Thursday, September 22, 2011

Giving Back

There is a lot of talk in the community generally and the spiritual community in particular, about giving back.

Our parents tell us - and we in turn tell our children - that it's not enough to expect the community to support us, we need to work, we need to give something back.

The environmental lobby tells us that the environment cannot support multiple billions of people, and we need to lessen our demands and give something back.

We tell each other that if we expect others to help us out and do us favours, we must be prepared in return to either do them favours when they ask, or at least pass it on and do other people favours. And we tell each other that if you borrow something, you must return it.

Some of us are told - or tell our children - that giving to charity is important.

All these things are based on keeping the larger community and the structure which supports it in balance at the very least.

But then, what happens when we move into an explicitly spiritual context? The major religions tell us to pray, to ask things of their various gods, even if the thing we are meant to ask for is forgiveness for being born human, something which these gods, you would think, had banked on. Spiritually we ask. We ask for worldly power or success in our spiritual life, or for spiritual power and success. What Judeo-Christian is happy to pray to go to hell to make more room in heaven for others, after all?

And we Pagans are just as bad. The vast majority of Pagans that I know - or know of - with a few select exceptions, begin and/or end our rites by "grounding", expecting the earth-mother to give us energy, strength and healing. If we do healing rites, we take the imbalance out of the person and give it to the earth to deal with without a second thought, or expect earth, the sun, the universe or whatever, to supply a limitless stream of healing energy to our client through us. There isn't often an effort to set up a two-way flow.

An example: in recent times (recent in my personal language, is quite a flexible concept!) I asked two shamans I know and trust to investigate the Otherworldly connections of an issue I had. Both of them were gracious enough to do so, and to report back to me. Both of them used animal-helpers and spirit-helpers as a part of what they did for me. And both of them were pleased (and, I think, a little surprised) when I thanked them, and offered to feed the physical analogues of their spirit-helpers in the flesh. The most recent example, for instance, involved a spirit-crow, and afterwards I kept smelly little tidbits on me for a few days until I came close enough to the next physical crow, whereupon I gave them something they thought was delicious as a thank-you to their spiritual equivalent.

Recently in my last three or four solo rituals, I have had a turn-around. I still see the Earth Goddess as powerful and unbounded - but where has my sense of right-doing been, all these decades? So I've embarked on a series of rituals designed not to take universal energy and focus it for my own ends (selfish or unselfish), but I've taken to concentrating my personal energy, and making offerings back to the Earth, my most frequently used deity, as a thanks and a blessing for the energies I have in the past used. And I intend to continue to do this.

And I'm finding it extraordinarily satisfying! In fact, I'm finding a lot of giving satisfying, at the moment. For example, I read Tarot for money. Recently a person rang me and asked what I charged, I told her, she said she was the organiser of sheltered housing for disadvantaged people, and she was organising a fund-raising weekend, and would I like to read for them. At all times she was negotiating on the basis of my getting rewarded for my time whilst her fund-raising drive also got something out of it, but specifically because she didn't ask me to donate my time for free, I ended up suggesting that. And so on a weekend in a few months, I'll give them a day of my time and effort. No, it won't make me more prosperous, but it has already made me feel much more positive and that will increase when I'm actually doing it.

Making money is one thing. We all need money. We need to pay for accommodation, food, power. When our clothes fall apart, we need to pay for new ones, or the material to make them ourselves. And I had a decade when I was on a very generous income indeed. I wasn't worried about money. Brand-new cars and expenditure on luxuries happened. And I was happy. Well - I was entirely free of the financial worries I was to have later in life. Nowdays, my income is much smaller than it used to be, but these days, I am much more inclined to share what I have, buy meals for friends, help out someone on the bus who doesn't have enough change, give my spare coins to every charity-collector I pass. And I can honestly say that with lesser money and an ethic of giving, I am a lot happier than I was with more money and the ethic of saving that had been taught to me in childhood.

And this works in my spiritual life, too. Magic, contemplation and worship is less about what I can get out of it - and even aiming for spiritual growth is ultimately selfish - but more about what I can give back to the deities, on however small a scale. One individual human can, logically, make no difference at all to a deity large enough that the entire universe fits into one cell of their "body", but if I continue, I am less of a drain on the spiritual organism that sustains me. And if I can spark one more person to behave likewise, and they spread the idea to another, a ripple effect will, in time, pass through the community, even if it takes thousands upon thousands of years to become significant.

I think that is well worthwhile, don't you?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sanitising Your Tarot Deck

Someone recently asked if it was a good idea to sanitise the Tarot deck before use, to remove "negative" cards. The following represents my thoughts on the subject:

Nope. Not for the very young, not for the very old.

As to "sanitising" the deck to make all the readings happy-happy-joy-joy, well, you might as well buy a Doreen Virtue deck and have it done for you before purchase, if that's all you want from a reading.

I've had a number of traumatised clients (and seen a number of internet discussions from people who had been throught the mill), who uniformly said they didn't like happy-happy decks that didn't reflect reality.

Every time I read for somebody, I set about discovering people's problems and bringing them to their notice - then set about finding potential solutions so that they can repair their lives. With a deck that has had cards like Death, the Devil and the Tower removed, I simply couldn't function to help people. I'd have to talk meaningless puff, as some other readers I know do.

This means that, in the absence of being able to truly identify people's problems, I can also truly identify no cures, no courses of action that they can take to change things for the better.

I did a reading just today for someone in late middle-age who had very severe problems. If the only cards my deck had to offer were all happy-happy-joy-joy cards, I wouldn't have been able to detect what was really happening for them in their life, nor the emotional impact that was having on their inner world. Without that information, I would have been able to make no constructive suggestions, specially as so many of these so-called "negative" cards hold within themselves hints to their own solutions.

Do people really want readings that change nothing and don't help them? I don't think so. At the end of the reading, this person left, giving me a hug and promising to come back and let me know how things play out after they put into action some of the suggestions that the reading brought out. I simply couldn't have said anything important or helpful today if my deck had had its teeth pulled.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


I have a dream!

Well, I had it this morning, just before waking up after sleeping in shockingly late.

I met Jesus. Not your iconic Jesus, blonde and with rippling muscles, and nor did he fill me with awe as a living manifestation of godhood (any more than any of us are, anyway).

No, he was an Arab, and a rather grubby one - I suppose showers weren't mandatory back then. As such he did, in fact, have a bit of an aura, but it was the kind of aura that, goodwill aside, you didn't really want to inhale. Surprisingly, he was clean-shaven and very young-looking - but these days, even forty-year-olds look like fresh-faced youngsters to me. There was a puffiness about him that made me think of kidney disease.

I felt sorry for him. There was a little dialogue but not much, and by now I don't recall it at all well, I just recall my impressions. He was totally lost in the modern world. No one understood him. There was no place for him. And no one was following his teachings to get back to being an authentically good Jew.

He faded away, and I awoke late with a slight headache, a sign of having had far too much sleep for a change.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Happy Miscellany

Today has been - er - an unusual day. To explain it properly, you will need a bit of backstory. Well, two bits.

I am a member of the Red Hat Society, a worldwide social group for older women who are done with being proper and respectable, and just want to embody Cyndi Lauper's song "Old Broads Just Wanna Have Fun" (or something like that), and Jenny Joseph's poem about when she grows old wearing purple with a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit her. When we go out, which I've been slack about these last few months, we are a sight to see: anywhere from twenty to fifty of us, all in purple, with red hats. We stand out, and we have an outrageously good time. That's bit number one.

Bit number two is that yesterday I received formal notification that a company that provides me with a regular service decided that a valid payment I made, cash-register-imprinted an' all, wasn't valid for some weird convoluted reason of their own. Having received no satisfactory response to emails or phone calls, yesterday I rang my local Member of Parliament, who sadly is currently embroiled in a scandal of his own dating from his pre-parliamentarian days, hoping that a phone call from his office might expedite matters.

So I awoke in a state of nervy hopefulness, and left the house way before I needed to, to meet my appointment. Along the way, knowing how ridiculously early I'd be, I chose to break my journey, and when I did so, my eye was immediately caught by a mob of older fellers all wearing the identical blue fleecy polo-neck and blue baseball cap. From a distance they looked as if they worked together, but for two things. They were a fairly large group of men, and they were all even older than I am, if you can imagine any such unlikely thing.

When I spotted them, I immediately thought "Red Hatters!" They were entering the door of a certain well-known morally and nutritionally bankrupt franchise which supplies hits of fat, sugar, starch, poor-quality protein and fat again, one of the prime movers of the underhand American Cultural Invasion. I'm not going to mention their name because I don't choose to give them publicity this side of the River Styx, but I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.

So of course, being curious by nature, I tailed them in.

For once, the high school students from the school across the road - where my daughter was School Captain last year - were badly outnumbered, and not by random civilians but by these sartorially coordinated guys. Drawing nearer, I noticed the following logo on their fleecy polonecks and matching baseball caps (why, in a country where hardly anyone plays baseball, do so many people ape the wearing of baseball caps? Just another part of the American Cultural Invasion, I suspect),.

Immediately I felt right at home: the logo looked as if it could have slotted quite comfortably into the Tarot Major Arcana at card number thirteen. A skeleton with a top-hat leaning jauntily on a gravestone? I'll tell you, I'm not much for men, but these ones were My Kind Of Guys!

On the pretext of wanting fats and salts, I queued up with them, and waiting for the atrocious service provided by inadequately trained and overworked teenagers, I fell to chatting with one of them. He told me they were "just a social group" for older men who felt like "growing old disgracefully". How many times have I and my Red Hat companions explained our own mystical order in those same words? I felt right at home. I ordered some caffeine and a sample of the currently-promoted fat and salt wrapped up in gratuitous glutenous carbohydrates, and chose a table near the succession of tables that they were invading.

I wolfed the calories (that was just under eight and a half hours ago, and I haven't eaten since), and started on the caffeine. They offer two kinds: cheap and horrible, and slightly pricier and bearable. I had opted for the latter, so I was happy to linger. As I did so, I pulled out my copy of the Radiant RW Tarot deck, which is not my preferred reading deck but certainly invites strangers to walk up and talk to me, and started playing Tarot Solitaire, a game of my own devising. As I did this, I wasn't actually eavesdropping, but it was nice to hear a group of older men, talking and laughing, no bitterness or competition or dark masculine silences in the air, just having fun together.

One of them got up and went to check that the place had functioning plumbing. On his return, he had to pass my table, and asked if he could sit with me. He pronounced "Tarot" correctly, and asked me how I'd bent the rules of Patience (our word for Klondyke Solitaire) to fit in with the Tarot. So I explained it to him, and we chatted about his slightly fey daughter, who was forty now but had been shamed out of her gift by her peers at high school. Sadly, I think that happens a lot.

Another guy came over and joined us, and all three of us ended up chatting quite freely and openly about geological features and man-made features, about power-places and ley-lines, about sacred space and the divine, and about draughtsmanship and over-engineering backyard constructions! It was thoroughly delightful, and I ended up handing out a few business cards although they don't hail from around here, and I really hope one or two of them keep in touch.

They had touristy things to do, though, so they took their leave as the rest of the group prepared to leave, and I went on the next leg of my journey. I spoke to the politician's staffer, and she rang the company in question, and at last I was put on the phone to someone who actually had at least a semblence of power, and who promised to investigate my case without cutting off their services to me. It's amazing how a whiff of political power intimidates tin-pot bureaucrats!

I left, knowing it wasn't resolved yet and wouldn't be for a while, but that at least they were prepared to hear me out and allow me to present my documentary evidence. Much lighter-at-heart, I waited or a homeward-bound bus, and a vision of loveliness walked past me. Don't get me wrong - I don't usually ogle teenage girls, but she was something else. Or at least her legs were. She was wearing leggings (tights in Foreign, I believe) and an oversized tee-shirt, and I simply couldn't take my eyes off her legs. The tights were over-printed with the most sensational and realistic Hubble Space Telescope images of a colourful nebula on her right leg, and some stars and galaxies on the left.

I asked her where she got the leggings from, of course, and she seemed amused, pleased and quite accustomed to strangers dribbling all over her legs and asking that - she bought them online. She wrote down the website for me, but when I arrived here and fired up the net, the URL didn't function. Drats - foiled again! I would have loved to walk around with my legs wrapped up in the heavens.

So I went out in my backyard, and found the most peculiar bird on my washing line, along with a butcher-bird and a couple of native Mynah birds. I looked at it, and it looked at me. Then I started thinking of some shamanic work done for me recently, and I started having a suspicion. As soon as I was thinking along those lines it opened its beak and let out a burst of song, as if to allow me to identify its species. It was an albino Australian magpie! Its normally black-and-white body was all-white, its eyes and legs were albino-pink and its beak, normally a two-toned black-and-white, was a delicate two-toned pink. It could only be identified by song.

And it sang for me personally. I have no idea what happened to the time or to its escort - it was just the two of us. I was mesmerised. After a long time it paused, and I roused myself. In fifty years of bird-watching I'd never seen an albino magpie before, so I scurried in to grab my camera. When I emerged, the pink and white creature was gone, leaving only a delicate tracer of memory and a faint echo of its melodic warble in my ears.

Today has been a magical day.

Monday, September 5, 2011


I was having a conversation with a friend of mine earlier today, and we touched on the subject of generosity.

She felt she was generous because she gave to the Red Shield Appeal and gave all her second-hand stuff to St Vincents to be sold cheaply - helping someone who needed cheap goods and raising money to help others. She also felt she was generous because she tipped poorly-paid wage-earners such as the girl who served us our lunch today, and because she bought my lunch and was randomly prepared to do things like that for various people at different times.

My experience of her is that she is a generous person - she is generous to me and to others around me, I see her generosity. She also knows what I was doing in the 1980s and early 1990s, when I was much more affluent than I am today, and I felt a little bit - ambivalent - before I changed the subject after she said: "Perhaps one day you'll be earning enough again to be able to be generous".

And in a sense, she is right. My income is only just adequate to support me, and has no room for largess to others. But does that make me mean? Her comment took me aback, because I feel like a generous person, no matter what my material circumstances.

I give people my time. I give people my laughter. I'll give people a hand with anything I can do for them. I give people my considered opinion. I share whatever resources I have. I'm always happy to help a stranger out, remembering times when people have helped me out, and thinking that perhaps they will one day help someone else out. I don't count favours: those I ask for, or those I do for others. I'll help the old lady down the road, whom I know is in constant pain althugh she never, ever complains. I'll routinely let someone with only a few items line up in front of me at a supermarket checkout.

And most importantly of all, I smile. I smile all the time, to everyone. As I walk down the road (and I walk everywhere), I smile at everyone. The way I look at it, every morning that I wake up still breathing has got to be a good day. Why not smile? It brightens someone else's day, if only for a moment. And it gives your own spirits a lift.

If I had a large income again, I'd probably do what I used to do, which was to have around 12% of it automatically deducted and forwarded to the charity of my choice. These days there are two: in NSW I give all my spare change to the Guide Dog Association, and in Western Australia to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

But when I had the kind of income that allowed me to give $50 per payday to charity without even noticing it, I wasn't anywhere near as happy or as fulfilled as I am now, living on scraps. And I didn't see any happiness or joy coming from my acts of giving, so if I were able to give like that again I would. But I'd still keep on giving way at checkouts, helping the old lady down the road, doing favours for strangers, sharing my food, sharing my laughter, sharing my opinion, sharing my emotional support, and most of all, smiling.

Financial generosity helps with the mechanisms of life, but it is a strictly short-term help. Emotional generosity, generosity from the heart, doesn't pay the bills but it can touch someone and leave them changed potentially for a lifetime.