Monthly Archives: October 2013
First, let’s clear up my favorite bit of propaganda: Samhain is not named after the Druid god of death.
For one thing, the Druids didn’t have a god of death.
For another thing, the name means “summer’s end.”
So how did it get to be associated with death, Druid god or not?
Simple, Samhain is the final harvest, the last of the three harvest festivals. Anything left in the fields after this belonged to the Fey and could not be harvested, but more than that, this is when animals that would not be kept through the winter were slaughtered and their meat preserved for the coming months.
Granted, in modern times we don’t worry so much about laying in supplies for the winter (except in areas where it snows and the mention of a possible snowstorm sends people on a frantic run to the grocery store for bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper), so Samhain has taken on a different emphasis.
The Veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest (see earlier comment about not taking the Fey’s food) and some believe that the spirits of the dead come back to visit their loved ones at this time.
So, at Samhain, Pagans honor their dead. (Think of it as our Memorial Day: we honor the spirits of those who have passed through the Veil.)
We do this in various ways: the most common are to set an extra place at the table for them and to spend some time meditating and remembering them and their influence on our lives. Most of us also do some sort of divination now, although it doesn’t necessarily involve the spirits.
My own traditions for Samhain primarily revolve around a special meal with foods that (mostly) hold a special significance.
Ham: in honor of Cerridwen, Keeper of the Cauldron of Rebirth (and Inspiration), to Whom pigs were sacred and Who was known as “The Great Sow.” (It was not an insult – pigs were important.)
Along with the ham are potatoes, both white and sweet. Why? Well, I like potatoes. But also because they grow beneath the ground so have a connection to death and the underworld.
Dessert consist of chocolate cherry upside down cake and pecan pies. The pecan pies are in honor of my paternal grandfather as they were a favorite of his. (He also loved three bean salad but I can’t stand the smell of it, let alone the taste, so he has to make do with dessert if he visits.) And the chocolate cherry upside down cake because it is dark and sweet, and the red of the cherries on the near black of the cake is a reminder of the ancient association with death – blood spilled onto the earth. (Add a plop of whipped cream, though, and it has the three colors of the Goddess, which gives me an excuse to make it any time.)
What traditions do you have for Samhain? A special meal? A special ritual? If you don’t have any, why not start?
In my search for a topic for today’s post I turned to a friend of mine for suggestions. (We were talking via chat in gmail.)
She asked “Well, what’s going on in your spiritual life lately?”
“Trust, but I already wrote about that.”
So I did, and she sent back a quote from my “My Path to My Path” page:
College served to introduce me to Tarot and a few other things that would not have been approved of at home. (No, nothing illegal!) It also opened me up to the vague awareness of the “supernatural.” (In quotes, because I now believe that nothing is supernatural, but that’s a topic for another day. Paranormal is perhaps a better word.)
And then she asked “why not write about how nothing is supernatural?”
And since we are just one week away from Samhain (Halloween to the non-Pagan readers) I figured that that would be as good of a topic as any.
Except it’s kind of a short answer.
First let’s define “supernatural.”
The word comes from medieval Latin supernātūrālis: supra “above” + naturalis “nature” and was first used around 1520–30 AD. It refers to that which is said to exist above and beyond nature.
“above and beyond nature.” Remember that line, it will be important shortly.
A few more definitions:
1: of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
2 : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature
Things to remember from this: “beyond the observable universe, of or relating to a god” and “transcend the laws of nature.”
And, finally, from dictionary.reference.com:
1. of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal.
2. of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or attributed to God or a deity.
7. direct influence or action of a deity on earthly affairs.
From this we get: “being above or beyond what is natural” “of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or attributed to a deity” and “direct influence or action of a deity on earthly affairs”
So, what do the definitions tell us?
They tell us that something is “above and beyond nature,” that something “transcends the laws of nature.”
Furthermore, they tell us that the “something” that is above and beyond nature and transcends the laws of nature is… deity.
For Pagans, our deities are not above or beyond the laws of nature: They are the laws of nature. The God and Goddess are not separate from our world, are not outside of it – They are it.* Nothing is outside of our deities: They are all that is, and all that is is Them. How can They transcend Themselves?
With that as our given, how can anything be outside of Them, outside of nature?
There are things that we do not yet understand, but that doesn’t make them any more unnatural than the fact that we flip a switch and light appears.
So, no. I don’t believe in the supernatural. It simply cannot exist in my worldview.
*(This concept, that our deities are not separate from the world is a hard thing for people to grasp and will be subject of its own post sometime in the future.)
“Religion is man-made: spirituality is between you and deity.”
I think that by now we have all seen multiple variations of that line, and we’ve all probably nodded our heads in agreement and we’ve all probably said it ourselves a time or two. But have we ever stopped to think about what it is saying?
“Religion is man-made.” Not natural? No, I don’t think that’s the point. I think that the point is that religion has rules – and the rules are man-made and not natural.
“Spirituality is between you and deity.” Spirituality – the acknowledgement of and connection to the divine. I think that spirituality has probably been around longer than religion – the awe of seeing a shooting star, or witnessing a birth… those are spiritual things, and awareness and acknowledgement of something beyond us, beyond the physical. Spirituality is natural.
And that, I think, is what gave rise to religion: the sense that there is something else out there – and a desire to connect to that something – led to a series of rites to try to forge that connection and a series of rules for how to maintain that connection. Sadly, those rules failed to acknowledge personal relationships with deity — somehow spirituality got lost in the rules or left out of the rulebook.
While I do agree with that line, I also have a problem with it, in that it seems to imply that the two are mutually exclusive, and this is simply not so: there are a great many people who are fully devoted to their religious path, yet are also incredibly spiritual, open to the truth that lies behind the rules.
They realize that the rules of their religion were created by humans, and that, therefore, they are not the final word on how to live life and interact with others — or even with deity.
I am thinking of a couple articles that I read recently in which ministers married gay couples despite their churches’ stances against it. They are now at risk of being stripped of their titles and the religious calling that they have dedicated their lives to, of having everything taken away from them, by people who are religious, but not spiritual.
Last Thursday I read a blog post about “Fluffy Bunny” Pagans, asserting that it was a derogatory term now used for people who preferred to focus on love and light. (The author of the blog states that it originally was used to refer to someone who read one book on Wicca and called themselves a witch. I had never heard that definition, but I do see how it could fit.)
Anyhow, that’s not the issue here. The issue is what it means today, or, more importantly, a different take on it.
See, to me, “fluffy bunny” doesn’t so much refer to someone who focuses on the “love and light” part, but who refuses to acknowledge the darker side.
Yes, the Rede states to “Harm None.” But the Rede also qualifies that with “Lest in thine own defense it be.” (And, then, of course, there is the fact that not all Pagans or Witches are Wiccan, and therefore do not adhere to the Rede.)
So, Rede aside, let’s look at the love and light thing…
Is it balanced to just embrace the light? To only acknowledge it and not the darkness? And is it true to the spiritual roots of Paganism?
My answer is “no.”
Take a look at mythology. Our sacred stories are not all about love and light. Our gods and goddesses have dark sides.
And read The Bible. It’s not all love and light, either – there are some terrifying stories of wrath and vengeance in it. And then look at the Christians – they choose to focus on the love and light. And where does that get them? It gets them afraid of the dark, afraid of their own darker impulses and desires, and that fear led to the creation of Satan, a personification of evil.
(“If evil is, then it lies in the hearts of man.” From “Green and Grey” by Damh the Bard.)
This concept is also reflected in The Devil card in Tarot – being bound by your “lower” nature, letting it pull the strings while you dance to its tune, unaware of the control it has over you.
So, our myths and the Christian ones both have their share of darkness. What, then, is the difference?
To me, it’s that we embrace the darkness and the power it gives. If we stop fighting our lower nature we can use it to empower ourselves and our creativity – use it, not be used by it.
Also, Pagans realize – or should realize – that out of destruction comes creation and new life. Birth, life, death, rebirth… The cycle continues and the darkness overtakes the light which overtakes the darkness which overtakes…
I am Pagan. And I am not afraid of the dark.
I am writing this blog post as a thank you.
As some of you know, on August 31st I became unemployed, walking away from a job that I loved because there were just too many red flags being waved at me regarding the company that was taking over medical services at the jail where I worked.
It wasn’t an easy decision. I cried. I waffled, changing my mind on a nearly hourly basis for two weeks. And with every change of my mind I cried some more.
And I prayed.
And every answer I got said to leave. The answers were soft, gentle, subtle: song lyrics that struck home and echoed in my head all day, a whisper of a breeze, a touch of the sun, a knowing that came from seemingly nowhere…
And every time that I made up my mind to leave, I felt a huge sense of peace.
But then fear intruded, and I waffled some more. What if I couldn’t get unemployment? What if I couldn’t find a new job in time to pay the rent after my savings ran out? What if, what if, what if?
I was torn, and the stress was making me physically ill.
But as much as I feared the what ifs, and as much as I knew that I would miss everything about my job, the thought of staying made me feel sick. I had no trust in the things the new company was telling us.
But I also seemed to have no trust in myself to listen to the subtle messages that I was receiving. (I trust my gods, I just didn’t trust that I was hearing Their voices and not my own.)
And then came a series of “last straws” that pushed me into my final decision.
And when the decision was finally made and my key and badge were turned in, the tears that night were not of regret for my decision or for fear of the future: they were tears of loss – I was going to miss that job. (And I still do.)
The decision to leave was the right one.
My stress level (which had been unbelievably high) dropped almost immediately.
And from what I’ve heard from former co-workers who stayed, it was an even bigger mess than I had thought it was going to be. More people have left and more are looking to leave.
September 1st was my first day of unemployment.
October 1st I got a phone call that I had been hired for a job that I had interviewed for last week.
A job that is closer to home and pays better.
It’s different than anything I have ever done before, and I am scared, but this time, around the small brief stabs of fears and self-doubt, and the occasional what ifs, there is an insulating layer of trust.
My gods have led me here, to this new place, this new experience. They have cleared the path and lit the way for me. How can I do anything but follow where They lead, singing in praise and gratitude?
I am blessed.
And I am thankful.