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Hanging On The Tree

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, by Connla and Duncan.

Do you ever feel like you’re just “hanging out”? I don’t mean in the good sense of those words; I mean in the sense of that desperate kitty cat on the poster, just clawing his way to hold on so that he doesn’t fall off the rope!  Saint John of the Cross (Catholic/Christian) described such periods in our lives as The Dark Night of the Soul.  The Christian Bible tells us of Christ crucified, just “hanging out” on the cross, between murderers and thieves, to save the whole world from its sins.  And in the Norse Tradition, we have the tale of Odin hanging himself upon Yggdrasil: the ultimate shaman’s death experience.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Odin (or Norse Mythology at all, for that matter), the All-Father (roughly cognate to Yahweh/Jehovah in Judeo-Christian tradition) went to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, to seek the power of Knowledge and Wisdom.  He climbed that great tree, cut himself with his own spear to feed its hungry bark with his blood, and hung himself upon the tree for nine days and nine nights.  Much like Christ on the cross, Odin’s self-sacrifice is believed to have torn open the fabric of Creation (remember that part in the New Testament where it says that the curtain in the Temple was torn in two? Same thing.) and allowed the Rune Spirits to appear to him, and teach him the runes (written language, as well as a divination and magickal tool).    The end result of Odin “hanging out” was the beginning of True Wisdom for All.

“Hanging out” wasn’t pleasant for either Odin or Christ, yet for some reason, we humans have the gall to think that it should be pleasant for us.  That it should be easy somehow; that instead of desperately clawing our way up the proverbial rope, like the little kitten in that popular poster, we should be joyfully swinging from said rope while we “hang out”.  What gives us the audacity to think such a thing? If “hanging out” was that difficult for gods, why in the hell should it be a joyride for us?

In The Dark Night of the Soul, Saint John of the Cross writes:

“Spiritual persons suffer considerable affliction in this night, owing not so much to the aridities they undergo, as to their fear of having gone astray.”

From an early age in our society, we are unfortunately taught that if something is difficult or unpleasant, it means that “whatever it is” is likely punishment for something that we’ve done.  Some of that, I think, can be pinned on how pervasive the assumed Christian worldview has become in our society, but not all of it.  Let me be clear on what I mean by “assumed Christian worldview” before I move on to what other factors make us think this way:  that whole “eye for an eye” thing in Christianity?  The whole “if you go astray you will be punished in equal portion” thing? Yeah, that went out with the Old Testament!  Too many Christians seem to be missing the entire point of Christ “hanging out” on the cross in the first place!  Okay, so what do I mean when I say that not all of our “if something is unpleasant, clearly I did something wrong, and it’s punishment” worldview comes from that assumed Christian perspective?  The concept of karma and karmic repayment in Hinduism, Buddhism, and even modern Neo-Paganism is also responsible; we can’t pin this one solely on the Christians. Now, please don’t take that as me saying “there’s no such thing as karma”;  karma is, as they say “a right bitch”, and definitely exists, but it’s a slippery slope at best, when it comes to the idea that if something is difficult or unpleasant, then obviously we’re being punished for something else we’ve done previously.

No, Saint John of the Cross got it right: the difficulty and unpleasantness we experience when going through the Dark Night of the Soul are patently not punishment, they’re tempering to make us stronger and wiser, in exactly the same way as one tempers steel in fire, but it is our fear that they are somehow punishment for our having gone astray that makes us believe that “hanging out” should be easy for us, when it wasn’t even easy for gods.  Being tempered isn’t pleasant, anymore than harsh instruction from a parent–designed to help a child grow and learn–is pleasant.  Priscilla, an early female leader in the Christian faith, puts it this way in the Epistle to the Hebrews (yes, that was written by a woman!):

Others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through–all that bloodshed!  So don’t feel sorry for yourselves.  Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as His children?

My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
    but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
    the child he embraces, he also corrects.

God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out.  He’s treating you as dear children.  This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.  Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves.  Would you prefer an irresponsible God?  We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? …At the time, discipline isn’t much fun.  It always feels like it’s going against the grain.  Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.  –Hebrews 12:4-11, The Message

Sometimes when things are difficult and unpleasant–when we’re forced to “hang out”–it’s because we did something right enough to deserve deeper wisdom and greater maturity, instead of because we’ve done something wrong.  “Hanging out” makes us grow–that’s what Priscilla means when she speaks of a mature relationship with God.  It deepens us as humans; brings us closer to the gods (whichever ones we favor).  While it may be hard to see such dark times as an actual reward, exercising such discernment can make all the difference between whether we put our head in our hands, cry buckets, and shout to the Universe “I freaking give up!”, or not.

I am, admittedly, “having a day” today. Today, I feel like I’m “hanging out”: like my whole life just ground to a halt in some sort of unasked for pregnant pause.  

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, by Connla and Duncan.

My usual response to a day like this one would be to honestly either sit around and cry about it (yes, I’m that guy!), or sit and stare at the walls and feel sorry for myself, or stomp around the house like an angry spoiled child, but not today.  Why is today different from all the other days in the past just like this one? Because today I realize that “hanging out” isn’t punishment for something I’ve done wrong, but instead a reward for everything I’m doing right.  Now, I’ll grant you, in and of itself, it’s a pretty sucky reward, but I have faith that what I’ll gain on the other side of it is worth this feeling.  “Hanging out” has forced me to “take a break”, and review what I’m doing, as well as what I’m not doing, and look around from this height at which I presently find myself hanging at all of the other possible directions I could be doing in.  This “pregnant pause” has reminded me that ultimately, all that I do, am doing, and will do is not solely my own, nor is it solely up to me: ultimately, I am just the messenger, and I need to “get out of the way” of Those who would speak through me. At risk of potentially offending any of my more “hardcore” Heathen or Pagan readers, there is definitely great Truth in this passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, so please humor my “Paganizing” of it:

Now the Gods have us right where They want us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us.  This instruction is all Their idea, and all Their work.  All we do is trust Them enough to let Them do it.  It’s Gods’ gift from start to finish!  We don’t play the major role.  If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!  No, we neither make nor instruct ourselves.  The Gods do both the making and the instructing.  They create each of us to join Them in the work They do, the good work They have gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. –“Paganized” from Ephesians 2:7-10, The Message

I am ready to join Them in the work They have gotten ready for me to do. In the meantime, I’ll just be here, “hanging out”…..



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To The Pain?

You may or may not be able to quote dialogue at random (as I can), but most of you have probably seen The Princess Bride. (If you haven’t, rectify that ASAP! It’s one of the best films of all time!)  Near the end, there’s a duel between The Dread Pirate Roberts (trying not to give too many spoilers here, for those who haven’t seen it) and the dastardly Prince Humperdink, in which the dialogue goes a little something like this:

Humperdink: To the death!

Dread Pirate Roberts: No. To the pain.

Humperdink: I don’t think I’m quite familiar with that phrase?

Dread Pirate Roberts: I’ll explain, but in small words so that you’ll be sure to understand, you warthog-faced buffoon.

Humperdink: That may be the first time in my life that anyone has ever dared to insult me!

Dread Pirate Roberts: It won’t be the last. To the pain means that the first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles, then your hands at the wrists; next, your nose.

Humperdink: And then my tongue I suppose? I killed you too quickly the last time….a mistake I don’t mean to duplicate tonight!

Dread Pirate Roberts: I wasn’t finished!  The next thing you lose will be your left eye, followed by your right!

Humperdink: And then my ears! I understand! Let’s get on with it!

Dread Pirate Roberts:  Wrong! Your ears you keep, and I’ll tell you why!  So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish.  Every babe that weeps at your approach; every woman who cries out “dear God, what is that thing?” will echo in your perfect ears.  That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.

So, why am I quoting this scene from The Princess Bride in the newsletter this week? What could that possibly have to do with the business here at Iaconagraphy, or with magick, or Tarot, or art, or anything else that I normally talk about?  Because I totally get what “to the pain” means, and I need y’all to understand it, too. You see, I’m having a duel with Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis, and it’s leaving me in that promised anguish, wallowing in freakish misery.

This isn’t just a disease that can kill you.  It isn’t just a disease that can cause you so much pain on a daily basis that you feel like you’re living in a medieval torture chamber, trapped inside an iron maiden, wondering what the hell you did to deserve this sort of punishment. (And if you don’t know what an iron maiden is, I suggest adding Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow to your next movie night as well!)  This is a disease that can make you ugly, inside and out. It’s a disease that affects your mind, as much as it affects your body.  It’s not just a matter of “I don’t feel well”; it’s a case of “I hate my life”. It’s “to the pain”.

Yet, I get up every morning and get online and get to work.  I’m sitting here now, typing this, with a left hand that barely works and hurts so bad when I type that I literally need one of those sticks you see dudes in war movies and historical flicks bite down on while somebody’s amputating their limbs without anesthesia.  I do housework (on today’s agenda: cleaning my office, because it’s a total wreck; tomorrow: laundry), or at least as much as I can (which is less than it used to be, and believe me, everybody in this house is paying that price).  I hardly every complain. In fact, I hardly tell anybody at all that I’m in this much pain.  So I’m telling you now.

Sometimes, I make sales.  That’s more and more rare these days, admittedly. But I still get up every day, slog through tremendous pain that would make most people just pray for sleep (or death), and try, try again, in the hopes that somebody’ll “bite”.

And yet I’m not on disability.  The “proud state of North Carolina” doesn’t think this level of agony is a disability.  I have no health insurance (Obama care doesn’t cover me…yeah, that was really designed with the poor people who actually need health coverage in mind! Not!)  I have no means of going to a doctor and getting prescription medication, and even if I did, ninety percent of what’s on the market is only a panacea anyway–nothing they give you actually heals this, because they haven’t yet discovered a cure for psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis!

This is my means of making a living.  All those “conservatives” who get up on their bandwagons screaming about people like me who “want a handout” take note: I’m not taking any; they won’t give them to me. So, instead, I work my ass off every day in this level of pain, and pray to God that somebody will actually take me seriously, realize this is my only means of making a living, and actually act on that.  That is what “to the pain” means for me.

I was taught my whole life that you don’t tell other people “your business”, and that includes not “letting them see you sweat” when you’re under this much pressure on a regular basis, and in this much pain.  Telling people about your pain means you’re a “whiner”.  Not pushing through the pain on a daily basis and doing what you need to do anyway means you’re “lazy”.  Well, fuck that Southern Sensibility.  I’m not a whiner, and I’m definitely not lazy. I’m “to the pain”. And it’s high time the whole world knew what that actually means.

Right now, it means that I am in in a very dark place.  I am sick and tired of putting on a brave face and having the world think I’m a “together kinda gal”.  This “together kinda gal” is in a shit-ton of pain. Every day. A level of pain that most of you couldn’t even begin to imagine, and certainly wouldn’t want to endure.  And behind that pain is the knowledge that I could, at any given moment, be one pustular psoriasis outbreak away from death.  And I live with that every day, too.  Yet I get up every morning and I do it all, anyway, and usually silently, without telling a soul that I’m dying inside. Well, no more. Here I am in all my freakishly anguished glory, because if you can’t be completely honest as a minister and Tarot Reader, you shouldn’t be a minister and Tarot Reader in the first place!

What I really want to do right now is throw in the towel and finally just quit and give in “to the pain”.  That’s as honest as I can be without being rude, mean, or unprofessional (or, at least, any more unprofessional than this entire blog post probably is to begin with).  I want to just lay back and enjoy the good hearts of the people who do support me and make sure I have things like a roof over my head, food in my belly, occasional excursions to do fun things, and clothes on my back (and a kitty to cuddle when shit gets real, like now).  I want to throw my stupid Southern Pride out the window, curl up in a little ball, cry my eyes out and truly express the level of pain, fear, and anguish that I’m actually in on a freaking daily basis.  I want to stop working my ass off for something that most people apparently regard as a “hobby” that I do to “make myself some extra cash on the side”.  But if living “to the pain” for almost thirty years has taught me one thing, it has taught me this: I am not a quitter!

So I won’t quit, but I’m also no longer going to “put on a brave face” for anybody, including myself.  This is what I live with every day.  This is my little life.  This is me being honest in a way that I probably shouldn’t be, but then again, maybe I should have been this honest a long, long time ago. With everybody.  I am not quitting, but I am stopping long enough to desperately attempt to get my shit back together, before it’s so fallen apart that there is no getting it back together; before things reach the point of no return.  There will still be Pagan Minutes at Facebook, because I need those and at least one other person who constantly loves and supports me needs those. There will still be art, because making art is one of the few places where I find any peace whatsoever right now.  I will be testing the waters at Etsy this week with a few offerings in the hopes that adding a new audience might actually give me what I need to survive and in the process help me understand and believe again that I might actually deserve to survive, because right now, I really don’t feel like I do, or like I want to.  Beyond that, y’all can kiss my “brave face” goodbye, because I’m all out of spoons with that….

I’m living “to the pain”. And I need a vacation.

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Advent Event: Fourth Day of Advent: Stop Judging and Love!

The fourth Sunday of Advent is a call to stop judging, in favor of loving.  Rule-keeping and labeling get us nowhere in life; they simply cause us to judge every single person we meet, based on this or that criteria.  When we are judging people, we aren’t truly loving them.  We aren’t practicing active compassion; we’re consigning people to their fate through verbal, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sometimes even physical punishment.  That isn’t what we were put here to do! On the last Sunday of Advent, we receive the call to love:  to be unconditional in our affections with other people, and release all judgments, whether they are ours personally, or they have been gifted to us by the parameters of some religious institution, governing body, or family tradition.

One of the things you’re likely hearing a lot about this season is the supposed “war on Christmas”.  Apparently, if someone chooses to say “Happy Holidays”, thereby including all of the different celebrations that people other than Christians celebrate at this time of year (Yule, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc.), you are “making war on Christmas”, or “taking the Christ out of Christmas”.  If companies don’t choose to put Nativity Scenes all over their products, apparently they are also “making war on Christmas”, or “taking the Christ out of Christmas”.  One of the biggest debates this year centers around Starbucks’ decision to simply feature solid red cups for their coffees this year, instead of the snowflakes that graced their holiday designs last year.  People have proclaimed that by doing this, Starbucks is joining the “war on Christmas”.  I’m sorry, but the last time I checked, red and green are the “official colors of Christmas”, and these cups are, in fact, red and green. Also, last time I checked, Jesus Christ was not a snowflake, nor is the snowflake one of his “official symbols”. Yet, according to these people, the “war” rages on.

In truth, these people who are pointing fingers and making accusations about the supposed “war on Christmas” are the ones who are effectively taking the Christ right out of Christmas, and they have absolutely zero clue that they’re doing it. I’m not sure if that’s sad, or simply stupid.  I guess in some ways, it’s both.  Why do I say this?  Because by being non-inclusive and not welcoming all people to the celebration by saying “Happy Holidays” where appropriate, they are being judgmental, and not behaving in a Christ-like manner (which is how Christians are directed to behave; that’s kinda the entire point of being Christian!). The same thing applies when they insist that every single scrap of holiday décor must include Christian imagery: let’s face it, if Christ had brought his ministry only to Christians, we wouldn’t have Christmas as a religious holiday in the first place! There would be no Christ’s Mass–which is what Christmas actually is; it’s a contraction for those two words.  And finally for those involved in the Starbucks coffee cup debate: it’s a coffee cup. There are millions of starving people in this world; we have wars raging across half the globe; millions of disenfranchised people (refugees) are homeless for the holidays.  As Christians, you’re supposed to be praying for them, not fighting over the decorations (or lack thereof) on a coffee cup!

Christ specifically ordered his followers not to judge, and yet here we are, living in the twenty-first century, surrounded by Christ-proclaiming people who judge people based on their skin color, their ethnicity, their gender assignments, their politics, and their alternative religious choices.  The end result? Negativity. Lots and lots and lots of negativity.  And with that, punishment: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual punishment in myriad manners, and on myriad levels.  Where there is judgment, there is no love.  Yet Christ also gave a very specific order about love:

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” –John 13:35, The Message

Christians are supposed to love everyone, the same way Christ loved them; that’s how we’re supposed to be able to recognize them, as Christians.  Yet, fewer and fewer people in our society are willing to identify themselves publicly as Christians because so few Christians actually behave the way Christ told them to behave!

You may or may not be a Christian, or have been raised a Christian, but it’s pretty obvious what happens when we practice unconditional love, versus what happens when we constantly live from a place of judgment, isn’t it?  Whether he was the Messiah and Son of God or not (I personally believe he is), Jesus was right about a great many things, and one of those things was that we should love, rather than judge. When we go through life judging other people, we doom ourselves to likewise be judged, and nothing good ever comes of that, either. It just creates a never-ending cycle of backbiting, fighting, and arguing.  We’ve no choice when we live that way but to develop some pretty heavy psychic defenses: we have to put up walls, or we’re going to get repeatedly burned.

Unconditional love, however, trumps everything.  It can defeat any negative force that heads in your general direction, from the vicious words of a detractor, right up to an actual negative entity that’s moving stuff around in your house.  Love banishes fear, and very few negative things can effectively operate in our life without the power of fear.  Judgment, on the other hand, operates constantly from a place of fear.  People who are judgmental are afraid of anything different from them, or from the rules with which they’ve been raised. They live in fear, they act on that fear, and they foster fear in everyone else with whom they come into contact. They give the negative complete power over their lives, and they try to pour it into the lives of other people, too. That is not love. Fear and love can’t coexist, it’s as simple as that.

What exactly is unconditional love?  What does it look like? How does it behave?

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts [Spirit] always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.–1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Paraphrase in [] is mine)

Compare that to the way judgment behaves.  Judgment begins from a defeatist attitude; it operates from a place of wanting something or someone to stop.  Judgment cares more about a personal agenda, than about the welfare of others.  Judgment wants precisely what it doesn’t have: it’s way, or the highway.  Judgment constantly struts and has a swelled head, proclaiming its ideals as the one, true, right, and only way, and then shoving that way down the throat of anybody within earshot, with devastating results for those who refuse to obey or succumb.  Judgment is all about “me first”: again, it’s their way, or the highway.  Judgment flies off the handle, spreading venom instead of light when confronted with those who will not obey or succumb. Judgment keeps score of the sins of everybody, reveling when they beg for the judgments to stop. Judgment only takes pleasure in the flowering of the letter of the law, not the triumph of the Spirit.  It puts up with nothing, trusts only itself, always looks for the worst, living constantly in the past of old laws and old traditions that should have no control over the modern world. Unfortunately, the only thing it does have in common with unconditional love is that it also keeps going to the end. Other than that, it’s the complete opposite of love, unconditional or otherwise.

We are all luminous beings who were put here to shine–that means spreading light, not venom; fostering love, not fuelling hate.  We must not only stop judgmental thoughts within ourselves, we must try to practice active compassion by teaching others not to be that way, either.  Arguing with those people will get you absolutely nowhere–remember, that’s the one thing it has in common with love, judgment can also keep going to the end.  But we can lead by example, and it’s our purpose in life to do so.  If we aren’t doing that, we aren’t spreading light, and that’s what we’re here for.  So, love: love patiently, and love with all you are.  When faced with negativity, shower those forces with love.  When necessary, love fiercely, but whatever you do, do it with love.