Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The New and the Old

I spent the weekend with my father, who lives in the New Forest. He is a very wise man indeed - and he's also a man who enjoys buying a bottle of wine, drinking less than half a glass and leaving the rest for me to finish. We had some great discussions about spirituality. He's doing shamanism training at the moment. It sounds like he's finding it a lot more earthy than the stuff he's explored before, but I think he's enjoying it. We were comparing our understandings of the Wheel of the Year etc. It's so funny that we're both finding traditions that fall under the Pagan umbrella at the same time, after years of our spiritualities being so different in character. Eventually the circles meet in the middle again!

On the way home on Sunday afternoon, I stopped in Burley, a gorgeous little New Forest village. It's supposed to have a long association with witches - of course, the village has made an entire tourist industry out of this fact, with several little witchy shops, although at least not all of these are pure tourist fodder! I found a couple of crystals I've been looking for and had a nice look around. In the first shop I went into, a woman was giving tarot/clairvoyant readings. I've never been keen on 'psychic' readings, since I know there are some frauds out there, and anyway I'm not sure what the reality is when it comes to that kind of thing. But I've been thinking of getting a tarot reading, since I'm learning some simple types of divination for myself (including a crystal pendulum), and I'm finding that useful. I couldn't stop thinking about this woman, so I listened to my intuition and went back to find her when I'd finished looking around the village. She turned out to be very good, and we talked about some very helpful things that, whether or not she's actually psychic, were excellent spiritual guidance for me. (I think she also spent more time with me than she normally would have done. I told them at the front of the shop that I wanted to pay extra, as a result.) Afterwards I went out onto the moor to sit down and get a record of what we talked about. It was beautiful there - wish I could have stayed longer!

Friday, 24 June 2011


I have wanted a cat since I was about 5 years old. My father was allergic so I couldn't have one. Then I lived in no-pets rented accommodation for a while. Now we have our very own home, and The Angel's own allergies have calmed down a bit. So this week we went to the local RSPCA shelter (which is full to capacity with cats) with a view to getting a kitty. One kitty. Three days later, we have TWO. We just couldn't leave Milo (beautiful, playful, fluffy black-and-white cat) and Pythagoras (three-legged orange cutie) behind. At the moment they're not over-keen on each other, but they're putting up with it. Py has mainly settled behind the sofa, while Milo is mostly living behind the kitchen cabinets. Py emerges more than Milo, but they're both happy to come out for cuddles. I'm trying to be patient! And to ignore how dusty Milo gets...

Pics! Milo - Pythagoras

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Solstice Offerings

I was lucky to be feeling a bit better today, enough to get out into my garden. So I managed to spend my Summer Solstice out of doors, enjoying the sunshine (although it was very windy!), looking after my garden, meditating and doing a little, very simple ritual. I was just so happy to be out of bed that I'd have loved anything I managed to do - but I was very happy!

Although, between last week's full moon and today's stuff, the neighbours definitely think I'm crazy now.

Merry Solstice and night-night, all.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Podcasts! And disability!

So, I'm sick. As a disabled person with a chronic health condition (I have a genetic condition), I'm a bit more likely than most non-disabled people to get unwell. In this case, I've been successfully losing weight for the past few months (good for my condition), but have managed to get anaemia as a result (very bad for my condition). I am thus stuck in bed, and have been for the past two weeks. For anyone who hasn't experienced it, being stuck in bed for this long is really, really boring. I've been out of the house briefly a few times, to go to church and the doctor's and once out for breakfast (a mistake that involved a lot of sleep to recover from!) but mainly I've just been here. To help deal with the dullness, I've been a) catching up with True Blood (dudes, that's a good series and I never knew), and b) listening to a lot of podcasts. This is because reading isn't always possible when you're too dizzy to lift your head up, but listening is generally OK.

There are some fantastic Pagan podcasts out there. I've also been listening to some other stuff, like the wonderful offerings from BBC radio (try or or, but the Pagan ones are just so varied with such interesting hosts and full of such great discussion, from theology and sociology to fun ideas. Some of my favourites include Saturn Darkhope's beautifully spiritual Pennies in the Well, Fire Lyte's hilarious yet intellectually/sociologically deep Inciting a Riot, and Katherine Borealis' wonderfully informative, geologically-focused Borealis Meditation. I've also just discovered the apparently under-rated The Crooked Path, which went away for a while but recently came back, and is hosted by Peter Paddon, who may have the best voice in all of podcasting. Like very British treacle sauce pouring over a warm pudding. Mmmm. Everyone with a religious/spiritual interest, whether on a Pagan path or not, should download these fab podcasts and follow their links to others. The Pagan podkin are a great bunch. As a label-eschewing but definitely spiritually confused type who has MUCH to learn, I'm so grateful to them for sharing their thoughts and knowledge. It's really helping.

On another topic, I'm thinking a lot about disability and Paganism/'new age' beliefs/etc at the moment (for obvious reasons). Do note that I refer above to my 'condition', and to 'disability', and to how I use some of these terms. I don't usually have an 'illness'. I'm currently (temporarily) ill, as in, my health is not good. Most of the time, despite being disabled and having a chronic condition, I am usually healthy - as far as I'm concerned. There are several other neutral terms that disabled people use about congenital or acquired conditions, including 'impairment'. The social model of disability* posits that we are disabled by society, not by our conditions, which are in themselves neutral. This doesn't mean that we don't want to be healthy. It does mean that we value the diversity of human life and experience. Yes, this leads to contradictions and issues. Each person works through those individually. The more important thing, to many disability rights campaigners, is that disability - as a social issue - is something we can actually work on. It's possible to change society, and social justice is something that most people can agree is important. It's hard work to achieve. But I'd much rather work towards that, than work on wiping out all human diversity in a quest for some kind of 'perfect' body that a) is a socially constructed concept and b) doesn't exist.

I've read a lot about health in Pagan books recently that worries me - reminiscent of the victim-blaming, illness-and-impairment-confusing, discriminatory discourses of Christianity that I've spent many years working on bringing out into the light. On the one hand, it shocks and upsets me that many of the same things are present in Paganism. despite its open-minded stance towards all kinds of justice issues, and despite its valuing of the body (that is so different from the Christian approach). On the other hand, I know that Pagans, like members of every other religion and none, are social and socialised creatures, who are just as capable of believing negative social messages about disability as anyone else. Additionally, we all want to be healthy. And if we're the average person, we never have to think much about disability, beyond the vague awareness that we'll probably get old one day, and we rarely think about the 20% of people** who live with disability right now, at whatever age they are. I think that's a normal response to disability, and it makes sense. It still makes me sad to hear such negative things about the diversity of human bodies from a body-honouring religion, though.

But it's not everyone. For example, I've been comforted by Saturn Darkhope's approaches to the body in her podcast, which have encouraged me to read more widely and to take the less helpful stuff with a pinch of salt. She's someone who has podcasted about her health difficulties, which I think is vitally important for any member of a religion to do, just as it's important for LGBT followers of all religions to speak out about our experiences. Overall, I'm trying to learn to take the good - like the wonderful ethic of taking responsibility for one's own health - with the less good. It's just going to take some practice.

And that starts getting me into ethics and the spiritual path. I hear it's Pagan Values Blogging/Podcasting Month, and that a lot of people are writing/podcasting about ethics in particular. Regardless of my current lack of clarity over labels, ethics are very important to my spiritual path, and I like the idea of considering them enough to blog about them. So I'll get to that next! But now I must go drag myself out of bed long enough to finish making iced tea for our visitors this evening. They may see more of the iced tea than they see of me, but at least it will be good iced tea.

*The social model of disability is one of the key tenets of the disability rights movement. I know a whole lot about it - I'm a Disability Studies expert, with an MA in the subject as well as a PhD in-the-doing (in disability studies and sociology of religion) that I expect to complete within the next three years. Assuming anyone is reading this blog (which I'm not at all sure of!), if you have any questions about the social model or social theories of disability, or the disability movement in general, then do feel free to ask. But please no attacking. I'm so tired of verbal/written attacks by strangers that I'm thinking of shutting down my disability-related twitter account. Society is in a fairly mean place at the moment, when it comes to disabled people and our issues. :(

**Statistic based on the number of people in the UK who are covered by the disability element of the Equality Act, i.e. are 'officially' disabled. A similar percentage of Americans are covered by the ADA.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Esoteric Commonalities

In between many other books about many other religions, I'm reading Smoley's Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition. I already know a lot about Gnostic and mystic approaches to Christianity, but this is helping to put some of the 'pieces' of my understanding together. The book explores some developments in mystical Christianity through the ages. These include early theologian Origen's beliefs in reincarnation and the four-level cosmic scheme, magical monotheistic traditions like Hermeticism (which included the Order of the Golden Dawn), the Christian roots of modern Tarot reading, and the Sophia myth of the Gnostics (a particular favourite of mine).

The Christian mystics were often deeply aware of these esoteric mysteries. Hildegard von Bingen had visions of the Divine feminine through which she understood that all of us are potential mystics and visionaries. Her visions of Divine Wisdom - Sophia - communicated a feminine Divine archetype that was both terrible and tender. Her theology had undertones of pantheism too. Another great mystic and heroine of mine, Mother Julian of Norwich, was essentially universalistic - she believed that God would not condemn anyone to hell (even though she struggled with this insight because it was basically heretical according to the Catholic Church). Because we are created in the image of God, nothing can separate us from God. Instead, Julian emphasised the all-encompassing, all-transforming love of the Divine - a far deeper love than we can ever imagine.

I don't agree with everything associated with Gnostic and mystic Christianity, especially its concept of the world and humanity as fallen - but there is much here that draws me towards a deeper union with Divinity. There's also much in common with other religions here. In the tenth century, the Greek Orthodox priest Abba Dorotheus used a circle as an illustration. He said:

"The more one is united to his neighbour, the more one is united to God. To help you understand the meaning of this word, I will give you an example taken from the Fathers: Imagine a circle traced on the ground, and its centre. We call the centre the middle of the circle. Concentrate on what I am telling you. Imagine that this circle is the world. The centre is God, and the rays are the different paths or ways of life of men. When the saints, desiring to approach God, walk towards the centre of the circle, they come nearer to each other as well as to God, the more they approach the centre of the circle. The nearer they come to God, the nearer they come to each other. And the nearer they come to each other, the closer they are to God."
( )

In this book, Smoley relates this image to esoteric (inner) and exoteric (outer) Christianity. Imagine a circle divided into 'outer' and 'inner' circles of religion.  In every faith, Smoley argues, there are many who remain within the outer circle. From the perspective of the edge of the circle, different religious beliefs (located on the other side of the circle) seem VERY different. However, for those who are willing to go deeper, the more they move towards the centre of the circle, the more they have in common with those believers from other faiths who are also moving towards the centre. The closer we are to the Divine, the more we are the same.

The book contains a fair bit of history of the way that esoteric Christianity developed, but it's presented in a coherent way that links together very different ideas and traditions. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the hidden, buried and suppressed mysteries of Christianity. Fundamentalists and anti-Christian types alike are likely to find it difficult to deal with. But for anyone, of any faith, with an interest in the deeper mysteries of the Divine, you might find it helpful to remember the inner/outer circle image. The closer we move to the centre of the Divine circle, the fewer differences between us and our beliefs, and the closer we come to each other in our realization of ourselves as aspects of the Divine.

Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
And first Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright
And precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all the weather's moods,
By which you cherish all that you have made.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom you light the night.
How beautiful he is, how playful and powerful and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
Various fruits and coloured flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Blessed are those She finds doing your will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

-- St Francis of Assisi,  Canticle of Brother Sun

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Full Moon and Lunar Eclipse tomorrow night - and a Beginning for me

Tomorrow night I intend to dedicate myself to the path of the study of Paganism, for a year and a day, while honouring the Celtic gods (well, mainly goddesses) whose worship I've been beginning to explore for a while (but far too half-heartedly, so far). I'll also consecrate the tools I've been gathering (some of which I've also been using, but again, not very well). From hereon in, I'm not doing anything half-heartedly anymore. I'm fairly sure that any kind of self-dedication doesn't need to happen *until* you've been studying for a year and a day - but if I don't mark some kind of a beginning, I'll never properly set off on this road. So I won't promise anything to the gods. I'll just introduce myself to them, ask for their help and guidance on this journey, and honour them.

Part of me feels pretentious and stupid for posting this, but another part knows that if I don't share this with the bloggers and online community from whom I've been learning so much, I'll feel like I'm totally alone. When I'm not - I'm deeply connected to the Universe, which is opening my eyes to what's been happening to me for maybe the past ten years. I've just been far, far too limited to see it.

And this full moon and lunar eclipse feels like a stunning, powerful time to mark my first solid steps on the path to Paganism. I've heard the Divine calling. Who am I to ignore that?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Of Wise Teachers, Great Wisdom, and Evil Sandflies

I'm thinking of the books I'm reading as communications from wise teachers, as I think I always have. I've been reading books on world religions and philosophies for many years - btw, I recommend Karen Armstrong as an excellent starting point on the history of world religions - but I was always reading from a very detached, objective place. It's so exciting to be allowing myself to read to learn, rather than to have nothing but a theoretical familiarity with the Big Ideas.

On that topic, I'm still reading EVERYTHING, thanks to getting a week off work. (I got to hang out in a beautiful and sunny country, by the beach - I have been truly blessed in marrying a Mediterranean girl!) My librarything page has everything I'm reading. The Higginbothams' introductory books to Paganism are fantastic. Even though I'm already a bit past that point in my studies, I loved their meditations and exercises on belief, the Divine and the Universe - and I think it's important for me to go through some of them and carefully consider my religious/belief/faith story so far. From their bibliography, I've found Joseph Campbell's books on myths, two of which I'm currently reading. Among a few other things. (Believe it or not, I'm dyslexic. I'm a paradoxical devouring bookworm!)

Outside of the more specific reading, though, I picked up Signe Pike's Faery Tale after Fire Lyte recommended it on his podcast. I thought it would be some fun, interesting light reading for my holiday. I devoured it in a few days - and it was far more than just fun and light. This is a deeply spiritual memoir, from a woman who, like the great pilgrims and mystics, followed a call across the world so that she could encounter something Greater. I was completely enthralled by Signe's story, and it's beautifully written. I recommend it. (Did I mention that I've been seeing a well and a raven in some of my meditations? The book features these two things, and seeing what they meant to Signe helped me to begin to understand what they might mean for me. Lovely synchronicity there.)

Apart from reading, my holiday in the sun was the usual rollercoaster. My Angel has a complicated family life, which I find stressful, although it's getting better. I got bitten repeatedly by a particularly vicious sandfly to which I was a bit allergic, and had a dreadful flight home (during which I was refused a seat from which I could walk to the toilet - the disabled traveller's nightmare - and then threw up and passed out). But I am home now, and recovering in bed while getting to do more fabulous reading. So it's all good really.

This post brought to you by Kindle. Save the trees! :)

Quotes of the day:

"'Moons are very important.'
'I'm blowed if I'll let a ball of shiny rock tell me what to do.'"
- Magrat and Granny Weatherwax, Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

"'Witches just aren't like that,' said Magrat. 'We live in harmony with the great cycles of Nature, and do no harm to anyone, and it's wicked of them to say we don't. We ought to fill their bones with hot lead.'"
- Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett