‘THINK on THESE THINGS’ for February 3

‘THINK on THESE THINGS’
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler

If everyone were alike, what a dull world it would be. It is the individuality of each person that makes the world so interesting.

The tremendous differences in people give a wide range of personalities, beliefs, and appearances to very group, no matter how small.

If all the flowers in the world were of one color, would we think them so beautiful? It is the variety and wide range of rainbow colors that keeps us fascinated.

Cowper wrote, “Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.” So many have no thought of life except what they will eat, what they will wear, and how they can entertain themselves. And then we come on someone who has the ability to see loveliness in the sunlight and charm in quiet rain. They can say things to encourage, or to make calm and peaceful.

We meet many different kinds of people. Some we love and some we like and love, which is a terrible difference. It is to find a wholeness or a part of our lost self in someone else. It isn’t that they are so much like us or that we believe the way they do, but that they communicate, and it is this rare communication that respects the differences between peoples.

_______________________________

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

Visit her web site to purchase the wonderful books by Joyce as gifts for yourself or for loved ones……and also for those who don’t have access to the Internet: http://www.hifler.com
Click Here to Buy her books at Amazon.com

Elder’s Meditation of the Day
By White Bison, Inc., an American Indian-owned nonprofit organization. Order their many products from their web site: http://www.whitebison.org

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Elder’s Meditation of the Day – February 3

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – February 3

“It’s very hard to do things in the right manner, but as long as we do things right, we are in turn with the Great Spirit.”

–Rolling Thunder, CHEROKEE

When we are right with the Great Spirit, we are right with all things. It is impossible to be out of harmony with anything or anybody when we are in harmony with the Great One. So, if during the day a problem crops up and someone makes us mad, the best thing we can do is talk to the Creator first, ask for His help, then continue our conversation with the other person. In this way, our emotional nature will keep aligned with our thoughts, and we will always stay right with the Great Spirit.

Great Spirit, I ask You to guide me on the Red Road today.

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February 3 – Daily Feast

February 3 – Daily Feast

These are no longer ordinary times, and many circumstances we thought would never change, are changing. The innocent times, the good natured humor of life has been covered over with suggestive jokes empty of meaning. The ground is shifting under our feet and we are having to learn to walk a new way. Few things are permanent. We are born of change, but we still have to keep a commonsense attitude or we can lose our footing. We need to prove, long before we accept something as fact, that it is true. If it is right, it can be proved. Much is a mystery to us. But to the Tsilagi – Cherokee – silence is golden. We speak little and listen long. Words are important in songs and in ceremonies – and in general conversation as well. It is wise to save words and use them only when they can be effective.

~ Good works do not last long until they amount to something. ~

CHIEF JOSEPH

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

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Daily Motivator for Feb. 3rd – The more life changes

The more life changes

Life moves quickly and changes at a relentlessly rapid pace. Sometimes that  can be frightening, but it doesn’t have to be.

After all, every good thing that has come into your life has been the result  of a change. You have the proven ability to deal with the changes and in fact to  transform them into fulfillment.

With each new change comes the opportunity for new value. Even if the change  seems to be overwhelmingly negative, you can find a way in which to add new  goodness to your world.

The more life changes, the more new possibilities it brings. Rather than  cursing the changes, explore the possibilities.

Each day brings many opportunities for you to successfully adapt and prosper  in the face of change. You can use the changes to grow stronger and more  capable, and to move your world in a positive direction.

With a true and generous love for life, there is no need to fear change.  Embrace life as it continues to change, and give so much of your love that life  continues to grow in richness and fulfillment.

— Ralph Marston

The Daily Motivator

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Daily OM for February 3 – Redefining health

Redefining Health
Throw Away Your Scale

by Madisyn Taylor

No matter what our weight, we can use the cues from our physical and mental selves to judge how healthy we are.

Health is not a numerical concept and cannot be defined using statistics. Human beings, however, tend to want to quantify well-being into easily understandable figures. We feel compelled to ascribe numbers to every aspect of wellness, from the qualities of our food to our f

itness levels to the physical space we occupy. As a consequence of social pressures, we turn our attention away from health and focus instead on the most contentious of these figures—weight—checking our scales to see how we measure up to our peers and role models. Yet each of us is equipped to gauge our relative healthfulness without any equipment whatsoever. When we have achieved a state of wellness, we feel buoyant and energetic. Some of us are naturally slim, while others will always be curvy. No matter what our weight, we can use the cues we receive from our physical and mental selves to judge how healthy we really are.

When you throw away your scale, you commit to a lifestyle that honors the innate wisdom that comes from within your body and within your mind. It is logical to examine how you feel while considering your health—a strong, fit, and well-nourished individual will seldom feel heavy, bloated, or fatigued. If you have concerns regarding your weight, remind yourself that at its proper weight, your body will feel buoyant and agile. Movement becomes a source of joy. Sitting, standing, walking, and bending are all easy to do because your joints and organs are functioning as they were meant to. When you are physically healthy, your mind will also typically occupy a place of well-being. Mental clarity and an ability to focus are two natural traits of whole-self health. Surprisingly, promoting this type of easy-to-discern wellness within yourself takes no special effort outside of satisfying your hunger with nourishing, wholesome foods and moving your body.

The numbers you see on the scale, while nominally informative, can prevent you from reaching your healthful eating goals by giving you a false indicator of health. You will know when you have achieved true health because every fiber of your being will send you signals of wellness. When you choose to listen to these signals instead of relying on the scale, your definition of well-being will be uniquely adapted to the needs of your body and of your mind.

Daily OM

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Responsibility, Free Will and the Craft

Responsibility, Free Will and the Craft

Author:   Rhys Chisnall   

Responsibility is a byword of Initiatory Craft and as Craft initiates we are expected to be coping adults and be able to take responsibility for our own actions. We don’t believe in the Devil and so can’t pin our own shortcomings at his ‘supernatural’ door; nor indeed do we seek as Vivianne Crowley says in ‘Wicca: the Old Religion in the New Age’, an unrealistic sainthood. Rather we seek to take responsibility for our own world. I was told during my training that ‘Witches happen to life, life does not happen to Witches’. Sure, ‘sh*t happens’, says another much quoted real world centred Craft saying, but we have a responsibility in how we deal with life’s inevitabilities. This article examines whether we can have responsibility.

Responsibility seems to imply free will, after all most people would agree that we need to be free to make choices and decisions about our actions in order to be held responsible for them. It seems intuitively unfair to lay blame and responsibility for a crime if the perpetrator had no choice in committing it. An individual could hardly be blamed for holding up a bank if they had a bomb strapped to them by a criminal who told them that the device would be exploded killing them (and others) if they deviated from the plan. We would not hold them responsible, as they had no choice; they were coerced in to doing what they did. Likewise if a person was brainwashed or hypnotised into committing a crime we would be loath to blame them as we would we feel that they were not responsible. They were forced to do things against how they would have normally acted. The opposite is also true, when someone chooses to do something particularly brave or good, or copes with a debilitating disease with dignity and grace we praise and admire them. We view them as responsible for their actions. When someone chooses to put others needs before their own, again we either praise them or consider them mugs for the responsibility for their choices.

Responsibility need not have a moral aspect as it can also be seen as self-empowering. If we take responsibility for something then it comes into our sphere of control; we can do something about it. If we blame other people or events for our misfortunes we are effectively saying that we are powerless. We are putting ourselves in the role of the victim and that is not something that sits easily with Witchcraft. Looking at responsibility in this sense also seems to imply free will. Responsibility seems to suggest that we need free will to make the choice to take control of our own lives, to influence where life is taking us thus making us powerful individuals. It is in this meaning of responsibility where we find one of the empowerment sources of the Witch and a fundamental cornerstone of Initiatory Craft thinking.

Free will is an important concept in many different religions. For example in Christianity free will is a doctrine and is required for someone to either accept the teachings of Jesus Christ and be saved, or reject them and be damned. It is viewed as a gift from God and without it God would not be able to pass judgment, as sinners would not be responsible for their actions. It is a foundation of Christian belief and causes those Christians interested in philosophy huge headaches. Likewise to believers in the New Age movement and popular Wicca, who adhere to the simplistic morality of Western Karma, free will is an important but self-contradictory concept. Free will is required to make choices on actions which will later go on to influence what happens to that person in terms of fortune or misfortune caused by the accumulation of negative karma from bad acts and positive karma from good ones. I am sure you can see the potential for contradiction.

But does free will exist? This is a subject that metaphysicians have explored over the ages and although there is not a complete consensus (such a thing does not exists on anything in philosophy) , free will seems extremely unlikely. What is more it is extremely unlikely in any possible view of the world. It seems that free will could not exist in a deterministic universe as revealed by scientific method nor even in a ‘possible’ universe were random non caused events could occur.

First let us take the scientific, deterministic paradigm of how the Universe operates. British Post Feminist Philosopher Dr. Janet Radcliffe Richards explored this in her book ‘Human Nature after Darwin’. If we ignore the Quantum world for a moment (where random events do occur and where probability rather than determinism rules) science works on principals of determinism, effects have causes and those causes have other causes all the way back to the Big Bang or Quantum world. This means anything that you choose to do has to have a cause, which itself must have also been caused. As such any action you perform has causes that extend back way before you were even born. There does not seem to be any room for free will as everything was set in motion by the big bang. Your choices are subject to a chain of causes extending back beyond your existence, so how could you be held responsible, how could you choose freely to do anything?

Science makes no assumptions of free will. A recent example is an article on teenage responsibility in the ‘New Scientist’ (25th Sept 2010) . Jessica Hamzelou discusses recent research into the growth and development of the brain in young people with its implications on responsibility. In particular the research looked at development of White Matter in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, the area that deals with being able to understand the long term effects of one’s actions. The argument being that as this part of the brain does not fully form until a person reaches the age of about 20 this explains why teenagers often make very poor decisions. Although they know the difference between right and wrong they cannot be held fully accountable for their actions, as they do not yet have a full understanding of their behaviours consequences. Isn’t it funny how biological psychology has reconfirmed the old idea that a person isn’t an adult until they are 21?

This report implies that there is no free will and the causes of behaviour in young people are determined by their biological development. It is not hard to make similar arguments based upon hormones, education, social influences, poor parenting, genetics, influence of peers, environmental factors etc. These in turn are caused by evolutionary pressures, which operated on the person’s gene pool millions of years before they were born. There seems to be no room at all for free will in the massively complex interplay of the huge amount of various layers of causes on an individual’s behaviour. Young people and by extension ourselves have no real choice or free will in what they or they and we do.

But if you think that it is looking bad for the existence of free will in a deterministic universe so far, like they say here in Suffolk, ‘you ain’t seen nothin’; it gets even worse.

Consider the fascinating research done by the American Physiologist Benjamin Libet and others. Libet discovered that when we believe we are making a decision our conscious awareness of our decision-making is a relative latecomer to the game. It turns out that we have already unconsciously/pre-consciously made the decision. We don’t become aware of our decision until a fraction of a moment after we have made it.

Think of it this way: You know the opening titles of the ‘Simpsons’ where baby Maggie thinks that she is steering the car, but the camera pans back and we see that it is Marge who is actually driving? It turns out that our conscious awareness of making decisions is actually like little Maggie, and is reacting to decisions made pre-consciously rather than making them itself. However, we should also remember that the pre-conscious makes our decisions based upon our beliefs, which goes to show just how important beliefs actually are. However, it is important to point out that this research is not without its critics. The American Philosopher and Cognitive Scientist Daniel Dennett is not convinced by the methodology of this research and another philosopher (also a supporter of determinism) Alfred Mele is not convinced by its form. However none of these concerns doubt the difficulties of free will in respect to determinism.

Come to think of it you don’t need to be a physiologist or a cognitive scientist to view other people’s behaviours as having causes. We often interpret people’s actions in everyday life and circumstances as the result of causes. For example, we might say that John was late to work because he was lazy, or that Bill shoplifted because he fell in with bad company after having a deprived childhood. Looking for causes in our own and other people’s behaviour was called Attribution Theory by the social psychologist Harold Kelly. Two parts of which are known as Fundamental Attribution Error and the Actor/Observer effect. In the west, we are culturally determined to explain other people’s behaviour in terms of internal causes, e.g. they are lazy, they are hard working, they are selfish, etc. When it comes to our own behaviour, we tend to explain it in terms of external causes, for example: I was cross because he annoyed me, I lied because she put me in an impossible position or I was late because the traffic was bad. In either case, we intuitively seek to explain behaviour in terms of deterministic causes.

Those who believe strictly that all our actions are determined in a continuous chain of cause and effect and believe there is no such thing as responsibility are called ‘hard determinists’. This is a view similar to those who believe in fate. That everything in life is already determined and we are living a kind of script. The American philosopher Professor Theodore Sider has devised a simple test to find out if hard determinists really do have the courage of their convictions. The test is simple: punch such a person on the nose and see how convinced they are that it wasn’t your responsibility. Tell them that the act had been pre-determined since the big bang. My guess is that they will not be too keen to practise what they preach and accept your reasoning. Mind you there is a way around this as they could claim that your actions caused them to deterministically retaliate in kind.

There does not seem to be much room for free will in a deterministic universe as described by science. Is this a reason for rejecting scientific determinism? Does free will and responsibility do any better in a spiritual world, or a world were random events occur that are not caused?

Both Sider and Radcliffe Richards along with many other philosophers have dealt with this problem and have come up with the same answer. If a random event occurred then surely it can still no longer be free will. To demonstrate this point Professor Ted Sider uses this colourful example in the book ‘Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics’. Imagine the following scene: In a Universe where random uncaused events occur, Mother Teresa is working with the poor of Calcutta. While working away she randomly picks up a hand grenade, pulls out the pin and throws it into an orphanage killing hundreds. The event was completely uncaused and random. The question is was she responsible? Remember that the event was completely uncaused as there was nothing in Mother Teresa’s past, personality or mind that caused it.

Surely as Mother Teresa did not intend or have anything within her that caused the mass murder she can’t be responsible and therefore she was not exercising fee will. Randomness and uncaused events cannot be the product of free will, because and for free will to exist it needs to be caused and causal. Without cause, there can be no free will as in a non-causal universe free will could not cause anything. Random events that happen in the Quantum world also do not save free will, as randomness is uncaused and nothing can take responsibility for randomness. If nothing causes free will, then it does not come from the person so the person cannot be responsible and free will can’t exist.

It seems that free will simply can’t exist either in a random universe or a deterministic one. Besides a random universe is problematic as it just does not accord with our observations of nature beyond the quantum level. As Crafters, we ought to be suspicious of the concept of a world of random non-caused events as this does not fit with the idea that magic can be effective. After all magic, while not clearly understood, seems to works by a variety of mechanisms all of which are deterministic. The Magician or Witch performs the spell that causes, via complicated processes, the desired outcome.

What about free will existing in a universe in which souls and spirits exist? After all, religious people often see the source of their free will as residing in their souls, these being a gift from God to see whom he can trust to let into Heaven. Radcliffe Richards points out that if such was the case then the spirits and souls would still be either existing in a deterministic world where they would be subject to cause and effect (why should spirits be free of determinism?) , or in a random world where there could be no responsibility as nothing is caused. Both are equally problematic for free will and responsibility.

Radcliffe Richards goes on to claim that free will is a necessary nonexistent. By this philosophers mean that there are some things that don’t exist in an ordinary way (weird as that sounds) , for examples fairies, spirits, hobgoblins, nice tasting American beer, etc. These things are not real but they could exist in metaphorical ‘other world’. Some other things just cannot exist in any world, they are just too contradictory, and these are necessary non-existent. For example, things like four-sided triangles, round squares, two plus two equal five and so it seems, free will. In other words, there is just no such thing as free will as it is assumed to exist in normal discourse; it is completely impossible for it to exist in any possible world.

So is Craft philosophy with its emphasis on personal responsibility completely scuppered? Perhaps there is a third option that we could explore.

There is a branch of the freewill/determinism metaphysical debate that could come to our rescue. It has a revised concept of free will, which is still part of the deterministic world in which we live; in fact it is compatible with it. This is a view that is held by most modern philosophers and is called, funny enough, compatiblism or ‘soft determinism’. The Stoics championed it in ancient times and more recently several major philosophers of the Enlightenment, including the famous 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume, supported it.

Although a hugely complex web of events that extends back beyond our existence causes everything we believe or know or do, soft determinists believe that we have ‘free will’ when we act without external coercion from another agent according to how these causes have made us. By ‘coercion by another agent’ we mean being forced into doing something such as being brainwashed or hypnotised, etc. Essentially this is what the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer meant when he famously said, “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills”. So although who we are is determined through cause and effect, soft determinists see us as acting freely when our actions are consistent with that tapestry. In Initiatory Craft we call this massively complex pattern Wyrd.

To be fair it isn’t the traditional free will of common discourse, but it is the situated agency of humanistic psychology. It is when we act in accord with how we have been determined to be, in accordance with our personalities, beliefs and character within the constraints of our situations and context.

Soft determinists claim that we are the product of hugely complex causal forces. These include evolutionary forces, physiology and biology, our culture, education, experiences and the beliefs that they form. It can be successfully argued that part of this rich tapestry of causal personhood is responsibility. In other words, the concept of responsibility, a belief in taking responsibility and being responsible for our actions is a causal part of our makeup. The idea of responsibility, all things being equal with other causal factors, makes us take responsibility. However this only holds true if we have been exposed to the concept and have the kind of character and experiences that causes us to take these beliefs on board which in turn enables us towards self-empowerment. In other words we have been caused to take responsibility, which makes good education in my view extremely important.

Taking responsibility will influence our decision-making processes as much as anything else, making it part of the soft deterministic world view. It makes us act as we are determined to be, having situated agency or what the soft determinists refer to as liberty. It is taking responsibility for the unfolding process of Wyrd through self-knowledge that is relevant to the Craft view of what a Witch is. It empowers us in shaping our lives in accord with the deterministic forces that have in turn have shaped us. If we have been determined to accept this responsibility then we can do nothing else, it is our Wyrd. Responsibility gives us a degree of agency.

In the end, despite there being no such thing as free will in any possible universe, there is still an important role for responsibility as it is viewed in the Craft. Taking responsibility, which is so important to the Initiatory Craft and to self-empowerment in general, is part of the vastly complex tapestry of causal forces that include concepts and beliefs that goes into making a person. Therefore the Initiatory Craft view of taking personal responsibility stands up to the philosophical scrutiny and refutation of free will.

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Respecting and Honoring Yourself – and Your Religious Choices

Respecting and Honoring Yourself – and Your Religious Choices

Author:   nasionnaich 

How many of you have ever used religious rituals that are not your own? I have, and now that I have learned why I should not have, I deeply regret having used them. Oh, I don’t mean rituals that are a part of the culture of a place you are visiting, so you feel “obligated” to participate out of respect towards your host. I mean rituals that you have decided to incorporate into your own “brand” of religious belief and/or spirituality. You know, taking bits and pieces of something and using them in a way that “fits your style” — without proper instruction on the meaning behind the ritual (as well as where, when and how to do it) .

For more than 20 years, I have been learning about the various aspects of various religions, and trying to find my own particular Spiritual Path. I have never deliberately intended to be disrespectful towards any religion or spirituality — I have always had good intentions as my motive for learning. Well, I may have been disrespectful anyway, no matter the reason for doing it, no matter the “good intentions”.

A little history on one part of the subject may be in order — specifically, Native American Indian religious and spiritual rituals — as a way of actually illustrating what I intend to convey. I apologize in advance if any of it seems “disjointed” or “rambling”; I am not at all used to this essay-writing thing (I always had problems writing essays when I was in school, too) , so please, bear with me. (Just so you know, I am a “Native American”, I was born in “America” – but I am not a Native American Indian. Yes, there is a difference.)

Back when the Europeans first came to the Western Hemisphere, they found a number of very distinct Cultures and Peoples with rich traditions of their own, including complex religions and a deeply ingrained spirituality, which permeated the entire social structure of each region. Of course, being the “Good Christians” they were, those Europeans felt bound by their Duty towards their Church to change or eradicate what they didn’t like or understand. And they made no real efforts to truly understand what they didn’t like.

The Christian missionaries were usually the first to “study” the Native American Indian rituals, and they promptly decided that the rituals were “Satanic” in nature — most after having “studied” those rituals for less than one year. Fast-forward more than 500 years, and most Christian churches still have no true understanding of what the rituals really mean. (I place much of the blame on the Christian missionaries and anthropologists, who tend to “interpret” things strictly according to their Christian up-bringing…never mind what they actually see or are told.)

But there are many non-Christian groups (and individual Christians) who have realized that “Satan” has nothing to do with the Native American Indian rituals and spirituality, and have been working towards a full acceptance of the “Native American Church” — a loose conglomeration of religious practices and beliefs which happen to share a common set of central beliefs, but followers of which never called themselves a “church” prior to the 20th Century.

These “hippies”, as they were once known in the 1960s and 1970s, as a means of “promoting” Native American Indian spirituality decided on their own to selectively “adopt” Native American Indian religious and spiritual rituals, rarely fully understanding the meanings and the social importance of those rituals in what are very specific settings.

They learned the rituals from reading what the Christian missionaries and anthropologists wrote. I did, too, to a large extent. Later, I found how wrong many of those descriptions really are.

The Sun Dance, for example, is done only at certain times during the Summer months, and it is to help the men of the community know what it is like to give birth — they endure a great amount of pain and privation which most “White Men” can only imagine; it has little, if anything, to do with any so-called “sun worship”.

And the Sweat Lodge Ceremonies are for the Purification of those who are about to begin – or have recently completed – specific socially and spiritually important tasks — it isn’t just another fraternally-organized steam bath where you can get stoned out of your mind.

The Vision Quest is not what most people seem to think it is, either. These and other rituals have been taken up in a willy-nilly fashion by neo-Pagan and New Age groups and individuals (the “hippies” previously mentioned) because of some perceived need to “preserve” them, or because they “like” the rituals. Or much worse, out of a misguided attempt to “honor” Native American Indians.

They do not bother to truly consider how wrong it can be to do so, not thinking about how their own ancestors’ religious beliefs and rituals were corrupted by the very same piece-meal picking and choosing of whatever happened to be “popular” (or “pleasing”) at the time, nor how those rituals were wrongly “interpreted” by others. I doubt very much that the Druids of Ancient Ireland, for example, would have been pleased with a Roman follower of Jupiter “adopting” Druidic practices with no real thought to the actual meaning of those practices.

But the Native American Indians who still practice their religion are expected to accept the corruption and bastardization of their rituals, all in the name of “preserving” and “honoring” them.

As an example, I saw a photo of a “Burning Man” attendee wearing a “Native American spirit mask”, and at first didn’t think much of it — until I noticed that he was naked from the waist up (the photo was cropped just above his waist, so I have no idea what he was wearing below the waist – but I can guess) .

For one thing — and this is extremely important — the People who happen to use that style of mask do not go naked during their public rituals, not even from the waist up, so that was a huge tip-off that if the man was “honoring” the “Native American Church”, he either never received the instruction needed, or ignored what instruction he may have received and in either case was being extremely disrespectful…no matter what “good intentions” he may have had.

If there is no instruction concerning the rituals, they should not be used; there is no “But, I’m honoring such-and-such religion and/or group”. And, as any Judge will tell you concerning another subject: Ignorance is not an excuse, because there are many ways to obtain the necessary knowledge and instruction.

Native American Indian rituals are a sacred thing to the practitioners and Teachers of the Native American Indian religion, and they should be treated with the exact same respect, as you would demand of anyone towards your own religion. I have heard from many Pagans and Wiccans — as well as read here on WitchVox — that before anyone decides to use or take part in any ritual, those people should be instructed in the proper methods, times and places to do those rituals. And there are many Pagan and Wiccan rituals that are to be conducted only by Ordained Priests and Priestesses, not by just anyone who feels like using them.

Yet, again, there are many neo-Pagans and New Agers who feel it is somehow OK for anyone who wishes to just “adopt” whatever rituals they want, from wherever they want, and without having first gone through the necessary instruction on how, where and when to properly conduct those rituals….

Some religions may be OK with that, but most are not. It took me more than 20 years to fully realize this simple truth as it concerns the “Native American Church”, but if I had actually bothered to think about it when I began my “spiritual journey” (which, I admit, is still not completed) , I would have come to the same realization after first learning how truly Sacred certain rituals are to most religious groups.

So, why was it wrong to use certain rituals in my own “brand” of spirituality? Because I did not know what those rituals truly mean, which was because I had not received any real instruction as to how, when and where to use them. I was not authorized to use those rituals because I did not receive instruction from someone who was authorized to give that instruction.

I had no true respect for myself, because I had no true respect for my religious/spiritual choices.

Now that I have spent more than 20 years learning about and teaching myself the various aspects of “religion”, Native American Indian religion and spirituality included, I can only hope to help others in their own journeys towards a true Spiritual Awareness and respect for (and towards) themselves, as well as religious beliefs and practices they may someday wish to “adopt” (if not actually live by) .

We all want others to show some measure of respect towards our religious choices, and it is my opinion that the first step towards that is to truly respect other religions by making an honest attempt, doing everything within our means, to understand the rituals before we “adopt” any part of them.

Very few out-spoken Wiccans and Pagans, after all, would simply stand by and watch a “Fluffy-bunny” neo-Pagan or New Ager improperly conduct a Purification Ritual to cleanse their laptop computer — using a plastic drinking straw as a “wand”. (Hey, we all know what is meant by “Fluffy-bunny”) I don’t really understand why the improper use of Native American Indian rituals would — or should be allowed.

We gain respect for ourselves by respecting others, and we respect others by showing respect for and towards their religions by understanding the rituals involved in those religions.

So, I ask again, in all seriousness: How many of you have ever used religious rituals that are not your own?

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The Importance of Basic Techniques

The Importance of Basic Techniques

Author:   Luna 

Since I began earnestly looking into Wicca and magickal practices, some of the most emphasized concepts were visualization and psychic hygiene. And, as I think about this now, I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t emphasize them. Much of my own successful magick has been worked with strong visualization of my goal, and I’ve had many a worthwhile meditation session with strong visualization of where I was going, whether I was dancing through a forest in the astral or finding a cave in a waterfall with a shrine to Brigit. Along with that, psychic cleansing and grounding cannot be stressed enough in magickal and ritual working. I know I’ve had many a time when I’ve tried to work some kind of magick or focus in a ritual when I managed to cleanse myself beforehand, and I found that that time I took before and after to cleanse myself of excess energies would often make all the difference in how successful I was in my work.

So where am I going with this? These are all basic techniques that all Wiccans, Pagans and other Earth-based spiritualities hopefully come to in their magickal and ritual workings. These two concepts of visualization and cleansing (along with psychic shielding, which I’ll get to later) were things I drilled into my head before I started doing my magickal workings. They’re some of the most important things a Pagan learns, depending on the tradition. These days, even before I do something as simple as yoga practice, I cleanse myself of excess energy because it’s become such a habit. And I feel it’s a good habit to get into, if only because of my experience of how cleansing and visualization helps me in my life.

However, just a couple months ago, I had an encounter that reinforced the importance of these basic techniques, and, having been granted permission from the friend I shared this experience with, I’d like to share it with you.

Towards the end of my January term at college, I invited my friend Max over to my dorm room, ostensibly to show him a fun video game I thought he might like. I met Max just last semester through our Taiko drumming group here at St. Olaf, and we hit it off immediately. Both of us were from the Twin Cities areas, both of us were involved in marching band in high school, and both of us were interested in spirituality and Mind-Body-Spirit. In fact, Max is a member of the Mind-Body-Spirit organization here at school, and he not only practices Qi Gong but is also interested in studying herbalism and Chinese medicine after graduation.

I should make one thing clear before I go any further: Max is not Pagan. Despite his considerable knowledge of new age techniques and spirituality in general, he tends to relate more to Asian religions and philosophies than to Wicca or Pagan religions. However, he understands a good deal about Paganism and Wicca and has shown great respect for them, enough that I never have any trouble talking to him about it. Despite our rather huge age gap (I’m about to graduate while he’s just finishing his freshman year) , we’ve become good friends.

So, back to the story!

After I’d shown Max the video game, we got to talking about a variety of topics, eventually coming to Max’s Qi Gong class. At this point, he mentioned an exercise they had done in class, something that he hadn’t been able to replicate outside of his class. I asked him to describe what the exercise was. As soon as he did, I remember doing the same exercise myself, and I’m sure many of you will also remember trying this exercise at some point. Max had his hands apart and was trying to project his energy into his hands to create a ball of energy and even make that ball grow. However, without his teacher’s guidance, he hadn’t been able to feel that ball of energy when he tried the exercise outside of class.

Recognizing the exercise, I asked Max if he had tried visualizing the ball of energy between his hands. This was something he hadn’t considered, so I took him through the exercise again as I knew it. Now, I didn’t try to re-explain the exercise entirely, because he already knew it. Instead, I explained to him how, when I tried it, I visualized a bluish-purple ball of light forming in my hands. While the ball wasn’t visible to my naked eye, I knew the ball was there and visualized it as strongly as I could. Max tried the same thing, and he finally understood what I was talking about. He was finally able to replicate the exercise the way he had felt it during class.

So why did Max have trouble with the exercise before he tried it with me? It’s not because of my teaching skills (I honestly doubt I’ve explained the exercise to you properly) . It was because he hadn’t tried to visualize the ball of energy there before. As spiritually and psychically capable as Max is (even more so than I am) , without that visualization, I doubt he would’ve been able to get the same result. It’s not enough the just project the energy into the space between your hands and hope it works. Visualizing the ball of energy, no matter what it looks like or feels like to the individual, is an important step to the success of that energy. I don’t mean to sound preachy or anything like that, but, just speaking from personal experience and from working with Max on this, visualization is an extremely important skill in magick and meditative work. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Pagan or not.

So after having success with that exercise in energy play, Max and I began to talk more about visualization in psychic and meditative techniques. Eventually, he mentioned how he always felt like he had so much energy. Now, Max’s energetic and enthusiastic nature is definitely one of his strong points. In my opinion, it’s made him very strong in Taiko drumming. However, there are many times when Max has too much energy or puts too much energy into his playing, so much so that he often gets asked to back off a little bit when playing so that he doesn’t go overboard. Hearing him say that he didn’t know how to get rid of the excess energy, a thought occurred to me. It reminded me of a YouTube video I’d watched when I was first getting into Wicca that was my introduction to the basics, and, after explaining to him, we decided to watch it.

The video is called Wicca First Degree course Lesson 1 Exercises and the video itself is presented and narrated by Reverend Donald Lewis-Highcorrell of the Correllian tradition of Wicca, who also authored the Witch School series of books. For those of you who haven’t seen this or any of his YouTube videos (which I believe are excerpts from the Witch School DVDs) , even if you don’t consider yourself a Wiccan, I encourage you to check them out. They’re extremely informative, and I often find they’re a valuable resource in magickal practice. If you have the time, please give them a look. Anyways, in this particular video, Reverend Donald introduces the viewer to exercises in psychic cleansing or grounding and psychic shielding. For the purposes of this story, I’m going to focus on the cleansing exercise, as this directly relates to Max’s situation with excess energy.

In the video, Reverend Donald, with the help of some beautiful animations, gives the viewer examples of how to visualize this cleansing, talking them through a visualization of a column of pure white light moving through the body and letting the excess energy flow out of the body with the white light. As an alternative to this, he also describes another visualization of a river flowing through the body and the excess energy as detritus such as twigs and leaves that flow out of the body with the river. These are the two he finds works the best, but he encourages the viewer to find a visualization that works for them. After this point in the video, Max and I having done the exercise along with the video, I paused it and asked Max how he felt. He told me he felt a lot better, not having that excess energy in his body, and we began to once again discuss the power of visualization and these basic techniques and how important they are for anyone attempting psychic or meditative work.

But why am I telling you about all of this? Why did I even bother going into all of that?

Well, that discussion and practice with Max served as a reminder, for me at least, of how important those basic techniques are. It doesn’t matter whether you are a devout Pagan or are simply interested in new age philosophy and practice. Visualization and cleansing, along with other basic techniques, play a key role in all psychic, meditative, ritual and magickal work. And I feel that sometimes we forget how important and integral these basic techniques are. Plus, I see it as an example of the power of these techniques even when used by those who don’t practice a Pagan faith. The fact that these techniques worked as well for Max as they did for me is something I find fascinating, and it’s something I wanted to share. After all, there’s something to learn from every experience, no matter how trivial or groundbreaking, whether it’s your own experience or that of someone else.

Thank you for hearing me out on this, and, for your own future workings, I wish you an enthusiastic Blessed Be! ^_^

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Footnotes:
“Wicca First Degree course Lesson 1 Exercises” by user MagickTV, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQRyIYr3DZM

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The Ethics Of Magick

The Ethics Of Magick

Author:   Frances   

Some people are of the belief that when it comes to the practice of magick that anything goes. Magick is after all, simply that – magick. It is not caught up in ethics or morals. While this is correct, magick is actually shaped by the inner beliefs, ethics and morals of the person who uses it.

In all orthodox religions there are certain laws and regulations of how a follower of that faith should conduct themselves – in Christianity, for example, there are the Ten Commandments. In many Pagan traditions, however, it is believed that there is actually little need for such dogma as each person is ultimately responsible for their actions. Such responsibility can be overwhelming for someone new to Paganism, especially if they come from a more orthodox background, so they find the need to create boundaries in the form of guidelines. Within Wiccan belief there are a number of guidelines such as the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law of Return which are designed to help the newcomer understand the essence of that belief.

The Wiccan Rede is a beautiful piece of poetry whose author is believed to have been the late Doreen Valiente. Within this poem many aspects of Wiccan beliefs and practices are outlined, such as the seasonal wheel of the year, honoring the Goddess and the God, and sacred trees to name a few. The poem ends with eight specific words that many Wiccans consider to be the main guideline as to how they are to live their lives: “If it harms none, do what you will.” Some critics of Wicca see this as an indication for followers to do anything they wish. However, when the statement is given due thought, its true meaning is understood – that as long as your actions do not harm anyone, then you are free to live your life as you please. Some Wiccans take this statement further, relating the “none” to animals and the environment as well.

The Wiccan Rede is a version of the Golden Rule, which can be found in most other religions, the earliest dating back to Confucianism, where a 6th century BCE statement, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others,” can be found. Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and even Sikhism also have variations of the Golden Rule.

The second ethical guideline which many Wiccans follow is that of the Threefold Law of Return, where it is believed that every deed done will return to the doer three times greater. This means that a good deed will return three times stronger, but so will any bad deed that is performed.

Many Wiccans also hold either a belief in the Eastern philosophy of Karma, or the Universal Law of Cause and Effect, where every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Karma is often viewed on a more personal level, that the deeds of one’s life are counteracted in the next life, while the Law of Cause and Effect can be viewed on a more global scale. A good example of the latter is seen in our environment. People in the past have done what they like without concern or respect for the environment or the creatures that live in it. The effects of this lack of regard and respect are the depletion of the ozone layer, rising salt levels due to large scale land clearing, droughts and floods brought on by erratic temperature fluctuations, and so on, that are witnessed today.

Taking Responsibility For Your Actions

As not every person who uses magick follows a Wiccan path and therefore is not necessarily guided by the Wiccan Rede, magick itself does tend to have its own guidelines. What some people do not realize when they first desire to perform magick is that magick is based on energy. When you cast a spell, you are sending out energy. The Universe magnifies this energy and returns it to you. Therefore it is vitally important that, before a person performs any form of magickal act, they are fully aware of the energy exchange and are prepared to take full responsibility for their actions. In magick there is no such thing as coincidences – everything happens for a reason, and when you perform a spell you are creating the reason.

Taking responsibility means being honest with yourself about what you are doing and why. You also need to be able to acknowledge your mistakes and their consequences. Mistakes are often the greatest lessons we can learn in life. To learn from your mistakes, you must closely examine what went wrong and to find a way to rectify the error. However, mistakes when performing magick can have dire consequences, especially if your energy is directed at a particular person.

Magick should never be done on a whim. Before you perform any form of magickal rite you need to look careful at the reasons why you want to use magick to obtain something. You also need to be very clear about what you want to achieve. Some people find it useful to consult one form of divination or another, such as runes or the tarot, prior to casting a spell or magickal rite to determine all possible outcomes. Only when you are sure about what you are doing, should you perform magick.

Due to the amount of “spell books” around it is understandable why some people are of the view that magick is an easy and safe means to get whatever they want. However this is a misconception, for magick is not all that safe if you do not know what you are doing. Things can happen that you did not intend. Those readers who have seen the movie The Craft will be able to relate to the dangers of casting love spells – in the movie, the victim of such a spell became obsessed with the caster of the spell to the stage where he was stalking her. There are also numerous stories about people who have cast money spells and while they did end up with a monetary sum, this was obtained through some kind of personal disaster or upheaval, such as an insurance claim or even a death. Therefore it is vitally important to be very careful about what you ask for, because, as the saying goes, you could very well receive it, but not necessarily through the means you had anticipated.

Magick is serious business and should never be taken lightly. It can be dangerous for those who are unprepared and there are consequences if it is used carelessly or with malicious intent. However, if you abide by a few simple guidelines (such as the Wiccan Rede), take the time to properly understand what you are doing and use it responsibly, magick can help you can achieve positive and rewarding changes in your life.

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The Nine Virtues

The Nine Virtues

Author:   Kalynn Osburn   

In some way or another throughout the ages, there have been sets of attributes that have been deemed by both society and individuals to define the quality of a person’s character. From the Ten Commandments to Sanatana Dharma, from the Noble Eightfold Path to the Wiccan Rede, each comprises cultural appreciation of upright action and thought. Many of these hold the same tenants as one another, with values such as honesty, kindness, generosity and honor at the top of the lists. It is in this line that I have comprised what I feel to be the Nine Virtues, a series of considerations to which I think one should aspire in their life time.

In no way do I mean to say that this is the definitive list of ethical behavior! Nor do I want anyone to believe that I have an infallible moral compass! Far from it, in fact. These are simply the traits which I think are lacking in this era and should be given due consideration. While they include several from what is considered both warrior and maidenly virtues, I have done all I can to remove the gender considerations herein and I advise seeing them more as human virtues rather than belonging to one gender or the other.

The goal here is to strive towards these traits and to do your best to keep them in mind as you act throughout the day. I have listed them in order or personal importance (1 being the most significant to me) but these are not really quantifiable as more or less significant.

HONOR

Honor is among the most difficult to define of the virtues, and yet to me it is one of the most important. Many define this concept as a definition of a man’s duty or loyalty to one’s betters or higher ups within a military code of conduct. For women the term was historically used in reference to their virginity or the price a mate would have to pay in order to wed them. Honor can mean loyalty to duty, but it can also mean to act in a way that conveys dignity and rightness. Refusing to be goaded into a fight or not allowing your character to be falsified. Taking the protecting and care of your family upon yourself and working for their good at all times. Not allowing your friends to hurt when you have the means to prevent it. It comes down to looking at the situation and doing everything in your power to work through it with rightness of thought and deed. Honor also ties in strongly with other constructs such as: Integrity of the self, Accountability for your actions, and Respect for yourself and others

COURAGE

Courage is often misinterpreted as a lack of cowardice or fear. In reality, Courage is being afraid, terrified even, but pushing forward anyway. There are two types of courage: physical courage, which could be defending someone from attack or pushing yourself to the limit, and moral courage, which would be keeping to your moral or ethical code despite potential ridicule and ostracized. It can be difficult to remain courageous without becoming reckless or displaying an excess of bravado. In my experience the truly courageous are quiet, steadfast people who one would never suspect of being capable of such bravery. The one who rushes into a burning building to save a child and then disappears before the news crew can get a shot of them. The truest form of courage is in those whose names will never be known, but who take it upon themselves to act in defense of others.

MERCY

Mercy is often portrayed as the powerful showing pity to the weak. This is often emphasized by the Christian concept of a merciful God, one who wields incomparable power and yet exercises with caution or consideration for those under their influence. But to put this on a more relatable level, one could compare mercy with humanitarian efforts such as giving your time so that other’s might live life with greater ease, even if only for a moment. Through acts of kindness and charity, such as donating your clothing to homeless shelters, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or being a counselor for a youth group, one hopes to achieve a human connection as well as a greater understanding of compassion. To quote the Bard: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

HONESTY

Honesty is not always as simply as just telling the truth. In this case, the virtue has more to do with being of straightforward character. It can be difficult to weight honesty with brutal, unfeeling truth, but it is important to remember that honesty does not give one the right to be callous. You should always consider how your answer would affect the other person’s state of mind. At times a gentler hand may be called for, but sometimes we must be direct in our approach. A good thing to keep in mind is to never do anything you know you are going to have to lie about later. With this thought, Honesty is more about acting truthfully and without deceit intended than it really is about telling your friend you like her dress when it looks awful.

CUNNING-

One could find it very amusing that I chose to put the virtue of Cunning right after that of Honesty, seeing as how the two so often seem to be at odds. But in this case it is to establish a balance between the two that I include cunning among the virtues. Cunning is not about lying, but about displaying keen insight or a knowledge of something that might baffle others. You could also term this as being clever or witty about a particular subject (such as witchcraft) . It is, above all else, using your intellect to solve problems and find new solutions to old issues. Brehons might be the best example of such folk, as they had to navigate their way around the law without denying the rights of everyone involved.

ENDURANCE

Endurance is the unique ability to keep going long after others have quit. There are two kinds of endurance: physical endurance, such as a woman in labor or a man running a triathlon, and mental endurance, such as that shown during studying final exam or sensory deprivation. One could also consider life to be an endurance trial, as we face hardships and difficulties one has to show the endurance and fortitude to overcome them. Life is hard, but not without it’s joy, and sometimes weathering the hard times creates more joy in the easy times. Being tenacious and sticking to your set goals without fail shows great endurance.

SPIRIT

Spirit is the belief and understanding of an innermost self, a soul or essence, which comprises you as an incorporeal being. It is a connectedness to a larger self and an understanding that there is a pattern and weaving to existence that you are a part of. This could also be termed Piety, though I would not include religious devotion as the explanation. Rather you strive to see the big picture of life, not only in terms of you and yours but also in terms of the universe as a whole. Someone who has the virtue of Spirit is confident, but without the danger of hubris and arrogance that so often comes with the idea of a higher spiritual understanding. As Albert Einstein said “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”

INTROSPECTION

Introspection is being aware of your own needs, desires, flaws, virtues and state of mind. It is a conscious effort on the part of a person to fully consider their actions and thoughts and to consider the ramifications both to themselves and to others. It is the consideration of one’s own mind, or meta-cognition (thinking about thinking) . One could consider this like having a psychologist inside your own mind. You try to break down your own though process, questions yourself and answer honestly. It is not the same as doubting yourself or seeing your own advise as invalid, it is simply exploring your own motives and knowing where they come from.

TRANQUILITY

Tranquility is maintaining a state of calmness and levelheaded thinking. It is in allowing yourself to move beyond the hectic frustrations and troubles of the moment and not letting them interfere with your thought process or course of action. One could also add into this the feeling of contentment with your life as it is right now, without giving thought to the future or past. You become at ease with the reality of the world and life in general and accept your current state of being. Inherent in this is the ability to move past what may be happening at the moment and focus on what must come next.

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