Incurred obligations & reciprocity

Gebo

Today as part of my personal rune studies I was considering the rune Gebo/Gyfu. This rune represents gifts given and obligations incurred. Among other things, it can symbolize the reciprocal nature of gifts. It seems the Norse believed that a gift calls for a gift. So if one is given a gift or done a favor then you are expected to gift something of similar value or return the favor in some way (similar to the Northwest Native peoples tradition of potlatch). Thinking about the nature of reciprocity and gifts made me wonder about past gifts and how they obligate me as an adult.

I’m not referring exclusively to presents given for special occasions such as birthdays. I’m talking about other, sometimes more intangible, gifts. For example I had a teacher for third and fourth grade, Sister Esther, who made a huge impact on me. She forced to try harder as a student. I was (and still am) a lazy student. I do what I need to in order to pass the course. I regularly wait until the last minute to complete assignments (unless I’m working with partners). Luckily for me this behavior had little impact on my grades. Even when I half-assed it I received good grades. However Sister Esther refused to accept any half-assing from me. She would push me and prod me to dig deeper for answers. It’s as if she knew the I had a lazy streak and would be satisfied with doing just enough work to get by. As a result of Sister Esther’s prodding, I developed skills that allowed me to half-half-ass it. I developed note taking techniques and study techniques that allowed me to remember facts and information so that I didn’t have to study very hard in order to pass tests. I learned how to read reference papers with an eye towards ignoring extraneous and non-essential (to me anyway) data. As a results I am still able to wait until the last minute to complete assignments but they’re still well done.

Hidden Realm 6 of Pentacles

Another teacher who influenced me was a religion teacher I had in high school. His name was Mr. McCommiskey and I truly believe I made his life miserable. I had his religion in my freshman year and it was right after lunch. I was often sleepy and would nod off. To avoid nodding off I took to reading during class. This frustrated the poor man and he would regularly confiscate my books. He finally asked me why I continued to read during his class and I explained that reading kept me awake. If I wasn’t reading then I would fall asleep. As long as I wasn’t disrupting and participated in class discussions, he never bothered me about this again. I mention Mr. McCommiskey because despite our rocky moments, he taught me so much about spirituality and not accepting the “official” version of events. He was a liberation theologist (this was the early 1980s and as I look back I am truly amazed at how blessed I was by my Catholic high school education). He often pointed out facts left out of the official version of events such as that women used to officiate at early Christian masses. He once led us in replicating what an early Christian mass might have included, along with making unleavened honey oat cakes for us to try. He tried to enlighten our remarkably uninterested teenage minds to the hypocrisy and inequality in the world (he had spend a few years in El Salvador). I truly believe this man is one of the reasons my spiritual path has explored so many areas. When I met him again at a recent high school reunion I made a point to seek him out and than him. I think he might have been touched by my appreciation (even though I admitted I was no long Catholic).

Victorian Trade Card 6 of Pentacles

On a deeper and different level I thought about my parents and the gifts they gave me. Despite their dysfunction, my parents did give me the gift of life and as a result dramatically changed their own lives. They taught me to think for myself (which I’m sure they had many occasions to regret) and to fight for what I believed. They taught me that family is important (something I did not appreciate during my teen years) and should be defended. They taught me that no matter how difficult and challenging things become we shouldn’t give up. From my mother’s side of the family I learned that family doesn’t walk away when things get bad. I watched as my grandmother, her eldest brother and visiting siblings cared for their mother (my great-grandmother) who was senile and unable to care for herself. They all worked together to keep her home and cared for until she passed away. My maternal grandmother survived burying two husbands (the first when she was only about 18), her 6 month old son (also when she was 18) and raising her only daughter by herself. She refused to break. She might have bent under the weight of her responsibilities on occasion but she didn’t give up. She was stubborn and strong-willed and I adored her.

So how can I honor and reciprocate such intangible gifts? The best way I can see is paying it forward. I now tend my ailing mother-in-law because of the gift my grandmother and her family gave me about understanding family obligations and responsibilities. Did they struggle? Of course they did, but they didn’t give up. Even though I was able to thank both the teachers I mentioned that doesn’t mean I can’t pay those gifts forward too. I have nieces and nephews. By teaching them to question and seek answers I hope that I am gifting them with a lifelong curiosity that will pay back the teachers who gifted it to me. There are many more instances I could mention but I think the point has been made. In so many ways we are all blessed in our lives; we are given many tangible and intangible gifts. We should be sure not to take them for granted and to reciprocate in kind in whatever way possible, or at least that what I’m going to try.

BoS As Above 10 of Water BoS As Above Elemental of Fire

Looking at the image of Hecate Trevia standing beneath an eclipsed moon, the song Black Hole Sun began playing in my head.  I got the sense that the extraterrestrials bring us a message from the dark side, the otherworld.  This card reinforce my belief that they serve the Dark Goddesses.  They bring messages from the dark world to the light.  This card also connects to Mabon, which I drew on Monday, because Hecate plays a role in the drama of Persephone and Demeter.  She is one of the Greek goddesses associated with the Otherworld.  She traverses the road between the worlds and can provide a bridge.  The torches she carries suggest that she can light the path through the darkness if we are wise enough to listen.

The Elemental of Fire shows a salamander winding along a path surrounded by lit torches or candles.  Again I get the sense of elemental energies that can help us navigate the pathways between our world and the Otherworld if we are wise enough to follow.  This salamander appears almost friendly as he walks towards us.  He is unafraid of the fire because he is of the fire just as he is unafraid of the Dark world because that is his native land.  If we fear the unknown, he can help us find our way through this dark land.

The fact that both these cards are reversed suggests that the extraterrestrials are growing tired with out refusal to listen and heed their message.  We may exist in different dimensions but our actions impact their world too.  They may not be able to directly influence us but they may be trying to warn us about potentially catastrophic consequences if we continue on this path.  Hecate offers us choices – there are three paths beneath the eclipsed moon/black hole sun.  Which path we take is up to us but she can help illuminate some of the consequences that will result from each choice, if we are willing to listen.

I also got a sense the Elemental of Fire can be quite dangerous if provoked.  I can’t say why but the image of volcanic eruptions flashed across my brain when thought about the reversed nature of this card.  He is trying to help us avoid such a fate but if we continue down this path the results might prove disastrous.

On another level, if I consider the more traditional meanings of these cards the extraterrestrials are trying to tell us that we are not one big happy family.  The relationship between our world and theirs is strained and in danger.  The Elemental of Fire may be showing that our immature attitude towards the energies we explore may prove dangerous.  Sometimes we become so wrapped up in the quest for knowledge we fail to see the potential negative consequences.  I think these cards are reminding us we need to maintain a healthy relationship with other creatures who share this planet (even those in alternate dimensions).  We also need to be more responsible in our approach to energy, creativity and ideas.  Before unleashing them on the world we should consider the potential dangers and consequences.  Of course we don’t necessarily need extraterrestrials to tell us this.

BoS As Above YuleBoS As Above 7 of Water

In honor of the full moon in Leo which starts today, I’ve changed decks.  So I’ll be using the Book of Shadows As Above Tarot for the next few days.

For today’s reading I drew Yule (Death in more traditional decks) and the 7 of Water.  In some Pagan traditions, Yule is a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun as well as signifying the power shift from the Holly King to the Oak King (or the Waning Year to the Waxing Year).  In the companion book Barbara Moore describes this time of year as one of faith.  We have faith that the sun will return and grow stronger; that the cold will soon be defeated by the warm of the sun.

In some Nordic Pagan traditions Yule honors the New Year (sort of).  Celebrations focus on the family and community, honoring mothers and remembering the ancestors as well as sharing tales of heroes and gods.

That is all well and good but how does it answer my question?  That’s easy – one of the ways I have realized I nurture love in my life (especially with the hubby) is that we have shared memories and experiences.  We regularly revisit neighborhood myths as well as our own memories.  We still talk about family, friends, and pets that have passed on and we keep their memories alive in our hearts.  This also helps us strengthen the bonds we share.  Having similar childhood experiences and growing up in the same terroir are nothing to sneeze at.  We understand each other at a deep level because we know how each other grew up and what the norms were in our neighborhood.

The 7 of Water shows Ma’at sitting before her scale with a feather ready to weigh a soul.  I think in this reading Ma’at is a reminder that to keep a loving relationship healthy one should be careful not to weigh one’s partner’s offenses with a heavy hand.  All relationships have rough patches, ugly spots and bad fights.  The only way to keep the relationship going is to truly forgive.  If you say the words but don’t actually mean them, the hard feelings built up and eventually tilt the balance.  The pile of bad stuff sends the relationship off-balance and we risk becoming focused on being right rather than being happy.  I realize there are some grievances that are unforgivable (and that will vary from person to person) but if you decide to forgive your partner then you need to release that negative energy.  If you clutch it to your breast and wait until the next offense to trot it out as “proof” that you are the one in the right you undermine the love that exists between you and tear it out at the roots.

I can’t count the times I’ve seen couples go through a rough patch (often involving infidelity) and the aggrieved partner claims to have forgiven the offender.  There is a happy reunion when all hurts are forgotten.  Then a few months down the road a minor argument explodes out of control and the aggrieved throws the offender’s betrayal at him/her.  Eventually the offender stops trying and either returns to those cheating ways or just withdraws from the relationship emotionally and physically.  Neither partner is happy.  So I think Ma’at is reminding me that I should judge my hubby’s “wrongs” with the same light touch I hope he will judge mine.

Dark Goddess 6 of Earth Dark Goddess Ace of Earth

Generosity, giving, abundance and prosperity as well as the opportunity to give and be generous with others are the gifts that appear to be offered by Tsonokwa.  I have always loved the idea of potlach practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.  I don’t remember when I first heard of it but it appealed to me.  There is something very liberating about being able to distribute all of one’s wealth and possessions to others.  It is also a bit scary because giving up those things can also symbolize giving up who you are as a person right at this moment.  In American culture we often are our things.  The joke “he who has the most toys wins” has much more truth to it than we admit.  How many of us in this consumer society consider ourselves a success when we can buy whatever we want and can afford to discard items that are out of date?  We become greedy and hoard our possessions.  We want more.  As soon as the newest iPhone is released people flock to grab up a new one even if their current iPhone is working fine.  How many people fight and claw their way into stores on “Black Friday” to purchase items for themselves?  Tsonokwa reminds us that giving to others is often more satisfying than giving to ourselves.  Something I think we often lose sight of in our current world.

Gaia the Earth mother reminds me that I don’t near to fear that giving will leave me drained.  I can recharge and find new and abundant ways to recharge my batteries.  Looking at Gaia surrounded by the beauty and bounty of the earth, the idea struck me that spending some time each day just quietly sitting in nature might help me relax and recharge.  Even on the coldest day I can take a few moments outside to just seek the quiet and stillness.

The thing I find most frustrating about much of what I’m dealing with right now is that I know what I should or could do but I don’t do it.  I’m incredibly unmotivated.  I need to nurture and tend to myself and not lose sight of the fact that it’s not selfish to make sure I’m not exhausting all my resources.  They key to a successful potlach or the 6 of Earth is that there is reciprocity.  You may give a lot but you can expect others to give to you when you need it.  Perhaps I’m not being clear enough that I could use help.  Sometimes I make light of the situation rather than making clear statements.  If I want to manifest these changes then I need to change how I approach the situation too.  Otherwise I’ll find myself left in an empty, barren garden with nothing left to give.

 

The first thing that struck me while looking at these cards today was to wonder whether I’m giving enough to myself.  I think I’m fairly generous to others (within my means) and I’ve learned to be able to accept help from others (although that can still prove to be a bit of a sore point).  What I’m not sure I’m very good at is giving to myself.  All of the family obligations and responsibilities I’ve been dealing with have taken up a considerably amount of my time and energy, leaving little for me.  I don’t mean this in a selfish way (although I certainly have my moments), I mean that down time, that “me” time we need to recharge the batteries.  Like a lot of caregivers, I seem to have lost sight of this fact.

I don’t have a martyr complex and I’m not so giving I just can’t help myself.  Sometimes it’s just easier to flow along following the same pattern day to day.  It requires no thought and causes no ripples.  If I have to make alterative arrangements or plans it mucks up the works and then it takes a while to get things flowing smoothly again.  Of course that also means there are days when I feel as though I’m suffocating under these responsibilities.  I wonder what happened to me?  What happened to that person who used to spend so much energy focusing on “dressing for success” and completing tasks in a manner that would find favor with supervisors?  What happened to the me who would spend hours roaming through libraries and bookstores (of course the fact that bookstores are going the way of the dinosaur and 8-track tape does not help this situation)?  I don’t know anymore.  On some level I know that me is never coming back.  I’ve become so liberated by not having a standard 9-5 job that I truly feel no desire to ever return to that state.  However I would like to find time to spend just exploring things I enjoy – museums, bookstores, libraries, etc.

Even if I cannot leave the house, I need to find ways to give myself a break; to take a time out.  Otherwise I’ll end up fried and resentful.  I don’t want to become that way.  So I need to look into meditation, reconnecting to my spiritual practices and just carving out some alone time.  Right now I’m finding solace in sweets and junk food – that’s a bad choice on many levels.

Something about these cards also reminded me of A Christmas Carol, perhaps because of the time of year and because I go on Scrooge overload.  I love watching the various versions of this classic tale ranging from the Seymour Hicks 1935 version to Scrooged with Bill Murray.  They bring to life the concept that it is better to give than to receive and that if we hoard what we have instead of sharing it with others, we deny ourselves one of life’s joys.  I spoke with a friend today who was able to play “Secret Santa” and pay off someone’s outstanding lay-a-way balance at a local K-Mart and she was so full of joy about it that I was caught up in it with her.  It’s a wonderful gift, to know that you have done something that will help others enjoy the holidays.  As so many holiday movies, books and songs remind us – the important thing at this time of year is to remember that it doesn’t matter what you buy or get as gifts, it matters how you share your heart and love.

 

 

Ah, the Queen of Cups, my old adversary.  She and I have come a long way over the last two years or so.  I have come to appreciate her gentle strength and loving, supportive nature.  Growing up I associated her type of energy with emotional manipulation, weakness and neediness.  I was unable to see her nurturing and loving energies in a positive light.  It is only as I’ve come to need these energies in my own life that I’ve begun to appreciate and embrace her.

Looking at the Art Postcard Queen of Cups I was struck by the sense that she is telling “Cry on my shoulder.  It’s okay.  I’ll comfort you and help  you through this.”  Her outfit even looks as though its collar would serve as a creditable napkin with which to dry one’s tears.  She seems supportive but not one easily overwhelmed by emotions.  She understands and realizes that every so often, we all need a good cry.  It enables us to cleanse and purge the pain that might otherwise paralyze us.

The Whispering Queen of Cups offers a different perspective.  She bobs in the water, beneath a full moon, holding a chalice in one hand and a white orb in the other.  She seems to be offering us the key to our intuition, our inner wisdom and our emotional nature.  She shows that we can be part of that world without being subsumed in it.  We have the ability to tap into our deep, vast emotional wisdom without allowing ourselves to get swept away by it.  At the same time the water surrounding her reminds us that sometimes it’s easy to allow ourselves to drift along on the tides of our emotions, eventually losing our way because we let ourselves lose control.

I think these lovely ladies are telling me that my lesson today is that sometimes it’s okay to let myself be emotional about the things I’m dealing with in my life.  Sometimes being stoic, strong and silent is helpful but sometimes it just bottles up things that need to be expressed.  Right now I could certainly use the Queen of Cups shoulder to cry on but I find it difficult to let go and cry.  Partly because what I’m dealing with is tough but a lot of people are dealing with difficult situations in their lives.  I feel as though my issues and problems are just not that serious.  And perhaps that is my biggest challenge – believing that my feelings are valid and deserve to be recognized.  At least I do have my hubby, mother, sister to provide emotional support.  My friends are supportive too – the issue is that I still feel guilty crying to them.  Perhaps that is what the Queen of Cups reversed is reminded me of today – that if my friends cannot provide some emotional support when I need it they are close enough to let me know that.  It’s not a sign of weakness on my part and I would hope they feel able to ask the same of me if the occasion ever calls for it.  Another lesson I am learning to integrate into my life.

 

 

 

 

 

While considering this card’s message to me today I thought about how I view The Empress.  I’ve often considered her to represent the primal female energy – that nurturing, supportive and protective energy that allows life to flourish and flora to bloom.  I’ve often seen her to represent that feminine essence that is a bit gentler, more intuitive and less structured.  She is about creating communities and encouraging growth.  And while I respect the Empress’ energies, they are not ones with which I am always comfortable working.  However we have come to an understanding between us. and she has appeared reversed several times as my card of the day.  So I have to wonder what it is about her nature when she’s reversed that I need to consider.

As I was taking care of my elderly mom-in-law it struck me that I have been knee-deep in the Empress’ reversed energies.  If she is the one who nurtures, nourishes and supports the growth of new life, then she must also be involved in nurturing and supporting those who are reaching the end of their journey; helping them deal with the aging process and preparing to move on to the next phase.  It is her energies that allow adult children to care for their parents – dealing with such tasks as preparing their food to dressing them to changing their diapers.  Depending upon the situation, the elderly parent becomes dependent upon his/her adult children and their roles are now reversed.  That seems quite an apt expression of the reversed nature of the Empress’ energies and ones with which I am intimately acquainted.

So despite my best efforts to avoid the energies of the Empress, I have found myself swimming in them up to my neck and to be perfectly honest I am glad I have the ability to serve in this capacity for my mother-in-law.  She spent many years of her life functioning as mother to her sons, especially her deaf and mentally disable d son.  Now she cannot do it anymore and many of those tasks have fallen to me.  Hopefully I can help make these final years as positive and loving as I am able.  I’m glad I was able to find this connection to the Empress in my life.

 

Looking at both these cards I was struck by the idea of offerings – each image shows several bowls each filled with a variety of offerings.  The offerings might serve a different purpose but for some reason what struck me was honoring the ancestors or the gods.  On the Greenwood 7 of Cups a skull is surrounded by 7 cups and its keyword is mourning.   The Wheel of Change 7 of Cups shows 7 bowls filled with various types of foods surrounding a grinning, fanged statue – the Fire God of Flores.  These are offerings to appease the Fire God.  The offerings and statue all sit on a decorated carpet shaded by a parasol, and overlooking three craters and a volcano.  One of the craters is filled with burgundy fluid, the other has a greenish fluid and the third a milky blue fluid.  Across the plain a mountain reaches up towards the sky but is still in the shadow of the huge volcano.

The Greenwood image shouted “honoring the Ancestors” at me.  It reminded me of spiritual practices where people make offerings and give honor to the Noble Dead, the ancestors of blood and heart.  The skull at the center symbolizes those dead ancestors.  On the Wheel of Change 7 of Cups I was struck by the idea of someone making offerings to the deity of the volcano; sacrifices to appease the gods.  Regardless of what purpose the offerings serve, the main concept is that they are offerings.

That reminded me that I could spend more time honoring my own ancestors.  As part of ADF’s ritual structure and spiritual practice, honoring the Ancestors is required and recommended.  Beyond the ritual structure, there is no mandatory way to do this but many members find that daily devotionals offer a wonderful opportunity to connect with the Ancestors and offer them honor and recognition.  I have been somewhat remiss in this area.  I certainly think about my ancestors on a regular basis but I’m not always as diligent at daily devotions or making offerings to them.  The reality is that the more I honor them, the more likely they are to aide me.  But more than that, I do feel it is important to remember our ancestors, even if they weren’t very nice.

I have been doing some preliminary genealogical research over the past few months and it amazes me how many of the women in my line seem to have been married to rather useless men.  Of course I’m extrapolating this belief based on certain things I’ve found in the records – such as that my great-grandmother divorced my great-grandfather and the family stories I’ve heard about those I can remember.  I think in past generations when it was not as easy to divorce a spouse as it is today, many men and women stayed in unhappy relationships for a variety of reasons.  I don’t think such a sacrifice should be forgotten.  I also think honoring and remembering the ancestors and keeping family stories alive give us a sense of connection to something much larger than ourselves.  It allows us to see the patterns that have influenced our families and ultimately change those that are negative into something positive.  It can also help heal rifts.  For many years I had a rough relationship with my mother because I couldn’t forgive her for things that had occurred in my childhood.  When I was able to take a step back and look at her childhood and her mother’s childhood, things came into focus and my perceptions shifted.  This ultimately allowed me to start healing this rift and forgive her.

So although we have specific occasions for honoring those that died in war or serving this country, perhaps we need to get better at honoring our own personal dead.  We can offer thanks to the grandmother whose sense of humor was passed on to us and helps us get through the rough times.  Or perhaps we need to thank and honor the aunt who gifted us with her bright red hair or her no-nonsense approach to obstacles.  Whatever gifts they have given me and however they continue to bless my life, I think the 7 of Cups is reminding me that I need to make more of an effort to honor my ancestors on a regular basis.

 

Kings are associated with control, mastery, discipline and resolve.  Pentacles are associated with the material world, acquisitions of wealth and possessions, our connection to Earth and Nature, sensation, matters pertaining to the physical plane and the element of earth.  Pentacles can also be connected with practicality, groundedness and being realistic.  The King of Pentacles represents someone solid, reliable, mature and comfortable with his physical nature.  He may also be very materially comfortable.  This is a person who is comfortable with his authority and able to use it with common sense and practicality.  This card is someone who is at home with his material world and comfortable with the sensuous, physical side of human nature.  He is a master of all he surveys and understand how to work with his environment.

“This shows an end to a physical, material, or financial patterns in your life.  There is no point in re-committing resources, physical energy, or money to this project.  It is important to recognize that your investment in this security pattern has run its course.  It is time to take some action to end the old pattern, and withdraw from your involvement in that direction.” – Gail Fairfield

In the Blake LWB, Ed Buryn writes “In the creative process:  Test and refine your ideas or product to see if it works as planned; be practical yet innovative.”

Once again I was drawn to the image on the Blake Man of Painting.  Something about the ability to create such a colorful, artistic and beautiful reality appeals to me.  The fact that he is naked also means he is vulnerable to the elements but also that he is open and exposed to new ideas, new experiences and new sensations.  He bares his body and his soul in order to manifest the destiny he has created.  He is a master of his art and has the discipline and resolve to continue pushing himself.  He may currently be at the pinnacle of his skills and achievements but that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to pursue new avenues of interest.

The Hudes King of Pentacles appears a bit more somber but he is comfortable holding the large pentacle in his hand and offering it to those in need.  He is comfortable enough with his possessions and his world that he is able to offer assistance to those who might benefit from his largesse.  This king projects maturity and calm.  He seems like someone you can rely on to help you solve whatever challenges life might through your way.

I drew this card exactly one week ago (although it was reversed that day).  It is very appropriate on many levels.  I am the president of a professional organization and my terms ends in June.  Today we conducted a conference that I had a large part in organizing.  It was my last official act as president.  When I saw this card it made me think of how a king must sometimes function as the senior diplomat – welcoming visitors to the castle and providing them with food and shelter.  The king must also be a problem solver.  That role was evident today as myriad minor challenges (forms that weren’t received, payments that weren’t made, etc.) occurred.  I think I handled it well and we received positive feedback about the conference.  And in a few weeks I’ll pass my crown along to the next victim, I mean president.

It also made me think about the original relationship between a king and his subjects.  Although it has now become about privilege, ceremonial duties and charitable work, at one time the king was seen as the physical embodiment of the kingdom.  If the king sustained some sort of injury or illness, it was believed that it would taint the prosperity of the land too.  The king (or local lord) was entitled to certain payment, support or tithes from his subjects but he was also expected to protect his subjects and keep them safe.  The king needed to ensure that his subjects would be able to plant and harvest their crops and not suffer from invasion or other dangers.  It was a reciprocal relationship.  Being the president of an organization is a similar relationship.  The president may be the leader but without the support of other board members and the general membership, not much can actually be accomplished.  There needs to be a two-way dialogue so that the members feel their opinions are valued and their needs are being addressed and the board and president are providing useful, beneficial services for members.  It’s about more than just having meetings once a month where board members get a free meal.  To paraphrase Ed Buryn, a good president or ruler must be practical yet innovative.  This is not always an easy task.  In fact it is more often a thankless one.  And yet, if one is not willing to at least try to achieve this goal there is not point in pursuing a leadership role.

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