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Witch vs. Witch

September 2, 2010 1 comment

Dear Witchful Thinking,

I found your site in a search for ways to protect my home from a guest who I am going to have to invite into my home, but this woman, who is also a Witch, does not not like me and I do not trust her. I am Wiccan also, my distrust isn’t due to her beliefs. I need some advice on ways to protect my home when inviting an unfriendly guest who could cause harm into it. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

Blessed Be,

Kelly

Dear Kelly,

There’s an old saying that goes “guests are like fish, they stink after three days”. Ok, it’s not a very nice thing to say, but there is something to it. Back in the day, maybe our parents generation, folks knew what it meant to be a guest. This included cleaning up after yourself, offering to cook one night, and generally not trying to be much of a burden on the host. Now-a-days, guests expect it to be like at a hotel, where they are waited on hand and foot. Some open communication with your guest could really help–especially establish when she will be leaving.

I assume that since you have to invite this guest into your home, that you are either 1) related, 2) working on a business deal, 3) trying to please your partner who wants them to visit, or 4) taking a charity case and you are the nicest person ever.

In Wicca, we recognize that sometimes people we don’t like are actually very like us. It is what we see in them that we don’t like about ourselves. So what is it about this woman that you dislike so much? Is it her manners? Her attitude? Or just the fact that she doesn’t like you? And does she really not like you? Or do you just think that she doesn’t like you?

I don’t know what kind of harm this woman can do to you that you would allow. If she breaks something like a vase, that harm can often be mended. Even if it is irreplaceable–it’s just stuff. If she leaves “bad vibes”, you can clean them up when she’s not looking, and recognize that it’s probably only upsetting you anyway (you’re the sensitive Witch, after all!). Will she physically hurt your animals or children? That’s unacceptable for anyone, Witch or no, and she should know better (after all, who needs that kind of 3-fold return Karma??). So what kind of harm are we talking about?

Not everyone will like you. Sometimes they are projecting their own past on you. Perhaps you symbolize something distasteful to them. Sometimes they just have the wrong impression. Often their values are different than yours. It doesn’t make sense, but I think you know it is true. Something about you scares them–and that there is valuable information that you should try to find out! With that info, you can work on it and learn to help them have some compassion for you. Here’s the thing: it goes the other way, too: As Above, So Below, right?

Remember that Wiccans work for the highest good for all involved, especially because we reap our own Karma. Is starting a Witch War going to help you do that? Your guest may not have the same values that you do, even if you are both Witches, but hold true to YOUR highest ideals and strive ever toward them (Thanks Uncle Al!).

So, it sounds like you can’t change the situation. But you can change your mind. Imagine this woman is, well, a Witch–she challenges you and rubs you the wrong way and might cast a spell on you. You can’t fight her with sword and shield, so you must defeat her in less obvious ways. You are the hero in the journey and story of self-awareness and personal growth. You will defeat her because you know the ways of magic. You know that you are powerful, and nothing she can do will truly harm you (after all, a curse only works if you believe in it). You listen to her and are kind to her because you know that she can teach you something about yourself and about the world.

My advice in real life? Kill her with kindness. Make food she’ll enjoy. Make her comfortable. If she gets petty, take the highest road. If you think she’s casting spells on you, utterly ignore them. If her vibes are trashing your house, cover them with your light vibes of peace and tranquility (and a little sage or cedar never hurt either). Do not sink to her level and engage in a Witch War. I promise you will both lose.

Perhaps this isn’t the advice you wanted. But I honestly believe that when you cast spells on people, your Karma gets tangled with theirs. And I know I don’t want to be tangled with someone I don’t actually like. I trust that the Gods and the Laws of Karma will even things out in the long run. Until then, I’m free to change myself–and so are you. You have a valuable opportunity for learning here. I suggest you take it and run with it!

Otherwise, check out this article on clearing spaces and keeping magically safe.

Tangled Karmic Yarn.

Farewell Familiar

August 9, 2010 1 comment

Dear Witchful Thinking,

My cat, who was my familiar and my feline soulmate passed away last October. My neighbor poisoned him with antifreeze and I rushed him to the hospital, but they couldn’t do anything to stop it, and I had to make the horrible decision after much crying and begging the deities to help, to let him go.


Since then, my life is empty and I feel lost. What can I do to get my life back on track and is he still with me? I don’t feel him. Am I just too overcome with emotions?  Please help guide me back to the true path.
Thanks,
Suisan

Dear Suisan,

I am so sorry about your loss. What a sad case! Antifreeze is so dangerous to animals. I can hardly imagine the pain you are going through. It doesn’t surprise me that you are still grieving over the loss of your friend.

First allow me to say that grief takes as much time as it takes, and where you are and whatever you are feeling is exactly where you are supposed to be and what you should be feeling. That being said, in order to process grief, you must address it. Writing to me is a good step, and sharing your feelings with others is important–you are already on your healing path. Have you allowed yourself to have closure through ritual such as a funeral?

I think this grieving and healing process is complicated by your neighbors actions. It seems so malicious–who would hurt an animal? I am wondering if you are feeling betrayed, violated, or perhaps depressed. It was traumatic and difficult to go through. What support and help have you received from friends and family during that time?

In Paganism, our pets are important relationships and have a significant impact on our lives. Perhaps it is because we don’t have “dominion over the animals” and we see them equally as children of the Goddess and God, or recognize the inherent divinity in animals. Consequently, the loss of a pet can hit one as hard as the loss of a family member. Yet our society tells us to “get over it” and to “just get another pet”–as if you can replace family members!

Yet animals come and go in our lives for many reasons. They come to teach us lessons about trust, unconditional love, dependence, and play. What lessons have you learned from your cat friend? The harder questions is, what lessons can you learn from the death of your cat friend? Forgiveness? Independence? Letting go? Permission to feel pain and anger? Honor those lessons, even the ones that hurt, and you’re friend will be honored and a part of you. Being in constant pain awash with grief does not honor your friend.

When my cats disappeared mysteriously, I placed strips of fabric in a tree with a prayer to each of them, inviting them to come back and to give me a sign that it is them. I wished them well on their journey and told them I loved them–a sort of funeral for them. I knew that if they weren’t with me, they were with another family that needed them, or would be reincarnated where they were needed. Is there a prayer, spell or ritual that you can do to mark the passing of your friend?

As to not being able to feel him, it is because you have not integrated the lesson he was trying to teach you. If you feel that you just HAVE to get in contact with him, perhaps contact a pet psychic to help you find that lesson and help you contact your friend.

The anniversary of this event is approaching, and it is likely to stir up some old feelings–that’s ok. Dying is part of life. Hurting is part of healing. This is the path–not just the light side, but the dark nights, too. You know that if you keep walking, it will get light again.

See this post on grief for more information. My heart goes out to you.

[God Oracle] The Dagda

Dagda the Good–Abundance

[Card Description:  A greatly overweight man with uncut red hair and beard and happy, crinkly eyes, his tunic barely covers his huge rump and his cloak barely goes to his elbows, and yet his great penis drags on the ground under his kilt. Behind him, he drags a massive club, held up by a forked wheel that creates ditches on the ground behind him. He wears the torc of kingship, and congenially offers you a meal from his cauldron of abundance, which bubbles and smokes cheerily with no fire underneath it.]

Charge:

Welcome, Welcome!

Have a bite

Enjoy the company of a God!

I am the Dagda

Joyful King

Great vast man

(if you know what I mean!)

All providing father

Of food

Enjoy a bowl and

Laugh with me

And have a second helping

With the Good God.

With me, son

You are safe

Alive and fed

So eat up!

Have a drink

While I spin the tales

Of a fool and a King

Statistics: Culture of Origin: Ancient Celtic People, Tuatha de Danann. Location: Ireland. Age: Middle Age. Element: Earth, Fire

Mythology: Called the “Father God” of the Celts because he always had the best interests of his people at heart. He protected crops, ruled over time, and was a God of magic. Although very powerful, he is often depicted as filthy, a bit crude and shabbily dressed. Dagda is known for his magical club, which was so big it had to have a wheel so it could be dragged. One end killed people while the other brought them back to life. He also had a sacred cauldron which always had enough food for each man that would eat from it. In one myth, when the Formorians were thinking of invading Ireland, Lugh sent Dagda to keep them busy until Ireland could prepare for battle. He asked for a truce, and the Formorians granted it, but only if the Dagda would eat a huge ditch full of meat porridge with thousands of gallons of milk. He ate every last drop and fell asleep with the Formorians laughing at his fondness for food. When Dagda awoke, his enemies were gone, but he was too bloated with food to run after them. Indeed, his path was halted by a beautiful woman who knocked him on his rump and demanded that he carry her, as she was the daughter of the Formorian king. They wrestled about, and in the end, with Dagda’s charm overcoming her, she promised to fight on his side. She, of course, was the Morrigan, the Goddess of Battle, so victory was secured.

Meaning in Reading: So here’s the Dagda, who is really kind of embarrassing to look at, even to the ancient Celts. He is, in fact, laughable. And yet he is always looking out for others by protecting them and feeding them. He is a king, even if he doesn’t look like one. The Dagda does not get caught up in how things look because he knows that it is character that counts. For us it means that we don’t need the newest electronic, the most expensive jeans, or to get our hair cut at a fancy salon. What matters is this: are you safe? Are you well? Is your belly full? You can be grateful for what you have when your needs are being met. And when you need more, there will be more, if you know where to go and who to turn to—that’s not about stuff, it’s about what is on the inside. A happy, satisfied person will always seem to have enough, and we should strive for that kind of satisfaction instead of looking outward for it. Are you this satisfied?

Reversed: There is always enough, but you must recognize when enough is enough. But our needs—that is, what we need to survive—are not the same as the things that we want. The Dagda was able to eat more than anyone because, like us, he loves and needs to eat. He didn’t need to drink the whole thing, but he can because he is a God. We can’t. Too much of anything is a bad thing: too much food leads to obesity, too much exercise leads to anorexia, too much desire leads to addiction. The Dagda shows us a lust for life, but is it satiable? At some point you have to tell yourself to stop before you make yourself sick. The Celtic God of Abundance always has plenty, but you must be able to tell for yourself when enough if enough. Is now one of those times?

Connecting Ritual: Make for yourself a magnificent meal. It should have at least five courses and use simple, fresh ingredients. It should have protein, grain, veggies and fruit. If you can make some Celtic dishes, all the better. Lay it all out on the table before you and behold the abundant spread fit for a king (you!). Thank the Dagda for the incredible generosity. Acknowledge every dish and where each part comes from—go beyond the simplest “it comes from the store” answer. How far did your food come to get to you? How many people had a hand in getting this food to your table? Farmers? Pickers? Truck drivers? Grocers? Once everyone has been thanked, tuck in! Here’s the hard part—do not simply eat as much as you can. Rather, savor every dish, enjoy the flavors, but save room because you have to eat a bit from each course! The goal is to eat and enjoy the food until you are full, but to stop yourself from becoming like the Dagda at Formorian’s camp. The more food you have available to you, the harder this will be. You will have a great deal of leftover food. Eat these leftovers in the days to come and feel the Dagda’s abundance blessing you, or better yet, offer some of your delicious food to others.

For an additional challenge, purchase a big piece of meat from the butcher, such as a roast, and cook it as part of your feast. The next day, use the meat to create something else, like fajitas.  After eating that, put the leftover meat, some veggies and grains in a crock pot and make your own version of the Dagda’s sacred cauldron. The next day, you could probably cover it with mashed potatoes, bake it, and make shepherd’s pie. I guarantee that roast will feel never ending!

Interesting Fact: Maslow set forth a theory about people that guides many different professionals in their work. His hierarchy of needs teaches us that one cannot move to a higher level until the needs of the one below are satisfied. Begin at the bottom of the chart and move up:

In a very real way, the Dagda represents the foundations of this pyramid of needs. Experiencing Him, and other Gods, in your life can ultimately support all of them, if you work with His energy and interact with what He represents. The Dagda ultimately encourages us to enjoy the physiological necessities.

Too Bound To Bind

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Witchful Thinking,

I met a friend of a friend about two years ago when I first came to college. This friend of a friend in general seems to generate a very positive energy.  However, at the same time this man soaks up negativity like a sponge. It’s very oxi-moronical. He draws others to him with charisma and others enjoy his company, yet I feel such strong negativity that surrounds him.  He’s an alcoholic, and since the moment I’ve met him I’ve felt he has an extreme disregard for his own life.  But what’s even more strange is since the moment I’ve met him I feel this strong urge to help in some way.  I feel drawn to him, but not due to any sort of attraction to him but more an overwhelming urge to help.  I  bonded almost instantly with this person for some reason.  When he feels pain I feel pain.  Because of this strange bond I think of him often. I even have dreams about him. I feel such an overwhelming sense of sadness when I think of him, and I don’t know if it’s the sadness he’s feeling triggering these thoughts or vice versa. I have kept my distance from him because of this strange bond simply because I don’t know what to make of it.  He are not particularly close, in fact we haven’t become anything closer than acquaintances since I’ve met him.

His self-destructiveness reached it’s peak about two weeks ago.  He went on a drinking binge that landed him in a mental institution for a week, and now he is in another state recovering.  Despite the distance still I feel this bond between us.  I have been extremely depressed for the past two weeks. I haven’t slept and I have been consistently thinking of him. I know it’s linked to what he’s feeling and going through right now.

Can you please help me figure out what this strange bond is and why it happened?  I want to be able to sleep and eat again, and I want this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach to go away.  I know that won’t happen unless I figure out why we have this bond.  I don’t know if I should cast.  Even if I decided to cast I wouldn’t know where to be begin. If I should bind him, if I should protect myself or if the only way to stop this is to do all I can to help him achieve spiritual and emotional stability. I don’t know how to “disconnect” from him so to speak.
Help please,

Desperate

Dear Desperate,

You sound very overwhelmed right now. It is clear that you are very empathic with this guy and are drawn to him for some reason. Perhaps you have a past-life connection with him that has not been resolved. More likely he has some kind of lesson for you in this life. I hope you can learn it without being hurt.

He sounds like a very Hades or Dionysian personality. His self-destruction is both fascinating and horrifying–like a car accident, we can’t look away. He is charming and makes people feel good, but it sounds from your letter that he is hurting a lot inside. People who drink like that often do it as a sort of self-medication, but have been doing it for so long they forgot why they are hurting. The fact that you feel the negativity around him means you’ve pierced his secret: he may be laughing on the outside, but is in a lot of pain and grief inside. Even without knowing him long, you have made a genuine connection. He has touched you, but have you touched him? The unreciprocated nature is troubling to me, and, it sounds like, to you too.

Does he remind you of anyone you know? Does anyone in your family have a similar problem? Ask around to double check–sometimes we pick things up as children that we don’t realize are adult problems. It doesn’t have to be an exact match to his problem, but if you find someone in your family with a similar situation, this lesson may be your inner-self trying to fix a family problem through him.

Freud would say that you are projecting your own negativity and self-destructive (Thanatos) energies onto him. His advice would be to find a better expression of your that Thanatos energy, perhaps re-routing it through sexual activity. But that’s Freud’s opinion.

I’m going to tell you something extremely important, and I know you aren’t going to listen to me. I wish you would, but I’ll understand if you don’t. But I want to plant this voice in your subconscious so maybe you will hear it and listen to it before it is too late: You Cannot Help Him.

I know it sounds wrong and feels wrong and you feel totally compelled to try, but let me say it again You Cannot Help Him. He hasn’t asked you and you don’t have the skills. Until he works on himself there isn’t enough of him that is safe enough for you in a relationship–even a friendly one. It sounds like he is already getting the medical attention he needs and is on his way to recovery with professionals ready to help him. I bet an occasional good thought would go a long way.

You said that he spent a week in a mental institution. That is the standard procedure for someone who has attempted to kill themselves. Red Flag.

Of course you want to help him: you are a good person, and a sensitive person. Part of you feels that if you help him, the pain you are feeling will go away. If you are feeling bound up to him now, you will feel more bound up if you try and help him. Your intentions aren’t really altruistic in that sense. He hasn’t asked you for help, but the idea is very romantic, really (even if you aren’t romantically involved). The idea of being a hero is very appealing, and you can be a hero! But you should choose your own adventure, and it sounds like this is something you don’t actually want. Your intuition here is good: listen to it.

Tacky horror movie, yes. But also a good moral lesson for magical practitioners.

I assume from your letter that the Binding spell you are referring to is one similar to what they do in The Craft, where she binds Nancy from “harm against other people and harm against yourself”. It sounds good and ethical but there is a problem. When you do magic, your energy and will binds with theirs to cause change, and if you are Wiccan you believe that whatever you send out comes back to you threefold. Do you really want to bind your energy to him in any way three times what it is now?!

You cannot help him, but you can, and should, help yourself. The first step for you will be grounding and shielding.

There are many good meditations for this, so find one that works the best for you. An easy one is to close your eyes, take three deep breaths, and imagine you are surrounded by a blue or white light that acts like a shield. Imagine bad energy simply bouncing off of you. Be sure to tell the energy to let good things in and keep negativity out. Before you go out anywhere, put up your shields. You might choose to make an amulet to hold the energy for you, so that it bathes you in protection as you wear it. Whenever you aren’t sure whose feelings are whose, shield up. Whether you visualize armor, or a protective totem animal perched on your shoulder (I’ve heard of folks who had particular luck with Ravens…), make sure that it works for you. Use it as often as you need to. The more you visualize it, the more it will be there on its own, without you putting conscious effort into it. Yes, you have the power to do this.

You will also need to cleanse yourself from him. I think this is a better choice than ritually cutting yourself off from him (it hurts, besides, you might not learn the lesson you need, and you don’t want this coming around again!). Choose a night on the dark moon, with a thorough cleansing using the four elements. One of my favorite heavy duty cleansers is a steam bath: put on the bath water as hot as you can, put in some Epsom and bath salts or some purifying herbs (skin safe!), pour yourself a mug of chamomile tea and soak up to your neck (don’t get your hair wet) for as long as you can stand. Then hop out quickly and into bed. I recommend putting towels below and above you. Put the blanket over your head and sweat sweat sweat. Purge him out and dissolve your unwanted connection–ask the Gods for their gentle help. You’ll want to set an alarm or something to rouse you, because you don’t want to spend too long doing this–maybe 15 minutes sweating at most. When you are done, cool down slowly by hanging around in the nude and air drying. You will probably feel light headed and a little dizzy, but don’t panic, just have a seat somewhere ventalated. If you have visions, let them come and pass and worry about their relevancy later. Really stay with your body. Have a glass of cool water. Have two. Have a vitimin and something good to eat, like a piece of fruit or a sandwich. I usually go to bed after that, and feel very free, fresh and clean the next day.

You might want to create a series of ritual defense for yourself. Remember that the focus is to change yourself, your attitudes, behavior and beliefs, not to change him in any way. If you keep your focus and align your will, you are guaranteed success.

There may be a time when you feel reluctant to do this, that cutting yourself and your empathy off with shields will make you less special. Your sensitivity is a gift that you must learn to master. Right now, you are in danger from being so close to him, so protect yourself first. You can work on honing your skills later.

The best of luck and skill to you. I know you have the power and will to do this. Please let us know how this turns out.

What it Means to be a Church

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I realize the word “chuch” in a Pagan context gives folks an almost knee-jerk nauseated reaction. The vast majority of Pagan and Wiccan practitioners are converts from monotheistic religions, mainly Christian denominations (I think I’ll leave the discussion of conversion for another day). When we trade in the previous religion for the Old Religion, we naturally expect to leave certain ideas behind, and are eager to embrace and try out the ideas that are new to us. Some people have experienced a kind of spiritual abuse from their former institution, and will require some healing as they make their spiritual escape.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! It is one thing to reject an idea because it doesn’t work for you, and another to shut down and never give the idea a chance.  The first time I heard of the ATC, a Wiccan church, I too had a knee-jerk reaction. As a newbie know-it-all, I’d never read about Wicca having churches, and wasn’t about to investigate a horrible institution like the ones my friends and I “escaped” from. I met a priest there, who I hit it off with, and we’ve had a wonderful friendship that began almost ten years ago. He told me about his experiences with the church, and what the church was about. I invited myself along to the next ritual, and the rest is history. I’m really glad I gave the idea of a church a chance.

The Parthenon was a Pagan church. Should we tear it down because Pagans don't go to church?

Typically, Wiccans practice in small covens, as solitary practitioners, or at public festivals and rituals. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. For many finding a coven is difficult, and finding one that you want to learn from and dedicate yourself to is even harder. As a solitary practitioner, you have the mobility to learn and practice whatever you please, yet you don’t get the opportunity to bounce ideas around and ones practice can get stale. Public festivals are big and fun, but they are also rather expensive, and the price of admission doesn’t guarantee the quality of the ritual experience, or that you’ll agree with the ideas presented, or that you can learn with 1,000 other people present. Networking is obviously a big concern for Pagans as demonstrated by the large amount of networking sites for different areas. I know whenever I go to a new place, I want to know what groups are there and what activities are going on!

A Wiccan or Pagan church is a place to do that networking. It provides a different kind of group experience. Psychologists generally define two types of group cohesion: intimacy and integrity.

Intimacy is more like what you would experience in a coven setting–the group bonds emotionally, and creates group-mind through a common feeling of belonging and friendship. Decisions are made democratically or, most often, through consensus. Groups that follow Dianic Wiccan and Fairy paths tend to prefer this kind of arrangement. It seems to me a very feminine form of leadership and group cohesion.

Integrity is what you are likely to experience if you come to the ATC–the group bonds over a common purpose. Who “belongs” is based on rank, with higher ranking members expected to contribute more time and energy to the group. Hierarchy is valued, and decisions are made by members of sufficient rank with the group’s best interest in mind. Gardnerian and Alexandrian derived traditions, as well as those with Masonic roots, arrange themselves this way. This group cohesion style suggests masculine virtues.

Academically, I don’t see how one could be better than the other, although individuals may place greater value on one style at certain parts of their life. Both are perfectly valid ways to run a community, and both have their downsides too: intimacy could violate confidentiality for a group member or never achieve anything because of personal problems, and integrity might be run by power-hungry dictators.

At the church I go to, both are present, but integrity is the most obvious to visitors. Rank is given to those who have demonstrated hard work and dedication, and who choose to become a part of the tradition. Intimacy comes only through time, and is based in personal relationships, which no amount of rank can force to blossom.

Why a Wiccan Church is Valuable

  • Rituals are open to anyone. No one has to vouch for you. You can show up as a complete stranger and be perfectly welcome.
  • You do not have to believe the same thing to attend ritual. Many who come faithfully practice other religions and are educating themselves about Wicca.
  • There is no commitment, unless you want to. Even tithing (another dirty word!) is of your own free will, although we do bless it for Threefold return, so tithing is in your best interest.
  • The church supports the community through programs, festivals, education, and counseling.
  • The church can be a political force, representing lots of people for a single cause, such as getting the Military to provide headstones for fallen Pagan soldiers.
  • The church is a place to meet like-minded people, network, and form intimate bonds. Many tradition members work with covens that are not affiliated with the church.
  • Donations are tax-deductible. If you’re going to give your money to a charity, give it to one that supports your people!
  • The church provides clergy, often ordained, who can offer spiritual counsel and perform ritual services for the community–in no way are they attempting to force dogma, but rather help individuals who ask.

A Pagan church isn’t about belief or dogma, it is about praxis (that is, what one does). We gather at church to support the same causes, to worship the Gods, to participate in self-changing magic, and to learn from each other. The church is a tool for those who are sincerely growing into better human beings, and offers a kind of community unique in the world of religion in general and Paganism in particular.

Pft! I had WAY more badges than this lady did!

While coven work is focused personal growth, a church is focused on service to the community, an element I believe is crucial to personal growth and often overlooked. Working on projects with others and holding positions of responsibility gives you a chance to grow into it in a safe place, where people will support you and encourage you to succeed. The rank system is a way of easily identifying those with certain skills, which is important in a big organization, and is a tangible visual for personal growth. If you want to know what it is like to display your personal growth, ask a Girl Scout to show you her badge sash–it is the same general principal.

I occasionally will hear snippy comments about the validity of churches in Paganism and Wicca, but I honestly recognize it as that newbie know-it-all knee-jerk–very different from constructive criticism, which has actually interacted with the ideas. As a new religious movement, we are in the process of creating our religion, so the discussion of what is and isn’t Paganism is not a closed subject, but one that is evolving as we explore different ideas.

Here are a few Pagan churches:

Drugs and Pagan Culture

January 26, 2010 3 comments

Please be advised that I am neither condoning nor condemning the ritual use of drugs in spiritual practice, merely pointing out some things to consider on both sides. This article does not imply my own use of drugs.

You know it happens. You’re getting ready for ritual and some folks come up to join. They may be friends or strangers, and you work to make them feel welcome. But you can tell that they aren’t quite there–that something is off. They are high, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated. Now you have a dilemma. You want to include anybody who is interested in participating, but should you allow them?

As Paganism is an alternate culture, we have different experiences and responses to the use of drugs and alcohol. As many on the path are seeking enlightening experiences, drugs are sometimes used to elicit a mind-expanding opportunity. Alcohol was used by Dionysians to commune with their God. Many native and shamanistic cultures use a variety of hallucinogenic drugs in their rituals. They may use peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD, marijuana, etc. These drugs stimulate different parts of the brain, exciting cells in the body. If you are interested in how drugs work, check out this interactive flash animation.

A traditional Wiccan initiation does not use drugs. Rather, incense, ritual binding, oils, and wine are used to put you in an altered consciousness.

Drugs are often used as a form of initiation, causing the initiate to experience things they would otherwise never be able to. They might see things, touch other worlds, and make tangible parts of themselves that have long been buried deep in the subconscious. The ritualistic use of drugs can release deep and enduring pain as the user confronts inner demons. The experience may seem to answer spiritual and existential questions about the nature of existence, often propelling the user farther onto their spiritual path. In some ways, using drugs is a short-cut to individual self-knowledge.

Some people will choose this path. One hopes they choose it to find such enlightenment, but more often, I believe, they are fascinated by the use of the drug, and use the religion as an excuse to use recreationally. Sometimes the use is in imitation of shamanic practices, without actually going through the traditional work and character building that would be required by these religious groups. This is cultural appropriation–not religion.

There is no denying the effects of drug use–obviously as a religious experience, using drugs works, or we wouldn’t have been using them since the dawn of time. But the use is not all positive. Some drugs are chemically addicting, while others are habit-forming. And for some people, drugs that wouldn’t normally be chemically addicting are. There is a danger here. One use of meth can have you hooked for life, and that is not a propaganda exaggeration (although there is plenty of that out there). Huffing inhalants like white-out just once could kill you. Cocaine could be cut with something dangerous, like arsenic. Those with prior psychosis or who are mentally unstable could be irreversibly damaged–this is dangerous territory. Besides the drugs themselves, getting them is difficult and dangerous because they are illegal. You would have to interact with seedy people in seedy places. Often the drugs travel a very long way from underdeveloped countries. They might be concealed about someone’s person, if you catch my drift winkwink.

If you are using drugs for spiritual purposes, consider finding a teacher to help you. Not only do they have knowledge about how best to take the drug, but they can also guide you through your experiences and help you get the most meaning out of it. You’ll need to do your own research on finding someone to help you. In general, they should be trustworthy (since you’ll be in an altered state around them, you need to know they aren’t going to rob you and leave you for dead), have a great deal of spiritual and chemical knowledge, and have a safe place and clean environment and tools with which to do the work. I would not advise associating with criminals for your own safety. As a general rule, they should be the sober one during your experience, for everyone’s safety. This teacher should also be able to recognize when a “trip” has gotten out of hand, and be ready to administer first aid and be willing to call an ambulance if necessary.

Ritual use can quickly become addiction, especially for folks who are predisposed to addiction behaviors, and those who are not balanced people. I’ve already talked about how folks with personality and psychotic disorders should not do magical practice, and this extends doubly to those who use drugs. Take this quick screening to check yourself. Answer yes or no to the following questions:

  1. Have you ever felt the need to Cut Down on your drinking or drug use?
  2. Have you been Annoyed by the criticism of others about your drinking or drug use?
  3. Have you felt Guilty about the amount of drinking or drugs you use?
  4. Have you ever had an Eye Opener drink (or drug use) first thing in the morning to feel more normal?

A yes response to two or more questions suggest a possible alcohol or substance abuse problem. Additionally, use of drugs or alcohol that interfere with normal life, such as school, the law, relationships, etc indicate a problem with substance abuse. Seek help from a drug or alcohol counselor.

Some people can use drugs occasionally and be fine. I post this because it is my ethical duty as a pre-service counselor to advise you and help you make your own decisions about your physical and mental health.

That being said, it is one thing to use drugs for your own individual path, or in a small group working on it together. It is quite another thing to come to a public ritual stoned, high, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated. Doing so puts other people at risk. You do not know what the content of the ritual will be, or how powerful the magical working. The group may be doing some serious internal work which an intoxicated person could react badly to, or ruin the experience for others with their inability to control themselves.

Group ritual is about creating a group mind, and that is impossible if some people are already not with it. Going to public ritual is the same as going to church. Would you come to your grandma’s church drunk? If you would, then you may have a problem controlling your substance use–or you are incredibly rude. Not only that, but it is embarrassing for others who may have to explain your behavior to outsiders. You may be putting other people in an uncomfortable situation if they are mandatory reporters, know your parents, or are members of law enforcement. Etiquette requires you to be in control of yourself. I realize that some may want to get high and go to ritual as a way of trying to get more out of it, but it is rude to the other people there.

May I also say that any experience you have when you are drunk, high, stoned, tripping, etc, can be experienced while NOT on drugs. Meditation techniques can give you visualizations that are as real and valid as anything you experience on mushrooms or LSD. The excitement of a good ritual with close covenmates can make you feel like you are on E because you are in ecstasy. Heck, even a good run can make you feel high. Our bodies naturally produce opiates, serotonin and dopamine, which drugs stimulate, imitate or disrupt. The use of drugs can become a mask to hide what you are really feeling and avoid problems in the real world. I doubt that many people who use drugs spiritually are truly prepared to do so, and probably have issues they need to face sober. You should never be required to take drugs as part of your spiritual training. If your coven mandates the use of drugs, and you do not wish to partake, find another coven.

So before you toke up on the way to the rit, consider the feelings and experiences of others before you do so. Coming to my rituals intoxicated gives you a one way ticket to the door–and likely not an invitation for next time. What’s more important to you?

Existentialism

January 3, 2010 1 comment

Abstract

This form of counseling is based on German existential philosophy and adapted for therapy in the 1960’s. Rather than focusing on the scientific aspects of psychology, therapists and psychologists began asking different questions. When they realized that human beings are essentially alone in the world and finite, they began to deal with the anxiety of such a tense state. The result is Existential Therapy, which requires a great deal of courage, but also offers many rewards.

What is illusion? What is truth?!

The Historical Context

These streams of ideas coalesced over time from several different thinkers, especially Nietzshe, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre. The philosophy was combined with therapy as a structural framework for work for therapy, but is open to other schools of thought as well. Existentialists reacted to Adler’s “feel good” social determinism by changing the orientation of the counseling philosophy: what if we are alone in the world? This individual determinism comes out of Western notions of individualism, freedom, and subjectivity to answer big questions about what it means to be human. The theory developed enough to be applied to therapy in the 1960’s, a time when society was radically altering its view of itself with the reality of an immoral war in Korea and Vietnam, the introductions of hallucinogenic drugs, and the questioning of traditional social norms. As psychology gained ground in the public eye as something not just for sick crazy people, clients came in not with easily diagnosable mental illnesses, but with anxieties about everyday life and living in the shadow of death.

The Major Contributors

  • Rollo May: (April 21, 1909 – October 22, 1994) was an American existential psychologist. He authored several influential books about humanistic psychology. May earned his B.A., a B.D. in 1938, and a PhD in clinical psychology in 1949 from Columbia University. He is an American Psychological Society Gold Medal winner. In the years before his death in 1994, Rollo May set about to write his final thoughts on life, death, mythology and psychoanalysis. As a result, the world gets an unparalleled book, The Cry for Myth. Dr. May, a student of literature, theology and clinical psychology, explains his ideas in extremely accessible ways, allowing the reader to ponder their own lives in the grand scheme of things as he comes to the end of his (May).
  • Erich Fromm: (March 23, 1900–March 18, 1980) was an Orthodox Jew whose studies of the Talmud and Freud led him to re-examine the story of Adam and Eve as their existential moment of self-awareness and the guilt and shame that followed. He used this as a base for articulating existentialism. A strange result from someone who immersed himself in social-psychology. He was strongly influenced by religion, especially Jewish law, and later, Buddhism. Funk sees that Fromm “focused on two problems, one of which is the historically decisive question of whether man will once again become the master of his creations, or whether he will perish in an overly technological industrial world” (Funk)
  • Viktor Frankl: (March 27, 1905 – September 2, 1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. Influenced by Freud, but later became a student of Adler, developed logotherapy by combining existential philosophy and therapy (Corey).

Key Concepts

  • Existential therapy focuses on the individual’s experience of being in the world alone and identifies the basic dimensions of the human condition:

o   Capacity for self-awareness

§  The greater our awareness, the greater our capacity for freedom.

o   Freedom and its corresponding responsibilities

§  We choose the manner in which we interact/react with the world: our reality is the result of our choices.

o   Creating identity and establishing meaningful relationships with others

§  Discover or create substantial core identity and then merge with others in a mutually healthy way.

o   Search for meaning, purpose, value and goals

§  Identify, evaluate and—if necessary—discard old values and replace them to fill the void. If one finds meaninglessness: create meaning.

o   Anxiety as a condition of living

§  It is a normal part of living, but it can get out of hand and become neurotic. The client must recognize that in order to open up to life and find meaning, we have to have courage to face our fears about change.

o   Awareness of death and non-being

§  Death gives significance to life because it makes our short time here substantial. (Corey)

  • Rollo May offers this response to the existential questions: “Every individual seeks—indeed must seek if he or she is to remain sane—to bring some order and or without. Each one of us is forced to do deliberately for oneself what in previous ages was done by family, custom, church, and state, namely, form the myths in terms of which we can make some sense of experience” (May 29).

•         Those in existential crisis see fairy tales and lies around them, but must work towards finding the myth beyond it by following the Greek idea of “know thyself”. “Fairy tales are our myths before we become conscious of ourselves” (May 196).

Evaluation of the Theory from My Religious Perspective

I view existentialism as Scorpio therapy, for it tackles the great questions that the astrological sign wrestles with: death, the nature of life, sex and love. Existentialism asks what it means to be human, which is a question we all come to sooner or later, and the resulting crisis dictates the direction of our lives, if we let it. These are the great questions that religion and myth answer, and which Wicca addresses in a contemporary way that pays homage to where we have come from through tradition and ritual.

Philosophically, Wicca seems to accept and enfold existential ideas within it, and offers ways to create meaning, know thyself, and develop personality substance. But I think the idea of isolationism and alienation does not hold well under Wiccan theology. We learn the axiom “As Above, So Below” which means that everything that happens inside us, also happens in the broader world. While we are unique individuals following our own life path, our experiences have happened to other people before, and will happen again. Facets of life are shown to us in mythology as we become the hero of our own story, which is acted out in ritual theatre. We aren’t alone because facets of ourselves are mirrored in the sky (via astrology), in nature, by the Gods which we know through mythology, and by other beings.

Sometimes I do feel lonely, but I think it is because I am disconnected. When I reach out to the world, the world reaches out to me. I perform rituals to get me back in rhythm. Wicca offers answers through participation in the Wheel of the Year, the eight seasonal festivals. We learn that in the height of summer is the shadow of death, but that in the dead of winter there is a glimmer of hope, and these cycles and anxieties are faced yearly through the seasons, but also within ourselves. Existentialism assumes that the angst of the client is caused by a fear of death, but as you progress through Wicca, you face death every year. Many times have I traveled to the Underworld to face my demons, confront the Gods, or leave things behind. I have no fear of death because I know what comes after…because I’ve seen it. In a great many ways does Wicca address these concerns.

Bibliography

Corey, G; Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. 8th edition. Thompson Books. 2009.

Funk, R; “Life and Work of Erich Fromm” © Logosonline 2007 <http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_6.3/funk.htm&gt;

May, R,; The Cry for Myth. W. W. Norton and Company. NY, NY. 1992.

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