Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sacrifice, Blood, and Pain: Are You Willing to Suffer to Learn?

"You have come to the Craft to learn.  Are you willing to suffer to learn?"  Many times through the years I have been asked if I was willing to suffer to learn my Craft.  Each time, I answered in the affirmative.  So often we believe the suffering to be emotional suffering, letting go or maybe being dragged kicking and screaming before letting go.  However, my personal gods and I go back many years.  We walked this path for some time before I came into group practice, and on occasion, they ask me for a sacrifice.  Usually, this sacrifice involves blood and pain.  For those reading this who may be new to the Craft, I hope your head hasn't caught fire and you haven't run away screaming at the mention of blood sacrifice.  I am fully aware that this is a taboo topic among many Wiccans because we should always 'harm none', and this includes not harming ones self.  The fact is, though, sometimes the gods want to know just how serious their children are about what they ask for (at least my gods do).

Many people who know me, know that Hekate and Ares are my matron and patron deities.  Many who discovered this after getting to know me warned me to 'be careful', as though I had some choice in the matter.  The often hard-headed student needs stern deities, and these two fit the bill.  They accept my offerings (on most occasions).  They nod in the affirmative when I do good.  They have been known to pick me up and toss me back on to my path when I stray.  It is not an easy walk, but if I did things the easy way, I probably wouldn't be where I am today, so I wouldn't change a single step.

Yesterday, I was at work and utilizing my ability to do menial tasks while 'checked out'.  I do that often.  Only a small amount of my consciousness needs to be doing the task, so I will simply 'check out' and go about my spiritual work.  I was designing my Samhain ritual and preparing for my visit to the Underworld.  Hekate and Ares were there and She was listening to me be a selfish child, telling Her what I am going to do and how and that I would like these certain things changed.  She then cocked Her head to the side and cut Her eyes at Ares.  I think they were having a silent conversation, the details of which I have not been privy to.  He smirked and She smacked me in the forehead.  This wasn't a hard smack, it was mostly to get my attention.  And get my attention She did!

"You ask for these things," She said when I stopped chittering away, "but you haven't given us a proper sacrifice in a very long time.  You have been thinking about getting rid of those scars.  Now is the time to do it.  Today."  In deity-speak She said, "Go get your ear re-pierced in Our names.  Your blood is Ours; you are Our child.  Your pain is Ours.  Make it so."  Samhain night it will be 5 years since She claimed me as Her daughter.  In willingly bleeding for my gods and giving them the pain They ask for, I remind myself that I asked for these changes.  I remind myself that I ask for this growth.

Blood sacrifice isn't about killing, maiming, or disfiguring.  It isn't about the taking of another life essence.  For me blood sacrifice is about giving fully.  It is about understanding the seriousness of what I am asking.  Blood sacrifice is about the ultimate gift.  "I give to you, Oh Lady and Lord, that which holds me on this plane of existence."  Even more than that, the act of ritual blood-letting (in all of its forms) always involves pain of some kind.  For my gods, the blood is the immediate outcome of the sacrifice, but it is the ongoing pain afterward and the healing process that is truly my sacrifice to them.

I don't like physical pain of any kind.  It's not that I can't endure it because I have a high tolerance for it, but I just don't like it.  My gods know this.  So, when they ask for sacrifice, it is usually in the form of ink of some kind or getting something pierced.  This sacrifice is two-fold, on my part.  There is the immediate blood and pain, which is offered in a short prayer and evocation at the moment it happens and then there is the ongoing pain, which is acknowledged and reverently offered up multiple times a day until there is no pain any more.  The second part is an important reminder to me that I asked for it.  It helps me to keep moving forward when I don't believe I can.  That physical pain reminds me that I don't have to shoulder the burden of change, that I can, indeed, leave that which no longer helps me grow right where it is.  It reminds me that I do not have to carry it with me, that I can simply accept it and move on.  There are those out there who do not need a physical reminder of this.  I recognize that I have not grown to that point in my life just yet, so I need that reminder and willingly accept it.

So, for the next few months, this particular sacrifice will be in the forefront of my mind.  My favorite word will become, "Ow!" and it will be a constant reminder of my need and my willingness for the changes to come.  As I descend into the darkness of the death of the year and explore the darkness that resides within myself I will become blind, but this sacrifice will be a reminder of the constant companionship I have within the depths of the cauldron.  This pain will be a reminder that all things are temporary and all things are an illusion.  This sacrifice will remind me to keep moving forward and it will remind me that at the end of the darkness of death is the light of rebirth.

Remember, friends, that we have all come to the Craft to learn and we must be willing to suffer to learn.  If we aren't willing to suffer, then we aren't changing.  If we aren't changing, then we aren't growing.  If we aren't growing, then we aren't fulfilling the plans of the gods. Sometimes we must embrace the darkness to find the light.

Brightest blessings, friends!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Loyalty: When do you give it and when do you give it up?

The subject of loyalty has been has been an ongoing theme in my life for some months now.  Not just what it is, but what loyalty isn't.  When does one stop being loyal to another and for what reason?  Most importantly, though, when is loyalty simply an illusion being cast?

The question of true loyalty versus illusion is something I have battled hard with, as of late.  Is loyalty one of those mutually beneficial relationships?  Both parties give and they receive from one another, but once the giving and receiving is over, what is left?  Is it an emotion?  Is it an expectation?  What happens when one party can no longer fulfill his or her end of the relationship in the same manner as before?  Does the relationship evolve and the parties find other ways to benefit each other or does the relationship breakdown completely and both parties end up going their separate ways?  The above makes loyalty sound like some kind of dysfunctional relationship based solely upon two parties using each other to get what they each want.  While this is how I see people using their loyalty, as something to barter with, I do not believe loyalty is something to be used in this manner.

I think back to my own friends and family and to those whom I have been quite loyal to through the years.  They are the people in my life who have not asked for much, but have given much in return.  This giving has inspired me to give back to them, not because I felt that I had to, but because I wanted to.  Even now, there are people in my life whom I have not spoken to in years, if they called upon me for anything I would do my best to fulfill their need.  I would do this, not for the 'reward' of being able to say that I was the one who did it, but because they thought enough of me to ask and because I know that if I were in the same place, they would do the same for me.  That is loyalty in my mind.  It is thinking highly enough of a person to go to them when you are in need, but also that person knowing that they can come to you when they are in need, no matter the time or distance.

So, if loyalty is giving what you can, when you can, then what about those people who like to cast the illusion of loyalty?  What about those people who say they are loyal, but their actions speak to something else?  Have you ever known anyone to look at you and smile and tell you that you can help them (when you offer) and yet they never present to you a way to help?  I have had many people in my life who have done this exact thing.  People who tell me, "Yes, you can help, but first I need to...."  Then, they don't proceed with the next step.  This mentality leaves me with expectations that are never fulfilled and, often, never again acknowledged by the other party.  After a time, these unfulfilled expectations are put to the side with feelings of resentment.  I have offered of myself, offered of my loyalty and willingness to do whatever I can because I want to help, and it is met with feigned enthusiasm and tossed to the side for whatever reason.  For my effort I am damned to failure without ever being able to try.  It often makes me wonder what these people really thought of me.

In my brain, that is not loyalty.  In my brain, that is using someone.  That is keeping up the illusion that a person matters to you when, in reality, they don't.  People are not meant to be used and then thrown away.  If a person is perceived to no longer be of use to you, then you should have the courage to tell them so.  You should have the honor to be able to look them straight in the eye and tell them that they are of no benefit to you.  This way, that person isn't left with expectations that are unreal and unfulfilled.  This way, that person knows exactly where they stand with you and there is no question of why things happened in the way they did.

I am learning much about the 'takers' in my life.  Their words speak volumes, but their actions scream their true intentions.  If loyalty is giving without expectation, at what point does one stop giving?  Is it when the disappointment becomes to great?  Well, that implies expectation.  So, then, can one stop giving and still be loyal?  It is a paradox.  If I offer my loyalty and you accept, then you create an expectation within me.  If that expectation goes unanswered, then disappointment is created in that place of expectation.  So, then, loyalty comes down to a matter of communication.  It is difficult to tell a person that you no longer need his or her help, especially after you have accepted it, yet, that giving back (with or without explanation) is owed to that person.  If they keep giving and you keep taking and doing nothing with it, then suddenly they will stop giving, whether or not you notice.  Once that happens, it probably means their illusions are shattered and they are no longer loyal to you and your purpose.  It also probably means that they have stopped caring to the same degree they used to.  Maybe they stopped caring all together.

A weird little holy man once told me, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."  Keep this in mind as you offer and accept the help you want and give in your life because as people begin to see by your actions that their offers to help aren't appreciated, then they will stop offering.  Remember to always keep your word.  If you spend your life giving your word and not following through, people begin perceiving you as selfish.  As men and women of the Craft, we walk a path of service:  Service to our Gods.  Service to our community.

Brightest blessings, friends! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Mundane Life Mirrors the Spiritual: What is Yours Saying?

As a neophyte, I was taught that ones mundane life had to be in order for one to get his or her spiritual life in order.  That is a concept that, instinctually, I understood, but I had issues grasping the concept in a real world setting.  Until now, that is.  It occurred to me that I haven't had very good examples of that, but that I also haven't been a very good example of that, either.

There is this thought within the pagan community that leaders must near impoverished.  Why?  Why is that, exactly?  Can pagan leaders not have a nice place to live, a decent vehicle, and be able to pay their bills without asking for hand-outs?  Is there some unwritten rule that, as leaders and clergy within the pagan community, we must turn our back on materialism in all forms and struggle to make sure that our most basic of needs are met?  Is there some unwritten rule that we must take into our homes any and all who are in need and ask for nothing monetary in return?  Why?  Why do we do this?  Is it our duty to overextend ourselves to the point of breaking?

On more than one occasion, I have seen leaders in the community do this.  I have seen them take in mouths that they couldn't feed.  I have seen them quit jobs, on a whim, that were needed.  I have seen them get in a bind and have to ask the community to help.  I have been one of the ones helping, even when I didn't, necessarily, have it to give.

Another notion I whole-heartedly reject is that paying dues to ones church or group is akin to tithing.  I wonder, often, if this is an excuse by the members of the group.  Do the members of the group see their spiritual leaders living an unconventional lifestyle and not want to help out because, due to their own concepts (and if said leader is able), they believe many of the money issues would go away if the leader simply got a regular job?  Alternately, maybe the members see the communal living situation and believe that one or more of the able bodied people living there could find work.

I have been there, living with some of my spiritual family, with no income and wondering just how in the fuck I was going to contribute.  Very quickly, I found a job and, very quickly, I worked out with them just how I was going to contribute, not just monetarily, but with sweat equity.

So, if our mundane lives mirror our spiritual lives, what does it say about those who give to the point of poverty?  What does it say about those who take to the point that their leaders are impoverished?  What does it say about those who prefer to take hand-outs to doing the work themselves, physically (if they are able)?  What does it say about those who refuse to do the 'Christian' thing to help out their leaders?  What does it say about the few who see the need in their church and seek to fulfill it, not out of some selfish need to be recognized, but because there is a need to be filled.

When we, as pagans, stop seeing this effort over another with our leaders and start seeing the needs that need to be fulfilled, we come together better as groups.  We grow as people and as groups.  My own thinking, as a student, was that if I had the money to buy myself 5 candles, then I could give 3 of them to my own group.  If I could afford to buy 4 boxes of incense, then I could give 2 of them to my group.  If I could spend $20 on food for myself, then I could spend a little more and make sure that my high priest and priestess had what they needed, even if I was just buying sweets that they normally wouldn't buy themselves.

I did these things, not because I had to.  I did these things because they were needed and I had the means.  Unfortunately, I do not have the means to give like I used to, at least not in a monetary way, and back then, I resented some of the people in my church because they didn't see things the way I did.  However, I have come to learn that most people don't see the world in the way I do.  They don't look at the world in terms of 'what can I give'.  That isn't something I can change in them.  I can only do my part and be a good example of giving when and where I can.

If the mundane and spiritual mirror each other, maybe we should all stop and examine our lives for a moment.  What parts of our mundane life cause us discontent?  Why is that?  What is the spiritual equivalent? The wheel is turning to Samhain and the light is turning inward.  As we come to the final reaping of this year, the time is approaching to look inside ourselves and decide what we will manifest in the coming year.  Think about, not yourself, but your teachers, Elders, and friends.  Think about how you can manifest the things in your life that can benefit others.  Think about how you can set an example.  Think about how your mundane life mirrors your spiritual life and how you can grow and improve it.

Brightest blessings, friends!