Home Shrine (again)

Feb 29, 2016
I see last time I wrote I mentioned that I was moving. Well, I wound up not moving after all, and so my shrine is still the slapdash temporary thing I set up while expecting to be uprooting my life far too soon. I’m putting down roots now instead, and I’m not thrilled with my shrine. There isn’t enough room for it where it is, so there isn’t really space to add much to it - I have to clear off the rest of the table for ritual. My plant as the Tree was a nice idea, but the scale is all wrong; it doesn’t hold much meaning for me at the moment. And I liked the idea of putting it by the window, but it turns out that, living on the ground floor of an apartment building, there’s too much traffic just outside my window for me to be totally comfortable doing ritual there.

I think I know where I want to move it to, though - to the wall that separates my living room from my kitchen, just about in the middle of the living space in my apartment. I have a cabinet I’ve been meaning to move there for a while, and if I can clear off the stuff that currently lives on top of it, it’d be a nice place for an altar. (A good height, too, to stand at.) And I know what to do about the Tree, too - I’m going to make a gem tree with some old malachite and coral I have lying around.
I’m excited to start work, but it’s a long process. First I have to clean out the sewing cabinet that’s currently where I want to move the larger cabinet to, then I have to clean out the large cabinet, then actually move it (which will be exciting on its own, as it’s MASSIVE), then make sure I’ve got room to store everything there. Fortunately I have some vacation coming up this weekend, and I plan to spend some time on this project.

I’m sorry to say I’ve still not been spending much time in nature. The weather’s been poor (as it will tend to be, in Chicago in February) and when the weather’s been nice I’ve had to spend all day at work, which has frankly been making me a little resentful. Meditation has been going well, when I can sit down to do it - I missed three days this week, but I’m still finding that my average meditation session has stretched to over ten minutes at a time of silent meditation, which used to seem impossible.

I’ve also been saying a prayer from Ceiswr Smith’s Book of Pagan Prayer after I finish my meditation. I flip through until I find something that appeals to me, but I can tell that there are a few that are going to become regulars, and a few more that I can make regular with a little editing.

Also, a reminder to myself - I actually finished my first required book about a month ago, but I haven’t written it up yet. I’ll try to get on that this weekend, too.

Nine Virtues: Wisdom

Feb 24, 2016
ADF lists nine Virtues which they ask their members to understand, if not necessarily to endorse as their primary ethical system: wisdom, piety, vision, courage, integrity, perseverance, hospitality, moderation, and fertility.

Wisdom. n. 1. The quality of being wise; knowledge, and the capacity to make due use of it; knowledge of the best ends and the best means; discernment and judgment; discretion; sagacity; skill; dexterity. 2. The results of wise judgments; scientific or practical truth; acquired knowledge; erudition. (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913)

Wisdom is the toughest one for people to grapple with, says all the documentation; I’m definitely feeling it. It’s tremendously hard to pin down because nothing seems to get at the whole concept. Which is appropriate, I think, but still frustrating.

I also feel obliged to point out that the recommended reading for this Virtue was The Velveteen Rabbit and The Little Prince, which made me laugh and then, when I read them, made me think.
The DP docs suggest a list of questions to help you work through the idea.

1. Who is wise? Gandalf and Granny Weatherwax. Writers, generally (at least good ones). Odin, Brigid, the Cailleach. In real life… I have this tendency to attribute wisdom to people in authority and then withdraw my generosity completely the first time it’s abused, which I’m aware is not the best or most productive response but which I also can’t seem to stop doing. I think my boss is wise, actually.

2. What is the definition of wisdom? The Dedicant’s Handbook defines wisdom as “Good judgment, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about them and decide on the correct response.” I’ve listed a dictionary definition at the top (from Webster’s 1913, my favorite dictionary). I like the dictionary definition better because it seems to get more of the aspects in it. Perception and action is discernment, which is a component of wisdom, but not the whole thing. “Knowledge, and the capacity to make due use of it” is as close as I can get to the core of wisdom, but that’s not the whole of it either. I keep coming back - I often do - to Terry Pratchett, and what he describes as the core skills of a witch in Wee Free Men - First Sight, the ability to see what’s actually in front of you; and Second Thoughts, thinking before you move. That plus Granny Weatherwax’s pronouncement that sin is treating people like things pretty much sum it up.

Actually, now that I mention it, I think Granny’s statement there is more central than I previously thought. Wisdom has to take into account people, real people and how they really are, or it’s just knowledge and reason. Wisdom has to be as organic and messy and complicated as real people to be true wisdom.

3. Who is wise in the lore? The archetypal example from Irish mythology is Fionn, who tasted of the Salmon of Knowledge and grew wise. The salmon gained its wisdom from the hazelnuts that fell into the Well of Wisdom that is the source of all rivers; Fionn was meant to be cooking the salmon for his master, but burned his thumb on it and, after putting his thumb in his mouth, gained the wisdom instead. He was thereafter asked by his men to pass judgment, and when he did he would put his thumb in his mouth to think. His wisdom allowed him to become the leader of the Fianna and the doer of great deeds.

4. When have I been wise? Oof, this is hard. I had to take an extra day and think about it for a while. I have been wise, I think, in supporting my sister and my friends through their hard times: I think very hard before offering advice or words of support, to avoid accidentally making things worse, and the responses I get have been very positive. I have also been unwise with my friends (most often, honestly, with my roommates), when frustration and exhaustion have overpowered my good sense.
I want to call my decision not to take the job that was offered to me in December wise, but I honestly don’t know if I can say that. There was so much emotion involved, and I never know how heavy to weight that. My feelings are important in making decisions that impact my life, of course, but how important? (And how many of them are my feelings and how many of them belong to the mental illness that possesses me sometimes?)

Wisdom is a difficult virtue, both in practice and in concept, and I think that partly stems from the fact that it’s so rooted in experience. What feels wise at twenty may look foolish at thirty, but the twenty-year-old just plain didn’t know enough to be wiser. Wisdom can certainly be taught, but it must be by example, because wise decisions by definition cannot be made by following a set of rules. I think of Nero Wolfe’s instructions to his assistant Archie: “Use your intelligence guided by experience.” It’s as good as summation as any.

The Three Kindreds: Ancestors

Feb 16, 2016
I’ve never been good at ancestors. I was never terribly fond of my grandparents’ stories when they were alive - they all died when I was young. I regret that now, although I also remember listening to my mother’s father telling stories and being bored to tears. I might not be as bored now, I suppose.

My mother does the family genealogy, though, and she knows all the stories. I should ask her about them sometime. I should take notes. I know the story about her great-grandmother who put off getting married so she wouldn’t have to stop teaching. I know the story about a multiple-greats uncle who was an Irish revolutionary and became a union activist in New York after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I know the story about how my uncle, my mom’s little brother, was born, and my grandfather told off the priest who told him that if they had to choose, the mother or the baby, he had to save the baby because the baby was without sin. And I know the story of how my parents went on their first date, when Mom came to ask if Mike could come out to play, and my grandma sat on the porch cackling with laughter.

And I know some other things too, not stories but facts, that my grandpa on my father’s side was a mechanic, and my grandma a farmer’s daughter from a small, small town that barely qualifies as a town. About how my mom’s side of the family were from Kansas, and belonged to the Grange, once they got out of the cities. Prairie is in my bones and blood, which is maybe one reason why I found the thought of moving west so terrifying. The ocean is great, but I need all these grass roots to hold me together.

I almost remember my great-grandmother, who was just one generation removed from the old country (not that anyone in my family’s ever called it that). We’re all immigrants - before the prairie, we were from the Netherlands (Friesland, specifically, although I don’t know how I know that) and Ireland, Germany and France and England. Northern European, all of us. But it was that Irish ancestor, the union man, who always stuck out to me. I need to find out his name. I’m not sure I want to take over as the family record-keeper, but I want to learn the names and the stories, see if I can make them hold together.

I also can’t (shouldn’t? Won’t) forget that the great majority of my ancestors were Christian, that Christianity was very important to them, and that they would not approve at all of this thing that I’m doing right here.

There are the ancestors of my spirit, too; those who Newton referred to when he said that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Yeats and Maud Gonne and Lady Gregory; everyone who taught those damn Dutch Day Camp classes when I was a kid; Isaac Bonewitz and Alestair Crowley and McGregor Mathers and Scott Cunningham and Starhawk and Selena Fox. Everyone who built this religion that I’m working in right now. But also Malinowski, and Clifford Geertz, and Margaret Mead, and Ruth Benedict. Without them we wouldn’t have this religion.

And all the nameless women of history, all the women whose names and contributions have been forgotten, all the women who made history and linguistics and anthropology and the theory of religion possible. All the voudou priestesses who inspired Northern Europeans looking for their own past; all the occultist’s wives who were never really equal; all the women raped by anthropologists looking for a little excitement in the field. Them, too. My ancestors are numberless, vast, and they know things I will never know.

It’s easy to think “ancestors” and think “grandparents” and discount them as smaller, less powerful, less important than the other spirits; I know I do that sometimes. But they are not. My ancestors - all our ancestors - number in the millions, and between them they know everything, and they live on in those of us who still walk the earth, in our memories and our sacrifices. It is possible that they are the strongest of the three categories of spirits, or at least the wisest.


Feb 1, 2016
I've been struggling with these rituals since I started the Dedicant's Path, requiring me to do every damn high day ritual or face starting the whole thing over again. The doing them is fine - the doing them is soothing and fulfilling, even when not entirely transporting. But the getting around to doing them...well, that's much harder.

I keep thinking that this isn't the right time, that if I just had more time to prepare, more time to spend on the work, it would be so much better. This is a flaw in my psychology I'm very aware of; I always feel like now is not the right time. And I always feel so much better when it's done anyway.

This is the first Imbolc I've celebrated in several years; that small victory is not enough, but it is something. While my first favorite pagan holiday was Samhain, once I settled into my practice a little more, Imbolc took pride of p
lace. It's perfectly timed: a month after the secular bustle of late December holidays have settled down, but well before actual spring, it gives you something to look forward to in the dead of winter. It's a promise, that it will get better.

(I never understood Imbolc as First Spring until I was in Ireland in the winter of 2004/2005. It really is spring in the beginning of February in Ireland. Everything is green. Tiny flowers are blooming. Lambs are, there is no other word for it, gamboling in the fields. We don't have the same climate here in Chicago, but the slow brightening of the sky is - well, it's not nothing.)

But more importantly, Imbolc is the feast of my patron goddess, Brigit, Lady of the Flames, keeper of the hearth and the forge and the poetic fire. She is one of the greatest teachers I have ever had, and a source of unwavering support through the darkest times in my life. I have been feeling her presence in my life very strongly of late; I've been creating in new ways, feeling the fire of inspiration like I haven't felt in years. So it felt right and good to honor her, this unnaturally warm February evening.

"Cups10". Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cups10.jpg#/media/File:Cups10.jpg
I burned a painting I'd done in sacrifice to Brigit. It was one of the most powerful sacrifices I've made, because I didn't want to do it. The painting came out much better than I'd hoped and I liked it, but I knew it was hers by right. I had meant to have some other Work in my ritual, something else to honor her, but I didn't have everything ready and I knew that if I didn't do the ritual tonight, I'd let it slip away and miss it entirely. And after all, the painting seemed enough. (And I could not have asked for a better blessing in return - as my omen from the gods, I drew the Ten of Cups.)

I felt a connection in this ritual that I had been struggling for when I started this practice, back in Samhain. It doesn't feel like I've done enough; I haven't done nearly what I usually do for Imbolc. But it is something, and it is more than the nothing I've done so far this year. I think I will stretch out the holiday with a good spring clean this upcoming weekend, and a loaf or two of fresh bread as well. Poetic fire is all well and good, but it's the hearthfire that keeps us alive.