Sunday, October 30, 2005

"She changes everything She touches and everything She touches changes"

I've been sitting here playing Mah Jong trying to think about what I would write about witchy stuff on this Samhain. Was this to be a post about my path to here or about my current practice and beliefs?

And, not surprisingly, I've decided to go with a combination. This may be a longer post...although I'm not sure.

I was born into a family that was solidly Lutheran. I was baptized Lutheran and taken to church every Sunday. I learned to recite the Lord's Prayer and most of the liturgy of the service before I could read. Like most kids, I squirmed during services...used the bulletin to draw and color on. Interestingly, it never occurred to me to bring a book into service to read. Perhaps the one place that books never went. Although, there were all sorts of things to read in the hymnal, so there you go.

I went through the confirmation process, and figured out pretty quickly that I actually sort of understood things in the Bible. I got the analogies, they made sense to me. Confirmation camp was a revelation on several levels...I began to understand a connection that was deeper...I interpreted this connection to the Lutheran God...but I now recognize that it was the divine (in whatever name we attribute to it) that I was connecting to. It may not shock you to learn that it was among the trees by the lake that I felt it the strongest.

I started college and connected with the campus ministry. It was wonderful. I met one of my mentors there, and, most blessedly, they gave me a part-time job which I kept throughout my college years. I'll call my mentor MomToo. MomToo had a way of encouraging people to think for themselves. She also had a retreat house, which I was fortunate enough to visit many times. It was one of the most peaceful spaces that I have been...surrounded again by trees and water. I once saw a mouse eaten by a snake there. Not something a city kid even imagines.

I felt permission, because of MomToo, to branch out. I read things far outside of Lutheran doctrines. I learned about gnosticism. Then one week, I went to a retreat on Native American spirituality. At this point, I was already fully aware of my connection to the the energy of it. Especially, to the trees (trees are amazing). The ideas in this retreat really resonated with me. But, I also knew, that somehow I wasn't called to follow that belief system.

I joined Lutheran Volunteer Corps a year later. The rough plan at that time was that I would spend a year in LVC, then I would apply for seminary and become a Lutheran pastor. I'm not sure how I thought this would work, but it was the plan at the time.

But several things became blindingly obvious not long after moving away from Minnesota. 1) That I could no longer be oblivious to my feelings of attraction to women...I was going to have to start the painful emergence of coming out as bi. 2) That I could no longer be oblivious to the way that the church felt about queer people. 3) Okay...this one actually came about 6 months in - That I no longer believed the basic premise upon which Christianity was predicated: that Jesus was divine. Well, I should say that I no longer believed that Jesus was anymore divine than you or I.

I was introduced to the writings of Starhawk, who along with the Reclaiming Collective, did much to reignite the practice of witchcraft in the US. I began reading and doing my own small rituals. Eventually, I went to some really powerful workshops and got to have conversations with people who had different ideas about spirituality and the connection of the divine to the world.

Then about 6 or 7 years ago, I started to notice that I was really curious about Freyja. She's a norse goddess...the goddess of Sex and Love. She is considered one of the most beautiful in the pantheon, and married into the Asir gods in order to end the war between the Asir and Vanir gods. She is perhaps the most powerful of the goddesses...she is the bringer of magic (and as such the guardian of witchcraft). She is also the Queen of the Valkyries, and it is she, not Odin, who has the first pick of the fallen warriors on the field of battle. Her twin, Freyr, is the quintessential Green Man...

When I came out here to California, I visited an Asatru group, but found that I just didn't fit in. I don't feel drawn to all the gods in the norse pantheon...just Freyja, primarily, and through her Freyr. I still really felt comfortable with the practices of witchcraft (which the Asatru don't follow), and so I settled on the idea of being a norse witch. Honoring, primarily a norse goddess and god, while still maintaining a practice which comes out of a Celtic tradition.

My practice is solitary...which means that most of my "stuff" I do at home. I do occassionally attend public rituals, and for a time, led several through my church. It's a revelation to me to lead ritual. I love the feeling of creating that time out of time for people to really connect with the divine in themselves.

I'm not terribly regulated in my practice...I don't have a full-moon ritual every month. I always honor Samhain, but it takes many different forms. This year, I will be having a small ritual and may try to do some divination. I do pray still. I took comfort in it when I was a Christian and I still take comfort in it. I chant or sing my prayers at times. I read tarot and sometimes work with the runes. I think of these as ways of connecting and gaining insight more than as "tell me what's going to happen" kind of tools.

My belief system, roughly, is this. I believe that there is a divine force in this universe. I don't understand it fully, but I believe that all things are a part of it. I don't think that we can exclude anything, even if it feels "dead" to us. I believe that we, as humans, make sense of the divine in many and complicated ways by naming gods. I do not believe that any god, even from monotheistic traditions, is fully the divine. I don't think we have the capacity to define the divine fully.

My own connection to the divine is through Freyja and Freyr most strongly. I think that this is because they are my teachers and healers and, in some way, an internal reflection of myself. They are, sort of, my Jungian archtypes for this lifetime. I do believe in reincarnation.

Samhain, what we commonly call Halloween, is the witches new year. This is the time of the year when the veil between the earthly realm and the spirit realm is the thinnest. This is a time to remember those who've been born, and those who've died in the year past. (Hence why All Saint's Day in the Christian traditions are now...stealing another pagan holiday.) It is a time to connect with ancestors or honor those who've gone before you.

I think that's all I want to write right now. I do want to leave this open, though...if any of you have questions about my story or about my beliefs, please feel free to ask.

Have a blessed Samhain...and a Happy Halloween!


spinsterwitch said...

And congratulations for making it to the end of that post...Dang!

I swear, with NaNoWriMo starting on Tuesday, there will not be posts quite so long...but I will continue to post

Aravis said...

It was a wonderful post, Spin. Your beliefs and mine are very, very similar. While I enjoy Norse gods and legends, they don't fit largely in my own practices. In many ways though, I like them more than their more widely known counter-parts, the Greek and Roman gods. I also will use runes, tarot or the Druid Animal Oracle cards as means of focus. And too, my energy comes from the earth. Thank-you for sharing such personal beliefs. I love how you've followed your heart to your spirituality, and made it your own.

cutie said...

Good Grief Girl!
The more you post, the more I think we are twins separated at birth.

From one Pagan to another...

Happy New Year~!!!



Mr Mystic said...

Mrs, Mystic is Lutheran also, thats because she is a Finn and 90% of finns are Lutheran.

Lord Bargain said...

I am not a great follower or fan of religion, as a whole, but I do respect those who have explored any number of possible options and made an informed and personal decision on what works for them.

It's all this brainwashing and indoctrination I can't abide.

so, good for you. "I settled on the idea of being a Norse witch" is hardly something you'd do unadvisedly, I imagine.

Bee said...

That was a very interesting post, Spins.

I think I have more or less the same thoughts as you about the "divine". I started out being brought up and schooled in the Church of England, then went veering from that to outright atheism, then decided: no, hang on, that's not right; there's definitely something going on, it's just not the God that they used to talk about in school assembly. It's more something, some sort of divine force, that's inside everybody. That's when I realised I was more gnostic than agnostic.

I started reading the tarot too a couple of years back. That and the I Ching. They're both very useful tools for opening up the mind and helping you see things a different way.

Happy New Year!

PS. You may be interested to know that my NaNoWriMo novel will have lots of stuff about trees in it.

the urban fox said...

FANTASTIC! This is the mystical explanation post I was looking forward to!

You explained it all very well too. I don't know anything much about Norse gods or earth magic etc, and find all aspects of the subject endlessly fascinating.

Here are 2 questions for you.

1. What's your view on things like telepathy, psychic powers, pre-cognitive visions or predictive dreams? Do these phenomena fit in at all with your own spiritual and philosophical views? Am genuinely interested in your thoughts.

2. Why does this sentence:

"This is the time of the year when the veil between the earthly realm and the spirit realm is the thinnest."

make me feel a bit scared?
(I typed 'sacred' at first... whoa)

the urban fox said...

PS: The 'all things are one' thing you mention overlaps substantially with Buddhist thought, which is interesting.

Happy witching new year, dear Spinny.

red one said...

Don't worry about the length of the post, Spin, cos it was fascinating, both the Samhain explanation and the "how I got here" bit.

I'm a dedicated atheist, but I think trees are amazing too.

Happy new year!


red one said...

er, Spin, if we're posting questions for you here, I wonder if you'd mind expanding on witches and women sometime. My understanding is that women tend to have a greater role in witchcraft and that it's generally quite female centred. And I think it is mainly women who have traditionally been persecuted as "witches" - whether they actually had any involvement in it or not.

Is any of this true? Or just a stereotype? And I'd be interested in your thoughts about it either as truth or stereotype.... doesn't have to be now or anything.


spinsterwitch said...

Wow, this is obviously a great topic. Yay!

Answer's for fox's questions:
1. Telepathy, psychic abilities, pre-cognitive visions and predictive dreams are all things that are possible in my beliefs; however, I have never experienced them. I am a bit suspicious of people who use their "powers" for profit, but I do believe that we do not understand the workings of the mind or how we read "energy" enough to say that I would rule all that out. In all things I rely on my intuition and my brain to guide me. For instance, I would have to ask myself what purpose it would really serve for me to speak to the dead? Is this going to help me let go...are there other ways that I can make my peace with the dead and let go. And as for knowing the future...I'm having a hard enough time coping with the present and the past, thank you very much. I do believe that sometimes dreams can have meaning...but again it's not always easy to know what that is (and is very subjective). I have had powerful dream experiences, but they've never been predictive.

2. As for the idea of the earthly realm and spirit realm being close making you scared (or sacred...sometimes they aren't that far off) it the idea of the ultimate unknown? I have, through meditation and trance, done a lot of work with the spirit realm and have always been met with welcome and kindness. But it's like walking down a city street...not everyone perhaps is benevolent, but neither are they all malevolent. Christianity did a lot to demonize the connection that people sought through folk traditions to the "unseen." So now it is common to believe that the spirit worlds are filled with demons and devils and that anyone who messes with it is going to be sucked into some hell dimension (or be subjected to a possession and subsequent exorcism with twisty heads and pea soup being spewed everywhere).

the urban fox said...

Hm, that's really interesting. Question 1 was because I've had some slightly odd pre-cog type experiences, in waking hours rather than dreams. And my grandmother was a bit on the spooky side. (always knew instantly when something was wrong with one of her kids or any of her grandchildren, particularly accidents or medical emergencies, even to the extent of waking up shouting "THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH..." in the middle of the night.)

You might be right about the fear thing. I wasn't brought up in a Christian household, but the folklore and background permeates the whole of western Europe, so it'd be impossible to escape some kind of conditioning from it.

What sort of contact have you had with spirit world? Individual spirits? Or just becoming aware of a general realm, like a parallel dimension kind of experience? Is that too hazy a question?

Sorry to bombard you, Spin. It's possibly my last chance for a month, as we'll probably lack the strength even to type single paragraph blog posts after tomorrow!

Alecya Giovanni said...

Happy Halloween. That is fascinating. That probably sounds really obnoxious, I didn't mean it like that. I mean to say it is interesting to hear your point of view.


Hyde said...

The point near the bottom of your post, where you outline your beliefs, basically are the same with mine, although I don't know what I'd call myself. I'm going to tell B to read this post though, because remarkably, he has been going through a very similar journey. He started off Catholic and then became Episcopalian. Very recently he has been looking into ordination, but he also has a pull to Wicca, etc. and is conflicted about how much of Christianity he "literally" believes. He is trying to learn a lot more about Wiccan practices now and even asked me if I would help him by exploring some of the rituals with him. I really know very little about it, but I agreed. Maybe he should talk to you one of these days.

Anyway, great post!



Flash said...

I'm afraid I lack any kind of spirituality in my life. Always have.
I think it's the scientist in me.

I did thoroughly enjoy reading that post though & though I may be devoid of spirituality myself, I have the utmost respect for other people's beliefs.

And "Define the divine" would make a great song title, eh?

Charby said...

That was really interesting Spins!

Whats lutherism though? I'm afraid my churchy knowledge extends to CofE and catholicism and Jehovahs witnesses.

I always find paganism, or wicca more interesting to read about than "normal" religion types and somehow easier to believe in, although I'm fairly atheist in my beliefs.

spinsterwitch said...

This could be a long comment...

Red - I think that a lot of women were drawn to modern pagan practices because of feminism. They were looking for a divine figure that "looked" like them. But there are a fair share of men too. Some practices, druidism or asatru, tend to draw more men.

As to why, historically, more women were persecuted as witches, I think that had to do with the practices of the society in which they lived. Women tended to practice more "folk" practices (including herbalism and folk healing) than men. Also women were less in the public for example you could go after a man's business practices or his property, but if you were going to go after a woman...what was there to attack. So her soul was called into question. (This is just my theory, mind, and I know that there are lot's of historical deconstructions of this issue.) But, again, it would not be fair to say that all those who died during the burning times were women. There were also men that were said to consort with demons...most often though, they would accuse a woman of being a succubi and get away with being "possessed."

Fox - my experience of the spirit world has been through meditation or trance. I seek out a particular someone and ask questions or just let them tell me what they will tell me. I'll start to sound hopelessly new age, I'm sure, at this point, but I do visualize several different guides to help me through the process. But all this is mostly internal experiences not external. I don't know that I can explain that with much more clarity...hope it helps.

Hyde - have B drop me an e-mail, if he'd like. There's probably some interesting folk in your area.

Flash - "Define the divine" would make an excellent song title!

Charby - Lutheranism is so similar to CofE, they could have been seperated at birth. Basically, the doctrines are very similar, but Lutherans don't appoint their bishops for life. The liturgies are similar...the songs are often similar (same words, different tune in many cases). There may be something about communion, but I really think that has to do with the issue of bishops and not any difference in the theology of the communion. Essentially, out of the reformation came first Luther and his buddies...then they began spreading their ideas abroad. England was the first country to declare a seperate state religion, I believe. But both still fall pretty close to the Catholic tree.

Fred said...

Very cool post. It was worth the wait to get through it all.

Happy Hallowen to you, too.

Hippy Chick said...

Happy Samhain and Halloween to you too! Thanks again for watching Alpha, Beta and Gamma kitties despite the unpredictability of Prozac Beta and waking you up Alpha! :) And thanks all for the bday wishes! It must be in your honor Spin, so far a lot of our trick or treaters have been witches!

P'tit-Loup said...

Great post my dear. I vacillate in my beliefs. Mostly, like LB, I steer clear of formal doctrines as they have a way to subdue their followers in ways that I find very scary. (opium of the masses, indeed) I align with native religions that feel one with nature and some eastern concepts as well. However, I have trouble following rituals, and whenever I tried to follow any, they have felt empty. Sitting on the beach admiring the waves, or staring at the stars at night brings me more spiritual uplifting than sitting in meditation, or following a prayer group.

Happy Samhain and Halloween! Now there is a ritual I can follow, dress up act silly and eat too much sugar, all in one night!