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Archive for January, 2012

Ancestors

Today — January 24th, 2012 — is the 14th anniversary of the death of my father.

I miss him very much. He was the first of my loved ones to die during my life, not yet old at only 60, from complications of pneumonia, and had the most influence on me of any of my elders/family members.  Though we disagreed on matters of religion, I have him to thank for the strong moral code I live by, and I have no trouble believing that our shared pre-Christian ancestors could look at his life and agree that he was an honorable man who kept the Nine Virtues close to his heart.

So hail to Guy Lawrence, my father. Fourteen years gone and I miss you more with every year that passes. I believe that, despite the differences in what we believed about what comes after death, that I will see you again when I pass from this world.

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Damn, it is cold outside. The weatherman said it was supposed to hit a high of 44*F today, but he lied. Last night’s rain melted most of the snow, but also brought in a wind that’s skipping off what snow is left, making it feel colder than the 37* it actually was when I went out to the park earlier today for my time with the spirits.

I went out and made my offerings, picked up trash (a whole 3/4ths of a bag, woo!), and managed to withstand the chill for an hour and five minutes before I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes any more. (No frostbite, I checked). And that’s through all the multiple layers — seven on top torso (bra, fitted t-shirt, long underwear shirt, loose t-shirt, tight sweater, loose big sweater, coat), three on bottom (underwear, long underwear pants, jeans), plus two pairs of socks and a plastic layer between them, shoes, hat, scarf, and three pairs of gloves.

Supposed to be no warmer than mid-30s next week around when I have to do this again. Hopefully the forecast is wrong again, but this time predicting colder than it’ll actually be.

Nothing left of last week’s offerings:

This week’s offerings, from left to right — diced apple, turbinado sugar (atop the apple container), grapes, a banana, oats (in the box), and on bottom, raw local honey:

Grapes:

Honey pooled on dead wood, and reflecting the bare willow branches overhead against the sky, like a mirror:

Turbinado sugar (and apples and honey on either side):

Oats:

Banana:

The whole offering:

Through the veil:

Today was actually more of a test than last week, I think — not as much snow, but it felt much, much colder. Haven’t shirked yet. But I’ll still be glad when Spring is here. At least Imbolc is just around the corner…

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I have never been much of one for daily devotions; coming as I do from the religion I was raised in (Catholicism) that valued orthodoxy (right belief) over orthopraxy (right action), much of that still underlay much of the way I interacted with the divine once I left Catholicism. I figured the gods knew I loved them, and I didn’t need to do things to show them that every day.

But recently, reading one of those memes you see on Facebook (the one that reminds you that you never know if the moment you’re looking at a loved one might be the last time you see them — heart attack, car accident, etc. — so you should tell them, over and over again, how much you love them; make sure they know how much you love them), it occurred to me that, if I would do something like that for my human loved ones (and I do), and even my pets, why would I leave the gods out of that circle of love and consideration? Sure, we routinely acknowledge that the gods are more powerful than us, and know more than us. It’s pretty much automatic to assume that they know we love them. But that doesn’t mean I should take it for granted. So about a week ago, I started building the first of what I hope will be many habits (21 days to build a habit, 3 days to break one, remember): daily devotions toward the gods. The first thing I do now, in the morning, upon rising — before my first cup of tea or checking to see if the mailman has come yet — is to light the candle on Hermes’ altar, and light a stick of incense for him, and greet him. Once I’ve built that habit, I’ll move on toward such a thing with another (probably Brigid), and then another, and another, until all the deities I honor have their own devotions. These things take no more than a few seconds apiece, and I can hardly begrudge a few moments out of my day toward them.

Old dogs can learn new tricks, and leopards can change their spots. If they care.

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The dictionary defines “vision” as:

1. the act or power of sensing with the eyes; sight.

2. the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be: prophetic vision; the vision of an entrepreneur.

3. an experience in which a personage, thing, or event appears vividly or credibly to the mind, although not actually present, often under the influence of a divine or other agency: a heavenly messenger appearing in a vision.

4. something seen or otherwise perceived during such an experience: The vision revealed its message.

5. a vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation: visions of wealth and glory.

The ADF defines “vision” as: The ability to broaden one’s perspective to have a greater understanding of our place/role in the cosmos, relating to the past, present, and future.

I have almost as much difficulty with vision as I do with moderation. Part of the issue is that — as can be seen in the dictionary definition — the word didn’t originally mean what the ADF (and so many corporations, organizations, universities, and other groups fond of buzzwords) uses it to mean.

But setting aside the pedantry of a lifelong English major, the main problem I have with vision is that I don’t usually bother with it. I’ve never been one for long-term planning; short-term plans at best. I’m comfortable living in the now, making plans only for the most immediate of goals, and tend not to waste my time on “what-ifs”.

Some people would see this as a failing. I don’t. I understand my place in the cosmos pretty well, especially as regards the past and present. It’s my place in the cosmos in the future where I run into speedbumps.

The truth is this: we have no way of knowing for certain how long we’ll be on this planet. Even for those of us who are young and in good health, at best we are only one patch of slick ice or failed brakes away from the grave. Making grandiose plans about where we want to be in twenty years ignores this vital fact. Living in your retirement home in Florida might be a nice dream, but the Universe and random chance may not be so accommodating.

I prefer to look at things more realistically. Vision: would I like to be a famous writer in twenty years, living in a dream home, known as well as Stephen King? Sure. But that might not be up to me. So much relies on outside factors — whether I could find an agent who’d agree to look at my work, whether an agent could sell it to a publishing company, whether the public likes it enough to buy a million copies. And whether or not I’m still drawing breath tomorrow, or am laying on a slab in the morgue.

No long-term plans for me. I’ll keep my vision limited to the here and now.

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The dictionary defines “integrity” as: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

The ADF defines “integrity” as: Honor; being trustworthy to oneself and to others, involving oath-keeping, honesty, fairness, respect, self-confidence.

Integrity is one of the highest principles in my life. I’ve always been a good scholar; I liked to read and study, was good at most subjects (except for math), and did well on homework and tests. Shy to begin with, I learned quickly in school that it wasn’t considered cool to be smart; on most days, I considered myself lucky if “teacher’s pet” was the worst thing I was called. I was often threatened by other students for wrecking the grade curve on tests, for handing in 15-page research papers when most classmates handed in four-page ones, and for generally liking the academic part of school.

The first real test of my integrity came in Sociology class in junior year. The teacher, Mr. Croghan, was known to be a notoriously difficult grader who saved the As and Bs he handed out for the girls on the soccer team, which he coached. Through meticulous study, I was also managing a B in the class, though I was not on the soccer team. Most of the other non-soccer students in the class with me were lucky to pull down Cs.

One student, whose name I won’t mention here, wasn’t lucky enough to even make Cs. An indifferent student at best, she was barely managing to make a D- in the class, which she had already flunked once. I was unfortunate enough that, due to alphabetical seating, she sat directly behind me. The day before the final exam, she cornered me in the hall and told me that I was going to let her copy off my test if I knew what was good for me.

But I knew it wasn’t ethical to let her copy from my test; she hadn’t studied, and it felt wrong to even consider allowing her to cheat — not even to stay out of trouble. The day of the test, I hunched over my paper, shielding my answers from view with my body.

I knew she was angry, but I figured there was nothing she could do. She finished her test quickly, and was the first student to leave the classroom (the class was the last of the day) when the bell rang. I gave her plenty of time to go, and was the last to leave – even after Mr. Croghan.

In hindsight, that was a mistake. I was halfway down the hall when my tormentor came out of the girls’ restroom and ran for me, clearly furious. She punched; I flailed with my purse, screaming my head off. The few other students that were still in the halls stayed clear of the fight, and then disappeared quickly as we were separated by one of the assistant principals.

I received a day of in-school suspension for being in a fight. She received five days of out-of-school suspension for starting it. The unfairness of being punished for essentially getting beaten up (for I never landed a single blow on her; she was four inches taller than I and at least twenty pounds heavier) stayed with me, but I was able to at least console myself with the fact that I had refused to compromise what I knew to be right — even to save myself from a beating.

That incident set the tone for the rest of my life. There haven’t been many incidents as dramatic as that one, but there have been a few.

Integrity and I? Old friends. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The dictionary defines “piety” as:

1.  reverence for God or devout fulfillment of religious obligations: a prayer full of piety.

2.  the quality or state of being pious: saintly piety.

3.  dutiful respect or regard for parents, homeland, etc.: filial piety.

4.  a pious act, remark, belief, or the like: the pieties and sacrifices of an austere life.

The ADF defines “piety” as: Correct observance of ritual and social traditions; the maintenance of the agreements, (both personal and societal), we humans have with the Gods and Spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty.

For me, this once again boils down to orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy — right belief vs. right practice. The dictionary definition #1, above, specifies belief (reverence for God) over practice; the ADF definition, not surprisingly, emphasizes practice over belief (correct observation of ritual traditions, the maintenance of the agreements we humans have with the Gods and Spirits).

I say it’s both.

Right belief and right practice are things that can, and should, go hand-in-hand. Defining “right” belief, in any pagan tradition, is an exercise that can be a bit tricky; there’s what’s generally believed to be right for one’s particular tradition (for example, Gardnerians do not, in general, sacrifice animals during their rituals; likewise, Druids of the ADF stripe do not cast the circle and call the four quarters to begin and end their rites). Within a specific tradition, there is sometimes leeway as to the “right” things to believe; solitary esoteric Wicca is especially known for this.

Right practice within the ADF is fairly clearly defined. Likewise, the DP manual gives a reasonably clear idea of what “right belief” constitutes, while allowing wiggle room depending on the particular hearth culture a person chooses to follow. What is “right” belief for a follower of the Tuatha de Danaan is not necessarily “right” belief for a follower of Hellenic culture. And what’s “right” belief for an ADF Hellene is very different for a Hellenic Recon (different calendar for High/Holy Days, different names for those days, the HR concept of miasma is not touched upon in ADF practice that I’m aware of, and so on…)

Piety is both a state of mind and a course of action. One can believe all one wants, but without deeds to back it up, it’s hollow; likewise, deeds without belief is mere pantomime. In my opinion, true piety should involve both things, and this is how I have always practiced throughout my life.

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I am incapable of meditating. I have tried at least half a dozen methods, including Zen, the ADF Two Powers practice, and several others. I simply cannot detach or focus my mind. My thoughts just bounce off the walls like kittens on ‘nip, no matter how long I try.

This does not bode well for finishing my DP.

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