SCOTUS Endorses Government Prayer (updated)

The Supreme Court decision regarding the prayer practices of the town of Greece, New York is bad news for anyone who does not want to experience Christian prayers at government functions.

The real problem with this decision is that its overall philosophy moves further away from an endorsement test – the idea that the government should not endorse a specific religion – and towards a coercion test instead, verging on the idea that government can endorse religion without coercing citizens to follow that religion. Moreover, a couple justices took the opportunity to say they would like to see coercion defined even more narrowly, meaning that government would have an even wider scope to push religion. See more specific discussion at SCOTUSblog.

It is not an accident that justices who have experienced the least disadvantage in their lives tend to see coercion narrowly and don’t have a problem with endorsement, while those who have wider life experiences are more likely to think that endorsement slides into coercion and that both are a bad thing. People in the majority – in this case the religious majority – have not been subject to the myriad slings and arrows of everyday life that make one more thing, like your government expecting you to have the strength to withstand public, officially sanctioned disparagement, just too much to bear.

Specifically, this decision is a bad thing for Wiccans because to be realistic, in my lifetime we will not be on an equal footing with Christians, and this decision is all about accommodating the majority rather than protecting the minority. In the meantime, we run a serious risk of being used as cover – call it the “I Have a Wiccan Friend” defense. In other words, if a town council has to get a Wiccan one week out of the year (and a Jew once and a Buddhist once) so that they can have their exclusionary prayers to Jesus the other 49 weeks, they’ll do it, and those 49 weeks will do way more to reinforce the Christian sense of hegemony (we own this town – look at the meetings!) than that one week of pretend tolerance will.

Make no mistake, that one-week-a-year, or any similar plan, is tolerance, not inclusion. I have argued before and will argue again that there is no such thing as a fully inclusive prayer that covers all citizens, so the only truly inclusive option is no prayer at all.

Moreover, it looks to me at first glance like this decision’s details gave small governments a long list of ways to tailor their tolerance so that it’s not too burdensome on the Christian majority. It doesn’t seem like there’s any real burden for the government to be inclusive by any standard, for example. Saying that local governments may be run “informally” is a loophole big enough to drive the “Oh, it’s an accident that we forgot to invite any rabbis” truck right through.

EDITED: Originally, my last paragraph read:

Personally, I will continue to advocate for less appearance of government endorsing religion for any religion, mine included. I would not give an opening prayer at a government meeting even if I was specifically invited to do so. Others may make different decisions depending on circumstances, but please think carefully before participating in this misguided encroachment of government-sponsored religion.

EDITED TO ADD:

I am hearing some good arguments about why we should engage in exactly the kind of prayer that I firmly believe on fundamental principles should not be happening. I am not particularly swayed by the argument from equal misery: If they’re going to make us miserable, I am not convinced that we should make them miserable too. I am much more convinced by the argument that trying to participate in public prayer and being turned away could be – in the long term, on the order of decades – the foundation of a new case to get this crap overturned.

In the meantime and the near term, there is always the possibility that a sectarian Wiccan or Hellenistic or Druid prayer can be so repulsive to a Christian majority that the Christian majority decides not to hold the public prayers any longer. That would be similar to the attempt to install a Satanist monument in Oklahoma to “balance” the Ten Commandments monument.

I am not yet convinced that the potential harm done to others in the meantime is worth it, especially because of the risk of being used for “cover” in the way I describe above. I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

I don’t know how to balance the kind of activism for equal recognition of Wicca and Paganisms that I see going on in many places (military, prisons) with using Wicca as a weapon to get religion removed. How do I take action and try to communicate the subtext “Well, you could just not allow prayers here,” in one context, and in another context take an almost identical action with the subtext, “No, really, take me seriously, Wiccan prisoners have a real need for ministry?” How do we avoid having the kind of wiggle-arounds that are going to be used in prayer-giving contexts (oh, we’ll have everyone in on a rotation, that’ll work) applied to other contexts to marginalize us even further?

As I said, I’m willing to hear further arguments. I’m deeply torn about this matter and expect to spend some time contemplating while I’m away at Fertile Ground Gathering this weekend. That means I won’t be here to moderate comments or respond. We’ve got time. Let’s ground and center and think and talk together before we act.

Posted in civil rights, politics, religious freedom | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Beltane – In My Hands

I’m continuing to republish a series of essays originally written in 2011.

The Pagan celebration of Beltane, May first and second in the northern hemisphere,  is a fire festival and also a very earthy and bawdy celebration of physical love and pleasure. It’s easy to think of Beltane in big terms: huge bonfires with whole communities dancing in ecstasy, both vertically and horizontally. For the moment, though, I’d like to put it in smaller terms based on something I discovered recently: the motion I make when I cup my hands around a candle to protect it from the wind is the same as the gesture I use to cup my beloved’s face before a kiss.

The full moon after Ostara (in 2011) was a “supermoon” when the moon was full at nearly the same time it was at perigee; its nearness to the earth made the full moon bigger and brighter than usual. I decided to do my personal ritual marking the full moon outside, on the rooftop patio of my apartment building. I took my portable altar kit upstairs and and settled down to watch the sun set and the moon rise. I was a little irritated by the fact that the densely urban area where I live creates a lot of light pollution, so the supermoon wouldn’t be as impressive as it would be elsewhere, out in “real nature.”

Well, Mother Nature must have heard me thinking, because she decided to remind me that even in the middle of a very human-constructed and human-influenced environment, she can still play tricks. Thankfully, she was gentle and only sent wind, but it was an erratic wind that snuffed my candles at frequent but irregular intervals, spaced out just enough to let me think I could relax and meditate a bit before another gust came. It became something between a game and a competition as I frantically relit candles from each other, and finally I let two of my candles go out, but sheltered the third one in my cupped hands to keep it going until the moon rose, majestic and beautiful and just exactly the same shade of ruddy yellow brilliance as the flame.

This was a good reminder to me not to let myself get caught up in “living room Wicca,” where we practice indoors and all too seldom actually experience the nature that we claim to revere. Living room Wicca leads to all sorts of silliness, especially from ultra-urban Wiccans who can get all overly romantic about the purity of nature. I’ve got news for people who think that way: the idea of the wilderness, and especially the idea that it is in some way better than the settled areas, is a social construction from the Romantic period. After the atmospheric nuclear testing of the 20th century affected the distribution of isotopes in the air and water of the world, there is no place on earth that is completely unaffected by humankind’s actions. Even the moon in which I admire one face of the Goddess has had men walk on it.

The purity of nature as distinct from humanity is a myth, just as the idea that humanity is distinct from nature is a myth.  Humans are creatures of flesh and blood, bone and sweat, tears and urine. What wildness does exist is valuable and a vital part of the planet’s biosphere, but it’s not necessarily nice or comfortable or beautiful, any more than humans are necessarily rational and logical creatures.

Anyone who actually lives there will tell you that it takes a lot more work to live in less-developed areas. It’s even a hard place to do ritual: the flames get blown out, nothing is level, the rocks are sharp, the ants carry off the sacred bread, you discover what a dead frog smells like, and when you start chanting “We all come from the Goddess / and to her we shall return / like a drop of rain / flowing to the ocean,” she takes you at your word. People who succumb to living room Wicca run the risk of being like the young Wilderness Explorer in the movie Up!, who complains that the wilderness is just too wild. It takes a keen appreciation of the ridiculous, as well as deep familiarity with your environment, careful planning, and a high degree of flexibility to do ritual outdoors successfully.

In that way, it’s actually a lot like making love. Robert Farrar Capon wrote that “the unrehearsed and unrehearsable ritual by which two people undress each other for the first time” was one of the few things “not worth describing seriously,” what  with all the fumbles and uncertainty and mishaps: clothing gets tangled, zippers stick, and jewelry breaks. Even after that, our bodies don’t always keep pace with our thoughts and emotions, sometimes zooming light-years ahead, sometimes lagging, frustratingly slow to respond. It almost never happens smoothly, as if choreographed; sometimes it hardly seems like it’s worth the trouble, and that it might be slightly ridiculous to bother about it at all.

And the ultimate ridiculousness can be found in Beltane’s opposite – Samhain, the festival that recognizes death and its place in our lives. After all, as Sir Terry Pratchett pointed out, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” So why should we bother, why take the risks, why expose ourselves emotionally to the dangers and difficulties of loving, let alone physically struggling with the acts of love?

And yet somehow, we still keep trying, and we believe it’s worth the trouble. Because here and now, we are alive, and in love.

These two great mysteries, love and death, are closely intertwined, although we try to separate them, to idealize the one and ignore the other. But no matter how much we try, they exist in dialogue with each other. The only real response to the fact that death happens is, “I love you.” And all I have to believe is that that’s enough. All I have to believe is that love can be the basis for me to build a meaningful life and relationships.

And this is true: we have proof that love is amazingly, tremendously powerful precisely because it happens in the face of silliness, and ridiculousness, and impermanence, and death. It is worth the trouble of popped buttons and of broken hearts, because love is what makes new life possible. This is true in the literal sense, obviously, of creating new lives, but it’s also true in a metaphorical sense.

Capon argued that grace, which I regard as the ultimate manifestation of divine love, makes sin utterly irrelevant. For Capon, the grace of the divine love is forgiveness that not only settles the score but throws out the idea of keeping score at all. Although the concept of sin is no longer particularly meaningful for me, the concept of forgiveness still is.

For me, the most incredible forgiveness happens when I love someone enough that I want my relationship with them to go on, regardless of what has happened to hurt me. I’m so in love with them that I’m willing to let the old me die, so that the me who was owed a debt by the offender is simply gone, and the debt will never be called in. If we go forward into that together, our love can create a new life for us both, and for our relationship together.

That’s why this year, especially when Easter and Beltane are so close together, it seems appropriate that Beltane occurs at the new moon, not the full moon. It’s a reminder that both are celebrations of love over death, reminders of the love that transcends death and helps us make life meaningful, in the face of all the fumbles, and the pain, and the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Beltane and the love it embodies are about light, and fire, even in the darkest moments of a moonless night. After all, that’s why it is called the new moon and not the empty moon.

Even in those very dark moments, I find the newness of life in the simple motion of cupping my hands. I light a candle, rather than cursing the darkness, and cup my hands around it, nurture it just a bit more, get it to glow a little brighter. I cup my hands around the face of a child, and wipe away the tears, and replace them with kisses, nurturing the young life that is just barely taking hold but promises so much potential. I cup my hands around the face of my beloved, and nurture the flame of our love. And when I do, that brilliance blazes up into a light that illumines my life, and I have the answer right there, in my hands.

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Animal signs

While keeping up my series of posts on divination at the time of the new moon, I’m going to mix things up today and write a little bit about a kind of divination that is not nearly as systematic as Tarot or runes or other methods. It’s less systematic, and in some ways more open to chance and to individual interpretation, because it relies on nature for its signs. Specifically, I’m going to share a few experiences I’ve had with observing the appearances and behavior of animals that have carried spiritual meaning for me. If you’ve had similar experiences, I’d like to hear about them, too!

There are formalized systems of animal divination, or at least collections of the suggested interpretations of particular animals and their appearances or behaviors, but I haven’t studied any of these. So far, my work with animal signs has been primarily an extension of connection with the landbase and finding the divine in the immanent all around us.

The most powerful signs for me have been the animal form of a deity making an appearance, such as when I encounter ravens and crows and sense the Morrigan at work. These signs are often a gentle reminder of her presence – sort of like saying, “Don’t worry, I’m here with you.” On the other hand, they can also be a reminder to consult with a deity or power that I haven’t interacted with in a while – sort of the equivalent of that “Hey, we haven’t talked in a while. How are you doing?”

This kind of interpretation is an area that relies heavily on intuition and one’s existing relationships with spirits and powers. It can also be significantly improved by a working awareness of one’s landbase and its other inhabitants. Anything out of place or unusual is more likely to be able to carry divinatory meaning. For example, seeing eagles at the zoo is probably not a sign from Zeus or Athena; seeing eagles in the wild is more likely to be.

In addition to deity forms, I also draw on the stories or qualities associated with specific animals to interpret signs. I once went to Teddy Roosevelt Island and saw turtles in two widely separated places. That day remains the only time I’ve seen turtles there. That was a strong message for me to endure and be patient but persistent, and it bore out.

Now, not every appearance is going to have divinatory meaning. Even behaviors that seem unusual can be perfectly natural, just unfamiliar to you. It’s always important, with this as with other forms of divination, to reflect on how and why you’re interpreting the message the way you are, and to think critically about whether the message is significant at all. On the other hand, a natural cause doesn’t rule out a symbolic meaning; one time that I observed a very active stag during the rutting season, I knew he was out and about because of the rut, but his appearance was also a meaningful message to me to remember the masculine divine and the way the urge for life continues even near Samhain.

Finally, don’t restrict yourself to the charismatic megafauna (the big interesting animals) only. Don’t be bummed out if your power animal or the animal forms of your deities don’t live in your local environment. Try paying attention to what is present in the world around you. Does that cheeky cardinal in your yard show up more often at times when you need to let your own colors shine?

If you have worked with this at all, share some wisdom: How do you work with signs and meanings from the animal world? How do you develop this kind of awareness?

Posted in divination, nature | Tagged , , , , ,

Think the unthinkable

Think the unthinkable In light of the recent issues with sex crimes, I want to ask everyone who is involved in running an organization, gathering, or festival to think about the unthinkable, and do it now.

How would your group respond if one of your members or associates was arrested for sex crimes? How will you respond when someone raises a concern or levels an accusation about another person? Thinking ahead about situations like this, no matter how unlikely, bizarre, or appalling they may seem, is part of building a strong infrastructure. Since groups and gatherings are a key part of our infrastructure right now, making them as resilient as possible is vitally important.

Disclaimer: I am no expert in these areas; if you have access to such an expert, by all means ask hir, and help the rest of the community develop best practices based on expert advice! What follows are only my personal suggestions for starting this process.

I would ask a group to do a series of hypothetical scenarios. Imagine that someone has been accused of child abuse; in the first hypothetical, assume that you absolutely know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the person is guilty. What steps would you want to take? How would your organization respond?

Now do the same exercise, but assume that you absolutely know that the person is completely innocent. And I don’t mean a nice person who you’ve known for 20 years – I mean really, truly innocent. Wasn’t physically present when whatever-it-was occurred.

Now realize that in the real world, you won’t be in either of those situations. You won’t have the luxury of certainty. Developing a response plan isn’t about creating certainty. It’s about planning ahead for what you will do while you are uncertain.

That’s why I think it would be especially appropriate to do this thinking now, before the legal system comes to any conclusions about Kenny Klein. Think about what circumstances will cause you to take certain steps without trying to reach any kind of existential certainty about what happened.

In addition to having a lot of potential doubt, you’re also going to have a fair amount of upheaval within your organization that will make it more difficult to mount an effective response. You might even try doing the hypothetical exercise with a designated person in your leadership as the accused. I’m not talking about doing an emotional role-play of personal interactions. I’m talking about thinking through who would do what, the steps your group or organization would take, the timing of those steps, and maybe even which individuals would be responsible. When your VP for public relations is the one in jail, who is responsible for putting together a press release? And so on…

With Kenny Klein in mind, remember that you must imagine the accused to be someone charismatic, or even put yourself in the place of the accused, whether innocent or guilty. The most dangerous predators are not the skeevy looking ones who everybody dislikes; those people are already distrusted, marginalized, and even expelled fairly easily. It is the leaders, the people with charisma, the ones that are popular and likable and who’ve been around for 20 years who trade on exactly those traits to prey on victims.

As Cat pointed out in her excellent piece (if you haven’t read it, do so now), we are not the arbiters of fact, and yet we have to mount a response. Actually, in most cases, we are going to have to respond before the legal system does. Yes, there are some situations in which you can say that you’re going to sit back and wait until the legal system takes its course – as long as you remember that legal findings are not infallible! – but the issue of child safety is not a situation where you can sit back and wait. You are going to have to act on partial information; the truth may never come out in a way that satisfies everyone or anyone; the legal system may not be involved for a whole range of reasons, including some very good ones.

As a result, we have to develop procedures that can be applied impartially and that are fair enough that you or I would be willing to have the same procedures applied to us, even based on partial information. This impartiality, which cannot be improvised on the spot, is why thinking about the unthinkable ahead of time will help build strong infrastructure. If you develop the policies and procedures ahead of time, in as impartial a way as possible, then when the situation happens, it doesn’t turn into an instant referendum on somebody’s character. Having an established policy that the organization can adhere to also reduces the chance of a fracture into pro and con camps of personal allegiances.

I personally saw how a lack of such policies and procedures seriously undermined a local Pagan organization which should have known better. They were formally incorporated and had been for many years, and their purpose was working with the community at large. They had bylaws which were ridiculously sparse about this and many other matters (there was no way to remove a board member at all – someone could have been found guilty of murder and technically still been part of the board). They had no public procedures for handling any such issue. When a situation (thankfully not about children) developed, they couldn’t even mount a timely response, because they had to have a million and one emails about it, at least some of which could have been eased by doing this thinking ahead of time.

Finally, you also need to have some idea how you’ll respond ahead of time because what used to be called the news cycle moves much more quickly these days, and your institution or organization can lose confidence by not responding in a timely fashion. That may not necessarily be fair, but it’s true.

If you’re not ready to respond to something traumatic happening, then I may decide that you’re not ready for my financial support. Several institutions responded quickly to the Kenny Klein situation, and good for them; they were demonstrating their professionalism.

I’m not asking for you to develop a complete response: part of your plan absolutely should be “we’re going to do X and then we’re going to wait for further information.” I am asking you to think about how you will communicate to other interested parties – both within and without your organization – how you are addressing the situation. If your group is large enough to have a web page, then who’s going to post a statement on the web page? Who’s going to answer the Wild Hunt’s email when they ask you what is going on?

Having a plan to protect children is an essential minimum. If you want to take this several steps further, you could also think about all the other categories of offense that someone can be accused of – inappropriate sexual conduct with adults, misuse of controlled substances, financial impropriety, and so on and so forth. Think about the particular situations that your organization and events put you at risk for – misuse of authority in a hierarchical organization? misbehavior at events, whether private or public? civil disobedience during a protest? (Remember to include that last one – if you’re going to have a policy that anyone who is arrested for anything is automatically suspended, consider the possibility that the arrest was in service of a good cause, also.) Obviously, some of those you can wait to deal with; many of them can be treated as broad categories (felonies against people merit automatic suspension, etc); but the larger your organization is, the more you have to think about all these possibilities.

Groups and organizations that are unwilling to do this work are building things that are not designed to last, and they’re not doing the best job they could of serving our communities. If you say it can’t happen here, then you’re contributing to the continuation of the problem. Please, think the unthinkable – ahead of time.

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Earth Day – Romancing the Landbase

In honor of Earth Day, Tuesday April 22nd, consider romancing your landbase.

Romancing? Well, yes. Deepen your relationship, or if you like, begin to develop your relationship with your landbase. If you would rather see yourself as a friend of your landbase, you can. Friendship is a wonderful, beautiful kind of relationship. But for me, the more I work with my landbase, the more I fall in love.

It’s easy to see Earth Day as an intellectual observance – the environment is important, so we should plant a tree or use less electricity or protest a pipeline. Yes, we should absolutely do all those things, to the best of our abilities. Tomorrow, I think, is a time to acknowledge those things but also to experience the ways I am drawn to live in relationship with my landbase which is not solely intellectual; this relationship is emotional and spiritual as well.

Developing a relationship with one’s landbase is a powerful part of recognizing and working with spirit as it exists in the physical world, and thus a fundamental part of my work as a Witch. “Landbase” is a word I use to describe the convocation of all the beings who participate in my physical environment, especially my local environment. It could be called my local ecology, my watershed, my bioregion, except that I am also including and invoking the spirits of place, the spirits of the land and water, plants and animals. All of these together, the physical and immanent, make up my landbase.

These are the ones I relate to. As in other relationships, I set aside special times to honor and enjoy that relationship; tomorrow is one of those times, and the anniversary of me moving to this place is another. Use the idea of relationship to shape what you do tomorrow. If you’re working on developing a relationship with your landbase, think of how you would develop a relationship with someone you’re just getting to know: enjoy a beverage, spend some time, talk with them. If you’re especially kind, you provide the beverage. So take some water out to your landbase, pour it out with intention, and spend time introducing yourself and listening to your land.

Making offerings is one of the simplest and most profound parts of relationship. It says: “I acknowledge you. You exist, and I value you.” If you are just beginning, this basic opening is a gentle and effective introduction that paves the way for deeper work. Whether it is with a deity or any other kind of spirit, making an offering is always a wise place to begin.

If you already have a deeper relationship with your landbase, then just as with an existing relationship, you might have some idea what the other party (and oh, isn’t the landbase a party at this time of year!) would enjoy as a gift. If you do, great; if you don’t, then it is still a truism that the value of a gift in a relationship has more to do with the attention and intention imbued in the gift and its giving than any physical value. We cannot put a price on quality time that deepens relationship with our human friends and lovers; in the same way, what the landbase desires above all is you.

Ourselves are a gift we always have available. The gift of our attention and awareness is one we can give on a regular basis, wherever we are, just as people who live in the same space acknowledge each other. A simple good morning to my partner is a tiny gift of myself and a vital piece of acknowledging, maintaining, and even deepening our relationship over time.

This ability to maintain relationship is one good reason to work with one’s landbase close to home. It is not as effective to find a gorgeous national park within your bioregion and visit it once a year to acknowledge the grandeur of “pristine” nature as it is to greet the tree outside your window in all seasons. It is incredibly difficult to maintain a long-distance relationship; thankfully, “nature,” in the landbase, is all around us (and within us), so that kind of effort is not necessary. Don’t spend time introducing yourself to a place you’ll only visit once a year; say hello to the plants you pass every day.

In this spirit, romance your landbase tomorrow. Give water, or corn meal, or whatever you are called to give, but above all, give yourself. If you can plant a tree, wonderful; if you can’t, but you can find time and energy to work on the relationship, you may find that the land answers you back, and that when it does, you are filled with more than you gave, as happens in the best relationships. When the land fills you, you will have more to give in turn: to give to yourself, to give to your loves, and to give to the land, especially in caring for the environment on all the days of the year.

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Ritual for problem-solving using the Seven of Swords

The Motherpeace drawing of the Seven of Swords card reminds me of a problem-solving exercise. The fox, an animal known for her cunning, uses the swords as tools to overcome a difficult obstacle in pursuit of her goal. (See the Motherpeace image of this card by selecting 7 of Swords from the drop-down menu.)

In this ritual, I suggest that you choose a situation where you need to overcome an obstacle. Think carefully about the steps you can take to make progress. The intention here is not to have the obstacle magically disappear, it’s to empower you to find your way over it with ingenuity. That may involve using some unexpected tools – like repurposing swords to make steps!

We will use the power of Air to invoke ingenuity for the steps you need to take. This ritual incorporates the nature of Air as words that we used for the Ace of Swords and the power of breath that we explored in the Two of Swords. You also have the option to incorporate another tool of Air such as incense or a feather if you like.

Ritual:

Set up your altar with paper and a pen, the Seven of Swords image, and incense or a feather if you want.

Cast the circle using your pen as a wand. Take a deep, even breath and ground and center.

Call the Quarters using these words or your own:

Air, fill my breath and words with the ingenuity I need to shape my intention. Hail and welcome, Air!

Fire, ignite my ideas with the energy I need to carry them out. Hail and welcome, Fire!

Water, flow through my intentions with the understanding I need to find my solutions. Hail and welcome, Water!

Earth, ground my intention with the strength I need to see it through. Hail and welcome, Earth!

Optionally, invoke Athena who grants inspiration and ingenuity to human beings, or another goddess who watches over Air and problem-solving:

Athena, the help of the crafty, I invoke you! Athena, you have ever been the advisor and mentor of those who solve problems using ingenuity and inventiveness. Athena, lend your aid to me at this time, in this place, with this work I undertake. Hail and welcome, Athena!

Use your pen and paper to describe the steps you will take to overcome the obstacle or solve the situation you have chosen. You may need to meditate on your intention for a little while, or it could come to you immediately. Your description could be a sketch depicting your next action, or a list of things you will do, or any kind of representation. Don’t concentrate on the obstacle or issue; keep your visualization focused on how you will solve the problem.

When you are satisfied with your visualization of your next steps, take a few deep breaths. If you will be using a tool (pen, feather, or incense) pick it up, and breathe over it. As you breathe in, gather the power of Air within you; as you breathe out, feel that power combine with Athena’s blessings.

Breathe in, pass your tool or your hand over your depiction, and breathe out, visualizing your problem-solving and saying “By the breath of one, so mote it be.

Repeat: By the breath of two, etc., to “By the breath of seven, so mote it be!

Thank Athena using these words or your own:

Athena, with breath and mind you inspire my ingenuity and empower my solutions, and for that I thank you. Wise goddess, go if you must, but stay if you will. Hail and farewell, Athena!

Thank and dismiss the quarters using these words or your own:

Earth, thank you for the strength to ground my intention. Hail and farewell, Earth!

Water, thank you for the understanding to create my solutions. Hail and farewell, Water!

Fire, thank you for the energy to put my intention into action. Hail and farewell, Fire!

Air, thank you for the ingenuity to craft my own solutions. Hail and farewell, Air!

Open the circle using your pen as a wand.

Ground yourself again. Start putting your intention into action as soon as possible.

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Introduction to chakras

The chakra system is a useful tool which one can build upon with several other methodologies; this is a basic introduction that I’ll elaborate upon in future posts.

The system of chakras that I’ve studied is what I would describe as Pagan/New Age standard. It is loosely based on the Hindu understanding as taught in basic (Westernized) yoga classes. Basically, the chakras are metaphysical locations that are where certain types of “energy” or “power” are centered in the body.

They are usually described from bottom to top:

  • The root or base chakra is located near the perineum or at the base of the spine. Its color is red, and it symbolizes connection to the earth, the fundamental and physical nature, our most basic needs like security and stability, and also the ability to eliminate (return to earth) that which is no longer helpful.
  • The second chakra is located in the low belly, within the bowl of the pelvis, near the reproductive organs. Its color is orange, and it symbolizes creativity and fertility, and is involved in sexual matters.
  • The third or solar plexus chakra is located at the solar plexus. Its color is yellow, and it is associated with the sun and with personal power, will, drive, and effort.
  • The fourth or heart chakra is located at the heart or behind the breastbone at the level of the heart. Its color is green, and it represents emotions, relationships, generosity, and love.
  • The fifth or throat chakra is located in the throat at the Adam’s apple or voicebox. Its color is blue, and it symbolizes thought, speech, and communication, especially speaking or writing.
  • The sixth or third eye chakra is located in the center of the forehead or between the eyebrows. Here the color schemes can vary; some people say this one is indigo and the next one violet, while some say this one is purple and the next one is white or clear. Either way, this chakra represents inner vision and connection to things metaphysical, especially one’s intuition and wisdom.
  • The crown chakra is located at the top of the head. (Remember how a baby has a “soft spot” called a fontanelle at the top of the head? That’s where the crown chakra is.) Its color is violet or clear, and it symbolizes connection to the divine and transcendence.

 

In general, a “healthy” chakra is translucent, round, and has a vibrant, pure color. Chakras are places where the relevant energy is centered, but they are not just a static well of energy; chakras are interconnected, especially with each other, but also with the body and spirit as a whole. At their best, chakras are able to absorb and send out energy as part of a complex interplay in the metaphysical body.

Nearly all of us have some difficulties in our chakras which reflect or represent other concerns we are dealing with. A chakra with difficulties can appear as a muddy color, mixed with brown or some other inappropriate hue; it can be an unusual size or shape, or simply not be able to let energy flow clearly.

The chakras are such a useful basis for work because they cover a wide range of mind and body issues. Concentrating on each one in turn gives me automatic cues to address different areas of my life:

  • Am I grounded?
  • Am I creative?
  • Am I empowered?
  • Am I loving?
  • Am I speaking my truth?
  • Am I honoring my insight?
  • Am I connecting to the divine?

 

We can build on these to develop meditations, healing techniques, and to engage our mind and body fully with magic.

Deep down, the chakras are really another system of classifications and correspondences, where each chakra represents a whole category of symbolically interrelated things. We’ll see how this has applications for working with stones, minerals, and crystals in a future entry.

A note about the origins of the chakra system:

There are Sanskrit names and a whole host of Hindu associations for each chakra, including descriptions of each one as a lotus flower with a specific number of petals and so forth. I don’t typically work with those as part of my healing practice. Part of the compromise I have with myself about not veering into cultural appropriation is that I don’t pretend to know about the specifically culturally rooted parts of systems like this without much more significant study.

I see the Westernized chakra system as something that might have originally been cultural appropriation, but in its stripped-down form I think it is now a primarily Western approach which is somewhat separate from its Hindu roots.

Being honest about the difference between those is part of not veering over the line into cultural appropriation for me. It’s a lot like knowing the difference between Westernized yoga-as-primarily-exercise and yoga-as-complete-spiritual-system. Some people who are interested in the offshoot go and study the roots more, and they recontextualize the modern development within the deep philosophical understandings of the past. That’s respectful; so is working with the modern offshoot on its own merits, in most ways; what’s not respectful is claiming that because I do downward-facing dog pose on weekends, I have a deep understanding of Vedic philosophy. The origins and the modern offshoot interact, but being honest about what I don’t know is part of being respectful of the difference.

I also think that when we try to borrow the Hindu roots too much, there’s a certain sense that our work today will gain authenticity or validity or dignity by being associated with the antiquity or the foreignness or whatever of the Hindu usage of chakras. That is appropriation and it also implicitly devalues the work that we are doing today to develop and extend our own practices. My work stands on its own.

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