Review: “When A Pagan Prays” by Nimue Brown

 

51odwlmvgVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I never really liked prayer when I was a Christian. The act of bowing my head in church and listening to somebody else represent my needs to the Divine Father never made me feel connected or represented. I could never close my eyes while standing because vertigo would take over and I would feel myself weaving. My eyes would snap open with visions of me lying sprawled in the aisle. I would stare at my feet, at the backside of the people in front of me, or I would take surreptitious glances around the room to see who else had their eyes open.

My own personal prayers weren’t much better. They always seemed too formal and scripted. “My loving heavenly father…..in Jesus name, Amen.” Sometimes I didn’t want to say those words. I wanted to feel the presence of the divine and telepathically send out my feelings of awe, gratitude, and love.

When I step out into nature and stand before a breathtaking sunset or revel in the power of the ocean, I want to open my arms wide and stare up into the sky with eyes and heart open and receptive. I don’t feel inclined to drop to my knees, bow my head, cross my arms over my chest, and act penitent. Such a position implies humiliation before a disciplining tyrant. Like a dog that’s been whipped too many times and has only learned to cower.

Prayer should be a spiritual experience, not a religious experience. Prayer is the ache which comes from the heart moved beyond words.

As a recovering Christian, I still felt the urge to pray but didn’t know how to go about it without engaging my mind to the exclusion of my heart. For this reason, I decided to read “When a Pagan Prays: Exploring Prayer in Druidry and Beyond” by Nimue Brown.

I’ve read a lot of pagan literature and was anticipating a light-read with this book. I was wrong. Ms. Brown’s approach to prayer was intelligent and scientific. She made many of the same observations I have always felt regarding formalized prayer. She even gives a recipe for successful prayers versus empty prayers. The book is honest and the author reveals her humanity throughout.

I am not a Druid, but I did not feel the information was limited to Druids alone. The information is valuable for anyone who has experienced a spiritual crisis and is finding prayer either a major turn-off or a challenge. In the last pages of the book, the author reveals the changes she has noticed in her life thanks to a regular practice of prayer.

Who does a recovering Christian pray to? This is a question I have asked myself numerous times. I find any word associated with my life as a Christian very off-putting. This includes: God, Jesus, Jehovah, Lord, Heavenly Father, Almighty, etc. When I do attempt prayer I address: Ancestors, Ascended Masters, Spirit Guides, possibly even Archangels since they were not  a prominent part of my Christian instruction. (When I first got started as a Pagan I addressed Goddess, but always felt rather silly so I stopped).

Ms. Brown addresses:

  • Who should we pray to?
  • Does prayer really works or is it just a placebo?
  • The social ethics to praying.
  • Different kinds of prayer and different ways of praying.
  • Can we live a prayer-filled life? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
  • How do we know if our prayers are answered?
  • Why isn’t deity more forthcoming with his/her responses?

I found the book very interesting and informative. Ms. Brown admits to being a bit of a wordsmith, so the text sometimes bogs down and turning the pages becomes difficult. It took me all month to read the book, and some of it I scanned through because the information didn’t seem wholly necessary to the overall theme. But I am very glad I finished “When a Pagan Prays: Exploring Prayer in Druidry and Beyond,”  because I found a greater appreciation for the author as a wordsmith, a Pagan, and a woman with struggles and flaws. I recommend it to anyone looking to explore an aspect of humanity that is often taken for granted.

 

 

 

The Continuing Saga….

 

In my previous post “My Story” I marveled at the total absence of encounters with Jehovah’s Witnesses. On retrospect, I feel the universe was giving me a gift–the gift of time. Though I may deny feeling any grief at being disfellowshipped, I have to admit there was some emotional backlash as I slowly came to grips with the loss of all I had ever known and valued.

In the last couple of months I have been working on meditation as a means of personal empowerment. My feelings of gratitude have gone through the proverbial roof and I am feeling happier and more content than I have ever felt in my life.

A few weeks back, I had a long day of massage at Exhale. After the third of five massages, I noticed a stabbing pain right under my rib cage, about where my diaphragm is. When I got home I put on some comfortable clothes, grabbed my foam roller and got on the floor to try to work out whatever was going on with my abdomen/diaphragm. After a few contortions, I found this tight line of tissue that extended from my pelvis, lateral to my rectus abdominus, and up to my rib cage. It felt like a line of fire, so I just slowly rolled the foam roller along this line until it pushed up against my diaphragm and I felt a flood of emotion wash over me.

It was a sensation I remembered having almost continuously as a child: shame, guilt, hopelessness, loss, fear, isolation, and the certainty that no matter what I did I would never fit in with Jehovah’s Witnesses. All those feelings were the result of that religion.

I was shocked to find that locked away in my diaphragm! I just laid there, with the foam roller pushing into that knot of pain and memory, and let the feelings wash over me. After a minute or two the pain, physical and emotional, faded.

Since then I have felt profound healing and no longer have panic attacks and severe feelings of sadness and loss. Some days I feel such happiness and serenity I wonder if I am glowing. I have been exercising and losing weight and my energy level is through the roof, which has no doubt helped with my mood (gotta love endorphins!).

So, apparently the universe has decided I can handle some JW exposure. Last week, I was at a local fruit/vegetable stand when I spotted a JW sister from a local congregation. I noticed her out of the corner of my eye and saw such a look of profound sadness on her face it surprised me! I gave her a dazzling smile, which she returned, and we both went about our business.

That look of sadness that flashed across her face gave me some insight into how people are feeling about me. They don’t hate me–or fear me and my witchy-ways–they appear to pity me as much as I do them. Which showed me all the more that they aren’t the ones to hate. Most of them are as duped as I was. It’s the Watchtower organization and its lies that is truly reprehensible.

A few days ago, I received a text from an old JW friend who is still very active. She said she just wanted me to know that she loves me and misses me. I thought about firing back a text that said something like, “I love you too, but I am not going to return.”

Today, I went to the local Starbucks for my customary “4 shots over ice, grande” when I spotted a sister I used to pioneer with (pioneer = full-time service). She smiled at me before she remembered my status. So I gave her a big smile and said, “Hey! How’s it going? You look good!” She hurriedly shuffled away. Then I ordered my coffee from another JW sister who actually treated me more warmly than she ever has. We talked massage and I told her I could help her husband’s thumb.

After that, I was talking with the acupuncturist I share an office with and he told me a JW brother (who admitted to some dissatisfaction with the religion a couple of years ago) had asked if I was still working there; then felt he should inform my business partner that “if I did anything weird, {he} needs to know I am no longer affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Wha?! What’s the point of that except to maybe slander my name and/or reputation?

So I go to the county fair and run into the JW-Starbucks worker and her husband. While I am working on his arm under the tattoo tent, he tells me he has left the religion and doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. He said he was tired of the judgment and hypocrisy and the fact that the organization seemed to be pulling most of the doctrine out of their asses (my words).

After that, they go their way. While wandering through the quilt exhibit I run into the friend who texted me a few days ago. She smiles at me, but does not speak. She does speak to my husband (who is standing a foot behind me), however, and punches him in the arm (he isn’t df’d).

I admit to being a bit frayed by all the JW-exposure today. Growing up with the doctrine of disfellowshipping and always being on the other side of its application, I never realized how really stupid it was. Now that I am on this side, I see a doctrine that forces people to act counter to their instinct. We instinctively smile and greet people we know and are friends with, but JW’s are forced to stop acknowledging such ones. In fact they are told to treat former members worse than total strangers.

If  Jehovah’s Witnesses truly had the truth, why is its application so counter-intuitive? If God’s love transcends our own, why do those who represent him act so harmfully? Isn’t it possible that God (presuming he exists) is the God of life, light, and love that Jesus portrayed? The acts of judgment and excommunication and strict adherence reflect Paul’s Christianity, not that of Jesus.

Martin Luther, who ignited the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth-century, began as a Catholic Monk. He was filled with self-doubt and anxiety in his endless attempts to please a wrathful, demanding God. Then he would read passages in the Bible that spoke of how God loved and accepted the faithful regardless of how good (or bad) they were. Luther underwent a major experience of mystical insight when he came to grips with the realization that God was pure love–not the agent of anger, rage, and rigidity that his previous religious training had led him to believe.

The Protestant Reformation was begun by someone who believed God better than his strict representatives. The people in the organization that is Jehovah’s Witnesses are largely good people. But they are being used as a whipping post for those who cannot continue to worship the god of the Watchtower–a god that cannot be pleased. If it wasn’t for the doctrine of disfellowshipping, there would be far fewer Jehovah’s Witnesses than 7 million. That doctrine alone keeps people trapped in that religion. Some stay out of fear of alienation, while others stay because they know no better. They are never allowed to talk to anyone with a differing viewpoint, so doubts are never allowed to creep in.

So ask yourself: Do I truly worship a loving God? Does my belief make me a better person? Am I free to be whomever I want and speak to whomever I want? Or is my every action controlled? If you are trapped in a lifestyle that forces you to act against your better judgment, it is time for you to regain your autonomy and leave the collective. Speaking from experience, embracing the authentic-self is exhilarating!

 

Guardians of The Watchtower

It is almost 3:30 AM on the morning of September 27, 2011. The new moon is less than two hours away. Why should I care? Because I have been studying Wiccan/Paganism for the last couple of months and the phases of the moon are very important. The last few days before new moon are considered ‘the dark of the moon.’ A dark time for witches. Some consider it a time for dark magic–if the need should arise. It is ruled over by Hecate(pro. HE-katae), the crone goddess. If you wonder what she looks like, think about every Halloween witch or cartoon witch you’ve ever seen. She’s old, with a pointed hat, broom and cauldron. The pointed hat symbolizes the upward spiraling Cone of Power (which many witches seek to obtain during their circle rituals), the broomstick symbolizes a sweeping away of the old, and the cauldron symbolizes transformation. Why are these things important at this time of year?

All Hallows Eve is the Pagan New Year–beginning after sundown on October 31st and continuing till sundown of November 1st.  Samhain (pro. SOW-en), the Pagan holiday that coincides with Halloween, is Gaelic for ‘summer’s end.’ The harvest is complete, winter is beginning. Pagans at this time (much like modern people on December 31) reflected upon their physical mortality and the nature of change and transformation in the cycle of life and death. It is the most important time of year for a pagan and the most psychically charged. The veil between the living and the dead is believed to be thinnest at this time so the spirits of ancestors and loved ones can be honored. It’s not a time to worship Satan as witches don’t believe he exists. The pentacle they wear (whether right side up or upside down) symbolizes the 5 elements from which all things exist: earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. The upside down pentacle characterizes the second degree witch who must come to recognize her dark side during this time–much like Luke Skywalker.

Back to the phases of the moon. Every phase has various characteristics that must be taken into account. New moon is used for personal growth, healing, or blessing a new project or venture. Full moon is used for banishing unwanted influences in life, protection and divination. The waning moon is for banishing/rejecting things in life we no longer want–like excess weight or negative habits/emotions (if hair is cut during this time it will take longer to grow out). Waxing moon is a time to attract things into our lives like prosperity, abundance, or magic. Since I am awake (I went to bed at 9pm last night only to awaken bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 2am)   I will likely go outside at 5:08am, light a black candle (to dispel negativity), and say an invocation to Hecate. Tonight I will likely hold a private ceremony and perform some candle magic in which I ask the Goddess for guidance in some aspect of my life.

As previously mentioned, I have only been studying this for a couple of months, but as I read over it I realize how surreal it is considering I was a Jehovah’s Witness only a year ago. I am enjoying the freedom of this new belief system and the ability to practice it wherever, and whenever, I want. I also find it empowering after coming from a patriarchal dominated religion. What I am finding most interesting, however, are the pagan roots even among Jehovah’s Witnesses. This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal as all religions have adopted pagan customs and holidays. But JW’s held themselves above the rest. The reason they don’t celebrate holidays and birthdays (or anything really) is because of their apparent pagan roots. Customs and traditions are considered taboo by JW’s because of their often superstitious origins (i.e. throwing the bouquet at weddings or the traditional toasts). I didn’t even have a wedding cake at my wedding because I did some research and found its origins to be steeped in fertility (like everything else at weddings) and I didn’t want any part of childbirth.

So for me to encounter, again and again, pagan influences within Jehovah’s Witnesses has been fascinating and enjoyable. October is a very auspicious time for JW’s. They feel this is the month when Jesus was enthroned as King in heaven in 1914. This is also supposed to be the month when Armageddon occurs. Is it an accident that this same month is the conclusion of the pagan year? I don’t think so.

As I cast my first circle as a practicing witch, I noticed something interesting. Part of the ritual is a calling forth of The Watchtowers. The witch faces east, west, south and north and calls The Guardians of The Watchtowers requesting assistance in the ritual to follow. Can you imagine how strange it was for me to use the term Watchtower in a pagan ceremony? It was surreal to say the least. This is not a new tradition, either. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (late 19th-early 20th century) was a branch of Freemasons who not only created the modern-day Tarot deck but also  had the custom of opening rituals by calling upon the Watchtowers to cleanse and purify a space. The Watchtower has long been considered sacred to Artemis (Diana of Ephesus)  who wore a crown in the form of a Watchtower. The founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, could not have been unaware of this since he was a Freemason, as the Cross & Crown image on the Watchtower bore out. (The term ‘Golden Dawn’ not to be confused with “Awake!” predecessor “The Golden Age” and Russell’s series of books, “Millennial Dawn.”)

A supposedly popular ritual of Satanists is the passing of the bread and wine representing Jesus blood and body. Only, they do not partake. Their ritual involves the rejection of the Host, the holy sacrament, Jesus sacrifice. Jehovah’s Witnesses (ex or current) will know what I am getting at, but for those of you who are still in the dark–the most important day of the year for JW’s is the Lord’s Evening Meal in which the emblems representing Christs body and blood are passed. These emblems are passed, untouched, by 99% of the participants. Roughly 10,000 of the more than 7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses get to partake of the host. The rest practice a sort of subconscious rejection of the sacrifice since JW’s teach Jesus is the mediator for only those few who partake. Satanic ritual? Whether they are aware of it or not, it is.

These are only a few of the parallels I have noticed since my studies began, but they only convince me all the more that, as Solomon said,  “That which has come to be, that is what will come to be; and that which has been done, that is what will be done; and so there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9) Religion comes as an answer to societies needs, bringing with them the roots of previous belief systems. Supposedly, the predominant features of Jesus birth, death, and life can be found in myths that existed long before his apparent birth (see: Horus). Warlike religions were created while society was in its adolescence and conquest and war were rampant. Peaceful religions (or religions who were supposed to be peaceful [Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity]) came about as man evolved from fighting to thinking. And apocalyptic religions (i.e. Adventists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) were born as a response to the increasingly secular world. But religion has failed to bring man deliverance and has only prevented scientific advancement. Society seems to be moving toward a more secular view which I applaud as the only way to evolve past the dark ages of religious intolerance. I hope for a time in which prejudice and judgment are replaced by peace and acceptance. This will only be possible when religion dies and spirituality takes over.

Crisis of Conscience

I have just finished reading a book considered taboo to my old system of beliefs. The book enjoys such infamy simply owning a copy would bring down the judgment from church elders. I didn’t even know the book existed until the last year or so, and didn’t know of the events it depicted until the last few years. The organization I belonged to has done such a thorough job of sweeping it all under the carpet that it is probably safe to say only 10-15% of its seven million adherents know of its existence. The book is entitled Crisis of Conscience by Ray Franz.

Ray Franz was a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) from 1971-1980. The Governing Body is a small group of men (9-15 members) who perform all administrative functions for the global congregation of JW’s. These men are among the few (144,00 total) JW’s feel are chosen for heavenly life. Ray was among their numbers until he started taking issue with certain organizational procedures. He and those associated with him were eliminated with extreme prejudice.

When I say “eliminated” I don’t mean a mafia-style hit. I mean excommunication, otherwise known as being disfellowshipped. (Exactly what will happen to me if anyone finds this blog;). Men and their wives who gave decades of faithful service and only took issue with an unbiblical rule. They wanted to remain servants of Jehovah but were kicked out of their homes at the headquarters, losing lifelong friends in the process, in a trial reminiscent of that endured by the Christ in the hours before his death.

Is this a book filled with lies and exaggerations, as many opponents claim? No. The honesty of the writer, and the deep-seated sadness, come through with every word. For those who prefer their evidence in black and white, he has documented evidence supporting his claims. He reveals a number of situations that happened while he was on the Governing Body–from dogmatic stances against oral sex to healthcare and political decisions that have resulted in the deaths of many. He concludes with the assumption that the religion will never experience any reform as its adherents are captives of the concept that God has only one organization–and that is the Watchtower organization. As long as followers subscribe to that belief wholeheartedly any inconsistencies will be ignored. And books such as this, will be avoided as if they carried the black plague.

In the concluding chapter of the book, he quotes a friend as saying, “The mind which renounces, once and forever, a futile hope, has its compensation in ever growing calm” (345). This made me think of the initial psychological shock I experienced upon realizing I had spent my life subscribing to beliefs that were inaccurate. Doctrines that had been such a part of my mentality that every word and action mirrored their apparent reality. It is hard to turn our backs on the only thing we have ever known and believed in. But once I did, and I allowed other truths to break the veil of obscurity my mind had hidden behind, I experienced a calmness and freedom from fear.

Did I know I was living my life in fear? No. I knew I was never good enough and would never be good enough, but I was told everyone else was living in fear–not JW’s. Yet, I had been taught to look at only the bad in the world as evidence of its coming destruction. To never befriend non-witnesses as they would die at Armageddon. To fear for my own salvation lest I do anything that may cause me to become disapproved. I no longer need to micro-manage my life and I have felt the shackles fall away and the heavy yoke that Jesus said was “kind” has finally become what he described.

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt the need to answer the stabbings of their conscience in opposition to popular opinion. It takes courage to stand alone, as the analogy says, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered.”

Questionable Wager

On the last day of winter term I recollect the last few months and what I have learned. It was a busy term (19 credits) and I admit to a feeling of relief that it is over. I have one more final this afternoon–Philosophy. I have averaged A’s and B’s on the other ones so I am hoping for the same with philosophy.

I was really looking forward to philosophy as the final nail in the coffin of my Christian beliefs. But it didn’t do that really. I found the philosophers (Hume, Kant, Russell, Locke, etc.) rather hard to follow. Their ideas were so convoluted it really didn’t affect me very much, except to maybe annoy me as to why it matters whether we are all existing in a matrix of somebody else’s invention. If this is all a dream, how is that going to affect my day to day living? Can I change anything based upon that premise? No, so why does it matter? I think my one-on-one discussions with the professor were more fruitful than the actual class. We discussed faith, truth and God. He is an avowed atheist who thinks the people in my religion are “scary”. He told me the next time they came to his door he is going to answer it nude and see if that scares them off. I told him it has been done already, and no, it doesn’t scare them off.

The most interesting thing I take away from philosophy is Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal believed it was better to wager for the existence of God than not because if God exists and we choose to ignore him it means everlasting damnation. But if we wager to believe in him it means everlasting life. If God doesn’t exist? Nothing changes but at least we will have prepared for the worst. Belief in God requires more than just words, of course, there must be an outward manifestation–prayer, services, etc. This did not help me bury my beliefs, it made me worry I was making the wrong wager. But then, so is my philosophy professor. I am still having a hard time deciding if I will choose to believe in God or not. I am so fed up with religion in general I can’t quite separate God from Christianity. I am more inclined to believe in a God as an ancient deity that has been worshiped since time immemorial than a Christian Christ. I actually find myself tired of the name Jesus and rarely use it. So will I take Pascal’s wager? No, not yet. I still need to detect something concrete that I can believe in. I never felt anything with my old religion and I still don’t. I had a friend once tell me that he tried everything he could to summon the spirit realm (Ouija board, The Exorcist, seance, etc.)and never got anything, so he doesn’t believe anything is out there. He’s a total atheist although he was raised in the same faith as I. I am still reserving judgment, and still on the search.

My other classes were Sociology, Psychology, Math, and Writing composition. I think I enjoyed Psychology the most. I have always wanted to learn more about Freud and got a small dose in this class. I like what I learned. His definition of ID and superego were fascinating. ID being that part of our sub-conscious that is self-serving, irrational, and impulsive. Superego is the judge, the conscience. The ego is the practical conscious part of our minds that make the executive decisions and prevents our ID from taking over. I feel like my ID has actually killed my superego and is struggling for dominance with my ego. Up until now, my superego has ruled my life. I don’t want it around anymore. Jiminy Cricket is dead!

Freud also showed me that I have an oral fixation. Which means at some point in my first year of life I was overfed or frustrated. Adult oral expressions can include gum chewing, nail biting, smoking, kissing, overeating/overdrinking, gullibility, biting, and sarcasm. It was Freud’s response to the question of whether he was orally fixated–hence the always present cigar–that led him to say, “Sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar.” He smoked up to twenty of them a day and died of throat cancer.

So the term ends and I await another. I have discovered an interesting new therapy I am trying out. More on that later…

Dissolution of Beliefs

I just watched a video on youtube:

It describes a religion started back in the early part of the 20th century. It had tens of thousands of adherents worldwide and a firmly established system of beliefs. At one point some of the older ones in leadership noticed some Bible accounts that contradicted their beliefs. They researched it and realized they were wrong on numerous things. The head of the church got up in front of hundreds and admitted their misguided beliefs. The video portrays the difficult change that resulted and the divisions it caused, but it calls the whole thing a modern day miracle since the church did survive. The people are happier now for the God they served before was harsh and demanding. The followers always felt guilty and unworthy. They were under constant pressure to measure up, but under the new beliefs as laid out in the Bible they realize that God is love. He wants people to come to him. It makes me think of a conversation I had with a friend yesterday who said she was always taught that God is knocking and trying to tell us, “Here I am. I am here for you.” All we have to do is open for him.

Take the time to watch the video all the way through. (I played solitaire while I listened to it). The video brought tears to my eyes more than once at the gratefulness people felt for their spiritual leaders who were humble enough to admit when they were wrong and make the needed adjustments even when they knew the fallout would be great. Let me know what you think after watching.