Archive for the ‘Buddhists & Buddhism’ Category

Lent began on Wednesday the 22d. I said the Daily Office but did not attend any services. (I was amused and appalled that a local Episcopal church, my own denomination, described their service as “Ashing & Holy Communion”. I thought the heirs of Cranmer and Hooker could do better than that.) Will I engage in acts of fasting and self-denial? Probably not, although I may say the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross privately. Years ago I read in a Roman Catholic publication that the Lenten fast grew out of the conditions of pre-industrial living: Before factory farming and refrigeration, the winter stores of food that made the Yuletide so jolly were nearly exhausted by February, and new foods were not yet available. Beginning in early February (Imbolc/Candlemas), milk, butter, and cheese became available thanks to the birth of lambs; as the days got longer, chickens began to lay again. (Perhaps that’s why eggs are associated with the Spring Equinox–chickens would be laying reliably by then, if not sooner.)

Am I a Christian? I don’t know. I believe that Jesus was an incarnation of divinity and a great teacher, perhaps the most important teacher of the Western traditions. I don’t think he was the sole embodiment of divinity, but rather a model for what all human persons are capable of. I could say I believe in him, but I don’t really have much of a relationship with him. I have much more of a relationship with Julian of Norwich, whose writings I have studied in more depth and with more devotion than I have given any book of the Christian Scriptures.

Am I a Pagan, then? Again, I don’t know. I think many gods exist; I think many spirits or wights, beings neither human nor divine, angel nor devil, exist. I think some of them are benevolently interested in humankind, a few are actively hostile to us, and many are basically indifferent. But I don’t have much of a relationship with any non-Christian deity, either. I have gained strength and benefit from the practice of Tara and Medicine Buddha in Tibetan Buddhist contexts. I definitely have a relationship with birds, all birds, not just my own companions; anywhere I go, birds seem to recognize me, to know that I am a safe human, to come near to me. On the other hand, I have actually tried to cultivate relationships with some Celtic deities who seemed interested in me, and that situation seems to have resulted in FAIL all round.

Am I a Buddhist? No, as much as I admire Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, as much as I have learned from studying and practicing it. Perhaps Dion Fortune and her successors were right in saying Eastern methods are not for Western methods. Perhaps I just had too many years of Western religion and magic behind me, too many patterns formed, before I discovered Buddhism; I might be a thorough-going Buddhist if I’d made contact with it in my early twenties.

Am I a Druid, even? Probably not. I’m feeling like I’ve made repeated efforts, alone and as part of a group, to connect with Druidry, with the traditions of Arthur and Merlin and Taliesin, with faery lore, with bardic lore, with the Druid Revival and with more Reconstructionist systems, all to no avail. I’ve been banging my head against a wall, or possibly knocking at a door that just won’t open, and I’m exhausted by it. I want a holiday from all things Druidic and Celtic and Arthurian, except possibly Celtic music and episodes of the BBC’s Merlin.

What am I? I’m a married woman; a writer; a library paraprofessional; a singer, or former singer, specifically a chorister; and… a magician? a mage? an Adept of the New Hermetics? I trained with Jason Augustus Newcomb in the original New Hermetics course, in 2005-2006, and have completed all levels through Advanced Adept (equivalent to the Golden Dawn’s Adeptus Major). I have the certificates and the Rose Cross lamen to prove it. And for the last year, I’ve been trying to get my act together and undertake Jason’s revised version of the course.

I think about saying, “I’m a Hermeticist… I’m a Hermetic magician…” and the words just don’t want to come out of my mouth. I think about saying, “I’m a magician–” and my brain adds, “–not a priestess!” and follows it up with Bones McCoy growling, “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” (I believe that episode, “Devil in the Dark“, was the first appearance of the Great McCoy Disclaimer, which has since been echoed by every other Starfleet doctor.)

Here are a few things I’m certain of:

  • I’m interested in religious and magical traditions and what I can learn from them, even if I never identify with or practice them. This has been true of me since I was a child and read the grown-up books on comparative religion.
  • The New Hermetics has worked better for me as a spiritual practice than pretty much anything else I’ve ever tried.
  • I am convinced of the rightness of the Mahayana Buddhist approach: To seek the fullest possible personal freedom and self-development in order to help other beings achieve the same thing. I cannot be genuinely free and genuinely happy while others are trapped and miserable; helping others is an essential part of my own fulfillment. Helping others may not look like anything more than doing my library job, keeping this blog, and helping individuals as opportunity arises, but it is still part of the Great Work.

So I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to reflect… whatever I’ve changed into.

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Dear readers, I think I have gone as far on this forest path as I can go. I no longer fit comfortably under the heading “druid”, and I fit even less appropriately under the heading “pagan”. I have worn out my desire to have a single definitive label, category, or heading, which is probably no surprise to long-time readers. I have been moving slowly away from paganism, neopaganism, and druidry for a while now.

I have also, in the past year, thoroughly worn out my desire to join or to belong, to be a member of an organization and to follow a group program. I am no longer a member of AODA; my ADF membership will expire soon, and I have no plans to renew it. I remain a member in good standing of the Episcopal church that employs my husband (that is, I show up to make my communion at least the canonical twice a year, at Christmas and Easter), but I have no interest in active membership, nor do I wish to affiliate formally with the Order of Julian of Norwich as I formerly have done.

Druidry, especially of the Revival, will continue to be of interest to me, as will Tibetan Buddhism and the Anglo-Catholic Christianity I grew up with. Living a spiritual life, conscious, connected, and creative, continues to be of interest to me. And blogging will continue, I think, to be of interest to me, and I shall try to do more of it in a new place, at Notes of a Wayward Anglican.

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A couple of weeks ago, I found myself interested in the Gnostics again. Like the sinking of the Titanic, the early Christian Gnostics are a topic I get interested in and read about fairly intensely every once in a while.

This time I ordered a couple of books from Amazon and started reading The Gospel of Philip: Annotated and Explained by Andrew Philip Smith. I also Kindled Voices of Gnosticism, an anthology of interviews with prominent scholars of Gnosticism and early Christianity.

I haven’t finished either of those books yet. They’re good, well worth reading if you’re interested in Gnosticism and/or early Christianity. The problem is that I got bored with the Gnostics themselves, not with the books I was reading. The Gospel of Philip is a fascinating text, full of vibrant imagery, perhaps almost as important in the big picture of early Christianity as the Gospel of Thomas. At times I am certain that it came out of a community that used sexual intercourse in a Tantric way, as a shortcut method to holiness, just as some (but not all) forms of Hindu and Buddhist Tantra use sex as a shortcut to enlightenment. At times I am certain that the Gnostics were the Vajrayana adepts of the early Church, the magicians who possessed the shortened way, and it was a terrible shame that they and their teachings were wiped out.

At other times, like lately, I think the Gnostics were a bunch of stuck-up snobs. Because there really is an Us and Them mentality in their writings, far sooner than the orthodox or catholic Christians (i.e., the winning team) began to think that way. The general thrust of the winning church’s teaching and missionizing and so forth was that the message of Jesus was for everyone, the grace of God was for everyone, there was no more division of Chosen Jews and unchosen Gentiles (or of slave and free, male and female–it’s right there in St. Paul), but *everybody* had been given a fresh chance through the saving action of Jesus.

With the Gnostics, though, there’s still an Us and a Them. It’s no longer the Usness of chosen Israel and their tangled history of relationship with YHVH vs. the ignorance of the nations (goyim); now it’s the Usness of the Gnostics, the Knowers, the Spiritual People (pneumatics, as the Greek texts call them) vs. the unwashed Them of the non-knowers, the unspiritual, the people the Gnostics called “psychics” (meaning “of the soul”) or “hylic” (meaning just material–Muggles, cowans, mundanes).

Obviously the human urge to create an Us and a Them is strong. It’s present in politics and fandom and sports and all areas of life, not just religion. That fans have words for non-fans, pagans have words for non-pagans, descriptive words like “liberal” have become derogatory epithets, and the Left Behind books have sold big all stands as evidence of this truth. But there’s also always this counter-thrust to include everybody. That’s why the more structured, less elitist, politically successful Christians called themselves Catholic, kata holos, for everybody. That’s why the early monastic traditions of Buddhism (possibly in contact with early Christianity) developed the concept of the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle, all aboard–a practitioner’s efforts toward enlightenment are not just for the isolated self, but for all sentient beings. Only when you have the Mahayana, the concept of working for the benefit of all, can you safely develop the Vajrayana, the secret special shortcut teachings that make possible enlightenment in! this! lifetime! so that you can benefit all sentient beings even more.

We may never be sure, really, if the Gnostics were adepts like the Tibetan lamas or just prigs with their noses in the air. There may not be enough of their literary remains to be sure. Scholars are already certain that, contrary to what their orthodox opponents said, they didn’t just make up heresies so they could seduce gullible women or have fancy bishop hats of their own; they had genuine religious motivations. But ultimately, I’m not interested in a system that doesn’t potentially include everybody. That includes types of Christianity or Paganism that reserve salvation or enlightenment or apotheosis for a chosen few. I don’t know if we’ll all Get There, but I believe we all have a chance.

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Well, apparently I am not a druid.  Again.

My attempts back in November to fulfill the requirements for NaBloPoMo and to make Druid spirituality my primary path both failed.  Since then I have wrestled repeatedly with the angelic conundrum of being attracted to a number of religious paths that I simply can not practice, or can not practice simply.

I’ve been attracted to Druidry since the early 1990s.  Back then I longed to join OBOD, but the cost was prohibitive; while my income has increased since those days, so has the cost of OBOD’s famous correspondence course.  Whatever the exchange rates between the pound and the U.S. dollar might be, the Atlantic has not gotten any smaller, and packets from OBOD will always have to cross it to get to prospective druids in the States.

I discovered the Ancient Order of Druids in America at the end of 2004, and I managed to achieve the first degree, Apprentice Druid, within a couple of years.  I’ve tried repeatedly to advance to second degree, but no matter my intentions, I repeatedly found myself not doing the work.  I am still a First Degree member in good standing, but the work for further degrees is not, I think, going to get done.

I learned today that there has been a big blow-up in another pagan tradition to which I’ve been attracted for years, the Feri or Faery tradition stemming from Victor and Cora Anderson.  Like many people, I think, I first heard of it through Starhawk’s mentions in The Spiral Dance, which I first read when I was thirteen and the book was brand new.  I was thrilled to discover that people actually worshipped the old gods whose stories I’d read throughout my childhood, and practiced a kind of magic, another topic I’d read about precociously.  I was enchanted, and I use the word in the fullest sense, with her descriptions of Victor’s Faery teachings, though that enchantment translated into lots of bad poetry rather than into trying the magical exercises or even performing rituals.

I still rather miss being an Anglican, particularly around Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  The Incarnation was and is far more important to me as a doctrine than the Atonement; the Atonement, for me, makes little sense without a stress on the Incarnation and has everything to do with Divine Love revealing itself in extremity and nothing to do with a wrathful Deity being bought off somehow by the torture of his Son.

Buddhism, especially the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet, is the thing that has been the most helpful and illuminating for me over the past five years or so.  Its philosophy explained so much of Western magic and religion in a newly coherent way, and the practices and community I found helped me deal with stress, train my mind, look at the big picture.  But I don’t live in circumstances where I have regular access to a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, and I’m not willing to make huge changes in my life–such as relocating to another city or learning to drive and buying a car for the first time–in order to do so.  I can’t help but feel that makes me a bad Buddhist, a half-assed practitioner, but I’m insistent that my spiritual practice reduce chaos and stress in my life (give or take a few necessary crises) rather than increase it, and moving or buying a car would definitely count as an increase in stress.  I can’t even switch tracks and practice with a Zen lineage, which might not be a bad thing; again, there’s no sangha with a teacher that’s accessible to me in time and place.

There’s a saying that is often useful even though it sounds ditzy: “Bloom where you’re planted.”  I prefer metaphors like, “Go through the door that’s open, or out the window if the door is locked.”  Or, “Deal with what lands in your lap.”  Recently two things have opened up for me or landed in my lap: The chance to take yoga classes and develop a practice, and the chance to study further with Jason Augustus Newcomb in the New Hermetics system.

I’ve been interested in yoga since I was a teenager (hm, along with Witchcraft and Druidry and what not else), and right before Christmas I discovered I was living a few blocks away from a thriving yoga studio.  I registered for their five-class beginners’ workshop, which started anew on December 23rd, and started attending regular beginner-level classes alongside my equally interested husband. The improvement we have both felt in strength, flexibility, pain relief, and overall well-being has been enormous, in a relatively short time. I can do things with my body that six weeks ago I would have sworn were impossible for me, and that’s after little more than a month of classes.  Those really terrifying postures you see on yoga calendars now look to me like a difference of quality, not of kind–like the difference between my own fiction and [insert Great Novel here] rather than like the difference between my body and an invertebrate’s.  Even now I’m looking forward to sweating through tomorrow night’s class and hoping that the mix of snow, sleet, and rain we’re predicted to get won’t cause a cancellation or make walking too treacherous.

Back in 2005, I was one of the first students to take the course that Jason based on his then-new book, The New Hermetics, and one of a few to make it through the whole program and go on to take the Advanced work two years later.  Jason’s system of mental and magical training worked better for me, in terms of both daily life management and of working big changes in my life, than any other spiritual practice had worked before.  It also led me to the Mahayana ideals of bodhichitta and dedicating the merit of one’s practice to the benefit of all beings, and thus to investigating Buddhism afresh and finding new answers and inspiration there.  When Jason recently announced that he was going to teach a beta version of a revised course, available to previous students at a hefty discount, I was right there like all the bad metaphors for being right there that you can think of–white on rice, ugly date, cheap suit, the works.

Actual work with the new program is starting in February, at Imbolc.  I’ll be lighting some candles for the Star Goddess again and asking for a blessing on the work.  My overriding goal for this re-training is to bring everything that I’ve learned, from Feri, Druidry, the Church, Buddhism, and wherever, and use the New Hermetics to contain it.  To put it another way, my goal is to cross-fertilize the New Hermetics, which comes out of a specific tradition of Western magic, with everything else that has worked for me.  I have, after all, spent over twenty years seeking, studying, learning, in a variety of traditions; perhaps it’s time for me to stop envying people who have spent as many years identifying by one name, one tradition (whilst no doubt studying many things), and start taking seriously what I’ve learned and bringing it to bear on the practice that I know I can work, and that will work for me.

To that end, I would like to stop posting here and renew posting at A Comfortable Oxymoron, to give myself a wider context in which to talk about walking the Path and undertaking the Great Work.  I will likely be cross-posting a version of this entry to that blog.  See you at the new URL, I hope.

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For ritual and meditation, I wear a white robe.  I purchased it online from Deva Lifewear, a company that handcrafts clothes from natural fabrics, mostly cotton.

The white robe has been traditional for Druids at least since the Revival, and probably longer.  The Brahmins of India and the flamens of Rome both wore white.  The heavenly saints in the book of Revelation wear white, probably for the same reason that the druids and Brahmins did: Because it is difficult and costly to produce by pre-industrial methods.  “Clothed in white garments, they follow Christ wherever he goes.”

The white robe is also the prerogative of the Adeptus in the Golden Dawn tradition.  I have trained to the level of Advanced Adept in the New Hermetics, which owes much to the Golden Dawn’s legacy.

And the white garment is the sign of the upasika or lay practitioner in Buddhism.  Lay men and women constitute the “white sangha”, contrasting with the red or yellow robes of the monastic sangha.  “In the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha most excellent I take refuge until enlightenment is reached. By the merit of generosity and the other good deeds, may I attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings.”

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I have been wondering, over the past week or two, what it is that has brought me back to Druidry, after several years of defining myself as Buddhist with increasing stringency, increasing exclusivity.  I thought I had left the grove forever, to be honest.

I was sitting in meditation tonight, turning over in my mind a phrase from Julian of Norwich, when the answer came to me.  It came, as it often does to druids, in the form of a quote from a story.

I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

That’s Genly Ai, the protagonist of what is perhaps Ursula K. Le Guin’s most famous novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. Genly Ai is sent by the Ekumen to negotiate with the inhabitants of Gethen, or Winter, a planet the midst of a glacial period.  But its perpetual cold is not the most alien thing about Winter, for the Gethenians are androgynes, who exhibit gender and are capable of sex only during a short estrus period each month.  Genly’s unaltering masculinity seems as peculiar and perverse to him as their steadfast public neutrality; an alien ambassador does not get to see the Gethenian experience of sex.

Despite my love of genderbending stories, Left Hand is not my favorite of Le Guin’s books, but its opening lines could be inscribed on the gateway of my mind like Dante’s “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’intrate” over the gates of Hell.  Truth is a matter of the imagination, or, to quote a Stephen King story, it is the tale, not he who tells it.

My imagination is not Buddhist.  It has room for Buddhism, for Sanskrit vocabulary and Tibetan thangkas, for Milarepa and Shabkar, for Green Tara and Medicine Buddha, for the five precepts and the six perfections and the ten non-virtuous actions.  But there is no way for me to scrub out of my imagination the things that are already there, part of the framework, part of the fabric:  Julian’s Showings and Dante’s great poem, Merlin’s visions and Arthur’s exploits, the hymns and Common Prayer of my Anglican childhood, the starship Enterprise and a time-travelling blue box.  To throw out any of those things would be like uprooting healthy trees in a grove in order to plant non-native trees–when the non-native trees and the native ones could flourish side by side.

The things which live in my imagination, which speak to me in my imagination, which take root in my imagination and refuse to be pruned away no matter how many times I root them up, those things are true.  And they mostly come in the form of stories, or songs, or poems, although also in pictures, and in the visual stories of film and television.  Druidry is the grove where all the trees of the imagination, along with the birds and the insects, the stones and the lichens, the fungus and the underbrush, are allowed to grow.  Druidry, even more than the Anglican sensibility of my childhood, recognizes that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

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People harm others only when they are unhappy. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I feel so great today! I think I’ll go out and harm someone!” When we can allow ourselves to know the depth of the pain and confusion felt by those who have harmed us, compassion—the wish that they be free from such suffering—can easily arise. Thinking in this way does not mean whitewashing or denying harm that was done. Rather, we acknowledge it, but go beyond amassing resentment, because we know that grudges help neither ourselves nor others.

from Working with Anger by Thubten Chodron, published by Snow Lion Publications

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