An open heart is a tangible thing. There are people who walk around with their hearts wide open, all the time, and as long as they are healthy about setting boundaries, this open-heartedness can be felt and enjoyed by anyone who is paying attention. Love is healing and the ability to openly, honestly love anyone is a powerful healing ability. I was blessed to spend the equinox this year with a group who uses this fact in a ritual, spiritual way that has left me feeling euphoric, happy and aglow.

I haven’t felt euphoric, happy or aglow in a long, long time – the past few years have been horrible for me in a variety of soul-crushing ways. I think one of the reasons I feel happy is that I am profoundly grateful to be reminded that life is actually really beautiful.

Also, OMG I WALKED ON FIRE. That was pretty cool too. I also danced all night, literally. It’s got me thinking of signing up for a dance class again, for the first time in much too long.  It feels so, so good to move in beautiful ways.

I am finishing up my reiki class this week. I have my personal concept of reiki energy, which is my very own and I haven’t heard from anyone (though I haven’t studied much of reiki beyond what my teacher has said, and I’m not sure I want to – I seem to learn this skill mostly by doing it.) You know how the Universe has a constant background hum of radiation left over from the creation? I feel like it also has a universal background hum of love, from the same source. It’s not personal, it’s not about my own complicated feelings – it is simply that you exist in the universe, and so the universe loves you, and when I give reiki I feel like I’m tapping into that source and passing it along. A reiki session for me means I spend that time just loving you. The work is in learning how to get myself out of the way – my own ego, my desires for you to have a good outcome from the session, my need to be validated in the practice, my own messy and complex heart – to get all that out of the way and just let the love pour through.

I am amazed at how much good this does me.

Rob Brezsny says of my upcoming week: “It’s time for you to stop specializing in furtive glimpses and start indulging in brazen gazes. You’re ready to phase out your role as a peripheral influence and see if you can be more of a high-intensity instigator and organizer. Yes, Cancerian, you’ve earned the right to claim more credibility and clout — to leave your tentative position outside the magic circle and head in the direction of the sweet hot spot.”

I’ll be celebrating Ostara this weekend with some fine people at Spring from the Roots. which seems like a great place for high energy instigating. I am so ready to welcome spring.

 Just as I predicted, the question of “what does it mean to be Earth-based, anyway?” is loping off on me as I cling on and try to rein it in. I’ve been reading and thinking about your comments and comments I’ve gotten elsewhere, about the speakers I heard on Thorn’s podcast (my love for Orion Foxwood just grows and grows), and trying to go deeper into my own head and heart in search of an answer.

The word “Earth” can mean a lot of things, and to someone like me who has spent her whole life exploring Western esoteric systems, it has some meanings that might not be shared by those who aren’t in the same habits of thought. I think of “Earth” and I don’t just think of a particular planet – I think of concepts like the Kingdom and Emepedocles’ Earth and Plato’s Earth and the Earth that we call on from the North, the great bear in the mountains, and midnight. I think of the Hecatoncheires moving in the guts of the Earth and throwing mountains around. I think of the gnomes and the dwarves and the fairies in the hollow hills, I think of Capricorn and Taurus and Virgo, I think of a downward-pointing triangle. I think of what RJ Stewart calls the planetary consciousness. I think of the rising light below, and the star within the stone. So I realized, after writing that last post and thinking more about the topic, that one reason it runs away from me is that (as seems to happen to me a lot) I bring in all these unspoken concepts that seem simply obvious to me but really aren’t obvious at all. When I talk about Earth I’m talking about the planet, but I’m also talking, at the root of things, about the phenomenon of material existence. Maybe it’s distracting to bring Earth-as-planet into things at all, though it seems silly to leave it out. For all practical purposes, the substance of reality and the flesh of the Earth are the same thing – when we go live on Mars we can discuss that again. Suggestions to change the term to reflect the universal nature of material manifestation – “nature-based”, “cosmos-based” – lose the rich esoteric vocabulary behind the word “Earth.” They look flimsy to me. “Cosmos” and “Nature” don’t get me to Falias.

Rather than describing what it was about the religion, or spiritual path, or philosophy (depending on the terms the speaker was most comfortable with) that made it earth-based, many of those who answered my question talked about the fruits of such practice – the feeling of being connected with all things, of feeling woven in to the fabric of existence, and how that feeling translated into their actions and sense of belonging in daily life. Some of this was really beautiful, some was the same old unexamined cliches*, some of it made me think in new and different ways, but coming at the question from that direction didn’t help me much in answering what it means for a religion to be earth-based. What makes the various flavors of Paganism earth-based? What would make them not earth-based? Kullervo’s initial question included the thought that Hellenic polytheism wasn’t earth-based and therefore had little in common with other modern Paganisms such as Wicca or Druidry.

One of the things I thought upon reading that was “How can anyone claim Hellenic polytheism isn’t Earth-based?” We’re talking about a religion that had a holy festival around the rotted corpses of sacrificed pigs, after all. Hesiod said the Earth was the source of all the Olympian gods, the base of everything. That seems pretty clear to me – it’s over-simplified and Hesiod is hardly the be-all and end-all of Hellenic creation myths, but I’m not thinking of anything that contradicts this view, either. Many of the Hellenic gods are described in various sources as having been born from the earth and are described as being within various earthly things – Dionysus living within the grape, Demeter within the plowed fields. This is entirely compatible with the way I see the gods as well – born from the Earth, not from beyond it; not creators but in-dwellers; woven into the fabric of existence. This also seems entirely compatible with the ideas about gods I’ve also found in the modern Pagan religions – I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if those ideas are the direct descendents of Hesiod and others, via the classically educated occultists that informed the 20th-century incarnations of druidry, Wicca, and other more obscure variations of modern paganism.

I’m not really ready to defend that particular thesis, but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to see all of these – Wicca and Druidry of various flavors, reconstructed religions such as Hellenismos and Asatru, occult tradtions such as Thelema – as modern descendents of the same grandfathers, that early 20th century romantic impulse to dig up the roots of the old religions. Those roots still unites us, and our gods didn’t make the world; the world made our gods.

(Caveat – having written this, I feel sure that someone is going to think “I believe in a creator god/dess and I’m still Pagan, so you’re all wrong!” I might be, and if you are that person I would love to hear more about your creator and how he or she fits in with your paganism – I’m also fairly ignorant about some branches of the Pagan tree and if someone wants to jump in and describe how your tradition or personal practice has a god creating the earth rather than the other way around, I’d love to hear it. Especially if you have that concept and still consider your tradition to be “earth-based.”)

 *Edit to add: I don’t have anyone in particular in mind with this line – all the things I talk about here, the beauty and the originality and the cliches, generally came all tumbled together in various posts and comments and private emails – I’m referring to more than just the blog comments on the last post. I appreciate everyone who took the time to respond.

 Kullervo recently referred to the term “earth-based religion” as “bullshit rhetoric.” I think that what he means by that is that it’s a term that gets used thoughtlessly without a whole lot of reflection as to what it might mean. I asked him if that was actually what he meant, and he confirmed that and added the observation that he saw the term used most often as a code-phrase for other practices and beliefs that had no direct connection to being “Earth-based.” This mirrors my comment to Ruby Sara on her post on the same topic, that “people… seem to think it means something like recycling and keeping a compost heap.” One can do those things – or be a vegan, or a pacificist, or an eco-feminist, as Kullervo says – without practicing an Earth-based religion. He is right that none of these things are inherently “Earth-based”, and one can do and be none of them and still practice Earth-based religion. It sometimes leads people to those places, but just as often it doesn’t. Two people could both sincerely and profoundly experience their religion as Earth-based and come to completely different conclusions about pacifism or veganism, but then I could say the same thing about two Christians. 

One of the reasons I haven’t written about it before is that I don’t feel qualified to say “This is what it really means!” I can’t speak for anyone else who uses the term. I could go on about what it means to me to practice an earth-based religion, but that doesn’t speak for what it means to anyone else. As Pagans, we use vague and undefined terms amongst each other all the time with the assumption that everyone else in the conversation has come to their own conclusions about meaning. That’s part of how this religion is – you have to reach your own epiphanies and understanding is not supplied in advance. One weakness of that is that it’s possible to have widely varying understandings of the same term or practice, and yet to still share that vocabulary and practice. That’s the basic problem of orthopraxy over orthodoxy – there is no authority to tell us what it all really means; we just have to figure it out for ourselves. For someone who wants to understand but isn’t committed to or interested in doing the work of coming to a personal understanding, this could be frustrating and puzzling. From that perspective, it could all look very superficial and like, um, bullshit. The only explanations that can be offered to that perspective are the superficial ones, and it would be hard for someone who doesn’t already value the work that others have done to do the work themselves – you have to already believe that there is something there to go looking for it, and you’re not going to go looking for it if you’ve already decided it’s bullshit. My thoughts on the “earth-based” term are a product of my own understanding and if they still sound shallow, that’s the fault of my lack of ability to translate mystical understanding into English. Or, as Terry Pratchett put it, “… we are trying to understand the fundamental workings of the universe via a language devised for telling one another where the best fruit is.”
I do a little internal shudder when I hear people talking about finding the sacred in Nature as though Nature means, I don’t know, the woods or something. Nature as the thing over there beyond the paved roads and the shops, on the other side of the river from the power plant, past the garden fence… I love wild places. I hear the voices of the gods out in those wild places better than I hear them anywhere else, and I assume that is what people mean when they talk like that. I appreciate that others feel this way, too, but it still bothers me to hear Nature spoken of as Other. There are ecosystems in your carpet, in your gut, in your lawn, on your desk – there is no cubic centimeter of anything anywhere that is not Nature. You can find the sacred Earth without leaving your couch, and I think that understanding is the core of an Earth-based practice
While thinking about it in an idle sort of way, I put the term into Google to see where it led. I got two types of results: ones pertaining to modern Pagan religions and ones pertaining to astronomy. Earth-based telescopes are the ones we have here on the ground – they look out into the stars but are solidly Earthbound. The other kinds are in orbit. In terms of astronomy, I understand the need to differentiate, but the orbital telescopes look as solidly Earth-based in an absolute sense as the ones on the ground. They are still tied to the Earth through the reins of gravity and all of their materials came from the flesh of the Earth, just as our bodies do. Even the probes we send off into space are Earth-based – none of their flesh comes from anywhere else and their signals all get sent back here. Unless we start living on other planets, that can’t be any different – and even then, we are Earth-bound, Earth-based creatures bringing the flesh of our planet with us wherever we go. This is who and what we are. Every atom of our flesh, everything we touch, and everything we do is very literally Earth-based. This is a basic truth of human existence, and recognizing this fact as holy is what it means for a religion to be “earth-based.”

We explicitly affirm the Earth as sacred. Flesh is Earth, bones are Earth, plants are Earth, dirt is Earth. So is plastic and metal and concrete. Holiness is not located somewhere else – it’s here, within our own bodies and within everything we touch and breathe and sense. That’s where it all starts and where it all ends.

Since all of the Earth is holy and we are all of the Earth, this can start to sound like pantheism, and I suppose it can be. Ruby Sara notes this, and for some people that is where it leads. I think I part ways with the pantheists, though, in that I do not see the Earth-that-is-holy as a god. I know the gods, or at least some parts of some of them, and they are not the same as the All that we are all part of. They too are part of it. I cannot say that Hekate and the Earth are of the same class of being. They are not. I can’t call the Earth a god – it is the base, it is the ground, it is the matrix in which we all move, but it is simply not the same type of thing as those I experience as gods.
My deities, the ones I experience, are chthonic – they are of the Underworld, they exist in the layer of existence that lies underneath the surface of embodied reality. My religion is earth-based because it finds the locus of the sacred in the flesh of Nature, in the very fabric of materiality, and my gods are chthonic because they exist within the structure of the fabric. I suppose that is what it means, to me in any case, to be a polytheist – there are multiple deities, they exist outside of the self, and they are limited. My gods are not omniscient, omnipresent, or even omnibenevolent – they aren’t omni- or pan- anything. Even the gods of the sky and stars are Earth-based, as the sky is as much of the Earth as the oceans or the continents, and the stars we experience only from the perspective of the Earth (space-based telescopes and probes notwithstanding, we have yet to see the other side of Orion – for that matter, there is no other side of Orion, since the constellations only exist from an Earth-based perspective – the stars only appear close together because of our relative positions.) The star goddess looks down to us here on Earth – if she didn’t, we would never know her.
While I have been recently reassured that people do indeed read long blog posts (thanks to everyone who responded so kindly to my fishing attempt) I think this needs to be continued in another post. More to come!

 

 

I’ve picked up the regular daily practice of drawing three cards first thing in the morning. I write down the cards and what I think they mean, and at the end of the day I go back and reflect on the day in light of what the cards said. This morning, what they said was “big important things are afoot, but nothing is happening yet.” and I sighed and felt frustrated. I felt frustrated because I thought this morning’s reading was saying “Here comes another unproductive day!” and it’s felt like a long string of unproductive days. 

For some reason it was only this morning that I put it together and read through the last few weeks’ worth of morning draws. Over and over – almost every day. “The seed is planted; the work has begun, but no fruition yet.” “Do not expect much of anything to happen today, but remember that great things are happening!” Themes of incubation and expectation.  And of course, that’s what this season is about – the time from Imbolc to Ostara is one big waiting room, and I’m sitting here waiting. I remind myself that what sometimes feels like idleness is simply preparation. I only wish I knew what I was preparing for.

Last night, I had my third reiki class. We’re still working on self-treatment and we started the session with a guided meditation – the usual go-to-your-safe-space-and-meet-a-guide-and-ask-a-question.  There was absolutely no reason for me to let my teacher know that I’ve done this one a bazillion times and led it half a bazillion times – it’s always helpful for me and I didn’t want to throw her off her game. So I closed my eyes, and went to a safe space, and met a guide. It was a moose this time – I felt like he was another instance of Deer, but for some reason he showed up as a moose. I asked him my question – “How do I deal with my anxieties about the future?”

His response (paraphrased because of course these answers don’t actually show up as a block of text, at least for me) was that of course difficult things were going to happen to me. Changes would come and some of them would be hard. Of course, since I’m a living human, these things will come because that’s life and there’s no getting out of it. Everything changes, not all changes are easy, and that’s all there is to it. But, he said, that’s not the source of your anxiety. You already know this. The anxiety comes from not trusting yourself to do what is right through the changes. You don’t trust yourself to meet these things well. Nobody else takes care of you; you’re an adult, there is no parent out there to make sure that the things that must be done are done. It’s just you, and you’re afraid that this isn’t enough. If you want to be less anxious, take better care of yourself. Parent yourself better. Show that frightened part of yourself that it’s all ok, you’ve got it covered, and that you’re ready for whatever comes. He said, you don’t have to conquer the world just yet, but if you want to not be afraid you have to stand up for yourself.

Later in the class, we did a self-scanning – a long, slow, energetic scan of the body. I was entertained by a voice I started hearing about a third of the way through the practice. It was the voice of a somewhat petulant old woman nagging me about my health. Unlike the moose, this is not a paraphrase – she was very clear about everything. “Ooh, you’ve been drinking too much coffee; don’t you think you should cut down?” “Hmph, gall bladder, it’s fine for now but at your age you ought to think about it more.” “Cut down on the sugar, it’s not good for you!” It was mostly just funny, until we got down around the lower abdomen. She stopped muttering and nagging and said, “Good god, girl, were you just going to let that go? Why are you ignoring this?” and I became aware that there was indeed pain there. “Start taking vitex now. Every day, for at least the next three cycles. You need to do something about this now unless you really like suffering. “

So I went home and took some vitex tincture (Vitex agnus-castus). I don’t have any of the tincture as a simple, though I do have a bag of dried vitex berries from last summer. I’ll stop at the liquor store for some tincturing spirit and get those brewing tonight. The warning was so very clear and so emphatic,  and if I don’t follow it I suspect she’ll yell at me again the next time I do a self-scan. Plus I don’t actually like suffering. I thought of going to the doctor for a checkup, but “I have some vague pain in my lady-bits that a voice in my head said might be something serious” is not likely to go anywhere helpful beyond a pat on the head and a recommendation for some Motrin and maybe some Xanax.  

 ————–
I wrote the above a few days ago and haven’t posted it because I’m not sure how I feel about posting personal visionary stuff right now, but I haven’t been all that shy about it in the past and there is no reason to feel that way now (and anyway nobody reads this far into a long post so who cares, right?) I think my reluctance to post is part of my ongoing anxiety issues, and like the moose said, the way around that is to not let the anxious bits run the show. I had an odd experience this weekend – odd for me, since talking moose and invisible herbalists don’t actually register as “odd” anymore – and I feel like it somehow relates.
I went to a workshop that is part of an ongoing series on energy work – this was the second of a four-part series. We did a chakra meditation towards the end of the session that involved circulating the breath through the chakras – the teacher brough us up to the fifth chakra and then had us sort of hang in space before bringing us back down. While we were in that space, I got hit by lightning. Well, not exactly that – it felt more like a jolt from an electric fence, but not exactly electrical – I’m using electricity as a metaphor here, since that was the closest feeling in my experience, but it wasn’t quite like that either. It was a sensation of energy suddenly and strongly coursing through my entire body. It wasn’t unpleasant or pleasant – it was startling but not frightening. It was absolutely a physical sensation, and it wasn’t suggested by the teacher or expected by me. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor; if I had been standing or in a chair, I would have fallen over. As it was, I had to put my hands out to steady myself. It almost brought me out of the meditation, and I had to really focus to follow the teacher back down ladder.
The teacher checked in with me afterwards as she saw that something had happened. She made sure I was OK (I was) and suggested that with the reiki work I’ve been doing plus the stuff I’ve been learning from her that perhaps it was something akin to what you get when increasing physical activity – sort of the energetic equivalent of a sore muscle getting worked. I don’t know if this is right or not, though it seems like a good explanation.
I think what startled me about it is that it was so completely physical. As I said, I’m used to things that many people would find odd – visions, dreams, visitations, foreshadowings, messages – fairies, gods, ancestors – all of these things have always been with me. And while I say that I believe in them, in the sense that I accept their reality as something apart from myself, there has always been this wee little bit that says “but of course it could all be imaginary!” Always this caveat, which I rarely acknowledge any more as there has never been anything helpful about it. I think I keep it because it’s reassuring, in its own way – as long as I can retain the ability to examine these experiences in a critical light, as long as keep that little shard of skepticism, I retain the ability to back away someday and rejoin the sleepwalking masses. Maybe that’s healthy or maybe it’s a hindrance, I don’t know. I mostly just don’t think about it too much any more.
This wasn’t anything I can be skeptical about, even if I don’t have an interpretation for it. I have this skeptical voice as well about energy healing, that it’s all placebo (as though that explains anything) or that it’s just something to make everyone feel better without having any physical impact (as though there is anything wrong with that.) I respond to that voice by saying well, if I can be an effective placebo that makes people feel better, that’s pretty good right there. Perhaps my jolt was a reminder that there is more to it than that and that work with the subtle bodies is also work with the physical body.
Over the last few days, the tone of the morning card draw has changed. It’s still all about potential, but rather than talking about incubation, it’s moved on to sprouting. Apparently things are beginning to happen. I don’t know what those things are, but it’s about time.

For the 5th annual Brigid Poetry Festival, some Mary Oliver:

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

- Mary Oliver 

I originally wanted to do the one about the wild geese, because that one is really helpful to me right now, but I feel like everyone already knows that one and I should do something a little different. One thing I love about the annual Imbolc poetry blogging is that I get to read lots of poetry I wouldn’t have seen before, so while Mary Oliver’s swan isn’t exactly obscure, it’s a little less well-worn than her geese. But I still like the geese, so here they are as well:

Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves. 
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 
Meanwhile the world goes on. 
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers. 
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again. 
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

My grandmother gave me a book of Mary Oliver poems, so these always make me think of her. This is the same grandmother that gae me The Secret Garden for my 4th birthday and The Golden Bough for my 10th. I think I was 12 or so when she gave me Mary Oliver. Thanks, grandmother, for consciously shaping my sense of the sacred. I miss you.

I’m a little behind schedule for  a New Year’s post. I wasn’t really feeling the whole New Year goal-setting thing last week, so I didn’t give it a bit of thought, but now that it’s almost two weeks in, I’m starting to look around and notice a pile of goals.

- I signed up for Rosemary Gladstar’s Science and Art of Herbalism class. I didn’t do it with any particular thought beyond that fact that I had a good month financially, she’s knocked the price down for the winter, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I have studied herbalism in many different ways over many years, but never in as formal and systematic way as this class. I just got the ginormous binder and it looks fantastic, very in-depth, and just what I wanted. I would like to complete this course by the end of 2010. If it takes longer because I really get it into it and want to go deeper, that’s fine, but I don’t want it to take longer because I get distracted and lazy. This is also a part of a larger goal for the year, which came from divination I did at New Year’s – this is the year when I get focused on learning healing work. I feel drawn to energy healing, but the classes and such I have seen in Reiki and other such modalities have a new-agey, scammy feel to them that repels me. I want to learn something more basic, more down to earth, and I’m thinking I would be better off learning from the faeries than from the New Agers. But ideally I’d like to find a human that can help.  Of course, herbalism can also be a form of energy healing, since it also works with living (or once-living) beings in the form of plants – mediating the energy between human and plant is sort of what I see as my work as an herbalist, so maybe I’ll get clearer on that. Anyway, that’s my big woo-woo goal for the year.

- By December, I would like for my dog to be able to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. Did I mention I got a dog? I got a dog, right before Thanksgiving 2009! She is awesome! She is in my lap right now forcing me to reach awkwardly across the keyboard, but that’s fine! I blame any typos in this post on her. This is my dog:

Her name is Clara, after my great-aunt who died the same day I brought her home. I got her from a great little shelter in New Jersey, with the assistance of The Gods Are Bored’s own Anne Johnson. (Anne was right – this is indeed the correct dog for me.) She is learning how to be a happy and well-adjusted little dog, which is a bit of a challenge as she is anxious by nature. She is also very well-behaved and aims to please, so I think we can get to good citizen status in a year. So there’s another goal – the CGC is a concrete and tangible goal, but it’s part of my larger goal to be a good dog-mom.

-  Dance more.

-  Get my driver’s license and a car. Shock, horror, etc. Some things have changed in my life that make car ownership seem like the way to go. Has to be done. Ugh.

- Keep up and continue to expand on my spiritual path – the druid stuff, the witchy stuff, the faery stuff – all that stuff. Keep doing it, and keep writing about it.

- Take real steps to get myself back up to New England – I don’t think it will happen in a permanent way this year, but steps can be taken. I’m done with this Southern life. I am tempted to throw some really big goals into this bit, but for now those will remain unspoken. These will do.

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