A bit early for this perhaps but nevertheless...
Nathaniel Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. Bantam, New York 1994. p.8
"But if I lack respect for and enjoyment of who I am, I have very little to give --except my unfilled needs. In my emotional impoverishment, I tend to see other people essentially as sources of approval or disapproval. I do not appreciate them for who they are in their own right. I see only what they can or cannot do for me."
Armando Favazza, PsychoBible- Behavior, Religion and the Holy Book. Pitchstone Publishing, Charlottesville, Va, 2004. pp. 227-228.
That self-mutililation may be a morbid type of self-help is not such a far-fetched idea...Consider the Hamadsha, a group of Islamic, Sufi healers in Morocco...Then they dance and slash their heads. This is the moment that the sick participants have awaited. They step forward, dip bread or sugar cubes in the freely flowing blood, and eat the miraculous food in the belief that the power of healing resides in the healers' blood...here the therapists mutililate themselves to benefit the patients...'
"...At another level, however, the symbolism of the behavior suggests something profound, something that is embedded in elemental experiences of healing, salvation, and social orderliness. Without understanding why or how, some self-mutililators seem to tap into these experiences unconscioulsy, intuitively seeking to heal themselves and to restore order to their disordered minds and lives...'
"In shamanisn...the healing of illness and reversal of misfortunes are affected by the shaman's personal contact with the spirit world."
Issac Bonewits, Real Magic. Weiser Books, Boston, 1971. pp148-149, 159.
"...general prayers...Passages are then read from various books...Thus the deity in effect replies to the prayers just offered...sermon...basket...resumes his dialogue with the god, presenting him with gifts, especially bread and wine...'
"The priest now identifies himself with the god by repeating the incantation that turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of the god...If you are a Catholic, this is a literal change...if you are a Prostestant, this is a symbolic change. Somewhere there is a very important difference between these two terms; you can tell because millions of men, women, and children were maimed, mutiliated, and murdered over it...'
"Now the congregation and the priest consume the now tangible god, believing that in doing so they will absorb his power and characteristics....The minister tells the people that their prayers will be granted, that the god is with them, and then dismisses them."
"Note the pattern so far: Supplication-Introduction, Reply from the Deity (or personified group-mind), Identification of Participants with the Deity (same note), Statement of Requests and Statement of Success."
Take the passage by Nathaniel Branden and substitute the word "god" or "higher power" or deity of your choice where it says other people. Thus you now have a description of an impaired relationship with divinity:
"But if I lack respect for and enjoyment of who I am, I have very little to give-- except my unfulfilled needs. In my emotional impoverishment, I tend to see...' [insert the deity or deities of my choice here] '...as [a source or] sources of approval or disapproval. I do not appreciate [him or her or] them for who [he or she is, or] they are in [his or her or] their own right. I see only what [he or she or] they can or cannot do for me."
How we grown out of that sort of relationship with divinity? Or have we clung fast to it because it is the only thing we have ever known? What is a good [Pagan, Christian, Polytheist, Monotheist, Duodeist, regular Deist, Nontheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, Spiritualist ...] to do? How can we grow away from our old notions and mature into something better?
At the risk of offending everyone, I'd much rather believe in the flying spaghetti monster or in the olden Hebrew god who made the world and then flat-left it than base my self-esteem on my idea of whether or not I am looked upon with favor by any god or goddess. If I believe in the flying spaghetti monster or in nothing or in the impersonal forces of nature which are indifferent to my pleas, my life becomes simpler. I don't have to get hung up on whether or not I am going to heaven or the summerlands or the flying spaghetti spaceship in the sky when I die. I can concentrate on the here and now, squeezing whatever joy I can out of each day-- and not forgetting to share the joy. Can I have joy without a personal relationship with the olden ones of my pagan roots? You betcha. Can I have morality without religion? Sure I can. And it is unencumbered by a belief in the twist of fate, no coincidences, the frozen chosen, or being 'right where I'm supposed to be.' Why then should I believe?
Why then magic? Why then the cycle of prayers, reading/singing/sounding instruments, meditation, gathering energy, sending, cakes and ale, grounding the circle? Why not just skip the whole deal?
There is freedom when walking the [somewhat modified] path of my spiritual ancestors. There is power too. This mantel of power I will not deny. Because I am not afraid of my separateness--my intrinsic aloneness--I do not fall into the error of believing that individualism must be dammed in favor of the new agey "we" of the cosmic soul. Because I embrace who I am, I am no longer a frightened child calling in the dark praying to whoever cares to answer. I no longer have to hide behind the great collective "we." I have grown up.
Because I have freedom from religion, I can freely choose how to conduct my life without regard to whose god is the right one. And I don't have to fear scientific knowledge. I can truly embrace life as being sacred. And I can truly celebrate diversity.
I am a Pagan. I am a Solitary Hedge Witch. These words are visceral. They are words of power because they hit me in the gut. These words sprang forth from my innermost being when I first began to re-claim all that I am.
What do I believe? Do I believe? Are all the gods one god and all the goddesses one goddess? Are there more than two? Are there less than two? Why does this matter to you? How I work with power and spiritual principles is within the sacristy of my own life. Shall I profane it by spelling out my spiritual or religious beliefs or non-beliefs? What does it matter who or what I gather energy from? It is not the who, it is the how. It is focused intent. It is healing. Witches didn't used to be afraid of pissing into bottles or of offering their own blood. They knew something that our sanitized society and modern how to be a witch books no longer care to acknowledge. In the healing, blood must be spilled.
In the healing, blood must be spilled. People who cut feel the pain of the universe keenly. In western society, people who cut are looked upon as pariahs and social outcasts. People who cut need "treatment" where very often the professional helpers do not believe that people who cut can truly "get well." The best the professional helpers can hope for is that their cutting patients can "age out of their personality disorders." The professional helpers all participate in professional supervision sessions lest they catch the 'craziness' of their cutting customers. If the cutting is the letting of blood, then is there not a holy act in the release? In our society, cutters are unhappy traumatized people who need "treatment." In other societies with other expectations, cutters are holy people and healers.
In the Moroccan society, Shamans cut their own heads open. The afflicted partake of the sacred offering of blood by mixing it with the staff or the sweetness of life. Bread has been called the staff of life. The holy man Jesus is called the bread of life. Jewish people offer each other sugar cubes during their new year as a symbol of the sweetness of life that is possible. Isaiah in the hebrew bible tells us, "By his stripes we are healed." [KJV]. Wounds caused by whipping bleed. Some modern day celebrants of easter in Spain beat on drums until their hands bleed. Others flagellate themselves in religious estacy. Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions. There is indeed power in the blood. Cutters and people of faith all acknowledge this power in different ways. But it is there, whether we embrace it or deny it.
Catholics and Protestants unite with a tangible god in partaking of communion. The body and blood of their god is [or is like] the bread and wine is [or is like] the cakes and ale of the Witches is like dipping bread and sugar cubes into bleeding heads of shamans. Vodoun practitioners refer to loa possession as "riding the head."
Learning to navigate through this life with true power is the challenge I present to you today. Remember though, that all revolutions are bloody. It is indeed a bloody gauntlet that I throw down before all of us, regardless of anyone's creed or non-creed.
May we all put on the mantel of power and embrace ourselves in our aloneness. Only by embracing our aloneness can we truly find each other without merging into nothingness.