Tag Archives: Spirituality

…like Animals.

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“Look at those children, behaving like animals!”

“You wouldn’t believe the filth in that place, they were living like animals.”

“These aren’t people.  These are animals.”

I often find myself becoming irritated with the way in which the word “animal” is so frequently used as a slight against people who’s presence or behaviors we might find objectionable.

This sort of insult, I feel, says more about the feelings which people hold toward our animal kin, than it does about the people so labeled.  These feelings, so pervasive within our society, must surely display themselves in the ways in which we treat the animals around us: our “pets”, our livestock, and most especially those animals which are still considered “wild” (another word frequently used in a disparaging manner – uncivilized, untamed, undomesticated, etc…,).

Each of those insults which I quoted above calls to my mind a corresponding question.

How do animals behave?

How do they live?

What are people, if not animals? 

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I have been to several zoos over the years, and driven through a few of those “Wild Animal” parks where you feed handfuls of grey pellets to the giraffes and the water buffalo, all the while hoping they won’t do anything expensive to your car in the process.  Never, however, have I experienced anything quite like my recent visit to The Wild Animal Sanctuary, situated in the plains just east of Denver, Colorado.

Firstly, I have never see quite so many animals in any single facility.  Lions, tigers, and yes bears, along with foxes, wolves, coyotes, pumas, lynx and a host of others reside here in numbers that would overwhelm any zoo I’ve ever seen.

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But this is most definitely not a zoo, and the animals are not on exhibit.

They do not appear in carefully curated little vignettes, framed in post-card images of their natural habitat, say a mountain pool, or untamed jungle.  If anything, it is the visiting humans who are on display, exposed up high on a catwalk, easily viewed by any of the animals inhabiting the facility…, if only they cared to look.

Most of them seem…, shall we say disinterested, in the folks admiring them from above.

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And that alone probably wouldn’t sit well with some folks.  We want the animals to be as interested in us as we are in them.  We want them to be mystified by us, curious about our ways, and envious of our progress.

Probably, I think, the animals at the Sanctuary just know better.

Most of them have been abused by humans at some point in their lives.  They’ve been kept on chains or in small filthy cages as a “pet” in someone’s backyard, or cramped together in some ramshackle zoo.  Some have been declawed, their teeth either filed down or removed altogether, and made to perform in some circus or roadside attraction.  They’ve been starved, or beaten, or bred relentlessly, only to have their offspring taken from them again and again, and sold to the highest bidder.

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But in the Sanctuary these magnificent creatures are able to live out the rest of their lives in peace and comfort, mostly free from human interference.  They roam huge fenced enclosures, acres upon acres of grass prairie with nice cool underground dens in which they may shelter during the hottest parts of the day, or during inclement weather.

When I say they they are not on display, I mean that they are visible when and only when they care to be.  Or more accurately, when they don’t care if they are seen or not.

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We passed entire enclosures which at first inspection seemed entirely devoid of animal life, only to return later, with dusk approaching, to see lions or tigers suddenly appearing out of the tall grass.

It is one thing to look into the bored eyes of some great tiger on display at a zoo, but it is another thing entirely to watch her vanish as if by magic into a stand of bamboo, or to try and keep pace with her, walking quickly along the catwalk as she parallels your path along the fence below, only to realize she is stalking your shadow through the tall grass, as the sun dips toward the horizon.  Short of actually viewing them in the wild, I can’t imagine a better way to dip ever so slightly into their world.

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Because this IS their world, as surely as it is ours.

We try to own them like we try to own everything.

And we fail them, and ourselves in the process.

And so I come one again to my initial questions…,

How do animals behave?

Better than we do I think, in most circumstances.  They do not hunt or kill except for survival.  They do not burn down their forests, or despoil their land in the name resource extraction, or money, or politics.

How do animals live?

These days, mostly where we permit them to live, or where we don’t notice them, or haven’t found a way to reach them yet.  But always, they live the best they can.

And what are people?

We are the animals who have forgotten how to BE animals.

And I think we all know this, on some level.  Otherwise, there would not be the fascination, the curiosity, the need to control, to dominate, and to prove our manifest superiority over them.  We, as a species have lost something vital.  And I think that this loss inspires both our best and our worst inclinations where these creatures are concerned.

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The dominate religions of our time tell us that their god is separate from the creation, and that mankind was set above the animals, was imbued with a soul and a destiny that the other ‘things’ which move upon the earth are lacking.

And I understand the appeal, the desire to feel important, to be of central importance in some grand scheme.

But the old religions knew better.

We are OF this world.

We should learn to accept that before it’s too late for them, and for us.

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Stalking this tiger with my camera, only to realize that she was stalking my shadow through the tall grass.

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What a feeling to watch her stroll away into the distance once she lost interest in the “hunt”. No bars and no faux stone walls to keep her where we could see her.

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Filed under Modern Life, Nature, Philosophy, Photography, Spiritual Journey, Travel

The Nature of the Message

We’ve all seen those solitary blades of grass reaching up from the cracks in a sidewalk, or maybe a bit of green clinging to the side of a wall where a bit of wind blown soil and seed found purchase amongst crumbling bricks.

It’s common enough to see these things as a sign of the impermanence of mankind’s imposition upon the natural world. The earth shifts, concrete falters, and the green world which was hiding just below the surface asserts itself with a vengeance.

I’ve shared that same feeling, and found some comfort in it.

Nothing we do, truly lasts forever.

But sometimes, I wonder if we haven’t misinterpreted the nature of the message.

Near my workplace there is a No Parking sign imbedded in the sidewalk, standing no less then seven feet above the roadway, and crowned, amazingly, with a healthy shock of leaves, waving in the breeze.

Upon closer examination, the base of the signpost is imbedded firmly within the pristine pavement. There are no cracks or gaps, no place for the earth beneath to show through. But there is a long thin vine, reaching up through the middle of the post, climbing all the way up into the light at the very top.

Sometimes, when I’m outside taking a break from work, find myself looking at that single, impossible plant, and I wonder about the people who pour the concrete, who build the sidewalks, the buildings, the streets, the systems, and the institutions that surround us.

Sometimes I wonder about myself.

We’ve put so much effort into reshaping the world…, giving it an order and a purpose and forcing it to adhere to some common vision of how we think the world should be, of how it can best serve us.

And we keep getting it wrong.

That sprig of green poking out of the pavement may not be a warning sign at all. It may instead be the sound of a trumpet, rousing us to action, calling us to break through the concrete and the metal that is even now closing over our heads.

Maybe it’s time to serve the world, rather than trying to force it to serve us.

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Gods of Shade and Shadow

So here’s the thing, the solar gods and I, we don’t really hang out.

It’s not that I don’t like them or anything.

They’re great folks.

Really!

They’re just a little hard for me to be around for very long.

If I am being totally honest, I find that they can be exhausting.

And for all their radiant smiles and their buoyant attitudes…,

It’s hard for me to put a lot of trust in them.

I’ve been burned before.

So, as we march relentlessly toward the solstice…,

…as the air writhes and the heat rises, and forgotten atop the maypole, the flowers of spring’s glory grow bleached and brittle in the heavy air of Summer…,

You will find me in the shady spots, if you find me outside at all.

And if I seem distracted, it is only because of the heat.

Or can you hear their voices as well?

The spirits in those leafy places will whisper to you of growth and decay in a single breath. They are the watchers and the secret keepers. Tricksters, travelers, rogues, and royalty, and the world was theirs only a few short weeks ago.

But now the ashes of the Beltane fires have scattered in the breeze. The solar gods are strutting about in all their majesty, and the gods of shade and shadow must withdraw to the underbrush, biding their time through the long season, until Autumn brings them out again to roam and rule in the turning of the year.

But for now, the earth is cool here, beneath the branches.

Join us, if you like, should you grow bored of those lazy hazy crazy days of summer.

You’ll always be welcome.

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Sunday Morning Ultimatums..,

“You live, you die. There are 2 destinations. There is no 3rd choice. Believe in Jesus before it’s too late.”

An old friend of mine from high school posted this yesterday morning.

He followed it up with a bible verse, but I didn’t bother to read any further. I lost my taste for Sunday morning ultimatums a long time ago.

And usually, I just let these things drift by, unnoticed and unremarked upon. My social media feed is chock full of Jesus, and it all just becomes so much white noise after a while.

For the most part, these posts and comments are of the “god is love” variety. “God shaped me, Jesus is my reason, God guides my every step…,” And I might occasionally smile to myself and wonder how the poor fellow ever gets anything important done when he’s so busy playing ‘seeing-eye dog’ to a population of folks who are too bloody insecure to get up and walk on their own.

But once in a while you get one of these “believe in him or you’re going to burn” comments, which so perfectly illustrate the lie behind all those other love filled exhortations.

Because, my friends, if you feel like the best you can do is to frighten folks into believing, I have to assume that either you are desperately trying to shore up your own lack of faith, or you’ve noticed that donations are down and that new private jet isn’t going to just buy itself.

The world we live in is not so black and white as they would have us believe. And neither, I am sure, is the next.

We live, we die, we live again, and I’ve little doubt that there are a multitude of realms in between, where we might wander for a spell, before we make our way back.

So save your threats, my Christian friends, because if you have to resort to these kinds of tactics, you’ve already lost the argument.

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Chasing that hole in the sky.

“So, is this a religious thing, or do you just think it’s cool?”

We were sitting in the office at work, one of my managers and I, and I was making arrangements to leave a little early for the evening.  One of my co-workers had agreed to finish out my shift, and when my manager asked me what the occasion was, I’d told her that the wife and I were planning on driving straight through to Tennessee to secure our campsite for Monday’s eclipse.

She was adjusting my schedule in the system, shifting the little bars that represent my comings and goings, when she glanced up and asked the question.

Most of the folks in leadership at my job are at least somewhat aware of my spiritual leanings, if only in the abstract.  I’m the guy who asks off for unusual days on the calendar, and marks them down as religious observance – often followed by an unpronounceable series of letters:

Imbolc…Beltane…Lughnasadh…Samhain…,

I’d been planning for the Eclipse trip for a while, but I’d only been able to secure three days off from work, Sunday thru Tuesday, during which we’d make the twelve hour trip to our chosen spot along the path of totality, set up camp, watch the big show, enjoy some nature, break the whole thing down and drive back again.

As the trip grew closer, I’d been fussing with the itinerary, worried that our campsite might be over crowded, about traffic congestion in the area, about arriving so late in the afternoon that I’d be setting up camp in the dark.  And finally, with only a week to spare, I’d come to the conclusion that the best course of action was to just drive in over night and through the morning.

“So, is this a religious thing, or do you just think it’s cool?”

One of the other managers, who is fairly new and doesn’t know me as well, glanced over at us with a confused look on his face.

“No, I just think it’s cool.”

It was an honest answer, I thought.

I had no rituals planned, neither prayer nor sacrifice was on the agenda.

This was about a maybe once in a lifetime chance to watch the moon completely obscure the sun.  It was about science, and timing, and prepping to get the best photo I could with the equipment I have.  It was about being in the right place at the right time and seeing something remarkable and rare.

As the date of the eclipse grew closer, I’d seen more and more discussion groups showing up online, asking what were the proper traditions and ceremonies for pagans to observe during the eclipse.  And I’d sigh and shake my head.  Because there are none, not really.

An eclipse is too random, too site specific, and never repeating at the same locations at the same intervals.  The ancients didn’t leave us any eclipse related traditions, at least none that I’ve ever heard of, because there are none.

If spirits that live in the rocks and trees of central Tennessee decided they wanted to speak to me, certainly I would listen.  But maybe, if they could just hold that thought for another 2-minutes and 32-seconds…, that would be fantastic.

I was there for the sun, and the moon, and to see the thing that I’d missed too many times before.

I’d seen five eclipses already in my lifetime, all of them partial.

When I was a kid and the other children in my class had their shoebox viewers at the ready, I came to class with my fathers telescope, sun-lens equipped, and ready to share a first hand look with the rest of the class.

I’d watched that yellow disk slowly consumed by the interposing body of the moon, and I’d watched that shadow slip away again, its mission unfulfilled.  I’d felt the strange cooling in the air, listened to the hush of bird and insect, and watched as daylight faded into the semi-twilight that a partial eclipse can bring.  All that I was missing was that elusive moment of totality.

“No, I just think it’s cool.”

You’d think, after all these years and misadventures, that it wouldn’t still be so humbling to discover that I am an idiot.

Totality.

It was like nothing I have ever experienced and yet powerfully familiar.

Watching the last vestiges of the sun slip away through a pair of solar binoculars, I was visually disconnected from the world around me in the last few minutes before it hit.  And while I was expecting a long, gradual progression, I was totally unprepared to feel the sudden and repeated shifts in the world around me, as layer after layer of the sun’s atmosphere was blocked from view.

And when totality struck, I was unprepared for the noise it made.  There WAS a noise, although I couldn’t tell you if it came from outside or from within, but it sounded to me like something that the sound editor of an effects ridden disaster flick would be compelled to add, because you can’t just have the sun whiff out on screen, without some auditory cue – something between a deep throb and a gasp.

I was unprepared for the glowing white ring in the sky, for the deep red clouds on the horizon, and for the overwhelming feeling that this, THIS, is what the otherworld must feel like: detached and superimposed over our own world, always there just beneath the surface, and yet almost entirely out of reach.

Of course it was a “religious thing.”

Or no, not a religious thing at all.  A spiritual quest, maybe.

Because religion implies organization and planning and ritual, and try as you might, I just don’t think you can plan on an eclipse.  We do rituals to try and find our way, if only partially, into the otherworld of the gods and the ancestors.

But from time to time the Earth conducts a ritual of her own, and if we are very lucky, or very privileged, we may just stumble upon her and her sister moon, as they weave and dance in and around the fire of the sun.

And why else would so many of us travel so far to share in a single event, except in pilgrimage?  Each and every one of us, chasing that hole in the sky, and finding ourselves forever changed by what we have seen and felt.

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Filed under Nature, Religion, Science, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

First Harvest

This is not, I think, what the ancestors intended.

Just sitting in my backyard, drinking a glass of lemonade, on the first reasonably cool morning I’ve seen in a while, and simply watching the world go by, is not exactly what I think of when the celtic festival of Lughnasadh comes to mind.

I’ve always thought of it as more of a “working holiday”, with everyone busting ass to bring in the first grains of the season, performing all the mechanical alchemy that turns raw grain into flour, and then the truly ‘High Magic’ that renders freshly baked bread unto a formerly barren world.  Meanwhile, those not otherwise engaged in the sacred rites of food preparation begin to gather in the newly clear fields, to compete with each other in contests of strength, endurance and athletic finesse.

To be fair though, my particular ancestors never had to deal with Texas heat.

And they knew what they were contributing to their community, they could see, touch, feel and even taste the things they produced.  A celebration of the first harvest was a culmination of their own efforts and the benevolence of the land upon which they worked their lives.

For many of us, in this age, the day to day yield of our efforts is a little more difficult to see.

First Harvest?

We can sit on a cool morning under the shade of the oaks, looking through the blooming echinacea, out over the cats playing in the grass and the birds taking turns at the feeder, past the workshop which is nearing completion and out to the stands of honeysuckle which are consuming the white trellis I built for them.  The bushes in the back need trimming (again) and the mosquitoes are buzzing, but there’s always something needs doing and there are always those moments, however brief, when we can choose to let those chores and distractions go for a while, and just savor the moment for what it is.

A celebration of everything that brought you this far.

I wish a joyous Lughnasadh to you all.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Modern Life, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

Fear of Falling

It is the first unreasonable fear of every child…,

Before the boogie man and whatever waits under the bed…,

Before the cluttered darkness of the open closet…,

Before the things hot and the things sharp…,

Before stranger danger or scarlet fever…,

It is the first gift that our parents give us, after the fear of being alone.

“Don’t fall.”  “Don’t Fall!”  “DON’T FALL!!”

“You’ll hurt yourself.”

And we do.

But most of us get up again.

Only to fall again.

That’s okay.

And maybe, somewhere along the way, we might learn to enjoy the falling, just a bit.

We tuck into a ball as we plummet back into the soft spring of the mattress.  We crave the momentum in the downward arc of the playground swing, the stomach-knotting lurch of the rollercoaster car as it crests that first big drop, those precious seconds before the bungee cord snaps us back, the dizzy spin of the earth below as we wait for the parachute to deploy.

Most of us don’t go that far, of course.

We stay on the ground where we are safe.  And that voice in the back of our minds, our parents voice, and their parents, and the whole of society contained in a single strident whisper, telling us that it’s too dangerous, that we’ll hurt ourselves, that we will fall down.

Because falling is bad.

Falling means that we have lost control.

Did you ever wonder at the words certain people use to explain the human condition.

We are “fallen” my christian friends are so eager to remind me.

There is a story they tell, about the first two people: They lived in a garden where everything was perfect and (almost) everything was safe.  This couple had none of the worries that we face, on a daily basis, because their creator had not given them a moral compass with which to guide their actions.  What he did give them, was a free will, independent of his own.  This, one must assume, was a design flaw, because the very first time they exercised this ability, they were punished.  They were forced out of their perfect protected garden.

They fell.

And, we are told, they took the whole lot of us along for the ride.

As that story has spread, as it has been accepted as the root of all truth by so many, we have built a culture that is infected with a desperate fear of falling, a fear that stands in complete opposition to the most basic urge of our species.  A desire that is imprinted into our DNA as surely as it has been woven into the fabric of our spirit.

We are born with the desire to hurl ourselves out of our perfectly safe little nests and into the unknown.

Falling, we are told again and again, is bad, is terrible and dangerous.

But that, my friends, is a lie.

falling alice

The fall is an act of discovery.  Falling is how we open our minds to possibilities we have never known or imagined.  Falling is at the heart of the human experience.

Why else do we call it ‘Falling in Love’, if not for the simple fact that our perceptions of the world are changed and opened, even as our former illusions of control slip away?

There IS danger there, of course.

No journey worth taking is without risk.

But, I suspect, the more desperately we cling to our fears and our misguided perceptions of safety and control, the more perilous our eventual landing.

Better to take the leap running.

Falling is not punishment.

Falling is not failure.

Falling is Freedom!

Little Alice fell
d
o
w
n
the hOle,
bumped her head
and bruised her soul.

—Lewis Carroll

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Filed under Culture, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey

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.

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

Where Nothing is Sacred

I have placed these two pictures together for a reason.

pipeline in sacred ground

Some people might look at these images with a sense of pride, taking from them a message that sacrifice and hard work are what make a nation great.

Others might find this particular juxtaposition somewhat uncomfortable.  There is, after all, a serene perfection in the image of Arlington National Cemetery that we in the West have come to expect in our monuments.  The mirrored layout of the two photos, however, might suggest that someone could tear into that hallowed ground, that the one image could somehow become the other.  And this corruption, this desecration of the sacred, should I hope, put us ill at ease.

And yet, we are even now gouging into the Earth, plowing a petroleum pipeline through sacred land in North Dakota, stripping away the dignity of the honored dead and despoiling the environment, all in the interest of the mighty dollar.  We are beating, gassing, and arresting the people who stand bravely in the path of this desecration.  We threaten them with guns and loose attack dogs on them.

And I wondered, just for a moment, how WE would react if the shoe were on the other foot.  What if it was something WE considered sacred that was being ruined in the interest of corporate greed.

And then I wondered if we, as a people, hold anything sacred at all.

And I am being very liberal with my use of the word “we” here because I don’t think any of us are clean from these particular sins.  If ‘you’ or ‘I’ am offended by these latest outrages against the heritage of our native peoples, we have benefited, willingly or no, from countless others.  It’s something we were born to, I’m afraid.

We are raised in it.

Or do we not still teach our children the old lie, that Christopher Columbus sailed out from Spain in the spirit of adventure and exploration?

Maybe we’ll tell them later that he actually sailed off looking for cash and prestige, and that when he failed in his quest to discover a new and more direct trade route with Asia, he settled instead on exploiting the unfortunate natives he encountered for their gold, and then selling them into sexual servitude and slavery.

The church didn’t like it.

They eventually jailed him for it.

But he still gets the bloody parade, doesn’t he.

We honor him, butcher that he was, and with good reason.  The impressions made by his boots on the shores of the ‘New World’ have never really faded, and for over five hundred years we have followed in his swaggering stride, sweeping across two continents in our hunger for the resources therein.

And the people who were already there?

We did what he did.  We slaughtered them, starved them, displaced them.

And when the folks back home became uncomfortable with the carnage, we displayed our great civility and generosity by writing and signing treaty after treaty, only to break them before the ink had time to dry.

What DO we hold sacred when no bond restrains us, neither word nor contract.

So what is the difference, really, between a rough circle of stones in a weed choked field in North Dakota, and that field of crisp white markers on a perfectly manicured lawn in Virginia?  Is it just that when WE hold something sacred, we throw money at it until it is suitably majestic.  Is that what makes it a holy place?  Or is it the bones of our fallen that lay in the dirt, that give the place its power over us?

Are we really so blind that we cannot, as a people, see the spirit in the land?

Or is it really just the money that we worship after all?

I’ve been following another story.

There is a proposed development project at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a 420-acre resort complex, complete with hotels, restaurants, and upscale shopping on the canyon rim, and a tramway designed to carry tourists by the millions down to the canyon floor.  There at the sacred confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, if the plans go through, the rugged beauty of the canyon floor will “improved” by the addition of a restaurant, a river walk, and a several thousand seat amphitheater.

Welcome to America, where nothing is sacred, except for the dollar.

Columbus wins.

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life, Nature, Philosophy, Religion

More than Skin Deep

“What’s that say on your wrist?”

Sometimes I miss the good conversations.

The other day I missed a doozy, and by mere inches.

A friend and coworker was chatting with a customer when the woman paused their conversation to ask her about her tattoo.  Well, one of her tattoos, she’s got a whole sleeve of them but I guess the crisp letters on my friends wrist made for an easier point of inquiry.

“Release,” my friend answered, “It’s a tribute to one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, ‘I shall be released’.”

“And,” the suddenly inquisitive woman continued, “do you know the history of tattoos?”

“Well, it depends on what culture you’re referencing,” my friend managed before…,

“NO!”

“It’s a PAGAN ritual!”

“It’s a PAGAN ritual for the dead!”

(softer now – dismissiveness replacing the forceful tone)

“Sometimes we just do these things on a whim, without realizing the history.  We just don’t realize the importance of history.”

All of this, I was sad to discover, happened just outside of my earshot.

Had I only known, I might, as the Pagan in the room, have interjected on our customer’s behalf.

Because, she wasn’t wrong when she said tattooing is of pagan origin, it surely is.

As, I might have offered, was all the makeup and the hair dye our concerned advocate was wearing.  Also, the custom of adorning oneself with jewelry, that came from the pagans too.  Oh, and agriculture, and roads, architecture, the manner in which we measure time, drama, art, language, mathematics, both democracy and the republic…, In fact the vast majority of stuff that makes her intolerant little life possible, have their origins among the various pagan tribes and peoples of this wide and wonderful Earth, and would have been understood by those people as being inseparable from what we today would call their ‘religious beliefs’.

The good news for our tattoo fearing friend, and everyone like her, is that wearing the trappings of the ancient pagans, be it makeup and hair dye, or a little creative ink injected into the skin, does not make one a Pagan, anymore than going to church every Sunday and reading the Bible would makes one a Christian.

No, it’s not so simple as that.

Paganism is not a thing that one may wear.

It is not a bangle or a bead.

It is not, I think, even a belief or a practice, although we use those words often and all too interchangeably.

Oh, and it is nothing to do with faith.

It runs deeper than that, or it should, and deeper by far than some ink in the dermis.

My paganism hums in me, in my bones and my blood, it shudders at the touch of a breeze upon my skin, reaches down from the soles of my feet into the rock and soil upon which I trod, and it crackles between my fingertips with the approach of a summer storm.

We turn with the great wheel, but the wheel turns within us as well.

Come this time of year it gnaws upon me, my skin feels stretched almost to the point of snapping, my muscles grow tight, and a deep restlessness takes hold of me.  The antlered god, growing older again within his fleshy prison, wants to rake his thorny horns against rough tree bark, he wants to run, to fight, and to rut before the winter comes and the great raven arrives again to pick at his scattered bones.

We walk daily among the gods and the spirits of this world, and if we are very lucky we are aware of it, of them, passing near us, through us.

It is beauty and pain made one and it doesn’t happen on a whim.  And it’s certainly not something that happens by accident while having some work done in a tattoo parlor.

We spend so much of our lives dressing ourselves up to meet the expectations of others.  Yet the urge to express ourselves, our loves and our sorrows, is part of who we are.  It’s a human trait, not just a pagan one, and life is too short to just set it aside for the sake of base conformity.

Of course, there will always be those who are frightened by such freedom.

To them I say, “a superficial faith breeds superficial fears.  If a little ink is enough to get your religious fervor going, the problem is almost certainly more to do with you.”

Cernunnos Tattoo

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Filed under Modern Life, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions