Celebrating Spirituality 365 Days A Year – Laguna Indian San Jose Day

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 18 and 19 September

Laguna Indian San Jose Day

During the late Summer and early Fall, the southwestern part of the United States supports an array of fiestas that honor various Catholic saints and feature elaborate processions, markets, dancing, and entertainment. The Laguna festival honoring Saint Joseph is a prime example. The pueblo of Laguna, some 45 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was established in 1697. Soon after, a Catholic mission was built there and became the official site of the festival. The origins of the festival have been lost over time, but more than likely they revolved around the mission’s patron Saint Joseph and the plentiful late Summer harvest. Today the festival still attracts thousands of people for the two-day celebration. The fiesta begins with a procession for Saint Joseph from the mission to the fairgrounds, which is followed by a noontime harvest and corn dance. After the official opening of the festival, the adults flock to the enormous market for the exchange of local products and food, while the children enjoy carnival rides and games. The fiesta concludes with demonstration dances performed by local Indian tribes and the return of the statue of Saint Joseph to the mission.

 

Celebrating Wiccan Spirituality: Spells, Sacred Rites, and Folklore for Each Day of the Year
By Lady Sabrina
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About.com: 12 Days of Yule Devotionals (Day 4)

About.com

 

Day 4: Counting Your Blessings
Patti Wigington
From Patti Wigington, your Guide to Paganism /Wicca                                                                           
Feeling thankful for what you have? You should – it’s important that we count our blessings each and every day! Cultivate an attitude of gratitude during this season of giving and sharing. Take a moment to meditate upon the fortunes you have — and not just the material goods.
 

Counting Your Blessings – A Prayer of Thanks                            

Yule should be a time of joy and happiness, but for many people it can be stressful. This is a season to take a moment and be thankful for the blessings you have, and to take a moment to remember those less fortunate.


I am grateful for that which I have.

I am not sorrowful for that which I do not.

I have more than others, less than some,

but regardless, I am blessed with what is mine.

 

Additional Reading                            

If you have a set of Pagan Prayer Beads, or a Witch’s Ladder, you can use these to enumerate your blessings, much as a Catholic would say a rosary. Count off each bead or knot, and consider the things you are thankful for, like so:
First, I am thankful for my health. Second, I am thankful for my family. Third, I am thankful for my warm home. Fourth, I am thankful for the abundance in my life….

Tomorrow: A Prayer for the Beginning of Winter                            

                                        This email is written by:                                                                      Patti Wigington                                                          Paganism / Wicca Guide                                        

Midmaiden Crisis

Midmaiden Crisis

Author: Deborah Castellano

I’m having a midmaiden crisis.

Sometimes I wonder if I make my life much harder than it has to be. Like, just about everyone else I know seems perfectly contented working a job that is hopefully not soul-sucking 40 hours a week, getting engaged/married, spending a lot of time at home, paying nominal attention to their religion of choice, occasionally still going out with friends maybe monthly, once in a blue moon going to a club or a party, and just generally going about life.

I understand watching my family’s struggles with secrecy, pain, and shame has made me very resistant to an average, mundane kind of life even though most people don’t have horrible consequences for choosing a life that becomes very insular. I guess I saw almost all my mom’s friends leave her since she would not leave my alcoholic dad and saw how unhappy both my parents were. So the idea of being so dependent on any one person for everything and being so limited in life choices made me decide at an early age that that would never be me.

I’ve spent all of my life trying to make safe/secure life decisions. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted what I never had growing up (a warm, loving, happy family) and to please everyone and be successful. Instead I am staring down:

A career I left because it was crushing me and not nurturing my soul, so I could become a part time nanny and bring home exactly half the money I was previously bringing home for half the hours. This was not the life my mother or I had envisioned for myself. I was supposed to be on a career path! I was supposed to be making lots of money! I was supposed to be working towards being someone important in someone else’s fishbowl! Instead, I am a nanny for two small children for a very nice family and I am helping to nurture them to grow up smart, self-confident, and happy.

Loving, happy, but complicated love relationships. My heart tends to be too complex to fit into a typical Cosmo’s “How to have a successful relationship and give a good blowjob and have an awesome career and spend lots of time with your galpals and girl, get your ass to the gym for some yoga and quality you time!” column. I am truly blessed to have partners in my life who understand this and friends who do their best to try as well. But when you step out of society’s check boxes (Gay or straight? Married or single?), it can also feel isolating and frustrating to not have all the words to explain things quickly or the comfort of doing what’s expected of you.

A religion that’s often misunderstood. I was brought up Catholic (and was a very devout believer), but after my dad died, it started to not work so well for me. I started asking a lot of questions and hoped to find answers that worked for me. And while in my college coursework I found peace with the religion I was raised in, and respect for my feminist Catholic sisters who are fighting the good fight, the revolution was not moving fast enough for me personally. I learned about Dianic Wicca in my studies and was lucky enough to find a circle near to me that started my path as a Pagan. It was (and is) a beautiful, exciting, and moving experience for me. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes I miss the ease of Catholicism — go to church Sundays, be a good pony, confess when you haven’t, and God will always take care of you. Following a much newer (and at the same time much older) religion and religious movement is exciting and exhilarating because I feel like I personally am making a lot of impact on it. My connections to my own goddesses and gods feel a lot more personal to me. But there are also many explanations needed, fewer religious texts to fall back on, a firm but smaller support structure, and let’s not forget the whole “I went against hundred of years of tradition in my family” to be a Witch thing.

Not wanting any kids. I love being a nanny. I really do. But I also love going home. I love having the freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want it. And that is not going to go over well with my fam when they find out.

Still have a house that is often messy. Part of the reason I left the corporate world was to have more time to tend to my own hearth. To have the time and energy to care for my loved ones, my house and have enough time to cook (another pastime I enjoy). But oftentimes the house is still messy more days than not, we eat casseroles and crockpot meals more often than not, along with the stigma of others (not my partners!) devaluing my labor in the home because it’s unpaid. I also am dealing with my own envy for the women I know who work full time, but make Martha Stewart look like a burnout slacker. It can be very hard to not hold myself up to these other women and find myself lacking.

To say taking the road less traveled is terrifying is nothing shy of an incredible understatement. I remember how scared and anxious I was when I was just out of college, sitting on the concrete train station floor in Belgium, stranded and unable to speak the language with just a fistful of currency (wafflemarks?) in my pocket. If you had told me then that it would pale in comparison to how I would feel five years later, surrounded by friends and family in my own hometown trying to follow my heart like some damned chicklit novel, I probably would have thrown some wafflemarks at you. But yet, here I am anyway.

I guess I’m saying it’s hard sometimes, feeling like not a lot of people in my life can say “I know exactly how you feel” and really mean it. Sometimes this path to my true heart is lonely and often it’s scary. I’ve always, always had a really exacting plan, but I threw my map into the river. Stepping out of my box is really hard for me. My inner critics are loud, bossy, and opinionated. And that’s just my inner critics; forget about my loved ones who want what’s best for me…according to them. It can be hard to stand up for myself to all of them when I still have so many doubts and fears. Because you know what? I don’t know what I’m doing.

In this time of personal turmoil, I’ve gotten so bogged down in the mundane that I’ve forgotten how to practice my spirituality. And, you want to know a secret? I’m scared to get back into a regular practice. To me, it feels like coming home way after curfew, smelling of cigarette smoke, and you know your mom is up waiting for you. At times, I still see my deities as disappointed parents. I’ve been trying to put the magical in the daily (giving thanks to Yemaya in the shower, singing praise to Crow in my car). I’m trying to appreciate all the things I do and accomplish. I’m trying to see the beauty of just being in the grace of the deities who have blessed me by choosing me as one of their beloved. But it’s hard for me to set aside my tendencies to be an overachiever in my spiritual life.

I feel like I should be able to “just” set aside all of my faults in this one area of my life. My altars should be maintained, my meditation practice should be daily, I should give of my time freely and easily to the community and oh yeah, not be critical of my execution of my faith. In other words, I should not be me but maybe Kuan Yin instead. But then . . .aren’t all our flaws and graces amplified in this area of our lives? I’ve been crueler, more selfish, more demanding, harsher, less trusting, less attentive, angrier, and sadder in my faith than I have in any other part of my life. I’ve also been more selfless, kinder, more nurturing, more faithful, more ecstatic, and most peaceful than any other part of my life.

When I can tell my inner critic to take a nap for a little while, I can still see the beauty of my practice, even now. I can see kitchen Witching for Lammas and singing Bridget’s song to Her while I make pan after pan of food with my fellow kitchen Witches and letting a friend cry into my apron when she needed to. I can see myself at the Jersey shore, introducing one of my loves to Yemaya and twirling and throwing white roses into Her sea. I can see my Crow side teasing my friend while I read her Tarot and sort out her love life. I can see my shaman self, dancing to the universal heartbeat at a goth club, dripping in sweat, being brave enough to get on a table and dance my offerings to the Universe and yes, as if no one is watching. And I have to hold onto these pieces of myself during this difficult time, tighter than I’d hold a box from Tiffany’s, because it’s what reminds me that I am part of this universe. It reminds me that I do bring wonder and joy, even when it’s harder to see. Most importantly, it reminds me that following my path to my secret heart is indeed full of miracles and wonders if I can see them through my tears.

Footnotes:
Additional Resources for Soul Searching:

Truth or Dare : Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery by Starhawk: A powerful exploration into using our spiritual power as women to make changes in our own lives, our community, and our world.

Office Sutras: Exercises for Your Soul at Work by Marcia Menter: A very helpful little book with ideas on how to find soulfulness at your current job and how to figure out what will make you happy in the workplace in the long term.

Planet Sark: http://www.planetsark.com/: A beautiful, colorful website with lots of kindred spirits figuring out their life’s path with some really great resources.

The Honesty Room by Dar Williams: A lyrically amazing, gorgeously sung cd that will make you laugh and cry and think about your life.

A Witch’s Calling


Author: Moon magik

From the moment we are born into this learning experience called life, most of us have our spiritual paths chosen for us. If your parents are Catholic, you’re going to be Catholic. If your parents are Baptist, you’re definitely going to be Baptist. Children have no choice to their own beliefs, because their parents require them to follow family tradition. We then grow up doing the same thing to our own children. There are very few people that grow up and just decide after 20 or 30 years that they do not believe what they were raised to believe. There are also some that grow up with absolutely no spirituality in their lives at all.

My mother and father were divorced just 8 months after I was born. My father raised me, because my mother was young and irresponsible and he wanted me to grow up in a good environment. During the first seven years of my life, we lived with my grandparents. My grandparents were Lutheran, so naturally my father was Lutheran as well. There was a Lutheran church conveniently located just a few houses down from our home.

I knew from a very young age that I did not belong in a Lutheran Church. Most Witches’ have a calling to the old ways and earth traditions at some point in their lives. I hated bible study and had no interest in learning about Christ. I didn’t know anything about Witchcraft, or have a clue that I would one day find myself casting spells in a circle on my bedroom floor. I just simply didn’t care for church. It wasn’t until I was about 11 years old when I started having dreams that I was magical.

It began sporadically and then eventually became an every night dream. In my dream I was standing in the middle of the woods during the peak of fall season. I was spinning in circles and dancing around trees. Every time I had the dream, I notice I had a wooden stick in my hand. I now realize the wooden stick was my wand. I went to the library one morning to check out a book on Diana Ross, because I had a book report for school due on the following Monday.

When I sat down at the table in the library there was one small paperback book left behind by what I’m assuming was a lazy citizen. The book was about Witchcraft. I was extremely intrigued, so I decided to check it out and bring it home to read.

When my father saw the book, he was very unsure whether he wanted to allow me to read it or not. I used my charm and wit to persuade him, plus he was the biggest push over ever. The strange thing is, my father told me just a few days ago, that a few years before I checked out that book, I was scolded for drawing pentacles on my bedroom door. He said he couldn’t figure out where I got the idea to draw pentacles. He said he would have not been so freaked out by the action if the drawings were only stars without circles around them. He understands a bit more now that I am 27 and he knows about my spiritual practices.

As I grew older my dreams became more vivid and lucid. I started having dreams of things before they would occur. My first prophetic dream was about my mother. In my dream, the doctor called me on the telephone and told me that my mom was going to die, because she had a tumor in her stomach. About two weeks later my mother had to go to the doctors, because her premenstrual cycle would not end. The doctors ran some test and then found that she had a large mass, the size of a baseball growing in her uterus. They advised her that she needed surgery immediately to get the mass out. My mother called me on the telephone afterwards to talk to me. She was astonished how similar my dream was to her situation.

The second dream was even scarier. I was blind. The only thing I could do was listen to the sounds that were around me. I heard screaming and arguing and then a blast of gunshots so close like the gun was going off next to my ear. The next morning I went to work and received a phone call from my mother in the middle of the day, which was very uncommon. When I answered, she was frantically crying. She proceeded to tell me that one of my closest friends was shot in the head in the middle of the night.

She explained to me that he was still alive, but he was in a coma and the doctors said we should come in and say our goodbyes, because they did not expect him to live through the day. We all gathered at the hospital for which turned out to be a week while he struggled to survive on life support. Finally, he woke up from the coma.

He could not speak, because he had a trachea tube in his throat, so none of us knew if he could hear us or not. A bandage covered his eyes, so we did not know if he could see us. The bullet in his head traveled back down the path in which it entered and actually fell out into the bandage that was wrapped around his head. The doctors did not have to perform any surgery because of that. Unfortunately once the bandage was removed we found out that he was blind.

I have accepted the fact that I am not a psychic. I cannot read tarot cards. I cannot read runes or tea leaves or make use of any other divining tool. The only thing that I have is my dreams. Therefore, I call myself a dream witch. I love witchcraft. I love the freedom of being solitary eclectic and choosing beliefs that make me feel comfortable.

I love the art and beauty of casting a circle and uniting myself with the Lord and the Lady to mold the energies of the universe for my intentions. I love herb magick and candle magick. I love every aspect of earth traditions and wish that more people would discover the beauty and mysticism that surrounds it.

I wish more people would give their children the knowledge and independence to explore different beliefs to decide what or whom they want to worship. Children continue to be lead into their predecessor’s political, social and religious views. I am not saying that I want everyone to follow the path of the ancient traditions; I am just concerned with the limited freedom we give in a country founded on freedom.

 

Good Morning, my dear friends! TGIF! The Weekend Is Almost Here!

Fantasy Images, Pics, Comments, Graphics
Good Morning, my dear, dear friends! Have I told you lately that I love you all. Yes, love, love, love! You are absolutely fabulous. Yesterday, I made the post about the blog seemingly a little quiet. Then I put up the post about showing me some love by telling me what you liked. YOU WENT WILD!!!! It was terrific. I don’t know how many of you hit that “Like” button, after a while I lost count. But it make me feel so loved and appreciated. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You don’t know what it means to me. I can never thank you enough. I have the best blog friends on the net!!!

Now I want to ask you a question, do you celebrate Easter with any of your family or friends? When my kids were little, we lead a double life. We wanted our children to experience all the opportunities they could. So we kept our Religion quiet. There was occasions that I did break the promise my husband and I made to each other. I would introduce small bits of magick into my childrens’ lives. Then when we would go on outings, they were totally amazed at me and my love for nature. I could tell my son was very receptive to everything I had to say and show them. My daughter, on the other hand, really wasn’t. I guess the main reason, I made the promise with my husband was because the way I was raised.  We would go to church on Sundays and then that night we would be at the cauldron doing Hillbilly magick. You talking about confusing a kid but it did and I was. You might wonder why my parents opted to live like that. It was because we live right smack dab in the Bible Belt. And Witchcraft wasn’t accepted as it is now. People still give me strange looks but they never say anything. They are openly polite and I am invited over to their houses to remove snakes from their garages. You can imagine what I tell them to do with their snakes, lol!

I am totally off the subject here, let’s see if we can get back on it now. I am just finding it harder and harder to do for the Holidays that I don’t celebrate. I don’t celebrate Christmas and I don’t celebrate Easter. After my children became old enough and I thought I wouldn’t confuse them. I told them what I was and how I believed. The first thing my daughter told me was I was going to hell! My son said, “Cool!” So I told them, they knew. When the holidays rolled around, I explained to them about Yule and told them, I celebrated IT. Then Easter rolled around, I told them about Ostara and I celebrated IT. My husband and I agreed (very much to my disliking, but to keep the peace) since they were raised Catholic, we would celebrate all the holidays. We still do celebrate all the holidays, even though the kids are married and gone now. They come over for Christmas not Yule. Mom and Dad get to celebrate that by themselves. They come over for Easter not Ostara, again we celebrate it by ourselves. I can guarantee you, this Easter they will all come over and expect a big feast and Easter baskets. But this year, I believe they are going to get surprised. I just ain’t in the mood for it. My son has two children of his own and I love them dearly. He married into a strict Bible-belt family. They made him mad about something before they ever got married and he told them, they better be nice because his mother is a witch! Can you imagine that? The dumbass! Yes, he is my son but he is still a dumbass. I taught him everything about witchcraft and I had hopes and still do that he may one day become a witch. He knew darn good and well, you never reveal a witch to anyone!  So after he married into their family, they don’t like for him or the grandkids to come around me. Needless to say, the grandkids’ birthday parties are a hoot! But back to the topic at hand, my son has turned into someone I don’t know anymore. We use to be so close and now it is like he doesn’t even want to be around me. My husband told me to go on and forget it. But it hurts and it hurts bad to think how close we use to be and now he is like this. Perhaps it is because of the hurt and pain, I feel the way I do. I don’t know. But I do know I ain’t in the mood for Easter this year. If I had my way about it, I would dig a hole and crawl in it and wait for their holidays to pass.

Am I the only witch that feels like this? Am I normal? Do you have similar problems within your family? Then I stop to think it is my fault because they way I raised them. I should have raised them in the Craft. When they got grown and out in the world, it would still have been the same. They would have met people who weren’t witches, fell in love and married them. I always raised my children to be strong, think for themselves and be able to stand on their own two feet. Never ask anyone for anything, be independent. My daughter is and I am very proud of her. She is now accepting of me. She knows witch or not, I am her mother and I love her more than life itself. When I talk to my son in private, I cry a lot. I know he is still my little boy inside. I know he misses me and he loves me very much. I know he is a grown man and he wants the world to see him as that. I guess in my mind, he is my baby and he shouldn’t be grown. It’s my fault, I raised him so strong-willed and independent. I guess I have a lot of pent-up feelings and perhaps that is why I don’t want to celebrate their holidays. Or perhaps I am strong-willed myself and ready to fight the world for my beliefs. I am worse than an old elephant, I never forget. I remember too much. I remember things said about my Religion. I am just tired of it. I am really tired of it from my in-laws. I told my husband I am fed up. I am a Witch and they are just going to have to deal with it. If they have brainwashed my son, then he is just going to have to deal with it. I am a Witch, I am going to practice my beliefs and I will not be forced to celebrate something I don’t.

Hmm, you know blogging is great therapy. I feel so much better now and my head is so much clearer. You all are great therapists. Now just don’t send me a bill, lol! Love ya! Thanks for listening!

A Witch’s Calling

A Witch’s Calling

Author: Moon magik

From the moment we are born into this learning experience called life, most of us have our spiritual paths chosen for us. If your parents are Catholic, you’re going to be Catholic. If your parents are Baptist, you’re definitely going to be Baptist. Children have no choice to their own beliefs, because their parents require them to follow family tradition. We then grow up doing the same thing to our own children. There are very few people that grow up and just decide after 20 or 30 years that they do not believe what they were raised to believe. There are also some that grow up with absolutely no spirituality in their lives at all.

My mother and father were divorced just 8 months after I was born. My father raised me, because my mother was young and irresponsible and he wanted me to grow up in a good environment. During the first seven years of my life, we lived with my grandparents. My grandparents were Lutheran, so naturally my father was Lutheran as well. There was a Lutheran church conveniently located just a few houses down from our home.

I knew from a very young age that I did not belong in a Lutheran Church. Most Witches’ have a calling to the old ways and earth traditions at some point in their lives. I hated bible study and had no interest in learning about Christ. I didn’t know anything about Witchcraft, or have a clue that I would one day find myself casting spells in a circle on my bedroom floor. I just simply didn’t care for church. It wasn’t until I was about 11 years old when I started having dreams that I was magical.

It began sporadically and then eventually became an every night dream. In my dream I was standing in the middle of the woods during the peak of fall season. I was spinning in circles and dancing around trees. Every time I had the dream, I notice I had a wooden stick in my hand. I now realize the wooden stick was my wand. I went to the library one morning to check out a book on Diana Ross, because I had a book report for school due on the following Monday.

When I sat down at the table in the library there was one small paperback book left behind by what I’m assuming was a lazy citizen. The book was about Witchcraft. I was extremely intrigued, so I decided to check it out and bring it home to read.

When my father saw the book, he was very unsure whether he wanted to allow me to read it or not. I used my charm and wit to persuade him, plus he was the biggest push over ever. The strange thing is, my father told me just a few days ago, that a few years before I checked out that book, I was scolded for drawing pentacles on my bedroom door. He said he couldn’t figure out where I got the idea to draw pentacles. He said he would have not been so freaked out by the action if the drawings were only stars without circles around them. He understands a bit more now that I am 27 and he knows about my spiritual practices.

As I grew older my dreams became more vivid and lucid. I started having dreams of things before they would occur. My first prophetic dream was about my mother. In my dream, the doctor called me on the telephone and told me that my mom was going to die, because she had a tumor in her stomach. About two weeks later my mother had to go to the doctors, because her premenstrual cycle would not end. The doctors ran some test and then found that she had a large mass, the size of a baseball growing in her uterus. They advised her that she needed surgery immediately to get the mass out. My mother called me on the telephone afterwards to talk to me. She was astonished how similar my dream was to her situation.

The second dream was even scarier. I was blind. The only thing I could do was listen to the sounds that were around me. I heard screaming and arguing and then a blast of gunshots so close like the gun was going off next to my ear. The next morning I went to work and received a phone call from my mother in the middle of the day, which was very uncommon. When I answered, she was frantically crying. She proceeded to tell me that one of my closest friends was shot in the head in the middle of the night.

She explained to me that he was still alive, but he was in a coma and the doctors said we should come in and say our goodbyes, because they did not expect him to live through the day. We all gathered at the hospital for which turned out to be a week while he struggled to survive on life support. Finally, he woke up from the coma.

He could not speak, because he had a trachea tube in his throat, so none of us knew if he could hear us or not. A bandage covered his eyes, so we did not know if he could see us. The bullet in his head traveled back down the path in which it entered and actually fell out into the bandage that was wrapped around his head. The doctors did not have to perform any surgery because of that. Unfortunately once the bandage was removed we found out that he was blind.

I have accepted the fact that I am not a psychic. I cannot read tarot cards. I cannot read runes or tea leaves or make use of any other divining tool. The only thing that I have is my dreams. Therefore, I call myself a dream witch. I love witchcraft. I love the freedom of being solitary eclectic and choosing beliefs that make me feel comfortable.

I love the art and beauty of casting a circle and uniting myself with the Lord and the Lady to mold the energies of the universe for my intentions. I love herb magick and candle magick. I love every aspect of earth traditions and wish that more people would discover the beauty and mysticism that surrounds it.

I wish more people would give their children the knowledge and independence to explore different beliefs to decide what or whom they want to worship. Children continue to be lead into their predecessor’s political, social and religious views. I am not saying that I want everyone to follow the path of the ancient traditions; I am just concerned with the limited freedom we give in a country founded on freedom.

Does Spirit Go with Body? A Look at Reincarnation

Does Spirit Go with Body? A Look at Reincarnation

by Janice Van Cleve

Reincarnation is a subject that keeps coming back (ouch). Seriously, the topic of reincarnation keeps showing up in magazines and books cloaked in mystery or psychobabble. Among New Age and neo-pagan believers, there is often talk of “past lives,” working out karmic justice over a series of lives and transmigration of souls. Hindus hold that we reincarnate many times until we achieve enlightenment or perfection and thus are able to escape the wheel of life, death and rebirth. Rabbi Shagra Simmons says that Jews sometimes get three shots at terrestrial life. Tibetan monks search for babies born at the moment of their lama’s death in the belief that his soul migrated into the newborn. Resurrection of the body is such a strong tenet of Catholic orthodoxy that the Vatican for centuries preached against cremation, supposedly because ashes are harder to resurrect than rotten remains in a coffin.

Not everyone believes in reincarnation. Many people believe that death is the end, finis, kaput. They do not believe in any afterlife or return to life in any form. Others believe that the body may die but some kind of spiritual essence or “soul” lives on and goes someplace, like heaven or hell. Plato was a great proponent of the theory of “essences” that exist beyond or outside of the physical body. Christians and Muslims believe in a paradise where the souls go and don’t come back. Ancient Sumerians thought spirits descended into a pit where they ate dirt, and the Greeks held that souls crossed the River Styx to linger in a dim underworld. The idea of spirits dwelling in a Great Beyond is advantageous if you want call on them in prayers or séances. If, on the other hand, souls do come back in new bodies, who will be left on the invitation list to your next Dumb Supper?

Modern technology and psychology have pushed the envelope in our understanding of death and rebirth. For example, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has documented some amazing cases of apparent conscious existence outside of the body and/or after the body’s clinical death. Cryogenics labs are experimenting with freezing bodies to resuscitate them later. Cloning is a bit different in that a new body is generated, but the jury is still out on whether any conscious memory is transferred along with the genetic material. While these are interesting avenues of research that may someday prove or disprove some mechanical aspect of reincarnation, they are generally understood to be outside the discussion of reincarnation per se.

So what’s inside the discussion? One way to look at reincarnation is to examine its parts. The “carn” refers to a body and the “re” is a something that returns into a body. That got me to wondering: which body? Is it only humans who reincarnate? Do dogs reincarnate into new dogs, or trees into new trees? What about cross-species reincarnation? Can a fern reincarnate into a frog or a cow into a liverwort? There are some dire warnings in the literature about “coming back as a toad,” but for the most part we see the focus on humans returning as new humans. (Certainly most cat lovers will agree that cats believe that they don’t participate in reincarnation because no other living being could aspire to their level.)

People as far back as the Stone Age have understood that the body decays after death. They may have held many theories about where the soft tissue went, but they could see that soon all they had left was bones. Eventually, as in the case of the dinosaurs, even the bones break down and are replaced by minerals leaching through the soil. Occasionally nature has delayed decay, as in the prehistoric bodies found in an glacier in the Italian Alps or in a bog in Denmark. Children sacrificed by the Incas on Andean peaks still have hair and skin preserved by the cold, while Egyptians first learned mummification from bodies buried and desiccated in the hot Saharan desert. Yet even the most carefully preserved remains of a Pharaoh in Cairo or a Lenin in Moscow would be reduced to molecules if exposed to the normal processes of decay.

Scientists exploring biology, chemistry, genetics, forensics and the like have shown that as things decay after death, they break down into simpler and simpler components, eventually reducing into basic compounds or molecules that can be used by other living organisms. Gardeners practice this principle by composting. Dead plants and other organic materials are stacked in bins where, over time, they reduce to rich soil and are plowed back into the garden to provide nutrients for new plants. So a dead tulip may break down in the compost bin and its molecules eventually become incorporated into a turnip. Not all of its molecules may end up in the turnip, however. Some of them may wind up in the carrots, and others may become potatoes. Certainly a large number of the former tulip molecules will stay as dirt and may even become incorporated into stone, if said gardener happens to have a volcano in her pea patch!

So at least some of the material that was the physical body of the tulip may find itself after death reincorporated into other physical bodies, and therefore the tulip continues to participate in the phenomenon called life. In a way, I suppose that can be called reincarnation — at least of body material. Perhaps when we refer to a dead relative “pushing up daisies,” we’re closer to the mark than we think.

But if the remains of living things decompose and are scattered to be used by many other living things, or not used at all, is the identity of the original plant or animal or human forever lost? When do tulip molecules cease to be tulip and become turnip? And what about the turnip? If it got some material from a tulip and other material from a spider, where does its unique identity as a turnip come from? This is where the “soul” or “essence” comes into the reincarnation picture.

There have been times even in the historical past when the birth rate of new babies worldwide did not match the death rate. So according to the theory of reincarnation, did some souls get put on hold for awhile in a spiritual wait zone until there were enough babies to go around? Or did they hang out in the turnips? Conversely, our current population explosion clearly demonstrates way more births than deaths. So does that mean that some babies are born with half-souls or no souls? There can’t be that many souls waiting in turnips to fill the current demands!

Buddhists may help us out here. Buddhists seek to skip the Hindu wheel of birth, death and reincarnation altogether through discipline and meditation. They believe that they can reach a point at which independent identity is no longer relevant. The “soul” loses itself by merging with a universal mass of spiritual energy called Nirvana, something analogous to the universal mass of living energy that scientists call biomass. For the sake of discussion, let’s call this “spiritmass.”

That solves the mathematical problem, because math in the spirit world may not add up the same as it does here in the mundane world. If there is spiritmass, then some babies could inherit old souls directly and some may get new ones from the reservoir of spiritmass. Whatever the case, nature and nurture inevitably work to individualize the baby’s identity, just like they individualize his or her body into a unique new person. Old souls are either absorbed into spiritmass or changed in their new incarnation and new souls are sprung from spiritmass. In either case, the old identity is lost. Tulip becomes turnip, and essence of Uncle Frank becomes Little Carol.

Which brings us back to the two parts of reincarnation. If the body and the spirit both disintegrate and become reabsorbed into biomass and spiritmass respectively, then one could say they were reincarnated. However, such a reabsorbtion automatically means that the unique personal identity of the dead being ceases to exist. Reincarnation therefore implies that individual identity is temporary.

Humans don’t like that. Humans would like to believe that their identities will live forever. Since the body could not be counted on, humans proposed underworlds and paradises to maintain some manner of unique identity after death. Not content with just a spiritual existence, some humans attempt to preserve their existence in the physical world with statues and monuments, trust funds, artistic creations or by making a name for themselves in history books. Ultimately, however, we do not live forever in body or spirit or stone. We do know that we live beyond our death — at least for a little while — in the hearts of those who loved us, and probably in the memories of those who hated us.

So I can buy reincarnation if the most that is meant by it is recycling the body and the spirit. I’m certainly not going to lose any sleep over what kind of identity, if any, I will have after I die. I just hope that if reincarnation does pass identity along that John Ashcroft comes back as a gay, homeless black woman.

Saint of the Day for October 11th – St. Dionysia

St. Dionysia

In the year 484, the Arian King, Huneric, banished the Catholic bishops from their African Sees, and began a violent persecution of orthodox Christians, many of whom were put to death. Dionysia, a woman remarkable for beauty, zeal and piety, was scourged in the forum till her body was covered with blood. Seeing Majoricus, her young son, tremble at the site, she said to him, “My son, do not forget that we have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. We must not lose the garment of our salvation, lest the Master of the feast find us without wedding clothes and cast us into outer darkness.” The boy, strengthened by her words, suffered a most cruel martyrdom with constancy. Dionysia and Majoricus died at the stake.St. Dionysia feast day is December 6th.