Spring Equinox, the Four of Wands, and the Spiritual Joy of Chocolate Covered Bunnies

Exploring the lost – and found – joy of spirituality.

I haven’t celebrated easter in a very long time.  I’m not a christian, so I don’t feel any particular connection there.  I was also reared as a catholic, so there may actually still be a little subconscious hostility left over as a result of recovering from that heritage.  

This year, though, I decided that I was really going to celebrate the Spring Equinox.  I won’t belabor the fact that the christian churches never met a pagan holiday that they didn’t steal or co-opt, and that easter is obviously a take-over of the celebration of Spring.  We all know that.  What I hadn’t really consciously flashed on, though, was that I was letting the christian holiday interfere with MY holiday in more ways than one.

It’s been a bitch of a year and a bitch of a winter, not just for me but for the entire world.  There’s been a lot of death, a lot of depression, a lot of darkness and craziness and it’s gone on for a very long time.  So when the first golden daffodil started popping open this year, I could feel in my very bones that I wanted to celebrate.  I wanted to embrace that light with everything I had.

I decided to build a Spring Equinox altar.  That, along with incense and candles, is one of the few positive things about growing up catholic.  I’ll build an altar anywhere, anytime, at the drop of a freaking hat.  And then I’ll stick candles on it and get some incense burning, by Goddess.

I spent hours cruising through our local stores, purchasing the, “ingredients,” for my little shrine to Spring.  As usual, Dollar General was a treasure trove for low priced holiday decorations.  I bought glittery eggs and plaster bunny rabbits for fertility symbols.  Candles and chrysanthemums and sea shells.  Virgin of Guadalupe’ votives to represent the Goddess. And more bunnies. I went home and dug out my crystals and my pentagrams and my chalice and athame’, and began assembling the altar.

About half way through the process I realized that I was having a hell of a good time.  I actually found myself laughing out loud as I arranged the items on an old coffee table and rearranged them and rearranged them again.  I put my statues of Tara and Quan Yin in the center of the table, strung white christmas lights around the shrine, lit incense, and laughed some more.

It was fun!

And it really hit me like a hammer:  organized religions didn’t just steal our holidays, they stole our fun.  They took every single pagan holiday, turned it something dark and solemn and serious, and systematically tried to wring every bit of joy and laughter out of it.

Easter is a prime example of that.  The pagan celebrations of Spring had a HUGE amount of fun attached to them.  Much like the Four of Wands, there was dancing, drinking, revelry and the people who were doing the celebrating didn’t just eat chocolate bunnies, they fucked like bunnies.  A LOT.

And then along came organized religion.  Suddenly the celebration of Spring was all about death.  All about a very kind – and perhaps fictional – man being tortured, crucified and killed.  And, yes, I know that christians like to say that easter is all about re-birth, all about christ rising from the tomb, but it’s really not.  It’s about death.  

It’s like they took my beautiful, golden daffodil and threw a bucket of blood on it.

There’s been that same strange dance between pagan joy and organized religion for centuries and I’d have to say that – all in all – we pagans are winning.  Organized religion took over the mid-winter festival and declared that it was the birthday of Jesus, a very solemn occasion, doncha know?  We countered with christmas trees and presents and twinkling lights.  Organized religion took over our festival celebrating the end of the season of light and declared that it was, “All Souls Day.”  We came right back and said, “Nope, it’s Halloween – break out the masks and candy!”

They said, “Easter,” and we replied, “Chocolate Bunnies!”

The point is that you can’t repress the joy of true spirituality.  William James pointed that out in The Varieties of Religious Experience a long time ago.  The hallmarks of someone who has had a true spiritual experience are joy, compassion and love.  

To put it another way, if we’re not having some FUN with our religions, we’re not connecting with any sort of spirituality AT ALL.  If we’re afraid to laugh in church, we’re in the wrong church.

So this year I’m starting again.  Like my little Spring Equinox altar, I’m assembling the, “ingredients,” of my spirituality.  They will include feathers and crystals and bells and, yes, some chocolate bunnies. And I may rearrange them and then rearrange them again, but I’ll be laughing while I do it.

Wishing you a joy-FULL Spring Equinox and BIG smiles.

The Hanged Man, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Getting Shazammed

Exploring rapid versus gradual spirit growth and how we have to be our own miracles.

Have you ever been really, really, REALLY unhappy for a REALLY long period of time?  One of those stretches in life where you feel like nothing’s going right, nobody loves you, and the future looks like a whole lot of storm clouds and very few rainbows?

In the South, they’d say, “By god, I’m so down I’d have to look up to see a snake’s belly.”

The Hanged Man shows someone who’s been through that experience.  He’s suffered so deeply that he’s barely survived and now he’s about to travel down a road of spiritual rebirth.  In the meantime, he’s just hanging there in space and time trying to figure out what it all meant and why it happened.

Willam James, the founder of American Pragmatism, wrote a lot about what The Hanged Man goes through in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Penguin American Library)  He called it a conversion experience.  In simple terms, that just means that a miserable, unhappy, deeply depressed, highly dysfunctional human being is somehow converted into a person who is happy, joyous and free.

 The most fascinating examples of it are when the conversions appear to happen very rapidly.  A person is full of despair and totally heart sick on Tuesday, but they wake up on Wednesday full of joy and love.

Shazam!  Brand new person!

The classic example of that, of course, is Ebeneezer Scrooge.  I’ve often wondered if Dickens hadn’t read Varieties of Religious Experience.  “Hmmm . . . miserable son-of-a-bitch turns into a happy, compassionate person over-night . . . what an interesting plot . . .”

We can find modern day examples of that experience in a couple of the New Thought leaders:  Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie.  Tolle was, by his own account, an overly sensitive, deeply depressed, frequently suicidal person.  Katie was an alcoholic drug addict who found herself locked in the attic of a woman’s rehab facility because the other women in the house were afraid of her.  In both cases, they suddenly, “woke up,” one day, finally understanding what life is all about and totally joy-full.

Shazam And A Half!!!!

Of course, the thing they don’t much talk about is that it wasn’t an overnight miracle.  In fact, both of them had been stewing in their own misery for years and years and years before something popped, before that shift in consciousness occurred.  The shift in consciousness took on the qualities of a, “miracle,” simply because the shift appeared to happen so rapidly, but it had been processing in their subconscious minds for a very long time.

Now, I’m not meaning to denigrate either of them or diminish the help that they’ve provided to other people.  I’m actually a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle, but the fact remains that both he and Katie have done a very good job of marketing their, “miracles,” to other people.  Tolle is currently offering a virtual spiritual retreat for ONLY $997.00 (that’s a $300 discount by the way, and DON’T WORRY, you can put it on your Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.)  Katie offers a 9 day workshop for ONLY $3,500 dollars or, alternatively, you can stay at her, “Turn Around House,” for 28 days at ONLY $20,000.

There’s another saying in the South, which is, “Never trust a fat preacher.”  Since I’ve gotten old and fat, I’m going to modify that to, “Never trust a preacher who wears a Rolex.”  

In other words, if someone is selling you spirituality, if they’ve decided that you can put a price on miracles – and it’s exactly $997.00 – it’s appropriate to approach with caution.

Tolle has a deep background in philosophy and psychology and he IS a very profound thinker.  Katie, not so much.  In both cases, though, they aren’t just selling their philosophies or their ideas – they’re selling their miracles.  They’re saying, “HEY!  I was a miserable, unhappy bastard and I got Shazammed.  If you sit real close to me, it might happen to you, too.”  And there’s a definite messianic flavor to their gatherings and their followers.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that you can’t borrow someone else’s miracle.  You can’t even buy it.  Not even for $20,000.  You kind of have to make your own.

Another person who had what appeared to be a, “rapid,” conversion experience was Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  After decades of hopeless alcoholism, dozens of jobs lost, and hundreds of relationships destroyed, he had a sudden spiritual revelation while lying in a hospital bed waiting to die.  In a phrase, “he got struck sober,” and he never had another drink.

Wilson realized that by far and away, most people will never have a sudden, dramatic conversion experience like he had.  Using Varieties of Religious Experience as a sort of a manual, though, he set out to create a method to consciously create slow, gradual conversion experiences in other alcoholics.  The result of that effort was the now famous 12 Step Program.

And the price of it is . . . nothing.  It’s absolutely free.  Well, they do appreciate it if you drop a dollar in the basket when they pass it, but you don’t have to.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and adopt the 12 Step Program for their lives, and neither would Bill Wilson.  In fact, he designed it specifically for people who were serious alcoholics, and by serious he meant, “almost dead.”

Where I think we can get some helpful insight, though, is that Wilson designed a program for spiritual change that involves a sort of a miracle in slow motion.  He was wise enough to realize that his, “sudden,” conversion was the result of many years of deep suffering and affliction.  He tried to set up a program that would shorten that period of suffering, but he never denied that the suffering was a necessary part of the whole package for alcoholics.

And isn’t that a drag?

I would LOVE to get Shazammed.  I’d love it if an angel would suddenly appear to me at night and say, “Danny, boy, you’re cured.”  Or maybe Glenda, the Good Witch of the North, could whack me with her wand and tell me to just click my goddamned heels together. 

 I mean, damn, why can’t I have one of those really FAST miracles?  

Because – for most people – they never happen.  Most of us have to take the slow, sometimes intensely painful, sometimes tedious – occasionally joyous – route of creating our own miracles.  We have to take the time to sit down with our therapists and do our own emotional work, we have to actually sit our butts down on the meditation pillows and do our own spiritual work. We have to create the miracle that is us.

In a very real sense, we have to design our own programs.  Maybe they’ll involve 12 Steps.  Maybe they’ll involve 36 Steps. Or 210 Steps.  But they’ll never involve 1 Step.  And they sure as hell shouldn’t involve $20,000.  

The bad news is that miracles can take a lot of work.  You can’t catch one by sitting next to someone else who had one. The good news is that they’re free. 

Well . . . maybe a dollar.

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