Thursday, 22 November 2012

Do What Feels Right

This is so frequently stated as wisdom in Pagan Circles.  And indeed I believe it has come from older wisdom, but it’s missing the most important part.

After some research and training, when you know and understand how things work and how they’re supposed to feel, then you are free to do what feels right.

Well, I bet that sounds arrogant and snotty to a few people right now.  But let me describe a few situations where beginners “doing what felt right” went badly wrong.

A lady of my acquaintance fell madly passionately in love with a man who didn’t know she existed.  Her first ever spell was a love spell to make him love her.  They were married, but unfortunately it took over 13 years of mental, verbal and physical abuse before she was able to tear herself away from him.

She wouldn’t have cast the spell if it didn’t feel like the right thing to do, she was perfect for him, she just needed to make him see that.

Another group got all caught up in the New Age buzz for all things Native American.  It “felt right” to them to do a bit of magic calling on the spirits of those Native Americans.  Then things went wrong, they reached a point where they felt cursed and asked for help.  A young Native American man told them what to do to honour those spirits, ask their forgiveness and told them not to mess with a culture they don’t understand, and that it had been deeply disrespectful for them to call on those spirits in the first place.

A lady on an internet forum described a ritual she did.  There were a lot of things about herself that she didn’t like and wanted to be rid of, so it “felt right” to do a ritual to remove them.  She ran herself a bath, and as she washed herself, she saw all these negative traits being washed out of her and then going down the drain with the water.  As the water left the bath, she felt more and more drained and empty, she fell into a deep depression that started with a hollow numbness.  It soon led to suicidal thoughts. She hadn’t realised that when you remove something you must replace it with something else, for instance what you like about yourself, or qualities that you’d like to have.

Challenging yourself and leaving your comfort zone always feels uncomfortable, but its how we grow.  What is “feeling right” anyway?  If something feels uncomfortable, does it mean that it feels wrong?  Will we then stagnate and never grow spiritually?

I’m rather over hearing “do what feels right” as justification for every bit of silliness that beginners (and those who’ve been around for a while) can think of.  I am eclectic myself, but I have made an effort to study and learn about what it is I’m borrowing from, whether borrowing can be done respectfully and if there is something else I need to understand before I use it.  If it doesn’t work outside it’s original culture or path, then I won’t use it, I won’t stop learning about it though.  Most eclectics though are the dabblers with a pretty ‘cut and paste’ morality and don’t see that they can possibly be doing anything wrong because “it feels right”.

I was recently criticised for feeling that New Age practices are polluting Paganism and that there is much about the two paths that isn’t compatible.  It very quickly turned into a “how dare you tell me what I can do” which wasn’t what I was saying and a snotty little cow throwing words around that she didn’t understand.  The same person also suggested that my recommendation against the use of Ouija boards was fear-based, but had no reply when I explained fully why it had nothing at all to do with fear, why I recommended against them (because I end up cleaning up the messes created by those who think they can use them fine and safely, but aren’t around for the clean up) and how they actually work.  It came from a place of knowledge not fear.  

The problem I see is that too many people nowadays dabble in things they don’t fully understand.  They don’t realise that they don’t fully understand it and think they’ve got it sussed.  Based on their incomplete knowledge they think “it feels right” and they create a spiritual mess that someone else has to clean up.

A little bit of training, or having a teacher who can assess your knowledge and abilities can prevent a lot of nastiness, but we are the free-thinkers right?  We don’t need authority or someone else to tell us what to do, we do what ever we want as long as it “feels right”.

I once asked an Alexandrian High Priest what he saw as the single main difference between British Traditional (ie Initiate) Wicca and American (book-learned, self-initiated etc) Wicca.  His answer was simple - standards.  It seems rather elitist at first glance, but think about it for a minute.  In Initiate Wicca, there are things you are taught according to your grade or degree.  When you have learned those things, you ask to go to the next level.  If your teacher agrees, you are tested (and not by your teacher) and initiated to the next degree where you learn things that are better suited to your level of understanding and experience.  We have the same thing in schools, you learn this year what is appropriate to your age, intelligence and understanding of what you learned last year.  You are tested on it and if you pass, move on to the next level.  In American Wicca, where people learn all they know from books and form groups based on their ideas of how it all should be, there is no experienced teacher to watch over  progress, to decide whether they are ready for the next phase of learning.  You do what feels right.

I have oversimplified in my use of American vs British Wicca here - there are American traditions that are well structured and have standards and teachers and there are British groups that don’t. I needed to find a way to differentiate between the two and this was the most obvious - no offence is intended to anyone.

What makes this worse is the prevalence of facebook groups set up by self-styled teachers.  They gain a following of other beginners and fill their pages with utter nonsense.  Any experienced person who comments on the misinformation finds their comments removed or that they are suddenly subjected to rants of “You don’t have to like my page” or “but every one is doing it” or “you’re so mean, why are you bullying me?”

No true or worthwhile teacher objects to being questioned.  They know that there is always something more to learn and those lessons can come from the most unexpected of places.

There is a growing trend among those more experienced people to sit back and let natural selection take it’s course.  The silly child who thinks that making memes of the facebook profiles of those who have questioned her and adding horrendous captions is “standing up for herself” and that it’s okay because “they started it”.  Mind you, the same silly child thinks that she’s been called by the Morrigan and that the Morrigan will give her strength and fight her battles for her.  Her page is somewhat inspired by/based on the ‘Sons of Morrigan’ which I’m told is from a game!  We can only pass around the popcorn and wait for the inevitable.

Even those who raise concern because they see where it is heading are treated as a troll.  This will end badly and all I can hope for is that her children get proper care when it does.  She may have the best intentions in the world, but that doesn’t make up for a lack of proper research and finding out what is right, rather than what *feels right*.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Power of Words

Words have power.

Words can create beauty and they can destroy lives.

Words can heal a multitude of hurts and they can create a whole lot more.

“I’m sorry” or “I love you” in the right time and place can change the world for someone.  So can “thief”, “cheat” or “sexual predator”.

Most creation myths begin with words causing the universe to come into being and the naming of all things.  In Kabbalah, knowing and using the names of G!d gives you the power to overcome evil influences.  In Egyptian Legend, Aset (Isis) gained power over Ra by tricking him into telling her his true name. In Folklore, there is many a tale about the power of true names - think of the story of Rumplestiltskin for example.  Many a modern fantasy has had a side plot based around true names - not just of people, but of everything.

A newspaper headline can infer greatness or destroy a career.  A human interest article can draw attention to something worthy but overlooked.  A throwaway comment can ruin a public reputation.

There are people who spend their entire lives trying to justify other’s words with “what I think he really meant by that is” and lawyers who can play with words until not even the person who said it is really sure what they meant.

We know all of this.  I’m sure nothing I’ve said so far is a surprise to anyone.  But we have sayings like “it’s only words” and “sticks and stones” and “words are meaningless”.

Which is true?  Are they both true?  Is it a case of which words are used or overused?

NLP is based on the use of words and inflection on certain words.  Positive affirmations uses the right words repeatedly to create change within yourself and your world.  Bullying (especially cyber bullying) is the use of words to harm or belittle.

Is it the intent behind the words that gives them power?

Words change meanings.  Not just over a long period of time either.  I’ve had difficulty explaining to my seven year old daughter why the word “gay” means happy and joyful in the song she was singing, while my teenagers use it to describe something lame and stupid and others use it in place of homosexual.  How can one little word mean so many different things?  How do you explain this to a child who is just learning many of these words?

Dictionaries are no help.  Dictionaries can give you the historical meaning of a word, it’s roots and etymology.  They are also constantly changing to suit more modern and often colloquial usages.  The Urban Dictionary can be added to by anyone who cares to do so.

So many words mean different things to different people.  A witch is an ugly old hag, an evil sorceress and a practitioner of folk magic.  All are correct, but very different.  Your and you’re are used interchangeably (which is incorrect, but common).  I like to describe this as the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.  There, their and they’re are more that get muddled.  These are simple grammar rules that we should have learned early on in school.  Why is it so hard to get these words right?  The meanings of these words change depending on which one you use.

Knowing the power of words, many witches will tell you to take care with the way you word a spell or working.  Clarity is important, so is the intent behind the words.  But when you’re not in the midst of a working, words are still powerful and important.  When you have worked with magic and have some experience, you come to learn that the things you say in any setting can be powerful.  So why do so many throw words around like they mean nothing?  Why is it so hard to have integrity?  To say what you mean and mean what you say?