Friday, November 11, 2011

The Hero's Deepest Wound: A Veterans' Day Post for My Father

My father did not turn out to be a good man.

He was a brilliant child--he got fabulous grades, could play the guitar by ear, and, by the time he went to high school, he was a champion runner. But somewhere between his horrific childhood home life and his time serving as a naval corpsman during the Vietnam War, he did not, as I said, turn out to be a good man.

With a false glee, my dad used to tell the story of how, coming home one day after a high school track meet--which he won and which none of his family attended--he found that his family had moved without him. At sixteen, he wandered the desert streets of California’s “Inland Empire” for six days looking for them. When he finally found them--his raging alcoholic father, his promiscuous mother and all eight of his siblings squatting in some rathole by the tracks in Fontana, they laughed at him and told him he must have been very stupid to have taken so long.

My mother tells the story of my dad enlisting in the navy and, in the process of getting all his papers together, found the last name on his birth certificate did not match the last name of the abusive alcoholic he had grown up thinking was his dad. When he confronted his mother about this she acted nonchalant and said, “Oh yeah, your real father’s last name was Wyss--he worked at some tire plant...I think.”

Then, in the navy, my dad served as a corpsman--officially a medic with the navy but traveling on the ground with the marines seeing to the dead and dying. Once, when I was thirteen, he dug his duffel out of the garage and showed me his gas mask, his boots with a bayonet hole in the toe and, most proudly, his white medic’s tunic still stained with the blood of some marine or other whose name, face, and fatal injuries he had long since forgotten.

All of this is to say that my dad had every right in this and any other world to be completely and totally screwed up--and he was. His depression kept him from ever holding a steady job. His anxiety led him to a devastating Valium addiction. His outwardly acted, self-hating, power-needy PTSD led him to violence and the alienation of both his daughters. All of these things together led him to die absolutely alone on March 1, 2009.

My dad was a brilliant, strong, heroic young man who valiantly served his country and the many, many young soldiers who died in his arms. I tell this story not to detract from the honorable things he did--because they are many--but I tell it to make a plea to AresApollon and any of you who may know and/or love a similarly brilliant but tormented young soldier--that you may help them to heal--that the brilliance and honor may not turn into madness and ignominy.

And for those, like my father, who have already passed, send your prayers with them that in the Kingdom of Hades--in the gray Fields of Asphodel--they will be welcomed as the heroes they are and be given the courage they need to fight one more battle in that place--the battle to reclaim themselves from the terror they knew and had become.


Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Call of the Cailleach: Samhain Reflections

In preparation for Samhain this year, I have been reading a great deal of Scottish lore where I came across the Cailleach Beara--the Winter Crone--Grandmother of Gods and humans. Samhain is the end of the reign of Angus and Brigid and the beginning of Grandmother Cailleach’s reign. What struck me most about this myth is that, although the Cailleach is fearsome, she is also the epitome of wisdom and, I can’t explain this, but I feel from her a certain tenderness. Yes, we are tested in winter by her iciness and incessant howling--by, as the lore goes, the eight hags that serve her and deepen the winter chill--but we do survive and we continue to survive. We learn things in the depths of darkness, we come to appreciate more fully the light, and in those howlings from the dark woods, there is deep, deep magic.

Because my birthday is exactly two weeks before Halloween, this time of year has always been special to me. When I start to see the colorful gourds and jolly pumpkins in the grocery store, I get giddy. I ponder near months in advance what my costume will be. As I drive around town, I drive my family crazy pointing out all the most glorious turning trees. When the first chill of autumn wisps through the air, I feel an awakening--I feel my spirit enliven and my mystical yearnings begin to pulse. I’ve often tried to figure out why this season is so special to me, and the only thing I have come up with is that it strikes me as the last hurrah before the cold of winter--like nature going out in style. It is a time of pure, unfettered fun and every day filled with anticipation for the big sendoff of Halloween.

Every year, decorating the house for Halloween is a big, big deal and, for some reason, my family has always been able to do the decoration with absolutely no stress or squabbling like we inevitably have around the rest of the holidays. We also always cook up some ghoulish treats for the night--like Mummy Eyeballs which are really deviled eggs, or Spinal Cord Spirals, which are really tortilla wraps. Then there is handing out candy to the beggars, parties, and scary movies every night for at least the week before. Funny how, now that I am a Pagan, I enjoy all of these things even more because I know there is a real spiritual significance behind them--and always has been. Now, as a Pagan, I have been able to add to the festivities the decorating of the Samhain altar, writing letters to my departed loved ones, leaving a light in the window for them on Samhain night, and using my poetic gifts to write a ritual to do either on my own or in a group.

Perhaps the autumn magic I always felt in my bones even as a child was the soft yet persistent call of Grandmother Cailleach drawing me to my Pagan path. As the season progresses, the nights lengthen, and her call resounds ever more loudly in my soul, may I have the wisdom to heed her and to follow fearlessly wherever she may lead.

So be it.

Blessed by the Mystery
-M. Ashley

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Call Out the Calvary! I'm Goin' Nucular Cacalating the Heighth of Political Peeves

Last night my partner and I had a ball watching the Republican debate in Las Vegas. In our house politicking season sounds a lot like sports seasons sound in other houses--my partner yelling "Boo-ya!" and "Slam dunk!" at the screen and me, after an excellent parry, "He just flattened him man, just totally flattened him!" In particular though, last night's debate was special because it helped crystalize in my mind at least six things that will always keep me from voting for any candidate, no matter what their political affiliation. In that vein, I offer the following open letter:

Dear 2012 Presidential Hopefuls,

I heretofore vow that I will never vote for you if you meet any of the following criteria:

  1. You repeatedly and purposely drop your "g" so as to appear more folksy. "I'm thinkin' we need to get these people back to workin'!"
  2. Use a "th" where no "th" should be, as that is the "height(h)" of ignorance.
  3. Say "pundint" instead of "pundit." If you add that extra "n," you deserve whatever they say about you.
  4. Say "Calvary" instead of "cavalry." We already know you're evangelical and have Jesus on the mind, you don't have to grammar stammer over it.
  5. Prove that you are in no position to handle this nation's economy because you "cacalate credick" rather than "calculate credit."
  6. Say "nucular" instead of "nuclear" and attempt to pass it off as an accent thing rather than an idiot thing.

Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin--you have all been put on notice! As it is your job to speak in public, you must also consider it your job not to sound like a fool.

Most Sincerely,
-M. Ashley

Well, I guess I'm not going to make my goal of posting every day in October for National Blog Writing Month. I've been physically out of it the last several days and just couldn't get my fingers pumping on the keyboard. Still, I'm proud of myself as this October has so far been my most prolific blogging month ever. In the spirit of celebration then, I get right back up on that blogging horse and ride...

As always, I just included this 'cause I like the "pp"

Special thanks to BFF Angela McKinney who pointed out "cacalate." Your friendship "credick" is always good with me!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fight the Fear: Domestic Violence and the Pagan Community

As many of you know, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While I was surfing around today, I found this graphic and I absolutely had to share it. It has always struck me how many people in the Pagan community. women and men both, have been victims of some form of domestic violence, and although I believe this graphic was intended more to mean "fight the fear" of Pagans, I think, more than that, it is a great symbol--a magnificent rallying cry for all of those in the Pagan Community who are suffering with and/or have survived domestic violence.

My sisters and brothers, fight the fear, both while you suffer and during the long healing that must come after. Know that you are strong. Know that you are worthy. Know that you are loved. Know that the Lady and Lord are with you and will provide for you not only an out from your situation, but the means to recover from it and not merely survive, but thrive.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233). If you need it, please call.

With All My Heart,
-M. Ashley

Friday, October 14, 2011

PMS Beast and Other Scary Halloween Monsters

For me, PMS isn’t always bad, but when it is, it’s BAD. 

Today is one of those days for me when every sound and every word spoken (especially by men) is going right to that single nerve I have left and jumping on it. I hear things coming out of my mouth that my internal, rational voice is saying, “Wow, that’s pretty bitchy,” but that it has no power whatsoever to stop. I’ve apologized in advance to my partner who smiles quietly and passes the chocolate. There is a part of me, frankly, that’s offended by the passing of the chocolate, as others diagnosing PMS is a surefire way to have its full wrath descend upon you, but, on the other hand my body is screaming for it so I take it, grateful but with premestrually glaring eyes. 

A biology major friend of mine once explained to me that PMS results from a severe and sudden drop in hormone levels, so what we’re feeling is very much akin to drug withdrawal, or, being a smoker, I can relate it more effectively to the world’s worst nic fit--with cramps!

In that vein, I offer the following video which pretty much expresses how I would be feeling today if I were a tiny kitten:

Here's to a better, more hormonally balanced tomorrow,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Danny and Mr. Grim--A Deathly Halloween Romp

Here is my poetic addition to the All Hallows Grim Blog Party hosted over at Pagan Culture, one of my all-tim favorite blogs. 

Danny and Mr. Grim
Young man Danny was wide awake
when Mr. Grim appeared
pale as death and cool as night
standing in the mirror.

All right kid,
said Mr. Grim yawning as he spoke,
You’re not the only job I’ve got
So hurry up, let’s go.

Danny only laughed at this
and shook his youth-swelled head.
Then, trying hard to be polite,
he very calmly said,

Mr. G. I can’t go now,
not at twenty-two.
I know this may sound cocky but,
I’ve just got too much to do.

Mr. Grim chuckled, Well,
all right, I’ll let you be.
Pay me now or pay me later.
It’s all the same to me. 

Daddy Danny tried to sleep
one stormy night in fall
when in his bedroom mirror he saw
that Grim had come to call.

Tell me Dan, said Mr. Grim
arms folded at his chest,
I’ve given you now fifteen years,
are you ready yet? 

No said Danny, speaking low
so as not to wake his wife.
Now there are others dear to me
who depend upon my life.

As you can see I’ve got a wife.
My only thought is of her
and of our child who will need things
that only I can offer.

Mr. Grim said, slightly moved,
All right, you take your time.
But one day Danny, don’t you doubt,
I will claim what is mine. 

Old man Danny woke up late
one silent Winter night.
Mr. Grim stood in the mirror
blinking in the light.

Now this is it. You’re eighty-three.
said Mr. Grim to Danny.
I will not give more time than that.
You must come now with me. 

And don’t you talk about your wife.
I know she died last May.
Your child, now grown, is doing fine,
so there’s nothing left to say. 

My dog, said Dan without a pause,
he needs me. He’s lost his sight.
Don’t you know?
Asked Mr. Grim,
I took your dog last night. 

Then silence passed between the two
now friends as much as rivals,
‘til Danny took one final shot
at securing his survival.

But I just love to breathe the air
and watch the house flies fly.
Even the wet of a new-formed tear
is reason not to die.

Sorry Danny, not this time. 

said Mr. Grim while grinning.
But don’t you worry, men like you
make even death worth living.

Happy Hallows Everybody!
-M. Ashley

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mormon Hellenic Pagan: Do Such Creatures Really Exist?

I'm feeling a little hangdog tonight. My partner and stepson are out "occupying" the University of Oklahoma and I'm here at home alone licking my wounds from what was a real crap-e diem. It was very tempting to skip tonight's post, but I did make a commitment for National Blog Writing Month to post every day in October, so I decided to show up despite not having a whole lot to say--well, despite having a lot to say and not a whole lot of energy to say it.

Here is what has been weighing most heavily on my mind lately:

As per several of my previous posts, I am still having a major internal struggle between feeling like a Hellenic Pagan and also like a Mormon--feeling drawn to both paths simultaneously and having no idea how to begin reconciling them or even sorting out all the emotions this struggle is bringing up. Suggestions on how to proceed with this would be much appreciated as, at the moment, I am feeling very lost.

I go to bed each night and wake up each day thinking about this, wondering what my next step should be. I don't want to be a Mormon and forgo all the things I love in Hellenism. For example, how could I give up devotion to Hestia after her presence has been so alive in my home and heart for the past two years? On the other hand, I don't want to be a Hellene and have to renounce the things I have testimony of in Mormonism like eternal progression, achievable godhood and the personal bond and sealing to the Spirit of Truth I received at baptism that has been a constant guide, comforter and companion.

How can I feel so deeply connected with two paths apparently so removed from one another? What is going on in my soul that it would call me to two places at once? I don't know. I feel torn and have no idea how to begin the mending process.

May the good Gods and good people in my life help guide me toward an answer.

Blessed by the Mystery
(even when it doesn't feel like a blessing),
-M. Ashley

The picture for this post is an original watercolor by yours truly. I painted it in my dorm room at Vanderbilt University right after a tornado hit downtown Nashville in 1998. I know it isn't Picasso, but even after all these years, I'm still pretty fond of it and I think it expresses the emotions of the night rather well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hubris? Meet 2x4.

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat--I consider myself a Hellene but I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a hardcore reconstructionist. I am a revivalist.

In that vein:

Although I have a deep respect for reconstructionists of any stripe, there is a certain attitude among most Hellenic recons that does not sit well with me and is one of the primary reasons I do not count myself among their ranks. A good many recons I have come in contact with tend to ascribe to the notion that it is necessary to fear and appease the Gods in order to please them. I have no doubt this was a part of the ancient mindset. My partner and I were watching an episode of Carnivale last night that featured a horrendous dust-bowl storm. I thought, "If you didn't have the technology to know better, how could you not attribute something like that to angry Gods?" But, the thing is, we do have the technology to know better now--to know that natural disasters are either Gaia doin' her thing to sustain and renew herself or us screwing that process up. So why do some Hellenic recons still approach the Gods as if their worship will abate the storm? Why must we hold on to the ancient belief that we worship the way we worship mainly to keep the Gods from squashing us?

In the eyes of the Gods, I believe it is more offensive to hold onto this attitude when they have inspired us with the means to know better. Perhaps it was OK for the ancients to approach them that way because it gave them some comfort in a world to which they were extremely vulnerable--but what purpose does it serve now to attribute, say, devastating tornadoes to Zeus and allow the fear of same to distance our hearts from him?

But then, I am apparently very liberal about this sort of thing--believing that, in reality, it is almost impossible to offend the Gods unless you allow hubris (your perfectionism, your intellect, your fear), to keep you from a sincere and consistent practice, (a topic on which I wrote an entire post here).

Look, the Gods know you--every gritty little Earth-bound nook and cranny. Attempting to hide these from them is foolish on the face of it and will severely handicap your relationship with them. Yes, it is good and respectful to wash in the khernips before ritual or prayer, but you must come to that prayer with both of your washed hands open--holding nothing back--not even the unwashed parts, inside and out.

I speak these things passionately because I have been guilty of them and I know firsthand how a raging, arrogant perfectionism can strangle a meaningful relationship with the Gods.  Many are the times I have needed, and received, a solid whack upside the head with a spiritual 2x4 when I have allowed that hubris, or worries over “not getting it right”, to get between me and my Gods and stop us from talking.

I have discovered that If we humbly open ourselves up and keep calling upon the Gods, it will be given to us what it is they require of us, and usually it isn’t much except to stay in touch and honor the gifts they have bestowed.

Blessed by the Mystery,
(and the spiritual 2x4)
-M. Ashley

Monday, October 10, 2011

An Autumn Devotion for Mother Eve


Walking in the luscious shade
of a fine and ancient orchard
unkempt rows of virgin trees 
whisper sway and droop
their red radiant burden
to meet my sunburned fingers

and everything I touch 
     touches back

and everything I taste
     is knowing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Goddess Hestia: Love in Our Lives, Light in Our Hearts

It's a lovely, rainy day outside today. My partner and stepson are lazing on the couch--one on the computer, the other blissfully watching an action movie and munching on purple grapes. Our fifteen-year-old Siamese is keeping vigilant watch nestled into the cushions behind them while our younger tuxedo cat stalks and slinks through the boxes in the storage space under the stairs. On the floor at my stepson's feet are two dogs: One, red and hairy, rescued from the pound seven years ago, sprawls on his back contemplating the ceiling, while the other, black and white beagle mix, sits upright, adoring, secretly praying he may reap the juicy windfall of an errant grape. I am sitting in my soft, oversized chair, writing, with a tiny gray dog asleep and snoring on my left knee. Soon it will be time to make an autumn Sunday peasant feast--roast with potatoes, green beans and apple bread for dessert. 

This is our perfectly imperfect happy home. This is the foundation we walk upon. This is the love in our lives and the light in our hearts. This is the warmth of our hearth that radiates within and without. This is the spirit of the Great Goddess Hestia--she who is first and last among all the Gods.  

Invocation to Hestia

Hail Hestia,
Ancient hearth Mother
Goddess of the Spiritual Flame,
You who are first and last,
We thank you for your constant love and care.
We ask that you come and dwell here.
Make of our home your home.
Make of our hearth your hearth.
Make of our temple your temple.
Make of our hearts one heart, your heat.
Hail Hestia!

Blessed by the Mystery,

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tolerance of the Intolerant: Practicing Pagan Preaching

I have just come from G+ where once again I have been defending LDS people's right to claim their own faith as valid. This is the second time I have had to do this in the past two weeks. The poster to whom I was responding wrote: 

...what the Mormons actually are in my opinion is the most offensively bad bunch of archaeologists on the planet. :) I hang out with a few people who believe they're elves and dragons, and their beliefs stillhave more support in reality than the Book of Mormon's history of pre-Columbian America. 
I figure most Mormons are decent people on a person-to-person level, but dammit, if you're gonna go messing around with the way that other people live, you had better have a MUCH sounder reason than "some 19th century con artist ASSURED us he found magic tablets in the desert, among a Native American civilization that we have plenty of good evidence was NOTHING like our holy book describes, so um, yeah, we can't let you visit your dying boyfriend in the hospital, sorry. Our magic seer stones told us you couldn't." It just... makes me want to say, "Oh, yeah? Well my MAGIC KANGAROO FRIEND said God wants me to take your wallet," because it feels just about as valid and fair. :)

In my response, I didn't address her factual errors, of which there are many, but I did talk about the issue of validity, one unprovable faith to another. I wrote:

Frankly, people from almost every religious tradition believe some odd, unprovable things and things that are flat out wrong--and are still very sure of themselves. Rick Perry, for example, believes the earth is only a few thousand years old, serpents and burning bushes can talk, humans have physically wrestled with angels (and won!), and that a virgin gave birth, among other things. And his ONLY proof? "My book says so." In my opinion, for someone to believe all that but say Mormons' beliefs are just too far out there is totally ridiculous. Either it's all ridiculous and invalid, or every faith is equally valid on its own terms. But no one, no matter how well founded their beliefs, should prescribe morality for anyone else, ever.  
Back in the founding days of the church, Mormons were very hardcore polytheists and vocal about this fact along with vehemently opposing any church's involvement in politics. In the past fifty years or so, however, there has been a decided shift toward stumping for "moral" causes, perhaps to curry favor with evangelicals or appear more right-wing mainstream. Personally, I prefer the out loud and proud polytheist pioneer, "leave us alone to pursue our weird beliefs and we'll leave you alone to pursue yours" types. But then, no one asked me in what direction the church should go, so there you have it. :)

The reason I bring this up is I am utterly galled by anyone, let alone one of my Pagan own, attacking someone else's right to believe whatever whacked out thing they want and, in the process, claiming that their odd beliefs are more valid. Don't get me wrong, LDSers are certainly guilty of this too--my mother, for example, assuming that as a Pagan I believe things like trees and rocks are God--but as a good deal of Pagans have supposedly liberated themselves from this sort of dogmatic thinking, I am nonplussed that such vitriol still exists. Isn't tolerance supposed to be one of the unifying principles within the Pagan community? 

Tolerance means tolerance and, if it hold any integrity at all, must be extended equitably, even to the intolerant. If we, as a community, only extend our tolerance to fellow Pagans and members of other minority religions, we are no better than the oppressors we claim to have spiritually and intellectually escaped. 

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Boy oh boy, it was down to the wire--I got distracted tonight making dinner for my stepson then watching Jackass 3D with him, 'cause that's just how spiritual I am ;)--but this makes day five of consecutive posting for National Blog Writing Month. Ahem--pardon me while I break my arm patting myself on the back. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Spiritual Desires: What I Want, What I've Got, and What's Still Missing

Yesterday I wrote a post exploring some of my reservations about even lightly reconnecting with the LDS church--the church of my youth. Despite my reservations, however, I do feel strangely drawn to that reconnection, so today I decided to make a list--yes, another list, (it is the lazy bloggers go-to after all)--exploring some of the top things I want from a faith and how my current faith and the one of my childhood compare. In doing this I hope to uncover what I feel is missing from my current practice for which my spirit is searching elsewhere. Here is what I came up with:

1) I want a faith that honors both feminine and masculine divinity equally and offers equal amount of detail about both. 

I have not yet found a faith that meets this quality fully. Paganism tends to honor Goddess over God and offers far less information about the nature of the God in general than it does about the Goddess. Mormonism acknowledges a Heavenly Mother as equal to and in partnership with a Heavenly Father, but there is little information on her or actual working veneration of her. 

2) I want a faith that acknowledges a multitude of Gods.

Both Paganism and Mormonism fit this one, though lately, with their rigorous PR campaign, the LDS church has been much more reluctant to publicly acknowledge this belief. 

3) I want a faith that demands spiritual, ethical and intellectual rigor yet is free of shame.

Paganism is, frankly, not all that demanding of this kind of rigor whereas Mormonism demands it to a point of being shaming should you fall short. In my opinion, there really should be a balance. 

4) I want a faith that honors other faiths as equally valid in accessing the Divine. 

Paganism fits this to a tee as does Mormonism. Although Mormons do regard their church as the “truest” church, they believe all spiritual roads eventually lead to the same place. 

5) I want a faith that supports the idea of eternal progression--that we continue to evolve spiritually, physically, intellectually and emotionally beyond this life on Earth.

Again, I think both faiths fit here, though I’ll admit I take my belief in eternal progression entirely from my LDS upbringing. 

6) I want a faith that sees the Gods as a higher evolution of our species, not a species unto themselves--a faith that sees Godhood as achievable by humankind.  

From the Pagan side, whether or not this one fits depends entirely on what brand of Paganism you adhere to. I favor Hellenism, which definitely embraces this idea. Once again though, I have taken the entire concept of achievable Godhood from my LDS training. 

7) I want a faith with a rich cultural heritage, compelling rituals and complex history.

My Hellenic leanings favor this one as does Mormonism. Wicca would have this too if more in the community would give up their dubious claims of unbroken lineages and embrace their own unique and compelling history beginning in the 20th century--but that’s an entirely different soap box. 

8) I want a faith that uses its tenets to actively achieve positive change in the community.

I have to avoid my soap box on this one too, but suffice it to say that Mormons have it all over Pagans on this front. It isn’t that most Pagans don’t have it in their hearts to make service to their communities a priority, they just aren’t out there in a large scale actually doing it. Pagan Pride Day is a good example. Instead of organizing a whole day around patting yourselves on the back, selling occult-y things and ranting about how you are not properly accepted in society, why not spend the day getting all the Pagans in the community to express their faith and pride by cleaning up a park, painting over graffiti, planting trees, etc. Put your values where your hands are and do something with them. Did I say I was going to stay off my soap box?

9) I want a faith that acknowledges Earth as a living organism and her cycles, along with the cycles of the heavens, as representative of the cycles of body and soul.

Now here’s one where Paganism has it all over Mormonism. Though LDS doctrine does acknowledge Earth as a living organism, it doesn’t take that to the next logical step of proper veneration or acknowledging the spiritual lessons apparent within her cycles.

10) I want a faith that demands of itself the same intelligent evolution to a higher spiritual state as it demands of its adherents. 

I think both faiths give a good amount of lip service to this without actually achieving it. 

To sum up, apparently the things I am missing in Paganism are truly equal veneration of Goddess and God; spiritual, ethical and intellectual rigor; a doctrine of eternal progression and attainable Godhood; putting beliefs into action; a true and accessible cultural heritage; and honest evolution toward better, more fluent expression of that faith. I cannot in good conscience say I could find all these missing pieces in Mormonism, nor am I willing to exchange the Pagan pieces for the LDS ones. 

So I am left with even more questions: 

What is the balance here? Am I stuck inventing my own faith or have I simply not found the right fit yet? Should I strive for a combination of my old faith with the new and my own ideals? What would the practice and doctrine of such a combination look like? If I cannot create a tenable combination, will I eventually have to compromise on my heartfelt spiritual desires in order to feel accepted within any one group? Is acceptance more important than finding a point for point fit?

As is usually the case in affairs of the spirit, questioning inevitably leads to more questions--and more blog posts. Stay tuned.

Blessed by the Mystery,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reconnecting with Spiritual Cake--and Wanting to Eat It Too

Tonight I was supposed to go to a game night with some ladies from my local LDS church’s Relief Society. I chickened out at the last minute. There is a part of me that really wants to reconnect with this church--the church of my upbringing, the church that my mother still faithfully attends--but yet there is another part that is deeply frightened of the prospect. Perhaps the thing to do is make a short list of everything I’ve been fearing about the reconnection, thus bringing those fears into the light. Fears tend not to survive in the light but breed like rabbits in the dark, so here goes:
  1. I am worried I will be reminded too much of an abusive situation I was in with an LDS man--not that his being LDS was the reason he did the things he did, or that the church sanctioned what he did in any way, but it was a big part of his identity nonetheless. 
  2. I am worried that if I do reconnect with Jesus, somehow I will have to give away all the deep connections with the Divine Feminine I have made in the five years I have been away from the church. 
  3. What I really want is to have a connection with the church that helps me fellowship with good people, have the power and provenance to do tangible good in the community and celebrate the masculine Divine Mysteries while maintaining my spiritual investment in those same Mysteries as they are associated with the Goddess. I fear I will not be able to achieve this balance. I fear that one side or the other will demand my total fealty to the exclusion of all else. I fear that remaining in the middle will cut me off from both sides completely.
That’s the crux of it I suppose--the fear that I can’t have both in my life and honor them equally--that I have to give up the good of the one for the good of the other even though they are not truly opposed. LDS doctrine makes no bones about the fact that there is a Heavenly Mother--so why is this worry so heavy on my heart? I truly don’t know.

I plan on attending church on Sunday, which is a little less scary as it is a little more anonymous than a purely social gathering like the one planned for tonight. I’ll keep you posted on how some of these worries play out. 

Blessed by the Mystery,

I thought the picture was appropriate as "CTR" in LDS parlance stands for "Choose the Right," which is exactly what I am attempting to do.

I just included this 'cause I like the "pp"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How Not Being Able to Rest in Peace Got Me Thinking About R.I.P.

This post is brought to you today by the Sleep Deprivation Council of Oklahoma, Friends of Restless Puppies Everywhere and A Sincere Desire to Get Some Freaking Decent Sleep for the Love of God, Inc. 

The other day my partner and I were doing errands and a piece came on my iPod that I cheerfully pointed out was the music I wanted to be played at my funeral.

It's October, so we can talk about this stuff right?

The piece is by Vaughan Williams and is called Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

First off, it's a long'un, which I feel is appropriate because I do plan on living to be 152 and a half. As for the body of it: The theme dawns, rises, fades, wanders, pairs, rises, fades, wanders, rises, peaks, backs up, peaks again and fades finally with abject longing--the story of my life, or at least, being in one of those fade/wander spots at the moment, I hope it turns out to be the story of my life.

I take hope in a music so close to the melody of my own heart that finds the path back to miraculous crescendos by way of its own mournful wanderings.

And one more thing: I want to be cremated and put into a ghost urn--the purple one please.

Being as sleep deprived as I am, you didn't really think we could end on such a serious note, did you?


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Challenge and a Letter to the Past

There is this wonderful movement at NaBloWriMo challenging people to blog every day in October. Having just heard about it today, I am a little late to the party, but the challenge resonates with me--especially given my ongoing struggle with writer’s block--so I thought I’d jump right in. Maybe I’ll even go three days over in November, just to get in the full 31. We’ll see. 

Anyway, today’s writing prompt is what advice would I give my 15-year-old self. Here is a picture of me around that age and here is what I would tell her:


There is much darkness ahead of you. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I can’t. You are strong enough to make it through and you will learn much by having endured it, but it will be painful and long, and it is my duty to warn you. Hang on. You are loved now and will find even greater love in your future. All you have to do is keep moving forward, even when you’re unsure of the direction and even when that forward momentum is mere millimeters a day. You will be led to good. You will be led to light.

Also I want you to know that your writing is no mean gift. Yes, you are a beautiful singer and a fine actress, but this writing you have--the words within you--that is your true calling. Attend to it. Honor it. Love it. Work at it. Let it flow. Let it live. Do not compare your work and career trajectory to that of anyone else. You are different, your writing is different, your life is different and it is the sum of all these differences, and your conscious efforts to embrace them, that will make you and your writing shine.

I would like to tell you also that while you seek to honor your gifts, you must also remain humble and teachable. Many great instructors will come your way in the near future and, if you are open-hearted enough to let them, they will mold your creativity in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine. Accept their challenges, learn from their experiences and respect their admonitions. They have forged this path ahead of you and, although you will have your own frontiers to conquer one day, it is best you walk in their footsteps for a time, at least until you get your balance. 
Balance, my love, balance and breathe, broaden your mind and bear your burdens patiently. All is for the best in the end. I swear it.

With All My Heart,
-Your 32-year-old Self

Friday, September 23, 2011

Second Harvest Rite to Demeter and Dionysos

The following is a ritual I developed to celebrate the Autumn Equinox by honoring Demeter and Dionysos as the Great Mother and Father of our physical and spiritual sustenance.  Enjoy!
Second Harvest Rite to Demeter and Dionysos
Originally Written for Autumn Equinox 2010

You Will Need:
Hestia candle
Icons of Demeter and Dionysos
A candle for each Demeter and Dionysos
Large bowl
Feast dishes (provided by participants)

Priestess of Demeter (lady of the house)
Priest of Dionysos (man of the house)
Priest/ess of Hestia
Priest/ess Panagia
Heirophantid of Demeter (youngest girl)
Heirophant of Dionysos (youngest boy)

-all gather in a semi-circle before the altar holding their dish for the feast, except for Priestess Panagia who holds the bowl of grapes for ritual-

-Priest/ess of Hestia approaches altar-

We begin this rite by calling Hestia who is first and last among all the Gods, who is Goddess of hearth and temple fire, of the spiritual center of our world and of all sacred places.

-lights central flame-

Hestia, beloved goddess of the spiritual flame, come and make all that is here holy and sacred in your name. Bring to us the peace and sureness of home and hearth. Bring your purity and beauty to us as we honor you who are the center of the spiritual flame. So mote it be.

-Priestess Panagia approaches the altar and faces the group-

At this time we will make our offerings to the Lord and Lady. Each in your family group place your dish for the feast on the altar with these words: “For Demeter and Dionysos this sacred offering to honor the Mother and Father of all.”

-Priestess Panagia places the bowl of grapes in the center of the altar in front of the Hestia flame. Each group places their feast dish around the table and recites the offertory words-

-Heirophantid of Demeter approaches altar, rings bell and says-

Now we will call the Mother Goddess who is Queen of the golden harvest. She is known as Demeter and by many other names as well.

-Priestess of Demeter approaches the altar-

Lady of all good harvests, our stores are filled again with your generous bounty. O you who are the blessings of earth, who sustains both body and spirit, hail!

-lights the Goddess candle from Hestia’s flame-

Beloved Demeter, you spin out your magic from the mysteries of the seed, bringing us the miracle of life and growth. The riches of the orchard and cultivated field are all born of your power and so we honor the Great Mother of the land. O mother of life, we were born from the infinite seeds of creation and live through the powers of earth. Our spirits rise with your beauty for you are everywhere, in every broad meadow and mountainside, in every lovely field and flower, and in every living and growing thing Today at the blessed Autumnal Equinox, the ending of the second harvest, we honor you, bringing you offerings and praising your name. We thank you for all that you give
and ask that you come and bless this rite with ease and joy. So mote it be!

-Priestess of Hecate approaches the altar, retrieves the athame from the bowl of grapes and turns to face participants-

By Hecate’s blade, the grain was separated from the earth so that the threshing could begin. It is fitting then that at the ending of the second harvest, when seed shall be separated from chaff, for us to note anything we no longer want in our lives and from which we wish to be separated. We approach the altar and raise the blade, praying aloud or silently for whatever it is that might be beneficial for you to be separated from, that it be done so now.

Begin with the words, “By her blade...” When you are done, breathe upon the blade. End with the words “Hail Hecate!” then place the blade back on the altar and return to the circle.

-Priestess of Hecate begins the ritual of the blade which proceeds until all are done-

-Priest of Dionysos approaches the altar-

Now we shall honor the Father God known as Dionysos and by countless other names who, at the Spring Equinox, the time of sacred planting, loved the Mother Goddess in the thrice-plowed field to ensure the bounty of the land.

-lights God candle-

Sacred one of both forest and field, from your own untamed spirit did you receive and then impart the liberation of the wild that lay the foundation for our deepest joy and pleasures, and, as emissary of the Great Mother, from August Demeter did you receive and then impart the arts of agriculture that lay the foundation for civilization. And so we honor you. So mote it be!
-Heirophant of Dionysos approaches altar-

Wise and Wild One, it is with food stores set aside that we may enjoy the luxury of time
in which to pursue our loves with your ecstatic abandon, in which to glorify the museswith your gifts of music, dance, drama, poetry and art, and in which we may honor the Gods with joyous festivals and celebrations. These are the blessings that you, Dionysos, in concord with Her, have given to all of humanity.

Priest of Dionysos:

Treasured God Dionysos, we thank and honor you as we bless this sacred place in your name. So mote it be.

-Priest of Dionysos uncovers the grapes, faces the group and gestures to them-

Grapes, warmed by solar light and nourished by the bosom of the Earth, have long been a symbol of wisdom and passion combined. It is fitting then that at the time of the second harvest, when we enjoy this sacred fruit in its abundance, that we note the abundance in our own lives and pray for abundance in harvests yet to come.

Now we will each approach the altar praying aloud or silently in thanks for what we have and supplication for what we desire, that it be done so now. Begin with the words “By his vigor...” When you are done, choose a single grape. End with the words, “Hail Dionysos...” then pass the grape over His flame before partaking of it.

-Priest of Dionysos begins the rite and each participant follows until all are finished-

-Heirophant of Dionysos fills a cup for each person and offers a toast-

Raise your glasses! Filled with gifts, the chalice of plenty overflows with good fortune. How blessed are we who love and honor the Goddess and God. May we drink from the royal cup! So mote it be.

-Priestess of Demeter and Priest of Dionysos approach altar and face the group-

Priestess of Demeter:

These are the rites of the second harvest and they are now complete in grace and joy.

Priest of Dionysos:

May her blessings proceed unto all. Now, on to the feast!

-Heirophantid of Demeter rings bell joyfully-

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ready, Set, Retrograde!

With the Mercury retrograde beginning today, my original idea for this post was to explore whether or not we should give a great deal of credence to planetary correspondences and behaviors when working magic, After all, shouldn’t we check with our own souls first and add planetary affinity later, if it happens to match up? But then, I as sat down to write, I remembered my first pointed experience with the Mercury retrograde and spell working. I took the hint and, realizing it is probably not such a good idea to tempt the planetary deities by talking about how their correspondences aren’t that important, I decided instead to honor them by sharing that first retrograde experience of which I was reminded.

One of the first spell I ever cast was that I earn an extra $250 to help with expenses. No, let me correct that: Although it was on the tip of my tongue to specify that I wanted to earn the extra money from my writing, I did not say that. Instead, I left it open ended, stipulating only that I receive the money in a way that was not harmful to anyone. 

One week later, on the first full day of a Mercury retrograde, I flipped open my beloved little mac, (her name is Zsa Zsa, but that’s a whole other story), and found that no matter what I did, she would not boot up. The sleek little silhouetted apple that normally comes up when I turn her on was replaced by a blinking question mark and an ominous clicking. There was nothing I could do, so advised the sage techie on the other end of my desperate phone call, but take her in and have her barely two-month-old hard drive completely replaced. And to his question of whether or not I had my information backed up I replied, “Of course not. These things don’t ever happen to people who are prepared for them!” 

So I dragged my ailing Zsa Zsa to the local Mac geek store and stood thunder struck by the quoted costs of scrubbing my necessary data from a defunct hard drive. All the way home my head was reeling with numbers--how could I possibly fit something like that into my budget? And still mentally raiding my bank accounts I walked into my house to find that my off-her-rocker house-mate had moved out--which was expected--but that she had taken the bed I was sleeping on with her--which was definitely not expected.

That night, alone in the house and curled up in a ball on the floor where my bed used to be, I called back home for some ready sympathy and lamented my no good rotten day, how it was all the stupid retrograde’s fault, how I was going to have to pay for a hard drive scrub and a new bed when I barely had enough to meet the bills as it was. and how I should probably just go eat worms. Then my mother, who I had never asked for nor had she ever offered financial assistance before, said, “Well, how about I send you a little help. I don’t know, say $250?”

I just about fell out of my tree--fortunately I didn’t have far to fall, seeing as how I was on the floor. It was one of the most vivid, humorous, and pointed lessons about spell-casting and the effects of retrogrades I have ever learned. The retrograde hadn’t worked against me, really. I got exactly what I asked for plus a winking little lesson about leaving spells too open-ended. I wasn’t angry. In fact, I felt quite loved because frankly, as open-ended as I had left the spell, it could have been much worse. But instead of my world crashing down around me, I was blessed, albeit in a comedy of errors sort of way, with the opportunity to get a new, much more comfortable bed, the new habit of consistently backing up my work, learning my mom is eager and ready to help me when I need it, and, most importantly, strengthening my skill and focus as a witch.

In everything I have read about Mercury retrogrades, it is almost implied that it is a scary, evil time, instead of a time of simple fun and backward blessing. Rather than steering clear of casting at all during this time, perhaps we should take the opportunity to get to know our Mercurial deities better and to ask them to assist us in understanding how the back-wheeling, gently chaotic nature of this time may best be used in our work. 

Blessed by the Mystery,

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Not Only Our Works, But Also Our Words: The Spiritual Shift to Original Prayer

Among the many spiritual shifts I have been experiencing lately has been a reignited longing to create and collect an original, family set of prayers, devotions and hymns. I have a massive collection of other people's devotional work and, although I still respect and enjoy it deeply, these days when I read the work of others while spending devotional time at my altar, I feel somehow uncomfortable. This, I feel, is Spirit giving me a little push--telling me it is time to start forging my own craft--telling me that using my own words to connect with divinity is a natural and healthy outgrowth of the reconnection I have been feeling lately with my true, creative self.

So, for the first time, I am making a resolution to enhance my magical practice and deepen my family tradition by relying solely on my own devotional work and that of my family members, (my fiancee having crafted some truly excellent Sabbat poetry). In this way, our tradition will consist not only of our ways, but also our words. 

In that spirit, I composed this little mealtime prayer today. My aesthetic for everyday devotional work is that it should be meaningful but light, musical, joyous and easy to memorize thus making it a pleasurable and natural addition to the family routine.

Mealtime Prayer
Lords and Ladies of harvest and beast
we thank you for this bounteous feast
and for our dear ones gathered around
with sweet joyful souls and love profound.
We pray you linger near our welcoming hearth
that your presence be with us deep in our hearts.
Blessed be.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Childhood Makeup of a Mercurial Life

I've been thinking a lot about my Great Aunt Kay lately. She passed away nearly twelve years ago. I miss her and I feel her influence in my life all the time. She and my Great Uncle Chuck provided the safest place I knew as a child. When it would thunder I would crawl into bed with them. Even when it didn’t thunder I would crawl into be with them, scooch in between them and sleep happily. I got to doing it so much they called me “the blond bomber”.

I remember once my friend and I saw a show on TV where they promised people free makeovers and, refusing to let the person look at themselves while they put the makeup on, they made them look like clowns or crazy streetwalkers. We decided it would be a good idea to do the same to Aunt Kay. She had an old makeup box full of groovy sixties makeup--greens, yellows and oranges. She ended up with yellow eyeshadow that extended above her eyebrows and coral shaded cheekbones that went pointedly back to her ears making her look a bit like an elf. When we first gave her the mirror to look at herself, she said, “Oh my!” and you could tell for a moment she wasn’t sure how to react--her first concern not not being her clown face but whether or not reacting to it as a clown face would hurt our feelings.

Had we intended to use lip gloss to highlight her hairline?

My friend and I burst out laughing and she did too--a breathy laughter mixed with relief that no, these children knew better.

What we didn’t know however was how hard it was to get makeup that old off of someone with such fragile skin as hers. Now that I think about it, it was a fitting revenge in a way--after we had all laughed about it, my friend and I went to wipe it off and couldn’t get one bit of it to budge. She let us prod and pull and near panic before she told us that she had some cold cream that would take care of it with no problem.

Now, right at this moment, twenty years later I am realizing that this might have been intentional--a little practical joke gotcha back--letting us develop heart palpitations--letting us suffer just a bit before telling us she could fix it. My Aunt Kay was like that--a slightly shady, impish, extremely intelligent and sharply humored lady--a lovingly Mercurial lady who impressed that presence onto my life from my earliest years. No wonder I delight to hear the laughing leaves dancing in the wind and feel my heart lift to bask in the endless prairie sky. I'm a Hermes girl and have been, apparently, for a very, very long time.

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Friday, July 22, 2011

Reconciling the Wheel--The "Meat" of Our Creation

I am attracted to the Mother/Father sacred marriage cycle through the Wheel of the Year as is commonly known among witches, but have been thinking lately that I will have to adapt it a bit because, as it stands, it doesn’t entirely make sense to me. Why is it the God is the only one who truly goes through the cycle of death and rebirth? How does the Goddess go from Crone at Samhain, to Mother at Yule, to Maiden at Ostara, etc.?

I don’t know why I am so obsessed with figuring out our Wheel of the Year--that I feel compelled to deal with that before anything else. I think it is because that is the way I work creatively. I like to have a skeleton first on which to hang the “meat” of the creation. I wonder if it was like that for our Divine Parents?

Anyway, the Wheel of the Year gives us a structure for the time in our lives and it also gives us our basic mythology. I truly love the Eleusinian Wheel I created once, but it isn’t entirely representative of my/my family’s beliefs. There are other things mixed in and I was always especially uncomfortable with the male aspect being conspicuously absent from celebrating that way. When I stand outside I see the earth and I think of my Mother. I look at the heavens and the order of the stars and I see my Father. I feel the wind blow and I feel the love and presence of the rest of my Divine Family--Hermes in the wind, Hestia in the warmth of our home, Hecate at the crossroads and Hephaistos in my physical limitations and my greatest creative labor.

I think our Wheel of the Year should be the marriage cycle but with a bit of tweaking here and there because I don't believe all God/esses are an aspect of a single Mother and Father. I believe that just as we are children of our Mother Godess and Father God, so other children of theirs have ascended to become deities of their own, like Hermes, for example. Further, I don’t believe the Earth itself or the moon itself is Goddess, nor do I believe the Sun and Stars are God. I believe these are the things they have designed into our wonderful world to remind us of their presence, to teach us about the nature of our bodies and spirits and also to teach us that they too have gone through these cycles in their form of mortality. I do not believe the Goddess and God were born so. I believe they were born mortal, in separate times, and each went through the mortal cycle because these cycles are eternal. It is as if our Earth is set up so that the story of our Mother teaches us the cycles of our spirit and emotions, whereas the the story of our Father is more the lesson of the cycles of our physical presence--our actual existence and the existence of our souls.

All of that is to explain why the Mother Goddess does not die, nor does she age down or up in chronological order. She teaches us that at any given time in our journey, we are all Maiden, Mother and Crone, or Youth, Warrior and Sage. We cast on our different aspects depending on what is happening within us. I suppose that’s a good shorthand for what I was saying before. The story of our Mother teaches us the cycles of our within, whereas the story of our Father teaches us the cycles of our without. The God, however, represented in the sun and the active principles of growth, much more literally dies and is reborn throughout the course of the year thus, as I said, teaching us the cycles of our actual physical presence in any given plane of existence.

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Monday, July 18, 2011

Crafting a Hearth Tradition: Intimate Magic, Everyday Spirit

As I proceed along the path of trying to develop a personal witchcraft tradition radiating out from sacred home and hearth, I am beginning to learn that part of having a "hearth" tradition is using what you have around that hearth to create your rituals and work your magic. In days gone by, the wise women and men of the village didn't go to Ye Olde Occult Shoppe to get their spiritual supplies. They used the cauldron in which they also cooked dinner, the besom they also used to sweep the house, a wand from a felled tree branch, a blade they also used to prepare meals--and on and on. Because these tools were consecrated to magical purposes as well as used in everyday life, I imagine it brought a great deal of depth to the daily chores. Every time they swept the floor it was an act of both physical and spiritual cleansing. Every time they cut into an apple or trimmed the fat from a piece of meat it reminded them of the cycles of life, death and rebirth.  I am a big proponent of things becoming spiritually significant not by being put away and hidden from view and/or use, but by being handled, used and thought upon daily--by witnessing and absorbing the energies of the household's life. How better to imprint your own energy into an item than exposing that item to your energy as much as possible?

This is what I would like to duplicate in our family tradition--using what we have on hand to make our spirituality more intimate and our everyday work more spiritual.

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley