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Struggling Faith: Becoming A Fundamentalist

Digital artist journal page created by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy, featuring digital elements from our Samsara set of digital assets, and original prayer poetry by Connla Freyjason. Some elements also from our Imramma set of digital assets. Samsara may be purchased by clicking on this image. (Link opens in a new tab)

Last week, we met the God of Green Hope, which I hope has greatly boosted not only your self-esteem, but also your self-confidence.  You may remember from the first blog post in this series that confidence is one of the five keys to hope; today, we are going to talk about another important aspect of one of those keys: becoming fundamental.

This is our first step towards exploring the ultimate–the sacred–which may come as a surprise, because in our modern society we don’t tend to think of fundamental and ultimate as related concepts.  In fact, we tend to think of them as direct opposites.  

To our modern minds, ultimate has generally come to mean something bigger and better than us, while fundamental has come to mean basic, and not in a good way.  When we think of something as fundamental here in our modern world, we tend to think of it as somehow “dumbed down”, which is never a good thing, right? At the same time that we sit around wishing for the “simple life”, we equate the simple with being basic, and the basic with being “dumbed down”. It’s no wonder, really, that we spend half our lives confused and in a rut!

The true definition of fundamental is anything but dumbed down:

Fundamental:  serving as a basis supporting existence or determining essential structure or function; serving as an original or generating source; of central importance; essential; indispensable; a foundation without which an entire system or a complex whole would collapse.

From that definition, I hope that it is relatively apparent how the fundamental and the ultimate are actually inextricably woven together.  The ultimate–the sacred, remember–also serves as a basis for existence, determining the essential structure and function of the Universe around us and serving as its generating source.  In some ways, in fact, one might say that God(s) is (are) the fundamental personified.

We may know who or what God(s) is/are.  We may also not like Them very much at the moment because of the rough spot we’ve just come through. We are trying to crawl out of a faith rut, after all.  It might be easier, therefore, to rebuild this portion of our “faith ladder” via a backdoor: the fundamental.  But what is or are the fundamental(s)?

I’m going to do that thing many of you hate again, and throw another Bible verse at you.* 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. –Galatians 5:22

For those not coming here from a Christian background, the fruit of the Spirit might best be understood as the nine necessary attributes for a person to live in accord with the Universe, God(s), and other people: in other words, the fundamental(s).  While nine are given in the verse, they can actually be simplified down to three:

  • Love
  • Joy/Happiness/Fulfillment
  • Peace (which patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control all bring into being)

You will find these three fundamentals echoed across almost all world religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, and, yes, even Paganism.  They effectively provide a “back door” through which God(s) enters the room, and we may come face to face with the ultimate.

For many people coming here from a Heathen background, the concept of love, joy, and peace as the three fundamentals necessary for making contact with the ultimate may seem sickeningly sweet; trite, even.  They tend to brush up against the “rough warrior exterior” that so many like to paint in broad strokes across the face of our faith in an uncomfortable fashion.  To those people, I would say three things: first, if that were truly all there was to our faith, many of us would have left it long ago.  Second, have you met Freyr and Freyja? And third, try substituting each of those in the blanks in the following sentences and tell me if they still do not ring true:

_______________ supports my existence; without ________________, life would have no meaning.  ________________ is the source of everything in the Universe.  ___________________ is of central importance.  Without ________________________, the entire Universe would collapse.

The sort of love we’re talking about here isn’t the icky, complicated human concept of love.  Let’s face it, whether you want to get all fancy and call it agape or eros or what have you or not, somewhere somehow along the way, our limited concepts of love get us into complex and complicated situations that end with someone broken-hearted, disattached, and hurting.  No, what I’m talking about with that one terribly-grafted-upon four letter word is concern forenthusiasm, and devotion.  Love is fundamental not because the Beatles sang songs about it, but because without concern for things, situations, and people in life, enthusiasm as we go about living it, and devotion to something bigger than us, life has no meaning and everything falls flat.  Ultimately, love and respect are the same thing, and what we respect, we come to cherish: to hold in our minds and hearts constantly (as in, we’re thinking about them and considering them all the time) with esteem.  

Concern and care are not synonyms, even though we treat them like they are.  We can care too little, but we can also care too much.  That is why when you look up the definition for the word care in the dictionary you get positive, good things within that definition like painstaking or watchful attention and regarding with esteem, but you also get  profoundly negative, bad things like grief, anxiety, uncertainty, and apprehension.  To be concerned is to be engaged: to relate to, to be involved with.  There is no necessary emotion implied, as with caring.  When we cease to be concerned, we disengage, and when we disengage, everything and everyone ceases to matter, and when nothing matters, everything sucks.  When we lose concern, we also lose enthusiasm: we become unable to become excitedjoyful, or happy about anything in life.  And when we aren’t enthusiastic, it is impossible to be devoted to anyone or anything (to set anything or anyone apart as special or sacred; if nothing is ever special, life loses its luster fairly fast).

When we fall into a faith rut, we become disengaged in exactly the same way as if we had fallen down a well.  At the bottom of a well, you’re all alone (hopefully, unless there are rats or spiders, of course, in which case you’ll soon be wishing you were all alone!).  You are in a cold, dark place, disengaged from the rest of humanity.  Chances are, you’ll soon be hoping that you could re-engage, likely at the end of a rope tossed down by some would-be rescuer.  But how do you trust that would-be rescuer enough to grab onto that rope and climb up those slippery walls back out into the light, without having to fear that they will let go of the rope?  You have to engage with yourself before you can do so with anyone else: you can never grab onto that rope if you’re so busy freaking out over your present condition that you never even notice that it’s there in the first place, and you will never have the courage to grab onto the rope once you do notice it if you constantly fear that your would-be rescuer is going to let go.  This is why, in the last blog post, we re-engaged with ourselves, via meeting the God of Green Hope within.  To experience love, much less to spread love, you must first love yourself.

Meeting the God of Green Hope also helped us to restore joy and peace in our lives (hopefully), so now we have the building blocks in place to take our journey deeper and reach out towards the ultimate.

We are going to begin that reaching out through prayer.  Prayer does not need to be conflated, or composed of poetic phrasing; on the contrary, I have found in my own personal experience that my most profound experiences with prayer consisted of conversations very much like those one might have when initially making contact with another living-breathing human: 

“Hi, Freyja? Yeah, this is Connla. Are you hearing me okay?  I just wanted to call you up and tell you how much I appreciate having you in my life….”

Or:

“Hello, Hella? This is Connla.  I’ve noticed you being around in my life a lot lately, and I just thought I’d let you know that I know that you’re there….”

Because the entire purpose of this blog series is to attempt to climb out of a faith rut, your God-conversations (aka prayers) should probably focus right now on asking for help in doing that.  To make your life a bit easier, I’ve taken the liberty of including a suggested prayer below (a Heidhrinn and a Christian version).  Feel free to use them, with or without personal embellishment.

Climbing Prayer (Heidhrinn)
Hail, Freyr,
Lord of Light!
Help me to love me
As You love me.
Show me my strength,
When I feel I have none.
Teach me the joy
Of sun upon the wheat;
Of mead in the cup,
And of birds on the wind.
Grant peace and good seasons in my life;
Peace and good seasons in the lives
Of those whom I hold dear.
And when my cup is empty,
Let me trust in You to refill it:
For You are my Brother,
And my Friend.
Blessed be.
Climbing Prayer (Christian)
O, My Christ,
Lord of Light!
Help me to love me
As You love me.
Show me my strength,
When I feel I have none.
Teach me the joy
Of sun upon the wheat;
Of mead in the cup,
And of birds on the wind.
Grant peace and good seasons in my life;
Peace and good seasons in the lives
Of those whom I hold dear.
And when my cup is empty,
Let me trust in You to refill it:
For You are my Brother,
And my Friend.
Amen.

Reaching out to the ultimate is your first brave step towards coming to rely on something greater than yourself: the first true building block of a returning faith.  I hope you’re feeling hopeful right now; I know I am!  In my next blog post, we’ll talk about how to use that reliance and trust to begin living without fear.  I look forward to our time together next week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*(As an aside, I’d like to note that the Bible is a book, just like the likely plethora of books sitting over there, across the room from you on your bookshelf.  To discount it as a valid source of wisdom, based on experiences with others who have beaten you over the head with it, is as arbitrary–and discriminatory–as dismissing the Qu’ran purely because you have some sort of personal issue with Muslims. The book itself hasn’t done anything to you: it can’t; it’s an inanimate object. It’s just a book.  It’s also a magnificent work of literature, so if you’re down with quoting Byron, Eliot, Tolkien, or Poe–who were all Christians–taking issue with the Bible is hypocritical, at best.)

 

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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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Everyday Magick: A Most Un-Beltane-y Beltane

If you’re Pagan at all, you know that next week is a High Day: Beltane.  In the Welsh Druidic Tradition, it is called Nos Galon Mai, which translates roughly to “Night at the Heart of May”, which always struck me as odd, because the first of the month is hardly the heart of May, is it?  In our Grove, we’ve traditionally celebrated the marriage of Bloedwedd and Lleu as a part of our “ritual festivities”, and the symbols of fertility, Sovereignty, and Divine Union that can be found within that treasured myth.

But if you break down the story of Bloedwedd and Lleu, ultimately, it isn’t a story of any of those things–it’s a tale of betrayal.  And that’s pretty “un-Beltane-y”, to say the very least.  When you really break it down, it’s sort of on the same level as if Christians had a big important feast day to celebrate Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ. I mean, yeah, that action was absolutely necessary to fulfil the Prophecy of the Messiah, but it still sucked out loud, when you really break it down, right?  The story of Bloedwedd and Lleu that comes down to us from the thirteenth century via the Mabinogion sucks on a Judas-Isariot-level, yet it is also absolutely necessary that it happen, in order for Lleu to truly claim his Sovereignty, just as Judas’ betrayal of Christ was necessary for Him to claim His.

So what is Sovereignty?  We’ve all heard it in the context of government–kings and queens are also called sovereigns, right? Or we’ve heard of the “sovereign state”: a governing body with absolute power.  If you take it back to the original Middle English (dating roughly to the period from which the Mabinogion hails), it means “alteration by influence of reign”–in other words, someone basically takes on a whole different set of natural characteristics when they become king or queen.  Keep in mind that we’re talking about a period in history when divine rule was an accepted “thing”; it was a fact of existence to people of that time that God Almighty placed whoever was on the throne on that throne in the first place. Also keep in mind that almost all of the extant Celtic Literature (and that includes the Irish ones) that we have to go on, and that mentions Sovereignty, comes down to us from this same period in history.

So, then, what is it, and how Celtic is it, as a concept, really?  How ancient is it as a concept? Is there actually any pre-Christian basis for it, or is this a Christian ideal dressed up in Pagan language?  Well, a bit of both, really…..

In modern Druidry (Historical Reconstructionist and otherwise), Sovereignty is still very much bound to the concept of rulership–of being king or queen of one’s own life.  We are all “altered by influence of reign”, but in order to reign in the first place, we must rule rightly.  So what the heck does that mean? It means to live one’s life as an exemplar of the Celtic Values/Virtues.  What’s an exemplar? It’s someone who is considered an example that deserves to be copied, which is what a good ruler should be in the first place, right? To use Christianity as an example for a moment: the reason that Christ is Sovereign is because He is an exemplar; we can see things in Him that should be actively copied in our own lives (which is what Christians are supposed to be doing with their lives: they’re supposed to be copying Christ).

So, going back to the story of Bloedwedd and Lleu–a story of betrayal, remember–what exactly are we supposed to be copying in it? Where or who is the exemplar in that equation?  If you don’t know the story, basically it goes a little something like this:  Lleu was the illegitimate son of Arianrhod (a Mother Goddess figure), and she was so embarrassed by his birth that she put a curse on him saying that he could never be Sovereign (or go through the rites of manhood which were at that time necessary to achieve Sovereignty).  She said he could never have a name, unless she gave it to him (so Lleu’s Uncle tricked her into giving Lleu a name); could never have a weapon (one of the Celtic symbols of coming of age as a man) unless she granted it (so Lleu’s Uncle tricked her into doing that, too), and could never take a “wife of woman-born” (so Lleu’s Uncles, who were also great magickians, gathered together flowers and herbs and made them into Bloedwedd, the Flower-Faced Maiden, so that she could be Lleu’s wife).  Ultimately, it’s a story that involves a lot of shame and trickery, and a certain level of entrapment (because all Bloedwedd really wanted to be was flowers, not a wife!).  So once she marries Lleu, Bloedwedd finds another man who treats her more like the flowers that she is, instead of like a wife, and she conspires with him to kill Lleu.

Because she is made of flowers and herbs, many Pagans (Druids included) have chosen to view Bloedwedd as representative of the Land.  In many Celtic tribes, part of the “coronation process” (the process of becoming king or queen) was a ritual wherein the one ascending the throne was literally married to the Land they would be governing (not just to the people who lived on that land, as we think of rulership today, but to the Land itself).  That view of Bloedwedd as the Land, combined with what we historically know about Celtic rites of kingship, is probably how this became “The Beltane Story” in many Pagan Circles and Druid Groves in our modern world.  But is she, really? I mean, is this just something we’ve all grafted on to this story–viewing her as representative of the Land–or is she really that, and if she is really that, what does it say (or should it say) to us that the Land (Bloedwedd) actively betrayed its Rightful Ruler (Lleu)?

If you’ve been following this blog and my Facebook Page for awhile, you’ve heard me speak of the Land often as part of the Sacred Three of Celtic/Druidic Tradition: the place of the Ancestors, and us.  Clearly, it involves a whole lot more than “just a bunch of flowers and herbs”!  That concept of the Land as the place of the Ancestors is the real reason why ancient Celtic rulers were married to the Land as part of their “coronation process”: it was a binding back to the Values/Virtues of those who had come before, and in order to be worthy to rule, one had to prove that they upheld that long line of Tradition.  Within the story of Bloedwedd and Lleu, we find a ruler (Lleu) who is bound to symbols of the land (note the little L there), instead of to the Tradition of the Land (see what I did there?).  No wonder he wound up betrayed!

That level of betrayal is what can potentially happen to all of us when we hinge our lives on symbols of what we think are Virtues/Values (or what we’ve been fed are authentic Virtues/Values), instead of on the actual line of Tradition that is the whole of Human Virtue/Values.  When we get so caught up in symbols, we lose sight of what is Real and what is Right; we lose our ability to be worthy to rule ourselves, much less anyone or anything else.  That, to me, is the real lesson of “The Beltane Story” of Bloedwedd and Lleu.  So, what is Real and what is Right, and why should I or anyone else get to define that? Isn’t that also a very slippery slope?

What is Real and what is Right is respect for all other humans, regardless of the labels which society may have placed upon them, as equals, until proven otherwise. I don’t get to define that, nor am I defining that: it simply is.  What does “until proven otherwise” entail, then? It means until they have proven conclusively that they do not value you or treat you with that same level of respect.  Rightful Rule means looking back over the history of our Ancestors and seeing where they got this simple principle right, and where they got it very, very wrong, and then actually learning from their mistakes, so that we do not ourselves repeat them.  That is what it truly means to be “married to the Land”. Anything less than that is but a marriage to symbols–like that of Bloedwedd and Lleu–and will lead us nowhere good…..

I invite you this Beltane to divorce yourself from symbols (from labels; from the boxes we put ourselves and other people in), and instead renew your vows to the Land: to what is Real and what is Right.  Bind yourself back to the tribe that is Humanity; let go of your religious or political or racial affiliations, and realize that you are human, and so is everyone else, and that we are all equally taking this journey together.  Make a commitment to be a bit more kind; to put the word human back in the word humane.  Treat strangers as friends.  Give voice to the otherwise voiceless.  Take your place as king or queen of your own life, and defend your Sovereignty with conscious acts of loving kindness. If we would all only take a moment to do just this one thing, what a wonderful world this would be…..

(For those interested, the people in the accompanying image are my Ancestors–my Welsh-descended Ancestors, to be exact: my Grandma and Grandpa Wilson.)