Pagan and New Age Books I’m Reading

So full disclosure, I think I’ve become a pagan. I’m still agnostic, I don’t believe firmly in any specific deity, although I do have a belief in a kind of universal energy that exists within all things. I guess you might call it a kind of animism which is typically a pagan belief system. I don’t ascribe to Wicca specifically because it has a few too many rules for my liking, so I am definitely an eclectic pagan. I do occasionally do little nature rituals, but I do what I feel speaks to me, not just following others’ ideas. I do enjoy reading about the various Gods and Goddesses because I believe they are important archetypes of various types of energy, but I don’t necessarily see them as beings actually existing in the physical realm.

So on to the video I’m sharing for today, this is just a brief overview of a few books about pagan and new age spirituality I have been reading recently:

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The Meaning of Age

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What is the meaning of age?

Is it wisdom?
Only if the time has been spent wisely.

Is it growth?
Only if given room and nourishment to grow.

Is it peace of mind?
Only if all has been found within.

Is it neglect?
Only if the choice is made to turn away.

Is it irrelevance?
Only if importance lies solely in fads.

Is it regret?
Only if wonder and honor are allowed to slip away.

Pony Gods

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Pony Gods
Written By: Maranda Russell

I pray to the Pony Gods.
I don’t know if they listen,
or even if they care,
but sometimes
they do seem to answer.

Why the Pony Gods?
Why not?

I figure the Pony Gods
have just as much a chance
of being good –
or being real
as the human ones.

Are You a Nowhere Man? All About Biases

The Beatles "Nowhere Man"

The Beatles “Nowhere Man”

I’ve said before that I think some of the best poetry snippets can be found in song lyrics. Not every musician or group writes great or even above-average lyrics, but when they do, I like to dissect the songs and really think about them. One song I have always felt a strong kinship with is “Nowhere Man” by The Beatles. I’m not sure many people really stop to think about the song as far as philosophy goes, but I find it full of a kind of zen-like wisdom.

I think perhaps my favorite lines from the song are:

“He’s as blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see”

Do you know anyone like that? I know I sure do. I know people who are seemingly intelligent and caring, but are hopelessly blind to certain truths because they either don’t want to see them or because their minds are biased to a point where they can not see anything that doesn’t align with their personal beliefs. Even scientific studies have found this to be true…that our personal beliefs can affect our ability to see things clearly or even figure out simple problems.

When I used to be a foster parent, we had a class we had to take every so often that talked about how deeply bias affects us and the decisions we make, even when we are small children. A child who is biased to believe the world is cruel and unfair (from past neglect or abuse) will make their personal reality fit that view, even if their belief is not the current truth. They will see everything that they experience from that biased point of view and nothing will change their mind unless that bias changes.

I find that fascinating from a psychological point of view and have thought often of what that means when applied to human nature in general. Sometimes it rather discourages me because I understand that many people will choose to be blind or can’t help being blind to seemingly obvious truths no matter how much evidence they are given or how easily their beliefs could be disproven using logic and scientific reason. This makes me want to scream and shout in frustration sometimes. It also makes me worry about what biases I have in place that I don’t even notice. I guess the song was right when it asked, “Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”

5 reasons why I’m glad I left fundamentalist Christiandom behind

“Crick in the Neck”, mixed media 8.5″ x 11″. Breaking free of old chains!

“Crick in the Neck”, mixed media 8.5″ x 11″. Breaking free of old chains!

Before I get into my list, first I want to state that not all people considered fundamentalists or conservatives are like the fundamentalist Christianity I am most familiar with. I’ve known some evangelical Christians who are extremely kind, loving people. However, I grew up and struggled with a very strict religious tradition (where women weren’t allowed to wear pants, makeup or cut their hair, tv was considered evil and everyone who thought the slightest bit different than us was going straight to hell). After I grew up and married I went to a denomination that was somewhat less strict, but still as a whole was definitely conservative. I try hard not to judge those who believe differently than myself, although it is hard when I see people who let their religious beliefs overcome their human compassion. Having come from such a strict background and choosing to walk away from it has made me a little sensitive to criticism and rejection from those who believe like I once did, but I still try to see the good inside of them, because almost all of us have good shining through if you look for it. As you read this post, please keep in mind that these are the things I struggled with and am glad to have changed, but they are not meant to be stereotypes of all conservatives.

Anyhow, with all that said, here are 5 of the biggest reasons I am thankful to have left behind fundamentalism:

#1 – I no longer live in fear of going to hell or of those I love suffering eternal torture in hell. This does not mean that I don’t believe in justice and that if you live a horrible life you may not face some karma or discipline or whatever you choose to call it. However, I do not believe in a cruel God who would eternally torture or punish those who happened to live a short lifetime with some mistakes or with the “wrong” beliefs. Personally, I tend to believe that our greatest judge of our misdeeds after our death may be our own soul, not a higher being. It always interested me that in most near death experiences, when people went through their life review, they didn’t feel any judgement from God or Jesus for the wrongs they did, but they felt all the pain they had caused others through their actions and this truly changed their outlook and heart.

#2 – I don’t have to exclude anyone. I don’t have to believe that anyone is worth less than anyone else or that some of us are “better” than others. I don’t have to turn away gays, liberals, infidels or anyone else. I can be around people who drink or smoke or are openly sexual without fearing they will somehow “contaminate” me. I can focus more on my own spiritual growth rather than focusing on any perceived lack of spirituality in others. I can love and befriend anyone without trying convert them.

#3 – I don’t have to read the cringe-worthy bits of the Bible and try to find some kind of reasoning for why it is ok. I can look at the Bible and see that it was written by humans who were trying to understand and please God, but who were still just plain old humans after all. I can see that in the context of certain cultural beliefs and time periods that things may have once seemed much different. I can see that just like all ancient cultures, the Jewish people tended to see anything good happening as God acting on their behalf and anything bad happening as God punishing them. They didn’t completely understand the idea of chance or even some of our most basic scientific laws. I also understand that much of the Bible (particularly the old testament) was written down long after the events happened and just like with any society, centuries of oral tradition passed down can greatly change or exaggerate a story.

#4 – I can be a woman and not believe I am inferior or subservient to men. I can be married and have an actual partnership with a husband who respects me just as much as I respect him. I don’t have to feel bad about my gender because “Eve messed it all up”. I don’t have to believe that a woman’s body is something to be ashamed or afraid of. I can choose to be modest because that is what I desire, without judging every woman who dresses differently than myself. I can see how ridiculous the belief that women invite rape by dressing sexy really is. All of us have a responsibility to control our own actions and it is never right to blame our wrong actions on another. I can believe that all of us are born innocent and that it is our experiences, choices and actions that determine if we grow up to have a positive or negative influence on this world, not some curse put upon us all because of the bad choices of two humans eons ago.

#5 – Lastly, I am so relieved to leave the fear behind. The fear of never being good enough. The fear of always being evil at the core. The fear of trying to live a good life but still being thrust into hell for any unintentional mistake. I can look at life and people with the view that we are all different and will never see everything the same way, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be compassionate to one another and work together to solve problems that affect us all. Without fearing so much about everyone’s eternal destination, I can instead focus on the here and now – on learning to love others unconditionally, healing the pain of the past so I can forgive & move on, growing spiritually and trying to give back to the world in positive ways whenever I can.

Admit that you can be prejudiced…

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I know this is a sensitive subject, but I want to be honest about it. First off, I know that the last thing anyone wants to admit to is having a racist or prejudiced thought. For some reason, we think that if we have a wayward thought or idea about this subject even once in a while that it automatically puts us in the company of the KKK or other hate groups. However, I believe that if we live long enough, all of us will have at least occasional prejudiced/racist/stereotypical thoughts or ideas. It is unfortunately a part of living in the culture we exist in. By pretending that we never have these ideas, we are actually making the problem worse, not better. If we could identify our prejudiced or stereotypical thoughts and recognize them for what they are, then we could consciously decide to change those beliefs and ideas. That is the way we could really get rid of the damaging effects of prejudice.

For instance, most of us have at least some stereotypical beliefs. Even positive ones (like that Asians are all super smart or that African Americans are better athletes) are still stereotypes. I admit that I occasionally have stereotypical beliefs, so when I do, I have to consciously grab them and think them through to decide whether they are really true or not. For instance, watching the news makes it easy for me to think that all conservatives look down on the poor and are greedy. Of course, this is not always true, but it is a stereotype I see frequently. On the other side, I know many people stereotype liberals as being wimpy and lazy. The trouble is that most of the time these beliefs are not critically analyzed and we only look at one side of the story (the one we happen to agree with). We are all victims of bias and perception, but we refuse to see it.

As a child, I honestly do not remember prejudice or racism. I grew up in an urban Indiana neighborhood that was very much a melting pot. My elementary school was probably at least 50% minority, although back then I never even thought about that kind of stuff. My mom dated guys outside of her race and for a while one of those guys was like a second father to me and lived with us. My older sister’s first real boyfriend was from a minority as well. I think my first real look at prejudice came around the age of 11 when I moved to a small town in Georgia. In this small town minorities were rare and in my middle and high school, racism definitely existed. Most minorities stuck to their own kind. There wasn’t a lot of intermixing and the town was almost set up in a segregated fashion (clearly marked minority neighborhoods and even a separate cemetery for non-whites). This new culture was certainly a shock to me, as were some of the hateful comments I heard. Of course, these people would have denied being prejudiced if confronted, but behind the scenes they were definitely not shy about their beliefs.

As an adult, I definitely try to be open-minded and not stereotype people or groups, but I will admit that I am not perfect. For instance, one night I remember my husband and I going to a local White Castle and noticing that we were the only “white” people in the crowded restaurant. I hate to admit it, but I experienced some momentary discomfort and just felt kind of “out of place”. However, as I sat there, I thought about the fact that minorities probably often find themselves in this kind of situation. I’m used to looking around and seeing lots of other people who look like me, but many others don’t regularly have that experience. Thinking the issue through, truly gave me an entirely new perspective and made me sympathize with those who often find themselves surrounded by others who are different from them in some way.

I’ll also admit that the first time we took in a foster child from a minority that I was a little more anxious than I should have been. When we accepted that foster placement, we didn’t even know he was from a minority, so when I first saw him I was surprised a bit and also a little worried. My first thoughts were to question whether I could do a good job raising someone from a different culture, however, once the child moved in and we got to know him it was soon clear that underneath the exterior differences he was just like every other kid we had taken in. Soon I was going to bat for him against others who were stereotyping him or treating him like he didn’t exist.

In the end, my point is that when we do have thoughts or experiences that bring out the “prejudice” or “racism” hidden inside of us, it can be an opportunity to learn and grow if we face it head on and think things through. However, if we just sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist, we only help to perpetuate the problem.

The three types of human relationships as I see it

"Flight into the Dawn" watercolor painting.

“Flight into the Dawn” watercolor painting.

Maybe it is because of the logical thinking connected with Asperger’s Syndrome, but I tend to categorize most things in my life. Today I want to talk about the three categories I see in human relationships. This is somewhat from a spiritual point of view, since I myself am deeply interested in spirituality.

Category #1 – Neutral. This is by far the largest category of human relationships in my mind. These are people that enter our lives for various amounts of time but typically don’t make a big impression or change our lives very much. Some might call them acquaintances. There aren’t necessarily any negative feelings involved, but not a whole lot of positive feelings either. Neither party goes very far out of their way to deepen the relationship or get to know each other better. Hopefully each party wishes the other well and would not wish harm on them, but that is about the limit of intention. However, sometimes these people can show up in just the right place, at just the right moment and leave a lasting memory or impact.

For instance, once when I was visiting my grandfather in the nursing home, his roommate died with us sitting there only feet away. The death was unexpected and the man’s wife was there when he just suddenly died. Even though I did not know the woman or her husband, I instinctively went to her and gave her a hug and let her cry on my shoulder since no one else from her family was there to comfort her. So, even though we did not know each other and will likely never see each other again, for a moment, we connected deeply. It is moments like that which assure me that we really are all deeply connected, even if we don’t consciously realize it.

Category #2 – Gifts. In this category I would include any relationships that are positive and precious to us. Loved ones. Family. Friends. People who go out of their way to reach out to us, support us, encourage us when we are down and really connect with us on a soul to soul level. In many ways, these relationships are what make life worth living. Even when there are disagreements or differences of opinions, these relationships still radiate love and caring. Ideally, all families should be full of these kinds of edifying relationships, but that is not always the case. However, if we can’t find this kind of love and care in our family of origin, hopefully we can find it outside. I would include beloved pets in this category too, even though they aren’t human relationships. I think when most of us picture heaven, we picture sharing it with these souls that truly make our lives bright and meaningful. When people in this category pass away it is extremely painful, but in the sorrow we may find that a soul to soul relationship survives, even when we are on different sides of the veil.

Category #3 – Tests. This is the relationship category that is hardest to deal with. It ranges from people who just get under our skin and annoy the crap out of us, to betrayals by those we thought we could trust, to people who are truly malicious in nature and seek to hurt or even kill us. Although this group of relationships is the one least liked, it is often the one that teaches the most lessons. I truly believe that whether we want them there or not, these people come into our lives for a reason. Perhaps it is to learn forgiveness. Or patience. Or to learn when we need to stand up for ourselves and what we believe in. Sometimes these relationships can be severed and learning how to do so (how to remove negativity from your life) can be an important lesson in itself. Sometimes these relationships are unavoidable. If that is the case, be assured that these souls are in your life for a reason and learning to deal with them in the right way will help your soul to grow and may very well help theirs as well.

Of course there are some relationships that may move from one category to another over the course of our life. And there are some relationships that may fulfill different roles simultaneously or switch roles at different times depending upon the situation. However, I do think that all relationships have a purpose and are ultimately some of our greatest teachers.