Last night I arrived home in early evening to see, through the windshield of the cab, the thinnest possible visible sliver of the New Moon Cheshire-Catting at me (differs from tom-catting) down the end of Charlton Street. As soon as I'd got out of the cab, I bowed nine times (three-times-three-for-the-Goddess) to the crescent, then starred myself, saying "Lady of Silver Magic, Come into my life." This is, at the present writing, almost the only pagan thing I still regularly do (which is sad).
Bowing nine times to the first visible crescent after the New Moon is a trick I picked up from Robert Graves, inventor of the Triple Goddess cult, who made a habit of it when he lived on Majorca. The pentacle is ... itself. The invoking "Lady" prayer was taught by Leon Reed to all his students in Seattle, where I studied with him for a year and a day (Candlemas 1988 to Candlemas 1989). Alice Stewart told me once she had adopted the Leon prayer from me (when we were both in Proteus Coven), and once when I visited Christopher Hatton's coven, Mycota, for a Singing Darkness ritual (how I miss them! how we all miss them!), he spotted the crescent from his window, and suggested we all bow - pleasant to think I have conveyed these little rites further down some traditional line, and that others have taken a shine (a glamour?) to them, and carry them further still.
Suzanne often goes to mass when she finds herself free on a Sunday in a strange city. She no longer believes in the faith in which she was raised, but the ritual familiar from childhood centers and relaxes her, comforts her - and who among us (certainly not someone as sociable as Suzanne) does not long for some sort of no-questions-asked contact in a strange town on an empty day? Too, she often chats with the priest afterwards, about the music and the neighborhood and so on, and (being as lovely as she is charming) often finds herself invited to join him for brunch - a brunch with a strange man of somewhat esoteric and intellectual tastes and background and no social or sexual imponderables hanging about - what could be a classier dose of serendip? A little bit I envy her the option, having the ritual to recall her to pleasant childhood peace (my childhood was almost ritual-free, and religion-free except for my storytelling prettified obsessions with pagan gods).
When we were first getting to know one another (this is a new-ish friendship), Suzanne asked me, about my concept of the Gods of Olympus, "But you're an intelligent guy, John - do you believe in all that?" As individuals, as consciousnesses, as immortal personalities, as our human response-interpretation of natural forces? Her question, and herself, deserved a more careful answer than quick and glib response. (Which takes me a few days.) And then I could say: "Yes and No. Sometimes. Depending on circumstances." Who believes all the time, in everything? Who doesn't believe at any time, in any of it? Probably more of the latter than of the former.
Religion enriches life so many ways that have nothing to do with deity or the reality of deity, it is perfectly possible to avoid the question. Religion's mistakes have always lain in demanding everyone believe the same things all the time; this is inhuman, impossible, wicked. The best parts of religion are in its humanity. Religion is a human construct - the gods (if there are gods) have no need of it. Sacrifice never fed God - it fed those who made the sacrifice, sometimes only in the very real pleasures and uses of ritual. Prayer does not feed them either - it feeds us. Gods do not need worship - we need (or may sometimes need, or can make use of) acts of worship. (Bravo to those like my late, ethical father who didn't.)
Humans do not only believe or not believe - they believe to different degrees at different times in their lives. Totally opposite beliefs exist easily in the heart and the mind. It is inhuman to think this is difficult. "I don't know any sane adult who relies on magical thinking," some idiot wrote in the New York Review of Books a few months ago. I don't know any sane adult humans who do not think magically now and then - or any who do it all the time. I wonder who that writer knows. Certainly not (very well) himself.
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