Posts Tagged ‘thorn coyle’

I was baptized Methodist and confirmed Episcopalian.  I discovered paganism when The Spiral Dance was published and waffled back and forth between Christian and pagan for the better part of twenty years, until I began practicing a form of Hermetic magic that pointed me to Buddhism, and I took refuge.
I am an Anglican, a Druid, a witch, a priestess, an Advanced Adept of the New Hermetics, an upasika of the Dharma.
I am not an Anglican, or a Druid, or a witch, or a magician, or a Buddhist.
“This also is Thou; neither is this Thou,” said Charles Williams, who was himself an Anglican, a magician, and a writer.  All beings are images and sacraments of God, yet God is beyond being and not-being and escapes, transcends, defies all definition or description.  This is as true of individual, contingent beings, perhaps, as it is of the Absolute.
Two weeks ago, on Good Friday evening, as it happened, I had the good fortune to hear Thorn Coyle give a talk.  Thorn published her second book in March, Kissing the Limitless: Deep Magic and the Great Work of Transforming Yourself and the World, and did a promotional tour, bringing copies of both her books, of her CD Songs for the Waning Year, in collaboration with Sharon Knight, and her Devotional Dance DVD.  I’ve been following Thorn on Livejournal for several years; one of my online friends apprenticed with her, and I was eager to hear her speak.
Thorn stood up in front of a hot, crowded room, a tall slim fortysomething wearing big stompy boots and fetching red spectacles, and led us in a chant from her CD, calling on the Elements.  We sang a simple ground while she tapped out the rhythm on a frame drum and sang the melody over us.  Most of us in the audience were between forty-five and sixty-five, though there were a few folks in their twenties whose appearance was coded “Edgy and queer Feri apprentice”; the singing was considerably more robust than what I normally hear at my husband’s church.
Thorn is not as glamorous in person as she appears in photo shoots, but still photographs cannot convey the aura of someone who is really present, right where she’s standing, who occupies her body completely and knows where her energy is and how to move it.  She spoke simply, freely, spontaneously, after reading an excerpt from the new book, then fielded questions, then rounded things off with the elemental chant to close before signing books for another hour or so.  What she said was nothing I hadn’t heard before, read before, perhaps written myself, in my journal.  But she said it from that state of presence, with energy and eloquence, and it is still resonating for me, like the last chord lingering in the vault after the anthem is sung.
What has stayed with me most were her words on integration.  On including and accepting all of our parts rather than transcending something–ignoring it, renouncing it, even cutting it off–because it seems not to be working for us.
“If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out,” says Jesus, in the Authorised Version.  “If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut it off.”  No, says Thorn: Include. Accept.  Know Thyself.  Love Thyself.
I found myself, in the week following her talk (which was also the week following Easter Day, when I had time to think), realizing how consistently I practice transcendence, how I renounce things that aren’t working for me and dramatically push them away.  On the most practical level, this means that there are books I have owned three or four copies of, buying them and renouncing them.  On a deeper level, I don’t know what parts of me are hiding out so deep I can’t find them, afraid to speak up or show their faces lest they be cut off and shoved away.
I am able to do this, at least: To renounce renunciation.  To give up cutting things out or cutting them off and pushing them away.  To renounce labels and definitions and also to renounce discarding labels and definitions.  Yes, I am still an Anglican.  I will always carry that sensibility, the idea that Truth is more reliably found in music, poetry, and story than in dogmas, prescriptions, and propositions.  Yes, I am a Druid, a Revival Druid, for whom Arthurian legend and Welsh poetry echo with Truth even where their facts are wrong.  I am an Advanced Adept of the New Hermetics; I earned that title with nine months of daily work and a workshop in Florida that was my first time travelling alone.  My default setting for witchcraft and paganism is still Reclaiming and Feri rather than British Traditional Wicca or Reconstructionist movements.  And yes, I am a Buddhist; the Dharma is the great canopy under which everything fits, the mandala where everything has a place.
You can call me any of those things, or call me nothing.  You can call me eclectic or syncretic or both.  Maybe the best thing to call me is a Mahayanist: I have come to believe that the Mahayana perspective of the bodhisattva, the one who seeks freedom and enlightenment in order to help others do the same, is the truest perspective on the spiritual life.  I’ve also come to believe that magic is the Vajrayana of the West, the accelerated method of attaining buddhahood in this lifetime so as to benefit all beings.
Some days I don’t feel like a daily spiritual practice is worth it.  Right now I have set myself the goal of learning the traditional pentagram and hexagram rituals that come out of the Golden Dawn tradition, starting with one month of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.  It’s a struggle to pull myself together after dinner, put on the robe and the Rose Cross lamen, and buzz out those Hebrew Names. What am I doing this for? What good does it do me, or anyone?  At least the morning exercise practice has made me feel noticeably, significantly better.
But I do it, because I’ve decided to take myself seriously as an Adept, someone who has taken that bodhisattva vow to save all others, one for all and all for one, someone who has training and experience and dedication and intention and a clear vision of what’s necessary.  I see that motivation of wisdom and compassion, what Buddhism calls bodhicitta, spreading amongst neopagans and magical practitioners, and I am happy.  In a few hundred years we will have a truly American Buddhism, and it will be pagan as much as Christian as much as Buddhist, just as the Dharma became Tibetan and Chinese and Japanese.
The Work is there to be done.  Some of us will do it as teachers and public figures, and some of us, like me, will do it as solitaries, even hermits (hermits in the Tarot sense).  Some of us will do it with religious labels, and some without; some of us will do it as Pagans, some as Christians, some as Buddhists, some as humanists, some as witches.  There is enough Work for all of us; there is a proper Work for each of us.  I show up for my day job, read and write, and try to do my share.  You can, too.

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There is a large chessboard laid out on the floor in the central court of the library where I work. The chess pieces are three or four feet high.  Two men are playing a game, while a couple of others stand watching.  I think this is for National Library Week.
I keep reading on our local weather blog that much of the state is in borderline drought conditions.  It seems to me, however, like we have had constant rain for weeks, or at least, constant cloud cover and occasional drizzle.  My neighborhood is bursting with daffodils and hyacinths, flowering pear, ornamental cherries in bloom, and fresh green grass; it doesn’t look or feel like drought conditions to me, but I’m no expert, I only go by what I see and smell and feel.
The smell of a single pot of hyacinths fills our shrine room and overwhelms all but the richest of incense.
I’ve been hiding in my virtual hermit shack for a while, experimenting with other blogging sites and other names.  But I find myself back here, even if I’m no longer sure what I’m confessing, or that “druid” is a right name for my spiritual practice.  Yesterday was the first anniversary of my Taking Refuge as a Buddhist, with a lama of the Drikung Kagyu tradition.  In that year I’ve learned I can no more be a Good Little Buddhist than I managed to be a Good Little Anglican.  I’ve also learned that I’m still an Anglican, to the extent that I still have an Anglican sensibility and a relationship to the tradition, fragile and imperiled as it is, and that I am and will continue to be a Buddhist.  I’m also a magician, a pagan, and possibly even a witch.  Oh yes, and a druid–a member in good standing, if not a very active one, of a Revival Druid order.
Buddhism, you see, gave me the key to understanding the spiritual path, what it’s for, what it’s all about.  It gave me The View (to use the Buddhist term–I don’t mean the ladies’ talk show!) from which to look at my experiences of religion, magic, and spirituality and see them as a whole.  As Isis reassembled the scattered pieces of Osiris and made him whole, so Buddhism, for me, has reassembled the scattered pieces of Western Dharma, in Christianity, paganism, Gnosticism, and magic, and made them come to life–even if, like Isis, there might be a piece here and there I have to create for myself.
So right now I’m reading about Buddhism, still, mostly from Zen abbot John Daido Loori, rebuilding a New Hermetics practice, and starting to work with teachings from Thorn Coyle, whom I had the privilege of meeting and hearing speak last Friday night (which deserves its own post).  And watching things bloom, hearing mourning doves call, wondering about that dog who seems to be always in the yard and never indoors, and, at the moment, about to have lunch.  You’ll hear more from the hermit shack later.

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Thorn Coyle asks:


What do I call myself? 25 years ago, I would have said a Witch. These days, I might say I am a Pagan Mystic seeking to spread joy and unfold the Mystery. Twenty years from now, I will likely say something else. Twenty years from that, perhaps I will cease to need any identification at all….
I do not care what you call yourself or by which label you identify. What I care about are these: Do you love? Do you practice? Do you spread joy and seek out Mastery? Are you attempting to know yourself? Are you strong? Are you kind? How do you deepen? What is your commitment? 

As for the rest, I barely care anymore. I feel grateful for my training. I feel grateful for the beauty that traditions give rise to, just as I feel grateful for any great art or science. But I also feel grateful for poppies and lavender, and laughter, and well made hummus with raw vegetables, and chocolate pot du creme. I feel grateful for deep thinkers, and bright lovers, for stone circles on hilltops and drinking tea in bed during a rainstorm.

My religion is connection. What is yours? How do you identify?

A lot of people answered. Their answers are well worth reading. I replied:

Oh how I wish I had a simple answer to your questions. 

I have been struggling for about a year with the paradox of having taken refuge in the Three Jewels, and finding in Buddhism an overarching system that makes sense of *everything*, including Western religions/wisdom traditions, and still not feeling ready to *identify* as “a Buddhist”.

And struggling with the reality that every other religion or path I have tried, before the Dharma, has somehow let me down.

My motivation is bodhicitta: getting myself together, getting myself free, so that I can help other beings get free. One for all and all for one. My practices are Buddhist, Hermetic, devotional, creative/artistic. Trying to be aware of what’s happening, to remember my motivation, and to do my practices and take the practice attitude into the rest of life.

When I sit at my desk at home, I am facing a gathering of objects and images. My desk is an altar, or a shrine. I don’t always write there or sit there to do inner work, but it is my space, my own. I face a gilded statue of Tara, the great bodhisattva who liberates from fear, who vowed to achieve enlightenment in a woman’s body or not at all. To her right and left are a smaller Tara statue of black resin and a tiny Ganesh of painted clay. Ganesh is the Remover of Obstacles; we talk over offerings of chocolate, and he helps me find my way.
There are two abstract statues by Abby Willowroot, a black Goddess and a white God decorated with spiral and tree patterns. There is a small statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a slightly larger one of the Buddy Christ from the movie Dogma. A black Buddha sitting zazen and a clay-colored Isis offering her breast. Feathers from my birds, stones, shells, a cauldron for incense, a blue clay cup of water, candles. At various times my wand, my ritual blade, my pantacle for magical work have joined the display.
On another wall in the same room is a Buddha shrine in Tibetan Buddhist style, with a brocade covering, statues of buddhas and bodhisattvas, seven small offering bowls filled with water. Icons of Christian saints line the walls of the hallway. How do I identify? what do I call myself?
Where I sit is where I stand. I have symbols of what has been sacred to me, what is magical, what is helpful, what points me to spirit and helps me practice. I look at spiritual practitioners around me, blogging on the Internet, appearing in the news, passing through my life, and ask: What is your motivation? Do you have the mind-heart of enlightenment, the altruistic drive that Buddhism calls bodhicitta? Are you in it just to biggify yourself, or do you seek your own freedom and fulfillment in order to share that with other people, with all sentient beings? Do you show patience, kindness, compassion? Do you offer wisdom or just buzz-words? Do you come back to your ideals when you fail of them, or do you just rationalize it for yourself?
You might call me eclectic, or syncretic. But where I stand is the Mahayana perspective of the bodhisattva vow, the motivation of bodhicitta, one for all and all for one, and how I move, how I practice is the accelerated means that the East calls Tantra or Vajrayana and the West calls Magic: Enlightenment in this lifetime. Or not long after, I hope.

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I came back from lunch to find this entry on Livejournal from Feri witch Thorn Coyle:

Note to Self:

Do not believe anything – even personal revelation – that you have not brought into your practice.

Do not believe anything – even sacred text – that you have not brought into your practice.

Practice changes us. Practice gives us context. Practice moves us and moves through us. Practice makes space, acting as a container for the blinding light and umbrous shadow.

Do not believe until you have swallowed the truth whole, digested it, and let it seep through your pores. Do not believe until the truth affects the way you walk, talk, sit, laugh, and dance. Do not believe until the truth has shattered and rebuilt your heart and resurfaced the landscape of your mind and soul.

Until that happens, hold a spot of reservation. Set forth a time of testing. Continue to ask questions. Sink into your practice…

By the time belief arrives, it should feel a lot like Knowledge.

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