… a thought making crooked all that is straight.

Solitariness

Death and morality

Precisely a year ago today I tried to kill myself. My best laid plans were only thwarted by me passing out due to the high dose of pills in my system. However, before going unconscious I did various things of which I have no memory … things that only came to light through hints and clues on the following morning: food left half-prepared in the kitchen, pastel marks all over the floor from the one exceedingly creepy and disturbing drawing I did while “under” and bruises down the one side of my body congruent with having fallen downstairs. I have no memory from the 20th or so pill (I took over 70) until the time I woke and thought, “Shit. I’m still alive.”

So whereas the blogosphere is probably full of annual retrospectives, I can truly say, looking back at my year, that I started it at rock bottom.

Up to that point, my life had been very much focused on the past and the present. The latter merely being a hamster’s wheel sprint from the former. This year I have discovered the joys of looking towards a future.

Things that have helped me this year: new friends, the continued support of Sancho Panza, my rats, my devotion to Pomba Gira and my relationship with the Hoodoo spirits. All variations of inter-personal relationships of one kind or another. The key has been to establish and maintain connection – something that is diametrically opposed to my intrinsic nature, which is solitary and self-sufficient.

Part of LHP philosophy is to separate yourself from the crowd (or “herd” if you are being particularly Thelemic). LHP practices are greatly focused on challenging your preconceptions and assumptions, shocking you out of ambivalence and throwing you out of your comfort zone. The reason for some people (e.g. Luciferians) reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards is not for some Hollywood-esque drama, but in order to shock and challenge what may be a deeply held belief for you; the only way to truly be free of a former belief is to act counter to it, if you find you can’t or you experience internal resistance, then the belief still holds sway over you. Freedom is the aim! Hence the reputation of LHP practitioners for being hedonistic, sex-mad, drug fiends – they deliberately move against the set morals of society to free themselves of the moralistic hold of the masses. Germaine Greer suggested that women would never be entirely free from the constraints of a patriarchal society until they tasted their own menstrual blood – same principle: to be free, you need to overcome the “ugh” impulse that we have for so many things, those invisible bars of our invisible prisons.

This is all well and good. But if you spend your time solely with the sex-mad, drug fiends then sex and drugs become the norm; they morph into the standard of that particular social group and, in my opinion, you are bound and beholden to break those standards as well. Consequently being a celibate in a sex-focused world can be just as much of a revolutionary act as being a nymphomaniac. Ultimately it’s about being honest with yourself and finding out where your own boundaries are and where you stand in relation to society. For example, I have done Ford’s Lord’s Prayer backwards ritual and felt no shock or fear of retribution from a god who didn’t like to be referred to as dog.

Society at large is comprised of smaller social groups – a fractal of human enclaves. The first step in freeing yourself is to become aware of the groups you belong to, and there will be several: your own family will carry its own set of assumed standards; you will have ingested another set at school or in some other institution like the army; then there are the wider norms of society, those things that are generally accepted as right and wrong. By allying yourself with other groups in adult life you take on further sets of memes. And amongst all this there will be overlaps – consider those overlaps as stronger directives, ones that “everyone” agrees with, or do they? As individuals, I rarely meet anyone who seriously suggests contravening the general social ethic “Do not kill”, and yet societies condone mass killing for reasons of politics, oil, wealth and geographical boundaries … strange that we bother to teach our children that it is wrong to kill at all when each generation must see its country head to at least one war “for the sake of xyz”. Some people actively agree with a “just war” [sic] – are they then not agreeing for that moment to kill? And what about those who are anti-war armchair activists, people who shout in the pub about the injustices in the world, but who don’t even vote? Aren’t they at least complicit through non-action with killing? And does “Do not kill” even limit itself to humans? So, I would say that on some level we are all contravening the rule of not killing, even though for most it is an implicit contravention.

The same applies to other major or minor “rules”, there is connivance on some level with everything we, as a society, deplore … even something as extreme as child abuse is given the nod through the sexualisation of children – look at the consumer products aimed at our children who are so often dressed as little whores, forced to parade themselves in skimpy clothing, tiny hands reaching out for the outsized bosomed dolls with boyfriend-accessory. Yes, everything we condemn is at some level condoned in today’s Western society.

So our world has become a greyscale of morality, neither black nor white; everything is permitted, if you just market it the right way. And if you’re doing what everyone else is doing then what social or moral boundary will you challenge? How are you freeing yourself from the masses when you swallow the Consumerist Philosophy LHP™ ©Seriously Dark? Turning to the Left-Hand Path ends up being a mere fashion statement, a shopping list of so-called depravities, a pseudo-spiritual bush tucker trial of things that make you go hmmm. The more you try to be different, the more you become the same.

By trying to commit suicide I committed a socially accepted taboo. Just me speaking openly about it, probably makes some of you feel uncomfortable. Was I right or was I wrong to try to take my own life? As far as embracing taboos and pushing boundaries go, it’s not something I would recommend to everyone. In that moment, I embraced death completely. In fact I had spent my entire life flirting with death, allowing him to cop a feel every now and then until that moment when I gave myself up physically to him. But either he turned me away or life pulled me back and for the first time ever I have learned this year what it is to want to live and see a tomorrow, to long for a future.

I don’t have any answers from the grave concerning social morality, partly because I find the concept of morality to be such a subjective thing, shaped by time, geography, culture, religion, etc. Who can really say what is right or wrong, except the individual who must create her or his own morality to live by? In creating our own morality, we must also accept that it will clash with another person’s self-created meme. I levy equal criticism against the person who never questions their moral framework as I do against the person who rebels against social norms for the sake of rebelling as if purely the action will transform them spiritually, or worse make them “cool”. But in either case the needs and beliefs of the individual cannot and must not be viewed separate from the communal whole. Quoting Dion Fortune:

In the Aquarian Age, or so I believe, there will be a high degree of individualisation combined with a high degree of social integration. This can only be achieved if each individual has a strong sense of social duty; if each citizen says in the true sense, “L’etat c’est moi” [I am the state]. We can judge the rightness or wrongness of any action by extending it in a straight line and asking ourselves what would happen if everyone did that?”

This Kantian idea of universal morality makes good sense but is rarely, if ever employed, and certainly never employed on a wider social level (cf my point above about “do not kill”). And LHP philosophy, as much as I have gleaned, rarely speaks for society but instead for the individual. Some criticise LHP ideas as a source for breeding anarchy and the downfall of society … maybe, IF anyone ever thought that everyone would attempt to follow the Left-Hand Path, which nobody does. It is a path for a few brave/deluded/inspired/depraved [delete as applicable] individuals. So should society carry the burden of these rebelling few? Why not? Both society and the LHP individual move along a greyscale of morality, as shown above, but it is the LHP-er who walks (or should walk!) with awareness of what she or he is doing, and it is awareness that distinguishes the artist who applies paint with discrimination and focus from the ape who trips over a few tins of paint creating an abstract mess on the floor.

And this is the point: whatever you believe, however you create your morality, do it with awareness and with an artist’s eye to your creation. Be true and honest with yourself and your role in relation to those around you and society in general. Paint the full picture, not just part of it; become aware of all the colours in your moral palette, not just the polar shades of black and white. Don’t paint only blue because you see that your neighbour is painting with blue; and don’t stick solely with yellow for the same reason. Don’t be complacent with your artwork because a slight change in the ambient light (a change in circumstances, relationships, health …) could alter your masterpiece completely.

A year ago I tried to kill myself. Tonight I sit here, writing to you, I am connecting with you. The same night, a year apart, different colours, different light. Black is the hardest colour to paint over; if you’re not careful it shows through every other colour, adding a darker tinge to the brightest shade. It’s difficult not allowing the dark of last year to tint my experience of tonight. It takes merely an inward glance for me to return to that spot on the floor with packets of pills all around me. But these days I am painting with colours – my subjective moral universe has expanded from “I” to “thou”. I am connected to and aware of those I consider part of my community. I am in relation to various people who are important to me. Malkin speaking of Martin Buber’s concept of “I” and “thou”:

I-thou relationships … are our paramount source of spirituality. Each relationship is unique. Each partner to it discovers the “thou” in the other, his or her unique personhood. Moreover, as the relationship unfolds, each one discovers his or her own “I”, just as every child discovers his or her “I”, as a result of the developing bond to parents. This is the relationship that takes people out of the solitude into which every human being is born.

I am no longer entirely alone, although I continue to strive for self-sufficiency. I am growing in awareness of my fellow creatures – human and non-human. And as such, my moral horizons are broadening to encompass more than myself and more than a reaction to Other. Awareness and connection form the needle of my moral compass, and tonight they are both pointing towards an acceptance of life. I don’t reject death (we are too well acquainted for that), but I do hope he stays his hand for another year while I enjoy the full range of colours on my palette.

©StarofSeshat 2012

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The insider and the out-outsider

Once again my mind returns to thoughts of the individual and her/his relationship to community. I blame my university background in social anthropology.

Tomorrow I am going to a fetish market and the fetish party thereafter. Yes, whips, chains, spankings, dungeon equipment and all. The last time I attended I had a wardrobe malfunction just before leaving, and so opted for the most comfortable and smartest outfit I had. Unfortunately the outfit was totally unsuitable for a fetish venue: unless you are wearing rubber corsets, PVC outfits, Steampunk or transgender clothing, the acceptable alternative is black. How ironic that I virtually always wear black but ended up choosing a psychedelic mixture of patterns and colours instead. As a result I felt out of place and people didn’t know how to pigeon-hole me. I felt like a Sunday school teacher taking a walk through an opium den. Clothes identified people’s proclivities; they identified whether a person was Dom/me or sub. Dom/mes will not talk to submissive people because they might belong to another Master or Mistress, and it is a transgression of unspoken rules to play with somebody else’s submissive.

Years ago I had a social networking account. I was connected with many occult people, mainly of the LHP persuasion. I was new to the path and felt a bit out of my depth although I was making strides in my learning. But I never felt fully a part of the community because I didn’t ever “play” the darker-than-the-darkiest-darkness dude, so black my own mother couldn’t find me in a coal shed shebang. One day I looked at all the status lines:

Hail the chthonic forces!
My soul is travelling the reverse of the tree of life
Hell’s gates open and I embrace the fury!
Today I honour Baron Samedi!
Only those initiated into true gnosis will pass the doors of Death

And my status line?

I’m just about to have a cup of tea and put a chicken in the oven

Sigh. No. Somehow I just wasn’t wearing the right online “uniform”. I remained on the fringes, my hyperbole too soft, too friendly, too this-is-how-I-am. I didn’t wear a mask, and masks were de rigeur!

Groups have rules and etiquette that distinguish them from other groups, otherwise what would make them different? Isn’t it enough to have a different way of thinking, without having to fall into the trap of becoming a fashion clique: got the book, got the T-shirt, got the hand gesture to use on every photo to show that I rock! But humans are base creatures and we find comfort in such binding actions – the “in” vocabulary that leaves all others bewildered, the “in” jokes that no one else understands. Being “in” is so much more preferable as a social primate than being “out”. The outsider has no place in this jungle, she is rogue and looked upon suspiciously. She is the hedge-rider, the traditional witch straddling boundaries between village and … the wild, forbidding “world out there”/the “world beyond life”; she straddles social customs and acts as an intermediary between our so-called civilised, social self and our animal, degenerate self – the latter dragging us down, the former supposedly raising us up.

So even in fringe groups, such as occultists and fetishists, who may define themselves as outsiders because they dwell outside of the mainstream, there is a focus on social integration and rules of belonging … if you transgress them, you are out of the outsiders – a twist on Micky Flanagan’s brilliant skit on going out-out. Suddenly you are the out-outsider.

But if you play by the rules, learn the group language and wear the group mask, then you too can belong! It’s a toss-up between being true to your authentic self and finally bridging that yawning gap of loneliness and isolation. For those who have truly experienced loneliness, what wouldn’t they do to connect and belong?

However, sacrificing your self to the group mores can mean that you lose the outsider edge; you lose the ability to straddle more than one world. You are subsumed within an all-encompassing whole, rather than striding forth on your personal path, however weird or humdrum that may be. Not everybody’s authentic self is eccentric and quirky. Mine is, but that doesn’t make it better or worse than somebody who raises their hands in horror at what I do or don’t do.

The real question is the motivation behind our actions. Are we ACTing or RE-acting? Are we following the herd from a need to belong, or are we driven forward by an internal motivation, a lust for self-manifestation?

So, tomorrow I shall wear the right uniform. I shall behave in a way that people know I am Domme. I shall speak the group language and enjoy a day of belonging. But when I return home, I shall undress, light candles on my altar, pet my rat and continue reading about Pomba Gira. My happy medium is to continue straddling several worlds; to dabble my toes in the “in” puddle, before drying my feet and walking off alone into the woods. I am a hedge-rider, a witch, and I always shall be. I am an outsider, an out-outsider even, and that’s fine by me. The questions I leave you with are: how much of your own behaviour is an action originating from an urge for true manifestation of self, the expression of your unique will? And how much is it a RE-action to a need for belonging, a desire to be “in”, a longing to bridge the loneliness within? Are you straddling the hedge demarcating village life and the wilds? Or are you holding hands with your fellow group members, backs turned to the darkness, eyes firmly shut for fear of looking over your own shoulders?

©StarofSeshat 2012


What is a pagan?

If you wish to copy this text, please link back to this blog and accredit me, the author. Thank you.

Nb: If you find two pagans who agree, you haven’t found two pagans! 😉

What is a Pagan?

A pagan is person who practises a spiritual path; he or she follows either an established tradition under the “Pagan” umbrella or takes aspects of paganism, which are meaningful to him or her, and creates a way of living. A pagan is not somebody who only worships once a week or at special times in the year; a pagan path embraces all aspects of living and is a philosophy as well as a spirituality.

So what comes under the “Pagan” umbrella?
There are innumerable pagan paths: some draw on native religions such as the traditions and beliefs of Native Americans; some look to history and “re-kindle” Greek, Roman or Egyptian mythologies; then there are the neo-pagan religions of Wicca and the eclectic lifestyles and approaches of Green Witches, Hedgewitches and Kitchen Witches. There are Discordians and the followers of the Feri tradition, modern-day neo-shamans, magickians, wizards and witches. But not every pagan is a witch!

Pagans can be monotheists (believing in one god or goddess), polytheists (believing in two or more gods/goddesses), polyentheists (believing that god/goddess exists in all things) or even atheists (no belief in a god/goddess).

Paganism can (although does not have to) incorporate occult studies, and indeed some occultists would not describe themselves as pagan, although some definitely would. The occult world includes Thelemites (who follow the religion/philosophy of Aleister Crowley), Satanists (Satanism as created by Anton LeVey in the 1960s), Luciferians, Gnostics, Qabbalists … the list is virtually endless.

Isn’t it a bit vague having so many different paths under one word?
Yes and no. It can appear vague and confusing when you first approach paganism, but once you start learning, studying and exploring you will be overwhelmed with the richness both of paganism and the diversity of the people attracted to it. One thing is key amongst pagans: to accept the path that the other person walks. There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!

Is paganism a cult?
No, paganism is not a cult. There is no one figure who commands all pagans. Even though there are occasionally oddballs proclaiming that they are, for example, King or Queen of the Witches, this is something rejected by pagans and usually cause for much hilarity.

We abhor bullying and coercion in any area of life and this is something that goes very much against the Pagan Path. To reiterate the previous answer: There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!

The word “cult” is often used as a slur word to disparage someone else’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Often people using the word “cult” have their own agenda of conflict and negativity, rather than a true desire to promote spirituality and personal growth.

Are pagans devil worshippers?
The majority of pagans do not believe in the devil; Satan or the devil for them is a construct of Judeo-Christian religions and mythology. There is a lot of confusion in this area as the pagan image of, for example, Pan (who is the god of nature, hunting and revelry) has been subsumed into Christian culture as the epitome of “what the devil looks like”. Pan is by no means an evil god, and many pagans would even dispute the existence of evil itself, but would say that “evil” is energy just as “good” is energy: a gun is only a piece of metal until the gun-holder decides how to use it. This is a key point within paganism: there is no doctrine telling us what is wrong or right. We each carry a heavy responsibility as to how we use this “moral energy”. It would be easier if we were told what to do, but instead we have to cultivate self-awareness, respect of others, sensitivity to the environment, a knowledge of cause and effect and make our decisions bearing all this in mind within our spiritual framework.

Are pagans witches?
Some pagans are witches, but the majority are not. Many pagans do not practise witchcraft or spellwork. Witches can come in many guises: some are Wiccans, some Dianic witches, Green Witches, Hedgewitches, Kitchen witches, etc. Traditional witchcraft and Voodoo even draw on the spellcraft of Pennsylvanian Christian pow wow magic. Witchcraft is like a river with many tributaries feeding it – some of which lead to surprising sources.

What is a pagan ritual?
The answer to this will depend very much on which tradition you choose to work with. A pagan ritual in general will aim at focusing the energy of the person or participants (if it is group work); this energy can be drawn from themselves or from any of the Five Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether/Spirit, for example. Sometimes the energy is focused on sending healing to people, or on blessing the group, reconnecting with deity or many other things.

Rituals can be either in a group or worked individually. Rituals can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. The main point, however, is to learn the basics and for that there are many good books and (through the Herefordshire Moot) willing people to teach and advise you.

Do pagans believe in Jesus?
Some do and some do not. Many pagans believe in a wide variety of higher beings. Jesus is one of these beings for some pagans. Some believe he was a great spiritual teacher, but not a god. Some have no feelings about him at all.

Who is the pagan god?
There is no single pagan god. As mentioned before, some pagans believe in one god or goddess, some believe in two or more and some believe in none. It depends on the tradition you are called to work with.

What do pagans do?
Pagans are just like anybody else. You will find pagans working in industry, in the military, employed, unemployed, well, sick, happy, sad, divorced, married, hand-fasted (pagan marriage) and other. Most pagans will work around the pagan year honouring the equinoxes and solstices, marking the new moon and full moon. Some will do elaborate rituals in groups or on their own, some will do nothing more than light a candle and internally connect with what is important to them.

Do pagans pray?
Some pagans pray in what would be recognised as a “traditional way”, others use forms of meditation, drumming, chanting or dancing. There are many ways of connecting with deity and pagans are pragmatic in that, if it works, they’ll try it!

Where are the pagan churches?
Most pagans would say that their church is Nature and that She is where they worship. Others might say that when they cast a circle (create a sacred space), that is their church. Since pagans believe that deity is everywhere, however deity is conceived, the idea of a fixed building in which to worship is unnecessary.

How do you become a pagan?
Try firstly to read as much as you can about paganism and its different offshoots. Meet up with pagans. Ask lots of questions! When you feel the time is right, you will know how best to dedicate yourself to your chosen path and deity or deities. Most people begin with a personal, individual dedication. Groups, such as covens (not all groups of pagans are covens), do not usually allow people to join them until they have shown a commitment to studying and learning about that particular path. A moot, however, is a social environment for meeting pagans: you don’t even have to be pagan to come along, just bring your interest and respect for others.

What do I need to be a pagan?
You only need yourself and a sincere interest to learn, a yearning in your belly that this is where you belong, combined with an open heart and mind for your fellow pagans. No one is going to judge you if you step on this Path and decide at a later date it is not for you. Our Paths can be winding ones, and each step teaches us something valuable.

Why do people say bad things about pagans?
People often ridicule what they do not understand. Hollywood has also created many damaging and untrue stereotypes. This is why it is important for people genuinely interested in paganism to inform themselves from reputable authors and to meet up with real pagans. You cannot teach your paganism by watching “Charmed” or “The Craft” or any other light entertainment. Paganism is a spiritual way of living that requires commitment, soul-searching, self-awareness and hard work. Nothing worth having comes easily, but the joy of finding yourself on the right Path with like-minded others can’t be overestimated.

©StarofSeshat 2011