Upwellings: Peace in a Time of Fascism

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Today, there’s a stiff breeze from the west.  The sun is out and it’s not yet too hot. A perfect New England summer’s day.  The kitties are exploring the back porch as I sit here and write with a cup of Lady Grey and a newly washed fountain pen, joyfully smooth as it dances over the pages.

Looking at the fields and the wood line, you’d never know that that I live in a country slowly creeping towards fascism.  The crows and jays call just the same as they harass a shrieking hawk.  The daisy fleabane sways gently in the wind.  The red winged blackbirds flit in and out of the cattails.  This is my center.  If not for the internet, this would be my reality.  Small struggles, small victories.  I could  block my ears to the horrors my government is perpetrating, as as my privilege affords me.

And yet, I cannot.

Storms never arise overnight.  They are the manifestations of a confluence of factors–of pressure, temperature, humidity.  Earthquakes build even more slowly.  Dreams and scrying reveal hidden currents, bubbling fears: a monolithic white “45” against a red sky, newspapers printed red-on-white paving the red dirt road at its feet. No blue (or green) to be seen.

Blind Goddess of the Scales, I have always trusted you to see us through.  But the very blindfold that lends you impartiality also has kept you from seeing that your scales are no longer balanced.  And they are becoming less so with every child torn from their mother’s arms in the name of enforcing “the rules”. Justice cannot afford to be blind when her tools have been tampered with.

I cannot sit and look out over my field to forget these horrors, our slow slouch towards genocide.  But most people can’t make the time to care, or can’t afford (literally) to take action because they will lose one of the three jobs that kept their children from starvation and homelessness.

I am blessed with my comfortable home, my privately educated child, my affluent neighbors, my white skin, and my college education.  I can afford to give peace to the quarters, for I am in a place of relative peace.  Peace is what we most need, but we cannot sacrifice the lives of the brown, the black, the poor, the foreign, to preserve our own peace.  And that is what we have done.

I call for peace. And prepare to fight.

Old Glory 45

Putting the “P” Back In UPG

druidcraft_minor_swords_10Amongst some circles of polytheists, the term UPG (Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis, for those just joining the party) has long been a dirty word, particularly for those with a more reconstructionist bent.  UPG is “fluffy bunny” or “just so Wiccan” or “unscientific”. (Yup.  That’s because we’re practicing a spirituality, not conducting an empirical experiment.)

Anyway, for much of the past 10 years or so, in an effort to legitimize UPG in the face of the lore-thumpers, there was a move towards PCPG (Peer Corroborated Personal Gnosis) or SPG (Substantiated Personal Gnosis) as a solution.  The premise is that if a bunch of people are experiencing similar things when interacting with the gods, then maybe those experiences can be used to build modern lore around these beings.

To be blunt, this led to a lot of oversharing.

Remember the old chestnut of “to know, to will, to dare, to keep silence“?  There are some very good reasons why keeping one’s own council is important, and why it is rarely, if ever, appropriate to make any sort of UPG the basis for group policy.

Spirits Lie
Unfortunately, humans aren’t the only ones with agendas. Not every spirit is going to be benevolent, nor is every spirit going to have the same goals as you.  Plus, spirit communication–true spirit communication, not just mental masturbation–is often very unclear.  Even when talking to another human we can have trouble understanding each other.  When the other person doesn’t have a body and may have a completely different ethical structure, things can get sticky.  What we would call a lie, a fae may simply see as stretching the truth. This isn’t the spirit’s fault, it’s ours for not understanding what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

When dealing with spirits, it takes patience to sort out what they’re trying to tell us.  They often have a very different time-scale from humans, and what we perceive as something that has to be acted upon RIGHT NOW may in fact benefit from taking a step back and sitting with the information for weeks, or even months.  Getting independent confirmation from a diviner outside your group or a priest in the service of that entity can help, but ultimately, you have to use your own discernment as to the veracity of what the spirit or god is telling you.

And until you’ve figured that out, keep it to yourself.

People Lie
The next layer of complication occurs when the person sharing the UPG lies, whether knowingly or not.  Let’s start off with the old glass/light analogy for communicating with the gods and spirits. Ideally, when we listen to the gods, we are as if a clear, flat piece of glass which flawlessly (ha!) lets the light of the spirits pass through us.

In reality, however, we are imperfect. We all have things we carry with us that change the color and shape of that glass. As those imperfections or lies-to-self creep in, instead of us being that piece of clear glass through which the light of the gods and spirits can pass, those fibs and half-truths warp and silver the glass. We end up experiencing a reflection of our own psyches rather than the messages of the spirits–or worse, some mix of the two.

I experienced this first hand when I was part of an online pagan echo-chamber (I refuse to give it the dignity of calling it a “community”) in the late 2000s. It screwed up my spirituality big time because I listened to what my peers were saying instead of heeding my own heart; the influence was insidious.  What started out as a genuine desire to share information and experience of the gods slowly became a fap-circle of delusion and fantasy.  People would subconsciously begin ever so slightly changing their stories so that they lined up with the larger narrative of the group-think–it wasn’t so much outright lying as it was fibbing to ourselves about our experiences in order to fit in.  Before we knew it, there was one “gatekeeper” of the official narrative and anyone who stepped out of line with the PCPG was slandered and shunned.

Now, that is an extreme example.  The kicker is, most people really don’t mean to lie to themselves,  but even these small untruths can have a huge impact on others when they are shared in the context of being divine messages. What we expect to happen in our journeys and meditations warps to fit the expectations of the established gnosis. If the line between personal visions and public revelation becomes blurred, it is shockingly easy for good folks to get sucked into a maelstrom of drama.  Which brings us to…

Power Over
Someone may start out thinking they’re doing the right thing by passing along messages that they believe have been given to them by their gods or landwights or whatever. However, our experience of any spirit will always be tinted by the state of our own minds and hearts. The temptation to manipulate social situations to our advantage is strong and often driven by a subconscious fear for survival. Four times out of five when someone has shared UPG with me about our past lives together it’s been an attempt to place themselves into a position of power on the basis of the past–it’s not done maliciously, but out of insecurity and a desire to define the current relationship.

This is the crux of the problem with PCPG. You take that same insecurity about one’s place in the group and then multiply it by the number of people involved in the shared gnosis.  Inevitably, one or two people will share their UPG to make themselves look more important or to gain status in their community.  If they are the ones with the only true connection to the land or the gods, you’re swiftly moving into cult territory (ask me how I know).

It comes down to this: PCPG can feel wonderful, and even bolster a group’s cohesion for a time.  Nevertheless, “spirit” drama is intoxicating in its excitement.  Increasingly, people feel a false sense of importance, aka ego inflation, rather than focusing on their own growth and healing. Anyone who won’t tow the party line, well, they usually either try to slip quietly away or are actively cast out of the ever-dwindling inner circle.  It’s heartbreaking and it’s entirely avoidable if it’s caught early enough.

If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it’s this: don’t cede your power to someone who claims to speak for the gods, the land, or the spirits. Forge your own connections. Listen. Breathe. Trust the land itself, trust your ancestors, trust your gods. And question every. single. thing. they tell you.

 

The Grass is Always Greener

IMG_0558Last week coming home from work, I stopped at the farmers market hosted by one of the rest stops on the Mass Pike.  A woman, a bit older than I, was selling a variety of hand-milled goat milk soap. Local hand-made soap in and of itself is nice, but what really attracted my attention was the variety of herbs she incorporated into her bars and lotions, and the fact that she made very good use of their natural medicinal properties. They smelled absolutely wonderful, and as I browsed we began chatting.

“Are you heading home?” she asked.

“Yes, I work down in Greenwich, Connecticut on weekends.”

“Oh? What do you do down there?”

“Believe it or not, I’m an archaeologist.” This is the point in the conversation when most folks get this rather starry eyed look, and the soap lady was no exception.

“I was so interested in that sort of thing back in high school!” she gushed. “But then I got to college and had no idea how I would make a living at it. What’s the job market like?”

“Truthfully, I’ve been very lucky. I only have a AB, but through my advisor was able to get my current position after I didn’t get into grad school. But most people aren’t so lucky. That being said,” I added, “I’m only a research archaeologist. I don’t do any fieldwork, or go on digs, or discover new artifacts. I just sit at a desk and help edit papers.”

“But still, that’s amazing! I wish I had been able to do something like that.” She swiped my debit card and finished wrapping up my soap selection, a lovely calendula-lemongrass  blend. “You’re really an inspiration.”

I blushed, embarrassed. “Um, thanks.” This is the point in the conversation where I always feel like a fraud, because no matter how many disclaimers I make, that Indiana Jones archetype seems to override all of my caveats. I forced myself to meet her eyes. Blue and clear, the first signs of crows feet perched in the corners.

In a rush I said, “You know, this is what I really want to be doing.” I gestured at the soaps and herbs displayed on her table. “I’m an amateur gardener and herbalist, and I’d love to make a full-time go of it. So really, to me, you’re an inspiration, too.”

“Me? I’m just a farm girl.”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “The grass is always greener.”

Why do the Gods help us?

 I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m no theologian. In my youth, those Big Questions–our place in the universe, the nature of the gods…all the mysteries that one sits around discussing at 3 AM in a dorm hallway, noshing on Ritz crackers and EZCheeze–well, frankly, there was a lot more room in my life to think about those sort of things back then.

The one question that I keep returning to, though, is why do the gods help us? Do they in fact help us?  Sometimes it’s not even clear if they are helping us, or whether there has just been a massive set of coincidences that look like god-fingerprints to our pattern-seeking primate brains.

When I’m in more of a gods-as-archetype paradigm (which, for the record, is a place I do not enjoy), I wonder if we simply draw strength from the examples set forth in their stories?  Taking this perspective certainly eliminates the question of why do they help us, since there is no objective “they” apart from ourselves.  Yet I feel that this is sidestepping the question, avoiding potentially difficult answers in favor of the safety of psychological explanations.

Some believe the help of the gods flows from a natural, reciprocal exchange between humans and the unseen world. It’s a very Capitalistic way of viewing things: I pour out 12 oz. of mead and you’ll give me a new car, m’kay?  No?  How about 36 oz.?  Ok, so I’m applying a touch of hyperbole here, but I do think this sort of exchange is not as cut and dried as it is often represented. A gift for a gift is a good rule of thumb, but sometimes divine aid comes for unasked, and sometimes human praise gives freely without expectation of reciprocation.

So why then? Why do the gods help us? Is it because they’re good? That’s the approach Christianity has taken. The notion of Grace is not one generally espoused in Neopagan circles, but in many ways, it neatly circumvents the “why” of a deity’s help. But there’s the sticky fact that polytheist gods are not always good.  Maybe they are sometimes, yet our gods can be just as fallible, untrustworthy, greedy, and hate-filled as any human. If it is Grace we receive, then it is because our divinities are in a moment of Grace themselves–which then beg the question, who gave it to them?

Most often, pagans and polytheists state that the gods intervene because we are part of some metaphysical machination beyond our own understanding. I tend to feel that this is a much too human-centric, egocentric view of things, though I have certainly fallen back on this explanation myself. There has been at least one instance where I have perceived the direct intervention of deity in my life’s path. Aranrhod metaphysically bitch-slapped me back in 2005 in order to get me out of a potentially abusive situation. She may not have been the nurturing Mother that I wanted in that moment, but she was definitely the Mother that I needed. Why she chose to do this is still a mystery to me. I’ve asked her, but received nothing more than a knowing smirk.

Does any of this matter? Probably not, in the end. Yet I think taking the time to struggle with the question is an important part of any spiritual/philosophical development. The best I can come up with is this: Maybe, just like a person putting a baby bird back in the nest, the gods just want to help out a little bit. Maybe we will sing sweetly for them, maybe we will get eaten by a cat a week later, but in that moment, perhaps an act of kindness and compassion can be enough in itself. Both for humans and for gods.