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RQ#98 - Online
Individual sections posted online
Thinking About a Twenty-Year Plan, by Starhawk
Building a Daily Spiritual Practice,
Building a Daily Spiritual Practice
by Diane Baker
"What kind of daily, personal practice do Witches do?" my new friend asked, new-time Witch to old-time Witch.
"Good question," I answered. "Why do you want to know?"
"I want to be part of something every day," she answered. "To connect. I think it would feel good. And I need to practice my skills."
The knowledge she sought about what Witches do was not readily available to me. First, aside from honoring Solstices and Equinoxes, Goddess Tradition has very little that is prescribed for all Witches. Second, we don't have anything uniform in our faith, no prayers or ceremonies that Witches do the same way, even twice, much less every day. Lastly, when it comes to personal work, it's private, and mostly unseen by others.
I poll my circle. "Do you have a daily practice?" I ask. After working together for two years, I don't know this about my circle members.
"Every morning when I get up," says Rebecca, "I ask the Goddess, 'What do I need to know today?' Then I draw a Tarot card. Sometimes it's a message for me, sometimes it's about someone else. It helps me recognize what's going on."
Kathy says that she chants daily, "Thank you for the bounty."
Selene dances in a movement meditation.
They all find a daily practice important and beneficial.
Inspiration, Devotion, Meditation
I go to the internet and query Witchvox.com. Looking at the answers I receive, it turns out that what Rebecca, Selene, and Kathy do reflects three loose, often overlapping categories into which my correspondents' answers fall: inspiration, devotion, and meditation.
Inspiration involves listening, opening for guidance. Rainbird reflects on the blessings and challenges of the day in the evening and asks for wisdom, guidance and inspiration through her dreams. Rowan meditates each morning and then selects which necklace she'll wear throughout the day. Another, Victoria asks the same question every day, "I wonder what I'll learn today?" and finds this as her best tool for battling lifelong severe depression.
For two years, Shelly drew a Tarot card daily and recorded it on her calendar using a mini deck on the bus on her way to work. During the ride she centered and recited a few lines from the Charge of the Goddess. She found this created daily direct contact with divinity. She stopped the practice when she got laid off, but the practice pushed her towards many positive life changes.
While most of the daily practices are not very demanding, devotional practices seem especially suited for quick interludes. Jen makes a brief devotional practice of squirting shampoo into her hands in the shape of a spiral while saying, "may peace fill my soul and the world." She draws a spiral on paper money and prays, "may the lives of all those whose hands this money pass through have abundance." Aviniana and her son light a candle every morning and speak a few inspired words which set the tone for their day. Jeni asks for protection every morning when she locks her door, and also uses her classroom's moment of silence to ask blessings for her students and for her teaching. Rainbird offers a small cup of her morning coffee and rings windchimes.
When Morrigan lacks time or materials, she finds that visualizing her ritual works for her. She takes her practice to work with her, dipping a sponge in salt water and running it around her cubicle's boundaries when work gets especially tense. She says, "We adjust the seat in our car before we leave. Why not perform a little daily devotional?"
Others practice devotion with a full daily ritual. Lavender Dawn, an active teacher and priestess, who runs a metaphysical gift store (Pelagia Mystica Gifts, Fort Bragg, CA) and works with people daily, creates a complete ritual every morning to sustain her vocation. She finds repeating at least one key phrase each time gives her a sense of continuity. When this phrase loses its meaning, she changes this aspect of the ritual.
Meditation occurs in many forms. Angela uses yoga and chakra alignment, and welcomes the sunrise. Dale meditates before arising and in odd moments throughout the day. Shawna incorporates grounding in meditation and brings this aspect to mundane jobs like composting and recycling.
Missing daily practice is usually taxing. Angela loses focus and feels disjointed, negative, and unappreciative when she's not engaged in her daily practice. She's observed that Pagans without this connected, daily practice can feel that something is lacking, a condition that leaves them seeking spirituality from external sources, and vulnerable to being taken advantage by the unscrupulous. Adrian feels more stressed, jittery and uncentered. But when a back injury halted Baruch's yoga practice, the result was having "less to feel sanctimonious about" and free from yoga's "oppressive quality."
Everyone said that their practice made a critical difference in their lives. Victoria, who went on to say, "Because I've asked myself that question, 'What will I learn today?' I am on notice to connect with the world, observe what's happening and how I respond."
Not practicing also makes a difference. Dale reported feeling anxious, separated and lonely when he doesn't get practice meditation. Jen worries that she has left her home unprotected, or shortchanged her work when she doesn't follow her blessing practice.
Most religions have prescribed personal regimens, practices that are so well-known that people outside the religions can readily name at least a few. Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists have prayer beads. Judaism has Sabbath candles, morning prayers. Islam has prostration towards Mecca. Native Americans salute the sunrise.
What about Goddess Tradition?
Our religion is both the newest and the oldest of the principal faiths. Unlike the other major faiths, Goddess Tradition is not centered on an individual's teachings. Nor are we a "People of the Book," with writings to coalesce us. We do not have the benefit and resource of an unbroken tradition. We only have our instinct and intuition for our practice, for discovering ways of connecting to the divinity of nature, the nature of divinity.
Despite being an untidy and decentralized faith, Goddess Tradition shares the same components of every other religion, both mature and developing. I think of religion as divided into three parts, like a layer cake.
The bottom layer is the congregation practice. In Wicca this is our ritual groups. I also put solitary practice here, since solitaries do the same rituals as groups, but with a congregation of one. For other faiths, this may be church, temple, mosque, dharmasala, essentially observing rituals together.
The middle layer is the religions' organizational aspect: the clergy, congregation's administration, theology schools, Sunday schools, edicts, systematic ethics and enforcement of who's in, and who's out.
The top layer is the individual, independent practice of the faiths. Some is considered part of the faith, some is voluntary and self-created. This ranges from simple acts like grace and bedtime prayers, Catholic rosaries, to Jewish seders and Sabbaths, all the way to the global prostration of Moslem men towards Mecca.
Our Wiccan cake is especially rich and flavorful on the bottom layer. In this we excel. We honor and merge with natural cycles with an incredible variety of fresh, innovative rituals. Our middle layer is thin, but growing. Groups like Reclaiming, Covenant of the Goddess, and others are surviving and maturing. Being an especially computer-literate people, the internet has strengthened and linked us through websites like Witchvox.com. Our top layer, the personal practice, is skimpy, but dense. In Wicca, everyone is essentially on their own to develop individual, independent practice through their own personal need and instinct.
Spirituality and Religion
Starting this discussion, we need to realize that theology typically distinguishes between practicing spirituality and practicing religion. Typically, spiritual practice is what promotes awareness and insights, cultivating personal well-being. Spiritual practice gives a personal boost. It doesn't require the precepts of faith to work. Religious practice is what orients us to our particular faith; religious practice nourishes both the practitioner and the body of the faith. One example of the spiritual/religious difference would be starting the day with meditation, or starting the day with the Jewish Modeh Ani, a prayer said upon awakening. The former enhances the individual; the latter also binds the person to a religion.
Witches know enough about energy to understand that focused religious prayers like the Jewish morning prayer, or the repeated Catholic Rosary, are ways of building power. The feed the religious entity, even the Gods of those faiths, energetically. Established religions understand this. Centuries ago, the Dominicans set up a "Perpetual Rosary," organizing nuns, monks, and laity to recite rosaries 24 hours a day. That's a powerful energetic dose to sustain their faith. Now, other groups have appropriated this potent tool. For example, Catholic anti-choice groups have used the internet to organize perpetual anti-choice rosaries.
What people get from their personal practices is very individual. Some find that their spiritual practice not only enhances their well-being, but it also creates an intense religious connection. The converse is true for religious practices. But there are major differences between spiritual and religious practices. Few maintain a spiritual practice from obligation, or in a rote fashion, while many go through a daily religious practice in a completely rote, mechanical way. But even without feeling or belief, religious practice still enhances religion and reinforces the participant's religious connection.
Consider the most compelling example of individual religious practice, the Islamic five-times daily male prostration towards Mecca. The passionate connection to Islam felt in being part of a "never-ending wave of synchronized prayer" forms an Islamic bond that transcends individual and national boundaries, creating a continually experienced unity that non-participants can't comprehend This bond is an immense power source that is propelling Islam's global growth and influence.
Has the time come for our faith to pay more attention to this layer of our Wiccan cake? This is an important question we should raise and consider.
We face an interesting dilemma. As a faith we are too early in our development to have any casual members. Nobody's a Witch because their families expect it of them. Because Goddess Tradition is an entirely self-motivated religious tradition, we're very likely to have a membership motivated to have some sort of personal practice.
Witches are intensely religious and spiritual. Without any requirements or prescriptions, many diligently practice daily sacred time. Every bit is voluntary and sincere, high quality stuff.
At the same time, we're not a people who would take kindly to any type of prescribed and scripted requirement of our faith. We're overwhelmingly independent, non-authoritarian, individualistic, and basically cranky; we're not likely to engage in the consistent, conformist religion-wide daily practices that could create the huge power source that fuels many world religions.
We do not do anything that is consistent, either in form or at the same time. As a result, our combined power is never misused, but it is also never harnessed to work for our sacred intentions. Essentially we have a faith filled with devout, trained religious people who create their own, regular, fulfilling daily practices. While other faiths take this energy and focus it on their intentions, we don't.
We also miss the benefits of shared traditions. Recently, Bill Aal, of Tools for Change, and I spoke of how celebrating Chanukah brought a feeling of comforting familiarity that Goddess Tradition never does. "These prayers have been said for at least a couple of thousand of years, by millions of people." Bill agreed. "Nothing else really compares."
This raises powerful questions. We have infinite reasons to fear abusing focused powers, but we also have a crisis of the earth's very survival pressed up against us, right now. We need to consider the potential that gathering the power our faith could generate through a consistent daily practice. This would be an experiment in unity by people who distrust organization. There is always the risk that such a step might be starting down a road that would turn us into what repels us about other faiths that have turned into abettors of oppression. This is an ancient dilemma.
Our fears are robbing us of tools for harnessing energy, force, faith, power, to awaken and strengthen the Goddess, who is more beleaguered by the minute. We're not in much danger of becoming an authoritarian enforcer of a rigid, daily practice. Let's try out creating a voluntary, consistent practice that will strengthen us at every level, and nourish Goddess Tradition. Perhaps this will be the catalyst, the jolt we need to effect the transformation our sacred planet needs.
Robert Aitken and David Steindl-Rast, The Ground We Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian
T. Thorn Coyle, Evolutionary Witchcraft
Dianne Sylvan, The Circle Within
Maggie Oman Shannon, One God: Shared Hope
Maggie Oman Shannon, The Way We Pray
Dale recommends Ken Wilber's books and tapes, available online
Shelly recommends Starhawk's The Spiral Dance, and Mary Greer's Tarot for Your Self
Susan's practice, which revolves around music and dance, has spawned a community: www.snakesrising.com
Morrigan finds the books of Silver Raven Wolf a good starting source. Also: patience, perseverance, trial and error, the loss of parents, poverty, an excellent yoga teacher, a Goddess who inspires me.
Author Diane Baker is a founding member of Reclaiming, living in Seattle.
Dear Reclaiming Quarterly
I'm writing in response to Diane Baker's article about Daily Spiritual Practice in the Summer 2005 edition of RQ.
Discussions with my non-pagan boyfriend have led me to question what religion is. He is convinced that all religions are fundamentalist and dogmatic structures that uphold power for a few and control the many. He says it is a matter of time before groups like Reclaiming embrace doctrine and go the way of many spiritual movements before it. He says that the metaphysical is unknowable and that a line is crossed when a tradition tells people that they know the answer to unknowable questions.
As for me I can only think that two things basically define the problem with religions, whether liberal or conservative: the idea of that there is one true faith, with all others being wrong.
And second, the idea that one tradition knows the nature and mind of Deity. These ideas lead to a small group deciding for a large group of people things I believe should be decided individually, like what they think happens after death, and things like who to love and how. It also leads to shift in emphasis from what is personally fulfilling and leads to rich life for the individual and a good world for many, to a shift in thinking that the reason to do certain things is to please one's concept of Deity, to avoid punishment or receive reward (often in the afterlife).
It frightens me to think as Diane Baker suggests, that Reclaiming might decide on a daily spiritual practice for everyone, even if it is useful in strengthening our tradition. It begs the question what in Goddess tradition will be strengthened, and if it would be just to strengthen it after it decides for people what to do each day?
Part of what draws me to Goddess traditions is the focus on non- hierarchy but I wonder who would decide for us a practice, and based on what? On an idea of what the Goddess wants? And why would people comply? Because they want a sense of unity, or because they fear isolation from the group if they don't comply even if it doesn't suit their needs?
I think it's important that tradition serve the people who participate, that it uphold the current needs of a person or a group, that it be fluid and mutually decided upon. I fear what spontaneity, and freedom would be lost if we all synchronized our daily practice? I think we can do things for the Earth and our survival upon it in other forums without standardizing our practice. I like that we do what works for us, that we bring the individualism of our spirituality together and share it as a group.
If we were to all agree and become one in it, I fear that not only would diversity be lost, but choice, and loss of choice is ultimately the basis of fundamentalism.
-- by Melissa Weiss
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