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This is my three months old draft of the Mental Discipline requirement. I've had clergy read it and I am perfectly aware by now that it has to be reworked to pass. I appreciate your input though, because some told me the essay is very good as it is, it's just not what the Dedicant Program asks for. So, here it is, a somewhat intimate piece of mine.

In the following paragraphs, I would like to introduce the findings I have made during my Pagan years about various methods of mental discipline.

Since I´ve been practising some form of mental discipline for a long time, I have tried to come up with a more complex, specifically Pagan view of my experience during my Dedicant year and sum up the types of mental discipline I have been exposed to and my development.

Divination

I think the mental training method I am most familiar with, and have practised it for years now, is the trance that goes along with divination. I say some type of trance is a must-need for successful divination. The funny thing is even though I value this skill of mine very much, I don´t remember when did I learn it. I suspect it was when I got my pack of Crowley´s Thoth Tarot with a book when I was eleven. I suppose at that age my mind was open to unusual ideas and I was eager to learn.

It came to pass that last summer, at the same time I joined ADF, I felt the need to buy a different pack of Tarot, for the first time in my life. I listened to the call and picked up Psycards, a sort of Jungian archetypal pack done in medieval-like style. Exactly what I needed, it resonated with me.

Today I sit for divination once a week if not more often, and I write down the results and my thoughts on that. It´s an invaluable tool to track the patterns of one´s life and attune more to the net we are all a part of. I can´t imagine my life without divination.

Prayer

Prayer was a totally different topic for me, as I felt very hesitant to pray after I became an apostate from Catholicism. I can remember reading The Mysteries of Isis, reciting the prayer and – phew! – it actually worked. I have prayed to the Dark Mother at time of greatest need, but that was like the limit where I could take it.
Reviving the practice has been one of the major changes the Dedicant year has brought to my spiritual life.1 I now pray sometimes every evening before I go to sleep and I can see the amazing results. I would never have thought that regular prayer to a Deity brings such a visible presence of Their blessing into one´s life. It´s still sort of new for me and I wish to continue exploring.

Yoga

I started doing exercise self-taught from a book some years ago. What yoga has given to me is a much greater sense of bodily connection. Awareness of my body´s cycles such as digestion. One interesting outcome of this new awareness is that my body started to reject meat.

I try to practice several asanas at least once a week. I have to be mindful, because my back condition is fragile.
Autogenous Training (Self-hypnosis)

I was re-introduced to autogenous training this year in spa, where we had regular training sessions to master this type of meditation that is proven to relieve all sorts of health conditions. While the proponents seem to avoid calling it self-hypnosis, I really see no difference. In the basic exercise you concentrate on the feelings of heaviness, then “charge” your body with warmth (energy). Additional sentences can be sensitively tailored to your actual problem (e.g. a steady, calm heartbeat for panic attacks, a calm, cool forehead for migraines). In the closing section you take the raised energy and send it to the weakest point of your body. (It´s funny anyway how mental health professionals write tomes about and cherish the most basic Pagan mental training/healing techniques.2 )

The Attunement


Occultists often spend good amount of time and energy classifying psychic phenomena. My personal understanding is much more holistic and less exact. It encompasses nature awareness, communion with the spirits, healing and even some more obscure stuff, like distant sight and reading the past of a place or thing.

One thing I can tell for sure is that the lines between theological categories get extremely blurry once you get into the right state of mind. Our ancestors were much more immersed in the magical world-view and exercises like sitting behind a tree, trying to feel it, would seem absurd to them.

To me there is just a single attunement (awareness),3 which yields various results depending on the subject of your concentration and the environment. It may come as a vision of the past of the place, a notion of the local spirits, the health of the plants or feeling of presence of other animals. It may concern the emotions of other people, their health and whereabouts. We classify attunement under psychic phenomena, because it brings information and knowledge that would otherwise not be accessible to us, using only the five senses. This knowledge can, for example, concern a distant person or a past event.

I haven´t mastered these skills to the point of beings able to attune when the order is given. (Professional healers and witches can do that.) It comes spontaneously. One important notion I´ve made is that to some people this psychic skill feels like a real curse, because they tend to catch whatever information there is around, typically pain and sense of imminent danger, in such an intensity that they can´t refuse it. I am blessed to have some built-in protection that prevents me from getting this. Which brings me to the topic of possession.

Possession and Inspiration

Possession can be seen a special, more advanced derivative of this attunement skill, when you open the boundaries of your psyche and surrender the sense of self-awareness in order to fully channel a Deity (or some other numinous being). The difference between simple attunement and possession is that you approach the subject of your effort as a being with own personality and will, that will interfere with or take over your own.

If there is one thing we modern people fear, in religious and other context, it´s loosing your will and sense of Self. So, unlike other methods of mental discipline, possession has acquired a controversial reputation among Neopagans. Luckily for us, the state of possession can be described as a continuum.

If the self-awareness of the subject is full, we talk about the state of inspiration. I personally write liturgies in the state of inspiration. Druids see this skill as important to our rites where we perform the sacred arts, since the Call for Inspiration which can be found in many of our liturgies.

When there is a perceivable lose in the sense of Self, we talk about partial possession. I have a reason to believe Bonewits when he writes that “complete possession is relatively rare”.4 On the other hand I have talked to Catholic exorcists and Afro-Caribbean Pagans who consider the phenomenon more spread than we wish to acknowledge.5 It came to pass that when I was recently praying to my patron (Hecaté), I became partially possessed. Unfamiliar with an experience of such intensity, I didn´t know what to do and eventually frightened my flat mate.

So, perhaps it would be beneficial if we shattered some of the lurid connotations the word has acquired and explored the practices of our Pagan ancestors without prejudice. I have once witnessed a young Neopagan shaman to channel sacred poetry and songs and it was pretty much unforgettable.6 On the Lughnasadh ritual I´ve seen that getting immersed into the sacred drama to the point of possession can indeed be a powerful religious experience. On the other hand, I´ve also seen people whom I believe to be partially possessed by powers I would address as Outdwellers. In any case, we as Pagans should definitely deepen our understanding of various mental training methods, their nature and boundaries and always seek them in a pious attitude.

Prophecy


I perceive precognition and prophecy to be the most advanced variety of the attunement skill. It is, in a sense, attuning directly to the world Order (Fate) itself.7 (Known by whatever names in various ethnic Paganisms.) Although common to the world of the ancients, we don´t see many prophets in the Neopagan movement. (Or we just shun the word because of its Judeo-Christian connotations?) I have glimpses of the future, sometimes, but I am no way gifted with prophecy. I rather stick to the routine divination and consulting the Owl-Eyed Lady who knows better.

Ecstatic Dance


Another area relatively unexplored by me is the realm of ecstatic dance, perhaps because I lack possibilities to practice it in a Pagan context. We don´t have Pagan musicians and festivals. The capital city is full of bars and clubs, but the environment is too secular for me, I´m uncomfortable with all the alcohol, drugs and flirting.

I used to do belly dance, but then I left because I felt nauseated by the direction the more advanced students were heading – I felt it has strayed too far from the original intent, which was for me to dance the joy of life and my womanhood, not to perform artificial casino-like shows for the crowd almost naked. I had some deeply odd experiences when dancing, as if I have recalled an experience of me dancing, but more ancient and powerful. I suddenly understood what do Pagans mean when they say they feel they have done this before. I also understood that Bast, my patron, wants me to dance in her honor, but not in secular context. Hopefully I will get the chance to explore this path in the future.

The Ordeal Path


The Ordeal Path, as described by Pagan author Raven Kaldera, is essentially BDSM approached from a spiritual, Pagan perspective.8 I am aware that listing this under mental training techniques might shock some – especially in comparison to the largely accepted methods of meditation, praised even by our mental health professionals and general public, given in the DP manual – but as Kaldera writes “Primitive cultures have used physical and emotional and sexual ordeals in order to achieve altered states a lot more often than we westerners would like to admit. We can utilize some of their techniques, but their contexts are often opaque to us, as we weren´t raised in their cultures. We need to create our own set of ordeal rituals that resound with our experiences...”9

I´ve never been able to induce such state of complete bodily consciousness and relaxation by any other means, and this notion disturbs me. (Should it?) Regular divination, prayer and nature attunement have brought me a great lot of good and as I imagine a lot of deepening of the work lies ahead of me... but I won´t be able to put this topic aside for a much longer time. It has started to call.

Somewhat similar to prayer, I´ve been regular to try entering a regular practice, in this case not because of former stigma, but because of fear where would it lead.

Mental Training and the Path Ahead

Wherever the path will lead me, I know for sure that it will be a full-contact, skin-close experience once I immerse myself fully. Mental training never was, especially in the times of our Druid ancestors, a nicely polished, well-arranged set of exercises to perform and record in a diary.10 Also I doubt the mind was seen as something to be trained separately from the rest. I can see the unfortunate influence of the image of the traditional western occultist and, to a lesser extent, the recent boom of Buddhist-type meditation practices. (I couldn´t think of a Neopagan at the moment who doesn´t have that romantic admire for Buddhism.)
In my overview of various techniques I have noted that while we (I) are skilled in some aspects of Pagan mental training (divination trance, inspiration in ritual context, prayer), some of the more advanced techniques stay foreign to us (prophecy), other are flat out rejected as politically-incorrect (possession, the ordeal path). We are loosing much by separating the mental and the physical realm when talking about mental training (the DP manual talks on several places about “training the mind”). Techniques that are inherently body engaging, like ecstatic dance, are somewhat left aside.11

There is yet much we can reclaim from our Pagan ancestors, but for the start I agree that learning to quieten oneself in the daily havoc is the point from which the more “wildening” techniques can be approached.
  1. And I am happy to have The Pagan Book of Prayer proudly standing on my shelf. I needed a good apologetics read to dust off the practice as a Pagan.
  2. Take psychoanalysis, for example, where you have to study many years to be “initiated” into a technique that seems to me basically as guided meditations reconnecting you to powerful archetypal images (catatymic imagery).
  3. The Greek verb “pathein” as in “sympathy”, or “telepathy” has many meanings, including “to feel” and “to suffer”. I base my personal terminology on this root word. In this essay I use attunement or awareness.
  4. Isaac Bonewits, Neopagan Rites, Llewellyn, 2007
  5. Naturally, the exorcists take a vastly different perspective of why it´s happening and attribute all evil to “the rise of occult”.
  6. Just like many others, I recognized that these things often cannot be taped.
  7. This notion was brought to me by Rev. Hyperion in his series on The Unnamed Path, Though it could be argued that BDSM in whole is a pseudo-religious phenomena.
  8. Raven Kaldera, Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path, Hubbardson, Massachussets: Asphodel Press, 2006, p. 1
  9. That is not to be taken as belittling any teachings of Our Druidry.
  10. Perhaps this is where the lack of festivals and personal communion with people of Our Druidry is missed most painfully. I assume this side of mental training is commonly practised on the festivals where drumming, dancing, etc. are common.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
druidkirk
Feb. 3rd, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
The Ordeal Path, as described by Pagan author Raven Kaldera, is essentially BDSM approached from a spiritual, Pagan perspective.8 I am aware that listing this under mental training techniques might shock some

Well, as you know, I practice this sort of altered state of consciousness myself, but I'm not sure how it fits under mental *discipline*. I suppose making oneself do it at all requires a certain measure of discipline, but does it actually discipline the mind?

To me, body stress to alter consciousness is more of an ecstatic practice for accessing the Otherworlds. But then, if you do this a lot, it probably fits into the DP's range for this question. Doing it certainly trains the mind to 'go there' (access the Otherworlds) more easily the more that you do it.

Hmmm. I may have just convinced myself that it does apply after all. (grin)
alvita_felis
Feb. 4th, 2009 09:34 am (UTC)
To me, body stress to alter consciousness is more of an ecstatic practice for accessing the Otherworlds. But then, if you do this a lot, it probably fits into the DP's range for this question. Doing it certainly trains the mind to 'go there' (access the Otherworlds) more easily the more that you do it.

Hmmm. I may have just convinced myself that it does apply after all. (grin)


Cool :) I know ecstatic practices are sort of marginal within ADF and there is not a strong mystical current so far, I believe you are an Initiate also? How is it going?
chronarchy
Feb. 9th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
I like this essay a lot, btw. It's very, very good.

And no, the BDSM stuff doesn't surprise me a bit. Sounds quite fascinating, in fact.
alvita_felis
Feb. 9th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
Do you suggest I should try submitting it for review? Or do some editing, or start something other from scratch?
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )