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Lent

As many of you know, today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. What you may not know is why a Pagan would write about it on her blog.

As I’ve mentioned before, my husband is Catholic. What is ironic is that I’m the one who usually gives up something in the Lenten tradition of sacrifice. He hasn’t done it as long as I’ve known him – for the past several years.

In past years, I’ve given up habit-forming, mostly meaningless consumable goods, such as gum and pop. It was always more of a test of will than anything else, although I suppose I did want to break bad habits. It was made even more meaningless by the fact that I always picked it back up after Lent – although for awhile (a few years or so), I drank a lot less pop than I had previously.

But this year I’d really like to change a bad habit I have: when my alarm goes off every morning, I turn it off, roll over, and go back to sleep. Usually I’m not late for work or anything, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. I rush, I skip breakfast, I rush my son through his morning, I drive like a maniac, and we get to the daycare both feeling harried and cranky.

So my sacrifice – or rather, personal change – this year will be getting up with my alarm. Giving up those extra minutes (erm, make that nearly an hour) to do right by my son and myself and give us a better start to each day. Give us a healthier existence during the week.

Do you sacrifice something for Lent? If so, what do you sacrifice and why? If not, do you have another time you try to improve your habits?

Blessed be,
Spirit

Depression

To my faithful readers, I would like to extend my most sincere apologies for my long absence. At first, my numerous holiday plans with various friends and family kept me away. After that, I found it difficult to get back into a routine where blogging was concerned. However, if you stick around and continue to read, I promise I will plan my posts around the holidays and afterwards, so you will always have something to read (and discuss) if you want it. Oh, and by the way, the title of this post has nothing to do with my lack of posting.

I suffer from chronic clinical depression. I have been on and off medication, and in and out of therapy, for years.

It has taken me that long to realize that I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. My current life situation at any given time may add to my depression or not, but the underlying cause is neurological.

I have found that the best solution for me is a combination of a small daily dose of a common antidepressant and an hour-long weekly session with my current therapist, who is, like me, a (somewhat) young mother of one boy – although she is not as young as me. Even though we don’t usually talk about her life, being able to relate to her helps me to feel comfortable and productive.

I struggled for years to come to terms with this diagnosis (which took several therapists to come to, which did not help me) and with the fact that I could not fix it alone by sheer force of will – no matter how hard I tried.

Sometimes religions will tell us that to be depressed is a sin – in fact, sadness used to be considered one of the deadly sins. To be sad is to despair. To despair is to be without hope. To be without hope, and therefore without faith, is to be without God. If one believes in God, one believes that everything will turn out as it should – as God wills it to be so. So the early Christian philosophers believed.

And while I do see their point and agree to a certain extent, I am still clinically depressed. I believe in karma, that things will turn out the way they should. And I believe in God (and Goddess). But I also believe in science, in medicine, and in psychology.

Here is my question for you: What do you believe, in regards to depression? Is it a medical/psychological condition that requires some type of outside help to correct? Is it a lack of faith, momentary or permanent? Please leave a comment with your thoughts so we may discuss this further.

Blessed be,
Spirit

Illness

I work in a preschool, where there is a tendency for bacteria and viruses to abound. Science tells us to keep our hands clean, to avoid contact with people who are sick so that we don’t become sick as well. But how does a person get sick in the first place? Why does the first person to carry a germ get sick?

When I was growing up, my family attended one of two churches: Unity and Science of Mind. Most everyone I know is unfamiliar with both of these, so I’ll try my best to explain them.

Unity (which is not, and has nothing to do with, Unitarian Universalism) could be described as non-denominational Christan, except for one thing: many of its members don’t believe that Jesus Christ is a/the Saviour. There are two reasons for this: one, my parents and many of their friends from church do not believe in the concept of sin, and therefore, do not believe they need to be saved (from sin or anything else for that matter). Two, they believe that God is present in everyone, and Jesus Christ was not unique in this. They do believe he was a great teacher, leader by example, perhaps even a prophet of sorts. I happen to agree with them, on all of these accounts.

Science of Mind (which is not, and has nothing to do with, Scientology) is very similar, with more emphasis on practices commonly called “New Age “: meditation, visualization, and a progressive outlook. They believe in the power of prayer and meditation to both clear one’s mind in order to more easily receive God’s wisdom, and to affect change on the physical plane. These are also things I believe.

My point being, my parents had a profound effect on my current beliefs. I think people either go one way or the other: either they completely disagree with their parents’ take on religion and choose something else, or they accept those beliefs for the most part and continue the family traditions.

Because I went in the latter direction, I often think about both Wiccan/Pagan and Unity/Science of Mind answers to questions. So when I ask why we get sick, this is how I think about it:

Science of Mind teaches us to think of ourselves as perfect, whole, and complete. This is drastically different than the belief that humans are inherently flawed – a belief that is present in many religions worldwide. SoM preaches that because God is a part of all things, and we are all part of him/her/it, we cannot help but be perfect, whole and complete. Illness happens when we forget that, or when someone doesn’t know how perfect, whole, and complete s/he really is.

Wicca says that illness is a product of negative energy. When we are stressed, or just preoccupied, we are more vulnerable to negativity. There are spiritual exercises that one can do to keep negative energy out, but even when a person practices these, s/he may become preocccupied and forget to allow only positive energy in.

What do I believe? Both. They’re not mutually exclusive concepts, so I integrate both ideas. But I certainly wash my hands, too. I work with kids, after all.

What do you think? Are you more inclined to stick to the scientific explanations (and methods of preventions), or do you have a faith-based answer?

Snow

As a Pagan, I hold deep respect for all things in nature. I have always felt a connection with nature, even before I knew the terms “Pagan” and “Wiccan” and found myself identifying with them. I love the sun and the moon, and each change of season thrills me to my core.

A reverence for nature is one of the cornerstones of Pagan beliefs. We love and respect the land, water, sky, plants, and animals. We observe the Wheel of the Year by celebrating each change of season.

One of the best things about winter is the snow. I live in central Ohio, and we’ve had a really cold fall (Pagans mark the winter season as beginning on December 21 – Yule, which I’ll discuss later). It’s already snowed a few times, and this past weekend was a big one. It took at least twice as long to drive anywhere on Saturday (my aunt who visited from a usual 45-minute drive away didn’t get home until 2 1/2 hours later)!

But it is very beautiful – the way it transforms the landscape, making me feel as though I ‘ve been transported to a different world entirely. I can’t help but feel that it is holy and magical (as cheesy as that sounds – I’m speaking from the heart here).

Think about it: snow is white, and it’s water (albeit frozen water) – two of the most common symbols for purity. What could be holier and more magical than that? Each snowflake is unique, just as each soul is unique. From far away, snowflakes seem quite simple, but when they are examined closely, the reality is clear: they are really fairly complex. Many things in nature have more detail to appreciate if we take the time to look at them.

Snow angels, of course, are easily spiritual, and easily made: what other symbol of holiness is as easy as laying down and waving your arms and legs? Snowmen, snowball fights, and sledding are just fun, and fun is always a religious experience.

The snowflake also has six points. The number six has a plethora of religiously and spiritually significant meanings. It is especially important in Judaism: it is the day that God created Man (this works for Christianity as well), it is the number of points on a Star of David, the number of orders of the Mishnah, and the number of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate. Six is also a lucky number in Chinese culture.

Extra-sensory perception is also known as the “sixth sense”. Cubes, dice, dominoes, braille: all have a maximum of six. I’m also a fan of the theory of six degrees of separation. And an interesting side note: six is also a recurring theme in many areas of pop culture, including the revived series of Doctor Who.

What do you like about the snow? Is it special or significant to you in any way?

Blessed be,
Spirit

Open

Last night I finally came out to my counselor about my faith – sometimes Wiccans refer to this as “coming out of the broom closet”.

I’m not always open about what I believe – I’ve been burned before, and had that not been the case, I would share it rather quickly. I don’t share it with everyone, and especially refrain from talking about my religion to my relatives outside of my immediate family.

But I work at a Jewish preschool where many of the teachers are not Jewish. So when I’m talking to another teacher and the inevitable question comes up (“Are you Jewish?”), I’ve typically answered, “No, I’m Pagan – with strong Wiccan leanings.”

Most people I meet have no background knowledge of Paganism or Wicca, like they do with Christianity, Judaism, and a few other religions. Because there are many facets to my faith, it can be difficult to give a comprehensive summary of my beliefs. So I feel like I’ve been explaining my beliefs a lot lately.

I had mentioned the importance of my spirituality to my counselor before, but in 6 months, I had never revealed my actual beliefs. Both she and my coworkers assumed I was Christian. It doesn’t bother me to clarify my spirituality at all – in fact, it’s something I’m quite passionate about. I love to talk about faith, spirituality, and world religions. Why else would I blog about them?

In seeking therapy, I wanted to leave out the details of my spiritual life, since I don’t feel it’s an area I need to work on. And frankly, I didn’t want to be judged until after I had established a relationship with this counselor and what I did want to discuss. Not to mention it’s a little complicated. People ask me what I mean by that, and to be honest, I don’t always know exactly.

But I’m okay with that. And I’m okay with me, all parts of me, no matter what. The way others judge me does not change who I am, and (usually) does not affect me in the least.

Now I’d like to feel like I’m not talking to myself open up the conversation to my readers. What are your religious beliefs? How much of a presence are they in your life? How comfortable are you with sharing them with friends, family, and coworkers or classmates? Please feel free to comment below, or if you’d prefer not to discuss it in public, email me at spiritstrength [at] gmail [dot] com.

Blessed be,
Spirit

December

Every year, fall comes and I start to get excited. The best holidays are the fall and winter ones.

I celebrate Hallowe’en, or Samhain (pronounced SAH-vin or SAH-win), as it is known to the Pagan community. It’s a bit more for me than just dressing in costume and carving pumpkins to make jack-o’-lanterns. It is also the time when we remember those who have passed from this world to the next.

So although I get a little excited for Hallowe’en because of the fun commercial aspect of it, it’s also a little sad. Also, the sunlight is starting to wane more noticeably, and I really miss it when I barely see it barely see it during the day.

Thanksgiving I certainly look forward to because it is a wonderful time of family (and food!) and it reminds us to count our blessings. Black Friday I tend to avoid. I did it once and really have no desire to do it again – it’s not that I don’t like a good deal, but I can’t see why I should get up that early for one, and fight through sometimes lethal crowds to get a material possession. I can be materialistic, but I do draw a line. And yes, it was literally lethal this year. Three people died on Black Friday, one of whom was an employee, and more were injured, one of whom was a pregnant woman. I do not miss working in retail.

But I digress. Many radio stations play nonstop holiday music after Thanksgiving, and some start even earlier than that. I’ll confess I snuck in a song or two before the Black Friday mark this year, but I really prefer to wait until after T-Day, and even as long as until December first.

And on December first, when I turn on the holiday music, open up that first chocolate on my countdown-to-Christmass calendar from my mom, I start to feel really happy. Something about putting up and decorating the tree (we have an artificial one), watching the Grinch, and making my Yule decorations just puts me in a joyful mood. I’m more chipper at work, more patient with my family, and I look forward to each day instead of dreading it.

I think the lesson to take away from this is to remember these joyful, kind, patient feelings, and translate them to the rest of the year. To make every day the first of December is truly to be in the holiday spirit.

Blessed be,
Spirit

Today I’m thankful for the Puritans

I realize this sounds strange coming from a Pagan, but I am thankful for the 17th-century Puritans. Why? For rejecting England’s religion to found their own. Obviously, I don’t think everything they did was right. For instance, burning people they assumed to be “witches”.

But they did have a few things going for them, namely the courage to stand up for what they believed in. They left a fairly safe, comfortable existence in the UK to sail to the New World, complete with a different climate, natives whom they feared, and little knowledge of their new home. I’m not sure that I would be brave enough to do the same.

Whatever other problems our country may have, I still have the legal right to worship in what way I please. And we’re only 53 days away from ousting a man dedicated to taking that away.

Blessed be,
Spirit