Monday, March 29, 2010

Count Your Blessings

So I recently moved into a lovely little house. As a house warming gift, a friend of mine gave me a set of those cool vinyl letters that go on your wall. They say "Count Your Blessings". (It's funny, this friend is also the person who sent me an invitation to Gratitude e-mails. I love them!) Little does my friend know that when I was little, any time I didn't like something or complained about food or anything, my mother or grandmother would say to me - in a screechy voice - "Count your blessings!", and sometimes even go on about the poor starving children in Africa or elsewhere. I liked the practice. I actually did count my blessings. My family and friends, my toys, the fact that I had food. Even if it was not something I wanted to eat, at least I had something. When I opened that box and saw that saying, I just heard my grandmother's admonishing voice, felt her finger shaking, telling me to be grateful. Well, I am.  It may have taken a lot of work but I am truly grateful for all I have. As a kid, I thought my mom and grandma were just being mean, telling me I was being a bad kid. If they were looking to shame me, they sure did. Now I finally get it. Gratitude is one of the most precious gifts we can give our children, and ourselves. It gives us some sense of solidity when we feel as though the rug has been pulled from under us. Even though such-and-such is happening and that's hard, scary, expensive, sad, difficult...  we can sit back and see that there is still a lot to be thankful for. So I'm reclaiming that saying. No longer will it remind me of being shamed or feeling guilty. I know that counting my blessings may very well be the most important part of my spiritual practice. As I think we could all do with a little gratitude, go forth and count YOUR blessings too!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why I'm a Wich 2

So where do I go from here? I guess I'd like to share a little about what I learned in that book, among others. The things that really drew me to the Craft. First of all lets talk about 'God'. I put it in quotations because I'm not talking about the Christian God or any other specific deity. In witchcraft and Wicca, deity is considered male AND female. Most pagans pray to or worship God and Goddess. Many have a certain pantheon (group of gods and goddesses related to a particular faith or geographical area) that they work with. Some have only one God and Goddess that they work with. There are some witches or Wiccans who only work with Goddess, mostly Dianic practitioners. This is unbalanced to me but considering the proliferation of male-centered patriarchal religions out there, I don't think this is a bad thing. There is no set definition and I think that there are as many ideas of deity in paganism as there are practitioners. I personally understand it like layers. On the top is Source. This is a genderless, formless consciousness from whence we all came that permeates everything. This is truly God, but it's bigger, vaster, more complex than we can understand. So, as a human I need to have something I can relate to when I pray. I choose God and Goddess. These 'beings' represent every aspect of humanity. Every color, gender, background, every good and bad trait, every, every thing that humans can be. I know it's a construct of my mind but I feel most comfortable with this image and so it's real to me. This was the most important, if a bit difficult, concept for me as a woman. God isn't a man. So all of my feminine traits are reflected in God, too. I feel more comfortable praying to divinity I can see as feminine. All the Gods and Goddesses that have ever been named or conceived of are present in God and Goddess.
The next 'layer' would be all the named Gods and Goddesses. Shiva, destroyer and lord of the dance from the Hindu pantheon. Freya, goddess of war and love from the Norse pantheon. The list is unending. All of these are aspects that people created and needed to call on for different reasons. So if a witch (of eclectic tradition) wants to get in touch with her (or his) own compassion, they might pray to or do a ritual with Kwan Yin. If we need strength to destroy something in our lives that is harming us or no longer serves, we might work with Durga or Kali.
  It's like the viewfinder toys. Remember, the ones you could put a disc of slides into and push the lever to look through and see all the pictures? To me, that toy is a perfect metaphor for God. No matter what deity you're looking at, or what pantheon they come from, the image will always be the correct image of God. The truth is that God is the light shining through allowing you to see the picture. So God, or Source, is present in everything and necessary for us to see the sacredness in everything.
 That idea of all things being sacred was another thing that really rang true for me. All life is sacred and so is the earth. I believe that little by little, I'm becoming a more responsible and compassionate person as a witch. I am not saying that you have to be a witch to be a good person. Only that for me, the sense of personal responsibility that I feel as a witch has taught me to question myself and to strive to be a more loving, less judgmental person.That's what we all, I think, come to religion for. We want to learn how to be good people. This is my way and I hope the telling of it will at very least help other people to understand. It's really no different or stranger than any other path.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why I'm a Witch

I've been thinking of this a lot lately. Not questioning myself, but trying to put it into words that others might be able to accept. I really believe in every positive religion. I don't think it's important to have the "right" take on God because I don't believe that as humans we're supposed to understand exactly what God is. That's why it's called faith. So considering that any one could be correct but probably none are, I started to explore. I was raised Catholic but not strictly so. I found some of the things I was taught hard to swallow. Catholics talk a lot about God being angry and jealous, I just didn't buy it. That was not my experience when I prayed. I also remember wondering and eventually asking when we were going to learn about "that lady spirit in the planet" in Catechism. I have to believe that what I knew then was closer to the truth than anything I could ever read in a book. That's not to say that as children we have the ultimate truth, only that in remembering what I believed then, I've found those beliefs to be true for me now.
I remember being intrigued by magic as a child. As a teen I was aware that there were people who called themselves witches but I assumed they were into something dangerous or dark, because that's what we're taught by our parents or churches if Hollywood hasn't done the job. I went to a few Baptist churches and they were more laid-back in some ways. Their language was more accessible but there were still holes in the logic- at least to my mind.

In my early twenties I went to Arizona to work at a Renaissance Festival and there were some real, live witches there. I observed them and found that there was no "evil" feeling around them. They didn't appear dark or menacing. There was a kind of peace and grace about them that I found interesting. I didn't make any decisions then but I knew something inside me- the way I viewed the world- had changed.
Years later, when my daughter was not yet a year old, I was at a book sale at the library near my house. I was very drawn to a Magical Almanac but felt such guilt at that interest. I found myself picking it up and then putting it down and walking away, only to return again. Finally I thought, "This is ridiculous!" and opened the book. I looked through the titles of the articles. There was nothing dark to be seen. No hexes or recipes for Neighbor's Cat Stew. It seemed to be mostly about self-transformation, personal growth, and honoring the seasons. I bought the book. I read the whole thing and found some of it strange and foreign and other parts really beautiful. It wasn't long before other books started to make their way into my life. I am a firm believer that if you need to learn something, that lesson will come forth in one way or another.
I work at a library and some books were being discarded. I couldn't let that happen so I took them home and most of them went to Salvation Army. In the pile was, what else, a beginners guide to "Wicca". It was "Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner" by Scott Cunningham. I read that book cover to cover three times. It was like coming home. The Goddess was such a strange concept to me yet at the same time, felt so right. Finally, deity had balance! There was such a profound peace and comfort in meeting the Goddess. That was my first "ritual", if you could call it that. I went outside with a little crystal point I had, held it up to the moon and introduced myself to Goddess. I explained that I had only just learned about her and apologized for having gone so long without knowing. (What a Catholic, assuming my ignorance would hurt Her feelings.) The response I got was an overwhelming feeling of joy. The kind of joy we feel as kids running outside to play, with a whole summer day ahead of us and only lunch to get in the way. In this case lunch was probably my own misgivings and trepidation borne of a lifetime of being taught there was only one "right" way. Lunch did not last long.

This was only the beginning of a love story about me finding love for myself and finding peace in my relationship with Deity. As I've been a practicing witch now for about eight years, I'm on much more solid ground than I have ever been. I know that it's okay to question. Most importantly, it's okay for me to question myself and my beliefs and ways of doing things. So if I'm willing to question myself, and certainly willing to question others, I need to make myself available to the questions of others. I want to start, in my own little way, to make it more acceptable to be a witch.  As a way to start discussion and sort my thoughts so that they can be shared, I offer this post and many more to come, exploring the ideas I have about my faith. I have to say (and will continue to say) that every witch does things differently. We have different ways of viewing God and different ways of celebrating. I am not an authority on the Craft or Wicca. I am just one little witch - trying.