Ethics Part Two: What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is NOT MINE

All improvements must start with me.”

One of the perversities of human interaction is that it is much easier to see the causes of weal and woe in another person than it is to see in ourselves. But to be truly good at working with people, spirits, energy, wights or gods, we must recognize our internal causes of weal and woe. And all improvements must start with us. We can not walk through the world blaming other people for our unhappiness, nor can we credit other people with our happiness. We made decisions that made those things happen. We are responsible for how we feel, how we act and how we react.

It is not my job or my place to change any one else’s fundemental nature.”

It can be tempting to “fiddle” with someone’s aura, spirit body or fate/orlog/wyrd. Whether they annoy you or you think you know what would make their lives better, it is a possibility open to spirit workers that is not open to the general public.

The problem with doing that, beyond the “That’s bad,” is you don’t know that other person well enough to know whether or not your “improvements” will do them serious harm.

In my belief, people choose the elements of their nature, or their fate, orlog, or wyrd (dependent on your definition) they need to survive and learn  in that between time that happens from this life to the next. To “fiddle” with those elements without their permission does them great harm, does you great harm(it entangles your fate/wyrd/orlog with theirs), and is a practice to be avoided.

Don’t do anything to or with anyone without their express permission or invitation.”

Those of us in the spirit work business often get asked, “My mother/lover/sister/brother/friend/father is sick, can you just____?”

My answer is, NO.

Not because I don’t want to help this person’s mother or lover or sister or brother or friend or father but that the mother or lover or sister or brother or friend or father didn’t ask me. If they don’t ask me, I don’t have permission. Like vampires, I need an invitation into your home/psyche/aura/spirit body.

There are grey areas to this(as with all things in the universe, seen or unseen)

Some people ask for something in their fundemental nature to be changed, usually because it no longer helps them survive and learn, and you have to think long and hard about whether or not you want to help.

Parents often ask for help for their children. I treat that on a case by case basis, dependent on the parent, the child and what is being asked for.

Most of us who do this grueling work do it because we genuinely want to help others. But we can’t just jump in and do that. As much as we might want to.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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Lore and UPG

This is a revised version of an essay I have previously published.

One of the things that I like about Ásatrú is that it accepts proudly the label the religion with homework. Practitioners are expected to research and read everything from badly translated poems to sagas to commentaries by researchers on the field. In Wicca we would often see people come along who basically became Wiccan overnight: they read one book and decided they were Wiccan. The problem with this is that Wicca is a religion. It is not a club or an organization.

It takes years of study to effectively become, say, an Episcopalian. It takes Bible study, Sunday school, church attendance, baptism, confirmation classes, etc. This is time spent learning the myths and legends, studying the history and structure, getting to know the people in the Church, and all of the other things that go into being simply a lay-practitioner. If you were raised with it, then it involved a lot of things that were basically absorbed by osmosis–just by growing up around it.

Wicca is no different, Shinto is no different, and Ásatrú is no different. In the Celtic Trad coven, they had a reading list of around 40 books just to make it to your first degree initiation so that the entire coven would have a common base of reference from which to work. To this day I can recite the Nicene Creed with only minimal prompting and remember the tune for most of the parts of our sung mass. Not because I was ever required to memorize them, but just because in being around them I integrated them over time.

All religions have it, but a large proportion of Ásatrú groups emphasize it, such that the phrase the religion with homework has been tied almost exclusively to Germanic Mesopaganism and Germanic Neopaganism. It takes a long time to learn the myths and lore, not to mention rituals and technique, and even longer to grok it. Not to mention all of the little details that one learns by screwing up (e.g., an Ásatrú baptism from holding the mead horn the wrong way).

Difficulties with Lore

One of the big problems we run across in Germanic Paganism is the tension between lore and UPG. A while back Raven Kaldera had out a CFS for a Personal Gnosis Handbook which asks people to fill out a questionnaire with questions such as: How trustworthy do you find ancient texts/primary sources and How do you judge [UPG]? According to what criteria? What standards do you think should be applied to it?

The attitudes tend to split depending on whether we are dealing with Mesopagans or Neopagans.

The Mesopagan–reconstructionist–group tends to fall on the side of treating written texts as absolute, and a few groups have even elevated it to the status of a holy text, referring to it as Lore (I feel like that should be Lore™…) the way others might refer to the Bible. Their religion is built, in large part, off of the writings of scholars and these fragments of historical texts which were generally written down right after the Pagan era. To quote The Pentagram and the Hammer by Devyn Gillette and Lewis Stead:

The result is often academic/historical sources being cited in a way similar to Protestants citing Biblical references along with the adherent problems of selectivity and lack of context. The Ásatrú fascination with academic minutae often reaches a point at which one suspects some Ásatrúar would be willing to revise their core religious beliefs if a new academic source could be found.

On the other side we get the Neopagan–reconstructionist derived–group. In this group UPG is given a little more prominence. Neopagans tend to believe they are capable of and do commune with gods and wights, either on their own or through an intermediary, and what they find through these practices–and corroborative works involving them–strongly shapes their beliefs and their faith.

Thus, while the Neopagan practice is informed by the Lore™, their view of what constitutes lore is more open and dynamic, and includes both our personal experiences and the personal experiences of others. It doesn’t matter how the Old Norse society viewed ergi, how do the gods–and, more specifically, whichever gods I personally follow–view it now? What were our ancestors’ (and I use that term loosely, I’m a 10th+ generation American at this point) beliefs and why did they believe them? Do they matter in a modern cultural context?

We are forced to say that some of their practices are not right, or at least I would hope that hanging individuals involuntary in sacrifice is no longer on the menu. Egil at one point said Let us go back to the farm and acquit ourselves like true warriors: kill everyone we can catch and take all the valuables we can carry. To quote Elizabeth Vongvisith:

Is every belief of our pre-Conversion Heathen ancestors necessarily a good idea? Is the fact that some of their practices are now illegal in our modern world the only reason not to engage in them? What precludes them from having been dead wrong about some things, even if they were right about others?

Different individuals and branches within Germanic Paganism have reached different conclusions on the answers to these questions, and they are important ones to consider, relating directly to the heart of the validity of lore as a source. Similar questions could be asked about the Bible, or any set of texts used at the core of a religion: What are these practices? Do they have modern relevance? Why or why not? Even the Buddhist Kōans should be questioned and considered in context of the culture that they come from (one might even argue that this is part of the point).

Given this, we tend to encounter a spectrum rather than a binary distinction between reconstructionist and reconstructionist-derived. It is fairly clear that one could not reinvent Ásatrú as it is currently practiced simply from reading the lore: there are too many rituals, too many things that have been adapted or borrowed from other places, for even someone who had access to all of the available historical lore and academic analysis to recreate it from scratch. Clearly, even for a hard-core reconstructionist, the lore must exist as a living set of documents.

Difficulties with UPG

There are clear problems if we get too close to pure reconstructionist practices, but there are also dangers in swinging too far the other direction: we lose cohesiveness and we leave ourselves with nothing to offer those who aren’t being whapped over the head with a metaphysical spear. We must be careful, as we embrace UPG, to say this also, instead of this instead.

If we fall too far down the rabbit hole to the point where we think that the established lore is irrelevant, then we have separated ourselves from the group of religious we claim to practice and have one fewer sanity checks in place in our practice. There are several negative consequences of disdaining the written lore:

  • Forgetting the lessons of our past. Many of the stories and poems we have contain extremely valuable advice and layers of meaning which still apply today, Hávamál and Völuspá coming immediately to mind. It could even be argued that this is basically the point of much religious practice.
  • We run the risk of becoming personality focused instead of god focused, where many people read one individual and feel like they have a complete–or near complete–picture.
  • Losing one of the most valuable sources of cultural context for understanding the gods and the cultures that followed them, leading to the loss of a consistent cultural basis from which to work.

In short, to quote Robert Heinlein, A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future. In the process of understanding the gods and approaching them, we cannot afford to disdain the lore as we approach it. I haven’t seen this as a problem yet, but it is something I want to guard strongly against and it is necessary to say to understand my point of view on how lore and UPG interrelate.

Conclusion

Nathaniel Branden said of Objectivism and emotion that:

The solution for people who seem over preoccupied with feelings is not the renunciation of feelings but rather greater respect for reason, thinking, and the intellect. What is needed is not a renunciation of emotion but a better balance between emotion and thinking. Thinking needs to be added to the situation, emotion does not need to be subtracted from the situation.

Similarly, I feel that the cure for too much reconstructionism is not less written lore, but rather more UPG. Let’s contribute our own lore onto the mix with pieces like Kaldera’s Jotunbok or books of poetry like the ones Asphodel Press has been publishing recently and encourage people to read and study it all on the way to becoming educated in our tradition. Let’s add prayer books and analysis of prayers to the list as well.

After all, Christianity is more than just the words in the Bible. It also includes thousands of years of councils and discourse, analysis, theologians, philosophers, saints, and politicians. Not to mention several more thousands of years of Judaism that it built on top of.

In a sense what I am talking about relates back to the idea of All things in moderation. I believe the right answer is not lore or UPG, but lore and UPG.

Further Reading

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Colorado Gives Day

I know this is a little late for most people to do anything, but the organization GivingFirst, which makes it easy to find and donate specifically to Colorado charities, has secured matching for contributions made today.

If this message did find you late, I still encourage anyone who lives in Colorado to check it out. It is a good resource for finding local (to Colorado) charities to donate to.

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Raising Awareness vs. Action

The internet has long been an interesting yet inconsistent way of raising awareness of issues. Methods from viral marketing to chain letters have been used, with varying levels of success, to spread the word from Breast Cancer Awareness Month to the latest movies and beyond. One person sends a link via social networking site, which hit anywhere from ten to a thousand people at once, one of whom will most likely repost the message to a new audience. It’s a very organic, grassroots method of getting information to the people.

I encountered one of these viral ‘campaigns’ earlier today via Facebook – I use campaigns in quotes because despite the message calling itself a campaign, the note wasn’t a call-to-arms, it just raised awareness. There were no links sent to statistics, a charity or an event, nor a request to to do an action in our waking lives.

The message was as follows:

Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same until Monday December 6, 2010, there should be no human faces on Facebook! This is a campaign for Violence Against Children!

Out of curiosity, I looked at my friends list to see how many had changed their profile pictures to cartoon characters, and at least 15 of them had done so. I would look at these new images on my news feed, trying to link up their names with the comic book character, and it made me realize that this method of campaigning had two major flaws:

  • Many of them changed their profile picture without reposting the message, which only gave me their new cartoon profile but neglected the basic point of the viral message, rendering the campaign invisible.
  • A large percentage of those who changed their profile picture most likely did not turn around and donate time or money to a cause against child violence. This renders the campaign ineffective.

I’m a bit different when it comes to campaigns and charities. I’m always on the lookout for a cause that needs assistance, and I tithe monthly. I saw this viral awareness message going around Facebook and I immediately did some research into applicable charities. Once I found a suitable one, I posted on Facebook, raising awareness while injecting an activity in it – linking to a children’s charity and requesting that those dedicated to the prevention of child violence take some action.

In the end, if everyone who was touched by the message donated either 10 dollars or 10 minutes of their time to a cause, imagine the number of children we could save and protect. It’s that type of action that will save children, a cartoon icon cannot block the blows nor pick up the pieces.

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Boundaries, Part I: Emotional Boundaries

This is a revised version of an essay that I put together previously. It is part of a series of essays on proper boundaries between yourself and the world around you and within you.

One of the things that we as a society seem to have is a poor grasp of emotional boundaries.

Through the course of our lives all of us build within ourselves an intricate set of boundaries and definitions. This is who I am and this is who you are. For some people these boundaries are extremely well defined, for others they barely exist.

There are several basic forms of boundaries that we deal with, which can make this a difficult discussion. One of the better descriptions I’ve seen, from a domestic abuse website, is A successful relationship is composed of two individuals each with a clearly defined sense of her or his own identity. This is certainly part of it, but there is more as well.

The concept of Too Much Information (TMI) is a common one that we frequently deal with. But what constitutes TMI and to whom? There are also societal boundaries: In Japan these boundaries are largely defined by a fairly rigid set of social conventions, which most people follow faithfully. It the US it frequently feels like we muddle our way through it and just expect everyone to have a certain set of boundaries, without having a clear societal code on what those boundaries look like. These boundaries are just as important (and, in the case of societal boundaries, relate to emotional boundaries), but beyond the scope of this essay.

We see emotional boundaries crop up everywhere. Someone who is looking for external validation of their own self-worth generally has a poor emotional boundary in place: they believe that another person’s approval, or disapproval, will directly affect their own worth.

Internalizing insults is another form of poor emotional boundary. As is pointed out by Fuensanta Arismendi in Root, Stone, and Bone: Honoring Andvari and the Vaettir of Money:

That voice told me that maybe I was indeed stupid and insane. If so, this was not because my father screamed so, nor was it my fault. Maybe I was intelligent and perfectly sane; if so, my father’s screams did not change this, and it was not my merit. My father was unkind and uncontrolled and that was his behavior to own–not mine to own for him. So I took back what was mine: my self-worth–and gave him back what was his: his ranting. From that moment on, insults had no hold over me any more.

This is an excellent example of healthy boundaries. The individual is not internalizing the insult and basing their own self-worth off of another individual’s opinion.

This is a hard process to learn and one that is very difficult to master. It means being able to distinguish between the words and the reality of the situation. If a senior engineer tells me that my code has some serious flaws and helps me with them, that is constructive criticism and I would be wise to at least listen to what he or she has to say. But what needs to be realized is that my code is what it is–good or bad–regardless of what the developer says. Their words do not change the nature of the work, though they may change the nature of how I feel about it, and this may be a completely acceptable outcome in the interest of self improvement.

We also see these boundaries crop up in family relationships, which are notorious for having problems in this regard. My parents, for example, have not really accepted the fact that I am pagan (and have been for over a decade). I have told them, which is my responsibility, but having given to them it is not my responsibility to make them believe it, or to shove it down their throats. It was my responsibility to inform them, but what they do with that information is their business. Too often we see a need to either convert or convince, not because it is the right thing (e.g., trying to convince a boss that your design is the correct one) but because on an internal level we need them to accept it to help us allay our doubts, fears, or assuage our own nagging lack of self esteem.

What is important comes down to something that Nathaniel Branden (wiki) points out:

If you take the position that your happiness is primarily in your own hands, you give yourself enormous power. You are not waiting for events or other people to make you happy. You are not trapped by blame, alibis, or self-pity. You are free to look at the options available in any situation and respond as wisely as you can.

The key words are your happiness is primarily in your own hands. You do not need self-pity and do not look to make sure others pity you. Your convictions do not require others to agree with you (not to be confused with “and thus whatever they say is irrelevant”), and your own self-acceptance is not contingent on others accepting you.

This is a hard lesson to learn, and one that many of us struggle with our entire lives, but it is a worthwhile struggle.

Further Reading

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Pathworking: Journey to the Plane of Fire

Ground, center, and go to your room.

On the southern wall of your room you notice an alcove. In it lies a single candle and on the ground just outside of the alcove is a small stool. You sit on the stool and focus on the candle, feeling its light and its warmth and reflect on how there was a time when people would read by just this light.

As you sit there, contemplating, you feel as if you are absorbed by the candle’s flame. It wicks away those surface doubts and concerns that plague us through our day and distract us from what we are doing.

You look around, and notice that you are no longer in your room or in the candle’s flame. You are sitting at a small camp fire in a forest. Dinner is cooking over it and the smell is delightful. There are a few others sitting around the fire, each waiting for the meal to finish up.

Staring at the fire, you feel its warmth envelope you, and you feel yourself drift back into the fire, feeling the tension and stress you’ve been carrying with you fade away. You let the fire absorb you, basking in its warmth.

When you look around again, you see that you are no longer sitting in front of a small camp fire but a huge bonfire. A man in a leopard mask moves gracefully around the bonfire, telling a story about how cats came into the world as the drums continue in the background. Around the outskirts you see people dancing, their bodies moving with the rhythm.

The man glances at you and you can see the eyes wink before he continues the story. This is the Lord of Fire, and he is here to observe and to guide.

You look around you again and see the world consumed in flames. The heat is incredible, and you realize that you are in the middle of a forest fire. Yet even in the devastation, you can see the pathways opening up for new growth. Where the fire clears and cleanses, you can see new life springing forth and moving in.

The fire clears past you, and looking around you can see in the distance the volcano that started the fire. Lava slowly coursing down its sides until it reaches the ground where the trees used to be.

Stepping out of the fire you see two individuals approach with a box between them. Inside are various things that you recognize as being symbols of the plane of fire. You take one as a reminder, and then–without fear–walk back into the edge of the forest’s flames, close your eyes, and let them envelop you.

When you open your eyes you see that you are back in your room, sitting on the stool in front of a burning candle. Everything is around you just as you left it, but in your hand is the object you selected from the box.

When you are ready open your eyes relaxed and refreshed.

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Link: Spiritual Authority

Cat Chapin-Bishop at Quaker Pagan Reflections has a great essay up on Spiritual Authority. Highly recommended.

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Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is an almost exclusively US holiday and cultural ritual (at least as celebrated in November, my understanding is there is a Canadian version in October). It is used as a reason to get together with friends or family, share a meal together, and to give thanks for, using one of my mother’s favorite prayers for these occasions, the food before us, the friends beside us, and the love between us.

That is a simple prayer but an important one. Giving thanks should be more more than a shallow affirmation, but a deep recognition of what it means to you. It is frequently said in the presence of friends and loved ones, be they your biological or chosen family, but the recognition goes beyond those present to extend throughout your life.

So when you give thanks for the food before you, you are remembering the animals and plans that have died or in other ways given so that you may eat. Remembering their condition and what they have given so that they may be made into a meal for you. Remembering the work that went in to harvesting and raising those plants and animals. Remembering the work that went into harvesting the salt used to season them. Remembering the effort that went into preparing them. Remembering all of these things and how they have interconnected to present a meal before you.

Remembering, and being thankful for.

It means remembering the role that everyone has had in your life and, in turn, the circumstances that have led them to where they are in their lives. From genetic lineage to upbringing, to chance encounters that sway our path, to working on a project that is important to you, to being any of these things to someone who has played a significant role in your life. That, in essence, you did not become who you are in isolation.

Remembering, and being thankful for.

It means remembering not just their role in our life, but our role in theirs as well. Remembering that without pride, without judgement, but just quiet reflection on how we have made a difference in the world around us and for our friends and loved ones. Remembering that we are important, too. Remembering the relationships that exist between us and the network that they form for times of burden and times of joy.

Remembering, and being thankful for.

All pseudohistory about the holiday aside, that is what it represents in my family, summed up in a single, simple prayer.

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Pathworking: Journey to the Plane of Air

Ground, center, and go to your room.

On the eastern wall of the room you notice a window, approaching it, you can see out into the vast open sky. Blue reaching out infinitely, with the barest wisps of clouds in the distance.

You open the window, feeling a gentle breeze wash over you. It is a steady, cool, calm breeze. Refreshing and invigorating, but at the same time you can feel the quiet strength behind it.

Stepping up on to the ledge of the window, you pause for a moment to appreciate the breeze. You notice, flying high above you, a large eagle circling lazily in the sky. This is the Lord of Air, come to see you off on your journey and guide you through His domain. He flies down, glancing at you to ask you to follow him before heading off to the east.

You take a step to follow and find yourself flying. You can see the infinite blue expanse all around you and far, far below you can see the ground. The wind surrounds, envelops, and guides you as you take off racing after the Lord of Air. Feel, as you journey, what the wind feels like against your skin and as it runs through your hair.

You look to see where you are going and see yourself rapidly approaching a desert. The air here is hot, dry, and strips your skin clean of the dirt, sweat, and impurities that build up and accumulate throughout the day. Underlying it all you can feel the same strength, the same power that you felt in the breezes before.

The eagle leads you from the desert out into the ocean. Beneath you there is a shoreline which rapidly diminishes as you fly farther and farther out. The air here is a warm ocean’s breeze that smells strongly of salt. Underneath you can feel that same strength, the same power that you felt in the wind before.

From here you can feel the winds increasing and the see the clouds darkening. The water becomes increasingly choppy as you fly. Dauntless, the lord of air continues to fly forward into the storm and you follow, knowing that he would not lead you astray on your journey this day. The winds pick up further, stronger, with cross winds flying all about. The wind rips from you your doubts and fears, forcing you to remain perfectly in the present moment.

Then, suddenly, they stop. You find yourself in the center of the storm. The air here is calm and still. The lord of air, almost lazily, takes you up above the storm. Beneath you lies the hurricane in all of its majesty, reaching out for miles. You can see despite the evident chaos of the storm from the inside, it comes together to form an ordered spiral. Underneath it all you can recognize the same structured power that you felt before, just in an amplified form.

The eagle continues by leading you to the north. The air starts to turn cold and crisp as he leads you over rocky land. In the distance you can see snow falling from clouds, but here the sky is clear as night begins to set and the stars become visible above. The cold touches your determination and resolve, prodding you forward.

Then, finally, the Lord of Air leads you to a cliff face. Here you land and see a cave in front of you.

Two guardians come out to greet you. Between them they carry a box filled with various things that represent Air. Take a moment and pick one that best signifies Air to you and keep it. It will go in your room as a reminder of your journey.

When you have made your selection you turn to the eagle and he takes off as you feel him beckoning for you to follow him. He takes you back over the cold rocky shore, back over the top of the hurricane far below you, back over the warm ocean and the desert, back over the plains… Then, finally, he takes you back to your window and bids you farewell.

You enter your room and find a place for what you have brought back. Sit in your chair and, when you are ready, open your eyes relaxed and refreshed.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance, 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance, 2010

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