Holy Week: What I’ve Learned

It’s Holy Week. The last week of my working, which ends on Sunday night.

It’s interesting to look at this working from (almost) the other side. I was kind of nervous about doing it, really, since I hadn’t really done something quite like this before, but I know now that I didn’t need to be nervous about it. Going through it was definitely work and I learned a lot.

From Hecate I learned to let go of people and things that I couldn’t do much about (and about curbing the obsession I can get sometimes with wanting to know everything about people). I also was reminded that I can’t stay in death working mode all the time, and that unless I’m needed in that capacity, that I should save it for Samhain.

From the Dagda I learned why it’s important to ask for help because it’s hard and draining to do it all yourself. (I did improve my cooking skills, though.) I also learned a lot about self care from Him, too, including treating my body with care. What I remember most is that on a bad body image day, He said to me: “If I, as a god, can have a big belly, so can you!” I also realized after His part of the working that it’s best for me to get up a couple of hours early, before I start writing, to have breakfast and do my meditation, or else the brain doesn’t wake up enough.

From Jesus I’ve been learning more about what His role in my life is. He’s more about my public priesting. In other words, His is the ministry that I emulate in public: doing my best to help those who need it, praying, and doing my best to heal in the areas that I minister in. I’m also learning more about my monastic nature at the moment, figuring out how I want to do my monasticism, and how regular ritual can be comforting and grounding.

Overall, I’ve learned just how important daily practice is for me, even on the days where I don’t feel like it. Especially on those days. I have much more confidence in my spiritual work and spiritual connections. A friend of mine mentioned a few weeks ago that we didn’t really learn what it meant to be a contemplative in seminary. I agree. I really wish we had learned more about being contemplative and religious life. It definitely provides a wrapper for my days that helps me be more on focus (especially with my writing) and on task. The other really good side benefit is that my mental health is vastly improved. My anxiety is way way down, and I haven’t had any lengthy depression (some small bouts, but those were more hours than days). Also, minimal interaction on Facebook has also been a big plus for me. (YMMV, but for me, this has been really good.)

I’m going to keep doing the morning and evening meditations, although, I’m not sure exactly how the evening meditation is going to manifest. I’m liking the Compline prayers, since reading from a paper and following instructions is easier at the end of the day when you’re tired. There are a few things I want to add to my altar, too, to tie things all together.

But, I’m at the end, and it’s been quite the experience.

5th Week of Lent: Into the Last Phase

I’ve just realized that I’m over halfway done with my Lenten working. On Tuesday I started the Jesus part of my working, and so far it’s been good. What I’m realizing, though, is that Jesus and I don’t know each other quite as well as we used to. What I mean by that is that while I’ve had a relationship with the spirit of Jesus, it’s been more as an acquaintance rather than a close relationship like I have with The Dagda and Hecate. I realized that this morning at the beginning of my morning meditation, and so instead of doing the rosary like I have been doing the last few days, I just did a quiet meditation and had a conversation. It was a good conversation, and I think I’ll need to keep doing that for the time being.

In the evening, before bed, I’ve been doing a set of Compline prayers that I adapted and redacted from the Daily Office of the Society of Saint Francis. (Out of all of them, the Franciscan prayers and theology are the ones that speak to me. It doesn’t really surprise me, given my witchy proclivities.) I’m finding that I really like the little ritual each night. It’s got me thinking, though, about maybe creating a Wiccan Christian Daily Office (as if I need yet another writing project), but it’ll have to wait until after I get the radical inclusion book done.

I still have a couple of weeks until Easter and the end of this working. I’ve been learning a lot, and I know I want to keep doing the morning and evening meditations, but right now, I’m not sure exactly what that will look like. While part of my brain wants to figure it out right now, but the rest of my brain is saying “Don’t worry about it until the working is done.”

I think that would be the wiser course. Besides, there’s still 16 days left….

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.

2nd Week of Lent: Pantheacon and What I’m Doing This For

I’ve tried to start this a couple of times because, well, Pantheacon is always hard to sum up in the week after and 2016 is no exception. In short, it was a really good convention all the way around. Time seemed to warp around the con and this week it’s been really difficult to get back into “normal” time. I know next week things will settle down, especially after I catch up on my sleep debt.

The big things:

  • My coven is super awesome, and I’m excited we’ll be adding more awesome people to our little family of weirdos.
  • “Crossroads of Memory” kicked some serious ass, and CAYA Coven was awesome! Hopefully we’ll be able to collaborate again! (Dobby is a free elf!)
  • Many excellent conversations were had in the suite and I was really happy that the Body Policing/Body Shame panel on Saturday became a really deep discussion. The gender discussion on Sunday was also awesome, and moved from gender issues to a deep discussion about gender, race, and intersectionality.
  • My workshop on radical inclusion went really well, although we ended up going overtime a little. The best part was seeing light bulbs go off in people’s minds about what radical inclusion is. That is the awesomest thing about teaching, I think.
  • We had a beautiful 2nd Degree ritual on Thursday night, and it seems it be becoming a tradition to initiate someone at con.
  • Great dinners and chats with new friends, old friends, and seeing folks I haven’t seen in a long time.
  • Much priesting of one form or another.
  • Helping out some folks when they experienced some not so nice things at con and being a safe place for people to just be.
  • Learning not to apologize for doing self care.

One thing that was difficult for me was trying to do my meditations during the con, especially since, except for Thursday, we stayed up until well past 1 AM. Hecate said not to worry about it since I was doing a lot of priesting anyway and I was following other aspects of my agreements (She had me wearing all black for the con, taking care of the north altar, and I was doing daily meditation times publicly).

I was still worrying about it when we got home, and one of the things I remembered was Sarah telling me not to apologize for doing self-care. In my meditations this week Hecate has been telling me that the point of what I’m doing is not necessarily about what I actually do in my meditations, but learning the discipline of daily practice. I’m doing this to get closer to my deities, but I’m also doing it to create the foundation for doing the other work I want and need to do. The meditation is really helping me a lot, especially in the anxiety department (although cutting out caffeine hasn’t hurt, either!), and I’m also learning a new grounding technique that was really helpful during the con and is still helping post-con to bring me more down to earth.

I also needed to change out my Hecate statue. One of the problems with being someone who works with the dying is that sometimes I can get stuck in that mode and forget that there’s life out there, too. The Hecate statue I was using was one I made when I was still doing ceramics and sculpture at home and it is Her in Her role as Death (it’s a bit similar to Santa Muerte in that respect). I needed to remember that She has other aspects (Goddess of Initation, of the Crossroads, etc), and I needed some other representation to reflect that. I got the new statue today, and we’re both pleased (if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ve already seen it).

On Monday I’ll be switching over to the Dagda part of the working. It’s been interesting because there’s more logistics required for this part of the working since it requires making meals for others. I’ll be re-doing my altar for it, too. It’s always interesting to compare what kind of altar bling each deity likes when I offer it. All three have relatively simple tastes, which is a good thing!

Could I do this working without the bling? Sure. The bling is mostly for me as an outward representation of what I’m doing, but it’s nice when the Deity in question happens to like it, too. It’s also a place for me to focus, and sometimes it really does take the bling to make it work when I’m feeling scattered. Candles are useful, too, when it comes to that.

It also makes me think about the how all things can be sacred if you let it. The kitchen stove will be my altar for a couple of weeks. My altar is a repurposed microwave stand. I use coins for offerings. If it’s a sacrifice I can make, I will. If it something I need to negotiate, I will. If it’s something I can’t do, I’ll tell my deities so. This is a relationship, and relationships are meant to be based on communication and respect. And so it is…

1st Week of Lent: Religious Life (or I want to be a Monk!)

Most people know that I’m doing a Lenten working for my deities (Hecate, The Dagda, and Jesus). It ended up being a pretty hardcore (for me) disciplined working that is similar to how the nuns that I stayed with a couple of years ago for my Immersion Course structured their lives and prayer time. Before I talk more about religious life, let me describe what I’m doing in a bit more detail:

Part 1: Hecate

From the February New Moon to the Day before the Full Moon in February will be my time for Hecate. I wake up around 6:30 am (and this is agreed with all the deities for the whole working), do my morning prep (go to the bathroom, feed the cat so she doesn’t meow through my meditations, etc), and then do a (for now) 20 minute meditation. I set my timer (I use Insight Timer on my iPhone because bells!) I light incense for Her and pull a Tarot card for the day. In the evening, before I go to bed, I do another 20 minute meditation, prayers for those who have asked, and light more incense and put away the Tarot card.

So far, the meditations with Hecate have been more in regards to my own inner work and shadow work that I’ve been neglecting. (And learning not to look at the timer when doing the meditation.)

Part 2: The Dagda

From the Full Moon in February to the day before the New Moon in March is the time for the Dagda. For this part of the working, I’m still doing my morning and evening meditations (although, I don’t have to light incense). But because the Dagda is the keeper of the ever full cauldron, I have to cook (really cook, from scratch) breakfast and dinner, preferably not just for me but to feed others. Most of the time it’ll be just my wife who will benefit from this, but there are going to be a few times where I’ll need to cook for others. (Hey Cerridwen folks, this means you don’t need to bring potluck food to our next meeting on the 27th!) I also have to go to bed early (by 10 pm) during this time.

Part 3: Jesus

From the New Moon in March through Easter will be my time for Jesus. I will still be doing the morning meditation (and offering incense), but in the evenings, I need to do my own Compline prayers (the Franciscan version) and prayers for those who need them. I’ll also be going to Good Friday service, keeping a Holy Saturday vigil, and attending Easter service at City of Refuge UCC.

I came up with this working because I was thinking of doing something for Lent, and when I brought it up to my wife, she suggested I do a working with my deities. I thought that was a great idea, so I negotiated with the deities, and this is what come out. I also have a leaning towards a dedicated monastic life, and if I had gone in a different direction in my life, I may have ended up in some sort of monastic order. It got me thinking, though, that we, in the Pagan community anyway, don’t really think about Religious Life on that scale.

There’s usually a disdain towards the idea of Religious Life because when most people think of Religious Life they think Christian monks and nuns, and maybe, if they’re more in the know, Buddhist monks and nuns. Many traditions have had, or do have, dedicated people who pray for others, or do other contemplative practices for their tradition. It also doesn’t necessarily mean cloistered nuns in habits or monks in robes, or celibacy, or being a hermit (unless you want to, that is).

I’m sure some Pagans would argue that they are leading a “Religious Life” because their tradition isn’t separate from their mundane life. However, a dedicated religious life is different level of devotion. You are dedicating your life, and sacrificing parts of your mundane life, to a leveled up form of devotion. It can be in your own home or in a dedicated cloistered type of situation, but it involves some level sacrifice of lifestyle. In my working, I’m giving up good chunks of my time for prayer and meditation. I am reorganizing my mundane life around my devotional work instead of the other way around. (The biggest part for me is getting up really early every day. For those that know me, and know that I’m a huge night owl, you know that that’s a Big Deal.)

It’s not that pagans don’t have people who are doing this type of work (one example that I’ve actually experienced are the Radical Faerie Sanctuaries), but for those who may have considered religious life in other traditions before they converted to one of the myriad of Pagan traditions, that kind of dedicated life may have seemed lost to them. I think, though, we’re big enough as a community to really start thinking about this kind of devoted life, even to the extent of creating Pagan monasteries (even cloistered or semi-cloistered). We don’t have to have the same beliefs as other monastic groups, but we can learn structure and form, which is something that I think some people may just want. In other words, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but having these types of structured options are something that is needed.

A general post of New Year’s goals and putting out my shingle

It’s a new year, and there are many posts and memes about New Year’s Resolutions going around. I tend not to bother with resolutions because, when I make them, I end up feeling bad if I break them. I have enough of my own anxiety that I don’t need to add more on top of it. Instead of resolutions, I like to think about projects and goals for the new year.

The first project this year is to finish a book. I realized the other night that I actually have two books in the works: one on radical inclusion for the pagan community, and one about our coven’s traditions and teachings. I’d like to get the radical inclusion one to at least a finished first draft by the end of the summer (earlier if possible). I’ve probably got about 1/4-1/3 written, so this is do-able if I knuckle down and just get on with it. If I can get a first draft of the Cerridwen book done this year, too, that would be a bonus, but I’m ok with shuffling it into 2017.

The second set of projects are around TWIH: First, I wan’t to try doing quarterly live Google hangout panels about particular topics. I’d like to shoot for doing the first one in March, and I hope I can get the folks I’d like to get for it. It’ll take some logistical wrangling, but I think it’ll be interesting. Second, I need to revamp my Patreon page and make more interesting goals and incentives. (Although, feel free to contribute any time, if you feel so inclined!) I’m also considering maybe a Patreon contest or fund drive, but I’m not sure. The third one is probably a long-shot, but I’d like to do a live interview (or interviews) for charity. I’m still thinking about who to ask for that one, and if anyone has any suggestions, let me know.

The last goals, as far as online content is concerned, is to keep writing, at least weekly, for this site. I had thought about doing a vlog on YouTube, but doing both a weekly audio podcast and a video would be a bit much for me, I think.

I’d also like to get some more freelance projects for either writing, editing, website work, or even some A/V work. If you need this type of work done, or know someone who might, please let me know! I’d also like to do some more workshops and speaking at other conventions/festivals, so if anyone runs some of those things and would like me to be there, send me an email!

As far as priestly work goes, besides my work with the coven, I’m planning on doing a big personal working for Lent. I’ve felt a bit disconnected from deity and devotional work for awhile, and my wife had the suggestion to use the Lenten season to do it. It should be a pretty intense working and of course I’ll be starting the Tuesday before Pantheacon. (So if you see me run off to go do something at certain times, that’s why!) There’s also an ordination this weekend (yay!), and maybe even doing a wedding at some point in the future (well, it may or may not happen this year, we’ll see).

Heh…now that I’ve written this all out, it seems I’m doing a lot more than I thought. The wife has a lot of new stuff going on, too, and so far, 2016 is behaving. Hopefully, the rest of the year continues this way!

 

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.

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