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Connecting Within the Self

I don’t mean this in the pejorative sense of ego-centrism, and for that reason I have capitalized the word “Self”, by which I mean something which transcends the ego and even the individual. This analogy may be helpful: as the Vedantic Brahman is to the Atman, so the Self is to the ego. “Self” can be a misleading term, but I think it is actually appropriate for that reason, because the danger of Self-centered spiritual practice is always that it will become ego-centered. (My own spiritual path partially overlaps with this kind of Paganism.) Self-centered Paganism includes Jungian Neopaganism, many forms of Wicca and feminist witchcraft, and more ceremonial or esoteric forms of Paganism. The Pagan identity of Self-centered Pagans is defined by spiritual practices which aim at development of the individual, spiritually or psychologically. Paganism is, for some Self-centered Pagans, a form of therapy or self-help. Authenticity is determined by one’s relationship with one’s Self, with that larger sense of Self which extends beyond the boundaries of one’s ego and one’s individual person. To put it another way, Pagan authenticity for this group is measured in terms of personal growth, whether that growth be toward psychological wholeness or ecstatic union with a divine “One”.
~John Halstead Three (or more?) Centers of Paganism @ The Allergic Pagan

Lets just get the first problem with a Self-centered Paganism out of the way.  Its the name, right?  Makes you think selfish, egocentric, arrogant, asshole by default?  Maybe its just me, but from now on, I think I’ll go with calling it Self-centric…  Now what about problem two–wtf do we mean by “Self” in this context anyhow?   Probably one of the more prolific Pagan bloggers on this subject (particularly with regard to the influence of Jung) is John Halstead, so I’m going to be defaulting to his explanation of what “the Self” *is* with regard to Self-centric Paganism.

Here, I’m going to talk about Self-centric Paganism as I practice it; as a sort of In-scape or Innerworld work that strives to make connections with what I see as the various aspects of (my) Self.  These aspects are eclectic–some of the ideas are Jungian, some are Jungian-ish, and there are influences from the three aspects of the soul in the Feri tradition, and from chakra work.  I work with (my) Self in 7 aspects; certainly it could be divided into many more (or less), or the aspects could be viewed differently, with different names and characteristics.  This is just my personal preference, as the most useful way I’ve found to work with the different facets of my personality, as well as to help the kiddos work through different issues of their own.  But regardless of what aspects of your Self you chose, the important thing to remember is that these aspects aren’t something you have, its something you are.

1.  Connecting with your Wild Child.  In the Feri tradition, what I call the Wild Child is fairly analogous to the fetch.  Your inner Wild Child is child-like, from a sensory perspective, but more adult in his/her interests.  S/he craves sensations and a little bit of mayhem–dance, play in the mud, play with play dough, swing on a swing, stomp in puddles…but (like a child) still needs structure and discipline.  The Wild Child is the part ourselves that is the most connected with nature and the Earth and, I would argue, the most embracing of its magic.  If you are into chakra work, this part of yourself is most strongly connected with the root chakra; it craves security AND freedom.  For some of us, our Wild Child may be overly repressed, and needs to be let out; for others it may be overly loud and need some reigning in.

2.  Connecting with your Wounded Self.  Almost no one escapes life without scars, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or all of the above.  We all carry wounds somewhere on our soul, some of which have healed well, some that have healed poorly, some that have become infected, and some that remain open and gaping.  When we connect with our Wounded Self, we become our own healer and identify those wounds, how they were made, and how we can facilitate their healing in a way that minimizes the impact of their scars on our daily lives.  It is connected with the sacral chakra, for those that do chakra work.  The wounded self, IMO, is also where our conscience starts–if something hurts you, you know it will hurt another; someone with a well-developed Wounded Self (and well-developed does not mean oft injured) generally has a strong sense of empathy, and therefore, a strong sense of right and wrong.  The kids call this their Jiminy Cricket.

3.  Connecting with your Shadow.  Our shadow is generally a part of ourselves that we don’t like and try to bury.  Basically, its the flip side or the hidden side of the Talking Self.  In the interest of parsing words, I recommend another of John’s posts on the Shadow Self.   By connecting with our Shadow Self, we can come to terms with (and maybe even honor) those parts of our-self that we spend too much time denying.  I have a hard time dealing with anger, because it was an emotion that I learned to repress very early on in life for fear of getting hit by my father…anger tends to leak from me in the form of sarcasm, or occasionally explode in a burst of temper because (and I’m certain I’m not alone here) I never learned to deal with it in a healthy way as a child, and was made to feel ashamed of being angry.  As a parent, part of my shadow work is acknowledging my anger, accepting it, and finding a safe place to express it (because all parents know kids know how and when to push our buttons for maximum impact).  For anyone doing chakra work, the Shadow can be connected with via the solar plexus chakra.

4.  Connecting with your Mirrored-Self.  The Ancient Greeks had six words for love.  You are likely familiar with 5 of them, but its the sixth that is pertinent here–Philautia, or love of the self (something best done in moderation).  The Mirrored-Self is connected to both our social identity and our self-identity.  When we are well connected with our Mirrored-Self, we are able to let go of how we think others view us (which is generally the source of bias for how we see ourselves) and seek an objective self (an unblemished mirror) that is worthy of philautia (but not so much that we become narcissistic).  Connecting with our Mirrored-Self is about acknowledging our flaws (because we are all flawed human beings) and both seeking to overcome or rectify them AND to forgive ourselves for having them or falling short on getting rid of them.  For those that do chakra work, the Mirrored-Self is in the realm of the heart chakra, because you can’t truly love another flawed human being, unless you accept and love yourself.

5.  Connecting with your Talking Self.  Jung would call this the Ego, but I prefer the Feri term for it… Realistically, most of us are nearly always connected to our Talking Self, so when I say “connecting” with it, I’m not suggesting we need to find it, but rather that we need to acknowledge it and define its edges so that we can release it for a while and move beyond it.   Talking Self falls under the aegis of the throat chakra.  The Shadow is a sublimated aspect of the Talking Self and often shows up in unexpected ways when dealing with Talker.  When dealing with Talking Self, we first need to know the limitations of him/her:

Talker is the part you are used to thinking of as yourself. It’s your social self, the one you present to the world. Talker’s favorite tool is language, because that’s how we social-animal hominids evolved to connect with one another. Talker has its own magic, to do with glamorie and storytelling, but often the more rigid and less charming aspects of it tend to take over. Since it is by necessity focused outward and towards other people, Talker is also the most prone to being pulled out of whack.

~from “Align Your Souls (Feri part 6)” by Sara Amis via Pantheon @ Patheos

6.  Connecting with your Judging Self.  Because I love watching Star Trek (but not enough to go to conventions), I like to call this my Inner Vulcan, because I tend to have a strong empirical streak.  This is the aspect of our-self that is the most concerned with what we value, and is connected to the pineal chakra.  It is the part of our-self that is capable of being reasonable and rational, sometimes even to the point of being unreasonable and irrational (pretty much like most of the Vulcans during the entire Enterprise series).  It is also the part of our-self that can choose to reject the rational, in favor of the intuitive, sometimes to the point of denying reality and being flighty.  When our Judging Self is balanced, we are able to look at both objective and subjective realities and value both as important to the human condition.  Our Judging Self and our Wounded Self are in flux together, one feeding the other in a sort of feedback loop.

7.  Connecting to your Expansive Self.  In the Feri tradition, this is known as the God-self or Deep Self (its also called this in the Reclaiming tradition).   Another way that one can think of this aspect of our-self is as part of the Anima Mundi, or as part of a Universal Consciousness.  Our Expansive self is connected to the Crown Chakra.  This is the part of us that can connect with divinity, in what ever form we conceive of it, and connection to our Expansive Self is highly personalized and dependent on the ways that we perceive sacredness and communicate with what we see as the Divine.  Our Expansive Self is sort of the flip side of a coin with Wild Child, and to some degree, we are working to keep them in a state of equilibrium.

Methods for Connection

We can connect with these different aspects of the Self in a variety of ways, such as through meditation and visualization (guided or otherwise), through direct worship–via prayer or offerings, and from mundane activities that honor the qualities and preferences of the various aspects.  By extablishing a religious relationship with the Self, we are engaging in worship of the Divine-within, an important source of connection and power.

Common Pagna shrine-work often focuses on the Three Kindreds, on honoring the gods of one’s house, one’s ancestors the spirits of one’s land.  All of these things are important for practical magic, but it is also important for magicians to take up the cult of the Inner Divine.  We know that within us is the very Fire of the Druids, the true Holy Well.  The very powers by which the Gods make and nourish the world are ours to use, according to our strength, wisdom, and skill.

This power–this Divine in Us–is worthy of our worship.  It is our own magic…by which we work our will in the world.

~Ian Corrigan, Sacred Fire, Holy Well: A Druid’s Grimoire

One of the most basic ways I connect with these aspects of (my) Self is through a modified chakra meditation.  Using chakra imagery, I sort of “check in” which the different aspects of (my) Self–are they balanced, are they operating optimally, are they being fulfilled, and (most importantly) are they working together?  Usually the answer is yes…while I do have to fight a tendency to live inside my head more than is healthy, along with a bit of a habit of procrastination, some issues with repressing anger that I need to work on, and I constantly feel like I need to prove myself to myself, I think over all, I’m fairly operational and balanced.  But sometimes the answer is no–maybe work stress or parenting stress is getting to me, maybe I’ve been sick, maybe I’ve had to push off too much work around the house to play chauffeur for the minions while the hubby is out of town–regardless of the reason, sometimes one aspect or another gets overworked or neglected and they all get out of whack.

I am not of the opinion that these aspects are subpersonalities, but rather that they are different lenses through which we see the world.  For example, I’m a mom and a wife–what I do and value as mother for my children and our relationship isn’t necessarily the same as what I do and value as a wife to my husband and our relationship (just as what he does and values as a father for our children and as a husband to me isn’t necessarily the same).  When the roles are related and the goals are similar, there is bound to be overlap…but when they have less in common (for example, my role as a member of the military often was at odds with my role as a wife and mother), there is less overlap and occasional conflict.  The aspects of (my) Self, are more like being a mom and a wife and a veteran and a scientist, etc., than the personalities The Three Faces of Eve.  I deal with “conflict” between these aspects in a variety of ways…most commonly by reengaging (generally in mundane ways) with that aspect, or sometimes through meditation or ritual.  I also occasionally engage with them through creative visualization as if they were separate entities, but I’m fairly sure this is not a good idea for everyone to try…I know a number of people whose level of discernment combined with an activity like this would lead to trouble.

Because I also think these are sort of Universal archetypes (though not in the traditional sense) that can be seen on personal, family, community, and societal levels, and even on the level of humanity as a whole, as well as having deities that are representative of these archetypes (there are several trickster-type gods with strong Wild Child and Shadow tendencies in particular), I don’t feel out of place honoring the Divine-within through actual worship, mostly in the form of prayer, but also in offerings.  While I’m fairly sure this system isn’t quite what Ian Corrigan had in mind when he talked about our Inner Fire being worthy of worship, I find that it works for me, not as a means to increase my magical power, but as a means to foster a greater balance and connection to a Universal consciousness and to Earth Herself.

Ultimately, this is just one Self-centric Paganism.  Other Paganisms often have a Self-centric aspect, even if they are not explicitly so–Druidry (see Ian Corrigan’s book for an example, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can check it out), Wicca, a number of witchcraft traditions, etc.  Others might be explicitly Self-centric–atheistic Pagans, Satanists (theistic or non) that choose to self-identify with the Pagan community , and practitioners of certain forms of magic or witchcraft.  Additionally, something to consider when one is approaching Divinity from a Self-centric perspective is that while a connection with the Self is certainly be an authentic Pagan experience, there is a danger of dipping into little-s, self-centered Paganism* (or perhaps ego-centric Paganism is a better moniker?).  But done well, Self-centric Paganism is one more way that we can connect with spirit as Pagans trying to walk a Pagan path in the day-to-day.

*Actually, I would argue that all four of the centers of Paganism have their own “dark side”–community-centered Pagansim and folkishness, deity-centered Paganism and zealotry, Earth/nature-centered Paganism and a sort of anti-humanist nihilism, and the aforementioned ego-tripping.