Let Go and Let Goddess

There was this trite phrase that I used to hear in the cult: “Let go and let God.”

It was used to encourage surrender and submission to “God’s will” (which always turned out to conveniently be what the authorities wanted you to do) and to remind people that they didn’t need to understand what was happening. Questioning God was just rebellion. Rather, a good cultie—er, Christian—would recognize that all they needed to do was follow God’s lead and take joy in whatever trials were sent their way.

Gag!

But in a weird way, this phrase has sort of been coming back to me, with a slightly new twist.

I’m taking the biggest risk of my life. Okay…maybe not the biggest. I did decide that going to hell was a worthwhile risk when I left the cult, so eternal damnation might be a slightly riskier move than opening my own practice.

But it feels that big!

While my partner has decided to go back to school, I’ve taken up the role of breadwinner for the household…by going into business for myself, spending thousands on getting set up, and crossing my fingers that I can make a living doing what I love.

Part of what makes success seem like a possibility is that I am an extremely hard, self-directed worker. I’m thorough in planning and tirelessly detail-oriented.

But there’s a point at which I realize that I can only do so much, and then it’s out of my hands.

That’s when this phrase returns to mind. There is never a reason for me to abdicate my right to question or to sacrifice myself in surrender to some sadistic divine will, but there is a point at which I need to…have faith, I guess.

I find myself asking, Is it faith in myself? Or is it a faith in something larger than myself?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both. As someone who has a healthy skepticism about the existence of a divinity and definitely doesn’t believe in an omnipotent god, it feels infinitely strange to find myself sending out a kind of prayer.

“Dear Goddess, it’s me—er, well, you know who—I’ve done my part; if you could see fit to send people my way, that would be great.”

I mean, I know there are other ways of looking at it. One of the people who has been instrumental in helping me get set up has resorted to the Field of Dreams mantra, “If you build it, they will come,” which is helpful in a different way in reminding me to chill the fuck out.

But I can’t help but be amused by the irony in the fact that I can’t control everything, regardless of which quote, phrase, or cliché I use to remind myself of that. At some point, I have to let go….At least, I can choose to give it over to a Goddess this time. Bitches get shit done!

 

Creating My Own Meditation/Oracle Deck

A while ago, I took on a project of painting a 3×3 watercolor every new moon, pairing it with a quote or phrase that felt significant to my life at that point in time. I wrote about the process in the beginning, and about my hope that I would eventually have enough cards to be able to shuffle and select one to focus on. Well, months later (and several repaints down the road), I have a nice little deck that holds incredible meaning for me.

My artistic skill isn’t perfect, but I feel proud of my deck and want to show it off.

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Related quote: “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” –Longfellow

The original card for this Longfellow quote (this picture is a repaint) was painted during a period of intense grief over the loss of someone very close to me. It helped me remember that I needed to allow myself to cry as needed. Even now, it reminds me that sometimes emotions just need to be. They cannot move out if they aren’t allowed to move through. I’m a big believer in having days where “moping” is the only thing on the to-do list.

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Related quote: “You’re a divine animal and you’re beautiful; the divine is not separate from the beast.” –Lenore Kandel

This one is also an early card that was repainted because the image didn’t…well, it didn’t look like a person. Most people thought the original was a dog’s face. 😛 But this is a message that has been recurring for me to love myself as an embodied creature.

I’ve worked so hard to work through some of the baggage that comes from being raised in a puritanical, sex- and body-shaming environment along with the baggage that comes from sexual abuse itself. But I realize it’s never a “won” battle. Shame can come creeping back in even years after I thought I had cast it off. I need recurrent reminders that it’s okay to be embodied, to be sexual (or to not want sex), or to be imperfect.

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Related quote: “I wanna think that you’ll be different. Smoke and mirrors are so clever clever.” –Kelly Clarkson in “Let Me Down”

This mirror (which will probably be repainted because it doesn’t exactly scream “mirror”) grew from my need to remember that people who have been toxic in the past may know all the right things to say–and I may be tempted to believe them–but it doesn’t necessarily signify that things will actually change.

I’m coming up on a year of official cut-off from my parents. Inevitably, I find myself wrestling with questions. “What if they’ve changed?” “What if they can be better?” “What if I can make them love me?” Sometimes the most treacherous smoke-and-mirror trick is the one I can play on myself in thinking that I can somehow change the past by being “good enough.”

Deep down, I know that’s not true, but the lies that are the most tempting to believe are the ones we want to be true.

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Related quote: “But the monsters turned out to be just trees.” –Taylor Swift in “Out of the Woods”

I love this one as a trigger grounder. I have come to truly admire the way that my system can recognize red flags, but I also realize that sometimes it’s reacting to something that is not currently actually a threat. This card reminds me to take a step back and think about whether my brain is reacting to shadows.

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Related quote: “And so here we go bluebird, back to the sky on your own.” –Sara Bareilles in “Bluebird”

I’ve written before about the sense of permanent displacement, the sadness of always “moving on.” This card is a poignant expression of that–as much a reminder to think about when I need to take flight as it is a form of mourning that sometimes I cannot permanently belong, no matter how much I want to.

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Related quote: “What do stars do? Shine.” –Neil Gaiman from “Stardust”

A lovely but simple quote from Stardust that can encourage me to let my talents do their thing. I have magic and power within. I have skills that I have honed. Sometimes, all I need to do is let them be visible.

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Related quote: “Change your perspective, and you change your world.” –a spirit guide

I’ve seen somewhat similar phrases since I had this one come to me, but I can’t rightfully attribute it as a quote to someone since it was a phrase that came to me during an active imagination/vision quest in which I was conversing with a fairy queen who was my guide in that moment. It’s been an important concept for me for years at this point, so it seemed only right to put it into a card. It reminds me that there are always multiple ways of looking at something.

This is not one of those bullshit positivity mantras that all problems will go away if I stop thinking about them as problems. Rather, it’s encouragement to look at the ways that I can address the problem that may not be readily apparent. Sometimes that looks like “letting go.” Other times, it looks for ways in which I may not be recognizing my own power or using all the tools available to me. When I’m feeling stuck, sometimes what I need is a different view of the problem.

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Related quote: “I’ll be an army, no you’re not gonna stop me getting through. I’ll sing a marching song and stomp through the halls louder than you. I could surrender, but I’d just be pretending. No, I’d rather be dead than live a lie. Burn the white flag!” –Joseph in “White Flag”

This flag card is, hands down, one of my favorites–both as a quote and as a picture. It’s such a powerful card for me and probably one of the most recurrent themes I face in my life–the choice of whether to surrender or “fight against all odds.” This is my Frodo heading into Mordor card, my Aragorn at Helm’s Deep card, my Joan of Arc card, my Braveheart “FREEDOM!” card, my Thelma and Louise card.

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Related quote: “If you wanna break these walls down, you’re gonna get bruised.” –Halsey in “Castle”

Probably somewhat similar to the flag card, this card is also about fighting…but more about fighting the established systems and recognizing that there isn’t a way to break down some of the toxic structures of life without it hurting a little. I felt this card a lot during the election season, the realization that we were at a painful juncture as a nation that offered little hope of positive outcome. This is the card that reminds me that sometimes in order to address the root of something, it might seem like things have to get worse before they can get better.

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Related quote: “You can’t push the river.” –Unknown quote found in “Waking the Tiger” by Peter Levine

I think this might be a proverb or something. I have no idea where it came from. I read it in Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger. It’s a lovely image though about the importance of letting a process happen at its own pace.

I need to remember this for my own healing. “It takes the time that it takes,” as a dear friend put it once. Like the Longfellow quote, this one helps me remember to allow myself to be in the muck, but also reminds me that the much doesn’t last forever–it’s just part of the flow.

I also need to remember this when it comes to others too though. As a counselor, as an activist, as a friend, as a lover–I find myself in various positions of supporting or encouraging growth and change in others. It’s easy to get frustrated if things don’t progress as fast as I want them to or in the way that I want them to, but I cannot hasten someone’s process. I can’t do the changing for them. The more I try to influence the flow of the process, the more I’m probably going to actually face resistance.

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Related quote: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” –Sylvia Plath

This heart is another that is a particular favorite of mine. I adore the colors in the heart! I don’t think I could recreate this if my life depended on it, but I’m thrilled that it turned out this well when I first painted it.

This was the card I painted following the Pulse massacre. It was the cry of my heart at realizing that people not only hate me for being queer but that some would even want to kill me.

It was a cry of grief as well as defiance. “I am here! You can kill me, but you can’t kill my pride!” Perhaps that is why they colors turned out so vibrant…

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Related quote: “Once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.” –John Green from “Paper Towns”

There is a particular passage towards the end of John Green’s Paper Towns that I have earmarked and read over and over. It’s a passage talking about the importance of metaphors and how they shape how we approach different things. It’s also a passage that talks about the ways that life buffets you. This is the passage the reminds me of how our wounds are what helps us connect and empathize. They can become our superpowers, so to speak, like Harry seeing the thestrals.

The thing about this meditation deck is that it’s literally tailored to my life. As an oracle, it might have some meaning for others as a side effect, but it isn’t designed for the sake of universality. Rather, it is a reflection of the specific themes and patterns of my life, something that makes it particularly powerful for me. It’s far from finished, but it’s full enough now to be useful.

Feel free to share the mantras that have helped guide your life in the comments!

 

How Faitheist is Restoring my Faith in Atheist Writers

Atheism is one of those mindsets that I have had a hard time reading, despite my intention of opening myself up to multiple viewpoints on spirituality and religion. Even more surprising, it’s in spite of my lack of investment in the belief of a deity. I have come to think of myself as largely agnostic, believing in some things because I want to, not because I think they are definitely right, so atheism never struck me as a perspective that would bother me.

Atheists as people are fine for me. I have enjoyed getting to know many and have rarely encountered any whose atheism seemed problematic. They all have, mostly, been along the lines of Chris Stedman. And maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I choose to believe rather that there are more of him than not out there.

But atheist writers…damn if they don’t tend towards the same trends they claim to loathe. I’ve tried reading Richard Dawkins and stopped because I was just too revolted by his prejudice and too thrown off by the logical fallacies he commits in his quest to demonize all things religious.

I’ve made it through other books, like The Atheist’s Way, which were more tolerable and had some great moments, but I was still uncomfortable with how much the slippery slopes, broad generalizations, unbacked assumptions, and disdain for “other” resembled the fundamentalism which I left.

It’s actually kind of…funny, I guess, that the two camps would look at each other as the worst while being so damn similar, but I digress.

More recently, I decided to give it another go. I wanted to have at least one book by an atheist author that I didn’t want to burn along with my theology books from the IFB.

Enter Faitheist.

It’s more of a memoir than anything, and much of it covers the coming out journey of the author. (And full disclosure, I haven’t finished it yet. I have maybe a fourth left to read).

But it’s a beautiful book—perhaps not in spite of being a coming out memoir, but because of it.

Stedman values story-telling and didn’t set out to write a philosophy book, though there’s plenty of philosophy peppered throughout his story. He carefully details his own conversion and deconversion process and the struggles of realizing he’s gay while being part of a tradition that taught that gay is a hell-bent identity.

His loss of faith is poignant, something I can deeply relate to. His search for a reason to keep believing equally so. His subsequent disillusionment and anger towards Christianity is, well, pretty damn familiar.

But what makes this book stand out to me is that he doesn’t stay in that place. He realizes that his hatred of Christianity (and religion, in general) is reliant on stereotypes and caricatures of the worst sides of religion, missing the incredible complexity of belief and meaning-making that exists within any given path. He also recognizes the way that certain sections of the atheist community resemble the close-mindedness of religious zealots.

In other words, he is able to look at what he dislikes about the other and recognize its presence within himself.

His story of atheism is a personal one. He recognizes that it’s right for him right now but that it isn’t necessarily right for others. He recognizes that people who aren’t atheist are able to be good, even intelligent people and that they can have common goals towards which to work.

His goal isn’t to eradicate religion, as Dawkins and that ilk would want, but to work towards eradicating injustice and building bridges of commonality.

Some of the criticism of the book has expressed doubts about whether he’s a “true” atheist and suspicions that he will become religious or spiritual again. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters what he believes down the road. There’s always a chance that each of us will change our minds/beliefs for any number of reasons. But throughout the book, I can see his atheism grow into the atheism of someone who doesn’t need to believe in a God and, thus, doesn’t need to debunk other’s beliefs, which makes me suspect that his atheism has a better chance of being lifelong and genuine if he’s not holding to it in opposition, anger, and fear of religion.

I would love for others to read this book. His journey is one that we can all learn from, regardless of what path we ultimately choose to walk.

 

The Mind and Heart Should Get Married (Not Divorced)

The Western world has an unfortunate habit of splitting things into opposing dichotomies: the mind/body, masculine/feminine, rational/emotional, etc.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the source of wisdom and a similarly ineffective dichotomy between whether people believe that external education or intuition reigns.

In general, I tend to find the favor towards external information residing in the rational camp. Atheists, scientists, and people who value masculine-ish traits often express a value for that which comes from outside oneself. Decisions are made from logical criteria. Knowledge consists of what is testable and provable.

On the other hand, the emotional camp tends to value intuition. This is where I tend to find the spiritual, some types of philosophical/psychological thinkers, and those who value feminine-ish traits expressing appreciation for knowledge coming from within. Decisions are made based on gut instincts. Knowledge consists of introspection and is often individual and ambiguous.

As a typical Gemini, I find myself gravitating to a certain extent to both sides but chafing at the idea of having to choose one. I have come to trust my intuition. I’ve made some of my most important life decisions based on intuitive knowledge. Yet, I see the importance of gathering information, weighing the pros and cons, and seeking evidence.

I don’t necessarily think being a Gemini makes me unique in using both my intuition and my intellect as a source of wisdom. I just think perhaps I’m more likely to recognize that I use both and value both.

In fact, they have to work together to be strongest.

Babette Rothschild was the first person who planted this seed in my head with her book The Body Remembers. At one point, she mentioned that there is evidence to suggest that people can’t think rationally without emotions. The thought struck a deep chord within me.

Fred Kofman writes a fairly simple explanation of how this works over here, explaining that without the emotional undertones, people have a hard time developing enough of a preference or emotional charge to actually make their choices. Looking at the pros and cons, even as a “rational” model of decision-making, is endless and worthless without emotional input.

On a similar level, I would suggest that if a person divorces their own emotions and intuition from the decision-making process, they have no internal compass. Part of the ways that I’ve come to understand how cults work—how they can convince people to do unhealthy, bizarre, or illegal things—comes from the way they divorce the individual from what Robert Lifton deems their “reality testing” abilities through methods such as confusion, emotional manipulation, loading the language, etc (check out his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism for more information about this).

On the emotional/intuitive end, a similar thing is true. As Kofman points out in the article linked above, strong emotions can overwhelm to the point of losing reason. We’re all probably familiar with a person who has made a horrible decision because of their emotions clouding out their ability to think.

But on a deeper level, it’s important to recognize that intuition is as much experience-based as it is biological or subconscious. Without input from the outside world, the inner world is devoid. An intuitive choice is heavily influenced by experience from the past, knowledge acquired previously, and current input that one may not be entirely conscious of at the moment.

In other words, intuition is only as strong as the experiences and knowledge that have built it up. I can trust my intuition about whether I would be happy and successful in a job (even though the pros/cons list might seem in favor of a different choice) because I’ve had enough previous experience to know what a bad fit feels like and have gathered enough conscious and subconscious information about the current option.

I’ve also taken the time to get to know my intuition and what my pitfalls might be. I know that I’m more likely to trust people I shouldn’t trust if I make a connection with them when I’m tipsy. I know that even well-intentioned people can set off my internal alarm if they touch my arm without permission.

But my intuition is still growing. It grows the more that I exercise it. It grows when I make a mistake and learn through failure. It grows when I gather new intellectual information and practice allowing it to work with my left brain.

I have come to believe that the true key to wisdom is recognizing that both emotions and logic have an important role to play—that gathering external information and testing hypotheses is just as important as listening to your own internal guidance and learning from introspection.

Too much rationality, and you get someone devoid of making a healthy decision because they either can’t gauge their own relationship with the choice or can’t understand the impact it might have on others. The loss of empathy is often also a loss of connection to one’s own emotions.

Too much emotionality, on the other hand, and you get a person buffeted about by whims and impulses of the moment, unable to think long-term, or overwhelmed beyond reason.

It is in the balance of the two that you find wisdom and true knowledge.

Manifestation Spell: An Alternative to Candles

One of the simplest, and therefore most popular, types of spells seems to be a candle spell. Candle spells work great for simple manifestation rituals, but they can be a pain in the ass.

Generally you’re instructed to carve your intention or desire into the candle. That becomes a problem if, like me, you suck at carving.

My attempts to write any type of description usually end up illegible, and I give up on the inclusion of important details because I don’t have the time or space to spend mutilating my candlestick.

And worse is the time investment. Candle magic requires a lot of attention. You can’t exactly start it and walk away. Most spells suggest letting the candle burn all the way down, which can take a long time even for a small candle.

As a busy little witch, I am interested in something that is a bit simpler–something I can do in fifteen minutes before I run out the door to an appointment or remember the laundry I forgot to switch to the dryer…which is why I am in love with my new “burning” magic that is quickly replacing my candles.

Flying wish paper is a fad that has hit my area in the last few years. The styles run anywhere from whimsical to cheesy, but some of them are quite elegant. I got one of the kits as a birthday chochke. They don’t market themselves as a magical tool, which is probably why it took me a bit of time to come up with the idea of using them in place of candle magic though I have used them as parts of rituals in other contexts.

More recently, as I’ve genuinely struggled to find chunks of time to spend on spiritual pursuits, it occurred to me that they might work for a manifestation spell…and they did!

The small wish papers provide enough room for me to scribble a fairly detailed intention. They’re formed into a cone which resembles a candle when I initially light it from the top.

It’s truly delightful to watch the paper burn. Just when I think that it’s going to burn all the way down to the base, the paper flies up into the air and turns to ash, which can be buried or washed down the drain.

I’ve used flying wish paper for several spells at this point, and they seem to work just as well or better than the candle spells at helping me to focus in on what I want and to seek it out in the universe.

The Resurrection of my Normal Sunday

Apparently tomorrow is Easter. I did not realize that until someone told me yesterday. I was actually kind of pleased that it has slipped my consciousness so thoroughly.

Unlike Christmas, Easter has never been a favorite holiday and not one that I’ve been desperate to reclaim after the cult. Underneath all the itchy frilly dresses, white gloves, and hats that my parents would dress me in as a toddler, it was a mildly terrifying holiday.

They said it was a day to celebrate Christ’s victory over the grave…but really it was one more opportunity when visitors would be in the church and they could be scared with the idea that the whole point of Easter was because we were all going to hell if we didn’t repent.

It was a holiday of guilt, when those of us who believed were shamed for the fact that we were so evil that Jesus had to die a horribly painful death in order for us to have a shot at forgiveness.

We celebrated the resurrection while thoroughly blaming ourselves for making it necessary.

How dare we be sinful?

How dare we continue to sin even after salvation?

I was taught that every time I sinned, I was crucifying Jesus all over again—that he felt the pain of dying afresh with each new prideful thought or delay in obedience. And yet, I was also taught it was impossible to be sinless. The very assumption that I hadn’t sinned in a day was a sin itself.

There was no escaping that guilt.

The story of Jesus’ death no longer carries that same weight. I see it as one of several life/death/life stories of gods across different traditions. In fact, the concept of resurrection, on its own, is a beautiful one. It’s the seed of the phoenix symbolism, the hope that even after destruction new life can come.

I have come to appreciate resurrection stories.  In fact, they become my focus at Winter Solstice.

But while the story no longer seems threatening, the day of Easter always has been, up until this year. For the first time, I don’t feel that internal dread as Easter approaches. To me, finally, it’s just another Sunday.

 

Springing into the Future

I can feel the stirrings of spring. There’s that certain smell of the earth re-awakening, the energy of plants getting ready to burst forth into growth and bloom, even the mud seems to hold the promise of transitions.

I wonder if the earth feels as apprehensive and excited as I do on the cusp of my own transition of graduation.

In my last tarot reading, “The World” came up as my card moving into the future, and it feels so fitting—the end of a journey, the beginning of another, the promise of the fulfillment of having everything as it should be.

There are days when I can feel the promise of new things to come, and it fills me with joy. I want to jump into the unknown and discover what’s on the other side, certain that there is something wonderful to discover on this crazy-assed path I’ve chosen.

I wish I could just hang on to the good feelings: the hope, anticipation, joy, and confidence.

But with “The World” there also comes the fear of becoming the fool once again. I have completed a phase of my journey, and with that end comes a new beginning where I am no longer the “seasoned” student but the new professional.

I have to balance the doubt that is in that. With hope comes the possibility of failure, and I can’t entirely say I know what I’m doing. Can anyone starting on a new phase of life?

I have to balance the fear because I can’t get rid of it…but also because I shouldn’t. Those fears want to protect me. They’re meant to help me.

Yes, sometimes they also try to hold me back, convince me I’m not good enough to be a professional, I’m not experienced enough to graduate, and I’m a damn fool for thinking I can make it on my own.

I try to see the good even in those messages.

As I watch the seasons war it out, with winter dumping snow in defiance of spring, I realize I must allow the hope and fear to war within me. I must be willing to embrace each as they present, trusting that the fears are not working against the hope so much as against careless naiveté. I can trust my path even while questioning my steps.

The spring always wins in the end, and that is where its strength lies. No matter how many times a warmer week is followed by a weekend of whiteout snow and ice, the trees, the grass, the flowers—they know they will succeed.

Just as I know that somehow I will find my way to where I need to be.