Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brigid's Day

For most Americans February 2 is Groundhog's Day, but for Pagans this is Brigid's Day (also known as Imbolc and Candlemas), the holiday or sabbat that honors the Celtic goddess of poetry, healing, and smithcraft. So beloved was Brigid that the early Celtic Pagans refused to abandon her when Christianity became widespread in Ireland and the British Isles––the Church responded by naming her a saint.
This fiery goddess is often depicted with flaming red hair, tending a bubbling cauldron over a blazing fire. This image symbolizes inspiration and creativity, which are Brigid's gifts to humanity. Imbolc means "in the belly" and the cauldron, representing the womb where creativity is nurtured, is one of her tools.
Pagan sabbats follow solar cycles and Imbolc is the first one celebrated after the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year). Some Pagans mark Brigid’s Day around February 5, when the sun reaches 15 degrees of Aquarius. Daylight is increasing now in the northern hemisphere, winter is on the wane, and spring's renewal is promised. Thus, Imbolc is a reaffirmation of life and a time for planting "seeds" that you want to ripen as the year matures.
Celebrating Brigid's Day
Fire is the central feature at Imbolc and a ritual celebration often includes lighting a sacred fire. In Celtic Pagan tradition, this fire burns the wood of seven of the trees considered to be sacred––ash, oak, holly, yew, alder, hawthorn, elder, rowan, and pine. If you are celebrating the holiday with other people, give each person a candle. Form a circle around the fire (or a large pillar candle set on an altar if building a fire isn't practical). Also place a cauldron filled with sand or earth on the altar.
Each person in turn lights his/her candle from the central flame. When all are lit, one person begins by stating a "seed" wish for the coming year. Go around the circle, letting everyone affirm for what s/he wants the year to bring. As smoke from the candle flames rises toward the heavens, it carries these requests to Brigid. Songs or prayers of thanks may also be offered at this time. You may wish to read poems written by the members of the group. When you are ready to open the circle, place the candles upright in the cauldron and allow them to burn down completely.

Because Brigid is the goddess of inspiration and creativity, you honor her by firing your imagination. I always spend her day engaged in some form of artistic activity, usually writing or painting. Some friends of mine bake, some play music, others fashion wreaths of greenery and pinecones. If you possess smithing skills or healing powers, this is the perfect opportunity to use them. Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, Brigid's Day is a time to give your imagination free rein, to share your ideas and vision with others, and to lay plans that you want to materialize during the year.
(from my book Magickal Astrology, published by New Page Books/Career Press)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sex & Spirit: Part Two

Part Two

Kathleen: Well, there seems to be a popular sentiment among a lot of people that the problem with contemporary sexuality is that, as they put it, we “forget our animal nature”. I've heard this argument from a lot of people and I find it ridiculous and an excuse for some very destructive and hurtful behavior but the attitude persists.

Your comments about my attempts at writing erotica reminded me of the story about how Anais Nin came to write Delta of Venus and Little Birds. A patron offered to pay her per page to crank out titillating prose and he instructed her to “leave out the poetry” but she couldn't.

Toward the end of The Old Mermaid's Tale there is a scene between Clair, who is a senior in college and is struggling with her overwhelming desire for the man she loves and the need for both of them to move forward with their lives. She is talking to her advisor who has just returned from India and brought with her some small statues of apsaras, the beautiful little Hindu nymphs that represent “unrealized potential”. Clair's advisor tells her that the Hindus believe that not everything we imagine is meant to be and that the apsaras honor the erotic longings of the human heart. I found that deeply moving and highly instructive. I think we in the west have the attitude that we should be able to have everything we want but we don't always understand that sometimes those energies need to be channeled in other directions. For me personally, creativity, and especially writing is a form of divine communion – a form of sex, if you will. Maybe that's why I hate to see it profaned through careless sexuality that is all sensation with very little emotion.

I wrote a short story called My Last Romance in which a woman turning sixty suddenly encounters a reminder of a man she had an incredibly passionate affair with when she was young. The affair ended abruptly and she eventually went back to the man she was with before she met her wild, impetuous lover. Now, decades later, all those feelings come flooding back and she comes face-to-face with what really happened. I still find that story can make me weepy because I think a lot of us spend much of our lives longing for something that would have been a disaster if we had actually acquired it.

Skye: I'm intrigued by the concept of apsaras––which I’d never heard of before you discussed it––and the idea that they “honor the erotic longings of the human heart.” Sex magic would say that we can have anything we want, but we must be able to envision what we want, open ourselves to it without reservation, believe we’re worthy of it, and direct our creative (sexual) energy toward attracting our desires. That’s a fairly simplistic explanation, and admittedly it’s easier said than done. But to honor our longings…to me seems to show compassion toward ourselves (and others) when we fall short of accomplishing what we aim for––and that in itself might be an act of forgiveness, which as I understand it, has the power to bring peace, healing, and balance to the world.

But back to the idea of spirit as an essential component of sex, I want to relate an experience I had a few weeks ago. I spent a day with two people (one man, one woman) who by their own admission had each had sex with more than 1,000 partners. But by age 50, they were so bored and disillusioned that they’d basically given up on sex altogether. I felt incredibly sad for both of them. They’d spent decades searching for meaning and connection––the transcendent experience we’ve been talking about that exists in sacred sex––but erroneously sought it in new lovers, new sex toys, new kinks. Interestingly, both had been brought up in strict religious environments they’d rejected––he as a Catholic, she as a Mormon––and refused to see the connection between sex and spirit.

In my way of thinking, the so-called “sexual revolution” that began when you and I were young women was well-intended, but it destroyed the mystery. It took the bubbles out of the champagne. Giving yourself permission to have sex with anyone who piques your interest at the moment may be “liberated” but it’s not likely to lead to a genuine, fulfilling, meaningful, loving, and truly erotic experience. Passion, joy, and magic are inherent in sex––why else has sex fascinated us for millennia? Even our most enduring symbols, including the cross and the Star of David depict the union of masculine and feminine forces (a topic too lengthy and involved to discuss here, but perhaps in the future).

You mentioned the idea that contemporary people “forget our animal nature” when it comes to sex. We’ve all seen those National Geographic animal programs on TV that show animals copulating, and frankly it’s pretty perfunctory––I doubt most of us would choose the wham-bam type of sex lions engage in. “Animal nature” may include sacred dimensions, if you accept that all life is sacred. But I can’t help recalling the line from one of my favorite movies, The African Queen, when Katherine Hepburn says “Nature is what we were put on earth to rise above.”

I believe that viewing sex as a sacred experience allows you to see yourself and your partner(s) as embodiments of the Divine. In so doing, you perceive the glorious truth of yourself. You aren’t separate, you’re one––with your partner and with All That Is.

Kathleen: Yes, I definitely see “honoring our longings” as an act of forgiveness and also an act of compassion for self. Especially as I'm getting older I'm seeing that there are things I always thought I wanted that I now know are just not going to happen – for me it has
become about priorities. There aren't enough hours in the day, or days in the year, for some of the things I once longed for but I still want to honor the part of myself that once loved longing for those things.

I totally agree with you about how our sexual liberation contributed to destroying the mystery, mostly because people didn't understand the connection between body and spirit. I vividly remember guys who took advantage of that by telling young women they were attempting to seduce that they were “up-tight” or “hung-up” if they didn't want to have sex. I think a lot of people of both sexes went along with swinging and multiple partners because they didn't know how to say “no.” We lost so much of our spirit by letting ourselves be bullied into sexual acts we thought we were supposed to want but didn't really. It's still going on for a lot of young people who have been seduced by the “hooking up” mentality. I'm still hoping that people will start honoring their spirit and reclaim their sexuality. When I was creating the priest Father Black for Each Angel Burns I read a lot of writing by some of the great Catholic mystics and I became quite enthralled by their concept of “erotic celibacy.” Much as we all know how wonderful sex can be, there is a lot to be said for reclaiming your sexuality, and channeling that energy into creativity and communion with the Divine. Personally, I cannot ever imagine being in a sexual relationship with someone who was only interested in the sensation of sex but who ignored the spirit. If that means being celibate, I'm fine with that.

By the way, Skye, yesterday I bought your book Angels Among Us. It's a beautiful book and I enjoyed what I read last night. I understand you have a book on mermaids coming soon. We should have another conversation about the angels and mermaids since we have both written about them.

Skye: Thanks for buying my book, Kathleen. Yes, I’m quite pleased with the production quality. I’m glad you liked it, too. Did you notice that I included an inspiring story of yours and an amazing photo in it? I felt so touched by that and by the stories and angel photos other people contributed to the book.

I love your priest Peter Black in Each Angel Burns. I especially like the way you cast him as a handsome stud, before he took his vows. People often think of priests as either nerds, mama’s boys, or pedophiles. Father Black’s pre-priest experience gives him greater depth and takes him out of the realm of stereotype. Ecstasy and eroticism can certainly be experienced in sex (and hopefully will be), but that’s not the only venue, as you discovered while reading the writings of mystics. And, as you and I have both lamented, ecstasy and eroticism are too often absent from our sexual experiences.

Margo Anand, in her book The Art of Sexual Ecstasy, writes, “When the sacredness of sexual union is felt, it is possible to experience your connection to the life force itself, the source of creation. This connection lifts your consciousness beyond the physical plane into a field of power and energy much greater than your own.” As a sex magician, I’d say that from this place of power anything and everything is possible.

That’s not to devalue the sensory pleasure of sex––quite the opposite. As we’ve been discussing, physical delights are heightened by the infusion of spirit. When I was doing research for Sex Magic for Beginners, I was intrigued by the writings of an eighteenth-century Hasidic master named Reb Hayim Haikel. He proposed a different way of viewing sex and spirit, and suggested, “Creation was for the purpose of lovemaking. As long as there was only one-ness, there was no delight.” In other words, we emerged out of the realm of spirit into our physical bodies precisely so we could enjoy sex. An interesting thought …

Kathleen, this has been a most enjoyable and inspiring conversation––thanks so much for proposing it. I hope other people who read this will share their thoughts about the ideas we’ve posed. And we will definitely have a conversation about angels in the near future––and one about mermaids after my new mermaid book comes out in the spring (don’t know the final title or pub date yet). If other writers are interested in participating in these conversations, perhaps we can make this an ongoing forum.

Kathleen: Your Haikel quote reminded me of the Rumi quote I used at the beginning of Each Angel Burns, “At night we fall into each other with such grace. When it’s light, you throw me back like you do your hair. Your eyes now drunk with God, mine with looking at you, one drunkard takes care of another.” I think that about sums it up – finding God or Spirit or Universal Oneness by taking care of one another. This has been great, Skye. I look forward to our next discussion and I, too, would like to invite other writers to join us.

Skye Alexander is the author of more than thirty fiction and nonfiction books, which have been translated into a dozen languages, and is best known for her work in the body-mind-spirit field. Her stories have been published in numerous anthologies internationally. Her web site is Kathleen Valentine is the author of three novels, many novelettes and short stories, as well as books on knitting lace and a cookbook/memoir of growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. Her web site is

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sex & Spirit

This is the first in an ongoing series of conversations between writers.
Part One
Kathleen: Skye, you and I have known each other for quite a few years now and, though what we write about is very different,
we deal with a lot of the same themes. I recently read your book Sex Magic for Beginners and, even though I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the subject, I was struck by the way you link the power of sexuality with the spiritual. I don't mind telling you I've gotten a lot of criticism over the strong sexual and spiritual themes in my novel Each Angel Burns. There are a lot of people who find strong sexual and spiritual themes incompatible.

Skye: Over the centuries, sex-negative religious forces have tried to separate body and spirit. In the process sex was robbed of its sanctity. But this wasn’t always the accepted view. Tantra, which began in India some 6,000 years ago, is the mystical path of ecstasy and its rituals glorify sex as the union of the Hindu deities Shiva and Shakti. The ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Celts, and many other cultures also incorporated sex into their spiritual practices.
Sex magic, as I discuss in my new book, merges mind, body, and spirit. Although people perform sex magic for a variety of purposes, one reason is to assist spiritual enlightenment. It’s my opinion that our sense of isolation and our longing to reunite with Spirit is the root of human pain and suffering. During sex, we reconnect for a short time with the cosmic pulse of life. We glimpse our divine nature and our union with all that exists in the universe.
Kathleen: I think those are beautiful ideas but I often wonder how many people are in the kind of relationship that can support that. I know you have a section in your book on solo sex but for people already in a relationship, how do they deal with this if their partner isn't interested? In my experience the biggest problem where sex is concerned is the all-too-human desir
e for emotional connection with the partner and an on-going relationship. In my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale one of the characters, an older woman, tells a younger woman, “Never give your body to anyone who doesn't love you with all his heart. It kills the soul and robs you of your beauty and your dreams.” I think that is especially important to consider now in the era of “hooking up” and “casual sex.”

Is it possible to “glimpse our divine nature,” as you put it, when sex is so loaded with emotion and fraught with worries?
Skye: I agree with your character in The Old Mermaid’s Tale, which BTW I think is a terrific book and one I hope we can discuss in future conversations. In my opinion, the difference between casual sex and sacred sex is like the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and a chateaubriand. I’ve never eaten a fast-food burger and I’ve never had a one-nighter. Unfortunately, most people opt for quick-and-easy rather than quality, and settle for far less than they could have. Our contemporary, blasé attitude toward sex renders meaningless the most potentially powerful and magical experience human beings can know. Casual sex is just as destructive as the Victorian era’s restrictiveness. Both squeeze spirit out of the picture, and prevent the possibility of genuine intimacy, joy, and transcendence.
From a magical perspective, the drawbacks are even worse. Keep in mind that sex is inherently a creative force. Sex magicians believe that with each orgasm you create a “magical child” in the etheric world, whether or not a flesh-and-blood baby results. The thoughts and emotions you hold at the moment of orgasm plant a “seed” in the cosmic womb, and that seed materializes based on your thoughts and feelings at the time. What were you thinking/feeling the last time you had sex? What kind of “child” would result from that?
There is a scene toward the end of Each Angel Burns where the two lovers, both of whom are in their fifties, have a highly intimate encounter, that brought down the wrath of quite a few reviewers! I got a scathing review on Amazon over it and one popular Christian reviewer said it was appalling that I spoke of sex “in sacramental terms.” I wonder how you view non-explicit love scenes that are infused with the sacred and how they compare or contrast to most popular erotica.Kathleen, you’re right that many of us aren’t in relationships that support the sacred nature sex––our partners may not even realize such a thing exists. We’ve been taught that love, intimacy, and vulnerability equate with weakness and we’ve learned to hide our feelings. Many men, especially, have also been trained to see sex as conquest, a mark of their prowess, but that sense of one-upsmanship prevents the balance that’s inherent in union. Opening ourselves to true intimacy––not only with our partners, but with ourselves and with the Divine––is essential to fulfillment.
Even if you’re in a relationship that doesn’t recognize the spiritual dimensions of sexuality, you can personally approach sex as a sacred, ecstatic, transcendent, loving, and joyful experience for yourself. Or, you can find another partner who shares your perspective. Solo sex can generate magical results, just as any sex act can, but it won’t keep you warm at night. Sometimes you can encourage or entice a lover to follow your direction, but be aware that fear of letting go, of trusting the unknown, and of being vulnerable may intrude and block your efforts. The choice is really up to each individual.

Kathleen: Sex is such a loaded issue for most people. Even people who profess not to follow a particular religion or spiritual path have a lot of trouble dealing with it. I know that you write erotica, I've read parts of your Tarotica book, and, as you know, I've tried writing erotica but I just have no gift for it. I think it is because I do regard sex as a sacred and powerful force that I find most erotica to be counterproductive to that. I struggle with it because I love writing sexy, romantic scenes––I've had people tell me the scene between Clair and Pio in the backseat of the Thunderbird (in The Old Mermaid's Tale) is one of the hottest scenes they've ever read. But it's not explicit. It's more about what the two people are experiencing than putting Tab A in Slot B, so to speak.

Skye: I think one of the reasons sex is such a loaded issue for most people is that it touches on what’s real and profound and, yes, sacred in all of us. It brings us into dimensions beyond what we normally confront. It connects us with our vulnerability and our power––two sides of the same coin––and that can scare us silly. Sex, if you let it, takes you out of the mundane world and catapults you into the mystical realm––and that can be unnerving for many people. Sacred sex brings you up close and personal with the real deal, and it truly does rock your world.
Kathleen, I love that scene in your book Each Angel Burns, for several reasons. First, it shows that sex and passion don’t end in middle age––in fact, they can become more joyful, genuine, and intense later in life. I’ve always admired your ability to express these sentiments through your characters. Second, I think it’s more erotic if the writer doesn’t tell all and instead allows the reader to project his/her own emotions and fantasies into a situation. Holding back can heighten the experience. Remember that beautiful erotic scene in The Age of Innocence where Newland Archer kisses the wrist of the Countess Olenska? Within the strict confines of their Victorian culture, this daring foray is far more sensual than any X-rated film today.
I don’t know if I can speak intelligently about popular erotica today––it’s such a broad topic, and in the publishing world it has a multiplicity of subsets. I don’t agree that you have no talent for erotica––quite the contrary. I’ve read some of your erotic literature, including “Gone Fishing” which was published in Ravenous Romance’s Green Love Anthology––a highly underrated collection of erotic fiction––and found the story sensitive, sexy, and real. Our ideas about erotica are highly personal, and they keep evolving. Today’s erotica is yesterday’s hard-core porn. An old question asks what’s the difference between erotica and pornography? Answer: Erotica is something you find sexually enticing. Pornography is something another person finds sexually enticing, but you find disgusting. It’s all personal perspective.
But to answer your question, I think most popular erotic literature lacks the sacred dimension, and for me, that leaves it flat and mechanical. Sex is inherently magical. Sex is a sacrament, perhaps the holiest of all acts. Without it, none of us would exist. Maybe it’s no surprise that your reviewer missed this, but our ancestors were very aware of the sacred power of sex and they honored it in multiple ways. We can still do this today. I hope we will.
To be continued...