Feed the Beast or Let it Starve

Early this morning, I awoke to a strange dream. I found myself on a boat dock looking over the water. I walked back and forth over the dock enjoying looking out over the water. I was proud that this dock was mine; proud that it was a result of my hard work.

I then walked over a small sand dune and into a stone building. The building is set up like a flea market with merchants selling different goods out of their stalls. After walking around the market for a while, I decided to head back out to beach and wade into the water.

When I exited the building and began walking through the dunes, there were three women blocking my path. They were at once afraid of me and aggressive towards me. “No, you can’t come here. Stay away. Get out!” they yelled in unison. Instinctually, I called out for Elegua and reentered the building.

I was approached by an older woman and an older man. I assumed them to be husband and wife. They told me I had to stand my ground and had to fight for what I worked to secure. They took my hands in their own and led me into a dark room in the back of the market.

The room was lit by several white pillar candles on a long wooden table. A light steady drum beat played from a dark corner of the room, but I couldn’t see the drummer. A tall African man danced to the beat, twirling a sword. I was led past him to a small table where an African woman sat.

When I sat before her, she instructed me to pick a coconut shell from a basket in front of her. I hesitated. “C’mon baby, don’t be afraid” she cooed at me. He voice was gentle, but I felt it reverberate through my chest. I carefully chose a coconut shell and placed it in her hand.

“Baby boy, why are you doing this to yourself?” she asked frowning at the shell in her hand. I learned forward to get a better look at the shell, hoping to see what she saw. “Baby, you have all this power, but you’ve got to use it” she continued.

Before I could ask questions, the man with the sword approached me. He pulled my chair back and began flipping the sword inches from my face. I flinched and tried to pull away, but he held me steady. “If you’re going to call on us, you better trust us” he said. I held my breath and closed my eyes. I felt the wind from the twirling sword on my face. Eyes clenched tight, I prayed for it to be over. The man slapped me on the back and laughed. “Good job white boy. Next time, maybe you’ll trust me enough to breathe.”

At once, I was standing on the beach. A well-worn path curved up the dunes towards the beach. As I made my way down the path, I noticed a tall woman standing walking with me. The moon reflected off her dark skin and she smelled like the ocean. She broke the silence first. She said “Sometimes things aren’t what they seem and sometimes they are. All that matters is what you do. If you feed the beast, the beast grows stronger. Let it starve.”

We stood at the shore in silence. The waves crashing at my feet grounded me. I turned to thank her, but she was gone. As I made my way down the shore, I noticed the market was gone. In its place was a local bar that I spent a lot of my time at with friends. I walked towards it, wondering what time it was. When I got closer, a movement caught my eye. A gigantic, black crocodile made its way towards me. I side-stepped to turn my body towards it. It snapped its jaws at me and moved closer and positioned himself between me and the bar. I made a run for the bar, but I felt its weight upon my back at once.

I awoke in my room and immediately grabbed my Book of Shadows. What beast am I feeding? What can I do to ensure its starvation?

Excerpt from my Book of Shadows

5/21/2016 | 3:30AM

 

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Weekly Tarot Reading

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Tonight, I started what I hope to become a weekly tradition. I pulled three Tarot cards to show me what I needed to work or, be aware of, or work towards this week. The cards I pulled were the Hermit, the 8 of Cups, and the 10 of Wands.

The Hermit speaks to withdrawing from the world to seek that which cannot be found with the help of others and seeking time away from others. The 8 of Cups says something similar. The 8 of Cups represents solitude and sadness. It shows someone who is turning their back on things they’ve worked hard to build. The 10 of Wands represents diligently working towards a goal. While the road is difficult, accomplishment is right around the corner.

One of the pitfalls of doing readings for yourself is that you have a first-hand account of what issues you are facing in life. However, the Tarot may unlock other perspectives that you may not have noticed. Tonight’s reading did that for me.

Now for the backstory. About a year ago, my friends and I created board game night. We were all super busy with everything else in our life, so we used board game night as a way to make sure we set aside time each week to spend time with each other. Around the same time, I reconnected with my friend Ben. While, Ben and I have been friends for almost a decade, we seemed to ebb and flow in and out of each lives. Regardless of how much time had passed, we always carried on like we just hung out yesterday.

My friends and I are also avid readers, so when my friend Garrett recommended a book called Shibumi, we all jumped on it. A common theme of the book is the Japanese strategy game Go. When Garrett said that he owned the game, we all asked that he bring it to board game night.

When we sat down to play Go, I was immediately lost. When I questioned the rules, my friends took the opportunity to make a joke about my intelligence. I shrugged it off, but ultimately decided to sit the game out. The following week, the group decided to play Go again. When someone asked why I wasn’t playing, my friend immediately shared that it was because I wasn’t intelligent enough to play the game. At this point, I was pissed. I left to join another friend for drinks, and told them to join me later in they wanted. When they arrived, the apologized and I asked them if we could alternate other board games with Go. They agreed. Over the next several weeks, board game night was replaced with Go night. Instead of playing at the bar, they moved Go night to Ben’s house and seldom did anything else after they were done. To make matters worse, a few altercations between these guys and my other friends strained my relationship with the latter, ultimately making it so I had no one else to really spend time with. Since I was invited to Go night and since they didn’t commit much time to anything else, I was left to spend most of my time alone. Recently I faced a pretty big issue where I needed my friends, but they were too busy with Go night and didn’t think to invite me. When I voiced concerns, it turned into a huge issue.

For the record, I’m not angry because they want to play a board game that I’m not interested in. I’m angry because something that was important to me was usurped from someone else without even a conversation. I was angry because my friends disrespected me. I was angry because the group I invested so much time into creating actively excluded me.

When I lashed out at my friends, I made a lot of demands that I didn’t mean. They made a lot of hurtful comments I don’t think they meant. Overall, my friends and I are okay now. However, I haven’t talked to Ben since everything blew up. To be fair, he recently got back into school, so his time is limited, but I feel like I am on the outs with him still. Rather than thinking rationally, I took it personally.

After looking at tonight’s cards, I noticed a different perspective. While maybe my friends excluded me in the beginning, I’m currently pushing them away. I’m ignoring all the good things about our friendship to focus only on the negative. I’m holding all this animosity that’s not productive. I immediately sent atext to Ben and apologized for being stupid and told him to let me know when he was free to hang out.

This week my goal is going to be to take things less personally, to cultivate relationships, and to embrace any opportunity to spend time with people I care about.

Dancing Through Life

“I would belive only in a God that knows how to dance” – Friedrich Nietzche

One of my favorite blogs to read is author Dianne Sylvan’s blog. Before she moved to her new website, she hosted a blog on TypePad called Dancing Down the Moon. It was here that I fell in love with her writing. One of the categories I followed most closely was called “Conversations with God.” It is exactly what it sounds like. In one of these posts, she mentioned dancing with God. I won’t post any spoilers, but I urge you to go check it out.

I never dance. Actually, let me amend that. I never dance sober. Get a few cocktails in me and add the *thumpa thumpa* of dance music and I will dance my ass off. However, recently I’ve adopted the Meredith Grey (From Grey’s Anatomy) of dancing it out.        On the show, when tragedy strikes (which is often) Meredith drinks some tequila, blasts some music, and “dances it out.” It seems silly, but it works. It’s hard to let things bother you when you are shaking your ass to some Britney.

Since I’ve been working with the Orishas lately, I’ve watched videos on traditional dance and music. I love that African spiritualty embraces dance and music as a form of worship. Unfortunately for me, I’m a chubby white guy. Basically, I have no rhythm and my body doesn’t move like that. So, for me, tribal dancing has been a spectator sport.

Recently health issues have popped up in my family and friends. For the past few weeks it seems that I can’t have a conversation with anyone without hearing about someone being sick. When I got home last night, I lit some candles and petitioned Elegua to open the gates. I then called upon Babalu Aye, an Orisha of healing. I’ve never worked with him, so I was a little apprehensive, but I carried on anyway. I left an offering on popcorn and coconut water on my altar since they were the only things I could find on short notice that were listed as traditional offerings to him. I then played a video of Desi Arnaz singing Babalu, which references the deity.

After a moment of contemplation, I felt compelled to switch the music to tribal drumming. That’s when I felt the gentle nudge from Spirit.

“Dance” it seemed to whisper. I ignored it because I never learn my lesson.

“Dance” this time more persistent. I stood up and let myself sway to the beat.

“You’re going to have to do better than that.” I changed nothing, still just swaying to the music, feeling awkward.

“If you’re going to get in your own way, why did you call me here? Dance. It. Out.”

I finally listened. I stood up and just let myself go. I jumped around, felt the beat of the drums, and danced with Spirit without abandon. I turned towards my door and saw that it was open. I swear that I closed it before I began. I took this as an invitation to let myself go even more.

I streamed the music to my TV (thanks technology) and cranked up the volume to a loud, but respectful level (I didn’t need my neighbors knocking on the door only to have me explain that I was dancing with an African spirit…They think I’m weird, I don’t need them to know it). I danced all through my house, carrying a candle with me. When I made it to my basement, I invited all spirits of healing whose intentions were aligned with mine to join in the dance. It was a supernatural dance party. My cat joined in by following me through the house while my dogs watched from the hallway.

After the music finally stopped, I laid on the floor with the candle to my right. Slowly, the ecstasy of the dance waned and I felt grounded again. I thanked Babalu Aye for hearing my prayer and closed the gates.

Z is for Zsuzsanna Budapest’s Hex (Or My Role is the Magickal Community)

Before I start, let me put a disclaimer  on this post. Although Zsuzsana Budapest offers a segue into the topic, I have no ill feelings towards her. I think the work she has done has helped bring Paganism into the realm of accepted spiritual practices. I’ve read  a lot of her books and love the videos she has posted online. With that being said…

On April 17, 2012 Dianic Priestess Z. Budapest posted the below message on her Facebook page.

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If the picture is difficult to see, the message reads:

“Dearest Friends!
I would like you to help me spread the words that Singing "We all come from the Goddess" should NOT BE rewritten. It is my intellectual property. it is NOt a folk song, which by the way is the fate of many composers whose songs are stolen. You steal my song from now will have consequences. You put men into the song, like God,a hex will be activated. I have found that people actually sell their wares with my song in the Title,like Serpentine for example. These people are NOT having my permission, especially when they don’t even credit my name. Women are fooled that its from me, or fooled that its Serpentine. .Theft is theft. I cannot be everywhere, but i have experienced women making up new words,attaching it to my song that NEEDS NO attachments. Have you ever heard a man writing a song about the gods, and then put females in it?? Never. So stop you generosity attacks with my songs, write an original .Men who had Mozart and Schubert amongst them,surely will come up with their own songs .
Women like to give away and include but please do it with your own intellectual property.
I wrote that song for the Goddess worshipping women. Its gone around the globe. I don’t mind you singing it, only selling it and not giving me credit.
Its a sacred song, and i will protect it! Speak up when you hear this song abused, and write to me. Blesssed be!”

The commenters were pretty evenly split between support and opposition. Eventually, Z. stated that she was joking about the hex mentioned in the original post, but again urged that people not violate the copyright by editing her original work. While, I agree that artists should have their work protected , I was a little shocked to see how many people were against including lines referencing the God in Z.’s original chant. Again, I agree that her work should be respected and honored for what it is. However, this  the first time I have ever doubted my role in the Wiccan/Pagan/Magickal community.

Since then, I have faced this feeling on numerous occasions.

Like many magickal folk, my first glimpse into Paganism was through Wicca. I realized that many of the Wiccans I knew were female. They readily admitted that they were drawn to Wicca because of the innate female empowerment that comes with worshipping a Goddess. Some readily questioned my motives. Why would a man want to be part of a goddess-oriented religion? For me, the balance of a god and goddess made sense. Everything in nature is either male, female, or a mixture of the two. With that in mind, why would Divinity be any different? Additionally, as a gay man, I was comfortable accepting the “feminine” aspects of my personality. I was just as comfortable aspecting the Goddess as I was aspecting the God. I was able to find the balance and the polarity made sense to me.

Over time, as more men came into Wicca, it was less of a challenge. However, it was also during this time that the main traditions of Wicca deemed eclecticism to be a bad word. If you weren’t part of an established tradition, you were being disrespectful and were not practicing a “real” religion. Again, I had to stand my ground and acknowledge the legitimacy of my practice. Sure, my altar was strange with the Venus of Willendorf and a statue of Ganesh, but it worked for me. I was no less a Witch for not defaulting into a belief system that didn’t align with what I wanted. I borrowed the term Cafeteria Witch from a Catholic friend. I took what made sense and left behind what didn’t. Over time, individual spirituality has become less admonished and more widely accepted, not that I ever needed acceptance.

When I started to focus on my career, I was vehemently vocal that success and the money that accompanied it, was extremely important to me. Several people scolded me for being driven by success and urged me to live a more modest life. People equated success and money with a less spiritual life. I wanted both. I responded by emphasizing that, for me, there is no secular and spiritual. It is simply two sides to the same coin. Being financially comfortable has allowed me the opportunity to experience my spirituality in ways I couldn’t do otherwise.

More recently, I have begun a study in African syncretic religions, specifically Vodou and Santeria. When I travelled to New Orleans to experience these religions more closely, I was met with subtle racism. Being a white man, how could I find common ground with a practice grounded in African spirituality? Why would the Lwa or Orishas listen to a white man? In my understanding, all life originated in Africa, so why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t the Lwa or Orishas turn their ear to an “outsider” wishing to understand them?

Overall, I have learned to embrace my spirituality for what it is. My spirituality is grounded in inspiration and individuality. What works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Sure, I may not be practicing Wicca, Vodou, Santeria, or even Hinduism as it’s practiced traditionally, but it works for me. When I chant with Ganesh, or I Draw Down the Moon, or meet Papa Legba at the crossroads, or dance with Babalu Aye, I feel connected. That’s all that matters to me.

My Journey to the Egun

Brace yourself…this is a long one.

As my previous posts have mentioned, I have been studying and dipping a toe in the practice of Santeria. Since ancestral spirits play an important role in the practice of Santeria, I began asking any relative who would listen to tell me stories about my ancestors. Many of these stories were familiar to me. As a Wiccan, I honored the spirits of my beloved dead every Samhain, but I never thought to pray to them for intercession or guidance, let alone build a relationship with them.

During a conversation a few weeks ago, I found out that several members of my family are buried in a cemetery about an hour away. Among these ancestors is my grandfather Joe, the man I was named for. When I asked why I have never been there, my mom couldn’t really give me an answer other than “It never crossed our minds…” So, tomorrow I will be visiting the cemetery with a friend and it has been on the forefront of my mind for the past week.

To prepare, I looked into the Yoruba lore surrounding cemeteries and the Egun. Among the first articles and stories I found mentioned the Orisha Oya. Oya guards the gates of cemeteries. With this in mind, it is important to gain permission before entering the cemetery.  Based on my research, I planned to give her nine pennies, a little red wine, and an eggplant prior to asking for her permission to enter the cemetery. I also wanted to take flowers for each of my family members. I went to Giant Eagle to buy flowers bought several bouquets, red wine, and an eggplant.  While there, I also decided to buy some ziplock bags in case I wanted to gather some cemetery dirt.

It snowed overnight, which made the hour and a half drive a little more daunting. I went anyway, I didn’t want to put off visiting the cemetery another week. I picked up my friend Garrett, dropped by a gas station to pick up a cigar and a few airplane bottles of rum, and we made our way.

Alger, Ohio is a village that time forgot. It’s super rural. I don’t remember passing a restaurant, gas station, or even a store that was open on a Saturday morning; all clues that residents of the town probably were not going to be too open-minded about a witch communing with his ancestors in their cemetery. I silently, actually it may have been aloud, prayed to Oya that no one else would be in the cemetery. Oya has a sense of humor, it seems.

While the cemetery wasn’t packed, there were enough people milling about that I had to be sneaky, without being suspicious. We pulled in and parked in the far corner of the cemetery and I began my offering to Oya. I laid the eggplant on the ground, encircled it with nine pennies, and encircled both with a line of red wine.

Oya, I pray to you! Please lift Your Head

Grant me swift entrance to the land of the Dead.

An ebo I’ve left in honor of your tradition

My Egun to meet, please grant me admission”*

I paused, waiting for a sign that it was ok to proceed. When I felt nothing, I feared that I made the trip only to be turned away at the gate. When I finally gave up and began to tell Garrett that we had to leave, a strong gust of wind blew through the cemetery. No, not blew, tore. I took this as my sign from Oya that she had accepted my offering and that I could proceed.

After a long walk, we finally found the first of the graves. We found the grave of my two aunts, Rosemary and Jacqueline, first. They had both died as infants and were interred together.  When I learned of them, I immediately linked them to Ibeji, the Yoruba Divine Twins. I know this correlation isn’t exactly correct, because they are both female (Ibeji were male and female) and since my aunts were not twins. However, to me, my aunts became the symbols of play and innocence. I laid identical bouquets on their grave and introduced myself to them. I promised to bring them candy and toys the next time I visited.

After a moment, I realized that none of my other ancestors were buried near the girls. This made me incredibly angry, then incredibly sad. I mentioned to Garrett that I wanted to see how much it would cost to have their graves moved closer to the others. That’s when I noticed the grave of my Great Grandmother Eva right beside them.

My mother described Eva as being brutally honest with a quick wit. Honestly, she called her a bitch, but then added the other descriptors when she felt bad about speaking ill of the dead. She also told me the story of how two monuments in the cemetery bear her name. The first was the one next to the girls where she was buried. The other was with her second husband. After her husband’s death, Eva decided that she wanted to be buried alone and close to her granddaughters. This made Eva my ancestral symbol for fierce individuality and protection. I laid a bouquet of yellow, white, and pink carnations on her grave and introduced myself. I didn’t instantly feel a connection, but I’m sure after several visits, she will welcome me with (semi)open arms.

Garrett and I then drove around the cemetery to find my other ancestors. I was about to give up when Garrett said “Drive down there” and pointed towards the center of the cemetery. I did and still didn’t see anything. Garrett then said “right there” and pointed to a grave with my family’s name engraved on the back. Garrett attributes this to his observation skills, I attribute this to his spiritual sensitivity. He and I agreed to disagree.

I parked the car and made my way to my Uncle Leonard’s and Aunt Kathryn’s grave. My parents never shared stories about them and I don’t know much, but I still felt drawn to leave flowers. I briefly introduced myself and asked if they would be willing to talk when I came back. Much like Eva, I didn’t sense any response, but I’m persistent and will definitely try again.

Next to their grave is my Grandmother Anna. She is the only one of those interred in Alger that I met. Granted, I only remember meeting her once and it was when I was five, but the memory is strong. It was her birthday and she came to Florida to visit my family. We took her to the beach for a party and the beautiful sunny day, turned into a sudden downpour. We packed up everything and headed home, all of us “soaked to the gills” as I remember her saying. When my dad apologized for her birthday being ruined, she smiled and said something that I repeat to myself 25 years later. She said “Why bitch about the rain? Just take off your shoes and jump in the puddles.” I smiled at this memory and lit a candle for her. I left the candle, a bottle of rum, and a bouquet of white roses on her grave and promised I would be back soon.

Next to Anna’s grave is her husband, my grandfather and namesake Joe. I never met Joe, but I remember having a dream when I was little. In the dream, a man that looked a little like my dad told me that he just wanted to say hi. When I told my parents, they exchanged a puzzled look, and my mom grabbed a photo album. She asked me to look through the album and see if I recognized the man. I did as I was told and immediately pointed to Joe. My entire life, my parent have told me stories about him. He was a soldier in WWII. My mom liked to share stories of his bravery, my dad liked to share stories about the shenanigans he got into overseas. I learned that he was illiterate, but also that he was a gifted carpenter. In one story, he measured the materials needed to renovate our kitchen just by looking at it. When the lumberyard “corrected” the measurements and sent over the materials, they didn’t fit. When they measured the kitchen themselves, they found that Joe was right in his estimate. I smoked a cigar with Joe at his grave, then left the cigar, a bottle of rum, and white roses on his grave. Unlike the others, I felt his presence strongly. He was excited for my return and so was I.

As a Wiccan, I approach other magickal traditions as if I were an expert. I look for commonalities and go with my gut. In regards to Santeria, this may have been a disservice. I immediately approached Elegua and began forcing a relationship with him. I prayed and left offerings to the other Orishas and fostered my connection with them.  I did this even though everything I have read told me to start with my ancestors. Visiting the cemetery helped me to establish a connection with the spirit world and put the African diasporic religions into a personal context. I cannot wait to visit with them again.

 

*Adapted from Dorothy Morrision, Utterly Wicked

 

 

Y is for Yemaya

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have felt drawn to African syncretic religions lately. In particular, the Orishas have been a constant presence in my life for several weeks. Each morning, I pray to my ancestors, then pray to Elegua to open the gates, and then offer a prayer to the other Orishas to bring their presence into my life. For the most part, Elegua has been my homeboy, but I do pray to the other Orishas when I feel that I need to learn something from them. One of the Orishas that has been coming up more recently in my practice is Yemaya.

Yemaya is the Mother of All, including the other Orishas. She is often personified by the ocean. When I asked to describe her presence in my life, I often rely on a quote from the web site About Santeria:

“Water is essential to life, so without Yemaya, life on earth wouldn’t be possible”

Yemaya is a Great Mother aspect of divinity. As such, she offers protection, guidance, and reassurance. Like most mothers, she gets angry when her children disobey her, so it is important to keep all promises you make with Yemaya. However, she is also quick to forgive her children (though this is not an invitation to purposefully break promises to Yemaya in hopes of receiving forgiveness).

I often pray to Yemaya to offer protection and stability. I ask her to guide me through tough times and help me see the right path. When I am feeling depressed, alone, or hopeless, I pray to her to reassure me that everything will eventually be alright. Below is a prayer I often say to invite Yemaya into my life.

 

Yemaya, Gracious Mother of All,

Please attend to me.

In times of peace, remind me to be grateful.

In times of darkness, remind me of my inner light.

Walk with me Mother.

Be my eyes when I cannot see.

Embolden me Mother, be my strength in my weakness.

Be my knees Mother, hold me up strong and brave.

Dabobo mi iya (Strengthen me Mother)

I yoo tan (I will shine)

Adupe (Thank you.)

Y is for Your Personal Theme Song

I know the title of the post is a bit of a stretch, but I’ve committed to finishing the Pagan Blog Project even though it has long since ended. Anyway…My job involves supporting sales people in my company’s “Mid-Ohio” region. I use the quotes with a little sarcasm because my company considers about 80% of Ohio the “Mid-Ohio” region. This means I spend a lot of time in the car. To keep the stabby, road-ragey urges at bay, I listen to a lot of audio books and podcasts. A while back, I found a podcast called Hippy Witch hosted by Joanna Devoe. She has a very fun approach to magic and spirituality. I always get cool ideas from her. If you haven’t heard of her, I recommend checking her out.

Today, while on a particularly long drive, I listened to one of her episodes and towards the end of the show, she briefly mentioned her personal theme songs. It got me thinking, like her podcast usually does, and I wanted to share some of my personal theme songs.

“Invincible” – OK GO

When do I listen to it? : This is the song I blast right before I have to do something outside of my comfort zone.

Favorite lyric: “When they finally come to destroy the earth/They’ll have to go through you first/I bet they won’t be expecting that”

“Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” – Panic! at the Disco

When do I listen to it? : Every now and then, I like to go out and have a good time with friends. Then there are times I go out and lose my mind. That’s  when this song gets played.

Favorite lyric: “Bar to bar at the speed of sound/ Fancy feet dancing through this town”

 

“Sissy that Walk” – RuPaul

When do I listen to it? : When people are getting on my nerves, this song helps me get my mind right.

Favorite lyric: “People talking since the beginning of time/ Unless they paying your bill, pay them bitches no mind”

 

I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones that come to mind first.