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

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hades: Good Guy, Bad Press

Inspired by a Twitter friend posting thanks to Hades for having found a lovely home, I thought I would repost this from the Soul Bites Blog archives. Enjoy!

After watching the wonderful Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I went online and poked around the IMDB message boards a bit, (yes, I'm that big of a film nerd). I found this post quite provocative:

In the original Greek mythsHades was a fairly stand up guy. Yes, he ruled over the Greek equivalent of Hell, but he also handled the Greek equivalents of Heaven, Purgatory, the Pearly Gates, etc. Persephone's main complaint about being his wife was not that he was cruel- he lavished her with all the luxury he could afford, and he was the richest of the gods-  but because he was her father's older brother, and thus considerably older than her.

Greek myth is full of awesomely evil monstrous beings, from Titans to the offspring of Typhon and Echidna, to those cursed by gods (of which, Hades was responsible for far less than many of his brethren... Athena, who's almost always portrayed as kind and generous, turned a woman into a spider for BEING A BETTER WEAVER for crying out loud). Why  do modern storytellers think Hades makes such a great villain?

Mostly the responses to this post focused on what Persephone's real grievances were with Hades, which for me is far less interesting than the actual question posed, (especially because I don't believe Persephone actually had grievances with Hades. Standard Homer aside, I think she was not quite "all unwilling".)

In my opinion, the reason we see mainstream media vilifying Hades is that it is difficult for a mind steeped in Christian mythos to accept the ruler of "Hell" as anyone other than Satan himself. In this system of thinking, Hades being portrayed as he actually is would probably cause an outrage. Hades is the judge of souls for both good and ill and Persephone is the intermediary--the two together representing justice tempered with mercy--the exact dynamic between Christ and "God the Father".

And how dare we, even in the interest of accuracy, compare these Pagan deities so directly to the Christian ones? How dare we imply that the Christian mythos is not entirely original?

When a story dares to honor the Gods by educating a new generation about them, I think it is acceptable to make a few concessions like this to avoid the project being quashed before it ever sees the light of day. The real trick is making it provocatively accurate enough to inspire people to investigate the myth behind the myth and, hopefully, the deeply moving spirituality behind it all.

Blessed by the Mystery,

Thursday, July 14, 2011

In the Nobly Halting Footsteps of Hephaistos

Let’s talk a little bit about Hephaistos. I’m not sure why he’s so much on my mind today--maybe because it’s as hot outside as it must be in his forge--but there he is, urging me forward to give a small accounting of how he came into my life, so here we go:

It started with a terrible dream. I had only been living with my fiance for a month or so when I awoke with a start after dreaming, in the consciousness of Hephaistos, that I had been horribly disregarded and cheated on. I don’t remember the details of the dream, but the feeling was ALIVE--the crushing weight of a breaking heart, the fire of loneliness, anger and confusion. I had seen Aphrodite, goddess of love, goddess of my heart, turn her back on me and all the tender gifts of my talent I had offered her, while she chose instead to embrace brutish war. Then, when I went to rise from my dream, I could barely walk--my feet and legs being so battered by the stand-in-one-spot-for-eight-hours job I had been doing at Wal-Mart for nearly a year. In other words, I woke up feeling in mind and body how the myths tell us Hephaistos must have felt through his various mythical trials--born club-footed and rejected outright by the Goddess he loved.

But why, I wondered, would he come to me at that moment? I wasn’t having troubles in love. In fact, I was happier with my fiance than I had ever been in my life. It didn’t dawn on me what he was getting at until later that day when I found myself crying my way to work--dreading it in body and soul. You see, I moved to Oklahoma from Nashville where I had worked for Wal-Mart for about eight months. At my Nashville store I had what I have come to learn was a very atypical experience. Even though I am visually disabled, I was never made to feel lesser than other employees, I was valued for my work, my co-workers loved me and I adored them right back, and just about every day was a pleasure. When I transferred to a store here in Oklahoma however--a change necessary for my fiance and I to be together--things were very different, (and this, I fear, is more typical of Wal-Mart). The minute they found out I had a visual limitation I was treated like absolute trash. My manager constantly gave me jobs I could not possibly do in the time frame allotted me because of my eyesight--like cataloging a thousand belts by bar code number--then she would berate me in front of other employees for not completing them. I was a pariah. No one wanted to befriend me because they saw I was the manager’s whipping girl and, as the immortal saying goes, shit rolls down hill.

So I was miserable--absolutely miserable. The gifts I had to offer were not being honored, in fact, I was never even allowed to present them in the first place because of hasty judgments made of me based on my disability, much like Hephaistos who is probably the most talented of the Gods and, at the same time, the most underestimated and rejected.

So that day at work and for many days following I offered up prayers to him asking what I should do. How should I handle my situation in a manner befitting his morally upright and hard working influence?

The answer came: I should quit. It is not noble, he taught me, to abase yourself for pennies and to continually allow yourself to be mistreated. It is noble however to take the frightening leap away from abuse and honor your real talents by pursuing them with dogged determination.

And that is what I did. I quit my Wal-Mart job to pursue my writing and homemaking full time and I pray every day I am given the energy, strength and inspiration to honor his influence with my efforts.

I offer Lord Hephaistos this hymn:

Father Hephaistos,
be here among us.
Mighty and gentle and lord
I lay my hands in yours.
Teach me your art.
Enflame my heart.
Father, I am yours to mold.

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cry of the Un-Crafty Witch

I grew up Mormon and although I still hold great respect for that faith, one of the issues I started having with the church around the time I hit puberty was this weird social pressure that somehow in order to be a real Mormon woman you must be into crafting, a whiz in the kitchen and want nothing more in life than to serve your family. The reason I’ve been thinking about this lately is that contemporary witchcraft is similar. There is a huge emphasis on real witches being crafty and herb-growing and cake-baking and barefoot-in-the-grass-loving. But what about those of us who couldn’t handcraft a decent wand if our magical abilities depended on it--whose cakes always fall--whose homes are rarely tidy--who connect being barefoot in the grass with a good way to get hookworm and not much else? How odd I should fall from one faith tradition demanding this kind of domesticity in order to be holy, to another that almost seems to demand this kind of domesticity in order to be spiritually potent. 

Where is the Book of Shadows for the un-crafty witch? 

Perhaps I should start one where I could say things like, “Drawing prosperity is just as easily achieved through writing your desire in green ink, inwardly spiraling, as it is through masticating homegrown patchouli with a mortar and pestle you sculpted and fired in your own kiln.”

Or, “Communion with nature can just as easily be achieved by sitting outside at night in a comfy chair on your patio, looking up, studying the constellations and talking to the Gods as it can by running naked through a meadow on Midsummer’s Day.”

Or, “Supporting your local growers by frequenting a farmer’s market honors the land just as growing your own produce would.”

Let me add here how deep my admiration is for those witches who are naturally crafty and connected with the outdoors. I can’t even begin to tell you how awed I am by their gifts. I just wish there were more celebration of and resources for those of us who possess altogether different gifts, yet are no less magical for it.

Blessed by the Mystery,
-M. Ashley

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Is It Really Possible to Offend the Gods?

I’ve noticed that offending the Gods isn’t something I’ve ever worried a whole lot about. Even when I flirted with Religio Romana, I would often take the piacular offering out of rituals--the one that says, essentially, "I give you this gift so you won’t squash me if I accidentally got a word wrong and pissed you off." 
In general I have never been a big fan of squash-happy Gods. Isn’t that one reason I fled Christianity? 
Anyway, I tend to look at it like this: 
As far as the Gods are concerned we are very much like little children. We demand a lot, have a great capacity for love and learning but also a great capacity for crankiness and temper tantrums when we don’t get exactly what we want when we want it. And just as loving parents must correct the bad behavior, they certainly aren’t going to abandon or harm the child because it was naughty. In fact, after correcting the behavior, they are more likely to look at each other with knowing smiles and remember, ah, we were once like that ourselves. 
But there’s another level to this. A good deal of reconstructionists aren’t even worried about offending the Gods when they’re spiritually naughty--their main concern is offending the Gods while they’re attempting to be spiritually upright. They worry that somehow by not doing a ritual or saying a prayer just so, the Gods will, as I said, begin to get squash happy, thunder will roll, and every good connection to that deity they’ve worked for will be immediately cleft in twain.
Imagine if you will a young child makes you a gift of a clay ashtray they made at summer camp and they present it to you with all the open-hearted love and personal pride they can muster. Now, you don’t smoke and the thing looks like an autopsy in fluorescent pink Play-doh, but do you smash the ashtray, smack the child, admonish and abandon them? No. You probably get all misty, take the ashtray into your own hands and heart as the sacred object of love’s bond that it represents and display it proudly in your dwelling long after the child even remembers making it. 
It is the same with Gods--or it must be if they are the ascended paragons we hold them out to be. We offer whatever we can with our best effort, love and intention and they receive it exactly in the spirit it was intended. They are happy with it, we are happy with them and the mighty soul swells.
Blessed by the Mystery,

Soul Bites Resurrection

Two pieces of writing advice have been niggling at me lately. First, that if a writer is to start actually finishing projects, she must look through the old unfinished ones and weed out those that are gasping their last breaths. The second piece of advice? “Kill your darlings.” 
So, I looked through my “darlings” and realized that my dear old grande dame of a blog, Soul Bites Blog, has been on her last legs for some time--at least in her current incarnation. I set out with that blog to show the world all the things I “know” about Paganism, but lately I have been blogging less and less there and not really enjoying the posts I do manage to put up. 
But why? What’s the problem?
The problem is that as I have matured in my spirituality, I have realized that what I “know” about Paganism, and especially about my own Paganism, isn’t enough to fill a blog day after day, or, for that matter, even make a compelling Tweet. The more I have learned about the vast spectrum of Paganism and my own leanings within it, the more I have realized there is an eternity of that learning yet to acquire and I, at best, am a neophyte. 
So I decided: My darling SBB must bite the big one...
...and yet...
In the tradition of Mithra, Persephone, InannaAdonis, Jesus and all good ascending and revivifying God/esses that have gone this road before, perhaps SBB shouldn’t stay dead. Perhaps she should ascend, transcend and resurrect herself with a new message and modus operandi, namely, to stop purporting to be an arbiter of Pagan knowledge and instead come out as an honest accounting of one Pagan writer’s journey to find her peculiar place in spirit, word-craft and world. 
Thus Soul Bites begins again--leaner, meaner, and keener. I can’t promise you will find definite knowledge here, but hopefully you will find inspiration to pursue your own knowledge, comfort in shared confusion and joy in abject honesty.
May we enjoy the journey together.