As Within, So Without: Making Daily, Mundane Activities Spiritual, by Alaric Albertsson
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
As within, so without.
These Hermetic truisms have been embraced by Pagans from many different paths. Most of us accept that all things are connected: microcosm and macrocosm, inner and outer. We understand that the physical world is a reflection of the spiritual world, and vice versa. And yet, after the ritual is over and the chalice has been rinsed out, many people seem to put their spirituality on a shelf, separate from their "real" lives.
This was at the forefront of my mind when I wrote To Walk a Pagan Path. I firmly believe that our spirituality should be expressed throughout our lives, and that our lives do indeed affect our spirituality. As within, so without. As without, so within. To be fully Pagan is to live one's spirituality every day of the year, not just on the night of the full moon or at your kindred's faining. We can fill each day with Pagan activities that connect us with our souls, our planet, and each other.
What exactly is a "Pagan activity?" Well, that depends on who you are and where you live, and is largely a matter of attitude. A friend of mine expresses her Pagan spirituality through painting. The act of applying pigments to canvas is not innately Pagan, but each of Aurora's paintings is a spell, a work of magic expressing her will and desire. Aurora attends coven rituals and has even led her own group, but her spirituality does not end there. Through painting, she allows her soul to express itself, and the very act of doing this helps her to remain connected to that inner spirit.
Almost everyone in my inhíred brews mead. (An inhíred is a Saxon household, similar to a "coven," but the practice of magic is optional.) The act of brewing is devotional, because much of the resulting honey wine is given as libations to our gods and ancestors. Our brewers are quite talented; two of my kinsmen have even been asked to speak at Pagan gatherings and share their brewing secrets. Brewing, like painting, is not innately Pagan. It is the attitude behind it that makes this, in my mind, a Pagan activity.
Craft projects—whether they involve painting, brewing, writing, or cooking—are great venues for expressing our spirituality, but almost everything we do can be transformed into sacred experiences if we are mindful of our actions.
In To Walk a Pagan Path I give numerous examples of common, daily events—waking, showering, eating, going to bed—that can become uplifting rituals. Perhaps the best way to do this is to keep a journal for a week or two, recording every activity you perform each day—everything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Then go over that list and see how you can approach each activity as if it were a ritual. My list of activities for today has consisted of waking up, feeding the dogs, feeding the birds, eating breakfast, taking a shower, doing laundry, answering email, and finishing up this article. And the day is still young! Most of these things seem inconsequential and uninteresting, and yet all of them are important because they are each a part of my life. In the same way, your own list of activities is a reflection of your life.
In more spiritual terms: I gave thanks this morning for a new day (when I woke), connected with my familiars (while they had breakfast), then gave thanks for the earth's bounty (when I had my own breakfast), and performed two rites of renewal (as I showered and started the laundry) before sitting down at the computer this morning. What could have been routine actions were instead elevated to more meaningful significance. Even now, at the computer, I am wearing a specific talisman that I use when writing, and I began this session with a brief prayer to the Anglo-Saxon god Woden, who governs magic and inspiration. In all of these actions I am infusing the material world with my spirituality.
As within, so without.
But what of the reverse flow? As without, so within. Just as your spirituality can enhance your mundane life and give it more meaning, your physical activities have the power to enhance your spirituality.
We all know that the environment has an effect on how we feel and perform. Certain colors tend to soothe and calm us. Music can incite pleasure, peace, anger, joy, or lust. A person's mood is often affected by the amount of light to which he or she is exposed. The eastern science of feng shui addresses the effect of the environment in architecture and design.
There are many aspects of our environment over which we have little or no control. Whether you rent or own, your home is whatever you can afford, and it is unlikely that you had any role in its design. Most people have very little control over their work or school environments. But there is one aspect of the "outer" world that you do control, and that is your own choice of actions.
I have always been a strong advocate of Pagans touching or connecting with the earth in some way. The earth, after all, is the primal source of our spirituality. Historical Pagan rituals—from the early English Æcerbot charm to the Eleusinian rites of Demeter and Persephone—concern themselves with the earth's cycles and rhythm. Pagan religions all over the world evolved from a deep and familiar relationship with the earth. It stands to reason, then, that any activity that causes you to physically interact with the earth can enhance your Pagan spirituality.
Growing a portion of your food, however small, is a great way to do this. Not only do you develop a more familiar, intimate relationship with the earth, you are also reclaiming your role in providing for yourself. The amount of food you produce may be miniscule, perhaps no more than a few tomatoes or some lettuce, but in consuming that food you will be taking the very essence of the land into your body. Even if you have nothing more than an apartment balcony, a small crop of strawberries and culinary herbs can be harvested every year. When you grow some of your own food, special times like the spring equinox and Lammas become more meaningful as you discover, first hand, how they relate to your regional growing season.
You may enjoy this enough to expand your vegetable garden next year, and maybe put in a few blueberry bushes or a dwarf apple tree. Or maybe gardening is not your thing at all, and that is all right, too. There are other ways to personally connect with the earth.
If you do not suffer from apiphobia (fear of bees) or have an allergy to venom, maintaining a beehive is certainly as rewarding as growing vegetables and fruits. You will still be engaged in an activity directly affected by the earth's rhythms, and you will still harvest a food product filled with the essence of the land. A single hive will, in a good year, produce a remarkable quantity of honey. In the 1990s I had two hives, and every September we would set up carboys of mead (honey wine) to brew after we had extracted our annual honey harvest. The beeswax from the comb caps went into our ritual candles.
You do not have to live in a rural area to keep bees, but you do have to know what you are doing and be aware of any local ordinances that may restrict how many hives you can have and where they can be placed. If you want to pursue this fascinating activity, contact your local beekeepers' association.
I prefer activities like these that produce food, because it is so rewarding to be a part of the food cycle just as our ancestors were, but there are other things you can do to connect with the earth that are unrelated to food production.
Perhaps you would enjoy nurturing your local avian population. Set out a bird feeder and get a bird identification book to learn what species are found in your region. When do the migratory species depart, and when do they return in the spring? Learn about their habits and needs. Build and set out a few birdhouses. My grandfather transformed his property into a haven for wrens and purple martins by providing for their needs. By observing, studying, and caring for birds you will be connecting with the earth in a very real way.
This activity need not be restricted to birds. There might be a mammal in your area that you would like to encourage and nurture. In recent years bat houses have become more popular now that people are beginning to realize how beneficial these tiny flying mammals are. A small artificial pool can provide a home for frogs or toads. The idea is to step out of your heated and air conditioned enclosure and interact with living things that depend directly on the earth's rhythms. Any activity that brings you in contact with the earth, that takes you into the natural environment, will have an effect on your spiritual being.
As without, so within.
Of course you do not have to do any of this, but consider your actions and how your spirit is related to the surrounding world. Do you want to go through life disconnected from the earth, stumbling through routine, meaningless activities? Or do you want a life filled with purpose and meaning? Invest at least some of your time in activities that enhance your spirituality, and remember to let your inner spirit enhance every moment of your day.
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2014. All rights reserved.