Sunday, July 25, 2010

Finding the Goddess – No Matter What

I became a Wiccan when the Goddess suddenly came alive in my heart through the magick of nature’s bounty, from her brilliant foliage to all wild creatures – the Sacred Circle of vibrant creation.

She is so real, so close, that I can honestly feel the actual touch of Her gentle hand guiding me, and can almost – almost – see the details of Her sweet, ever-changing face.

So, what happens when you’re a Wiccan who connects to the Goddess and God through nature and ritual but can no longer explore Their glorious world through either of these? What happens when you are unable to stroll on the beach, explore the wilderness, walk through a meadow, or skim the perfect stone (flat, of course, with just the right round, smoothness to perfectly fit the gentle curve of your forefinger) across a lake for a minimum of five long-arcing skips?

I face those questions every day because I have been losing my ability to walk; to stand for very long; and to move my shoulder, arms and fingers in one arm for anything that requires the barest amount of control.

As a result, I can no longer attend the occasional Coven meeting (I am a Solitary Practitioner, Eclectic Wiccan, so I have no Coven membership); dance with joy under a Full Moon; celebrate the festivals; cast a Sacred Circle; manipulate my Altar tools; prepare the seasonal (Sabbats and Esbats) gifts successfully; make Wiccan jewelry; carve or inscribe candles for spells; or even bundle herbs and make infused oils.

Nor can I chase little children through sprinklers on long, hot summer days amidst their squeals of delight – ending the evening by landing fireflies on my hand for just a magical moment.

I have Lupus, a progressive disease. Now, I can only view the Lady’s and Lord’s astounding glories – like the changing of the seasons, stunning sunsets, or the wondrous activities of the birds, squirrels, deer, even skunks – from the patio of my small backyard; or worse yet, from the window of a moving car.

As I write this, the reality of my “life” causes my stomach to clinch with a fear so palpable that it threatens to overwhelm my reason. But then, faith is not based on reality, or reason, is it? It exists on a completely different plane, it frankly speaks to a part of ourselves that is the antithesis of logic.

Just what is the meaning of my life – any life for that matter?

That age-old, rather trite question is one that each of us has asked in one way or another at one time or another. I was batting this question around with a dear friend, SurviveSurvival who just happens to be a scientist and an artist – pretty cool combo, right? He also knows all about my condition, and is continuing to survive his own health issues.

As it happened, I had just watched a rare TV interview of famed, off-the-chart-brilliant, theoretical-physicist, British Professor Stephen W. Hawking.

Hawking, 68, suffers from ALS, a fatal condition commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was diagnosed while at Oxford at age 22.

At the time, his professors and educators were beginning to appreciate just how special he is. “It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it. [...] He didn't have very many books, and he didn't take notes. Of course, his mind was completely different from all of his contemporaries,” said Robert Berman, his physics tutor.

Doctors told him he wouldn’t live another two years – and he’s still here. Up to 1974, he was able to feed himself, and get in and out of bed without assistance. In 1985, he caught pneumonia, had to have a tracheotomy operation that removed his ability to speak altogether. Despite that, using a special computer, he has written numerous books, including the award-winning A Brief History of Time, articles and so much more.

His physical condition has also deteriorated progressively. Now, he can only communicate by moving a single muscle in his cheek that stimulates a signal on a special computer. It is the only muscle that he can still consistently control.

“I am quite often asked: How do you feel about having ALS? The answer is, not a lot. I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many,” he says on his website.

“I have had motor neurone disease for practically all my adult life. Yet it has not prevented me from having a very attractive family, and being successful in my work. This is thanks to the help I have received from Jane, my children, and a large number of other people and organizations. I have been lucky, that my condition has progressed more slowly than is often the case. But it shows that one need not lose hope,” he said.

The last question he was asked in the TV interview was: If he could receive the answer to any of the questions he's sought for so long as a scientist, what would it be? His response: Why we are here; why there is even existence at all.

That is the very question that scientists and all religious seekers (including me) have pursued and will continue to pursue until entropy overtakes everything, and nothingness again rules the cosmos. At that moment, I was reminded that it is not the question or even the answer that defines us but its pursuit, and it does so through the glass darkly or lightly, depending on the person that each of are continuing to become.

I believe that mythology, all religions, and even science strives to provide the answer to that precise question. But those answers are embraced, absorbed, related to or rejected – via various degrees in specific and even unique ways that are based solely on our own personal world views, experience, education, and cultures. What makes sense to me in terms of the ultimate Cosmic question as a middle-aged white woman, may not make any sense to someone of a different age, who lives in a different culture, ethnicity, etc.

I had an unconventional upbringing, which I believe made it much easier for me to be flexible and question every single major religion and philosophy. When I found Wicca, I suddenly released a breath I hadn’t know that I’d been holding for so long that my face had become a permanent blue. It was like searching endlessly for a single missing part of a jigsaw puzzle, then simply tripping over it.

All of those answers from all ancient sources have evolved over millennia, but that core question remains, doesn’t it? Professor Hawking said that scientists use observation and reason to find the answer, while metaphysical/religious seekers use more subjective measures. A trace of a smile touched his face as he asserted that because of their methods, scientists will always be right!

While I disagree with his conclusion, his message resonants to me on so many levels partly because he still cares about the answer – passionately! Despite his broken body, his mind and spirit remain utterly unbowed, his life as precious to him as the day he was born.

The beauty of Wicca for me is that it underscores that no one person or path, religious or scientific, is right or wrong. It doesn’t seek to convert or condemn, but simply to provide a means to live each moment, to feel the pulse of the planet in our very cells.

Another famous scientist from a much earlier era, Paracelsus, summed it up, “Magic has the power to experience and fathom this which are inaccessible to human reason. For magic is a great secret wisdom; and reasoning against it is nothing else but extreme folly.”

For those unfamiliar with Paracelsus, he was an enigmatic sixteenth-century Swiss physician and natural philosopher Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. Called Paracelsus, he is known for the almost superhuman energy with which he produced his innumerable writings, for his remarkable achievements in the development of science, and for his reputation as a visionary (not to mention sorcerer) and alchemist.

The importance of Paracelsus, who lived from 1493 to 1541, lies in the link that he provided between medieval and scientific thought. Believing in and practicing alchemy, magic, astrology and various divinatory techniques, he was also “the first modern scientist,” and the “precursor of microchemistry, antisepsis, modern wound surgery, homeopathy and a number of ultra-modern achievements.”

And, what of Professor Hawking? He is almost certain that alien life exists in other parts of the universe and uses a mathematical basis for his assumptions. "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like."

My, wouldn’t those two men have had the most incredible discussions?

Me? Ironically, it is thanks to these two scientists that I have been reminded of the most important lesson of all: It isn’t the religious trappings, physical abilities, or even a specific God, non-God or science to follow, or even to rail against, it is what is what each of us holds in our hearts that matter.

[Above: Professor Stephen W. Hawking experiences zero-gravity in April 2007 while in a modified Boeing 727 jet that simulated the experience of weightlessness as it took a series of eight plunges. He was able to float free for about four minutes, unrestricted by his paralyzed muscles and his wheelchair.]

Here are a just a few of Professor Hawking’s awards and honors:

1975 Eddington Medal
1976 Hughes Medal of the Royal Society
1979 Albert Einstein Medal
1981 Franklin Medal
1982 Order of the British Empire (Commander)
1985 Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
1986 Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
1988 Wolf Prize in Physics
1989 Prince of Asturias Awards in Concord
1989 Companion of Honour
1999 Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society
2003 Michelson Morley Award of Case Western Reserve University
2006 Copley Medal of the Royal Society
2008 Fonseca Price of the University of Santiago de Compostela
2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States

He and his wife, Jane, have three adult children.

[Above: Portrait of Paracelsus by renowned artist Quentin Massys (Metsys), who lived 1466–1530.]

Here is a bit more about Paracelsus:

He believed that it was far more important to contemplate nature and the majesty of God's handiworks than to spend all one's time studying the knowledge that could be found in books.

Medicine during the Middle Ages was greatly influenced by Galen who sought to study anatomy and physiology by using an animal as a cadaver; however this proved to be an insufficient model of the true anatomy of the human body. Furthermore, Galen’s hypothesis that the body had two blood systems and diseases could be cured by looking deeper into the four humors in the body proved to be grossly erroneous. When Paracelsus, Vesalius, and Harvey came onto the medical scene during the 16th and 17th century, medicine started to evolve into a more precise and exact science.

Paracelsus’ methods were based on a new chemical philosophy, in contrast, the universities were still using traditional Galen’s principles and Paracelsus did not agree with this method of teaching.

His methods were based on experimentation and a chemical philosophy based on the harmony of man (the microcosm) and Nature (macrocosm). Paracelsus believed that actions that occurred within the body were the result of the universe, on a smaller scale of course.

This notion, although it deterred from Galen’s previous findings, was that chemical imbalances in the body were found in certain organs and could be treated with specific remedies. These, of course, proved that imbalances of the four humors were not the underlying factors in diagnosing certain illnesses.

This prompted Paracelsus to start dedicating his time to producing chemicals and minerals that could be used in certain doses for specific ailments. He did meet opposition, as many believed he was infecting patients with the same disease they had in order to cure it, and this may in fact have been right. In all actuality, his findings have made him the father of modern medicine, and to some of the Scientific Revolution, the first person to study in depth homeopathic and holistic medicine.

He was also a prolific writing, publishing more than 200 volumes of material, including De Occulta Philosophia. The most well known in the U.S. is a two-volume collection of his most famous material, The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings Of Paracelsus.

— Danu’s Daughter

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