Friday, January 20, 2012

B is for Body: Pagan Blog Project

As a long time practitioner in the Golden Dawn style of magick and personal alchemy, one of the things I think is missing from that path is physical fitness. Given the vast influence the original order had on modern neo-paganism, it is no surprise that this unfortunate omission has become the standard in every tradition of the West that I am aware of.

New readers may not be aware that I am often in horrendous pain from a bad back. In the interests of full disclosure, I carry some extra weight and was never a physically fit person. Though, until the back injury, I was pretty athletic.

That said, I've been deeply deeply depressed twice in my life. Both times, exercise in the form of long walks aided my recovery. According to the Mayo Clinic exercise releases "feel-good brain chemicals" that aid depression. Exertion also reduces immune system chemicals that are not helpful in such situations. The increase in body temperature may also calm the mind. The linked article also mentions other benefits.

So, if exercise helps when one is depressed, what value is it in every day life? Can it prevent depression? What would the release of "feel-good brain chemicals" do for a person in a normal mood? Would such chemicals aid you in your magical studies, dedication or general joyous pagan mood? Take care of your body and you just may find yourself taking care of your spirit too.

Taking care of your body takes care of your magick too. One of the watchwords of magickal training is discipline. As such, a regular active routine can fit quite nicely into any esoteric training program. This double backs completing the circle as it helps your body too. If  you make it part of your spiritual discipline, you are more likely to go out on those days you really would rather be watching television. This will not only keep you going but reinforce your discipline in other areas of your spiritual practice.

As someone carrying extra weight, I can testify that it can cause some body discomforts. These discomforts can interfere with meditation and the concentration necessary to do magick well. Even with extra pounds, regular exercise seems to allow my body to relax in a way that alleviates this problem.

Those feel-good brain chemicals are an aid to concentration, a calm mind and thus the focus necessary to study and do magick. For me, it aids my ability to fall asleep quickly and wake up more refreshed.

We often feel shame about our bodies due to a lack of fitness. I have long been an opponent of guilt/shame when it comes to magick. Those emotions can really mess up some otherwise technically proficient work leaving the results either lackluster or disastrous. Given our  historically puritanical culture, I have often advised against sex magick, not because it is inherently bad but because cultural guilt sometimes gets mixed in. Sex magick should not be done if you have general guilt feelings about sex. The same applies to you. If you're ashamed of any part of yourself, your magick will suffer accordingly.

Recently, in reading Mark Stavish's Between the Gates (highly recommended) he makes similar comments. He says that positive attitudes are paramount in magick. However, any emotion contradiction trumps any positive attitude. Americans, especially women, have HUGE body issues emotionally. They feel unbeautiful, unloved and ashamed. This is very sad. It is also a huge magickal problem. If you do effective magick now but are ashamed of yourself, image what you could do if you weren't? I'm about to say some controversial things. However, the goal is to help you make your magick better.

There is a certain freedom hinted at and sought after in paganism. One of the most freeing aspects of our religion is the ability to work skyclad in appropriate situations. Many pagans have such deep body issues that they deprive themselves of this joyous activity. "I am free! I am woman (or man) ! As long as I can hide my physical imperfections." This is the equivalent of a Christian dressing up for church as if looking respectable and 'proper' makes one clean before the eyes of God. In paganism, the idea is different. There is nothing I can hide from the gods. I cannot hide my thoughts, my actions or my body.  Exercise aids the thoughts, is a valuable earthy action and renders the body something that doesn't need hidden. It reflects a positive attitude and a thankfulness for the body the gods have provided.

Many women refuse to go sky-clad with men present. There are a range of excuses but they seem to boil down to two. The first is their own body issues and insecurities. Working to get over such things is part of the work one should be doing as a pagan. Being ashamed of any part of yourself is NOT conducive any sort of spiritual or magick work. These subconscious attitudes infect one's magick in all sorts of hidden ways. Getting over this sort of shame is crucial.

The second reason is fear of what the men will do. This has always led me to ask one question, "If you can't trust them, why in the name of all that is good and holy are you in circle with them?" Do you think a magickal circle is just a play thing? Do you think a circle is just like going to church and not quite believing what you hear? Magick is real. A well-cast circle with a solid working can lead to all sorts of personal issues spewing out for all to hear. These are cathartic moments. People learn about the bomb a parent dropped on you when you were six. People see your scars and see the snot running down your nose as you cry them out. You damn well should be able to trust the people you are with to keep their mouths shut and treat your painful emotions with the deep respect they deserve. What happens in circle stays in circle. I won't circle with people that do not understand where they are and the responsibility that entails. If I am in circle you can confess to murder and I am keeping my mouth shut. You're willing to expose yourself that intimately I have to respect that. You are exposing yourself that you may heal and grow. You can do that in front of them and you are afraid the men can't handle seeing your pubes? Really? If they are that kind of creepy, don't circle with them. If they are decent good men, then drop the robes and get to work.*

I have heard one valid reason for not dropping the robes as it applies to both men and women. My other-religion spouse would be mad/hurt/upset/confused/wouldn't like it. If you took the oath you made to that person before you took whatever oaths brought you into circle, you are obligated to work with the spouse on this one. You are also obligated to find away around the situation if you can at all, for your own personal growth.  The magickal path is not easy.

Personal note: I put my legs where my mouth is, as of this writing, I walk two to four miles a day.

* This applies to a magick working circle, not a public devotional. Also, this is a higher standard than I would apply to a GD Lodge open in initation style. That is a formal ceremony and the trust there is of a much different form.


Yvonne said...

"The second reason is fear of what the men will do."

What an interesting discussion. As a woman I would be concerned less with sexual assault than with the unintended(?) boner making its profane or untimely presence in the sacred circle. Potentially embarrassing, but not necessarily something to be "feared" by the female participants, as you put it. The woman may have complete confidence in being skyclad and may be comfortable with her naked flesh, but she cannot anticipate the male's "control" or "lack of contro" over his physical impulses. This, then, can no longer be an issue of "trust" between male and female "bodies."

Robert said...

I have seen such a thing happen. In altered states of consciousness, there is no consequence. That which occurs is merely a fact and given no more meaning.

Annette said...

I am a large woman who has in the past 2 years lost 75 pounds. I have 50 to go to reach my weight goal. I have NO problems with my boby. My husband still loves me, every inch of me. I do not do skyclad, not because I am ashamed of my body, but because my body is my temple, which I am constantly working on and it is sacred to me. I do NOT share with anyone except my husband and that includes being naked. There is no proof what so ever that whether or not you wear clothes makes your rituals more effective. If you or anyone feels like they need to be skyclad, then by all means do so, but to say the reason women don't do it is just because they are ashamed of their bodies, at least in my case is not valid. I have never been more connected with my self, my body or my diety and I am still a big woman. To me, sharing my body with others includes just being naked with them. That is a gift I give to those I feel deserved and I do believe in monogamy, so that gift is strictly reserved for my husband who I have been married to for 26 years :) Just my opinion on the subject.

Lavanah said...

Dear man, if you can put your mouth where your legs are, then you are quite flexible and should have no back pain whatsoever.

More seriously, we as a society have some severely screwed up ideas about the human body. I have never worked skyclad within a group because I have never belonged to a group that worked that way. I would like to believe that if I trusted and was trusted enough to belong to such a group, I would have no problem within the circle. But it is hard to say, without having the experience, that this would be the case. (and I do not believe that I am over endowed with body modesty.) Working alone thus is perfectly natural, though.

(oh, and exercise does not prevent depression, although there is proof that exercise does mitigate the effects.)

Robert said...

Annette, I never mentioned sex or monogamy. It is these kinds of automatic associations we need to purge ourselves of. I am not picking on you, I have some of those myself. :O)

As far as being no proof the magick is more effective skyclad, I made no such claim. My claim is that magick is more effective when you have no inner conflicts about who you are. In this post, that applies physically. However, it also applies, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, we live in a society where women are constantly judged, constantly berated, having it drilled into our heads that we are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, skinny enough. I think for most women it will be a complicated issue, going sky clad in a group among men, and I think boiling it down to fear and shame is trivializing it a bit. I do understand practicing with a group and the trust involved. But I personally do not agree going sky clad is needed for me to have a deeper spiritual connection with my Goddess. She sees through my clothes and skin and thoughts....She sees to the deepest part of me. My body is between me, my husband and my Goddess. I deal with body issues, just like everyone else, but as i study my path and honor my deities, I learn to overcome those obstacles.
I do commend you on your exercise regime. I suffer chronic low back pain and I know the frustration that can be felt. Good luck on your journey.

FaeNathara said...

I LOVE what you've said about body image! A few years ago I did a lot of work with my body and found that men are a lot more accepting of my extra pounds than women are.

In our society, we feel vulnerable instead of empowered when we are in a naked state. We immediately equate nudity with sex, and sex is... well, a very big topic.

I could go on and on, but, in short, brilliant and lovely! Thank you!