Monday, March 22, 2010

When I Speak of Religion

My friend responded to my latest, "If Your Religion..." post and I felt that it deserved more than just a response in the comments, as it's a very valid point. I have lived inside my growing awareness of spirituality for a while now and so there are concepts that I take for granted when talking about what I have learned. Anything that makes me better at getting my point across is very much appreciated.

This what she had to say...

"It is my firm belief that there are morons in every religion on the planet. That's just the way humanity is. Most religions are trying to help with this problem, but the fact is that little can be done to help someone who doesn't feel like being helped. Many people think they're part of a religion just because their parents told them so, and it's just a cultural thing, and they have a shallow understanding of their own supposed theology.

Anyway, that's just my long-winded way of saying that I'm a little worn out on the cliche of rejecting a religion based on its followers. I don't think there's a single faith system out there that hasn't had someone leave because they were disappointed in the actions of that faith's adherents. Sometimes people are just morons, and you can't blame God or the Buddha or Athena or whoever for it."

I agree with everything she said, 100%, and it got me thinking that I missed something when I was talking about religion...

The word religion is used interchangeably with spirituality or belief system, I've been guilty of this myself, and for the most part, it's not really wrong. It is the meaning of other words that gets lost when the difference between religion and spirituality isn't explored and understood.

Spirituality is the connection to things outside of the purely physical, the connection to deity, to that spark that makes us uniquely individual, the energy that animates us while living and is glaringly absent after death. It is created by the individual, for the individual.

Religion is the politics of prayer, of worship, it is the politics of connection with deity. It is created by people for the consumption of others. The motives of those who create religion are sometimes altruistic, sometimes they are just controlling. People are flawed, and so are religions. When I complain about a religion, I'm not pointing my finger at "God or the Buddha or Athena...", but at the people who do things in their names.

The God of the New Testament is supposed to be the great good father of all things. He is supposed to be all love, all joy, all grace...and yet people have committed amazing atrocities in His name. Do I blame God? No, I blame the people who were capable of the actions, or who set up the system that allowed the actions. I blame the religion who got Him wrong.

Paganism connects to the ancient cycles of life, death and rebirth, drawing divinity out of the golden lined clouds and settling it firmly within. And yet, there are people who have simply swapped the names and genders of their gods, changed the words of their pleas, but have fundamentally changed nothing, and are still as frustrated as before. Do I blame any of the multitude of pantheons Pagans recognize? No, I point my finger at the religion, or lack thereof, that did not help explain these things.

So you love God, Jesus, Buddha, Athena, but part of what I have said somewhere along the way rings true for you, and your religion makes you afraid...what then?

Change it. Reject that which scares you, and revel in that which brings you joy. Be conscious of your religion, how it impacts your life and the lives of those around you. Try to do the least amount of harm possible. Participate in life, be conscious of the thousand joyous moments you will have and how they add up to a happy life. Let your religion evolve with you, so that it will always meet your needs.

Can it be just that simple? I think so. And yet, not, because I have to be more aware, more conscious, more active in how my decisions ripple away from me. It is admittedly harder somedays to follow my religion of one than to let slip my responsibility and relax under someone else's direction. But I choose, and will continue to do so, every day. That sort of freedom is sweet, and worth the work.

I hope this helps you to understand better the things I say, whether you agree with me or not.

Till next time, be well,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stonewise: Connemara Marble

Today is Happy Irish Heritage Day (at least for me, for others it's St. Patrick's Day, though for most I'm thinking it's just Drink Bear Till you Pass Out Day...)

In any case, I thought I would talk a little bit about Connemara Marble, since it is one of the finest marbles in the world, and is uniquely Irish!

Ardriana doesn't have anything to say (yet) about Connemara, so I had to go do some digging of my own...

From, "Why is Ireland called the Emerald Isle?"

"One of the oldest natural minerals in Ireland is also green. Connemara marble is thought to be about 600 million years old in geological terms. It is found in the Connemara Mountains in the west of Ireland, and was first mined during the 1800s. In addition to gracing buildings, Connemara marble is used to fashion jewelry, rosary beads, giftware and souvenirs."

Other tid bits I found along the way...

"It is said to bring serenity to those who keep it close."

"Connemara marble has also been a traditional gift of friendship between families."

I have a disk of Connemara, about 3" across, with a hole in the center that I used to wear in my hair, tied by a green ribbon or a length of rattail. My Mother gave it to me when I was 12 or 13, and it's always been one of my connections to Ireland, and my Irish Heritage. After my Mother died, it became a connection to her as well, as it was one of the last things she gave to me. (Funny was a free gift she'd gotten after ordering something from a catalog for me. She gave it to me "just cuz", and it's become one of my more special treasures.)

I wasn't able to find any real folklore or magickal lore about the marble, but it remains to this day one of the more prized marbles in the world, ranking up there with the sparkling white marble of Italy or Greece. It's one of the natural treasures of Ireland, and just more proof that there are indeed a thousand shade of green on the Emerald Isle (there really are! I seen 'em!).

I haven't used any in my jewelry, though I might now that I've found a place that sells beads (>:D)! To me this stone is all about family, ancestry, history and cultural identity. Yes...if you haven't guessed by now, I'm a teeny bit Irish...

Éireann go Brách,
Bhen Rudha

Monday, March 15, 2010

If Your Religion... Part 4

In my search for a belief system that settled comfortably in my psyche, giving me ideas that I liked about the unknown, and helping me to be a better person, I took an ethics class at the community college. We studied singularly a new translation of the ethics book by Aristotle, and I found myself changed by it.

One of the things I liked best about what Aristotle had to say was that religion had no place in the realm of ethics. You gave your due to the gods, but endeavored to live your life by the laws of your civilization, and by an internal understanding of what was right and wrong.

Certainly, religion contains wisdom on how to develop that internal understanding of right and wrong, but it seems to me that simply setting down rules of behavior that come with either promises of rewards, or fear of punishment, without having any sort of understanding of "why", just doesn't work.

So, if your religion makes you ethically're doing it wrong.

I know there are people out there of all faiths who work actively to be better people every day. To embody all that is good and beautiful in their religion to be as close to the ideal as possible. These are obviously not the people I'm talking about.

I'm sure most people have seen the bumper sticker, "I'm not perfect, I'm just forgiven," or some variation thereof. What exactly is it saying? I think that the spirit of it is saying something to the effect of, "I cannot be perfect, as even though I try to be so every day, I fail. But I am forgiven for my failing, and that gives me the comfort and strength to continue." I know that there are those who actually believe this.

Unfortunately I also think that the majority of the people who would put this sticker on their cars tend to act as if it saying, "I can be as big a jerk as I want, because all I have to do is ask forgiveness." When all bad deeds are forgiven, why take responsibility for them?

I'm sure everyone knows of at least one person who does whatever they want, without really caring about the consequences, but still claims to be a good Christian of some flavor or another. I never understood how this was possible and it is probably one of the reasons I'm not Christian anymore.

I think the world would be a different place if everyone considered, and cared, how their actions and words affect those around them.

The Wiccan Rede states, "An it harm none, do what thou wilt," or some variation thereof. At its core, I believe this means, "I have used all the tools and gifts at my disposal to see whether or not my actions will harm another. I am not omniscient, so if there are circumstances that I cannot foresee that would harm another, may my actions come to naught." And again, I believe there are those who hold to the rede in this manner.

However, I know there are those who use the rede as a disclaimer, tack it on the end of whatever spell they're doing to cover their bases. They do whatever they want, trusting that the rede will take care of them, still taking no responsibility for their actions. This isn't any better than believing that divinity will forgive their transgressions so it's ok to behave however they want.

I suppose the core of my argument here is responsibility. If your religion helps you to *not* take responsibility for your actions (The devil made me do it!), then it's just not working. Giving your will up to god, letting the universe interpret your wishes, figuring your life is wholly predetermined, so do whatever you want...these points of view are, in my opinion, entirely to passive, and are part of what is wrong with society today.

Everyone makes an impact on the world around them (rings in a pond anyone?), and if we were more aware of this, and endeavored to do as little harm as possible, how could the world not be a better place?

I give my due to the gods, but do not give up my will to them, or let them decide my behavior because I am hoping for a reward, or afraid of a punishment.

I choose a different way, and so should you, whatever it may be.

Till next time, be well,

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stonewise: Topaz

So I missed last week's Stonewise...
many apologies. In any case, here is this week's, a day late, but better than never, huh?

I wanted to do the first post about March's birthstone, but I don't actually have any Aquamarine, and I've already done a bit on Bloodstone. March's color is light blue...but I've already done one on Blue Lace Agate.

All hope seemed lost to find a stone that had any sort of relationship to March, and then I saw Topaz.

But what of November, Red? Ahh well, I'll deal with that when I get there.

So I'll start, as always, with what Ardriana has to say about the stone:

A precious gem occurring in tawny yellow, blue, green, reddish violet, pink and colorless varieties. Found in Brazil, Siberia, Sri Lanka, and the United States. This classic stone is sometimes confused with the less valuable Citrine. Topaz is the hardest silicate mineral and one of the hardest minerals in nature. Topaz crystals can reach incredible size, sometimes growing to several hundred pounds.

Most blue Topaz is lab treated with irradiation. Multi-colored Topaz, like Mystic Fire, or Sunrise Topaz is also lab enhanced. In the case of Mystic Fire, a fine coating of metal atoms is spread on the surface before irradiating it.

Folklore: Topaz was thought to be able to prevent sudden death, cure madness and improve vision. The Egyptians said that Topaz was colored with the golden glow of the mighty sun god Ra. This made Topaz a very powerful amulet that protected the faithful against harm. The Romans associated Topaz with Jupiter, who also is the god of the sun. Wear Topaz only if you wish to be clear-sighted: legend has it that it dispels all enchantment and helps to improve eyesight as well! The ancient Greeks believed that it had the power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. Topaz was also said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink. Its mystical curative powers waxed and waned with the phases of the moon: it was said to cure insomnia, asthma and hemorrhages.

Magick: This sun stone clears the vision when problem solving.

How I use it in my jewelry...I recently found a new place in town to buy stones *rubs her hands together*, and found a strand of tiny, blue Topaz. I know that most blue Topaz is lab enhanced, and I like to use as much natural material as possible...but Topaz is a precious gem, and I knew I wasn't going to get much opportunity to buy some.

When I got it home, I looked at it more closely and discovered that it mostly appeared blue because it was strung on light blue thread and that it was clear. I still wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, but I was happier with my purchase.

It wasn't until I went looking up Topaz that I knew myself blessed for my find. I've been trying to put together a Sun set to compliment the Moon one I have already, and have been having a hell of a time coming up with a stone combo that I liked. However, when two ancient cultures revered Topaz as a sun stone, who am I to argue with them?

So...look for a new Sun design in the near future. :D

I don't have a huge connection to Topaz, other than it being my brother's birthstone. I remember his class ring, and how beautiful I thought it was, the stone being the same color as the gold around it. When it came time to get my own class ring, I was tempted to get a Topaz just because I loved how it looked, especially since my birthstone, diamond just didn't look that great.

In any case, I'm very excited about what I can do with these Topaz, and hope you'll like what I come up with.

And now you know a little bit more of how I do what I do.

Till next time, be well,