The leaky cauldron

Most people earn a whole lot more money in the course of their lives than they ever realize. Money flows into and out of our possession, and it can be as difficult to catch while passing through our fingers as water through a fish net.

No matter how much money passes through our hands — be it a trickle or a torrent — it’s the ability to capture some of that passing flow that allows a measure of control over our financial situation. There are people who live lavish lives on inherited money but are one bad decision away from ruin, and there are those who scrupulously save modest amounts from the pittance they earn and turn the tide the other way. The real difference is that great wealth can cushion the damage done by bad decisions for a whole lot longer; poor people can’t afford to be financially illiterate.

With apologies to Harry Potter fans, the metaphor I find most helpful when talking to Pagans about money is the leaky cauldron. Many Pagans and polytheists recognize the cauldron as a tool of transformation. This particular cauldron is a big ol’ thing, one of those cast iron behemoths that is too large and heavy for one person to move easily and without injury, but just a little too small and unwieldy to be comfortably managed by two or more sets of hands.

The cauldron is what we pour our energy into in the form of money; it is also what we draw from when we wish to turn that energy into something else. The liquid can also include non-monetary forces such as social capital, but for now let us focus solely on money. One can be considered secure if the cauldron never empties; a rising level denotes prosperity. This means that the goal is not to pour out more than we pour in, but that’s not always easy. Opportunities — including some under compulsion — to pour from the cauldron abound. Moreover, many of our cauldrons are old, cracked, and as I have already indicated, leaky.

Sources of money problems are manifold, but the most controllable areas are those of awareness and intention. Many people go through life with a little too much month left at the end of the paycheck. With a low income and high costs for rent, food, and other regular expenses that can seem inevitable predictable, but upon closer inspection it’s not always that simple. Regular expenses are, by definition, anticipated. At the edges, in that liminal zone, exists the dangerous area of money spent without any clear purpose or benefit. That’s the stuff which seeps out through the cracks, dripping and slipping away without so much as a by-your-leave. The more money that disappears without a trace, the leakier one’s cauldron has become.

This is about fiscal mindfulness. Money is a source of anxiety for many people, and one common way to address that anxiety is to push its source away from the conscious mind. It’s much the same as not going to see a doctor, not because health care is too expensive, but because the prospect of a diagnosis is terrifying. Not knowing about cancer doesn’t stop cancer, just as not knowing about imminent insolvency does nothing for that problem. Knowing can be scary, but knowledge is also power.

What, then, should be done with this cauldron? It can be helpful for understanding one’s financial situation. Start by simply observing the flow, beginning with what enters it, be it an intermittent trickle or a raging torrent. Approach this with a dispassionate eye; too little flow can induce stress and a great deal of income can elicit a sense of security, either of which is a distraction. That’s precisely why visualizing money as water is helpful: it divorces the observer somewhat from the emotions connected to money itself. Focus on the source of the stream or streams entering the cauldron; faucets might be a good way to visualize these, or natural springs. Consider how many sources replenish this cauldron, how strong the flow from each, and how clean the water is which emerges from the different spigots. What does each one represent? How confident are you that each will continue? How satisfied are you with the quality and quantity of each individual flow? Are any of your income streams from sources you consider ethically challenging?

Before considering outflow, meditate on the water in the cauldron itself. Is it hot, or cold? Clear, or murky? Does it have an odor? Would you bathe in it, or drink it? These insights are commentary not precisely on your financial situation, but how you feel about it, and money in general. Discernment is key here, and with something as bound in emotion as money, that discernment might require outside assistance to gel. A spiritual coach or diviner might be the right person to help, or a therapist or financial counselor.

For some, looking clearly at one’s financial health is as terrifying as learning about one’s physical condition. Recognize that this desire to look away is based upon deep-seated survival instincts, but then it’s time to allow rational examination of the cauldron to proceed. Realize that a visualization already keys into your emotional depths, which might be enough to make a look at the figures themselves possible. If not, that’s okay. Consider using techniques to separate your emotions from this analysis: journal about your money feelings before you begin, perhaps, or allow yourself some dispassionate time for money by promising a good cry or a hard run or some other emotional outlet when you’re done. If it helps, set a timer for five minutes, and don’t continue past that point; you can increase the length as you get more comfortable.

Ultimately, looking at the financial picture should become a regular routine, and the leaky cauldron can help with that. Light a money candle on a day each week that makes sense for you, and settle into visualizing the cauldron. Once you’ve spent time studying it, shift your focus to looking at the actual numbers, without leaving that altered state of visualization. Hold the image of the cauldron in the back of your mind, and once your allotted time is up, return to fully focusing on the visualization. Has your understanding of the numbers informed the appearance of the cauldron and its waters?

There’s more that can be done with the leaky cauldron, but that’s enough of a start for now. I may use it in some more in-depth exercises at another time.

Book review: The Art of Ritual

Genre: Paganism
Title: The Art of Ritual
Author: Rachel Patterson

daf3b2_b87dc2817fc541ba929c5ae7d52e27f2Overview: Within these pages is a guide to creating rituals. It uses more common elements of Pagan worship, but the underlying principles are useful even if you’re not the sort to cast circles and honor elements. In fact, there are many details drawn from non-circle-casting Pagan traditions, such as a Druidic call for peace and the Hellenic use of khernips, or lustral water, for purification. (One of these days I may just collect all the khernips recipes people use, because there seems to be no end to their variety.) If you are entirely new to Pagan ritual, go with this suggested form and you’ll likely never have any problems, as long as you remember that there’s no such thing as a universal Pagan ritual. If you’ve circle the fire a few times, then feel free to pick and choose what you like; by now you should understand the importance of placing ritual elements in their proper context.

Quibbles: There’s not enough cake! Patterson does make plenty of cake mentions in this book, but unlike Arc of the Goddess, there are no actual recipes for cake. Perhaps she wrote this book first. Perhaps I’m spoiled. Perhaps my mouth is watering because I have written the word “cake” so many times.

Quirks: Patterson uses the kind of slightly-saucy language that many Pagan authors shy away from, and more’s the pity. For example, when she breaks down how she thinks gender-specific items should be laid out on an altar, she writers, “Basically boobs and wombs on the left, willies on the right.” I hope that doesn’t offend any of her readers; it certainly didn’t offend me.

Author: Rachel Patterson
Publisher: Moon Books
ISBN: 978-1-78279-776-0

Book review: Arc of the Goddess

2daca1_0f13271010e44147b896ac66a54cb04fGenre: Paganism

Title: Arc of the Goddess

Author: Rachel Patterson & Tracey Roberts

Overview: This is a book that takes on the challenge of putting the “practical” into a yearly cycle of goddess-focused practice. It’s set up to follow the course of a calendar year, and the reader is invited to focus several different kinds of devotional activities on a different goddess each month. If you jump in with gusto, you’re going to feel and look radiant thanks to a monthly home-made beauty product, and you’re also going to have the opportunity to indulge in a wide variety of cakes thanks to the twelve delicious recipes within.

Based on a course that Patterson and Roberts developed, each chapter includes information on goddesses from many different religions, as well as feast and celebration days from antiquity forward that are celebrated during that month. After studying the material, the student is provided the text of a guided meditation during which the month’s goddess is ascertained. Much of the information about spell work, rituals, altars, and related activities is repeated in each unit (fulfilling a promise that the reader can begin with any month), but with month-specific variations on the activities. Herbs and stones that are aligned with the season are also discussed and then used in mandalas, crystal grids, oils, and the aforementioned beauty product. The cake recipe is tied into the feasting component, making me all the more eager to dive right in.

What’s valuable about this book is 1) the framework for someone to explore relationships with different deities and 2) the extensive information about known goddesses and holy days to guide that exploration. I can see it used as a springboard to develop a much deeper relationship with a particular goddess, or built upon to develop a strong, personal polytraditional practice. Either way, this is definitely not the worst tool for upping one’s game if one isn’t part of a clearly defined tradition.

Also, did I mention cake?

Quibbles: There’s nothing wrong with taking a personal tone while writing a book, but the way it’s done in this book is less intimate than it is confusing. That’s because there are two authors, but the text is dotted with “I” statements that don’t make it clear which of the two is sharing an opinion or experience. It’s possible that they are of one mind, but I could also be projecting.

Quirks: An implicit assumption in this book is the subscription to the idea that all goddesses are, at least to some extent, one goddess. That doesn’t mean that the material can’t be used by someone with a different cosmology, only that the language used may be distracting.

This book is British, which means that some of the ingredients in the recipes may be unfamiliar. It’s nothing a decent search engine can’t resolve, and it adds a cultural flavor that I am glad was not stripped out for American audiences.
Title: Arc of the Goddess
Author: Rachel Patterson & Tracey Roberts
Publisher: Moon Books
ISBN: 978-1-78535-318-5

My gods are stronger than fiction

I recently started reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  I was kind of aware of these books, but only barely, and it wasn’t until I was poking around Amazon for tridents and had it vomit up a lot of Percy Jackson stuff that I had any clue that Poseidon is a significant force.  Being that I didn’t even know what the books were about, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I had no clue how much some of my co-religionists hate them.  As it happens, I don’t hate them, but what’s worth exploring is why.  I’ll start with the problems noted in that Tumblr post I just linked.

  • Rick Riordan misrepresents the myths and/or the gods.  One word here:  Homer.  You can’t tell me that the way he depicted the gods, particularly in the Odyssey, didn’t tick a few people off.  I don’t know if Homer believed in the gods, but he certainly wasn’t afraid to cast them in a bad light, and frequently.  My gods are stronger than the ones Homer depicted, and the ones Riordan depicted, in part because they understand that any press is good press.  Get people thinking about the gods, and some of those people are going to start worshipping the gods.  If Homer didn’t cross the line of hubris, Riordan probably hasn’t either.  (Although, if Homer really was blind, perhaps that wasn’t an accident, hmm?)  Myths are stories from a long time ago.  Stories = fiction, fiction = made up, made up= not true, not true = I’m not expecting them to reflect my personal experience with my deities.  I get why some of the depictions inspire rage, but my gods are stronger than fiction.
  • These stories are damaging to people with dyslexia and ADHD.  I have neither, so I can only express a personal opinion here:  the author is positing that those with divine blood have these conditions, not that those with these conditions have divine blood.  I can’t say if that depiction was insensitive, or ignorant, or hamhanded, because for some reason I can’t find the links the original poster embedded.
  • The author doesn’t believe in these gods.  Um . . . so what?  The gods do not require our belief, and can use someone to their own ends whether or not they have belief.  If the theoi restricted their work to only those few of us who actively honor and praise them, well, it would be a pretty small field.  Perhaps they wanted to plant the idea in thousands of young kids that the Greek gods are real, knowing that some portion of Riordan’s readership would begin sneaking offerings off of their plates to those gods.  The gods are stronger than fiction, and know how to use it, and its authors.  I think that’s awesome.  It reinforces my belief, my awe, my love.  It’s much more clever and subtle than any mortal mind could have orchestrated.  It’s brilliant in that vaporize-me-if-I-look-too-close kind of way.

Remember what happened to the Panchem Lama?  After the Dalai Lama declared his next incarnation, the poor tyke and his family disappeared, and the Chinese government declared another boy to be the next Panchen lama instead.  It’s an obvious attempt to stifle Tibetan resistance by controlling its religion, rear a child that is a mouthpiece for Chinese control.  But what if the Chinese, much to their chagrin, actually have the true Panchen lama on their hands?  Isn’t that what an enlightened being might do?  Might it not screw up Chinese designs a bit if their fake turned out to be the real thing?  It could happen that way, because the gods are stronger than fiction, even fiction manufactured by the state.

I was relatively comfortable in my ill-defined Paganism, which included a ritual every year or so if I was with people, but no obligations, no offerings, no calendar, no nothing.  I was also quite content in my decision to watch the series Xena: Warrior Princess from start to finish, knowing how wrong they got the myths and how annoying the characters (mortal and immortal alike) are in that show.  My took me out of my comfort zone was an encounter with Ares while I was watching:  the god Ares, not the leather-bound sex symbol who portrayed him.  It led me to seek a teacher in Hellenismos, to learn about ancient and modern practices, and to honor the theoi on a daily basis.  If the gods could use a dog of a show like Xena to get to me and transform my life, how much more can they do with a series like Percy Jackson?

Mark my words, many of tomorrow’s Hellenists will be born of these books.  It doesn’t matter what they “got wrong,” what matters is that minds are opening.  The gods are stronger than fiction, and they know how to use it to their own ends.  Hail the gods!

Help me if you’ve been depressed

After sharing my views on depression, I started wondering about how people apply their religious symbols to the problem, for a story at The Wild Hunt.  I have been introduced to several professionals in the mental health field who may speak to me on the subject, but I’m also interested in what self-care techniques depressed Pagans and polytheists of all stripes use to try to manage the condition.

What are the religious (including magical, if that’s part of your religion) symbols, techniques, practices, or beliefs that you use to manage depression?  How successful have they been?

And, not or

The title of this post is how Anomalous Thracian describes the relationship of the terms “Pagan” and “polytheist” in his life, a concept he reminded me of when I interviewed him about his latest project.  E is unusual insofar as e adopted the polytheist label first, while most of us who consider ourselves both used Pagan before or concurrently with polytheist.  (In this context, I’m using “polytheist” to describe those folks who do not experience their gods as being facets of the One; we have been called “hard” and “devotional” and “immersive” and “traditional” polytheists, but no one term really encapsulates the mindset and also disincludes all others, so expect other adjectives to be proposed as the conversation continues.)  AT recognizes that not all Pagans are polytheist as e understands the term, and that not all polytheists think Pagan is meaningful to describe their path, but they aren’t mutually exclusive.

While I’ve been tentative about the language lest I inadvertently offend, I”m very much in tune with calling myself a polytheist and a Pagan.  The concept of deity is simply beyond human understanding, and any cosmology we construct is going to fall short.  The concepts of “separate” and “individual” may be utterly meaningless to the gods, or their individualness may be so far beyond my own that it would make my brain melt.  How separate (or not!) the gods are from me and each other is far less important than having a cosmology in place so I can relate to them.  I relate to the gods as individuals, but I’ve given up any hope of knowing if that’s the “one true way” or not.  In fact, a good amount of my experience contradicts that worldview, but I’m not about to be confused by the facts once my mind is made up!

Considering how Pagans react to one of our own choosing a different path, I want to be quite clear that I didn’t turn my back on the last 26 years of my faith journey this past Sunday morning.  I also didn’t accept Jesus as my lord and savior, nor did I make a bargain with any particular god that I am going to worship no other before em.  In fact, what happened the other day technically wasn’t something that I did at all.  Rather, it was done when I was in another room.

During its monthly Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, the members of the Society of Friends in my town decided t290px-Quaker_star-T.svghat yes, I was clear to become a Friend, or Quaker, and that they in fact welcomed such a thing.  The decision was recorded as a minute, which will be published in the local Quaker newsletter (which I have edited since the beginning of the year).  The reading of the minute is the only ceremony involved, and I missed it not because it was secret, but because I had committed to teaching First Day School to the kiddies this morning.

Of course, there are likely questions about this.  Because I don’t have frequent readers, and thus no frequently asked questions, I’m going to guess what they might be:

  • Did you just convert to Christianity?  Well, no.  Quakerism was definitely founded by a Christian named George Fox, who preached about the direct connection with deity.  Most Friends are Christ-centered, but they include nontheist, humanist, and even Quaker Pagans among their number.
  • Do they know you’re a Pagan?  I haven’t hidden that fact, but Quakers don’t exactly wear their beliefs on their sleeves, either; for one thing, it would probably not be appropriate to the spirit of plain dress.  I made it a point to mention that fact when I was meeting with a clearness committee about becoming a member.  That led to questions about how I might relate to Friends who were uncomfortable with my Paganness, but I wasn’t asked about those beliefs, nor was it suggested that I should renounce them.  One elder in my meeting (mine!  that’s exciting to write!) said that I don’t have to speak in that language, but I do need to be able to hear it.  Another Quaker I met at a Pagan event called it “listening in tongues.”
  • How does this relate to your Pagan practices, anyway?  Considering that Hellenismos is a religion of spoken prayers, offerings, and outward ritual which I perform daily in solitude, while Quakerism is a path of silent worship in groups, the two dovetail surprisingly well in my life.  I was led to each in times of emotional turmoil.  While I cannot always be sure what voice I am hearing in meeting for worship, I am able to more easily listen to my gods there then when I am pouring libations and reciting prayers as offerings.  In fact, both are orthopraxic, focusing more on the practice than on the belief, and each requires discernment to tell what’s a sign (or message, in Quaker parlance), and what just an interesting coincidence or one’s own desires (the rush to interpret such as a message by a Quaker can be called “notional thinking”) be presumed to be more important than they really are.
  • Didn’t you get a sign from Ares to follow Hellenismos?  And now you’ve gone and joined one of the historic peace churches?  That did happen, yes.  Ares looks over my shoulder as I write, because he’s my gatekeeper god and reminds me of my faith.  Having never been to war, and not seeing any benefit to the enterprise, I can relate to the fact that no small number of the offerings my ancestors made to him were likely to turn war away from their shores, because they wanted peace.  I believe in peace, and there is a long tradition of asking Ares for peace.  I don’t see a conflict here.
  • But are you sure this isn’t just the first step down the slippery slope of betrayal of the Pagan community?  On one hand, I haven’t a clue.  I trust my gods.  I listen to them.  Jesus appeared to me exactly once during my years as a Christian, to tell me that he was cool with me giving him up so long as I didn’t give up the gods.  Ares showed up to tell me that I had done just that, and to pull it together.  This is my path, and I’m going to follow it towards wisdom, betterment of myself, and to serve them the best I can.  On the other hand, ordinary Pagans probably come and go all the time without eliciting feelings of betrayal.  I’m not Star Foster or Teo Bishop, I haven’t made waves, so I doubt anyone would feel personally wounded if I did leave Paganism . . . except for those gods I’ve sworn oaths to, of course.
  • Aren’t oaths a problem for Quakers?  My short answer to this is, “These aren’t the oaths you’re looking for.”  The Quaker opposition is to swearing to tell the truth as in a court of law, because it creates a double standard of truth.  I agree, so far as that narrow understanding of oath is concerned, but oaths signify much deeper commitments than truth-telling, and to reject them entirely is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

So I’ve gone and added another religion to my identity.  I do so with humble respect for the long tradition into which I have been accepted, and with profound thanks to the gods who led me to attend a meeting in the first place.  It may take me a lifetime to express in words what I know to be true:  that this decision allows me to better serve gods and mortals alike.

Wiccanate is here to stay; here’s why

“Wiccanate” as a word didn’t really enter the collective Pagan consciousness until a few months ago, when it started getting concatenated with “privilege.”  It’s a clumsy-looking, awkwardly-pronounced word which refers to those collected practices and traditions which outwardly resemble what most of us think of as Wicca, e.g. casting a circle, balancing gender poles, invoking elements, and things like that.  It’s a spot-on definition of the type of Paganism I practiced for the first twenty or so years on this path.

I don’t think it’s a particularly attractive word, and wish that whoever coined it had come up with something that feels more elegant to the tongue and the ear.  But wiccanate is here to stay, despite my misgivings.  That’s because it does, in fact, accurately describe an existing subset of Pagan existence.  The debates around this word have been instructive to me, because I’m pretty suspicious of neologisms, thinking that it’s silly to make a new word if another one will do just as nicely.

But the word that I used to use to describe this concept was “Pagan.”  Somewhere I have a notebook with all sorts of ideas about rituals and concepts which are universally Pagan, but in fact were wiccanate.  I was unaware — some would say I failed to ‘check my privilege,’ but the reasons I disagree are numerous enough to require a post to themselves — that there are forms of Paganism which do not in any way resemble the outward forms of Wicca.  Practicing Hellenismos has helped me understand that yes, there’s a whole world beyond that, dissolving my ignorance.  I wish we could use “Pagan” like I used to, but it’s just not true.

Shortcomings aplenty accompany this word, though.  Let’s take a peek.  It’s got:

  • Condescension appeal.  I’ve seen wiccanate used with a sneer, as if the writer were looking down upon those who practice such a religion.  I’ve also seen it put in “condescension quotes,” expressing a clear view that the word — and everything it represents — is made-up fluffery. That baggage comes from the writers and the readers, not the word itself.
  • Awkward spelling.  Put “ate” at the end of an English word and it’s not clear if that syllable includes a long ‘a’ or a schwa, an unstressed syllable.  Either one doesn’t trip off the tongue too teasingly, but it’s the word we’ve got, and repetition makes awkward things seem comfortable with time.
  • Capitalism.  This word is being capitalized, but I reject capitalism.  It’s appropriate to captialize “Wiccan” as the adjectival form for Wicca, but wiccanate is not an adjectival form of a particular religion, so it doesn’t deserve that much credit.  It’s just an adjective, and we don’t capitalize adjectives in English without good reason.

There you have it:  wiccanate entered our conversation charged with lots of emotions, terrible spelling, and inappropriate capitalization, but all of that is overcome by the fact that it defines something which needed to be defined.  Any questions?