Themes

May. 23rd, 2011 09:32 pm
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
Every year, the Gathering for Life membership votes on a theme for the next year's event. Every year, someone suggests "no theme" to allow it emerge naturally during the event. I always vote for "no theme", but it never wins. Still, unexpected motifs do always come up throughout the weekend, and this time was no exception.

It was a different event than in the past: colder and wetter due to the new date; smaller due to the price increase and date change; changed in more subtle ways due to our return to our original event location. The Gathering was intimate feeling - softer and more mellow - but incredibly inspired and inspiring.

Despite the small membership - only a third of the previous event - there were four skyclad rituals by three different groups on the schedule, in addition to several other rituals and a full itinerary of workshops. Every person except one, who was already known to be coming on Saturday, was on site before 7 PM on Friday. The turnout at the closing ritual in particular was the best we've probably every had, in proportion to the membership. Everyone just seemed so present and so grateful to be at the Gathering together.

The primary theme for my Gathering this year was "sharing". So many people were opening their hearts and giving generously of themselves. People gave up sleep to tend the sacred fire. Every time something needed to be done - from setting up a tent to chopping fire wood to moving a picnic table - people stepped up to do it with pleasure. People offered up their amazing talents: the Bardic was short but packed with amazing singing and music; the workshops were informative and interesting; the rituals were well crafted; the merchant area was tiny but full of beautiful things, mostly handmade. People were offering healing and their other skills freely. When it came to pack up and clean up the site, everyone pitched in and it was done quickly and easily. And all around, all weekend, people were thanking each other for sharing.

The generosity of the members of this community is not new, but this year, it seemed to be present in each and every person and in the community as a whole in a way I've never felt before. There have been Gatherings that have been more energetic, more powerful, more sexual, but I don't think I've ever experienced one more full of grace.

My secondary Gathering theme this year seemed to be "tell Melissa how great she is". I got so many compliments about the two rituals I ran. One woman gave me a little gift to thank me for leading her first skyclad ritual. Several people made a special effort to come up and talk to me about my themes and even ask for copies of the text. I also gave a bunch of Tarot readings and got great feedback about them as well. I even got compliments on my clothing!

I still have so much to process and I have some new ideas that need to be recorded before they fade away, but first, I need a lot of sleep. And I need to do a lot of laundry.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
The earth doesn't care about new year's. If at midnight, a bird sang sweetly, or a cat stirred in its sleep, or the world seemed to hold its breath for a moment, it was coincidence only. The change in calendar doesn't mean anything to the Mother Nature, but you wouldn't think so in Vancouver today.

The day dawned with the kind of clear blue cold that the rest of Canada often sees in the winter, but that we rarely do. The air's so dry that the mountains look too close and overly real. The ground's frosted and shimmers in the sun. Everything feels clean and fresh and new.

I don't celebrate new year's eve (mostly for reasons summed up by Cracked.com). I boycott by staying home, watching DVDs, cleaning, and going to bed before midnight. I can't resist new year's day, however. I love the symbolic new start and the feeling of optimism as everyone, for a least a day, attempts to let go of bad habits and start to floss, eat better, exercise more, be better.

I drank an eggnog latté, mailed Christmas thank you notes, walked a labyrinth, made bagels, read and ate bagels, walked with Russ through the sunshine, saw a bald eagle perched on a church steeple, watched the first season of "Red Dwarf", and did some writing.

It was a good new day.
dreaminghope: (Starry Starry Night)
If God exists in the spaces between...

... mind the gap.
dreaminghope: (Starry Starry Night)
Moments of Devastating Beauty

The sun is setting. The spring has been so cold and drawn out this year that the onset of summer feels sudden. The air's still warm tonight, but there's a breeze tossing the leaves and my hair. Someone's barbequing down the street; the air smells of campfire.

I can close my eyes and be at the campfire. We're far enough from the light pollution to really see the stars, far and cold. The lake is on one side, the tents and cabins on the other. By the light of the fire, all that's visible are the first two rings of log benches circling the fire pit.

There are about a dozen drummers. They aren't all very good, but the ones who are pull the others along. I'm sitting three rows back from the fire, wrapped in my black cloak and my anonymity. The drummers aren't all great, but the ones who are pull at me, make me need to move. The drums are like another heartbeat. I wait as others get up and start swaying. Finally, I drop my self-consciousness and my cloak and I move to the edge of the fire. The flames are on one side, the drums on the other. I look at the stars.

I dance first for the stars, because they don't care. I reach for them and sway.

Around the fire, other dancers shimmy their hips. They bend and twist. Their long skirts and scarves flicker like another circle of flames.

The fire makes us all too hot, and we begin to remove clothing. It isn't a striptease – we shed shirts like dead petals.

My hips circle to the rhythm effortlessly, mindlessly. The world is reduced to the fire and the drums and the dancers. We are all entranced together.

The natural flow of the dancing takes me around to the other side of the fire. The lake is on one side, the fire and drums on the other. There's only the dark water, the fire, and the beat in my hips and hands.

The drummers falter, and my body slows as they work to bring the beat back together. I look up at the stars. All the dancers and drummers together are still only a tiny spark in the night.
dreaminghope: (Starry Starry Night)
One day there will be a religion whose principle tenet is that the whole universe only exists while God is watching it. As an extension of this premise, it will come to be understood that bad things happen because God can be distracted.

Theories will abound as to what might distract God, including anger, love, prayer, large groups of emotional people, invocation of His name, power, and fame. The faithful will attempt to do as little as possible to draw God's attention to themselves, for to do otherwise would risk His focus being turned away from the balance of the universe and the very existence of reality.

True proponents of the faith will live quiet, unassuming lives. Sleep is seen as the ultimate act of devotion.

This religion won't go far. The ideal to do as little as possible extends to spreading the word.

And if God can be diverted by mere humans from His sacred task, He won't even notice the handful fewer distractions amongst the teeming billions.
dreaminghope: (Waterbaby)
I was a good girl. I didn't talk back, I got good grades, my teachers liked me, I didn't make trouble, I liked to read and knit (a long garter stitch scarf; no purling), I did my homework and went to Girl Guides, I was always on time, and I never got grounded. I was good.

I come from a WASP* family. But a middle-class Canadian WASP family, which means Protestant on paper only; functionally agnostic. My mother stopped taking my sister and I to the United Church when we moved from small town Northern Canada to a Toronto suburb. I was nine. I didn't miss church.

I was ten when I "got religion". But I was still a good little WASP girl, so I got religion very quietly by praying for a long time every night (my childhood bedtime prayer followed the Lord's Prayer followed by a couple of minutes of silently meditation) and wishing that I was Catholic so I could become a nun. Or maybe a saint. I wanted to be devote.

My family didn't talk about faith.

One day in grade five my teacher handed out permission slips. They were from a local church – I don't remember which one – offering free New Testaments. At the bottom was a place for your parent to sign that it was OK to give you one. I wanted a Bible.

"Mom, I got this form from school."

"What is it?" she asks as she scans it, "oh. You don't want this, do you?"

"Um... no."

My family didn't talk about religion either.

So, I was a good girl, and a wanna-be person of faith... and I didn't have a Bible. This simply could not stand. I took the form out of the recycling bin. I took a permission note my mother had signed for an upcoming Girl Guide outing. Then I just needed a bright window and a black pen…

I forged my mother's signature to get a Bible.

Epilogue: The guilt interfered with my ability to read my new copy of the New Testament, so my acquisition ended up in my underwear drawer. Some six months later, my mother found it and asked how I had come to own a Bible.

"Um, well, Natalie had two, so she gave me one."

*W.A.S.P.: White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
Monday morning. Breakfast isn't until 8 AM, and I packed most of my scattered sarongs and glittery bits the night before, but I'm up before 7 AM anyway. I leave all of my cabin mates mumbling in their sleep - they all made it back to the cabin last night; some for the first time all weekend - and grab my towel and head for the swimming dock. It's empty; the first time in years that I have gotten the dock to myself.

I sit for awhile, wearing only my cloak, and watch the mist race across the surface of the lake and the sun reach above the tree tops. I probably look meditative.

When I finally drop the cloak and slip down the ladder - fast; if you stop halfway, the cold water on your ass or breasts may convince you not to get in at all - it's simply because I can't sit still a moment longer. I do a shallow but rapid breast stroke back and forth to warm up and to out-swim thoughts of Pagan politics and bad pick-up lines.

It takes a dozen short laps, but I finally relax into the water and the trees and the sky and the mountains.

Finally, I get cold. After floating for so long, my body feels heavy under the relentless downward pull of the air. I feel like I weigh twice as much when I pull myself up the ladder as I did when I went down it.

Friday night. This is my twelve time at this Gathering, making me an old-timer here. It's like a family reunion; a very dysfunctional family reunion. It's the fourth year that this camp has been at this site and the paths, lit by long strings of Christmas lights that twist off into the woods to temples and lairs and docks and grottoes, are familiar. I even remember some of the tricky sections where the roots seem determined to twist the ankle of anyone not paying enough attention.

Saturday. We're still arriving, mentally and spiritually, to this place out of place. I hang out in the shade, too lazy to go to any workshops. I catch up on gossip and share some dirt of my own.

I envy the person I was my first year at this place, when I arrived alone amongst the Pagans as a naive seventeen year old and found a sense of community. Some part of me is still that sweet and naive.

A new friend calls me "Snow White" and teases me that little birds sing just for me and squirrels frolic at my feet. I think of a certain Snow White scene from "Shrek 3".

I say something a little nasty about a difficult member of the community and get rewarded with a big laugh. It's funny because it's true, and because it's sweet little me that said it.

Don’t mess with Snow White.

Saturday night. Or Sunday morning; I'm not wearing a watch. There's a fire, hot in the cool night, warding off the damp and the exhaustion. The drummers are maintaining a beat well despite scotch and wine and beer. I dance in the circle of dirt between drums and fire until I'm too hot, then I remove my shirt and dance some more. My hips know the beat my hands can never quite find. All around, the shapes of other dancers and the drummers' hands in the firelight. Through half-closed eyes, I see the half-round moon rise above the trees and shimmer on the lake.

As the night wears on, some of the drummers leave the fire, and the less experienced drummers left stumble more often. I begin to feel the ache of my legs from the length of time I've been dancing. An hour, two hours? I've lost track. I trance out and return over and over, never quite reaching the other state but always close. My body flirts with the drummers, trying to re-create the rhythm when they falter.

There's need and desire in the night, and it isn't all mine.

A young woman - 21, she says - with a carrying voice and too much to drink tries to lose her virginity. She pursues one man for several hours, flattering and teasing awkwardly, even as he tells her over and over that he is not going to sleep with her. He tries to spare her feelings, but she simply does not stop until he actually leaves the fire on an invented errand. He leaves her on the lap of a sweetly monogamous man who tries to soothe her ego only to find himself on the receiving end of her attentions. He talks about his wonderful girlfriend a lot.

Two people at the far side of the fire dance around each other, gradually becoming intertwined. They leave for the shadows before the rating reaches X, though she is topless.

An intoxicated pirate rawly propositions a friend. It seems that he'll take any to his bed, but none seem eager; we laugh at him in the morning, both for his behaviour and for his well-deserved hangover.

Sunday morning. Around the campfire, people cradle their coffees and their heads. I get a few (mostly mock) glares for my cheer. The young woman from the night before pokes at the embers and casually drops that she did get someone to bed the night before, though she doesn't say who. I fill a large garbage bag with cans and bottles and carry it to the main lodge. I pass a cabin mate who is heading to bed.

Monday morning. The closing ritual is simple and bittersweet, and followed by a whirl-wind of packing up our own cabins and the rest of the site and trying to say good-bye to as many people as possible. Garbage and recycling gets gathered up and all the Christmas lights and tent decorations are bundled into plastic bins. From magical space to just another children's camp in just a couple of hours.

Some of us caravan off site and meet at a White Spot restaurant in the nearest town. Over burgers and milk shakes we start processing, decompressing, and planning for next year.

It takes time to pull myself out of the Gathering mind space. My spirit feels heavy under the relentless pull of the real world. I feel twice as heavy coming out as I did going in.
dreaminghope: (Waterbaby)
I suppose it started with Cora. As the Friday set-up of the biggest event of my Pagan year proceeded magically smoothly, Cora wandered up the path to the Temple where I was contemplating the lights that had to be strung back down the path.

It was her first year at the Gathering for Life on Earth. It was her first experience with the Pagan community. She was there alone. She was completely my opposite in all those things. I decided to play "adopt a newbie", and get some help with my lighting task at the same time. Cora, Jeff, and I strung lights for half an hour or so. When we were done, I think Cora was relieved to be dragged around the site and used in our opening ritual rehearsal. It can be hard to be new in such a tight-knit community.

This was my eleventh Gathering. I've gone every year since I was seventeen and had to have my parents sign a consent form. I'm definitely an old-timer in that little community; we could only think of three or four people who've been going as long and as consistently as I have. This year, I felt all those years as I guided Cora around and kept having reasons to tell stories about past Gatherings.

"At my first Gathering, I decided to take advantage of the clothing-optional option. I was laying on the docks feeling very brave because I was topless. Then Jay walks up. Jay's much older then I, male, overweight, and completely naked. Jay decides to make me feel welcome in the community with a little conversation. Now, picture this carefully: I’m laying down, propped up on my elbows. He is standing. It felt like the longest conversation I'd ever had."

"Let me tell you about why they don't have divided Men's and Women's Mysteries anymore. At my first Gathering, the women finished their ritual on time. They went to the fire pit and started the chant that was supposed to call the men down from their ritual. And we chanted and drummed, and drummed and chanted: Pan, Odin, Baphomet, Cerrnunos, Osiris. After twenty minutes, we moved closer to the men’s area to try to get their attention. And we chanted and drummed, and drummed and chanted: Pan, Odin, where are the men? Where are the me-e-e-en?. It was about forty-five minutes of constant chanting. And that's when they stopped doing the Mysteries."

It was my favourite Gathering so far, and I was deeply honoured to share with Cora and some new folks from my own Tribe the kinds of moments that were highlights for me in past years.

We did the opening ritual. I'd run one opening ritual before, in my third year. My tribe did me proud this year too. The lines were loud and clear. The drumming was energetic. That magic happened: as the spirals of people coiled around each other, the chant spontaneously became a call and response that echoed through the field: All life! / One tribe!

Around the campfire, the drummers were going, and we chanted (we all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return; like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean…) as [livejournal.com profile] misselaineeous danced topless, firelight and moonlight. She was a beautiful Goddess, with the fire before her, the lake behind her, and the drum and the chant moving through it all.

I partied in the forest, in our Grotto. I sang with James to The Last Saskatchewan Pirate and kicked up dust doing kicks to the chorus. I taught Cora how to dance with her hips. I drank of Deb's strawberry vodka, which is simply the most heavenly beverage ever. I served out tequila shots.

I floated naked in the lake, watching dragonflies and damselflies chase and mate in the sun.

I listened while the elders of my community gossiped. Prudence calls the famous Starhawk "Mimi". She also knows the dirtiest, filthiest songs, and is very willing to sing them in exchange for sangria. And she reportedly knows 350 verses to That Old Time Religion, though she only sang about a dozen before we ran out of sangria to bribe her with.

We've watched Ryan grow from a bump to a very sweet and bright seven year old. [livejournal.com profile] xtalforge gave him a piggyback ride, after Ryan stole his sunglasses. As they trotted back across the field to us, Ryan let go to push the huge sunglasses up his little face. [livejournal.com profile] xtalforge said: "You should hang on! I'm not very reliable." For some reason, that struck [livejournal.com profile] edableme as so funny that she ended up spitting lemonade all over the people opposite her at the table.

I got to see wonderful people I see all-too-rarely outside of the Gathering, such as [livejournal.com profile] gerimaple. And I got to hang with my fellow Twinkies – we had t-shirts and everything!

I wish to publically thank my wonderful opening ritual participants, most of whom who also slaved away to load and unload the truck at both ends of the Gathering, and did more then their share of set-up and take-down: [livejournal.com profile] xtalforge, [livejournal.com profile] misselaineeous, [livejournal.com profile] cinnamonsqueak, [livejournal.com profile] bob_lazar, [livejournal.com profile] edableme, [livejournal.com profile] fruitkakechevy, [livejournal.com profile] grayson100, [livejournal.com profile] grinningthefool, [livejournal.com profile] rythos42, [livejournal.com profile] straw_berry_red, [livejournal.com profile] tareija, [livejournal.com profile] vcooke, [livejournal.com profile] paganjoy, Jeff, and Jamie.

I give up: there's no way to effectively summarize this magical weekend.

It was beautiful.
dreaminghope: (Firelight)
Saturday dawned clear, with a red glow around the city's skyline. I know exactly how it started because I was there, drumming on a beach at five in the morning.

Every year, as close to the Summer Solstice as we can manage it, my immediate and extended spiritual family gathers for a night of junk food and caffeine, followed by sunrise drumming and ending with a homemade breakfast. I was cursing my past self at dawn, as she is suspected of having invented this tradition many years ago.

The drumming is an act of unfaith: Maybe the sun won't rise after its shortest nap of the year if we aren't there to wake it up.

Luckily, our skill does not determine the sun's fate. If it did, the world would be a dark and cold place. Though we have some very talented drummers amongst us, there are a few of us (me) who are rhythm-challenged. While Russ is going ta-ta-taka-taka-ta-taka-ta-taka-ta-ta, I have trouble with ta-ta-ta-ta. I'm better with less sleep. On the beach, I managed to follow along for whole minutes at a time; that's a reason to be proud of myself, unfortunately.

The rest of the event is an ongoing act of self-torture in the name of community building. Up to eight sleep-deprived people yielding knives and hot pans in a small kitchen at six in the morning can get interesting. The "extended family" quickly learns to hide elsewhere until the food emerges from the chaos. Now that I am fully awake, the whole thing seems like a disaster waiting to happen, but the only casualty was the first batch of waffle batter, which resulted in a soggy crêpe thing.

By Saturday afternoon, after the last departure, Russ and I find that we've acquired some chocolate sprinkles, two cans of whipped cream, and a bag of dill pickle chips. The only non-food "left-behind" was an orange Starbucks mug of uncertain origin and contents.*

I had an accidental nap yesterday afternoon, to my dismay. I don't bounce up after getting up at four in the morning the way I used to. The sacrifice was ultimately worthwhile: the sun rose again. I want to take some credit, for it was a particularly beautiful sunrise.

*I get the most interesting left-behinds from my events. Past events have resulted in the temporary acquisition of a box of dice, a very nice bra, a pair of glittery horns, a strip of blue fabric of uncertain origin, a cardboard exclamation mark attached to a headband, a pile of Mardi Gras beads, and other interesting bits and pieces.
dreaminghope: (Flying Demon Girl)
On 06/06/06, about a dozen friends met for a birthday dinner. In honour of the unique date, we all wore horns and decorated our glasses with little plastic devils. We were playful demons eating steaks and French toast at a suburban IHOP.

The fallen angels are the tainted creatures of horror stories and nightmares, and, simultaneously, the honourable rebels. Even some Christian writers have had trouble not making Satan sound courageous and bold:

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n.
*

Most people no longer hold supernatural beings responsible for the world's evil; the fallen angels may now be fallen heroes, ready to become noble and rise again. We like our heroes to be a little dirty. It is sexy to be redeemed.

The truly evil and the merely naughty conflates as "sin". A sexy girl-demon is called a "succubus", never mind how scary a true succubus would be.

"His horns are bigger then mine," one boy whines playfully.
"He does have a lovely horn, doesn't he," purrs the girlfriend, toying with the tip.

"At work, I have to hide my tail down my pants... it gets so uncomfortable. It's nice to let it all hang out," says one of our hornless guests, who was wearing a red devil-tail.

"I get the weirdest looks when I wear my horns out," giggles one girl, her relatively discrete horns peeking out from her hair, "I love seeing the double-takes."
"Let's go into Walmart after dinner! I wanna shop like a demon," someone else chimes in.

I once heard that all angels originally had horns; that's why the angels who fell had them too. As the rebels fell, their wings were burned away, but their horns remained. The horns of the heavenly chorus faded away in the popular imagination, leaving them only on the demonic citizens of the underworld.

Horns on demons; horns on ancient gods… not romanticized power, like that of the lion, but the down and dirty power of goats. It is pride and stubbornness, sometimes in the face of a world that doesn't care for us at all.

*Satan's speech in Paradise Lost, by John Milton.
dreaminghope: (Firelight - Cinnamonsqueak)
Does anyone believe purely?

I am a person of confused faith. I believe and I don't, simultaneously. I live well with the contradiction, most of the time, but I look with awe at people whose faith seems so pure and untainted by doubt, confusion and internal inconsistencies.

I don't admire fanatics and extremists; they are more about the politics of inclusion and exclusion then about the basics of most religions (i.e., love, respect, worship, etc.). Those who inspire me are those of quieter beliefs, such as a Buddhist nun, an earnest priest, and those magical people that just seem purely on their path (which may or may not correspond with a recognized religion).

I believe that there's something out there (agnosticism) and that the universe is a miraculous and fabulous thing (pantheism), but I prefer that my faith have a firmer context and that it come with a community. I chose (and still choose) Paganism as a result. I find many of the rituals beautiful and spiritually touching, but I walk through them without believing that the structure is necessary in any objective way. It is only subjective. The pieces of the ritual are done that way and in that order so that we are all in the same place together, because there are psychological benefits to structure and repetition and because a group needs to have symbols and stories in common. The actual structure chosen is, for me, irrelevant, except in that it doesn't offend me and does appeal to my aesthetic sense.

For me, rituals that matter create connections to people and to the divine. Their format and structure doesn't matter, but I act as though they matter, because that's important to creating the connection. Though I would sometimes like to have pure belief and unquestioning faith, what I have instead is functionally just as good: the ability to act "as if" I believed. If I go into a ritual with an open mind and I say the words, dance the steps and sing the chants as if I believed in their power absolutely, they become powerful for me, and I become a part of the group that believes, or, at least, acts as if it believes.
dreaminghope: (Default)
How to be a Successful Professional Psychic
Part 2: Doing psychic readings (Part 1 is here)


Introduction

The first part of this two part post just had to be gotten out of the way so I could deal with this post on its own without being distracted by its silliness.

I'm a former employee of a New Age store, a former manager of a psychic fair business, and an occasional professional Tarot reader, so poking fun at the marketing techniques of psychics is good, but very easy, sport. Less easy is this post, because it may make me look less then reputable and honest. That's OK with me as far as my reputation as a reader goes, but I hate to disappoint anyone I've read for in the past who may want to believe the mystery. Also, it isn't really a good idea to piss off psychics, and this post might be irritating to "true believers".

Confessions first: As a psychic, I may be a fraud. I'm not sure either way because, despite the fact that I can be very cynical about psychic readings, I still get accurate results. I've had perfect strangers burst into tears at my table. I've predicted moves across the country that no one expected. I can't give many other examples, because I often do not remember the readings at all after. But, people tell me that I know what I'm doing.

I think divination should be de-fluffed. Divination need not be smoke-and-candlelight, super-mysterious stuff kept to an elite and handed down to believers. I firmly believe that it can be grounded, realistic and useful to people besides the flying-naked-baby crowd (aka, "the cherub lovers" - a particularly light and fluffy sub-sect of the New Age community).

In search of intellectually enlightened, grounded psychic readings.

It must be acknowledged that a huge part of readings is about observing the person you are reading. Another big part is about statistical probability, and there is always leading questions, designed to pull more information out of the person being read for. All of these things may be processed entirely subconsciously by the reader, as many psychics have no idea how much information they "read" is actually being received this way, and not through spirit guides or what-have-you. I would actually say that even with the most spiritually-talented psychic, this sort of subconsciously processed information makes up about anywhere from 75% to 99% of the reading.

This doesn't make this information any less important or valuable. It can be invaluable in understanding how you appear from an outsider's perspective. Also, just because something is statistically-likely doesn't make it any less enlightening to the individual hearing it.

An example: I was reading at a psychic fair. A well-dressed woman of about 40 came to me to have her cards read. I made her cry while speaking about the first Tarot card I turned. She gave me a couple of extra dollars as a tip at the end of the reading. I did not give her any incredibly deep information. Here's how I did it: I noticed that she was well-dressed. That told me she was at least middle-class. She had on a wedding ring, so the chances were high that her question was not about her love life. Based on my experiences with women in the New Age movement with her statistics, I said something to the effect of: "You are on a deep spiritual quest, seeking something you fear you will never find." And she started to cry, because she felt understood. That the information was not attained through the cards in front of me did not make it any less beautiful to the woman in front of me.

At the core, people are all the same. They all want to know about love, money, work, and family. The people who go to psychics are also interested in spiritual matters. They all want to hear that they are loving, psychic, creative, spiritual, generous, and special. If you aren't sure what else to say, you can make almost any woman feel wonderful by telling her that she is generous with her time and takes care of so many people, and that she should make sure she makes enough time for herself. It may be true, and if it isn't, the woman will want it to be.

I think an enlightened reading would acknowledge how much information is being received through mundane means instead of trying to hide it behind talk of spirit guides, guardian angels, obscure symbols and metaphysical double-talk. It would free the reader from having to fill the reading in with vague information and educated guesses that could apply to anyone. It would free the client from having to wade through vague information and a lot of New Age babble to get the true pieces of information they are seeking.

After removing all the information attained through mundane means, we are left with the parts of the reading that are not so easily explained. I am not entirely convinced that there is a mystical explanation for having information we don't have means to possess. It could be lucky guesses, information that is hinted at in ways we don't consciously notice, or some other ordinary explanation. Nor am I convinced that there isn't a mystical connection. There could be spirits or deities or the universe giving us data all the time, and we just need to figure out how to tune in to hear their voices.

By talking freely about the parts of doing psychic work that are not mystical, the parts that are not explainable become truly magical and wonderous. No longer lost amongst the need to just keep talking, to fill in airtime (clients generally pay by the half hour), the deeper insights, if there are any, may get seen for what they are: gifts of the universe.

07/11/06 edit: For more of my thoughts on psychics and the industry, click here. I've noticed that I'm still getting hits on this post. Please feel free to comment and let me know how you found this and what you thought. Anonymous commenting is allowed.
dreaminghope: (Labyrinth)
Let us pray to the greater force there may be outside of us, or maybe to the greater force within us all.

Let us pray out loud, through song and dance and tears and laughter, so all can hear us.

Let us pray with our bodies, our minds, our spirits.

Let us pray until there is peace.

Let us pray until there is justice.

Let us pray until there is compassion and mercy and grace.

In all our names / amen / blessed be / svaha / namaste / etc.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
Today we had a beautiful park ritual by [livejournal.com profile] cinnamonsqueak (in the gorgeous summer-like weather), which reminded me about how much I have to be grateful for and how much I like myself (something all too few people can say), and how much I love being with these people. I feel very appreciative and appreciated. I love that ED says she always feels better after spending time with me, no matter how bad her day/week/month is going: that made me feel great! And I loved hearing other people say good things about themselves and each other.

It was very beautiful and touching; thank you [livejournal.com profile] cinnamonsqueak!
dreaminghope: (Default)
Sometimes I envy those who live dramatically simple, disciplined lives, like monks and nuns. There seems to be such peace, tranquility and contentment in those lifestyles. As one who does not bore easily, I see the endless path of predictable days, of struggle only with one's self-discipline and faith, as a bit of an ideal life.

I have met people who live such lives within society, who haven't needed to escape to a isolated sanctuary to achieve inner peace. They live with little material goods, have simple needs and few desires, and are peaceful and content. They experience the depth of life.

The people I respect are those who have sacrificed material gain, conventional success and, sometimes, bodily comfort and pleasure in favour of a life that feels richer to them. They have chosen discipline as a lifestyle, choosing not to eat junk food, not to drink or smoke, not to have sex, or whatever, in order to achieve something spiritual. The best yet is seeing these people use the extra time, money and energy they have to achieve something beautiful and powerful in the world, making other people's lives better.

To me, this sort of life looks like a soft, baby blue blanket: comforting, warm, peaceful, strong, but constant, unvaried. In contract, some people live lives like eccentric quilts, with hundreds of fabrics, from rough linen to silk to corduroy, all patched together in crazy ways. They live highs and lows, moments of ecstasy and depression, always with waves of emotions. Their lives are always changing, they live extremes, they are always seeking variety and bigger and better experiences. It feels chaotic, unstable, like the fabric could unravel at any moment.

This also feels like it has value. These people experience the breadth of life.

I guess I fear that my life is always somewhere in between: neither deep nor broad, neither disciplined nor varied, neither content nor ecstatic. I hope there's a middle way with value as well.
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
OK, so I'm working away on my book a bit today, after having left it aside for way too long. I had this piece on the theme of "messy spirituality" all written in my head at one point, but I seem to have lost bits of it, having not written it down in any sort of timely manner. So, the part I've got at this point is below. If anyone wants to comment, maybe that'll jog my memory as to what else I wanted to say here.

One of the purposes of religion is to explain an infinitely complicated world. Using stories, symbols and rituals, we simplify things so that the universe can be understood, and our place in it can become clear.

But the universe is not small or simple. It is ancient, and huge, and unimaginably varied and complicated. And really we have no idea what part humans have in this great story.

I think we should challenge ourselves to develop a messy religion. Let’s try to avoid creating symbols for things we can experience directly. Let’s try to imagine the whole universe, in its infinite glory and with its infinite variety. Let’s learn and incorporate what we learn into our rituals. Let’s learn even more, and re-write our rituals from scratch. Let’s use all our senses and all our imagination. Let’s remind ourselves over and over that we are small. Let’s challenge ourselves every time we start making the world a simple place.
dreaminghope: (Labyrinth)
Last night, Silver Spiral ran our first "public" ritual in quite some time. It was Fringe's Imbolc. I conclude that it went well.

The labyrinth was even more beautiful then I had imagined, thanks to Russ' help with the placement of electrical cords and everyone's help untangling the Christmas lights and crawling on the floor taping them down. I hope Cin's digital pictures came out OK so they can be posted (hint-hint). And we only lost five or so bulbs - a couple during set-up, a couple during the ritual itself, and one during clean-up - not bad, I figure, for delicate bulbs being strung out on the floor and having people walk right next to them.

The crowd was pretty small. I think we counted twenty people outside of Silver Spiral and those we had recruited to help. But it turned out to be almost the perfect size for the space involved, and it meant that the labyrinth walks didn't take forever.

The room was nice and dramatically dark for the parts where it was supposed to be, the labyrinth shone, the drums echoed beautifully, the chanting was gorgeous, and I think the energy flowed beautifully.

There were some rough spots, but nothing the participants probably really noticed. Certainly nothing that really hurt the ritual. And we all recovered nicely from some unintended dramatic pauses.

The funny thing to me is that I don't think people quite knew that the ritual was over. The problem with running an unconventional ritual is that people aren't quite sure what's going to happen next, so they are afraid to assume anything. Even when we turned on the lights, people were sort of standing there, unsure of what to do. Since we had intended to keep everyone on their toes a little by deliberately not following the normal "script", I take the still silence at the end as a sign of success, at least in that goal. No one really moved until someone who was in the ritual spotted Lisa, a late arrival, lurking in the kitchen window, squealed and sprinted out of the ritual area. Though it wasn't quite the end we had planned, it was effective!

Silver Spiral folks: Did anyone get any feedback? I would love to know what people thought of the ritual. Did they "get it"? Was it too weird and abstract? Not weird enough? If you got any feedback, good or bad, please post it so I can work the suggestions/thoughts into future rituals... I've got ideas (... be afraid, be very afraid...).

And, there was drumming and dancing and catching up with people I don't get to see very often, like Alex, the atheist doctor of philosophy who likes hanging out with Pagans, including participating in rituals, because we are more fun. So I call the evening a success.
dreaminghope: (Labyrinth)
I find the sight of people praying to be very moving. Occasionally, as I channel surf or watch TV, I come across prayer on television, usually in really silly places. And yet, I still find it powerful.

Some time ago, I came across two men praying during the show Survivor. From the prayer, I am guessing they were praying because one or both of them expected to be eliminated from the competition. My logical mind laughed: "And God really cares whether or not you get to keep playing a meaningless game!" But part of me was moved by the sight of the men holding each other and praying together, and I got a little teary.

I caught most of the last half-dozen episodes of The Amazing Race this past summer. There was a young, very Christian couple in the race to the very last episode who would pray together while hunting for clues in the mud and while climbing snowy hills. Part of me found the whole thing silly and a little obnoxious. Again, how important do they think they are that their all-powerful God would care whether or not they have the strength to get to the end of a game? But part of me was moved.

In both instances, the people appeared to be praying because it brought them comfort and strength. They didn't appear to care what anyone else thought. They were praying for their own sake, not as a way of preaching.

That kind of faith is so rarely seen in public. Most open displays of faith are aimed at converting people or imposing one set of values on the larger community: think of Jehovah Witnesses, street corner preachers, George W.

But a display of prayer that is simply an expression of an individual's sincere beliefs and not anything insidious is a touching thing. There's so much faith packed into these prayers that I feel that, even as I disagree with the reason for the prayer.

I may also be feeling touched by the open display of vulnerability and desperation that accompanies these acts of public prayer. Though I do not believe that "reality TV" has much to do with real life, these are moments where people are showing themselves to be vulnerable. They are slightly more real, more delicate moments in a greater context of head games and type A personality competitors. Moments of prayer may be the most honest, the most "real" and revealing moments, in these otherwise superficial shows.
dreaminghope: (Labyrinth)
I have been a vegetarian for about eight years. When someone asks me why I'm a vegetarian, I usually talk about the health benefits for me, and play up the fact that I was never much of a meat eater to begin with.

I have chosen vegetarianism in part because of the health benefits, and I was one who preferred salad and pasta to steak from childhood. But I also chose vegetarianism, and continue to choose it every day, as an act of disciplined compassion.

I value compassion as one of the highest moral states people can achieve. I want to live compassionately, and my feelings on how to do that involves, in part, not consuming animals.

Of course, I do consume dairy and eggs, even knowing the abuses of those industries. I know that male chicks are killed en masse because they are useless to the egg industry. I know milk cows suffer. But I must also have compassion for myself, and I know that I am healthier and happier when I consume dairy and eggs.

I used to love certain meats: bacon, turkey, roast chicken, shrimp. After all these years, the discipline needed to not eat them is almost second nature, especially as some of them have begun to smell bad to me. The occasional craving reminds me to think of why I made this choice, and whether or not it is still the right one for me. It happens a couple of times a year, and every time the answer comes back that I am making the right choice for me.

I am not sure that being a compassionate person requires vegetarianism. I am pretty sure that choosing vegetarianism is not enough to be compassionate. I am not convinced that my choice is right for anyone but me.

When someone asks me why I'm a vegetarian, I do not go into all of this. I make a vague mention of "health reasons" and leave it at that. The above is simply too complicated and difficult to explain efficiently to go into over a buffet table.

The other reason I do not usually share this with people who ask me about my choice to be vegetarian is that I don't want people to feel I am lecturing them. I do not want anyone to feel judged by their choices, or their bodies' needs, in some cases (I know several people who need meat to maintain basic health). I don't think it would be very compassionate to other people to try to impose my values upon them.

I have not really participated in the "vegetarian community" because I am not out to save anyone. I want to quietly live my values to the best of my abilities. If that inspires someone else to do the same, by going vegetarian or in some other way, that's great, but I am really doing it just for me.
dreaminghope: (Firelight)

I cannot record it all. It is impossible to summarize the whole experience. But there are some random memorable moments here. )

There's too much! I'll have to process some more and maybe add more later.

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February 2014

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