So Mote It Be.
She’s Been Waiting
She’s been waiting
She’s been waiting, waiting.
She’s been waiting so long.
She’s been waiting for her children
To remember, to return.
Blessed be, and blessed are,
The lovers of the lady.
Blessed be, and blessed are,
The mother, maiden, crone.
Blessed be, and blessed are,
The ones who dance together.
Blessed be, and blessed are,
The ones who dance alone.
She’s been waiting, waiting.
She’s been waiting so long.
She’s been waiting for her children
To remember, to return.
Blessed be, and blessed are,
The ones who work in silence.
Blessed be, and blessed are,
The ones who shout and scream.
Blessed be, and blessed are,
The movers and the changes.
Blessed be, and blessed are,
The dreamers and the dream.
She’s been waiting, waiting.
She’s been waiting so long.
She’s been waiting for her children
To remember, to return.
– Paula Walowitz
Witches Do It In A Magical Circle
Author: Rhys Chisnall
Sacred space is a space that is ‘experienced or seen as’ sacred but remember, this need not mean it has any extra unseen property. In many religions, it is a permanent structure such as a church, a mosque, a druid’s grove or a temple. The place is seen as sacred, as numinous and special suitable and worthy of where the Divine can be experienced. These places are often made sacred through certain rites and ritual… a form of magic, which to my mind is the manipulation of meaning to transform phenomenal reality. The rites are the manipulation of meaning which leads to ‘experiencing as’ the church as sacred (even to those who never partook in the original rituals) and if that is not the transformation of phenomenal reality I don’t know what is.
Witchcraft differs from other religious and spiritual traditions in that it does not have any permanent sacred spaces. There are no permanent temples in the initiatory Craft perhaps because it is a spiritual tradition where the focus of the experience of the Divine is through life and death, where there is no dualism between the sacred and the profane, therefore there is no need for a permanent temple. In the Craft the sacred space is declared at every meeting, wherever and whenever the coven meets.
This sacred space is declared when the circle is cast by the High Priestess with her athame and is both psychological and mythological in character. It is psychological, firstly, as it is visualised by and ‘felt by’ the participants as the sphere is formed about them. It is ‘experienced as’ by the mind through an act of imagination. Secondly, the setting up of the sacred space in the Craft prepares the Witches for the rite in which they are to participate. For example a church is laid out to either assault the senses such as in the stain glass, incense, bells, candles, crucifixes and robes of the priest in Catholicism, or the in the stark whitewash and lack of symbolism of the Methodists. The symbolism, the bells and smells of the Catholic or the austerity stemming from the suspicion of idolatry of the Protestant both work to put the worshipper into a worshipful and receptive state of mind.
Likewise the words, gestures, incense, candle light and nudity involved in the casting of the circle puts the Witches into the state of mind where magic (the manipulation of meaning to transform phenomenal reality) can occur. If the same method of casting is used each time (as in Initiatory Craft) , then expectation and classical conditioning (like Pavlov’s dogs) combine to create the appropriate state of mind with little effort on the part of the Witch. Vivianne Crowley (1989) tells us of one priestess who says something like, “I only need to hear the swish of a broom and I am in an altered state of consciousness”. I can confirm from experience that that this is certainly the case. During the set up of our rituals and the casting of the circle, after twelve years of being with the same coven, I automatically slip into ritual consciousness.
The circle is also mythological and is full of symbolism. The circle can relate to four of the classical elements, air, fire, water and earth. It can relate, like the phases of the moon and the wheel of the year to the stages of life such as youth, maturity, old age and death. To my mind this means it can relate to stages in the hero’s journey, the mono-myth described by Professor Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero with a Thousand faces. This is the journey of the mystic, who goes out into the metaphorical wilderness, fairy land, the world of adventure. It is here that the mystic has their adventure/experience, attaining gnosis (spiritual knowledge) , before returning to everyday life where they have to integrate what they have learnt. The failed hero or mystic is not able to do this and is stuck in the adventure world and so perishes. The circle can also be symbolic of the changing seasons of the year, spring, summer, autumn, and winter, which of course, underpin the myths of the Craft.
The circle, mythologically speaking, is out of time. It is also all time, all the seasons, all the stages of life, all parts of the hero’s quest and so paradoxically, which can happen in myth, is all time and at the same time it is out of time. The circle is experienced as the mythological every-when, fairy land and eternity where the tick, tick, tick of time does not pass; there is no past, present or future. Mythologically speaking, this is the mystical state. It is in this space were we experience mythologically, rather than logically. We participate in mythology, finding meaning that allows us to engage with the mysteries.
It acts as a mythological circle that psychologically contains the emotion and meaning. It represents the keeping away of thoughts and feeling not required for the ritual. These are the daily round of duties and thoughts, which might be stresses about work, money, or whether we have left the cooker on. They are outside the psychological circle and we within the ritual are on the inside. It is a psychological and mythological barrier between the emotions, thoughts and meaning necessary for the job at hand, and those that would distract us from our purpose. So the circle acts as a boundary and protection of meaning containing the emotional power we raise.
To conclude it is both a mythological space where we engage with and act mythologically and a psychological boundary. However, while this requires imagination, visualisation and concentration; it is not the same thing as play-acting. Rather it is ‘seeing as’, making and experiencing as profound meaning rather than simply make believe. This meaning can be allegorical but it is also archetypal in that it related to our deep feelings that are invoked by what is fundamentally important in life.
Campbell, J, (1993) , The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Fortana Press
Crowley, V., (1989) , Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age, Aquarian Press
Guy Fawkes Night
Guy Fawkes Night is one of the most widespread and thriving of all the British holidays and one that was decreed by an act of Parliament. It was in the early hours of November 5, 1605, that Guy Fawkes was arrested. He had hidden 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar of Parliament and planned to blow it up that day, an act that would have wiped out the entire government of England–clearing the way for a Roman Catholic coup.
There are several theories, one of which claims that the gunpowder plot was covertly encouraged by an administration anxious to discredit its Catholic opponents. Whatever the truth, the act sparked a nationwide explosion of patriotism and Protestant enthusiasm. The commemoration has become a night replete with bonfires, beer-drinking, fireworks and bands of children begging for money. Topping off the evening’s festivities, effigies of Guy Fawkes are tossed onto the bonfires.
Calendar of the Moon
Apaturia Day I: Dorpia
Colors: White, Blue, Black.
Altar: Upon a triple cloth of white, blue, and black place the symbols of the Order of the Horae.
Offerings: The three days of the Apaturia are the official get-together of all the houses of the Order of the Horae. One House is chosen, and they host all the others, who travel from far away to be there for these three days. The offering is hospitality, and the gifting of the hosts.
Daily Meal: A feast of any correct foods of the harvest, prepared for all.
Call: Hail, sisters and brothers of our Order!
Response: Hail to all who gather here today!
Call: Hail to the Gods who watch over us…
Response: May they look upon us with favor!
Call: Hail to Eunomia, Lady of Rules…
Response: Hora of the Upraised Hand!
Call: Your rules bind us hard and strong…
Response: Yet we take these chains willingly upon us.
Call: Hail to Dike, Lady of Justice…
Response: Hora of the Even Hand!
Call: The cold of your blade divides the just from the unjust…
Response: Yet we take its edge with grace.
Call: Hail Irene, Lady of Peace…
Response: Hora of the Open Hand!
Call: Some may scorn you as weak and tedious…
Response: But we welcome you with open hearts!
Call: Hail to the Handmaidens who weave frith in the sky!
Response: May they watch over us all.
Call: Hail to the Masters of the Twelve Principles!
Response: May they guide us when our path falls into darkness.
Call: Honored be all the souls who stand here today.
Response: May we all stand together as kith and kind.
Call: May we all learn from each others’ lives.
Response: For none of us has nothing to learn, or nothing yet to teach.
Call: Hail to the Gods of east and west, of north and south!
Response: Hail to all the Powers above and below!
Song: We the Dead
Goddess, grant me patience
Help me to have tolerance
For the flaws of others
And my own imperfections
Let me wait calmly
For those things that cannot be rushed
And maintain serenity
In the face of adversity
May my temper be even
And my words kind
As I am a reflection of your grace
So let me be patient
So Mote It Be.
‘THINK on THESE THINGS’
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler
You speak to me of faith and the church you attend. The most important faith will be the way you feel about it within you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that it is too unsophisticated to think about such things. For it is the very basis on which you draw your breath. Without faith there’s no hope.
The most beautiful thing about life is that we can begin it anew each day. We need to forget every unpleasant thing that has ever happened to us, every shallow thing that has no meaning, every unkind word or deed or thought and start all over again.
And the only possible way to do it is by faith. Faith in yourself, faith in others, faith in God, and faith that right will win. And facetiously stated, “Them that has, gits.” If you have a little faith, it will attract more – if you know about it within you.
PRAYER TO A GENTLE LADY
The bright blue of the sky
is Her eyes in the morning.
The sunshine, Her love glowing
in the morning’s birth.
The soft calling of birds
is Her singing to Her people.
The breeze, Her arms embracing the world.
Watch over me as I find my path in life.
Guide my steps. Bring me to the end of
the day fulfilled.
Keep those I love safe. Goddess,
be at the side of those who need you.
And may they always be worthy of your devotion.
So Mote It Be
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.
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.
by Efun Moyiwa
This article can also be found on Efun Moyiwa’s World Wide Web page, OrishaNet (http://www.seanet.com/~efunmoyiwa/welcome.html).
Santería, or La Regla Lucumí, originates in West Africa in what is now Nigeria and Benin. It is the traditional religion of the Yoruba peoples there. The slave trade brought many of these people to the shores of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad and Puerto Rico, among other places. But along with the bodies being brought over for sale into a life of misery, something else was being brought along. Their souls. And their religion.
First of all, Santería is not a “primitive” religion. On the contrary, the Yorubas were and are a very civilized people with a rich culture and deep sense of ethics. We believe in one god known as Olorun or Olodumare. Olorun is the source of ashé, the spiritual energy that makes up the universe, all life and all things material.
Olorun interacts with the world and humankind through emissaries. These emissaries are called orishas. The orishas rule over every force of nature and every aspect of human life. They are approachable and can be counted on to come to the aid of their followers, guiding us to a better life materially as well as spiritually.
Communication between orishas and humankind is accomplished through ritual, prayer, divination and ebó or offerings (which includes sacrifice). Song, rhythms and trance possession are also means with which we interact with the orishas and with which we are able to affect our day-to-day lives so that we may lead deeper and fuller lives during our stay in this world.
In the New World, the orishas and much of the religion was hidden behind a facade of Catholicism, with the orishas themselves represented by various saints. The slave owners would then say, “Look at how pious this slave is. She spends all of her time worshipping Saint Barbara.” Unbeknownst to them, she would actually be praying to Shangó, the lord of lightning, fire and the dance, perhaps even praying for deliverance from that very slave owner. This is how the religion came to be known as Santería. The memory of this period of our history is also why many in our religion regard the term Santería as a derogatory.
The traditions of Santería are fiercely preserved, and full knowledge of the rites, songs and language is prerequisites to any deep involvement in the religion. Initiates must follow a strict regimen and are answerable to Olorun and the orishas for their actions. As a person passes through each initiation in the tradition, this knowledge deepens and their abilities and responsibilities grow accordingly. In fact, during the entire first year of their initiation into the priesthood, the initiate or iyawó or “bride” of the orisha must dress in white. The iyawo must not look into a mirror, touch anyone or allow themselves to be touched, and they may not wear makeup or go out at night for this year.
La Santería is famous for its “magic.” This magic is based on a knowledge of the mysteries or orishas and how to interact with them to better our lives and the lives of those who come to us for the aid of the orishas. We live under the premise that this world is a magical one. This knowledge seems “supernatural” only to those who don’t understand it, but it really is quite natural.
Although the people were yanked away from their homes in Africa and enslaved in the New World, the orishas, the religion and its power could never be chained down, and the religion survives now – not as an anachronism, but ever-growing, even now in such places as France and the Netherlands.
Maferefún gbogbo orisha!
Author: Howard Winkleman
“We do not know what God is. God himself doesn’t know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being.” ~ John Scotus Erigena 840 AD
What’s this then? Am I about to declare some sort of absolute truth? In the same mold as those I have been unable to commit to my entire life? No, I don’t think so. It’s just not that easy.
I have tried on numerous occasions to choke down dogma for a couple of different faiths; ultimately however it always comes right back up! Truly and sincerely, I had given Catholicism, Wicca and Asatru a real effort, as well as Catholicism for my lovely mother who I always trusted and wanted to please.
Wicca was my next spiritual interest (between the ages of 12 to 19 and after Catholicism) , seeing as how one is bombarded with the subject when perusing alternative faiths and I already being a lifelong occultist of sorts. To me, having been raised in a family of Catholics — who fascinated me with some of their superstitious practices that I did not recognize at the time as being candle magic (lighting prayer candles to petition the saints) and divination via playing cards — Wicca seemed like home. Then finally I gravitated toward Asatru for the sake of my ancestors and myself as I wanted to honor my blood, and folk soul through the revived religion of the Germanic people.
I however knew” there was, for me, something ‘not quite right’ about them… and all other established religions. I felt that I had to keep searching. And as it turns out, that’s what Gnosticism is all about: the search for “gnosis”, or knowledge.
What kind of knowledge you ask? Well, that is a very personal knowledge of god and the creation. The true Gnostic seeks to discover for himself, through mystical means, the true relationship between himself and the creating force.
Knowing that the gods are immeasurable, incomprehensible, and beyond all mortal grasp, arcane, and occult knowledge is used to pursue the loftiest of all purposes: light. Light is the only way to see in the darkness of this world. To seek this light is to seek the keys to the kingdoms beyond.
And what are we left with? Truth? We have hopefully by this point ascertained that truth is truly obfuscated in its subjectivity, so we pursue light in an attempt to see.
So what are all these religions people are on about? Well, considering what I have just said, I am certain of the existence of a grand architect of the universe — the all father, progenerator of that first spark, the one to start the first domino fall leading through the aeons to this day — as well as a whole host of lesser deities, arch beings, spirits etc.
The various pantheons known to men are composed of these forces, some by different and varied names, some ancestral and unique to a people. Do I feel that all the established religions are rubbish? Certainly not. Their elitist, pompous, only what they say is ‘right’ mentality is the rubbish.
Men have written ALL the books. Some have had divine inspiration, and or, intervention, so the authors say. I choose Odian paganism as my personal path, yet I am well aware that all religions simply put the truth into a cultural context, which resonates for them.
Gnosticism is a perspective that can be incorporated into any worldview as a philosophy, Thelema being the best example of this. Paganism is the lens through which I choose to view things.
While Gnosticism is at the heart of my beliefs, the model in which I choose to work and bend from are Heathen, British isles, and heretical Christian all at once. While Gnostic is at it’s core, that aspect should never even be considered except on rare moments of reflection. One should be able to be a good pagan and know the gods are real and active in one’s life.
While the gods are unique individuals, you will find many correspondences across the board from one system to the next, hinting to me, at the underlying, ultimate truth: the All-Father — creator, that ancient unknowable entity, beginning of mankind and all worlds seen, and unseen — the thread that runs through everything, connecting us all to truth, to him. He is the spark of life that unfolds into men and gods, who merely play at existence atop this slumbering giant. The ancestors know the secrets; you will only discover after you join them.
So embrace your particular version of the gods, be it a Celtic perspective, Asatru, Hindu, Cthulhu or what-have-you! If you find it difficult to stick to a pantheon, then don’t. It should not be a challenge; it should feel as natural as what I have just shared with you does for me. We just need to know in the old way.
To know you need light. If you cross a room in the dark, you may believe your keys are here or there, yet with the lights you see them and know. We should all seek light until we one day KNOW. Know where we stand, who we are, and why… thus granting us the ultimate relief, peace and wisdom. No religion required there.
I have a strong belief in the “other world” as it were. I believe that within this world reside spiritual beings who are hierarchical in the sense that some are more powerful than others, just as some men are more powerful than other men. The most powerful among them could be deemed gods. I am comfortable doing so. Knowing this, I also know that these forces are unknowable in the mundane sense of knowing.
All things considered, I believe gods to be representations of cosmic forces, timeless and nameless. If you were to invoke the archangel Michael for example, you would truly be invoking the protective force he represents. The same force may be invoked by another tongue in other words.
Know they are there and powerful. Just don’t try to pin them down. You will be run about in circles trying to catch them. I have tried to no avail.
Saint of the Day
St. Francis of Assisi
Founder of the Franciscan Order, born at Assisi in Umbria, in 1181.
In 1182, Pietro Bernardone returned from a trip to France to find out his wife had given birth to a son. Far from being excited or apologetic because he’d been gone, Pietro was furious because she’d had his new son baptized Giovanni after John the Baptist. The last thing Pietro wanted in his son was a man of God — he wanted a man of business, a cloth merchant like he was, and he especially wanted a son who would reflect his infatuation with France. So he renamed his son Francesco — which is the equivalent of calling him Frenchman.
Francis enjoyed a very rich easy life growing up because of his father’s wealth and the permissiveness of the times. From the beginning everyone — and I mean everyone — loved Francis. He was constantly happy, charming, and a born leader. If he was picky, people excused him. If he was ill, people took care of him. If he was so much of a dreamer he did poorly in school, no one minded. In many ways he was too easy to like for his own good. No one tried to control him or teach him.
As he grew up, Francis became the leader of a crowd of young people who spent their nights in wild parties. Thomas of Celano, his biographer who knew him well, said, “In other respects an exquisite youth, he attracted to himself a whole retinue of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice.” Francis himself said, “I lived in sin” during that time.
Francis fulfilled every hope of Pietro’s — even falling in love with France. He loved the songs of France, the romance of France, and especially the free adventurous troubadours of France who wandered through Europe. And despite his dreaming, Francis was also good at business. But Francis wanted more..more than wealth. But not holiness! Francis wanted to be a noble, a knight. Battle was the best place to win the glory and prestige he longed for. He got his first chance when Assisi declared war on their longtime enemy, the nearby town of Perugia.
Most of the troops from Assisi were butchered in the fight. Only those wealthy enough to expect to be ransomed were taken prisoner. At last Francis was among the nobility like he always wanted to be…but chained in a harsh, dark dungeon. All accounts say that he never lost his happy manner in that horrible place. Finally, after a year in the dungeon, he was ransomed. Strangely, the experience didn’t seem to change him. He gave himself to partying with as much joy and abandon as he had before the battle.
The experience didn’t change what he wanted from life either: Glory. Finally a call for knights for the Fourth Crusade gave him a chance for his dream. But before he left Francis had to have a suit of armor and a horse — no problem for the son of a wealthy father. And not just any suit of armor would do but one decorated with gold with a magnificent cloak. Any relief we feel in hearing that Francis gave the cloak to a poor knight will be destroyed by the boasts that Francis left behind that he would return a prince.
But Francis never got farther than one day’s ride from Assisi. There he had a dream in which God told him he had it all wrong and told him to return home. And return home he did. What must it have been like to return without ever making it to battle — the boy who wanted nothing more than to be liked was humiliated, laughed at, called a coward by the village and raged at by his father for the money wasted on armor.
Francis’ conversion did not happen over night. God had waited for him for twenty-five years and now it was Francis’ turn to wait. Francis started to spend more time in prayer. He went off to a cave and wept for his sins. Sometimes God’s grace overwhelmed him with joy. But life couldn’t just stop for God. There was a business to run, customers to wait on.
One day while riding through the countryside, Francis, the man who loved beauty, who was so picky about food, who hated deformity, came face to face with a leper. Repelled by the appearance and the smell of the leper, Francis nevertheless jumped down from his horse and kissed the hand of the leper. When his kiss of peace was returned, Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off, he turned around for a last wave, and saw that the leper had disappeared. He always looked upon it as a test from God…that he had passed.
His search for conversion led him to the ancient church at San Damiano. While he was praying there, he heard Christ on the crucifix speak to him, “Francis, repair my church.” Francis assumed this meant church with a small c — the crumbling building he was in. Acting again in his impetuous way, he took fabric from his father’s shop and sold it to get money to repair the church. His father saw this as an act of theft — and put together with Francis’ cowardice, waste of money, and his growing disinterest in money made Francis seem more like a madman than his son. Pietro dragged Francis before the bishop and in front of the whole town demanded that Francis return the money and renounce all rights as his heir.
The bishop was very kind to Francis; he told him to return the money and said God would provide. That was all Francis needed to hear. He not only gave back the money but stripped off all his clothes — the clothes his father had given him — until he was wearing only a hair shirt. In front of the crowd that had gathered he said, “Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.'” Wearing nothing but castoff rags, he went off into the freezing woods — singing. And when robbers beat him later and took his clothes, he climbed out of the ditch and went off singing again. From then on Francis had nothing…and everything.
Francis went back to what he considered God’s call. He begged for stones and rebuilt the San Damiano church with his own hands, not realizing that it was the Church with a capital C that God wanted repaired. Scandal and avarice were working on the Church from the inside while outside heresies flourished by appealing to those longing for something different or adventurous.
Soon Francis started to preach. (He was never a priest, though he was later ordained a deacon under his protest.) Francis was not a reformer; he preached about returning to God and obedience to the Church. Francis must have known about the decay in the Church, but he always showed the Church and its people his utmost respect. When someone told him of a priest living openly with a woman and asked him if that meant the Mass was polluted, Francis went to the priest, knelt before him, and kissed his hands — because those hands had held God.
Slowly companions came to Francis, people who wanted to follow his life of sleeping in the open, begging for garbage to eat…and loving God. With companions, Francis knew he now had to have some kind of direction to this life so he opened the Bible in three places. He read the command to the rich young man to sell all his good and give to the poor, the order to the apostles to take nothing on their journey, and the demand to take up the cross daily. “Here is our rule,” Francis said — as simple, and as seemingly impossible, as that. He was going to do what no one thought possible any more — live by the Gospel. Francis took these commands so literally that he made one brother run after the thief who stole his hood and offer him his robe!
Francis never wanted to found a religious order — this former knight thought that sounded too military. He thought of what he was doing as expressing God’s brotherhood. His companions came from all walks of life, from fields and towns, nobility and common people, universities, the Church, and the merchant class. Francis practiced true equality by showing honor, respect, and love to every person whether they were beggar or pope.
Francis’ brotherhood included all of God’s creation. Much has been written about Francis’ love of nature but his relationship was deeper than that. We call someone a lover of nature if they spend their free time in the woods or admire its beauty. But Francis really felt that nature, all God’s creations, were part of his brotherhood. The sparrow was as much his brother as the pope.
In one famous story, Francis preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God’s care. The story tells us the birds stood still as he walked among him, only flying off when he said they could leave.
Another famous story involves a wolf that had been eating human beings. Francis intervened when the town wanted to kill the wolf and talked the wolf into never killing again. The wolf became a pet of the townspeople who made sure that he always had plenty to eat.
Following the Gospel literally, Francis and his companions went out to preach two by two. At first, listeners were understandably hostile to these men in rags trying to talk about God’s love. People even ran from them for fear they’d catch this strange madness! And they were right. Because soon these same people noticed that these barefoot beggars wearing sacks seemed filled with constant joy. They celebrated life. And people had to ask themselves: Could one own nothing and be happy? Soon those who had met them with mud and rocks, greeted them with bells and smiles.
Francis did not try to abolish poverty, he tried to make it holy. When his friars met someone poorer than they, they would eagerly rip off the sleeve of their habit to give to the person. They worked for all necessities and only begged if they had to. But Francis would not let them accept any money. He told them to treat coins as if they were pebbles in the road. When the bishop showed horror at the friars’ hard life, Francis said, “If we had any possessions we should need weapons and laws to defend them.” Possessing something was the death of love for Francis. Also, Francis reasoned, what could you do to a man who owns nothing? You can’t starve a fasting man, you can’t steal from someone who has no money, you can’t ruin someone who hates prestige. They were truly free.
Francis was a man of action. His simplicity of life extended to ideas and deeds. If there was a simple way, no matter how impossible it seemed, Francis would take it. So when Francis wanted approval for his brotherhood, he went straight to Rome to see Pope Innocent III. You can imagine what the pope thought when this beggar approached him! As a matter of fact he threw Francis out. But when he had a dream that this tiny man in rags held up the tilting Lateran basilica, he quickly called Francis back and gave him permission to preach.
Sometimes this direct approach led to mistakes that he corrected with the same spontaneity that he made them. Once he ordered a brother who hesitated to speak because he stuttered to go preach half-naked. When Francis realized how he had hurt someone he loved he ran to town, stopped the brother, took off his own clothes, and preached instead.
Francis acted quickly because he acted from the heart; he didn’t have time to put on a role. Once he was so sick and exhausted, his companions borrowed a mule for him to ride. When the man who owned the mule recognized Francis he said, “Try to be as virtuous as everyone thinks you are because many have a lot of confidence in you.” Francis dropped off the mule and knelt before the man to thank him for his advice.
Another example of his directness came when he decided to go to Syria to convert the Moslems while the Fifth Crusade was being fought. In the middle of a battle, Francis decided to do the simplest thing and go straight to the sultan to make peace. When he and his companion were captured, the real miracle was that they weren’t killed. Instead Francis was taken to the sultan who was charmed by Francis and his preaching. He told Francis, “I would convert to your religion which is a beautiful one — but both of us would be murdered.”
Francis did find persecution and martyrdom of a kind — not among the Moslems, but among his own brothers. When he returned to Italy, he came back to a brotherhood that had grown to 5000 in ten years. Pressure came from outside to control this great movement, to make them conform to the standards of others. His dream of radical poverty was too harsh, people said. Francis responded, “Lord, didn’t I tell you they wouldn’t trust you?”
He finally gave up authority in his order — but he probably wasn’t too upset about it. Now he was just another brother, like he’d always wanted.
Francis’ final years were filled with suffering as well as humiliation. Praying to share in Christ’s passion he had a vision received the stigmata, the marks of the nails and the lance wound that Christ suffered, in his own body.
Years of poverty and wandering had made Francis ill. When he began to go blind, the pope ordered that his eyes be operated on. This meant cauterizing his face with a hot iron. Francis spoke to “Brother Fire”: “Brother Fire, the Most High has made you strong and beautiful and useful. Be courteous to me now in this hour, for I have always loved you, and temper your heat so that I can endure it.” And Francis reported that Brother Fire had been so kind that he felt nothing at all.
How did Francis respond to blindness and suffering? That was when he wrote his beautiful Canticle of the Sun that expresses his brotherhood with creation in praising God.
Francis never recovered from this illness. He died on October 4, 1226 at the age of 45. Francis is considered the founder of all Franciscan orders and the patron saint of ecologists and merchants.
Copyright 1996-2000 by Terry Matz. All Rights Reserved.
Medieval Rosary Beads
4 cups rose petals
4 cups distilled water
1 teaspoon sandalwood oil
1 teaspoon rose oil
Finely chop rose petals into an iron pot, adding enough distilled water to cover the petals. Heat, uncovered, for 1 hour without boiling the petals. Cover and leave overnight to set. Repeat the process for 4 more days. Then begin to roll the petals into beads, rubbing your hands with 1 drop each of sandalwood and rose oil first, repeating every 5 beads. Press out any liquid as you roll the beads. Thread with a large needle and thick (or plastic) thread. Allow to dry. Makes 60 beads. Separate every 10 beads with a space and 1 isolated bead.
*Personal note* Rosary Beads are not just for Christians anymore. Their popularity in the Pagan culture is growing and being used. Whether you plan on using a Rosary or not, this would be a beautiful collector’s item. One more thing at the end of the Rosary beads where normally a Cross would go, use a Pentacle (that’s what I did). I kept trying to win a Pagan Rosary on Ebay with no luck. So I made this set. I got some Rose essential oil and sprinkled it on the Rosary and then attached a beautiful Pentacle to it. I believe any Pagan would be proud to own it.