Sep 22, 2017

Death: the Eternal Other & the Secret Order of Priesthood

12: Delve into “Afterlife” or “Ancestors”. How do those ideas play out in your worldview? In your spiritual practice?

Death, like God, is a Great Unknowable.  I have, therefore, personified it as part of god--an aspect of the Eternal Other.  The Other encompasses several aspects of deity commonly feared:  Death, the Devil / Adversary, and the Trickster.  This archetype takes the form of Trickster in our youth, teaching us; Devil as we grow into adulthood; and Death as we near the end of our lives.  It is ever all three aspects, only the way we interact with it changes as we grow.  As Death, the Other is psychopomp, ruler of the underworld, and even the underworld itself.  If there is an afterlife, it is communion with the Other.

The secrets of death can only be revealed to those who have experienced it.  For me, the "afterlife" is the promise to earn this knowledge--what I have called the Secret Order of Priesthood.  For every divine archetype, there is an "Order of Priesthood," each with its own priests and rites--though these orders are less formal that an be found in most ecclesiastic traditions. Following this metaphor, an ancestor is a priest of this Order--having the authority to perform on our behalf those rites and rituals which we are not yet prepared to know or understand.  While not every ancestor seeks such an ordination, we cannot know which have or have not.  Therefore, we must treat all ancestors as priests.

In my book of shadows (lowercase because this is not a proper noun for me), I have a page early on entitled "The Family Departed."  Here, I have a list that includes: two great-grandparents (whom I did not meet, but are connected to me through my given name); four grandparents (only two of whom I met, one of which passesd away recently); a nephew who passed in infancy; a friend who took his own life; and a beloved pet.  These are the "ancestors" that I honor, and the ones I feel have authority to intercede on my behalf in whatever afterlife is to come.  I have considered adding elder ancestors to the list as well--in particular two patriarchs of my surname.

I do not claim to have any knowledge of what is beyond death.  I cannot know that.  Nor can I truly know the role our ancestors (or any other of the dead) could play in that scenario.  What makes sense to me is that this inability to know is paramount--and I respect that lack of capacity to understand.

Sep 21, 2017

Three Concepts

#10:  Discuss offerings.  What does that look like for you?
#11:  Engage with the theme of “sacrifice”  What does that mean to you?
#20:  ... Does “gratitude” have a role in your practice?

I choose to tackle these three prompts at once because, in my past, these concepts--Offerings, Sacrifice, and Gratitude--were all all connected with each other.  Coming from a conservative, [quasi-]Christian background, these terms have very particular meaning.  Because of this (at least in part), I have not considered these concepts much as they relate to my current path.

While preparing a personal/household communion a few days ago, I began to hum a hymn I used to sing in my youth.  Not only does this hymn embody all three concepts as they relate to the faith of my upbringing--humming it when I did drew attention to the fact that I was engaging in an act of offering.

"Because I Have Been Given Much" 
Because I have been given much,
I too must give;
Because of thy great bounty Lord,
Each day I live;
I shall divide my gifts from thee
With every brother that I see
Who has the need of help from me. 
Because I have been sheltered, fed
By thy good care;
I cannot see another’s lack and I not share;
My glowing fire, my loaf of bread,
my roof's safe shelter overhead
That he too may be comforted. 
Because I have been blessed by
thy great love dear Lord;
I’ll share thy love again
According to thy word;
I shall give love to those in need,
I’ll show that love by word and deed;
Thus shall my thanks be thanks in deed. 
Music by Phillip Landgrave (1975)
Lyrics by Grace Noll Crowell (1936)

As part of my personal path, I have adapted the "Sacrament" rite of the Mormon faith (called "Communion" by mainstream Christian tradition).  I use prayers modified to my archetypes to bless consumable emblems (usually bread and wine, but could just as easily be cookies and Kool-Aid), which I then partake of to forge a connection between me and the divine (and occasionally, my household community).  The portion which remains uneaten is left on the altar for a few days as a reminder of the rite--but could also be considered an offering to the Divine.  Offerings, for me, are therefore tied to communion.

As we are all reflections of the Eternal Child-becoming-Hero, this communion is also symbolic of the "Brotherhood of Humanity."  Here, the concepts and gratitude and sacrifice come to play.  To show gratitude to the universe for what I have, any excess should be shared with (scarified to) those in need.  Excess is an important distinction here.  I am responsible for seeing to my own needs and the needs of my family first--and if I cannot are for them, then I must seek assistance myself.

There are other forms of gratitude and sacrifice, ones more specific to neopagan practices, that I have not yet formalized as they relate to my path.  I do not harvest must from nature, so do not always  have a need to thank the spirits of the forest for their own sacrifice to my work.

Sep 15, 2017

"Zoramite" Spirituality 101

#8:  Recommend 3 books! 

I've already name-dropped several books in my response to #2.  For anyone interested in understanding me and my path, I would certainly recommend checking out the books mentioned in that post, as well as the following.  These could be considered the "texts" of an Introduction to Spirituality course in my personal tradition--or at least the direction it has taken in the last year.  I do not know if they are classics or even if they are respected in any way.  Heck, they even seem to draw from different traditions of witchcraft.  I do know that they helped me, in whole or in part, in discovering my current path.

Penczak, Christopher.  City Magick: Spells, Rituals, and Symbols for the Urban Witch. Weiser Books. San Francisco, Cali.; 2001, 2012.

While it opens as any other introduction to magick primer, it does so to establish a foundation for the hypothetical tradition to come.  The Worldscraper cosmology and the series of streetwalking meditations capture well the essence of the urban environment--as does Penczak's exploration of common city locales as magickal places.  My biggest takeaway from this book is that one's tradition can be personal--that it can be based on what has gone before, but still be tailored to one's own, preferred imagery.

Tyson, Donald.  The New Magus: Ritual Magic as a Personal Process.  Llewellyn Publications. St. Paul, Minn.; 1988.

The opening chapters of Tyson's "Macrocosm" section speak very closely to my understanding of the nature of the universe.  While I don't completely agree with everything Tyson says, there are alterations that he makes to "traditional" magic (based on his personal understanding) that just make sense to me. I'm still processing this book, reading it one or two sections at a time, so that I can appreciate his way of expressing perspectives that we share--and to at least understand those perspectives I do not agree with.  

Zell-Ravenheart, Oberon.  Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard.  New Page Books.  Franklin Lakes, N.J.; 2004.

Though geared for younger spell-workers starting their journey, there is a lot of information in this book.  It is the first place I saw a break-down of a full circle ritual--not just how to cast the circle, but but the peripheral and core stages of the ritual as well.  It serves as both a lesson manual and a reference book--kind of like a boy scout handbook for witches.  It collects in a single volume the random information that I otherwise find scattered across the internet.

Special Honorable Mention:

Crapo, E. N., ed.  The Salt and the Light.  Available online at:  Apr 2012 - Dec 2015.

This prose poetry project includes a lot about my thought on the nature of spirituality, as well as insight into my take on channeling and revelation.  Not every section should be taken as seriously as others. I am currently working on a compilation and revision of these "revelations" called the Unorganite Testament.  In this revision, I am removing those sections which were written solely to prove one point or another, and I am leaving those portions which I consider relevant to my current path.  Some sections will be in their own "books," the rest will be renumbered in relatively the same order (as the "Book of Hoteph"), and new revelations are being added. Such a revision and compilation is consistent with the tradition I originally chose to mimic.  Spiritually is fluid, and revision of divine revelation reflects that.
Please keep in mind that I do not believe that I have a unique, personal relationship with "GOD" that allows me to act as "his" mouthpiece [for anyone other than myself].  Indeed, many of these sections have no revealing entity at all.  They are automatic writings edited from my own experiences. 

Sep 13, 2017

Primer on Accentual Meter

#7: Teach/Describe a craft or skill that's tied to your spirituality.

Language is an important aspect of ritual--both the words that are spoken, and the way in which they are said.  By manipulating the rhythms of language, you can produce powerful and memorable passages.  My personal meditative practices include mantras, which are (basically) short prayers that are repeated for the purpose of calming, centering, grounding, charging, and so forth.  As I use a mantra, I modify it over time to be easy to remember, recite, and repeat.  These modifications take the form of word substitutions, grammatical elision, and minor expansion to make the words naturally fit into a rhythmic meter.
I taught Introduction to Poetry for several semesters at Chester College of New England and Introduction to Creative Writing on occasion at Southern New Hampshire University.  What follows is an adaptation of a handout I produced for my students.
Poetically speaking, English is an accentual-syllabic language--having inherited its accentual nature from its Germanic roots, and its syllabic nature from its Romance roots.  This means that modern English poetry is analyzed not only in terms of its syllable count, but also on the frequency of stressed (or accented) syllables.  The oldest English poetry is purely accentual, however; it was written with a regular number of stressed syllables per line.  I tend to call these syllables beats.  In regards to chants, mantras, and similar ritual language, accentual verse is ideal:  it keeps lines feeling uniform in length (making then easy to recite), while allowing freedom of expression.  So long as each "line" of your text is regular in terms of beats, you can use as many filler syllables as you need to convey the appropriate meaning.

All words of two or more syllables have at least one that is stressed (sometimes said to be emphasized) more than the others.  This syllable could be louder, longer, or at a different pitch (higher or lower) than the other syllables of a word.  When words collect into sentences, these syllables remain more "important;" but some one-syllable words can be elevated to a relatively stronger stress, too.  Together, these are the beats of the sentence.  To demonstrate, here is an exercise to help you recognize beats:

Take your favorite pre-written spell, chant, prayer, or passage of poetry.  Using the guide below, mark the syllables as noted (use pencil, several marks will change as you go step by step):
The font on my blog is small.  The symbols you will be using above your syllables look like:  U for unstressed syllable, / [forward slash] for primary-stress syllables, and \ [backslash] for secondary stress syllables.
  1. Mark all unimportant single-syllable words (such as articles, prepositions, and conjunctions), without stress [˘].
  2. Mark all semi-important single-syllable words (such as pronouns [personal or demonstrative] and conjugations of the verbs to have [have/has/had/etc.] and to be [am/are/is/was/etc.]) with secondary stresses [`].
  3. Mark all important single-syllable words (such as verbs, nouns, and interjections) with primary stresses [´].
  4. Consider each word of two or more syllables:
    1. Mark the predominantly accented syllable in each word with primary stress [´]. The primary stress of a word usually (but not always) coincides with long vowel sounds.
    2. In words of three or more syllables, mark any secondarily accented syllables with secondary stress [`].
    3. Mark the remaining syllables of the word without stress [˘].
    4. If you cannot hear a word’s accent, consult the pronunciation guide in a dictionary.
  5. Look for syllables that are rhetorically stressed by means of italics, capitalization, or some other typographical or grammatical ploy. Mark these with a primary stress [´].
  6. Look for any string of three or more unstressed syllables; mark the one (usually in the middle) which has the most prominent accent with secondary stress [`].
  7. Look for any string of three or more primary stressed syllables; mark the one (usually in the middle) which has the least prominent accent with secondary stress [`].
  8. Look for any string of two or more secondary stressed syllables; mark the one which has the most prominent accent with primary stress [´], and mark the rest without stress [˘].
  9. Convert remaining secondary stresses:
    1. If a secondary stress precedes or follows a primary stress, convert it to an unstressed syllable.
    2. Convert all other secondary stresses to primary stresses.
  10. If there is a rhetorical pause in the middle of a line, mark it [||].
    1. Pauses typically occur at punctuation--often periods (.), [non-list] commas (,), or semicolons (;).
    2. The end of a clause not marked by punctuation could also be a pause; mark the pause in the space after the end of the clause. 
What patterns do you recognize?  Are the pauses at about the same place in each line?  How may beats are before an after each?  Generally, a line a text will naturally have a pause approximately halfway through--with the same number of beats before it in each line, and the safe number of beats after it in each line.  These beats and paused create the rhythm of the line.  Lines with regular rhythm are easy to pronounce and easy to listen to--which make them ideal for ritual use.  The next time to craft your own text for a spell or mantra, keep its rhythm in mind.

* * * * *

Here are a few extra thoughts to consider when composing lines of ritual text:
  • A line does not need to be a sentence.  It can be part of a sentence, more than one sentence, or even a full sentence with part of another.  Lines may break after natural clauses, or may be broken within clauses for artistic effect.
  • Rhyme is another complicated issue (that I would like to write about in the future); lines do not need to rhyme.  If you are comfortable with rhyme, go for it--but do not feel obligated to.
  • You can slow down a line by adding extra unstressed syllables; or speed it up by removing some (popular candidates for removal are articles [a/an/the]).

Sep 11, 2017

Ooh! Squirrel!

#9: What do you do when it is hard to continue your spiritual practice or feel connected spiritually?

Honestly, I just stop trying.  I don't give up.  I just accept that might mind is not in a place to deal with spiritual matters.  If I cannot focus, then no spell I work or meditation I try could accomplish anything.  So I don't force it.  My mind will always do what it wants, so I let it.  I let it run wherever it wants to run; I let it learn whatever it wants to learn; and I let it create whatever it wants to create.  Eventually, my mind will tire itself out, and my spirit will take over to work whatever recovery that needs to be done.

You may notice that this answer is being posted out of order ... and a couple days after the last. My mind is on a journey right now, but it will come back.  There will be time for my spirit once again, I'm not worried.  I'll keep looking back on upcoming prompts, and see which one my mind wants to let my spirit explore.