Whatever

flowerTo bask among your rays, lethal but diluted
Until my bones are baked and skin is scorched
Is to fall fully into temporary grace.

At times you are distant, I am beyond your reach
A fallow field is my heart and my garden
And it is a winter’s longing you teach.

How I love your gentle touch. Your kiss stirs us,
The woods hum with longing for themselves
You are the man of many lovers

One of many mistresses I am, unfolded
In a string of billions of years, I wither
In a blink of your own demise.

After you burn up and fade
Light the universe with a pale candle
To rest the soul of earth in a frosty memory.

For whatever lives forever.

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The Gods in the Garden

When we speak of Deity and the Divine there are many ways to perceive their energy. Do you identify Deity as archetypal energy, part of a larger Limitless Source, purely anthropomorphic or a synthesis of much more? 

I identify both God, who is to me a larger limitless Source, and closer Gods, energies of Beings that have chosen to engage themselves with us on our own plane of existence, the material world. Source cares for us all, but I find it hard to connect with that impersonal Energy. I guess some people can, but that I am just not enough of a mystic. I have always found it easier to relate to more personable Gods. And lately I have chosen to envision the hidden world much as my garden.

springflowers

My small suburban garden houses a myriad of species. Insects and other crawlers, tall trees and humble creeping plants. Glorious flowers and useful herbs. All have their uses, even if all they do is stand around being pretty. Some plants bloom in early spring, many flower in the summer, others in late autumn. And there are the rare species, who have their finest hour during the winter. In essence, all creatures in the garden are the same. They desire sun and rain, nourishment, all are tied to this one source, the One Garden. Yet for all their sameness, there is tremendous variety. Some are gentle and delicate, others are fierce and compete brutally with other beings. I do not have to wait on what the garden presents me. If I want something new to grow there, there is a lot I can do to make it grow and thrive. If I feel one Being gets the upper hand too much, I can prune it to my liking. I can sow new plants, combine and practice cross-pollination to create new Beings. And, if something does not thrive anymore or interferes too much with other Beings, it is possible that this Being disappears from the garden, either by my hand or by its own decision. It might withdraw itself, wither and fade. It may have left a seed though, which might sprout in an unexpected place and time.

I feel it is much the same with the Gods. They come in shapes, sizes, intentions and all in their own time. They are all connected to Source. They grow strong when they are served and acknowledged. Yet they are subjected to the seasons too. When no interest is being taken in them, they starve, or bide their time in the long, dark winter. The old Gods and Goddesses of Europe have lain dormant for many years, in the dried out soil below the towering monotheistic trees. Now that these trees are pruned, a multitude of them sees the sunlight once more. Properly tended, they are woken up and enrich the garden with their presence.

The Sacred Marriage

What is your definition of the word “ritual”? What are your rituals- mundane and spiritual? How do they inform each other? Is ritual a necessary component to spiritual practice?

courtesy of http://thegraphicsfairy.com/wp-content/uploads/blogger/-D3yNZ_woY7w/TbtK1cDewkI/AAAAAAAAMFI/yxPhA6_qOt0/s1600/lovebirds%2Bvintage%2Bwedding%2Bgraphic--graphicsfairybw.jpg

Of all the Pagan Experience writing prompts so far, I found this one the hardest to answer. Ritual seems such a big word to me. I practice alone, by praying, meditating and lighting a candle. I give thanks for a beautiful day, for my family’s health and good fortune. I decorate our home and garden according to the seasons and the holidays to honour the Wheel of the Year, and Life itself. Are these rituals? I shy away from naming them so. It is something other people do, I feel. But the prompt caused me to reconsider one of the few rituals I have taken part in, an ongoing ritual called marriage.

I married young, and it was a marriage of convenience, although I loved and love my husband deeply. I was pregnant at the time and it seemed the proper thing to do. Although Dutch law provides partnership contracts and the like, it is plain easier and cheaper to get married when you buy a house and have children: everything is automatically sorted with two autographs and a kiss in the local town hall. I still considered myself a Christian back then, but as my husband is an agnostic, only a secular wedding was possible. So we had a modest wedding, but with all the mandatory trimmings. I wore a simple whitish dress and even a veil. My husband wore a proper suit. It is more than 12 years ago and when I look at these photos now, I’m always surprised at how unfeasibly young we look. We had no idea what we were in for. I remember being relieved when it was all over. I do not really like being in the centre of attention. The whole day, even though it was fun, felt like a bit of a charade to me. Instinctively I sensed getting married had to be more than just this one day of cake and drinks. That instinct has turned out to be right. During the time we have been married, we have seen a lot of people break up, married and not married. This promise we offer each other, in nice clothes and with family and friends around, seems to mean little to nothing.

These years have thought me that marriage demands ongoing sacrifices and offerings of both partners. And sometimes we both slack off in our devotion and then the whole ritual seems to lose its meaning altogether. It has taught me that devotion is not meant to be fun all the time. Indeed, the marriage vow and ritual has little to no value in itself. Without daily practice, it quickly becomes void. It is an ongoing ritual and only we can keep it sacred. In that sense, I find this one ritual a necessary component to my spiritual practice. Marriage forces me to become a  more selfless, more discerning person. Yet every time I think I am getting the hang of it, I invariably fail. Yes, this ritual has the power to lift you up, but it humbles us too, and strips us down to the bone as well. It is transformative for all participants, and if it isn’t, something must be wrong.

A Lady Who gives and takes

Hier gaan over het tij, de wind, de maan en wij

(“Here the tide is ruled by the wind, the moon and by us.)

Text on a plaque on the artificial island Neeltje Jans, at the storm surge barrier in Zeeland, the Netherlands.

Water, to me, is the fickle element. An element many properties dissolve in, it can embody life, but can also turn out to be the harbinger of death. To me, she is the Blue Lady, She gives and She takes.

My own relationship with the Lady of the Waters is coloured by my place in the world. In the Netherlands, water is abundant, good quality tap water is safe to drink and quite cheap here. Droughts are rare: they hardly ever become critical, there is usually plenty of rain. Yet, the water looms too. All my life, I have lived on stolen land, close to a river and the sea. It was claimed hundreds of years ago, but it lies below sea level. In my lifetime there has never been a real threat of flooding, thanks to an elaborate system of dams and surge barriers. But as sea levels are expected to rise, the threat is growing. It is possible that the larger part of my home country will cease to exist at some point.

Water is also paramount to my own family’s livelihood: our modest affluence comes from living next to Europe’s largest port. Our dealings with the water have been most profitable: the willingness to accept danger by living on lowlands close to the sea made the Netherlands a prosperous country early on in its history.

The Dutch have in the past often outsmarted the water, but there is hubris in this attitude as well. In recent years, instead of only fighting the water, it seems wise to give the water more leeway and create more room for inundation when water levels rise. The problem is that farmers who have worked this land for generations are forced to let go off their land in order to make this happen. I see both sides of this story, there are no easy solutions. In Dutch we have a term called ‘polderen’. We haggle with each other and the water, hopefully reaching a conclusion that is beneficial to all. In the end, though, I feel our future here will be decided by not underestimating the power of water. A healthy sense of awe will perhaps save us.

At one point, I would not mind moving elsewhere in Europe, to a more remote area, safe from the sea. Yet it remains to be seen, whether I would be able to live there permanently. I would miss connecting with Her: walking in the copse by the river, throwing a stone offering amongst the friendly waves. My fate, and especially that of my children, is tied to Her tides of benevolence.

Listening to the dream

Dreams come in all shapes and sizes. There is the garden variety of dreams, the kind you need to digest your daily life. They can be good or bad, but at least you usually know where they come from. Then there are rare, glorious dreams, in which you can fly, or feel very desired and loved. I feel these dreams offer a glimpse of another plane of existence.  Finally, there are the life dreams. These are the recurring kind of dreams that have a profound effect on you, without having any idea of what they are about. My life dream is a nightmare and it has been with me for as long as I can remember. It usually visits me in times of worry and turmoil. Sometimes, the dream itself seems to sleep. Months or even years can go by without this visitation, but sooner or later it always returns. The last few months, I have often had the dream, which is strange. I have been happy, my family is well, there is plenty to look forward too. Why does it haunt me now?

nightmare
It is always the same. I walk in the woods and everything looks lovely. All of a sudden, near a great tree, I become the tree and the roots start dragging me under. At first I feel safe in the earth, but then the roots keep pulling and tugging at me and I dissolve, in a dark, blood red earth with strangling black roots that mean me harm. I lose the struggle, and then I’m dead and buried at once.

After yet again a night of sleep without true rest, I decided to face this demon and tried to capture the dream in a drawing. What struck me first while I was drawing it, is the almost complete absence of green, even though I am supposedly in the woods. Then I finally heard it, as clear as a bell. The dream has nothing whatsoever to do with me personally. I’m fairly certain other people have had this dream too. It is a message.

Now I know, I feel obligated. It makes sense that the dream has returned now: for the last year or so I have had other little nudges that I myself, and we as a people, cannot expect to go about our business in this manner for much longer. But what to do? Where to start? I feel daunted, but awake.

Endings

When I consider all my spirituality has brought me in the last few years, one specific lesson comes to mind: coming to terms with endings. Or rather: letting go of the concept of forever, which is actually quite a surprising turn of events. I am fairly certain my fear of endings, of the ultimate ending called death, drove me in the arms of religion in the first place.

My first brush with finality were the images on the telly of a soccer disaster in a stadium. I was five years old at the time. Even now, as I think back of those coffins with Italian flags on them, tears well in my eyes, so tangible was the unfairness, the sense of finality that emanated from the images. Yet, these were strangers. The images etched themselves in my mind, but I could still pretend death had nothing to do with me. Later, death came to our household. It lurked from behind the ever increasing boxes of medication and the oxygen tanks in the bedroom. My parents chose not to introduce us to this guest, in order to give me and my brother a happy childhood. Maybe they were still hoping he would go away. But I was aware of him all the time, and when he finally left, taking my mother with him, it made me a seeker. I knew we could not conquer death ourselves. My mother had fought him for years. She had her minor victories, but in the end, he won nonetheless. It made sense to find solace in the one religion that followed in the footsteps of One who was said to have conquered death.

I did not only seek permanence in religion, but also in my relationships with other people, which was problematic. As a teenager, you are bound to be disappointed when this is what you look for in a boyfriend. I learnt the hard way that we are always in flux, and new beginnings invariably demand an end to something else.

That was years ago. Gradually, death and I have made our peace. More people and pets in my life made the crossing. We are still not the best of friends and I doubt we ever will be. Letting go of the linear narrative of Christianity and adopting the circular outlook on life, has helped me to respect the necessity of his presence though. These days, I also find it easier to deal with little endings, little deaths if you will. Letting go of a friendship that is only a shell of what it used to be, saying goodbye, seeing a grey hair. It’s all part of the game.

Someone very dear to me talks with ease of her own death. She is in her early sixties and as hale as can be, yet the prospect of not being around forever is not particularly problematic to her. She says this is something that happens to you when you’re older. Maybe I will be as comfortable with my own end, one day. But not yet. There is still so much living to do.

 

the Divine Family

What is your relationship with the Divine? Is it Devotional? Collaborative? An agreement of reciprocity? How does this engagement flow into your mundane relationships? or Does it?

Frankly, I found these questions hard to answer. My relationship with the Divine just is. I feel all the world, living or non-living, is alive and alight with spirit. I’m part of that world myself, and so is everyone else. At present, I feel no need to barter or work with the Deities, other than to ask for a blessing, thank Them for Their gifts and acknowledging Their existence. When I’m worried, I might speak of my worries and desires. But I do not expect Them to aid me, apart from affirming that I am on the right track by synchronicity or signs in the natural world. It’s up to me, really, as long as things are going well.

My relationship with the Divine can easily be compared to my human relationships. I’m a private, reserved person. My relationships with other people are few but intense. In a way they follow the same pattern as my relationship with the Divine: they just are. Most of my social life revolves around family, relatives or friends I have had for so long, they feel like family too. There is room for new encounters, but I do not actively seek them out.

Although I have not always identified as a Pagan, there is no rift in my life concerning the Divine. I have not forsaken the Abrahamic God for new Deities. I never connected with Him to begin with. It was the Divine Mother I felt around me all along, and the vigorous, ageless, hopeful Male energy that resides in the woods and in sacred places. They have been there all my life.

in the gardenA more recent addition to my practice is to give either of the Divine presences in my life, a proper place in our home. I do not think having a material reminder of them will truly deepen my relationship with them. But just like it is with loved ones you do not get to see everyday, it is good to have a tangible reminder of them around. Even more important than the tangible reminders of Deities in our home, is their presence in my garden. This time of the year, as the garden starts anew, I often ask the Divine Mother to bless our small patch, and thank her for having a place to guard and call our own. This is Her corner, below a tree and some shrubs, close to our tiny vegetable garden.

She is not a proud Goddess, but rather modest. She keeps Her eyes on the soil, on Her womb if you will, carefully minding that which grows. I love having Her around. I might call on Her in a time of need, just like I would with my earthly relatives, but as long as I feel blessed, Her presence is all that is required.