Seeking the Sacred, Part 1

Seeking the Sacred Part 1 | Freya Swan | www.WildSwanWoman.com

Seeking the Sacred Part 1 | Freya Swan | www.WildSwanWoman.com

Do You Collect Spirit Helpers?

A popular trend among modern spiritually-minded practitioners is a tendency to value the non-physical world over the physical world. Even among many who claim to be “Earth-centered”, the value seems to be placed in the spirit realm.

Sure, the non-physical world is loaded with spirits. So if we can connect with them, that means we’re more spiritual, operating at a higher vibration, and more enlightened right? Afterall, we’re just spiritual beings having a physical experience, right?

To a point, yes. We are energy and we have a body. More on that below.

There are no shortages of classes and weekend workshops dedicated to connecting with otherworldly teachers, spirit guides, and ascended masters whose most pressing interest would appear to be the spiritual evolution of our species. Death is referred to as “leveling up” or “graduating”.

My worldview is a bit different.

Spiritual seekers, you who seek out the holy and the sacred, you who are aware of subtle energies, spirits and liminal beings, I would love for you to consider something:

What if the spirit world isn’t any more holy, desirable, or evolved than our physical world?

What If I Told You meme | WildSwanWoman.com

Look, I get it. I get the pull and the draw of the energetic, magical, and occult arts. My life straddles the physical and non-physical worlds. The balance of one foot in each world is something I need in order to be complete. I love doing readings, energy healings, space clearings & house blessings, dreamwork, trance, and leading rituals. It’s been part of my life in one way or another since I was young and hasn’t changed, even after going through a couple of religious shifts. I doubt it will ever be otherwise.

To be sure, there is nothing more humbling than the awe experienced in the presence of a deity. However, unless that experience is happening in the trance state, that experience of the holy is actually happening in our physical reality. It is a manifestation of the holy in our middle world. As much as I need and enjoy the liminal life, this idea that the spirit world itself is “greater than” or “better than” the physical world is, in my opinion, false and destructive.

While your mileage may vary, and that’s ok, there are five aspects of my worldview that I need to state upfront:

1- The spirit world isn’t automatically any “better” or more holy than our physical world. 

Something isn’t more spiritual or more holy just because it is incorporeal. There are plenty of antagonistic spirits out there. I would absolutely see a flesh and blood human who has made offerings to a god or goddess and lives a life of piety and generosity as more holy than what many refer to as “lower astral beings”, which is kind of a catchall phrase for the myriads of different spirits from different cultures that really do enjoy screwing with whoever they can screw with.

Case and point, one of the house blessings I will never forget required that I clear it of an entity that revealed itself in the form of a hag with sharp teeth that was tormenting the people living there. There was nothing holy or sacred about it, let alone “evolved”. Yet, it was a being of energy, a spirit.

2- Dead people don’t suddenly stop being who they were in life just because they lack a body.

I know this isn’t necessarily what the Spiritualist Church teaches, but I’m not them. I have had messages come through for people during reiki and other energy healing sessions. Sometimes the dead have come through in dreams, as well as during readings for others. And other times, it has been spontaneous, not necessarily looking for contact or information. Suddenly a bit of a message or an image will pop into my mind while doing something as mundane as folding the clothes or exercising.

For the most part, my experiences have shown me that the world of the dead is filled with people who are similar to who they were in life. If they were untrustworthy in life, odds are, they will still be untrustworthy when they are dead. The dead do not typically suddenly turn into effective communicators or all-knowing or all-loving just because they aren’t solid.

3- Just because something is in spirit form (a deity, ancestor, land spirit, whatever) doesn’t mean it cares about your spiritual evolution or that of the human race.

I’m not sure why so many people seem to think everything that is non-physical cares about us humans and our development. I see tons of classes offered to help the spiritually-seeking connect with spirit beings for the purpose of becoming more spiritually evolved. Now, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with seeking spiritual experiences and facilitating connections. There’s also nothing wrong with teaching others what you have learned. But like all things, the devil is in the details.

Most of these beings bear little to no resemblance to the actual lore surrounding them. Fairies are a perfect example. Just because some artwork has reduced them to images like Tinkerbell doesn’t make them safe. Nor do art prints of sexy miniature women sitting on flowers or speaking to fireflies and ladybugs that have birds and kitties bowing to them, doesn’t mean that’s what fairies are like either. Frankly, that leaves student seekers vulnerable to nasty experiences, and they deserve better. For a more authentic understanding and valuable guide, I suggest Morgan Daimler’s book, Fairycraft: Following the Path of Fairy Witchcraft.

4- Channeled information is wonderful. So is information gained through research. The two do not have to be exclusionary of the other. In fact, they can enhance each other.

Please see my remarks above regarding authenticity. If you’re going to discuss and teach about something, check yourself. You owe that much to your students. Is your intuited information the exception or the rule? If it’s the exception, that’s fine. But, be honest and admit that it is. Is it reflective of tradition, or just modern artwork and movies? Are you being eclectic in your process, or are you culturally appropriating a practice and misunderstanding the significance of a symbol or ritual? It works in reverse too. Having a previously intuited practice or belief turn out to be something supported by research is a wonderful and validating experience.

There’s no way to fact check everything, and I’m not suggesting we should. Customs and beliefs do change over time. But, if your intuitions are more reflective of your personal bias (and especially political and religious views) than what is easily researched, there may be more wishful thinking and ego at work than prophesy. Maybe not, but it’s a question that needs to be asked.

5- Valuation of the spirit over the physical justifies the ongoing abuse to our Earth and our bodies.

Never mind how destructive the concept that us humans are to have dominion over the earth has been, but that is a great example of how one’s spiritual beliefs can justify the abuse of the Earth and her resources. However, it also justifies abuse and neglect of our bodies.

I will never forget an acquaintance rambling on about how evolved she was. She was on her way for a mammogram and felt the need to tell people on social media all about her upcoming appointment. When her friends all feverishly started commenting on her status update with concern and well-wishes, she proudly professed that she did not care what the results were. She declared her body wasn’t really her. It wasn’t even hers, as in it didn’t belong to her. It was just a shell to house her spirit while her spirit was here to evolve.

This was met with thunderous internet applause at her spiritual growth to not even care about the body and the potential cancer growing inside it.

I can’t even. Someone please get me this book, STAT!

 

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My Body Is Not My Body? Really?

Ok, so if it wasn’t her body, just whose body was it then? I’m seriously asking. Does it belong to whoever her creator is? Ok, let’s go with that. So, your higher power gifts you with a body to enter this world, and you’re going to neglect its care? That’s pretty disrespectful to that creator that gifted that body.

Another POV is to view the entire organism as a vibrational entity with layers getting denser as one gets closer to the physical body. This physical body is not separate from the spiritual body, but instead it is the manifestation of the spiritual body that allows the spirit to navigate and operate and interact within our physical reality. And, if this is the belief one subscribes to, then the whole, “My body isn’t my body” statement makes absolutely no sense.

The physical body does have a kind of second-skin or energetic double, that can be projected out and travel through the other worlds. And at death, there is a separation of the body and spirit. That doesn’t negate the holiness of the body, nor does it meant that the spirit is somehow now more “pure” due to the separation.

I say that we own our bodies and we are in charge of its care until the day we die. During that time, it deserves both our care and attention. The health of the body helps or hinders our ability to move energy through us, whether that be for energy healing or for sending a spell. We witches have become somewhat complacent with our physical health, focusing upon the mind as our primary source of power. And, it’s not that you have to be an athlete to make magic work, or to pray, or to act as a channel for the either the dead or even a reiki healing. But, having a healthy body sure helps.

Seeking A Connection

Why do we do this? Why do some people act like our bodies are empty shells, something dirty, something so unimportant and shabby that they might not even care if it developed cancer and kills them? Why do we see so many well attended “Commune with (Insert Incorporeal Being or Beings Here)” or “Get your (Insert Spirit Being Here) energy healing attunement this weekend” workshops? While many of these are kick-ass, well-researched, and in some cases healing and enlightening experiences, there are some people who cannot help themselves. They are at every possible workshop, collecting “spirit helpers” like a drug addict looking for their next fix.

There’s always another healing attunement level, there is always another “ascended master” to connect to, there is always another spirit guide just banging down the door to help you evolve. Some people seem to collect spirit helpers as if the spirits or healing attunements were scouting badges pinned onto a sash for all to see. “Look at me! Look at how many attunements and spirit guides I have, and at least 20 of them are animal totems and another 30 are angels, and both Hekate and Odin like to talk to me during my afternoon tea. I’m really evolved, and I’m really, really spiritual.”

What I want to understand is why we have that need to seek out and accumulate so many Spirit Helper & Attunement Merit Badges™ in the first place. That is, while also ignoring the gross narcissism of thinking everything without a body cares about your spiritual development.

I suspect people collect spirit helpers for connection and support because it is lacking here in the physical world. Our modern lives lack a real understanding of tribal bonds and connection. Prior to the Catholic church’s efforts at conversion, much of the old Germanic and Celtic worlds were tribal Breaking that bond was one of the Catholic church’s priorities when converting tribal cultures, including those with ties to the old Germanic world. This bond was known in Old English as frið, or in modern English as frith. Frith deserves an entire post just on its own. In short, it was the peace, bonds, and support that can only come from being among one’s own community. For more of an idea on frith, a good resource is We Are Our Deeds, by Swain Wodening, and Culture of the Teutons, by Wilhelm Gronbech. For my own reasons, I suggest getting a copy of the Gronbeck book used.

As modern researchers are learning more about Epigenetics and trauma, where trauma becomes a something inherited over generations, I suggest that the breaking of the tribal bonds, those bonds of frith, remain a spiritual wound that has been handed down from one generation to the next. Each generation looking for something to make them feel whole and provides that feeling of belonging. For those who are naturally inclined to spiritual pursuits, it makes a type of sense that some would seek out a spiritual tribe as a surrogate for that loss.

To this theory, I would also add that our modern ease of travel, and often the necessity to travel for one’s career, have loosened the bonds with the land itself. The ties to land that was held in the family over generations, where ancestors are buried, where children are born, and one’s food is grown, hunted, or foraged are largely broken today.

I suggest that if a bond, like that of frith, could be established, combined with a generational tie to family land, and an authentic new tribal culture forged among multiple families, that spiritual seeking under those conditions would look very different. I would expect to see more holy rites and offerings taking place, thereby making a site sacred through the repeated offerings. There would be a focus on the spirits of place where the group resided, both of the land spirits and the ancestors buried there, as opposed to seeking out exotic gods and goddesses from the far flung reaches of the globe. Such an undertaking would face all manner of challenges, and take multiple generations. I’m guessing that’s why it hasn’t happened yet.

Levels vs. Layers

Another aspect that I believe plays a large part in the spirit = more holy than the flesh is the idea of levels of reality, as opposed to layers of reality. Many modern new age and modern pagan teachings have similar teachings about the four bodies. The four bodies are the physical body, the emotional body, the mental body, and the spiritual body. These are often taught as levels, with the physical body as the lowest level and the spiritual body as the highest level. For some, the Humanist concept of the Great Chain of Being, with a clear hierarchy of beings, from plants up to their monotheistic god represents the belief in levels. Certain beings are at a more spiritual level than others in this system.

This concept of levels extends into our modern language surrounding trance, especially when we travel to other worlds. The world of the gods is out there somewhere, and that somewhere is above us. Modern Christian thought, with which everyone in the modern Western world grew up with and which has shaped our worldview, is that our dead mostly reside with the Father God, and only the wicked go to the devil in the underworld. When we enter trance, we travel to these worlds (hopefully not to that kind of underworld, though) to bring back information that can be helpful to us in our physical world.

What if these were not levels at all? What if they were layers of reality superimposed upon each other instead? What if when people were journeying to other worlds, they were actually just becoming aware of the other levels all around us and even within us? What if we all, corporeal and non-corporeal beings alike, inhabited the same spaces, but different layers of it. Substitute the word “reality” for “layer”, and that may help this make more sense. Here we would have a model of multiple realities where travel between the realities is possible, and at the same time, that travel hasn’t actually taken the trance worker anywhere physically. Upon what road would that kind of travel take place?

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The World Tree As a Conduit and Passage for Holy Exchange

I’m not much of a fan of universal belief, however, one of the commonalities among many cultures from around the globe and through history is a concept of an Earth Mother, Sky Father, and our reality. Our reality was a middle world between upper and lower worlds with a pillar, axle, or tree as the axis mundi supporting the entire structure of all that is. This belief in Earth Mother, Skiy Father, and a World Tree are ancient, like deeply ancient. Evidence for it comes from the Proto-Indo-Europeans, or PIE culture, people who lived about 4000 BC, quite possible even earlier. Their homeland is a subject of debate, however the Pontic-Caspian steppe is the most generally accepted location, with Anatolia as an alternate PIE-origin theory. What we know about these people is based on linguistic reconstruction which we trace backward from their various Indo-European descendent cultures and their languages.

However, the axis mundi concept wasn’t limited to Eurasia. Some form of pillar, sometimes a holy mountain and often a tree, was known in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, and in all of the Americas. For example, in Kathleen J. Bragdon’s book, Native People of Southern New England 1500-1650, the Alegonquin-speaking tribes from my neck of the woods believe in a cedar world tree that allows access to the upper and lower worlds. While not necessarily universal, the Great Pillar was known almost everywhere that humans have inhabited on this earth at various points in history in one form or another.

The World Tree was at the center or “naval” of the Earth Mother, where the four directions meet and the connection between the upper, lower, and middle worlds. This tree could be ascended or descended for a variety of reasons, such as making offerings to the gods, or to contact the dead. This great tree could be seen as a great pillar, a road, bridge, axle, or even an umbilical chord.

An example of this symbol of a World Tree in a ritual context is covered in Chapter 3 of Kirk S. Thomas’ book, Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods. Thomas describes a Vedic offering rite where a married couple ascended a ladder. Once high up enough, and symbolically in the realm of the gods, an offering of dough was left for the gods. This offering was part of a reciprocal gift cycle, that strengthened both the gods and the people worshiping them.

The tree could also be ascended or descended by the subconscious mind through trance. The purpose of doing so would be to bring back knowledge found in the other worlds. A lore-based example of this would be Odin hanging from Yggdrasil in order to gain the knowledge of the runes as detailed in the Völuspá found in the Poetic Edda.

What we see in all these travels up and down the tree, which can be seen as a way to travel to other layers of reality, are gift exchanges, offerings, sacrifices for mutual benefit of humans and gods, relationships nurtured, rituals to increase a god’s or spirit’s strength and influence here in our world, and spiritual quests for knowledge. What we have here is akin to a highway system where we act as the drivers to facilitate to change the ordinary space we live in every day into holy and sacred space through repeated ritual and repeated offerings.

While this is not the only way sacred sites are created, it is one way that we humans, either alone or gathered in our tribes, create sacred sites and cultivate the bonds of frith. These bonds are between not only our gods and us, but also with each other. And rather than continue to seek for the latest, greatest spiritual healing ray, which is a higher and more pure energy healing ray than the last healing ray at the last latest and greatest spiritual healing attunement, maybe we should be looking inward, to our innangarð, to our communities here in the physical world and to the spirits which are local to us, and to our ancestors.

So, are we spiritual beings having a physical experience. Yes. However, we’re also physical beings having a spiritual experience.  Perhaps, spiritual evolution is not found in the collection of spirit helpers, but in regular and frequent participation in the establishment of sacred space here in Midgarð (Midgard), or Middle Earth, and in the regular and frequent exchange of gifts between the worlds.

Part 2 will cover sacred space- what it is, how to create it, and naturally occuring sacred sites, what does it mean to say something is sacred, and the important connection between the words holy, wellness, health, and wealth.

Part 3 will be about the body as sacred space

About the author

Freya Swan

Freya Swan is a member of the ADF Druids with a hybrid Heathen and Celtic hearth. Freya's practice has an emphasis on herbal lore, healing customs, spinning and fiber arts, seidr, as well as martial arts as a devotional practice to the Morrigan.

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