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Archive for May, 2011

I am more optimistic than I had been about the prospects of putting in a garden. There actually is a patch of yard on the east side of the lot that gets decent sun in the morning, thanks to a storm three years ago that knocked down two big trees. There are a few other small trees that I should be able to take down myself — with help for the two largest — that could open up much of that end of the yard to the morning sun. And the lush green ivy carpet that had run along the fence has mostly died, and once I pull the dead vines that piece should be usable too.

I learned a technique called “girdling” for removing ivy from trees. (I did not plant the ivy, it was here when I bought the house, but it has spread and has run up the trunks of a good number of my trees.) To girdle the tree, you sever the ivy vines around the base of the trunk and then again 4-5 feet up, and pull them off from there down. Pull out as many roots as you can. The vines above the cuts will (so I’m assured) wither and die over the next few weeks, while I will remain vigilant for signs of new growth at the bottom and pull it when it starts.

Eventually, with diligence, it should be possible to eliminate all of the vines around the tree.

Other moving preparation isn’t going as well. I need to box my books and move them into the room that will eventually become our library, and I need to continue decluttering. I have to pick some shirts for sale or Goodwill to clear closet space, and continue throwing away unneeded things. I keep intending to do these in big chunks on the weekends and then find my weekends taken up. So I’ll have to start doing it a bit at a time in the evenings.

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I’ve memorized the basic steps of the Sphere of Protection that Greer teaches in his Druid Magic Handbook. It’s a fairly elaborate set of steps — the elemental cross, formed with visualization, vocalization and body movement, followed by the invoking and banishing of air, fire, water and earth and the invoking (no banishing) of three spirit levels — spirit below, spirit above, spirit within. These also involve vocalization, movement and visualization. The final piece, the circulation of light, is all visualization.

The SOP forms the foundation of the things taught in the remainder of the book, so he advises learning it to the point you can do it smoothly from memory before moving on.

This morning I completed it and, feeling pretty confident I had it down, I performed an ogham draw on the question: Am I ready to move on in my study of magic?

I use a tarot program on the computer as I don’t have a set of phyiscal ogham sticks or cards yet, and you can tailor the percentage of cards that come up reversed. I have it set at 20 percent — and all three fews came up reversed. As I began to read the possible interpretation meanings I found that all three of them can easily be read as pertaining to lapses in developing skills … inconsistent practice, not understanding the full picture … essentially, past, present and future were all pointing to NO … I am not yet ready to advance.

Several past readings where I’ve asked a more open-ended question have yielded signs of a transition or growth to deeper levels in the future following a present of things being less clear. Asking this particular question evoked a very different result.

It’s really one of the most clear answers I’ve ever gotten from any form of divination.

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Part One

Part Two: I Go to College

I stopped going to church when my parents allowed me to, which was not until my late teens. I had developed a lot of skepticism about it. At first it was about Christian exclusivity. I could not understand why the God of the universe would reveal the truth about Himself to only one small nomadic tribe and let the rest of the world persist in error — even though the error meant they would be damned — and only relatively late in the game had Christ issue the Great Commission to  preach the gospel to all nations. By that point, all the other nations had well-established religions of their own, so that spreading the truth of God would first require persuading them to forsake what they considered normal and traditional.

This theological problem (I was not aware that Christian universalism even existed at the time), would have been enough to raise serious doubts, especially because I asked several ministers about it and got no answer more satisfying than “It’s a mystery, just have faith.” But my passion for science mingled with the theological conundrum and over a period of a few years, high school into early college, I came to consider myself agnostic.

I never lost my sense of reverence. Natural settings lost none of their power to move me to awe, and I always felt that there was some higher reality. The constraints of Christian orthodoxy chafed, but I didn’t know where to look for something to replace it with. I continued to read voraciously on religion, but mostly on variations of Semitic monotheism or Eastern religions. I also kept up reading on various esoteric occult topics, but neo-paganism never came to my attention. I was vaguely aware of Wicca, and not interested, but that was all.

I found myself living in the tension between extremes. I remember riding in the car with an acquaintance, listening to a recording of Jesus Christ Superstar on  a cassette tape, and my friend lustily joining the chant of “Crucify him!” The delight he took in calling for the execution was unsettling to me, and I thought the hostility to Christianity was unnecessary. But at other times I would be around devout believers trying to re-convert me and talking with a sense of certitude about their own correctness that was no less troubling and off-putting.

I was sympathetic to faith. A simple, unquestioning Christian faith was sustaining my grandmother as her health declined and she was forced to sell the small farm she’d built with my late grandfather and move to Florida to be near family. My father had a quiet strength that was built on a similar foundation, as did my mother. I didn’t share what they believed, but I saw no reason to tear it down, and I was not drawn to people who would do so. At the same time, I didn’t appreciate being expected or urged to accept Christian beliefs either, and pushed back against such efforts when I encountered them.

In my latter college years I interned as a reporter for the local newspaper, and took advantage of the requirement to develop a special report — from idea to finished articles — by profiling small minority religions around the region. I chose Baha’i and Mennonite, and Judaism. (My town had more than a thousand churches, but only two synagogues and no Baha’i centers.)

The ulterior motive should be clear; I was using the requirement of the internship as an opportunity to expand my spiritual search by meeting real adherents of these faiths, not just reading about them. The Mennonites didn’t appeal to me — even more morally strict than my own Methodism, the two Tony Randall lookalikes I interviewed came across as priggish and stuffy.

The Baha’i held more intrigue. I had stumbled across a book called A Thief in the Night that explained why Baha’i believe that the prophet Baha’u”llah, born in 1844, was the latest in the line of prophets that includes Jesus and Mohammed. Baha’i seemed at the time, and still does, a peaceful, universalistic religion. The group I met with were all nice, soft-spoken and intellectual. I might have gone back to their group after the assignment was done, but Judaism really captured my attention.

I interviewed the Rabbi of a Reform congregation, and felt an attraction. He presented the faith as a rich tapestry mingling history and myth, social ethics and cultural identity. The God of the Jews was the same God I’d grown up learning about, but Jesus was not his Son. The synagogue was beautiful and mysterious, decorated with arcane Hebrew lettering.

I was still turning all this over in my mind, but then I finished college, got a job hundreds of miles from home, endured it for a while, found work closer to home, developed new friends and a handful of romantic connections and put the spiritual quest on the back burner for a while. My friends were generally not religious, and as I was having a good time as a young, single man on his own for the first time, I put the questions aside.

For a while.

Next: Death and the Televangelist

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I Come of Age

For as long as I can remember, the natural world has been a source of fascination and awe for me. I had a telescope, and knew how to use it, before I was 10. I also had a microscope, and learned how to make swamp water in a jar, full of microbes to observe. I had a slide set with different kinds of blood, tiny seeds and spores and other such wonders. I spent many happy hours catching tadpoles out of the drainage ditches in the neighborhood, or putting fireflies (“lightning bugs” as we called them then) into a jar with air holes punched in the lid.

In some ways, this was just a typical snips-snails-puppy-dog-tails boyhood, but there was always a deeper undercurrent. I read voraciously from a young age, learning all my young mind could take in about astronomy, biology and paleontology. By the time I was old enough to take classes in these topics, I already knew much of what the teachers were telling me. (I would have been a scientist if higher math had not eluded my understanding.)

And it wasn’t just knowledge, it was wonder. Whether I was contemplating the expanse of the ocean or the depths of space, the structure of a crystal or the veins in a leaf, it was always with an acute awareness of the near-eternity around me. I would stand on the beach and wonder what my surroundings looked like 100,000 years ago, knowing that the ocean itself probably looked very much the same. Or I would look up at a star and think about how many light-years away it was, and what had not happened in human history when the light I was seeing left the source. (If you look at Rigel, the bright blue star below Orion’s belt, the light hitting your eye was generated around the time Richard the Lionhearted ruled England. On the other hand, the light coming from Sirius, the bright blue star in Canis Major, started its lightspeed journey to Earth while Mark Zuckerberg was getting ready to launch Facebook.) I would watch the changing of the seasons (such as they were in Florida) with the awareness that this cycle had been happening since long before I was around to see it, and would continue long after I was gone.

I haunted the libraries at my schools, devouring science and science fiction books. Later on, in my teenage years, possibly propelled by the close relationship of science fiction, horror and fantasy, I developed an interest in esoterica. I began to read about the occult, got some Tarot cards and learned (in a very basic way) how to use them, and read about ghosts and UFOs and Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle. I didn’t see a conflict between strictly rational science and the paranormal topics because I always suspected the universe was a place where almost anything could be possible — even the things that science would seem to exclude. And for a good number of years I had memorized the Dewey Decimal numbers for astronomy, biology and esoterica.

That was one side of my boyhood life. The other side was the United Methodist Church. I went from infancy on the insistence of my parents, and came up learning Protestant Christian doctrine as just the way things are. As I grew older, into teenage years, I lost interest and was going to church only because I was required to. As a child, I believed it as a child; as a teenager I was apathetic. And it was around that time that I developed a third intellectual obsession: religion. It gradually dawned on me that there were religions other than Christianity and, as I was not much interested in Christianity and yet profoundly awestruck by pretty much everything around me that came from nature — something I now consider an inherent spiritual sense, though I didn’t have words for it at that time –I started to wonder if some other way of thinking about the divine might suit me better.

The trouble was, I had no idea what other ways there were. Aside from a few other flavors of Christianity and its parent, Judaism, I had little idea what else there was. So n the years between adolescence and adulthood, I added some more Dewey Decimal numbers to my list — comparative religions.

Next: I Go to College

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I’ve been working with the Sphere of Protection, a ritual in John Michael Greer’s Druid Magic Handbook. The basic components are a series of gestures and visualizations that include invoking air, fire, earth and water.

JMG advises learning it step by step, adding pieces one at a time until you can do it all from memory.

When I first added the invoking of air, doing the SoP in the morning, the wind kicked up that night and a large tree limb that had been dangling by a thread for the past nine months came down harmlessly. (Had the wind been strong enough out of the southeast it would have hit the house and probably done some damage.)

Coincidence? Maybe. But the limb’s been in high winds a good number of times since the storm in August of last year that first broke it. Why pick that moment to finally fall? On the other hand, I’m a novice and it was the first time working with air, so dare I connect a significant effect to a first try?

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