Connecting to your deeper self

The challenge I posed a few weeks ago, was to become real. To find the courage the show our true face to the world. Of course, to be able to do that, you first need to understand who that ‘real you’ is…

It may be that you have become so used to hiding that you hardly even remember who’s there under the masks. Or maybe you do, but there’s this feeling that, over time, the mask has become glued on, almost. High time then, to reconnect.

In preparation for this ritual, you may want to do the following, if it feels right. Make yourself beautiful. Not a conventional beautiful, but try to make your outside mirror the inside of your soul as much as possible – be colourful, weird, queer, whatever. Be You.

mirror-me

Ritual: Birth – being/allowing the self to speak

  • Enter into meditation. You find yourself at a lakeshore. Look into the water, and see your face staring back at you. Is this the face you want to share with the world?
  • Now, consider the following questions. How do you play a role when you are with
      • your friends
      • your parents
      • your brothers/sisters
      • other family
      • your colleagues at work
  • As you consider each case, visualize the mask you are wearing, then take it of. After taking of each mask, look into the mirror before you. How does your reflection change?
  • Finally, as you are done, admire your true self. Aren’t you beautiful? Unfortunately, we all know that bringing that person into the world can be quite the challenge. But you can start by listening, by giving that real you a voice.
  • Make sure you have a pen and notebook ready.
  • See how your true self stares back at you from the mirror that is the lake surface. Then, visualize stepping into the water, and immersing yourself into your mirror image. Feel how this has the effect of, just for this moment,  washing away all barriers and allowing this inner you to come to the front, and truly inhabit your body, without being pushed aside as we so often tend to do. See how, in this moment, your inner and outer self are in harmony.
  • Now, take your pen. Give your ‘real’ self permission to speak. Start writing. Do not censor anything, simply write down whichever words emerge. Continue with this exercise for at least five minutes (or more, if you feel inspiration flowing.)
  • When you feel the session needs to end, acknowledge that it is time to return to your regular life, but promise to return. Give thanks to your inner self.

Repeat this rite as often as you like.

Thoughts on an inclusive Beltane

When asked what Beltane is all about, the answers most people give you will include the word ‘sex’, probably in a rather prominent position. And even though I am asexual myself, I concur. However…

Many interpretations of Beltane tend to revolve around the union of the masculine and the feminine, as God and Goddess. And yes, this is indeed a powerful and important theme, however, we risk missing out on so much if we stop there. Moreover, such a rite can very easily feel more than a bit alienating if you are not in a heterosexual relationship yourself. And so I would like to argue that we may need to rethink things a bit, to create a celebration that is truly inclusive for everyone.

As an asexual, I’ve struggled quite a bit with Beltane over the years. Because for me, it has often felt like ‘everybody else’s party’, and participating in Beltane celebrations to me felt mostly as a stark reminder of how I was different. (And I can imagine that for people who are involuntarily single, or in a same-sex relationship, it can sometimes feel similar.) When speaking about that to people, the answer was often something like ‘but you can make it  be about creativity as well’. That is true, but it feels somewhat like being relegated to the lesser options. Like a buffet which is full of exquisite food, and then having a few dishes for people with diet restrictions as well, added at the last minute as something of an afterthought. (Or think of the vegetarian who is told that ‘they can eat the salad’).

How do you create a Beltane ritual that speaks to everyone, without having to compromise  on content? I am not going to advocate that we need to do a ritual that is only about being creative and the fact that summer is about to begin. That would be like solving the buffet problem by putting everyone on a strict diet. (I’ll admit that up until a few years ago, I would have advocated for precisely that. But then I did some divination on the subject, and  in reply, my oracle deck gave me precisely all the cards that had the most explicitly sexual imagery on them. That was a pretty clear ‘no, you are going the wrong way here’ :-))

So, what is Beltane about then? If I can take the liberty to widen the meaning of the word sex a bit, then the answer would be, that

At Beltane, we celebrate the mystery of how the coming together of two (or more) souls leads to the birth of something greater.

The core of Beltane is the realisation that, in love,

1+1 =3.

So, let us unpack that statement a bit more.

The first, literal interpretation of this is that, everywhere in nature, from the union of the masculine and the feminine, seeds are formed, which will later grow into new living beings. This is and remains an important mystery, and it should be part of our Beltane celebrations.

And yes, this does include the sexual union of a man and a woman. But does that lead to the creation of a child every time? I sure would hope not… Overpopulation is already bad enough right now. Instead, I would argue that the ‘something greater’ is that ‘a new entity’ is indeed being created, but that entity is the soul of ‘the couple’, which is something new and different from the man and woman that created it.

The obvious advantage of this way of defining it is that it already includes all non-heterosexual relationships as part of the mystery. But we should not stop there.

We celebrate Beltane, and in fact all festivals, in an attempt to reconnect with the natural world, to stop seeing ourselves as separate from it. And so let us make Beltane the ultimate celebration of that. Let us, for a moment, look at this from the point of view of a tree or plant. In this case the true sexual dance is not so much between the masculine and the feminine, but between the flower and the bee. Between two creatures who are not even of the same species, yet need each other if they want to bring forth new life.

Bee-flower

So, let us include this dance in our Beltane celebrations. I see at least two ways in which this is relevant:

  • to reconnect humanity to the natural world: in your next Beltane celebration, I invite you to send everyone out into nature for a while, to go and experience that connection. Hug a tree, sing to a flower, listen to the song of rustling leaves. Allow your soul to be touched by something other than yourself, then return that love by giving back a small offering of who you are. (And may this be a falling in love, a relationship that does not end when the ritual is over, but one to be carried away and to fertilize your own life in the future, so that 1+1 can truly equal three).

 

  • in inter-human relationships: Each of us is an individual. How do we create a group, a community from that? By fertilizing each other. By being like the flowers and the bees. By giving everyone an equal chance to express themselves, to contribute ideas to the group mind. By learning to listen to opinions that are not our own, and growing wiser through that. Let this, too, be a part of our celebration.

Now suddenly, we have a lot of things to celebrate within our ritual. How can we include all of that without ending up with a multi-day rite? A simple suggestion could be to give the maypole ritual a wider interpretation.

world tree

This ‘creation myth’ which I wrote a while ago can be a starting point for that.

 

 

 

Interpreted in such a way, the maypole dance can become a truly inclusive version of group sex magic. But if, after that, you feel called to celebrate that union a little bit more intimately with a single specific individual, well I’d say: follow nature’s call, go out and have fun!

Daring to exist : Asexuality and Paganism

My previous post came with a challenge attached to it: taking the decision to stop hiding, and standing in the world as fully and unapologetically yourself.

And so it is only fair that I take up that challenge for myself. One of the areas of life where people tend to struggle with the idea of coming out, is sexuality. My personal experience is no different.  As this is a pagan blog, my intention is to use this as an opportunity to investigate the relation between my sexual orientation and my druidry.

First, the facts. I am asexual. In short, that means I do not experience sexual attraction to other people, whatever their gender. As a result of that, I have never had sex.

Yes, that is right, I am still a virgin. A common question at this point is: how do I know that I do not want sex, if I’ve never even tried it? Because I just know. Ask any gay person, and they will probably tell you that they knew they were gay before ever having had sex with a man. It is precisely the realization that they wanted it, that drove them to start engaging in sexual acts. As for me, I have simply never felt the urge. For myself, I am happy this way, as I don’t feel I am missing anything. (Whereas, if you were to tell me now that I can never eat chocolate again, now that would be another matter entirely, gasp :-). I mean, even the simple act of writing this sentence makes me want to drop everything to go and find some chocolate.) So yes, I understand quite well what attraction and desire are.  But I simply do not feel attracted towards sexual activity with anyone.

Why am I writing about this? Because I think it is important that the world begins to be aware about the fact that people like me exist, and that we do not need fixing. This is simply the way we are wired.

And I hear some of you thinking -what’s the big deal? If you don’t want sex, then how is that anybody else’s problem? For sure you are not facing any of the kinds of oppression gays or trans people are? Which is partly true (I think trans people are some of the bravest people on the planet actually, for that matter), but only if you discount the kind of issues that are caused by the experience of invisibility.

In popular culture, the idea is extremely pervasive that love and sex are the same thing. In almost every movie, at some point there will be a scene where a person tells another that they love them, followed by them kissing, and maybe having sex. If one person wants this sexual intimacy and the other doesn’t, the conclusion may well be let’s just  be friends instead. So, when growing up, what you are told is that at some point, you will fall in love with someone, which means you’ll want to have sex with them, and maybe because of that you’ll want to marry them. And those are the relationships that apparently are supposed to matter most, as friendships (the relationships without sex) are often portrayed as being of lesser importance (or how else am I supposed to interpret sentences like ‘lets just  be friends’, when a relationship request is turned down?)

If you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,  this general narrative will probably still makes sense, except of course for the major complication that you may end up falling in love with what some would call ‘the wrong kind of person’. I am in no way discounting the very real pain caused by that (and yes, in some ways you DO have it harder than us), but at least for yourself, you still understand how the world works, and what sexuality is.

Now, what does it feel like to grow up asexual? To explain that, I would like you to first consider the story of the Selkie women for just a moment.

Many tales are told of selkies,  seal women who come to live in the human world for a time, either by choice or because someone has stolen their seal skin, and so they cannot now transform back to seal form. Have you ever tried to look at this tale from the side of the Selkie? Wondered what it is like to live in a world that is mostly familiar, yet so different from your own in so many ways? 

The Selkie will have moments when she sees people do certain things, where she has no idea why. Which nobody bothers to explain. Because without her skin, she looks just like them, so it simply does not occur to anyone that they might need to explain things. Because everybody knows about this, right? This is simply the way things are…

Selkie

Growing up asexual is very much like this in some ways. Quite a number of basic facts regarding sexuality are never spoken of or explained, because it is assumed that everybody knows or will be able to figure it out on their own anyway. Because everyone experiences sexual attraction, right? If you want to know what it is, you will find out when you meet the right person…

But there are some of us who actually never experience this feeling. And since it is rarely spoken off, this feels very much like being blind, while not even realizing that other people are able to see. And sure, you hear them talk about colours, and you even think you understand what they are talking about, yet your interpretation couldn’t have been more wrong…

Still, during puberty you cannot fail but start noticing more and more that you are somehow different. If you are like me, the conclusion you draw is that it must be you that is to blame, that it must be that you are somehow incapable of normal human relationships, because you fail at dating. Or, I also know of others who do decide to play the game, and have sex even though they don’t want to, because they think that is what you are supposed to do in order to be in a relationship (essentially allowing themselves to be raped voluntarily).

So, it may be a struggle that is much less visible than those of most other LGBTQIA people, but it can still cause very deep psychological wounds, many of which could be avoided if asexuality were a universally known sexual orientation, so that teenagers would at least have role models to understand who they are. (And, it would also help us if the taboos of talking about sex were lifted: more explicit education about the technical aspects of sex would make it much easier for us to become aware of the fact that we are missing a sensitivity that others do have.)

So, how does all of this connect to Paganism? To put it crudely: where sex-positivity is something that attracts a lot of people to Paganism, for asexuals, it is often the other way around, where we may risk feeling even more misunderstood than in regular society. For surely, the fact that you choose not to have sex must mean that you are unevolved and unspiritual, right? (At least in some circles, that seems to be the narrative.)

There’s so many ways in which my asexuality has influenced the way I engage with Paganism, and it has coloured my ideas about some very common concepts within it. This is one of the topics that I want to begin exploring on this blog. However, there’s so much to say that I will split this up over a number of future blog-posts:

To appear over the coming months

Beltane and the need to celebrate diversity

Struggling with the Goddess: in search of self

– Maiden-mother-crone: exploring the divine feminine from an ace point of view

– Exploration on the connection between sexuality and mysticism: could mysticism be a sexual orientation?

Ash – Who are you?

Hear the challenge of the ash tree. It is the tree of the hunter, and therefore the tree that calls us to responsibility: how do you choose to live your live?

I pierce the earth. Newborn. Like a spear, I reach for the sky. I rejoice in existing. I dance with joy at my newfound identity.

Then, as years go by, insight grows. I myself have not chosen the form I have been given. I am ‘ash’ because my ancestors were. In very real ways, I am them. And so I start exploring my world in a different way. I am flow. I am breath. I am the spirit within, expressed through my being.

In the hunt, the hunter becomes one with his prey. Both transcend their individuality. The cycle of life becomes visible on the material plane through them. The hunted accepts that today is his time to die. Accepting this sacrifice in gratitude, the hunter realizes that one day, he will need to match this sacrifice himself.

ash-bud

For millennia, hunters have used my wood to create their spears. In doing so, they have accepted this sacred covenant: we are all part of the cycle of life. There is no ‘I’, there is only ‘we’, temporarily expressed by a body that takes on individual form.

Who are you? This is the question that every tree in the forest will ask you to answer. When you come to me, remember that the right answer must always include the word WE .

What ash asks of us is to become more fully aware of the miraculous fact that we are alive, and of the responsibility that comes with that, requiring us to work with that gift to the fullest of our ability.

Note that this does not mean a call to strive for material success, or that you have failed if you haven’t become an amazing artist or a leader in whatever field you work in. All it asks you is to become more aware of the fact that the web of life saw a need to produce you to live in this particular place and time. You, and not someone else. And that requires you to try and summon the courage to show your true face to the world, laying down any masks you like to hide behind.

That is how you pay back the sacrifice of those who died so you can live. That is how you sacrifice yourself to the hunter when it is your time. By striving to be authentically you.

Ritual: birth- choosing to exist

  • Open the ritual in the usual way. Call on ash to guide you through the ritual.
  • Close your eyes, and enter into meditation.
  • As you open your inner eyes, visualize your soul as being contained within a seed, buried in the earth.
  • Even though you are below ground, somehow you are able to observe everything that happens above ground, in the ‘real’ world. Moreover, you find that you are even able to participate in it, to some extent: you can conjure up a dream image of yourself, and in that ghostly form you can participate in the life above ground.
  • You notice that most people don’t even realize that they are dealing with a projection rather than a real person. (And how sure are you about the person you are talking to?). However, you are also aware, even if maybe only on some subconscious level, that this situation is ultimately unsustainable. When stretched to endurance, the image will crumble. Also, as a ghost, you cannot fully take part in life, as you cannot eat any of the delicacies life has to offer. This type of life literally cannot sustain your soul long-term.

seedling

  • Pause the meditation to reflect on this. Do you recognize yourself in this situation? Why do you do this? What would the real you be like?
  • Make a decision: decide to leave the shadow self behind, and to become real. This is a big and scary journey, and you do not/should not start it without taking the time to properly prepare first. Right now, all you need to do is make a commitment to yourself. Take an oath, and call on Ash as witness and ally.
  • Return to the meditation.
  • You are still standing in the world as your ghost self. Walk away from the city, and enter the forest. Walk until you find yourself in a clearing with a big ash tree at the center.
  • Kneel before it. (You may want to repeat this in front of a real tree.)
  • Explain why you came, and how you came to this conviction. Then, speak the following words aloud, three times:

I choose to exist.

ash-big
I choose to exist.
  • Sit some time in silence to let the significance of this decision sink in. Then go and hug the tree. Feel how it envelops you in a protective embrace. Listen to any advice it may have. 
  • If you are in a real forest, pick up a token (listen to your intuition), and place it on your altar.
  • Give thanks, and finish the ritual.

Now that the decision has been made, it is time to prepare. You will need to prepare both the seed (making sure you fully understand what real means), and the ground. Growing in fertile soil is so much easier, after all… At the very least, you aught to make sure that you do not need to make this journey alone.

Exploring our soul forest

Mankind has always been afraid of darkness. For good reason, as this is indeed a place where danger may hide. And yet…

There are other animals that prefer the dark of night, precisely because it offers them safety and allows them to hide from their predators. Or sometimes because they are the predator, and they like to hide in shadows when they stalk their prey.

This post is about darkness of a different type. The type that we find within our very soul. And which we all fear. Or do we? Maybe sometimes we like to hide there, contemplate irrational fears so as not to have to confront the very real challenges that life offers.

My posts are usually about trees, and how they have helpful messages for us. This one is no different, only the protagonist this time will be the forest itself rather than a particular tree. If the woods could speak, what would they have to say about this? Listen then, and hear what they have to say:

I am forest. I am made up of many separate beings, all individuals, but together, they are me. That makes me not so different from you… For who are you, really? Made up from so many different aspects of your psyche, with sad thoughts stalking happy thoughts and trying to eat them…

2013-11-03-19.39.31.000

Now I would like you to try this little experiment.

Start a meditation. Close your eyes. Take some time first to relax, then open your inner eyes.

You find yourself in the middle of a woodland. Look around you. What do you see? Is it dry or wet forest? How close together are the trees? Deciduous or coniferous? What about the wildlife? Do you see any? Mostly birds or mostly ground animals? Or is your focus more on worms and insects?

This is your inner forest. Walk around in it. Greet the trees, connect with the animals. Is this a place where you would like to live? Why?

Now, sit down. Concentrate on your own feelings. Notice how changing your focus changes the forest around you. Not just in obvious ways. For your forest is an ecosystem that constantly tries to restore its balance.

Think an unhappy thought. Focus, just for a moment, on something you worry about. How does the wildlife in your forest react? Do the seasons change? Anything about the vegetation?

Try to see this as a method of divination, a way to speak the language of your soul.

How is this helpful? The forest is a representation of you, your subconscious self, but is more than that: it is you, in a way that is disconnected from your everyday self. That makes it more neutral. You may notice that for some negative thoughts, the forest barely reacts. This can tell you which of your worries are illusionary, while others may actually threaten the survival of the forest, even as you downplay them.

Learn to speak your inner language. Use it to connect to your roots. And may it help you remember that the nonhuman world is so very closely connected to you. And as you learn to connect to your inner forest, do not forget that the ones growing on this planet need your attention as well. And maybe, just maybe, your newfound communication skills will serve you out there as well?

Hazel: attuning to our inner wisdom

Some say I am immortal: cut me down as many times as you like, and I will always grow back. I will add this remark to that: it is only when you continue to cut me down, that I will continue to grow. For, what is the value of immortality if we are forced to walk the same road and live the same life forever?

Trees are static beings. Our body is shaped by the growing choices that we made long ago. The impact of a dry summer years ago in our youth, will affect the shape we take in adulthood.

Come visit me in the woods, and notice that I refuse to be pinned down to a single direction of growth. Where I grow, you will find me following many different pathways. I am explorer, and I will follow any path that calls to me.

hazel-tree

And now I have some questions for you to ask yourself:

How have you shaped your life? Realize that you are not that different from a tree, for your soul has the shape of a tree. Your main branches were shaped by your experiences in childhood, and the chances for growth you were given back then. Are you happy with the person you have become?

Now consider what it means to be free. My branches are commonly chewed on by deer, and at first glance you may feel the need to protect me from that destruction. But where one branch is taken away, I am given the freedom to grow a new one, to catch new sunlight and be open to new experiences. And so I remain, ancient yet a child forever.

What would it take for you to cultivate a similar openness? Dare you let go of the path you are currently walking? Do you dare to notice the crossroads, chase a butterfly and change direction?

Ask yourself what is the path that leads towards wisdom. Is it living in the illusion that you can possibly know it all, or does it lie in the acceptance of the fact that you may have been wrong all along, and having the openness of mind to continue seeing and exploring new directions? And at the same time, remember to appreciate the life lessons you learned during you time of folly.

hazel-catkins

Hazel has no fear of beginning its journey towards the sky anew, over and over again if need be. How about us? When did that journey begin, really? Are we just talking about our current lifetime, or did ‘conception’ occur a very long time ago, and is this simply one of our many appearances here on earth? If so, who are we, really? Who is this being that inhabits our body, looks through our eyes? Is is just ‘us’, or is it a much older being that is steering us towards certain experiences?

Even if you do not believe in reincarnation, it is most definitely true that we are more than our current form. We are (and are not) the baby that was born from our mothers womb, the little frightened child at our first day at school, and so on…

The being that is the sum and total of all these experiences, of all our life choices now and in the future, we could refer to as ‘our higher self’. It is ‘us’, and yet not us, for its perspective is not limited by linear time. We are in contact with it continuously, through the voice of our conscience. Yet, all too often we choose to not listen, to allow its voice be drowned out by the noises of the modern world.

Hazel can help us to deepen that connection, to find that inner voice and become more attuned to it. For, like no other tree, hazel understands the challenge of living, of hearing the symphony of the many voices that make us into who we are. The following ritual can help us to tune into that more consciously.

hazel-nuts

 

Ritual – the hazel nut: attuning to our inner wisdom

  • Close your eyes, breathe in and out slowly and deeply a number of times, feeling how gradually the world around you seems to slow down, and fall out of focus.
  • Instead, you sense a glowing point of light in the area of your gut. Concentrating on it, note how it seems to have the shape of a hazelnut. This is the seat of your soul. As you turn your attention towards it, it begins to shine more brightly.
  • Gradually, your perception of yourself begins to change: the nut, your core is who you really are, and everything else: your body, your current life, those hard-to-surpress thoughts about the fact that you still need to urgently do the dishes after finishing this meditation, all of that is but ‘the outgrowth’ of your core self, like the branches of the hazelnut that will shoot back out again every time a deer passes by to snack on them.
  • That includes the thoughts emanating from your brain. They are just what animates this outer form. So, turn your focus away from all that, and towards the hazelnut.
  • Allow it to grow and glow more and more brighter. Listen to the song that seems to emanate from it: Then ‘shift controls’: allow that song to be the animating force within you, rather than the chatter of your brain. Breathe in and out slowly, allowing the light to spread and the song to get louder. Feel how even as you allow the outer world to fade, paradoxically your perspective seems to grow wider rather than more limited.
  • You are you, and not you at the same time. This is your ‘full self’, rather than the ‘moment-by-moment’-version that you usually experience. How do you feel? Are there any thoughts, feelings, messages,… welling up spontaneously? Pay close attention. It is possible that memories of previous lifetimes come back, or that one or your previous incarnations has a message to share with you. (After all, they are part of you: having done their bit of exploration, they now have earned their spot in the cockpit…)
  • Stay immersed in this sense of connection for as long as you like. Note how the small annoyances of daily life suddenly seem unimportant, and your focus tends to be on the bigger picture, making it easier to see through illusions, harder to continue to lie to yourself about the truths you are not willing to face.
  • After a while, the world around you will begin calling for your attention again. Allow the light to fade, as you return to normal consciousness. Give thanks to hazelnut and finish the meditation.

We need our ‘normal consciousness’ to be able to survive the challenges of everyday life. So, appealing as this sense of detachment may be, we cannot live in such a state forever. However, by practicing this meditation regularly, you will find that the connection becomes stronger, and it becomes easier to stay in touch with the guidance and the wider perspective that your higher self is constantly providing you with.

Celtic mythology tends to present the hazelnut as a symbol of wisdom. After doing this meditation, can you understand why that might be? What does it understand to be ‘wise’? Is it to know everything, or is it, rather, to be truly able to speak with the voice of experience?

Lughnasad – We are children of the earth

Lughnasadh was originally a funeral feast in honour of Lugh’s foster mother Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture.

At this time of abundance, let us give thanks for that sacrifice, and for all the many ways that the earth continues to provide for us, even though we aren’t exactly kind to her most of the time…

 

Children of the earth

You are human, child of this earth.
Every day of your life, you receive earth’s many blessings.

She gives,
And continues to give.
Unconditionally.

As every mother would.
For no mother ever refuses her children.

This is your home.
This place will never refuse you.
No matter what,
For no mother ever refuses her children.

apple-gift

Wake up, child of earth.
Who are you?
What is your age?
Do you consider yourself an adult?

Which adult then,
Is it that you want to be?
Do you still expect your mother to take care of you,
Like she did without question,
When you were still an infant,
Unable to walk alone.

She has continued to feed you,
Unquestioning,
All through your life.
For no mother ever refuses her children.

Human child,
Throughout the ages,
Your mother has never stopped caring for you.

But now you have got to grow up.

Will you start caring for your mother,
As she continues to do for you?