Father is the First Teacher

by Sara Wiseman

My bathing cap is too tight; it doesn’t hold the cascade of hair that someone’s piled on my head in order to squash it on, pull it tight until it covers my ears. When I take it off later, my hair will be sodden, snarled, and the long strands will catch in the cap, causing me to yelp in pain.

I wear it, because I want to pretend I am immune from the water: that even when I am submerged, my body will be safe from all that scary wetness.

If we wore goggles back then, I’d have put them on, too. But goggles haven’t been invented yet—at least not for child swimmers like me. I squint my eyes tightly against the sun, against the stinging chlorine, against the very large dollop of zinc oxide that has been applied to my nose in precaution against sunburn, and allow myself to descend into the whirling wet that awaits.

It’s summer, I’m at the pool, I’m maybe 4 or 5, and I’m learning to swim. It’s not an easy surrender.

I gasp, my heart pounds, and I catch sign of myself in reflection: I’m a green-capped alien, the water is dangerously blue, every ripple like a flash of light along the pool’s floor, and I’m hanging on to the only safety I know: my father’s arms, my father’s chest, my father’s neck, everything sturdy and comforting, covered with blond curling hair.

If he lets go, I’m sure I’ll die.
If I let go, I’m sure I’ll drown.
I’m learning to swim, he thinks.
I’m trying to survive, I’m sure.

My body is rigid with panic, my arms clamped tight around him, and yet we don’t stop. We go deeper: past my knees, past my waist, until I’m up to my neck in water.
And even as we submerge deeper, I hear his voice in my ear: relax, you’re doing fine, it’s okay to let go.

Relax. You’re doing fine. It’s okay to let go.

Which I realize now, many decades later and 12 years after his passing, were the only real lessons I ever needed to learn from him.

The father is also a part of our soul circle; of our primary circle. Many souls are lucky to know our fathers well and long; in this loving relationship, our fathers bestow upon us a trust in the world that cannot be taken away. When our father is here, when our father is in the house, all is right with the world.

Others recall different teachings from their fathers. There may be grave difficulties in the relationship: karmic wounds that are beyond forgiving.

Still others don’t know of their fathers, or their fathers flit in and out of their lives, undependable at best, heart- breaking at worst.

Sinking back into those long time ago memories, I can see other fathers at the pool now, encouraging, berating, training, teaching, ignoring, punishing, present, authentic, cruel, real, loving, gentle.

All those fathers, teaching lessons.

My own father took me continually to deeper depths, letting go of me even as I held on.
Relax. You’re doing fine. It’s okay to let go.

These are the soul lessons I’ve been working on, lately, with nary a swim cap in sight, feet fully on dry land.

You, as daughters and sons of other fathers, will have your own lessons to learn.
We all receive what we need, even on summer day in the pool.

What have you learned, in accepting or rejecting your own father’s teachings? The male energy moves in all of us, whether we are male or female.

It is a part of us, just as everything is a part of us. Take a moment now, and be grateful for what you’ve learned—the lessons your father taught you, and also those lessons he failed to teach. Allow yourself to open your heart to all of it. (Excerpted from Living a Life of Gratitude).

Sara Wiseman is a spiritual teacher, intuitive and author of six insightful books on spirituality and intuition, including Living a Life of Gratitude. She is the founder of Intuition University, hosts the popular radio show Ask Sara, and is a top contributor to DailyOM, InspireMeToday, Aspire and more. Visit her at www.sarawiseman.com


The Changing Face of Magic

3 lotus sparklesby Brandi Williams

(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)

When we make magic, magic makes us.

All of us are shaped by many factors: genetic heritage, family structure, our generation, the culture in which we are raised, and how that culture views gender. As we move through the years our experiences also go into making us who we are. Magic gives us tools to cope with the challenges life presents. For example, many of us learned to ground and center as our first magical lesson, establishing a mental, emotional, and energetic foundation from which to act.

Some magical techniques address our human needs—attracting love, caring for a family, and engaging in meaningful work. The western magical tradition calls this kind of magic thaumaturgy, or low magic. I’ve heard this described dismissively, “That’s just thaumaturgy!” Donald Michael Kraig points out that the term “low” describes magic developed in the lowlands, in farming communities where healing ailments and managing a bit of prosperity are vitally important. Thaumaturgy is contrasted with theurgy, magic involving the gods or divine powers. Theurgy is also called high magic, which Kraig notes developed in the cities, literally higher than the countryside.

Don’t let anyone tell you high magic is superior to low magic! Every human being needs to eat, to have a place to live, to be healthy, and to be loved. It’s much harder to invoke your Holy Guardian Angel if you are couch-surfing with family. Thaumaturgy provides the essential foundation of our magical lives, helping us to provide for ourselves and contribute to the families and communities which support us. My book Practical Magic for Beginners describes this kind of magic at length, detailing the knowledge that forms the western occult heritage, and applying that knowledge to aid us in our everyday lives.

Magic also offers us a path of personal development, a way to explore our relationship with the divine and our own divine natures. Theurgy is sometimes translated “god-work,” the work we do to bring ourselves closer to the gods. High magic (or ceremonial magic) tends to be formal, involving established ritual, and includes the study of esoteric magical systems, particularly Qabbalah. In the Magical Philosophy series, Melita Denning and Osborne Phillips note that engaging in esoteric study is a form of initiation in itself. Many ceremonial systems and groups also include a staged series of initiations that are designed to take the student on a spiritual journey to magical adepthood.

High magic evolved over millennia to fit the needs of past generations. The formal magical systems draw on the western occult heritage—the workings of the elements and planets, energies and tides—to build transformative rituals. Many ceremonial orders exist today that preserve the rituals of the last century, providing an opportunity for men and women of all ages to experience their power.

Just as we are shaped by our times and culture, magical systems are shaped by the needs of the people who create and use them. The last century offered a different set of challenges than the ones we face today. One hundred years ago the industrial age promised an ever brighter future, brightening the night, greening the desert, and extending the human lifespan, while at the same time conflicts exploded into destructive world wars, tearing families and countries apart. In this century we are struggling to cope with the destructive legacy of industrialism itself while learning to tolerate cultural and religious differences and support the right of all people to govern themselves.

We think and act differently than our forebears did in the last millennium. This is especially true of how we think about gender and how our culture treats gender differences. In the last century women worked for the right to vote, to wear trousers, to move into the workforce. Today women work for equal representation in leadership, to earn the same salary as men for the same work, to be taken seriously as agents of our own destiny.

High magic has not yet incorporated the cultural shift in gender roles. Rituals created to help men to experience the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel don’t work in the same way for women. My book The Woman Magician examines the ways in which Western Traditional Magic has thought about women and creates an initiatory system for women to explore their highest spiritual potential.

High magic similarly fails to include diversity of race, sexual orientation, and ability; to cope with the equation of magic with superstition and the academic framing of magic as opposite to science; and to explore spirituality in the context of competing world religions. It is the challenge of today’s magicians to synthesize a cohesive view of the world that takes contemporary diversity, religion, and scientific discovery into account in a way that includes and validates magical-spiritual endeavor.

Remaking High Magic

How do we go about remaking magic? What even gives us the right to think such a big thought? Doesn’t that kind of work come from geniuses or people who speak the words of the gods?

Geniuses may absorb information more quickly, but anyone who can read and is willing to persevere can acquire knowledge. We can overcome our personal limitations by working in groups, encouraging each other, and supporting our individual development in a communal context. For example, we know now that any group is smarter than its smartest member, even if that smartest member is a genius. Also, any one of us can establish a relationship with deity, and every one of us can come to a realization of the divinity within us.

Suppose we give ourselves permission to tackle this idea. Where do we begin?

    • List Sources

      A good place to start is to consider the sources of our magic. It’s important not to censor this list and to be willing to include all the roots of our systems, however unlikely or embarrassing. Fans of the Harry Potter series will remember Luna Lovegood, whose willingness to consider unorthodox sources of information earned her scorn but permitted her to notice things that others did not see.We have inherited high magic from people who assembled magical knowledge for thousands of years. Astrologers studied the skies, alchemists studied metals, herbalists pondered plants. Some of those herbalists must have contacted the spirits of those plants just as Eileen Caddy did at Findhorn in Scotland. Many spirits have communicated to humans. People routinely see and hear the spirits of loved ones who have died, an experience that blossomed into the popular religion of Spiritualism in the last century. Angels spoke to Edward Kelly and John Dee, and gods have appeared in dreams and visions to magicians many times throughout the ages.


    • Study Religion

      High Magic encompasses the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as the folk religions and ancient Paganism that underlies them all. Since the Parliament of the Worlds Religions brought east and west together in 1893, western magic has incorporated Buddhism, Hinduism, and Tantra, while in modern times techniques from indigenous religions, particularly involving chant, trance, and possession, have been incorporated (some say appropriated) into the systems.


    • Study Philosophy

      Some of the great thinkers of past ages seem like geniuses to us because their education was different than ours. We no longer study Latin and Greek in school as the turn-of-the-century magicians did. It is a rare person today who has any knowledge of philosophy, the history of how humans have come to think the way we think.I came to philosophy as an outsider, reading on my own rather than in an academic environment. Even women who study inside the academy report feeling like outsiders, as the practice of philosophy has been held to be a man’s domain for several millennia. So I was surprised to discover how fascinating the study of ideas can be. If religion is the history of magic, philosophy is its operating system. Studying philosophy teaches us how to think about thinking, the meta-level that is precisely the place we need to reach to be able to rethink a magical system.


    • Experience Ritual

      Since the philosopher-magician Apollonius of Tyana visited India in the first century of the common era, the magicians who have contributed to the high magic systems have often been great travelers and experimenters. In the last century the men who crafted the rituals and study systems we use today were often Freemasons, trading and collecting fraternal initiations and religious ordinations, while the women who created the rituals and study systems also participated in Theosophy and Spiritualism. Today there are so many public events and open groups available that anyone can gain a wealth of experience that would have been the envy of any Victorian magician. We are the most cosmopolitan magicians in history.


  • Ask the Fundamental Questions

    Who are we? Why are we here? How does the universe work? What is the appropriate way for a twenty-first century magician to behave? The knowledge we gain from our studies, along with the experience we gain from our rituals, informs our answers to these questions. Our answers may change over time as we incorporate new experiences and knowledge.

As Denning and Phillips said, in the Hermetic tradition the study of knowledge itself changes us. To remake the systems of high magic we apply those changes to the body of traditional knowledge and ritual. We can then create new rituals that incorporate diversity, honor religion, partner with science, and shape us into the people we need to be to face the challenges of our age.

Not everyone is called to this work, but anyone who wills to do so can participate in it. The Woman Magician is one contribution to this effort, joining that of many others who are rethinking ceremonial magic for the twenty-first century. Together we will shape the form of high magic that will shape us into the people we envision we can be.

Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2011. All rights reserved.


8 Lessons of Alchemy

2imagesby Mark Stavish

(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)

Wisdom is only gained through experience and reflection upon that experience, which draws out the lessons it has to offer. A life not reflected upon is a life lived in the shadow of reality. Only by stopping, looking back at where we have started, what we have done, where we are in the present, and how we got here, can we begin to call ourselves wise—and Wisdom is the goal of genuine esotericism, not power, fame, or titles—Wisdom is the fruit of experiences that are understood.

To practice alchemy is to knock on the doors of the Temple of Sophia, of Wisdom, and to pray to enter. One quickly realizes that no matter how hard one knocks, there is nobody on the other side to open the door. It is we who must, individually and through our own free will and accord, push on the door and open it for ourselves. Once inside we find some peculiar and helpful friends waiting, but only once we have taken the responsibility to open the door for ourselves.

This article is a summary of some of my own, as well as other alchemists’ experiences, that occurred during our first twelve months of practicing spagyrics or plant alchemy. Hopefully they will be useful to aspiring alchemists, and even students of other occult arts and sciences in understanding the path that they have chosen and its potential.

Lessons Learned
Many have found the study of alchemy particularly rewarding, first because of the kind of returns one gets for their investment of time, and second because of the certainty of the results.

Jean Dubuis, the founder of the French qabalistic and alchemical organization The Philosophers of Nature, frequently stated during seminars that “Alchemy is the only path that does not lie.” By this he meant that in a variety of esoteric, and so-called esoteric practices, it is easy to excuse ones failures or lack of results. We hear these excuses all the time: the wrong incense was used, the moon cycles were off, the “mood” wasn’t right, the wrong associations, planets, gods, or Elements were invoked. The list is endless.

However, in alchemy—even plant alchemy, or spagyrics as it is properly called—everything is a learning experience that points towards how we are to approach not only our alchemical operations but also life itself. As Frater Albertus said, “All manifestation is accomplished by the utilization of will, which is another term for being alive.”

If we have manifestation we have demonstrated that we are truly “alive” on a level that not only affects and includes the material, but also precedes and supercedes it. It is the Ouroboros, the serpent eating its tail; the Alpha and the Omega. Alchemy my friend, does not lie, and here are some of its lessons.

  1. Lesson One:

I am responsible for my own Becoming.
Alchemy teaches that I and I alone am responsible for myself, my life, my consciousness, and my growth in wisdom, or “Becoming” as it is called. While others can try to help me along the way, I have to be receptive to their assistance and listen to the voice of experience. At the end of time, when I stand before the Eternal, my answer to the question, “Who are you?” must be in the words of Victor Hugo, “I am freedom.” Freely I have entered the Path, freely have I undertaken its challenges, and freely do I share with others what I have learned.


  • Lesson Two: Nature does not care if I am stupid.
    Nature will help me if I am alert to what is happening. I am the handmaid of Nature and assist it in its work just at is assists me in my undertakings—but only if I am aware. Nature responds to one’s actions as well as intentions. Unlike in ritual magic where an error can be made and the inner essence override the misstep in the ritual, an error can result in ruining all of the work to date. Working directly with material elements means being responsible to material laws as well as psychic ones.



  • Lesson Three: Energy goes where your true attention is, not where you think it is.
    During the distillation of some alcohol off of red wine for use in the making of a spagyric tincture, a fellow alchemist decided to go sit outside and let the process run. To pass the time he decided to “send some energy” to a small plant near where he was sitting. First some Earth, with no response; then Water, with only a slight response; then Air, with better results; and finally Fire, with great results (as well as hearing his distillation explode, sending flaming alcohol all over his ceiling). A similar incident occurred to another practitioner of the Art, with him finding a flaming blue liquid all over the ceiling fan in his kitchen. If you are working on an alchemical experiment, stay focused on it until it is complete, or that portion of the process is finished.


Thoughts are things and affect my physical and psychic environment. As such they are not limited only to ‘me’ but also impact on those around me.


  • Lesson Four: Learn the theory before practice.
    Alchemy works primarily on the Earth element, and as such, promises nothing quickly. In the host of false promises offered up by a variety of authors and systems, and even self-styled abusers of the word “alchemy,” the Royal Art stands alone in saying that Illumination can be had—but at a price. The biggest price is time, as skills must be learned, preparations made, notes taken and reviewed, and experiments catalogued. Preparation is the key to success in anything, be it material or psychic. A key element of this was memorizing the Emerald Tablet and accepting it as an outline of the entire alchemical process regardless of other methods taken. It is a poor craftsman who blames his tools.



  • Lesson Five: Make Haste Slowly.
    Constantly in the alchemical literature there are references to the work being done slowly, and then, just before it is completed, to increase the heat on a given product, but to do so carefully and diligently, so as not to burn the matter and thereby destroy all of one’s efforts just as success is in sight. It is often said that in any project, eighty percent of the work takes place during the final stages, and in alchemy this is clearly true. Slow, slowly, slower, is the best way to go, with daily attention to the work.



  • Lesson Six: We must be prepared before we begin the Work.
    Preparation is more than just a physical process of making sure the glass is clean, and the proper materials and equipment are available and in working order, it is also an internal process. To be successful in alchemy—or any occult practice aimed at material or psychic manifestation—students have to be ready to accept and participate in the process. This means making one’s self a perfect vessel by internalizing the steps of process. First intellectually through memorization, and through this, letting them operate internally on our subconscious to organize and direct its energies. Once we have internalized the work in theory, we can begin to use it in external practice. Internalization of the process results in externalization of the process through a successful technique. The devil is in the details. “Read, Read, Read, Pray, Work and Read Again.”



  • Lesson Seven: It is Finished!
    The Hermetic axiom from the Emerald Tablet states, “As Above, So Below; as Below, So Above.” Internalization is also Paracelsus’s statement that we only transmute without what we have first transmuted within. We must pay attention to the still small voice within—the voice of Hermes, of our Inner Master—as it will respond to our work and teach us in our dreams and meditations. The information will be practical as well as theoretical or symbolic. It is not uncommon to suddenly sense a process is complete when working with the production of plant stones. That is, there is an inner knowing that it is time to move on to the next step. Sometimes this even takes place verbally. Once during the process I heard, “I am done” and knew that this was my attunement to a plant stone I was working on letting me know the process was complete, even though it was the middle of the afternoon and I as preoccupied with something else all together. Even here however, this inner knowing was checked against reality. Did the plant stone work? Did it do what a plant stone is supposed to do? The proof is in the results, not the wishes, desires, or beliefs, but in the cold hard evidence of an operation that was successful.



  • (Lesson Eight: You’re not an alchemist until you have had at least one explosion.)


In the words of Hermes, “That which I have to say about the Operation of the Sun is completed.”

Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2006. All rights reserved.


The Everyday Clairvoyant: What’s Your Gift? (And Does It Help You Clean the House?)

1-7474248_f496by Cyndi Dale

(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)

I see pictures for a living.

That’s not the same as creating them; I can’t so much as draw a stick figure. Nor is it equivalent to collecting art or hanging photographs or scanning MRIs. It’s a little more, well, complex than that.

I’m a clairvoyant. I see images in my mind that inform me about reality. If you were to ask me what you ate for breakfast, I might watch an entire filmstrip of you in a chef hat being Julia Child or Jean-Luc Albin (okay, he’s a pastry guy, but you might be into croissants.) Based on your kitchen antics, I’d most likely make a pretty good guess at what you whipped up.

Or maybe I’d envision a hen and deduct that you ate eggs. I might even visualize a Starbuck’s drive-through, which suits my idea of haute cuisine. Whatever the case, I perceive images that are literal, descriptive, or metaphorical; from the past, present, or potential future; or appear as shapes, colors, and symbols. From these, I construct and construe answers to various life questions, which provide the fodder for my work as an energy healer, intuitive consultant, and author.

I’ve shared images with more than thirty thousand individuals and countless groups. That’s a lot of pictures—and questions, which preceded my answers. These questions constitute life’s major concerns, which always fall into one of three categories: relationship, destiny (work), and balance (health). See if you can think of something important that doesn’t edge into one or several of these baskets.

Will I ever get married? Do I have a soul mate? Is s/he having an affair? Are affairs always bad? Do I have spiritual guides? Did Atlantis ever exist? What happens during miscarriage? Abortion? How do I deal with an abusive partnership? Are there ghosts? Do animals have souls? You guessed it; these are RELATIONSHIP questions.

What’s my purpose? Is it bad to go bankrupt? Did I ever live before? How might past lives affect my current life? What are my specific spiritual gifts? Why we there so many people on this planet right now? How can I make more money? Will I ever win the lottery? Is peace on earth possible? Here we are in the land of DESTINY.

Why am I sick? Why is there illness on this planet? Can entities cause problems? What are the keys to being healthier? How do I deal with stuck emotions? Bad beliefs? Can I ever really become who I want to be? Here we are in BALANCE.

In my book, >Everyday Clairvoyant: Extraordinary Answers to Finding Love, Destiny, and Balance in Your Life, I share the most burning, typical, and stellar questions I’ve heard, such as the ones listed. I provide a summative response, crafted from twenty-five years in my trade as a clairvoyant. I also talk about what being a clairvoyant means in my “real life,” for that’s where I show up every day: at home, in relationships, going grocery shopping, mothering, and even cleaning the house. I share all of it to underscore one main point:

Even though my profession isn’t listed on IRS forms—or any other, for that matter, I’m no different than you.

What does that mean but that YOU are as “weird” as I AM.

Words like ESP, supernatural, channeling, telepathy, psychic, shamanic, empathic, clairvoyant, and paranormal aren’t only descriptive of “different people,” but of ALL people. We are ALL intuitively gifted. We are ALL amazingly, brilliantly, and sometimes annoyingly, psychic.

We are all born with psychic abilities. “Psychic” simply refers to the ability to gather, decipher, and generate information that moves quicker than the speed of light.

While a lot of people don’t like to admit that they are psychic—or even see a benefit to it— it’s a great thing to be. When moving really fast, you don’t have to obey the traffic cops of the Universe. You can slip through walls, bypassing obstacles. You can enjoy a cup of coffee before it’s even served, which is pretty important if you need an instant shot of caffeine. A thought doesn’t even need to halt at a stop sign the way that sensory, “earth bound” information does. You can receive knowledge from the future, awareness from the past, and make it all work for you right now.

Whether or not we know it, our spirits communicate through psychic activity much more often than through sensory means. It’s just easier. If you know something important is going to happen tomorrow, why not get ready today? If you can disappear a tumor before it happens, why not play doctor right now? If you can “reach out and touch someone” through psychic e-mail versus sensory snail mail, why not go for the time advantage?

Clairvoyance is only one of the many psychic gifts available to us all. When teaching classes, I share that there are eleven major universal gifts and a twelfth that is unique to each person. Each gift is housed in a chakra, an energy center that connects the psychic with the sensory.

I work with a twelve-chakra system, which is described in my book, The Complete Book of Chakra Healing, but I also reference these energy centers and corresponding gifts in Everyday Clairvoyant, for one main reason: the key to enjoying satisfying relationships, living on destiny, and being balanced, is to uncover and embrace your true spiritual gifts.

Which gift is incipient to you? Scan this list, which outlines a couple of ways to label each gift and corresponding chakra, and see if anything pops out:

  • First chakra: Physical empathy and manifesting
  • Second chakra: Feeling empathy and creativity
  • Third chakra: Mental empathy (clairsentience) and administrative ability
  • Fourth chakra: Relational empathy and healing
  • Fifth chakra: Verbal empathy (clairaudience, channeling, telepathy) and communicating
  • Sixth chakra: Clairvoyance, visioning, strategizing
  • Seventh chakra: Spiritual empathy and prophecy
  • Eighth chakra: Shamanism
  • Ninth chakra: Soul empathy and harmonizing (representing world causes)
  • Tenth chakra: Nature empathy and sensitivity to the environment
  • Eleventh chakra: Force sympathy and leadership
  • Twelfth chakra: Unique to you

Know that whatever gifts you have, they aren’t to be used in a vacuum or “solo.” Our strongest gifts—each and every one of them—support our destiny or spiritual purpose. You could say, “They help us help others.” Besides being a clairvoyant, I am also a communicator. I therefore combine my sixth chakra clairvoyance with a fifth chakra communication skill in order to teach and write about my vision for the world.

Our gifts also impact our relationships. Being both visual and verbal, I relate to others these ways. I notice how someone wears a hat, eats a sandwich, moves his or her head. I respond to what I perceive. And I talk. A lot. Not for me, the strong, silent type. I’d be bored silly.

As well, our chakras and corresponding gifts affect our health. Each chakra is based in a bodily locale and connects to our physical self through a specific endocrine gland. As a fifth and sixth chakra person, I have to nourish the glands associated with these chakras: the thyroid and pituitary glands. If I don’t, I’ll get sick. I also participate in fifth and sixth chakra activities in order to burn off stress. For instance, movies are a great sixth chakra escape. Know what works for a fifth chakra person? Talking is a good start. (The problem is it’s hard to combine these two without getting kicked out of a theatre.)

In the end, we can’t separate ourselves from our gifts. The “paranormal” isn’t something outside of ourselves. We are “para” or beyond “normal” ALL the time. I might sit in a chair all day and see pictures for a living. But I also interweave my abilities—my psychic self—into and through everything about me.

Even my mothering.

My friends can testify to the fact that my youngest son would never have survived childhood if I didn’t have “eyes in the back of my head.” I think back to a remark made by a friend of mine after I’d been on the phone with her for a while.

“Did you know that you saved Gabe’s life three times in the last few minutes?” She asked.

I pondered the question. I hadn’t even seen Gabe for a while, although I did remember punctuating the house with a few “marching orders” called out to him, sight unseen.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, first you told him to stop tying the dog’s tail onto the curtain rod, which could have fallen off and beamed him. Then you kept him from playing Spiderman on the wall over the glass tabletop with all the sharp edges. Lastly you made sure he didn’t turn the bathtub into a swimming pool and nosedive in.”

I did do all that—from a different room, unconsciously tapping into my clairvoyance.

Having mastered the fine art of psychic mothering, I’ve set myself the goal of psychic housecleaning. Wouldn’t it be grand, to imagine the house picked up and have it so? To envision the dogs’ food bowls full, the guinea pig’s cage scrubbed out, the cat litter changed, and presto?

I’ll work on it and let you know when I’ve figured it out. Maybe I’ll even invent a computer with psychic command functions or kitchen appliances that make the bread and bake it with a single thought. And perhaps I’ll visualize something even more grand, like peace on earth. Because if I know anything, I know this:

Underneath it all, we are spirits, embodied so as to engage the everyday world toward a single, vital goal: We are here to create more love on this planet.

And we have the gifts to do it.

Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2010. All rights reserved.


A Few Famous Goddesses and Heroines

art 3aphroditeAn Excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines

No encyclopedia, no matter its length, could list all the goddesses the world has known. Due to colonization and forced conversion, innumerable goddesses and their stories have been lost. But an impressive amount of information remains, although scattered in sacred texts, literary epics and drama, story collections, ethnographies, and many other works. This encyclopedia brings together thousands of such sources to offer an entry point for further research. Casual and curious readers will find the legends and myths the most compelling part of this work, but researchers will be able to trace each figure to additional writers, who in turn will provide further reference points.

All the works referenced in this book are in English. This excludes many works available in other languages, especially those of the cultures in question. In some areas, as with the former Soviet Union, little is available in translation. Were all published material in multiple languages to be included in this encyclopedia, it would be volumes longer. But the sources listed typically offer bibliographical references in the languages of cultural origin for each figure, so scholars should be able to access information where available.

Sources are not limited to scholarly ones, because much goddess material appears in literature and in children’s storybooks. The Roman poet Ovid, for instance, wrote goddess narratives that are among the classics of ancient literature. In other cultures, such literary treatments are not available in English, but the myths and legends appear as narrations for children and young adults. Where traditional religion was subjugated, goddess narratives often were sustained by becoming “old wives” tales, told orally to children and as entertainment to adults. Thus folklore as well as literature provides a source of information about ancient goddess figures.

Due to the occasional inconsistency of electronic sources, only material published in paper format has been used. Scholarly material continually becomes more readily available electronically, and many of these sources can be accessed that way. However, some materials available only on the Internet are of questionable validity and/or offer an uncritical analysis of the material. Thus Internet-only sources have been excluded.
The encyclopedia’s sections are based on geographical and cultural divisions. Each section offers an introduction describing the role of women therein. Any specific questions contemporary researchers address are also covered in these introductory sections.

Finally, modern revivals of ancient goddess religions are mentioned as well as ethical or other concerns about such revivals. Each section provides individual entries for important goddesses and heroines from that culture. Rather than full footnotes for each entry, the source of the story is noted, for which readers may refer to the bibliography.

Despite this book’s length, there is no question that some goddesses are missing. In some cases, their stories have not yet been published in English. In other cases, the narratives do not specify their names. A figure might be called “the earth goddess,” while in the same story a male divinity is given a personal name. The quest to reclaim lost goddesses is never ending, for as with the Venus of Hohle Fels Cave, information continually comes to light. Such new information can only add to the great richness of images of female potency and power offered in these pages.

Asase Yaa – This Ashanti goddess of agriculture and human fecundity appears as Asase Efua among the Fante and Akan. The two names indicate Thursday (Yaa) and Friday (Efua), the “birthdays” of the two goddesses, on which farmers allow the earth to rest. When Christianity came to western Africa, a difficulty was that this supreme divinity lives and is worshipped in plowed fields, not in heaven or in temples like the Christian divinity. Asase reclaims people at death, and everyone who works a field becomes a co-power of fertility after death. (Ephirim-Donkor; Feldmann; Manyoni; Mbon; Parringer 1967, 1970; Pobee; Radin)

Gunnlod, Ruler of Poetry – Gunnlod was the owner of a cauldron of mead that endowed anyone who drank it with eloquence. The god Odin attempted to gain poetic power through trickery, coming to the hall of Gunnlod’s father, the giant Suttungr, in disguise because the Norse gods were bitter enemies of giants. Gunnlod sat on a throne of gold, from which she dispensed mead to Odin. He seduced her and, while she was sleeping, drank all three vats of mead and shapeshifted into a bird to escape. Gunnlod’s father pursued Odin back to the land of the gods, changing himself into an eagle, but the gods saw him coming and lit fires that killed him. (Larrington)

Luna – It is unclear whether Luna was originally divine or whether she was a poetic personification elevated to divinity. Diana was often described as riding in the lunar chariot, especially after her assimilation to Greek Artemis, but Luna and her companion Sol, the sun god, appear in literature and epigrams. They were, however, not revered in cult and had no festival dedicated to them. Luna was more honored than Sol, for while they shared a temple, she had three others. (Smith)

Uti Hiata “Mother Corn” – was a significant Pawnee and Arikara divinity, born in primeval times after ducks brought silt from the bottom of the cosmic lake to build prairies and foothills. The sky father, seeing giants populating the earth, sent a flood to destroy them. After he replanted the earth with maize seeds that sprouted into human beings, he sent Uti Hiata to assist at their birth.

Finding no one on earth, Uti Hiata walked about. Thunder kidnapped her and hid her beneath the earth. There, she was helped by mole, mouse, and badger to dig through the ground. As she emerged, so did people, to whom she taught secrets of life, methods of agriculture, and religious rituals. (Dorsey 1997)

Brigit – Because of the local nature of Celtic divinities, few were honored across a wide geographical area. But there is evidence of a widely known goddess with a name or title meaning “high one.” In Britain, the Brigantes honored a goddess, Brigantia. In Gaul, we find Brigindo or Brigindu, of whom little is known except that she was invoked to encourage abundant harvests. At a thermal spring in southern France, Brixia was honored.

In Ireland, Scotland, and Wales and on the Isle of Man, Brigit appears as a central goddess. Her symbols were cattle, fire, and water; her holy day, February 1. A member of the Tuatha©Danann (see Danu), Brigit was daughter of the god of fertility, Dagda, and mother of the hero Radn, at whose death she invented keening. She appears in three related forms, as goddess of healing, smithcraft, and poetry. It is unclear whether her worshippers knew three separate goddesses named Brigit, each with her own specific domain, or whether all were one goddess.

Ritual devotion to Brigit, centered on sacred fire and holy wells, continued after the goddess was “converted” to a Christian saint. Documents suggest that a college of priestesses served Saint Brigit. Giraldus Cambrensis reported that nuns in Kildare tended an undying ashless flame, a ritual identical to that offered to Sul. Not long after Giraldus made his 1184 report, clergy dowsed the fires. In 1988, the foundation of the ancient temple was rediscovered in Kildare. Not long after, the Brigidine sisters spearheaded an international revival of interest in Saint Brigit.

Both saint and goddess are honored on February 1, the feast of Imbolc, still celebrated in Ireland. The most widespread ritual entails praying at dawn at a holy well. Pilgrims also tie small pieces of cloth to trees nearby. In Kildare, rush crosses are hung on houses to prevent fires. In County Kerry, Biddy Boys dress in white, don straw hats, and go begging; giving to them ensures a good harvest. Other traditions include crafting dolls from rushes, laying fabric outdoors for Brigit to walk upon as the sun rises, and jumping through a circle of straw. In Scotland, Imbolc was celebrated by dressing sheaves in women’s clothing and setting a wooden club beside the figure. The next morning, women looked in the ashes for an impression of Brigit’s club.

Brigit may have taken on aspects of a pre-Celtic seasonal goddess. In Scotland, stories relate how the Cailleach kept Bride imprisoned in high mountains. Her son fell in love with the girl; at winter’s end, they eloped. The hag chased them, causing storms. After she turned to stone, Bride was freed. (Bourke; Brenneman and Brenneman; Carmichael; Condren; Cunliffe; Danaher 1922; Delaney; Cambrensis; Ellis 1995; Koch; Logan 1980; MacAnna; Clancy; MacKinlay; MacNeill; O’Faol in 1985, 1999; Wavle and Burke.)

From the book Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines. Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Monaghan. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.


Discovery of the First Known Icon of a Goddess

art2useAn Excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines

Whether a goddess or not, the figure at Hohle Fels Cave created a sensation. Finds of Paleolithic Venuses, while never commonplace, are frequent enough that archaeologists were not surprised to unearth another. But stone figures like the Venus of Willendorf have been found with other objects suggesting an age of no more than 30,000 years. Because the Hohle Fels figure was carved of bone, scientists were able to carbon-date it. This showed the figure to be 35,000 to 40,000 years old, 10,000 years older than similar finds. The Venus of Hohle Fels is the oldest depiction of the human form ever found. And she is indisputably female.

What does this Venus look like? Like other such works, she is naked and robust, corpulent or possibly pregnant. Her breasts are huge and her pubic triangle exaggerated. Her arms and legs are tiny in proportion to her body, and she has no face. Where the head should be, Venus has a ring, suggesting she was worn as a pendant or amulet. She is only 2¬Ω inches long and weighs less than an ounce.

Is this the image of humanity’s primal divinity? We cannot know what people believed in prehistory, as by definition they left no written records. We do know that since recorded history began, humans have honored goddesses, for among the earliest written documents are hymns to the Babylonian goddess Inanna. But the Hohle Fels figure is ten times older than the oldest religious writing.

We cannot know whether those who carved the Hohle Fels Venus intended to represent a divinity in female form. But we do know that almost every culture since the dawn of time has honored goddesses as well as gods. Then, somewhere around 2,500 years ago, monotheism emerged in the eastern Mediterranean, first in the form of Hebrew tribal religion (which became Judaism), then as Christianity, and finally as Islam. These related religions center their worship on a single male divinity. In doing so, they eliminate age-old reverence for the divine female.

By contrast, no goddess has ever occupied the solitary position in a religion. The difference between monotheism and goddess religion cannot be clearer: No monotheistic goddess religion has ever been found. Every religion that honors a goddess honors a god as well.

Debate rages over whether the honoring of goddesses makes any difference to the lives of real women, with critics pointing out the practice of widow burning in Hindu India, for instance, as proof that placing a goddess on the altar does not necessarily free women from oppression. Similarly, Greek and Roman religion created magnificent images of the feminine divine, yet denied basic rights to women. Patriarchy and monotheism are not identical. One can exist without the other.

There is no question monotheism limits women in religious situations. Only recently have some Christian denominations permitted women to serve as priests, with others holding up the presumed “sex of god” as a reason to deny the pulpit to women. Whether such bias extends beyond the church is a matter of debate, but there is little question that boys who are taught that god looks like them, but not like their mothers and sisters, grow up differently than girls who are taught the opposite. It is probably not surprising that those raised with such an orientation find it difficult to believe that our forebears may have honored divinity in female form and captured her image in forms such as the Hohle Fels Venus. Although it is certainly possible men carved big-breasted women as fantasy sexual objects 35,000 years ago, the greater likelihood is that this faceless woman represents what we call “Mother Nature,” the embodiment in female form of the forces to which human life is subject.

Whether or not prehistoric figures represent goddesses, there is no doubt that once written history begins, we find goddesses sharing the religious stage with gods. Throughout the world, people pictured divinity in female form. Often, divine women acted like human women, especially when they performed the one activity biologically limited to women: bearing children. Goddesses often conceive without a male partner. They are impregnated by wind or ocean waves, by snakes or fiery flames, or simply by their own desire. When they have a mate, the relationship need not replicate those of humans. The goddess may have intercourse with her father or her brother, with a stranger, or with several deities at once. She may be promiscuous. Or she may have one mate with whom she forms a model of the ideal human couple.

Not all female divinities are “mother goddesses.” Goddesses can appear as young nymphs, self-reliant workers, aged sages. They can be athletes or huntresses, dancers or acrobats, herbalists or midwives. We find goddesses as teachers, inventors, bartenders, potters, surfers, magicians, warriors, and queens. Virtually any social role women have played or are capable of playing appears in a goddess myth.

This volume shows the breadth of possibilities associated with the feminine through many ages and cultures. Some figures will be familiar to the general reader, especially those from classical European sources. Others are obscure, recorded only in a single source as, for instance, some native North American stories transcribed from the last speaker of a dying language. Not all would be called “goddesses” by the people who told their stories, for that word generally refers to divine or supernatural beings. Between such figures and mortal women exists a category this work calls “heroines.” Some were originally human women who attained to legendary status: clan ancestors, extraordinarily faithful lovers, self-sacrificing saviors, remarkable queens, bold adventurers, wonder workers. Others represent a halfway category between human and divine. These include women with superhuman powers, spirits of nature, personified abstractions, bodhisattvas, ogres, cannibals, and saints.

Finally, monotheistic religions often have female figures who function in goddess-like ways, giving birth to gods or saving humanity from peril. Although monotheisms deny the existence of goddesses, these figures are listed in this work, because such figures are sometimes submerged goddesses or powerful goddess-like beings. Where such figures are included, the view of worshippers from that religion is clearly stated.

From the book Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines. Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Monaghan. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.


The History of The Goddess

EncycloGoddesses_cvr_fnl.inddAn Excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines

In 2008, archaeologists in Germany made a startling discovery. In Swabian Jura, where caves in limestone cliffs sheltered ancient humans, a figurine was unearthed from rubble. Carved from mammoth ivory, the figure showed a naked woman. Such figures have been found before where this “Venus” emerged, for the figure found in Hohle Fels Cave was named for a Roman goddess, as has been common since these figures were first discovered more than a century ago. In Austria (Willendorf and Galgenberg), France (Brassempouy, Laussel), and other European sites (Doln√≠ V√ªstonice in the Czech Republic, Moravany in Slovakia, Monruz in Switzerland, Mal‚Äôta in Russia), archaeologists have found tiny figures of naked women. They are among the most ancient artworks of humanity, carved from stone or bone or molded from clay between twenty and thirty thousand years ago.

That long ago, during the Paleolithic Era, humans lived in small groups hunting and gathering foods. Recent studies suggest a large proportion, up to 80 percent, of their diet came from plant foods like berries, fruits, and roots, which scholars assume were gathered by women. Meat, while providing necessary nutrients, was less readily available and required significant strength and skill to acquire, and it is presumed hunting was a predominantly male occupation, although women may have trapped small mammals and caught fish. What distinguishes this period of human history from earlier ones is that for the first time humans began to use stone tools. This revolution led to others, such as the establishment of year-round villages and the invention of art.

What knowledge we have of these ancestors comes from scanty traces of their daily lives. Only material resistant to decay survives the millennia: bone, stone, fired clay. We have no way of knowing how ancient humans dressed or what footwear they favored. We have no Paleolithic fishing nets or traps, no spears, no baskets. We do not know how they organized their societies or traced their descent lines. We have no idea what languages they used. But because they carved bone and painted on stone, we can see and appreciate their art.

The cave paintings at Lascaux and Pech-Merle in France show that these ancient humans had a sophisticated sense of beauty and a command of painterly techniques. In Lascaux, animals leap and prance around the walls and roof of a series of interlocking caves. At Pech-Merle, spotted horses and woolly mammoths adorn the walls, and the outline of a hand suggests the presence of the artist. In addition to such painted galleries, we have dozens of examples of Paleolithic portable art in the form of expressive incised drawings of animals on bone and delicate carvings of “Venus” figurines.

Before 2008, experts dated these figures to be-tween 28,000 and 24,000 years ago. Despite the span of time involved and despite the stylistic diversity in the figures, the Venuses share an emphasis on female sexual characteristics. Breasts and pubic triangle are always exaggerated; thighs and buttocks can be disproportionately large as well. This emphasis seems to have been so important that many Venuses have no facial features and only sketchy arms and legs. They are never clothed, although some wear what appear to be woven belts, and most have elaborate hairstyles. Contemporaneous cave paintings, with their highly realistic depiction of prey animals, show that these artists did not lack pictoral ability. Rather, the artists appear to have selectively exaggerated certain aspects of female anatomy.

Although we cannot know whether men or women (or both) made the carvings, or what they meant, interpretations abound. Among these is the idea the images represent the first known deity: a goddess. This theory is supported by the fact that virtually the only human images found in such ancient art are these full-bodied naked females, with the artists otherwise focusing their energies on animals. But this idea is a controversial one, especially among male scholars, some of whom prefer to label the figures as “Paleolithic pornography,” projecting today‚Äôs sexual behavior into the distant past. Because for nearly 2,000 years, male monotheism has been the dominant religious pattern, the idea that ancient humans honored a goddess as their primary divinity is unsettling to many, scholars and nonscholars alike.

From the book Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines. Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Monaghan. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.


What’s Holding You Back?

3 artPurpleGate2An Excerpt from Paradise in Plain Sight by Karen Maezen Miller

Fear is what holds you back from everything.

There’s some lore about the gates outside Zen monasteries in the old days. Any seeker was refused at the gate until his intentions were clear. This might take several days or a week, each day the pilgrim making entreaties and the gatekeeper holding him back. What was going on there? Was this a way to screen out troublemakers and half-wits? No, there are plenty of those inside monasteries! Was it simply a show of rudeness? On the contrary, it was extreme kindness. Of elitism? Hardly. Anybody can enter. To pass the barrier, you have to drop your ambivalence and cynicism. Your clever self-deceptions, excuses, and ulterior motives. You have to be ready, even desperate, before you propel yourself beyond your own fear.

Then, of course, it’s easy, because the gate isn’t really a gate. Fear is a false barrier. It’s nothing but a gaping hole you step through.

On the other side, the teacher is waiting.

Four years earlier, I’d entered a different gate and met a great teacher. He had died, but while I stood at this threshold, he was not far from my mind. He was never far from my mind.

Taizan Maezumi Roshi was the product of an archaic system of Zen Buddhist patriarchy in Japan, where temples operated as family enterprises. One of seven brothers raised at his father’s temple in Otawara, Japan, he was ordained as a priest at age eleven and studied literature and philosophy at the university. After that, he did two things uncommon for both his time and our own: he took his mother’s last name, Maezumi, and he took the practice of Zen Buddhism seriously.

He’d lost respect for blind authority; he wanted to part with dead customs. After his institutional training, he sought instruction from radical masters, testing firsthand the truth of a timeless teaching. In 1956, at age twenty-five, he sailed for America, intending to spread the practice of Zen in a country hostile to both his nation and his faith. He was posted as a priest at a small temple in Los Angeles that served a diminishing and demoralized population of Japanese Americans.

His reputation grew. He attracted students from all over the world. He was revered by some, dismissed by others, and misunderstood by most. He was still there, in a dinky house in a dumpy part of town, on September 23, 1993, when I knocked on the door, afraid to say how afraid I was.

“I’m lost,” I said, in so many words.

As if anyone got there any other way.

At this fragile point in my life I was between addresses, between careers, between marriages, between youth and the brittle aftermath of youth, beyond shame, without better judgment, and with nowhere else to go. But I’m not here to tell that story again.

He invited me to sit down, the very thing I feared most of all. It hardly makes sense that sitting still and quiet for eight hours a day in a meditation hall teaches you to stand up and put one foot in front of the other, but that’s what Zen practice does. It is possible to traverse a great distance while your mind stands absolutely still. To alter your life entirely while doing next to nothing.

“Your life is your practice,” he said to me, and it was true. My life had never moved farther or faster than it did after he’d taught me to sit down and let it happen. Now here I was in front of another gate, the cusp of a universe without fear. We all stand on a spot like this, every moment of our lives, facing the only universe we will ever know, and most of the time we turn back toward familiar haunts — the scary stories inside our heads. That’s how we turn the gates of heaven into our own eternal damnation.

Is it even possible to live in a universe without fear?

I wish more people would ask.

Anxiety disorders are the number one diagnosis of the mental health industry. Each year, about 40 million American adults seek treatment for debilitating fear and dread. Now children are swelling their ranks. In one recent year, 85 million prescriptions were filled for the leading antianxiety drugs. Antidepressant use has quadrupled over the last twenty years. About one in ten people suffer from chronic sleeplessness. Deaths from prescription painkillers are epidemic and higher than those from illegal narcotics. There are 140 million people in the world with alcoholism. In America, heavy drinking is the third leading preventable cause of death. These numbers may not be completely accurate, but they are entirely true. If they don’t apply to you, then they apply to people you know and love, people you live with or used to live with, people barely alive or dead too soon.

We live stupefied by our own deep terror, our unmet fears. Out of fear, we crush our own spirits, break our own hearts and — if we don’t stop — rot our own flesh.

How do we end up like this? I don’t know why we reach for noxious cocktails to drown our fear and pain, but we all do, and they don’t work. Every time we turn away from what is right in front of us we are headed in the wrong direction. So don’t turn away.

It’s not easy. There are no shortcuts or detours. No one can tell you how to fast-forward your bliss. If they do, they’re just making it up. I found out for myself that none of the secret formulas work. That’s why I won’t tell you how to fix a relationship, guarantee your happiness, or realize your passion. I can’t repair your past or re-engineer your future. I don’t know the alchemy that turns fiction into fact or pain into pleasure. There is no sure thing. I can only ask this: What are you ignoring? What are you resisting? What part of your life have you locked out and sealed shut? And I am not talking about something invisible and unspeakable. Just take a look at what is right in front of you — the obvious and unavoidable — and step foot there. All that is ever required of us is that we lift one foot and place it in front of the other.

I didn’t learn everything from that old teacher, but he taught me how to keep going, so I’ll share that much with you.

When you come to the gate, keep going. Keep going straight on.

Karen Maezen Miller is the author of Hand Wash Cold, Momma Zen, and most recently Paradise in Plain Sight. She’s also a Zen Buddhist priest, meditation teacher, wife, and mother. Visit her online at www.karenmaezenmiller.com.

Excerpted from Paradise in Plain Sight © 2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com.


Ten Things to Nurture Your Zen “Garden”

art2An Excerpt from Paradise in Plain Sight
by Karen Maezen Miller

In the early summer of 1997, my husband and I found ourselves in the backyard of an empty house on a quiet street in Sierra Madre, a suburb of Los Angeles. The backyard was Southern California’s oldest private Japanese garden, an oasis of ponds and pines that had stood mostly intact since 1916. It seemed like paradise with our name written all over it. We knew in our bones that the place could only be ours, and with it, the little house alongside it. The next day we put money down and a month later, moved in.

Once we arrived, we hit the bookstores and local nurseries. We studied up on Japanese gardens: their esoteric architecture, history and symbolism; and the very special way to rake, weed, prune, plant and water. We sought opinions, called in experts, and asked for conservative estimates—ha! —to redo this or that. The more we learned, the more we doubted. It was too much work. We were fools, without the right tools, training, or time. No wonder no one wanted to buy this place but us.

It wasn’t paradise, but a colossal pain in the neck.

One day I ran across a single line in a thick book that made it all simple. It told the original meaning of the word “paradise” before it became a mythical ideal, imaginary and unattainable. Before it pointed somewhere else.

The word “paradise” originally meant simply an enclosed area.

Inside the word are its old Persian roots: pairi-, meaning “around,” and -diz “to create (a wall).” The word was first given to carefully tended pleasure parks and menageries, the sporting ground of kings. Later, storytellers used the word in creation myths, and it came to mean the Eden of peace and plenty.

But looking at it straight on, I could plainly see. Paradise is a backyard. Not just my backyard, but everyone’s backyard: the entire world we live in, bounded only by how far we can see.

There was only one thing to do. I began to garden. I got scratched, tired, and dirty. I pouted and wept, cursing the enormity of the task. I was resentful and unappreciative. But when I ventured afield, sidelined by things that seemed much more entertaining or important, I always came back to this patch of patient earth. Time after time I realized that the living truth of life is taught to me right here, no farther than the ground beneath my feet.

Sixteen years later, I do not know the chemistry of soils or the biology of compost. I have not mastered the nomenclature; I do not know the right time or way to prune. What I have learned instead is this: paradise is a patch of weeds.

What loyal friends, these undesirables that infiltrate the lawn, insinuate between cracks, and luxuriate in the deep shade of my neglect. Weeds are everywhere, showing up every day, my most reliable underlings. Weeds keep me going.

The most common weeds in the yard are crabgrass, dandelion, and chickweed. The most common weeds in the world are greed, anger, and ignorance.

Here are ten things to do to spare your garden from stubborn entanglements:

1. Blame no one. Blame is a powerful barrier: like prickly thistle, it spreads pain and disaffection. Blame turns the garden into a menace.

2. Take no offense. Consider the energy we expend to prolong fictional injuries. How hard is it to get over what’s already over? I know: it’s hard. But there’s a way.

3. Forgive. Forgiveness reconciles the rift between self and other. Forgive someone today—forgive yourself today— and feel the rift recede. Suddenly, it’s much easier to move on.

4. Do not compare. Satisfy yourself with what you have in hand. It may not look like much, but this right here is everything.

5. Take off your gloves. A nurseryman once told me, “A real gardener doesn’t wear gloves.” Native intelligence flows through your fingertips, wisdom received in direct connection with the world, telling you know how deep to dig and how hard to pull, when to gather and when to release. Self-defenses make you timid and clumsy.

6. Forget yourself. The world needs a few less people to own their own greatness and few more to own their own humility. When you can face reality without camouflage, yours is the face of compassion.

7. Grow old. It isn’t easy, it’s effortless.

8. Have no answers. In Zen, we don’t find the answers; we lose the questions. It’s impossible to comprehend the marvel of what we are, or to understand the mystery of life’s impeccable genius. Weed out the confusion that comes from trying to understand.

9. Seek nothing. Just for one moment take my word that you lack nothing. Have faith in yourself and the ground where you stand.

10. Go back to 1. The gardener’s job is always just beginning.

Karen Maezen Miller is the author of Hand Wash Cold, Momma Zen, and most recently Paradise in Plain Sight. She’s also a Zen Buddhist priest, meditation teacher, wife, and mother. Visit her online at www.karenmaezenmiller.com.

Excerpted from Paradise in Plain Sight © 2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com.


You are Born

Art 1zen-again1An Excerpt from Paradise in Plain Sight by Karen Maezen Miller

For everyone.

You are born.

Let’s consider the facts before we get carried away.

You are born and no one—neither doctor, scientist, high priest nor philosopher—knows where you came from. The whole world, and your mother within it, was remade by the mystery of your conception. Her body, mind and heart were multiplied by a magical algorithm whereby two become one and one becomes two.

You inhale and open your eyes. Now you are awake.

By your being, you have attained the unsurpassable. You have extinguished the fear and pain of the past, transcended time, turned darkness to light, embodied infinite karma, and carried forth the seed of consciousness that creates an entire universe. All in a single moment.

Now that you are here, you manifest the absolute truth of existence. You are empty and impermanent, changing continuously, turning by tiny degrees the wheel of an endless cycle. Just a month from now, your family will marvel at the growing heft of your body. They will delight in the dawn of your awareness. You will grab a finger and hold tight, turn your head, pucker your lips and eat like there’s no tomorrow. You will smile. Six months from now, the newborn will be gone. Within a year, you will be walking the earth as your dominion. And although your caregivers might think that they taught you to eat, walk and talk, these attributes emerged intuitively from your deep intelligence.

You are born completely endowed with the marvelous function of the awakened mind. You are a miracle. You are a genius. You eat when hungry and sleep when tired.

You are a Buddha. But in the same way you will forget the circumstances of your birth, you will forget the truth of your being. And by forgetting what you are, you will suffer in the painful, fruitless search to become something else, striving against your own perfection to feel whole and secure. By your attachment to desires, you will squander the chance of infinite lifetimes: the chance to be born in human form. Luckily, the chance to be reborn—to wake up—arises every moment. Your body is the body of inexhaustible wisdom. When will you realize it?

Every moment is the birth of enlightenment and the death of delusion. If you don’t believe it, have a baby. Or, simply notice in each instant that you are giving life to a world that is brand new. Mothers face fear, sickness and pain to be handed a crowning glory: the opportunity to bring a new life home and leave an old life behind. We are each, no matter what, given this gift right now.

To be sure, birth is not apart from death, not its opposite, not its foe, but synchronous: one thing.

In giving birth, we lose is what we no longer need: the beliefs of who and what we are and what we can and can’t do. Parents learn, by a painful transformation, that life is not ours alone, not measured by centimeters, not defined by what we like, want or think. We get a good look at how much trouble we cause; how stubborn, selfish and terrified we are; and how much growing up we still have to do.

I have so much growing up to do.

We learn the true nature of love as effortless and abiding, flowing naturally and forgiving everything. This love is compassion, and it is born when we are no longer deceived by appearances: the illusion that “I” exist separate from “you,” the “you” that I blame when I am selfish and angry. Compassion is the fearless essence of life. It endures, enhances and sustains itself. It is good.

As a parent, I have learned that I have limitless love to give, and I can start by loving myself. I can love, trust, and care for my own body. I can illuminate my own mind and open my own heart. I can change habits, practice discipline, overcome fears, and quiet my criticism. I can be generous. I can give myself away. Above all, I can keep from harming my child and anyone’s child. After all, we are the children of one another, interconnected and interdependent. By our practice, we learn to parent ourselves and care for everyone.

The facts of life keep reappearing even while we are carried away by blind fear and distraction. So here is another chance.

You are born. You inhale and open your eyes. Now, are you awake?

In honor of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, born Feb. 24, 1931.

Karen Maezen Miller is the author of Hand Wash Cold, Momma Zen, and most recently Paradise in Plain Sight. She’s also a Zen Buddhist priest, meditation teacher, wife, and mother. Visit her online at www.karenmaezenmiller.com.

Excerpted from Paradise in Plain Sight © 2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com.