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Leadership and Priesthood Part 2: Skillsets

February 18, 2014 2 comments

I was recently reading a piece on io9 “The Real Reason Why Techies Are the New Yuppies”, and it occurred to me as I was reading in the comments that there is a parallel here. Not being alive any earlier than the 1980s, and not officially part of Paganism/polytheism until 2004, I cannot speak on what Paganism or polytheism was like. I am wholly a product of the early 2000s in regards to my religious development as a polytheist. The parallel that struck me was actually in the comments section in reference to a person having computer use and literacy as a skillset. They had a far easier time navigating things like the Obamacare website, versus a person who was not as computer literate. The person with the skillset took about 5 minutes to find the relevant information, whereas his housekeeper was sobbing after 3 hours of trying to get the damned thing to work. This, to me, brought something to light.

A lot of spiritual specialists are working with wholly different skillsets oriented towards different things than most people. We are often wired different for our jobs by the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits we serve. Many of our initiations serve in this capacity to alter our spiritual form, functions, etc. to the task at hand. For some this makes a certain skillset far easier, and for others, nothing changes aside from getting the go-ahead from the Holy Powers in question to do a thing or perform a service. Even if we are not altered by the Holy Powers for the task at hand, our skillsets develop in differing ways, and so, it may appear that we’re really awesome all around from the outside, when really we might be hyper-specializing in a few areas.

So for some of us, to use an example, entering trance or meditative states is a whole hell of a lot easier than someone else. This can (and often is) simply a matter of “I have had x number of years doing/working on this”. Other times it is a matter of “I am, for whatever reason, wired to have these experiences easier” and others “I was rewired to have these experiences easier”. There’s tons of reasons for this, but at the end of the day it makes little difference in terms of my worth as a person, religious, spiritual, or otherwise. Spiritual practice is, like a great many other arts and disciplines, something that has to be worked at to develop the capacity to do it, and do it well. The ability to use a computer well, likewise, does not make me better as a human being compared to a person who does not. It merely means that my skillsets are in areas that are immediately useful to the task at hand. I cannot do carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, or other forms of trade skills (though I would like to learn, even on an amateur level) but that does not make me less of a person. I am absolutely at a loss with cars; if it sounds weird, I trust someone who is better experienced with my car. So while I am a piss-poor mechanic I am not a piss-poor human. A mechanic expecting me to be on hir level in regards to car repair would be like me expecting a person wholly new to polytheism to be on my level in regards to shamanism or priest work. It’s not realistic, and not what I expect of others any more than my mechanic expects me to have his working knowledge of my car.

Much like my mechanic expects me to do baseline maintenance though, I think that it is wholly fine for spiritual specialists to have expectations of the people who come to us for help. Some of the first questions I ask anyone who comes to me are: “Do you have an altar/shrine to your Dead?” “What Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and/or spirits do you worship and/or have relationships with?” and “Do you do daily devotional work?” and “Do you do daily personal work like grounding, centering, cleansing, shielding, etc.?” For me, these questions are no different than my mechanic asking me “What is the make and model of the car?”, “When was the oil changed?”, “What have the sounds/experiences been in driving the car?”, and similar questions. He’s not being a jerk by asking me these baseline questions, he is being thorough. Because his skillset is in a different place than mine, he has to ask the basic questions before getting to the meat of what might be wrong with my car. I am being very general, but even so, some of these questions come up even when the problem is something specific, i.e. my door won’t go back up and the motor for the window makes a clicking sound.

The comment in the article also made me think of the privilege involved in developing these skillsets, and the privilege these skillsets can bring. To be able to develop some of these skillsets, you have to have certain things, among them a computer or at least disposable income for car/bus fare (i.e. library trips), books or materials. To be able to have access to good resources, and/or a good teacher so you can develop these skillsets is another privilege. To have good training or teachings passed on to you, to be able to afford the various things that make such training, education, and making it to rituals and events to have experiences made possible for oneself is privilege. Once you develop skillsets as a spiritual specialist there may be things that you are simply better at due to the training, the hard work, and/or experiences, as in getting into trance mentioned above. It does not make you inherently better, but it does mean that there are opportunities in terms of training, resources, and experiences that may be available to you that are not available to the average person.

I have had powerful religious experiences throughout my life, first as a Christian and then, as a Pagan. I find it harder to teach someone to connect to the Holy Powers who does not or cannot connect as readily because of this. I haven’t, in general, had to work as hard as others to experience the Presence of the Holy Powers. I do not understand what it is like to go through life with an absence of the Holy Powers being readily in one’s life in a recognizable way. This is a huge blind spot for me when I teach people. It is not like I sit down every time I meditate or sit and pray at a shrine and have a ‘kaboom!’ reaction (read: peak spiritual experience)…but I also look at my experiences and understand why folks might be skeptical of them, to say the least.

I recognize that my experiences are not average, nor that they should have to be. I also recognize that my skillset is different, not better, than others. There are a good deal of skillsets I would like to have, among them, gardening, and ecologically sound building skills, i.e. making cob, strawbale, and similar structures. I have a lot of focus in my life to upper-head type of things, like psychology and theology. Yet, when it comes to things like gardening vegetables, which to a gardener would probably be really simple, like the housekeeper in the comment I get overwhelmed by all the options and data. So, I ask questions of friends who have green thumbs. Do I want results like they get? Of course, but to expect at the start to have plants that grow as well as theirs is probably unrealistic without help. I don’t know much about growing vegetables. Dad has shown me how to do simple gardening, from tilling to planting to watering cycles. Before he gave his help my plants were withering and some died because I did not understand them well enough on my own. I am nothing like a master at this; I am lucky that the aloe plants we keep are so hardy. I have not managed to keep any other plants of mine alive inside the house.

This reminds me of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that comes around my Facebook feed now and again: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” If I judged my gardening by Master Gardeners then I would continuously feel like a failure. Context for understanding where the quality of a skillset should be is pretty important.

Skillsets within religion are important. For some religions, understanding the text of the religion may or may not be important. Singing may be important to religious rites and services. There are too many individual instances to list here. Religion is more than a value system, or system of beliefs. It is lived. It is the way in which one conducts themselves in the world, understands their place, and relates to everything. With religious and spiritual engagement devotional work is a must. Religion requires certain skillsets to develop to be done well. While belief is not, to a great many polytheists, as important as worship and right relationship, the ground of these two things is in acknowledgment of the Holy Powers as real and worthy of worship. It is a given, not altogether different from a fish being surrounded by water.

So if there is a baseline set of skillsets for a polytheist, what are they?

There will, I imagine, be different emphases depending on the Gods and Goddesses one worships, Ancestors, spirits, one’s tradition(s), and individual group(s) within those traditions. Rather than write a list full of caveats and exceptions, here are some ideas of general skills to develop:

  • Develop and maintain relationships. Have or be willing to develop a working relationship with your Holy Powers, whether this is the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. This does not need to be a do-all end-all kind of devotion with every minute given over to your Gods, it just needs to be consistent. Even 5-15 minutes of prayer, song, or something where you directly engage with the Holy Powers a day is good.
  • Reciprocity. Have or be willing to develop or engage in a regular system of offerings, even if all you can afford is tap water. Take out the tap water after a full day on the altar, or, if you cannot because people in your home are hostile to your religion, respectfully flush the water or pour it out in a sink. Another option would be to put the offering in a bottle of water, collecting the offerings in the bottle each day, and taking it out to a river, lake, or a tree nearby.
  • Ask questions. I know of no Holy Powers that expected me to know or understand everything all at once. I am still learning about my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. If you have people you can contact, use them. If you are in luck and have a community that works with or worships the Holy Powers you are interested in learning about, so much the better.
  • Research. If you have a license to drive a car, you sunk some time into understanding how the car starts, runs, and operates. The Holy Powers deserve just as much, if not more consideration. If nothing else, ask for a recommended reading list. Some texts that would be useful to deepening an understanding of the Holy Powers may be on free websites, like Sacred-Texts.com, the Gutenberg Project, or similar public offerings.
  • Dedication. Do the work. Whatever it is, whether it is research offerings, prayers, meditation, gardening, cleaning, etc.
  • Ask for help. If you are stuck, if you do not understand something, or if you need or want more help even after asking for help, ask for help. As with ‘ask questions’, I don’t want people to not understand what is expected of them by a tradition or to have to reinvent the wheel, or repeat mistakes I or others have made.
  • Double or triple check. If something feels off, maybe it is. It is always better to be sure than to be wobbly on where you are planting your feet.
  • Simple divination. This can be throwing stones, dice, coins, or something small and simple that costs little to nothing in terms of money. While not everyone may have a knack for divination, a really simple yes/no divination style can be very helpful in answering questions, especially when you are stuck.
  • Decolonize your life. A lot of Western ideas are intertwined with Christianity, and many of the sources, including many pieces of lore, are heavily influenced if not corrupted by the scholars who wrote them down. Many scholars themselves have and still do go back and forth over how Christianity, i.e. in the Norse myths, influenced what was recointerrded, and what is genuine religion, holdovers, mixed tradition, and so on from the original peoples being written about. Clean engagement with the Holy Powers will require this, especially since many of our Gods do not fit well within modern Western paradigms of acceptability. Even speaking about the Gods as real Beings unto Themselves is met with derision in much of society, and untangling that from our minds, thoughts, and words is hard work. It requires us to be careful of the words we use, the ways in which we approach our Gods, and even the ways in which we approach the lore available to us. Treating Loki as the Norse Satan, for instance, is a holdover from Christianity. I am not saying you have to like Loki, or believe His actions/reactions are good, but putting Him where Satan was, especially if you are a convert from Christianity, belies the complex relationships the Gods have, and how important He is, given how intertwined He is with almost every myth we have. It also will interfere with how you understand the other Gods, as Loki is often a traveling companion to Thor, Odin, and other Gods.

Skillsets do not have to be developed in isolation either. You can develop skills while also doing devotional work, for instance. These are just a few ideas, but they are the main ones I can think of right now. It may be that you are or develop a craft, and making origami boats for Njord is devotional work for you. Researching your genealogy, and then including the Ancestors you find can be a powerful piece of devotional work. Gardening and tending your land, or a community garden can be a devotional activity involving your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. Keeping your home would be a good offering not only to your Ancestors, but to Gods and spirits that are part of or have domain/dominion in the home, i.e. Frigga, Hestia, and houesvaettir, among a great many. While it will not, in my view, replace a daily offering of water or a weekly offering of food, finding ways to incorporate your Holy Powers in your life provides more ways of connection, dedication, and devotion.

To borrow a word from Rhyd Wildermuth, this process is re-enchanting the world around you, suffusing it with the understanding and active acknowledgment that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits can be connected with anywhere, and the world itself, wherever you are, is holy and a potential place for the sacred. This is good work wherever one is in their life, whatever their relationship is to the Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, spirits, or communities. Our skillsets will not look the same, nor should they. I would hope that as polytheists we could agree that the basics of devotional work, dedication, and right relationship with our Gods would be among the common ones. This does not require one be a spiritual specialist. The main requirement is that each of us is willing to do the work that each of us can do, each of us in our own time, space, and ability in accordance with our tradition(s) if any, and the will of our Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and spirits.

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Leadership and Priesthood Part 1: Leadership vs. Priesthood

February 16, 2014 Leave a comment

I have been a Pagan for 10 years, and in that time I have seen very few groups in which priests were not also the leaders of whatever group they were part of. This can be done, and done well. I am part of groups that are very well run and well taken care of by their priests.

Some time ago I went into the difference between what a shaman and a priest are. This is how I defined a priest then, and this is how I still view a priest:

“A priest is a worshiper of a God, Goddess, Ancestors, or spirit, and acts as an intercessor between humanity and the Gods. When I use the word humanity, this can mean as small-scale as another person or small group or as large-scale as a congregation or worldwide religion. A priest’s job is, in some way, shape, or form, to bring the message(s) of the Gods, the Gods Themselves, and/or teach and bring right relationship with the Gods to humanity. A priest’s other jobs may serve the community in a larger fashion, such as performing certain services as intercessory work, like public festivals, public sacrifices, offerings, and the like, or more personal works like blessings at homes, births, funerals, and weddings.”

Since this post I have felt the need to put more emphasis on the notion that a priest serves their Holy Powers (Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits) first and foremost. That the priest’s first duty, within polytheism as I understand it, practice, and experience it, is service to the Gods. This may have absolutely nothing to do with one’s human community/communities. Much of my work with Anpu, as I noted in the article “Question 10: Shaman vs. Priest”, has nothing to do with living people. Much of my service to Him is to help the Dead. In the last seven or so years I have not done a single public ritual with anyone in regards to Him, yet He still counts me as His priest and others have come to me asking for help with Him. I serve Him, and I serve Him in the ways He asks me, and on behalf of Him with other people where called.

Being a priest does not, by default, make me the leader, or even a leader outside of certain circumstances. It makes me a priest. So if I am making the point that priests are not necessarily leaders, then what are leaders?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a leader as “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country”. A leader is someone who may be a trailblazer, just as they might be someone modeling good values, just as they might be the head of a group. The focus of a leader, at the end of the day, is on people first and foremost. They are about the people they lead. A volunteer coordinator is a leader just as a head of the local Kuwanis Club is a leader. Often a leadership position is in service to other people. Contrast this what I have written above in regards to being a priest, and there is a stark contrast: the leader is about the people, and the priest is about the Gods. Their actions are geared towards their focus.

If you are a priest you might be a leader, just by default in a situation like a ritual. You might be the only leader(s), as many groups are lead by priests. However, I think that the onus of leadership is something that ought to be more shared. It is a lot to ask of a person to keep a personal cultus with Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits, in addition to possibly holding rituals for a group, making offerings, and holding a job, and lead a group on top of all the other things required to make a group function well. The list of demands grows if your group is official with the government at all, or if you have a busy ritual schedule. That is a lot on one person, or even two people.

Some people are able to do all of this and keep their group running well. I think, though, that we would have more effective priests and groups in general if this was an option and not a necessity. Note: I am not saying every priest who is in this situation should give up their leadership roles.  From where I stand that is a lot of weight on a person’s shoulders. If they choose to, this is where the priest, especially if they are in or have been put in a leadership role, needs to be willing to speak up, set boundaries, and especially to delegate responsibilities and trust people to fulfill/look after them. In turn, those they trust with the leadership and various responsibilities need to follow through on their obligations and promises.

I saw this at work very effectively as a Catholic. There are councils set up to help the priests do their work, i.e. pastoral councils, financial councils and the like, so that the priests can focus on doing their mission: serving their God and in turn, their congregation. There is a lot of groundwork that has to be laid to make this work well for polytheists, but if we want to have dedicated priests, temples, and the like, some amount of hierarchy, organization, and heavy lifting will need doing. A council format allows for concerned folks to get together and pull their weight together, vote on ideas, and make things happen with a core membership that then goes out into the community and gets things done. In the Catholic Church they work with the priest hand-in-hand to make sure that what is needed is taking care of so the priest does not have to worry about the lights getting turned off or what they are going to do about needed work on the church. This is an effective model that works. Granted, the Catholic Church itself kicks in much-needed money so the wheels are greased. Yet, I believe this council model can effectively work so that our communities can make the amenities, like temples, charities, communities, public ritual space, and so on, that I have heard so many wish for. A priest alone trying to do all of this, pull of this together, would have a very, very hard time.

Why is now is a good time to think about this, and separate priests from large amounts of leadership responsibilities? Because we are coming into a time where we may have the people to do so. There are second, third, fourth, and even fifth generation polytheists, Pagans, and those of like mind who are coming into the world. I would like to see effective foundations laid for them all. Part of this, I see, is defining who and what we are, as-is the need to build lasting groups, buildings, and so on for them to inherit. Not everyone is a priest, nor should the notion that ‘everyone is their own priest’ mean that priests, themselves, and all the skillsets required to be an effective one, get put by the wayside.

More on skillsets in the next post.

“Using” Cosmology

December 9, 2011 1 comment

A while back, I wrote a post for Galina Krasskova’s blog.  Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

There was a response to it, which I only recently have seen.  One part of the response, specifically this part, which made me think:

There IS a cosmology, which is quite strong, SAFE and very useful: the upper, middle and lower worlds.

This has made me think a bit on the ‘using’ of a cosmology.  When I came to my Gods, I was not ‘using’ their cosmology.  I was interacting with it, understanding my place in it, but not ‘using’ it.  When I became a priest of Anubis, I was doing so in the context of being His priest within the framework of what that means within the Egyptian cosmology, and specifically what He calls me to do in the role of priest.  The roles I serve in that cosmology are different than those I serve in the Northern Tradition.  The cosmology, expectations, and requirements of my priesthood are very different from one another.

As the Merriam-Webster dictionary puts it, a cosmology is “a theory or doctrine describing the natural order of the universe.”

I have no problem with varying cosmologies living side-by-side in my life.  By-and-large, I see the Work I do, and most of my world through the eyes of a Northern Tradition shaman.  Does this mean that my priesthood of Anubis has no bearing on how I see the Worlds around me?  No, but most of my interaction and my Work with Anubis is working with the Dead, and so, it doesn’t affect much of my everyday life.  Most of the Work that I do with Anubis tends to not be as upfront as my Work with Odin.  As time goes on my work with Anubis may intersect with more of my life, but my Work with Odin is first and foremost in my life.  Does this mean I ‘use’ the cosmology of whichever God/dess or spirit calls to me?  No, I interact with Them through that cosmology.  I must interface with it, understand it, recognize myself as part of it (although that is already a given; They have contacted me).  I do not see Gods as trapped in their cosmology, per se, but I think there is a respect due to Them to come to Them in Their fashion, understand Them as best we can through Their ways and cultures’ means.

Does this mean that when I worship Anubis I get up at a specific time every day, attending His statue as a priest would in ancient Egypt?  No.  This is simply not possible for me.  I have neither the social nor the economic networks that would allow me to do that.  I have certain ways, however, that I address His statue.  I do feed it, water it, lay incense over it, and pray to it as an embodiment of my God.  I treat it with respect, as if it was Him standing before me.  I pray to Him, kneeling before His statue, and give Him respect that He is due by being my God.

What about the Afterlife?

I am a hard polytheist, so I have thought from time to time on how I reconcile the Egyptian afterlife, for instance, with the Northern Tradition one.  I don’t see a problem with viewing them side-by-side, so I don’t really see a need to ‘reconcile’ them.  In my personal experience, there are many, many afterlives that are possible, and I still don’t know why a soul might go here or there.  I have seen a soul enter an afterlife by intentional recognition on behalf of the soul that this particular place is where they wish to go or belong, and/or the soul has received an invitation or is promised to come on behalf of the God, Goddess, spirits, and/or Ancestors of a particular afterlife.  Is this hard-and-fast as a rule?  I do not know.

I do not feel, however, that all the afterlives overlap one another or that some are even accessible side-by-side.  For instance, I do not think the Duat and Helheim link up directly.  Perhaps there are meeting places, or places where They overlap, like a Venn diagram, or perhaps there are passages between these realms that I simply have not experienced; after all, I’m not Hermes.  I’d like to other Pagans’ perspectives on this.  What I understand, is that afterlives are accessible based on a wide variety of factors, not the least being that particular cosmology’s rules on the soul, how the person lived in life, how many parts the soul has and which go where, and so on.  Then, that brings up the next question.

What about the Soul?

Beyond the actual places one’s soul may go to in the afterlife, there is also the idea of different parts of the soul.  In the Egyptian way, the soul is split up into, depending of course on the resources you look at and how you interpret them, into nine pieces.  The Northern Tradition has a couple of ideas about how the soul is put together, and what parts move on.  I understand the soul in context of the Northern Tradition by the Soul Map that Raven Kaldera received in his work as a shaman.  Are there parallels?  Sure, you could say there are parallels, but nothing terribly direct.  The idea of the ka might have some things in common with the hame, but they are not the same.  They do not mesh terribly well because they are very different by what they mean in terms of their own cosmology.  The hame is not the ka because these words mean very different things to the users and the cultures these words come from.  However, I won’t say that the hame and ka are not both talking about the soul.  I’m a priest of Odin and Anubis, and so, whether I am seeing the soul through ka, hame, or some other fashion, I am seeing the soul.  What I am seeing is different, however, depending on how I approach it.  What information I gather is quite different depending on the filters of culture, language, etc. that I apply to understanding the soul.

So is all I am looking at nothing more than filters I can objectively select?  No.  I have yet to see Alfar in the Duat, or an akh in Jotunheim.  For all that I believe the Gods, the Worlds, and Afterlives may have fluidity, in my experience, there are boundaries.  There are places where certain Beings belong, such as landvaettir to land.  I am not one to decide where these boundaries are, I just recognize that they are there.

Is there such a thing as a “safe” cosmology?

I have encountered this idea in different places, but I have never been able to accept it.  No cosmology that I know of allows us to escape risk of some kind.  No spiritual practice is without its downside should one take it to that place or be placed in a situation to face that downside.  The Upper, Middle, and Lower World or (as it is often symbolized), the World Tree cosmology, to me, invites no more safety than other kinds of cosmologies.  For instance, in the Siberian cosmology there are spirits that will spread disease and unrest.  These are known as chotgor and they originate from the Lower world.  The ozoor, ongon, and burhan spirits, spirits of the Middle world, may also cause problems for those who are flesh-and-blood humans in the Middle World.  My references in this section come from the book Chosen by the Spirits by Sarangerel and BuryatMongol.org.

While there may be cosmologies that are less obviously dangerous or outright threatening than others, I have yet to find a cosmology that is ‘safe’.  Whether one is interacting with beings from the Otherworld, nymphs and dryads, the alfar or even the ka of the deceased, there is risk.  The risk can be in angering the spirits of certain offerings are or are not given.  The risk can be, for instance, in the case of the Otherworld, being trapped if one eats food from the realm.  Crossing a nymph or a dryad might bring you hard times or even death in their domain.  Wronging the alfar or insulting them might get you elfshot, resulting in illness, pain, fatigue and so on.

Several realms of the Dead are known to be dangerous for travel.  If you eat of the food of the Underworld, in many myths, you are stuck there.  Even without this, there are spirits that may cause you grief during or after your foray, and will gladly follow you and make your life miserable until they are exorcised and/or their spiritual effects on you are removed.  A slip-up in the realm of the Dead may also invoke a God/dess’ wrath, trapping your soul or being forced to perform tasks for Hir.  Slip-ups with the Dead Themselves, such as your Ancestors, may invite negative consequences from Them as well.

I do not think this means that you need to walk around with the magical equivalent of body armor and shotguns all the time, but mindfulness is a must for any Pagan or shaman.  If the whole world is full of spirits then mindfulness of your place in this world is a must.  If the Gods are real, if the Dead are a presence in our lives, and if what we do is more than a thought experiment or a game, then mindfulness needs to be paid to ourselves, the world around us, and the Gods and spirits we interact with.

“Using” Cosmology

To be honest I find the idea incredibly insulting.  These Gods, spirits, and cosmologies do not exist because we think they do.  They exist independent of our recognition and, at times, awareness.  To simply ‘plug into’ a cosmology on a whim, to me, is foolhardy.  If nothing else you might insult the spirits or Gods of the particular cosmology or realm you seek to enter, interact with or ‘use’.  At most you may get the kind of attention that will make your life very, very difficult.  Of course you have to initiate contact with the spirits and Gods at some point, but to barge into a realm and call a spirit to your service, or call on a God you’ve never interacted with smacks, at least to me, of hubris.  Without this respect due to the Gods and spirits, and the cosmology itself, how can you develop a working relationship with Them or work within the cosmology?

When it comes down to it, “using” cosmology is a form of blasphemy.  It is using the Gods, spirits, and essence as things, as utilities in a ritual or outlook.  Sure, integrating a cosmology into one’s life is a lot more hard than simply looking at it as a tool, but it is a damn sight more respectful.  It treats the Gods, spirits and cosmology itself as a tool when each may be a Being unto itself, including, in some religions, the cosmology itself.  A cosmology is something you exist within, not something that you pick up for a moment then discard when it does not fit your notions of what should be.  A cosmology is challenging; it not only contains spirits that may not have your best interests in mind, but even more important is that it may contain spirits that do, and will challenge you in quite deep ways to do what is best for you should you befriend Them or They take interest in you.

A cosmology establishes your relationship to all things, including yourself.  It establishes how you interact with the spirits and Gods.  It establishes your relationship to the Earth, and your human communities.  Sometimes integrating your cosmology into your life does not upset things.  Other times, it may change things in your life in subtle ways.  For instance,  I pay far more attention now as a Pagan than I did as a Christian to the environment.  Things ripple from your basic standpoint in cosmology outward, and may affect each and every part of your life.

To integrate a cosmology into your life is to recognize your place within it, and you cannot do that purely from the outside.  It is also a lot more humbling, in my experience.  You don’t have anywhere near as much control (even if the control was your own imagining), but there can be the feeling of peace and richness in understanding your place in a cosmology.  My point is not that people should feel pressured into accepting this or that cosmology, but understand how revolutionary accepting a cosmology as real, as developing a belief in a cosmology is.  It is a fundamental shift in understanding reality, of one’s place in it, and perhaps, of oneself.  This cannot be done by merely using a cosmology, nor any religious belief.  When you accept your place in a cosmology it is accepting all that entails, including shifting one’s mindset away from outdated ones and accepting what might have once seemed odd.  I feel it also means exploring that cosmology and where you fit in it; not all our old lore and myths tell us the whole of how we humans fit into things.  Just because you’re part of a cosmology does not mean the exploring, and the seeking of understanding ebbs away.  If anything, in my experience, it calls you to dig deeper into it and see what you can see.  It is much more than a light overview in a book, or a small foray into a wood, it is stepping into a whole new way of relating to everything.  Explore, rather than use, and you may find your whole life changed.

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