Doing Yoga with Artemis

I don’t typically work with a particular Goddess in my spiritual practice. Whether I’m meditating, doing a spell, or creating a ceremony to commemorate something, I’m the type of practitioner that always skips over the invocation of the goddess/god. Since I believe that my spirituality comes from within, not without, I don’t feel like a deity needs to be present for me to work.

I also don’t even believe in them in the literal sense that they are separate persons. I approach divine individuals as archetypes from which to draw inspiration, not as real personalities. I’m closer to an agnostic than a theist, with my definition of the Divine falling somewhere along the lines of the Doctor’s definition of time (the “big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff”).

I was surprised, then, when I suddenly found my practice invaded by Artemis. I say invaded because I didn’t seek her out or decide to study her. She wasn’t even on my radar. As much as I love moon Goddesses, I’ve never paid an ounce of attention to Artemis because I like Diana more (shh, don’t tell Artemis I just said that!).

She invited herself in while I was reading an essay “Artemis: The Goddess Who Comes From Afar” by Christine Downing. It was one of several essays in Weaving Visions on the topic of naming the sacred, and I almost skipped over it.

Almost.

I read it because I wanted to keep reading the chapters in succession rather than jumping around, a strange impulse considering I’d already jumped around in the book quite a bit. Through the tiniest glimpse into her love of chaos and her work as a midwife, she decided to take up residence in my life.

I felt her arrive and didn’t feel her leave when I finished the essay. When I finally realized she wouldn’t be leaving for a while, I began searching for more resources to help me understand what this Goddess may have to teach me. I figured I would learn from her the way I had learned from Inanna, by reading her mythology and some of the commentary on it . . . but Artemis had other plans.

As soon as I started to research her more, I felt as if she were laughing at me, mocking me for thinking that anything that had been written about her would be able to define or contain her.

Her energy felt like the energy of the Page of Wands, the energy that just said “Dive in and see what happens”. . . but I wanted the energy of the Knight of Pentacles, methodical and slow and entrenched in books. Such a fiercely independent energy was terrifying to me. It felt as though I would be shredded trying to keep up.

Still Artemis called, taunting my fear, enticing me to feel the intoxication of chaos.

So I put my books down, shut my computer, and pulled out my yoga mat.

Suddenly, Artemis wasn’t wild and intimidating anymore.

She was beside me, inside me—her strength flowing through me. The wild wasn’t wild like it seemed to be. It was almost peaceful in its activity.

Movement, action, feeling—these were her mediums of teaching. Her physical energy was surprisingly gentle in its unbridled way. Even though it felt like she could easily take off and drag me on a run through the wild, she stayed with my pace once I was willing to go along for the ride.

I’ve realized she’s not the type of Goddess that likes to come around for a chat and a cup of tea. Downing describes how Artemis assisted her in a symbolic birth. It’s strange that I would feel a connection to that aspect of Artemis since I neither have nor want children, yet Artemis’ arrival has been like the arrival of a midwife right as my soul goes into labor.

She’s also not one to coddle. She teaches where she lives, in the wild. As a guide, she’s willing to get lost with me, but she’s not going to read my compass for me. She doesn’t try to prevent me from scraping my knees. Falling is part of the process.

She asks, “Where does your strength lie?”

If I know, she tells me to use it. If I don’t, she tells me to find it.

Yet, she’s not unkind either. Her kindness lies in knowing that the process ends faster when the discomfort is embraced fully; fighting her lessons isn’t really fighting her but fighting my own spiritual birth pangs.

Artemis has already taught me much. She challenges me to reassess how I view independence and connection, and reminds me of the beauty of embracing chaos.

She has facilitated my return to physical exercise better than anything else since my injury. Whereas before, I practiced yoga limitedly as I struggled to regain my strength, now she guides me through full-length practices, teaching me to find the balance of pushing, but not pushing so far that I reinjure myself. The physical activity has brought back an aspect to meditation that I had forgotten was missing.

She’s not the type of Goddess I would have associated with a yogic practice, but I can feel that she’s the companion I need for the time being. I don’t know how long she plans to stay or what the main thrust of her teaching will be, so I will be doing yoga with Artemis until I birth this new aspect of my soul.

I may not have invoked the Goddess, but I’m sure as hell not going to snub her either. Agnostic though I may be, I’m honored and excited to have her in my life.

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Even the Darkest Night Still Has Light

In the summer, I take the sun for granted. I trust that its light and warmth will be there to drive away the shadows. I bask in the energy and vibrancy of the natural life I see around me.

But in winter, the darkness dominates.

I don’t usually mind the dark. My Goddesses are associated with the moon, and I have often found a deep sense of connection to myself and to their energy at night. Meditation and yoga under the stars is nothing short of transcendental for me.

However, there’s a different side to darkness. It’s the darkness of descending into the underworld. The darkness of shadows slinking forward, of monsters coming to visit, and of the judgment of a psychopathic god. It’s the darkness of my childhood, when the boogeyman existed and went by the name of my god.

It’s been five years since I left the cult, and approximately three since I left Christianity altogether. Yet I’ve developed a new (or probably more accurately, an old) fear of the dark. It crept into my heart as the days grew shorter this year. The connection and peace that I had come to associate with the night disappeared as my fears returned—the fears that “like a thief in the night” and “in the blink of an eye” life and love would be taken.

In the past, my underworld journeys have been somewhat deliberate . . . or at least identified, but this time, I only became aware that I was in the bowels of my psyche when I was standing, stripped and naked, before my Ereshkigal.

She was me. I was a child again, anxiously watching the clock grow later, praying that I would be reunited with my loved ones—that they hadn’t disappeared. I was a four year old afraid to close my eyes because I might die in my sleep and wake up in hell. I was a preteen, seeking out the company of others, not because I longed for company, but because I needed to know that humanity still existed. I was a teen listening for the sound of breathing still coming from my parents’ room so that I knew I hadn’t been left behind in the Rapture.

How appropriate that just before the longest night of the year, I find myself face to face with a fear so deep that it goes beyond my earliest memories and survives even my unbelief. I might as well be looking under my bed for Krampus for all the sense it makes to believe that the world is going to end with a trumpet blast and dead people will float up to heaven.

Yet here I am, afraid of being left behind.

But this is what I love about goddess spirituality—the underworld is not where I go after I’ve been damned by a vindictive deity; it’s where I go to find myself again. . . and this time, to rescue myself from that vindictive deity. Jehovah may throw me into the fiery pit where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, but that’s okay. Inanna is there to remind me, as Rilke said, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

And when I look at my Underworld with that perspective, I find that there are no demons down there, just a frightened little girl who is tired of being forgotten in the darkness–scary only because I’ve been taught to fear her pain.

How equally appropriate then that as the physical light gets ready to grow again, I awake to find that it’s time to begin my upward journey back into myself, this time not leaving the shadow goddess behind but carrying her with me up into the world above, a world of sunlight . . . a world of a different kind of night—one where the light doesn’t completely leave but lingers in the stars and moon.

Cult Spotting 101: The Power of the Positive Thinking that You Don’t Have

Welcome to my budding series: Cult Spotting 101. This is a set of posts designed to give you, the reader, experience with identifying red flags that indicate unhealthy, cultic teachings.

For this Cult Spotting lesson, we’ll take a look at an article by Joel Osteen. Like last time, go ahead and take a few minutes to read through the link and see if you can pinpoint where the unhealthy teachings are and why they should be of concern.

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I’ll be the first to admit that Joel has a few good things to say, grains of truth that make the rest of it seem more believable. Unfortunately, he takes a good thing too far. Underneath his optimistic promises lurk thought control tactics, informational manipulation, and induced guilt.

Let’s break those down a bit.

Thought Control:

Do not let another critical word come out of your mouth about yourself.

This quote is just one example of many throughout the article. I don’t have room to list them all. The idea is that only certain approved (in this case “positive”) thoughts and emotions are allowed to be expressed, cutting you off from a healthy means of assessing yourself and your circumstances. Remember that pesky check-engine light we talked about last time? Well, the problems don’t go away just because you disable it.

Remember, your own words will have more impact on your future than anything anybody else says about you.

Sounds great, right? What I say about myself is more important than what others say about me.

Yes . . . and no.

Here we see an example of thought control that targets critical thinking with oversimplification. Your thoughts about yourself should and to some extent do affect you far more than someone else’s thoughts about you . . . in general, but there are many other factors that come into play.

For one, thoughts about the self are often shaped by others’ thoughts. It’s possible to disbelieve what some think, but it’s impossible to have an opinion of the self in a vacuum since the sense of self is initially formulated by feedback from others when we’re young. Even as an adult, that feedback holds importance. You may be the one to whom you ultimately have to answer, but to simply decide that others don’t matter prevents healthy communication and consideration of ideas (making it easier for a cult to convince you that the concerns others hold about your involvement in the group).

More importantly, thoughts aren’t the only aspects that determine your life, your success or failure. Circumstances also come into play. It would be nice if all with which we had to content were other people’s thoughts, but we live in a world of actions and reactions. Everyone’s choices have an influence on many other people’s lives, and that’s not even counting chance events or the natural change of the universe.

The problem with such overly simplistic thinking is that it sets you up for failure and, as we’ll see later, induced guilt. If you have a problem in life, you’re just not thinking as positively as Joel and, therefore, need to become more spiritual, show more faith, give more to God, etc. etc.

Maybe you struggle with condemnation because of past mistakes. Each day, boldly declare, “I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. God is pleased with me. He is on my side.” If you say something like that on a consistent basis, guilt and condemnation won’t hang around.

While I might agree that we shouldn’t have to live under a cloud of guilt for the rest of our lives, if someone has done something wrong, it’s not enough to just declare, “God is on my side.” True guilt (not the bullshit guilt that he induces) should be an indication that it’s time to step up and take responsibility for one’s actions, apologize, make amends—you know, the stuff that healthy people do when they’ve fucked up. Joel’s advice sounds more fitting for a psychopath than for a spiritually healthy human being. Accountability is the stuff that cults hate. Be wary whenever you see teachings that gloss over its importance.

Informational Control:

Some of the patients were depressed because they were facing life-threatening diseases and felt there was no hope. . . . So [the doctor] told them, “Then I want you to start saying, ‘I will make it. I will be one of the people who beats the odds.’ ” Those patients obeyed the doctor’s orders, and amazingly, many of them not only came out of their depression, but they also made full recoveries!

It’s convenient when you can back up your argument with examples without citing sources. Joel recounts a story that borders on the miraculous. If true, it would entirely support his claim that your thoughts control more about you than anything else.

Unfortunately, he never gives you a chance to verify its veracity because he doesn’t say where the story came from.

Scientists are learning more about the mind-body connection and have discovered that our thoughts can have a physical impact on our bodies; however, that does not necessarily mean that you can cure everything with your mind. It’s a two-way connection, and your body has an impact on your mental health as well.

Even if the story is true, I want to draw your attention to how little true information he actually gives. He doesn’t tell you the diseases with which these people were suffering. He doesn’t tell you where to find this amazing breakthrough. He doesn’t tell you the name of the doctor. He doesn’t even tell you the percentage of the “many” that actually survived versus the number who died . . . or how many people who had a positive attitude died anyway.

Wouldn’t you think if science had discovered that positive thinking could cure terminal illness that not only would scientists be all over it but Joel himself would want to make as much information about this discovery available as possible?

The absence of actual, verifiable information is a huge indicator that something is being left out that might change the way you would interpret the results of his tale.

Alternatively, without any way to fact-check his claims, we can’t even prove that the story has even a tiny bit of truth. He himself could be lying out of his ass, or he could be repeating a false story that he heard from someone else. We just can’t know, and as nice as it would be to believe what he’s saying, there’s too much risk of misinformation.

Maybe you’re wondering what the harm could be in believing in the power that Joel proclaims, which brings me to my next (and last) point.

Emotional Manipulation~Induced Guilt:

God says you must believe and then you’ll see it.

Friend, if you’ll do your part and speak words of victory, God will pour out His favor in exciting, fresh ways in your life, and you will live the abundant life He has in store for you.

So what if you don’t recover from your illness? What if you don’t cure your financial woes? What if you aren’t able to think your way into a better job, new house, or more fulfilling life? What if you can’t escape from the consequences of your actions by patting yourself on the back and telling yourself that God is on your side?

What then?

Well, Joel doesn’t come right out and say it, but couched in that empowering promise of happy thoughts is the assumption that if you fail, it’s because you didn’t believe enough. You didn’t do your part. You didn’t claim your promise, speak the right words of victory, or trust God to follow through.

We saw a similar vein of thinking in the previous cult spotting, and it’s as insidious this time as it was before. There’s no room for circumstances or other people’s choices to influence your opportunities; there is just the promise that if you will, you can. Adversely, if you can’t, you didn’t really want to.

Some people live in a perpetual state of financial crisis. They can’t seem to pay their bills — always living “under their circumstances” and constantly speaking defeat.

He’s a little more direct with his blame with this one. To him, if someone is having financial difficulties, it’s obviously their fault because they spoke defeat into their life. Although white middle class or upper class Americans often do have a large measure of control over their financial security, the same is not true for everyone. Nor is it consistently true for anyone. A natural disaster, a health crisis, or the crashing of the national economy can transform a rich person into a pauper, and a pauper into . . .

The blame of this statement leaves no room for genuine struggle. You either succeed with positivity or you fail because you didn’t have it.

Ironically, he can’t even see how overly positive thinking could contribute to problems by creating a false confidence and bad spending habits.

Bonus: Financial Control

If you are struggling financially, remind yourself repeatedly, “I am the head and I am not the tail. I will lend and I will not borrow. Everything I touch will prosper and succeed.

It’s been a long post, so if you’ve stuck it out to this point, you’ve earned a piece of chocolate.

In this quote, Joel says that the solution to financial struggle is to simply decide that you are prosperous, then be willing to “lend” but not “borrow.” In three sentences, he dismisses financial crisis (as if it were an annoying fly that can be swatted) and prescribes an overly simplistic and irresponsible budget plan.

If you’ve been in a cult, you probably know what usually follows a statement like this: “Give to God in faith, even when you can’t afford it.”

To me, this is the biggest red flag of this post. Even though he never actually asks for money, he lays the groundwork for it. If everything else he said in the post had been perfect, this statement alone would be enough to make me say goodbye if I were considering his church (I’m not because he’s always struck me as a sleazy speaker even before I decided to analyze his writing).

The number of people who have had their lives ruined after joining a cult that got its hooks into their wallets is staggering. Financial control can easily become the biggest practical obstacle to people leaving. Never trust a church or group that starts to meddle in people’s bank accounts.

Disclaimer: My use of this article as an example of cultic thinking doesn’t constitute an accusation that the author or the site is necessarily part of a cult. The article could just be ill-thought, overly simplistic, or badly written . . . or it could be a warning of something deeper. That’s why I’m giving you practice with spotting red flags, wherever you may find them. They are a symptom that should alert you to be careful and use your critical thinking (not your magical thinking).

Navigating the Holidays without Commercialism

Thanksgiving is over, and the winter giving is in full swing. Everywhere you go you see lights and trees, mangers, Santa Clause, and of course, merchandise that stores are hoping you will buy as gifts for someone else.

Commercialism.

Do you feel like it’s ruining the Holidays?

Even with my adoration of Yule, I’m not blind. Commercialism is definitely there, attempting to drown the joy in ribbons and stocking stuffers.

However, it’s possible to give gifts without participating in commercialism. Below I list a handful of ways to “save Christmas” from the demonic Santa machine of Wall Street.

Robot Santa from Futurama! No thanks, I'll take the one from Miracle on 34th Street instead!

Robot Santa from Futurama! No thanks, I’ll take the one from Miracle on 34th Street instead!

Handmade Gifts:
There is very little that is more gratifying to give or more special to receive than handmade gifts. They take time and forethought, but they possess a special magic because you are putting a piece of yourself into the gift energetically.

You don’t have to be a master knitter or whittler in order to make gifts. If you have a hobby or craft that you enjoy, by all means put it to use; however, there are plenty of simple gifts to make that don’t require a ton experience beforehand.

Massage oil, bath salts, room spritzers, and dream pillows are all easy to make with some basic kitchen/household ingredients and a few drops of an essential oil. You’ve got an economical gift basket right there, and the quality of the items will blow that Wal-Mart gift pack out of the atmosphere.

From My Honeys Place. Doesn't this look so indulgent? Make sure to make enough for yourself because you won't want to give it all away.

From My Honeys Place. Doesn’t this look so indulgent? Make sure to make enough for yourself because you won’t want to give it all away.

Other handmade gift ideas include yummy edibles like truffles or cookies, potpourri or incense, candles, mosaic picture frames, fishing lures, calendars, ornaments, and . . . seriously anything that you can think to make yourself. Slap a ribbon on it, Merry Christmas!

Gifts based on need:
It’s kind of an old concept, but I think it’s a good one. Rather than packing the tree with shit that will be played with and appreciated for a month and then forgotten or given away, consider fulfilling someone’s needs. Groceries, gas, car bills, mortgage payments, student loan payments—who wouldn’t appreciate someone whipping out a credit card to take care of those for once?

Gifts based in need carry the special message that you think someone is worth investing in. When people are struggling, that act of faith and the financial boost can be far more meaningful than a bag full of clutter.

Of course, gifts based on need can also be expensive, but I never said a commercialism-free gift would be cheap. If you’ve got a nice cushion right now, splurge a little and make someone else who is struggling have a wonderful holiday by taking on one of their burdens for a while.

Regifting:
I’m not talking about giving away that grotesque figurine that you got at a work party last year . . . okay, I am. Go ahead and give that away at the next work party.

However, if you’re looking for a more meaningful version of regifting, consider passing on more than just junk.

We’ve gotten so used to cheap crap that needs to be replaced every few years that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to have something that can be passed down from person to person. Heirlooms, jewelry, furniture, and collectibles have been time-tested regifts through generations. It’s a great way to pass on memories as well as items!

One of my friends recently suggested having a clothing exchange party, and I actually think that would be an awesome Christmas activity for a group of people interested in keeping the holidays simpler. It provides the togetherness that really makes winter giving special and allows those involved to get “new” things without spending money.

Clean out your closet and make someone else happy at the same time.

Fair Trade, Artisan, and Local:
I saved the retail option for last, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. In fact, to some extent, I think it’s more important than all the others. How does this fit in as a suggestion of how to avoid capitalism? When you buy a gift through a fair trade, local, or artisan dealer, your money isn’t lining the pocket of a CEO who is making money off of underpaid workers halfway across the world and whose employees have to take up donations to eat Thanksgiving dinner. You’re putting money into the hands of people who actually rely on that money to live. It’s not about making huge profits. It’s about livelihood.

Very few people will say that they don’t care about child or slave labor, but if you don’t take the time to make sure that you know where your money goes, you may be participating in it anyway. Society has a kind of selective blindness to the repercussions of our spending habits, and it’s hurting both our own economy as well as those across the globe.

I try to do all my gift-buying at locally owned or fair trade stores—or through direct craftspeople and artists. I like knowing that my winter giving contributes to the welfare of those who crafted and sold me the items.

The Phoenix Goddess (from Carioca Witch) that Kristen gave me a few years ago is one of my all-time favorite gifts; although it's hard to pick my favorites because she's such a good giver.

The Phoenix Goddess (created by Carioca Witch) that Kristen gave me a few years ago is one of my all-time favorite gifts; although it’s hard to pick my favorites because she’s such a good giver.

My friend Kristen over at Vaguely Bohemian compiled a great list of artisans that do gorgeous, unique work (see picture above)–along with valuable tips on how to pick just the right gift. Some other retailers to keep an eye out for include Hope for Women and Ten Thousand Villages. And I encourage you to check out local craft fairs that tend to pop up this time of year. Treasures are waiting to be found!

It might be hard to avoid the commercialism of the season, but with a little effort and thought, you can turn this gift-giving season into something special, both for you and your loved ones. I hope these suggestions have given you some good ideas. Feel free to share any tips that you have found to avoid commercialism in the comments below.