Of Christianity,God, and Changing.

I’m scrolling through Gods and Radicals when a phrase, an introduction to the topic of a post in fact, caught my eye:

… on what we lose when we accept the categories of identity

Now, that line was the intro for this post, which I have not read, but it caught my eye because it’s in line with something I’ve been pondering for a while.

I promise this gets to witchcraft eventually…

Categories of identity are pretty cool in a way. They allow us to find people like us or who think like us, to delineate between us and them (admittedly not always a good thing) and to organise to protect vulnerable groups (Transgender people, homosexual people etc). Those are good things. But there’s also a downside to it.

As teenagers, when we’re still figuring things out, it’s considered normal to change your mind about your identity. You are growing up, you’re changing rapidly, and so are your tastes, sexual attractions and internal identity. As adults those categories can become incredibly restraining. They can become boxes you can’t step out of for fear of ridicule, ostracisation or upsetting loved ones.

And that’s kind of where I’m at right now. Things have changed massively for me over the past few years and I’ve been very quietly reassessing many things. Among those things are questions around my sexual identity, my gender identity and, somewhat more relevant to this blog, my religious and magical identity.

As far as magic goes I dropped Pagan years ago. I’m not comfortable with it, nor with a lot of people who identify as Pagan. I remain part of the community anyway, because it’s where I find many like minded people and have many old friendships I won’t be giving up any time soon. I simply refer to myself as a witch, which is still fine and dandy in and of itself. It’s a pretty broad category covering a lot of people of all kinds of different paths.

Where I’ve been really hung up in recent months is religion.

My last post opened with “There’s a crucifix buried in the garden. Roses grow from it.” What it didn’t touch on is the urge to go find it or the confusion that it is causing. I grew up in a very loving Christian household, and when I chose to walk away from Christianity that household, my family, remained very loving and supported me in my explorations. My parents have never turned their back on me and have actively supported my choices. I was very lucky in that (even if it did mean I ended up with some truly woeful dragon statues over the years), but what I was never able to reconcile that household, and even many of my childhood churches, with was the larger institution of the Church and Christianity and the truly horrific things that have and continue to come out of it. Honestly that’s why I left – The horrific hypocrisy of the Church.

And yet I never really stopped believing in God. So now I’m grappling with where I sit, witch will never leave me but am I still Christian? I’m have the vague feeling the answer may be yes.

God is the divinity in all things. To me They are so far removed as to be unknowable. They are the divinity behind and in everything, and we are so tiny as to be flickers on the edge of Their perception. They do not answer prayers or inflict children with diseases. They certainly do not condone the actions of humans, anymore than They necessarily condemn them. They are too far removed to notice it all in my mind.

Which is where the spirits come in, they are the intermediaries. I believe this of all gods and entities including angels, demons, and even the one I refer to as the Wild God from time to time. He’s a big, very powerful, very old, spirit. The spirits and entities give us a knowable face, something we can comprehend and communicate with. Which ones we are drawn to tends to be dependant on where we’re at in ourselves and where we need to go.

And behind them all sits God, Divinity, The Creator. Whatever it is you wish to call Them.

I don’t really have anywhere to go with this. I just wanted to get it down.

As silly as it sounds I’ve been sitting on this for a long while. In part because of my natural loathing of a church that sees me and mine as deviant, corrupt and wrong and in part because there’s a low key fear that it will make those I love look at me like I’ve grown a second head. It’s out now.

And off to my tutorial with 4 minutes to spare…

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G is for Gods

Some of us do Them and some of us don’t. And that’s ok.

“Most witches don’t believe in gods. The know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.”

Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad.

The above is easily my favorite quote on deity and sums up the approach of quite a few witches I know. It’s not that They’re not huge, or often awe inspiring. It’s just that I don’t need to believe in Them. I know They are there.

And I choose to ignore Their existence in favor of doing my own thing.

If you work with Them daily and love Them, good on you.
If you don’t think They exist, good on you.
If you live in my space of They are over there and I am here, good on you.

There is not a right or wrong approach to deity within a witches practice*. A witch is no less or more capable for the presence of Deity in their life. So fucking stop trying to shove your shining mother goddess down my throat, k thanks. I’ll do my thing, you do yours, and we will all be happy with our own thing… unless you’re not then I suggest you change it until you are.

*Note: There is, however, certainly a wrong way to approach a deity. Be respectful and do your damned homework. They, like spirits, can totally fuck your shit up if you piss them off so don’t treat them like fluffy collectible kitties.

Active Engagement

One of my international friends asked an incredibly loaded question recently about where we go after 101 as solitaries. She and I are both solitaries and we are both way too familiar with the lack guidance once you’re past that 101 stage. She asked, specifically, about spiritual investment and how we help teach that as it’s hard to really pick up alone.

I’m not going to get too much into the actual topic she was speaking of right now, but rather the frothing, raving ranting masses and what they bought to mind. The most active people on the topic have been the ones saying you can’t teach people that kind of thing and then going forward to snipe and snarl when it’s suggested that because they can’t or won’t doesn’t mean that no one can.

Active engagement with the spirits, with your practice and with the community.

Yeah, I know, sort of random. From a personal perspective I’m quite good at being actively engaged with my practice. For the most part the spirits and I are happily working together – I have some blanks when my depression gets bad or I’m super busy and let things slide but I’m only human and all that.

My engagement with the community, actual engagement not behind the scenes work, is lacking however. I’m a member of a few forums. I’m a mod of one of the biggest facebook based ones (and isn’t that a whole new world of fun on a daily basis). It’s not much. I have a lot of knowledge tucked away, and a good practice based on a lot of trial and error that is constantly shifting and growing. I have a lot I can teach in the abstract sense if I am willing to step out of my ‘fuck off and die you’re all annoying’ box and engage.

There’s a risk in engaging however. In the pagan community if you don’t engage people in a certain way, give a certain type of service and refuse to compromise yourself you’re more likely to be attacked than anything else. Anyone who steps up and lays themselves open anywhere risks brutal and petty responses, but it’s something I’ve found particularly rife in the Pagan community. A nasty kind of tall poppy syndrome where anyone who doesn’t toe the party line is seen as trying to show up the community or control it.

I’ve never really been interested in making myself a target, and yet…

Engagement.

I can hardly continue to bitch about the state of the community if I am unwilling to step up and share my own experiences with people. So here’s to an attempt to share what I do a little better.

Why ‘everyone is right’ isn’t right…

I had planned on putting some lighter, and maybe personal, stuff in before I went back and looked at this post I had locked away in the draft folder because I haven’t quite been able to get my thoughts coherent, but Octopus Dance linked me to this post as a response to this one over here and my responses to her in the comments and I think it can go up now. Albeit it is now a responsive post rather than just a generic one born of watching the pagan hashtag on Tumblr.

The quick version, for those of you too lazy to go read those links *pokes y’all with a point stick*, is that Octopus Dance thinks that everyone’s path is entirely personal and there is no wrong or right…

And I disagree. I believe there certainly is a wrong or a right in many situations and here’s why in 4 points:

  1. The need for a common language a.k.a. labels are important.

    I’m starting with why I used Octopus Dance’s Soul Retrieval post as an example in my post and that was in part because she had called something soul retrieval and that thing had nothing to do with soul retrieval…

    Common language is important in discourse.

    Say you have spoon, but you call your spoon a knife. Regardless of whether it’s a personal quirk, a mislabelling, or you simply don’t know any better, you are going to confuse people by calling a spoon a knife because of common language. A spoon, in the common language, is a blunt instrument used for scooping things up and a knife is a sharp implement used for stabbing or cutting.

    This goes the same for labels in magic and it is important to use the right label for the right thing if you want to open discourse because it is at best confusing and misleading when you don’t.

    And yes, I include using the correct labels for your practice in this. A Chaote is not a Wiccan is not a Traditional Witch is certainly not a Shaman is not a Druid is not Neo-Wiccan is not a Ceremonial Magician and on we go. No path is better than any of the others, but they are not the same things. Use the correct labels.

  2. Witchcraft and magic is a dangerous sport. Seriously.

    The majority of us handle toxins at one point or another. Many practices, like Soul Retrieval and Invocation, can be dangerous to ones mental health if not performed properly and appropriate preparation and aftercare seen to. And spirits? Spirits, and Gods and most other entities to be honest, will fuck your shit up if you go in half baked and not knowing what you are doing.

    A responsible practitioner of magic will call out* misinformation when they see it. They will point out when someone is doing something stupid like advising someone to use a plant that is highly toxic when burnt in incense, they will point out that Kali is not some benign mothering goddess, they will advise people not to go and just do shit without researching it first.

    Why? Because safety is a thing.

    Because we don’t actually want to see other people get hurt, made ill (physically or mentally) or accidentally kill themselves. A lot of magical practitioners and Pagans scream blue murder when someone says you’re doing it wrong like the people saying it are somehow trying to control them…

    No.

    What most of us want is to make sure you are not poisoning yourself or undertaking an extremely dangerous practice with no clue about how dangerous it is, because we’d really like you to remain safe, sane and whole.

    Sometimes we take slightly odd routes of doing this. For example I will often address issues I see enmass as one post with maybe a link or two to examples if they’re relevant rather than addressing individuals on their own blogs, because a lot of people take being told they’re wrong or doing something dangerous as you saying they’re stupid which, at least with me, is not the case. I am well aware that there is a lot of misinformation out there so I try not to add to it and to gently correct it when I see it… Gently being relative because I’m a bit rough around the edges (which is the other reason I rent to stick to not addressing people directly).

    There is a distinct difference between calling something out and being a cunt. You can say ‘you’re wrong’ without calling someone names, being rude or implying they’re an idiot. You can disagree with someone without doing all of that too.

  3. Cultural Appropriation is a Thing.

    Short and sweet: If anything you do in public space falls under ‘cultural appropriation’ then you are wrong and you should be called out on it.

    First Nations practices and ritual items like war bonnets and dream catchers are not yours to adopt as you will.

    Shaman is a specific title for a specific person amongst certain European cultures and is not yours to adopt as you will (I will write a post on Shaman vs shamanistic practices another day).

    And so on and so forth.

  4. Bigotry is a thing.

    Anyone participating in bigotry needs a boot put so far up their ass they’ll never get it out.

    Z Budapest was not and will never be right in her bigoted attitude and behaviour towards trans folk.

    Heathens/Asatru using their religion as an excuse for racism are not and will never be right.

    Pagans who marginalise and isolate members of the gay, lesbian, trans, intersexqueer and queer community because they don’t fit neatly into their gendered practices are not right.

    Witches, magical workers and Pagans of all stripes who believe the physically and mentally unwell should not be practicing magic are discriminating against the disabled and mentally ill … THEY’RE NOT FUCKING RIGHT!

Now I want to make something very clear here: I in no way advocate a ‘one true way’. My path is very much a mish mash of UPG, random practices and intuition so I am in no position to advocate the one true way…

That doesn’t mean I won’t say something when I see someone calling two disparate practices by the same name, or being a bigot ‘because their religion says so’, or generally doing something a bit stupid that will probably result in them or someone else getting hurt (whether by accident or because they’ve been fed misinformation), or just spreading misinformation on things that CAN be verified. Because there are history books, there is documented lore, there is documentation on practices from indigenous cultures through to current modern magical techniques, or and there is basic common sense and reading a book that isn’t Pagan 101 fluff.

And, finally, you don’t have to listen to people who call you out. You don’t. You are in no way required to hear people who call you out or to respond to them at all. If you are doing something flies in the face of everything tradition, lore, and history (and even common sense, good manners and scientific fact) and you’re more interested in following your heart rather than figuring out why that is so**, or not poisoning someone/yourself then go for it, but don’t expect people to not say anything if you’re talking about it in public space.

You post or say it in public then you open it up for dissection and criticism.

** I find this actually really weird. Sometimes chasing down why your UPG, especially in regards to spirits and deities, doesn’t match what tradition and mythology tell us can open a whole shit ton of doors for someone and provide a much more fulfilling and powerful practice. So I’m never going to understand people who say ‘but this is how they appear to me’ when it’s pretty much the opposite of everything we know about said entity. That’s me personally, and by all means don’t let me stop you (I’m not the type that generally will comment on those kinds of posts anyway), but I’m just putting it out there that I don’t understand people who do that. At all, it is very limiting from my perspective. 

 

Stop and think before you hit post…

Or before you open your mouth for that matter.

Seriously, just stop and think about what you’re putting out there in the world for everyone to see and/or hear.

Firstly think about it from the perspective of privacy. Is it really something you want to share? Does everyone need to know about the most intimate parts of your relationship with a person, entity, deity, spirit? Are you screwing your own working over posting it online for comment before it’s completed? Are you sharing aspects of yourself that are more powerful kept to yourself or that make you very vulnerable in a place that anyone can see them?

Then think about it in terms of your own mental fortitude. Are you going to be able to gracefully deal with people if they rip into you? Or if they start mocking and making fun of you? Or, hell, if they simply tell you that you are wrong?

If you answer no to any of the second set of questions then don’t fucking post it. The first are far more subjective.

There is power in silence, in choosing to keep what’s yours as yours.

And there are ways of discussing practices that don’t give away what should be kept intimate.

Think about what you say before you say it.

Troubling Trends: Soul Retrieval.

Pagans have this really bad habit of latching on to a practice that they know fuck all about and then using and abusing it obsessively. Sometimes it’s just painful to watch the stupid play out and other times it is actually concerning.

Soul retrieval is in the latter category.

Soul retrieval – not as simple as hunting orbs.

Soul retrieval is dangerous. It shouldn’t be done by the inexperienced and it shouldn’t be done alone. It should be done with ready access to a mental health carer of some form because the fall out can be pretty huge.

Why?

Soul’s don’t just randomly fragment. A piece of your soul isn’t going to randomly vanish. Soul’s fragment due to trauma. Big trauma or ongoing trauma, but not by attaching yourself to a person, place or thing in a fairly normal manner and then leaving it or having it taken away. That’s a different thing entirely and I’ll get to it in a minute. The point right now is that a fragmented soul involves trauma, and when you re-absorb that fragment you are suddenly going to be dealing with the effects of that trauma in ways that you’ve not had to deal with before…

Welcome to mental break down land. Which is why experienced practitioners, experienced psychologists and a whole lot of care is required. This is not shit you do at home, kids. It’s also not what the pagans I see talking about soul retrieval are actually talking about.

Case in point: http://octopusdance.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/soul-retrieval-and-the-essential-self-2/

That? There is nothing there that even hints at the need for soul retrieval. It hints a lot at the general unease we all have when we realise how much we’ve changed and how it’s not in the direction we’d have liked. The author also talks about really ingraining that place and time into herself…

What she’s done is lain down lines to that place, and that time, that are holding her there in a manner that will drag her back there. She put out the line and sunk the hook in very deep without realising what she was doing. What she needs to do isn’t try and find some missing fragment of her soul, but rather remove those hooks and bring the lines of energy she’s sent out back into herself or at least enough of them that her relationship with that place and time is more natural and less inclined to hold her there.

This hooking oneself to something, somewhere or someone and needing to loosen the hooks and reabsorb the lines of connection is what most people are actually talking about when they’re babbling on about soul retrieval.

And on to something helpful and practical:

I’m not going to try to do a complicated how to here, but for me I see the lines as literal ropes of energy with a big fishing hook attached. To remove them I simply unhook the hook mentally and pull it all back inside of me. In some cases, like the end of a mutual relationship, you’ll find that you’re not only hooked to the person but the person has attached themselves to you. In these cases pull their hooks out of you and cast the lines back at them. It’ll be up to them to reabsorb them…

I found in the case of my last, unhealthy, relationship that my former partner managed to reattach himself a couple of times because of his obsessive behaviour. So keep an eye out for that. In general it’s worth keeping an eye on what you’ve attached yourself to, or allowed to be attached to you just because.

Self care, it’s good for you.