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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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Happy Holidays!

Layout created by Connla Freyjason, using papers and elements from Jolly Holiday, available this holiday season in our shop by clicking this image (link opens in new tab).

As the song says, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! And part of what makes it wonderful is it is one of the longest vacations I take all year long!

That being said, all of us here at Iaconagraphy wish you and yours a blessed and bright Holiday Season, whether you and yours are celebrating the birth of the Son, or the birth of the Sun, or both! (Or even something else entirely!)  We also hope that you will enjoy our extended Black Friday sale, happening from November 24th through December 1st, 2017.  We may be on blog and design hiatus, but don’t worry, you can still find us on social media at facebook.com/Iaconagraphy, and you can look forward to tons of great art, inspiration, and Heidhrinn musings beginning January 15, 2018!

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Everything You Need To Start Your Own Magick: Only 6.99!

Yes, that really sounds like I’m trying to sell you something, but I’m not.  That 6.99 isn’t a dollar amount, it’s the Six Celtic Values, the Nine Welsh Virtues, and the Aesirian Code of Nine (which is Heathen/Asatru, aka Norse/Germanic/Teutonic).  I’m talking about ethics, y’all, because to start your own magick, you are going to have to have a serious ethical code firmly in place, or you’re going to pay, and pay bigtime!

Truth is, we need an ethical code in our lives if we want to succeed at anything, not just magick.  The current “Christian climate” of rules-as-subjugation (at best) and rules-as-an-excuse-to-peddle-hatred (at worst, and, unfortunately, most often) has many, many people taking one look at the word ethics, and running the other way.  I can’t say that I really blame them.  I’ve personally dealt with that crap my whole life (grew up in The South, remember), and rule-breaking, or, at the very least, rule-overturning does sound far more appealing, when put into that particular context.   The rules I’m talking about aren’t aimed at doing either of those two things, though.  In fact, these are designed to give you a foundation to strengthen your whole life!

The Six Celtic Values are Honor, Justice, Hospitality, Honesty, Loyalty, and Courage.  These are very, very old: we’re talking pre-Christian and handed down for ages orally before they were ever committed to writing.  These are the Values practiced by modern Druids, and you’ll also find them explored in-depth in my book Dragonfly Theology.   I’ll break them down further in a moment, but first let’s take a look at the .99 I mentioned previously, because I think you’ll find it as interesting as I did how those Six Celtic Values are echoed in the Nine Welsh Virtues and the Aesirian Code of Nine.

The Nine Welsh Virtues are also sourced from Celtic pre-Christian Tradition: in this case, the traditions of the Celtic Peoples of Wales.  They are regarded as the nine keepers of the Cauldron of Awen, which I’ll grant you, sounds like something out of a really awesome Fantasy film or novel, but in the Welsh Druidic Faith is a very, very real thing.  They are Integrity, Friendship, Generosity, Wisdom, Self-Knowledge, Trust, Humility, Courage, and Innocence.

Finally, there is the Aesirian Code of Nine, which was first discovered as a carving in Denmark, dating to 825 A.D. That date may sound post-Christian, but in reality the people of Denmark came into contact with Christians only sporadically, via Viking raids (i.e., they weren’t exactly sitting down to a friendly dinner with their Christian brethren), until the 11th Century. So, in 825 A.D., whoever carved the Code was still an “Odin-worshipping Heathen”.  It is believed that it is largely based on the Nine Virtues spoken by Odin in the Havamal, from the Poetic or Elder Edda (the earliest confirmed date for which is around the latter half of the 10th century A.D., but it is believed that this is likewise based on a much older oral tradition).   Briefly, the virtues of this code are: To Honor, To Protect, To Flourish, To Have Knowledge, To Accept Change, Fairness, Balance, Control, and To Understand Conflict.

Last night, after being awakened by coyotes at midnight (which I initially thought were children screaming outside my window), I had an epiphany: if you stick all of these into a comparative table, you wind up with what you see below. (Yes, given the “coyote-of-it-all”, one could legit say “Loki Made Me Do It“!)

Celtic and Norse Ethics

So, what does any of that have to do with you? Or with magick? Or with strengthening your whole life?  Comparing and coalescing these different systems of ethics left me with a “breakdown” that I’m calling The 6.9.9 (you know, sort of like the slang “411” that the kids today use):

6.9.9. Druid Ethics

 

If we start from a place where we are behaving with Honor, our lives will necessarily flow more smoothly, and we can guarantee that if we do magick, we’re doing it for all the right reasons, instead of for our own selfish gain.  To behave with Honor means to treat everyone with respect; to treat everyone we meet with a certain measure of reverence, realizing that the same Sacred Force that drives us is also (hopefully) driving them.  (Granted, that might not always prove to be the actual case–some people are driven by things that definitely wouldn’t be classified as Sacred–but we should always start from this place, until proven otherwise. More on what to do about those people in a moment….)  Behaving with Honor also means realizing and recognizing that there are forces larger than us at work in the Universe in the first place, and showing those forces the same respect and reverence that we would to the people we love. (In other words: when you’re doing magick, you are not in it alone! Taking full credit for your magickal workings is a no-no; not to mention, it’s rude!)

Treating people with Honor will naturally lead to building Friendship, which is a way bigger concept than most people today realize.  This isn’t about how many people “like” you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, or have subscribed to your email newsletter.  True Friendship entails protection, and protection requires justice-seeking.  Once you know what is Ultimately Right (which hopefully you’ll fully understand after exploring the 6.9.9.), you can’t just sit idly by and watch the world run rough-shod over that.  You’ve got to protect the ones around you that you call your friends and loved ones, and that should include every single person on this planet (except where people’s actions have proven their motives to be less than Honor-driven, as mentioned previously), because all of humanity is your friend, until proven otherwise.  Your Circle of Friends also includes the forces that are bigger than you that are at work in the Universe, whether you choose to call these gods and goddesses, totems, guides, or whatever.  They’re there, and the sooner you realize that, the happier you’ll be in life.  They are there to protect you; you are Honor-bound to protect them back!

When we think of Friendship in our modern world, the next thing that usually comes to mind is Hospitality: most of us like to “part-ay” with our friends, right?  My semi-adopted-son, for example, has made himself semi-(in)famous among his friends for hosting Saturday night parties at “Matt’s  Bar and Grill” (translation: our basement).  Those things can get a little rowdy, and drive his Mother and I to complete distraction, but the bottom line is: our kid is like the poster child for Hospitality, and you can readily see the effects of that when you talk to his friends.  He can ask almost any of them to do something for him in return (or for his Mother or I), and they scarcely blink before asking “what do you need done?”  When we are welcoming to others, they tend to welcome us back.  You get what you give. It’s the simple Law of Reciprocity.  Not surprisingly, this doesn’t only apply to people, either: it also applies to the Universal Powers, and, believe it or not, to Inspiration (known in the Welsh Tradition as Awen).  The more you give to the Powers-That-Be (gods, goddesses, guides, totems), the more they will give to you.  Daily prayer, blessings, and sacrifices (no, I’m not talking puppies here; I’m talking things like burning incense while making promises to do good that you intend to keep) should be our way of showing Hospitality to those powers.  But how does one show Hospitality to Inspiration/Awen? Well, if you’re already a creative person, it probably won’t come as a great shock to you that the more you create, the more ideas you get, so that you can create some more!  Again: you get what you give.

Learning and practicing these first three concepts is the beginning of Wisdom.  These first three bring you more deeply into contact with the fact that there is, in fact, something way bigger than you in the Universe.  What you choose to call it is completely up to you, of course, but exploring these first three concepts should make it pretty plain that it is there in the first place.  As you interact more and more with it, you will come to know it more and more deeply as a simple fact of existence, the same way we can no longer imagine our lives without someone once we’ve deepened a relationship with a physical friend or loved one.  This deep knowing is Wisdom.

And that Wisdom should develop in us a great thirst for deeper Self-Knowledge as well.  To truly and deeply know anyone else (including the Sacred Forces of the Universe), you have to first truly and deeply know yourself.  Getting to know one should strengthen your knowledge and understanding of the other, and vice versa. For example, how do you fit into this framework so far?  How do these things I’m talking about speak to you and inform you on the deepest levels of your being?  What is your place in the Universe? What drives you? What pisses you off? What brings you the greatest joy?

Once you truly know yourself, you’ll be in a much better position to practice real Honesty.  You can be more deeply truthful (and gently truthful, too, I might add, because sometimes the truth can hurt), and you can be more faithful in relationships because you will no longer need to hold anything back.  You’ll develop a more fair worldview, which no longer includes perpetual us vs. them scenarios, but instead leading to Loyalty: partnerships where you view the other person as on equal footing with yourself, and deserving equal and vehement protection where and when necessary.  Together, Wisdom, Self-Knowledge, Honesty, and Loyalty will keep your magick on the right track as well, as you develop the realization that you are working alongside larger forces, instead of it being “all you”.  This will make sure you aren’t going off on “magickal power trips”, and that you’re being completely honest, not only with yourself, but also with the Universe, about what your intentions truly are.

All of these finally lead us to Courage and back once again to the ideal of Justice.  Through all of these, you will find that you develop great measures of self-control.  It’s a little hard to go off “half-cocked” all the time when you’re operating from these Values, and viewing others as on equal footing with you, until proven otherwise.  But what about when you have been proven otherwise? First off, how to you prove the otherwise in the first place?  Well, what is Ultimately Right will fit into the 6.9.9.; what is Ultimately Wrong will not.  Fairly simple, right?  When you encounter something or someone that is Ultimately Wrong (and believe me, in this world, you will eventually encounter something or someone that fits under that heading), that’s where Justice comes in.  I’m not talking “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” here; enough people have tried to promote that over the centuries without Druids joining in the devastation that line of thinking brings.  I’m talking about hopeful correction through education.  When you encounter a situation or a someone who is “otherwise“, you should first attempt to educate them on what is Ultimately Right.  Show them through your actions even more than through your words.  If that doesn’t seem to have any effect, leave it to the Universe: it may take Someone or Something to get clear to that particular person/situation.  That does not mean passively walking away; instead, it means let them know you’re handing it to a Higher Power and then actively do so through spellwork and prayer. No, I’m not saying use magick for revenge, ever!  What I’m saying here is ask the Universe to teach them to be a better human being; to make them a nicer person; to take away the things in their life that make them such an asshole in the first place. Remember that great measure of self-control I just talked about? These are the times to actually put it to work!

Every single situation that you encounter in life can be placed into the framework of the 6.9.9., measured against it, and dealt with accordingly.  That’s what I’m talking about, when I say these ethics can strengthen your life.  They’ll also provide a framework for your Spiritual Path, whatever it may be, even if you aren’t “Druidically-inclined”.  And whether you’re a magickian/spellworker, or a prayer-warrior of another kind, they can provide a step-by-step guide as to whether or not you should proceed with what you’re doing, and precisely how to go about it: what you should be asking for, and what your intentions should be. So, get with the 6.9.9., and let it give you strength, as it has given me!

To get more on the 6.9.9. and a whole host of other magickal goodness, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter, Inspirations, today!