Patriotism and Ritual Cleansing

It’s the 4th of July: Independence Day in the U.S., a time of patriotic celebration.

I am a patriot. By that, I mean that I 1) love the land, water, air, creatures and people of the United States, and want the best for them; 2) I am well familiar with and do not deny the historical and current moral failings of this country, and seek to improve our record and behavior going forward.

I do not mean that I cheer lead the American Empire, nor that I jingoistically hail flags, weapons, militarism or the idea that the United States is somehow superior to all other nations, all metrics contradicting this suggestion to the contrary.

Today, I feel disgusted by the Trump kakistocracy and particularly by its caging of desperate asylum seekers in unsafe, crowded, unsanitary concentration camps. I feel revolted by this criminal cabal’s trashing of environmental protections, stacking of our Supreme Court and all-out war on anyone who isn’t straight, white, male and cisgendered.

Even thinking about these things fills me with such rage and disgust that I want to lash out. I feel dirty, as an American, for the role my taxes and my government play in these things.

Which brings me to ritual cleansing. All activism aside, there comes a time when all we can do is take care of ourselves and prepare for the next opportunity to move the needle in a more positive direction.

So here are some things we can do to ritually cleanse ourselves, to help us feel clean of the yuck that afflicts us:

Smoke blessing.  You can use incense or burning herbs such as rosemary, sweet grass, sage, yerba santa or other fragrant plants to do a smoke blessing on yourself. Place the herbs in a bowl or a large seashell such as an abalone shell, and waft the smoke over your body with a fan or feather.

Ritual bath. First, clean the tub. Make sure it feels like a place you can get clean again. Draw a warm bath, and add herbal oils for some fragrance if desired. Common “clean smelling” oils include sage, carnation, lemon, etc.  Light some incense and candles to create a sacred space. Ease into the bathtub and wash slowly, stating what you are washing off as you do so (e.g., “I wash off shame…I wash off despair…I wash off fear…”)

Ritual shower. If you don’t have a bathtub, you can take a ritual shower. Prepare the space as above, instead of putting oils in the water, anoint your body with them, speaking the qualities you are applying with each dab of oil (“I apply courage…I apply strength…I apply tenacity…I apply endurance…I apply hope…”). In the shower, speak the things you are washing off as you wash each part of your body.

Sound bath. Gather singing bowls, tingshas, and/or clear-toned metal or lead crystal bells and chimes. Prepare the space as in a ritual bath. Sit naked, surrounded by the bells and chimes, and ring them gently at random, creating a “bath” of sound all around you. Do this until you feel tension easing away; speak the things you are letting go of.

These are just a few ideas for how we can cleanse ourselves of the yuck of the world when we feel it is depressing and disempowering us. If you have others, post them in the comments!

Get clean, get strong, and be prepared to carry on. The world needs us at this time. Don’t let it grind you down.

 

 

 

Doubt

It’s the Enemy Voice in our heads: you’re stupid. You’re crazy. You’re weak. You’re sinful. You’re damaged.

You’re wrong. About everything.

That voice is the Enemy. It is the soul-killer.

We inherit it from parents and teachers and classmates, from religious leaders. We internalize it, make it our own, until it almost seems it is there to help us.

To protect us from harm.

And so we start to listen to it.

Stop.

Stop stop stop stop stop.

That voice is a LIAR.

That voice is malicious and it is not on your side.

HERE IS THE TRUTH: You are luminous and beautiful and creative and full of stars.

That is reality. That is the fact of this world.

I sat down to write this piece about doubt. About how doubt is a useful thing for us.

Because doubt, combined with critical thinking, is the best way to figure out what is most likely to be true. Ye Olde Razore of William of Ockham, right?

But somehow what came out as I started to type was about self-doubt. And that is entirely a different thing.

We must ask ourselves hard questions now and again, just to keep ourselves honest. We must ask ourselves about our conclusions, our beliefs, our philosophies.

But we must separate that process from the vicious, vindictive, cruel voice whose only purpose is to make us small and afraid and self-questioning.

Go forth, Atheopagans. Love yourselves. Ask hard questions, and answer them.

But remember always: you are, each one of you, a unique miracle of the Universe’s manifestation.

You shine.

Never doubt it, and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

A Solar Reflection

It’s the day after Midsummer—at least, here in the Northern Hemisphere—and it’s hot and sunny, as one would expect. Meanwhile, the chaos weather of global climate change goes on: Banff had 25 cm of snow last night.

I had a quiet Midsummer: set out my Sun Broom to soak up the sun and wove some additional lengths of wild rye into it; contemplated my Focus for awhile.  The day became very hot and we mostly lay about under a fan with our clothes off.

These are the longest days of the year, and those many hours of daylight bring a sense of possibility with them: so much time to do things, so much potential. And yet there is also a feeling of leisure, of relaxation: with so much time, why rush?

For myself, around now is when I feel the urgency of the world recede. It’s not that it isn’t there—witness the horrific concentration camps the Trump kakistocracy is jamming migrant children and families into, and the latest news on global warming—but for a moment, it seems with these warm and luxurious days, the oppressiveness of the news and the facts of our global situation recedes. And I feel almost…optimistic?

Yes, crashes are coming—or, rather, in progress: an economic crash as capitalism collapses under its own metastasized weight; an ecological crash as the planet warms, biological communities unravel and mass extinctions take place; and a human population crash as our ability to flog food out of the soil deteriorates with increasing climate chaos, rising oceans drive waves of climate refugees into areas that can’t support them, and idiot xenophobia keeps migrant agricultural workers away from the crops they would otherwise pick.

Yes, that’s happening.

Still, I look at what is happening in culture and I can’t help but to be encouraged. Awareness—and disapproval—of racism, sexism and homophobia are skyrocketing as older generations die off. People who embrace those ideas are kicking up dust right now, but they’re dying, and good riddance. And credulity in gods and the supernatural is plummeting. It’s going to take awhile, but people who believe in evidence and critical thinking and the social contract are on the ascendant.

And then, there’s us. We naturalistic, Earth-revering Pagans, including Atheopagans.

We are, I believe, collectively forming the embodied and implemented answer to the age-old conflict between science and religion: between loyalty to the factual truth and feeding the parts of ourselves that need stories, and rituals, and meaning.

And we’re doing so around values of kindness, inclusiveness, wonder and joy, both lived and advocated for.

I believe that counts for something in the world. I believe that the healthier we are as people, the louder our voices for those healthy and kind and Earth-loving values are, the more of an impact we have, even in the midst of the crashes.

People are tenacious. They are singularly difficult to extirpate, even in an ecological collapse. Inevitably, survivors migrate to somewhere more benign and set up shop, with their innovative minds and clever adaptations, and they make a go of it once again.

I intend and believe that our values and practices are informed by the lessons of history: that they are what we need to bring forward into the new cultures that will be born after capitalistic consumer culture can no longer be sustained.

So, as I said: optimistic. The long days leave me looking at Long Time, and understanding that a time of collapse and damage and ignorance isn’t the end of the story. Rather, it is an opportunity to begin writing the coming chapters.

Thank you for joining this journey with me—for helping to inform and develop Atheopagan culture and practice. Even here at the ends of many things, we are not powerless, and we are not defeated.

I’ll close with a chant I wrote for fire circle rituals, and sing pretty often (I’ll put up a YouTube video with the tune tomorrow, if anyone is interested):

We believe in a better world
We believe in justice
We believe in a better world
We believe in peace
We believe in a better world
We can heal our Planet

We won’t bow down.

We won’t bow down.