Author: Brewan Blacksmith
A little while back, while driving around with, a friend I asked a simple question. “Is an artist still an artist if she loses her hands?” After a brief moment of pause she replied, “Yes.” I knew this was to be her answer and it was the same for me when the question first arose in my mind a while ago. It was easy for the both of us to answer being we are both artists. We understand that the underlying beauty in an artist is what resides in her mind and heart. At the same time, we both thought of the hardships that would come should an artist lose their outlet of expression. Painters paint and sculptures sculpt, but what if they no longer did? They would still see and think as they once had, but without physically doing what calls to them, what kind of an artist would they actually be?
For me, the thought later crossed over into another subject matter. “Is a Pagan still a Pagan if he no longer practices?” I asked myself. It was uncomfortable to think about as it pertained specifically to how my life hit me. For ten years I have been a Pagan, but since the recent recession a few years ago, day-to-day living removed the comforts of past practices. I wasn’t celebrating lunar rites, esbats, or sabbats like I used to. What once were coven celebrations amongst friends were now a lit candle and a prayer of thanks at best.
No more smudging, no more spell casting, no more divining and no more creating sacred circles for me. Good jobs became very sparse, living conditions changed, and disposable income disappeared. The time I once had for sharing with my coveners was removed, and all I was able to do was keep in connection with my gods through short prayers and silent conversations. The old ways of practicing the Old Ways were gone. The same held true for my coven friends.
While in this state of staleness I pondered briefly a few scenarios in which I wouldn’t be affected as much by these sudden changes in the way I lived my new life. Perhaps if I were a materialist I could cope by buying new things. Or maybe if I were of a more mainstream religious belief it would be easier as society makes time for it. If I were working a job that actually paid well, that would solve most of my problems. But, I’m no materialist, I’m devout Pagan until the end, and my job was a dead end. I always kept in mind that many people have it worse. I always kept in mind the beauty of my family and the smiles that they bring. But still, there was a void inside me. A great part of me remained dormant without my coven and all the great things we did. Within me there was a shadow, a lack of motion, a death.
Death, however, is often a misunderstood thing. People fear death because it is a physical end to what they know to be true. Death is a removal of what we see and that with which we are familiar. It is change, and it is inevitable and because of these it is something feared. Yet if you truly think upon death, which can be perceived as a lack of growth or motion, you will find that even in this state of stillness there is a spiraling of energy. Like the winter months when the trees shed their leaves and cold blankets the soil, beneath the snow there is life. In shadow there is gestation, evolution, transformation, and change. All of the energy witnessed during the warmer parts of the year trickle down the roots of the trees and plants and gather in the dark earth below.
The caverns of the Underworlds are filled with this energy. The realms of shadows and death are filled to the brim this time of year with the same energy the spurs us along when the sun is bright in the warm sky. So in death there is life, and also change.
When a mythic hero would die and enter into the Underworld, a place where one would never return, he in fact would eventually return. How is this so? The hero would escape death by embracing change. Through transformation he evades the clutches of death, but upon his return he is no longer the same person. He returns to the realm of the living, but at the same time he does not. Had he accepted his new place in dreary shadows in a void of timelessness? Only then would he truly have died.
It was this lesson that I learned during my college years that helped me get through a couple somber periods of my life, including this recent recession. At some point my inner, Sagittarian optimist took hold of it and I was altered by these life changes. Whether it’s making lemonade out of lemons, or always doing the best you can with what you have, death is not an enemy but a teacher about living. It is about transforming who you are to move unhindered with the ebb and flow of each incarnation.
We are given but a few decades with which to learn as much as we possibly can before we must start over again. Yet even within the span of a single life we can experience minor “deaths” which we can either submit to and become lethargic, or emerge from and become something more than we originally were. Within in each life we can mimic the life-death-rebirth cycle much like one year of Sabbats symbolizes the life’s journey of the Goddess and God. These murky times that shall strike our stable existences over and over are cosmic challenges, or tests, that help forge who we become. They bring sadness, depression, struggle, fear, and often hopelessness. But through them we become great, and that is one of the tasks this Earth is designed to do for us. So long as you do not succumb to stagnation and ignorance, even the darkest moments can strengthen you on your journey through each life.
It is through this wisdom that I tread forward. I feel no guilt any longer when I brush the dust off my old texts on Paganism. The cobwebs that have gathered on my robes and oils and tarot cards are wiped away free of sadness. I have missed my old tools that have gone years without use. But here they are now awaiting me once again. Little by little I get back into the habit of practicing as I once did. Yet every act now is different, improved, changed from my changed perspective.
I spent the last few years with my hands cut off. No Arte did I make. Yet within my inactivity my mind still churned, and many lessons were learned. And in many cases, epiphanies pertaining to Paganism came to me only through temporarily leaving behind my familiar Pagan rituals. Various mysteries are solved beyond texts and temples. Many require you to step outside your comfort zone and take with you only what you once knew.
It may seem through this that sometimes the Path of the Wise trails beyond our sights or that we lose our footing. But often it remains right under our feet as we walk upon it the entire time despite feeling otherwise. Rites and spells may be what a Pagan does, but in the mind and heart is where a Pagan resides. In my humble opinion I believe this as true, and with this I eternally move forward through every obstacle without regretting facets of the past. So long as I change for the better from every dark struggle, I can never consider those moments a waste of time. Learning keeps you moving forward no matter which direction life takes you.
My hope is that these words can bring a little comfort and understanding to those who have gone through recent hardship.