There was a lot that was rich today in our meeting for worship, and I am tempted to try to transliterate it all onto the page of this blog. But I don't think I could capture the life of the messages, and that's not really what I think I need to write about tonight, anyway. Instead, I want to write about something that rose for me that was entirely personal: an encounter with the god with arms.
Liz Opp at The Good Raised Up recently picked up the thread of my Quaker Pagan identity posts from this month, and used them to reflect on the process of transitioning from one spiritual identity to another. In responding to her post, trying to reflect once again on what it is in Paganism that makes me continue to identify as Pagan as well as Quaker, I think I implied that I do so primarily out of loyalty to Pagans as a people.
I think I implied it because I have wondered it--is this my only real reason for staying?
I don't often write here of my relationships with the gods of Paganism. When I do refer to them, I usually do so in the past tense. Are those relationships, then, a thing of the past tense? Surely the gods should be as important to me as the people of the Pagan community, if I am in fact Pagan.
I don't think I've wanted to let myself think about that one very closely.
Part of the reason, of course, that I do not write much about Pagan gods is that most of my regular worship comes in the context of my Quaker meeting. And, though Peter might disagree, it has not been my experience that Quaker meeting lends itself to communion with the Pagan gods and goddesses. What I experience in Quaker meeting is something different, as a rule.
My most meaningful experiences of Pagan worship have usually taken the form of dreams and trance journeys. Under Peter's influence, I've done trance journey work to a recording of a drum; before I was with Peter, I was as likely to depend on my own breath for the rhythm that would drive my journey. Standard-issue Harneresque stuff, at least in some ways. I won't bore anyone with technique, since I think technique is what matters least.
But of all the things that have meant something important to me in Paganism, direct encounters with the gods, in the course of dreams or trance work, have been the most important. And every now and then, without trance work, I'll have a sense of one of them--of Rosie, the aspect of the Goddess I relate to most often, or of Herne, horned god of the hunt--close to me. With inward hearing and with inward vision I will glimpse them, and hear what they have to say, in the split second before they are gone.
I had one of those flashes today in meeting for worship, and it's comforted me a lot.
Our worship today had a strong universalist thread winding through several messages. J.H. rose at one point, and shared the story of a Friend she knew through her work with the GLBT Affairs committee, whose life had been a ruin of addictions and unhappiness until the day he heard a voice, which said to him something like, "Hi--I'm Jesus. It doesn't have to be like this. Come home." And he did--as he put it, he went into those arms, and he told his hearers, "Don't hold this against me, please. At that point, I needed a god with arms."
J.H. finished her message by reflecting on how often she has needed a god with arms, and sat down.
And right then, I heard a voice in my inward ear, and felt as though Herne were sitting right behind me on the bench. I felt his strong, brown arms enfold me, and I heard his voice say to me, "When you need a god with arms, I will be that god."
I've been struggling with a concern that my time as Herne's daughter was over and done. That perhaps, when I offered him my loyalty and my love so many years ago, he had not accepted it--or that he had passed me along to that Other God that speaks in the silence. And, though I love that Other God, I love Herne, too.
I know that the courage to let go of the familiar--whether it be a spiritual label, a job, a home, or a vision of myself--is one of the things Herne loves about me. This I know: he'd rather see me follow another god than lose that integrity. If that were where the path led, I suspect he would be quite stern with me, in expecting me to follow it. I could not be faithful to him any other way.
But apparently, that is not required, at least for the moment. And now I know this, too: when I need a god with arms, his will be there for me. And that eases my mind.
It's interesting to receive comments so promptly, and from a Pagan readership, this time. Often, when I blog, I'll have particular readers in mind as I write. Sometimes the audience in my mind is Quaker, sometimes Pagan, and sometimes, like me, a mix.
This time I deliberately put all thoughts of readers out of my mind. I'm not sure why; it just seemed very important to write this one as if it were a journal entry that no one else would see... as if writing with any audience in mind would distort it.
I remember, when our coven used to trance journey together, how it was our regular practice to spend some time together in circle when we were done, gradually adjusting to being back in our day/waking selves. And we'd usually talk with one another about what we'd seen and done.
But every now and then one of us would not speak of what had happened. We all recognized that, sometimes, there's a need to hold some things quiet for a while.
I felt some of that yesterday, talking with J. after meeting. It wasn't yet time to speak of that moment of closeness. And even now, it's something I speak of quietly--if words trumpeted over the World Wide Web can be that--and cautiously. So... I had no audience in my head as I composed this time, and each of your comments is entirely fresh to me and unanticipated.
Nairn, my understandings around Herne and the Light (the Other God I wrote of)of Quaker meeting being separate are my best articulation today of my experiences to date. I do have a sense that Herne is part of that greater Light--and, in fact, that all things are. But I think the differences and points of separation are important, too. I mean, there is a way in which you and I are one, and in the course of meeting for worship, I might be quite aware of that. But, at the same time, I don't know you yet--not you as you, not you in the body--because it's also meaningful to think of us as separate.
I don't think Herne is the Light. I base that on my encounters with him, which feel much more particular and personified than my encounters with the Light. Perhaps to the impatience of Christian Friends, I'm not sure that the Light--that the Other God--can be meaningfully described as a personality at all, though, being a human, I tend to project one onto anything that seems as wise, as intentional, and as loving as that Spirit does when I encounter it.
For that matter, I'm not sure Herne has a personality in quite the way you or I do. It's perhaps as much a metaphor as are his arms to say he has. But it feels likelier. It fits with my experience of him to describe him in that way, at least to a greater degree than it does the Spirit that illumines my First Day worship.
Just by putting these words down, I distort some of what they mean. I'm never more aware of the limitations of words than when I try to describe encounters with whatever-it-is I mean when I use the word "god."
Possibly I've been more confusing than helpful. I may have been clearer when I wrote recently about my emanationist take on the gods in my recent post, Is There Still a Pagan In Quaker Pagan Reflections?
Riverwolf, I've been really taken with your recent essays on shamanic journey. The integrity to accept that sometimes it doesn't work, or doesn't work smoothly, fits with the integrity it takes to accept the possible loss of a spiritual link once dear. Not that I'd advise letting go lightly... But, when I have asked myself, many times, what it is that the Pagan gods (or the animal spirits) want from us humans, the only answer I've been able to figure out is this: they want us to grow. I think they want us to grow so we'll be more interesting companions, though I'm not entirely sure on that one. But I think they mainly want us to grow.
David, dare I hope from your comments here that you may be inspired to share a bit of your own lived experience of Them? I would dearly love to read what you might write; I think you write with a rare kind of truthfulness and clarity, and I think you know the gods I know, and would have very interesting stories to share...
If it is time to share them at all. As in my old coven, sometimes, it's time to keep the stories inside, private until the right moment to say more arrives. A
"Perhaps to the impatience of Christian Friends, I'm not sure that the Light--that the Other God--can be meaningfully described as a personality at all, though, being a human, I tend to project one onto anything that seems as wise, as intentional, and as loving as that Spirit does when I encounter it." I would say that I have much the same thought/feeling, except that when I feel a "personality" presence, it is Jesus and that is somehow not quite the same as "the Light." I like that term "a god with arms," but I don't know how it is different from the Light, and I don't think it is necessary that the face above the arms be Jesus.
In His Love,
You repeatedly speak to my condition.
Here is something I can offer in return:
"The Lord of the Dance".
Thank you, and
Michael Bright Crow
I can readily understand the self-questioning you are feeling as you ponder the Herne/ Light Dichotomy. I have been a Witch for nearly 18 years now, and gave myself wholeheartedly to the Goddess and God of Witchcraft.
Over the course of last year I felt an urge, or perhaps even a calling, and turned to the Gods of Ancient Greece in general; and Hecate and Dionysus in particular.
In the weeks after offering a place in my heart and life to Them, I felt a bit adrift... wondering if I had somehow betrayed or turned my back on the Lord and Lady of the Witches without meaning too.
At Beltaine I held the first full Witches Circle I've done for myself in a long time, and They were there.
I think I am beginning to understand that our hearts, our lives, our innermost sacred selves, are much larger than we realize; there is room enough and love enough in them for all the Gods, for ourselves and for all beings... we just need to learn to look in ourselves to find those doors and open them.
I think a lot of us need a "god with arms," and I strongly suspect that the Light is quite good at knowing what we need and what we will be open to. Which is a heartening reflection.
Bright Crow, thank you again for your link and the artwork you put up at your website! I am trying to get Peter to post some of his artwork here sometime soon. (It's not that he minds posting it, but that finding and scanning it, while simultaneously wrapping up his school year and renovating the attic is something of a challenge. It'll go up eventually!)
Honey, given the year you've had, how interesting that this was your experience... I actually find it comforting to think of Herne as possibly keeping you company on this journey. His is the face I hope/expect to see upon my own death; not to be morbid, but my experience of him is that he is extremely comforting, though at the same time, very challenging of his children.
If you wish to talk on the subject some more, as possibly one of his daughters to another, I'd be happy to. This forum feels too public, though--some things feel too sacred to put out into the rowdy marketplace of the Internet. So if you want to talk further, drop me an email, at quakerpagan AT mac DOT com. *smiling* I'll tell you my stories and you can tell me yours, and perhaps we'll both grow a bit...
Pax, thanks for sharing your story. Though I think the experience you're describing feels a bit different from how I'd express my own current feelings about my relationships with God and the gods (to put it another way) I certainly can identify with the ways that a growing and evolving polytheism can take sudden and surprising turns. It's one of my favorite topics among my Pagan friends--how our relationships with the gods and spirits of Paganism change over time, changing us with them, whether we wished for that or not!
Spiritual experience--dangerous to our preconceptions at any speed!
I think this might be helpful to you as well, to keep calling yourself a Quaker and a Pagan until you can't anymore. And if you can still do it, then you are still it. :)