Tag Archives: Ritual

Homeless

I’d just pulled out of the grocery store parking lot and into some mild traffic, this was early last week, when the passenger side window of the car in front of me opened and ejected what looked like a wadded up fast food bag, which came to rest on the grassy slope beyond the curb.

There was no way I could pull over to pick it up, and no way to properly express my outrage to the uncaring occupants of the vehicle in front of me.

The litter was just there, a little blot of ugliness in my both my rearview mirror and my stomach.

I found myself wondering in what sort of condition those people keep their home.

What, I wondered, was their problem?

Why not just dispose of the thing properly?

I called these folks “uncaring” a moment ago, but I don’t know that I believe that.  There has to have been some thought process, some mental calculation that would compel a person to open her car window and cast her refuse into the street.

I imagined these people as horrible slobs, leaving a trail of filth in their wake wherever they go.

But maybe they just didn’t want that trash in their car, they could, I supposed, be incredibly tidy, within their own four walls.

And there, in the midst of my conjecture, I think I may have hit upon the element that I was missing.

Home, for most people, is what we own, an area bounded by fence or walls that belongs to exclusively to us.  Everything beyond those walls is outside, outside of our control, outside of our responsibility.

I don’t really see things that way.  Walls and fences have their uses, sure, but they are temporary things, in the grand scheme, and land ownership even more so.  The land does not belong to us, we are only its caretakers.

It is, I think, far more realistic to say that we belong to the land.

And so, last Sunday when I saw garbage indiscriminately flung into the street, it felt like a blemish upon my home.

Two days later, nearly half our population flung garbage into the presidency, and for the first time in my life, I felt homeless.

In the days that have passed since that seemingly endless Tuesday night, my emotional state has shifted from anger to despondency and back again more times than I can count.  I’ve listened to the speculation about the why’s and how’s, I’ve looked through the sorry demographics of who did and didn’t, I’ve listened to the explanations from those who voted for him, and I keep coming up with the same calculation that accounts for that wadded up bag on the side of the roadway.

This society is infected with a strange breed of selfishness that prevents us from truly seeing and empathizing with the world beyond that little patch that we imagine we own.

The problems and concerns of others, their very real fears about the future…, well, that’s on them, isn’t it.

And I don’t know what we can do about that attitude.  I don’t know how we can broaden the perceptions of people beyond themselves, except to continue to be who WE are, to continue to live in their world, and to open their hearts, one by one.

I suppose it would be easier, if I could just shut my eyes to it, but I can’t.

I wouldn’t want to.  I remember when I saw the world like they do.  I remember that, although less painful, it was a pretty empty way to live.

The anger is still there, but it’s at low ebb now.

The despondency, I’ve mostly replaced that with determination.

But I worry for my friends, many of whom are likely facing hard times ahead.

I worry for those of us who practice alternative religions, now that the evangelical movement has friends in high places, who have already expressed profound misunderstandings about both the Non-Establishment Clause, and simple human decency.

Mostly though, I worry about the land.

My ancestors believed that we were all a part of the land, and that the land herself was divine.

When they chose a king, he was symbolically married to the goddess of the land.

The success or the failure of that marriage could be seen in both the fruitfulness of the land and the prosperity of the people.  A disrespectful king could bring blight to the land and ruin to the governed.

Although the actual rituals of this marriage have not been practiced in many centuries, and never on this continent (so far as I know), I do believe that some vestige of this relationship, however unknown to our leaders, must still remain.  And the thought of it, of that man in THAT spiritual role…, frankly, it makes me nauseous.

Somehow, I don’t think a man with a reputation for using women and a well documented disdain for environmental protections will be the font of a bountiful union.  And if things go too badly, the goddess of this land may very well blame the society that put him there.  We may find that we are all homeless.

Goddess Statue

5 Comments

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Traditions

Sacred Space: Sacristy

In every Catholic Church there is a special room, hidden somewhere out of sight, where the tools of the Mass are kept.  There is a rack where the priests vestments are hung, and cabinets which are used to store the various tools of the Mass: the paten and chalice, ciborium and censor.

In some churches, the Sacristy is equipped with a special sink which drains into the earth instead of into the sewers.  This sink is used to clean the vessels used during the rite of Communion, it being important that no part of the body or blood of their savior, having been washed away, should come into contact with human waste.  This is a part of the sacrament that no one sees, but is every bit as important as all the pomp and circumstance of the Mass.

If the true drama of the church takes place at the altar, before the eyes of the attendant faithful, we may think of the Sacristy as the backstage, a space both sacred and utilitarian, dedicated to the mundane needs of the priest and the fulfillment of his office.

While I grew up in the Church, I could never believe in the miracle it all hinged upon.

The rituals however, the mechanics of it all, these things were always fascinating to me.

I suppose some of the other christian churches must have Sacristies of their own, but I have observed that the further removed a denomination is from its Roman roots, the less likely it is to believe that an object can be imbued with holiness.  In these churches where the pulpit has replaced the holy altar, the robes are simply robes, and the weird little glass dixie-cups that they serve grape juice in are just weird little glass dixie-cups.

If a church like that has a Sacristy at all, surely would be in name only.

Of course, I could easily be wrong on that point.  I happily admit that my knowledge of that end of the Christian spectrum is somewhat lacking, and I am sure that someone among my friends or readers will correct me if I have muddled the details.

Still, it seems to me that if you believe that the tools of ritual are blessed, you must need a sanctified space in which to store them and to prepare them for use.

If you do not believe, or if the nature of your belief is such that you have no place for tools or ritual, the need for such a space is equally absent.

But what happens at the other end of that spectrum?  What if your belief is that everything has a living and sacred spirit, that every rock and tree, that the air we breath and the soil beneath our feet, is all of it inspirited, all humming with power and presence?

If all the word’s a stage, where do we hide all the props and costumes when they’re not in use?

 

As usual, we’ve got it backward.

“Nature is My Church” is a popular saying among pagans.

There are lots of variations of this sentiment, but it is almost always coupled an image of some pure wilderness setting, the idea being that the majesty of the forest canopy or the wind carved arches of desert stone are the pagan equivalent of a cathedrals walls.

And while I freely admit that many of my most deeply spiritual experiences, come from moments spent in a wilderness setting, I don’t think that this is what that phrase means, or what it should mean.

We have worked so hard, as a species, to compartmentalize our world and our lives.  “Nature,” we think of as a place apart from home and from work.  It is another place we might choose to go, instead of the mall or the gym.  Maybe we make daily visits to the jogging trail at the nearby city park, or we could save up our money for that once in a lifetime chance to gather the family head ‘cross country, basking in the majesty of some National Park.

But ‘going’ to church is what the Christians do.

Nature isn’t a place, and it is not a thing.

Nature is a force, and like gravity (or Facebook), it’s pretty much everywhere.

The trackless miles of old-growth forests are no more or less a part of nature than a few blades of grass, peeking up from a crack in the sidewalk.

Grass in Stone

We don’t go to nature.  Nature finds its way to us, always, crashing through whatever feeble barriers we might like to erect against it.  If nature is our church, then that’s the whole of it.

The world is OUR temple.

But does it feel that way?

Probably not.

If you are anything like me, what you feel, most of the time, is a great weight pressing you down, threatening to suffocate you beneath the endless minutia of the every day.

Oh, we can break through it from time to time.

We can steal a few moments of meditation.  We can light the fires on the special days, breathing  in the smoke, and feeling our lungs clear like we were bursting up from a deep dive.  We can calm our minds with a walk in the sunshine, or the rain, or beneath the light of the moon.

But these are fragmentary moments, and when they pass, we’ll still have to deal with pressure that comes along with the day to day grind of existence.  And most people call this “life”.

But I’ve found another word for it.

 

I call it Sacristy.

All the world is a Sacred Space, all of it, but we have made of it a storeroom.

We have, all around us, the tools of worship, but we seldom take them up.

Instead, we tuck them away in their special cubbies, lest they become misplaced.

Our spiritual selves we leave hanging on a rack, waiting for those ever so special occasions when we’ll slip them on and take ‘em for a twirl.

A couple thousand years ago a new religion, born of an unlikely marriage between a messianic cult and the religious methodology of ancient Rome, began to sweep across the land.  With its arrival the gods were banished from our day to day tasks, and the spirits of field and forest were ignored and eventually forgotten.

Because religion became a separate entity unto itself, and everything beyond the cathedral walls, profane.

And here we are, those of us who are working to resurrect the old ways, still burdened by this terrible idea: church is a place we go, religion is a thing we do, and most of our lives are spent backstage, just waiting for the next scene.

I work, and I pay my bills, and the list of things that need to be done just keeps piling up, and not the least bit of progress on the little temple that I’ve sworn to build behind my house.

Because where would I find the time, or the energy, or the money for materials, when everything else needs doing first?

It has become emblematic for me, my little temple project, of a much bigger problem.

A little more every day, I grow tired of living in the Sacristy.

****

This is the tenth post in this series, following the thoughts, planning, and (I hope), the eventual construction of a small temple space on my property.  If you wish to follow along, you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Modern Life, Nature, Philosophy, Religion, Sacred Space, Spiritual Journey

Summon unto ye the Unholy Spirit of My Little Pony

Summoning My Little Pony

The best thing about the internet is not its ability to connect us over vast distances or the sheer volume of information which it puts at our fingertips.  These things are all very fine and good, it is true, but the very VERY best thing about the internet is its ability to regurgitate silly “news” items again and again, sometimes years after they first surfaced.

As a case in point, I bring you this meme I spotted the other day, warning against the next satanic plot to destroy our innocent youth…,

Pink Ouija Meme

Yep, that’s a pink Ouija board, the likes of which I had never seen before, but which it appears Hasbro started cranking out back in 2010.  How did I miss this?!

And this was apparently a big deal at the time.  With just a little effort I discovered several news articles about Christian groups protesting against Toys R Us for selling these things, and Hasbro for making them.

And all because little girls will be seduced by the pink cardboard and begin to summon malign spirits.

That’s the part that always makes me laugh.

Just how easy do these people think it is to conjure something up from the bowls of hell?!  I mean, if a couple little girls can do it, while fiddling with a bit of cardboard and plastic, an adult ought to be able to step outside and summon all sorts of uglies with no more than a good shout.  The skies above us should be filled with demonic energy like that scene in Ghostbusters after the containment grid is shut down.  And those of us who have actually studied magic should be able to bring the gods themselves thundering down from the heavens in all their wrath and fury.

I ain't afraid of no ghosts!

I’ve watched this movie dozens of times and never noticed that the spirits released over NYC are all pink. Maybe Hasbro is on to something!

But it doesn’t work like that, as even a casual glance at the world around us should make clear.

I believe in an inspirited world, I have been witness to the raw magical power of youth, but I think its a safe bet that no line of demons is queued up and ready to leap into our children through the vehicle of a $12 toy.

And what self respecting hell-wright would be seen in the same room with this thing, anyway.

The cultist spread his hands out over them and cried, “Go now children, take up the bright pink letter-board of damnation, and summon unto ye the Unholy Spirit of My Little Pony.”

Yeah, I don’t think so.

Oh, and parents…, don’t buy your kids a pink Ouija board.  Not because they might use it to summon something nasty, but because they’ll play with it once, and then it’s just going to collect dust in the closet.

Besides, everyone knows that all the most sinister of infernal spirits have been trapped, through fiendish sorcery, inside these unbreakable spheres of darkness.

Magic 8-Ball

From here, they will reveal, at our command, the very secrets of the universe.

Only, not right now…, try again later.

3 Comments

Filed under Magic, Modern Life, Religion

The Sixth Day of the Moon

I don’t want what you are about to read, to give you the wrong impression of me.

The simple fact is that I love Halloween.  I love every single waxy-candy-corn-polyester-spider-web-plastic-bat-cheap-sound-effect-paper-skeleton-fog-machine-gooey-candy-booze-soaked-thriller-zombie-great-pumpkin-watching moment of it.

And so, you’d think that it would be easy…,

Because it is common knowledge that this time of the year, more than any other, has held on to so many old traditions and associations, it should, therefore, be the easiest time of the year to be Pagan.

Which is not to say that we stop being Pagan during the rest of the year.  We are what we are, and do not change religious status as matters of convenience…, (well come to think of it, I suppose that some of us do, but that’s another topic altogether).

But as conventional wisdom would have it, it should be easy to be a Witch or a Druid in these waning days of October, because everyone is just a tad pagan come Halloween.  Tis the season of dress-up and pretend, ghosts and goblins, tales of hauntings told around a fire, and the incessant cackle of that animatronic crone which the neighbors (who look at you funny all the rest of the year) have propped up on their front porch, standing guard over a bowl of candy shaped like a cauldron with a bloody human hand thrust out of it.

It’s okay to be different from everyone else, because this is that special time of year when everyone is trying to be a little different.  And if you are lucky enough to be ‘the pagan’ in your social group, well that has its own very special benefits…,

“Hey, (‘nudge-nudge’ goes the elbow) I read an article in a magazine I bet you would have liked.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah, it was all about the REAL origins of Halloween (their head does that ‘wise nod’ thing).  I can loan it to you if you’d like?”

“Ummm, I’m good, thanks.”

And it’s not as if we can be upset about it, because we know that they love us and they just want to know us better, and to feel included in a part of our lives that they really don’t understand very well.  Society has told them that Halloween is their best opportunity to gain that deeper understanding, and to truly share something with us.

Because, for the Pagan, every day is Halloween.  Right?!

Ugh.

No.

Stop.

If you are a Christian reading this, I beg you, stop trying to understand us through the lens of Halloween.  Imagine, for a moment, trying to bring your gospel to the natives of some far away land, who’s only previous exposure to your religious tradition comes from repeated viewings of that 1969 animated Frosty the Snowman special, as narrated by Jimmy Durante.  Same difference, trust me.

And my fellow Pagans of every stripe, I beg you with equal fervor, to stop trying to educate people about our traditions by doing that same tired old compare/contrast between Samhain and Halloween.  Honestly, 99% of your audience stopped listening the moment they figured out Jack Skellington wasn’t going to make an appearance.

Halloween is not an educational opportunity – it’s a party – so just enjoy it.

And, if I may dole out one more piece of advice: don’t allow your spiritual practice to get caught up in the orange and the black.  Halloween is not an accommodation that the world makes for us, and neither should our Samhain be an accommodation for the rest of society.

So then, what am ‘I’ doing for Halloween?

Sixth Day Harvest

This year I’ll be taking a break from handing out candy to all the little ghoulies, and will instead be having a long overdue dinner with a dear friend and her new gentleman.

And what about Samhain?

This year, I’ll be participating in an ancient rite which I have studied for years and yet never experienced first hand.

“The druids…, hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is a hard-timbered oak. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon. Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree…, A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak…,

—Pliney the Elder, 1st Century CE

The Sixth day of the Moon, being the sixth day since the moon was reborn from darkness, and that point when it is entering the midpoint of its transition from New to Full, a time of balance between darkness and light, falls (to the best of my calculations) in the early evening on Thursday, October 30th.

I usually do not celebrate Samhain so early, but an opportunity like this is rare, and this year, more than most, I feel the need to make a change in my usual habits.

Oh, I will still feast, and honor the gods and the dead with the sacrifice of meat and drink.  I will build a great fire for them, and I will pass bodily through the flame that burns in two worlds.  And when I am done, I will take the mistletoe leaves I have gathered, which my ancestors called Uileiceadh – the cure all, and hang them to dry.

And when Imbolc dawns, come February, I will welcome the spring with a hot cup of Mistletoe Tea – a new tradition for a new year.

A blessed Samhain and a Happy Halloween to you all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Holidays, Interfaith, Religion, Traditions

Way of the Warrior

I walked, recently, through an exhibit of Samurai armor and artifacts, which is currently on display at the Kimball Art Museum in my home of Fort Worth, Texas.

Passing from display to display, I found myself almost overwhelmed by the detail and artistry put into each piece by the craftsmen of centuries past.  The eye is drawn into the intricate lacing, along the elegantly knotted cord, into the clouds of fine chain links, in and out through serpentine designs of enameled beasts, ultimately arriving upon imposing masks of iron, grinning with an inhuman fury.  It is easy to see how the men inside these suits of armor would inspire terror in their enemies, and how they may have felt themselves as becoming something more than human.

Individually, the works are stunning.  In aggregate, they come together to give us a picture of a society which knew, in no uncertain terms, how it felt about war.

Our society, on the other hand, is nowhere near so certain.

We have come so far in just the last hundred years.  We can measure the distance between atoms and map the human genome, but the more we learn about the universe around us, the less we appear to understand about ourselves.

Kabuto and Menpō (helmet and half-mask) from the late Edo period.

Kabuto and Menpō (helmet and half-mask) from the late Edo period.

The works on display span almost 700-years of Japanese history, but most of them come from the Edo period (1603-1868).  Japan, during this era, was a culture in the midst of a long and fruitful peace, yet still dedicated to the very principle of the warrior ideal.  Bushidō, or “the Way of the Warrior,” was both a personal code of conduct and a philosophy centered around seven essential virtues: Courage, Respect, Benevolence, Honor, Rectitude, Honesty, and Loyalty.  It was this ethical core which compelled the Samurai to become masters of the arts and social graces as well as warriors of unparalleled skill.  Bushidō was, among other things, a celebration of the Heroic Ideal which stands as the foundation of every great society.

The hero is, in many ways, the ultimate manifestation of the culture from which he comes.  Maybe his name is Gilgamesh, Heracles, Cú Chulainn or Arthur.  For that matter, she might be called Boudicca or Candace of Meroë.  In whatever guise, the hero stands as the apotheosis of the people from which he comes; a mythic figure, more than man but less than a god, both savior and sacrifice for his people.

Those who came before us knew that a people without heroes were doomed, and that to treat their heroes poorly, was an affront to those beings that had invested them with power in the first place.

We appear to have forgotten these lessons.

“Ah, but times have changed,” people tell me, “and the Samurai existed within a warrior culture while ours is far more civilized.”

Really?  Ours is NOT a warrior culture?

I think the fact that in the United States, roughly 20% of our federal budget goes toward military spending while 2% goes toward scientific research and less than one-tenth of 1% toward the arts, would suggest otherwise.

No, we are a warrior culture, to be sure.  We’ve simply become woefully bad at it.

Oh, we go through the motions.  We both memorialize our fallen soldiers and honor the living with special days full of picnics and parades.  We praise them for their service, and glory to their fictionalized exploits in the cinema and on television.  If we meet them on the street, we commend them for protecting our freedom, even though that’s not really the job we have them doing.

We do not send them off into the fray, showered with flower petals, to win the day against the iron grip of some great evil.  Instead, we dress them up in the most utilitarian gear possible and ship them into some sorry “war of choice”, like they were prisoners cleaning up litter by the roadside.

When finally, they come home again, we don’t seem overly bothered by how many of them are forced to live under bridges.  We prop them up at political rallies while we slice away at funding for veteran’s hospitals and services.  We fret about the validity of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder while they commit suicide in record numbers.

Yes, we can kill you from across the planet with the touch of a button, but for all our technical prowess we have grown clumsy in the Art of War.  Indeed, in the last hundred years we’ve done everything we can to take the “art” out of it entirely.

We hate the needless killing.

We hate the brutality and we’d like to think that we have risen above it.

“War,” we tell ourselves, “is dirty.”  It is something we are forced into by our more primitive enemies.  “The barbarians are at the gate,” cry our leaders, “and we’ve got to sink briefly to their level, just this one last time, if we hope to protect our shining city on the hill.”

But it’s not so easy as that.

War has been around for as long as people have been walking upon the globe (and possibly longer).  War is a part of us and always will be.  The only “everlasting peace” you are likely to find is in the grave.  And even then, it would be wise to remember that the gods themselves are all warriors of one sort or another, and the graves of the ancients were often arrayed with the weapons of war.

Perhaps, if as a society, we could embrace the ‘Way of the Warrior’, we would actually see less warfare and fewer sombre memorials.  Certainly, I’d like to think that the wars we still did have, would be better ones, worthy of the sacrifice we ask of the young men and women we send into harms way.

Maybe, we are fighting the wrong kinds of wars because we stopped breeding heroes of great virtue.  I think we owe it to the world we are leaving for our children to try.  Certainly, we owe it to those who have gone to their graves to see to it that no more will follow them into the ground without just cause.

The Exhibit at the Kimball runs through August 31, 2014.  If you are a resident of North Texas, or just passing through and looking for something to do, I suggest that you stop by and take a look.  It is well worth the visit.

The Exhibit at the Kimball runs through August 31, 2014. If you are a resident of North Texas, or just passing through and looking for something to do, I suggest that you stop by and take a look.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Culture, Death, Heroes, Holidays, Modern Life, Philosophy, Traditions

By Leaps and Bounds

I sat gazing at the fire, watching keenly as its flames climbed into the night and sent sparks dancing among the stars.  I watched, and could not leap.

I had been saving timber aside for months.

There are many traditions about what sort of wood should be used to build the Beltane fire, but I usually select from among the cuttings I make on my own property.  There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to the logs and branches that I choose, except that some ‘want’ to be fed to the ritual fire, and others very much do not.

Each fire is unique, in both the way that I stack the wood and in the extra components that I include as I do so.  In the past I have included packets of herbs, or sprinkled oils, or folded slips of paper with messages secreted within.

This year, there was only the wood, and then the flame.  And I could not leap.

However different the composition of the fires may be from year to year, they are also very much the same.

We light the fire on May Eve, when the bounds that divide our world from the Otherworld are nearly absent.  By will and by rite the fire burns in both worlds.  It burns as a beacon, calling man and spirit and gods alike, to gather near, and to indulge themselves in that shared warmth and light.

We stoke the fire, and the heat of it penetrates us, moving through flesh, bone and spirit.  It burns away the cares and worries of our yesterdays.  It purifies body and soul and the airs through which it passes.  For this reason we snuff out the fires in our homes and relight them again from the sacred flame of May.  This is why we circle or dance around the flames, and why, in times now long past, the herdsmen would drive their charges past the fire, or between two fires built for this purpose.  The light and the heat are kindled to purify and to protect.

We may even take a bit of that flame, and walk the bounds of our property, whispering words to be carried away on a curling trail of smoke, to protect ourselves from those who would do us harm – in this world or the other.

And then there are those of us who feel called to leap through the flames.

The old stories say that we do it for luck, but it may just be that the power of the flame gets the blood racing and drives us into the air.  Or maybe, knowing that the fire burns in two worlds at once, we feel compelled to break the bounds and touch, if only for the space of a second, that elusive realm.  It might even be a hint of the daredevil, showing through in the heat of the moment.

As with most things, I tend to think there are multiple truths to be found here.

It is enough to say that every time I have built the fire, when I have stoked the flames to their highest, I run, and I leap through the rising blaze.  And when I land on the other side, I do so having lost much of the baggage I’ve collected since my last passage through the flames at Samhain.

But not this year.

Through a foolish accident which I will not bother to describe here, I broke the big toe on my left foot.  Damn, stupid, idiotic luck!

I limped through the few days between the accident and May Eve, my thoughts on the fire and the feast to come.  And it was not until I stood before the roaring flames that I realized I would not leap into May as I have always done.  I was, I am, for the moment anyway, bound to earth.

I didn’t know how much I would miss it.

And so I sat, and I watched the fire burn, and I felt bad for myself.

Then, I felt bad about feeling bad, knowing full well that there are plenty of people who have never known the joy of leaping over the Bel-Fire, and knowing that soon enough, I’ll be too old to manage it, whatever condition my bones might be in.

And as I sat there, stewing in my melancholy,  I noticed something to my right, glowing in the darkness, just at the edge of my peripheral vision.  Turning my gaze, I saw that it was a small moth, hovering not a foot from my head, and facing the flames.  It was not flying erratically, it did not trace that all too familiar doomed spiral, it simply hovered there, perfectly still in space, except for the blurred beating of its wings.

Turning back to the flames myself, I looked deep within that dancing, spiraling light.  I took a breath, and then another.  I let go of my self pity, my disappointment and frustration.  I accepted my place in the invisible circle which had formed around the fire.  And I finally, though I have unsuccessfully sought visions in the flame many times before, this time I traveled through the fire, though my feet never left the ground.

We learn and grow by leaps and bounds.

Sometimes we thrust ourselves freely into the unknown, never minding the risk, and knowing full well that we might stumble and fall, because we believe there is something to be gained along the way.

Other times, we feel ourselves bound by as much by circumstance as by gravity.  In those moments we may choose to bow down to the limitations which have been thrust upon us, or we can look instead for the shapes hidden within those boundaries.

Beltane Fire

Though late for those who celebrate on the 1st of the month, and early for those who remember ‘Old May’ on the 11th, I wish you all a joyous holy day.  To my friends south of the equator where time runs funny, a blessed Samhain to you and yours.

After a month long absence, The Stone of Destiny resumes its regular Monday posts (although I may be introducing an occasional ‘skip-week’ when things get hectic).  There may be other changes in the wind as well, which I will reveal when, and if, it becomes appropriate to do so.  For now, it’s just good to be back!

3 Comments

Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Divination, Holidays, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

Embers

The Imbolc fire burns low.

It was a small fire this year, although it would be fair to say that the flames I kindle for Lá Fhéile Bríde are always on the smallish side.

Winter still holds us within its chill grip, but beneath the cold, there is that first fleeting hint of Spring.  I say ‘hint’ because it is nothing so sure and trustworthy as a particular smell or budding leaves in the naked canopy above, but it is there all the same, stirring at the edges of our perception.  Change, as they say, is in the air.

Imbolc, like its counterpart Lughnasadh, is a time of transition, and the energies seem uncertain.  These are times of reflection and divination, best done in the warm blush of a simple hearth.

The great roaring, spiraling column of flame will whirl its way into the space between the worlds again come Beltane, but for now, a more sensible blaze will do.

It is a small gesture of devotion to the ‘exalted one’, the sacred flame of Kildare.

The fire has burned down to embers now.

I am no flamekeeper.

The embers will cool and their dull red glow will dissipate.

And that’s okay, because I don’t believe that the flame ever really goes out.

Olympic Ritual

This was the scene in Olympia, Greece, in September of last year.   In the ruins of the ancient Temple of Hera, the priestesses called out in benediction to the solar god Apollo, while using the rays of the Sun, focused by a specially polished parabolic mirror, to ignite the sacred Olympic flame.  And in only a few days time, that same flame will arrive in Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea.

Well, not really.

The flame went out in October.  It sputtered and died and then was relit by some Russian official with a Zippo, on camera, for the world to see.  And that’s just crazy because they keep multiple spare flames, ignited from the same original flame in Greece, which are toted along in special little lanterns, to restore the “official” flame in just such an emergency.

They go through all this trouble, because the flame is important.  It’s sacred.

Well, not really.

I mean, the flame is kindled on the site of the original Olympic Games, but the circle of women calling out to Apollo and Zeus are actresses.  The ritual is a show.  It’s a fake.

Olympic Propaganda 1936For that matter, while the tradition of burning a flame during the whole of the games, is a tradition that was indeed observed by the ancients, the whole business with the torch relay bringing the flame from Greece to the host city, was concocted by the Nazis for the  1936 Games in Berlin – Hitler’s Olympics.  The relay was yet another bit of Aryan propaganda, a symbolic passing of the ‘torch of civilization’ from ancient Greece to the supposed ‘master race’.

So, I ask you: Is the flame that arrives this week in Sochi, the one born from the ‘Flick of a Bic’ any less sacred then the flame which left the Temple of Hera so many months ago?

Is there anything of the divine to be found in a ceremony conducted by paid performers?

Do the Olympics themselves mean anything beyond advertising revenues and jingoistic chest thumping?

I contemplate the embers of my own sacred fire, and I wonder.

Olympic Flame

It is easy to become discouraged.

In the whole of the world there are only a tiny fraction of people who share beliefs similar to my own.  We are a small community.  Our neighbors scoff at our efforts, if they deign to notice us at all.  Closer to home are the tolerant, the confused, and the sympathetic who quietly pray for our souls.  If we are lucky we have people in our lives who love and respect us enough to ‘go through the motions’.  Most of us are lucky if we ever meet face-to-face with more than a handful of the truly like minded.

We complain incessantly about the politics, the divisiveness, and corruption (of one sort or another) within our community.  In many ways these are the same kinds of arguments I have heard people make against the Olympics.

“It’s all about politics and propaganda,” they say.

“Everyone,” we are told, “is in it seeking money or power or attention, and no one really cares about the sanctity or sport or the high ideals of cooperation and universal brotherhood.”

So which is it?

Are we all just a bunch of misguided frauds?

Or is the idea bigger than the day to day reality in which we find ourselves?

Jesse Owens 1936The Berlin Games and the Olympic Torch Relay were used as a platform to express a horrific ideology.  And what we got instead was the triumph of Jesse Owens – the perfect expression of the Olympic Ideal.

Don’t tell me that there is no power there.

Certainly the Sochi Games have had controversies of their own, mostly related to the issue of Gay Rights within the Russian Federation.  Maybe the power of the Olympic Ideal will overcome Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic agenda.

One may always hope.

And what about those very few of us who choose to honor the gods of our ancient ancestors?  When the one public ritual that is performed in their honor, before the eyes of the gathered world, is little more than a choreographed performance…, does that ritual have any true meaning?

If an actress recites a prayer and if I believe in it, am moved by it, does it have power?

The flames of our ancestors burned out long ago.

Others came, and relit them for their own reasons.

But still they burn, and the embers of those old fires have been awakened.

We need only fan the flames.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Sports, The Gods, Traditions