Stillness within, Power Without

I have depression, and I’m under treatment. Luckily, my current (and hopefully permanent) treatment is very good: Wellbutrin, mindfulness meditation, and a kickass therapist. Nowadays, when I enter a low period, I can recognize it for what it is instead of being destroyed by it. I can recognize that it’s biochemical and that it’ll pass.

But it still hovers around me like a fog. I fight thoughts that I’m a bad Witch and a bad Pagan because of it. Because if I really were such a magical and intuitive and connected being, if I really did have a couple of deities that cared about me, then I would feel fantastic all the time, right?

Right? the depression says. Right? If anyone loved you, you would feel perfect all the time.

* * *

I had a power candle and Hermes took it away.

The long version of the story would give me carpal tunnel, so the short version: I was called, possibly by the Morrigan, to burn a candle to foster personal power. I turned the specific types of power I needed into a sigil and dressed the candle with mugwort and juniper and cinnamon. It was a big purple pillar candle. I was going to burn it for a few minutes each night and re-dress it each Monday. I knew a candle isn’t how you get power, but I liked the ritual of it, the way the sigil looked underneath the herbs. I was doing it because it was beautiful. And for a week, while I burned it, it worked.

Then I asked Hermes for a favor. I burned him some incense in thanks, but he decided to take the candle, too. Or, to put it mundanely: that night I lit it and forgot about it, and the whole thing burned down to a puddle of wax.

What’s interesting is that technically, the spell is complete. It wasn’t interrupted–it was expedited by the god of speed. I know enough about magic not to expect instant results. I’m not incredibly upset that the spell ended this way. But I do miss my pretty candle.

* * *

I had an insight a few days ago:

Power within, stillness without.

Stillness within, power without.

I know I’m not the first person to ever have this insight, but I liked the way it was phrased. Power and stillness go together. Power and turmoil do not. If someone is screaming and yelling and hissing and spitting, they are revealing how little power they have. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just an opportunity to look at oneself honestly.

* * *

A few weeks ago I was attacked by a tiny handful of very loud people for offering an interpretation of the Morrigan’s pre-battle shriek as an act of nonviolence. I felt like I loaded the interpretation with as many disclaimers as I could, and I thought it would be obvious that I wasn’t denying the Morrigan’s more bloodthirsty aspects. I really thought I was just offering an interesting reinterpretation of one aspect of a complex goddess.

If my crime was not being clear enough in my writing, then I take full responsibility for that crime. I come from the Jewish tradition, in which unconventional interpretations are tossed around all the time because experimentation is how you come to understand a text, but of course I’m not writing for a Jewish audience.

Here’s the thing, though–

The level of vitriol leveled at me seemed to suggest that people found the idea of a nonviolence-practicing Morrigan offensive. I found myself put in the ludicrous position of feeling like I had to praise violence. “Don’t get me wrong,” I was supposed to say. “Violence is awesome! I’m no fuzzy-wuzzy gaia-worshiper! Gimme blood and death any day of the week! Yeah, baby!”

I don’t know exactly what Peter Grey means when he refers to “dark fluff,” but that term feels apt here. Here’s some truth: despite its lovey-dovey reputation, nonviolence is infinitely scarier and more difficult than violence. It is so easy to punch someone in the face or lash out at them on a blog. It is so easy to shout someone down, call them names, shoot them in the chest, drop a bomb on their city. It is not easy to defend yourself and your community without perpetuating a cycle of bloodshed and misery. It is not easy to calm your impulses and dig to the root of a problem.

Does that mean the Morrigan isn’t violent? No. The Morrigan embodies both our highest acts of bravery and our darkest acts of horror. Because she is war and that’s what war does; she is battle-frenzy and that’s what battle-frenzy is. If a human warrior can nonviolently resolve a conflict one day and lose control and slaughter another person the next day and go wild with grief and guilt the day after that, why wouldn’t a goddess be capable of the same multitudes? A deity embodies their sphere of influence, and any sphere that’s reducible to three or four simple attributes is a sphere that isn’t really worth its own deity. Yes, deities are usually summed up with a short list of keywords, but each of those words is a map of a vast landscape.

Or, to look at it from a different angle: if, let’s say, the body of a deity is made up of their followers, then those followers must necessarily be diverse. If everyone engages with a deity in exactly the same way, then that is a deity with a thousand left feet and nothing else. What the hell is the use of such a deity?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most vicious commenter shrugged off issues like Gaza and Ferguson as irrelevant to spiritual work and too big to take on. That, to me, is the pinnacle of dark fluff. I suspect that the people who are the most excited about the Morrigan’s bloodiest aspects are the very people who would turn and run from any real fight.

I am a devotee of the Morrigan, and the language she speaks to me is the language of nonviolence and eco-justice. That doesn’t mean I feel worthy of the title warrior every day, or even most days. But she has her reasons for reaching out to a Reclaiming Witch, and denying the messages she’s giving me is a disservice and an insult to her. If you can’t handle my practice, if you think a deity has to speak the same language to every devotee, then you are a child with too much time on your hands. If you call yourself a warrior but are uninterested in fighting any battle of consequence, then shame on you.

* * *

That’s all been festering for weeks, but I’ve finally released it. I’m done.

Power within, stillness without. Stillness within, power without. I know I snapped at at least one person during the fiasco because I felt like a cornered animal. I wrote the above partly so that I wouldn’t have to silently carry it anymore, but I know parts of it are harsh and I don’t claim to feel very powerful. It’s liberating to know that you don’t have to be perfect, no matter what the demons in your head and the voices on the Internet tell you.

* * *

I did save the wax from the power candle. The sigil and the dressing are still in there somewhere. I have votive molds and wicks. Maybe the spell isn’t over yet; maybe it won’t be complete until I burn all of the wax. In the end, it doesn’t matter all that much. I’m really doing this spell because I love doing spells.

Here in Los Angeles, the campaign for a $15 minimum wage has moved to the petition stage. I plan on volunteering and I’m gearing myself up for a long, hard fight. I don’t relish the thought of getting yelled at on the street. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit this into my already-bursting schedule. I’m dealing with the inner conflict of knowing that, in the face of global Capitalism, a higher minimum wage is a tiny band-aid on a mutilated body. I know the fight for a higher minimum wage is one battle in a vast war. But here, in my city, it’s an important one.

Writing helps lift my depressive episodes. I feel better having written this post. These words are one moment in time, a blip in my lifespan.

Back into the fray. Be well, be loved, be powerful.


 

A quick note: I’m closing comments on this post because I don’t want to revive any of the arguments that took place on and around the original post. If you need to respond, please feel free to do so on your own blog. If you’re bothered by the fact that I’m not allowing you to criticize me or defend yourself in this space, take solace in the fact that I’m not allowing any praise, either.

Pagan Blog Project: Dear Isis

Dear Isis,

I’m one of those devotees. You know the ones. You do them a favor once and then they think you’re their best friend. They become your groupie, follow you around, give you things you didn’t ask for and don’t really need.

Last year I needed something important, so I started drafting a spell. I’d been planning to work with Inanna but she directed me to you: “You’ll want Isis for this,” she said. “What you need isn’t really my specialty.” I hadn’t really thought about you for years and years–not since our Egyptology segment in sixth grade, I think–so the dream I had, with instructions on the work I needed to do, came out of left field. You know you’re doing your witchcraft right when you encounter surprises. Spells that shoot off in an unexpected direction. Dreams where you wake up and think, “that didn’t come from me.”

So I began my work with you. It was absolutely the right work to be doing, much better than the work I thought I’d do with Inanna. I’d just come back to witchcraft after many years away–oh, it felt so incredible to be back!–and you were the first deity to ever show up to one of my rituals. I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

But it took me awhile to realize that you only intended to work with me that one time.

See, I’d absorbed this idea that everyone has to have a matron goddess. Rationally I knew that wasn’t true at all, but somehow I couldn’t shake the idea. So I decided that my matron goddess must be you, since, well, you helped me with that thing I had to do that one time.

I read books. I did devotionals. I found primary sources, hymns and artwork. But I couldn’t figure out why nothing felt right, why my devotion to you seemed to clash with my devotion to my practice.

In hindsight, I think it was because you were pretty well-stocked on priestesses and dedicants. You had the Fellowship of Isis. You had the Kemetists. You’re one of the biggest, strongest, most beloved goddesses in human history. Your practices were well-established.

And the practices of your followers just weren’t right for me. I finally learned what the call of a goddess feels like when I heard the call of the Morrigan–a call that instantly integrated itself into the work I was doing, a partnership that, as surprising as it was (me? dedicated to a battle goddess?) clicked. There was no jealousy on your part. Just a gentle parting. With love and reverence, I took your image off my altar and placed it in my book of shadows.

I’m absolutely certain you and I will cross paths again, and I look forward to that day. Isis, you are so beautiful. You have my love, my admiration, and my gratitude.

paganblogproject.com

Mirrors

When I look in the mirror, I can sometimes glimpse the Goddess.

When the Morrigan looks in the mirror, she can sometimes glimpse the Goddess.

The Goddess doesn’t exist. The Goddess is so, so real.

Naming the Goddess

I’m both a hard and soft polytheist. That is, when I’m not in ritual, I have a hard time believing that the gods are distinct entities–and I don’t feel any particular need to believe it. The gods can be avatars of one presence, they can be archetypes, they can be characters in myth. But when I’m in ritual, I believe in them absolutely. My Younger Self takes over.

But I’ve always had a tendency to over-analyze things, and I find that lately I’ve been falling prey to this perception that not only do I have to decide whether the gods are distinct beings or avatars, but I have to choose which ones I’m going to dedicate myself to exclusively. Now, this is 100% the product of my own anxious mind, but it’s fueled by two common perceptions in the Witchcraft community:

1. One should develop some sort of relationship with a deity before asking them for something.

2. One can have a matron/patron deity if one wishes.

My anxiety distorts these beliefs into the following:

1. No god is going to want to even speak to you, let alone help you in your magic, until you’ve thrown yourself into devotionals for them for years and years.

2. You have to dedicate yourself to one deity (or a male/female pair), otherwise you’re just a dilettante.

Partly I have trouble with these two beliefs because Paganism doesn’t have the wealth of theology of organized religions to draw on. When I feel confused, there aren’t that many sources I can turn to for guidance. The ancient texts often don’t have the benefit of modern interpretations, and the modern texts are crowded out by Wicca 101 books. Another reason I have trouble is that the anonymity of “the Goddess and the God” or “the Lord and Lady” is what turned me off to Wicca. I needed deities with personalities, stories, characteristics. And while I found that in Cernunnos (to me, his imagery tells his story: his animals, his antlers, his torcs and coins), the Goddess has remained frustratingly elusive.

At the core, though, a lot of my trouble has to do with the fact that I secretly have very low self-esteem. Deep down, I don’t believe I’m worth the gods’ time. The idea that they would actually want to help me is something I can’t wrap my head around.

(But when my toddler asks me for help, aren’t I delighted to offer it? When she wants to put her socks on her stuffed bunny, don’t I jump at the chance to do it for her, even though from my perspective it’s ridiculous?)

I think another reason I feel a need to name the Goddess, or worship her as a particular avatar, is that the Whole of Creation just feels too big and abstract to connect with. I have no problem thinking of it as feminine–that’s a huge part of what drew me to Witchcraft–but asking it to join my little circle, inhabit my wee altar? Other people might be fine with that, but it just doesn’t click for me.

And yet no Goddess avatar I investigate feels right. Isis has helped me a lot, and she has been described as “all that is, that has been, and that will be”…but when I think of her, I think of the mother by the Nile, searching for her husband’s body. Inanna and Artemis have their own distinct histories, their own unique adventures. They’re worshipped as mother goddesses, but they’re not all-encompassing. It doesn’t make sense to me to worship any one of them exclusively.

And yet, for some unfathomable reason, I feel like I have to.

When I do my daily devotionals–which, by the way, have changed since I wrote about them, so I plan to write a followup–I start by re-dedicating myself to the Goddess, and follow that by praising specific deities. I have to work through my fear that the deities are unhappy about coming second. Isis, in her original form, never claimed to have created the universe. Every goddess with a name is the daughter of an older deity, whether by bloodline or evolution.

When I get tangled up in this pantheon or that pantheon or this or that reconstructionist practice, I have to remind myself of why I’m doing this. I’m doing it to feel the Earth more deeply. I’m doing it to celebrate the divine feminine. I’m doing it because I crave the sensuality of magic.

What if all the goddesses are worshiping the Goddess just as I am?

I’m curious–has any other witch out there worked through problems like these? How has your practice evolved to temper them? How do you come back to center when you feel yourself getting lost?

May you feel your practice deeply and with certainty, in whatever form it takes.