Gnoses and -isms

The Pagan Blog Project: G is for Gnoses and -isms

One thing I really like about the pagan community is that (in general) people are very accepting of others’ experiences in beliefs, even if they don’t agree with their own.  Of course, that’s also one of the main sources of contention in certain circles, especially groups that are much more lore-based rather than experience.  Usually, though, people seem to get along in a happy middle ground.

It’s really helpful to have a working knowledge of some terms, though, because otherwise you’re watching people throw these terms around without knowing what they’re talking about.  It can also be helpful as you go farther in your own path to consider the terms and find which seem to work for you.

I was going to actually write definitions out, but there was a lot of bread-baking today instead, so, yeah.  Instead I’m going to list some terms and you can do your own homework.  A lot of definitions can be found at this link, though.

  • Gnosis
  • Gnostic
  • Agnostic
  • UPG/Unverified Personal Gnosis
  • Praxis
  • Doxa
  • Theism
  • Atheism
  • Monotheism
  • Polytheism
  • Animism
  • Deism
  • Henotheism
  • Pantheism
  • Panentheism
  • Monism

Who knows, maybe in a couple of days I’ll fill them in myself. Right now it’s bedtime.

In which Cicadinae finally finds a use for Tarot.

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If you’ve followed me for awhile, at some point you’ve probably seen me bitch about my ineptitude with Tarot.  I’ve tried various decks, various means of interpretation, various ways of asking questions, of shuffling, of doing all that stuff.  In the end it’s pretty much the same thing: my mind is like, “Wow those pictures are pretty but I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me.”

People of course say keep practicing, but truth is for divination purposes I’ve found runes to work much better for me.  I think pictures, as beautiful and as meaningful as they are in Tarot, are actually causing part of the problem.  It’s just how I’m wired.  When it comes to real life matters or trying to communicate with that great beyond or whatever, runes are it for me.  They are simple (here meaning that they are free of distraction, not that they are easy to understand) and ignite my intuition much more effectively.  I also use them in magic often with a good amount of success.

So here I am with a dozen or so pretty Tarot decks now.  I flip through them every so often and sigh longingly, wishing I could do something with them beyond just admire them.  The Major Arcana especially holds keys to this itchy little part of my brain I haven’t been able to unlock…

Until today, when I suddenly figured out what the hell I need all these Tarot decks around for.

I’m a writer.  I also suffer from depression.  This means that when writer’s block hits, it turns into a THING very quickly.  The weird thing about writing and depression for me is that writing can be a ladder out of it just as easily as it can be the thing that pushes me into the pit.  When writer’s block joins in, you might as well just cover that pit with a boulder, me inside.

Last night I was on the verge of going over the side again after a pretty decent stretch of staying up top.  I’ve taken to keeping a handwritten journal that, when these things start, I vent all my worries and rages there.  Yeah, it sounds really negative, but it’s much better on the page than boiling around inside me.  I really don’t like therapists, and I find that the journal much more competently takes their place (and is much cheaper).

What started the episode was getting extremely frustrated with something I’ve been working on in which I’d written myself into a corner.  Nothing about it was right (nothing’s ever right when this starts) and it was stupid of me to think I could ever pretend to be a writer.  I think a term I used last night was “cosmic maid” – I felt like my whole lot in life was cleaning up other people’s creativity and enjoying it from afar, but not having the real ability to create it.

After the journal entry, I felt calm-ish.  I went down to my study (which doubles as my altar room) and tidied up some things.  Not feeling up to writing just then, I instead found some candles and incense and lit them on my writing desk with a very clear intent of cleansing the space of negative thought.  I then spent some time doing yoga and meditation, clearing myself of similar emotions.  Then I blew out the candles and went to bed.

Today after work I felt like I was ready to face it again.  I went into the room and relit the candles.  Then to encourage inspiration, I found a yellow taper, dressed it and runed it, and lit that with the other two.  As it started burning down, instead of writing the story, I had a conversation with myself (apparently I do this a lot).  I didn’t ask what was wrong with the story, but went back to the start.  What was the story actually trying to tell?  I wrote in this line of thought for over half an hour, feeling braver as I went along, eventually coming to the conclusion that the story was needing to be approached from a different angle.

I had a vague idea of what angle that was, but couldn’t really put a finger on it.  I stared at the inspiration candle a few minutes, then reached for one of my Tarot decks (the Tarot of the Magical Forest, one of my newer ones).  I focused on my beginning as I shuffled the cards.  What had happened right before the beginning?  Where was the real opening of the story?  Where was its immediate direction?  I got the above three cards.

Suddenly I was having a conversation with the cards and the story similar to how I read people having conversations with cards and spirits.  I didn’t even realize it was happening until I’d written another two pages on the reading, putting the pieces together.  The final card, Temperance, was especially interesting.  It had relevance to the story, but it was also a message to me as the author.

I’m pretty excited right now.  While I could not get the cards to work for me in readings for myself or as a communication tool with deities/spirits, my creative storytelling mind is able to work with them easily.  I didn’t realize the two sides of my mind were so separated, but it makes sense.

All in all, I’m glad I never gave up fully on Tarot.  It seems I have a lot more work to do with it now.

Review of The Norse Myths

Book Review: The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland

I’ve been trying to work up the courage and attention span to make it all the way through Eddas for awhile now.  I did read most of the Prose Edda until I got stuck somewhere in the Skáldskaparmál.  Since that didn’t go so well, I found this book for a good rundown on the myths.  What’s pretty great about it is that there’s a full list of notes in the back that tell you where the author pulled the material from and when he takes a little bit of liberty with the story.

Is it a replacement for the originals?  Certainly not, but if you just want some basics about Norse mythology, these are enjoyable as well as educational.  I especially liked his characterizations.  So often mythology is just relayed in writing so flatly and directly that it becomes stale, which is a shame because of how alive it is.  I never really felt that in this book.

The Thor and Loki stories were by far my favorites, partially due to the characterizations, but also just because I’ve always enjoyed those the most.  I continue to wish there was more surviving lore on the goddesses, but in general their stories were well represented here.

If you’re looking for a good starter book about Norse mythology, this is it!

For a full list of the pagan and magic related books I’ve read and reviewed, check out my Goodreads page.  I’m always looking for more Goodreads friends with similar interests, so feel free to send me a request!

Fiction

The Pagan Blog Project: F is for Fiction

I’ve mentioned before that a lot of my personal beliefs are based around cycles.  While this is true, this is certainly not the only thing I can pinpoint as significant to my practices and observances.  Cycles seem to make that logical side of me happy that needs to know what to expect next.  But there’s also that happy tingling feeling you get when something doesn’t just seem important in your head, it actually feels that way.

Creative inspiration is the main source for that sensation in my life, and that is brought to light most often through fiction.  You know how when you’re reading along in a story and then suddenly something just jumps out at you?  Maybe it’s not even something that seems imperative to the story, it just struck you at that moment for whatever reason.  It’s like that.  And fiction works similarly to how meditation works for many.  Because your brain is able to let go with a really great distraction, suddenly other things are able to work on you.

I feel as if fictional stories can be as powerful as myths that have been circulating for centuries, and even as powerful as history.  This is because, to me, all literature is made up of the same stuff.  There’s a really good quote from Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor:

You say stories grow out of other stories.  But Sacajawea was real.

As a matter of fact, she was, but from our point of view, it doesn’t really matter.  History is story, too.  You don’t encounter her directly, you’ve only heard of her through narrative of one sort or another.  She is a literary as well as a historical character, as much a piece of the American myth as Huck Finn or Jay Gatsby, and very nearly as unreal.  And what all this is about, finally, is myth.  Which brings us to the big secret.

Here it is: there’s only one story.  There, I said it and I can’t very well take it back.  There is only one story.  Ever.  One.  It’s always been going on and it’s everywhere around us and every story you’ve ever read or heard or watched is part of it.  The Thousand and One Nights.  Beloved.  ”Jack and the Beanstalk.”  The Epic of Gilgamesh.  The Story of O.  The Simpsons.

Are not the myths many pagans follow brought up in a similar way?  Aren’t many actually traces of history that formed into legend and are left to us as myth?  And if fiction (which is about so many things, but here’s one) is largely about the author trying to understand the world, or paint the world so that the reader understands it, isn’t it still very much a part of reality?  I can imagine the reconstructionists scowling at this and others rolling their eyes and brushing this off as fluffy nonsense.  I’m not saying this, however, to suggest that history is fiction, or that Kemeticism is just like Heathenry with different names (because lolno it’s not).  I’m saying that I agree with this statement in that we are all human beings, and while our experiences and backgrounds are vastly different, we all hold a piece of a much larger story.  To me, that is what makes fiction real.

Fiction also has the added bonus of helping you see your own life from a different perspective.  Just how you as a reader can identify moments that are going to matter later on, when you are used to seeing those signs in books and stories, you start to recognize when they appear around you in your regular life.  This is very helpful for headblind people who do not communicate directly with spirits, etc.  By reading the signs around you, you can start to see a little bit more of your own story.

If you take that a step farther and look at the subject of fiction as a writer, a whole world of possibility opens up.  Consider magic.  One of the more believed magical theories is that like attracts like.  So, let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds.  Beyond the mundane things you should do anyway, there’s also a wealth of spells and potions out there that could help with this.  But what if you could just write a story in which the main character (insert, you) lost 20 pounds, and then went on to tell a story about how that affected her life positively?  As a writer, it’s so easy to get completely wrapped up in your stories and characters, that they very much are real.  Could you not use this to change your reality?

I haven’t tried something exactly like this.  However, one of my favorite books pretty much follows a similar plot.  Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series is about someone who can make something real by reading it out loud.  When you pair that ability with a talented writer, shenanigans ensue.  I love this series, and see in it much more than even this idea behind magic.  For example, there are somewhat archetypical characters in these stories, but they are often changed from what you would traditionally expect to see.  A reluctant mage, a powerful fool, a subtle trickster; this book definitely inspired me more than any other at the time in my life which I read it.

Which brings me to my parting thought.  It’s really okay if fiction speaks to you more than traditional means for spiritual fulfillment.  One may be surprised to find a large number of fiction books on my pagan-centric Goodreads account.  Why would those be included among books about performing magic, religious history, and scholarly mythology?  Because for me these books changed my life.  They pointed a piece of “the truth” to me in such a way that I could not ignore them or consider them simple entertainment.  In some cases, these books saved me.

So next time you pick up a book, pay attention for those moments that ring with significance.  And pay attention for similar moments as you play out your own story.

Review of Grasp Tarot Basics in 15 Minutes or Less

Book Review: “Grasp Tarot Basics in 15 Minutes or Less” by Ian Eshey

I downloaded this article to my Kindle awhile ago when it was free for a day (regularly priced at $.99 on Amazon).  I tend to hoard these freebies as they pop up and get around to reading them whenever I do.  So today I finally went through this one.

It’s not lying, it really does only take about 15 minutes to get through it.  It has some good basic understanding information of the Tarot that a lot of the thicker books either barely touch on or go into so much detail that a new person starts to feel lost.  Eshey discusses the basic meanings of the suits and the sequence of the numbers, saying that with this basic information, and with a basic understanding of symbols which usually show up on the card, you can pretty much read Tarot.

I don’t want to put a bunch of notes here as, really, it would practically be copying this short article, but for my own benefit, here’s some information on the Suits which is common knowledge to most Tarot readers but that I always have a tendency to mix up somehow:

  • Cups usually refers to emotions and relationships, aligning with water
  • Wands usually refer to spirit and passion, aligning with fire (and wood)
  • Swords usually refer to intellect and rationality, aligning with air
  • Pentacles/Coins/Disks refer to material possessions, aligning with earth

Eshey seems to heavily favor that reading Tarot is much more about kicking your intuition into action rather than communication with deities/spirits.  By this theory, there is nothing supernatural going on here.  It’s a matter of getting your mind to let go and look at something a different way.  While I can see the value in this, I know many would probably disagree that this is the only possibility for reading Tarot.

I’ve had unfortunately little success with cards, hence why I favor runes.  Because of that, this less-than-mystical approach works better for me, at least to help me understand an approach to start with.  While there are certainly more books and articles published out there that would have more in-depth information and a large variety of approaches to choose from, this isn’t a bad guide to get a basic grasp, especially if the thicker books make you feel like a deer in the headlights.

For a full list of the pagan and magic related books I’ve read and reviewed, check out my Goodreads page.  I’m always looking for more Goodreads friends with similar interests, so feel free to send me a request!

Fake

The Pagan Blog Project: F is for Fake

I feel a little as if I’ve been lying for awhile, both to myself and to people who read about my pagan experience.  The main reason is that I don’t know if I really consider myself pagan anymore.  There are aspects of it I really like, mostly community aspects.  The rest I like more because it is extremely interesting to read and learn about, but it doesn’t really ring true as something I believe in.  I don’t mean this in any kind of invalidating sense; one thing I do believe is that different things will speak to each person, so just because something doesn’t ring true for me doesn’t mean it won’t for someone else.

Is this where I’ve found myself through a lack of finding a path?  Is it for lack of trying?  Maybe a little, but I think more than anything it’s just because I’ve seen a little bit of so many things that I haven’t gotten very along in anything.  I’ve found myself stepping back and re-evaluating a lot of things.

So when it comes down to it, I feel a little fake in the pagan community, but I don’t want to run off because I’m not 100% sure yet.  I still enjoy it and learn so much from it, and there’s not exactly another place that feels anymore right.

What maybe troubles me the most is that I know how there have been times that I’ve written something with absolute certainty, then gone back and found doubt.  Maybe it was an experience, or something to do with spellwork or divination.  The point is, as often as that has happened to me, I can’t help but wonder how many other people have unintentionally (or perhaps even intentionally) done something that would label them “fake” as well.  I doubt almost everything I read of some people’s experiences.  I’m a huge skeptic for sure, but I also have a difficult time trusting people.  That’s one reason I backed away from online communities for awhile.  I was getting very muddled with everyone else’s experiences, sometimes coming through as a wrestling match for who could get the most attention, that I chose to back out of it.  I in no way see it as my place to challenge someone’s perspectives or motives, but I can choose not to be around it.

This year I came back because I wanted to start shaping everything again.  I am more confident, less inclined to follow, more skeptical, but now able to enjoy reading about different experiences and weigh them against my own without feeling inferior.

So, while I don’t really fully identify as pagan, I hope you all don’t mind me hanging around a little bit more.  I’ve enjoyed participating in this project, and I’ve learned a lot from it.  And who knows, maybe it’s necessary to the shaping of my beliefs that may eventually lead me back around.  If nothing else, it’s been a pleasure learning and writing with so many people that, even if in the end I find it isn’t for me, I would never consider this time wasted.

Eternity and Endings

The Pagan Blog Project: E is for Eternity and Endings

Last week I posted some of my general thoughts about death.  Truth is, I have a lot of fear and anxiety concerning death.  I understand it as a biological ending, but the idea of the nothingness, or perhaps the dissolving of the ego into a greater whole, or even some other version of an afterlife, is something I can’t grasp.  It scares me because I don’t have control over it, and have no idea what to expect.

Psychologists generally expect every human being to start facing the reality of death once they reach age forty and beyond.  For me I’ve given great thought to it since before I was a teenager.  It would always start when I would imagine the the universe and would utterly fail at being able to comprehend infinity.  This would often lead to actual terror.

Thus leading to the desperate spiritual journey.  Oddly, I have no more answers than before, just a little more peace in not knowing.  I am still afraid, but by gradually understanding more of the divine, I am less so.

This is short this week, but I felt it important to write as it’s a significant part of my path.