Meditation beads

One of the what I term ‘spiritual items’ I’ve wanted for a while has been a mala, one of the traditional Buddhist/Hindu ones with 108 beads. I’m not entirely sure either when or why I first put it on my ‘things I’d like to own one day’ list, but it was probably some time during my undergrad years. Despite its presence on that particular List, it was one of those things I could never quite justify buying for myself, or even asking someone else to buy it for me as a birthday or Christmas present. However, over the years I seemed to have developed a small collection of different sorts of prayer beads, and having started yoga and looked into different methods of meditation I found that not only could I justify buying a mala, but I also had some birthday money left over. Huzzah!

What I saw when I opened the newly-arrived parcel...
What I saw when I opened the newly-arrived parcel…

Now the only question was – which one? During my internet browsing I’d seen some gorgeous ones, including an amethyst mala (one of my favourite stones) and a chakra one, as well as other materials such as sandalwood, lotus seeds, tulsi wood, etc. I knew from my rosary use that although I loved the look and feel of gemstone beads, I found the rosary as a whole to be too heavy overall and would make my hands ache after a few minutes, which ruled out all the malas made from stone. I also wanted smooth beads, which took Rudraksha and lotus seeds out of the equation, and from my six years of knitting experience knew I preferred the feel of wood in my hands for long use over metal or plastic needles, as my wooden ones were light, warmed to my hands, and with use aged to beautiful colours.

And inside that was the storage bag and another wrapped package... I felt like I was playing pass-the-parcel.
And inside that was the storage bag and another wrapped package… I felt like I was playing pass-the-parcel.

Out of all the wooden malas I’d seen rosewood was the material that I loved the look of, so with that choice made and a budget of £20 I went shopping, and eventually ordered my 108-bead rosewood mala from Yoga Bliss. Happily, according to that site, ‘Red Sandalwood (Rosewood) is used to call upon Lord Ganesh “the remover of obstacles” and the Divine Mother.  Rosewood is warming, improves circulation and protects the user from negative energy’, which to my mind is not only a collection of useful properties, but also fits well with my aim to balance male and female energies in my religious practice. It also arrived beautifully packaged and just in time for Lent, where I resolved to take up the practice of using the mala every day, rather than giving anything up. I failed the ‘every day’ part after about two weeks, but it still gets used regularly, if not as frequently as I’d like.

My gorgeous rosewood mala.
My gorgeous rosewood mala.
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The basics of Christo-Paganism and me

I could write an awful lot about what I believe, how I practice my faith, my definition of Christo-Paganism, and my attitude/s toward the concept of deity. However, for the moment I’m going to stick to the (hopefully) fairly easy-to-explain stuff.

I’ve defined my religious affiliation as ‘panentheistic eclectic Christo-Pagan’, and in my first post I stated that:

I was brought up Methodist … I still go to church, sing hymns, say prayers, and listen to sermons. I also light candles, use prayer beads, cross myself, and enjoy being in decorated churches with statues and stained glass – definitely not Methodist. I also cast circles, use crystals, herbs, and coloured spell candles, celebrate the eight Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year, and use divination methods such as Tarot cards – definitely not Christian.

There is some debate (and some heated argument) over whether Christo-Paganism is a syncretic religion in its own right, a synthesis of Christianity and Paganism, or even whether it’s a valid spiritual path at all. This is something I’m planning to address at a later date, so let’s ignore the theological implications for now and look at the basic definitions.

Christianity – one of the world’s major religions, with the largest number of followers across the globe. It dates back nearly 2,000 years, and contains a vast number of denominations and sects with differing beliefs and practices, but on the whole adhering to the same theology. This can be summed up in what is known as the Apostles’ Creed (given below) which is used by the three main branches of the Church – Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.

 I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
Who was concieved by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again,
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
From there he will come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic* Church,
The communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

* In this sense catholic (small c) means ‘universal’ or ‘whole’, whereas Catholic (capital C) refers to the Roman Catholic Church. In the same way that we have Conservative (political party) and conservative (traditional or conventional).

Paganism – a word that defines both the oldest of the world’s religions, and some of its youngest. Traditionally a word that described any faith that wasn’t Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), but now used for historic and prehistoric religions around the world as well as an umbrella term for contemporary religious and spiritual movements either inspired by or based on the historical pagan faiths, sometimes referred to as neo-Paganism.

Like Christianity, there are many different paths and sects in modern Paganism, but with vastly different beliefs, practices, and theology. The most well-known path is probably Wicca, but even that can be devided into Gardnerian, Alexandrian, and Seax-Wicca, among others; and the line between modern and historical Paganism becomes blurred with Reconstructionist paths, whose followers try to accutately re-create the religions of past cultures such as Ancient Greece or Egypt.

Panentheism – the belief that the Divine, however one concieves of Deity, is part of everything in the universe, but also extends beyond the physical. Pantheists believe that the Divine and the universe are identical – All-is-God, whereas panenthiests hold that All-is-in-God, that Deity both animates the universe and transcends the universe.

Christo-Paganism – defined by Joyce and River Higginbotham as ‘a spirituality that combines beliefs and practices of Christianity with beliefs and practices of Paganism, or that observes them in parallel’. I use the hyphenated version, as Christopaganism is already used in academic terms to describe the blends of Christianity and various forms of historical paganism that occurred as the Church expanded.

So, how do these definitions fit into my faith? Well my theology is predominantly Christian – I believe in an omni-etc. God, and that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are part of this overarching God. However, in common with certain Gnostic branches of Christianity, I also believe the Holy Spook to be female and the Daughter of God, in the same way that Jesus is considered the Son. So I have the Christian Trinity, but with an equal male-female balance, as I believe God is neither male nor female but both, otherwise Genesis 1:27 makes no sense to me – ‘God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’

So already we have something that looks very much like the Lord and Lady balance that is the focus of belief in several pagan traditions, especially Wicca. Because I believe in panentheism, everything contains a part of the divine, from myself to a rock – so if I light a prayer candle at home I’ll use corresponding crystals and herbs to lend that spark of divine energy to help the prayer along, in the same way that I’d ask someone to pray for me/my friend/etc. As for my other pagan practices such as circle-casting and the tools I use, a lot of it comes from one of the reasons why I was drawn to Paganism in the first place (the subject of a future post) – I didn’t feel I could be very active in my private worship as a Christian, whereas my Pagan friends, who are all solitaries, could create their own sacred space and administer their own sacraments.

Overall then I follow the basic Christian beliefs, tempered by Gnostic and animist ideas, my physical practices are a mix of Catholic/High Church Anglican and Pagan, and my preferred style of worship is relatively simple, whether I’m celebrating at home, attending a regular church service, or reading the Tarot – I enjoy ritual, but my attitude is far more practical than mystical.

Procrastinators of the world unite! … tomorrow

It’s been a month since I last posted on here – clearly I am a terrible blogger, although commuting to a site in Kent and back every day followed by shift work on another site which means I have to get up at 5am makes for a fuzzy brain by the time I get home, and fuzzy brains make bad writing.

Thankfully my religion hasn’t lapsed as much as my blog, as although I haven’t managed to do any meditation or use my prayer beads, I did celebrate with mini-rituals for Ostara and Beltane on the actual days, managed about two weeks of my Thing For Lent, actually did something religious on Easter Sunday for the first time in three years, and performed a longer Ostara ritual a couple of weeks after the Sabbat. So nowhere near where I’d like to be, but a lot better than I was doing this time last year. I have also decided that I will write at least one post for Church and Circle every fortnight, and fingers crossed I’ll be able to keep to that better than I did my Lenten goal!