Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Gods and Orishas: On Fate, Destiny, and Free Will

In the world of divination, the concept of fate, destiny, and free will is commonly discussed. Can we know the future? Is the future set in stone? Do we create our own future? How able are we to influence or change what is foreseen in the cards?

Opinions surrounding this topic vary from reader to reader. My own perspective is informed both by personal experience and by the sacred stories of the two religions that live in my heart: Ifá/Santería, and the Northern Tradition.

Destiny, in a general sense, is actually treated quite similarly within both religious frameworks, and my own experiences in divination reflect the complexities and mysteries present there.
Elekes and mjölnir
To start, I’ll recap the story of Baldr’s death, as per the Poetic Edda:

Frigg, wife of Odin, is said to weave Wyrd (the Anglo-Saxon term for the Norse "Urd"), to be a seeress who seldom speaks of what she knows. When her son Baldr begins to have dreams of his own death, Odin travels to Hela and raises a dead witch in order to ask about it. He sees that the hall of Hela seems to be prepared to receive a new soul, and the witch confirms that they are waiting for Baldr. When Odin tells Frigg what he learned, she travels the worlds securing oaths from all things big and small that they will not cause Baldr’s death. Even though she is a seeress she still does what she can to prevent that tragedy from occurring. And yet she fails to secure an oath from mistletoe because she feels that it is too unassuming to be a real danger. Loki ends up using his notoriously deceptive means to learn of this. Later, when the Gods are playing a (really dumb) game to see how, when thrown at him, axes and arrows and swords fail to hurt Baldr, Loki gives a mistletoe dart to the blind God Hödur. Of course, when he throws it, Baldr falls dead. Even then Frigg sends another son to Hela to ask if there is any way to send Baldr back from the dead, and Hela says that if Frigg can prove that all beings in existence weep for Baldr, then she will release him back to the living. But there is one creature who refuses to cry: Loki (yet again) in disguise, and so Baldr stays put in Hela until after Ragnarök.

What this story shows is how inevitable some events are. Frigg is a seeress and that (of course) doesn’t stop her from doing all she can to try to prevent the death of her son. And despite all of her remarkable efforts, she loses him anyway. (There is a greater part of the story here of course, in that after the world ends, Baldr is released from Hela to bring light, peace, and love to the worlds once again. In that sense, Baldr’s death had a greater ultimate purpose for the well-being of the universe.)

In Wyrd, there are things that make up certain aspects of your destiny that you are bound to, that are unlikely to be greatly altered no matter what you might do. There are other aspects of your future that you live out according to your past: the consequences of your own actions, for good or for bad. And within Wyrd there is some room to improve your Wyrd, to influence your own path, whether that be through actions taken, or “simply” by an alteration of perspective. Interestingly, even the Gods, who we often assume to be omnipotent, are at the mercy of Wyrd (as we see with Baldr and Frigg).

Similarly, in Ifá, there is the concept of orí, which is one’s personal destiny, connection to divinity – in a sense it is the part of each person that is an orisha, that is holy. There is also Orí, a divine being that “owns” all orís. Like Wyrd, there are ways to live in “right relationship” with your own orí – to honor it, respect it, be open to it. And there are ways to influence your destiny via “being seen by Orula” – mirarse con Orula (a consultation with a babalawo) - whereby you may be instructed to tend to particular orishas, to your ancestors, to your orí, even to such things as the cleanliness of your home, in order to improve your overall environment, and invite better fortune. And like the Northern Tradition, one’s own orí trumps the influence and intercession of the orishas. There is a sacred story that tells of a man being dragged by the foot through a village by his own orí. He shouted for Chango to come help him. When Chango heard the man’s calls he came running, weapon in hand, prepared to fight in the man’s defense. But when Chango saw that it was the man’s own orí that had hold of him, he knew there was nothing he could do, and he went back home.

These stories and myths suggest that there are many layers to our future, to our destiny, to time as a whole (which is decidedly non-linear). Some aspects may not be significantly changeable, no matter what we do to influence them. Other aspects relate to our own free will – the choices we make in life, the attitudes with which we approach the circumstances that arise on our paths. Our ultimate freedom lies within our own perception. There is great power in that.
In the Havamal, stanzas 55-56, Odin (who won the wisdom of the runes) says: “You should be only a little wise, never too wise. A wise man’s heart is seldom glad, if he’s truly wise; You should be only a little wise, never too wise. It’s best not to know your fate beforehand; you’ll live happier if you don’t.”*

I get that. Sometimes I just don’t want to know. I’ve had experiences where I have seen the future laid out the cards, and it’s not always a pleasant experience, though my experiences have differed according to the degree of event foreseen. Once I saw a minor money glitch in a line of Lenormand that helped me prevent an overdraft fee – that was ultimately a good thing, and I was able to change the outcome there (though it could be considered relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things). Another time (recently, in fact) I saw that a person that I was in the process of hiring would ultimately be denied at the last moment due to the school’s financial constraints. That was not at all what I wanted or hoped to happen, but seeing that gave me the opportunity to consider alternatives, and to get used to the idea, and by the time the official announcement was made I was feeling perfectly okay with it all. In that case I couldn’t change the outcome, but was able to receive it with a positive attitude. In yet another instance I saw the illness of a friend’s mother in the cards, about three months prior to it coming about. In that case I was troubled by it because there was really nothing that could be done, other than perhaps to prepare financially for a visit (in this case you couldn’t really even be “positive” about it, so it was unpleasant all the way around). Odin’s advice is sensible because, as in the case of Frigg, even the wisest of individuals can struggle at times to come to terms with unpleasant outcomes.

And as a card reader, my general sense of things is that many clients don’t know how to process undesired future possibilities (though that usually doesn’t prevent them from asking). These days, when reading for others, I tend to place the greatest emphasis on the past and the present, above all. Setting aside the idea of those future events that may be inevitable, there is space to positively influence our own lives, right now. By understanding the past, the root of our current dilemmas, and by looking at ways to embrace our own agency – our power over our present – we accept our responsibility to ourselves and our communities, we invite in growth and evolution, we honor our orí, and we work to improve our Wyrd.

My uncle said, over 20 years ago: “Attitude is everything.” It etched itself on my psyche and I’ve never forgotten it. Our greatest and truest sense of “free will” lies in our willingness to invite in new perspectives, to see the grace in challenging circumstances – to be positive even when it would be simpler to be otherwise. It is hard, at times, but therein lies our deepest power.

*Translation by Jackson Crawford, 2015.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

10 of Swords: To Be Willing

The 10 of Swords in the Wild Unknown Tarot shows a bull pierced with blades. Despite the gruesome appearance, none plunge deeply enough to kill this massive creature; at most they cause distracting pain. But one sword has gouged out this bull's eyes, preventing him from seeing his surroundings, and robbing from him the gift of perspective.
K. Krans - Wild Unknown Tarot
When in the trenches of life's most potent challenges it can be hard to understand the bigger picture. When your external sight feels useless, perhaps it is a gift wrapped in difficult packaging, urging you to look inward instead, to find the grace in the pain, and the light that is always available in the darkness. "This too shall pass..." but not before offering an opportunity for deep growth. To be willing to receive it is enough.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Frigga, Wyrd, and Hagalaz

The other day I decided to engage in a meditation on Frigga suggested by Galina Krasskova in her book, Exploring the Northern Tradition (New Page Books, 2005).

Frigga is married to Odin, and one of her children is Baldur, God of Light, whose death sent her into deep mourning (he was resurrected after Ragnarok). After considering Frigga’s many characteristics and qualities for several moments, I pulled a rune to serve as a message to me from her. I pulled Hagalaz.

Hagalaz (especially in its Anglo-Saxon depiction) is considered the mother rune – a rune out of which all other runes can be crafted. Likewise, Frigga is the “All Mother.”
Frigga is associated with Wyrd, the northern concept of fate, destiny, and free will. Wyrd (an Anglo-Saxon form of the Norse "Urd" - both the concept and the Norn) is woven by the three Norns – Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld - who sit at the Well of Urd at the foot of Yggdrasil, however the destiny they weave is far from static, for time is not linear but constructed more like a web, or matrix, stretching outward in all directions. There may be certain events that are “fated” or destined to play out for each of us, but the ultimate outcome may depend in part on the course of action, the decisions, choices, and attitudes, of each individual whose influence impacts the situation in question (each individual’s strand of Wyrd is called orlog). There is room for agency, and at times the opportunity for us to improve our Wyrd. Frigga is often connected to the Norns as she weaves as they do, and it is said that she is a great seer, though seldom speaks of what she sees (I can’t pretend to know why she doesn’t speak of it, however as a diviner, I certainly understand the reluctance to speak of future probabilities or potentialities).

As such, Frigga teaches that we may not always know definitively how something will turn out, and that the best way to approach the future is to be in right relationship with our selves, our environment, and with the people we care about.

When we can foresee a challenge ahead, Frigga urges us to use that foresight to prepare ourselves appropriately to engage it – even if our most effective tool is simply our attitude or outlook - which is both a gift and an influencing element of our individual Wyrd.

Frigga is the fundamental source of order; she not only spins threads of Wyrd, she weaves people together into community (frith). She ties mothers and daughters together from generation to generation; she is the cord that binds all things, from human society to the expanse of the universe.

Hagalaz is also connected to Wyrd, and to cosmic order. In divination it often represents unpleasant upheavals, challenges that provide opportunities for personal growth, but require you to be willing to examine your shadow.

When I think about Frigga in relationship to Hagalaz, I see how her gift of deep strength helps to weather whatever unexpected challenges arise. Stability without change becomes stagnation. Frigga is unwavering rootedness, a stable core that can withstand the ups and downs inherent in life. She is the structure and strength that allows us to bend, not break, in the face of the deepest storm. She is the texture of human relationship, she is the presence of loved ones in times of crisis – the arms that hold us when we struggle to stand on our own.

Just as Hagalaz is the hail that damages crops, but then melts into water to provide sustenance to the earth, Frigga reminds us that the challenges we bear ultimately help lead us to transformative growth. There is great power there.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Exploring Moldavite

Several months ago I was studying a comprehensive book on crystals when I read about a funny green tektite called "moldavite." I'd never heard of it prior, but the description of its metaphysical attributes was intriguing. It's often called a "stone of transformation" that will open and clear the heart chakra, and it's said to be a powerful aid in meditation and dreamwork. Most interestingly I had read that even people who are not particularly "sensitive" to crystal energies often feel a variety of distinct sensations when holding moldavite for the first time, ranging from headaches, hot flashes, and rosy cheeks, to deep calm, and even stomach aches.
Iolite, Moldavite, and Blue Kyanite
Needless to say I was curious!

I was also somewhat skeptical, but in the best way possible. I absolutely love working with stones and crystals, and find their influences to be both subtle and powerful. Most of my most notable experiences with stones have come about quite by accident. For instance, the first time I saw black tourmaline, I was entirely mesmerized by its velvety blackness, and I remember my crown tingling when I held a piece of it. It simply felt so good, like getting a deep tissue massage on the soul. Later I read about it and was very interested to find that it was a very popular stone for use in protection and cleansing. Years later I still fantasize about taking a black tourmaline bath, and holding a handful of the stone is just as soothing as the first time.

Another time, I was dealing with some emotional turmoil, and one morning I felt an urge to throw a piece of selenite in my pocket, though that would not have been my intellectual choice. Later that day I remember commenting to someone about how calm and at peace I felt - it was notable, given the circumstances. When I decided to research selenite's properties I found that it's known to be a very powerful balm for emotional upheaval.

Then there was the time I was gifted a clear apophyllite pyramid and was told that it was good for clearing the crown chakra and opening a channel to communication with guides, etc. That night I decided to put it under my pillow and had the wildest, most intense dream ride ever. When I looked up "apophyllite and dreaming" I found that indeed it is also known to stimulate dream activity and recall.

I describe all of these experiences to make a point: my understanding of the potency of stones, crystals, minerals etc., has primarily come via personal experiences first and foremost, later followed up and affirmed by research (usually spurred by the experience I'd had).

So reading about moldavite was certainly interesting, but I took the "see it to believe it" approach. This was only underscored after speaking briefly with another crystal lover who owned some moldavite. When asked about her experience with it, her reply was, "Meh. I got nothing from it. It's pretty, though." The general sense I got from her overall demeanor was that she thought the excitement about moldavite was mostly (if not all) hype.

The next time I went to a local crystal shop I looked and looked and looked for moldavite but couldn't spot it anywhere. Finally I asked a shop clerk and she explained that they keep the moldavite behind their glass counter (ah hah!) and she proceeded to pull out a small box full of quarter-sized pieces. I asked her how much it cost and she said, "These are about $50. We also have some larger pieces that are around $120, but we price it out by the gram, so it varies." Whoa. That's some expensive rock. Needless to say, I passed.

A month or so later I returned to the shop and after making some stone selections I went to check out. While at the counter I casually inquired about the moldavite again, and once again was told that the smallest pieces were around $50, however they were ordering some smaller sizes which would come into the store in a couple of weeks. I made a mental note of that, however a week later I found myself at another metaphysical shop (the only other in my general area) and asked them about moldavite as well. It turned out that they not only had the $50 and $150 sizes, but they had a box of tiny moldavite chips (perhaps a bit smaller than a dime) that were priced at $10 each. Score!
Tiny Moldavite
While there the store clerk asked if I wanted to hold one of the medium-sized pieces, and I consented. She explained the various reactions people often have as she laid it in my palm. At first, I felt nothing at all as I stood there, palm open and facing upward. A moment later my hand started to feel quite warm, and I began to feel currents of heat move through my body, starting at my feet and moving upward toward my head. It was almost startling. I remember saying to the clerk, "It's hot! I'm getting heat flashes." And she said that that was very similar to her own experience. So she sealed up a tiny piece in a very tiny plastic bag, and I left.

In the car, I took the little moldavite piece out and held it in my left hand as I started the car and drove home. It almost felt like it was burning a hole in my palm (though not so uncomfortable that I had to put it down), and this time I started to feel both heat in my hand, and something akin to shivers through my body - like cold chills. After I put the stone away, the hot sensation in my palm remained for hours before fading away. Hmm... perhaps there was something more to this than just hype! Later in the evening I did an internet search for "moldavite and chills" but came up empty handed. There was plenty on moldavite and heat, but nothing on cold.

That night I placed the moldavite into a muslin pouch with a Lemurian seed crystal point and tucked it under my pillow. I've slept with this crystal combo every night for the past two or three weeks, and every single night my dream experience is the same: from start to finish I have a very full night of complex dreams, and when I awake they slowly start to fade until I'm left with a few vivid bits and pieces. There is no variation in this - no nights with nebulous and hard-to-recall dreams, no nights with stunningly clear, stick-to-the-ribs dreams... nothing "typical" per se. No apophyllite dreams, but most definitely a very defined, unique, and consistent pattern.
Moldavite pieces and a Lemurian seed crystal
The first night that I slept with moldavite under my pillow I experienced the deepest, most calming sleep of my adult life. I was utterly worry-free, my body was entirely relaxed. It was amazing (and I haven't experienced that since). After getting up and about my day (with moldavite hanging out in my pocket) I started to feel a bit "off" energetically and the only word that seemed to fit was "agitated." I wasn't sure if I was getting sick, or if it was allergies, or if I was in a bad mood. It clicked in my mind that this might be moldavite-related when I was leaving a voice message for my sister and when I tried to explain how I was feeling, I said, "I feel itchy and agitated like a snake shedding its skin - like I just want to get it off and get on with it." Those words - "a snake shedding its skin" - gave me pause as I recalled that moldavite was a stone of intense transformation. But hey, maybe it had nothing at all to do with the stone in my pocket! I felt that way for about two days before it faded away.

Eventually those initial sensations I had with my little moldavite piece didn't seem to occur anymore. I could hold it without feeling much heat. Was it still "working"? One afternoon I was in the first metaphysical shop (not the one where I'd purchased my moldavite) and was sitting on the floor examining some jasper when I heard the manager discussing crystals with a new employee. She gave the woman a piece of moldavite to hold, and the woman (apparently just as startled as I was my first time) exclaimed quite a bit about the heat moving through her hand. The manager said, "Yeah, it's always intense the first time, but eventually you won't notice it anymore." I latched on to that last statement, and later when I went to check out I asked her about it. The new clerk told me about how amazing the sensation was, and described the same feeling I'd had in the car weeks before: heat in the hand, and cold chills throughout the body. That was interesting. I told the manager that I'd had a small piece for a while but wasn't getting the same intense response as I did originally. She said that in her experience, and after speaking to many others who have worked with this stone, that intense experience occurs when the moldavite first meshes with your energy field, but then after it does its initial vibratory work, it settles in to something like a "maintenance mode" and is subtler moving forth. That made sense.

A week later I ended up picking up a second small piece of moldavite, and I knew immediately that I wanted to take it it home because almost immediately after placing it in my palm I could feel a pinpoint of heat in my skin. Perhaps each stone carries a unique vibratory rate that requires its own adjustment period. Not sure.

The most notable thing about this second piece was that the following day I was starting to feel fidgety again, and that "agitation" crept into my limbs. It was exactly the same sensation I'd had when I had purchased my previous piece (though I never did experience that blissfully peaceful sleep with the second one, unfortunately!). A couple of days later it faded away.

As time progresses I notice some underlying impulses toward evolution and change. I can identify these in retrospect, though as they have unfolded I haven't immediately recognized the pattern or attributed it to anything in particular.

I've found myself enmeshed in what I might describe as "transformative thought" of late - existential musings based on where I've come from and where I'm at now:

  • When I die, will I be satisfied with what I've accomplished? 
  • Will I have any regrets? 
  • Am I settling? 
  • Am I living in alignment with my highest truths? 
  • Is this job I have (as grateful as I am for it, and for all it is teaching me) what I really want to be doing? 
  • Could I be making a more significant, beneficial impact on humanity in another profession? 
  • Am I honoring and making sufficient use of my talents? 
  • How might I increase my sense of freedom and personal agency? 

Whew! Questions that are important, and not for the faint of heart. And these are very "moldavite" questions when I think about it.

I've been learning to "trust" more completely, especially in terms of the metaphysical realm; I've had quite clear moments of understanding which have shown me the source of certain anxieties and doubts. This has been extremely beneficial, welcome, and rather surprising, to be honest. By acknowledging and identifying the root cause of a certain automatic response, it's possible to open the space necessary to change it.

All in all, it's a pretty interesting little gem!