29 May, 2013

Belief in a Bookstore

Hey, Readers,

This past Sunday, 26 May, someone attempted to save me.

I had church that morning as usual, and then had a few hours to spare before my circle meeting that afternoon. So, like I often do when I'm spending extra time in that area, I went to the Half Price Books store to browse. I was specifically looking to see if they had one witchcraft book, but I always look at all other areas that interest me, just in case. And that day they were having a 20% off sale! I ended up buying an anthology of Robert Frost poems, and Aradia: Gospel of the Witches.

To make a long story short, for the blog, I was sitting on the floor looking at the bottom shelf of Wicca/Witchcraft books when a woman slipped something into my hand and said "Read this later." When I looked down, I was holding a small, gloss-coated booklet called "GOD'S BRIDGE TO ETERNAL LIFE." I didn't know what else to say, so I said "Thank you?" to the woman who was already halfway across the store, and she looked over her shoulder to say "You're welcome."

I was laughing and crying at the same time. I was in total disbelief that that had actually just happened. A young couple, man and woman, who were in the section with me, asked me what was wrong. The girl said, "Oh my gosh, are you okay? What just happened? What did she say?" I held up the booklet and said "Because I'm over here looking at witchcraft books, she just handed me a booklet about God." The girl was incredulous and tried to help me forget it, saying things like "I can't believe that. Do what you want, you're not hurting anyone, forget her." But I was in shock! I was still laughing, eyes watering, shaking with disbelief and the horrible feeling that I could not just let this woman walk away.

Walking around the store, I saw the woman checking out at the counter. I waited near the door and though she initially ducked out of view and tried to avoid my gaze, she looked toward me and I said "I'm sorry, but do you mind if I ask you a question?" She said it was okay, so I told her I've read the Bible, but I was wondering if she'd ever read a book on Wicca or Witchcraft. She said she didn't know much about it, but did I want to sit and talk for a few minutes? Half an hour later, I had heard this woman's spiritual journey and a number of her prejudices, biases, fears, and bad opinions of other people. By the end, I knew she honestly thought that 1) she was right, 2) I believed in lies, and 3) she was making the world a better place. Without going into too much detail about the conversation here, here are a few things she said, sort of in order from how I remember it, but a lot was repeated so this isn't 100% in order:

  • "Do you believe in Jesus? Who do you think Jesus is?"
  • "What do you think happens when you die? What do you think Heaven is?"
  • (And when I answered what I think,) "Why do you keep saying 'I think'? It's not about what we think, it's about what God says." (And when I pointed out that she THINKS God is right,) "Oh, I guess I do."
  • "I was raised Catholic and when I was 16 my friend who is Born Again gave me the Gospel, and ever since then my life has been great. I have a 14-year-old son and a husband and my life is [great]."
  • "Buddha and the Dalai Lama are created beings. Jesus is God. They're the same person."
  • "That's not the Truth. You believe lies."
  • "Do you pray to God?" (Then when I described my view of The Universe, as simply as possible,) "Do you PRAY to The Universe?" (More explanation,) "Do you call it The Creator?" (No, I call it The Universe, like I said.)
  • (When I explained a vague idea of how I pray and get messages from the Universe,) "Will you consider talking to me today a sign?" [girlish smile]
  • "How did you get into all this?" [tapping her hand on the books in my lap]
  • "When I saw you looking at those books, I got really emotional. I'm afraid for you."
  • (When I asked what she's afraid of,) "When you die, you will go to Hell. Hell is the worst thing ever. Spiritual death is nothing! I mean, physical death is nothing, but spiritual death, going to Hell, is the worst thing ever. You are going to Hell. That is my worst fear."
  • "I can see a semi-truck coming straight for you. There is a semi-truck coming, and you're going to get hit. I see it. I mean, I SEE IT. And I would be a horrible person if I didn't say 'HEY, GET OUT OF THE WAY,' you know?"
  • "How old are you?"
  • "Do you talk to the dead?"
  • "Would you consider coming to my church?"
  • "I'm going to pray for you. Here's the name of my church, and my name and number, and the pastor's name, if you ever want to talk or ask questions or come hear a sermon, maybe you could just listen to a sermon." (This is a paraphrase to exclude the actual names she said.)
  • "Unitarian... They believe all gods are one God, right?"
  • "The Bible says witchcraft is wrong, so." (Then I explained that the Bible warns against magick done to harm, which I do not do, and she just stared at me like I was joking.)
  • "Those things are lies. All of that is Satan, and Satan is the Prince of Liars."
  • (When I explained that not all religions have any concept of Satan or Hell,) "But it's the TRUTH. Satan is REAL, Hell is REAL. The Bible says so and the Bible is the Truth."
  • "I don't believe in Catholicism anymore. I think it's idolatry. I think they worship Mary, it's idolatry, and it's a false religion. And I believe Rome leads to Hell." (This was after I told her my family is Roman Catholic and she asked if my grandmother was actually from Italy and I said yes. So, she insulted Grams. Rude.)
She was also shocked or confused when I said that my mother was a Christian, a minister, and a spiritualist and does folk magick, and that most of the people I know who talk to the dead are Christians. And she said some stuff about "sin" at some point, but I don't remember those statements. All of the above are pretty much verbatim. I have a good memory for dialogue. She also kept talking over me at times and asking several questions one after the other. But yeah. This all happened. You should have seen her face when I told her I was actually on my way to a meeting with my circle and I would be telling them about our conversation. She looked half scared to death and half like she was about to laugh, like I was telling a really funny joke. Or maybe she just couldn't believe there were more of us! Haha.
EDIT: 29 May, 11:40am--I woke up this morning and remembered something else she said. When I was explaining how I personally don't do magick that harms and many others don't either, I mentioned that it even includes not harming ourselves, like choosing to eat healthy. She said you can't eat healthy because there are poisonous chemicals in everything. And I said "Well you can still choose to eat healthier things rather than really un-healthy things. There are still better things than others." She said, and I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember her exact wording, that it basically doesn't matter because "God says we cannot add or take a day from our lives." Whatever we do, whether we eat well or eat badly, smoke or don't smoke, it doesn't affect our life because we die on God's time. That's a proactive, helpful thought, huh?
Anyway, if you want to hear me tell the story in a more full sense, check out the video about it here!

And you know, I guess I sort of can consider her talking to me a message. That morning, I was having doubts about whether my circle was going to be something I liked, and how I would fit in. But when that woman approached me, I realized the exact people I needed to see that day were the ladies in my circle. It's not an official group, not formal, I don't know them very well at all, and we meet really infrequently and I hadn't seen them since February because I wasn't available for the days they scheduled in March and April! But when a Christian woman thinks you're going to Hell, you somewhat need to go stand in a circle of witches and pet a few feline priestesses, and eat some miniature chocolates to make you remember that you're okay. The negative energy I felt clinging to me from my exchange with the woman disappeared when I had a positive goal in front of me. So yeah. Maybe it was a sign. But not the one she thought it was.

Thanks for reading,

14 May, 2013

Promises to Self (Yoga)

Hey, Readers,

One of the hardest things about being solitary is keeping your own schedule. If you work alone and something comes up, it's easy to put it off until another time or postpone it indefinitely, because at least you're not letting anyone else down, and you can justify it to yourself fairly easily!

In this case, I haven't been to Yoga in weeks. I only went to two classes so far, two weeks in a row, at the end of March and beginning of April. Last time I was there, I paid for the "new student" package of the next three classes--The one I attended that day, and two more. So I have two classes paid for that I haven't attended yet! This just means that whenever I get there again, the next two times I go are already paid. But after the last class I attended, I was extremely busy all the days they offer the particular class I attend. I could go almost any night and take a DIFFERENT class, but I really think the one I've been going to is the best for my level right now. The class is offered Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and Sunday mornings. Lately I've been doing other things on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and of course I'm in church on Sunday mornings. So I've just gone weeks without going back to class.

The good thing is that I have managed to practice Yoga at home during that down time. At least I can say that much! I didn't do it every single week, but some weeks I would do it multiple days as I felt like it, and others just for a few minutes since I had some time.

Tonight, I decided I would try to get to class again. The class has always begun at 6:30pm, so 5:15 came around and I thought I would have time to eat dinner, have some down time, and then head to class. But I checked the schedule on the website just to see if I could make a class later this week, in case I didn't make it today, and discovered not only that I still can't make the other classes this week, but the Beyond Basics class I usually attend has also been changed to 5:30pm. So I lost an hour, and I haven't eaten anything all day so I definitely don't want to go on an empty stomach. And there's no way I could eat enough in fifteen minutes and get there in time, besides the fact that you're not supposed to eat right before a Yoga class. So due to health reasons, I decided staying home to eat would be better than rushing to class, especially since the teacher is so intense, she'd have me working HARD. Not good on an empty stomach and low sleep.

Here comes the promise part. In order to feel like I'm not just making excuses over and over, week after week, I have to keep a promise to myself to practice on my own. If I've elected to stay home and eat, giving me the rest of the evening to myself (since my Pagan Perspective video is uploading), then I should ideally practice a little on my own this evening. I have ALL NIGHT to use, so I can break it up into just a few poses at a time with long breaks in between, or I can set aside an hour to play some meditative music and just work on as many poses as I can during that time. However I choose to do it, I should do it.

In the Women's Circle I attended last Sunday, for the girls in Coming of Age at church, we talked about the word "should" and how "You should not should on yourself." The word is problematic at best, especially when other people ask me what they should do. Well I don't know what anyone should do, and I don't presume to tell them what to do! But in this case, I don't think this is coming from outside myself. I don't think I feel that I should work a little on my Yoga tonight due to anyone else judging me. Why should I do it? Because I feel that it helps me, and I recognize that I haven't had the time, so I need to make the time.

If I want something to happen, I have to work for it. Whether it be Yoga, work, magick, relationships, or any other part of life. Why should I do this? Why should I do anything? Because I want to. Because I feel that it helps me. Because I am responsible for my own enlightenment.


09 May, 2013

Atheists and Me

Hey, Readers!

Everyone who comments on my YouTube channel usually leaves some kind of impression, whether it be to make me smile and maybe even remember their compliment years down the road, or to make me very angry and frustrated, or to make me laugh and want more for them in their ignorance and hatred. I get a WIDE variety of comments, as you can imagine! But as much as some of them really upset me, I have to admit that some of the most thought-provoking moments I've had were sparked by conversations (sometimes arguments) with atheists.

I am currently in a committed relationship with an atheist. A few of my closest friends are atheists, and I have some more atheist friends who are not quite AS close yet. One of my friends identifies as humanist specifically, but generally atheist. So I have a lot of atheists close to me in my personal life, and I do sometimes talk with them about religion, but they are all the "old atheist" type who don't mind what anyone believes, as long as we don't try to make them believe anything. Some of them are even curious about my path, ask questions, or participate. The actual arguments or debates come from folks online who usually fall under the description of a "new atheist"--those who don't believe and also want to convince others not to believe.

It sometimes starts with a question. "Why do you believe in this?" "Do you have any proof?" More often, though, it begins with a statement before getting into these questions. "This is bullshit." "Magick isn't real." And most of the time, the first comment includes an identification: "As an atheist..." "I'm atheist." I once had someone simply comment that my religion is fake or bullshit or I'm an idiot for believing it or something, and someone else replied to them saying that they have no right to disrespect my beliefs simply because they disagree, and to please disagree respectfully and not name-call. The initial commenter THEN responded with a group identification: "Actually I'm an atheist therefore I can say your religion is fake." As though that gives you a license to be rude, and as though you speak for all atheists. But most of the time, people identify themselves as their group label, in order to say "This is the perspective I'm coming from." I don't believe I've ever had a discussion about the validity of things like magick without someone identifying themselves by their path, whether it be Atheism, Druidry, Christianity, Pagan rather than Wiccan, or what have you.

The point being... I hear from a lot of atheists! And the past week or so I've been hearing from another one. They asked some of the same questions to begin with, identified themselves as atheist/agnostic immediately, and I answered as simply as I could. They were not uncivil, merely asked things like "What is the point of being Wiccan if you can't do anything that I can't do?" This was in response to a video I had done about what magick is and how it works (i.e. not special effects and movie magic). My response, that is isn't about having a point, made me want to do a video on the subject, which I may still do. Things like that. Arguments or comments from atheists in particular are usually challenging, not always because I don't already know the answer to them for my own path and belief, but because no one else asks the same questions they do. At least, comments I get from other religions are not quite the same. Christians usually just ask why I don't believe in God or Truth or something, and other pagans may focus on a specific way I do things. But atheist questions get at the reasoning of it. Sometimes the answer is very obvious to me, it's just that the question has never been asked of me in that way. This most recent atheist commenter seemed very different from the others, however. I responded to their questions as usual, but when they asked about whether I have experience that supports my belief or whether I base it on "mythological anecdotes like the Bible," I skipped ahead to the final comment that has graced so many debates before:

It is not my responsibility to prove anything to you.

I came to this realization during the last long conversation I had with a new atheist who wouldn't let my belief in magick go, because I couldn't prove it to them. But my beliefs on this are solid. I believe that magick works differently for each person, and that no one should have to believe in something just because they are told, but have their own experiences. So the reasons my explanations of experiences would never convince someone are two-fold. First, my experiences are MINE, and may not be able to be replicated by someone else using the exact methods I used. It has to be made personal. And second, the fact that I have had certain experiences which support my belief does not mean anyone else must believe it if they haven't experienced these things for themselves. I don't always believe people's claims if they don't match what I know to be true from experience. I don't expect anyone to believe anything simply because I say so. That would be akin to the negative parts of other religions that I don't enjoy.

But after skipping ahead to this point, I kept thinking about why on earth I hear from so many atheists. What is their goal? Many of them seem to merely want to disprove me, sufficiently enough to their mind, at least, so that they feel they are still right and I am some uneducated fanatic. I think they, similarly to Christians though I don't think they'd admit it, believe that their way is right and simply cannot tolerate that other people believe something else, and may even think they are saving us from looking like idiots by showing us the light. So many begin their own arguments with name-calling, which is never a solid strategy. But this person, this most recent person, did not appear to be on this road at all. So I wrote to them, explained my frustration with previous conversations and apologized for assuming they would end up striking at the same points as the rest, and asked their opinion on one thing:

Why do I hear from so many atheists? What are they looking for? Do they really just want to disprove me or have a bit of fun, talking to someone they believe to be irrational or stupid? Or are some of them truly looking for proof because they can't find it themselves? Because I seem to have found the answer to some mystery, and they would like to share it if only they could? From many, "Prove it, convince me" is a "Make my day" style challenge. "Bring it on, I'm prepared to refute you." But from others, might it be an actual plea? Show me what I can't seem to find?

I already know that not all atheists are alike. The atheists who leave me harsh comments are nothing like my treasured atheist friends in real life. So I'm not saying this person was a whole new kind of atheist, or anything! Just not the usual atheist that leaves me comments: not combative, but curious. Skeptical, of course, but then again I consider myself a skeptic, as well (a Skeptical Believer, I call it, someone who is skeptical until sufficiently shown that belief makes sense, or a believer who makes sure it's the real thing beyond reasonable doubt. I use this term mostly in paranormal investigation. I believe in spirits, but I will not chalk every noise and shadow up to ghost activity. I will be the first to disprove every claim, go looking for the thing that caused the sound or appearance, because I do not believe in falsehood. I believe in the real thing, and I'm not ashamed to say when you're not looking at the real thing.) I often find things in common with atheists because I think my views are more toward their end of the spectrum of belief than the other. But I'm happy to say that I really am always learning, and this new person's comments made me realize a whole other aspect to atheism. Some of them may just not believe because they haven't found that sufficient proof yet. Not because they never will, but because it's currently the best descriptor for their beliefs. My significant other does not believe and I don't think he ever will, as he never has, and that is fine. But other atheists may not be in that boat.

Magick is about energy. Energy can be felt. I had a feeling about this one, and I was right.


03 May, 2013

Beltane '13

Hey, Readers!

Beltane is a sabbat I have never really gotten to celebrate with a big event.

A few years ago, I have a video from Beltane where my friends and I were doing a Blitz theatre production, because it was on a weekend, and that took up my whole weekend. Last year on Beltane, I was in London at a museum. This year I was at my boyfriend's house, enjoying my time with him since he was only here for five days in between school sessions. I would have had an opportunity last weekend to participate in a small group ritual for Beltane, but they scheduled it on the only Sunday in April that I couldn't make it due to my boyfriend's visit and our lunch with some other friends from my church.

I know that the group's plan was to have a bonfire and hang prayer/wish ribbons on a bush, rather than having a full sized May-Pole. My friend offered to write my wishes on ribbons for me since I couldn't make it, but I didn't have her do so since I didn't have time to really think about what I would wish for, and would rather have done it in the moment myself. If I had been at home (Grams' house, instead of my boyfriend's house), I would have at least gone outside to meditate or something, or maybe gone to a local park. Since I was away from home, with really nothing at all and no special place of my own outdoors, I went without any formal celebration. Instead, I just spent various moments throughout the day thinking about the sabbat and what it means to me. (That, and I played the wonderful, humourous song, "First of May" by Jonathan Coulton, for my boyfriend and our friend who was visiting, hahaha.)

At the medieval faire--Not a maypole at the moment,
but this is the same pole and wreath set-up they have
used for maypoles in the past!
Beltane is a sabbat I associate mostly with the may pole (or other things involving weaving ribbons and symbols of unity), balefires/bonfires, and the "wedding" or union of the God and Goddess. It is a fertility festival, but this is not only literal in relation to human beings and animals--It is also the desire and intent for fertile fields and a plentiful harvest for the year. Spring is a time of beginnings, plantings, potential, and promise. It is a time of hope, but also active preparation. Beltane is often the time when many of us here in the northern hemisphere finally see and feel the spring weather which we welcomed and beckoned at Ostara, the vernal equinox. As such, this may be the time people feel the urge to "spring clean." In the wheel of the year, Beltane is the time when the God and Goddess unite, which some think of as their literal "marriage" in the sense we modern humans use the term, or merely their coming together sexually to promote fertility of the earth.

If I were to celebrate this festival a way I feel would be appropriate, I would want the following elements to occur:

  • Bonfire. Absolute must-have. And either a smaller fire elsewhere for people to jump over, or at least a time when the main bonfire is let low enough for jumping.
  • A maypole dance! That means several people celebrating together!
  • If not a maypole, then at least everyone would get ribbons to weave/tie together, wear, hang on branches, etc.
  • Possibly a play, with two people portraying the God and Goddess, dancing together. Some things I've read talk about crowning a May King and Queen. It's all symbolism to me, really, so however it works is fine by me.
  • If not a play or two specific people portraying the roles, then at least all involved having the basic idea of being a guest at a divine union of Universal balance.
  • Gardening. There will be flowers. Maybe even planting things.
  • Drum circle. Because they're awesome.
  • And then of course the more private symbolic celebration, not to be shared with the group. =)
As I said, Beltane is one of the sabbats I've never really gotten to celebrate, which is odd since I feel it's one of the easiest ideas for people to grasp or remember. But it's just never worked out! Still, even just taking some time to reflect on the significance of the moment is important to me--acknowledging the day and the season, not just letting it go by unnoticed. I think a lot of us struggle to find time for what people think of as "proper celebrations, rituals, etc." but that doesn't mean we do nothing at all. Not everything needs a full ritual. Not everything needs a whole group (though I do think celebrating sabbats is more fun with more people). And if everyday we live our connection to the land, nature, the Universe, and whatever we view as Deity, so much the better. Each holiday is no different than every other day we don't choose to mark with elevated significance, and each blends into the next, becoming not just important dates we cannot miss and those other days when we do whatever, but a solid string of solid, individual, holy days. It is merely helpful to take time every so often to stop, take stock of what's going on around us, and just to notice and honor it.

That said, I do look forward to Midsummer.