Dealing with my Catholic past

A recent post by John Beckett got me thinking.  I was raised Catholic and it (and other aspects of Christianity) definitely did me some damage.  Although I’m fond of Western Ceremonial Magic as an area of study (and occasional LARP character background), it just doesn’t work for me… and a lot of that has to do with its explicit Christian groundwork.  I’m not much of a magician (and not into the ascension/transcendence/etc. aspects of Ceremonial Magic in general), so I don’t find that to be much of a hindrance.  On the other hand, a lot of hoodoo uses psalms and prayers, and that bugs me a bit (although it seems to work).

But I do have some Vodou lwa who walk with me, and a lot of them have Catholic saint imagery associated with them.  For many reasons, that doesn’t bother me.  Most sources that I have read are pretty clear that Vodouisants appropriated those images and reinterpreted them- because the images were easy to get, attractive and resonated with them as much as for camouflage from the Catholic church.  There’s not necessarily any identification or connection implied- e.g., St. Patrick is used as an image for Damballah because of the snakes in the image (amongst other things), not because Damballah and Patrick are in any way related.

Also, for me, the lwa themselves have often expressed a preference to me for those images. Erzulie Freda wants the image of Mater Dolorosa (the one with all the golden heart lockets) over Her shrine; Erzulie Dantor wants the Black Madonna of Czestochowa over Hers.  Others are less picky- Simbi Andezo prefers dragon and snake imagery, and the Gede like just about anything with skulls and such.  If it bugged me, I suppose I could work with them to find substitutes.

I guess the point here is magic is about what works for me.  Devotion is about what the Powers want, and how that resonates in our relationship.


Poem for a friend

Sometimes Brigid has me write poems for specific purposes, or for specific people.  This is one of the latter cases; a good friend who is also one of Her children is going through some rough health issues, and found out that there is a deeper level of work going on…

Hammer and Anvil

Lady, never let me forget that
Your flame is not solely set in the
Heads of poets, or lies within the coals
Wakened from last night’s smooring to
Joy on the hearth.  It also dwells in
Your forge- trying our metal, forcing it
To glow red to yellow to white to
Be seized and beaten, spark-showering
On Your anvil.  As You hammer, I only ask:
Make pure my steel,
Make true my blade,
Make keen my edge,
And grant me, in Your mercy,
Quenching in Your well.

Poem: Note for the journey

Note for the journey

When you are drawn down that hungry well,
That tunnel, bored through cruel stone,
And your eyes, straining through the blindfold dark,
Desperate for the least glimmer or phantasm,
Catch a firelight-flicker on the edge of sight,
Only to realize it sparks and glows, relentless
From the eternal flame that heats change’s cauldron-
Remember that the skeleton of the flower
Shall be fleshed out in petals of heart-flame,
And you shall rise from the furnace, purified,
Alchemized into the truest gold.



[Something I wrote a couple of months ago…]

We cannot do this: see the world as They do-
Somewhat removed from time, suspended in
A suffusing, after-storm light, wet gold
In the west; a renewal even at sunset,
A promise more freighted with subtle awe
Than a rainbow; a pregnant peace, cloud-
Formed magic on high meeting the damp below.

Or as She sees it, as all Muses do-
All things as words to a poem, parts
To the greater work, fuel or tool or
Metal ready for the forge; gems to set
Just so, refracting; the shape emerging
Under patient hands, carved or pulled
Or picked out by paint, shaded into life.

But They cannot (choose not?) to touch direct
The world of hours; upswing, downfall,
Chrysalis-change; our senses are the ones
To take in this dust and delight, our hands
The only to mold the mortal; They may guide, order,
Even drive our actions, but our blood, brains,
Will and thews are the means of making.

Incarnation and life purpose

Today’s reblog led me to think of a poem I’d posted last year, and to thinking about my views on incarnation and life purpose.

Someday, I’ll get around to editing and updating the personal “Credo” I wrote during my studies at Cherry Hill Seminary, but for now, let me just give this brief summary of the relevant part:  I believe that we all have an eternal part – our spirit – that lies partially outside of time, and that our mortal lives are something that is an expression of these spirits, a venture that we take in order to do things in time, in matter, that we can’t do any other way.

This is not to say that we choose every part of our experience, or even any of it.  Our wills have function, we may choose to enter into a certain place and time, a certain body and culture, but we give up most of our control in doing so.  Forces in the world shape our lives, forces we have no power over. Our wills contend with billions of others.  Nature can never be wholly predicted.

Our spirits also have alliances and friendships with, and duties and obligations to others.  and above all, there are the Powers- the choice of place and circumstance may be more (or even all) Theirs, rather than ours.

But just as we don’t have complete control, we don’t completely lack it, either. The ratio of control to lack thereof isn’t constant; it rises and falls, sometimes in cycles as regular as the tides or the seasons, sometimes in jumbled turbulence like the boiling of stormclouds.

This complicated balance was behind the poem I linked to above, but you can extend the metaphor even further.  Even the most “primitive” seafarers, without keels or charts or compasses, had a vast lore and fund of skill that allowed them a surprising range and reach in their explorations.  And even in the modern era, with GPS and radar and computers, today’s seafarers still run from the storm, run aground on the most charted reefs… and have to watch out for pirates.


A Day in the Life

This was prompted by the editors of Gods Mouths ( a wonderful blog that I hope you check out), so there’s a fair chance it will be reblogged there… at least I hope so.  It’s hard to pick out a typical day for me, but I’ll do the best I can for a workday.

I wake up to the beep of the alarm (generally I’ve already gotten up at least once before this, or at least been woken up by Monster Alice (my spouse) getting up or by the fracas that our younger dog makes because he’s STARVING; sometimes I’m extra fortunate and get a monster kiss before I go back to sleep).  I’m usually groggy for a bit (especially in summer), but I lever myself out of bed (sometimes doing a little mental work to clear the cobwebs away) and do stretches, take my meds, feed the cats (my most important duty- just ask them).

Then I take a half-hour walk in the neighborhood.  Getting out and about like that really helps in many ways, if only to get the blood flowing, feel the breeze on my face.  On Mondays and Fridays I pray to the gods, spirits and ancestors during my walk; on Fridays I walk around the block, “beating the bounds” (and picking up trash).

After my walk, I do some more exercises, then shower and shave.  I try to work in some meditation time (though I’m not the best about that).  Then I put some token clothing on (some of the spirits that walk with me aren’t down with the “skyclad” thing) and do my morning spiritual setup, which is a combination of grounding, centering, protection, devotion, and intercessionary prayer.  Then I get dressed the rest of the way and head for work.

It’s a pleasant enough walk to the Metro, although the transition from residential street to busy avenue is kind of jarring at times.  I generally read my Kindle on the Metro (I read a lot– right now I’m reading the first in the series of historical novels that was a major inspiration for the Game of Thrones series, and an excellent translation of the Odyssey, amongst other things).

A shorter walk from the Metro gets me to the office.  I’m fortunate enough to work at a place whose mission I support wholeheartedly.  It’s good work, and I work with good people.  I’ve been there for nearly 25 years, which means something.  I work in a cube-sort-of-place, but I’m in the corner near windows, and my “geekosphere” includes some wards and devotional items.  I’ve been relatively out at work about being Pagan, though I don’t wave it around; I’ve never really felt like it’s a problem with anyone who knows.

My commute home is a reverse of my commute in, though I tend to be more awake.  Sometimes I remember to pick a few people and just send them blessings and love.  Sometimes I give money to a beggar at the crossroads.  If someone asks me for directions, I always take my time and do my best (and admit ignorance if I don’t know).

I come home to a tumultuous greeting from the dogs (and a more restrained and critical approach from the cats); my monster is usually either napping, at the computer, or doing something crafty.  After a bit, we eat- it’s almost always leftovers of some sort, especially during the summer- we rarely have time, energy or volition to cook more than once a week at the best of times, so the microwave is our friend).  I always give a food offering to the lares (no, not their Celtic equivalent; a classicist friend of ours gave us a replica of a Pompeii lararium as a housewarming gifts, so that is the form of house-spirit we have).

After dinner I take care of email, do other Internet things, a bit of reading, etc.  Sometimes I do some spiritual counseling, perform divinations for people, or correspond with others in my temple.  Then it’s time to feed the dogs (another fracas) and cats, perform our nightly ablutions, and go to bed.  Before sleep I do a personal “spiritual hygiene” ritual that is loosely based on the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram; it’s designed to put aside the cares of the day and clear space for me to sleep.  I curtain off the shrine for my head spirit (as he’s a private sort and I’ve been told it’s not best to sleep in the presence of some open shrines); I also close the door to one of my Brigid shrines (more as a goodnight and thank you gesture).

The Uphill Battle, part 5: All for now

It was all a wonderful whirl for a while- reading Starhawk and Adler for the first time , getting involved in my first circles and groups, attending my first Pagan gathering.  It was an interesting time to become a Pagan- the Gay and Lesbian (this was, IIRC, before “LGBT” was a thing) community had “discovered” Paganism, and a lot of interaction was going on… as a matter of fact, the first handfasting I ever attended was for a gay couple.  There was some disgruntlement about this from the more conservative folks in the community, but it wasn’t an issue with the Pagans I hung out with.

There was, however, an ugly situation or series of situations in the loose affiliation of groups that formed my part of the Pagan community.  I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of it, so I’m not going to go any further into it; let it suffice to say that it led to the messy dissolution of that affiliation, and thence to the founding of the Free Spirit Alliance… and was a reason for its original phoenix logo.  I was involved in that, and attended the first Free Spirit Gathering– as a matter of fact, I was volun-told into being the head of cleanup, which wasn’t too arduous.

I think I was a bit of a pest about being a Pagan at times; I chalk this up to youthful enthusiasm coupled with a convert’s zeal.  I was very serious about a lot of things, in that “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” way…  On the other hand, indirectly led to a very interesting conversation with my college roommate:  he was fuming about some of the campus evangelicals, and said something about how their behavior offended him as a Christian.  I (slightly gobsmacked) said something about him never telling me he was a Christian, and he told me that it was all about how he lived and what he did more than what he claimed he was.  It was one of those moments; I think I chilled out a bit on the proselytizing from that point on, and I know it has informed and empowered my Pagan practice to this day.

Eventually, eclectic Wicca started to dead-end for me.  Ariana performed an “initiation into my own path” for me, which was powerful and helpful but didn’t lead to any huge revelations.  I entered a long period of encountering traditions and paths that called to me but ended up just not being right for me.  There was a repeating pattern:  I would come across something new that attracted me; I would investigate, read, meet and talk to practitioners, attend rituals and ceremonies; and then at some point it would just go flat, and I would walk away.  I became resigned to following my own idiosyncratic and syncretic path, sometimes braided with others’ but still very much its own thing.  Something to be proud of, perhaps, but also a bit lonely.  Until I joined UToS, that is- but that’s another story.

Meeting, wooing, and winning my Monster was also essential to my spiritual development.  Not in the “destined soulmates” sort of way, mind you.  But the slow, patient, difficult and often devastating work we’ve done over the years to twine our love and lives together- that has burned out so much dross in me, illuminated so many dark corners.  She has been so good for me, in so many ways.  Besides, she has a streak of bloody-minded ruthlessness (monster, remember) that I lack… she has my back, as I have hers.

My religion, my faith, my belief has been a process of addings and takings away that has continued to this day.  Some of the constant themes:  polytheism (pretty solidly on the “hard” end of the scale), multiple truths and multiple layers of truth, humanity (and everything created by humanity) as a part of nature, the importance of compassion and kindness… perhaps at some point I will post my “Credo”, something I worked out during my time at CHS

I still have problems with faith and belief, of course.  In the end, the Law of Pragmatism is still immensely helpful.  There’s also a quote from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins that my Monster and I use:  “Does it matter- ghost, or what?”  I try very hard to be comfortable with a lack of knowledge without losing belief or faith.  I hope that this series of posts has helped you understand some of the “why” of that struggle, and how important it has been to my life.

I’ll end it here with a disclaimer:  autobiographers are sometimes the ultimate unreliable narrators, and I’m acting as a storyteller and a poet here, not a historian.  Memory is a fluid and fractal thing; I’ve included no deliberate deceits, but I’ve arranged things to make a coherent and cogent narrative rather than a historical one.

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