Cross-posted on my SageWoman blog.
For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I want to build on my previous post regarding mystery. I’ve known for a long time that spirituality isn’t all about bringing light, but I believed “darkness” represented only aspects of self for which I felt shame. My frame of reference has widened to realize we need areas unseen and unexplored in our lives. Permaculture practice includes leaving a small corner of your land to the wild; we need this space internally as well.
I perceived the residence of shadow to be solely the parts of self which I denied having: trauma-time little selves that I banished out of my awareness. Now I am aware of at least two other entities therein. These include parts of self which do not wish themselves known and parts whose form I have not yet taken.
The parts who do not wish themselves known are aspects of self which feel unsafe with me as Mother. They hold themselves back from me in fear that I will cause them harm as others have caused them harm. Willing them known only deepens their resolve to hide.
The mystery selves are my untapped potentials; Spirit-beings and the stuff of the soul into which I must pour care and attention until, pregnant with their unfolding, they blossom to Self. We have the idea in our culture that we already are everything for which we are looking; I think this is an oversimplification. We contain all the necessary ingredients for the truest version of Self of which we are capable, but diligence and perseverance are needed to realize this way of living.
One uncanny ability I’ve always had is that I can look at someone and see their Shadow. I am very wary when this doesn’t work with another as it usually means there is a heavy air of denial going on in the person’s life. I see now that, although I am gifted in seeing the little selves and the parts that hide from others, I am unable to see the Mystery inside them—who they could become if they were fully awake and fully invested in Self. I have been blind to these hidden seeds in others because I have denied them in myself. I thought everything in me needed to be exposed and conscious, but this is forced growth where incubation is instead required.
I marvel at the idea of holding space for the unknown in myself and others; pregnant with ambiguity and uncertainty, believing all that wishes to be manifested will do so in good time. This only occurs, of course, for those who allow for it. If we believe ourselves light and nothing more, if we submerge in denial of half of who we are, there is little room for this type of wading in the slit seeking shoots.
There is so much in Goddess Spirituality that connects to this concept of Mystery. The representation of the feminine in the moon and darkness, in descent and dreams, as well as birth-death-rebirth speaks to these truths. Goddess is not a fixed, unchanging concept, and neither are we. I feel in this new understanding that it is only after much time that the layers to which I’ve only now become acquainted will fill out, each cell dividing and the body coming into its own. When we come to the end of our understanding, we are in holy space. We needn’t resolve to explore and tame the wilderness in our souls; no, we can sit at the edge, singing lullabies, and welcoming with an open heart whatever unfurls and emerges.
In the midst of the migrant crisis on the U.S. Southern Border, I found myself baffled by people’s responses. People whom I thought had at least a basic moral core responded with flippant rationalization and indifference to the suffering of children. I floundered around, unsure of how to process the experience. Finally, as I was listening to one of my favorite radio personalities, Bill Press, I heard him state “This isn’t a political issue; it’s a moral issue.” It was as if someone had flipped the proverbial light switch; I saw in stark and exposed grain what before had been only edges and the feel of a bannister.
I’d figured I left behind concerns about morality with the dissolution of my fundamentalist upbringing. I realized that I am still very much concerned with it, but that the calculus has been rewritten. My version of morality is encircled by the degree to which any particular behavior causes the suffering of a human being, and, to a lesser extent, any part of Nature. What compunction do we have to compel people to care about others if there is no threat of hell or reward of heaven at the end? This article hit home for me my feeling of helplessness in the face of an unwillingness to consider the needs of others who are different, and it was written a full year before the latest horrors. Rather than turning away from my feelings, I sank into them to contemplate, for today’s #Thealogy and #EmbodiedHeart post, what morality means from the perspective of my pantheistic Earth-based Goddess Spirituality belief system.
Owning Our Own Moral Failings Before They Own Us
I cannot deny the wisdom of taking the plank out of our own eye before we look for the speck of sawdust in another’s. I believe we need to clean our own house of hypocrisy and lack of heart towards those with whom we struggle to empathize. I do not think this means we need to devote all of our energy to reaching the very people we struggle the most to humanize. Rather, we can at least refuse to dehumanize anyone and can refrain from stereotyping others. I’ve been surprised at my own willingness to write off entire states, for instance, as places I view as “less than.” Unrelenting passion for each person’s worth as a human being builds the strongest bridges. When we realize we’ve fallen short of this idea, self-compassion can keep us from shame and can allow us to make fertile compost of the scraps of our failure.
I’ve pondered this topic previously in response to sexual abusers. I do not think we owe everyone the same offering of compassion, especially if we were specifically victimized by them. We can spend our time trying to force drops of love out of stone, or we can unload the buckets of it that overflow from places where we’ve been wounded. In other words, most of us have people in the world with whom we readily empathize and for whom we care deeply; I do not think channeling our compassion towards these individuals is cowardice. Trauma survivors, in particular, risk re-traumatization if we continually frustrate ourselves in attempts to win over those who are cutouts of the ones who abused us or the ones who allowed us, through their indifference, to be abused.
At the same time, if it isn’t our own life’s purpose, we can welcome and support those who are able and willing to walk the long road towards those we see as “enemy,” flowers of hope in hand. Some are here to seek out the most vile beings in order to seed and water the tiny, crusted nugget of humanity in them, and I wish them well in their work. This story, for instance, of the blues musician Daryl Davis who convinced dozens of Klan members to leave and give him their robes speaks to this type of mission and inspires me.
Even the Monsters Are Human Beings
People can be evil, but the people who frighten me the most are those who explain away the evil ones. Knowing that a person finds it acceptable to worry solely about “me and mine” and cares not for anyone who, by sexual orientation, gender identity, ableness, race, religion, national origin or age is outside of their circle terrifies me. There is no level of atrocity that is “too much” if we write off entire groups of people. I do not think we need to force ourselves to beg and plead for these people to see the light, but we cannot discount them as being worth less or worthless. My heart tremors with the knowledge that each of us as humans can dim our light of morality if we do not give it careful and sustained energy.
We need people to rise above blind outrage and hatred; some of us to pour ourselves into caring for the victims, and some of us, with tears streaming down our faces, to compel the hard-hearted to soften to the suffering of the least of us. Anger is a wholly appropriate response to victimization; even in our anger, I believe the tender spots in our heart, raw and bleeding, will not be healed if we slip into a caustic hatred that degrades and dehumanizes our oppressors. Instead, anger must galvanize our feet and our hands and our voices to protest, to hug, to write, to do whatever it takes to scream our demand that no one is outside of the family of humanity; we harm ourselves when we kill, maim and imprison each other.
Moral Character Is A Work in Progress
All that we can ask of ourselves, I believe, in terms of our own morality is to be willing to examine and re-examine ourselves, bathing our wounds in the warm light of compassion and prying from our frightened hands any sticks of bloodlust with which we wish to bash the oppressive forces that seek our submission. No one arrives at a place of enlightenment from which all decisions and all impulses are purified. We are primates who, through whatever evolutionary quirks, can see or hear the cries of other primates we’ve never met and, on a soul-level, wish to tear apart any barriers, wire by wire, in order to free them. Let us, in our desire to rid the world of pain, be ever vigilant and careful not to fall for the cheapest form of self-esteem—the Light found me and I’m better than I was yesterday, so I must be better than you. Goddess as Earth surrounds each of us; we are all part of Her world and deserve to be treated as such.
How do you sit with instances of immorality when you see others suffering? How do you respond to those who are indifferent or who are committing evil acts, and to what extent do your actions retain the acknowledgement of their humanity? How do you direct your compassion?
I will soon be hosting a free Self-Compassion Summer Camp Virtual Circle for individuals who are interested in deepening their practice of Goddess Spirituality. I’ve written in the past about why I believe Goddess Spirituality has resonance for trauma survivors. As I’ve worked on preparing the circle, I realized it would probably be wise to share about my own belief and value system on a more granular level in order to give my offerings within the circle adequate contextualization. For today’s #Thealogy post, I will be delineating the specific way in which I define my spirituality as well as the core principles to which I adhere.
Labeling the Intangible
My spiritual identity is that of a person who engages in pantheistic nature-based Goddess Spirituality. I owe a debt of gratitude to Molly Remer’s Practical Priestessing class for elaborating upon the various belief systems within Goddess Spirituality to the point where I was finally able to put a specific terminology to my values. The pantheistic aspect of my practice means that I see the Divine in everything. In addition, Nature reflects spirituality and Deity to me; I would say that the core of my faith is touching the Divine in all Her forms through the natural world. Given this, scientific discovery and inquiry spurs on my spirituality, rather than standing in opposition to it. Lastly, I respond most fully to the Divine in the form of the feminine and female (both the psychological and physical aspects of womenhood).
I have found a few points of distinction within areas in the wider Pagan and Goddess Spirituality worlds that I think bear consideration. I very much value historical conceptualizations of female Deities, but I do not worship a particular Goddess per se or see Goddess as entirely separate from myself, for instance, as an entity whom I must placate through sacrifice. I also do not venerate both God and Goddess as some Wiccan practitioners do. My practice honors and values the developmental processes of those who are biologically women, such as menstruation, childbirth and menopause, but these transitions are not the center of my devotion. Instead, I incorporate a systemic view of natural cycles into my conceptualization of the Divine–Goddess as reflected in ecosystems. As a result, although I’ve limited my Summer Self-Compassion Camp to women as participants, I view Goddess Spirituality as accessible to all people, regardless of gender. Likewise, although I connect with each face of the Triple Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone, I do not limit myself to viewpoints of Goddess or of my own development to this presentation alone. Finally, I do not believe in anything resembling the Law of Attraction or the idea that I can alter reality through magical means alone.
As I’ve sat with a desire to communicate my values and beliefs, five specific core concepts have emerged. If you are interested in the virtual circle, I think you will find the most resonance if you identify with them as well:
- Embracing all of nature
- Living in compassion and love
- Appreciating the interconnectedness of all beings
- Attending to the margins
- Creating conscious community
Please see below for a full description of each value.
Embracing All of Nature
The heart of embracing all of nature is to me to acknowledge the dialectics within life. There are moments of beauty, but there is also death and decay. Similar to the darkness that is as much a part of the world around us as the light, I believe each of us has shadow—areas of our inner lives we’d rather avoid that in fact hold the key to our deepening relationship with Self. We needn’t have it all together or be “positive” at all times; making appearances of doing so is often a cowering from reality rather than an authentic state of being. Moments of experience where everything is going wrong or our best-laid plans result in failure are as vital to our spiritual journey as triumphs.
Embracing all of nature lends itself organically to practicing mindfulness. Living in the present moment is the surest way for us to access our experience as it is instead of as we’d like it to be. Contemplation of the past and future is also welcome and necessary; I seek to integrate my ideas of what has been and what will be into who I am in the present rather than to spend my time pining for past losses or future not-untils.
Walking with nature also includes physically experiencing it to the fullest extent to which we are able. We need bodily, emotional, mental and spiritual stimulation as humans, and there is almost always free access to it the moment we spend time with organic matter (I say this instead of green because I think there is something to be said for being around plants, etc. after the harvest has passed as well). Instead of using technology to perk us up or keep us interested, we can substitute the real thing for the artificially-generated. I value a slow and sustainable pace to life whenever it is feasible; my progress in this area is unsteady at times but, as it is rooted in my ancestral path, I know I will continue to open to it.
Living in Compassion and Love
I placed compassion before love in the section title because I think what the world needs is a greater capacity for compassion and empathy more than anything else. Liking is typically a prerequisite to love, but, if we open ourselves to it, we can feel for anyone, even those who are very different from us. Telling people that they are only acceptable to us, that we can only feel compassion for them if they change their beliefs, behaviors or other aspects of who they are to fit our needs is cheap grace—again, it is often easy to feel for those with whom we have much in common. Loving all whom we are lucky enough to have as close and dear to us and showing compassion to everyone we meet are intertwined reflections of Goddess for me.
Appreciating the Interconnectedness of All Beings
Gratitude grounds me in the realization that I am but one small part of the ecosystem of the Earth. Both on a physical and a spiritual level, I think everything and everyone is held in the Cosmic Web of life. No matter what my feelings of depression or trauma-based beliefs may tell me, I am not only a part of humanity, I am also in intimate relationship with all aspects of the universe, from the tiniest ant to the farthest galaxy. I hold that this is true for all humans without question. In this sense, we are all welcome and we each have inherent worth. My actions, then, take on heightened importance as the decisions I make affect everyone. I have a responsibility to the wider world as well as to myself; at the end of things, they are one and the same.
Attending to the Margins
Most of the individuals with whom I’ve interacted in the Goddess Spirituality world are very socially aware and care about society’s inequality and injustice. Some of these individuals, myself included, do not think the world in its current state is just. In other words, we don’t think individual people are solely responsible for everything that happens to them nor do we believe that people always get what they deserve. I am strongly opposed to the notion of karma on the scale of a human lifetime—we may not see things righted in each person’s life. Survivors of child abuse, for instance, did not cause their own victimhood, and their abusers will unfortunately not always be brought to justice. Likewise, people can be born into misery through no fault of their own.
On a cosmic timescale, I think there are discernible patterns of growth and entropy and that, even within the limited framework of human history, there are streams feeding the river of progress. Although justice is elusive, I believe actions such as tending to those who are less fortunate and speaking truth to power serve as outflows of the wellspring of hope and compassion which Goddess Spirituality provides for us. I hold that the feminine characteristics of empathy, cooperation and nurturance are vital contrasts to systems which focus on rightness, domination and conquest.
Creating Conscious Community
Having been raised in (by American standards) an extremely restrictive, patriarchal and collectivistic community, communally-focused activities can feel threatening to me. I’ve stumbled my way towards a recognition that my skills at instantly dissecting a group’s leadership and desiring to expose their inherent flaws need to be redirected to developing my own abilities in creating community for others. I expect to be humbled and have my “you’re doing it wrong” radar toned down a bit by the experience. There is a knowing in me that there isn’t a perfect community into which I will walk with a place carved out that suits me just right. Instead, I need to handcraft the vessel myself and pour out the libation to others who are like-minded.
Goddess spirituality practices are often egalitarian and focused on developing each participant’s inherent abilities. I hope to partner with others who hold a desire to become teachers and healers and spiritualists—those who want to cultivate their own leadership skills. The community model to which I am drawn asks and invites each individual who partakes to contribute that which they know is theirs to give and to take from the group that which is needed, trusting that most people will respond thoughtfully to such an offer. The innate effort, generosity and empathy of which most humans are capable is perhaps best elicited, paradoxically, by sharing with newcomers, rather than by demanding they earn their seat.
These five principles, along with the labels under which I feel comfortable placing myself, have taken me a few decades to collect and to then digest sufficiently to where I can begin to open myself up to others in their offering. I am certain they will change a bit as I continue my spiritual journey. I would love to hear from others who consider themselves practitioners of Goddess Spirituality, pantheism and/or nature-based spirituality as to their resonance and meaning for you personally, as well as the additional guiding philosophies to which you hold allegiance in your walk with Goddess.
For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I want to share a spiritual knowing that revealed itself to me. I do not in any way claim that it is Truth, but rather, share it as an outpouring of the blessing it gave me. I’ve written recently of my difficulties with finding family, so this envisioning held special meaning to me. I find my belonging and my being encapsulated in it.
In my vision, I saw four altars: to Self, a romantic partner, my family of origin and my children. Everyone would have these stones of sacrifice, although the recipients of our dedication may vary. In relationship, each altar becomes a table of living reverance, on which we gift of ourselves. When the object of our devotion is no longer in our lives, the altar transforms to a grave – table to headstone. The meaning of the relationship and the lessons learned from it inscribed themselves on it. My altar to my family of origin is a grave as that relationship is irrevocably severed. For romantic partner and child, I hold the liminal space between conception and decay, uncertain as to whether to mourn their absence or whether to pour of myself to enliven the dedication. On my altar to Self, I make sacrifice; I invest in myself and venerate my body. At times, I’ve clung to its rocky facade as the only relic I had.
As this knowing unfolded, I saw myself turning ’round in this sacred place. The landscape was dotted with circular altars. One stood out from the rest. The altar to Goddess, to Earth, to the World and Universe, to all of Being. So large that every human and every creature could fit around its circumference. Sacrifices here return to the giver in abundance. Life-giver, guardian of the deep, all that is. Tunneled in every direction from this altar was a web connected to each of the individual altars; She under-girds all we do.
Everything to which we dedicate ourselves exists within this medium. There is no escape in the most affirming way possible. Sure, we can enslave ourselves to false pillars from which no life has ever emanated. We can serve graves and mourn the living. We can spend decades holding fast to the cold marble of bygone or neverhad, unaware of the abundance which would flourish if we would simply unfix our gaze. But we don’t have to anymore. More than knowing, I experienced this reality—the belonging to and for and how that for so long has evaded me.
I find a profound justice in this model of the world. No matter the altar, each of us meets our end on this outstretched plain. She calls everyone to Her when they die, returning all to Herself. No one gets to write the last lines of their story except for Her.
In the glow of this revelation, I think transcendence occurs when we are able to glimpse our altar to Self turning to grave and relish the gathering dust as our final gift to the world. We can die not clinging to the edifies of what was or should have been, but prostrating ourselves in gratitude for what has been received as well as taken. Only in the exchange of being held and losing refuge do we meet love.
Does this mean we should not grieve what is gone and what could never be? No, but I think we do well to know when it is that we face memory and when it is that we face possibility. Mourning is relevant, sacred and true. It may mean we spend time clinging to and scrapping at rock, willing life where it no longer blossoms. If we give ourselves over to it wholly, I think mourning eventually allows us to set our back against tomb and to recircle ourselves with all who celebrate Her. Love is daring to devote ourselves to Self and others, with an embodied understanding that time loops us all into non-existence or at least recycles every bit of who we are. Life is so precious that nothing endures.
Toko-Pa Turner has noted that sacrifice means to make sacred. My vision revealed the depths of this for me in a way that has unbound my heart and released my holding to flimsy and false rockface. I have home now, stone steps and the wide berth of granite that goes on forever. I rise to meet Her there, carefully placing each flower and spoon of honey and grain offering in turn. She consumes them as She envelops me. I am remade each time I offer myself, returning lighter and deeper and fuller. There is nowhere we can go without Her, and no one She cannot transform at the World Altar.