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Struggling Faith

Digital artist journal page created by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy using our Imramma page kit, available by clicking this image. (Link opens in new tab)

Faith.  It’s a word that often gets looked down upon in traditional Heathen circles, yet it is something with which we all struggle, regardless of our chosen spiritual path in life.  Many modern Heathens sneer down their noses at it, saying that as a concept it smacks of someone’s “Christian upbringing”, yet it can be found scattered throughout the Eddas and Sagas, and when we do not feel it coloring our daily lives, we tend to become listless beings; we suddenly feel lost. In fact, one of the most frequently posed conundrums that I encounter is this one:

How does one get out of a “faith rut”?

I personally believe that the number one reason that we fall into “faith ruts” in the first place is due to how we have come to define the concept of faith.  That overriding definition of the concept is also intrinsically bound up with that tendency for people to sneer down their noses at it in certain circles, because the primary word we find linked with faith is belief.  This leads us down the garden path to that ages-old issue of the dreaded blind faith: adhering to something without any true understanding, perception, or discrimination.  But faith is not belief: it’s more than that.

In Pagan and Catholic circles, faith also tends to become bound up with action or doing: when one is not routinely performing the actions of one’s chosen spiritual path, one feels that they have somehow lost faith, and fallen into a “faith rut”.  Such actions might include attending Mass regularly or saying the rosary, if one is Catholic, or attending rituals and doing workings, if one is Pagan.  For those of us on a Norse Path, these actions include offering blot, working with the runes, or perhaps performing galdr.  But faith is not action or doing: it’s more than that, too.

Faith is the simple, pervading presence of hope.

Unfortunately, hope is another word that we tend to misdefine in our society:

Hope:  to want something to happen or be true; to desire with expectation of fulfillment

Basically, we confuse the concept of hope with wishing.  There are deeper definitions of the word, however, which ring closer to the truth of it, as a concept:

Hope:  to cherish with anticipation; to expect with confidence; trustreliance

I find it quite telling that those last two words–trust and reliance–are listed as the archaic definition of hope.  No wonder so many people are out here falling into “faith ruts”, when we’ve lost the very meaning, not only of the word faith, but of that which is at its core: hope!

The five keys to hope are italicized in that last definition:

  • cherish
  • anticipation
  • confidence
  • trust
  • reliance

We tend to think of the word cherish when thinking of loved ones and pets: it has become, not unlike faith and hope, a somewhat sappy thing, drained of its original meaning.  What it ultimately means, however, is to hold something constantly in your mind and heart with esteem.  Things which are cherished are not only loved, they are also respected.  They become ultimate to us.  What does that mean, to “become ultimate”? It means that those things become fundamental to the basis of our very existence:  they are of central importance, defining and supporting our total concept of how the world and the universe actually work to a degree that we would feel lost without them.  Which is why, when we lose the concept of the word cherish and at the same time have nothing in life that we actively do cherish, we begin to fall into a “faith rut”.

But according to that definition of hope back there, we not only cherish, we do so with anticipation.  Anticipation is the act of looking forward with pleasurable expectation: it looks for the best in things, rather than the worst.  Looking forward which focuses on the worst outlook is the antithesis of anticipation. We have a word for that, too. We call it dread!  Cherishing with anticipation is how we can look out the window today, and see trees covered in ice, and think “My Gods, that’s beautiful”, instead of “holy crap, we’re gonna lose power and I’m gonna freeze to death”.  The first thought is cherishing with anticipation–it focuses on the best, rather than the worst–while the latter thought is cherishing with dread.  Cherishing with dread instead of anticipation is another way in which we begin to fall into a “faith rut”.

“Expecting with confidence” is part of how the concept of hope gets confused with wishing: we tend to focus on the expecting part of that sentence, and ignore the confidence that comes after it wholesale.  We all go through life expecting things: I expect to be successful with my business, for example.  You might expect to win the lottery.  But when we add confidence into that equation, our feeble wishes get elevated into something far greater: they become hopes.  Now, confidence is defined as the feeling or belief that one can rely on something or someone–firm trust–and also as the feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.  When speaking about spirituality, somehow we tend to divorce those definitions from each other: too often, people arrive at a worldview wherein you have to choose whether to believe in a Higher Power (that first bit, that we can firmly trust and, therefore, rely on someone or something greater than ourselves), or to believe in one’s self.  But the definition is not an or statement, it’s an and statement!  True confidence, as a key to hope, requires that we do bothrely, and, therefore, firmly trust in a Higher Power while at the same time feeling self-assured, thanks to an appreciation of our own abilities and qualities.  When we treat the definition of confidence as an or statement, losing our appreciation of ourselves, and thereby coming to doubt ourselves, while focusing solely on that Higher Power part of the equation, once again, we begin to fall into a “faith rut”.

Which brings us finally to trust and reliance.  When we speak of that first word, we tend to think of it in an either/or fashion, because once again, we bind it to the concept of belief.  Trusting is what we do when we know something can be believed; when we know something is true.  As with every other bolded word in this blog post, the actual meaning of the word trust goes way, way deeper than that, however.  The deepest meaning of the word trust is to live without fear.  But how in the heck can we do that when the world is such a scary place?  Newsflash: the world has always been a scary place!  Our Ancestors unlocked the way to live without fear when they “discovered” something larger than solely themselves to rely upon.  Yes, I’m talking about a Higher Power!  What you choose to call that really makes zero difference to me; It all boils down to the same thing anyway.  That reliance, shockingly, also has zero to do with belief: whether you believe in Them or not matters not in the slightest; what matters is that you believe in you enough to be worthy of Them believing in you, too!  When we lose these definitions of trust and reliance, once again, we fall into the dreaded “faith rut”.

I didn’t figure all of this out just today, in an attempt to write a pithy blog post that might get all of you thinking and feeling and perhaps shopping while you’re here.  No, I figured all of this out quite slowly and painfully over the course of the past year, and I was forced to figure it all out because I did not simply stumble into a “faith rut”, I was pushed, ass over teakettle, into a faith chasm.  On December 23, 2015, our family dog died.  Two days before Christmas–her presents already bought and waiting to be put into her stocking–she succumbed to convulsions, and our family was shattered.  That may seem like a very small and insignificant thing: the death of the family dog.  Even to a dog-lover, that may seem like quite a tiny thing to qualify as the gateway to a faith chasm.  Yet, that’s what it was, for me.

You see, I prayed to practically every God I could think of to save her, not because I was going to miss the family dog, but because of what this was going to do to our family as a whole.  There is, after all, no pain in the world quite like grief at Christmas. And then I was expected to go sit in a pew and celebrate the birthday of one of those Gods, as if nothing had happened; as if my prayers had not been heard and yet gone unanswered.  The whole thing smacked of the most vile hypocrisy, and I wanted no further part in it, if that’s what religion entailed. Bingo: faith chasm.

I have come, over the course of the past year, to realize, however, that my plummet into the faith chasm had far less to do with the surface issue of losing our dog coupled with unanswered prayers than to do with my own misdefinition of what faith actually is, and, within that misdefinition, my mistranslation and utter lack of hope.  Hope was actually something I had lacked for a very long time at that point, it just took the death of the family dog to bring that sharply into focus.  The Gods were doing me a favor, but as is often the case, it certainly didn’t feel that way, at the time.

I found myself returning, again and again, to the most inexplicable of all sources for comfort: a passage from the Christian Bible.  I would sit, head in hands, when no one was looking, and cry my eyes out, and there would be those words, over and over, echoing like a broken record:

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! –Romans 15:13, The Message

Let me take the liberty of making that a bit more Pagan/Heidhrinn for those of you who are currently squirming in your seats:

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your spiritual life, filled with the life-giving energy of inspiration, will brim over with hope!

I have spent the last year unlocking the secrets of that mantra and climbing out of my personal faith chasm.  The next six blog posts will follow me along on that journey, in an effort to help you climb out of your own.

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Artist Journaling As Votive Art

Background paper: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell; Skeletal Deer: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: WinterTime; Branches: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell; Page Blend: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale; Rune: upcoming; Antlers: upcoming; deer on left: The Graphics Fairy; Verse: Traditional (Christian) hymn.

By now, most of you know exactly what artist journaling (AJ) is, but what the heck is votive art, and what does it have to do with what we do here at Iaconagraphy, and what you might be doing with our yummy digital assets? 

Votive Art: art that is offered, performed, or created in fulfillment of a vow, or in gratitude or devotion.

The image at the head of this post is a piece of digital votive art.  So are these:

Background Paper: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale; Journal Block: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale; Seashells: By The Sea (will be re-released); Page Blends: Notions: Masked 1: Ornate; Owl upcoming. Prayer by Xan Folmer, Huginn’s Heathen Hof.
Background Paper: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell; Sword: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell; Page Blend: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: WinterTime; Rune, upcoming; verse original by Connla; image featured in page blend is Tyr and Fenrir by Viktor Rydberg and is in the open domain.

Votive art can be created as a gift for Deity for some blessing which has come into your life (which is the case with all three of these), as an act of devotion (in the same way one might sing a hymn), or as the fulfillment of a vow (i.e., you promise Deity you are going to make something beautiful in their honor, and then you actually do).  Votive art can also act as sort of a “digital altar”: you may not have enough room on a physical altar for all of the images you create (or even for one more item, for that matter, even if it’s just a tiny piece of printed paper), but how might it change your life if you could set a piece of votive art that you’ve created as your desktop on your computer? Or as the main screen on your phone? Or maybe even as a Facebook header or avatar?  

We’ve spoken (briefly) in the past about paper magick, but the concept of votive art sets that concept completely apart from active spellwork (which, let’s face it, a lot of you are coming at this from a Christian background, and are probably wondering where you fit into this topic at all, and y’all definitely aren’t doing spellwork, at least not in the classical sense of that word).  And paper magick is great (I do it every chance I get, and no, I don’t mean active spellwork–I mean creating with paper for the glory of Deity, ala the Christian verse, Romans 12:1), but let’s face it, we live in a digital world.  Most of us are going to be spending far more time with pixels than with paper, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find a way to actively bring our spirituality into that digital world?

Digital AJ as votive art makes that completely possible, and not just for Druidic-based Heathens like me, but for any of you, no matter what your Faith-base.  In the Determined to Shine 30 Days of Artist Journaling Group on Facebook, I have seen some of the most beautiful and heartfelt Christian votive art you’ve ever laid eyes on! It’s so honest; so deeply felt, and it frequently hits me right in the heart.  This isn’t just a concept for the “Pagan Community”; it’s actually a thing that’s as old as time, I’m just working to get you looking at it in a different way.

We are, in fact, called Iaconagraphy in the first place because it is a play on the term iconagraphy, particularly as it relates to religious iconagraphy.  (Iacona, of course, being the last name of the woman who makes all this amazing-ness possible!)  

Iconagraphy: the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject.

So I think it’s high time we discussed the offerings here at Iaconagraphy in that context, and in the process, talked about what you can do with all of these assets in that context.  I’ve honestly considered at some point offering an online course on the topic, in a similar vein to Tangie Baxter’s courses on Symbology (I’d love to get feedback on how many would be interested in such a thing!).  For now, though, this blog entry will let us all “dip our toes” in that particular pond.

Where does one start with creating a piece of votive art?  Let’s talk about that specifically with a gratitude focus (because I’m feeling particularly thankful right now, and because gratitude is something we could all use a little bit more of in our lives).  When someone does something particularly nice for us, we might send them a thank you card, right? Why can’t we do the same thing to God/dess?  

  • Start by thinking of something for which you are particularly grateful, and which you know would never have happened without Deity. (Which can be literally anything!) 
  • What color does that thing for which you are showing gratitude make you feel?  Something having to do with money might feel green, for example; something having to do with health issues or healing might feel red or purple.  Choose your background paper based on this. (If you’re coming from a Pagan/Heathen base, there might be specific color correspondences that relate to the particular Deity you’re thanking, or to the “subject matter” of what you’re giving thanks for; use that!)
  • You may have elements or photographs which relate to the thing for which you are giving thanks (or even to the particular Deity you’re thanking).  Start choosing your elements (and photographs) based on this. If you have photographs, you may also want to start thinking in the direction of which page blends/photo masks to employ in the creation of your page.
  • Start arranging your elements and photographs in a way that feels both pleasant and grateful. (In other words, you want it to be aesthetically pleasing, because, I mean, who wants an ugly thank you card? But you also want to infuse the image you are creating with your personal gratitude.) I strongly recommend working in layers!
  • Once your images have been arranged, create a layer for your journal blocks and journaling.  You may not want journal blocks; you may wish to write directly on the background paper, or even on one of the elements or the image itself: that’s okay! Do what feels right to you!
  • When everything is “just so”, merge layers and save in whatever format suits your needs.

And what should you do with this votive art, now that you’ve created it?  You can set it as your desktop on your computer/laptop, or as your phone’s main screen, as a way of “sending” it (as far as I know, Deity doesn’t have a physical mailing address!), or if you’re bold, you can post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and remind the world to be a little more grateful, too. And, of course, you can always feel free to come over to the Iaconagraphy Page and share with all of us there! You can also, if you feel so inclined, actually print it out and place it on your altar (or even on a bulletin board/vision board in your home).  

This is definitely a practice and a topic which is personally speaking to me right now, and which is creating blessings in my life which I honestly never would have dreamed possible (until they actually happened!).  If any of you would like me to further explore (and give a mini-step-by-step like the one above) on votive art from a devotional or vow-fulfilling perspective as well, just let me know in the comments below, or comment at Facebook. And if you’re interested in an actual online course on AJ as votive art, feel free to let me know that in the comments below or on Facebook, as well. Our 2017 promise to all of you to be “unboxed, uncaged, and unfettered” seems to be resonating with many of you, and this is definitely in line with that, and it feels spectacular!

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And Then My Head Exploded…..

Background paper, digital asset from our upcoming January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale; journal block from upcoming January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell.

This has been the state of my brain literally all weekend. It started Friday afternoon, around 2pm, and it has just continued, full-on, non-stop, til like right now.  I’m not sure, exactly, what initially cracked my skull, and got everything flowing out of it, but I’m pretty sure Allyson Bright’s Determined To Shine courses were a mitigating factor.  I’m only a couple of weeks into 2017 at this point, but oh, what life-changing (and business-changing) weeks, full of “eureka moments”, these have been!

Somewhere around October 2016, I was told by someone in the industry (digi-scrap) who I respect that our stuff is really a better fit for Artist Journaling, than for Digi-Scrap. While I agreed with her at the time (and, obviously, still do), I sort of just catalogued it away as one of those things “I’d deal with later”.  Then I stumbled upon Allyson Bright’s 30 Days of Artist Journaling free e-course, and the rest, as they say, is history, only I’d really define it more as an eye-opening powerhouse of a kick-off to the New Year.  I started the course right smack in the middle of getting the Victoria Collection ready for release (tomorrow; 1/18/2017), while the guys are still putting the finishing touches on the January Gathering (releasing 1/25/2017), so, naturally, for many of the pages I’ve journaled for the course, I’ve used what’s “freshest” in my mind: i.e., those upcoming sets. And the more I’ve worked with those sets, the more I’ve realized the truth in those October Words: our work is a much better fit for Artist Journaling. It’s time to stop trying to fit it into the neat little box of digi-scrap, uncage it, and call it what it is, and use it for what it is!

That’s not really switching industries again (as many of you know, we’ve become somewhat legendary for doing that): that’s just hopping a fence that’s keeping us from our truest and most authentic expression of art.  It may, however, require a bit of a “sell” to some of you who’ve come with us this far, and are expecting pure, unadulterated digi-scrap assets, however, which is where things like dollar signs, and the word survival, and buzz-words like authenticity and marketing and networking come into the fray.

Rebecca McMeen has described the difference between scrapbooking and artist journaling like this:

“I look at scrapbooking as chore oriented.  I’ve got this photo and I need to make it more special by enhancing it with pretty things.  I look at art journaling as a representation of a person’s life and soul–a way to express who we really are as we walk this earthly realm.”

Which is where we get into that buzz-word: authenticity.  Because these words sent pretty much every artist here at Iaconagraphy spinning in the same direction, and if we are going to be authentically us, we’ve gotta start flowing in that direction.  Hopefully you can follow our logic:

A chore is a routine task, especially a household one; it is an unpleasant but necessary task. Face it: nobody likes to do chores. The second half of that definition is pretty apt. Now, couple that with the concept of the need to take a photo and make it special by enhancing it with pretty things.  It’s your photo; it’s a captured moment of something that was clearly important enough in your life that you felt the need to photograph it and keep it forever. So why does it need to be enhanced by pretty things to make it special? Shouldn’t it be special, all by itself? Shouldn’t it be special simply based on the fact that it was important enough for you to photograph it in the first place?  When we start to look at the captured moments of our lives as chores, that aren’t special enough by themselves, but require enhancement to become special, isn’t that just one more box that we’re allowing society at large to put us in? When you start to look at things that way, just remembering special times becomes a chore! Who wants that kind of life?

Following that same logic, if art journaling is a representation of a person’s life and soul, shouldn’t that be what we’re striving for when preserving our most special memories? And then we get to the words that really struck a chord with all of us artists here at Iaconagraphy: “a way to express who we really are as we walk this earthly realm.”  It’s as if Rebecca McMeen has a window into exactly what we’re trying to do here at Iaconagraphy! Our design, and your digi-scrap/AJ, should be exactly that: an expression of who we really are, so that one day, when none of us are here in this earthly realm anymore, the folks we leave behind can look back on it and say they honestly, and authentically knew us.

You can’t authentically know us, as designers, and no one can authentically know you based upon the things you create with what we’ve designed, if all we’re giving you is the same cluster frames, paper pinwheels, and nifty stitchy bits as every other digi-scrap designer in the market! So it’s officially time to get authentic!

I don’t care what “how to go into business for yourself” source you’re using, one thing they all have in common is the advice that, to be truly successful, you’ve got to be your brand: you’ve got to authentically represent who you are to the world, or nobody’s going to want your product.  Ultimately, when people buy whatever it is that you’re selling, they aren’t just buying whatever that item is, they’re buying into you. That’s not so tricky when it’s a one-woman-show, with said person’s photograph smattered all over their blog, Facebook, and other sales and marketing pages. That is tricky, however, when you’re talking about a conglomerate of artists, all coming together under one banner (and all coming together through the same human being as a conduit; i.e., channeled art, which is what we do here at Iaconagraphy).  When you’ve got a situation like that, one person has got to put it all on the line for everybody else, and hope that they can speak for everyone, and do everybody justice, while still allowing the others to have a voice when the occasion arises. Right now, that person would be me (Connla), and I’ve really been putting it out there on Facebook, since I started that  e-course, and I thank everyone else here at Iaconagraphy for trusting me enough to make me the spokesman for what we do.

Now, as said spokesman, it’s time for me to step up to the plate and work my hardest to make everything we do here at Iaconagraphy as authentic as our design-work.  That begins with better time-management: instead of monthly, the Gathering will officially be a quarterly feature.  While we desperately want to “show off” what we do here at Iaconagraphy, we want to make absolutely sure we’re giving you top quality when we do, and we have quickly discovered that we can’t accomplish all of the above on a monthly schedule.  We are also going to cut back to two (and at most three, and this on rare occasions) full kits per month, with in-between releases of assets that will help you better use what you already have, as well as make the best use possible of new and upcoming kits.  The next step is nurture marketing, instead of interruption marketing.  What does that mean to you, as a customer? It means less used-car-salesman or tv-commercial-style marketing (flash sale ads, for example, or constant sales ads in newsletters), and more social opportunities, such as the Layout of the Month (which we introduced in last week’s newsletter), as well as more blog posts that tell you what’s going on around here, and get you actively involved in what’s going on around here.  And the step after that one? Creating more of what people actually need in their lives, to fully create representations of their life and soul.  Our tagline is “feed your Spirit“, and that has been, and will continue to be, the spark behind everything we design here at Iaconagraphy.  We don’t want to just make “pretty things” that will somehow magically make your memories “more special” by using them as “enhancements”; we want to make things that speak to you on a soul level, and help you remember that you and your life already are special!

We are officially unboxing ourselves; becoming uncaged and unfettered, and we hope, with every single ounce of our combined creative energies, that we can help you do the same in 2017!