Weekend rush – magnetic pins, prayer beads, practice

It’s already shaping up to be a busy end to a busy week. The dizzy spells I’ve been experiencing over the past few weeks finally came together with all the other symptoms of an ear infection. This makes me seriously wonder if I haven’t just been dealing with some kind of stubborn infection that’s lasted for *a year* with intermittent flare ups. I initially ruled out that possibility because I wasn’t sick – no fever, no aches, no head pain, no ear pain – but everything hit me quite suddenly on Wednesday night. No fever, but all the rest was there. I’m going to make an appointment with my doctor and see if we can figure out a solution. This dizziness has been a really serious problem that I’ve been ignoring since I had no idea how to fix it or even other symptoms that I could point to. Getting sick ironically helps. All the same, I’m not looking forward to seeking treatment. I just want it to go away so I can go back to my regular chronic illness routine.

This week has also seek a lot of prayer and chanting. A lot of time has been spent introspecting and simply feeling. This can be a challenge. I find the outward “doing” of my practice generally easier (though for several reasons the daily doings have slipped in regularity). Sitting and just being with the impact of that practice can be a lot harder. All the same, I seem to have found a nice rhythm with my prayer beads. Though japamala is a long-established part of my practice, non-mantra prayer bead use is rather newer and has a history of not being wildly successful. This time around I might have it figured out, though; that’s really nice. I’m liking this new development.

Speaking of prayer beads, I found a cache of vintage beaded jewelry yesterday that I brought home to be repurposed into prayer beads. There are some softly faceted glass beads, some foil-lined beads, loads of beautiful glass round beads, and a long string of what looks to me like some kind of unfinished coral beads but I’m not entirely positive. I’m used to coral beads being violently red or pink for having been dyed that way and they’re generally quite smooth. These have a slightly rough, variable texture and a more natural color distribution. Today I’m going to a bead shop to look for a few necessary supplies and I’ll bring a few of these mystery beads with me. Whatever they are, they’ve already made a lovely string of sea-inspired pocket prayer beads and I look forward to creating at least one additional string from the remaining beads.

This week I also finished the magnetic scarf “pins” I’ve been working on for a while. Some of you reading might remember the dust up(s) that happened when a number of pagans and polytheists spoke openly about their choice to head cover for religious and/or personal reasons. The negative reactions that resulted were painful to watch; on the one hand I want to believe that we as pagans have more respect for the personal lives of others but on the other we have as much baggage regarding the policing of (primarily) women’s bodies and choices as anyone else in our culture. Maybe it’s because I was raised in a religion that both produces clothing items specifically for members’ own use and re-deploys mass produced items in a way that reflects their values and identity; the idea of religiously motivated clothing choices is simply nothing new or even all that noteworthy to me. In fact, when it comes to expressing personal values, spiritual aspirations, religious affiliation, and so forth, clothing is one of the most frequently-used tools of all.

Saying I supported those who chose to veil for religious reasons seemed rather pointless, like I was providing only the bare minimum standard of human decency and then being asked for congratulations. I wanted to do something else but wasn’t sure what or how. Then a friend clued me into magnetic “pins”, little decorative veil accessories that fasten cloth without poking holes in the fabric. I looked at lots of pictures and thought, “I could do that!”. So I did.

These are strong 1cm magnets topped with shiny glass drops. I chose them with the idea that they could be discrete or decorative as the wearer wished. I found a supplier that has many more eye-catching elements that I’d love to buy but first these have to sell. I’m selling them in groups of three pair (six magnets all together), two matching and one contrasting. Since these magnets stick to metal hair clips and other hair accessories, I’ve included a snapping clip to let wearers instantly experiment with different looks. And since I know that a number of pagans-who-veil appreciate the dampening of psychic energies that veils help achieve, I decided to use glass drops since glass tends to deflect and fragment unwanted energies.

I have eight sets listed in the shop; click the link at the top of the page or click the picture above to see the listings. Let me know too if there’s a particular style of magnetic pin you’d like me to help you create; I’m always happy to discuss custom orders.

OK, now for weekend errands. Guess I better get moving; those groceries aren’t going to buy themselves and chronic illness cat needs her morning medicine (tuna flavored!).

When Lines Blur

You might be aware that it happens but you don’t think it’ll happen to you: You think you know a Guy and suddenly He might be someone else. Perhaps the One you’ve been praying to for month or year – or decades – slips off the mask and a new face appears. A new form, unfamiliar faces, unexpected attributes rise to the surface of Their presentation and you’re left feeling confused, betrayed, and upset.

Have the emotions been lies? Have the words They’ve spoken been falsehoods to lure you into believing something that wasn’t ever true? What of the promises made, the vows spoken, the ordeals undertaken, the faith kept? Can you trust anything They’ve said at all? Can you trust yourself anymore?

It happens. It happens more than you might expect. In fact, for polytheists this kind of categorical disruption is almost – but not quite – entirely  normal.

Except that it’s not, you know? The books don’t mention that the Gods can change. Our kindred leaders and religious guides don’t talk about the time that Anubis was Coyote was Aphrodite. We don’t swap stories at meetups about confused identities and the complex knotted mess of faith and vows and promises left in the wake of Their coming out. This experience is turned into a solitary ordeal endured quietly in the most private corners of our hearts and minds. This happens because not only have we individually been chastised for being too emotional, too devoted, too enthusiastic in our embrace of a divinity, but because we now have to admit that – on some level – we were wrong.

In that admission is an immense ocean of tumultuous accusation. We should have known better. We should have studied harder. We should have joined an orthodox group instead of striking out on our own with our cat spirits and faery guides and dream life lived Somewhere Else. We should have stopped watching anime in high school. We should have read a scholarly book or two. We should have listened to our elders – you know, the ones who never told us that anything could go wrong on the path to spiritual growth.

It’s a lie, you know. It’s all a lie.

I’ll tell you a truth: You’re not wrong.

You’re not wrong to experience the Gods changing shape. You’re not wrong to experience the blurring of lines, the erasure of titles, the disruption of names and familiar forms.

The lie is that this never happens. The lie is that you’re doing it wrong if it happens.

That’s not a lie I’m willing to perpetuate.

This kind of disruption happens for many, many, many reasons, not all of which are even able to be spoken aloud. Some of these reasons are for the Gods themselves to explain to you, in Their own words, in Their own time. Some of these reasons are for you to discover yourself as you experience the unpleasant growth that is forced during this period.

You’re not wrong to feel this way.

You’re not wrong to want to pitch the whole thing, to toss it in the dumpster in the alley out back, to fling the books out of the window of a moving car, to delete your blogs and Facebooks and emails and mailing list memberships. You’re not wrong to want to change your name.

There is no easy way out of this. Sorry/not sorry. This experience is the path teaching you something that you need to know. I can’t tell you what that thing is because there are lots of possible lessons to learn in this. It might be that you need to get to know yourself a whole lot better. It might be that you need to exercise that backbone you just grew. It might be that you need to let go of what you thought you know, what you trusted because someone else told you was true. It might be that you need to grow the truth for yourself and that can only happen through personal lived experience.

Names, forms, attributes – these things are mostly convenient for us. The Powers don’t need them in the same way we do; they have a very different relationship to Their names and forms and attributes than we do. However, They have a degree of ownership over these things that gives Them permission to move them about as They wish. The Powers reveal chosen names and forms and attributes as They wish, when and where and to whom They wish. This isn’t done necessarily to frustrate or hurt us. Usually it’s to teach us something very important about how we should – or could – relate to Them.

Though I said that many, many possible lessons might come from this experience, there is one that I feel is especially relevant to any polytheist, devotionally-identified or not, and that is to let Them be as They wish to be. If we accept that the Powers have wills and desires of Their own, then it follows that They would have preferences regarding how They are related to by us (collectively and individually). The Power in your life might be getting tired of living up to the role of wacky sidekick, stern uncle, or distant mother. They might wish to express Themselves on Their own terms and so are leading you to acknowledge different sides of Them through the adoption of unfamiliar guises and behaviors.

You might discover that you really were talking to an entirely different Power than you thought you were. You might also discover that They were really only just Themselves all along.

Who He Is

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A couple recent posts by friends (specifically Beth’s “What do you seek from the divine?” and Heather’s “The Pagan Experience: Gebo”) got me thinking about who Loki is to me. That’s a very complicated subject and is actually one that’s difficult to talk about. For all that He is the center of my emotional and spiritual life, He doesn’t really make an appearance in a blog that’s primarily about my emotional and spiritual life. That’s because He is part of my most private life and this blog is as public a face as I’m comfortable having – on many days it’s more public than I’m comfortable with. But as a recent tarot reading reminded me, I am not the hidden hermit scholar. Or at least, I’m not only that.

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Powers in my life: Saint Death (Pagan Experience Project Feb week 3)

santamuertaLooking back over my blog I’m noticing a very heavy emphasis on the Hindu side of things, which might suggest that this is a dominant force in my religious life. It’s actually not, at least not on a day to day basis. There are some devotions and observances I maintain and I’ll eventually get to those but at most I regard myself as a student of this collection of traditions, not as a member or participant.

I’ll start by talking about the Power in my life with the most controversy. Interestingly enough, that Power is not Loki.

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Petition As Magic; Petition Is Magic

In my mind, I’ve had this rather clear distinction between prayer and magic. Prayer is a private conversation between you and a Power. That conversation might be celebrating that Power, thanking them, praising them, asking for their assistance, expressing your fears and concerns, or just touching in. It’s characterized by communication.

Magic, specifically spell work, is also expressive but less nebulous in its purpose. Magic (spell work) is intended to get shit done. Instead of talking to someone, you go out and take care of business. The spell worker draws upon personal skill, the ability to move energy around, and a high degree of problem solving ability in order to bring about their desired outcome. Though there are instances when spells and prayers might be very similar in form, in my mind these two things work best when they’re fairly distinct. To me, calling spell work “just another word for praying” was rather missing the point of both activities, but to each their own.

Recently though I’ve been rolling around a new perspective on both these activities. The ability to get your ideas across, to communicate clearly and meaningfully with the Powers, and the confidence that help will be forthcoming are all important parts of prayer. Praying is in its own way a magical skill. It’s the power of petition. Anyone can pray, just like anyone can do magic. However, saying a prayer does not make you a pray-er any more than doing magic makes you a magician. Time, effort, and a good relationship with the relevant Powers are also important.

There are Powers for whom prayer is magic. They are easily petitioned and respond rapidly. Some people are exceptionally good at achieving outcomes through prayer. Some people are able to become exceptionally good at it. All this means that the same ethical guidelines that apply to one’s magical practice must be applied to any practice of prayer that might be undertaken.

Prayer is not necessarily “safe” or “harmless”; ask anyone whose family members have tried to pray their gay away, to pray away the perceived flaws of gender identity or expression, or for that person to return to the fold of a religion left behind. Prayers don’t simply just hang out in the universe doing nothing if some sacred mediator decides that that power isn’t needed. Your actions, including the energy you send out in the form of a prayer or petition for intervention, will have consequences.

Right now I’m thinking about sitting down at the bargaining table with a particular Power, one who likes prayers. Learning her prayers and then reciting them would incline this Lady towards my request. Her eagerness for this particular offering suggests that prayers do, in fact, have more value than we (I) might have ever imagined.

Pagan Experience Project (Week 2): Personal Practice

I’ll be honest – this topic was almost why I didn’t decide to start this project. I have a hard time talking about my personal practice.

See, I can talk about *what* I do; I can talk about the obstacles I run up against, I can talk about the various ways the Gods fit into my practice, I can talk about how the things I’ve done have changed over the years. I can talk a lot about the details but I have a very hard time pinning down any unifying theme or underlying philosophy. Maybe by writing some of this down I can begin to puzzle a bit of it out.

I feel like ideally my personal practice ought to serve as a reminder of what’s important to me. It should be an emotional and spiritual touchstone that orients me and gets me pointed in the right direction. Because these private moments serve as an orientation, they ought to be done frequently. Without this reminder, I could get distracted by things that aren’t actually high on my priority list. I could lose touch with the principles that I’ve decided are important.

So is this what my personal practice does? Well, yeah, pretty much. It certainly hasn’t failed in any of these respects. However, what I’m noticing is that I might be trying to do entirely too much if my goals are this straightforward. The time that I spend doing what might be called my personal practice is actually pressed into the service of many different goals:

  1. Providing a spiritual and emotional center and mental clarity.
  2. Connecting in a meaningful way with the Powers most dear to my heart.
  3. Practicing hospitality, attention to detail, and general ritual skills.
  4. Giving time to meditation, mantra, breath work, energy work, and other important techniques.
  5. Study, study, study.

That’s a lot of juice to squeeze out of the personal practice fruit. “Is it any wonder,” I asked myself, “That I struggle with my daily practice?”

One’s personal practice can be all kinds of things. It could be a devotional practice, a magical practice, a ritual practice, a prayer practice, a scripture study practice, etc. But perhaps – just perhaps – it doesn’t need to be *everything*. Maybe I need to simplify. For a long time my trajectory has been pointed towards greater complexity, towards more time spent. And this makes me happy. It makes me feel good. I love what I do. I want to do more of it. But the fact of the matter is that I’m doing less even as I’ve approached doing more.

That said, there was a period of more than a year where I did do all these things every day. It was great, I loved it and somehow I made it happen. I don’t know how. A magician I know rightly pointed out that a schedule fully kept even with moments of struggle and indifference will have greater fruits than a schedule kept only when it seems convenient.

I firmly believe that the Work sustains you. It sustains me, that’s for certain. It draws me back to what I’ve chosen to prioritize and it gives me a center when I can’t find my own. I want to love it and I want to serve it. Part of that is feeding it through practice. In a way, I’m saving up for my own emotional future.

I’m torn between giving into my impulses to spend more time at the altar even though I’ve got loads of other things on my hands and decreasing the complexity of what I do in an effort to make it  happen more easily and more frequently. Some kind of balance has to be found. I want to just toss my obstacles into the fire of practice and let them go but that’s not exactly the way I work. I know myself well enough. It has to be a gradual grind, a very slow refining if the changes I make are going to stick.

I made up my mind this morning to think about one day at a time. I would decide “Today I am going to practice” every day. I made this choice this morning. Thus, I will find some way to follow it through today. Tomorrow I’ll get to make another decision and we’ll see where that leads.

The Bhakti Bookshelf: The Glories and Pastimes of Srimati Radharani

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Studying any devotional tradition requires one to look at what practitioners themselves have written describing their tradition and the elements within it. I’ve been looking for a nice introduction to the Vaishnava perspective on Radha for some time; many other books provide very little insight into Her or Her character. Though I’ve found a handful of books detailing Radha’s character from a non-Vaishnava and non-Hindu academic standpoint I’ve been after something a little different. In many ways, The Glories and Pastimes of Srimati Radharani is just what I’ve been looking for. Though I wouldn’t give this book my wholehearted recommendation to the novice bhakti student there are many things that might make it worth your attention.

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The Bhakti Bookshelf: In Praise of the Goddess – The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning

One of the blog post drafts I mentioned in my last entry was inspired by a conversation about bhakti that I had with my friend Jo (of Strip Me Back to the Bone). I thought that perhaps I’d do a series on posts about getting started studying bhakti but I quickly realized that I don’t really know exactly  how to go about doing this. I can talk about the way that I have studied this particular devotional tradition but I’m not convinced of the efficacy of my particular progress and thus would not necessarily recommend it to others.

Nonetheless, I love bhakti a great deal and am in considerable debt to it and to the teachers who promote its presence in the world. I want to share my limited understanding of this passionate path and I hope to do so in a way that enhances others’ understanding and promotes meaningful conversation. With this in mind, I’ve decided to do a series of mini-reviews on the different books and materials I come across in my studies. Here’s the first!

In Praise of the Goddess: The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning by Devadatta Kali (translator and commentator) Published by Nicolas-Hays, Inc 2003

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This book contains a chapter by chapter translation and commentary on the Devimahatmya (also known as the Durga Saptashi or the Chandi). The 700 verse hymn is followed by six traditional angas, or ancillary texts that complement the recitation and contemplation of the hymn. Each anga appears in Sanskrit and English and is followed by a commentary. The book begins with an introduction to the history, structure, and contents of the Chandi and concludes with the Sanskrit text. It is a sturdily bound paperback that will certainly stand up to repeated readings.

I’ve wanted a copy of the Devimahatmya for several years though specifically wanted a copy with a strong translation and helpful commentary. This edition was exactly what I was looking for. It’s a clear, well-written exploration of a text that remains central to Shakta philosophy even today.

The Shakta (goddess-centered) tradition in Hinduism contributed to the bhakti movement with many eloquent and evocative hymns and scriptures, of which this is one of the most important. Devi is portrayed as the fundamental, underlying reality upon which all possible manifestations rest; she is not removed or separate from her myriad manifestations and thus can be accessed through all levels of experience. This philosophical stance collapses the dualistic/non-dualistic conundrum and allows engagement with the divine even in a state of separation. Recognizing the Mother’s presence in all her offspring and manifestation is an important part of Shakta bhakti. This stance is similar to certain aspects of Vaishnava bhakti; a difference may be that the worshiper may more easily relate to a pervading maternal divine by virtue of already having a maternal relationship to refer to.

The Devi Mahatmya tells the story of Devi’s battles with various demons, here recognized as obstacles in the way of spiritual refinement. The text also emphasizes the role that the Mother plays in releasing her devotees from these obstacles; that is, grace is identified as a necessary part of spiritual refinement. In this there’s another similarity with Vaishnava bhakti. Perhaps most significantly, the text outlines Devi’s promises of aid and support to her worshipers and indeed to anyone who calls on her with sincerity.

This is a lovely and comprehensive volume exploring many important features of the devotional path. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in this text or in Shakta bhakta.

Book can be purchased from Biblio.com here: http://www.biblio.com/book/praise-goddess-devimahatmya-its-meaning/d/736569872

Love and Obligation in Divine Relationship

Complete surrender of the body and extreme recklessness about it and laying it down at the altar of love is considered as the highest form of sacrifice in the world. But the Lord’s devotee has yet a higher ideal.

He considers the sacrifice of the body as the lowest form of offering the devotee can make the the Lord. The standard with which the actions of the two are to be judged is, therefore, different. In the sphere of the world it is apparent that the beloved must be convinced that the lover has genuine affection for her, while she on her part must display rank carelessness in respect of her body and abhorrence for the rules of society. If such tests are applied in the base worldly love, what finer tests must not an aspirant in the region of divine love volunteer himself for; what fiery ordeal must he not pass through; what agonies must he not patiently bear before he can cross the threshold and get entrance into the portals of that more sublime region where love reigns supreme and the pleasures of which place know no surfeiting by excess.No mathematical calculation can give its idea; no formula can explain it.

The Story of Mira Bai, by Bankey Behari; pg 21

This passage refers to, among other things, the different ways that various forms of love manifest, especially in their extremity. With regards to the forms of love referred to here as worldly (finite, mortal, passing, and similarly limited), the highest expression or evidence of dedication is regarded as sacrificing the self even unto death. For the divine lover, for the devotee attached to an affectional object not finite, mortal, or passing, the highest expression is the persistence of living. That is, the degree of love that might inspire utmost self-sacrifice is but the initial level of sacred love. All the trials facing the devotee that come after this stage – well, that’s the challenge, isn’t it?

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Wanting, Getting, Having

A person’s reasons for pursing any type of spiritual practice are likely to be highly personal. Even if an individual is responding to personal or group expectations about practice, these motivations are still highly intimate. Though the specifics can vary a great deal, many motivations for practice come down to, “I want to experience more of this.” This is a perfectly fine motivation and it can lead to lots of really excellent practice and revelatory experiences. However, within this basic expression of motivation is the potential for – or at least the hope for – fulfillment. This leads to the conundrum of what motivation comes after the fulfillment. This is the question that I’m considering right now.

This isn’t the first time that the question of what comes next has arisen in my practice. The continual unfolding of desire and resolution has led me to be a little more selective and specific when it comes to the articulation of personal goals. Recognizing and then acknowledging the desires that motivate me (with regards to spiritual practice and other things) has helped with the cultivation of clarity and discernment. A radical and unflinching self-honesty is required for this sort of work and it has to be constantly revisited.

So when I was clearly told that I already have that thing that I’ve been wanting, I had to take a long hard bath with myself and think about what comes next. What happens after the fulfillment of desire?

I’m sure there are several well-articulated theological arguments to support my conclusion but I can’t think of them right now. I’ll cut the ramble short: Once one’s personal needs and desires have been met, the only Right and moral thing to do is to help others.

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