December 11, 2016

Dancing on the edges of mundane reality is often what we—as Pagans and practitioners of alternative spirituality—are all about. But this is a fact that I have let slide at various points along my spiritual path. Being a pantheist who is largely immersed in scientific-rational discourse in my daily life, I often get in my own way in this regard. It’s all too easy for the ecstatic, experiential side of things to slide down my list of priorities; because with every lag in my practice, the doubting part of me steps in and questions the validity of spiritual experiences.

As part of my PhD research, I sat down today with a book by Sabina Magliocco, called Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America. While many Pagan scholars are themselves in some way personally affiliated with Paganism, few are as open or explorative as Magliocco about the experiential aspects of engaging in this kind of ritual practice. This may be in part because she approached the Pagan community not from personal interest, but as a researcher; her deepening involvement and personal investment grew out of her initial stance as an outsider. Thus, she had to renegotiate her scholarly position as she underwent her research, rather than having considered her position before getting into it.

While her book is largely sociologically descriptive (and thus lighter on theory than I would have liked for my own research purposes), what caught my interest was the focus she developed, as a result of this deep personal involvement, on the experience of ‘religious ecstasy’ at the heart of Pagan ritual.

‘Pathworking’—a term I wasn’t particularly happy with but used in lieu of a better one—became central to my ritual experience in 2013; I’ve talked about this a bit, here and in videos. As with so many such skills in altering states of consciousness, it was an ability and a practice I took for granted, until I lost it. In the last few months, I started to realise how valuable it was to me and my practice; and reading Magliocco’s work really sparked something in me too. It reminded me just how important such practices are to my sense of connection to divinity, to the numinous.

Strangely, I dropped my pathworking practice not so much out of lack of time, but out of apathy. I began to question it as a practice—I felt as though I was just ‘talking to myself’, or making things up in my head, rather than experiencing something real. I also questioned to what extent this practice was really related to my religiosity, my sense of reverence, rather than just a form of convoluted self-help or naval-gazing.

What I’ve come back to realising is that it doesn’t really matter on what level any of this is really real—not from my perspective as a religious practitioner. What matters are the feelings it evokes, and whether it works as a tool to expand my sense of reverence, expand my understanding of divinity, and break out of the confines of consensus reality. I have great respect for what the scientific paradigm can achieve in terms of knowledge expansion and conceptual creativity. But feelings of awe, reverence, beauty, and connectedness are not conducive to scientific inquiry. Thinking about things from a scientific-sociological perspective doesn’t help me experience divine awe. And whether or not these things have any basis in material reality, these experiences have formed some of the most important moments, decisions, and focuses of my life. They have made me happier and more creative than the scientific-rational paradigm ever will.

So I’m going to open myself up to those experiences again. I want to build back up my skills for entering trance and experiencing visionary states. I want to delve deep into the murky world of creative consciousness, get lost in the symbolic richness my unleashed mind can offer. Because the experiences created by our own minds are all we have in this life; and those which are inspired by something other than direct, material sensory input can be just as transformational, and just as profound.

November 21, 2016

I need to care about the universe because otherwise, everything loses meaning.

I need to care about my particular human experience, every breath and moment and feeling. I need to care about every heart I touch, every emotion I pass onto another being.

I need to believe in the divinity of cosmos because to not believe in that divinity is to lose myself to utter nihilism.

In a divine cosmos, every heartbeat matters. In a divine cosmos, every movement I make in this world is a step in a beautiful dance, a tiny but beautiful detail in an artwork of inconceivable magnitude.

For you, maybe divinity is not a filter you need or find useful. It may seem like a wishy-washy concept, an unnecessary distraction from the reality of the world we live in, the magnificence and the devastation of it. But for me, the filter of divinity is the only thing that separates me from the greatest fear of all: the fear of meaninglessness, pointlessness, futility. The fear that nothing I do will ever feel like enough, because nothing I or any human could ever do will ever really matter in the greater scheme of things.

When I paint the cosmos as divine, then every second matters. When I paint the cosmos as divine, everything I feel, and every feeling I pass along, becomes a beautiful fragment, a mimesis of something greater of infinite meaning. When I paint the cosmos as divine, I am simply imbuing with meaning this mysterious process of existence that we will never understand, and in which we play a bewilderingly tiny role.

When I struggle, I turn to gratitude. I turn to awe. I look at even the most mundane or difficult or fleeting experiences of my life and think: this is a gift. And this. And this.

Every second of every day, I am this alive.

When experience becomes a gift, a window onto something bigger and imbued with incomprehensible meaning, then things can matter again.

This struggle is not new. It is not new to me; and I doubt it’s new to you, either. This existential battle is what we call the human experience. But this seems to be a lesson that needs to be learned over, and over, and over again. The spiral of nihilistic despair is always waiting, if you let yourself go there.

And so: I look for more faith. I try to release the fear of not finding or doing the right things in life—because at the end of the day, it’s not the things that will matter, it’s the doing of them. It’s not the legacy we leave behind (because no legacy is immortal), it’s the beauty we feel and inspire in the moment. And I remember that big and great things often come in small packages.

My life has so often been touched and changed by a paragraph, a thought, a sentence. I can never tell when something I put into the world might create such a moment for another person. The important thing is to keep reaching, keep sharing, keep loving, keep experiencing, keep dancing that dance of life.

November 13, 2016

The political thunderstorm of 2016 has left me shaken. Perhaps I am naïve to feel so taken aback at the directions which many major world powers have been taking; but I am taken aback. I am disheartened. I am worried, scared for the future of this planet. 2015 saw some positive moves forward in my book—Ireland voted for marriage equality, a man with actual left-wing politics was elected to the British Labour Party… And so perhaps I was lulled into a false sense of security that an increasing number of people in the world were holding my views.

This is not a political blog, and I’m not about to start making it one. But I can’t pretend to isolate my religious beliefs from my political ones; I can’t pretend to isolate my spiritual life from everything else happening in my world. And today, I am afraid for the integrity of many things which my spirituality holds sacred.

I could write at length about my fears for the environmental crisis, my fears for all the ways in which vulnerable people’s quality of life will suffer, my fears for the repercussions across the globe. But there is already a wealth, an overabundance even, of such material online. So instead I want to write about how the election—and other political events this year—have made me feel about spirituality, my moral obligations, and my agency in this world.

One of the things I hold most sacred is the feeling of connectedness. It’s a feeling that is often hard-won. Connectedness on a cosmic level is something I can only drop into when I am at my spiritual peak, meditating every day, and thinking actively about divinity. But during those times when I have been able to access that feeling, it has given me hope and energy: hope that it really is possible for one individual to reach out and send tremors across the web; and the energy required to harness my creativity in order to make those tremors happen.

For the first few years of my interaction with the spiritual community, it was enough to see that I was influencing other people’s spiritual practices. It was enough to see that I had helped people clarify their thoughts, built ritual, or allow themselves to be spiritual in the first place. I had a deep, residing belief that spirituality was the key to people’s happiness—or at least to the happiness of my peers, those people in the West who had already fulfilled the first three or four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Over time, it’s become increasingly clear to me that this influence—inspiring others to be spiritual in the face of western scientific naturalist dogma—does not feel like enough. It’s not enough for me to shy away from involvement in political, social, and environmental activism under the guise of separating my spirituality from my morality, or not knowing where to start.

The changing political environment in the West has shaken my underlying belief in the efficacy of spirituality to really change anything. It has woken me up to the fact that, at the end of the day, when I am writing about Paganism from a progressive, feminist, inclusive, green perspective, I am really just preaching to the choir. The problem with online spaces is that they become echo chambers. We all follow each other, read each other’s words, and interact within the community in which we feel most comfortable. And that is important—it’s empowering and affirming, and ultimately safe. But it’s the very safeness of those echo chambers that has led me to becoming unconsciously complacent about the direction in which the wider world is going.

So now I am wondering: how can I help to create tremors that will change anything on a more fundamental level? How can I contribute? I am more than willing to keep putting energy into fortifying our community—giving us the spiritual backbone and clarity we need to put our stamp on the world. But I want to start thinking about how our community can push beyond the boundaries of our current influence. I want to think about what I can do as a spiritual writer and thinker to help build a better future.

Because the most resounding realisation this difficult year has brought to me is this: My spiritual practice has been so much sand for me to bury my head in. I told myself that connectedness with the Cosmos, with the All, with Goddess, was the most important thing. I told myself that connection to our community was evidence that I was reaching out. I told myself, worst of all, that if I was a pantheist, then the destruction of our particular society, ecosystem, and planet could only be seen as one more sacred process in the divine creative/destructive cycles of Cosmos. Therefore, my environmentalism, my socialism, was peripheral to this central tenet.

If revering natural processes is what I’m all about, then I need to revere the natural empathy and outrage I feel for those who are suffering. I need to revere this impulse to help stand in the way of the destructive march of capitalism. I need to revere my morals and my beliefs about social order. If the microcosm mirrors the macrocosm, then this desire for equality, for reducing suffering, for creativity over destruction, is mirrored in the divine whole of Cosmos. I am ready to own that. I am ready to stand for that. I am ready to belief that my influence and impact can do more than convince others that a spiritual practice is all we need for true happiness.

Spirituality can stand for more than a distraction from social responsibility. If I truly believe in the power of self-made religion, in the power of harnessing symbols that are meaningful to us as individuals, then I should believe that our spirituality can empower us for anything we choose. I am for spirituality that revitalises the self. But I am also for spirituality that revitalises a society, or a world.

October 13, 2016

I want to get out of the habit of putting off writing here because my thoughts don’t seem coherent enough, or too negative, or I don’t feel like I have enough time to write something meaningful or good enough—or first respond to the many comments (thank you!) that have been neglected over the last months (sorry!). When I made the change from Heart Story to Áine Órga, that was one of my goals. So far I haven’t lived up to it; but here’s a step in the right direction.

I am still desperately in need of reforming a good spiritual habit—or any good lifestyle habit, for that matter. When I returned to Edinburgh for the start of the academic year, I fell ill, and remained so for over a month. I’m still recovering (hence no videos). And while this might be the perfect time to really devote my energy to self-care and light spiritual practices that might help me rest and recuperate, my complete lack of routine bit me in the ass.

What I have been managing to do is to enjoy getting outside into green spaces, and pay more attention to the passing of the year. I am reminded of why I stepped onto this spiritual path in the first place—the feeling of being completely unmoored, and wanting desperately to tune back in to the very basic cycles in which we live our lives.

It’s slow work, and I’m realising how much the change in light and weather here in Edinburgh has impeded my ability to really tune in to the passing months. I’ve realised, to my slight despair, that we really do get less sunshine here—certainly less than in relatively sheltered Dublin. The autumn months are different: the trees turn more slowly; there are fewer bright, crisp days; there is much more cloud and rain. But I am adjusting a little this time around, and learning to watch for and appreciate the particularly beautiful and soul-wrenching moments.

Most of all right now I feel like I need to make space for silence. I need to make space to sit with myself and tune back in. This is something I’ve had precious little of ever since moving to Edinburgh, and getting into a new relationship has made the opportunities fewer still. This is also the first relationship I’ve been in that actually feels like a partnership, where being together—rather than separate—is the norm. This all takes readjustment.

I made a decision some months ago that I would start thinking more about my pantheism, and thinking more about my faith in the divinity of Cosmos, of existence. I want to start drawing that faith more into my everyday life again. Since I wrote about faith a little while ago, things have improved somewhat. I have started reading blog posts and books again that reaffirm those things that are so important to me; I have remembered to be in the moment while walking in the park, to try tuning into that sense of reverence and connectedness, that feeling of being a drop in a great, creative, divine ocean.

I’m still a long way off where I want to be. I catch glimpses of that feeling, rather than capturing it completely. But if I’ve learned anything over the past five years, it’s been never to stop chipping away at how I want to be and feel and move in this world.

September 22, 2016

This time four years ago, I wrote my first blog post about my spiritual journey. The night before, I had done ritual to mark the autumn equinox, and with that ritual I began an unbroken trend of celebrating the wheel of the year. The closest I have yet come to not performing some ritual for a Sabbat in those four years was this last Lughnasadh, when I was days from submitting my Master’s dissertation—but I did light candles, I did have a special supper and watch the sun set with my girlfriend. I’m not sure if I really knew, four years ago, that I would still be maintaining the habit to this day. But I am proud, in a way, that I have. It has been the one consistent rock in a life of avalanching pebbles.

This time five years ago marked the beginning proper of my spiritual quest. I did ritual then, too—though the rest of the year slipped by unmarked, as I was only in the very beginning stages of figuring out what I wanted and needed ritual to be. I was still using a very Wiccan framework; I still had not figured out what I believed, what really rang true for me cosmologically and theologically. I had real moments of revelation in the twelve months between September 2011 and September 2012.