Daily Archives: March 7, 2011

Voices from the Past

Voices from the Past

Author: Priestess Jean
History, without some relationship to our own lives, or a lesson to teach us about our own society and ourselves as human beings, would be worthless… nothing more than an idle amusement, at best. The value of history, therefore, lies in its relevance to our own time and place. In a very real sense, it isn’t about the past… it’s about the future. Once we understand that, we realize why the study of history is absolutely essential to our own survival and progress, in the modern world.

In this essay, we will attempt to investigate the beliefs and values that sustained the Goddess cultures of Europe and the Middle East, during the period before the Kurgan invasion. Although we have previously examined a great deal of archeological evidence, another way that we might obtain some further insights is to study similar cultures, about which more is known.

When Europeans first encountered Native Americans, just a few centuries ago, they found a completely intact Mesolithic culture, of the type that our own ancestors may have had, millennium earlier. It’s a pity that in their haste to colonize and exploit the New World they failed to realize the value of this discovery, to say nothing of their abysmal failure to treat the Native American peoples in a just and honorable way. Never the less, we are fortunate enough to posses some records of the statements of Native Americans, which I believe are very significant and enlightening.

I would now like to present a small sample of these statements.

Luther Standing Bear

“From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things – the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals – and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery.”

“Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakota come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.”

“The animals had rights – the right of a man’s protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, and the right to man’s indebtedness – and in recognition of these rights the Lakota never enslaved an animal, and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing.”

Luther Standing Bear was a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota in 1868. After initially working as a clerk and a teacher, in 1898 he began touring with the Wild West show of Buffalo Bill Cody, and later transitioned to a successful career in motion pictures. Privately, he was active in various “Indian Rights” organizations, and wrote numerous books about Indian life and government policy. He died in California, in 1939.

Dan George

“The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass speaks to me. The summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me. The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning, the dewdrop on the flower, speaks to me. The strength of the fire, the taste of salmon, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away, they speak to me. And my heart soars.”

Dan George was born in British Colombia in 1899, and served as Chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation from 1951 to 1963. He was also a wonderful actor, writer and poet. Dan George died in Vancouver Canada, in 1981.

Chief Seattle

“Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the Earth is our mother? What befalls the Earth befalls all the sons of the Earth. This we know; the Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

Chief Seattle was born in the state of Washington, around 1780. He was Chief of the Duwamish tribe, and advocated a policy of accommodation towards white settlers. He is best remembered for his love of nature and his attempts to preserve the environment, as well as his dislike of the white man’s god, which he perceived as violent and racist. Chief Seattle died on the Suquamish reservation, at Port Madison, Washington, in 1866.

Chief Joseph

“At last I was granted permission to come to Washington and bring my friend Yellow Bull and our interpreter with me. I am glad I came. I have shaken hands with a good many friends, but there are some things I want to know which no one seems able to explain.”

“I cannot understand how the Government sends a man out to fight us, as it did General Miles, and then breaks his word. Such a government has something wrong about it. I cannot understand why so many chiefs are allowed to talk so many different ways, and promise so many different things. I have seen the Great Father Chief; the Next Great Chief; the Commissioner Chief; the Law Chief; and many other law chiefs, and they all say they are my friends, and that I shall have justice, but while all their mouths talk right I do not understand why nothing is done for my people.”

“I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country now overrun by white men. They do not protect my father’s grave. They do not pay for my horses and cattle.”

“Good words do not give me back my children. Good words will not make good the promise of your war chief, General Miles. Good words will not give my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.”

“If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect all rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.”

“If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.”

Chief Joseph was born in the Wallowa Valley of Oregon, in 1840. He succeeded his father as Chief of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce in 1871. They had provided valuable assistance to the Lewis and Clark expedition as early as 1805, and afterwards had maintained friendly relations with white settlers.
In 1855 the Nez Perce were granted a 7.7 million acre reservation, but when gold was discovered in the area in 1863 the United States government attempted to reduce that to about one-tenth of the original size. The Wallowa band refused, and finally in 1873 Chief Joseph secured an agreement that his band could remain in the Wallowa Valley.

In 1877, the United States government again violated the treaty and demanded that the Wallowa band relocate to a small reservation. Although they reluctantly agreed and were preparing to comply, a group of 4 white settlers were killed in the area during this time, which resulted in an immediate attack on the Wallowa by over 2000 heavily armed U.S. troops.

Leading his band of 800 Wallowa, most of whom were women and children, Chief Joseph attempted to reach safety in Canada, fighting one of the most amazing rear-guard actions in Native American history. While fighting off their pursuers they traveled over 1600 miles in 105 days and came to within 40 miles of the Canadian border, but were finally overtaken and forced to surrender in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana.

The surviving 600 Wallowa were promised a place on a reservation in Oregon, but were actually loaded into unheated cattle cars and taken to a prison camp in Kansas, held there for 10 months, then moved to a reservation in Oklahoma, where many of them died of disease. In 1879 Chief Joseph was allowed to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with President Hayes, and finally in 1885 the remainder of his people were relocated to a reservation in Idaho. Chief Joseph, however, was held prisoner for the rest of his life at the Colville reservation in the state of Washington, where he died in 1904.

Black Kettle

“All we ask is that we have peace with the whites. We want to hold you by the hand. You are our father. We have been travelling through a cloud. The sky has been dark ever since the war began. These braves who are with me are willing to do what I say. We want to take good tidings home to our people, that they may sleep in peace. I want you to give all these chiefs of the soldiers here to understand that we are for peace, and that we have made peace, that we may not be mistaken by them for enemies. I have not come here with a little wolf bark, but have come to talk plain with you.”

Black Kettle was born near the Black Hills of South Dakota, around 1803. As a young man, he traveled south and joined the Wuhtapiu band of the Cheyenne tribe. They signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, which granted them autonomy over a large area of the southern Great Plains, however the treaty collapsed in 1858, when gold was discovered in Colorado, and a massive wave of settlers entered the area. By that time, Black Kettle had become Chief of the Wuhtapiu band, and although other bands of Cheyenne reacted violently, he pursued a path of peace and restraint.
In 1861, Black kettle and the Chiefs of 5 other Cheyenne bands, as well as those of 4 Arapaho bands, signed the Treaty of Fort Wise, in which they agreed to give up their claim to the majority of their land, in exchange for a small reservation in eastern Colorado, where they would be safe from involvement in the conflict between the warring Cheyenne bands and U.S. military forces.

In late November of 1864, the Wuhtapiu band was encamped on the reservation, in the area of Sand Creek. Unknown to them, a local cavalry commander, Colonel John Chivington, after drinking heavily, declared that he intended to rid the world of Indians, and marched his troops to the Wuhtapiu camp. At the time, most of their braves were away on a hunting trip. Of the 150 persons Chivington killed, nearly all of them were women and children. It would be called the Sand Creek massacre.

In 1864 Black Kettle signed the Treaty of Little Arkansas River, exchanging the Sand Creek reservation for a smaller one in southwestern Kansas. This was superseded by the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867, which required them to relocate one again, to a smaller but supposedly safer reservation in Oklahoma. They were also promised food and other supplies in the treaty, which in fact were never delivered.

Three years later, in November of 1868, as the Wuhtapiu were encamped on the banks of the Wash*ta river, well within the boundaries of the reservation, the forces of Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer mistook them for a hostile band of Cheyenne and attacked. Black Kettle and the majority of his band were killed, and Custer then used captured Wuhtapiu women and children as human shields, to facilitate his escape when other Cheyenne bands prepared to counter-attack. This action is now referred to as the Wash*ta massacre.

Black Elk

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

“This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.”

Black Elk was an Oglala Sioux holy man, born in 1863. He knew Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, and was present at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee Massacre. Black Elk died on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, in 1950. During the years of 1930 and 1931, he recounted the story of his life to John Neihardt and Joseph E. Brown who published it in a book, entitled Black Elk Speaks.

I have sometimes heard it said that Native Americans were primitive, their understanding limited and unsophisticated… yet if we consider their belief that we should take only what we need from the Earth, so that mankind can continue to exist indefinitely, and compare that with our own unbridled consumption of natural resources, which is really the more primitive and unsophisticated view?

If we consider the Native American belief that animals had spirits that were to be honored at the time of their death, and compare that with modern slaughterhouses, where animals are killed by the thousands without the slightest regard for their lives, which is really the more primitive and unenlightened view?

Finally, if we consider the Native American belief in treating others with respect, honoring agreements, and living in peace with neighbors whenever possible, and compare that with the actions of our own government, then again I must ask, where do we perceive the more primitive and uncivilized behavior?

The statements of these Native Americans provide insights into the philosophy and beliefs of our own distant ancestors… but more than that, their words lead us to consider the deeper nature of our society. In that process, as we come to realize the wisdom of the harmonious and sustainable lifestyle that they have advocated, we become better prepared to deal with the modern challenges on which our survival depends.

Bright Blessings,

Priestess Jean


Footnotes:
1. Wikipedia

2. “Black Elk Speaks”, 1932, William Morrow and Company.

3. Chief Dan George

4. Chief Seattle’s speech, by Dr. henry A. Smith, pub. 1887

5. Black Kettle’s statement, Congressional Testimony of Mr. John S. Smith: Washington, March 14, 1865.

6. Luther Standing Bear (1933) . “What the Indian Means to America”.

7. Chief Joseph’s statement; Wilson, James. “The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America” 2000.

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Religious Form: Internal and External Reality

Religious Form: Internal and External Reality

Author: Stewart Bitkoff

Traveler: Speak to me of the great religions, and why each states their Path is the only Way. In the past, religious difference has led to wars, killing, and fighting. Why is this?

Master: On an inner level, your religion is One Religion. Each religion is an aspect of the Divine. Just as clear light filters through a prism, changing, twisting to fit the demands of time and place; the colors of the prism are beautiful and varied; yet on inner level the light is without color.

The Inner Teaching is that the great religions are One springing from the same Higher Source. Mankind has forgotten to sip of this ancient river, and through the Light experience God’s Love and Mercy.

The original teachers, who brought the great religions, came here to instruct travelers about the ultimate nature of reality and offer a ladder to climb higher. At the time of each revelation, and for that specific culture, this was intended to be the Way; often with the injunction, spread the news. In time the followers who wished to offer these wonderful teachings to a wider audience; created a structure or religion to do this.

Over time, and through the influence of specific travelers, some with personal motive, individual teachings were stressed, omitted or even changed; in some systems: what currently exists regarding specific teachings, is only a manipulative form. At a specific time and place, teachings were offered to a social community; hence, teachings take into account cultural difference and frame of reference. Not all teachings automatically fit all travelers. That is why teachings are updated. Teachings are kept vibrant by living teachers, and are specific to their present audience.

For many travelers, the great religions provide a structure from which spiritual learning grows. Through a specific presentation, the traveler is taught about their soul and spirit and how to become a better person. This learning provides a basis for life and a starting point for deeper study. However, many travelers cannot see beyond their own individual learning structure, and are slow to accept, other structures work for other travelers.

A point not stressed or intentionally omitted: is that there is an internal and external reality to religious form. Externally a teaching is subject to individuality with limitations of time, place and even decay; yet, internally the spiritual reality is vibrant and One with the Absolute. Across time and space the great religions are transcendent.

Often the emphasis has been on external difference and some religions have not stressed deep, inner worship. In our western culture, that is the reason for the ground swell in exotic and experiential paths. Here, in our culture, there is a hunger for inner experience.

Since the beginning, religious difference has been used as a way to exert one group’s will against another. Usually, this is a manipulation, dressed in religious clothing to achieve power and property. All the great religions are Holy. Does not the Father love all his children and provide a way for each?

Religion and Spiritual Learning

Through spiritual learning, turn back to the religion of your youth; become a better Christian, Jew or Moslem. Through your renewed Faith, seek the inner core of religious experience and do not be satisfied with external teaching of others. Find your own inner Truth. Become a spiritual traveler. Each of the great religions provides a structure or framework from which to begin the inner journey of exploration of self and higher knowledge.

If for some reason, your journey is restricted by the religion of your birth, seek Truth and higher consciousness through another spiritual path. Pray and ask for a Way to open to you. Seek a guide or teacher who will show you- your own inner potential and teach awareness of your growing spirituality. Find a teacher who is aligned with Truth, and within their specific framework, offers the tools to uncover personal excellence and so helping you to proceed joyfully- as a child of the universe.

In our culture, religion is a structure through which many begin spiritual learning. As the traveler advances, this learning takes place more and more on an inner level; which may or may not be within traditional religious form. Personal, spiritual experience is the natural extension of religious inquiry; the great religions are grand highways for travelers to learn about self and their relationship with Truth. Often, after extended training, spiritual learning goes beyond this simpler worldly form.

The followers of a great teacher or Prophet, in order to help spread their teaching, created an organized system to do this. Many times, after the Prophet’s death, individual teachings were added to help travelers proceed. At the time of revelation, the Prophet presented the current system to perceive and align with Truth. Over time, all spiritual teachings, on a worldly level have a tendency to loose their vibrancy; like other terrestrial forms they are subject to decay.

Another tendency of the earth phase is repetition; repetition is a helpful tool in early forms of learning. To reach large numbers, organized religious teaching makes good use of this technique; however, repetition has a tendency to result in hardening of ideas and concepts. Many times, this hardening or fossilization, slowly, replaces the living or vibrant element. In recent years, this lack of vibrancy in specific systems has caused some to turn away from organized religion and seek their spiritual experience elsewhere.

While it is possible to gain advanced spiritual training and experience within the context of organized religion, often, this form of learning is not emphasized or generally understood to be available. Due to this lack of emphasis, travelers seek deep, inner experience in systems where this is offered; many eastern systems provide this aspect.

To make clear how deep spiritual training works, let us use the example of becoming a carpenter. When the apprentice carpenter is first learning their trade, often, they are given the most basic of tasks; often, tasks are repetitious, and through simple actions learn to recognize different types of wood and how to make them useful. After a period, working on a variety of wood projects and interacting with other trades people, this apprentice acquires skill necessary to become a journeyman carpenter; graduates and is independently free to apply skill working on a variety of projects.

As years pass, the carpenter seeks to increase learning about woods; studying how trees grow and the effect environmental conditions have upon grade, elasticity and durability. In time, he becomes adept at knowing how wood weathers, and if it will last, just by its feel and smell.

As he reaches later years, the carpenter continues learning and works on projects both in the country and city. In his region, he has worked with wood, in every conceivable fashion. Compared to the basic, repetitious education of the young apprentice, long ago our carpenter became a Master.

Thoughts to Ponder

•Consider the possibility that much of what you have been taught about religion is not accurate. Consider that perhaps, travelers have been taught half-truths, by those in power, so they can be more easily manipulated. Further, that some of your most cherished religious beliefs may be misrepresentations, supporting a fear and reward indoctrination system, set-up to control very specific social behaviors. No. This couldn’t possibly be true? Or could it?

•In our physical realm, religious form provides a basis and structure from which to continue the spiritual journey. Travelers must learn and understand that there is both an internal and external dimension to form. The external or worldly aspect is tied to factors like time, place and sociology. Whereas, the internal reality and aspect of personal experience is timeless and transcendent, providing a deeper understanding of the form and leading us on to the next place.

Quotes to Consider

•Secret Meaning of Reincarnation Theory
‘The Soul passes, from the Deity, into the gross material world. It then has to return to the Godhead by successively passing through six phases: Angels, Demons, Men, Quadrupeds, Birds, and Reptiles.”

According to Shah, this statement found in traditional teachings, has been assumed by literalists and those without insight, to mean that members of the human race may ‘inhabit’ the literal physical body of one of the above named creatures. The teaching, however, is in fact saying: The human being has six soul states. Each one is symbolized by one of these creatures. (Although given in descending order, the Soul may proceed from any of these states to perfection) .*

• “The most excellent Jihad is that for conquest of self.”**

_______

* Idries Shah, The Commanding Self, The Octagon Press: London, 1994, p. 289.
** Some Wise Sayings of Holy Prophet Muhammad, webpage, accessed 5/14/08,
http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Spa/7220/sayingsprophet2.html

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Is $12.95 a Good Price for a Spirit Guide?

Is $12.95 a Good Price for a Spirit Guide?

Author: Morgan St. Knight

Fair warning: this isn’t going to be a how-to essay, as in “How to make contact with your spirit guide/patron Deity/guardian angel.” I only have a couple of tips for making the process a little easier, not a complete step-by-step ritual or series of meditations.

This is truly something you have to work out for yourself. Often the process of contacting your guides is a very important lesson itself. It may be even more important than the result because it teaches you ways of approaching the world that can assist you greatly later in life. In other words, the journey is just as important as the destination. Once you experience the process of successfully contacting a guardian entity, be it a Goddess, a power animal, an angel, etc, you’ll understand how that process works, and more importantly how it feels when you’re doing it correctly.

Let me clarify: doing it correctly for you. It’s a very individualized journey because we each have our own unique way of relating to the universe and to the Divine. What works for you won’t necessarily work for me, or for the next ten people in line. But maybe it will work brilliantly for person number eleven. That’s why I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I can use a simple essay to guide you on what is essentially a very solitary journey. I caution you to be wary of people who claim they can do it through a simple set of instructions because more often than not, they’re just out to make a buck.

While I don’t strictly object to books that promise to put you in contact with your spirit guides, I’m not very keen on the premise most of them push: that there is a set process, and all you need to do is follow their how-to manual. I haven’t read all the books on the market, but I’ve read a fair amount. I have yet to find an author who says: “This approach to contacting spirit guides may not be for you. Here’s a list of books by other authors whose systems may work better for you.”

These books will often set parameters for how the process of contacting your spirit guide should go (you should never feel [blank] when meeting the spirit being if it’s truly your guide, you should ALWAYS feel [blank], you should be able to verify the information the entity is giving you by doing [blank]) Unfortunately, it’s very easy to convince yourself that things are happening just as they are described in the book, because they’re mostly happening in your mind… which you control to a large degree. And if you want to believe what the book is telling you…

Sometimes this coaxing is done very subtly; the author will relate his or her own encounters, or the encounters of others, often putting just enough diversity in the details to make it seem more realistic. Leeway is a big plus for selling books on paranormal topics, and one of the best ways to create leeway is to rely on suggestion through examples. The implication is your experience should be “something like this”. Well, how much “like this”? The book can’t talk, so it can’t clarify details.

This puts the burden on the reader to correctly interpret the examples and figure out whether it applies to them. Did your “encounter” not mirror Mary Esther’s story on page 103? You must not have understood what she was experiencing, or what you were experiencing. Try again! You’ll see! It’ll happen just as the book says it will if you keep trying and visualizing exactly what you’re told to visualize. Everyone wins with this book, step right up and meet your spirit guide within the week for a mere $12.95.

If you are truly desperate to meet a spirit guide, these books can provide you with enough raw materials to make you think you’re doing it. I won’t say these books are outright fraudulent. The steps described in most of them will probably work for some people. They simply are not universally valid. This, as I’ve noted, is something the authors don’t tell you.

Certain cultures had specific names for the process of finding a spirit guide, a sacred animal, or some other spiritual ally. (Let’s use “vision quest” for simplicity’s sake, although I don’t want to imply this was the only reason people may have gone on such a quest.)

The steps varied from group to group. There may have been some basic preparation everyone in a particular group went through: periods of fasting, sleep deprivation, purification through sweat baths or purgatives. A person may have been taken to a sacred location to remain there, or to wander in a certain area. There may have been other steps, such as a specific chant to sing (unless the finding of one’s particular chant was the goal of the quest) . It’s difficult to know exactly how the quester would be guided because there are so few cultures left which practice this, and they don’t typically blog about the experiences.

Here’s what probably didn’t happen: the person was brought to a specific spot, told to sit there a certain number of days, to recite a precise chant an exact number of times, when to get up and pee, when to drink water, how often to close their eyes and count backwards from ten while trying to imagine specific colors with each number….

No. I just don’t believe it. If you’re trying to sell a book to 10, 000 people, then yes, you might try to convince them that they can just follow a rigid list like this and get what they want. Let’s think about that premise. Does it make sense that everyone who picks up that book will be at the same stage of development? Spiritual evolution is not like a marching band; all the horns don’t pass the 40-yard line at the same time. We each hit different benchmarks at vastly different times. This means the timing and method of contacting a spirit guide will vary from person to person. This is why a book with a one-size-fits-all approach won’t genuinely help most of the people who read it.

If you’re a spiritual leader in a small community, where maybe only one or two people undertake the vision quest every year, you can certainly be a lot more hands-on with them. More importantly, a good spiritual leader learns to look beyond the outward expressions of a person’s experience with the quest to understand whether the core experience has truly been successful.

This is crucial, because everyone’s experiences will be different if they’re genuine. Person A may see Coyote walking up to them on two legs and speaking a word or chant to them; Person B may see Crow flying overhead, dropping a sacred crystal to them; Person C may feel they’re falling through a void, only to wake up on a bed of exotic flowers next to a naked Roseanne Barr.

All of these experiences could be considered valid, but not because of these details. It also isn’t because the people followed the preparatory steps to the finest detail. I suspect Person C botched up something royally in that stage.

What makes them valid experiences is the actual change the person has undergone. Connecting with our spiritual guardians is not just a matter of having someone else to talk to or ask advice from; it’s about taking a huge step to claiming our own sacredness, our own connection to the Divine. So it’s possible three other people will have the same experience as Person A, and yet the shaman of the tribe may judge their quests have not been successful, because there has been no detectable change in those three people.

And guess what? No matter who the author is or how many books on connecting with spirit guides they’ve sold, they aren’t able to sit with, talk to, and examine everyone who buys their book and tries their method (never mind whether they actually have the qualifications to make the assessment of whether the attempt has been successful) . Well, they usually don’t have time to examine you, but if you’re willing to spend hundreds of dollars for a “consultation” with them or to book them to teach a class at your local metaphysical store….

Ahem.

It would be great if we lived in a culture where contacting spiritual guardians or tutelary Deities was a matter of course. Such a society would likely include teachers capable of guiding us properly so we could each have our own, special realization/transformation, and be confident the experience was legitimate. It doesn’t mean things wouldn’t go wrong for some people later. After all, even the finest medical schools with the best teaching doctors turn out a few students who end up getting sued for malpractice. But in general, most people would benefit and grow from the experience.

The problem is, we don’t live in a homogenous culture, especially in the Pagan community. The reason people in a specific Native American tribe would follow the same basic steps for a vision quest is that they all were raised in that culture. They had a common frame of reference, common beliefs and religious teachings, a common interpretation of symbols, and a common experience of life. The community lived, worked, worshipped, hunted, gathered and grew up, grew old, and died together. But another group living hundreds of miles away might have a different set of steps and standards of interpretation that applied to them.

The tribal paradigm doesn’t exist for modern Pagans. Our society is mostly fragmented into nuclear family units, or less. Many of us live alone for extended periods, often not by choice, or we have only loose affiliations with co-workers and acquaintances at the local watering hole. While we may have some common frames of reference, there are many instances in which our personal experiences are so unique and varied that it virtually rules out commonality of interpretation for events such as communication with spirit guides.

In this case, plurality has its strengths and weaknesses. If I follow an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, I may have spirit guides who take the forms of demigods from the Greek or Celtic pantheons, and relate to me in a certain way; that’s not the way a follower of Cadomble would relate to their guardian Orixa. She may also practice Spiritism and consider her guides to be entities from that tradition. She and I may discuss and learn from each other’s experiences. We would gain knowledge about another path, and that is usually a good thing.

But, we wouldn’t necessarily be able to evaluate the other person’s experience or provide feedback if asked. Lack of familiarity on an experiential level could raise barriers between us. If each have the same conversation with someone in our own tradition, we would be much more likely to get an evaluation and interpretation that is meaningful and helpful to us. This appears beneficial on the surface, but in fact reinforces a desire to keep such discussions confined to a small group of people.

If you follow a book that describes a specific method, you’re likely to get a false sense of “community”, believing there are many other people having the same experience as you after reading the same book. The only thing you may have in common with them is that you all convinced yourselves you got authentic results.

I’ve worked with people who have tried following the books. I didn’t roll my eyes when they told me excitedly that they contacted their spirit guardian, who looked amazingly like (insert character from Lord of the Rings, Narnia or any random walk-on alien in Ten Forward from Star Trek TNG) .

Nor did I tell any of these people: “I knew it was just your imagination” when they finally admitted to themselves that they were just talking to a make-believe friend.

I told them what I’m telling you: there are some basic steps that may help, but in the end, finding a spirit guide is going to be a very personal journey, and you’re the only one who can draw the map. Most of the time, you have to do it as you go.

So what are these steps I keep mentioning?

1) State your intention clearly, and out loud. When you’re ready to begin you can perform any ritual or activity that has meaning to you, if the symbolism resonates with your intent. Lighting candles and incense, writing a formal chant, leaving an offering at a location you associate with higher spiritual forces, or just facing the rising or setting Sun or Moon, can all work. But do it because it means something to YOU, not just because you read it here or in a book. If there’s something else you think would be more meaningful, by all means do it. At some point, say clearly and out loud that you want to have a deeper connection with your spirit guardian or guardians, and you are ready to listen to them.

2) Be open. Don’t have preconceived notions. Don’t try to imagine how or when your spirit guardian will answer you. I’d love to nod with sagely and say “You’ll know it when it happens.” The truth is, you may not. And that’s because….

3) You just may not be ready. Be prepared for that. If you have developed to the point where deeper, more obvious contact with your spirit guardian will be beneficial, then it will happen no matter what. If you haven’t, then you won’t have the experience. Trust that your spirit guide will let you know when it’s appropriate for your relationship to progress. If you don’t trust them to make that decision and expect them to bend to your will and appear at a moment’s notice, you aren’t ready for the experience (and anyway, if they did appear just because you demanded it, would they be a very good spirit guide?) This is another thing most of the books don’t tell you. Just because you want it to happen, doesn’t mean it will. Some of the books out there assure you, you will make contact, and that only makes self-delusion more likely.

4) Above all, relax, and don’t obsess about it. Keep your eyes and ears open, because you miss an awful lot of life when you’re just focusing on making one thing happen. Maybe that’s the lesson you need to embrace in this lifetime, and your spirit guardian will help you do that by not appearing or contacting you.

LIfe, by the way, is really the point of all of this. A spirit guide is supposed to help you understand life, not avoid it. Don’t be so focused on finding a spirit guide that you ignore the blessings you have in life already; for example, the fact that you are in a country where you have the freedom to read this essay, and the many other essays on this website, and to write your own essay.

There are many people around the world who will never see a site like this because their government deems it “subversive”. Don’t take this for granted; there are people in this country who would gladly shut down any chance for Pagans to openly communicate or meet with each other. Our spirit guides won’t suddenly manifest and fight them off. We have to protect these rights ourselves.

Many, many more people live with grinding poverty, and no hope of ever having more than existence rather than an actual life. They deal with war, rape, and violence every day. Countless children grow up knowing no other life. Learning to be grateful for what we have, and willing to help others get the same blessings, is a lesson you can learn all on your own, with no need for a spirit guide.

A spirit guide can be a wonderful ally, but they are far from the only teachers. We have teachers everywhere we look if we open our hearts and minds. They appear as the child who needs your mentoring so they don’t fall in with a gang, the friend who needs a place to stay for a few days so she can get away from her abusive husband, or the man next door who just emigrated from another country and needs help learning English. These people can have more meaningful lessons for you and help you grow more than Coyote or Badger can at this stage in your life.

Conversely, if you convince yourself you have a host of spirit guides and spend all of your time talking with them rather than relating to the world around you, then you are separating yourself from Creation and finding excuses focus only on yourself. A real spirit guide will support you in learning how to help yourself, and help others, not enable your efforts to distance yourself from them.

Best of luck with your journey. Trust that it will unfold as it should, and remember, ultimately you are the one who has to make the decisions in your life. Spirit guides should be friends, not necessities or crutches. If you accept that, you’ll find the right guide at the right time, and save $12.95 on top of it.

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Paganism in America: Misunderstandings, Controversy, and Mainstream Conflicts

Paganism in America: Misunderstandings, Controversy, and Mainstream Conflicts

Author: WindBreath

What is Paganism? There are countless definitions of this, or rather these, minority groups. The part of speech these is used, because Paganism is in its most basic sense an umbrella term used to describe religions such as Wicca, Druidism, Asatrú, and ancient cultural Pagan reconstructionist faiths. One views the diversity among the very definition of the term Paganism by looking up the term from a Pagan source, and then looking up the term from a non – Pagan source. According to Scott Cunningham, who is heralded as one of the foremost important authors in the Pagan path, a Pagan is “from the Latin paganus, country – dweller. Today used as a general term for followers of Wiccan and other magical, shamanistic and polytheistic religions.

Naturally, Christians have their own peculiar definition of this word. It can be interchanged with Neo – Pagan (Cunningham 200) .” However, a non – Pagan, and more specifically, a definition clearly derived from Christianity’s impact on Western Europe and the United States is “a person not subscribing to any major or recognized religion, esp. the dominant religion of a particular society; spec. a heathen, a non – Christian, esp. considered as savage, uncivilized, etc (pagan, n. and adj., Oxford English Dictionary) , ” which can be found in the 2010 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

This is indeed peculiar, as Cunningham stated in his definition. The main issue facing this description is that it highlights the implications the non – Pagan source that is the OED has on currently practicing Pagans. That is, what type of impact Pagans face day to day with a leading source of direct, resolute, definitions found in books such as the OED. This definition is the tip of the iceberg in the American Christian and political conservatives’ conflict with Pagans.

A look must first be taken at the first amendment right to practice religions in order to understand the dilemma faced by Pagans. The amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… ” (Fathers) which translates to most Americans that not only can Congress not establish any type of state religion, but that they constitutionally cannot block the free exercise of any one particular religion. However, this is amendment is seemingly not inclusive of all. Pagans face discrimination in the workplace, at their homes, their places of business, against their children, and most of this comes from the deeply embedded Christian principles most citizens believe America was founded on.

This often creates legal problems for Pagans tried in courts with cases directly tied to obvious discrimination against their religion. It must be realized that Paganism is a rapidly growing group of religions in the United States. The brief history of Paganism in the U.S, its tensions with Christianity, and the legality of its many religions in relation to Christianity in America shall be discussed. What Paganism is in relation to mainstream religions is paramount in understanding why there is a growing tension among them and mainstream Christian groups. Ultimately, a goal on how to address and dissolve this conflict will be looked at lastly.

Paganism grew within the United States in the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, and has been blossoming ever since. This started with the influence of key leaders in the early Earth – Religion movements, such as Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca. This was spurred on by writers such as Margot Adler, who’s “Drawing Down the Moon” is still read and looked upon today by Pagans as a guide to the past of American Paganism, and where it may be headed in the future. According to Adler,

“Most neo – Pagans sense and aliveness and presence in nature. They are usually polytheists or animists or pantheists, or two or three of these things at once. They share a goal of living in harmony with nature and they tend to view humanity’s advancement and separation from nature as the primes source of alienation. They see rituals as a tool to end that alienation. Most neo – Pagans look to the old pre – Christian nature religions of Europe, the ecstatic religions, and the mystery traditions as a source of inspiration and nourishment. They gravitate to ancient symbols and ancient myths, to the old polytheistic religions of the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Celts, and the Sumerians (Adler 4) .”

This holds true today, in the year 2010. Although the first copy of Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon was written in the late 1970’s, this revised addition is testament to the evolving growth in numbers of Pagans/Neo – Pagans, but also to the fundamental values Pagans held and still hold to in the modern age.

Although at first glance these practitioners seem to be nothing more than reconstructionists of ancient cultural practices, the fact that many of these people find daily conflict with America’s main religious groups, Christianity, illuminates that there is a tension between the two. The main tensions faced by today’s Pagans with Christians come in the form of what the writer coins to be ‘domestic conflict, ’ or conflict that deals with the day to day life and livelihood of the subject. Also, there are no ‘manageable models, ’ a term coined by Diana Eck, meaning a model on which to base a fair and equal comparison of the two religious groups.

Currently, “the most contentious issues arise from the desires of some practitioners to flaunt their alternative behavior and exhibit their religion as counter cultural on one hand, and those who are more concerned with fostering mainstream acceptance and pursuing legal rights and protections on the other…Pagan[s] struggle to control how others perceive their religion (Davy 183) .”

Clearly, Pagans struggle with the way they are perceived because of the mystery nature of the majority of their religious practices, as well as with individuals within the Pagan movement that wishes to be gaudy and flashy with their religion. These particular individuals, along with those who commit acts of horror such as murder in the name of their particular Pagan religion, are the same individuals making Pagans who are honest, law abiding citizens look like horrible people that should be feared and in some cases, attacked.

While most Pagans and Christians living within the same area normally lead peaceful, non – violent lives, in some cases it has been found that Christians take it upon themselves to demonize and denounce the practices and practitioners of Pagan religions. Many Christian authors have written several books within the last two or three decades which denounce Paganism, and “condemn the rising popularity of modern Paganism as an insidious threat to morality and civilization (Strmiska 8) .”

Here one observes two things: one, that modern Paganism is something that should be condemned, and two, that it is an insidious threat to morality and civilization. There are several cases where this form of thinking through the lens of one’s own faith rather than attempting to understand the other is played out in the form of domestic conflict.

For those who practice a minority religion such as Wicca or Druidism within Paganism, “[they] can be assured of little protection under the Free Exercise Clause, unless the law harming them has clearly and unequivocally targeted their particular religion (Barner – Barry 23) .” For example, in Beaumont, Texas, a reverend of a Unitarian Universalist church and his congregants were explicitly harassed at a meeting they had called within the community. The purpose of this meeting was to answer any questions had by the community about Paganism because of recent allegations of abuse against children during a Pagan festival. This abuse was alleged because a group of children found out that some congregants of the church were indeed Pagan, and the police were soon brought in because the parents of some children stated that their children must have been harmed by the Pagans they spoke with.

During this meeting, the explanations of Paganism were soon silenced by police harassment, and the Pagans who remained after their pastor was removed for refusing to be silent were surrounded by Christians agreeing with their sheriff deputy. Not only was this deputy abusing his power, but he stated that he was “[a] Christian policeman…not going to tolerate Pagan religious practices (Barner – Barry 65) , ” which clearly demonstrates the abuse of the religious majority (and abuse of a position of power, in this case the police) overriding the Constitutional rights to practice religion of the minority.

This example explicitly highlights the abuse of positions of power given by the government, such as that of sheriff deputy in stating that he would indeed illegally enforce his personally formed law that Pagans who practice their religions would not be tolerated.

Examples of these abuses are not limited to adults, and happen in the public school system as well. Since the expulsion of prayers in school, there have been flairs of tension when schoolchildren are caught praying or found to be speaking about their religious beliefs. For the most part, these children are simply reprimanded, or not spoken to at all. However, for Pagans of the elementary, middle, and high school age groups, simply being reprimanded does not happen.

For example, at a middle school in the Midwest, a Pagan student was featured on the school’s wall of fame for having received extraordinarily high grades, as well as for having contributed to the school and her community. However, after the school saw she had drawn herself with a pentagram and a winged pig pulling at it, her portrait was “rejected because it had a religious theme and contained a pentagram (Barner – Barry 190) , ” yet “another picture was placed on the same wall of fame… had a clearly Christian theme (Barner – Barry 190) .” The pig, the student reported to school authorities, represented those who were ignorant of her religious faith and beliefs. Ironically, the school became that pig – not only were they ignorant of her religion, but they also explicitly favored and allowed a Christian display of faith to remain on the wall. After speaking with the child’s parents, her portrait was re hung (Barner – Barry) .

However, this is a success story in terms of religious tolerance, and does not happen often, especially in areas inhabited by conservative Christians. Thus far, conflict with general religious intolerance and school children has been observed. How conflict with Christians affects the lives of day-to-day individuals is of paramount importance, because it demonstrates how otherwise mature and sensible adults treat one another.

Every individual within the United States has the ability to start his or her own businesses. Indeed, America is made up of self – made men, men who worked hard and diligently for their earned titles, positions, and earnings. Opening a business is a difficult endeavor, which includes finding a market to sell to, costs of startup and operations, as well as buying and stocking product that is to be sold, among myriad other things. These things being difficult in their own right, add on top of that for Pagans opening shop in largely Christian areas the threat of vandalism and daily harassment.

For example, a Pagan who wished to open his shop in Austin, Texas, was harassed and ultimately forced to move because of daily taunts that he practiced Satanism. These daily taunts in front of his store caused him to lose business, and thus leave due to pressures of conflict with Christians. Another example of Pagan businesses being attacked is that of a woman in Lancaster, California as recently as 2002. She re named her store, and thus held a new dedication ceremony in the parking lot of the strip mall. Not only did conservative Christian hecklers harass her, but also when the police were called due to the disturbance of the peace, the police unit failed to respond (Barner – Barry) .

These examples given about business owners run counter culture to the idea that each individual has the ability to become a self – made man in the United States. If owning a business comes in direct conflict with the main morals and virtues of the population, then rather than allowing the business to exist as it legally is allowed to, these Christians feel the need to attack and actively take a role in shutting down these stores. Therefore, in reality, every man cannot be self – made if the mold does not fit. Here, one observes the majority coming directly down on the minority based on suppositions of Satanism, evil, and sacrificing of humans/animals. Here, one observes the ignorance and obvious lack of education of the minority religion by the majority.

Furthermore, even though it appears as though attacks are being wrought from every available angle, there is yet another, and most important to every American that is being attacked: the home. Home is supposed to be a place of solace and serenity, a place of relaxation and fun with family. It is supposed to be a place to let go of the cares of the `worldliness of work, school, and other obligations. As an extension, the neighborhood is supposed to be a place of community relaxation and recreation. For many Pagans living openly in majority Christian areas, this is sadly not true. In some extreme cases, Pagans have had to move out of their homes in order to avoid harassment and illegal actions taken against them.

For example, a Pagan couple whose house was almost paid off was found to be practicing Wicca by their neighbors. After discovering the poisoning their dog and the harassing their son on the way to the school bus, the Wiccans went to court against their neighbors only to be told to stop practicing their faith in one week or move out by a judge (Barner – Barry) .

This obvious abuse of power by the judge and illegal act of poisoning another’s animal, along with harassing someone’s child would appear to have been an easy case to decide. However, this was not true. The problem in the sphere of where one lives is that it attacks the right of anyone to live wherever they can afford. It furthers the idea that you can live where you want, so long as you prescribe to the majority lifestyles of those around you. Living in an obvious ‘counter – culture’ way is so threatening to the majority that acts such as poisoning an actual living being are not only not charged as animal abuse, but because no one was charged, it serves as an example that harming someone of a path different than one’s own is fine so long as a perceived threat is thought to be at hand.

All of the above cases have ties to the justice system, which is to Pagans, not just at all. This is seen most clearly in child custody disputes after the breaking up or divorce of parents who are one or both Pagan. Many Pagans face this fear, and “the loss of custody or visitation rights is one of the primary fears of Pagans who are parents of minor children…intact Pagan families may face custody challenges that are initiated by relatives, police, social workers, and adoption agencies. These challenges are usually based on a genuine belief that the children are potentially being harmed by their family’s non-conformist religious practices. (Barner – Barry 116) .”

Clearly, the belief that minor children are going to be harmed because of the minority religious practices directly affects the family. Not only are homes being torn apart, but these children being taken from their homes solely based on religious choice is in direct conflict with the constitutional right to the freedom of religion. It also makes a clear pathway for those who wish to remove minor children from the homes of parents or guardians based solely on their religious choices rather than if there is actual abuse in the home perfectly normal.

These cases of abuses from the majority over the minority are only growing in number as Pagan numbers increases as the years go on. The history of Paganism would appear, to a secular and unbiased individual to be that of a peaceful and Earth – based religious movement that is evolving as technology and people evolve as well. As with other religions that have growing numbers such as Islam and Judaism in the United States, one would first think that Paganism too would, like the aforementioned religions, be accepted as a legitimate religion to co – exist with. However, as the above cases have pointed out, this is not so. Pagans face discrimination in the workplace, at school, at their businesses, and in the courthouse. Stress must be placed on the fact that although these cases are largely isolated incidents, they are growing in number as Pagans grow in number in the United States.

But how are these problems do be dealt with? What is the solution to the many aspects of discrimination against Pagans? Perhaps an unbiased education about Paganism for communities would help foster understanding and help end these conflicts. Education is the key to stopping these attacks on people who have done nothing wrong but practice their religion of choice in a country that is supposed to protect that right. First, people must be taught that Pagans do not want to harm anyone: child, adult, even an animal. To do so goes against most Pagan creeds and vows to not harm any living beings. Second, people must realize that Pagans do not practice Satanism or carry out any Satanic rituals. This is the most important thing – realizing that Pagans are not evil and are not trying to attack the mainstream will be paramount in determining the fate of these minority groups in relation to the majority.

Conclusively, the minority religions of Paganism must be protected equally under the free clause law, and under the legally binding Constitutional amendment that declares that all people have the right to practice their religion of choice. Furthermore, these case studies show the cruel reality faced by Pagans who choose to live openly must face. Their minimal news coverage and lack of media attention show that there is a lot of work to be done in terms of fair coverage of events, but that their stories are covered at all shows that some effort is being made for equal press. Finally, the hope of education for those who do not understand the minority will ultimately lead to true religious freedom for all.
       


Footnotes:
Bibliography:

Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess Worshippers and Other Pagans in America. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
Barner – Barry, Carol. Contemporary Paganism: Minority Religions in a Majoritarian America. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.
Cunningham, Scott. Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practioner. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2003.
Davy, Barbara Jane. Introduction to Pagan Studies. Lanham: Altamira Press, 2007.
Fathers, Founding. “The United States Constitution.” 25 June 2010. US Constitution. 1 December 2010 .
pagan, n. and adj., : Oxford English Dictionary. November 2010. 1 December 2010 .
Strmiska, Michael F. “Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives.” Strmiska, Michael F. Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC – CLIO, Inc., 2005. 1-54.

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‘THINK on THESE THINGS’

‘THINK on THESE THINGS’
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler

First things and first times….the newness of the present moment holds such a breath of youth, such a challenge, there are moments in everyone’s life they wish they could relive. Just to recall those times when the newness, the memory of first things were beautiful and exciting.

But life never stands still. It moves forward or it decays. It cannot hold on to the past in any way. If the newness of first things has not grown into finer and more beautiful moments, then it cannot go on.

Everyone can recall something so dear that it becomes new again just by thinking about it. Courage, love, joy, contentment, all these can call to mind the special moments that were beginnings of new eras, new times in living. The scales of life tip this way and that to make those times full of meaning and sometimes vividly painful. And then sometimes it takes a season to mend the heart and spirit. When they are ready, the experience of new times and new beginnings and first things will bloom once more and the youthful challenge again enchants.

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Available online! ‘Cherokee Feast of Days’
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler.

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Elder’s Meditation of the Day – March 7

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – March 7

“We are responsible for the condition of the Earth. We are the ones who are responsible and we can change that. If we wake up, it is possible to change the energy. It is possible to change everything.”

–Hunbatz Men, MAYAN

The environment we want outside will be created by the mental pictures we have inside our heads. We must have the right environmental picture as well as the right values. These values will give the mental picture its true meaning. If we respected Mother Earth, we would not throw garbage on Her, nor would we put poison in Her. We would not misuse Her in any way. Mother Earth is like She is today because of the mental pictures of previous generations as well as the mental pictures of our own generation. If we want the environment to change, each individual must change their mental picture. “As within, so without.”

Great Spirit, today, let me be alert to Your guiding voice.

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March 7 – Daily Feast

March 7 – Daily Feast

The first thing in the morning when our feet touch the floor, our feelings begin to feed us impressions. Not only do they review our situation in a few seconds, they decide if this is a good day or if it should be one of anxiety. This is the precise time to hush feelings and paint the day the way we want it to be – not to be fed from the negative side. We tell the wrong impressions that they are not acceptable, that we feel different than we have in the past. This is a new day and we are free and happy, able to change what needs to be changed, to do what needs to be done. There are times when we must go against our own feelings and dictate what we will have, shaping and reshaping the hours as we see fit.

~ When I make peace, it is a long and lasting one. There is no end to it. ~

SANTANA

‘A Cherokee Feast of Days’, by Joyce Sequichie Hifler

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Be Quiet

Be Quiet

Have you ever wondered why libraries have special
atmospheres? They are places where many congregate but
where silence is the code. Quietness in an atmosphere
means there is the presence of quiet minds, and quiet minds
are not only relaxed, they can concentrate easily and create
more freely. Imagine you are in the library of your mind,
browsing the accumulated wisdom on the shelves of your life -
listen to the silence, be aware of the stillness. Now you can
really listen. Now you can really hear. Now you can really
think. Now you can create. And behold, you are an artist.
Did you not know that silence and creativity are lovers

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