A prayer in two days

I had an experience that was remarkable in a number of ways. It’s about the pagan community, trying a different kind of prayer, and trusting an omen. But, it’s a bit of a long story.

Monday morning

I have all-day classes that run on Monday and Tuesday, in addition to Tuesday evening classes. The all-day classes are ongoing classes that I’ve taken over from a colleague.

That means that, in the near future, I have to get to know a new group every Monday and hold their attention through the end of Tuesday, and then go teach my regular Tuesday evening classes. It might not be a big deal to you, but it’s exhausting for me and I never get a chance to catch up in the course of the week.

And then this Monday, I got thrown a curve-ball. I had a difficult first experience, with some students wanting to talk too much and others almost not voluntarily talking at all. I stressed that it wasn’t going well and that I was bombing. (Teaching, at least the way I do it, is performing with an academic component to it.)

I knew what I needed to do: As the teacher, I needed to pipe up more, cut off the one person who wanted to monopolize the conversation, draw out the ones who were not speaking. But I didn’t trust myself to do it. Everything I imagined saying felt… wrong, or harsh, or off-putting.

When I was finished, I told myself I’d brainstorm the things I did to build more of a group-feeling and try again anew on Tuesday.

Monday evening

Then, I drove to the local druid meet-up. (Or however you want to translation Druidenstammtisch — this part all happened in German). There, perhaps emboldened by a different omen suggesting I be open to change, or maybe just unwilling to be out of control twice in one day, I resolved to show up and talk more than is typical for me.

I even had questions, so I fired away as soon as I saw even the slightest socially acceptable opening: “How limited do you think the gods are and — on a related note — do you think the gods can hear you if you don’t pray out loud.”

A great conversation followed teaching me that maybe I should ask more questions (but that means, being spiritually active enough to find things I want to learn more about).

Even more, someone said that “even if you don’t see how the gods can fix whatever problem you’re looking at, they can maybe put an idea in your head or arrange an introduction.”

Thinking of the problems I’d had in the morning, I resolved to give it a try.

The prayer

I got up early enough on Tuesday that I had an hour to myself before work. Then, I took some of my wife’s white wine (I didn’t have any red of my own left) to use as an offering and I prayed to Mercury and Apollo, asking for the knowledge of what needed to be said, and a gilded tongue to say it without offense, respectively.

Having prayed, I drew an omen asking for wisdom from both of the gods as I approached the rest of my day.

This is what I drew:

mercuryapollo omen
8 of Cups, reversed

And this is what I read in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom:

This card reversed means a determination to make something from dreams. This does not mean rejecting fantasies, but rather doing something with them.

I took that to mean that I had to trust my gut instinct. When I hit the situation where I knew something needed to be said, I needed to trust that I’d have the gilded tongue and the wisdom of what to say.

I resolved to do it.

Tuesday’s classes

The classes on Tuesday went great. Partly that was because I knew that I needed to do more introductions and group-building exercises with the group. But it’s also because I found myself ready to cut speakers off, ready to provoke people to speak more than they were comfortable doing.

The prayer was answered. Surprisingly effectively.

An interesting addendum

So, if you’re familiar with Tarot (or, more familiar than I am), you might be surprised at the text I included. Not until I was writing this up did I realize that I’d read — and taken some measure of strength — from the text assigned to the Seven of Cups.

Now, I don’t know what to think about that, except that the shining ones got their message through, regardless.

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Omen Reflection: 7 of Wands

I want to return to my previous habit of drawing omens weekly (and more often, as I have things to consult the kindred on). And, because it’s worked in other projects, I think I’m going to try writing about it, both as a form of reflection and as a sort of record of all my omens.


I approached my altar this Monday knowing that I had a full (by my standards) week ahead of me. It was going to be hard to carve out time for myself, and I wasn’t going to see the kids super often as I was working evenings.

On top of that, I’d fallen behind in classroom preparation (I’m a teacher) and I was going to have to be doing a lot of prep work. I was not excited about this week as I approached it.

The way I general phrase these things when I approach the kindreds is to briefly describe my week as I did above, and to ask for an omen that I might reflect on as I search for their wisdom. (I’m a big fan of not being super-specific with the question because I don’t give them a chance to reject it.)

The Omen

I drew the7 of Wands. I wasn’t thrilled by it, because I initially thought it meant I was risking some sort of conflict.

7wands

This is what Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom says about the card:

Like the Nine, this is a card of conflict, but here we see the battle itself, and the effect is exhilerating. with their natural strength and postiveness Wands expect to win and usually do. Through active conflict the figure in this card rises above any depression into the clear intoxicating air. In a way this card shows a background to the Nine. We become defensive and committed to fighting through an earlier experience of winning, stayingon top. While the fight goes on we enjoy it. People under Wands’ influence need to know they are alive, they need that charge of adrenalin to show them that the Fire still runs through them. Only later does the habit of constant battle close them in.

Looking back at that moment now, I can remember being unhappy that I had a card that spoke of conflict. It just felt like any conflict that I had would be in addition to the already difficult week I knew I had coming.

I did latch onto the idea that the struggles of the coming week provided an opportunity at exhilaration. At knowing I am alive.

The week

Planning to write about the omen at the end of the week was a good idea. It kept me thinking about the meaning of the card, trying to understand what the kindred were trying to tell me.

I can remember experimenting with various formulations of what could be written, but I no longer remember what I thought about writing.

The week itself came and went as planned. I was tired most evenings, up early in the morning because that was the only time that I reliably had available to do my prep work before getting the kids out of bed. Then, I was either in the car or teaching or waiting to teach.

My back hurt this week. More than the workload, my memory of the week is of trying to figure out the right way to handle my own back. Should I engage in more sports? Less? Were there stretches I should be doing? Was I risking something more serious by continuing to work?

As the week continued I often thought of the ‘promise’ (though I know it’s a bad word) of exhilaration that the omen offered. I told myself it was on me to cash in on that offer and to try to approach the work I had to do with an attitude that was… is it cheesy if I say “an attitude that was fertile for exhilaration”? It’s the best phrase I have for it.

Reflections

I don’t know that I can say that I felt any exhilaration or any more alive than in another week. However, I can tell you that I remember the week as a good week. I’m tired and ready to recuperate, but I’m feeling good at the end of the week.

Something I like about Tarot is that I don’t know — and can’t know — if I am playing with my head when I do this. Would I have enjoyed the week? Can I point to this and say “the kindreds gave me some words of encouragement, and that made all the difference?” (Analog to how touched I continue to be that the birds have now accepted the feeder I put out for them.)

I know what a dyed-in-the-wool atheist would say: either the omen had no effect, or you drew it and then played mind tricks on yourself.

On the other hand, I know what I would say: Add this to the list of things that have made this spirituality seem much more real to me than any other I have experimented with (or had thrust upon me).

The Nature Spirits

nature-spiritsYou might think it a bit strange, for a person who is more into nature than into the ancestors, and into the ancestors more than into the gods, that I don’t do a lot with the nature spirits.

Chalk that up to guilt, maybe. I know how I live, and it’s not “in harmony” with nature. Or maybe it’s just self-absorption.

Either way, aside from offerings of birdseed at rituals and picking up trash in the park (which I do as much for me as for the nature spirits) and a pretty strong relationship with one particular tree… Well, I live mostly parallel to the nature spirits.

Then, last year, we expanded into a second apartment and I carved out a space for me to work, including a window where my altar is located.

My altar
A slightly-dated photo of my altar

Great, right? Over that summer, the balcony adjoining that workspace was closed due to renovation work but this summer I have what amounts to my balcony. (I’m here the most, but I guess it belongs to the family, like everything else.)

I built a bit of an elaborate birdfeeder stand, holding the bird feeder where I could see it from the standing desk, and looked forward to more communion with — or entertainment from — the nature spirits.

 

bird feeder
The bird feeder with stand.

 

And they didn’t come.

I was a little insulted. Maybe even more than a little insulted. Even when the birds were picking through the herb garden on the other balcony, they didn’t come.

Then, I did my Beltaine ritual.

And, as part of the ritual, I changed the birdseed and offered new to the nature spirits. That evening, a visiting neighbor said she saw birds on the feeder. Since then, it’s been non-stop action.

Sure, it could be random, it could be the fresh bird seed. But I like to think that the nature spirits have accepted my offering. It’s a nice feeling, and it makes me happy when I clean up after them or add a bit more feed to the feeder.

Beltaine in a Hurry

Hurried preparation

I haven’t been posting often, and some of the things I’ve meant to get done remain, well, unstarted. And, my last ritual was something of a last-minute affair. So, it might not surprise anyone that I was surprised by Beltaine. (I thought I still had time…)

But, the ADF Dedicant’s Path requires that I have my ritual within one week of the high day, and I was lucky in that acquaintances posted photos of their own Beltaine ritual on the weekend before the high day.

So, Wednesday (one day after ‘calendar’ Beltaine) I carved out some time to perform the ritual.

What is this ritual about?

I don’t know if I posted here about this, but I’ve decided to stop trying to find an analog Roman holiday to celebrate, in accordance with my decision that I’m not trying to turn back the clock, but to bring honoring the gods forward in time. So, it seemed best that I try to figure out what about this current position on the wheel of the year really speaks to me.

Obviously, it’s the nature spirits. I’ve been enjoying the outdoors and our mild weather quite a bit, and have become something of an amateur nature photographer, in the attempt to train myself to open my eyes.

And, I’ve something of a strained relationship to the nature spirits. (I have something of a strained relationship with all the kindred, which I suspect is an artifact of a Christian upbringing.) Still, I thought that I’d take all the birdseed out of the birdfeeder which has been ignored by local birds (part of my strained relationship) and replace it with ‘fresh’ as part of the ritual.

Problem solved: this ritual was about celebrating the explosion of life all around me, acknowledging Proserpina’s work and her hand-off from the work of ‘germination’ to the work of ‘fruition’ that her mother does. It was a celebration of Sol’s embrace of Magna Mater and, simply put, this station on the wheel of the year.

My ritual

Again, I stuck with doing the COoR by memory (that’s the point of doing so many rituals, right?) and I added an extra element this time. Music. Don’t laugh, I’ve become a fan of the Minecraft Greek Mythology music which is certainly not authentic, but does create a bit of the atmosphere I like. And, since this was an indoor ritual (after a run and before evening lessons) why not take advantage of my control of the space?

I offered incense to the gods, whiskey to the ancestors, and bird seed to the nature spirits.

When I drew an omen asking the nature spirits (and all the kindred) how I might draw closer to the nature spirits, I got the Hanged Man, reversed. That threw me for a loop, because the first thing I thought was: this guy has inverted himself in order to gain perspective, and the kindred have turned him right side up again.

Looking in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, I found this, which was… maybe not encouraging, but at least actionable:

The card reversed also means fighting your inner self in some way. It can mean the person who tries to deny some basic part of himself or somply the person who cannot accept reality and who in some way or other is constantly battling life.

I think I can take that as an indication that more meditation is called for (I’ve fallen out of the habit, and noticed the negative consequences) as well as a willingness to get over my inhibitions and just enjoy being outside: roll in the grass, climb a tree, whatever.

Prayer Volume

So, since my equinoctial ritual, I’ve been thinking about prayer volume. Somehow, I’d fallen back into praying silently.

But, I’ve chosen to think of my gods as limited. I don’t know if they are, but… if they’re omniscient and omnipotent, where’s the sense in there being a Goddess of the Hunt if she’s equally the Goddess of Everything Else.

That means, though, that — with the possible exception of a “God of Inner Monologue” or “Goddess of Thought” — my thoughts must logically be private. I think the silent prayer thing is a throwback to my Christian upbringing.

Ever since doing the ritual though — when I chose to speak everything rather than think through it in my mind — I’ve found that spoken prayer seems much more powerful to me and it makes sense: there is no reason to believe the kindred hear any other kind of prayer.

That’s not to say I boom my prayers out, disturbing the neighbors at all hours. Just that I think the prayer has to leave my body, physically, to be transported through the ether.

Vernal Equinox Ritual

The build-up

The Equinox snuck up on me, as embarrassing as that sounds. A student, who knew that I talked about the solar calendar a bit, made the comment “and next week is the beginning of spring.”

“Is it the equinox already?” I was genuinely surprised. I’d been putting off so much as I tried to get a few personal projects fully completed. (Projects which, to be honest, would never be fully complete. I have to accept that.)

There was a lot I wanted to do before this ritual. I wanted to learn at least a few phrases of secular Latin, to use in rituals. Aside from a few hours with my textbooks during the family vacation, nothing got done.

I wanted to start decorating my altar with seasonal plants, after really liking the way it looked with some found mistletoe. That didn’t happen (and it took me a while to clear away the mistletoe.)

In fact, I found myself weirdly lethargic about my spirituality as the equinox approached, a feeling I know from running — the more days go by without a run, the harder it is to get myself to put on my shoes and go, regardless of how good it will make me feel.

However, that’s a feeling I know — from running again — and I started collecting Omens. From my tree, using an App, and from the ancestors using my tarot cards. The Omens seemed to be encouraging me (rather than demanding) to do the ritual.

The ritual

So, yesterday I carved some time out of my schedule and cleaned up the altar. Then, rationalizing that writing out a ritual was just another form of procrastination (I didn’t want a “well, now I don’t really have the time to do it” moment), I figured it wouldn’t hurt me to do the ritual from memory. After all, it’s not my first.

That’s what I did, and I quickly felt at home in it.

I had nothing on hand to offer but some incense and praise, but I offered both (realizing that I should write about the value I get out of saying prayers out loud) and got a very encouraging omen.

I hadn’t even tried to line the ritual up with a historic Roman ritual, instead sticking with my new theme of living in tune with the solar cycle I chose to simply honor the time of balance to and to pray that the kindreds would give me the wisdom to find balance in my life, as well as the strength to pursue it and maintain it.

Finally, I wound the omen down and was already packing up when I realized that I’d forgotten to close the gates. So, of course, I did that.

Proserpina and me

With snow still on the ground, it’s hard for me to think that Proserpina has returned to Olympus. But then, if she hasn’t, I’ve resolved to be happy for Dis Pater, because its clear she’s returning.

I did ask her to serve as my gatekeeper and she remains the only God whom I feel comfortable asking anything of (though I’m thinking that Mercury, Vulcan, and Apollo are all Gods I’d like to build relationships with, as well as Diana and Minerva).

It was really embarrassing that I asked her to serve as the gatekeeper, and then I fully forgot the gates. But, I rationalize that these are the moments that form a relationship.

 

Imbolc 2018

So, when Imbolc was a way off, I had plans. Big plans. The way you do, when you aren’t responsible for implementing those plans, yet.

As it approached, however, I just wasn’t feeling it. I like the idea of constructing my own quasi-Roman holiday, naming it Februaria, and honoring the Earth Mother, the dieties of light, and, of course, the ancestors. But I didn’t really form any full ideas.

Then the day got nearer.

Yesterday, I blocked out time to do it today.

Then today came, and I let myself get distracted. Was I going to not celebrate it?

Sorry, kindreds, I’m just not feeling it today

I almost stepped in front of the altar and said some version of that. It wasn’t a holiday that resonated with me, and I could persuade myself that the kindred didn’t want forced praise and thanks, did they?

Then I remembered the word orthopraxic and I thought, I want to be the kind of guy who does the right thing, whether he feels like it or not. How often have I stood in front of the altar and said some version of “I praise you, for it is good that a mortal should praise the Gods”? Call it integrity — my commitment to be my most full self — that made me get in front of the altar and do something.

A spontaneous ritual

Spontaneous rituals seem to get the most emotional response from me. Even the rituals that I write myself don’t have the emotional content of me thinking on my feet. (See Samhain 2016) That’s not why I chose to go spontaneous, it was really because I almost didn’t do anything.

So, in front of my altar, I praised Vestas and got a good omen when I lit the candle on the first try (these things matter to me) and then, with just the fire and the tree, I proceeded to ask Proserpine to assist as the gatekeeper. Then, with nothing to offer but praise, I offered praise to the deities of light, beginning with Vestas, then Sol, Luna, Apollo and Diana.

Finally, I took an omen to ask Vestas for a bit of wisdom as I consider how to more genuinely worship her. I got the Knight of Wands.

 

omen vestas
Knight of Wands

I had a good feeling about the card but didn’t look it up until the ritual was finished. Then, I wound the ritual down, genuinely glad that I’d done more than just call it off.

The Omen

Later, I looked up the knight of wands in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom and was well pleased. Realizing that Wands are the suit of Fire was nice. Here is the bit that gave me encouragement:

Because Fire itself symbolizes movement, the knight of Wands shows this quality in the extreme. He represents eagerness, action, movement for its own sake, adventure and travel.

[…]

Notice that on his shirt the salamanders’ tails do not touch their mouths, symbolizing incomplete action, unformed plans. In contrast to the King, the Knight has only begun his adventures.

That seems to be an omen that I can work with as I try to find ways to honor Vestas in my own home, at my own hearth.