Lent Poetry: He is a Healer

He comes to me
lays His hands on my head
and says:

“I can’t promise you
that things will get better.

I can’t tell you that there won’t
be more violence
in My name.

I can tell you that
you will have life
and love
and laughter
and sorrow
before you cross over.

You need not stay at
Death’s altar
in order to understand
Us.

Remember to love
in this life, and remember Me
as I should be.”

Guidance

“So, now that I’ve made all these tools, what do you want of me?” I asked.

“Well, you use them, of course!” She said.

“But I’m not sure how, and for what purpose!”

She sighed. “I suppose it’s only fair to tell you since we had you write the journey in the first place. Ok, here you go:

The Stone is for looking at the past, storing, and remembering.

The Knife is for the work of magick, as you already know.

The Dark Mirror is for scrying and to help when dealing with the dead.

The Water Bowl is for everyday guidance and purification.

I’d recommend the Water Bowl for daily meditation. And your usual offering of candles and incense. Do prayers in the evening and meditation in the morning.”

I nodded. It all made sense. Now I had a direction…

She shook her head. “It really does take a spiritual 2×4 sometimes, eh?”

“Yeah, well…there’s a lot of stuff going on…” I said sheepishly.

She smiled. Her eyes held nothing but love and kindness. I smiled back.

Samhain Thoughts: A Conversation with Ereshkigal

“You humans are very strange creatures,” She said as She sat down.

I took a sip of my cocoa. “I can’t argue with You about that. We tend to do a lot of weird stuff to each other and to our planet. We are stubborn, willful, quick to anger, but then we can be full of compassion, joy, and happiness.”

“Well, yes, that’s very true.” She paused. “But your species doesn’t learn very well from it’s past, does it?”

“No, unfortunately.”

“You all come through My realm, one way or another, and yet you never seem to listen to the Ancestors that came before you. They leave you books and pictures and art and music, and still there are those who willfully ignore or deny the atrocities done. They deny the signs of those who would only seek power for their own ends and feed on the hatred of others. They would willingly ignore the human race’s ability to change and adapt based on perceived notions of a lack of perfection in word and deed.”

I grimaced behind another sip of cocoa. I was rather glad that this conversation was in my head rather than physically real. Then again, I suppose if Ereshkigal became visible in the coffee shop, it would make things rather interesting.

She raised Her eyebrow at me.

I quickly answered:

“Some believe that it is only through perfection that we can change society. Others believe that we can only get to You and the other Gods through perfection. They believe that if we make mistakes somehow we’re not good enough. And, I think, sometimes some of us will shame and degrade others for mistakes long after the mistake was made and learned from.”

“What do you believe?”

“Well, I believe…I….” I stumbled.

“Do you not have an opinion?”

“I do…it’s just that…well…it’s not very popular…”

She raised her eyebrow at me again. “Priest.” She reminded me.

I took a deep breath. Right.

“I believe that demanding perfection from each other actually does more harm than good. If we don’t take the time to explain to someone who makes a mistake out of ignorance what they’ve done wrong, there’s no room for change. If we just tell someone they’re a horrible person and that they should just sit down and shut up, then all that does is build resentment.”

“And what of those who do it out of malice?”

“Well,” I said, “sit down and shut up can be a bit more effective then. I think there are some people I won’t be able to change.”

She laughed. “No, you can’t change everyone. You can’t change anyone unless they see the need to change.”

“But what about people’s anger?” I said, frustrated. “How can I acknowledge someone’s very real feelings around their oppression, but call them out on their lack of compassion towards those who want to learn and grow? I mean, I get that people get sick of educating people. I get tired of it, too. Sometimes it’s just easier to back away and just leave it alone!”

The Queen of the Underworld looked at me for a moment with sad eyes, then stood up to walk around the room. She stood behind the Latinx couple with a baby.

“Their daughter will get bullied and they will not be able to find an apartment because of their skin color and speech.”

She moved to stand next to the white man at his computer. “He doesn’t know his privilege, but he makes donations to charities every year because he can take it off his taxes.”

She moves to the white man and Asian looking man talking. “They are friends and meet here often. They both have conflicts of faith.”

Then she stood next to a teenage girl. “She knows that the world is wrong right now, and yet she will be a beacon of hope and change as she gets older.”

She wanders around standing near people and showing me their pasts and futures. Their humanity, their oppressions, their privileges, their struggles.

“They will all learn what they need to learn in this life. You are one teacher in a sea of teachers that they will come across. You don’t necessarily need to acknowledge their oppressions, but you need to absolutely acknowledge their humanity.”

I nodded.

“Remember what the Morrigan told you: you cannot save them all. And sometimes Death, in Spirit or in Fact, is a mercy, not a punishment.”

I nodded again. She sat down again.

I tried to think of something else to say, but my words were failing me.

She touched my face. “Don’t worry, my love, when they come to me, they will finally learn. It is not your place to demand perfection, but is is your place to try and emulate that which you hold dear. You will fail sometimes, but if you can tell me that you did the best you could when you arrive at My Gates, then I would be satisfied.”

I nodded.

“Yes,” She said as She got up to walk away, “You humans are very odd creatures.”

Thou Art Goddess

One of my oft-heard complaints is that we need to have more body representation in our deity images. Now that my wife has renewed her photography art, we both got the push to create a picture of a Goddess with specific attributes. We did the photoshoot this morning, and here’s the final composition:

final-web

We’re not quite sure who, exactly, this Goddess is (although, if anyone has any ideas, feel free to let me know in the comments, or through email).

It was a lot of fun doing the shoot, and I did all my own makeup! This involved buying a good deal of black makeup and white goth foundation. (Thank you Manic Panic and SugarPill!) The dress is some magick we did with red satin, and the candles are what we’ve had around for magickal use. (I won’t give away all of the magick behind the shoot, although, if you want the nerdy details, let me or my wife know.) The wife did the photoshopping and tweaking, and the end result is, to me, quite amazingly awesome!

I love this because the way the fabric looks, I look like I’m bubbling out of the Earth. Somewhat like lava. Oooh, doing art like this makes me so happy!

The wife and I definitely want to do more pictures like this, and possibly not just me as the deity, either. If anyone wants to come play with us, especially doing non-standard images of deity, let us know. Obviously, we don’t shy away from the weird and wonderful!

Ok, I’m going to go squee some more…:)

3rd Week of Lent: The Dadga and Healing my Relationship to Food

Right now, I’m in the middle of my time with The Dagda. Getting up earlier to make breakfast took a bit of getting used to, but it’s been nice to sit and eat with my wife before she goes to work in the morning. The other side of having to make food for others as ritual is that it really brings up the messed up relationship I’ve had with food and with my body. I’m facing the reality of being the one who feeds people and eating with others. It’s complex: There’s the whole idea of finding it hard to eat publicly, but yet, I have to feed anyone who comes to our house, or, as will happen next weekend, I have to make dinner for others outside of the house.

Some of this also brings up a lot of the complex feelings I have about my own body and how I look. The Dagda is teaching me to love my belly. He chides me when I think about hating it because he shows me his own big belly and laughs, saying “If I, a god, can have a big belly, so can you!”

I was looking for something to represent the Dagda on my altar, and there were a bunch of pictures of big muscle-bound bearded men with six-pack abs in the depictions of Him on Google. I raised an eyebrow, and He said to me “That is definitely NOT me!” I see Him more as I have Him depicted in the tattoo on my right leg: big fat belly, club, and cauldron. He’s a father-type figure for me, and brings about the seasons. He helps bring about Justice for those who need and deserve it. He has the ever-full cauldron that will feed those who are in need and deserving, but be empty for those who are greedy.

He came to me in the middle of my second degree initiation in my old coven. It was weird because I thought I had had a name all picked out for my witch name, but when it came time to say my witch name “The Dagda” came out of my mouth instead. I actually don’t remember the name that I was going to use, but after reading about Him, I started to understand why He came to me. I no longer use His name as my witch name (which He was flattered that I did), but He has been my patron god ever since.

So, if I make you food or ask if you want a snack during this time, know that it’s a sacred thing. The kitchen is my temple, the stove one of my altars, and food is the sacrifice we make for being human. I will not be ashamed to partake of that sacrifice from now on.

I’m Wiccan and Christian. Does that bother you?

In the last few days I’ve seen a lot people in several forums say things like “you can’t call yourself a Christian and practice witchcraft” or “you can’t call yourself a Christian and practice traditions from other religion’s holidays.” The typical reason given is that it’s somehow evil if you do. I’ve heard similar things from the pagan end of the spectrum as well, although usually it’s more of a “consorting with the enemy” type of approach. There have been well known pagans who went back to Christianity and were called opportunists because they didn’t stay in a path that wasn’t speaking to them anymore. The typical reason from this end is that “Christians do bad things.” I can confirm from my own experiences with an abusive leader that pagans do bad things as well. Believe me, Christianity doesn’t corner the market on church burn.

If religions have both good and bad people in them that also do good and bad things, then what reasons are we left with? The main one that I see is fear: fear of the unknown, the other, of things we don’t understand. Fear that maybe we might be wrong about our faith. That if someone doesn’t practice their tradition like you do and are content in it, then there must be something wrong with them. Or, maybe they’re delusional? Maybe they’re in denial of the Truth and just need someone to tell them that Truth so that they can believe the Right Way. Maybe it’s that they learned from the wrong teacher, or all they did was read a book and self-initiated themselves, so they’re not a proper witch? Isn’t it too confusing? These sentiments are so common when multi-faith practice comes up, I need to remind progressive communities that there are people who have multi-faith practices in their own community.

My questions for those who want to condemn multi-faith practice, or even just practices that are different from their own, are these:

  • Is your faith in your own religion, your own tradition, and your connection with Spirit so fragile that you can’t handle someone doing something different from you and having just as strong of a faith and belief?
  • Do you feel that your faith necessitates you be right, even if it means bullying someone else?
  • Are people who are different from you such a threat to your own sense of self you feel the need to act violently in words and actions towards others?
  • Are you so afraid of looking outside your comfortable bubble that you can’t accept that other people do things differently than you?
  • Are you so sure about your own practice that you can claim that it is the One True Practice?

I am Wiccan and Christian. Both sets of rituals and deities feed my spirit and give me joy, comfort, and, because of my calling, purpose. I am a priest of both traditions because I have been called by my Wiccan deities and Jesus to do the work of a priest. I work to build bridges between the pagan and Christian communities and facilitate healing. I don’t always get it right, but I try my best. This is my path and I walk it with agreement between me and the Deities I serve.

Let me explain it another way. Let’s look at when Jesus came before Pilate:

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(from Biblegateway, John 18:33-37 NIV)

When Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews, Jesus asks him if he came up with that idea, or was it something he learned from others. Jesus never claimed anything other than someone to speaking His truth. He was charged, by God and Spirit, to bring a certain truth to this world. In most of the Gospels he never fully admits to being a Messiah, either. He is a man and he had a mission. He cared for the sick, fed the poor, and did the work that God had set for him to do.

He didn’t ask for the label of “King” nor did He ever force anyone to follow Him, or call them traitor for not believing like He did. He preached, people listened, then made up their own minds to follow Him. Jesus never asked anyone to give up their sense of selves in order to follow Him. In short: He never claimed to be other than He was. He was a Jew. He also practiced this new Way of Love, which frightened the establishment. He never claimed to be anything He wasn’t.

Just like those of us who have multi-faith practices.

I am a witch and I am Christian. That is who I am. If it bothers you, is that your own idea, or did others tell you what to think of me? I was born to be who I am and this is my truth.

How do you see Deity? #showmehecate #showmethedagda

My friend Ember has an interesting project going on about body positive and diverse representations of deities of beauty (Freya, Aphrodite, etc.), which has poked at some of my brains to write here about how we represent deities in general. In my workshops that I give about the language we use to describe the body and health (which you can find here), one of the things I ask of participants is to think about how deity is represented in their traditions. If you look at a lot of the deity specific art, the vast majority of what you find is western standards of beauty and race. Most of what’s depicted are thin, white, model-looking (cis-normative) men and women who look like something out of Heavy Metal magazine. Heck, I’ve even seen a Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower magazines with a hunky looking Jesuses on their covers!

It’s difficult for us to picture deity in our own minds in other diverse forms unless they are particularly described as such. The Dagda, who is one of my patron deities, is a deity that loves His food and is described in stories as fat. He comes to me that way, too, and is quite fond of my own big belly and loud bodily noises (which can make for some interesting times). He doesn’t really care that He’s a big fat God and working with Him has been helping me to accept my own big fat body. One way to put it is that I’m learning, through His example, that a big fat body doesn’t lack power or will, which is what fat people are told from the time they are born. With my past experiences with disordered eating and other body shaming experiences, it can be hard for me to see the beauty of my body as He sees it. For me, it’s been a slow dance in my mind of body acceptance overcoming body hatred.

Another way that deity imagery has come up was when my wife and I created the following short film:

I distinctly remember bringing up the question about whether people would accept a fat Hecate, to which my wife replied with something to the extent of: “Who says Hecate can’t be fat?” I really didn’t think about it again until recently when I put together my website and re-watched the video. There’s still a part of my mind that tries to reconcile what I’ve been indoctrinated with in regards to body image and with what Hecate, Herself, has even told me about how She is portrayed. Usually what I see in my head is what you get when you Google “Hecate,” and while some of the images are intriguing, the vast majority just don’t look like me.

There’s so much intersectionality in this, too. For example, when most people think of “God” in the general sense, especially in the west, the majority of folks will think of an old white man in the sky. When people think about Jesus, he’s the white-washed bearded dude, not someone of middle eastern descent. Many of the Saints in the Catholic tradition are depicted as thin, androgynous, and somewhat non-human and otherworldly. While much of this art is, indeed, beautiful, I think it’s time we added more to the collection of sacred images than more of the same, making me really glad to see the results of projects like Ember’s.

Because, I think, when we don’t see deities like ourselves, it can sometimes be harder to find deity within.

Interstitial

When you work in a lab, there’s significant down time in which one has no other purpose than to think. Honestly, there’s not much else to do when you have a thirty minute incubation and you’ve completed all the paperwork that your test requires. It’s not even time to surf the ‘net properly (although you’re not supposed to technically do so, per company policy, but everyone does it anyway). The only other option left is to play a game of Solitaire, but when it’s a Friday night and you’re a bit punchy because it’s been a long week, even Solitaire isn’t enough. However, I’ve been in the biotech industry for a number of years now and thus have learned to accept a life with many periods of “hurry-up and wait.”

So on this particular Friday night as I sat on my lab stool pondering the fact that it’s 6 o’clock and I’m still at work, I start to stare at the timer in my hand. At this moment, it’s the only thing that is remotely entertaining. It’s amazing, actually to realize just how long a minute can be. People don’t ever really remember just how long a full minute is and always get it wrong. It reminds me of when I realized that I could pipette a plate, cover it, and write down the time I finished pipetting in less than thirty seconds. I have a bit of pride at that, since, well, that’s a lot to do in thirty seconds (and I’m pretty sure I could still do it if I had to). So, while I’m waiting for this plate to come out of the incubator, my mind drifts and the timer becomes increasingly hypnotic. As each minute counts down, I find that my breath becomes slower and slower. I dwell on the time that passes between each second. A part of my mind was wondering how many seconds I’ve wasted in the lab. How many of those seconds could I have spent doing something totally different?

This then lead me to think about how much time there is in between each second. I remember from my physics class that there are infinite bits of time. What if, like atoms, there are smaller and smaller particles of time that go beyond nano- and Pico-seconds? Quark-like bits of time where I could look out from and wonder why the rest of the world is moving so slow? In the dorky corner of my brain I wonder if it would be just like that Star Trek episode where Kirk gets caught by people who got stuck moving faster than normal time. (Wow, I think, that is a really nerdy thought.)

Then I think that perhaps, if you got to that Quark-time place, you could see God, or Goddess, or whatever it is that moves the Universe. Would you be able to stay long enough to ask questions? You know, the really interesting questions like how the big bang started or how DNA works or why humans evolved at all. (Of course, that same part my brain that thought about the Star Trek stuff also realizes that the answers to these questions are probably only interesting to me, and intellectually, I know that these aren’t questions that most people would ask when suddenly confronting deity.) Would whatever-it-is in that space actually answer? That’s when the other part of my brain, the one that tends to send me ear-worms, chimes in with lyrics from a song that I can never remember the band’s name for: “This is ponderous, man. Reeeaaalll ponderous…”

You know, I think I ought to give these thoughts a moment of silence out of respect. They are the big thoughts, after all.

But that’s when I notice that there really is silence.

Complete silence.

The machines have stopped humming, there are no lab doors banging, and even the smell of the 70% ethanol that I was wiping the counters with is gone. There is only a complete and utter silence.

What the…?

I open my eyes (though I don’t quite remember closing them) because now I’m a kind of freaked out. I feel a little queasy. Right. I know it’s been awhile since I’ve eaten, so maybe I should check the timer to see if I have a few minutes to run out and eat some candy. I stand up and make my way to the door. My hand goes for the handle and, to my shock, goes right through it.

WTF?

I turn around and my body is still sitting on the lab chair, staring at the timer.

Now, most people would panic at this point, seeing their body still in a chair, a vacant expression gracing their face with drool slowly pooling about their lips. Not me. Well, not completely. No, being the good scientist that I am, I begin to try and figure out how in the world I left my body. (It’s by no means a new concept, since I am a Wiccan.) Still, this is the first time I’ve gone fully out of body, nevermind the fact that I’m still at work, in a boring and empty lab waiting for an incubation to finish. Part of me is actually amused to realize that I’m getting paid for an out of body experience.

Suddenly my practical and logical self kicks in, that party pooper, and realizes that having an out of body experience at work is probably not a really good idea. There is also the matter of the assay in progress which needs to be completed before I go home. Sheepishly, my eyes fixate on the timer that my physical self is drooling at, and am shocked to see there is precisely one minute before I have to physically take my plate out of the incubator.

Before I completely panic, I notice two things:

1) My physical form can’t move, since I’m not “home” to control it.

2) The timer still says that there’s one minute left, but I’ve been staring at it for at least two minutes (maybe longer?).

Now the panic changes from freaking out about my assay (since I’ve concluded that time has indeed stopped) to freaking out about not knowing how to get back into my body. And I also realize that I really need to get back into my body as soon as possible, because who knows when this time-stoppage thing will end, and the thought of restarting the entire assay from scratch fills me with dread. It would really suck if I had to stay even longer on a Friday night because I got bored and stopped time!

Now that geeky part of my brain is thinking that this is like a Dr. Who episode and I’m wishing the Doctor would come and tell me how to figure this out. (Well, as long as it’s Peter Capaldi’s Doctor or Sylvester McCoy. I mean, if you’re going to have one of the Doctors with you while you’re stuck in time, you might as well have the most badass ones.) And to be honest, the silence is also getting a little creepy and I’d rather be back in my body, thank you.   But, since I don’t have the Doctor, I might as well buckle down and figure out a way to get out of this predicament.

So, I say to myself:

“Self, how did I get us into this?”

“Well, first you were staring at the timer.”

I nod.

“Then we started thinking about the time between seconds.”

I nod again, and then say “Oh, and don’t forget that we slowed down our breathing!”

I nod again.

“Right, then. So, maybe, if we start thinking of normal time and try and get our body to breathe faster, we’ll speed ourselves up!”

After this conversation with myself, I’m feeling rather clever and smart. Just in case my cleverness fails me, I rattle off a small prayer to whatever-is-out-there in the hopes that I really am correct about how to fix it. Mid-prayer, I remember that thought I had earlier of meeting whatever-it-is to ask some questions, and wonder Is It here? Do I have to call It? Or will It come to me? But when I look around, all I see is the same old boring lab with it’s beige and grey walls, and that’s not very interesting or mystical at all. In fact, I’m starting to get rather disappointed that I achieved this amazing out-of-body and out-of-time state and got no spiritual revelations for my trouble. Oh, well, maybe I’m not supposed to get a spiritual revelation at this time (positive thinking, you know).

I move over to my body, and when I touch it my hand starts to get sucked into my physical form. I start to think about how fast time can be and all the pleasures of being in my physical form (like food, and sex, and jumping in puddles), even though I’m getting older. I start to feel myself rushing forward and the seconds start to tick down on the timer again, slow at first, as if there was a full minute between each number, and then faster. And right before I fully enter my body, I see it! Out of the corner of my eye, there is a shining face; something there that is smiling at me and laughing at my notions of time and space. In that moment, awe and incredulous wonder washes over me and the world doesn’t feel quite real.

Like all interesting things, the moment comes to an end. Time suddenly rears up to slap me in the face in the form of a timer beeping at me to take out the plate from the incubator. My body is a bit numb from sitting in one place and being so still, but I do as the timer bids me, even though I’m still a bit disoriented. Sounds seem awfully loud now, considering the complete silence that I just came back from. While the next machine does it’s work, I ponder the presence I saw, trying to figure out what it means.

While I’m happily mulling the experience over as I’m pipetting the last reagents into my plate, one of my co-workers comes in, scaring the crap out of me. (Lucky for him I was between rows!) He asks me why I’m chuckling to myself. I think about it while I finish my plate. After all, how do you explain that you’ve been out of your body, stopped time, and saw what might be God (or Goddess, or whatever) in less than a second? There’s really no words for that kind of experience.

So, I smile and tell him that I’m laughing at a joke someone told me, which, really, is not too far from the truth.