Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Sacred Storytelling and Mythology

It took me years to grasp the concept of Sacred Storytelling.

On the surface, it seems obvious but really it is not.  I thought it was the Myths and stories of Gods and Heroes, an attempt to understand Them but at the same time a thing that diminished Them.  It reduced Their strengths and virtues, Their passions and rages to human concerns, human emotions and sometimes an all too human pettiness.

I felt that it was a humanocentric way of pigeonholing Beings that were really beyond our comprehension.  Rather tragically, I think this may be the way many people think.

Many of our Deities are described in scathing terms because of what may have happened in one of the stories.  People rail over a different interpretation, or ask how can you worship a God who is little more than a serial rapist or a Classical version of a bitchy sorority princess.

Then there are those who take the stories as facts.  As lost history that has been covered up by the "winners".

Both are missing the point.

The Stories are more than that.  They can be the language of worship much like invocations and ritual.  They can be our way of telling our Gods how clever or wise or powerful we know They are.  A way of praising and honouring Them.

They can be a way of expressing our spirituality.  Even rewriting or retelling old stories with a slightly new twist can be a meaningful expression.  I read a version of the tale of Persephone and Hades that was a seduction rather than abduction and rape.  It was a beautiful and moving story that spoke to me about perceptions depending on the point of view of the storyteller.

They can be teaching tools.  Most stories have a lesson involved.  The Boy who Cried Wolf and Red Riding Hood are obvious ones from a Fairy Tale point of view.  I saw George RR Martin's open letter about the deaths in his works and I believe he raises the same point.  The deaths in A Song of Ice and Fire (or it's tv alterego Game of Thrones) all serve a purpose - they teach the consequences of foolish choices and decisions, especially those where the concept of honour has led to those choices.

For me, it was when I read Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes that I got it.  She talks about the bones of the stories.  How those bones hold a truth that speaks to us on an instinctive spiritual level.  Everything around the bones, the meat of the story, the skin that covers it is a way to support and protect those bones.  These are my words, it's been a while since I read it.  She describes the stories as map fragments, psychic markers and soul vitamins.

The stories might not have the same meaning to everyone but they often cause a reaction somewhere deep down.  For me, there was a story about a river woman who married a farmer and had his children.  Every so often she would creep off alone to sit by the river for hours, an activity she described as "going home".  It was something she needed to do to be able to continue in her life as a wife and mother.  In that story, I finally understood the roots of the breakup of my first marriage.  I grasped on a deep soul level the boundaries I'd failed to set for my own well-being and what I needed to do to heal.  I learned how to be a better me and it empowered me, it required me to be stronger about my own needs and not allow myself to feel selfish for doing so.

The old stories do have a kernel of history in them.  They tell us about the morals and values of the time, they give a glimpse into how life was for those who told them and those who listened to them.  Sometimes that glimpse is about what is considered to be fantastical and the pinnacle of desires and dreaming.  Sometimes that glimpse is about what is normally done in a day's work.  Sometimes, those glimpses are easily overlooked - in Dickens' tale A Christmas Carol, almost no one seems to notice that the shops were open on Christmas Day (otherwise he wouldn't have been able to go out and buy the feast for Cratchit and his family), people were working and going about their lives as they did every other day.

There are aspects of society that have a strong oral tradition.  Many claim that their stories are told the same as they have always been for thousands of years and that makes them more valid.  This may be true (even allowing for translation and semantic shifts) and this may be thousands of years of chinese whispers.  It is my own belief that the bones of the stories, the kernels of truth within them will still remain even if the meat has changed species completely in the meantime.

However, I don't believe anyone should be telling others what those bones are.  In my own beliefs, the truths you find will speak to you in a way that is for you alone.  You'll find the bones that you need right now and not notice the ones you're not ready for.  When you reread a book (fiction or non-fiction) you last read years ago, have you ever noticed how you get something different out of it?  There are parts of the story or details in the telling that you missed completely first (and sometimes second) time through, but they stand out glaringly obvious when you read it again.  This, I believe, is about the changes in you in that time.  Your growth, your priorities, what you value, the way you think will all have changed.  So if you can get different things from reading the same text twice, think about what it would be like for a different person entirely.  Their bones are for them, they'll have their own "Aha!" moments, their own lightbulbs going off and their own realisations and revelations.

And that is the heart of the Sacred Story. 

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Debbie's Rules for Magic Use (And Life in General)

These are my rules.  They apply only to me.  These are not rules for anyone else unless you find them of value - that's up to you.   They change from time to time and I'm not perfect at following all of them all of the time.

1.  Own Your Shit.

Take responsibility for your actions.  If you can't take responsibility for something, then don't do it.  Take the time to consider the potential consequences first, so that there are no (or few) surprises when it comes time to be taking responsibility.

2.  Own Only Your Shit.

You are not responsible for other people's shit.  There are almost no circumstances when it's necessary for you to apologise for, explain or justify anyone else's bad behaviour.  Unless it impacts upon you personally, there is likewise no reason for you to fix it for them.  This is enabling their shit and isn't healthy for anyone.

3.  Obey The Laws of the Land (Or Your Workplace) - Everything Else is Your Choice.

When there are rules for the use of a thing or a building or for your continued employment etc, follow those rules.  This includes going into a pub, driving on the roads or joining a facebook group.  This means traditions - if you're going to use a tradition name to describe your practice, make sure you understand what their rules are and that you actually understand what they mean.  This also includes if you live under someone else's roof. 

You don't get to decide whether a rule is sensible or stupid, unless it's one you made for yourself. This also means that what you view as your religious right doesn't trump the laws of the land or a festival.  If an athame is classed by law as an offensive weapon, you don't get to claim religious discrimination when told you're not allowed to wear it on your belt.

If something is not covered by rules or laws, things like simple morals, ethics and values, these are your choices to make and live by.  It's important to understand that these choices only apply to you (Rule One) and that it's not really any of your business what morals, ethics or values anyone else lives by (Rule Two).

4.  You Will Never Know It All or Question Everything.

My Father has always said "the day you don't learn something new is the day you die".  I've found it a rule worth living by.  There is always something new to learn and researching things that you think you know very well is still a valuable thing to do.

5. It's Okay To Not Have An Answer.

When someone shares something huge or says something way out of left field.  It's okay to say "I don't know what to say to that" or "I don't understand what you mean/where you're coming from".  It's better go away and process it or make the effort to understand what they really mean than to jump to a conclusion based on a knee-jerk reaction.  As the saying goes, it's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

6.  Truth is Not Constant.

The world was flat and that was the truth, until it was proved that it wasn't.  The Earth was the centre of the universe and that was the truth until it was proved that it wasn't.  The atom was the smallest building block and that was the truth until it was smashed open.

Our entire concept of truth is based on assumptions - if a then b.  There is never a solid truth that holds for everything.  What is true for you, may not work for someone else.  See Rule 4.

7.  Fairness and Justice Are Human Constructs.

You have no right to expect life to be fair.  It's not.  The Universe doesn't care.  Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  Suck it up and carry on.  Revenge does not equal justice.

8.  Everyone Is Entitled to An Opinion.

They're like arseholes - everyone has one.  It's not okay to state your opinion as fact and then fall back on "I'm entitled to an opinion" and it's not okay to expect your opinion to count for anything more than an opinion - it doesn't trump anyone else's feelings, beliefs, choices or their own opinions.

9.  You Don't Need to Be Liked By Everyone.

Not everyone is going to like you.  According to something I learned in a psychology/philosophy course, one third of the people you meet will like you on sight.  One third will dislike you on sight.  One third won't care either way.

If someone doesn't like you, it's not necessarily a failing in you.  Don't waste energy trying to change their like or dislike of you.  Remain polite if you can and let it go.  In certain situations (supervisory positions and parenting come to mind) if they all like you all the time, you're not doing your job properly.  If you need to be liked in those situations, you are going to make poor choices and not be able to do your job properly.

10.  If Shit Needs Doing, Then Do It.

This isn't just about procrastination.  If you need to justify an action, even to yourself, then some part of you thinks it's wrong.  If it needs to be done, then do it.  If you're not sure, work out why you're not sure - then do it or don't.  If it doesn't need to be done, then don't do it unless there's a valid 'improvement' type reason for it but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

How does all of this relate to magic?  

Run anything magical you might be considering through these rules and think about it some more.

For example:  I'm thinking of doing a prosperity spell.

Rule One:  I own it.  If I do it, then I did it.
Rule Two: Someone else's poor choices might mean they need the money more - but that's not mine to fix.
Rule Three: I choose to do it in a place that doesn't ban it.  I have no moral issue with using a spell to gain money.
Rule Four: Is there a different or better way to do it?  Have I considered everything?  Define what I mean by prosperity.
Rule Five: Isn't relevant in this case.
Rule Six:  My truth is that I need money, others may see it differently.
Rule Seven:  Prosperity isn't owed to me, I'm not doing anything because it's fair.
Rule Eight and Nine:  Others may have a problem with my spell.  That's their problem not mine.
Rule Ten:  It's needed so I'll do it.