be deeply mourned. We are not isolated from other species, nor from other individual members of our own species, therefore the loss to the matrix we are inextricably part of is understood on personal, interpersonal, collective, and universal levels.

 There was a facet to the intricate prism of life that was present, and then it was not. To all our knowledge, there is no replacing that facet. It does not exist anywhere else in any known or imagined corner of the universe. Our universe is thus less complex, and we have lost the ability to understand some aspect of it because we have lost this particular facet of it.  

We can mourn and wring our hands about the folly that led to this loss, but what can this level of folly tell us about the foolishness of trying to deliberately keep one facet of universal experience out of another facet? Although polytheists are generally on board with the tenet that the Powers (divinities, spirits, ancestral entities, et al) are separate and distinctive in their personalities, several of our various traditions give us wisdom about how divine Powers in particular came forth. Perhaps They all rose from a unified field of divine awareness, or came to diverse awareness from an underlying principle or material, and started their myriad activities from there. Furthermore, our personal experiences interacting with Them is frequently such that They hunt in packs. To borrow a marketing jingle, you can’t worship just one.

 They gods have families. They have friends. They have lovers. They have drinking buddies. They have roommates. They have associates. They have business partners. They have intra- and inter-pantheon connections that our mortal minds boggle at, and nonetheless the pattern plays out with hilarious – and telling! – regularity. The Powers come in packs. Polytheist Powers are not singular. Even if a worshiper might focus on a singular Power that hails from a polytheist context, we are deeply aware of Their connections.  

As an example, in the Norse tradition many of the Powers we know things about, we know via their kennings. Kennings are poetic allusions that don’t always translate very tidily. One of Odin’s names found in Voluspa is Angan Friggjar; this is usually translated as “Delight of Frigg” (Frigga being a primary wife of Odin). Therefore, if we know anything about Odin, even if we worship Odin in a very singular manner, we are aware of Frigga as well.  

Odin does not and cannot exist in a monotheist context. The existence of other Powers (so many others, with so many natures and personalities) are embedded into Him; acknowledging Him is acknowledging the complex spiritual-social universe He’s part of. Trying to blot out the Frigga facet, say, prevents you from understanding the part of Odin that connects to Her. And if your goal is to venerate, honor, acknowledge, or remember Odin in any kind of meaningful way, then that goal must include trying to know everything you can about Him. That means noticing and trying to understand something about Frigga. Via Frigga’s perspective, you will see Odin through a different perspective, and come to know something new about Him. Thus will your goal be furthered.  

An interesting thing about Odin. He’s also called Vinr Lopts (“Friend of Lopt”), although the source for this kenning I could trace back only so far as a Latin dictionary of Icelandic skaldic poetry published in the early 19th century (precisely where this kenning is found in the source lore I’m not sure; perhaps someone can help me). If we’re going to know Odin comprehensively, then we have to be aware of and not shy away from that facet of His nature that has Loki’s name on it. Blotting out that facet robs us of full knowledge of Odin’s nature – and not just of Odin’s nature. Remember how polytheist Powers travel in packs?

 **

 In my publically-available writing and in my speaking engagements I’ve talked a lot about the need to trust our experiences, and also the need to think critically about our practice and our reactions to it. After all, the source lore that forms the historical context for our personal engagement with our polytheist traditions of choice, birth, and/or circumstance sets the stage for our experiences; not in all cases will source lore help us make sense of our experiences very adequately. Personal experience can be extremely messy and yes, at times excessively painful.

 I don’t talk openly about the pain I’ve experienced in the course of my spiritual life because, well, it’s fucked up. In all the time that’s passed since various incidents have occurred, I still don’t know how to explain it. I certainly don’t know WHY these things happened. “Helping me be a better spirit-worker” seems a shit explanation. So does “Helping me be more open to the gods”. I’ve spent a lot of time delving deep into very complex traditions looking for satisfactory answers, and I’ve come up with fuck-all. I’ve just had to get used to living with the pain, the uncertainty, and the lack of satisfactory explanations. That’s not exactly satisfactory, either.

 I don’t think blaming the gods for this is the right solution, and I don’t know why. I don’t think blaming the people who were standing around at the times these things happened is the right solution either, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I have the mindset of “Y’all fuckers are in this with me and we burn or survive together.” Maybe it’s because I was subconsciously demanding that They fix what They broke, even if I wasn’t consciously assigning blame to (all) of Them. Maybe it’s because I didn’t see pain, even excessive pain, as the necessary end to a sacred relationship. (Maybe it’s because I’m fucking cracked.)

 I’m not saying what I did was right or even best. I can say that I’m in a better situation now, considerably. I can say that I’ve learned a lot. I don’t know if these statements are in anyway correlated. I do know that the gods I love have persisted with me, and I have persisted with Them (for the most part. One bailed on me, possibly because my work with Them was done, possibly because I fucking suck and deserve only to be abandoned; I don’t know). I can say for certain that I would understand less about my life and my experiences of embodied existence if I had continually and deliberately and selectively chosen to blot out facets of my interconnected experience, an on-going holographic swell that brings my awareness into closer and closer proximity with the staggering poignancy of sacred Personality. If I had deliberately chosen to blot out those facets – if I had sought extinction events based merely on my limited experience of personalized pain, who can say what knowledge I would have lost as a result? If we lose incalculable knowledge as a snail species exits our solar system, our galaxy, our universe, what is lost when a Power’s presence is lost to a human heart?  

I’m not noble for having stuck with the gods (thus far), and someone is not automatically ignoble for choosing to build border walls to keep out divine experience based on the experience of past pain attributed (incorrectly or correctly) to one set of divine hands or another. The Buddhists measure sentience according an entity’s tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain; the avoidance of pain is in accordance with our nature as thinking, feeling, calculating beings. Sometimes, as someone wiser than me once put it, the prize is not worth the price. The gauzy promise of wisdom won as a result of coming out the other side of a gauntlet of painful experiences is simply not worth the heavy toll of trudging through the immediate and physically crushing pain being visited on the self by others. When those others are deities that (we imagine) should know better, we can’t help but feel resentful. When those others are humans that (we imagine) should have sympathy, we can’t help but feel deep, abiding bitterness and anger. You certainly can’t blame a person for feeling resentful, bitter, and angry – but you can perhaps question an ongoing opting-in to a bigotry.  

For instance, we might entirely understand why a person (let’s call her Brenda) who lived in a neighborhood where, let’s say, all people between 40 and 60 tended to drink excessively on weekends. This person had suffered property damage, business loss, and perhaps even personal injury due to rowdy 40- and 50-somethings drinking heavily on weekends. This went on not just a handful of times, but several very pointed times over a concentrated period of years. Friends and family members outside of the area pointed out to Brenda that not everyone in this demographic drank heavily – well, some did, but not just on weekends. Or maybe they did drink on weekends, but not excessively. Or even if they did, they didn’t wander around hurting people and setting cars on fire. Or maybe a scant handful did, but they lived in other places and others in Brenda’s zip code didn’t deserve to be tarred with the same brush. Basically, Brenda was clearly having terrible experiences with a limited group of people who happened to share a constellation of similarities to other people within other overlapping groups.  

We can certainly understand why Brenda is angry, and she starts refusing to live with or visit anyone age 40 – 60 and kinda doesn’t want to talk to anyone age 40 – 60 (unless she decides that they’re “one of the good ones”). However she is continually presented with a growing body of evidence *that not everyone in this age demographic behaves in the same manner*. She makes the decision to ignore this evidence, choosing instead to continually opt-into her bigotry on the basis of her past pain. Her vision is selective, seeing examples that reinforce her worldview; her hearing is selective, listening to voices that reinforce her opinion, and thus she chooses, over and over again, to never exorcise her past injuries with new experiences.  

We all know a Brenda. Hell, we might be a Brenda in some ways. I know I have a Brenda inside me. I have to fight against a tendency to nurse my entitlement to staying hurt forever.  

But what if I’m wrong? What if I draw the wrong conclusions about my pain and my entitlement to it? What if I end up shutting out the very source of knowledge that could end up helping me?  

Along with the sad news of snail extinction, another interesting article made the social media rounds – this one on intellectual humility. Basically it was about academics learning how to admit that they could be wrong. Just as spiritual practitioners have to learn from our own experiences and gain the confidence required to trust ourselves in our practice, we also have to learn to be wrong. We have to leave mental and emotional space to change course without feeling like we’ve “done bad”. Although opting into bigotry and other known fallacies is never going to serve us in the long run, these are errors we can learn to see. Humility is required, and gods know that’s not an easy thing for anyone to develop. It’s possible, though. It’s always possible.  

Thus will our own multifarious facets achieve greater clarity. Thus will self-knowledge flourish.

 

 

Service renewed!

Finally got around to renewing my WP account. I’ve been having trouble accessing my editing/updating tools on my primary computer, but it looks like everything is normal on my laptop, so at least I can still updating things.

2018 was extremely busy. I’ll post here and catch up on a few things. Just letting you know that the blog isn’t (completely) dead.

Happy Solstice.

New shop listings

I added a few new shop listings this morning. If you’ve picked up new oracle decks or tarot cards lately, you might be looking for nice ways to store them.

These are compact spread cloths that are perfectly sized to wrap up your decks when not in use; tie the cloth securely with the ribbon to keep your deck clean and protected. These wraps are great for packing lightly. I use them lots for festival and shop readings.

croppedIf you prefer more traditional bags and pouches, I’ve got loads of those available, too. I have lightweight cotton bags as well as sturdier velveteen in plain and decorated varieties. The shop is also stocked with altar cloths/spread cloths to help keep your clean and looking nice.

Although my divination sale has ended, you can still send me a reading request. I’ve been reading professionally for 20 years and would be happy to help you find clarity in complicated situations.

Right now I’m busy making a few new things to sell at Salt Lake City Pagan Pride Day; anything that doesn’t sell will be used added to the Etsy shop. I’m hoping to invest in some really great fabric soon to offer some wraps and bags that you haven’t seen before. Let me know if there are patterns or colors that you’d like to see.

Sandwiches and radioactivity

Last night a friend of mine shared a Henry Rollins meme and encouraged us to “Channel your inner punk/apocalypse warrior/metal/level 57 paladin and let’s DO the thing.” Being the eternal pessimist I am, I wondered what to do if I wasn’t a level 57 paladin but merely cannon fodder. See, there are people that don’t live past the first act of any apocalypse story. When people ask me how I’ll survive some catastrophe, I’ll reply, “Sandwiches.” That is, I expect to be made into sandwiches at the first possible moment.

I’m not a resilient person. I’m not the person you want on your team. I’m a liability. I’m the final iteration of a failed genetic experiment. I require too much upkeep to be cost-effective in the long or short run; it’s a quirk of cosmic circumstance that I wasn’t thrown into a bog decades ago.

This is all true, but it’s not all the truth there is. Thinking a while, I remembered the rest.

See, I’m surrounded by people who tend to have fairly obvious types. I know a lot of healers and a lot of war witches. They seemed to know early on what they were; they came along with the basic package of types, as it were. You had a healer, you had a fighter, you had a diviner, etc. etc. I’m not one of the basic types. I come in the deluxe packages. I’m not more special, just not quite so easily described.

**

I have a reputation as a coven breaker – to which I will reply, “They weren’t a coven, and they didn’t need my help.” They were actually a kindred and they were beset by internal bickering long before I showed up. I came to a few events, I taught a few classes, a led a ritual, then I left because I got angry. Next thing I knew they had imploded. It had nothing to do with me.

There was another kindred whose Yule event I attended who later dissolved amid accusations of child porn usage and partner swapping. Yet another kindred fell apart in the face of felony charges. Again, nothing to do with me.

There are other examples of groups I’m marginally associated with coming near to dissolving; they’ve been way more organized than kindreds and this time edged weapons weren’t involved.

I have this radioactive effect that I’ve learned to warn other people about. I can’t ethically join groups without giving a caveat that, hey shit’s gonna get weird. I warned the leader of a group a couple years ago about this and then watched as they had a near total psychological breakdown not long after. A group with a history going back to the 1990s nearly fell apart. It’s not something I do deliberately; it’s something I tend to catalyze. All I can do is warn – and apologize.

Yes, I’ve tried to think about how I can use this radioactivity for good. I’ve tried to think about which groups need a good destroying. I’ve tried to think about which people need a good psychological breakdown or felony charge. I can’t bring a lot to the struggle we’re currently engaged in (the struggle that some of us have been engaged in for generations), but I can stand around being radioactive.