Path Basics

Five Things You Can Learn From a Pagan

In my mid-twenties, I was living a corporate, achievement-driven existence that neither fed my soul nor gave me joy. A series of synchronistic events conspired to wake me up and set me on a spiritual journey in search of the missing half of my womanhood and humanity.

My journey led me to Vipassana meditation, feminist graduate studies and new age spirituality. These were all powerful and transformative, and yet something was still missing for me: the feral, sensual, dreaming, witching, life-affirming sacred feminine.

One day it came to me: I am a pagan. This was the spiritual path that sang to my soul.

Paganism invites you to the realm of what else is true and possible. Take a little journey beyond the everyday and bring back whatever sings to your soul.

Paganism isn’t just about beliefs, it’s about stepping outside of the strictures of everyday reality and stepping into full-bodied experiences of the wild, magical world of what else is true and possible. After twenty-plus years of pagan explorations, these are five precious lessons that I’ve learned:

1. Life is delicious.

Paganism is a spiritual practice that calls us to a joyful, sensual communion with Nature and our bodies.

Take a walk on the wild side with your unruly, untamable pagan nature. Turn up your favorite music and dance from the inside-out. Eat a bowl of the ripest, sweetest fruit you can find. Make love to your partner as if you were made of one skin. Breathe the blue of the sky deep into your lungs. Spin yourself dizzy under the moonlight. Be radically, delectably, unapologetically alive!

Even in those bumpy times when your challenges and losses bring your down, remember that life is delicious and that there is always a brush of beauty to sweeten your sorrows.

2. The Earth is alive.

Paganism is defined by its earth-centered ethos. While our collective humanity has lost sight of the ways of the green world, pagans hunger to touch and be touched by the powers and splendor of Nature. And in this sensual, embodied exchange, we awaken to the living world.

Hang out in your favorite green space with your senses on high. Attune to your exchange of breath with the trees: their green breath of oxygen with your red breath of carbon dioxide. Open your flat palms toward whatever wild thing catches your fancy and sense the tingling meeting of your energies. Peer into the microcosm of a rotting log, with its teeming collective of interdependent inhabitants.

The Earth is alive. One web of life connects us all, breath to breath, and essence to essence. What your mind has forgotten, your body remembers.

3. The Goddess is everywhere, in everything.

I didn’t go looking for the Goddess. I set myself on the trail of my lost humanity and womanhood, and one day there She was, everywhere and in everything.

She is the burning ember of light interwoven with matter that shines forth in all living things. She is the unending, outrageous beauty of the wild world. She is the driving force that calls us to strive and struggle, and to grow and blossom. Her cupped hands hold us in the shifting seasons of our joys and sorrows, and life and death moments.

The Goddess’s deepest presence is love, not as an emotional state, but rather as the primal desire of life to seek out, create and nurture life. Through this love, all things are made holy and infinitely worthy. We are made holy and infinitely worthy.

Lift your face toward Her living light, open your heart to Her infinite love, take in Her green-drenched beauty and feel Her holy presence in your own shining soul, and know that the Goddess is indeed everywhere and in everything.

4. So without, so within.

Pagans celebrate the wheel of the year: eight sabbats that mark the turning seasons of Nature and their shifting balance of darkness and death with light and life.

Our life too is a shifting balance of light and dark, joy and sorrow, and life and death moments.

Ponder the seasons of your own life: the death-like times when darkness, sorrow and loss swallowed you whole, and other times when the sun was shining bright and life was rich and full. Dig deep and notice that the good things in life hold you in your darkest moments, and that your sorrows and challenges can make your high points all the more poignant and precious.

So without, so within; like the natural world, our humanity is woven of darkness and death, and light and life. And in this powerful truth, we can find our balance and wholeness in the face of life’s shifting seasons.

5. Magic is real.

Magic, in basic terms, is the ability to experience and work with the Mysteries (alternative states of being and knowing). Think of reality as a frequency dial that can tune into the astounding magical possibilities of the world around us: “normal”, everyday modes of consciousness fall within a specific frequency range; the Mysteries are engaged at different frequencies on the dial.

Pagan magic practices, such as ritual and spellcrafting, develop and deepen our abilities to turn the frequency dial and work in altered states of consciousness.

Be brave: turn that dial, step between the worlds and the Mysteries will show up, in all their wonder. Brave experience by brave experience, you can come to truly know that magic is real and a natural part of our humanity.

Don’t take my word for these things I have shared. Instead, think of paganism as an invitation into the realm of what else is true and possible. Take a little journey beyond the everyday for yourself and bring back whatever sings to your soul.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Law

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: Reinveinting Your Worldly Toolkit

Everything we are, everything we’ve experienced, learned, and suffered can be used in service of the healing and transformation of ourselves and our world. What matters is not so much who we are, or what has happened to us, but what we do with what we’ve been given. We can choose to reinvent our worldly toolkit, and make beauty with the good and the bad of our life.

You have the power to do beautiful things with what life has given you in your worldly toolkit. From both the good and the bad, you can create positive change.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we have been socialized to see the world through the black and white lens of good and bad. Good things come about through the best sides of our humanity and personal nature; bad things through our worst instincts and the shadowy, nasty places in our collective humanity.

We apply this dichotomous lens not only to the world around us, but also to our personal history and characteristics. There are parts of ourselves that we embrace as good and positive, and other parts that we reject as bad and negative.

As we embark on a journey of healing and transformation, we may think that positive change will only come about if we can somehow get rid of or transcend the bad parts of ourselves. This is a destructive premise that is more likely to block, rather than enhance, our personal work. 

Instead I offer a different perspective: within each of us is the power to do beautiful things with what life has given us. From both the good and the bad, we can create beauty and positive change.

Our life story brings us the things we need to heal, grow and change, and whatever we have gathered in our worldly toolkit in the form of knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal characteristics can be used to bring about positive, beautiful change in ourselves and our greater environment. It all comes down to personal choice: what we do with what we’ve been given.

A Personal Story: A Witch with an MBA

This insight came to me in the midst of a crisis on my island home. A small corporation had bought a huge tract of land in the southern portion of our island and began to clearcut the forests, leaving a swath of devastation in its wake that threatened the environmental and economic fabric of our community.

In this story, the corporate world was the bad guy: the business men who owned the land, the multinational corporation that funded their activities, the government legislation that enshrined corporate rights over community and environmental considerations, and a cultural ethos that worshiped money above all things.

Our community rose up in resistance and I found myself, for the first time in my life, deeply involved in a collective activism that fought, with every bit of skill, knowledge, and inspiration at our disposal, to protect this stunning, natural landscape we called home.

Yet I faced a strange dilemma. I was also the bad guy in this story. I had a corporate, consulting background and an MBA. Whatever we were fighting out there was also part of my personal makeup and worldly toolkit.

This split within me wasn’t new. I had long struggled to reconcile the two divergent, powerful sides of me: the MBA with a corporate career, and the wild witch connected to earth and magic. Our community crisis and activism brought this struggle to the forefront.

But, as is the case in any crisis, there was no time for indulging my inner angst; I just jumped in with all that I had. With my witch skills, I did magic and ritual to protect the land, and with my corporate skills, I led a small group that organized public, consciousness-raising events like street theater. As the group’s business manager: I made agendas, ran the meetings, delegated tasks, made sure the financial resources were in place, and followed up on logistical details. Our group did amazing things, with a handful of people, little money, and quick, efficient meetings, due to the massive, diverse talents within our group and my well-honed business skills.

A light went on for me. The corporate world and my own business skills were not the ultimate bad guys. I had the power and potential to do good or do harm with the skills, abilities, and gifts life had bestowed upon me. And I chose to use my business acumen to do something beautiful: to help protect my island home.

This story has a beautiful ending. Our community activism stopped the clearcutting and turned big tracts of the forest into magnificent parkland. A middle ground was found between the interests of our community and the corporation that owned the land. And I reclaimed and reinvented my worldly business side in service of the beauty of my island home and community.

Reinventing Your Worldly Toolkit

1.  Take an inventory of your worldly toolkit.

List the key knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal characteristics that you draw upon to navigate the demands of the everyday world. Be sure to include the parts of your toolkit you see as good and bad.

2.  Choose one thing on this list, or a bundle of related things, that you view in a negative light.

This can be a “bad” side of your personal characteristics, a skill that you aren’t proud, or anything in your toolkit that you believe negatively impacts your life.

3.  Explore this part of yourself with clear eyes and an open heart.

Where did this part of you come from? What is its story? How does it bring about negative situations or outcomes?

What is your attitude toward this part of yourself? Do you want to: a) hide it, get rid of it, pretend it doesn’t exist, or transcend it; or b) embrace it, learn from it, and find a way to make it a positive part of your life?

4.  Now imagine, no matter what you current attitude is, that you can do good, beautiful things with this part of you see as “bad”.

Open your heart wide, with love, compassion, and acceptance of all that you are and all that life has brought to you. Know that you have the power to do good, to choose something new, beautiful, and life-affirming, with these parts of you that you see in a negative light.

This new, beautiful choice may be committing to heal an inner hurt or old story, or to reframe this part of you as a strength and ability that you can use in more positive ways.

Don’t overthink this, instead let go of your current way of thinking, and explore what else is true and possible. See how you can take this part of your worldly toolkit in a new, beautiful direction.

Everything you have experienced and learned, the good and the bad, has made you who you are today. Within your worldly toolkit, you have what you need to heal and transform yourself, and bring positive, beautiful changes to your greater environment.

Positive change doesn’t require that you reject or cut away your “bad” parts, but that you open yourself to love, self-acceptance, and new possibilities for these parts you see as negative. You can choose to do beautiful things with what you’ve been given.

Artist Unknown

A Father and Daughter Story: Greeting Death When It Arrives On My Doorstep

On May 5, just over one month ago as the sun reached its peak in the skies of Eastern Canada, my father, Brian Clifford Clark, left this world. He died in peace in his hospital bed, his last breath so gentle that my brother Barry, his sole witness, almost missed it. I woke on this morning, before I knew what had happened, and sensed that all was well and my dad was going home.  And he has gone home, to rest, to peace, to love, to goodness.

When the death of my beloved father arrives on my doorstep, there’s relief, gratitude, grief, disorientation, love, transformation, remembering and saying goodbye.

As a pagan who travels the path of the Goddess, death is something that I embrace as a natural, essential part of the cycle of life. I honor death in the turning of the seasons, in the great and small endings and beginnings that mark my journey through life, and as the catalyst for profound transformation.

The death of my beloved father makes these things raw and real for me. I’m awake and aching in the midst of the disorienting mysteries of death, and finding my Self and footing in a world without my dad in it, where his immense presence and loving support are no longer a phone call, plane ride or hug away.

These are some of the many ways I’m greeting death with its arrival on my doorstep.

There is relief. The passing of my dad was best for him. He had been ill and suffering for a long time, not with a specific ailment, but more from the stripping away of his independence, strength and physical capacities. He was burnt out and exhausted, hanging on only by sheer will and his desire to stay with my mother, his wife, beloved and best friend of sixty-three years. I’m glad and at peace that he has been set free.

There is gratitude. My father was a beautiful, loving, complex soul. He was grumpy, edgy, willful and a handful at times, with big energy, big will, a strong sense of himself, and a deep integrity, generosity, kindness and thoughtfulness. He loved each of us in my family for who we were, with no strings attached. He loved me, deeply, fully, openly, and I him. It was, and always will be, my great honor and blessing to be his daughter.

There is returning to roots. I traveled to my hometown to be with my mother, collect my father’s ashes, and honor his memory with my family. The setting, the stories, these beautiful, quirky people: this is where I come from, and what I’m made of. My dad’s legacy is us, his children and grandchildren, and I know myself better in their company.

There is grief. I have no words for the immensity of my loss and heartbreak. It’s like an ocean, deep and vast, that can be a gentle wave or a tsunami. Mostly, I’ve chosen the gentle wave, dipping my toe in, and then retreating. But the tsunami comes, sudden and overwhelming, and I surrender to its cleansing work. I expect that I’ll have this grief until my last breath, something that I’ll get used to rather than get over.

There is peace between us. It’s the rare person who escapes from childhood and family dynamics unscathed. Death is a time of raw honesty, where the truths of unsaid and unfinished business make their way back to the surface. These too are part of the transformative mysteries of death, guiding our journey of healing.  Blessedly, my father and I did our healing work and cleaned up our unfinished business many years ago. We found a place of truth that could hold both the hardships and the beauty of our journey together, and that gifted us with pleasure and peace in each other’s company.

There is disorientation. There’s never been a moment in my life without my dad.  His DNA, energetic patterns, love, approval and presence are built into my very foundation.  I learned about men, parenthood, marriage, family and the things that matter most through his living example. I witnessed aging, dignity and suffering through his end years. Now he is gone, and some essential part of me and my life has been snatched away, changing my world forever. I feel this, but don’t get it yet. And I don’t need to get it. It’s enough to accept this disorientation, and the change it brings, as natural parts of life’s journey.

There is quiet. I’m tired and emotionally raw. I’m not good at small talk, and seek only the company of those that I already know well. And I’m not interested in my own internal angst and noise. I need rest. Solitude.  Simplicity. Routine. Walks. Nature. Dance. Good food. Joy. Kindness.Thoughtful regard. Space to just be. Emptiness to become something new.

There is compassion. Our culture runs from the reality of death, but our hearts do not. We all live on the cusp of losing those dearest to us.  When the inevitable but devastating happens, our hearts invite us to greater compassion for ourselves and others. I hold my mother in a gentle tenderness as she navigates this great loss with courage and dignity, and my siblings do the same. My heart aches as others share their stories of grief and loss. And I’m touched in turn by the tenderness and compassion offered to me by my family, friends and people in my community.

Mostly, there is love. Grief is the flip side of love. When we love fiercely, so too we mourn deeply.  This is death’s greatest teaching: that we are here to love, deeply, freely, fiercely. I will miss my dad, forever, with every breath.  And I will love him fiercely, forever, with every breath.  So too I love my mother, my partner, my son, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my dear friends, my Self, and my precious life, fiercely, forever, with every breath.

There is transformation. Death is changing me. My outer world may look the same, but I’m undergoing a metamorphosis. The only words that come to me are that I must become big — to span and contain these many ways I’m greeting death, all at the same time — to open my heart wide to my fierce love and deep grief, and to risk this same love and grief for everyone in my life — to show up fully in my own skin and dare the wild ride that is my life — and to honor my father by cherishing myself as he cherished me, and by living by his ethos of personal strength, integrity, kindness, and care for others.

There is remembering. I wear my dad’s watch so he is with me, close to my skin, marking the moments of my life. What is remembered lives.  I will remember my dad, with every moment, every breath, every thought, and every act of kindness that comes my way.  He lives with me, in me, in my family, and all around me in the beauty of this wild and wonderful world he has now left behind.

There is saying goodbye. Peace be with you dad.  I love you. Forever.

Your Undimmed Lightness of Being

One Reality:

I’m in magical circle, celebrating Samhain. We’re in a group trance, traveling to the isle of the dead to commune with our beloved Ancestors. I’ve done this meditation many times before, yet this time is different.  As we reach the shore of this blessed isle, we unzip our flesh coats and step forth as beings of pure shining light, tethered to our living, breathing bodies by a silver cord.

Bring a little of your life light and unbounded beauty into today, and then tomorrow after that. This is how you help build the world you want to live in.

There will never be enough words to capture such a lightness of being. For this blessed time, I’m free of my human body, and my mindscape of fears and tangled habits that make me less than I am.  I’m pure light, untainted love, unbounded beauty, in the company of other bright shining beings, both my living companions and our blessed dead.

I understand, in the deepest parts of my being, the truth of this moment: that I am this being of light, always. This is my naked, true Self, and our naked, true humanity. We are, always, pure light, untainted love, unbounded beauty. When I follow my silver tether back to my human body, and zip myself back into my flesh coat, my skin seems to loosen its fibers, letting more of that inner light shine outward.

Another Reality:

A few weeks later, I’m on the treadmill at the gym, working to make my body strong.  There’s a screen in my face, blasting out the daily news: a gang rape by teenage boys from a Catholic high school; a high profile, high drama murder of an international journalist; the latest Trump cringe-fest fiasco.  My heart squeezes tight and my adrenals spike. Barely halfway through my cardio routine, I’m already drenched in the toxicity of status quo reality.

Damn! It’s caught me again, off guard, that constant, outer noise pushing its way past my defenses, triggering my fears and negative mindset, trying to spellbind me into believing in the worst of my humanity. I forget, in these short moments, my Samhain experience of the light being in my core. Loathing rises up in me, and horror, grief and rage. I feel dirty and ashamed of my flesh coat and our collective humanity.

Big breathe in. Big breathe out. I tune out the screen, and focus instead on the reassuring rhythm of my striding legs, my hard-working muscles and sweating skin. I love my wondrous flesh coat; I clear my mindset of fear and loathing; I remember the shining light of who I am, and the true, untainted nature of my humanity — the spell of our shadow humanity is broken.

Two realities.  Two versions of our human nature.  Which do we choose to believe in? Which do we give our attention and juice to? Which do we allow to steer our choices and actions? Which will help us build the world we want to live in?

The shadow side of our humanity is true. We are doing terrible things to each other and our planet home.  Rape, murder and political fiascos are daily occurrences. Our flesh coats and mindsets are burdened down by fears and tangled habits born out of our personal and collective histories of trauma and wounding.   Yes, these things happen; they are real and seemingly omnipresent.

The pure, shining brilliance of our humanity is true. We are blessed with the glorious gift of living in a light and beauty infused world. We ourselves are light and beauty infused beings. Love, kindness, justice, compassion, creativity, courage, humor, sensuality, and so much more: these are the shining of our inner light outward.  These things are real and truly omnipresent.

We talked about this dual nature of our humanity at the end of our Samhain ritual, and the overwhelming challenges and atrocities that have come to dominate our shared society and non-stop news cycles.  How can we be a force of positive change, we asked ourselves? How can we make a difference?

One of my brilliant companions answered simply, “we have to bring a little of our light into today, and then tomorrow after that.”

Nothing or no one can ever dim our lightness of being.  We’re meant to shine bright, gifting the world with the brilliance of our pure, naked Self, unbounded beauty and untainted love.  But we’ve been convinced to do the dimming ourselves.

Individually and collectively, we’ve been bullied, shamed and abused. We’ve been indoctrinated into the shadow reality of humanity, fed to us constantly, unrelentingly through the one-sided messaging of mass culture. We’ve been spellbound through lies and illusions about our unworthiness and tainted nature. We’ve become lost and fear tangled, our flesh coat and mindset made into prisons, and our shining inner core forgotten.

But this doesn’t have to be your truth. You don’t have to give your attention and juice to the shadow reality of humanity.  You can choose to believe in the shining brilliance of your Self and human nature.  You can begin to undim your life light, loosen the fibers of your flesh coat, and let more and more of that glorious beauty that you are shine through.

Big breathe in. Big breathe out. Tune out the outer noise. Focus instead on the reassuring rhythm of your beating heart, the wondrous motions of your hard-working body, and the caress of air on your sensing skin. Reach inward to that shining light at the core of your being. Unzip your flesh coat, just a little bit, as much as feels good and safe. Take a little bit of your light into today, and tomorrow after that. Little by little, breathe by breathe, moment by moment, shine your lightness of being outward, and brighten the world around you.

In each of these undimmed moments, the shadow spell of humanity is broken, and you are set free. You may forget, be caught off guard, or choose to hide again. Don’t worry, these are natural parts of your journey of reclaiming your full-shining Self. Once you unzip your flesh coat, and taste your own innate brilliance and beauty, even a little, you’re no longer lost. You’ve woken from your spellbound sleep, and set your feet on a path that will guide you home to your true Self, undimmed moment by undimmed moment.

Trust that this journey takes time and practice. It’s done in small steps and big leaps, where, again and again, you choose to wake up, disconnect from the negative, shadow-reality messaging and experiences outside and inside of you, and re-align yourself with your shining core and a positive, love-filled vision of our humanity.

With every bit of your light you reclaim, you’re gifting yourself and everyone who crosses your path with bright new possibilities.

In these small steps and big leaps, we build the world we want to live in, each of us bringing a little of our unzipped light into today, and tomorrow after that. Together we can break the spell of our shadow humanity, forever, and bask in our collective, undimmed lightness of being.  From this vast, untapped resource of love, beauty and power, anything and everything are possible.

Photo Credit: Seraphina Capranos & Ben Skorguson

The Yes Magic of New Year’s Resolutions

With the Winter Solstice, the new solar year has begun, followed closely by the turning into a new calendar year.  Now is a time of endings that mark new beginnings, and the tradition of New Year’s resolutions.

With yes magic, your New Year’s resolution aligns the potent powers of desire and will through a specific intention to guide your spiritual pathwork in 2018.

New Year’s resolutions can be a catalyst for profound, soul-sourced change, drawing on the Path of She practice of yes magic. Yes is the most powerful magical word in our vocabulary. It’s a word that the Universe pays close attention to. Say ‘yes’ and doors of possibilities open. Say ‘yes’ from the depths of soul, and you can transform your life.

Right now, at this very moment, the power of yes magic is at work in your life. Every choice you make and action you take, consciously or unconsciously, is a yes spoken in the language of the material world that weaves the fabric of your everyday existence. This is powerful magic: you are, in effect, spellcrafting your life.

Yes magic is a form of spellcrafting that aligns the potent, twin powers of desire and will through a specific, consciously chosen intention. Desire is what you want, will is your ability to make things happen, and intention is the spark that ignites the magic between them, and sends this magic outward into the listening Universe.

When you make a New Year’s resolution, you’re focusing your will by setting an intention for the coming calendar year. This is a perfect opportunity to use yes magic in service of your personal and spiritual growth for the new year.

 Making Your Yes-Magic New Year’s Resolution

1. Heed Your Soul Desire

Yes magic operates in the domain of soul, not surface-level needs and wants. To use yes magic for your New Year’s resolution, you start by turning your awareness inward, and seeking out the soul desires that are reaching for expression in your outer life at this time.

The “read more” link below will take you to the SageWoman Blog page.

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Photo Credit: Davidson Luna on Unsplash