The Short Version of this blog can be found at http://virtualchaplain.tumblr.com/
April 24th marked what would have been my departed father’s 69th birthday. As I have written before it has been a struggle figuring out how to honor my father since he was a difficult man in life. When I first began meeting with my father in ritual, I was offering beer and a few good thoughts. Beer, although a clear favorite of his, was an odd choice since it was also his downfall. I justified my choice by reasoning that it could no longer affect his physical body. But in honestly I have no idea what drinks and food do for or to a spirit. I simply gave beer because it was one of the few things I knew he enjoyed. I had no clue how to approach ancestor worship with my father so I just winged it, hoping that eventually I would find my way. Hoping that he would at least appreciate the effort. If not, at least I would help myself in the grieving process.
Now, my practice has changed slightly, I stopped offering alcohol for the time being. Thanks to a suggestion in Haitian Vodou Handbook by Kenaz Filan instead I started offering him blessed spring water. Water to purify and promote clarity on his new spiritual journey. This offering feels more authentic and active. For even when I do not have good words to offer or there are no messages to receive, I can still give this small blessing. It is something I can do even when I am in the angry stage of grieving. “ Hey I do not want to talk and engage you, but I wish for you clarity and peace.” However, I found myself often wishing that “this water brings purification so that we may one day have a healthy relationship.” The water offerings have opened a new door for communicating with my father.
For his birthday, I did a little more than my regular offering. I gave him a present of playing cards. Playing cards was one of the healthy activities I recall him participating in with his friends. After I gave the offering, I played and sang along with a recording of Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday. My Dad would always leave long annoying voice messages on my birthday singing this song. It drove me wild back then but now it is one of the few precious memories. When it came time to snuff out the candle, I whispered to my father “ I miss you.” It was the first time I was not stuck between angry and confusion. For the first time, I allowed myself to remember and embrace the good side of my father. I allowed myself to set aside the beer drinking and angry man long enough to honor the funny playful dad.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
How I Pray
When I think of the format of a pray, I think of how a ritual is created. First, I ground myself and clear my mind in order for my highest voice to emerge. Then, I acknowledge the sacred place and time. I invoke the energies I want to speak to such as the Goddess, Divine love, etc depending on my currents needs or temperament. Then, I simply speak from the heart, my most urgent desire or gratitude. However, prayer often comes to me without planning or structure. There are times when I simply close eyes and words pouring out as if I am a vessel. I often wonder if I am talking to the Divine or is Divine talking to and through me. Mostly, prayer is my way of letting go of barriers and letting my natural wisdom flow through.
My Definition of Prayer
Prayer is a creative expression of one’s connection to their inner spirit, their world and the Divine. I use prayer to get to know myself again.Prayer reminds where my passions are, where my fear lies and the places within me that are longing to be healed. Prayer helps me to come out of hiding to face my demons, wounds and seemingly hopeless dreams. There is a feeling that this is between me and “God” therefore I am free to be fully me. It was the descriptions of a nonjudgmental God in Praying with Body and Soul that challenges me to use prayer as a fearless gateway to self honesty. Jane Vennard states about her own practice that, “ Prayer has become for me the practice of bringing all of who I have been, all of who I am, and all of who I am becoming into relationship with God.” (2) Her words removes the secrecy and shame from faith and allows prayer to finally be real. In this way, prayer becomes about true love. We, not only, give ourselves completely to the Divine, we also remove our masks learn to love ourselves through that union.
Prayer can center us in a way that we developed the capacity to send our compassion out into the world. Through prayer we are reminded of the interdependence of life and the blessings of our world. We remember that we are all God’s children or we are all the Goddess. It is through this realization that many of us develop a longing help ease the suffering of others and come into communion with our world. Vennard highlights interdependence of our world by recounting an praying exercise that challenged her group to say “ that is God” is every situation. That story reminds me of one of my favorite prayers from a the Wiccan book: The Circle Within by Dianne Sylvan:
“Thou art Goddess
Thou art God
I grant you from a place of love
I will honor us both
We breath the same air,
we the same pains,
do are best with what we know.
It will honor us both.
Thou art Goddess.
Thou art God.
As am I, As are we all.” (176)
Here prayer is use in a way that allows us to engage more deeply in the world with others. I see prayer now as a tool for courage. When I am able to see everything as Divine, everything with purpose and know that I have the Goddess within, then I am more readily able to face tough situations and people. Also, when I realize that Divinity of people and creatures through I am called to service. As Jane Vennard asserts, “ Service becomes prayer when we serve our sisters and brothers with love and compassion that comes from God.” (108 ) What I appreciate most about Jane Vennard is that she believes that service is prayer. She believes that prayer is not simply speaking or being quiet but also action, moving and living. I completely agree that prayer should have no creative limits. After all, there are times when I express myself with dance, yoga, through crying, screaming and laughing. There are times when talking is not enough and words will not express my joy or pain.
The area where Vennard and I may differ is on the definition of the Divine. While she uses prayer to bring herself “into relationship with God.” (2). I pray to bring myself into relationship with everything. I believe that people can define the Divine as they see fit. The Divine is whatever makes as feel whole, balanced and fully union in my mind, body, soul and in the world. The Divine can be God, Goddess, nature, music, dance,etc. The Divine is unlimited therefore prayer for me is an art that allows me express the endless possibilities of a human life and spirit. I also believe prayer can be about communicating with the within, the without or both. A person who does not believe in outside entities can still pray for their own natural healing or pray to their own inner wisdom. For example, A Book of Pagan prayer offers a simple pray to geese for healing:
“Wild Geese flying overhead on journey south, bear away with you on your thundering wings the cares that have made my summer weary. Cry out my pain,passing over the darkened land,until the air ocean you sail washes it away.” (172) This prayer does not use any lofty supernatural beings. It suggests that we can find spirituality in the moment and in everything. Prayer can be an avenue to embrace the wonders of everyday existence, and loving all that is around us and within us. In this way prayer, no matter who it is addressed to, is about seeing and experiencing the Divine qualities of our own being.
Through out this process of praying and reading Vennard’s book, I have learned to accept my whole self. I have learned that my spiritual being includes more than my sweet side. My spiritual self is no longer separate from my anger, my activism or my silliness. I have learned that prayer is about unifying all the part of one self and offering your wholeness to your world and the Divine. Prayer is an art of courage that invites the universe to look into the deepest depths of our being.
Buddhism is a group of various traditions that follow the Dharma ( teaching of the Buddha and wise beings). It involves rituals, meditations, contemplations and guidelines ( such as the eight-fold path) in order to either achieve enlightenment or to work towards the betterment of all conscious beings. The Buddhist Dharma is not a closed cannon. In other words, it applies to material within and outside of sacred texts(Buddhist sutras). Buddhist cannon can included any teaching that helps establish mindfulness or that are geared towards the betterment of humankind. Therefore, the cannon includes Buddhist teachings to books on science, psychology,environmentalism from ancient times to current popular works.
Buddhist teachings and schools are often broken down into three categories: Hīnayāna, Mahāyāna and Vijñāna. Hīnayāna is sometimes considered a disparaging term as it literally means lower wheel. These categories are created mainly by Mahāyāna and Vijñāna schools.
However, it is best to think of Buddhist teachings or schools of thought as a Wheel with first teaching ( first turning of the wheel), the second and the third. The teachings are a circular as opposed to hierarchical and each serve as an aid to the other teachings.
Buddhism is also a karmic religion. Understanding karma is considered to be a a lifetime task or even lifetimes. But this simplest definition is cause and effect ( though I was taught that karma is cause and effect is the results of karma.). Therefore, Buddhism is a karmic religion because it analysis how causes, conditions, consequences, thoughts, actions and emotions effect our daily lives, our minds and our next lives. It poses that karma determines how we view the world, and act within in and it determines the path of our next life.
Reincarnation is an important aspect of Buddhist thought. Each Buddhist sees reincarnation in different ways. Some view it as the constant death and rebirths in one’s current life and might not believe in an actual next life. But the traditional view is that fueled by karma, each person reincarnates in different realms of existence until they reach enlightenment or Buddhahood. However, enlightenment beings are no longer controlled by karma and do not have reincarnate. Unless they have vowed to do so ( such as the reincarnations of Dalai Lama or Karmapa)
General speaking the purpose of Buddhism is either to achieve self-enlightenment or to help all beings achieve enlightenment. Therefore, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and wise teachers have developed tools from Buddhist debate to meditation in order to aid humans in free oneself of conflicted, unmindful and harmful patterns. They can see enlightenment as being uncluttered emptiness that allows us to see ourselves or the world as it truly is.
What is my magick? I used to do a lot of spells when I was younger. Spells for love and happiness and money. But the older I would get, the less spells I would do. Magick become less about what I could attain. Magick became about my connection with nature. I wanted mystical relationships. Marriage to the sun and moon. An affair with the waters. A deep secret friendship with the air. The earth as a my protector. Old, grumpy and wise earth. I wanted to understand how everything worked. And how I was apart of it. I did not want to create magic, I wanted to discover that I was indeed magic.
Surprise. As I got older still, magic took on a new meaning. I wanted to heal. Not with spells. They seemed too easy and fleeting. I wanted to heal people. Heal the inner pains with hard work. By helping them see into their own hearts and minds. Helping them to see their own wisdom. Help them see they are also magic.
I wanted to heal the human relationships. I wanted to heal our relationships with nature. With creation. I wanted to teach that we all were married to each other. Interdependent. We were all the sun, moon, earth, water. And then I grew older and came down to earth. I wanted to experienced the true magic of family and friends. I wanted to heal my own wounds and disconnection from loved ones. I wanted to feel not the sun or reach the stars. I wanted to dig through the earth, pull up the dirt and find the bones, the bodies, the skeletons of my ancestors. I wanted to discover my roots. How could I know magic if I don’t know where I come from, and who I am.? Magic is now honoring the past, the spirits and ancestors. Seeing and receiving their healing messages. Passing on what I learn. So that many other people can take this journey into magic too.
In my pursuit of relearning how to interpret tarot , I decided to read up on the history of tarot. This turned out to be an exhausting and somewhat fruitless endeavor. As there are not many known facts about the history and origins of tarot. Most of what is written is debated theories. Of course, history is always filled with more stories, opinions than fact especially when we are dealing with ancient and medieval times. What is also debatable is whether learning about tarot history is needed for becoming a great tarot reader. The argument for researching tarot history is that one can develop more understanding of its symbolism, message and purpose. For myself, I have decided to simply touch the surface of the background of tarot in hopes of enhancing my understanding and connection to the cards.
The origins of Tarot
Theories around the origins of Tarot are highly debatable, sometimes controversial, sometimes eurocentric and even racist. Some English speaking scholars and writers focus on when Tarot and playing cards first appear in European history. While, some attribute Tarot in Europe to “ G**psies travelers. These writers are clearly unaware that G**** is an ethnic slur. But pushing away, eurocentrism. The leading theory of the origins of Tarot in the west is they were evolution from playing cards. There are some theories that tarot appeared before playing cards ( brought in by Romani people or other migrations into Europe). However, legal documents around illegal gambling insert playing cards into Europe history well before the first mention of tarot. According to historical documentation, playing cards appeared in Europe in” 1370-1380″. (wopc.com) While divination cards were not mentioned until “ the second half of the 19th century.” (tarothermit.com) So we can at least concluded that Tarot cards grew from playing cards that turned into divination tools.
Scholars and Tarot enthusiasts believe that playing cards originated in Egypt, China or India and was then brought to the West from immigrants from one of these countries. It is entirely possible, considering the age and sophistication of these civilizations that playing cards and various divination systems were created by all of them. Furthermore, it is not unusual for inventions to be made around the same time by various peoples. I would guess, that playing cards were introduced into the West by many groups.
Tarot Symbolism origins
While many believe that Tarot came to the West already infused with symbolism of Arabic culture, Egyptian, Indian or Chinese symbolism. Others believe Tarot in West fully formed out of Italian Catholic culture. “ The Tarot deck was invented in Italy around 1440, based on the existing card decks of the time (not the other way around, as popular legend has it). The idea that G*psies introduced cards to Europe is contradicted by the fact that cards were known in Europe for about 40 years before the first appearance of G**sies.” (G-Slur censured ( http://jducoeur.org/game-hist/seaan-cardhist.html)) Theories of the origins of Tarot do influence how scholars and reader interpret the symbolism of cards. Some believe that the common symbolism derives from Egyptian or Arabic culture including the name “ tarot.” While others see the symbolism as Italian Catholicism. Either way, Modern western Tarot invokes the symbolism of the church and the biblical messages of Italian artists who created the oldest “ known” decks but it also has been greatly influenced by African, Jewish, and Asian culture.
Many modern and older artists have focused on specific culture in creating their own interpretation or rendering of the cards.One of the oldest recorded decks was commissioned by The Duke of Milan,Filippo Maria Visconti as celebration of his only heirs’ birth, shows the symbols of the Italian renaissance, journey of Christ and the religious message of the bible. Yet, there are now many decks that now focus on Non-Christian religious and philosophical journeys.
Attributes of Tarot:
Tarot originally started as Trumps deck only featuring the only major arcana. Then the minor arcana was added on later. Perhaps the major arcana is an unique invention but the minor arcana most likely stems for playing cards. A modern deck consists of 78 cards. Tarot cards are most used for divination through the use of spreads. Spreads are a layout of pulled tarot cards that help answer a question or offer guidance in some way. Tarot cards can also be used to do meditation, rituals, spells and aid in various forms of spiritual growth.
Regardless of original culture influence, Tarot involves various symbolism from astrology, numerology, color theory and various religious symbols include the tree of life from Judaism. Modern decks will often emphasize one or more symbols. For example there are astrology decks, religious decks, cultural decks, etc.
It would see that modern Tarot incorporates all of its supposed and actual early influences. Further study into any of these school of thoughts, cultures and religions can only serve to help advance one’s reading skills. The most important task is finding a deck that symbols speaks to one’s own intuition, culture and path.
Introduction to Iconology of the early tarot: The origin of Tarot Cards by Robert Oneill.http://www.tarot.com/tarot/robert-oneill/iconology-of-the-early-tarot-introduction ( according to Oneill, tarot was created in 15th century Italy, using the artistic expression of Italian to deliver the deeper meaning behind the Church ’s message.)
http://tarothermit.com/tarot/tarokarten (overview of tarot history and use readers intrepet based on symbolism, subconscious and concertnation)
http://www.tarotpassages.com/mkgtimeline.htm ( timeline)
http://www.wopc.co.uk/history/earlyrefs.html ( orgins of playing cards)
The Everything Tarot Book (Alexander, Skye)
Here is just a quick list of Correspondences:
Other related or close holidays: Easter, St. Patrick’s day, Passover
Aspects and symbols: fertility, birth, new life, balance,light ,becoming warmer, rebirth, renewal, new ideas, good fortune
Gods: Eostre/Ostara, Ariadne, Athena, Minerva, Persephone, Attis, Cernunnos
Animals and Mystical beings: chicks, bunnies, magical hare, hawk, sparrow, snake and Merpeople
Myths: “ magical hare and magical eggs” and resurrection of various God/desses.
Foods: chocolate, eggs, green foods, seeds, salads and “Spring foods”
Activities: spring cleaning, egg hunt, egg art, gardening, new projects.
Flowers, Trees, Plants: ash, birch, maple, daffodil, lily, rose, violet, honeysuckle,lavender, tulips, lilac
Stones and gems: moonstone, clear quartz,rose, garnet, agate
Other symbols: flowers, vines, seeds
Tarot: Chariot, 7, Magician, eight of wands
Resources and Further reading:
Towards a Wiccan Circle:A Practical Introduction to the Principles of Wicca by Sorita d’Este
Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Correspondences: A Comprehensive & Cross-Referenced Resource for Pagans & Wiccans by Sandra Kynes
Tarot for all seasons: celebrating the days & nights of Power by Christine Jette
The question of sin was a heated conversation in my religious studies classes. We were Buddhists, yogis and a Wiccan who did not believe in a God outside of creation ( or did not believe in God at all), who did not believe in punishment or damnation.
Sometimes, the aversion to the concept of sin would make it difficult to relate to Christian text. Eventually, it became clear that we had to think differently about sin in order to really engage the texts. We began to think about what sin meant from our own religious perspectives.
In my case, I had already lessened my anger around the term. It happened when I was introduced to the idea that sin was “whatever takes you away from God”*. Boom. It was a miracle. That one phrase was like poetry to me because it took out all the damnation and punishment. It also made rejecting sin sound like a daily practice. You do what brings you closer to God to avoid sin. It was also so much more relatable. While someone Christian might take that to mean do not have sex before marriage because it takes you away from God. I could relate it to when I am not doing practices that bring me closer to the Goddess.
When we substitute God for divinity or sacredness, then sin holds a whole other notion of personal responsibility and wisdom. In the Buddhist tradition, we can likely “sin” to what leads you away from enlightenment, service to others or a healthy mind. An example of this would be virtuous or non-virtuous karma. These are not a good/bad reward system. They are not a punishment system. Instead, non-virtuous Karma is what is created by and leads to unhealthy emotion patterns (Kleshas). Kleshas stand in our way of having a healthy mind (somewhat like that sin that keep us from God).
In Wicca, God is Divine Immanence. God is and is in nature. God is in us and all creation. So what would be sinful in Wicca. To me, Wiccan “sin” would be whatever causes imbalance in nature and whatever makes us experience disconnection from The Goddess, The Divine, Nature and Humanity. If I did a spell that causes an imbalance or was against nature or if I was cruel to an innocent human, I would see that as “sinful.”
With all that said, Christianity, Buddhism and Wicca are not completely comparable if at all. Also, sin is unique to certain religions like Christianity. The theology of sin does not really work in religions like Wicca. However, it is so helpful to ponder religious concepts that challenge us, to translate into our religious words. In this case, the concept of sin can be a doorway into to thinking about what is important in our Wiccan practices. And what makes us have regret, fear or imbalances. What do we “punish’ ourselves for. And what can we do to be closer to The Goddess and Nature.
* I do not remember where I first heard this but it seems to be a take on " Sin separates us from God" (Isaiah 59:2).