There is no term I dislike more, and none that gets my proverbial hackles up more than “the greater good.” I hear it a lot in Pagan circles. I hear it a lot in the interfaith circles in which I move and work too. In both cases, it’s used almost inevitably as a universal panacea when the speaker is about to abrogate any sense of personal responsibility. Again and again, I’ve seen it used as a justification for moral cowardice. Again and again I’ve seen it used not only to excuse thoughtlessness or laziness, but to grant such questionable behaviors the moral high ground. Not only do I consider this term nine times out of ten a moral cop-out, but I also consider it an incredibly dangerous sensibility, one that can be used –and historically has been used—to justify incredible cruelties.(1)
We live in a society that does not encourage personal challenge. It does not encourage anyone to live an examined life. Instead, we’re encouraged –by the media, by the Christian dominated culture, by our corporate sponsors (yes I’m being sarcastic) to stay numb and dumb. We live in a culture that raises personal mediocrity to a high art. Worst of all, we live in a culture that, courtesy of the new age movement, fetishizes ‘feeling’ over personal obligations, and un-thought-out pleasure over any sense of personal responsibility. All of this (and more) contributes to the moral laxity that all too often creeps into our communities, so much so that not challenging ourselves to moral excellence has become the norm. I remember years ago, a Heathen man and kindred leader telling me most avidly that it was “ok” to be “mediocre.” He believed it too. I was appalled.
Before going any further, I think it is important that I define my use of certain terms like ‘moral” and ‘virtue.” The word “morality” comes from the Latin and implies something about one’s conduct or manner of behaving.(2) This has evolved into a branch of philosophy dealing with questions of good and evil, right and wrong. Ethics is related to morality in that it examines and categorizes various concepts of morality, the nature of right and wrong, the origins of moral theories, and the ways in which a moral decision might be reached. Ethics are, to my mind, the practical application of moral principles. ‘Virtue’ also comes from the Latin and refers to specific qualities of moral excellence as well as the ongoing process of their development.(3) In no way am I using either term to refer to sexual repression or social prudery, as I have occasionally heard them misused. In my use of both ‘morality’ and ‘virtue,’ I am specifically referring to the development of one’s character.
That being said, the questions inherent in the use of the term ‘the greater good’ are most definitely moral ones. Who gets to determine what that greater good is? About whose greater good are we talking? To whom do the benefits of this greater good go? My colleague Sarenth put it thusly:
“The Greater Good is usually not; it is, in fact, an appeal to the lowest common denominator in that it neither challenges individuals in terms of personal responsibility, nor does it hold larger society accountable for securing its own Good, as this Good is balanced on the back of a few who may never see the benefits of their sacrifice.”(4)
Whenever I hear someone allude to ‘the greater good” – and oddly enough, in interfaith settings at least, I often hear it said in prayers. In Pagan settings, it tends to come up in magic or energy work, particularly healing work and I can think of no worse places in which to abrogate personal responsibility—I grow very wary. It is a facile term, one that is far, far too easy to use and therein lies precisely its danger.
When I hear someone claim “the greater good” as the excuse for their decision (or more often their lack of one), I also know that I am very likely dealing with someone who, while inevitably well-meaning, has not yet shaken themselves free of the monotheistic paradigm, the paradigm that gave us colonialism, the doctrine of discovery, and endless bloodshed. Why? Well, talking about the greater good presupposes that there is a singularity, in other words one greater good. That is not too far from the belief that there is one and only one true way. It presupposes a tremendous arrogance on the part of the one making the decision as to what the greater good might be – often unconscious arrogance, but arrogance nonetheless. Who gets to determine this? Who or what is going to be sacrificed?
I’ve also found that quite often the real motivation is fear. One will do or not do a thing in order to maintain the status quo, to keep themselves from personal discomfort, or from having to make a clear-cut decision in a given situation. It does not matter what decision is morally correct, convenience takes precedence. In our spiritual lives this can come up in many surprising small ways. Perhaps you are a Pagan woman whose devotion to the Gods requires dressing a certain way, or doing a particular ritual one day a week. Perhaps your boyfriend objects to the time this takes away from him. What do you do? (my answer: bye bye boyfriend). Perhaps you are in school and you see someone being harassed because they are gay, or overweight, or unpopular, or a particular ethnicity. What do you do? Do you speak up or stay silent and by your silence collaborate with the bullying? Someone asks you if you’re Pagan. You are. What do you say? Do you have the courage and commitment to claim that space publicly for yourself?
I hadn’t ever really conceptualized this until quite recently. I’m going to go off on a tangent for a moment, but have no fear, it will lead me back to the point at hand, I promise. Lately, several times in fact over the past month, women have come to me in some way, shape, or form asking my advice over what to do if their boyfriends or spouses didn’t approve of their religion or certain practices in their religion. My point of view is simple: I am committed to my Gods and ancestors. This is the central facet of my life. Anyone coming into my life, or wishing to be part of it had best understand that. If someone makes it an issue, or in any way gets between me and my spiritual Work, or causes me to expend unnecessary emotional energy on the matter, they will be out of my life post haste. I have lived by this rule for over twenty years. After all, one is either committed to one’s Gods or one is not; and if one is, then there is no excuse for allowing one’s practices to be compromised. In every instance, the woman in question thanked me and complimented my strength but it was clear that she did not think she could ever find it in herself to do the same, even if she wanted to do so. In every instance I was deeply bothered by this well meaning and sincere compliment. It was only recently that I realized why.
It’s not a question of strength.
It has nothing to do with being strong. It’s a matter of commitment and choosing to hold to one’s personal (and spiritual) commitments every day. It’s personal choice nothing more. Moreover, to dismiss it as “strength,” in the way that these women did –with the emotional overtones that said very clearly that it was beyond their ability to conceive of such “strength” within themselves (because they did not conceive of themselves as strong, which is heartbreaking in and of itself) -- is to place the very idea of personal commitment and yes, personal strength outside of one’s personal potentiality. It is to deny that one could possibly be strong and/or committed to something too. It makes these qualities something that others do. That is very sad. In part though, I think this comes from the expectation that strength, courage, moral excellence, and any other virtue that one could possibly mention, are inborn graces, suddenly springing up in a person’s character whole and in full bloom when nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, qualities like personal strength are born out of very small, every-day, seemingly very mundane choices. They are developed and honed through constant effort and mindfulness. They are exercised through attention to the small choices that each one of us has to make every day. They’re polished through failure and learning how to come back to center afterwards; and they exist always in an agonistic exchange with their opposite: one who has courage knows terror all the time, one who is strong, daily confronts weakness, the most compassionate person might struggle with depression or the urge to wall oneself off to the pain of the world. Strength doesn’t just happen; it’s the result of years of making those small and seemingly insignificant choices in ways that lead toward a greater sense of one’s capabilities and personal commitments. There is nothing grand about it. It’s choosing to get up and do that weekly ritual when you are tired and inconvenienced. It’s choosing to not buy from X brand, owned by fundamentalist Christians, it’s choosing to make that phone call to the friend fighting with cancer, even though you feel awkward and uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. It’s something that everyone can aspire to, which does not, I might add, translate into it being something that is easy to acquire.
I also think that this love affair with the idea of the greater good stems from a deep discomfort with conflict. One can speak of the greater good and of leaving things to the greater good or of doing this ‘for the greater good of all’ without feeling as though one has made any challenging decision. It removes the possibility that any conflict might arise as a direct consequence of taking a particular stand or making a particular choice. Lack of decision becomes the de facto decision. In the interfaith community particularly I see this cropping up a great deal. There’s an underlying discomfort with taking a clearly defined moral stance outside of something akin to ‘love and light for all.’ Conflict and disagreement, which can be powerfully fertile ground from which new ideas and shared endeavors might grow, is eschewed out of a fear that it might mean “being judgmental.” Taking a moral stance on any issue at all is viewed as being unfairly judgmental and as such is discouraged on a very deep, fundamental level; all of which leads to moral impotence.
I very strongly believe that our Gods and ancestors call us to make a stand…large or small, we are called upon to be people of substance. Sometimes this means making the uncomfortable or inconvenient or terrifying choices because they are the morally correct choices to make. This means being willing to take a moral stance and yes, to make a personal judgment. One can do that without expecting that everyone else will follow suit: one can believe a thing passionately, without demanding that every other person bow down and believe the same (this, by the way, is one of the essential differences between monotheism and polytheism). One can be judgmental without being cruel.
Is there ever a time when one must consider ‘the greater good’ beyond the abstract? I believe so. Warriors confront it, but they don’t call it ‘the greater good.’ They call it ‘awful necessity.’ In this vein Gandhi led his people in revolt against the governing power and transformed a nation. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and many other brave men and women bucked the status quo and in some cases laid down their lives for the greater good of their people. Winston Churchill allowed British cities to be bombed shortly before D-Day taking no measures to move people to safety. Why? Because had he taken preventive measures, he would have revealed to the Germans that the allies had broken their codes and plans for D-day would have been for naught and the war might have dragged on far, far longer costing thousands more lives. He made the decision to stay mute, and continue plans for the offensive that helped end the war, in service to the greater good. One might question what all of these instances have in common. They have very little if anything to do with one’s personal comfort. They are in no way self-serving and that is the key. Of course, this presuppose that one knows oneself well enough to acknowledge one’s deepest motivations, and to know when one is in fact being self-serving. But that is part of our spiritual work too, part of what I believe we are each obligated to explore. It goes back to that maxim said to have been carved above the entrance to the temple of Delphi: know thyself. No one said this task was easy.
- The American government thought it was serving ‘the greater good’ when it tore Native American children away from their parents and enslaved them in Christianizing schools : “kill the Indian to save the man” was the saying of choice. Charlemagne surely thought he was serving the greater good when he slaughtered my Saxon ancestors for refusing to convert to Christianity. The “pro-life” man who shoots a doctor for providing care to women certain thinks he’s serving the greater good too.
- The Latin root is the word mos, moris.
- From the Latin virtus, virtutis
- Private conversation with Sarenth Odinsson, March 29, 2012.
I hope that my readers will forgive the unfortunate brevity of this particular column. I’ve had precious little time to sit down and write this week, and only now, barely a handful of hours before it’s due, am I sitting down to write my second “F” column. This week’s column, thanks to a number of conversations that I’ve been having over the past few days with my students, deals with one of (in my opinion) the most magnificent of the Elemental Powers: fire.
In addition to honoring the Holy Powers and reverencing the ancestors, the polytheistic traditions of our pre-Christian forebears, traditions that we are working very hard to restore and renew very often had one other important component in common: honoring the elemental forces. In Western metaphysical traditions, occultism, Wicca, and many branches of Paganism, the primary Elemental tribes are Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. (My tradition would also include Ice as one of the fundamental elements, different at its very core, in its nature, and in the way that one must interact with it from water). These were the forces that sustained and continually transformed our world and to which we owed a measure of respect and gratitude. Sadly, this awareness of the importance of this ongoing, reciprocal relationship is one of the many crucial things lost during the conversation to monotheism, and we have yet to recover from that loss. It’s one thing to say that the earth is alive after all but quite another to really comprehend what that means in a way that impacts every single second and aspect of one’s life. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
When we deal with the Elemental Powers in contemporary polytheisms, unlike in the culture in which our ancestors lived and loved and worshipped, it is painfully easy to forget that these Powers are living, sentient, elder Beings. Part of the issue is that we rarely, if ever, are exposed in our lives to the full force of any of the primal elements. Very few of us live the type of life that is immediately and glaringly dependent on their regard. It’s easy in our world to take as our model for any given Elemental Power, only that to which we have direct access, to think only of the gentlest, tamest, most civilized and human-friendly facet of any given element when we engage in our ritual praxis. Thus when we honor fire, we may think only of the candle flame or hearth-fire; when we honor water, it is with a bowl or chalice of water, or we light incense for air, and so forth. There’s nothing inherently wrong about this, so long as one understands that the Elemental Powers are so much more. Fire is not just the hearth-fire that gives warmth and light, but also the raging wildfire that devours the forest and maybe your home as well. It’s the inferno that steals the lives of the brave. It’s lava and the volcano blast that has buried cities and changed the course of civilizations, it’s electricity, and lightening, and the vibrant power of the sun. It has a thousand faces of which we know only a handful, and the same holds true with water. Water isn’t just the chalice of tap water, but the tsunami. Earth isn’t just the soil that nourishes the seed but also the earthquake that destroys a city. Air isn’t just that which we breathe, but also the fury of the hurricane gale and everything in between. Nor should there be any moral judgment on any of these manifestations. They simply are part and parcel of these magnificent beings. . It’s important to keep that all in mind, in part because the Elemental Powers were not brought into existence to pander to us, or to make us comfortable, and pretending that only the civilized aspects of an element exist does not and cannot make it so. It can lead to a certain spiritual complaisance.
While this week’s article is about fire, in the greater sense, however, it’s about what it means to live as an animist, knowing that every tree, every stone, every flicker of fire, every breath of the wind is alive, sentient, and ancient. That knowledge changes everything.
First of all, fire was absolutely essential to our ancestors. Without fire we very likely would never have made it out of the Neolithic era. Partnering with fire enabled us to cook our food, develop crafts like pottery, glass-work, and metal-work and lay the foundations for building civilization. Fire governs the arts of war too, but when it is channeled and engaged with properly, it is tremendously creative and positive in the blessings it bestows. Without fire, our ancestors would have died during the last ice-age. Fire sustained us as a species.
Moreover, in my tradition at least, we did not have to steal fire. It was given to us, part and parcel of how the worlds were made. The nation of fire chose to partner with us from the very beginning. My sister works in animation and a couple of years ago she introduced me to an animated series called “The Last Airbender.” While I found the rather dogged pacifism of the main character annoying (it was a children’s series for Nickelodeon after all), I found the theory of the elements quite sound. Moreover, in the series, the writers refer to the earth nation, fire nation, air nation, and water nation. I heard that and thought “Yeah. Exactly.” So I am shamelessly stealing this, though prior to this I would often refer to them as ‘tribes.’ I like using “nation” to describe them. Why? The term ‘nation’ implies a conscious unity of force and self-identification. Moreover, it implies a cohesive culture, language, and cultural awareness. It also, perhaps most importantly, emphasizes both the independence and the sentience of these Beings. To my way of thinking, ‘nation’ is precisely the appropriate term. (For those with kids, by the way, the animated series the “Last Airbender” is very Pagan friendly. Avoid Shyamalan’s movie like the plague). But I digress.
At its metaphysical core, fire is one of our most primal conduits to our ancestors. Every fire that we light, every fire that we encounter, every fire that *is* remains part of that first fire kindled by our very oldest ancestor. It is part of every fire that was and every fire that will be. The elementals powers are always in constant communication with each other. They do not cease to exist simply because they cease to be in our world. In many respects, the Elemental Powers are our eldest ancestors, existing as they did before humanity and sustaining us as they do. From a cosmological perspective within the Northern Tradition, they definitely hold this honored position. Acknowledging that and working that knowledge into one’s practices is the first step in re-awakening to the type of animism by which our ancestors lived. It’s the first step in healing a thread long sundered, the first step in restoring an awesome and important responsibility that our ancestors so long ago understood.
I was giving a workshop recently on Northern Tradition shamanism, and, while shamanism is not accessible to everyone (it’s a vocation and calling—one is taken up and owned by Gods or spirits), there are some techniques that everyone can safely do and maybe even should be doing (ancestor veneration being a definite should, in my opinion). I had promised at the start of the class to teach a couple of these techniques so that everyone present could take something practical home with them that they would then have the option of incorporating into their personal practices. The last thing that I talked about was honoring the Elements. I didn’t give any specific techniques. Instead, I talked to the class about how the world was alive and aware. The fire, wind, water, earth, soil itself, grass, trees, mountains, and every single stone was alive and aware. Understand that and the specific techniques will follow.
Because really, once you realize, truly realize to the very core of your being that everything is alive, everything is awake, everything is sentient, your relationship with everything in your world can change. It changes the way that one chooses to engage with the world and everyone and everything in it.
Elements act according to their natures. Therefore I will praise fire for the beauty, strength, warmth, and terror it bestows. I will praise it for sustaining our ancestors. I will praise it for its brightness. I will praise it for its heat. I will praise it for carrying our offerings to the Gods. Hail to fire who consecrates. Hail to fire who renders holy all that it encircles. Hail to fire, who illuminates the way of the dead. Hail to fire who unlocks ancestral memory. I will honor fire. I will set out offerings to this glorious nation. May it always and ever be praised.
Here is a follow up article to the interview Rev. Allyson Szabo did with me yesterday for the Keene Examiner:
I have two links of note for my readers today. Firstly, Rev. Allyson Szabo, Hellenic correspondent for the Keene Examiner interviewed me on the topic of prayer. I was very pleased with how the interview came out and Allyson asked some very insightful questions. That link may be found here:
Secondly, the new issue of Eternal Haunted Summer has a review of "When the Lion Roars," my new Sekhmet devotional. That may be found here:
the book itself may be found at www.asphodelpress.com or www.amazon.com. that's probably all for today, folks, but stay tuned for this week's Pagan Blog Project post (friday) and in the meantime, have a wonderful Ostara/Eostre celebration.
My newest youtube video, against talking about Heathenry as an Indigenous tradition, is now available:
There is a new shrine to the Jotun Deity Hyndla now available. Check it out here:
(Some of you will already know about this since this one has been up for a week or so. I received notification of it then but this is the first chance I've had to post. The perils of grad school).
My adopted mother used to say that ‘fear is never a good motivator.’? While she was correct, I often advise both myself and my clients that, on the other hand, fear can be an excellent teacher. In fact, it is often the first and most fierce ‘teacher’ that many of us will encounter, one that dogs us again and again throughout our lives. The question is, whether and how well one learns to work with fear, and to use it, without bearing one’s neck to its bite.
I think that, amongst other things, this is the essence of warrior work. It’s also an aspect of warrior work that everyone can, in some way, touch and incorporate into their lives. We all had ancestors who were warriors after all and we’re here because of them. Our lines survived because of those men and women who made the hard and often violent choices, and in doing so, learned to stare down fear. We’re here because of those men and women who, whether they wanted to or not, learned to dance with fear. If they can do it, each and every one of us, warrior or no, can learn to do the same.
Most of us from my generation who were into sci-fi as children are familiar with the series “Dune.” I actually never saw the movie, but I did come across the following mantra against fear when I read the book (apologies to Dune fans if I’m misquoting slightly. I haven’t read the book in a very long time and I don’t have a copy on hand). Not only did I find it excellent advice when I first read it, but its wisdom has stayed with me through the years. So, with apologies to Frank Herbert:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
I remember it having only read the book once, at least twenty five years ago, which gives you some idea of how powerful I found this. In fact, I think this little mantra very neatly encapsulates the ‘medicine’ of fear: it has the capacity to show us our truest selves.
Nowhere is this more fully expressed than in the realm of the spiritual.
In some respects, fear is a biological, evolutionary response. It’s our first warning that something is amiss, that danger threatens. In animals and humans alike, fear often leads to a ‘fight or flight’ response. In a situation of active, actual danger that’s the appropriate response. It’s a survival mechanism. In spiritual terms however, we all too often take that very natural survival mechanism and use it to reinforce our prejudices, stereotypes, to strengthen the walls of the neat little restrictive boxes into which we’ve placed ourselves (or sometimes by circumstances allowed ourselves to be placed). We use it to avoid growth…which can be terrifying. We use it to avoid engagement with the Holy Powers, which can lead to tremendous, unavoidable change in every part of our lives. We use it as an excuse. We use it to avoid the consequences of spiritual commitments and obligations. Most of all, and saddest of all, we use it to avoid becoming fully realized human beings.
This isn’t just a spiritual phenomenon. How many people do you know who avoid doing something—something they may really want to do (be it going on a trip that involves plane travel, or going on a date, or going back to school, or trying for a particular job) because they are afraid? Fear tells us to evaluate a situation and then provides us with an opportunity to stretch ourselves and to grow. In the most difficult situations it also provides us with an opportunity to find our courage and develop our characters in unexpected and sometimes glorious ways. It can reveal our potentiality. It should never, ever, ever be used to limit who we are and who we have the potential to become. This is a misunderstanding of its medicine, though it is, given our society, an understandable one.
We live in a world replete with an amazing degree of moral cowardice and ennui. It’s to be expected that our communities have inherited that as well. Most of all, in our society women are raised nourished on fear. We drink it in with our mother’s milk and I’m not just talking about fear for one’s physical safety. I cannot begin to count the number of students and clients –inevitably women--I have had who have struggled spiritually because of this: they were being called to greater, more deeply rooted commitment to the Gods and wanted it with everything in themselves, and yet fought against it equally strongly. Why? Because they were afraid: afraid that they would become too independent and thus be perceived as unfeminine, afraid that their mates would leave them, afraid that their lives would change, afraid that they would have to be responsible for themselves in ways they’d never had to be before, afraid of being different, afraid people would dislike them, be angry at them, not approve, afraid that they would not be strong enough to stand against that disapproval or to make the journey; afraid…for all of this and a thousand other reasons; and all too often rather than acknowledge and face that fear, they gave in to it and allowed limitation to dictate their spiritual lives (in ways which I’m sure mirrored their mundane lives--the shadow side I suppose of the metaphysical maxim “as above, so below”). I find that tremendously sad.
I will admit, steeped in warrior medicine as I am, it is not something that I fully comprehend on a personal level. Fear is a warrior’s constant companion. I am afraid every day of my life in some way sometimes over things I can control and sometimes over things I can’t, but one learns early on to deal with it and move beyond it. It simply is and like pain, often irrelevant to doing the task at hand. I have long deplored our society’s idolization of emotional responses as a reason to do or not do a thing but nowhere more than here. What’s more, I do not know how to minister well to those who stubbornly and knowingly cling to fear and who fear becoming anything but weak. I do not know what it is like to be in that skin and my heart goes out to people of any gender who struggle with this; because I have come to see fear as a tremendous ally, a blessing in disguise.
Fear is the herald of courage and courage is an absolutely necessary component for a truly engaged spiritual life. It is in no way the absence of fear. Rather it exists in that liminal space with fear, forever partnered. One of the first things that spiritual work asks is that we willingly explore the power of the space these two things share, both within ourselves and without as well. Fear teaches us that we are stronger than we think. It hones that strength from which so many other spiritual virtues flow. It allows us to live productive, whole lives spiritually and otherwise. It teaches us commitment, perhaps to ourselves most of all.
What’s more, personal virtues like courage don’t spring forth fully evolved out of nothing. We are not born with them. Not even those of us who carry warrior medicine are born with them! These things must be cultivated, carefully challenge by challenge, day by day, year by year. In this way, they weave their unfolding ever more fully into the fabric of one’s life. There is tremendous security in learning to overcome the stranglehold fear can take on one’s spirit: once you have done so, once you know that the world will not end and you will survive in the face of your most frightening fear it loses its power and you are free. It is a powerful thing to learn what will not break you. (That is actually one of the mysteries of ordeal).
Strength and courage are cultivated through facing and overcoming small daily challenges. That holds true in one’s spiritual life just as much as in the most mundane of activities. Engaged spirituality begins with a certain surrender, with opening up, with consciously sought out vulnerability. That is terrifying, perhaps the most terrifying thing a person will ever do. It’s also an ongoing act of commitment that requires tremendous, ongoing courage. In this way, living an authentic devotional life requires one to taste, at least a little, of warrior medicine; because commitment is difficult and learning to trust the Gods is difficult, and having those deeply sacred moments of direct interaction can be terrifying. It changes everything. Most of all, it changes us and how we fit into the lives we had before we embarked upon this road. Sometimes it changes us in ways that cannot easily be undone (nor should they be).
I should point out that reclaiming our indigenous traditions takes tremendous courage in our world. Becoming Pagan or Heathen takes tremendous courage. It violates the Christian dominated status-quo. Developing a relationship with the Gods takes tremendous courage. It often meets with violent opposition in our religious communities (as counter-intuitive as that may seem). I always tell my clients: you have tasted courage before in your life. Be proud of that. It is no small thing at all.
In fact, gythia K.C. Hulsman (in speaking of Heathenry) pointed out to me recently that “ours is a religion wherein we're told that we ought to be proud in our actions and choices. We’re told that we should be truthful and frithful in our community dealings. Yet how many are fearful of sharing their personal practices?” She’s right too. Every week I get emails thanking me for my work, explaining how much it helped the writer spiritually but ending with “please don’t tell anyone I contacted you. I’m afraid of the response I’d get from my community.” Worse, more than once, I have had people contact me telling me they were giving up on the community because of the hostility to engaged spirituality. This is a travesty.
It is, however, a reality we must deal with: sometimes our communities are the biggest blockages to spirituality that we will face. In such situations, staying the course can require tremendous courage. Moreover sometimes the challenge occurs even closer to home: sometimes the first spiritual challenge we face (after shaking off the mental and spiritual chains of monotheistic dominance) happens in our homes, with loved ones: parents, spouses, friends. Sometimes we must work to be very strong when those we love object to our spiritual practices and even attempt to interfere. People often think that courage is developed by the big things, expansive once-in-a-life-time happenings when in reality, it’s the everyday grind where we find our deepest challenges. We don’t have to look far; fear dogs us.
Moreover, I think the Gods and ancestors challenge us. I think They challenge us to grow, to evolve, to become stronger, more fully developed human beings. They challenge us over and over at each new point in our spiritual life and how we respond to those challenges determines how useful we shall be to Them. It determines where we will be taken from that point on. It determines what blessings we are able to accept.
The secret is to not stop when you have made one small step forward but to persevere and keep going further and deeper. Hanging above my desk, I have a couple of quotes, both by Eleanor Roosevelt:
“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot do.”
She also said that ‘what is to give light must endure burning.’ She was right too. Fire purifies. It hones. It anneals. So does working through fear. It is essential. There is no spiritual growth without it.
As of today, March 15, 2012, I (Galina Krasskova) am taking over as gythia (priest) of Ironwood Kindred (IWK). IWK will become, along with Urdabrunnr kindred, part of my spiritual House, with all the rights and obligations that entails. For members, not much will change, save that the primary administrative locus of the group has shifted to NY state. Etinmoot will still occur thanks to the gracious hospitality of Cauldron Farm in MA (the announcement of dates and programming is due to go up on the IWK site shortly) and Loki and Angurboda remain the Patron Gods of the kindred.
Running a kindred (or coven, or iseum, lyceum, or ile) is hard and grueling work. I would like to extend my appreciation and thanks to gythia Elizabeth Vongvisith, who not only founded IWK, but ran it efficiently and well for seven years. That is no mean feat. I’d also like to recognize and acknowledge her wisdom in knowing when it was time to say goodbye. Knowing when to step down is one of the hardest graces a priest/ess will ever be called upon to cultivate. Priestcraft is difficult. I was taught many years ago when I was first ordained that the average life of a priest/ess is about five years—if one is lucky. After that, if one doesn’t take a break, one might well be pushing burnout. I have found, in over twenty years of practice, that to be, largely true. With that said, Elizabeth has earned recognition for both her dedication and commitment. She will remain a valued member of IWK and I tip my proverbial hat to her.
Anyone with any questions should contact me at tamyris at earthlink.net. Those interested in learning more about IWK may see this site: http://ironwoodkindred.wordpress.com/ (this site will eventually be edited and updated to reflect the change in leadership). Those interested in learning more about Urdabrunnr Kindred should see http://urda.seika.org/.
Please note, both kindreds maintain a ‘no assholes allowed’ policy. Those interested in harassing, whining, moaning, complaining, or slandering us about our inclusion of the Jotnar in our devotional work are quite respectfully encouraged to piss off. Inflammatory emails will be summarily deleted. Threats will be reported to the police. Have a nice day.
I am very happy to announce that bibliotheca alexandrina has released its newest devotional: "Queen of the Sacred Way," a devotional anthology to Persephone.
I know many of my readers have been waiting for this one for a long time. (for those wondering at my involvement, it is very, very minimal: I have one small piece in the book, a poem written close to twenty years ago.) This promises to be a beautiful offering to the Hellenic Goddess of the Underworld. So check it out folks. i'm waiting with baited breath for their upcoming Hermes devotional. :)
"Queen of the Sacred Way" may be found here: http://neosalexandria.org/bibliotheca-alexandrina/current-titles/queen-of-the-sacred-way-a-devotional-anthology-in-honor-of-persephone/
this tells you where and how to order. It will be on amazon.com soon, but (as I well know from my own publishing exploits) they can take a few weeks to update their online catalog. Congrats, to those of you involved in the collecting, editing, and publishing. This is a beautiful book.
By happy coincidence, just as we’re coming to the letter ‘E’ in the Pagan Blog Project, we’re also drawing close to Eostre. This is the Pagan and Heathen celebration A) of the spring equinox and the coming of warm weather and lighter days and B) the Goddesses of spring and renewal, among them Eostre who gave Her name not only to our celebration (also sometimes called Ostara after another Goddess of spring, Who might be the same Goddess as Eostre but with a different regional name or Who might be a completely separate Deity) but to the Christian Easter as well. (Come on folks, did you really think the eggs and bunnies had anything to do with Jesus?). Moreover, spring equinox is one of the three holy tides that we know for sure were celebrated throughout Northern Europe. Other holidays might vary from region to region, tribe to tribe, but these three remained consistent (the other two being the Solstices).
Until very recently, I never gave much though to Eostre. I considered it a “lesser” holiday and would often allow it to pass with the most minimal of observance. I far preferred the cold season, the time from Winternights in October through Yule, the time when the Wild Hunt was said to ride, the time given over the ancestors, the Mothers, and Odin. All of that changed, however, when I moved out of New York City. Suddenly, I found myself ensconced in the seasonal rhythms. I found myself unable to ignore the cycles of the land, the feel of the soil as it prepared for winter slumber, and moreover as it began to awaken in the spring. It was all around me and as I now had a parcel of land for which I was responsible, I began to sit up and take notice. With that miniature epiphany, I found myself coming to crave Eostre with a deep physical and spiritual ache. I began to long for this holy tide and suddenly it didn’t seem ‘lesser’ at all. Suddenly it seemed crucial, valuable, a doorway marking the transition between death and rebirth, winter and summer, darkness and light, fallow and fertile. Suddenly my entire relationship to this Goddess, this celebration, and this time of year was transformed.
Eostre really is a magical time. Its power lies in part in its liminality. The equinoxes are liminal times: the earth is neither fully awakened nor still fully asleep. They mark periods of transition, of awakening, of initiation. They mark the passage through a place, a time, a state of being that is neither one thing nor the other and such places are tremendously important for us spiritually and emotionally. They are the places wherein we are given the opportunity to open up and grow a little ourselves, to move beyond our baggage, to reach out and, since we are speaking of things associated with the spring equinox, to embrace the light. They give us a chance to reawaken our passions and reorder our priorities. Liminal times and places not only provide a chance to drink deeply of the sacred, but they allow us the opportunity to remake ourselves: our hearts, our minds, our spirits, in the wake of that sacred drink as we go forth, through the passage of the holy tide, into new life, new birth, new growth and hopefully, greater awareness. Moreover, Eostre being what it is, we can do so with joy because over and above anything else, this is a holy tide resplendent with joy.
You can feel the potentiality bubbling up in the land, like laughter too long impishly suppressed. You can feel it in the life that is bursting into flower everywhere at this time. It’s palpable if one stops long enough to listen; and to feel. Eostre is all about sensation—a riotous exaltation of the senses and our capacity to enjoy them. It’s about taking that pause, that breath, and it’s also about blessing the creativity – the fertility not necessarily of body, though that is certainly part of this season, but of mind, heart, and spirit. This holy tide is about opening up and stretching our wings after the enforced constraint of winter. It’s about the grace of being alive, awake, and capable of feeling joy. It’s about sensuality---however one chooses to express or embrace it, Eostre is, in some very deep way, about sensuality, a glorious celebration of the sensorium which, after the fallow time of winter, has the chance to glory in the gifts brought in the wake of the brightening land.
The spring equinox also knits together two very disparate seasonal experiences. It stands holding a place between the fallow, resting cold of winter and the burgeoning heat of summer. It’s a doorway between barrenness and fertility, always leaning toward the latter as the fall equinox leans toward the quiet pause of the former. Here, the elegance of autumn is replaced by unbounded delight of spring. There’s a momentum awakened and unleashed here that reaches its apex at midsummer. There’s a drive, a joyous exuberance.
We have several Deities traditionally associated with this time. The first, of course is Eostre and Her continental cousin Ostara. Then of course there is Hreðe, of Whom I’ve written of quite recently on my blog
(http://krasskova.weebly.com/1/post/2012/02/adorations-to-hree.html ), and finally we have the moon God Mani and the Sun Goddess Sunna. Given that Eostre proper is a day when light and darkness are equally balanced, it’s quite appropriate to give special honors to our celestial Deities too. Folks wanting to learn more about these two Deities can look here: http://krasskova.weebly.com/the-house-of-the-moon.html or check out my book “Day Star and Whirling Wheel,” available here: http://www.asphodelpress.com/devotionals.html
. I’m afraid, other than a few sparse references in the surviving sources, there’s not much else out there about these Deities. Still, that shouldn’t stop us from honoring Them. In fact, it provides a great impetus to throwing ourselves into celebration of these Holy Powers unburdened as we are by any artificial constraints of ‘lore.’
I’ve also written about Ostara/Eostre before. Those articles can be found, in no particular order here: http://krasskova.weebly.com/1/post/2011/03/ostara-time.html http://krasskova.weebly.com/1/post/2011/03/part-iii-of-my-ostara-series-is-now-up.html
(links to parts I and II may be found here as well). http://krasskova.weebly.com/1/post/2011/02/the-equinox-is-coming.html In the meantime, with Eostre less than two weeks away, I leave you with a series of Adorations to this most delightful of Goddesses.
28 Adorations to Eostre
I adore You, Goddess of spring.
I adore You, Goddess of the wet and fertile field.
I adore You, Ever-brightening Dawn.
I adore You, Who hides Your mysteries in liminal places.
I adore You, Rebirth.
I adore You, Renewal.
I adore You, aching tug of awakening hungers.
I adore You, Goddess of adolescence.
I adore You, Goddess of bursting bloom.
I adore You, Goddess of the new season.
I adore You, Goddess of New Growth.
I adore You, Who awakens the womb of the earth.
I adore You, Who brings fertility.
I adore You, laughing dawnlight.
I adore You, who looses the hare.
I adore You, Who quickens the belly.
I adore you. Who fills the egg with life.
I adore You, Holder of all potentiality.
I adore You, Who opens the passage from winter to summer.
I adore You, Whose gentle caress causes winter to yield its sway.
I adore You, Who sweeps away the cold with a kiss of light.
I adore You, Alluring One.
I adore You, Who delights in the rising cock.
I adore You, Who delights in the wet cunt.
I adore You, Goddess of playful delight.
I adore You, friend of Mani.
I adore You, friend of Sunna.
I adore You, Eostre.
May You be hailed at this time, as cold turns to warmth, darkness to light, winter to summer, fallow land to fertile growth.
And to all my readers, may this coming holy tide, Eostre, Ostara, the Spring Equinox, be kind to you all. May it fill your homes and hearts with joy and may the works of your hands prosper. Happy Eostre. (the picture below is by Mary Ann Glass. The eggs were painted by her mother, Evelyn Tron Glass. Holiday cards with this image are available. The photographer may be contacted at http://maryannglassphotos.blogspot.com/).