Cedric's Pagan Thoughts

The spiritual meanderings of a NeoPagan shaman, an eclectic Wiccan, a Celtic musician, a world traveler, a bard, and an uncompromising cat-loving Bast-worshipper

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Power of Simple Blessings

Let's face it, many of us don't make it to ritual as often as we'd like. A lot of NeoPagans and spiritual seekers aren't associated with a group that meets regularly. More and more, people are finding NeoPaganism through electronic interaction or solitary reading rather than face-to-face contact. Even being part of a group is no guarantee. I know that when my coven was trying to schedule our full moon, new moon, and Sabbat rituals, I found myself really envying the Christian's Sunday morning schedule. Our modern world is much more geared to doing something, say, once a week, than to doing it every full moon . . .

One solution is to engage in daily devotions, such as a morning blessing. What's great about this kind of practice is that it doesn't require a group, it can be performed with little space and preparation, and it takes only a few minutes. (It will take me longer to write one up than it does to perform it.)

Now, to give credit where credit is due, the morning blessing I use is based on one I found in the excellent book Wicca Covens by Judith Harrow. I've adapted it for personal use, and of course, I expect people who read this will make their own adaptations. I prefer to perform it outdoors, but that's not a requirement. So here it is:

Facing east, hold your hands up in the gesture of Air (palms out in front of you, fingers splayed). Aloud or silently, summon with these words: "Spirits of the East, Element of Air, let me work with intelligence and clarity this day." Then spend a moment pulling the energy of Air into you. When you feel that you have done that, thank Air and turn to the south.

Facing south, hold your hands in the gesture of Fire (palms curving down in front of you, as though warming your hands at a campfire). Aloud or silently, summon with these words: "Spirits of the South, Element of Fire, let me work with energy and passion this day." Then spend a moment pulling the energy of Fire into you. When you feel that you have done that, thank Fire and turn to the west.

Facing west, hold your hands up in the gesture of Water (palms up in front of you, fingers closed and curved, hands cupped together like you're catching water). Aloud or silently, summon with these words: "Spirits of the West, Element of Water, let me work with wisdom and compasion this day." Then spend a moment pulling the energy of Water into you. When you feel that you have done that, thank Water and turn to the north.

Facing north, hold your hands in the gesture of Earth (palms down at your side, as though supporting your hands on pillars). Aloud or silently, summon with these words: "Spirits of the North, Element of Earth, let me work with strength and stability this day." Then spend a moment pulling the energy of Earth into you. When you feel that you have done that, thank Earth and turn to the east again.

Facing east, raise your hands to the Goddess summoning position (both hands raised above you, like a pentecostal praying). Aloud or silently, summon with these words: "Eternal Goddess." Now shift your hands to the God summoning position (forearms crossed over chest, hands in fists), and summon with "Ancient God." Finally, bring your hands down and open in front of you, palms up. At this point say or think a prayer. I usually use something along these lines: "I ask you to guide and teach me, aid and protect me this day. Watch over me and [fill in the names of people you're concerned about]."

At this point, spend a moment bringing Divine energy down into your body. You can close the mini-ritual however you like, but I like this prayer, adapted from ancient Irish practices:

I place the power of the Gods before me,
the power of the Gods behind me,
the power of the Gods above me,
the power of the Gods below me,
the power of the Gods on my right hand,
the power of the Gods on my left,
the power of the Gods all around me,
the power of the Gods within me.
Blessed be.

The last prayer is a powerful safety/empowerment spell on its own, and can be used without the rest of the blessing if necessary. Of course, if your purpose resonates with a specific deity, use that deity's name instead of "the Gods."

You'll probably want to bask in the pleasant feeling that comes with concluding this ritual, so go ahead and enjoy it. If you wish, take that moment to thank the Universe for the good things in your life and the things you are in the process of manifesting into your life. It is also a good time to recite a few affirmations to yourself.

The important thing about daily devotions is that they become more effective and powerful over time, as you do them on a regular basis. Likewise, when you do get to attend or participate in a full-blown ritual, the connection you've built up with the elements and the Divine will enhance and strengthen your experience. With a little practice, you will find that you walk a magical path in the company of the Gods.

[Webmasters/Ezine Publishers: Free professional content - pre-licensed to you. You are invited to use any or all of the Pagan thoughts articles by Cedric in your publication or website. The only requirement is that you include the by-line of the author, including the name and website of the article.]

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

WTF is Going On?

This post will be a little different from most on this blog. Usually, I work on an article for a while before posting. This isn't an article, and I'm not polishing it. It's more of an alarm.

Something isn't right in the world. I'm no astrologer; I'm not even sure I believe in it. But something is screwy right now, and I wish I knew what it is and when it will end.

At first, I thought it was a Mercury retrograde, a period when communication becomes difficult. I guessed this when I got three wrong restaurant orders in two days. (I'm on the road a lot.) I realized then that most communication was going awry. My last two writing jobs had gone worse than any in my career.

Then I noticed it was worse than just a Mercury retrograde. Everyone I know, including me, is completely on edge. Most people I know are talking about how everyone they know is stressed to the max and spoiling for a fight.

I got in a fight with my wife. I got in a fight with one of my best friends, with whom I have not fought in nine years of friendship. (I'm scared to death I've lost her.) I got angry at another friend over—you guessed it—a failed communication. My guitar player and I are ready to rip each other's throats out.

It's not simply that everything is going wrong, though. Some really great things have happened to me in the last six weeks. I mean, really great. No, it's that everything is intensified. Good things have been replaced with great things, bad things with awful things, minor confusion with major miscommunication, mild annoyance with absolute fury. Something ain't right.

And let's not forget that several times in the last month, ice has fallen out of the Texas sky. Frickin' ice. I'm talking marble-sized hail, coming on suddenly on a May afternoon.

Something isn't right, and I sure want to know when it will get right (though if the great stuff could continue—never mind, I don't want to get greedy).

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Love and Resonance

I remember watching an episode of an old sitcom, the name of which I don't recall, that opened with the main character saying something along these lines:

"Falling in love is an amazing, magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I should know, because it happens to me all the time."

I know how he feels.

We've all felt it, I'm sure—the instant attraction, the sensation that we've known someone forever, the feeling of destiny upon meeting someone who makes us fall in love.

A lot of people explain it in just those terms. As I discussed in my entry called "The Myth of True Love," many people explain that experience by saying that it really is destiny that they met that special someone. Reincarnationists often feel as though they've met that special someone in a past life, and they've spent this whole life looking for them.

As I explained in that previous post, I reject that idea. (I'm not saying that souls never meet up in successive lives; I'm just not convinced that it's the only reason we feel for someone. Read the post if you want more explanation.) That leaves me, however, with a problem. How do I explain that feeling we all know?

Resonance—that's how. You'll have to bear with me while I discourse on resonance for a while.

I'm a musician—check out my band's link on the side there—and music is nothing but ordered sound. Sound is nothing but vibration. Every thing in this world has a particular frequency at which it vibrates, called pitch. That's why an E string on a guitar sounds different from an A string; they're vibrating at different frequencies. If a string is a little out of tune, that means it's not vibrating at exactly the right frequency. Tightening or loosening it will bring it into tune. (For every note that the western ear accepts as a note, there are approximately ten other tones the human ear can distinguish, which explains why it's so tricky to get some instruments in tune.)

Vibration engenders vibration. I'm sure you've felt it when loud music shakes the ground beneath your feet, or when someone with an overzealous bass speaker rattles the windows in your car.

Like begets like. When you play a note (i.e. create a vibration), anything else that has the potential to vibrate at exactly the same frequency will do so, in what is called "sympathetic vibration." Not only will it vibrate, but it will actually produce the same note. Anyone who has listened to a sitar, a hardangr fiddle, or a fancy hurdy-gurdy has heard sympathetic vibration, a ringing sound produced by strings on the instrument that are never touched. (Readers familiar with the occult will recognize the similarity to sympathetic magic here.)

When two notes are in harmony, there is a precise mathematical relationship between the frequencies at which they vibrate. Even a slight deviation from that mathematical relationship produces discord, which is unpleasant to most listeners. I suspect that even the non-musicians reading this will know the feeling of comfort and satisfaction that comes when discord resolves into harmony.

In addition to the basic frequency at which a note sounds, there are additional vibrations at higher and lower frequencies, called overtones. These are what gives a note its character (called timbre by musicians). It's why the same note sounds different when played on a flute versus how it sounds played on a bagpipe. It's why one pair of voices might sound good together while another doesn't, even when they're all on pitch. Overtones can clash or harmonize just as the main note can.

So what does this have to do with love? Well, it gives us a metaphor to understand that feeling of destiny and rightness we feel when we meet someone special to us. I propose (metaphorically, or maybe literally) that every soul vibrates at a certain frequency; or to put it more poetically, every soul sings its own note—a note that is silent to our mortal ears but audible to our subtler senses.

When we meet someone else whose soul is singing the same note, or a note that harmonizes with ours, we fall in love, and we feel that sense of destiny. It is, in my metaphor, not destiny, but sympathetic harmony that we feel when we fall in love. Indeed, like a string that is still until another sings near it, our whole being shakes, quivers, and hums in response. Anyone who has felt a harp or a guitar as it sounds a note will recognize the intense feeling of new love.

So I argue that it is harmony and sympathetic vibration, not fate and destiny, that provide the wonder and magic of falling in love.

[Webmasters/Ezine Publishers: Free professional content - pre-licensed to you. You are invited to use any or all of the Pagan thoughts articles by Cedric in your publication or website. The only requirement is that you include the by-line of the author, including the name and website of the article.]

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Pagan View of God

I sometimes have an odd dream, in which I’m filling out an online form about my religion. I come to a section that reads as follows:

Is your religion polytheistic, monotheistic, or pantheistic? (Choose one.)

And then there are three little circles to click, one for each –ism, and as soon as I click one, the dot moves to that circle. It’s impossible to click all three. In my dream, I cuss and swear at the computer and the small-minded people who programmed the form.

Okay, I don’t really have a dream that goes like that, but sometimes I feel that way when I’m trying to explain Deity as I understand it. Before I get into that explanation, let me cover a few definitions.

Polytheism—the belief in many gods and/or goddesses

Monotheism—the belief in one god

Pantheism—the belief that god is in everything

A lot of people label all forms of Paganism (including NeoPaganism) as polytheistic, meaning that we worship many gods and goddesses. But this is an oversimplification. In fact, I consider our religion to combine all three of the –isms. Let me explain.

At the most abstract level, we have Deity. Some people refer to this as G!d, Spirit, the Source, the Divine, the Creator, the Unmoved Mover, the Universe. I’m not picky, but I try really hard to go for a gender-neutral term here, and I avoid the term “God” simply because it’s laden with so many associations from other religions. Perhaps I should call it the Great Beyond, because the Divine seems to be beyond many things: It’s beyond gender, being neither male nor female. It’s beyond race, not being Black, White, or any shade of Brown. It’s beyond species for that matter. It’s likewise beyond matter and energy, life and death, time and space. It is ultimately beyond our comprehension.

(I have to give credit where it’s due. I first encountered this conception of Deity while studying orthodox Hinduism. In fact, there is little in NeoPaganism that does not have a parallel somewhere in Hinduism, which is essentially the most successful “Pagan” religion in the world today.)

So, at this level, I am a monotheist. There is only one Deity, only one Source, only one Divine Energy. The problem with it is that it’s a bit remote. Just as it’s hard to say anything about everything, it’s hard to relate to and interact with anything so vast as the all-encompassing Deity. I’ll borrow a few images here to explain that:

In the Bhagavadgita, there is a scene in which Prince Arjuna asks the god Krishna, who has been disguised as the prince’s charioteer, to reveal His true form. Krishna begins to comply, but then realizes that Arjuna’s senses would not be able to perceive that form. Krishna grants Arjuna just a little bit of divine sight, and Arjuna is overwhelmed by the majesty and enormity of what he perceives. Words apparently cannot describe it, though the poet finds quite a few words in his attempt to convey the experience.

Now most monotheists deal with this problem by trimming their God down to size. Rather than believing in an abstraction so vast that we can’t understand it, they simply worship an anthropomorpic deity, with gender, personality, and in some cases race; but they insist it’s the only one. Likewise, they separate this Creator from Creation. We NeoPagans have a different solution for the problem: the next level(s) of divine reality, in which the One becomes the Many.

At a level of understanding just below that of the One Undivided Deity, we introduce Dualism, in the forms of the God and the Goddess. The God represents the Male Principle within the Divine; the Goddess represents the Female Principle within the Divine. Now, in my worldview, these are equal and balanced powers. (Think of the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol, if you’re not already.)

(I should note at this point that some NeoPagans, especially many Dianic Wiccans, insist on exalting the Feminine Principle over the Masculine, sometimes to the point of excluding the Divine Masculine. That’s not my view, but I feel that any discussion of NeoPaganism should include a mention of it. I can’t speak for those who hold that view, but sometimes I get the impression that they are using the term “Goddess” much the way I say “the Divine”—that is they mean that all-encompassing Wholeness that surpasses understanding. Why they don’t use a gender neutral term for that certainly surpasses my understanding.)

Now, within each of these gendered principles are certain archetypes: We know from our daily experience that not all women are alike, nor are all men. Likewise, people assume roles far more specific than merely male and female. Hence we reach another level of understanding, a level slightly less abstract than the God/Goddess duality.

Wiccans typically see three archetypes (or faces) within the Goddess: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. The Maiden is typically viewed as a young woman anywhere from childhood to the brink of adulthood. She is seen as creative, full of life, but sometimes naïve. The Mother archetype is often pictured as a pregnant woman, though in fact the bulk of motherhood comes after the child’s birth. Still, in pre-industrial cultures, women were expected to bear many children, so a mother might well spend a lot of her time bringing babies to term while raising other children. The Mother is not only a generative force, but a protective one as well. The Crone archetype surprises many non-Wiccans the first time they hear of her. (I remember one who said, “Crone? That’s an ugly word for a Goddess.”) The Crone archetype, often represented as the stereotypical old lady witch, stands for a woman who has passed childbearing age and experienced menopause. Much like many elderly people, the Crone has acquired a lot of wisdom, but she’s not inclined to sugar-coat it; she calls ‘em like she sees ‘em. The Crone archetype teaches us not to resist death. Personally, I think one of the most wonderful things about Wicca is that it teaches us to revere and respect age, in sharp contrast to the popular media that glorifies youth and beauty above all things.

I should mention that there are of course a lot of other ways to view the archetypes within the Goddess: The triple approach is one of many, but it works well, partly because the physical changes within a woman’s body are so clear-cut.

It’s a little bit trickier finding a system of archetypes for the Male Principle. Some Wiccans simply deduce a parallel structure, identifying the God archetypes as Hunter (or Lover), Father, and Sage. The catch is that not everyone can quite agree on these archetypes, and there are some faces of Deity that don’t seem to fit any of them, or which seem to fit all of them. The important matter is to realize that there are multiple archetypes within each Divine Principle.

At this point our religion is looking alarmingly polytheistic, and at the next level of understanding, it becomes even more so. As we decrease the level of abstraction, our deities acquire names. Every deity within a mythology anywhere is a face of one of these archetypes. So, for instance, Zeus is a face of the Father God archetype, while Isis is a face of the Mother Goddess archetype. It’s considerably easier to relate to the Divine as a personality, an individual deity, than it is to relate to the Divine as an archetype or a vast abstraction. Consider, for instance, that when you speak to your own father, you are speaking to an actual person rather than to the archetype of all fathers everywhere. It’s the same with deities.

Now, many Asatruaren I’ve talked with or read make a big point of denying that their gods and goddesses embody archetypes. “Odin is Odin,” they proclaim, “not a face of the Sky-Father!” Well, again, I think that Odin is capable of being both, just as my father is Jack, but is also a face of Fatherhood. In other words, being an aspect of the Divine Whole does not make an individual deity any less individual. Conversely, being individual does not make one any less Divine.

Some people complain that this view of deity is a NeoPagan development, absent from PaleoPaganism. That is not the case. While we could probably stack up a number of examples, I'll cite one now. In The Golden Ass by Apuleius, the author talks about Isis and attributes to her many names in many different cultures. Clearly, we see that Isis was an example of an archetype that made her essentially synonymous with many other goddesses. (I'll discuss The Golden Ass in more detail in a later post.)

And now we’ve reached the pantheism portion of our religious world-view. Pantheism, as mentioned above, is the belief that the Divine is in everything. (The Jedi notion of “the Force” is a form of pantheism most people are familiar with.) I like to think of the Divine in terms of a hologram. When you cut a hologram into two pieces, rather than getting two halves of the image, you get two smaller (and infinitesimally blurrier) copies of the original image. Each part contains the whole. As you continue the process, cutting the hologram into smaller and smaller pieces, each piece retains the whole image.

Similarly, the Divine (aka the Universe) has divided itself into a nearly infinite number of pieces. Everything we encounter is a slice of that Divine Wholeness; that these slices appear as separate rocks, trees, animals, people, televisions, cars, bananas, and bowls of cereal is a function of our perception, which must divide in order to define. (This is why thought is represented by the sword in the Tarot. Reality must be cut down to size to be perceived.) Some slices of the hologram are larger than others; these are the deities—individual faces of the Divine.

Some slightly smaller individual faces of the Divine are you and I. Thus, at one level of reality, you and I are separate beings; on another level of reality, we are both God.

Taking this view of other people can dramatically alter the way you treat them. As the Buddha said, “If you see yourself in others, whom can you harm?” Likewise, if you see the Divine in all things, it becomes logical and natural to revere and respect all things. There is a story about Sri Ramakrishna feeding part of a sacred offering to a stray cat. When worshippers protested that the offering was set aside for their Goddess, the holy man replied, “The Goddess is in the cat.” (We Bast-worshippers could have told them that.)

So, to summarize, we are monotheists, for we believe that the Divine is a single, undivided whole. We are polytheists, for we believe that the Divine has many faces. Finally, we are pantheists, for we believe that the Divine is in everything, that the Divine is everything.

So remember that if you ever have to program an online form.

[Webmasters/Ezine Publishers: Free professional content - pre-licensed to you. You are invited to use any or all of the Pagan thoughts articles by Cedric in your publication or website. The only requirement is that you include the by-line of the author, including the name and website of the article.]

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Meditation and Visualization

A few years ago, I was asked to teach a class on meditation and visualization. These are two areas that are critical to Wiccan practice but are often much misunderstood. Here are the notes for that class:


the practice of turning one’s conscious attention to the unseen and/or inner world

Meditation often involves entering a trance or altered state of consciousness. In this state, the distinction between our conscious and unconscious minds begins to blur.

Most people, when they think of meditation, think of the Eastern ideal of emptying the mind of all thoughts. While that is a valid method/goal of meditation, there are many others, and striving for the somewhat difficult goal of silencing the inner voice can get in the way of other fine meditative practices.

Why Do We Meditate?

Proponents of meditation are quick to point out various benefits to physical, emotional, and spiritual health, many of which arise from meditation as a tool for relieving stress. I once knew an office worker who took a brief “meditation break” every afternoon; all of her coworkers were in awe of how energetic, focused, and calm she always was.

In addition to the simple stress-relief bonus, meditation also allows you to access your subconscious mind, which has several benefits. For one, your subconscious mind has control over your physical body. Furthermore, your subconscious mind connects to the Cosmic or Divine Consciousness, so it is your gateway to the unseen world.

Before and After Meditation

Be sure to center at the beginning of a meditation. Similarly, when you are finished with a meditation, take a few moments to slowly become aware of your body. Blink your eyes, wiggle your toes, and sit up slowly; then perform a grounding activity, such as having a few bites to eat. Many Pagans find it useful to record any experiences or insights gained in a journal as soon as meditation ends.


Because meditiation begins with relaxation, I’d like to cover a few methods of relaxation that you might find useful.

Phasic Relaxation: Starting with your toes, tense and then relax each part of your body, one part at a time. When you’ve worked your way up to your scalp, tense and then relax your entire body.

Slow Breathing: Breathe in for four counts. Hold your breath for four counts. Breathe out for four counts. Wait for four counts. Repeat for as long as you wish. (You may prefer to use a phrase in the place of counting to four. Such phrases include “Om Mane Padme Hum” and “Honor, Power, Peace.”)

Riding the Elevator: This is a method based on visualization, which we will discuss later in class. To use this method, see yourself in an elevator going down. With each floor that you descend, your body becomes more and more relaxed. (If elevators make you nervous, take the stairs.)

Seeing the Spiral: Visualize a rotating spiral.

Methods of Meditation

Freeform Meditation: Sit or lie in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Find a position in which you are comfortable enough that you won’t be distracted by discomfort, but not so comfortable that you are likely to fall asleep. (I like sitting on the floor with my back against something.) If white noise helps cut out the world, put on a recording of soothing sound. (Ocean waves or new-age music are popular for this; avoid anything that will be too distracting.) Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. If you are having trouble relaxing, use one of the methods mentioned above. Don’t particularly try to think about anything, but don’t worry if something pops into your head. Let your thoughts and impressions go wherever they wish to go. You may be quite amazed by the realizations and/or images that come to you. Continue for as long as you feel comfortable meditating.

Focused Meditation (meditating on something): This type of meditation is very similar to freeform meditation. The only difference is that you focus your attention on something that will serve as your starting point. The goal is typically to gain a deeper understanding of or insight concerning the subject of the meditation. For example, you might meditate on any of the four elements, a myth, a person you’re having a problem with, a place, a rune, a tarot card, a painting, or a situation. Once again, don’t try to control which thoughts or impressions come to you—you’re not trying to think something through logically; you’re letting your mind roam freely in a particular direction. As with freeform meditation, you’ll know when you’re done.

Chanting Meditation: Some prefer to chant, either silently or aloud, a repetitious phrase while meditating. The phrase performs the duty of tying up the part of the brain that could easily be distracted or sidetracked, thus allowing the meditator to focus on the unseen.

Moving Meditation: Certain forms of work or physical activity, especially those that are repetitive and rhythmic, are conducive to achieving a trance state, much the way that chanting works. A friend of mine meditates while trimming dead branches from trees, and I find that digging or doing other mindless work frees my mind to wander, with the result that I sometimes have surprising insights or even psychic flashes. Some people can enter a trance though walking, drumming, dancing, or running.
[Practice brief Freeform Meditation]



Visualization: a technique of communicating with the subconscious mind by means of creating images in the mind’s eye

Visualization is taught in conjunction with meditation because the two often go hand-in-hand in Wiccan practice. Visualization can help you achieve a meditative state, and visualizations increase in effectiveness when performed in a meditative state.

Why Do We Visualize?

Ever hear the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words? It’s doubly true when we’re dealing with the subconscious mind. Your subconscious has amazing powers, but it’s a bit like a U.S. infantryman—it grasps pictures far better than it grasps words.

Certainly, you can influence your subconscious with words. That’s why affirmations and spells are effective. But images—that is, visualizations—are often more powerful.

The funny thing about your subconscious is that it really doesn’t know the difference between a visualization and reality. Thus, when you visualize, your subconscious accepts the image as real. There’s a classic psychology experiment in which one group of people practiced shooting baskets for a specified period. A second group did not practice. The third group’s members weren’t allowed to practice, but were instructed to picture themselves successfully shooting baskets. At the end of the test period, the first group showed a marked improvement while the second group showed none. But the third group—those who had visualized—showed nearly as much improvement as those who had practiced. Clearly, visualization has the ability to affect reality.

In addition to allowing you to affect your subconscious, visualization is an important tool for manipulating energy.

Types of Visualization

Spell Visualization: Most spells include the visualization of an image that somehow represents the goal or action of the spell. It might be literal (you see yourself at your new job) or it might be figurative (you see yourself picking dollar bills from a tree). You might visualize Ganesh removing obstacles from your path. You might visualize your doubts and fears melting like a candle. There’s really no limit.

Guided Meditation: While in a meditative state, you direct your mind’s eye to form images described to you by the person leading the meditation. (If you don’t have someone else to lead a meditation, record the descriptions with a tape player and then listen to them while meditating.) Pay attention to details that arise without being described in the meditation. Also, be aware that people/images you encounter during a guided meditation may have something to say to you. Indeed, getting such entities to speak to you may be the goal of a guided meditation. (It sometimes happens in a guided meditation that images totally unrelated to the narration will come to you—in a sense, you wander away from the tour group. There’s nothing wrong with that. You are seeing what you need to see, so just relax and go with it.)

Flash Visualization: In this method, you don’t worry about achieving a deep meditative trance. Instead, you very briefly visualize your goal, and then you do it without doubt or hesitation. For example, say you’re playing darts. Visualize the dart hitting the bulls-eye, relax, and throw the dart. Don’t think about aiming; don’t worry about anything. Just release the dart. This tool is very useful for achieving physical results.

Self-Enhancing Visualization: This is similar to shielding, in which you visualize a protective shell around yourself. In a self-enhancing visualization, you picture yourself as you would like others to see you: attractive, charismatic, intelligent, persuasive, mysterious, charming, amusing. Alternatively, you can just picture an aura of light (preferably in an appropriate color) surrounding yourself. If you need strength (physical or emotional), you might visualize yourself as a lion, a mountain, an oak tree, a giant, or the Goddess Durga. The reverse technique is also possible. Some people, by picturing themselves as unobtrusive and projecting the idea that they are unnoticeable, can effectively drop out of sight. It’s not that they’ve become physically invisible; they’ve just become unobtrusive. (Note: Many people achieve these effects without realizing it. Have you ever met one of those people whom you never saw approach—they were just suddenly there? I knew a man who never said good-bye; but at some point, everyone would notice that he was gone. On the other end of the scale, there are those people who instantly attract attention or command silence when they speak. Many of these people unconsciously visualize themselves as large and charismatic.)

Going Back to a Dream: Visualization can be used to help you interpret a dream. In this technique, you want to recall the dream in as much detail as you can, and then picture yourself back in the dream. The difference is that now you are in complete control of the experience. Did the dream involve unfinished business? Finish it. Were you puzzled by the behavior or presence of someone in the dream? Stop the person and ask for an explanation. (You can even talk to objects or animals in this way. Hey, it’s your dream.) Was there a disturbing image in your dream? Find some way to set it right.

Building the Garden: Many people find it useful to create mental landscapes for themselves. These may be gardens, temples, forests, castles, apartment buildings, or anything else that works. The important thing about such landscapes is that the meditator returns to them time and again. Often the visualized landscape represents the psyche of the meditator.

Thought-Forms: Some practitioners speak of performing a visualization with such consistency and focus that other people actually see the visualized image. When this happens, the image is called a thought-form. I’ve never actually created a thought-form nor have I ever seen one, but it’s certainly an intriguing idea.

A Few Words About Meditations/Visualizations

Some people find it helpful to have specific visualizations that they repeat from time to time or in certain situations. For example, when I’m tense and need comfort, I visualize a huge, black, purring mama cat; I’m her kitten. A similar visualization is to see yourself in the lap of the Goddess, however you picture her, or perhaps on the shoulders of a benevolent father God. When I want to help someone calm down, I picture a shower of water flowing over them, washing away their concerns. Many of my meditations begin with picturing myself in a particular location that has sentimental value to me.

While image often plays a primary role in visualization, don’t forget your other senses. Besides seeing an orange, try to smell it, feel it, and taste it. If you visualize a waterfall, hear the rushing water and feel the cool touch of the droplets on your skin. You can even employ your sixth sense during a visualization. As with a verbal description, the more senses you can engage, the more effective your visualization will be.

If your visualization involves a journey, it’s a good idea to include a “return”—a period during which you visualize yourself returning to your body. It may be useful to see yourself returning over the landscape you’ve already traversed, perhaps shutting any doors you have opened during the visualization.

Some Common Questions about Meditation and Visualization

Q: I can meditate for only five minutes. Am I a failure?

A: Not at all. If you can meditate for only five minutes, then meditate for five minutes. After that, take a break, do something else, and then meditate for another five minutes. Before long, you may be surprised at how long your meditations are. However, it’s quite possible that you will have very powerful experiences during brief meditiations.

Q: Can anything bad happen to me while I’m meditating and visualizing?

A: I’ve never known anything bad to happen to someone in those situations. Now that doesn’t mean that you might not encounter some frightening or disturbing images. Usually these images represent something you need to deal with. If you can, approach the image without fear, trying to understand and accept it. If you can’t, remember that you can always open your eyes and get out of the visualization. Sure, it’s better to take your time returning, but if you are truly scared, remember that you can get out in an instant. If you are particularly worried about confronting an image, ask an experienced person to serve as your guide.

Q: Is it okay to meditate while I’m driving?

A: Probably not. When you’re driving, it’s best to focus your attention on the seen world, not the unseen world. Having said that, I’d like to add that you’ve probably entered a trance while driving—most drivers do. Road hypnosis is a common danger on long road trips. But it’s best avoided, not sought out.

Q: Is it hard to learn to visualize?

A: Believe it or not, you have probably already visualized quite a bit. Our culture trains people to visualize by teaching them to read. Any time you picture a character in a book or think about how to follow a set of written directions, you are visualizing. Now you just need to learn to use visualization as a magickal tool.

Q: Do I have to look like me when I’m visualizing?

A: Heck, no! If you prefer to appear as a bird so that you can fly or a fish so that you can swim or a dragon so that you’ll feel safe, go for it. (Personally, I always have big angel wings so that I can fly.)

[practice one or more guided visualizations: seeing a candle flame, removing boulders from a field]

Appendix A: Visualization Practice

The Lemon: Picture a whole, unpeeled lemon, perfectly ripe and yellow. As you take it in your hand, feel the soft firmness of its skin under your fingers. Run a thumb along its dimpled surface. Now pull the lemon to your nose and inhale the citrus scent. With a knife, slowly cut into the fruit. Listen carefully to the zipping sound of the knife penetrating the lemon’s skin. Cut into the meat of the fruit and pull the zest apart; smell the more pungent aroma the lemon gives off now. Pull the lemon open at the cut; the cool juice drips onto your fingers. Bring the open fruit to your lips; taste the tart juice with your tongue. If you wish, squeeze the lemon juice into a glass and pour cold water over it. Then stir in sugar, listening to the tinkling of the spoon on the glass. Now take a drink.

[As you finish this visualization, check to see if you are salivating. Professional singers and public speakers often visualize lemons in order to counter nervous dry mouth.]

Head Turning (adapted from Urban Shaman by Serge Kahili King): Begin with your eyes open and looking forward. Slowly turn your head to the right, carefully noting all details of your environment. When you have turned your head as far as you can to the right, take note of the rightmost extent of your vision; pick an item to mark that location. Now repeat the process, turning your head to the left. Next, close your eyes and visualize your environment, imagining that you are turning your head first to the right and then to the left. Realize that in your visualization, your head can turn farther than it did when your eyes were open. Finally, open your eyes and repeat the head-turning. You will find that you are able to turn your head farther the second time than you could the first.

Relive a Memory: Think of the most attractive person you know. (If you can’t decide which person get the title, just pick someone who strikes you as attractive.) Now recall the time you first saw that person or the first time you noticed how attractive that person is. Where were you at the time? What was he/she wearing? What features struck you as attractive or appealing? Chances are, you are visualizing that person without even planning to. There’s also a good chance that you are having a physical reaction to the memory.

Candle Flame: Close your eyes and picture a candle flame, see it flickering. Make it rise higher and higher, up to several feet. Now make it shrink, decreasing to where it is barely burning. Allow it to grow back to its regular height, and then picture it changing colors. Return it to its original color and make it shrink until it sputters out.

The Quarter (adapted from Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson): Visualize a quarter vividly. See its shape and color; feel the ridges along its edge with your thumb. Get a sense of its weight in your hand, and tap it against a surface to hear the sound it makes. Now visualize that you are in a place where you walk on a regular basis—your home, a nearby sidewalk, the parking lot where you work—and you find the quarter. Imagine the scene of finding it as vividly as you possibly can. Repeat the visualization several times a week, and take note of how many quarters you find.

Removing Boulders: Picture yourself standing on the edge of a green, grass-covered field. The scene is beautiful and sunny, with a gentle breeze, but there are huge boulders littering the field. One by one, push the boulders out of the field; don’t worry about them being too heavy—in a visualization, you have the strength of giants. Continue until you have cleared the field, then admire how much better the field looks.

[This visualization is a handy tool for literally removing obstacles and burdens from your life. In that sense, it is a spell.]

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Connecting with the Divine

The word “religion,” though much maligned by those who dislike organized religion, originally means “re-linking.” That is, it refers to our efforts to renew our links to the Divine, to regain (at least to some degree) our union with the Divine.

Because the Divine is so great as to be too much for our minds, we conceive of it as various deities; these are channels through which we connect to the whole. (I’ll go into this in a separate post.) This article will address methods for connecting with individual deities. Of course, there are myriad methods. This list is far from comprehensive or definitive, but it should serve as a good start.

First, approach the connection with your mind. Do research on the deity. Read all you can about Him or Her. Don’t limit yourself to works written by NeoPagans; look at scholarly studies of mythology, anthropology, and history. If you can find primary sources regarding the deity, study those. Look at ancient depictions of the deity; they will often tell more than mere words will.

Read the myths concerning the deity. Think about the myths and learn them. Then re-tell them, either to friends or in your journal. (Re-telling a story forces you to focus on the parts that are important to you.) Consider what lessons the myths are teaching you, realizing that a single myth can support multiple interpretations and may contain truth on many levels.

If you can find information on the deity’s worship, study that. Examine what rituals were or are used to honor the deity. (Sometimes there is an abundance of such information, and sometimes there is virtually nothing known. That’s just how it is.)

Examine the deity in context. What role did the deity serve in the culture where He or She was worshipped? How does this deity compare to similar deities in other cultures and pantheons? What archetypes does this deity embody?

Once you have sought the deity as much as you can through knowledge, then you must seek the deity through spiritual means. There are lots of ways to do this, but here are a few of my favorite methods.

Re-live the myth in your imagination. If you are good at visualization, watch the story play out in your mind’s eye, and look for details you did not expect. If your visualization skills are still developing, record the myth onto a tape recorder and listen back to it as a guided meditation.

Perform a meditation to invoke the deity. I find that the simplest way to do this is to close my eyes, reach a meditative state, and then chant a simple invocation, such as “Name, Name, Teach me of thee.” (Of course, you fill in the name of the deity for the word “name.”) Repeat the chant for as long as you need, and impressions of the deity will come to you. Even if you don’t get any sensations or experiences during the meditation, keep your eyes peeled; lessons may come to you through other means: stray comments, random occurrences and synchronicities.

To enhance the meditation, make it into an entire ritual. To do this, drape your altar in colors associated with the deity. Place a representation of that deity at the center of your altar. Dress in the appropriate colors and light candles in those colors. (You can even dress in a costume that represents that deity.) Burn incense or use oil in a scent that makes you think of that deity. Play music that makes you think of that deity. (If you can find an actual hymn to the deity, so much the better.) Adopt a stance appropriate to the deity. If there is a day of the week or year, phase of the moon, or hour of the day that is associated with the deity, work your ritual at that time. In short, do everything you can to focus your mind, body, and spirit on union with that aspect of the Divine. Then use the chant described in the last paragraph.

(If you can’t pull off all of the ritual details mentioned above, don’t sweat it. They are helpful, but not necessary. Incorporate as many as you can.)

If you are familiar with chakra work, there is an even more intense meditation for union with a deity. I adapted this meditation from the Buddhists, but it works with any face of Deity. I like to call it the Rainbow Bridge Meditation, after the bridge that links the realm of humans and the realm of Gods in Norse mythology:

Once you’ve reached a meditative state, visualize the deity sitting or standing before you, facing you. Now, visualize your root chakra spinning and glowing with a red light; see the deity’s root chakra doing the same. Next, send forth the light from your root to the deity’s root; bridge the gap between you and the deity. Now let the light flow up to your second (sacral) chakra, shifting to orange and setting that chakra spinning. Again, see the same process happening in the body of the deity, and then build a bridge of orange light between the two sacral chakras. Continue the process with each of the chakras, until you have joined all seven. Remain in that state for as long as you are comfortable, staying receptive to any realizations the deity gives you while you are linked. Accept any strength or energy that deity gives you at that time. Then, when you are ready, gently reverse the process, unlinking each pair of chakras.

The Rainbow Bridge Meditation can have a number of applications. Besides helping you build a stronger connection with the Divine, it can be helpful in spellwork. Once linked with a deity, you may draw on that deity’s power to strengthen your spells or prayers. In a group working, an entire congregation may join to the same deity. The process links the group together as well as to the deity.

In conclusion, let me say that once you have found union with a deity, don’t expect that to be the final step; it’s just a beginning. You will have an ongoing relationship with that deity, and like any relationship, you will need to work to maintain it. However, like any good friendship, it can be a highly rewarding experience.

(For more information on chakras, check out http://www.eclecticenergies.com/chakras/open.php)

[Webmasters/Ezine Publishers: Free professional content - pre-licensed to you. You are invited to use any or all of the Pagan thoughts articles by Cedric in your publication or website. The only requirement is that you include the by-line of the author, including the name and website of the article.]

The Myth of True Love

[This article originally appeared in The Rising Wind magazine.]

Myth is a fascinating word. In common usage, it means a falsehood--a belief that, though widely held, is patently false. We Pagans of course have a deeper meaning for the word. To us, a myth is a story that, though not factual, contains some deeper truth; a truth so fundamental that it shapes our lives and cannot be clearly expressed in mere literal speech. That kind of truth requires a story, an image captured in words.

So which meaning do I invoke when I title this piece “The Myth of True Love”? I’ll leave that conclusion for later.

When I studied classical mythology in college, my professor had a fantastic ability for telling stories, and he often held us breathless for the entire hour with his renditions of the great myths. One of those tales I have repeated many times, for it speaks of the nature of true love. It goes like this:

In the beginning, before the first stroke of time and the first dawn of day, there dwelt a race of wondrous beings. Each had a body, consisting like ours of two arms, two legs, and a trunk. But unlike us, each of these beings had two heads, though each pair of heads shared a single soul. Also unlike us, these two-headed souls lived in complete bliss, never wanting for anything, never lonely, never sad; for each of these beings was complete in itself. Longing was utterly unknown.

Then the gods decreed that time must begin and the first day must dawn. And in that great sundering, each of the double-headed souls was split into two, each half-being inheriting but half a soul. These half-beings were then spread throughout all times and all lands to be incarnated as the human race. Thus each human half-soul feels incomplete, longing for its lost soulmate. Some happy few meet that special person and regain the lost bliss of completeness.

Isn’t that a beautiful myth? If you happen to be in love at this moment, you know exactly that feeling of completion, that sense of having known your partner before this life. If you are in that state right now as you are reading this, you might not want to hear what I will say next.

Here it is: The myth I related above, though beautiful and moving as all myths about true love are, is utterly false and dangerous.

Sure, it seems wonderful on the surface, but do we want to structure our lives around a belief that cruel? Certainly, if we are with someone, the myth gives us a sense of cosmic destiny, and if we are alone, it grants us magnificent tragedy. Honestly, though, the odds of finding your one true love in that scenario are quite slim. What if your soulmate was born in another time, or halfway around the globe? What is beautiful about a myth that condemns most of the human race to misery?

Remember as you read this that our beliefs shape our realities, and the myths we choose serve as blueprints and floorplans. Just as a floorplan might look beautiful but be ultimately difficult to live with, the myth of true love leads most often to heartbreak and despair.

Why does the myth resonate then? Why do all of us know that feeling of being a half a soul, longing for completion? The reason is simple. Most of us are not whole. We long for reconnection with the Divine wholeness we once knew. But it is in ourselves, not others, that we must seek that wholeness. If we do not regain completion within ourselves, we will never find it with another. Connecting with another person can never take the place of connecting with the Divine.

Having arrived at this realization, we can see how harmful the true love myth is. Let’s look at a typical romance. Boy meets girl, and being heterosexual, he falls in love with her. (Note: For simplicity, I’m telling this story from a heterosexual viewpoint, but of course homosexuals have similar experiences.) They both feel that sense of completeness; when they are together, the earth shakes and the stars sing, at least to their perception. But with time, that feeling fades. Both of them, naturally, look at other people; the habits each found endearing in the other start to grate. Now, to someone who subscribes to the true love myth—as those who have just fallen in love are likely to—this is a tragedy of cosmic proportion, a realization that what each thought was true love was actually false. Each expects something that the other cannot give, and so their relationship is doomed. Worse yet, after their bitter break-up, they continue on their roller-coaster of ecstasy and tragedy, always expecting more than their partners can provide.

If on the other hand these two don’t subscribe to the true love myth, they can recognize that they are sharing something wonderful and beautiful, even if turns out to be temporary. When they have feelings for other people, they can recognize that those feelings don’t diminish the love they feel for each other. When they fight—as all couples do—they can recognize that it is just that: a disagreement between two humans, not a tragedy of cosmic proportions. And if they part, they can cherish what they enjoyed and think honestly about what they did not. Once alone, they can seek new partners, aware that there are many people with whom they can share happiness.

Is my view of love as exciting as the myth of true love? Probably not. But many things that are exciting—car crashes, avalanches, sudden falls—are dangerous to those caught up in them. They are also, thankfully, very brief. The path to happiness is not a car crash. It is a long, peaceful ride, undertaken alone—or with someone who is willing to share the driving.

It is unkind to demolish a myth without replacing it, so I would like to conclude with a myth that expresses the nature of love more accurately:

A long time ago, there lived a young man in the forest. For all his days, the youth had tasted only meat and vegetables, but never fruit. Though these sustained him, he always felt that there was something more. One day as he was hunting, he found that which he had always lacked. Before him stood a tree, and upon the tree’s limb hung a single apple, gleaming red in the midday sun. He had never seen a thing so beautiful.

Reaching out, he took the apple in his hands and tasted it. Such ecstasy! Here was the sweetness he half-remembered from his mother’s milk, here was the nectar of the eternal gods! Eagerly, he drank in each bite, reveling in the bliss the apple gave him. At last, he had found that which had eluded him, and he would never know sorrow again.

Then, as suddenly as he had found the apple, he found that it was nearly gone. All of its bright red skin was consumed; all of its tender flesh taken. Yet he chewed on, startled by the bitterness at its core.

“False apple!” he cried. “How could I have ever thought you sweet!” Tears ran down his cheeks. “I shall never know such joy again! How could you have not lasted forever?”

Then through his tears he saw that the limb bore many apples, and that the tree had many limbs. With his hands shaking, he reached for a second apple, as beautiful as the first. In it, he tasted once more the sweetness of his mother’s milk; but this time, he cherished each bite slowly, and when he was done, he set down the core very gently, thanking the apple for all it had given him.

[Webmasters/Ezine Publishers: Free professional content - pre-licensed to you. You are invited to use any or all of the Pagan thoughts articles by Cedric in your publication or website. The only requirement is that you include the by-line of the author, including the name and website of the article.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Solstice Tale

Many ages ago, after the first spring that any remember and the first summer that any could recall, the people of the first tribe stood in wonder at a strange sight.

“What is it?” one whispered, awe in his voice.

“I’ve never seen such a thing,” a second replied in hushed tones.

“Leaves should not be this color,” commented the third. “Something is wrong in the world.”

Soon they saw that a great deal was indeed wrong in the world. Not only were the trees losing their leaves, but the beasts of the forest began to hide themselves under the ground. The birds in the air flew to far away lands, and they took the warm breath of the wind with them; the earth grew colder with each passing day.

“It is true,” said one member of the tribe. “The golden eye of the gods does not watch over us as once it did. Each day it gazes less, and each night is longer. Soon, the gods will not look after us at all.”

Then a great terror overcame the people, for how could they live in the displeasure of the gods? Some ran to where food was stored and carried away all they could, fearing that there might be no more to eat; others, in dread of the cold, snatched up all the furs; those who had fire were loath to share it with others, lest they lose all warmth and light; and those with caves turned all others from their homes.

And each day, the eye of the gods diminished.

But there were two among the tribe, the youngest woman and the youngest man, a brother and sister, who had rushed to snatch neither food nor fire, cave nor cover—and in the world where wolf-howl had replaced bird-song and even water waxed as hard as stone, they walked, alone save one another.

“What will we do, now that the world dies?” one asked. “It is not within our power to save it.”

“Our brothers and sisters will not help us, for they have turned us from their homes. To our Grandparents we must go,” answered the other.

And so the youngest man went to seek the wisdom of the Grandmother. After a long journey, he reached her and explained that the world was dying. The wizened crone looked up from her cauldron and said to the youngest man, “I cannot solve this problem alone. You must seek the Grandfather as well.” To which the youngest man replied, “My sister has gone to find him.”

Of course, when the youngest woman sought the words of the Grandfather, the ancient one raised his antlered head to say, “I cannot solve this problem alone. You must seek the Grandmother as well.” To which the youngest woman replied, “My brother has gone to find him.”

Three days hence, the Grandmother and the Grandfather embraced one another under the moon-cast shadows of bare branches. The Grandfather, dressed in the color of holly berries, drew forth his drum, and the Grandmother, clad in the color of holly leaves, brought forth her rattle; the two drummed and chanted, cried and danced, until at last they fell to the ground. The young ones knew that the ancients had left their bodies to seek the starry realm of the gods. For many hours, the Grandparents lay as dead, filling the brother and sister with fear that even their wise elders had deserted them—until at last the Grandmother rasied up her gray head, and the Grandfather stirred his arms, and the two spoke as one: “Yes,” they said, “the world is dying, but even we two together cannot revive it. Bring to us all the people of the tribe.”

And so the brother and sister went through field and forest to each cave and fire, summoning kith and kin in the name of the old ones. When at last all were gathered, the Grandparents addressed them:

“Each night, the golden eye of the gods looks away from you, and each morning, it has found less and less which pleases it to look upon. For the laws of the gods are simple: harm none, and live in love. Yet when the gods look upon you, they see that some hoard food and will not feed their brother; they see that some hoard fur and will not clothe their sister; they see that some hoard fire and will not warm their cousin; they see that some hoard shelter and will not welcome their friend. So long as you live these deeds of fear, forgetting love, you will not survive the longest night.”

A silent hush fell over the gathered tribe as each remembered the laws that they had kept so gladly in summer.

At last, one took from her back a robe, placing it about the shoulders of another, who brought forth what food he had to feed the hungry. Those who had hoarded fire offered to light the cold hearths in the caves, and those with shelter called all to join them. With smiles and hugs, they did these things not because they feared the cold wrath of the gods, but because they had remembered the warm love of their companions. Each one became a shining sun to another.

So, gathered in their shelter about a warm fire, sharing food and drink and gifts, the people of the first tribe took up their drums and rattles; they danced and sang and made such a noise that even the starry home of the heavens shook, and the gods looked through their golden eye to behold the kindness of the people. And with each day, the eye shone warmer and brighter and longer—and thus began the second spring that any can remember.

Webmasters/Ezine Publishers: Free professional content - pre-licensed to you. You are invited to use any or all of the Pagan thoughts articles by Cedric in your publication or website. The only requirement is that you include the by-line of the author, including the name and website of the article.