Thursday, August 30, 2007

The urge to "kill" the teacher?

My old friend and HP, Wayland Raven often tells his students that "there is no needs to kill the teacher. When it's time to move on, move on in peace".

We all (his students at the time) nodded sagely and tut-tutted about people being so rude when they leave a group. Truly, most of us were quite sure we would never want to leave such a warm, loving group and such a good teacher. And then, one by one, it came to be our turn to move on. Some moved on in peace. Some left amid shouting and rancor.

I have watched it happen to other friends and acquaintances, too. People who seemed very close, all of a sudden were full of fault finding and anger. Why does this happen? Why is it so hard to move on in peace when the time comes, without feeling the need to "kill" our spiritual teachers?

I think a part of it is the way we come to recognize people who have something to teach us. It's rather like falling in love, really. We see someone who seems uncommonly wise and astonishingly "together". We want to be near this person and learn what they know. We come to rely on the maturity and wisdom we perceive from them, whether through formal lesson or as living examples. These are the people we look up to. Just as in falling in love, though, we tend not to notice immediately the more "human" qualities and clay feet.

But it is our own perception of who a person is, our perception what she or he stands for, the part of his or her life that speaks to our own, that makes them stand out for us as teachers. In our desire to feed our own souls, we reshape the teacher into the person we need him or her to be and what we perceive may bear little resemblance to human to whom we attach these perceptions.

As we learn more of life’s most valuable lessons through them, teachers rise in our esteem. We be come more and more deeply attached to our perception of what the teacher represents and any indications that they may not be what we think they are cause momentary confusion, but are quickly dismissed.

Sooner or later, though, the day comes, (sooner if the teacher has done his or her job properly), when our need for the teacher diminishes. It is in that twilight of the teacher/student relationship that we begin to see the "flaws" of the teacher in the harsh light of day. It happens in love relationships, too. It doesn't have to mean the end of the relationship, if both parties are sufficiently mature. It does, however, mean that there is a fundamental change taking place. Either from "infatuation" to "mature love" or from student and teacher to respectful, amicable equals. The student eventually learns that the teacher was thoroughly human all along, but that momentary perception of the "perfect model" had us blinded to the flaws for a while, so that we would strive harder and further to reach our own spiritual goals.

When we begin to notice our teacher's flaws, the teacher may, indeed, be teaching us one last "lesson" by reflecting our own weaknesses back to us. We would do well to examine those aspects of ourselves that reflect what is most irritating about our teacher.

The mature student accepts that the illusion was his or her own and, though momentarily disappointed in the reality, expresses only gratitude for the time the teacher has spent and the lessons taught and learned. The mature teacher accepts that his or her work is complete in this relationship and gracefully accepts the students thanks without expectation.

In any case, we know the time has come to look further afield for inspiration and so, we start all over again.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Book Review: Ghost Stories

by John M Morris

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by stories of the occult, ranging from Ouija boards to tales of prophecies found in the Great Pyramid, encouraged by my mother's stories of ghosts she had discovered in an old house they'd once lived in. I tried to be sophisticated enough to ignore stories like these, but they must have stayed with me anyway. A recent book has recalled this earlier fascination with ghosts, fairies, and goodness knows what else, inhabiting the world of the supernatural.
John Kachuba's Ghosthunters is full of stories of encounters with ghostly presences, often scary, and always unexpected. The author has made a full-time job of lectures on ghosts, as well as explorations of haunted houses and other mysterious places. If you've ever had any doubts about the reality of ghosts, these tales will be enough to convince you otherwise.

At the same time, I'll have to admit that these encounters seem awfully trivial. There are no chests of gold dubloons, no secret jewel boxes, nothing of value discovered. I was reminded mostly of the search for Visitors from Outer Space, where there have been hundreds of encounters, but, sadly, nothing that really mattered. In any case, you may want to read a dozen ghost stories, which are here told, with many flourishes, as a way to get to sleep on a dark and windy night.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Review: The Secret Teachings of the Tao Te Ching by JM Morris

Mantak Chia and Tao Huang The Secret Teachings of the Tao Te Ching Rochester (VT): Destiny Books, 2005. 246 pp., $16.95.

Taoism may qualify as one of the world's oldest religions, dating back some 2,500 years, to the teachings of Lao-Tse, who summarized his teachings in short, pithy aphorisms, and who taught a religion without dogma, based more on direct, personal experience than on religious doctrines. It is particularly refreshing at a time when religion is relying on rigid doctrines that we thought the world had outgrown.

Again and again, Lao-Tse is looking beyond doctrine and dogma to find the essential core of the religious experience. Words are always misleading: "The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao," and, as religious leaders have repeatedly discovered, reciting words and doctrines will get us nowhere. "Logic and sermons will never convince," as Whitman says: "The chill of the night strikes deeper into my soul." Yes, Whitman would probably qualify as a Taoist, as would many of the prophets we have loved.

I would advise against studying the first half of this new text before you plunge into the second half, which contains the core of Taoist teachings. The initial chapters may be of interest to those of you who think in terms of exotic exercises (please don't ask me to give the details!) rather then spiritual searching. But the detailed quotations from the Tao Te Ching, together with the commentaries, which make up the second half of this book, are well worth exploring.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Love, by John Morris

I was watching a film clip, on an obscure Internet site, with an affectionate interlude between a dog and a cat, both of them enjoying the other's warmth. The kitty was licking the dog's face at one point, and the dog was gently hugging the cat. They were obviously very much in love.

It reminded me of lessons I learned long ago in a theological school, in which the religious tradition has made a sharp distinction among erotic love, parental love, and brotherly love, as though these were quite different sorts of human experience. Erotic love, with Venus or Aphrodote as its matron Goddess, has always been the most exciting, but also the most dangerous, to the extent that some religions have called it "sin":
"Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, for he would call it sin! For we
have been in the woods all night, a-conjuring summer in,"

in the words of Kipling's wonderful song, "Oak and ash and thorn." And, we can only mourn at the triumph,

"Thou has conquered, O pale Galilean, and the world has grown gray with thy

in the words of one of my favorite poets, Algernon Charles Swinburne. We are slowly emerging out of that gray world, thanks to the warmth that Aphrodite has brought, full of light and color and love.

Motherly and fatherly love is quite different. It is the warmth that the kitty and doggy showed. In pictures from Wolf Creek Habitat, down in Southern Indiana (visit them at -- they're wonderful!), we could see the daddy and mommy wolf waiting, patiently and hungrily, as four ravenous little cubs were feasting on a deer carcass. The parents were hungry, too, but they were waiting for the babies to have their meal first. This is what parents do. This is the fierce protective behavior that keeps the worst predators away from the children. This is the angry search of the Goddess Isis for the baby Horus, and which is the fierce, protective binding that holds the family together.

Finally, there is the generous, brotherly or sisterly love that we sometimes find in warm, even heroic acts, like those that kept police, firemen, and many others searching through the ruins of the World Trade Center. Many of these men and women died, and others were left with lingering breathing problems, because of smoke and dust inhalation. More recently, miners were searching, apparently in vain, for some of their comrades trapped underground. Firefighters have been attempting to contain the many fires raging in our forests. This kind of heroism is an expression of another sort of love, that truly holds civilization together.

There are many species and subspecies of love, but these three are the traditional varieties. Love is central to our religion, based as it is on "perfect love and perfect trust." Without love, there would be nothing left. With it, we rejoice in the light of day

Friday, August 03, 2007

Love and Death Across a Chasm

Love and Death Across a Chasm
by Misti Anslin Delaney

The death of a loved one is always devastating, no matter how prepared we think we are. It's made even more difficult when that love was carefully built and nurtured across the chasm of cultural differences.

That was the case between my father and me. Dad was very conservative; a devout, and perhaps even fundamentalist, Roman Catholic with a very old world view of women and our place in the world. I am pretty liberal and, of course, I am a witch. I have a very different view than my father's of the place of women in the world. This caused untold trouble and tension between us throughout my childhood and young womanhood, even before the religious thing.

As we both grew older and more tolerant, we realized that each of us wanted a better, closer relationship, I with the only father I'll ever have, and he with his only daughter. So, slowly and carefully, we built a suspension bridge of tolerance and love, shared views on those few areas on which we could agree and our shared devotion to family, across the chasm between our worlds. Periodically we would crawl tentatively out onto that bridge to meet in the middle, clinging precariously to what security we could find there.

We had both come to trust that bridge in the decade since our first tentative attempts to build it, and so it was that we met there almost daily in long telephone conversations about everything and, mostly, nothing. It was there that he said "goodbye" in the weeks before he died. It was subtle, and I'm not sure he knew he was leaving ... but things were different somehow. My father, who had visited me only twice in the 22 years since I left home, when he happened to be in the neighborhood, and who had not attended either of my weddings, suddenly started to make plans to come to my home to put air conditioners in my windows. (Not something I had planned to do.)

When, within a week of making those plans, he became too ill to travel, he sent me the first and only "surprise gift for no special reason" that he ever sent to me. It was small -- a bag of mesquite chips for our barbecues, because I had mentioned that they're a bit expensive up here -- but it was a gift specifically for me from my Dad.

The day after I received them, I received word that he had died suddenly.

I think the hardest part of my father's death was venturing out onto that precarious bridge alone, to cross back over into his world one last time for his funeral. I found myself very much alone in my father's world—welcome, but a stranger with strange views. I was surrounded by family and friends remarkable in their devotion to one another and to their God.

Although my mother and brothers know who I am, everyone else around us assumed that I shared my family's devotion to my father's faith. Since I didn't think religious arguments were going to help anyone through that difficult time, I elected to keep my own counsel for the nine days I was there.

Psychologists say that when a parent dies, we have a tendency to question everything about our lives. When our lives are a secret to the people we've grown up with, I think it redoubles the effect. My first challenge was figuring out what one does when one is a very visible participant in a religious ceremony where everyone assumes we share the faith, but we don't.

It seemed to me that even if my 25 years away hadn't removed any possibility of pretending I was a Catholic, to pretend now would serve only to make a farce of my family's faith. But to act like a complete alien to my mother's faith would be disrespectful and would hurt her deeply. So, I compromised. I sat, stood, and kneeled as the ceremony required and kept my head respectfully bent, but I was silent during the prayers.

I thought I was doing OK -- until the priest, who had no doubt counseled my parents about how to handle their only daughter's falling away from the faith, make several cutting remarks about "faithless, hopeless pagans". The first time, I couldn't believe what I'd heard. The second he looked right at me as he made his remark.

How very little he knows about us.

Through the time I was with them, my immediate family was very, very welcoming and loving. Believe it or not, that caused my second dilemma. I had tried for many years to believe as they do and all my life I had felt like an outsider in my own birth family. I know with deep regret the pain my "falling away" caused both my parents.

After a few days of the loving and welcoming, and the constant salvation talk, I found myself wondering, if I tried again now, whether I might be able to "believe" this time. Not for myself, but for my mother and father. My return to their church would have made my father so happy, and it would still bring my mother and brothers great joy.

Cut off, as I was at this vulnerable time, from anyone who really understood what I believe and who shares my faith in the Goddess and the God and the wheel of time, the joy my faith brings me began to seem "silly" and unreal.

Prevented by my respect for my family's beliefs from sharing my real understanding of what had happened between my father and myself in those last weeks and my certainty that he would be back, perhaps in the baby who was to be born to my brother and his wife just 5 weeks after Dad's death, I began to question everything. It was very painful. I knew I didn't (and probably couldn't) believe as they do. I knew that religion isn't something you choose, like a party dress, to please someone else. But I also couldn't feel my own faith. I felt that all faith had been cut away from me, and that my soul was raw and bleeding.

Fortunately, I am a voracious reader on almost any topic, and I knew the effects of mourning could have on one's soul, so I was able to observe these feelings with a little objectivity. I resisted the urge to act on anything until I was home, in my own world.

When I left for home, my mother sent with me a huge basket of flowers that had been sent for my father's funeral. As I carried that glorious basket through airports, people would stop me to comment on them and ask about them. It gave me a chance to explain to complete strangers that my father was dead. Everyone I met that way was extremely kind and the flight attendants were attentive and caring on every flight. That was very comforting. This time, as I crossed that bridge my father and I had built together for the last time, I didn't feel quite so alone.

When I was finally home, I was still haunted by my feeling of having had all belief cut away from me. For weeks I wasn't able to perform ritual, either for my father, or for myself. In a sense, I felt he was always nearby and would be hurt and perhaps insulted to have his beliefs disregarded by my doing ritual for him. It made no logical sense. Since he's passed through the veil, he now knows better than any of us alive, what Truth is. His soul is unlikely to be as encumbered by prejudice as those of us who must understand with our frail, limited little human brains. But the feeling persisted; the effect, no doubt, of my own childish guilt at wanting to do something that Daddy wouldn't approve of. (I have a very active inner toddler.)

I reached out to all the wisest pagans I knew to ask for thoughts and reaffirmation. Many shared with me thoughts that brought me great comfort, and one especially wise soul shared with me a ritual that could respect both my father's beliefs and my own.

Gradually, as the moon waxed, I too, grew stronger. As the full moon approached, I gathered the supplies I needed for what I had to do. On the day after the full moon, I set up a memorial to my father on my altar. A photograph of the man he was; a white pillar candle that burned as long as anyone was in the house and awake; a beautiful little glass box containing a few of the mesquite chips that were his last gift to me; and the basket of now dried flowers from his funeral.

Each time I lit the candle, I told my father that I love him, and will miss him, but that it was now time to move on. I sent the energy of the burning candle to him to help him find his way into his next world, whether it be the heaven he so looked forward to, or a new life here.

On the next full moon, I will did a ritual alone, commending my father's soul to his God. I asked my spirit guides for support in learning to live without my father, in the middle of that bridge we'd built through the years from the tears and yearnings of two very different souls who wanted to love and understand.

©1998 Misti Anslin Delaney