Archive for the ‘wakan tanka’ Tag

Initiation: To Serve in Order to Know   4 comments

[Part Two]

During the year and a day of your training, you’ve studied, practiced, visualized, rehearsed, memorized, subjected yourself to physical and psychological tests and disciplines and — perhaps in spite of your own better judgment of your readiness — you’ve finally been chosen as a candidate for initiation.

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The day of the ceremony arrives. You may be dressed in a particular ritual way, or you may have bathed and simply be wearing new clothes. Perhaps a single jewel or ring you now wear gives you something you find yourself toying with as you wait. Probably you’ve been given specific instructions to help prepare you and assist you in entering the desired state of consciousness. Or the absence of such instructions has the same effect.

You’re nervous, too, and the other members of the group who are participating in your initiation don’t do anything to dispel that nervousness. In fact, they may be sympathetic and kind to you, and their very kindness will only increase the mystery. What am I getting myself into? you ask yourself. This and other questions are good ones to ask — though they may have no answers.

In many occult and magical orders, potential new initiates face a challenge when they enter the ritual space where their initiation will take place. “What do you seek?” goes one variant of the verbal part of the challenge. Depending on what you’ve been taught or are expecting, the rumors you’ve heard, or the nature of the particular group you’re with, the question can catch you off guard. It’s meant to.

In an intro to an online magical training document by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, J. H. Brennan relates his own experiences, and doubtless those of many other people, here (see pg. 4) . He comments wryly that, not surprisingly, why we seek is often a bigger determining factor in our experience than what.

We all do things for the best possible motives, of course; and nowhere more so than in the esoteric arts. It is relatively easy to discover that the only really acceptable excuse for magical study is embodied in the statement I desire to know in order to serve. That was the answer I was prompted to give to the ritual question during my own initiation. I dutifully gave it; and it was a lie.

What actually attracted me to magic was not service but power.

“I desire to know in order to serve” has its motivations all lined up for inspection. It’s a “good doggy” answer.  It’s noble-sounding, and as the “really only acceptable excuse,” it’s comforting to give it and feel good about having such an answer to give. Because in this logical and scientific age of ours, don’t you need an excuse for something as wacky and bizarre as the study of magick — especially spelt with a -k — that doesn’t make you sound like a raving loony?!

So let’s reverse it. “I desire to serve in order to know.”

One of my teachers said this yesterday.  It rang true to me because he demonstrates service in what he does, in how he listens to the people he meets, and in how he stills his own agendas and instead of what he thinks, he strives to hear what’s needed. He does these things with humility. And just as important, he models this for others, not as something he turns on to impress others and then drops once he’s “offstage,” but as something he’s continually practicing until it accompanies him, his words and his actions like a fragrance.  And that makes you want to do the same.

A few months ago I encountered a goddess in contemplation. I heard her name, an epithet — Stormbringer — and a little more. The only way I can find out more about her is to serve her. Slowly I gain a clearer vision of who she is and why she is manifesting to me, now.

I can enlarge my understanding of service. I serve when I grow — a larger vision spreads its fermentation through human consciousness, because my actions emerge from what I hold in my heart and thoughts.

We serve when, rather than getting bogged down in irritation, anger and fear, we assume a playful approach to problems. Then the lightness of spiritual insight and creativity can lead us to solutions we might not have found on our own. And our playfulness, when it’s respectful of others, can help lighten their loads, too, and smile, if possible, or laugh. We serve in small things, done without thought for anything except the doing, and the doing well.

(OK. Got it. Dang — give you a soapbox and you just don’t let up, do you?)

I serve when I open myself to receive love from others , and find I must “enlarge my spirit to receive the gift,” as Ursula LeGuin describes it in her fantasy A Wizard of Earthsea.

giftinhandI serve when I ask to understand the causes underlying an issue or problem in my life, not just to remove the problem so I can get on with my agenda. (Often enough, my agenda is the problem. The apparent problem is a gift, to show me something I need to learn. Otherwise it wouldn’t keep coming back again. And again. Funny how much easier it is to see in other people’s lives.)

Difficult gift, what do you have to teach me? Can I enlarge my heart for you, too? Right now, when you come knocking again, when it’s really not convenient at all? Can I let my impatience dissolve and make my listening a gift to you?

We serve when we recognize ourselves in others, when we recognize others in ourselves, and see the Great Mystery, as the Lakota Sioux call it, the Wakan Tanka, in the eyes of those we meet every day.

We serve when we practice gratitude. A powerful practice I’ve proved to myself: keeping a gratitude journal, with daily entries. Just reading it over can jump start me out of depression and back into engaging my life. Gratitude grows and spreads to others its divine infection.

And so, in serving, what do I know that I didn’t before? Has knowing become less important, and service more?

Now, about power

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Images: guide and initiate; gift in hand.

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Snowhenge   2 comments

It’s not really a henge at all, of course — just a large boulder we removed from our garden space a couple years ago and set along the north-south axis in our front lawn. A simple bed underneath it, a few other small rocks to steady it.  Grass grown back now.  Lichens finding the stony surface to their liking, adding their dull green patina to the stone.  But the word henge came to me as I looked out the front window at the solstice evening. So I’ll go with it.   The heavy band of cloud along the horizon behind the trees presages rain.  The mailbox — it seems out of place.  But let’s go with that, too, I say to myself.  Is this a message?

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Mystery is a landscape. OK, I think.  There’s always more to see. Even a finite object like a boulder presents a myriad of perspectives. By the time I’ve looked at even a small number of them, the boulder has subtly changed. The light on it has shifted, lichens on its surface beneath the snow cover are growing and dying, and a small, small portion of its substance has crumbled and fallen.

That’s part of it.  Hmm, I say to myself.  This second sentence, like the first, feels like a communication from outside myself.  Is this the start of another Druid dialog?  Don’t get hung up on the source, I chide myself, or you’ll miss what comes next.  You can worry about doubt and truth and origins later.

The snow’s gone blue in the twilight.  The bare trees — “an infinity of tragic shapes, to make thinking difficult,” as Charles Simic says in one of his short poems.  Lovely, or inaccurate, or a distraction, depending on your reaction.  But decidedly other — not my own primary experience, but the report of another person’s.

Landscape reveals itself when we walk through it.  Mystery at its fullest is participation, not just standing apart and analyzing.  Then it may be obscurity, or incomprehension.  Yes, I can read a scene like a Tarot card, but I can also move into it, inhabit it.  Which is a good way to work with Tarot, too.  Mystery needn’t be alien or unfriendly.  It can and often does reside in the utterly familiar — until all is changed and it steps forward, or we see it again.

Mystery’s not just a quality of experience, though, but a presence.  I get why the Lakota call it wakan tanka, “great mystery.”  Not “a god” or “gods” but “great mystery.”  It’s something specific, even as it remains mystery.  The merely obscure darkens.  Mystery, on the other hand, deepens.

Updated 24 December 2013

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