Monday, November 28, 2016

Focus on What You Can Do Today

Today is the first day back at it following the Thanksgiving holiday. The entire household has been wading through a haze of various illnesses - a stomach bug, a nasty cold - for a couple of weeks now, and the break gave us all some much needed down time to rest and consume loads of hot tea!

As I type this I have a steaming cup of lemon brew to my left side, and a box of tissues to my right. But the week's toil waits for no-one, and, as Robert Frost wrote, I have miles to go before I sleep.

So in choosing my morning card I asked, "What energy is my ally?" As I tackle the responsibilities before me today, what will help me to maintain perspective, to reduce tension, to increase stability?

I drew the 5 of Hazards from the Zombie Tarot:
The first thing I notice, of course, is that this lady is kneeling over a pile of what looks a lot like crumpled up tissues. And the yellow bag she's holding strongly resembles my Ricola cough drops. She seems to be thinking, "WTF, cold, this is getting out of hand. How many tissues and lozenges until I reach the end of this thing!?"

What I'd love to do is to huddle in a cave away from the rest of the world (and really, who wants to be around a sick person?) but I can't accomplish that - too much going on. In this image there clearly is a lot that needs to be tended to, but this woman isn't sweating it. She is focusing first on what she needs to do (take care of her health), and what she can do (prioritizing, balancing the to-do list with energy output), and the rest will have to hang in there in the meantime. Fortunately the buildings don't look like they're about to fall!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Óðinn, the Valknut, and the Warrior's Path

I didn't plan to write this on Veteran's Day, but it's a wonderfully appropriate synchronicity. This post is a semi-curated version of a couple of rambling journal entries I've written recently. I hope that the content - my thoughts - are clear enough to the reader (sometimes we think in images, and images can be rather difficult to fully and faithfully narrate into text). So here goes....

I've pulled the 10 of Swords (upright and reversed) so many times in relationship to Odin: what blessing does he offer?; how can I deepen our relationship?; what aspects of psyche is he connected to? (just to name a few).
Pagan Otherworlds Tarot
The 10 of Swords connects to themes of sacrifice, loss, endings, utter release from the bonds of restriction and self-limitation; a death of the old self in order to birth the new. Odin hung for nine days, without a drink or a bite to eat, from Yggdrasil in order to earn the wisdom of the runes, symbols representing the layers and streams of experience and knowledge that flow through the multiverse. The World Tree itself, Yggdrasil, is at once thought to be both around us and within us. So the entirety of existence is not only external to ourselves, but is contained within our very beings (reminds me of that Whitman quote: "I contain multitudes" - which, come to think of it, is a very Odin expression!). As I pondered all of this, I was reminded of a dream I had some time ago of a raven or crow offering me an eyeball to eat. I vividly recall that when I woke up, I felt like the raven was inside my head. In this (rather complex) context, there is a concept of the raven as external messenger, and at the same time as an intrinsic aspect of myself.

Odin is considered to be a god of battle, shamanism, inspiration, wisdom, and death. His symbol is generally thought to be the valknut (knot of the fallen, or dead), three intersecting triangles. Its meaning is not firmly known, but based largely on educated conjecture. In other words, there is nothing historical that explicitly states that Odin and the valknut are connected. However there are pictorial artifacts that do appear to associate them, including one - on the Lärbro stones - that shows what is probably Odin and his ravens at a burial mound over which a downward-angled valknut is depicted.

A couple of weeks ago I was pondering the symbolism of the valknut. I decided to pull three cards about its significance, and I drew: 8 of Swords rx, Knight of Swords rx, and the Ace of Swords.
Pagan Otherworlds Tarot
I noticed immediately that all of the cards were air (intellect, knowledge, language, discernment, communication - very much the domain of Odin), and that the sum of the spread was 9, which is Odin's number. The feeling that this line gave me was: the clarity and new knowledge that comes from journeying through the "other side." It's the 8 of Swords - not 10 - but still there is this feeling of breaking free, or diving in. Mary Greer discusses the shamanic aspects of the 8 of Swords in her book "The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals," and mentions that the significance of the reversal of this card includes initiation. That makes sense. The Knight is a warrior. He ventures forth, freed from  the bindings of time and thought, and there finds illumination. In ancient depictions of the valknut we see evidence of a correlation to the death of a warrior. And as in probably all religions, in particular Ifá and the Northern Tradition, all wisdom has multiple meanings. Warriors, battles, and death are both literal and metaphorical.

Odin sacrificed himself to himself in order to set himself free and truly learn who and what he was. As a deity, or even archetype, it is a bit funny to think of him needing to embark on such a journey, but the story itself demonstrates the whole point of his essence: allowing the ego to die so that the soul can be free to be fully expressed.
Valknut pendant
Who are we when we remove all outer and societal trappings? Who are when we release the baggage that builds up over the years, the stories we tell ourselves (and believe) about what and who we are, and are not? About what we can do and cannot, about what is acceptable and what isn't? If our ultimate goal is self-actualization, then our greatest sacrifice is of ourselves toward that goal. In order to learn, we have to get rid of binary thinking and open ourselves to paradox, to all possibility, which is why true "Odinists" know no barriers or limitations. All experiences, all people, all cultures, all aspects of social strata, all elements of nature, offer new knowledge and the opportunity to learn both about the cosmos and about ourselves. The number nine symbolizes completion; Odinism is ultimately about becoming whole, and free.

If the World Tree is within us, then Odin is effectively hanging himself in the liminal, sacred space of his own inner self, the ultimate initiation. Who are you when you have nothing to name you? By letting himself go he was able to open himself up to the keys of the universe and universal knowledge/wisdom/truth. And with that wisdom he was able to dialogue - consciously engage with - existence itself.

Some believe that to wear a valknut indicates a dedication to Odin and/or Odinic principles, and to the path of a warrior. As I mentioned before, I believe that soldiers are one sort of warrior, and the strength, bravery, and willingness to confront physical death that they embrace as part of their duty to protect and serve is sacred and sobering. I also believe that the path of the warrior is a choice that we make in every moment of our lives, whether or not we ever set foot on a literal battle field.

From my perspective, Odin's principles include (but are not limited to) having the strength to stand up for what is right; reducing and eliminating perceived barriers that prevent us from engaging in the dynamic fabric of life; opening our hearts and minds to learning from all things, and all people; having the courage to look at our own shadows (and not run away); working to identify the influence of our egos, and then working to free ourselves from those bindings; to fully embody our unique selves. All of this involves the never-ending work of self-evaluation, self-acceptance, a desire, dedication, and intent to always "be and do" as authentically, honestly, and openly as possible; a willingness to challenge ourselves to always grow, evolve, and learn.

He alone knows
who wanders wide
and has much experienced 
by what disposition each man is ruled
who common sense possesses.
-Havamal, 18 (B. Thorpe)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Time for Healing - and Action

Though Hillary won the popular vote, the electoral college system awarded the presidency to Donald Trump. I won't bother attempting to tone down my dismay. I called in sick today because between not getting any sleep last night, and being stunned by this turn of events, I can't think straight. I'm a proponent of positive thinking and the value in choosing to focus on what's possible, and what's good, especially when it's most difficult to do so. But today I'm granting myself much needed space to grieve - not just for the loss of my candidate, but more so for what this "Republican" win means for my country, my family, and myself. I was not pleased (to say the least) when Bush won the highest office in the land twice in a row, but that feeling just doesn't compare to how I feel on this day. 

Still, the show must go on. These are the moments that Tarot was made for - when you are stumbling around in the dark, confused and unsure of your surroundings. So I shuffled my Zombie Tarot and pulled two cards:
Where does healing begin: 4 of Pentacles (rx)

A man sits in his supply room, surrounded by food stores, and cradling a rifle. His ears are plugged against the group of people banging on the boarded doors, seeking refuge from a coming onslaught of zombies. He is safe, and isn't willing to take the risk of opening his stronghold to invite others in. He doesn't want to share his resources with anyone else, either, otherwise he won't last as long as he might on his own. This card tells me that it's okay to take some space apart to process the significance of all that is happening around us, but it's also critical that we not shut ourselves off from each other as we move forward. Sharing with others who feel the same way that we do helps to weave strong bonds of solidarity; helps us remember that we're not experiencing this pain in a vacuum. We may question our community, and the fabric of our very society. We may look at our surroundings with new eyes. But ultimately we must connect with each other - and that includes those who see the world differently than we do. If we are going to heal as a nation, we have to forge bridges, even where we feel they've been burned.  And if they crumble, we have to be willing to rebuild them, or find a new path to understanding. This is not simple or straight forward, but it's necessary. 

How do we take the first step forward? Queen of Pentacles (rx)

This woman sits in a drawing room with tear-stained cheeks. She has no arms, and a chain reaches from a chair leg up under a blanket to close tightly around her neck. I am sure that many in our country feel momentarily powerless; at a loss for where to go from here. Indeed there have been many tears shed in the last 12 hours, and a deep sense of disenfranchisement. There are vibrant fears at the idea that racist police protocols such as "stop and frisk" may be revived, and that Muslims may be discriminated against through the application of a broad (and vague, and un-American) "Muslim ban" on immigrants. Furthermore, the opportunity to break the glass ceiling in terms of the ability of women to achieve the highest office in the land was hugely important to many people. Knowing that the new President-elect is a man who disparaged women in a variety of ways, who touched and kissed women against their will because he believed that his power and prestige awarded him such liberties - that has been hard to swallow. Awareness that women's health issues may come under fire, and that marriage equality for all humans may be at risk, is high in the minds of a large segment of America's population. Many discuss the possibility of relocating overseas, or to a neighboring country more friendly to progressive ideologies. But is that the best way? At some point we have to recognize that we do have a voice, and there are contexts in which our advocacy is still needed - perhaps more now than ever before. Rather than resigning ourselves to a new order, or giving up on our country, it may be just the right time to get our hands dirty. We are in fact not powerless. 

Find a cause and dedicate yourself to it. Be selfless, and show kindness to strangers. Speak up when you witness bigotry in action. Ally yourself with legislators in your area that are fighting for you. Advocate for immigrants and refugees. Bring cross-cultural trainings to your workplace. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. Remember that one person can make a difference. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Responsibility of Power

Along with power and leadership comes a sacred responsibility to be impeccable with one's word. According to Don Miguel Ruiz, to be impeccable with your word means to:

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. 
Avoid using the word to speak against yourself 
or to gossip about others. 
Use the power of your word 
in the direction of truth and love.

This morning I pulled the Sage card from the Dreams of Gaia Tarot:
Like a blend of the Hermit and the Magician, author and artist, Ravynne Phelan, describes the Sage as a wise man who searches for new knowledge, reflects upon the past, and then imparts his wisdom to others through eloquent speech.

The shadow side of this card may be seen in those who distort reality and disseminate false information to support their own agendas, or who simply engage in rhetoric or impart advice and guidance based on faulty knowledge. (In either case it is almost irrelevant whether or not the guide is well-intentioned or not, because in either case damage can result.)

Power can be a dangerous thing if that sacred responsibility is not solemnly accepted and tended.

As I sat drinking my morning coffee today, the eve of the conclusion of our wild ride of a U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump was shown addressing attendees at a campaign event. Though Hillary Clinton has been officially cleared of wrongdoing by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (for the second time in a matter of months), he nevertheless chose to cast ominous doubt over the affair, implying that the FBI did not conduct a thorough investigation, and that they perhaps had bowed to some sort of clandestine pressure from the Clintons. He said, specifically: "You can't review 650,000 emails in eight days." As he spoke, the crowd jeered. I started to yell at the television set: "They didn't have to review that many emails in eight days! They reviewed a tiny fraction of that, and only those that had any correlation to Hillary Clinton. Does he not understand this?" (Well, speaking factually has not been a priority of his campaign, so it shouldn't be a surprise.)

But as I sat there fuming, I thought of how utterly manipulative this man is. He has no respect for the office he is seeking. He pays no mind to the pain and fractures he is creating, nor the tornadoes of discrimination and distrust that he is fomenting. In reality, I believe it feeds him.

Just yesterday at a Trump rally, a peaceful protester holding a "Republicans Against Trump" sign was knocked down and tackled by attendees before being whisked outside by a group of police officers (par for the course considering Trump's previous encouragement of violence at his rallies). Someone in the crowd had yelled "gun!" and so the secret service had swooped down and hurried Trump off stage. Ultimately there was no gun. The words of the peaceful protestor afterward, when asked about his treatment by the crowd:

I like these people. These are my fellow Americans. I love these people. 
I understand that they came here because they're patriotic. They want to 
do good for their country. So, the things that were going on...
this is the main reason why I do not support Donald Trump. He's fascist. 
You know, he's a dictator. And these type of people, they take good people 
and they turn them into animals

(For contrast, this is how Obama handled a pro-Trump protester at a Clinton rally recently).

So, does Trump's manner bear some resemblance to fascism? Yes, according to Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a scholar of fascism at New York University, in an article written by Jonathan Blitzer for the New Yorker. A particularly potent and somber excerpt:

In the speech of Mussolini, Putin, Trump, and also Berlusconi, 
Ben-Ghiat notes a pattern: they are at once transparent about 
their intentions and masters of innuendo. “Trump trails off. 
He uses ellipses and coded language. He lets his listeners fill in 
what they want.” When Trump seemed to suggest that gun owners 
should deal with Hillary Clinton themselves, or when he talked 
about needing to “watch” certain communities out to steal the 
vote on Election Day, his statements were more powerful for their 
ambiguity. “It’s all about letting listeners convince and mislead 
themselves,” she said. 

Yes, that has been one of the most terribly fascinating aspects of this election cycle.

Excerpts from stanzas 63-64 of the Havamal read:

Inquire and impart 
should every man of sense 
who will be accounted sage...
His power should every wise man
use with discretion.*

May the outcome of tomorrow's election afford us the opportunity to continue - as individuals, as a nation, and as a planet - the important work of spreading the noble virtues of respect, justice, equality, wisdom, integrity, kindness, patience, and responsibility. 

*Benjamin Thorpe translation

Saturday, November 5, 2016

November Cards: Believe In Yourself

Admittedly a bit late, I've decided to pull some "cards of the month" for November. Rather than use assigned positions, I simply pulled a line of three from the Pagan Otherworlds Tarot, and an oracle card from the Dat Black Mermaid Man Lady deck.

Judgment - 6 of Cups - Chariot

Ole Caney Sharp - Divine Opportunity
I sat down with cards and coffee on my son's race car rug in the early hours of Saturday morning as he played superhero next to me with his trucks and an assortment of miscellaneous items. It was a nice way to start the weekend.

I understood the significance of this line almost immediately. Though my job focuses primarily on directing an English language program, I have recently been called to give presentations on cultural awareness. Language acquisition is a small aspect of the overall theme, but much of the "weightier" material delves into concepts of religious diversity, racism, and cultural labeling. This sort of work is a passion of mine. My undergraduate degree is in Cultural Anthropology, and most of my adult life has involved addressing injustice, increasing awareness of the beautiful fabric and texture of human existence, and preserving ancient legacies - language, traditions - before they are lost in an ever-expanding globalized society. I am one half of an interracial marriage, and my children straddle a number of cultural and racial divides that will likely bring them (in addition to many joys) frustrations from an outside world that struggles to place things (and people) in tidy (and utterly limiting) boxes. Throughout my life I have worked in various roles in places that include Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, central city urban neighborhoods, immigrant communities, and the Basque Country, Spain. Honoring and understanding the breadth and depth of humankind, and facilitating that understanding in other people, is extraordinarily important to me. 

An initial invitation to give a presentation to administrators who support international students gave way to a second invitation to present on cultural awareness to a group of faculty members from two different departments, which then led to a third invitation to present to yet another department at the end of the month. Judgment is an interesting card because it both represents the elements of this work that feel like a true "calling" and it also touches on how hard I am on myself. After that first presentation I ruthlessly beat myself up about "what people might have thought," and "how much more clearly I should have explained [insert topic]." My husband was a bit shocked at what he dubbed my "self punishment." And he was right - that is exactly what I was doing to myself. Ultimately I received so much positive feedback that I came to understand that it "wasn't that bad" after all (!) which was both a relief and a blessing. When the day came to present for the second time, my daily draw was Judgement. I didn't think about it at the time, but later I realized that perhaps this was touching on something deeper than I was acknowledging. (And that session went very well!)

The 6 of Cups represents this connection to who I have always been, my essential self, that part of me that has remained unchanged since childhood. In doing this work I'm tapping into a voice that has a lot to say; a part of myself that has gathered experience and perspective over many years, and is primed for expression. The Chariot gathers all of that up and carries it forth into the world. It tells me that I have a lot to do, and so much more to develop and explore in this capacity. As I approach my third presentation, I've already started to consider how to expand into a "part two." There is so much that can be discussed in the broad arena of diversity and cross-cultural understanding, and in the current limit of two hours I can only scratch the surface. I see that there is a need for it, and a place, as well, and that will spur me onward in the coming months and year ahead. 

Ole Caney Sharp represents the energy of Elegua, my dear friend and road-opener. When I read the advice on the back of the card I had to laugh in appreciation. It says: 

Let your questions go
you ain't got to know.
You thinks too much
that's why you stuck.
Get on up
and fly.

I have spent a lot of time lately considering how much I over-think, over-worry, and thereby limit myself. This card is a pointed reminder that (as illustrated by my intense - and unfounded - self-criticism following my first presentation) I tend to clip my own wings, and that it's a good moment to let go of that bad habit and see where the winds take me.....