Monday, October 27, 2008

The Heroic Community, Part III: Supernatural Aid

As we head into the week of Halloween, we continue our look at the Heroic Community, an idea percolating among many people, especially as we slip into the darker days of dreaming and vision. (See posts below for previous writings.)

According to folklorist and myth scholar Joseph Campbell, the next step in the journey of the hero comes in the form of supernatural aid.

"For those who have not refused the call, the first enouncter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass."

Campbell cites the Navajo's Spider Woman or Grandmother Spider as an example, especially in the tale of the heroic twins who are journeying to the home of their father, the Sun. Spider Woman gives them a magic amulet and spell to defeat their upcoming challenges.

The Fairy Godmother figure in European folk tales is another example, as is the Virgin Mother in Christian mythos.

"The hero who has come under the protection of the Cosmic Mother cannot be harmed."

Men can also be guides, as noted by the wizards, shamans, and psychopomps who appear to heroes (Hermes, Thoth and even Virgil in Dante's Divine Comedy).

Interestingly, the guide or first appearance of supernatural aid doesn't always have to be completely beneficent. Sometimes, s/he can be challenging and lead the hero on difficult roads that are the individual's most powerful journey of transformation.

I think one of Campbell's most important observations is that "One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear."

Once the intention is set by the group building a heroic community, I suspect something gets set in motion. We know from studies in physics that our thoughts hook up to actual points in space, so when the word is put out into the Multiverse by the group, then perhaps the energy comes back around in the form of various helpers on the road.

Probably, a community based in some kind of spirituality has an extra kick to this, because in imagining co-creating such a group, I see myself praying to various Mysterious Ones for aid or doing ritual work around the initial stages, thereby starting a magickal ball rolling.

This part of the heroic journey is no less challenging than any other, because the community has to be willing to keep their eyes and ears open. There are innumerable stories of people being so busy, so pre-occupied, so wrapped up in self that they miss the aid that's right in front of them, causing them to wander until they're finally able to see and hear what they've most needed.

Then, of course, the group has to be willing to trust the assistance - what happens when some members of the group are inspired by the supernatural aid and others aren't? Perhaps part of the spellwork around this could be that everyone in the group needs some help in ways that are resonate to her/him.

Something I get from the Fae around all this is "Always ask the Faery Godmothers." They'll show up, ready to roll up their magickal sleeves, but they do need to be asked.

Perhaps once the group of people decides they are willing to commit to creating this type of community, they could get together and do ritual work around stepping into the abyss, into the unknown and opening to the guidance of those very timeless ones who could shed some light on the road ahead.

I probably won't be writing again until after Halloween, so I hope everyone's holiday is full of mystery, wonder, and deep, deep joy.

(The lovely Spider Woman image can be found here. The image of Virgil holding back the demons from Dante was done by Gustav Dore. The fairy godmother was done by Emily Hilda Rix Nichols.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Heroic Community: Part II, Refusal of the Call

We continue with musings on the heroic community from the previous post.

This section is all about refusing the call to adventure, the call to move forward.

Campbell writes, "Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or 'culture,' the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved."

Instead of the herald or call to adventure becoming a boon, it becomes a curse, something that gnaws away at the individual's vitality. Campbell sites King Minos, who walls the monstrous Minotaur in a labyrinth, as an example.

"What ever house [the person refusing the call] builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his Minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration."

Wow, that's rough, right?

Campbell goes on to say that refusal generally happens because it's "a refusal to give up what one takes to be one's own interest. The future is regarded not in terms of an unremitting series of deaths and births, but as though one's present system of ideals, virtues, goals, and advantages were to be fixed and made secure."

Through this denial, we blindfold ourselves and stumble off the path of our authentic self's choosing, blundering deeper into the wilderness. If only we remove the blindfold, we could perhaps begin to find our way again or at least forge a new path. I find it interesting that refusals often arise because we believe that things will stay the same as they are for all time - as opposed to embracing the true constant of the Multiverse: change.

How many times have we ignored things that we knew to be the right choice for our lives and our direction? Granted, our culture doesn't support people who throw caution to the winds and "follow [their] bliss," but that's part of the adventure, too.

So, how does this all translate into a community experience? I think much of it has to do with forming the heroic community.

If a group of people hears a call to become a community, to begin that journey together, what happens when the group decides it's just too much - too much work, too much heartarche, too impossible, too crazy? Perhaps the call is to join the community, and the refusal comes from each of us as we decided we can't possibly do this. What then do we lose? What nags at us in the middle of the night? Does our longing for community only increase in intensity, leaving us barren emotionally because of our refusal?

I don't think the punishment Campbell mentions is one visited upon us by some malignant deity. Who needs that when we've got natural consequences?

Maybe becoming part of a heroic community is not just about survival, but about thriving. This type of group transforms itself into a place where everyone can follow their dharma, simultaneously creating a collective dharma - a collective spirit where one of the greatest mysteries unfolds:

We are more together than we are apart.

(The first photo is of Arizona's beautiful Superstition Mountains, courtesy of The second is a painting done by Paul Reid.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Heroic Community: Part I, A Herald Appears

My dear beloved Donald Engstrom-Reese and I were talking on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and he mentioned a term that really inspired me: the heroic community.

He and I (and others) often discuss what it means to live in community, to develop community, to sustain community, etc., in this time and culture, and when he mentioned this term to me, I thought of Joseph Campbell's incredible book "The Hero With A Thousand Faces," where he maps out the heroic journey as evidenced in cultures' mythic archetypes around the world.

How does this great journey apply to a community? Can the notable stops along the path of the individual be translated into the way of the group? I'm going to be blogging about that for a bit, so here's our first installment.

The Call To Adventure

According to Campbell, this is the first step in the hero's journey - the moment when s/he gets the call to head in a new direction, "ringing up the curtain on a mystery of transfiguration."

It's often here that a "herald" appears, some figure who moves us to our next level of experience.

"The herald's summons may be to live...or, at a later moment of the biography, to die. It may sound the call to some high historical undertaking. Or it may mark the dawn of religious illumination. As apprehended by the mystic, it marks what has been termed 'the awakening of the self'...The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand."

Often, the herald figure frightens or disgusts us; it's seen by the larger culture as something hateful, yet, this character ushers us through the first gateway of adventure. Also of note is that if ignored, the herald's signs get bigger and louder, until the need for change can not be denied.

What does all this mean for the heroic community?

First of all, I confess that I don't exactly know what a heroic community is, but I think that's alright. How often does the hero step into the adventure not truly understanding who s/he is? S/he knows a change is needed, and s/he knows the current way of living is no longer nourishing or powerful. So, s/he walks into the breach, discovering the answers along the journey.

The same goes for a group of people who know that the current ways of living are not only ineffectual, they're stifling humanity's potential and the planet at large.

For this burgeoning community, who or what is the herald? What is the figure that calls us to adventure, the next phase?

If not an actual person, perhaps it's a trend, piece of information or current cultural norm that frightens the budding community, like the examples cited below (these are things that goad my own personal need to live in community - not in fear, like some millenial cult, but in recognition that people must create new ways of living in order to change the current paths humanity is walking).

Corporate greed and financial ruin?
Cruelty to our food sources?
The madness of war?
Tyrannical governments?
Children who are succumbing to hatred?
Religious fanatiscm?

Let's take an example: the polar bear. Could that be considered the current herald for a culture that is hurtling toward global disaster via global warming? While the polar bear may not frighten us or provoke fear in a traditional sense (although left alone with one in the arctic it should), an underlying part of the fear response it evokes, in this particular context, is that we've fucked things up beyond repair, that we must face our own errors and take responsibility for our actions. This realization is something loathsome in a culture obsessed with consumption and inbalanced desire.

What do you think the heralds are for building a heroic community? Have you and your beloveds heard the call to adventure? What did it sound like, and if you've been ignoring it, how has the call gotten louder?

(The path in the forest photo is from Francis' site. The polar bear photo is from the ever-amazing National Geographic.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Work It, Mary

Yesterday, I went to one of my favorite sacred sites in Washington - the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the Catholic University of America.

Some readers might be wondering, "What the hell is a Queer Witch Priestess doing at a Catholic church?"

First off, it's an absolutely beautiful place, full of '50s-era high art all done in mosaic. Many of the images are not only gorgeous, but full of interesting iconography, including a world's creation that features dinosaurs. Just amazing!

Secondly, I'm big on the Virgin Mother (in fact, right now, I'm listening to Antonio Vivaldi's Vespri per l'Assunzione di Maria Vergine, Vespers for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary - a beautiful piece).

While the Catholic church has certainl caused a whole mess of problems in this world, the sustained veneration of Mary has left goddess worship open to a great many people. From what I hear from various humanoid Mysterious Ones (Juno and Cybele included) is that Mary, the woman, was approahced by various female Mysterious Ones and asked to hold their place in the world until the time was right for them to return more fully to people's hearts and minds (Westerners and those affected by Christian conversion, in particular.) Mary graciously took on this role after her death and continues holding this space to this day. It's my understanding that this is starting to shift and as Cybele said to me yesterday, once this part of Mary's job is done, that gal gets a long-ass vacation.

The National Shrine has chapels all down the sides of the church depicting the different Marys from around the world - Latvia, Korea, Poland (featuring a gorgeous Black Madonna), Guadalupe, etc. They're all so beautiful and the iconography is delightfully pagan. So many of the images depict her surrounded by a very yonic burst of energy. Roses (major goddess flower) and lilies (often associated with the lovely Juno) are frequently part of the art depicting Mary.

The rosary was being prayed while I was there yesterday, and I found myself irritated at some of the prayers, which focus on being saved from hell and being sinners, etc., etc. Yet then I saw Mary sending loving energy to all of the congregants' hearts, energy of healing and deep compassion. She knows that they aren't sinners and hopeless fuck-ups. Through this incredible compassion, she continues to hope that they will come to see themselves as she does - with great love and possibility.

It was an incredible inspiration, and I sat in a pew, quietly singing an Italian song to the Black Madonna (Cybele, in pre-Christian times), adding energy from my own heart to the prayers for healing and love.

Afterwards, I went to Mary's garden, a beautiful respite behind the cathedral and played my Black Madonna drum, working the rhythm of Cybele, a deep, Mother Goddess beat. Mary was there and smiled warmly as a straight couple lolled on each other under a tree - the man prone with his head in the woman's lap as she stroked his hair. The sun was setting, casting golden rays over the scene, and I thought, again, that a Queer Priestess was sending blessings of a Goddess on the love between men and women.

In fact, there were a couple of images in the church that made me wonder about Queer folks' continued work with various female Mysterious Ones. The first was outside and pictured a very, square-jawed "woman" playing a tambourine (on the right - click on the photo to enlarge). Notice that the hair is loose - the very thing condemned by "St." Paul as being the sign of a wanton woman and/or men who were in service to goddesses. The Galli, priestesses of Cybele, played the drum and loosened their hair during wild rituals.

While staring at this image, I heard the Virgin Mother say to me, "See? You're everywhere."

I don't know that the artists intended any of this, but like any good piece of art, we bring ourselves and our experiences to it, seeing our own lives and attributes reflected back to us in ways that resonate with us. I hope I'm not the only Queer one out there to feel this incredible love and hope that our ecstatic gifts have survived vicious persecution and have had the blessing of Mary and so many of the Mysterious Ones.

Blessings of Mary (who as I hear it, was thrilled when a straight university student couple were engaged in a killer blow job on the steps of the cathedral - she wasn't as thrilled when they were caught, however) on all of us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Inspired Reading

While at the library last week, I happened upon a perfect book for myself:
Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, by Barbara Ehrenreich. The author has written 14 books and is a frequent contributer for Harper's and The Nation; she's also been a columnist for the New York Times and Time magazine. All of these facts were heartening to me, as are the copious footnotes and bibliography.

The book is all about the history of ecstatic joy/worship/ritual among European folks and how the church, capitalism and other forces eventually squashed these experiences, leading us to a twisted relationship with deep joy.

I started experiencing the necessity of ecstatic joy most intensely in Tuscany this past summer, and over the last year or so, I found that dance was a great way for me (and others) to access these heights of mystical experience.

Not surprisingly, there are damned good reasons for that, including a long and rich history that stretches back to prehistoric times.

I think that many of our modern spiritual traditions, at least here in America, tend to shy away from the ecstatic, and this is certainly true in pagan traditions, where we hope for something different than the standard Judeo-Christian scripted experience.

Concomitantly, there's often a focus on misery and the mea culpa complex. At times when I've brought this up among pagan people, I get a dismissive attitude about not wanting to be "white-lighters" or "fluffy bunnies." Since when did committing to deep joy in a world suffused with pain mean that we're not working hard enough? And, honestly, isn't what we're all working for a world where bliss is part of the every day and not just something experienced in all-too-rare flashes of insight?

Anyone who's interested in this topic might want to check this book out - I'm only half-way through but I'm spellbound for sure.

(The image above is a painting by Leon Brazile Perrault titled "La Tarantella.")

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Trip to Faeryland

Last weekend, I and a dear beloved co-facilitated a workshop all about connecting to the Fae, those magnanimous and beautiful beings of the wild woods, lakes, beaches, deserts, cities, worlds seen and unseen.

The gathering was absolutely magickal, and I can't remember the last time I felt so fulfilled, so contented after a witchy weekend.

At the start of the event, we set up sacred space using a variety of means, including various circle castings, some of which were done with the idea that we would create this space through spoken commitments to our own and others' well being.

Much of the weekend focused on creating gates to Faery, including a very large one that we walked through on Friday night and didn't return from until Sunday late morning.

I and the other facilitator have spent time working gates on our own, recognizing that the need for them in the world isn't just about getting from one realm to another - very often it's a symbol of trust between the worlds, one where we consciously ask the Fae into our world and they allow us into theirs. I've created gates of found objects in the wild, I've drawn them into honey (thereby transferring the world traveling power to the sweet treat), I've drawn them on one of my drums (again, when played it shifts our being into the Faery realm), and other experiments. I have a couple outside near my home that I regularly visit and walk through, spending time in the Faery realm with some regularity.

Spending time in the Faery world for an entire weekend was a wonderful experience and one I hope to repeat. While there, we created ritual art and offerings from the heart, aspected with the Fae, danced, sang, did sacred beading and embroidery, laughed (a lot), cried, and deepened our relationship to these wonderful beings. There were lights shining in the darkness and a rainbow that appeared in a downpour outside the main hall, about 10 feet off the ground.

The Wild Fae have been near and dear to me for many years (since childhood, really), and after this weekend, I began to understand my role with them more and more. Much of what I do is based in the idea of Faery Freedom - my spiritual calling is about freedom and liberation.

The tarantella and the tammorriata are dances of liberation. Yoga is all about liberation. Belly dancing is about freedom. Queer Spirit work is certainly about freedom. All these threads tie together, and I began wondering about the nature of the bodhisattva during the weekend.

These are the beings who have vowed not just to achieve spiritual and everyday liberation for themselves - they have agreed to come back to the world again and again until everyone is freed from cycles of pain, misery, and suffering.

In many ways, this seemed a very Fae-like vow to make, and my mind is whirling with possibilities.

I was deeply moved over the weekend by what all the other priestesses brought to the workshop. I learned a great deal about the nature of Faery and myself through their experiences and willingness to share what they had seen and felt up to this point and what was unfolding during the magick. I am so grateful to everyone there for meeting the magick head on and committing to the work of Faery.

Especially in this twilight time of the year, I would encourage you to spend some time with the Fae. Maybe set up a comfortable spot outside, beautifying it in whatever ways seem right to you (or leaving it as beautiful as it already is), call in your allies, and begin to strike up a conversation - mostly through listening.

As a side note, this is the time of the Navratri, a sacred festival of India that honors the divine feminine through various rituals, including nine days of sacred dance. I learned about this last night at yoga class, and I'm planning on doing sacred dances for this next nine days.

(The first photo is one I took of the dozens of mushrooms at the park site where we held the weekend. There really is something to Faery mushroom magick. Many of us have heard that mushrooms can save the world, and given their ecological powers, it seems like a good bet. The second is an image from the Brian Froud Faery Oracle deck. The third group of mushrooms sprouted up in my absence at a clearing I visit regularly near my home. What a great surprise!)