Monthly Archives: January 2007

What’s In a Name?

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Today as I was walking along the beach, I tossed around in my head the word “witch,” also the word “Witch.” These words have been familiar companions since I began thinking of myself as maybe possibly sometimes a witch, well over twenty years ago. Since then the word has been at various times an albatross, an inspiration, a dare, a tired relic, an embarrassment, a shocker, a battle cry, a statement of fact, and a clever diversion.

I have never been completely comfortable with “witch” as a description of myself, my friends, or what we do. Yet we came of age with Deirdre English and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Witches, Midwives and Nurses. Being a witch was something to be proud of, set us square in the midst of a righteous chain of women healers throughout time, and dared to speak truth to power.

So as I walked today I spent a little time with the knowledge that I have grown less happy with the term Witch, though I refer to myself as a Pagan all the time. For one thing, while my entré to magic was through Witchcraft, those ritual forms are no longer central to my spiritual practice. Many elements of my training continue to serve me in good stead, but for the most part I have migrated to more extemporaneous, eclectic ritual acts more aptly described as constant conversations with the Gods. Lately I consider the highest spiritual achievement the ability to walk fully upright.

Another reason is that as a teacher, speaker, and dreamworker, my primary aim is to be understood. Too often, insisting that people think of me as a witch is counter to that goal, so I have stopped forcing myself to use the term when it doesn’t seem right. Instead, I let my intuition tell me which label is the best descriptor for the given circumstances. This feels much more authentic to me, and allows me to communicate effectively with a much broader range of people. And sometimes Witch is the exactly right word to describe who I am and what I do; just not all the time.

Finally, I have made peace with my Christian heritage for the most part. Not having to rebel against it means I no longer feel as spiritually bereft as I once did. Labels don’t matter so much anymore. Years of immersion in both Eastern and Western mysticism has given me confidence in my ability to tell truth from falsehood, and I feel kinship with like-minded souls regardless of spiritual identity.

I know not everyone will agree with me; I certainly have friends who use the word Witch proudly and who are dedicated activists on behalf of the Craft. But the story of the resurgence of Paganism in our time is ongoing, and best served by truth-telling whenever possible. This is my small contribution for the evening.

Dreams

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Okay, well I guess I am now collecting poems having to do with dreams. (Suggestions? I’d love to hear them.) I spent some time this evening browsing through a friend’s poetry collection, and came up with this beauty that I had to share. I don’t know whether Reya is doing her Poetry for Brigid blog this year, but you know it’s going to happen anyway, even if nobody sends out invitations, because it’s such a great idea. Anyway, here’s my first contribution in celebration of the return of the light.

Dreams
by Mary Oliver

All night
the dark buds of dreams
open
richly.

In the center
of every petal
is a letter,
and you imagine

if you could only remember
and string them all together
they would spell the answer.
It is a long night,

and not an easy one–
you have so many branches,
and there are diversions–
birds that come and go,

the black fox that lies down
to sleep beneath you,
the moon staring
with her bone-white eye.

Finally you have spent
all the energy you can
and you drag from the ground
the muddy skirt of your roots

and leap awake
with two or three syllables
like water in your mouth
and a sense

of a loss–a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer–
only how it feels

when deep in the tree
all the locks click open,
and the fire surges through the wood,
and the blossoms blossom.

What is Spirituality?

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I’ve spent most of my life thinking about different kinds spirituality and which kind mine is. I don’t think I’ve spent any time at all until today with the question of what exactly spirituality is. What makes a person leading a spiritual life different from a person leading any other kind of life?

I am not a theologian, but I have been working outside in a cold wind that has chilled me to the bone in the past couple days. Perhaps that is why today I felt the need to contemplate what spirituality is when stripped of all its religious and visionary trappings. When all the language and mumbo jumbo are peeled away, what remains?

Obviously, a person trying to lead a spiritual life must first believe that spirit is something which exists, and that it is a good thing to have. She might have a definition of what spirit is, and how (or whether) an individual’s spirit interconnects with the spirits of other things. But these are all ideas. What behaviors, if any, make the daily life of a spiritual person different from anyone else’s?

Today, I think spirituality is an agreement. An agreement with ourselves to consistently make the better of any two choices. An agreement to cause the least harm, no matter what we do. An understanding that our presence affects the world, and we are here to polish that light within us until it shines its brightest.

In exchange we understand that living a spiritual life brings its rewards, most notably a stronger spirit. Always choosing the better of two options is very good exercise for the spirit. It is also a lot of work, and a huge commitment.

At this moment I am feeling the weight of that commitment, and the difficulty of doing the better rather than the easier thing. I turn to Carl Jung’s famous quote about free will and fate: “Free will is the ability to do gladly that which I must do.” Our actions have consequences, and so does our inaction. Knowing what is worth defending, and choosing not to defend it at the moment when we have that opportunity is an error which inevitably does harm.

It seems to me that much of our spiritual searching boils down to an effort to figure out what kind of light we have and how to measure harm. If we are lucky, we will find ourselves in the company of others who remind us of our agreement. Luckier still, in one another’s company we become aware of all the choices we have at any given moment, so that we can pick the better of them. With the best of luck we do all this, and do it gladly.

Back on the Mat

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I absolutely love the Winter holidays. I’ll take all of ’em, I’m not picky. The tree, the lights, the darkness, the candles, the food, the staying up late and drinking too much, the days in between one bash and another where I get to just sit around and reflect. My dreams at the end of the year always have that quality of looking at the overall patterns from the year past, and making the adjustments or realignments necessary for the year to come. This year was no exception, and I enter 2007 deep in process with a couple of major shifts going on.

Those weeks of introspection were great, but today it was time to start moving around again. So I went out this evening to Two Rock Aikido to begin training once more, the first time this new year. Two Rock is one of several great dojos I train at; I also train at Wellspring Aikido and Tenchi Aikido.

From the day I first stepped onto the mat at the old Centerfield Aikido in 1995 to the day I earned my black belt there eight years later, I have been absolutely committed to the art. I trained several times a week, and the experience as a whole was probably the most deeply transformative period of my life. Even with my sensitive knees, which prevent me from doing many strenuous sports, I found the movements of aikido to be something that my body intuitively understood. This was a revelation after years of being frustrated by most forms of exercise, and while being careful not to overtax my knees, I pushed myself through the ranks up to black belt with absolute exhilaration.

As a magical practitioner the thing I loved about aikido from the start is that it is a perfect physical expression of so many principles of magic. The way I was taught, in aikido we align ourselves with Heaven and Earth and with the four directions, so that we move always within the center of our own circle. It is a martial art, which means there is precision of movement and intention; it involves interacting with other people, which means there is honest and instant feedback on your efforts. The lessons on working with energy are profound, and from them I have developed workshops on Aikido and Magic which have been well-received. Perhaps if I can revive my regular aikido practice I will offer them again.

After I got my black belt in 2003, I had to take a break for a while. Then I got sick, had surgery, left my marriage, moved. There was one thing after another which prevented me from getting back into a regular practice schedule. Or rather, there still is one thing after another which keeps me away from the dojo when I really want to go. I have been content most of the time with knowing that I practice the principles every day anyway, no matter what. There is a lot to be said for taking aikido off the mat and working with energy and awareness in our daily lives. But there’s also nothing quite like getting back on the mat, just training.

That’s where I am tonight. I’m dreadfully out of shape, my knee hurts a little, but I feel alive and happy. I’d like to say that from this day forward I will be able to train regularly again, but I have been through too much in the past three years to believe it. I will probably train in fits and starts this year, interrupted by major construction projects, the ongoing divorce, my travel schedule, my daughter’s needs. And because right now I feel buoyed by some much-needed Winter rest, because I love the people I get to train with, because I feel happy and content from this evening’s workout, that’s all okay.