Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Grace of Integrity

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.  Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.  Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.  Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.  Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.  But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.  ~Buddha

What is integrity? And what does it mean for the Wiccan faith? Wikipedia defines integrity as, “A concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes. In western ethics, integrity is regarded as the quality of having an intuitive sense of honesty and truthfulness in regard to the motivations for one's actions.  Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.” In this definition we see three themes: Integrity as a consistency of a number of things, integrity as the intuitive sense of honesty and truthfulness, and integrity as the opposite of hypocrisy. Each of these concepts can be further explored within the Wiccan religion.

The first part of this concept, “a consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes,” asks a very important question. Whose actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes? Society? Religion? Personal Belief? I feel this directly links to Wicca because it is such a personal religion in itself. Everyone practices differently, maybe with similar aspects, but there is no one source to find information and no one to monitor your spiritual growth but yourself. This is often very difficult for many beginners on the Pagan path and the knowledge of any one person can never truly be measured as there is nothing to measure it against. On my own personal search I’ve found a number of books that were extremely useful and others that, unfortunately, were not. I’ve even found books that claim to “tell the truth” about the Wiccan religion that are nothing but Christian propaganda against the religion. So where is the consistency? Christians hold their basis for the way they live their lives in the Bible. Wiccans have the Rede, ”’An Ye Harm None, Do As Ye Will” but as most of us know, “harm” can be a very tricky word to interpret. It is essentially up to the individual to define what is right and wrong in respect to their own personal beliefs and ideals, and Wicca is a religion that encourages this type of thinking. Wiccan author, Wren Walker, writes,Witchcraft and Wicca are religions of personal power and responsibility. If you are not willing to do the work of discernment and introspection-to formulate a set of integrated values for yourself-then Witchcraft and Wicca are probably not for you.”

Going back to Wikipedia, “In western ethics, integrity is regarded as the quality of having an intuitive sense of honesty and truthfulness in regard to the motivations for one's actions.”   In Wiccan ethics, honesty and truthfulness are only two motivations for our actions. One often hears the word “honour” when thinking of the ethics for most Pagans. I like to think of it as a “WWGD – What Would Goddess Do?” After all, isn’t that the whole purpose to this project? But honour can also lead to a heap of controversy in itself. Which God/ess/es you choose to honour and how you choose to honour them can often get wrapped up into the integrity debate. Kaatryn MacMorgan-Douglas makes her case as she writes, “Many Wiccans do not follow a path of intellectual integrity. They do not honor the sources of their beliefs, and many, including some authors, outright lie about the cultures they borrow from. They act like the many people who attacked the indigenous cultures and led to the need to reconstruct the natural religions of their people -just as horned gods became Satan in the eyes of Christianity, real deities with responsibilities to their people and active relationships with them become mere "aspects of the all" to many Wiccans or interchangeable faces of male and female power. These Wiccans interpret these deities in modern ways, which is not the problem, the problem lies in the belief that these interpretations ARE the truth, and often the insistence that reconstructionists conform to their new, improved truth.” Although I feel she makes a pretty clear case, I feel that one needs to honour with reverence no matter who they choose. This is a good rule of thumb to follow and speaks to the grace of gratitude as well.

Finally, “Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.” This is where I think that integrity has to be measured firstly from within someone’s own system of belief. Their behaviour as viewed by other ethical systems is also important, but comes second. We may associate ourselves with people and societies that hold similar beliefs about integrity, but will often have some conflicting ideas as well. Integrity requires us to do what we feel is right even when it may cost us personally. “No man can purchase his virtue too dear, for it is the only thing whose value must ever increase with the price it has cost us. Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it.” Ovid said this and it is only too true.

In my personal opinion, integrity is also about doing what you say you are going to do. It is important to keep to your own ethical standards in order to preserve you own integrity. This is where we as Wiccans need to define our principles and ethics, maybe even define “Harm” for ourselves as well, and stick to these definitions. It is about sticking to what we believe, doing good, and acting in a way that would make us, society, and the Divine proud. As Pagans, we want others to be able to look at us and see us for a legitimate faith based group. We are often laughed at as a whole because of the depictions of a few in the media and otherwise. Integrity to show non-Pagans the best of us is important for our image as a religion. It’s also important for new followers of the faith. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been kept waiting by fiends and so called professionals on the excuse of “Pagan Standard Time.” Is this the way we really want to be seen? As flaky and unreliable? I don’t think so. Integrity can help us as a group if we all just practiced a little more of it.

Let us think on these things.

Your life may be the only Bible some people read.  ~Author Unknown

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Grace of Gratitude

“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.  Have you used one to say "thank you?"  
                                             -         William A. Ward

A few weeks ago I attended a Billy Idol concert. At the end of his performance he screamed into the microphone. “Thank you for making my life so *bleepin’* great!” It made me think of my own life and all the times I’ve wanted to shout the same thing, but haven’t. This grace may be the most poignant to me because of this. I have so many things to be grateful for that sometimes it’s difficult to realize how awesome my life really is.

Wicca is essentially about gratitude. As Wiccans we worship the Divine in all things and therefore, should have gratitude for all things. Our holidays revolve around the thankfulness for the cycles of the year and the coming of the seasons. We celebrate harvests and the beginning of each new moon. We are gracious for the energy that flows through us and the universe.

Yet, how often do we take things for granted? How often do Wiccans bow before each meal to say Grace? The Lord and Lady have given us this beautiful gift of life and everything that makes it what it is, so why not say thank you once and a while. In gratitude there is prayer. Instead of asking the Gods for favors whenever you speak with them, thank them for what you already have. I think all of us are guilty of asking and asking, prayer that is full of hope instead of plain worship. We need to honor the Gods for what they have provided instead of always asking for more. As Meister Eckhart says, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was “thank you,” that would suffice.”

Think of sacrifice. For everyone and everything that has sacrificed itself, whether in time or money, to sustain us as food or to teach us something new, anything that has given to us in some way has sacrificed themselves to do it in another. When I eat a piece of meat, I know that an animal sacrificed its life. When I buy something at a store, I know that someone sacrificed time to make the product I am buying. Everything I have in life is made possible for me through someone or something else’s sacrifice and I should be thankful for that.
Being thankful for things makes us realize what we have. Gratefulness can also help increase positive feelings and alleviate traumatic memories. According to Philip Watkins, an Eastern Washington University psychologist, when we practice being grateful, troublesome thoughts pop up less frequently and with less intensity, which suggests that gratitude may enhance emotional healing, and  help the brain fully process events. Gratitude can also increase our feelings of joy and happiness. The more thankful we are, the more we find things to be thankful for.

Sometimes it can be very difficult to be thankful for certain things. Sometimes it can be really hard. Everyone has problems in their lives that they wish weren’t there. But having a keen sense of gratitude can often allow us to feel uplifted in dire situations. When you look at all the things you do have versus what is currently causing strife, the positives often outweigh the negative. If we are thankful for the good in our lives, instead of dwelling only on the bad, we may be able to overcome feelings of hopelessness and loss. Gratitude can also cause us to improve upon other graces such as compassion and forgiveness as well as other virtues in our lives. Want more patience? Work on gratitude. Want more happiness? Work on gratitude.
It is also important that as Wiccans, we let those who have helped us know it. Saying thank you is part of gratitude. When someone or something has made us happy or helped us in some way, simply being thankful for them or even doing a ritual of thankfulness doesn’t always cut it. People need validation for the things they have done and saying thank you to someone is just one way of giving them the recognition they need and deserve.

Let us think on these things.

“Saying "thank you" is something that we need to be taught. Babies do not say thank you for their milk, or for being changed, or for any of the amazingly hard work that goes into keeping them alive and showing them they are loved.... Just as we need to learn to walk and to speak and to read and write, we need to learn how to show gratitude.... We need to learn how to say thank you.... The first lesson in saying thank you is to recognize that what you have is a gift."
— The Rev. Allan Farris, St. James Presbyterian Church, Winnipeg

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pagan Intolerance

I need to take a time out here for a minute to write about something that has really been bothering me lately. As a Pagan, I am often criticized for my beliefs. To most Westerners, Paganism is looked at as a "fringe religion", something that is just "a phase" and at the worst of times, "evil." I hate being pegged into this hole. As a Pagan I try my best to be as nice as possible, honouring the God and Goddess in all things that I do. That's why it really busts my hump when my fellow Pagans go on and on about "The Christians". I get the jokes, and I understand the dislike of a group that looks down on my religion, and I don't want to be woken up at 7am to answer the door just to find myself confronted by people wanting to talk to me about God either, but when does this give me the right to bash another religion every chance I get? We hate it when someone else does it to us, so why is it that almost every Pagan I know, dishes it right back? I hate this! This is just complete intolerance and frankly, goes against everything that Paganism stand for in my opinion. As a Pagan I want to learn about other religions so that I can have civilized discussions with those who have different beliefs; not slam a door in their face, or answer it naked. I want to set a good example as a Pagan to other religions and then maybe they won't look down upon as as much. We want so much to be accepted for who we are and wear buttons and wave banner that tell us to "Coexist" and we are some of the worst when it comes to embracing our fellow believers. Most Wiccans follow one tenant, "An' Ye Harm None, Do As Ye Will." We are harming ourselves when we allow ourselves to be consumed with hate. We are harming the name of Pagans everywhere by portraying ourselves as mean spirited and intolerant.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Grace of Humor

-by Saturnine 

“I dreamed that I was walking down the beach with the Goddess. And I looked back and saw footprints in the sand.
But sometimes there were two pairs of footprints, and sometimes there was only one. And the times when there was only one pair of footprints, those were my times of greatest trouble.
So I asked the Goddess, "Why, in my greatest need, did you abandon me?"
She replied, "I never left you. Those were the times when we both hopped on one foot." And lo, I was really embarrassed for bothering Her with such a stupid question.”

When researching for this particular grace, I must have stumbled across hundreds of Pagan Humor sites. I found some pretty good ones too, which is good I guess, because it means we Pagans must have a good sense of humor right?

Humor is a funny thing. (No pun intended) It is the part of each of us that can laugh instead of cry, look at the rainbow instead of the rain, see the silly in everyday. It is vital for everyone, not just Pagans to have some sense of humor. Like Henry Ward Beecher says, “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road. “So why is humor so important for Pagans specifically?

Sylvan discusses in her book (The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition. (Llewellyn, 2003) that humor is essential so that we as Wiccans take our religion seriously, but should not take ourselves too seriously.  She says, “The minute you begin to take yourself too seriously, the Lord and Lady will send you a gentle (and generally embarrassing) reminder that the universe, by and large, is a joyous place to be.” I think we can agree with her as I’m sure we’ve all been there. I will be the first to admit that the second I get into Circle, I’m the first to giggle at something.

Humor also allows us to focus on the joy of life even during our most challenging times. A humorous sentiment can often lighten a very dark mood and rescue us from the pits of despair. I remember going to my grandmother’s funeral and talking with a friend in the corner of the room while everyone else was walking around with the “I’m so sorry” look on their faces. We were laughing and smiling and talking about all the funny things my Grandmother had done in her lifetime and it made me feel so much better about her death. Humor, in this instance, showed me that her life was to be celebrated instead of her death being mourned. It lifted my spirits and helped me get past her passing in a healthy and uplifting way.

Humor and laughter can also be a sign of success. Those that have what they want and need can often be seen laughing heartily and often. Laughter is also contagious. Being a happy person is infectious and people want to be around others who can make them smile and laugh.

As Pagans, we are often looked at as strange and sometimes, in the worst situations, thought of as evil and wrong.  Having a sense of humor about these thoughts helps us to see past the stereotypes and see our religion for what it is. I should note here that although most of us can take a joke or two about being Pagan and different, we often make fun of those who practice other religions as well. I don’t know any Pagan who doesn’t have a joke about “The Christians” up their sleeve. I’ve also witnessed groups of Pagans joking about them to the point where the jokes stray from harmless and fun to just plain bashing. We should be careful with our humor and realize when we have taken a joke too far; as I’m sure we would appreciate from those that are different to do for us.
Let us think on these things, and to finish things off I leave you with:

Pagan Pick-up Lines
(collected from various sources)

·         Hey babe, what's your sign? What's it's ascendant? What is your planet alignment in Venus during Cancer's revolving around the Fourth House?
·         Read any good Llewellyn Books lately?
·         Haven't I seen you someplace before in another life?
·         Yes, I'm handfasted, but that's not "technically" marriage.
·         What's a nymph Goddess like you doing in a place like this?
·         You have the prettiest third eye I've ever seen.
·         You're feet must be tired because you've been Spiral Dancing in my mind all night long.
·         Is that a May Pole in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Oh, and one more!

Q--What do you call a club for unattached Witches?
A--Craft singles

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Wiccan Graces and Virtues

-by Saturnine

This past year of my life has been dedicated to re-learning how to be a solitary Wiccan. I had co-created a Pagan study group with a close friend of my a few years ago and we spent so much time and effort on that group, that we stopped being solitary and began life as collective Pagans. When this community dissolved, (as some communities will do from time to time) I found myself in an interesting situation. I had forgotten what it was like to have to push myself to learn and no one else. Going back to the books and the wonderful World Wide Web, I stumbled across two things. One, a book by Dianne Sylvan, called The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition. (Llewellyn, 2003) The second was a short article written on the blog “Dragon’s Weave Wicca” about a particular chapter in this book. The chapter discusses "graces". Dragon’s Weave writes, 

“[Sylvan] asks the reader to imagine the "perfect priestess", and to consider the attributes that such an individual would possess. The attributes are what she calls graces, and describes them, “They aren't moral laws, but personal ethical goals. They are the signposts on our path to Deity, and when taken with Wiccan Rede, can form a strong foundation for our practice.” She lists nine graces, and they're hard to argue with:

•     Love

•     Compassion

•     Forgiveness

•     Humor

•     Gratitude

•     Integrity

•     Wisdom

•     Joy

•     Growth 

When I read DW’s examination of Love, I was inspired to continue this on my own blog. So far I have written about Compassion and Forgiveness, and upon doing so, I have incorporated these graces into my life as a conscious effort. I have been more in tune with how I live my life. I am going to try to continue to examine the nine graces of Sylvan’s book as well as the eight virtues mentioned in Doreen Valiente's Charge of the Goddess, these being mirth, reverence, honor, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion. I also plan to take an in-depth look at the meaning of the Wiccan Rede.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Grace of Forgiveness

-by Saturnine

"Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves. You will never become angry or impatient if you love them for the sake of God. Humanity is not perfect. There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy. Therefore, do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness."
- `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 92

Everybody makes mistakes. No one is perfect and we all make decisions from time to time that have negative consequences. Part of personal growth is getting over those mistakes and learning to forgive. Forgiveness isn’t easy and it is often difficult to know where to begin.

In the past few years, I have met an astounding number of Wiccans that get angry at just about everything and hold grudges like nobody’s business. It is with these people and in these groups that it is difficult for any outsider not to get a bad impression of Wiccans in general. As Wiccans, we are often so absorbed in the rule of “An’ Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will” that we overlook how anger and resentment can lead to harm.

Anger can lead to several problems in the body such as depression, increased heart rate, ulcers, and indigestion to name a few. It can also lead to the repression of individual growth which can be very harmful in the long run. We must remember that as Wiccans, many of us believe in past lives. Part of this belief is that we are here to learn from the mistakes of our pasts. We must also remember that everything is part of the Divine, including mistakes. When we get angry and hold a grudge against someone for their mistake, we are also holding it against the Divine. As Alexander Pope once said, "To err is human; to forgive, Divine."

There are three ways to deal with anger: repression, which is where you hold it all in; expression, where you communicate your feelings; and forgiveness. We will often say we forgive someone and even trick ourselves into thinking we forgive them, but continue to remember the hurt and pain and only “play nice” with them. Once you forgive, you have to mean it and stop dwelling. Think of all the negative energy that being angry raises. Think of the harm you can cause when all that negative energy is always around you.

Some psychologists tell us not to waste our time on anger as it is a futile feeling that often only affects us and not the wrong-doer. Whereas other psychologists, such as Dr. Laura Schlessinger, tell us that anger is a valid feeling and that forgiveness is a process. They recommend that we wait for the person who has wronged us to complete the following four steps, often referred to as the 4R’s of Forgiveness. The wrong-doer (which in some cases can even be oneself) must first take responsibility for their actions. Owning up to the crime and admitting that wrong has been done is the first step. The next step is remorse, in which the wrong-doer must feel bad about what they have done. It is important to note that feeling bad for being caught does not count as remorse. Remorse is the true feeling of guilt over causing someone else pain. The wrong-doer must then begin to repair the situation and try to make things better. And finally, repetition, in which the wrong-doer must commit to not repeating the offence and take steps to make sure the offence will not happen again.

So does this mean that only when a person has completed this process can we forgive them? Or once they have completed this process, all should automatically be forgiven? I think this takes an inward glance at oneself as the final step in this process. Think about how much time and energy you have spend being angry at this person. If you are no longer willing to waste the energy on being angry, then maybe you should think about forgiveness. It is important to note that just because you forgive that person, does not mean that your relationship with them should go back to the way it always was. It takes a lot of time for trust to build up and only an instant to tear it all down. Trust is an important aspect in Wicca. "Bide the Wiccan Laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust."(Lady Gwen Thompson & Adriana Porter) When working with others of the Craft we must be able to trust them with our secrets. We must also be able to trust and have faith that they are also working for the common good. When we lose that trust in a fellow Wiccan is often very difficult to work with them again in a magical setting. If the person who wronged you is a destructive influence in your life, maybe forgiveness is just the first step in letting your attachment to that person go.

Remember, forgiveness heals. It is a process we must all go through at some point in our lives in order to grow and learn. Forgiveness is freeing. It allows us to open up our minds, hearts and souls to better feelings. Forgiveness leads to humility. When we forgive, we are letting go of having to be the one who is right. It is closely linked to compassion and often extremely difficult to master. If you find yourself unable to forgive, try discussing it with someone. Storytelling and communication can often be very helpful when dealing with personal issues such as our most intense feelings. Forgiveness takes time, but I guarantee, you will begin to feel better once you let go of anger.

Let us think on these things.

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Grace of Compassion

-by Saturnine

Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed. - The Buddha

As Wiccans we are encouraged to feel compassion and understand the suffering of others. Doreen Valiente, in her Charge of the Goddess, mentions eight Wiccan virtues. “Let My worship be within the heart that rejoices; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.” We also see a beautiful example of compassion in one of the ritual tools, the scourge. Attributed to Aradia, it is a whip with 7 knots, symbolic of suffering, ritually administered lightly as possible to prostate participants. This is a visual reminder of suffering and the compassion we feel for others and the love we give them in return. But where does love turn into compassion? What is the difference between the two? Wikipedia defines compassion as, “A human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering.”

As Wiccans, this is an important emotion to feel, not just for our fellow humans, but for the plants and animals with which we share this Earth. Along with Forgiveness, Compassion may be one of the more difficult graces to master.  How often have we walked past a crying child in the mall or a homeless man begging for food? The answer is probably more times that you think. During our daily routines we are often in what is called an “urban trance”, where we are so focused on ourselves, that we ignore the bigger world around us , leading to deeper and deeper self absorption and bringing us further away from compassion. This “trance” is often made greater depending on our personal feelings of busyness or feeling rushed.

There is an interesting study that was done at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Students were given an assignment to create and give a sermon. Half of the students were given the story of The Good Samaritan, while the other half were given various other Bible stories. On their way to give the sermon, a man in obvious distress was placed in their path. The experiment was to see who would stop to help the man and if thinking about compassion would make them more likely to help. The conclusion of the experiment was that thinking about the Good Samaritan did not increase helping behavior, but being in a hurry decreased it. In this example, their focus was in the wrong direction. They were so self focused, that they did not use the opportunity, literally placed right in front of them to do what they could.

This study leads to other questions about compassion and what we as Wiccans often do in its cause. When we shift from personal compassion to global compassion, we may find that we are less likely to try and make a difference. Ethically, we try to “harm none” during our daily lives. This is often discussed at length especially in concern to the harm we cause to the Earth by using certain household products, wearing certain types of fabric, eating meat and the consequences of where that meat comes from, etc. To have compassion for these causes is it necessary to try and alleviate each ounce of suffering we create? Is knowing about and feeling for these causes enough to count as compassion? Should we be using every opportunity to help and feel compassion, or will this eventually drive us to the point of depression when we cannot help? It is interesting to note here that when we help those in need we often feel good about it. Again, we focus on ourselves in this instance and how nice it is to help others in need. We feel better about ourselves before we begin to feel better for those we have helped. But this may be able to balance the feelings of distress we feel when we cannot or are unable to help.

Compassion can also be confused with pity in these instances. “Love and knowledge led upwards to the heavens, /But always pity brought me back to earth; /Cries of pain reverberated in my heart /Of children in famine, of victims tortured /And of old people left helpless. /I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, /And I too suffer.” (Bertrand Russell)  Pitying something or someone is not the same as compassion. A true feeling of the relation to its suffering is what compassion is all about. We need to be able to place ourselves in the shoes of those we feel for in order to understand compassion. As Russell writes, we too must suffer.

It is a psychological fact that as humans we feel for and with our fellow humans. I have met several Wiccans who focus greatly on their ability to empathize with others quite skillfully. This empathic link should lead us to take into consideration what makes others feel comfortable, but we often ignore what would make them feel better than comfortable. How often do we have conversations with others that lead to talking about ourselves? How often do you ask about the other person and focus entirely on them? Becoming more compassionate may lead us to pay more attention to the world around us in general.

This emphatic link can be seen most recently in the various charities and benefits that are being held for those around the word suffering from natural disasters. These televised events create shared compassion for the victims as well as bring awareness to causes we may be ignorant about. This raises the question, if just one person acts, will we act along with them or ignore it because the problem is being fixed by someone else?

Let us think on these things.

 “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.” [New York Journal-American, April 5, 1963]
         -          Abraham Joshua Heschel