Palms of Our Hands

A Polytheist's Blog


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Pagan Blog Project 2014 – A is for Anointing

 

The first time I showed my mom my skinned and bloodied knee, she took this, Mercurochrome, out of the bathroom cupboard.  Its bright orange color, added to my already bright red blood, the color code of “DANGER”, sent me into a crying panic. Yet Mom blew her breath on it and I watched as it stung my scratch and turned into a weird taut skin stain.  “See? It doesn’t hurt,” said Mom.  It would stain the open scratch and the channels of skin around it, like a highlighter for the body.   After that experience, I no longer feared the Mercurochrome, and would administer it myself when I had another bloody skinning scratch.

So…what does this have to do with the more sacred task of anointing?

Olive oil

Anointing–with oil, water, or other substance–is the physical act of rubbing chosen substance, often blessed, on a surface or person.  Merriam’s definition says it better: “to point oil on (someone) as part of a religious ceremony”.  The Catholic context for it is in the Sacraments of Baptism, Anointing of the Sick (“Extreme Unction”) and Confirmation/Rite of Christian Initation for Adults (RCIA).  Today, I use olive oil to anoint myself when speaking formally to the ‘Iluma, the Canaanite Deities.

This brought to mind, where did I really learn about anointing? A skinned knee, Mercurochrome, and a bandaid.

[A second example (and probably even more ‘pagan’) is having Vicks Vapor Rub on my throat when I had a cold. It stunk to high heaven and put me off of anything peppermint until high school.]

I’m of the opinion that the gestures and meanings I find for devotional activities has its roots in  everyday experience.  Touching the wounded part of our bodies is quite natural–even when it’s someone else’s pain, a comforting touch near the source of the pain is offered.

In my own practice, anointing arose from wanting a physical marker to teach myself that here was sacred space, here is where I formally address the Gods.  In Whisper of Stone, there is a short prayer that I’ve adopted (with some changes) to settle myself and be open to the ‘Iluma.

Ancient Deities of the Canaanites,
Divine Assembly of Mout Lalu,
Sons and Daughters of ‘Ilu and ‘Athiratu,
Open my mind that I may sense you,
Open my eyes that I may see you,
Open my ears that I may hear you,
Open my nose that I may smell you,
Open my throat that I may…*
Open my senses that I may feel you
Open my heart (or liver) so I may know you.
I give honor. Shalam.

The first time I read this prayer aloud, it felt clunky and a little fake. It was the equivalent of using a phrasebook in a language I didn’t know yet to a native speaker.  And that clumsiness came with self-consciousness…being opened up for ridicule, snubbing, or a smiting (still a holdover from Christianity, and probably some cartoons).  I was reaching out of my shell, and while I didn’t get smited like I’d feared, I didn’t get the choirs of inspiration either that said I’d made A Connection with Them. The prayer stayed with me though. “My mind…eyes…ears…nose…heart…” These were things I could connect to, that centered me while being open to Them.

Over the next couple weeks, as I got used to the  words and its rhythms, I felt the urge to make the prayer concrete. I’d read about anointing oneself in various publications, but didn’t make the connection until I went to Mass with my family one weekend.  There is a small bowl of water next to the doors to cross oneself with it.  After I did that, it hit me that this touch was making the prayer more physical, more real for me.

Since then I’ve started using olive oil as a part of my devotions. I ask a blessing from Choranu, God of Purification and Exorcism, to let the oil cleanse me of khat’sa (misdeed). When I read the prayer above, I use the oil on my forehead, the corners of my eyes, ears, tongue, my heart.  In doing so, I am telling myself that I am speaking with, keeping company with the Gods.  *I added “Open my throat…” because that where the spirit of the person, the napshu, resides. From my own experience, doing any prayer or concentrating on family/friends/outcome seemed more solid when I prayed with Mary, Uriel, ‘Athiratu, ‘Ilu, and the ‘Iluma, praying with Someone. My throat and both my wrists are my ‘senses’. It’s not as clear as the physical senses, and that can be good. The senses of the sequence set the stage, and the open verse allows for inspiration, mine or Theirs.

By the time I finish the prayer and anointing, I have quieted down, to be able to hear Them.  The ritual action of anointing helps me to be ready for Them. I use extra virgin olive oil from Trader Joes ($5.99 last time I bought a bottle), and less than a tablespoon in using it.  Like the Mercurochrome and the oil, a small action changes the perspective.  In that change, in that practice, it makes a world of difference.

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Khats’a, and a Window with a View

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arles-abadia-3.jpg

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Today I decided to set my ass down and actually talk to the Deities that I’ve been trying to speak-with-and alternatively-push-away.  (I keep my very, VERY beginner invitations to ‘Ilu and ‘Athiratu, the Father and Mother of the Canaanite pantheon, the Divine Assembly, to ‘Anatu (the Warrior Goddess and Whose Name scared me so many years ago…and then became the first clue that led me to learning about Them), and Choranu…who seems interested in me for His own reasons.

I’m wondering if my avoidance issues are partly hormonal or chemical, because this backing-away crashes a lot of my life. The general impression I received from speaking with Them was that it was ridiculously easy to accrue khats’a, which in Canaanite religion is regarded as ‘sin’.* Not the ‘sin’ of Christianity, where sinning equals disobedience equals spiritual and eternal death (thanks, Christianity…). But sin as in imbalance of the self and/or soul.  As Tess Dawson writes in The Horned Altar (p. 27),

The Canaanite concept of sin implied that the order of the universe had gotten out of alignment: someone tweaked nature or community the wrong way, or a person had committed a baneful act. The Canaanite concept differs in nuance from the modern Christian idea of disobedience to the church. Khats’a–sin, transgression, or misdeed–results from cause and effect: you commit a wrongdoing, and entropy results.  Although punishment can follow from committing a misdeed, any ill effects usually come of natural cycles.  Correcting the wrongdoing or performing certain activities restores balance, exorcises the pollution, and restores “beauty”.

In the Catholic school I went to, we had our First Confession with the priest.  We could sit face-to-face with him, or go sit behind a screen for some anonymity and privacy.  It was rather formulaic: we had to recall our sins (or think really really hard on what qualified as sin!), and as penance, the priest often gave us a certain number of Hail Marys (or the Marian prayer at the end of the Rosary, the Hail Holy Queen) to recite.  All the way to eighth grade, it was some variation of the same theme.  Did it bring peace of mind and soul? It did.  Did it mean I would never ever sin again, and be good with God forever? Hardly…  This “Confess and recite X number of prayers” did its job in introducing the idea of recognition and rectitude of spiritual imbalance to a seven-year-old.

As an adult, I think of it as a window getting cloudy. Did that window get cloudy from the general comings-and-goings of life?  Did it get cloudy from me throwing dirt or other objects at it in anger/frustration/resentment?  Did it get cloudy because I neglected to clean up after myself where I could?  The difference then is that I developed a near-panicked desire to always keep my window clean, and the first new splotch of dust signaled how unworthy and disgusting I was to God.  Nowadays, I look at it as how I would look at cleaning my own body, or brushing my own teeth or something just as mundane.  The ideal would be to always be clean. But having to attend to a dirty dish, or a dirty body by cleaning doesn’t mean that I am forever a horrible, disgusting creature. Just clean up! How and why the window got dirty, to me, equates to the situation at hand. Spraying Windex on a window is different from having the window shatter and replacing it.  In both situations, action is necessary because leaving it as it is means imbalance.  However, taking the action does not demean the God, or the human trying to return to a right relationship with Them. At least, that is my thought so far.

Through actions (good and bad), and daily living, the miasma of khat’sa clings to everyone.  And as for me, it appears I accrue khats’a like a white shirt at a tomato spaghetti luncheon.  I thanked the Deities and asked Them to help me with living in right accordance, to clean my ‘window’ to Them.

Right after giving my offerings to Them, my brother decided to visit and help mow my lawn.  Right after THAT, my father wanted to come to my house and re-landscape the way he wanted it to look–tear down the old fence and make way for a fresh image.  I grumbled and muttered through the serene Saturday being turned into a construction day, but at the end of it, the yard looked better, if a little ragged at the edges. It also made me wonder if this was a result of talking with the Deities today.

If I had known that there was going to be large-scale earth-moving and weed pulling, I would have told the land and house spirits before my family came over.

Which brings me to another dilemma about myself that I’ll cover in a different post: what kind of pagan am I?

*Excerpt from The Horned Altar.


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Pagan Blog Project – N is for…Not Good Enough Syndrome

(“Frustration”, artwork by Richard Young)

Artwork by Richard Young, http://www.ryoung-art.com/Default.htm

Artwork by Richard Young, http://www.ryoung-art.com/Default.htm

Perhaps this is a condition particular to me, but in anything (and everything), I will reach a point where it seems I have an idea of knowing what I’m doing.  Then almost out of nowhere, I freeze faster than an ice cube in Antarctica.

I will find myself pulling back, thinking “Hmm, there’s something I missed. I better double-check before I go forward with this project/prayer. I don’t have the information? Or the supplies? Best to go look it up on the internet/buy it/search the library…”

Picture that there are two sides. One side–where I am–represents the current me; what I know, my daily schedule, my mundane self, the Self that sees where she wants to go, and is working toward her goals.  On the other side is where those goals are–finishing a novel, connecting with the Deities who are talking with me, getting that job, having a relationship, etc., etc.

Of course, there is this gap in the middle.  As one memorable quote I keep on my Kill Procrastination page goes, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”

That ‘something I’ve never done’ is represented by that gap.  It’s that gap where theory and understanding is put to practice–writing that paragraph, doing that dance move, filling out the job application, cooking that recipe.  That gap is where my feet leave the ground.  I want to get to that other side! But…

Is that gap a foot deep? A thousand feet deep? Whatever it is, I don’t want to fall into it.
Without a WORD, because my subconscious/unconscious is sneaky like that, I find myself backing away. I retreat into a “need more X” of everything. I can say I’m gathering up the courage to build a bridge, but wood and nails piling up in a neat corner is NOT a built bridge.  Then my frustration builds because I know there is something I want, and I know, intellectually, the steps in the everyday world that I need to take. (Fill out the application, make dinner, call a friend, write a page, etc., etc.).

I find myself doing that in my practice to honoring the Deities.  Currently on a revivalist/reconstructionist path, I’m paralyzed with the fear that I’m Not Doing It Right.   “The Head Priest/Priestess of X Gods has to do so much in his/her day just to greet the Deities! How am I even supposed to compare to that?  What I know/do is so little, it’s practically worthless.” I’m so paralyzed that instead of going ahead and letting the experience or the Gods teach me what I should do, I simply don’t go. Better to talk about Them than to Them, because the Gods will forbid me from ever speaking to Them again if I…blunder in my myriad ways, thanks to being a squishy, fallible human being.

This is what’s ridiculous.  I reach a point where I will have to start taking ownership (responsibility) for my decisions and actions before Gods and men, and I choke.

So this is my message to my SELF, and anyone who needs the clue-by-four when your life feels stuck in neutral and you haven’t shifted the gears to get yourself going again:

You cannot wait for the Perfect Moment.  You will make mistakes and THAT IS OK.  For as long as you’re alive, you are GOOD ENOUGH.


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Christian-ish and pagan-ish.

I’m what some people would call a Christopagan.  I’m Christian in that I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, from birth.  My parents come from the heavily Roman Catholicized Philippines, so it was no question that I would be raised as a Roman Catholic.  My K-8 and high school education was in private Catholic schools, paid with saved tuition and volunteer hours at the church. In fact, I live nearby my same church now, and drop by when I want to say hello to the Blessed Mother.

But I’m not strictly Catholic anymore.  I look at the natural and elemental world, and I see that there are more powers in the world than what Christianity speaks of.  And contrary to the somewhat benign condescension of the Vatican toward other religions, I believe that other religions in fact have as much faith and power in them as Christianity does.  (When we discussed it in school…and that’s IF we discussed it at all, other religions were simply “not as full of grace” as Roman Catholicism.) If anything, seeing  the world as immanent, full of power, has given me more reason to be a more conscious person/Christian/Christopagan/Pagan, than when creation was passive, and full of sin, in the Christian point of view.

Yet where does a lapsed Catholic go when she is exploring the other faiths? I’m darned lucky that I have been coming of age in the Internet era.  There’s more information available now than even 10 years ago, and I only found as much as I did because I was in college.

I look at my Roman Catholicism as my “spiritual native language”.  I grew up calling God as  Father, and Jesus as the Son of God. With the Holy Spirit being…somewhere in there.  And Mary is the Divine Feminine of Christianity.  The Archangels have also been a constant presence, especially when I had my dark days back in 2008.

So, where am I learning my ‘new language’ now?  Youtube, of course.  I’ve browsed forums on paganism, Wicca, and other witchcraft-friendly forums.  There’s something immediate and real when hearing someone talking about their spiritual practices, the ups and downs, and the lessons they learned from it.

What is so pagan about my spirituality, if my first spiritual learning was in Catholicism?  Giving thanks to the guardians of my home, for instance. Today I offered a shot of beer that I had bought with my dad.  (I am in the broom-closet still, alas.)  I look at it and I see the time I got to spend with my dad shopping, going through the day together on a Saturday afternoon.  I wanted to say thanks–and the offering (with a lit tealight candle) is a tangible way to represent my gratitude.  Would I need to do it, if I was using a strictly Christian framework? Probably not.

My offering:

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(Well, the beer is in the shot glass behind the candle.  The symbol representing the Archangels is a card that a good friend and fellow Pagan sent to me last Christmas.  The other candle, with the red beads that is bowl-shaped, is dedicated to Anatu, a Canaanite goddess.)

These thoughts may not hew strictly to the Pagan Blog Project, but it gets things off my chest.