Orthodoxy & fundamentalism scare me. Organized religion sends me running for the front door. There is nothing inherently wrong with believing that your way is the “right” way. In fact I can admire that kind of dedication. The problem arises when you also become convinced that your “right” way is the only way and everyone else should be doing things your way too. I admit to having a bit of an orthodox streak in my nature and I work at trying to avoid imposing my will on anyone else. I will admit that there have been times I’ve taken an “it’s my ball and if we don’t play my way I’m leaving” approach to things. When it comes to spiritual matters I definitely prefer a more hands-on, less structured and orthodox approach. Unfortunately when humans come together in groups, orthodoxy and fundamentalism tend to erupt.
One of the reasons I avoid most group situations is because I have a cantankerous kink in my personality. The more people tell me the way I “should” be doing things, the more I feel compelled to do it differently. I blame this on my parents. One of the mantras of my childhood was “just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to”. That stuck. I don’t see it as a bad thing but it really makes group membership challenging. I’ve tried several ranging from a small Wiccan coven (in which I lasted all of a month before becoming the catalyst for an implosion) to ADF, the Druid organization. In both situations there were elements I liked about the groups but ultimately their long term goals were not my own. In one case I quickly realized the group was a cult of personality for the high priestess/founder. In the other I realized the group’s mission to serve as ambassadors to the general public with regard to Pagan beliefs and rituals was counter my own nature and preferences. I have no interest in leading or even participating in public rituals.
I also have a knee-jerk reaction to the concept of Pagan “churches” or owning land to build temples etc. I realize that for many people this is an opportunity to worship among a group of like-minded individuals in safety and privacy. I wish them well in this approach. For me, this becomes a dramatic shift in priorities that will ultimately cause Pagan spirituality to go the way of Christianity, moving from a more High Priestess approach to a more Hierophantic one. Once an organized religion owns “stuff” their priorities shift so that maintaining that stuff becomes paramount. It’s often slow but steady. It also tends to be a short step to creating a priesthood and establishing leaders as arbiters of what the right way is to do things. It’s a shift from exploring the hidden mysteries on your own (the realm of the High Priestess) to worshiping in a church or temple led by a priest (the Hierophant’s bailiwick). It doesn’t have to be a negative shift but it often seems to develop into one.
Look at Christian history. Once the apostles got hold of things and made Peter the first pope, they began codifying what Jesus taught. They left out writings about Jesus that didn’t fit their views such as the Book of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. I realize these might not be “regulation” gospels but they certainly could be. They offer a very different and perhaps more honest view of who Jesus was and what he taught. However these teachings threatened the legitimacy of the early church. The Jesus of the gospels is open-minded and welcoming of all peoples but the Christian church quickly became codified and orthodox. If I remember correctly there were even arguments in the early church regarding whether Gentiles could be allowed to join. Things grew increasingly worse once the church grew into the Holy Roman Empire. After acquiring buildings and lands from the collapsing Roman Empire, the Christian church took on a very aggressive approach to converts and trumpeting the “word of God” to any and all who could hear.
We also seem to forget that one of the reasons early Christianity appealed to so many was because the various Pagan traditions in Rome at the time had lost their soul. They became about right acts and public observances. Many Roman citizens paid lip service to the gods by offering sacrifices but they held no true belief in their hearts. It’s as though codifying and establishing orthodox practices sucks the life out of spiritual paths. The idea of Pagan “clergy” also bothers me. I am in no way trying to condemn other people’s choices, but for me clergy sends the message that I need someone to function as an intermediary between me and my gods. It also seems like I’m being told these folks know more or are better trained to do this work than me. That irritates me. It also creates a class system in Paganism, whether intention or unintentional. Humans have a tendency to lend more credence and weight to words stated by someone with a degree of some type. It doesn’t seem to matter if what they say makes sense. The fact that the speaker has a jumble of letters after his/her name makes their pronouncements more valid to others. Down this road always seems to lie dragons of some type.
I realize that many of us seek out groups that share our spiritual beliefs because deep down we want to be sure we’re doing it “right”. We don’t trust our instincts or our connections to the gods. We want a leader, a priest or priestess to show us the “correct” way. I suppose for some folks that is great but to my mind that path leads to the same trajectory that Christianity and various Pagan traditions before it followed. The harder we try to establish ourselves as legitimate in the eyes of others, the quicker we lose our connection to the divine. We find ourselves jumping through hoops created by some external authority with little understanding of who we are or what we do in order to be validated and legitimized. I say fuck it! We do we need to meet some arbitrary guidelines created by outsiders. Instead of pursuing accreditation according to their terms I’d rather see us continue to do things our own way. Unfortunately I don’t think that will last. I may not live to see it but I have no doubt that it’s the end result of trends like paid clergy, tradition neutral training programs and the purchase of “church lands”.
Mansions of the Moon Tarot
by ZADOK (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Traditional meaning – doctrine & dogma, passing along knowledge & traditions, spiritual guidance,
TarotBroad’s Buzz: This card is full of Christian/Catholic imagery indicating its connection to traditional, orthodox religious beliefs. The priests are garbed in full regalia and express the power and authority of their office. The Eucharist and angels symbolize the connection to the divine while the doves represent the Holy Spirit. This card’s message suggests that following the path being offered by the priests is the way to find the keys to heaven – the connection to the divine. The doves are the messengers of the divine. They carry the Universe’s spiritual message to humanity. The angels are another reminder of the spiritual mysteries of the universe. And the priests are the guides through the golden archway to connect with these divine emissaries.
When I first viewed this card I was initially a bit turned off by the Christian symbolism, especially the priests, but upon further reflection it struck me that in the truest sense that is what a priest should be – not the strict, disciplinarian seeking to strike fear in the hearts of those who break the rules. Priests should be the guides and the teachers, gently giving us the knowledge, wisdom and support we need to find our own way through the golden archway to connect with the divine energy in the Universe.
Wheel of Change Tarot
created by Alexandra Gennetti
Published by Destiny Books, 1997
The Book says: “When this card is part of your reading, look carefully at what part your faith plays in your life. What do you put your faith in: your work, your religion, your children, your self, a particular teacher, or the future? Do you have any faith in your life? . . .
The second part of the interpretation of this card is to examine the possibly negative aspects of one’s faith. We must be aware that the dogma we acquire through various religions and attitudes can be used to justify – without examination – all manner of behaviors. We must look carefully at how our rights and wrongs are determined and whether they arise out of a true sense of the common good or out of a need to require conformity to a narrow dogma.”
TarotBroad’s Buzz: I admit that the concepts represented by this are ones that I often find difficult to accept. I have a negative knee-jerk reaction to most organized religions and that is what The Hierophant represents to me. However, the longer I consider this card the more I realize that, just as with all the other cards, it has both positive and negative associations.
The positive aspects of the Hierophant are the peace and calm that rituals and spiritual beliefs can bring to followers. In times of crisis people often find refuge and consolation in their religious beliefs. It is that feeling of welcome and belonging one feels in a church or temple. That calming and soul-soothing sense of timeless and eternal spirit. I never remember feeling this during religious services but I do recall feeling this at odd moments when I would enter a church to light a candle or just to sit quietly.
The negative side of the Hierophant can be seen in blind obedience and close-mindedness that can accompany any organized (and many disorganized) religious system. I often see this as the political arm of any church. It is the hierarchical structure that seeks to maintain control over its followers. I find it interest that Jesus would probably be horrified at the atrocities done in his name. Then again I know many Pagans who seem to be heading down the same dogmatic “Paganer than thou” path. Both sides of this coin are what come to mind when I see the Hierophant – both spirituality and dogmatic organization.
For some reason today’s entry was difficult to write. The well was dry and I couldn’t come up with anything I thought was worth sharing or that I felt competent to write. Finally, as I was browsing the NYPL website I hit upon something – libraries!
I love libraries. From the time I was a child they were my haven, my sanctuary against the world. I’ve had a library card as long as I can remember. I still recall the day my mother brought me to the local library and signed me up for a card. It was restricted (I could only take out 2 books at a time and only from the children’s section) but it was a start. One of my favorite books to take out was The Little Witch Cookbook. I adored the illustrations and the recipes were very simple for a child to make. I actually reacquired a copy as an adult but it just wasn’t the same and I passed it along to my youngest niece who seemed very thrilled to get it.
I also enjoyed losing myself in Bulfinch’s Mythology. This began a lifelong fascination and attraction for mythology. I started here and eventually found my way to more adult versions of Greek mythology as well as Celtic, Arthurian, Norse and Egyptian mythology. I was so excited the day I was able to take a book from the adult section of the library – it was Mythology by Edith Hamilton and I still remember the cover.
The first time I was allowed to walk to the bigger library near me (the now gown and much mourned Donnell Branch of the NYPL), I felt so proud I almost burst. I still remember how overwhelmed I felt when I walked in because it was much bigger than my local branch. It also had a Young Adult section. Oh the books I read from that library. I could spend hours simply walking through the stacks and losing myself in the books. It was wondrous and amazing to me.
During high school and college I managed to wend my way through the maze of research materials – magazines and non-circulating books, that allowed me to complete term papers, book reports and other school assignments. Computers were not yet the omnipresent devices they have become so I learned how to work the card files. I felt such a sense of accomplishment learning to find books and make inter-library loan requests.
These days I still visit the local library – sometimes to take out books, other times for movies or music. My primary use of the library is for electronic books – it’s so much easier to request and return books that way. However I’ll always feel a sense of soul-satisfaction and deep emotional connection to the physical library. I will always love losing myself in the stacks of books and finding lost treasures I would never have known about without browsing. It saddens me that so many local NYPL branches are nothing more than computer kiosks now. So many of the books are gone, the space freed up for more computers. The people using the library don’t seem to have the same sense of awe and wonder I did. They also don’t enforce the quiet rule much these days. That sacred hush that I remember when I entered the library, that reminded me I was in a special spiritual temple, has been replaced by laughter and chatting. I suppose it’s wonderful that libraries still fill a niche in their communities but I miss the slightly more formal, quieter days.
I hope we never lose our libraries. It’s sad to see so many bookstores going out of business and libraries downsizing. There is something magical about these places; these repositories of fabulous mysteries and hidden treasures. Hail to libraries and librarians! Long may they rule!
The fact that I’m feeling so overwhelmed and burdened by responsibilities is causing me to let things slip through the cracks. I have an opportunity to reignite my spark but I have to take it. With all the obligations I’m burdened with right now I feel as though I don’t have the right to take time for myself but these cards are telling me that I need to change that perception.
If I want to create a better relationship with my spirit guides then I need to stop letting my responsibilities be an excuse and just do something. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. I think it’s a question of taking 10 minutes or so every day and just being more mindful and open to connecting with the spirit world. Right now I feel like a rat trapped in a barrel – I’m running in circles, using up all my energy and getting no where. I’m exhausted, drained and defeated. The only way I know to counter-act this is to take some time for myself; to be still and listen.
This isn’t exactly mind-blowing news. I know the answer and realize the Tarot is reinforcing what I already knew but have been avoiding. Small steps, baby steps – that’s all it takes. I don’t need to reach the goal line in a week. I didn’t get to this point in my life overnight so why I think the solution should be a quick fix is beyond me. To paraphrase Robin Byrd, I need to lie back, relax and get comfortable – at least for a few minutes every day.