Posts tagged ‘religion’

February 8, 2012

Authenticity

An identity crisis has haunted modern witchcraft practitioners — a sudden instability turning into a search for validity. Surrounded by Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) that unfold from each other over thousands of years, there is a fear of inauthenticity.

While the history of modern witchcraft is still under discussion, practice as it is done today is not a direct descendant of the old religions. The early developers of Wicca created false histories to cover the newness, perhaps to intentionally garner a mysterious reputation depending on who we are talking about. While folk traditions preserved practices and imagery, and literature, myths, and art saved old ideas from extinction, we cannot escape it: an unbroken line is most likely not true. Contemporary manifestations have been influenced by cultural context and information access. At the current publication and distribution level, modern witchcraft is becoming something other than the ancient.

But this does not mean it is inauthentic.

The major religions, the Abrahamic, Buddhist, and Hindu ones, are also contemporary, co-created expressions. They have a more continuous and cohesive history, with sometimes a simpler range of influences. This does not award them an unchanged status; for example, Catholicism has adjusted for its audience and its generation, whether informally by absorbing local culture, or as formally as Vatican II.

Each worldview, religious outlook, or personal philosophy, is constructed; that is not a value judgement, only an observation. We are all inspired and affected by the external. The manifestation we take can be grounded in a particular faith tradition, we can even identify with a particular group or path. The danger is in suggesting that one is more “real” or “authentic” than another, that it exists objectively, externally from society and its practitioners.

I hope that the work can leave behind counting centuries for validation, and become seeking self-awareness and authenticity-from-within.

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November 7, 2011

A Particular Thought

How deeply do we let spirituality into our lives?

So much of being a contemporary earth spiritualist means to be directly in dialogue with modern life — its expectations and normalcies, the ways we think, move, define space, understand ourselves and the world. Such a linear way of thinking, a box-like hierarchy of undifferentiated perspectives. And it is so demanding. College life packed with exams and  papers squeezed away my wellness until I, forgetting until the last moment, tried to force some spiritual space back in.

That sort of life builds habits, and mental frameworks.

By building spiritual focus, giving time for our own development and goals, I don’t mean worshiping a deity or performing religious rituals. I mean giving space to that feeling of  connectedness and inspiration, a powerful excitement mixed with calmness that makes life so clear — whatever it is that brings us true and deep joy and fulfillment. That kind of time, work, dedication. For ourselves, for our own wellness.

Of course, I turn to nature, cycles, plants and trees to tap in, to feel the greater things at work of which I am a part, and to reach that spiritual well within that gives such meaning and beauty to my life. It is so easy to forget, to let mundane things sweep in and obscure what really inspires you. I hope for a fresh awakening, as many as it takes in my stretch of life.

July 23, 2011

What Makes it Earthy?

Usually when I say “earth religions” I am talking about traditions that have developed out of Europe, although you could make an argument for others around the globe. But I cannot speak for everyone, only from what I know. If you are reading this, you are most likely familiar with all these ideas, but just for a strong foundation…

Obvious part: earth religions focus on nature, even call it divine.

It is not that God is in nature, because that would imply separation. “God” is nature. And it is not as if I put a pebble up on an altar and worship it; one, because I am a nomad with no altar to speak of, and two, because to worship a piece of the whole would miss the entire point. “Nature” can be thought of as living matter, or that plus the rocks/planet/etc., or all matter and energy. Well, matter and energy are technically interchangeable, but that’s not the point. Yet.

All religions are invested in the planet: maybe simply because human beings live there, or because practitioners are working to release attachments to the material world. Nature is at the center of earth religions, but it is more than that – it’s the whole donut.

There is more to earthly experience than pure mechanics. I am taught that stars explode and re-form, that the universe is expanding at an accelerated pace, that our sun is in the medium size category. Being earth religious is not limited to an intellectual recognition of the complexities of the world. In looking at the night sky, I think of the science; but there is also that awe, the realization of the whole, our simple part in it — there in the experience, which makes all the difference. And when that awe extends to all things, when the sacred expands to include the universe, you touch on being earth religious. Then it turns back on itself, asking for ethical engagement. This is religion because it can be a body of thought, lead to a series of practices, and/or a lifestyle.

In practice, being outside is the easiest access point to the universal energies that can be felt if you are aware. Our manufactured products are like processed food; the computer I am writing on is still a part of nature, just indirectly. It may not be true for everyone, but my body feels best when I am eating raw, unprocessed fruits and vegetables. So, spiritually, being out in the land is a salad, and being in downtown L.A. is American cheese.

My experience of Wicca, and my own practice, is marked by nature symbolism. From holidays and moon rituals to guided meditation and workings, nature is drawn from and celebrated. Ultimately, practice is not meant to appease a deity, but to remember what we already know — that me, you, we are all part of nature. That although our contemporary lifestyles attempt to deny it with fluorescent lighting, air conditioning, and imported produce, every day is not the same. There are seasons in the year, and in life. To put nature at the center of religion is an attempt to engage the entirety of being, to truly live and feel.

July 13, 2011

Five Years of Earthiness

Today marks five years on my earth religious path. It needs a name … craftday? Along the lines of “birthday” except it marks the beginning of a process; although if you say it out loud it sounds like “crafty” with some extra inflection. Instead, maybe I-first-opened-the-broom-closet-day. What it means to be earth religious, and why I have embraced it, could not be contained by a single post. This is about the challenges and fears that came with adopting a misunderstood religion.

In the summer before my senior of high school, I was standing in a Barnes and Noble with a friend, perusing the New Age section in search of some advice on an exorcism. I was not on the earthy path yet, I just lived in a 100 year-old house with unusual occurrences.

I had been raised Catholic by liberal parents, slowly growing disinterested in the Church and eventually rebelling when I was around 12 or 13. I was required to attend Mass for a year or so longer, and then was free to stop. Two years of wandering and a strong interest in Hinduism (drawn by the radical differences and, a later realization, the inclusion of goddesses) still left me loosely Christian; traces of that identity lingered through the vacant space, even though I was not actively engaged in Christianity. It took the discovery of modern witchcraft to wipe away its ingrained presence. Now, writing this, my Christian past feels foreign.

SO there I was, 17, secretly having always wanted to poke through the New Age section, but always too shy. Standing before those mysterious titles, armed with the exorcism excuse (I know), it was not long before my friend suggested that I look at a book on witchcraft. “No, that’s too scary” — and then a nearby woman quickly interjected, disagreeing. A few sentences later, I was holding her recommendation: To Ride a Silver Broomstick by Silver Ravenwolf. I never told her I was trying to say that I wasn’t ready for witchcraft yet.

Oh yeahhh, I started with a fluff book after an encounter with a woman who turned out to still be Christian, too afraid to make the commitment. It keeps me humble.  Needless to say, it did not include a guide to exorcisms.

At what moment was I authentically on an earth religious path? Was it in those first few days of secret reading? I felt cracked open, a combination of discovery and remembering, as I realized there were actually people out there who thought this way. That summer, books poured in from across the country: my mother would hand me another package from the mail, and I would dash upstairs and hide it. Maybe it was when I began to tell people, although it was occasionally dismissed as a phase. During my freshman year of high school, I hid my books and candles in a (Barnes and Noble) bag under some things; and furtively slipped them by my family as they were helping me move at the end of the year.

Religions are found anew in each person that comes to them. Although some can claim an unbroken history of thousands of years, each religion has adjusted over time to accommodate cultural shifts. There is not a pure, unchanged religion on Earth; and although you can find two members of the same faith, I find it quite unlikely that their beliefs will line up 100%. When our society pushes away those who are fully new, we deny the fluctuating nature of religion — that its life comes from the people. Silver Ravenwolf’s books are “fluffy” because of the content, but also because she falls among the pagans who falsely claim an unbroken tradition over thousands of years in an attempt to appear authentic in the public’s eye.

Although I felt confident on my own, stepping out into that public space intimidated me. Even though modern witchcraft is grounded in the earth, in the trees, and wholly positive, I was afraid of being ridiculed, judged, and disregarded. I did not want to be rejected or misunderstood. Much, much worse has happened to others, I have escaped so far with little criticism.

It was interfaith work that gave me the safe space to develop my voice, and my explanations. I was heard for the first time – to listen, to truly hear the Other is an incredible gift. Although years into spiritual practice, it was the first time someone asked for my story.  It was through interfaith that I met others on an earthy path, and came into my role as a spiritual leader. I suppose by the time I was networking with leaders of other faiths, writing articles from my earthy perspective, and publicly open about my faith, you could say I was official — a legitimate earth religious person. The problem in marking legitimacy is that it denies others their validity. I can look back to my childhood and see signs of earth spirituality, it just took learning about it to open up my religious development. To echo my interfaith community: accept others’ experiences as real and valid for them.

Five years in, I can still feel apprehensive at times. I actively choose to reach out, to normalize and inform, as well as be a source of information, guidance, and support to other earth-inclined people. Recognizing five years brings back those early challenges, the pain of silence and the strain of legitimacy. And I think of the work yet to be done.

Why do I know the exact date? Silver Ravenwolf.

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