Religious Cosmology – Making Sense of the Universe

“He who does not know what the world is does not know where he is, and he who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Pythagorean's Hearth of the Universe

The diagram is not to scale, and the planets are aligned for convenience in illustration; generally they were distributed around the spheres.

In 1994, the Czech poet-president Vaclav Havel stated during a speech about the state of the world that “We may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us….”

“The Universe” is a word that we invented to describe everything we can imagine. Cosmology is the study of the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of that universe.  Physical cosmology is exploring these questions from a scientific viewpoint, while esoteric or spiritual cosmology concerns itself with the philosophical questions of our place in the universe, the nature of reality beyond its physicality, and understanding and explaining why everything came to be.  The primary source of esoteric/religious cosmology is from our historical, mythological, religious, and esoteric literature, as well as our traditions.

Ancient Cosmology

Anthropologists tell us that in almost all traditional cultures, its religious/esoteric cosmology that gives its members their fundamental sense of where they come from, who they are, and what their purpose is in life’s larger picture.  The stories that they create and share explain their sacred relationship with that universe.

Ancient cosmology started with stories and myths, but soon expanded to include elements of philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy. For example, the earliest Greek cosmology myths identified the planets with the Ancient Roman gods Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and found that they were divine enough to influence people’s lives.  The Pythagoreans created a cosmology that included mathematics, music and astronomy.  They described a universe consisting of all the visible heavenly bodies, including the sun, revolving around a central fire invisible to human eyes. However, the Greek philosopher Aristotle proposed that the heavens were literally composed of 55 concentric, crystalline spheres to which the celestial objects were attached and which rotated at different velocities (but the angular velocity was constant for a given sphere), with the Earth at the center.  They also believed that as they moved, they gave forth musical sounds, “the harmony of the spheres.”  The earth being the center of our universe became the predominant cosmological view until the Middle Ages, and ancient religious and societal structures were created based on this view.

As we gained a greater scientific understanding of space, Galileo, Kepler and the other proponents of a heliocentric system introduced a universe that was empty space, vast distances, no center, no purpose, no place for God, and no obvious implications for human behavior.  This resulted in disrupting these ancient religious and societal structures and beliefs, and sometimes in very profound ways.  Blaise Pascal wrote, “engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I am terrified…. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces alarms me.”

Modern Cosmology

Today religion and science seems to be at odds because they present apparently conflicting and opposing views of cosmology in western civilization today:

  • The cosmos is created and ruled by a Distant Patriarch. (View held by most Abrahamic Religions)
  • The cosmos is a Grand Machine. (View held by Science)
  • The cosmos is a manifestation of a spiritual intelligence. (Pantheism, Panentheism)

Contemporary Pagans have generally adopted the third view and see the Divine and the universe as identical (pantheism) or see the Divine as greater than the universe but contained within her (panentheism).  While Pantheism sees everything as sacred and divine, panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.  In either case, Contemporary Pagans view the universe as an expression of the Divine and have created a spirituality based on a sacred journey of discovery and connecting.

Cosmology Myths

Science has made us more knowledgeable of the physical universe and perhaps it has made it harder for us to find value it the cosmology myths of ancients.  Their stories may even appear a bit silly to modern eyes.  But there is still great value in them.  Our cosmology myths are rooted in our culture and provide us a constant reminder of who we are and where we come from.  They help us identify our cultural heritage and allows us to keep that heritage alive.  They illustrate basic paradigms that are intrinsic to that culture; and intrinsic to their aspirations and dreams.  They foster a shared set of perspectives, values, history and creates a connection to one another, to our ancestors, to the natural world surrounding us, and to society.

Because Contemporary Pagans feel that human beings have become tragically disconnected from the natural world and have desacralized nature, we have found great value and truths in these ancient stories and myths.  We often create spiritual practices  based on the ideas expressed in these stories.  We seek to reconnect to Divine’s creations, and thereby connecting to the Divine. By reconnecting to the universe, we learn to interact with it.  We see the cosmology myths allow us to transcend our common lives into a vast universe that fascinates us, inspires us, and enables us to look outside ourselves.  They provide explanations where philosophical or scientific discourse would be incomprehensible.  They give purpose and guidelines for living.  They stimulate our imagination and feelings, where the effect can be more profound and life-changing than that from intellectual comprehension.

For example, some lessons that the Norse cosmogony story in which Odin and his brothers slew Ymir and set about constructing the world from his corpse, might include:

  1. Life comes from Death. Creation never occurs in a vacuum. Destruction of what exists before creation is often necessary.
  2. Flesh and Matter. That the visible world is the organic manifestation of spirit, as opposed to a transcendent Divine.
  3. Creation as ongoing and participatory. All of the inhabitants of the Nine Worlds have some role, some agency, in the creation process, however great or small.

Conclusion

Physical and religious/esoteric cosmology should not be at odds, but have two different but similar roles.  Together they answer the biggest ‘Why’, and hence, they are valuable.   But while physical cosmology provides scientific answers to satisfy our intellectual curiosity, religious/esoteric cosmology enables us to confront our most basic human truths and gives us the opportunity to better understand them, learn from them, and possibly even apply them to our own everyday life.

Contemporary Pagans understand the difference between science and religion, and does not find them in contention.  Where religious/esoteric cosmology does not accurate reflect our physical cosmology, they find that it can still provides us a valid way to look at the world and attain spiritual growth.

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From Chapter 3, Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, by Charles G. Leland, [1899]:

Important Note:  Do not stereotype Lucifer or Diana from a Abrahamic religious viewpoint.

Diana was the first created before all creation; in her were all things; out of herself, the first darkness, she divided herself; into darkness and light she was divided. Lucifer, her brother and son, herself and her other half, was the light.

And when Diana saw that the light was so beautiful, the light which was her other half, her brother Lucifer, she yearned for it with exceeding great desire. Wishing to receive the light again into her darkness, to swallow it up in rapture, in delight, she trembled with desire. This desire was the Dawn.

But Lucifer, the light, fled from her, and would not yield to her wishes; he was the light which files into the most distant parts of heaven, the mouse which flies before the cat.

Then Diana went to the fathers of the Beginning, to the mothers, the spirits who were before the first spirit, and lamented unto them that she could not prevail with Lucifer. And they praised her for her courage, they told her that to rise she must fall; to become the chief of goddesses she must become a mortal.

And in the ages, in the course of time, when the world was made, Diana went on earth, as did Lucifer, who had fallen, and Diana taught magic and sorcery, whence came witches and fairies and goblins–all that is like man, yet not mortal.

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Worshiping the Divine in a Contemporary Pagan Way

Pagan AltarContemporary Pagans see the Divine in many diverse ways. Some see many distinct Gods and Goddesses, some as one or two, some as archetypes, some as within nature, and others as nature itself. By not being tied down by the customs of an established religion or by the dogmas of a revealed one, Pagans interact with the Divine in very creative, individualistic, and even playful ways.

The word “worship” comes from the Old English weordhscipe meaning to honor or give worth to something. Pagan worship is mainly concerned with connection to, and the honoring of, immanent Divine. It is a religion that worships the Divine not by submission or with the view that we are defective and broke, but that we are manifestations of the Divine.   Most importantly, we have sovereignty.

We render honor and respect, not submission, and we retain our sovereignty when dealing with the Gods even if we are not their equals.  To understand sovereignty in its Pagan sense, is to know that we own nothing and no one — not our spouse, not our children, not our world, and not our Gods — nor does anyone or anything own us.  We are the stewards of the things in our possession and the people in our care. We nurture them as a farmer would nurture their crops. Our sovereignty flows from our inherent worth, value and rights.

Rituals is one means by which we communicate with the Divine. We communicate not only with our voice and conscious minds, but through our emotions and the depths of the unconscious mind. We invite the Divine to our rituals.  We prepare our ritual space for our honored guest, we dress up, we set out things to make them feel more welcome, we play their favorite music, we display their favorite colors and items, and we even offer food and drink.  We honor their presence with us  with human hospitality not because we consider them human, but because as humans that is how we can relate to them.  There is a moment that, as good hosts, we acknowledge and thank them for their presence and honor them.

Most rituals tend to be celebratory in nature, especially those associated with the Pagan Wheel of the Year.  During this events, the ritual is not focused on worshiping the Divine, but rather worshiping WITH them.

Most day-to-day Pagan worship is done through reading and retelling their myths, creating altars and shrines, wearing symbols and tokens inspired by them, and acting and living as they would expect us to. We seek to build a relationship. We get to know them.  We make a space for them. We talk and listen to them and heed their counsel. And we thank them when it is appropriate to do so.

But the most important way we worship the Divine is by improving ourselves. Pagan worship is not appeasement, but rather telling our best friend, thank you!

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Mercury Retrograde and Chicken Little

“He knew that all the hazards and perils were now drawing together to a point: the next day would be a day of doom, the day of final effort or disaster, the last gasp.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

 

1I always find it disappointing when I see people warn each other when Mercury is in retrograde, especially with silly Facebook postings.  It is even more depressing when I see people blame things on it.  It seems like the magickal community, at least those that have chosen not to put any depth into their studies, goes into a panic mode during these time as if a cloud of doom is passing by.

WHAT IS RETROGRADE?

If we watch the sun, moon and planets in the sky, they appear to rotate around us from east to west even though we know that they really rotate around the sun.  Because of this illusion, they sometimes appear to slow down, stop, and reverse direction! Every planets exhibits this behavior, and Mercury will exhibit this behavior three or four times a year for about three weeks each time.

SEEING THE DIVINE IN THE PLANETS

Many Contemporary Pagans will look skyward and see the Divine there. The see a cosmic dance on the grand scale that is often summarized using the simplified phrase from the Emerald Tablet “As above, so below.”  Great men have sought to map meaning to these movements in order to better understand the Divine and the physical world around us.

Over time, common attributes and associations were derived based on the individual object, its behavior, and its relationship to other celestial bodies.   In determining their influence on individuals, they are often further mapped to their date of birth.

THE INFLUENCE OF MERCURY

The Romans knew of seven bright objects in the sky: the Sun, the Moon, and the five brightest planets. They named them after their most important gods.  Because Mercury was the fastest planet as it moved around the Sun, it was named after the Roman messenger god Mercury.

The God Mercury was commonly associated with travel and borders, roads, travel, and foreign lands.  He was often petitioned for safety before embarking upon a journey.  He was also associated with trade and commerce, prosperity, abundance, and success; which lead to associations with luck and good fortune.

Even today, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, Mercury is associated with “communication, travel, contracts, automobiles, and such.” (http://www.almanac.com/content/mercury-retrograde)

THE INFLUENCE OF RETROGRADE

The retrograde behavior of Mercury is often taken to have a negative influence on those things associate to it.  Communications is hampered, travel is disrupted, commerce is disrupted.

But you should never insulate the Mercury retrograde behavior from the influence of all the other bodies.  We all know that life is a sum of many interactions.   Nor should we believe that Mercury Retrograde is the most important influence happening and thereby trumping all other influences.

It is precarious generalizing its effect on all individuals as we are all unique.  Some astrologers believe that those born during a retrograde (which is a significant considering it happens 3-4 times a year) can actually make you immune from its affects and might actually be beneficial.

CONCLUSION

I unfortunately see the panic created by Mercury retrograde as another step toward the dumbing down of Paganism and the aversion of some Pagans to reading anything of substance and their addiction to digital “crap” via social media.  Though I will not argue against personal revelation over careful research, I do believe that you have a personal responsibility to research and apply critical thinking to statements made by others.

So what should you do or not do during Mercury retrograde?  In the end, it may not matter what we believe, but more about how we use those beliefs to influence our daily lives.  If you feel strongly about the influence of Mercury Retrograde on your life, then instead of hunkering down with your hands over your heads, and blaming your misfortune on a tiny planet 48 million miles away, look at it as an opportunity to reconsider and reflect.  Control your life and do not let Mercury control you!  Pay more attention to your writing and speaking skills and consider ways to improve them.  Put more thought into your trips and make them more safe and fun.  And for celestial heaven’s sake, take some personal responsibility!

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I love you, but I do not like you very much right now.

1“We fell in love, despite our differences, and once we did, something rare and beautiful was created.” – Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

One time when my wife and I calmed down from a passionate disagreement (mind you, we are both Cancer’s), and she stated: “Honey, I love you, but I do not like you very much right now.”  Wow!  What a statement.    Love is not a degree of how much we liked each other, but is something much greater than that.  Love transcends even the most heated moments.

Religion can be a divisive tool as it allows one group to be defined and divided from another.  But the reality is that we live in an interconnected world, and as such, we need to learn better ways to interact with each other despite our religious differences.  We are all a giant community now.  We live in a religiously diverse world with examples like Jewish presidential hopeful (Bernie Sanders),  Pentacles and Mjolnir (Thor’s Hammer) being authorized on veteran headstones, and Sikh soldiers in the US Army being authorized to wear dastaars (turbans) and keep their unshorn hair and beards as part of their uniform.  Unfortunately whenever one group can unite against an opposing group, persecution and suffering is often the result.  We see it in the Islamaphobia overtaking the United States, the political battles regarding gay rights or Planned Parenthood, and in the atrocities being committed by ISIL all in the name of religion.

So how do we get along when we have such a variety of different religious beliefs, practices and thoughts?  Even if we do not like each other, how we still interact with one another in love?

First, we must commit to wanting to live together in peace.  I do believe that conflict is a natural part of human nature. The modern world is a collection of conflicting viewpoints and dysfunctional behavior, but we must commit to the idea that getting along is both a noble and practical goal.  That does not mean that we cannot continue to have conflicts, we just must learn to confront them in peaceful and productive ways.  The great irony of conflict is that it is critical to growth.   The key is to learn how to have conflict in a useful and productive manner.

“I refuse to allow any man-made differences to separate me from any other human beings.” – Maya Angelou

Second, we must learn and accept the differences between us.  A lot of fear and angst about other religions is often based on inaccurate assumptions.  When you are educating yourself about other religions, you cannot have a closed mind. You actually need to be really open to learning and you are truly being receptive.  This doesn’t mean you have to convert, and it is acceptable to agree to disagree on some things.

“Now that I am no longer a child, I can see, that God is the God who can see the black and the white and the grey, too, and He dances on the grey! Grey is okay.” ― C. JoyBell C.

Third, embrace the differences between us.  Differences can help you stretch what you think and know.  Consider your own life, and everything that has shaped your beliefs.  Realize that everyone on this planet as their own story.  When you meet anyone, try to imagine, understand, and sympathize with that person’s story.  Challenge yourself to appreciate the differences of others and see them as being able to provide you insights into your own religion.

The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.” ― Eric Berne

Fourth, embrace the similarities between us.  As you find similarities between your religion and others, you will find areas in which you can work together.  Focus on beliefs that you share about God and teachings that are similar in both your religions. You may find out you have more in common than you thought.

“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” – Linda Ellerbee

Fifth, avoid stereotypes.  Don’t allow yourself to define a person based upon one stereotype about one aspect of their complex identity.  Just as most Christians would disagree that the KKK, Fred Phelps, Timothy McVey, or Pat Robertson defines Christianity, avoid making similar leaps when viewing the actions of isolated groups of other religions.

“People are much deeper than stereotypes. That’s the first place our minds go. Then you get to know them and you hear their stories, and you say, ‘I’d have never guessed.” – Carson Kressley

Sixth, clarify your own religious identity. Make sure you understand your own religion.  Defensiveness is often disguised as insecurity.  People quite often become defensive about things they doubt or are unsure of.   Apologetics comes from the Greek word “apologia” which means “to give a defense.”  In a general sense, anytime a person is asked to defend a position or a belief in some system, he is asked for an apologetic.  Good apologetics needs to be based on reason, it needs to be knowledgeable, and it needs to be done in a spirit of gentleness and respect.  In addition to strengthening your own faith, learning apologetics can turn what used to be threatening discussions into a desire to speak up and share.

“The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also. I would not interfere with any one’s religion, either to strengthen it or to weaken it. I am not able to believe one’s religion can affect his hereafter one way or the other, no matter what that religion may be. But it may easily be a great comfort to him in this life–hence it is a valuable possession to him.”  – Mark Twain, a Biography

Seventh, participate in other religious practices.  Attending the service of other religions doesn’t mean that you are converting, but it does help provide you understanding that could rarely be achieved through just discussion or reading.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Finally, enjoy other faiths.  Each faith has wonderful aspects that can be enjoyed from celebrations to perspectives.  Do not feel guilty if you admire an aspect of another religion.

“Love is the true means by which the world is enjoyed: our love to others, and others love to us.” – Thomas Traherne

We must put aside the idea of “otherness.”  When it comes to any person of faith, we need to realize that we are always talking about “us.”  We have to respect that each individual is different.  We should respect those difference and realize that each of our paths, in their own special and different way, call us to love and to be loving.

“Respect… is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.” – Annie Gottlieb

It is ridiculous that we would miss out on all the ways in which we could benefit from each other, grow from each other and expand our own world view, just because we have different religious beliefs.

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Celebrating the Winter Solstice as a Contemporary Pagan

Reflecting on ChristmasBecause Contemporary Paganism is a new religion that is only just now integrating second generation practitioners, most of us grew up with the same secular images of the holidays that included Christmas trees, reindeer, and, of course, Santa Claus. We may bake gingerbread cookies, sing Christmas carols, decorate the indoors of our houses with holly and evergreens, the outside with lights and inflatable snow globes, and we, of course, exchange presents.

Contemporary Pagans also take this time to celebrate the Winter Solstice, one of the annual cycle of seasonal festivals that we call the Wheel of the Year. The Winter Solstice, which fell on December 21st this year in the Central Time Zone, is recognized by Pagans as a time in which many pre-Christian and modern civilizations celebrated the “rebirth” of the sun and when daylight reversed course and started to get longer. This natural phenomena is a centerpiece of many religious practices and mythologies practiced around the world even today. The common Pagan name used for this sabbat is Yule which was adopted from a pre-Christian festival of the Germanic peoples, though many Contemporary Pagans have chosen to adopt names, practices and mythologies from many other cultures, or even a syncretic mixture of several.

Contemporary Pagans enjoy discovering ancient traditions practiced during this time of the year and incorporating it into their own traditions for a great many reasons. Sometimes it is because they are a lot like heirlooms that strengthen our sense of history and belonging to a particular culture. Other times it might be to embrace the spiritual practices of our forefathers and possibly provide us new perspectives. Often times it is just fun.

Most people today are familiar with many of these ancient practices as they have crept into our mainstream secular holiday practices. These syncretic mixtures of many cultures include wreaths, poinsettias, mistletoe, gift giving, Christmas trees, Yule Logs, and even Santa Claus himself.

As with most sabbats, this is a time in which Contemporary Pagans like to celebrate rituals. There were many rituals celebrated the weeks surrounding the solstice, but I was only able to attend two of them. Both were both more communal than liturgical. At one, the Celtic God and Goddess Cernunnos and Brigid were invoked and we were reminded of the mythology regarding the Holly and Oak King. At another, they mentioned the mythology of the Holly/Oak King also but also introduced Cailleach, the divine hag of Gaelic mythology that is often associated with winter. At both events, I felt challenged to reflect on the messages of these mythologies. Each ritual was followed by potlucks afterwards where we enjoyed each other’s company, and one included a gift exchange.

I also visited the local Unitarian Universalist Church on the Sunday’s before and after the solstice. The Unitarian Universalist Church is an accepting denomination that many Pagans have joined who desire a more congregational approach to their spiritual practices. The first Sunday was a children’s presentation where they enacted a beautiful and reflective play whereby each child discussed how we could become “lights” from different faith perspectives. The Sunday afterwards was equally enlightening as a guest minister, a self-defined Pagan, gave an equally reflective sermon on the UU principles as they pertained to the three ingredients of fire: fuel, oxygen, and spark which was used as metaphors for community, outreach/activism and passion. Again drawing on the symbolism of the increasing daylight.

December 25th was another special day for many Contemporary Pagans this year as it was also a full moon. This rare event will not happen again until 2034. The full moon has long had an aura of mystery and magic about it. Many Pagans and Wiccans choose to celebrate the full moon with a monthly ritual, but because it was so close to a Sabbat, I believe most probably just took this opportunity to enjoy it.

Lastly, my wife and I enjoyed several evenings with our family. As empty nesters with grown children, this was an opportunity to join our other relatives as we feasted and shared presents. Of course the highlights were watching the excitement of the children during these events.

Though a lot of my activity this holiday season consisted of connecting with friends and family in both secular and religious settings, I did take this time to reflect using the spiritual practices that I have adopted as a Pagan who finds inspiration in nature. Winter is a time where time slows down. Snow blankets, covers, warms, and hides the land. The land rests and recovers from the previous growing year. As a time of darkness, it is time for self-examination, warts and all. What is useful? What is not? It is a time to consider my own counsel, my own needs. Inspired by the increasing daylight, what “light” do I want to grow in my own life? What can I do to prepare myself for growth? It is a time to learn from the past, but mostly a time to look forward to the coming Spring. To some, these sound like “new year’s resolutions.” I even read one Pagan calling this “Pagan Lent” referring to how we often choose this time for making auspicious changes. It is another time in the cycle to plot the course of my journey.

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Faith and Belief in Wicca

1 (300x225)If you ask most people, they’ll tell you that faith, belief, and knowing are the same thing, especially when dealing with matters of religion.

Beliefs are things that we are thoroughly convinced of. Beliefs are based on sound logic and is based on proof. Usually (but not always) they are ideas and concepts that we gather through acquiring information and experience. Because of that, our beliefs can change over time as we gain more knowledge and experience more things throughout our lives. Belief can be based on the probability of an outcome.

Faith is trusting beyond all reason and evidence. Faith is an attitude of acceptance of not knowing. Faith can still exist even when you have lost your belief. Faith is often associated with religion and an unquestioning trust in a God/dess.  In those religions that have doctrine and dogma, it is trusting what is written as truth.

Knowing is based on our experience. In knowing something, we do not think or speculate about it. We perceive it so deeply within ourselves as true that we don’t have to discuss it, and no matter what anyone else says about it, it does not alter our reality. To experience something is to know it.

The Abrahamic religious framework is based on the faith in a singular God whose revealed word is captured in the Bible which is why it sometimes called a “revealed” religion. Their religious practices consist of understanding and practicing the directives outlined in the book.  Having faith in God is seen as different from having a belief in God as trust versus proof is expected.  Trying to link them can sometimes lead to a crisis of faith when beliefs are changed or proven wrong.

THE MYSTERY

“And you who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.” ~ Charge of the Goddess

Wicca is a paradigm shift from Abrahamic religious practices that involves faith or belief. It is the pursuit of learning about (and reconnecting to) the God/dess by searching within.  It is an active, not a passive, quest.  It is about seeking out religious experiences to attain a new and profound sense of awareness or understanding of the God/dess, a truth, or other religious expressions.

Wicca is an Initiatory religion descended from the Ancient Mystery Religions.  As Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone point out in Progressive Witchcraft, “the mystery practices of modern Wicca seem to have been drawn from the Mediterranean, specifically the Greek and Egyptian cultures and their established Priesthoods, rather than any form of Northern or Western European village or tribal magical practice whose mystery practices would have surely been more Shamanically inclined”.

Mystery religions are thus called not just because some aspects of the traditions were kept secret, but because the experiences conveyed by the rituals were too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words.  They emphasize religious experience (sometimes known as a spiritual experience, sacred experience, or mystical experience) over belief or faith.  Their religious framework is often based on creating rituals or rites to help create religious experiences for the participants.  A religious framework is built to enact and help interpret these religious experiences.

Wicca is also a religion of personal experience and responsibility, where each worshiper is encouraged, taught and expected to develop an ongoing and positive direct relationship with the Gods.  This personal relationship makes it difficult, if not impossible, to answer the question about what all Wiccans believe.  Wiccans see their commonality as not their beliefs or understanding, but the processes or religious framework that is used to attain that understanding. It is the techniques we use, not the results.

Wiccans from the same tradition that share the same religious framework do often find that they share a similar set of experiences though.  This is why it is common practice to not share or only give very vague details of those experiences to newcomers. Newcomers are encouraged and mentored to derive their own interpretations and conclusions, thereby allowing each person to claim a unique understanding and lesson and not just an assimilation of the experiences of the rest of the group.

CONCLUSION

Instead, of having belief or faith in something already revealed, Wiccans generally follow a path that allows them to explore the mystery themselves through self-exploration.  The writer Oscar Wilde observed that, “The final mystery is oneself,” a fitting reminder that one of the hardest things in life is to truly understand who you are and what you were made to do.  That understanding allows us to find a personal numinous connection with the Divine.  We become the creators of our own reality, the microcosm in the same way as Goddess created the entire universe or the macrocosm.

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Spiritual Growth During the Winter Cycle

winter“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
― Albert Camus
The Abrahamic religions practice that time is linear, beginning with the act of creation by God and that time will end with the end of the present order of things. Ancient cultures such as Incan, Mayan, Babylonians, Ancient Greeks, Hinduism, Buddhists, Jainists, and others saw time as cyclical.  For example in Indian religions, the cycle of birth and rebirth is fundamentally thought as a menace from which an individual soul, atman, gradually escapes and merges with the Universal Soul, Brahman.  In Buddhism, the process of escape is called the attainment of nirvana.  Hindu cosmology, for example, teaches that the universe goes through repeated cycles of creation, destruction and rebirth every 4320 million years.

In the oldest Celtic calendar, the Coligny calendar, the Celts divided their lunar month into a dark and a bright fortnight (or half a moon cycle).  The Celtic year was further divided into a dark half starting on Samhain and ending through Beltainne, with the remained considered the light half. Using the Celtic model of the year, we can see that earth rests and refreshes herself during the dark half, and during the light half of the year new life is brought forth and grows into maturity. In the dark half the energy of the earth is directed inward with the purpose of replenishment, and during the light half, she is focused outward with the purpose of manifestation.

Contemporary Pagans generally sees time as cyclical also.  We also see our spiritual growth as a continuous cycling through new realizations, maturing wisdom, releasing of old patterns, and personal transformation.  In our spiritual practices, we often tie our rituals and spiritual practices to these cycles of time.  For example, most Pagans celebrate the Wheel of the Year, an annual cycle of seasonal festivals.

In the Wiccan tradition that I was trained in, the Correllian-Nativist Tradition, we divide time into a Dark and Light halves.  The Dark half is for contemplation, inner workings, examination of the inner levels of the self, releasing that which one has outgrown.  The Light half is when energy flows outward and it is a time for physical manifestation, creation, beginning of new projects.  The halves propel each other forward, each in its own way. It is a perpetual cycle of consolidation (Dark) followed by growth (Light) followed by consolidation (Dark) followed by still more growth (Light).  In a 24 hour period the Dark half is Night, the Light half Day. In the monthly cycle of the Moon the Dark half is the Waning Moon (From Full Moon to New Moon) and the Light half is the Waxing Moon (From New Moon to Full Moon).  These Light and Dark halves of time are a constant reminder that one without the other is incomplete. That action without contemplation is foolhardy. That contemplation without positive change is useless.

Though we have entered the Dark cycle of the year with cold evenings and the early sunsets, it is also a time to reflect on who we were, who we are and all we hope to one day become.  It is important to be introspective as our minds and hearts have much to offer if only we let ourselves look inside.  Though the cold of winter is knocking on nature’s door, this is not a time of remorse for the light that is lost, but is instead a time to embrace the darkness and mystery of our own selves.

 

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