September Link Roundup

In more political news, a town in Alabama has now decided that it is going to offer people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors the option of attending church every week rather than going to jail. This is a disturbing story on multiple levels, and one that I am going to be watching closely.

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Huginn CFS: Mysticism

Writers, artists, mystics, lend me your ears! HUGINN is seeking submissions for the Yule 2011 issue. Submissions are due by 1 December 2011.

The Yule issue will deal with MYSTICISM: enlightenment, illumination, initiation; your experiences of divine communion or transcendence; the Mysteries, the Darkness, the Light; how you experience being a mystic, or why you aren’t; how others have and do bring about intimate union with the cosmos, ascetically or ecstatically; how the Tree grows within and without you.

For more information, check out Submissions!

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[Admin] Some backend updates

Performed a few pieces of maintenance and tweaked a few things on the back end. Let us know if you encounter any weirdness.

Let me also apologize for the lack of updates. All of the authors have been swamped and/or dealing with illness. We’re still alive, however ^_^

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August Link Roundup

For those who like to follow constitutional law, SCOTUSblog has been running a symposium on same-sex marriage that is well worth reading.

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Working When Depressed and Anxious

Let me start by saying that I am a survivor of Katrina. This has, unsurprisingly, caused continuing issues for me, issues that get particularly accentuated toward the end of August each year. It creates certain particular challenges to doing occult work, but it also gives clear incentive to further my own self development.

One of the challenges that I face regularly is dealing with the interaction between mental state and daily practice. It frequently feels that states of anxiety and depression work at odds to doing a daily practice, sapping me of the energy and strength to do the work.

Yet at the same time, I find that these are the times when daily work becomes truly vital. It provides needed structure and consistency in my life when everything else (rightly or wrongly) seems in turmoil. It also helps me process the deeper underlying issues, so that in the long run I can become more functional as a person.

I also find that these and other issues are very common among spirit workers. It seem that for many having your identity torn apart is part-and-parcel with the shamanic experience, yet this can make doing the work in order to recover from that–and further yourself as a spirit worker–very difficult.

So how does one handle it, when one is suffering from something along the lines of depression or anxiety? Or simply when one has no energy from a mental/physical illnesses? Indeed, people with certain mental or physical conditions might have a variable amount of energy, and it can be difficult to plan some sort of daily routine in there on top of everything else that they are going through.

My goal here is not going to be to provide a detail guide to overcoming depression and anxiety when doing work, or even working through it directly (that comes later), but to provide a general overview of my general approach.

Getting the Proper Help

The first thing to do is to ensure that you are getting the proper help. See a therapist or doctor of the appropriate specialization (it helps to develop a list of them when you are feeling well, as opposed to putting it off until things get more serious).

Nothing I will say here is a substitute for talking to a trained professional. Even if you are simply feeling down or low energy, finding a counselor or a therapist can help provide perspective and guidance through the situation. Especially when doing shadow work we can end up going back into these dark places, and a therapist can help us bridge the gap to allow us to remain functional while going through the worst of it.

Part and parcel with this is to not stop taking your medication if you are on it, and don’t stop taking a multivitamin if you have been taking one.

Expectation Management and Finding the Right Exercises

The next step is to set reasonable expectations for yourself. Just because keeping up a daily practice is important does not mean that you should keep up your entire routine, completely unchanged from when you were in a better state. A martial artist who gets injured should very rarely stop moving entirely, but at the same time it isn’t reasonable for them to expect to do their entire practice routine without alteration.

The goal is to try and find a reasonable practice for yourself. This may take some experimentation to find what is reasonable for you, and it may be as minimal as brief daily prayer work or a five or ten minute meditation session. Or even just making sure that you take a few moments–three breaths–at some point during the day to feel and experience what is going on in your mind. It may also be as simple as changing between a sitting meditation and a lying-down meditation, or changing the time of day that you do it. Even doing something like brushing your teeth mindfully can be used as a form of exercise if you are having trouble adding anything else.

This also means to not beat oneself up for being unable to do something. If your state simply doesn’t allow a given practice or there are no spoons left for that practice, then either adapt it or find something else. To borrow a Buddhist idea: Dealing with the first arrow of the illness, it makes no sense to then deal with the second arrow of failing to meet unrealistic expectations.

Returning to Practice

Just as important as how you manage your practice while you are sick, it is also important to manage your practice while you are getting better. Just because you start to feel better doesn’t mean that you can return to your full practice routine immediately. It isn’t uncommon to fall off the wagon for a little while, in which case the goal needs to be to get back on in stages and steps, rather than trying to immediately start doing everything that was in progress before.

What works best for me here is to go in stages. Start with doing one thing and, if you can do it every day for a week, then add another. If you are having trouble, then just keep trying or simplify what you are trying to do. So if you are trying to add back into your practice doing a prayer four times a day, try making sure that you do it once and, if you can keep that up, extend it to twice, etc.

Conclusion: Keep Practicing

When sick it can seem very difficult to maintain any enthusiasm for practice or feel that it is doing anything useful. We all go through phases of this, cycling in-and-out of doubt, but when one is sick is especially important to keep doing the work even if it doesn’t seem like we are getting anywhere. There is no rush, and many times we are making progress even if we don’t realize it.

So keep practicing. In the end it will be worth it.

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Religious Abuse: Healing the Damage

After you leave an abusive leader or group, you will wonder “What do I do now?” For many people, that group and leader defined who they were as people as well as pagans. A large part of the healing process is redefining yourself.

You will feel depression, loneliness, isolation, lapses back into the group mindset or disassociation, difficulty talking about your experiences in the group because of guilt, shame or rage, difficulty in dealing with or getting to know new people or groups. These are appropriate. Working through them is healthy.

Doing the work

1. Work toward trusting yourself, your emotions, and relying on your own abilities. Do energy work, divination and other spiritual practices. Or just practice grounding and centering. Get to know the energy that is you.  Do yoga or tai chi  if you are inclined, these help you to connect your energy back to your body.

2. Write about your experience. This will help you track your progress, understand and evaluate how the situation came about in the first place, and cope with how you feel about what happened.

3. Get in touch with other people who have experienced religious abuse. They don’t have to be other pagans, religious abuse crops up in many other faiths as well.

4. Find a hobby or pastime that reinforces a sense of accomplishment. Focus on hobbies that enable you to solve complex mental problems, physical sports or games or unknotting  hobbies like sewing, weaving, embrodeiry, knitting, or crocheting.

5. When disassociation happens, remind yourself that the episode was triggered by some stimulus. Identify the trigger, and make a new association for that trigger. If sandalwood incense triggers you, use sandalwood incense in another context, like in a bonfire on a camping trip with friends or to keep mosquitoes away in your backyard. Repeat the new association until it no longer triggers you to disassociate. Remember also that the disassociation will pass. Talking it over with someone who understands helps.

6. Renew and strengthen your connection to your deities of choice, spirit guides, allies and friends. One of the common responses to pagan religious abuse is to drop all connections that you have made on the other side of life. Those connections are sound, even if the connections with the leader and the group were not.

7. Decisions, tasks and relearning interpersonal skills take time when you are wounded. Go one step at a time, don’t rush, talk and think things over, and don’t be afraid if you make mistakes.

8. Read, study, evaluate. Most pagan traditions have source materials. Read them and interpret them on your own. Build your own coherent worldview based on your own experience.

9. Don’t join a new group for at least a season. You run the risk of either finding another abusive leader or avoiding healing the damage so that you are an effective energy worker. Rest, recuperate, redefine. You have time.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

 

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Religious Abuse: How to Leave

Leaving a religious abuse relationship is like leaving any other abusive relationship. Leaving a pagan religious/magical relationship has its own quirks, but many of the principles are the same.

1. Plan Ahead

Unless you are actually living with the leader, the most important things to plan ahead for are:

A) Be sure to gather up any tokens, tools or contracts that you created while in the group and destroy them. If they are not easily destroyed, dispose of them in running water, whether it is fresh or salt or bury them with salt and/or iron nails.  Return any gifts from the leader. If you feel like returning them would put you in danger or weaken your resolve, donate them to charity or destroy them.

This is based in a sympathetic magic approach, to truly cut the ties to the group and the leader so you are confident you can resist being “reeled back in”.

B) Let your non-pagan friends and/or family or pagan friends and/or family outside the group know what it going on. Ask for their help. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed, if they love you, they will help you. If you have broken off contact with them because of the leader, reconnect and apologize. Let them know that you will be happy to explain your actions and discuss their feelings, after you get out of the group.

C) Be careful who you tell that you are leaving. Other people who are in the group may not understand why you have decided to leave,especially if they are new or their sense of power is invested in the leader’s sense of power. Group members will try to talk you out of leaving, using the leader’s arguments emphasizing the danger and loneliness of being out in the world. Be as tolerant as you can, but don’t change your mind. If someone actively tries to prevent you from leaving, just leave. You do not have to justify your thoughts, feelings or actions to anyone.

D) Be prepared for the leader to try to hinder you, guilt or frighten you into staying in the group. The leader derives power from his or her followers. When a follower leaves, that puts his or her power in jeopardy. Most leaders of this type are very charismatic as well as being psychologically adept. So just leave. You do not have to justify your thoughts, feelings or actions to anyone.

If you decide you want some closure on the relationship, write the leader a short note telling him or her that you are leaving and  that you don’t want the leader to contact you or your family or friends. Don’t get caught up in explaining why you are leaving. Contact the leader through email or snail mail to avoid being charmed, glamoured or psychologically manipulated. If you would rather talk to the leader on the phone, record the conversation. Listen to the words.

One way to ensure your safety and sanity if you decide to meet with the leader in person is to bring a trusted friend or relative with you to all interactions with the leader. That way, should you be frightened or feel guilty, that person can step in and remind you why you are leaving. Another way is to bring a tape recorder and record the interaction and replay it once you are no longer in the leader’s presence. Listen to the words.

E) Have a pagan friendly therapist on standby.  If you don’t live in an area that is pagan friendly, look on the Internet.  There is a Facebook group Pagans Against Abuse, as well as some others. Ask those groups for a therapist referral in your area. If you belong to a e-list, ask for therapist referrals in your area. Sometimes you have to make several calls to find the person you need. Don’t give up.

2. After You Go

A) Once you are in a safe, calm space, knot, filter or cut the energetic connection between you and the leader and/or the group.

I. Knotting off entails envisioning the tie between you and that other person(I have people visualize a cord or a thread that runs between) and tying a knot in it to restrict the flow of energy, emotions and thoughts between you and that other person.
A helpful focusing chant for me is “I knot away from me all energy that is negative and harmful to my well-being”.
You can also use the Isa rune to freeze the connection.

However, this is only temporary. If you leave a knot too long, a form of soul-gangrene will occur, just like if you left a tourniquet on your physical body too long.

II. Filtering entails envisioning the tie between you and that other person and installing a screen. I like to think of window screens, but I’ve had people use force field and engineering imagery as well.
A helpful focusing chant for me is “No thing negative or harmful will pass this way. Only that which is positive and helpful will pass to me from thee and from me to thee.”
You can also use the Nauthiz or Eihwaz rune as a focus.

Unless you add more negativity to the relationship, this is enough for most bad/painful/toxic relationships.

However, there are some ties or some relationships that are so toxic to your heart and soul that to continue them would do you massive,on-going harm. And a religious abuse relationship definitely falls in this category.

III. Severing entails envisioning the tie between you and the other person.
Through that tie, you take back all that you put into the relationship. This takes the form of a list of material things you gave, emotional experiences you shared or thoughts you had about this person.
Then through that tie, you give back all that they gave you in the relationship. This is a pile of material things they gave you and a list of emotional experiences you shared.
In both these instances, it is important to be thorough. Both positive and negative things must be taken back and returned.
Then, envisioning that tie between you and the other person, you cut it three times. I use a scalpel visualization usually, but I have used scissors and in one very nasty case, an axe.
A focusing chant I use is, “Once I cut, to break the tie, Twice I cut to for the pain to fly, three times I cut for the bond to cease, from this life to the next, let there be peace.”
You can also use Kenaz to burn through the tie.

B) Understand leaving will not solve all your problems.The damage that has been done, and you aren’t going to heal from it without considerable time and effort. Enjoy your sense of freedom and safety, but remember that there is a lot of work ahead of you. When you are lonely and sad and feeling overwhelmed by the mundane world, you may be tempted to give up and stop practicing altogether, look for an easy way out, like self medicating with drugs or alcohol, or go back to the leader and the group.

C) Use therapy and support groups to help you through. Look for indications that you are blaming yourself, that you are feeling worthless, that this was your fault. Also, don’t expect your energy working skills to be what they were with the group. You’ve been wounded in so many ways. You will get better. But it will take time.

D) As much as possible, focus on what you see and think rather than what you feel. This is a temporary measure only, but because your feelings have been manipulated and used against you, they are not really trustworthy and will vacillate wildly from despair to hope to obsession and back again. Focusing on what you see and what you think will help you heal the damage.

E) Be prepared for the leader to have a “change of heart” and try to lure you back. You may see tears. You may get presents. You may get wonderful sounding apologies, perhaps in public and embarrassing.Until you see real accountability for the past and ongoing accountability for the mistakes along the way, you have no way of knowing if the leader has really changed or is trying to massage his or her public image.

When this doesn’t work and you don’t return to the group, the leader will badmouth you all over the pagan community. There is no escaping this face-saving manuever on the leader’s part. He or she is invested in a benevolent public face to the community, otherwise he or she can’t replenish followers. If there was a problem, it had to be you. Don’t let this change your mind about your course of action. There will be people out there than don’t believe him or her for whatever reason. There are  people out there that don’t care what he or she says. And if this is a prolonged pattern of abuse, there are people out there that have gone through the same experience you did.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to heal the damage.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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Religious Abuse: How to See

For those of you that follow religious news, Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Mormon polygamist sect in Texas, was convicted of two counts of sexual assault on a child.

As Huffington Post contributor Danielle Tumminio says,”… there is another aspect to the Warren Jeffs trial that I find particularly disturbing, one which has not received much media attention, overshadowed as it has been by Jeffs’s horrendous sexual exploitations. That issue is the way in which Jeffs manipulated power — specifically religious power — in order to harm those entrusted to his care. One might term this kind of mistreatment religious abuse. Religious abuse, as Jack Watts explains it, is “the mistreatment of a person by someone in a position of spiritual authority, resulting in the diminishing of that person’s sense of well-being and growth — both spiritually and emotionally” (Recovering from Religious Abuse, 2). Religious abuse occurs when individuals in positions of religious authority use their power to manipulate those entrusted to their care. It involves degrading people, harming them, and preventing them from growing into the potential God intended for them.”

Why does this matter to us?

As pagans, we usually look at this as a monotheism problem.

We are free thinkers, we tell ourselves, we could never be brainwashed into believing such nonsense.

We don’t have a set religious authority, no one can tell us what to do.

We vote with our feet, if we don’t like the way a group is being run, we just move on.

And yet, religious abuse has happened, is happening, and will happen in the pagan community. Because there are assholes in every religion. And we don’t have a central leadership/governing body as a check or balance to the truly evil.

We also let bad people practice because we are so paranoid about “adversely affecting our karma” or we believe that “people choose the lessons they learn, so if they have a bad experience, they chose it” or we don’t want to “stir up drama” or “feed the trolls”; so a new person entering the larger pagan community doesn’t know that person X has a group he’s turned into his own private harem, or person Y has turned her group into her own private bank, or person Z has turned his group into his own private racist enclave.

People like this prey on our sense of independence, lack of accountability, and general belief in the goodness of our fellow humans.

Many times when someone becomes pagan, they either lose or restrict the support system they grew up with or constructed as an adult. As a result, their first pagan support system is the first pagan group they join. And if they join the wrong one, they can be scarred for life.

So here are some signs to look for if you have gotten involved with a group and something just doesn’t seem right.

1Unchecked Authoritarian Leadership

The leader has all the answers, and no one questions the leader.The leader is fiercely independent and refuses to be part of a structure of accountability. The leader operates as a one man or one woman spiritual show.

If you do question the leader, he or she lashes out at you in violent and inappropriate ways, including but not limited to: diatribes; questioning your faith, conviction or connection to deity; calling you a “persecutor”; physical confrontations and violence; sexual or emotional manipulation; shunning. If you withdraw your question, or concede to his or her authority, he or she responds with overt and inappropriate gestures of affection, using your relief in not being on the outs anymore to more tightly bind you to him or her.

2 Imbalanced Group Life

People have the need to belong, the need to be affirmed, to be accepted and to be part of a family. In an unbalanced group, it is not unusual for the leader to assume the role of a surrogate parent or, because we have a different view of sex than monotheisms do, a sexual partner. The leader fosters an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and otherwise, by focusing on the isolation of being a pagan, the dangers of the mundane world to pagans, and the dangers of the unseen world to the unlearned or unwary. He or she creates the impression that you just aren’t going to find your way through the metaphysical maze without the lessons the leader is teaching. The leader then comes up with  firm directives that are often fleshed out in a demanding lifestyle rigidity that is controlling and abusive.  Is the leader telling you what you can and can not eat? Wear? How to exercise? What books you can’t read?

3 Conscious Threats Of Dismissal

Have your questions prompted the leader to threaten you with removal from the group?

4 Deliberate Disruption Of Personal Relationships

This is one of the most heartbreaking consequences of religious abuse in the pagan community. The leader separates you from the relationships that you managed to salvage when you became a pagan. People I know have suffered divorce, alienation from their children and other family members because the leader had deemed their relationships spiritually polluting, too mundane, destructive or dangerous to the group. Has the leader told you who you can date? That your family is “holding you back”?

5. Withdrawal And Isolation From The “Outside”

The leader consciously tries to limit imput and contact with thoughts and ideas outside of the group. Your group doesn’t collaborate with other pagan groups; you are not allowed to practice with any other groups; outside speakers and guests are denied access to your group; other pagan groups are ridiculed, denounced or belittled.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to get out.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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July Link Roundup

In unrelated but fun news, George R. R. Martin has finally published the next edition of the Song of Ice and Fire series, titled A Dance With Dragons. I finished it and recommend it highly if you’ve been following the series. If you haven’t been following the series, the book to get you started is A Game of Thrones (now also a HBO series). I recommend it highly for fans of epic fantasy.

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What Are You Doing Now?

One thing I frequently come across when looking through various Pagan, otherkin, occultism, etc resources are some pretty extraordinary claims about what people are, their past, etc. For example:

  • The Elenari claim to be elves from distant worlds with an extremely elaborate mythos built up around the nature of those worlds.
  • Femmekin believe that they belong to a race that has two female genders, rather than a male and a female gender.
  • Numerous people claim to be reincarnations of Jeanne d’Arc, Cleopatra, Atlantean Priestesses, or Elven Princesses.
  • A great many people claim titles and honors such as priest, initiate, or degrees.
  • Plenty of therians and otherkin claim to be dragons, gryphons, and other mythological beings.
  • Others make claims about being capable of causing massive social change or upheaval.

While different beliefs around this can be functional or dysfunctional for an individual, the key question to me is not what have you been? but what are you doing? I don’t, fundamentally, care whether the claim is true: I care about who you are now and what you are doing now, not what you claim to be capable of doing or have done in the past.

Are you, as Jack Kornfield challenges us, living a path with heart? Are you practicing occultism, or just talking about it?

If you are a 16 year old initiated high priestess, great, good for you, now what? Whether you received that title from a longstanding tradition, from the spirits, from your friends, or from the voices in your head doesn’t matter. Are you mature and composed? Are you unattached (in the Buddhist sense)? Can you provide effective spiritual guidance and counseling to those in need? Do you have a firm grasp of boundaries? Do you have a reasonable grasp of occult principles, and are you applying them in your life? Are you using your title of high priestess to effect positive change, or are you using it as an excuse to complain about how your mother treats you?

This goes for all aspects of identity. Something can have meaning to you and be valuable to you, but it doesn’t mean that it should have meaning to me or be valuable to me. The reverse is also true: I do not expect you to accept and believe the various things that I believe.

These questions to me are much more important than any way that you choose to identify yourself. I can accept that someone else believes something and that it has meaning to them without believing it to be factually true.

There are three important consequences from this.

First, your beliefs are yours, mine are mine. I will do some things out of courtesy, but if my beliefs differ from yours I should only be expected to accommodate them to a certain point. If I believe the gods only bless consenting unions between people (as way of example, this is not necessarily an expression of my actual beliefs) or make it a point that I for whatever reason will only bless such unions, you should not expect me–in my professional capacity–to bless your union with Jack Sparrow simply because you believe in the validity of your marriage. Similarly, I will not ask you to set aside your relationship simply because it does not fit within my belief structure and will try to work within your belief structure to the extent feasible. If this is something you cannot live with, I am not the shamanic practitioner for you, and that’s okay.

Second, no one is immune to criticism. If your beliefs aren’t internally consistent, if your beliefs start to sound like a role-playing game or a mechanism for escapist behaviors, then expect criticism to fall exactly on those lines. You may still derive meaning from it still and you do not need to listen to me–if you are inclined toward Chaos Magick you may even agree with the criticism and use it anyways since it is a useful model–but your response should not be to stomp your foot and say but it is my opinion! or–worse–to threaten me with cosmic consequences merely because I have dared to levy criticism.

On the flipside, it isn’t my responsibility to bring up my objections every time we are together or even to bring them up unsolicited necessarily. If I believe something is escapism and I am your friend or we are in a place that is open for such discussion I might mention it, but no matter what I say it is up to you how you deal with it.

Finally, it is ultimately up to you to accept responsibility for your own spiritual development. The phrasing on this is deliberate. It is not the responsibility of your teacher, your friends, the random people on the internet. They can make things easier or harder, they can help illuminate or obscure, but the first and most important place to look is within yourself. It is easy to blame your job, you parents, or your life for your lack of practice, but ultimately up to you to make or find time as appropriate. It is easy to say that if only people accepted X about me…, but what is core is your own work and your own practice.

Conclusion

As with many things, this ultimately comes down to a matter of boundaries: understanding where you end and where other people begin. Do not expect others to automatically accept whatever you say about yourself and your experiences, and do not automatically accept anything they say about themselves and their experiences. That they have meaning to you, that you derive meaning from them and that they improve your own health and functioning are sufficient. Beyond that, what you are doing–with each moment, in that moment–is far more important than who you claim to be or have been.

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