Archive for the ‘sacrifice’ Category

Evaluating Values, Part 2   Leave a comment

Here’s the second half of the set of values I began looking at in Part 1.

Let go and move on.
Set goals.
Care for self and others.

For a nation that claims to be forward-thinking and looking, we’re accumulating an impressive ability to lick old wounds and live in the past. “Times were better when” can afflict the best of us. But even if it’s true, I live now, not then, and I need to begin with what I have today. I’m older (any “wiser” part is an independent variable).

If I’m listening to here, safe in my home cosmos, and honest with Deep Self, I already have a foundation to build on (“here”, “safe” and “honest” are the first three values from Part 1), one that lets me proceed to the next three steps. (Hint to self, or Self: they’re not necessarily steps in a sequence. Repeat-practice any as needed. Each also offers me an extended theme for meditation.)


Mantis, 4 Sept. ’17. Photo courtesy Jodi Klue.

Mantis, you landed on nearby steps to interrupt a casual conversation a few weeks past, so this time I invite an image of you here to do the same. You become a prayer I can pray often. Let me see interruption as spiritual opportunity, the green world and all the persons in it as companions and allies and teachers, not adversaries. If you offer difficult gifts, I will not just refuse them outright.

You are my divination and message-bearer. (Yes, “sometimes a bird is just a bird” — until awareness greets it like a friend, with understanding that makes good sense of experience. Nothing has the “final word”. The Spiral opens onward, even as it offers rest and respite. Keep questing.)

Plainly you’re turning with the year, the vibrant green of early adulthood now muted, brown as leaves that carpet the yard and driveway. Hunter, are you weary? What have you seen with those complex many-faceted eyes? The power of awen: the empathy to enter other lives and know them, to sing their energies and possibilities, to feel slender legs beneath me, two powerful ones raised and ready to clutch. To sing and die and rise again, to thread the labyrinth of time.

Ah, shape-shifting is a mighty way to “let go and move on”! We do it each night in dreams, a practice I can extend to waking hours. Who can I become to know this world better? What links of sympathy connect me to all life? How does this moment offer doorways into what the cosmos needs next? How can I serve? Out of self and into Self and into other selves. Brother fox and sister hawk, I hear you breathing, your lungs contract and fill in my own chest.

Sometimes I can serve by setting a goal. Let me take the last two practices together: I set a goal to take care of myself so I can take care of others. After all, I can only serve if I CAN serve. How often I misunderstand self-sacrifice! If I can only perform the sacrifice once, chances are I’m limiting myself.

O wisdom-guide, you whisper, Often the best sacrifices are ones you can keep doing. The point isn’t burnout. Make it sacred, sacri-fice it, so you can make it sacred again.

Those of us who attended the recent East Coast Gathering are resuming our “mundane” lives. How to integrate the vision and energy of a Gathering, or any time of intense spiritual uplift, back into daily living is a perennial challenge.

But slowly I am coming to see that I need to “get spiritual” just so I can begin to see that the “mundane” is also absolutely overflowing with spiritual energy. We need to re-charge, yes: so we can flow again. Or to put it another way, my ability to tune in to a seemingly “ordinary” interaction in line at the supermarket, or pumping gas, or climbing the steps at work can transform the apparently mundane into a spiritual connection. The “apparently mundane” in all its flatness and dullness is our workshop, laboratory, spiritual opportunity. Empty canvas. It’s easy to perceive and ride the spiritual currents during events like ECG. Then I get to practice during “everyday life”. I am transformer, I am catalyst, I am pathway in and of myself. It can always begin again with each of us.

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Sacrifice and Plenitude   Leave a comment

As we near Samhain (see previous post), I want to do some thinking out loud about sacrifice.  And that includes moving randomly, and in less than smooth gestures, as thought moves (at least mine does), and leaving some avenues for later reflection.  And input from readers, too.

Sacrifice literally means something that makes sacred or holy, though a sacrifice in contemporary usage has come to signify as well a loss or voluntary giving-up, in return for some advantage.  Why should the holy link with a giving up?  Something good, in exchange for something better.  It carries with it associations of unpleasantness or suffering — the difficulty or pain involved in the giving up, even if the advantage is fully worthwhile.

But need the sacrifice always entail giving up?  The making sacred of each moment may involve my giving up scattered attention, or a bad mood, but these are not usually things I’ll miss.

I go to my altar during a ceremony or ritual, and give in offering something I have purchased, grown or made — most recently, some home-made incense.  It has “objective” value, as far as that can be measured, in dollars or in what dollars can purchase.  But it has “subjective” value in terms of what it’s worth to me.  I hope it may have value as well to whoever receives the sacrifice.  Even more, if it costs me something essential to provide it, people often consider it a more “true” sacrifice.  And if it’s a fair exchange, I’ll gain an equivalent for what I give.  Well and good.  Many sacrifices stop there.  But what of sacrifice that gives all and expects nothing?

There is a joy in that kind of giving, if the sacrifice is voluntary.  Much was made in ancient cultures of the “sacrifice that goes consenting.”  A sacrificial animal delivered a bad omen if it resisted axe or blade, or shied away from the sacrificer.  Human offerings, though apparently fairly rare, might have their senses dulled with drugs, so that the pain or apprehension — or defiance — did not taint or diminish the sacrifice.  Does this reduce its value?  Does the sacrifice still go “consenting”?

So far I’ve looked at this entirely from (my) human point of view.  If I make an offering to a god or thought-form or some higher wavelength of consciousness (and these may or may not be the same thing), I change the situation by my actions, even if only in a small way.  As a marker in memory, ritual breaks the flow of “profane” time with a division or irruption into consciousness of another kind of act.  Actions done consciously, with intention, in formal words and gestures and attitudes of mind and body, are simply different from our daily-life consciousness.  They feel different, and we remember them differently.  They mark time as altars, chapels, shrines, temples, churches and sanctuaries mark space.  Whether “holy” or not, they are different and distinctive for that reason.  They don’t fit the pattern.  In terms of consciousness, they are marked, while the “ordinary” is un-marked, the default mode of most of our experience.

But what of the view “from the other side”?  Apart from whether gods exist, the universe tends towards an equilibrium, at least locally.  Extremes don’t last, and we return to “normal.”  Almost.  The short span of “not normal,” of marked, of ritual time, of sacrificial consciousness, has left things changed, however small the change.  Does a god perceive such human action and awareness?  If so, how? And does what I’ve called ritual or sacrificial consciousness come across any differently to That Which Watches?

In crude terms, a sacrifice is a claim on another.  Roman culture expressed this as do ut des:  “I give, so that you may give.”  I’ll scratch your back if you will later scratch mine.  The initiative in this case comes from me:  if I act, you are obliged in some sense to respond.  There is trust here, a kind of faith in “how the universe works.” Many moderns might be utterly perplexed at this kind of thinking.  All I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

In mainland Chinese culture, everyone is conscious of guanxi, the obligation or connection they have with others.  In fact, one way of saying “you’re welcome” is mei guanxi — “no obligation or connection.” You don’t owe me; there’s no need to repay.  On the flip side is the the incidence of one Chinese literally chasing another down the street with a gift the first person does not wish to accept.  Take the gift and you acknowledge connection, obligation.  If the sacrifice is accepted, you’ve built up some credit with Another, with the divine, with Otherworld energies.  (Can we make a sacrifice without expecting anything, even if it’s just a sense of satisfaction or wholeness in the act of making the sacrifice?)

But the sense of sacrificial debt or obligation does not stop there. Again in Roman culture, the flip side, the necessary correspondence, is da ut dem:  “You give, so that I may give (in the future).”  Complete the cycle.  Establish reciprocity, build the relationship.  We depend on each other, gods on humans as much as humans on gods.  Note that the goal isn’t to pay off the debt, or reach a new equilibrium, but to establish a connection through mutual commitment and generosity — to build a history together.  In other words, to keep the exchanges going.

Eventually we may begin to see all our actions as ritual and as sacrifice.  Whatever we sanctify comes into to our lives through reciprocity, because we are inevitably part of the whole, in relationship with the cosmos.  “What you do comes back to you,” for the simple reason that you asked it to, by placing attention on it, by performing the ritual of desire and attention, and often, the dedication of resources, of the holy substance of the living world, to achieve or create or earn or win (or steal) whatever it was you thought you wanted.

But the act of desiring something, of investing energy and consciousness into it, changes us.  We all know the old saying:  be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.  When “it” comes, we’ve often moved on to other goals and desires, and no long wish for it, or even recognize it when it arrives.  We’re on to the next thing, and the consequences of one of our old wishes or desires may no longer fit us where we are.  We may even see it as a kind of obstacle, some piece of bad luck, a bump in the road, not knowing we asked for at some earlier point.

Here magic has its place, not as stage showmanship and illusion, not as Harry-Potter wand-waving, not as Hollywood “spfx” or special effects, but as a way of clarifying our desires and our consciousness, as well as reducing the occasions when we randomly or less than consciously send out desires for things we don’t actually want, or which won’t serve our best interests.  Instead, we learn (how slowly and often painfully!) to act with intention, to change consciousness through ritual, discipline, focused psycho-drama, meditation, making ourselves the center of change, which then ripples outward from our own changed awareness into the wider world around us.  All things flee from us, or come to us, in accordance with our state of awareness.

As a wise person said, “The only miracle is a changed consciousness.”  That is the chief form of the plenitude that comes with true sacrifice — a test for its validity.

OK — now I’ve given myself lots of abstractions to test with specific concrete examples from daily life.  Any comments or observations?

Summer’s End — Halloween — Samhain   Leave a comment

We’re a few days from the old Celtic harvest festival at summer’s end.  For those of us the northeastern U.S., with the recent frosts and snow in the forecast, it feels like summer’s end as well.  As a time of endings and beginnings — the new year begins as the old one ends — it is a time of introspection, intuition, dream and creativity.  As an acknowledgment of change and completion, it can also include a remembrance of the dead.

The holiday was adopted by the Church and transmuted to a three-day observance from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.  It begins the night before, on  All Hallows Eve*, or Hallowed Evening (Halloween), continues with All Saints Day, and concludes on All Souls Day.  In many other cultures there are similar observances, though not necessarily all on the same dates.  Spanish speakers celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, and Christian Arabs observe Yom El Maouta, both meaning “Day of the Dead.”  The Japanese observe O-Bon, remembering and honoring their ancestors. Held during July or August, depending on location and local tradition, the holiday feels to me (I lived in Japan for two years) like a cross between Halloween and the Fourth of July.  Originating as a Buddhist observance, it also includes a dance — the bon-odori — to give thanks for the sacrifices of ancestors, fireworks, carnivals and a concluding Lantern festival, imaging the return of the souls of the dead. This Asian holiday captures the Druid spirit of Samhain for me: celebratory yet reverent, and family-oriented.

Druids and other Pagans have adopted the older Celtic name of Samhain or Samhuinn (pronounced approximately SAH-wen or SOW-en — the “mh” in Irish spelling indicates a sound like “w”) — as they have other Celtic names, since for them the holiday has association and symbols different from those current in the Church.  The “sam-” is cognate with English “summer” — the word means simply “summer’s end.”  (Christian anti-Pagan propaganda tracts like this one ignorantly and wrongly portray Halloween as “The Devil’s Night” and “Saman” as an evil “Lord of Death” — scroll down to the 15th frame.  No evidence exists for a Celtic deity with that name and association.  Besides, American commercialization of the day has obscured the invitation of its spiritual potential, though it remains still at hand.  Somehow Americans also seem to have trouble achieving both “mirth and reverence,” as the “Charge of the Goddess” in the Wiccan tradition exhorts us.)

At the school where I’ve taught for a decade and a half, students themselves often took the initiative to celebrate this autumn holiday.  Some two months into the school year, with exams looming and — for the seniors — college apps drawing more and more of their attention, they still found a supervising adult so they could get official permission and use school meeting areas, put up posters to invite everyone who wished to attend, and write their own rituals.  I’ve saved several years’ worth of photocopied ceremonies in wildly varying degrees of elaboration, and I’ve attended both large and small gatherings, indoors and out.  Some were largely excuses, it’s true, to dress up in capes and masks, light candles, scare and amuse each other, and then gorge on candy afterward.  But others were moving commemorations of the season, an opportunity for acknowledgment from everyone who’d lost a relative or friend in the past year.  The event helped acknowledge grief and cleanse the emotions through a group ritual of shouting and crying, burning messages in a cauldron, and closing with a group meditation.  If the larger culture doesn’t make room for such things, subcultures often do.

The autumn equinox last month was the first time I celebrated that holiday as a Druid, and with fellow Druids, at the East Coast Gathering.  In my part of the U.S., Druids are thin on the ground, though a couple of us are considering a small gathering.  But whether or not in the end we manage to find time for a group celebration, I’ll also observe the day myself, this marker of moving in time and experiencing the fullness of human life.

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*”All Hallows Eve” precedes the day dedicated to the hallows or saints (Old English halga) — All Saints Day.

Dance image link

Lantern image link

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