Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Soul and Spirit

The words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably, although they don’t really mean the same thing. They are, however, closely related.

Spirit is the all pervasive force of life and consciousness/awareness that flows through the universe and all things. Some have referred to it as the Great Mind; some as the Fire of Life. Soul is our individualized, personalized spark of this great spirit/mind.

The word spirit come from the Latin word spiritus, which means breath. Obviously, breath and life are intimately connected as most living things breathe or have respiration of some kind. So Spirit may also be looked as the Great Breath, as well as the Great Mind and the Fire of Life.

The Great Breath of Spirit breathes life into being, and Spirit manifests as substance, which possesses faculties of movement and animation. With life comes movement, and movement brings change; the cycle of life begins.

The word soul is derived from Old Germanic words which essentially mean quick moving in the sense of the movement of the wind. The dictionary defines soul as the vital, animating principle within human beings, possessing thought, action and emotion; an immaterial entity which enters the body when life begins and leaves at the point of death, going on to another life in the spirit realms. As such, it is seen as the central core of a person, from which one’s individuality derives.

The assignment of elements in the Western Mystery Tradition positions Air in the East, Fire in the South, Water in the West and Earth in the North. The Center of the circle is said to represent Spirit, but since Spirit permeates all, it is just as much the circumference and area of the circle as it is the center point.

In my book Wisdom of the Elements, I have assigned Soul to the Western Quarter of the Sacred Wheel of Life, while Spirit is represented at the Center, the place from which all that is manifest arises and to which it will return. For magical purposes, I choose to view the Center of the circle as representing Spirit Unmanifest, by which I mean the Great Mystery/Life Force (though perhaps it is more correct to say Spirit Manifesting, since this is an ongoing process), while looking at the rest of the circle as Spirit Manifest (the Life Force as manifested into form).

Spirit manifests itself into form through the agency of the Elements. Air gives us breath and mind; Earth gives us form and structure; we are formed within Water, which also gives us emotions, blood, lymph, and all within us that flows; and Fire infuses us with the power of spirit.

Our soul is our personal spark of that spirit, our personal piece of the Great Mind, whose Great Breath animates us and all life. The soul is also sometime referred to as the Inner Flame or Inner Fire.

It is through this personal spark of spirit, the soul, that we can access all other forms of life—animals, plants, trees, rocks, rivers, sea, land—since all have their own spark of spirit, and all these sparks are from that One Great Flame. It is with our soul (often called the spirit-body) that we are able to travel up and down the Great Tree of Life, communing soul-to-soul with other beings and other realms—from the stellar realm to the faery realm, to the ancestral realm. Our physical bodies and senses have their limits regarding where we can go and what we can do, but our soul, because it is a part of the Great Flame, the Great Mind, does not have these limits, and is capable of expanding into almost any place of which the imagination can conceive.

The human soul is an amazing thing, possessing, as it does, such a wide-ranging consciousness and capacity for depth and nuance of feeling and experience. It may be for these reasons that some schools of thought hold that humans possess more than one soul—as many as three, in fact. Other schools of thought hold that humans have but one soul, which possesses three modes of functionality that allow it to not only be aware and conscious in the normal day-to-day world, but in the invisible worlds of spirit as well.

In the Feri Tradition of paganism, the three souls are called the Fetch, the Talker and the Godself. This teaching was derived from Huna—a modernized version of the old Hawaiian esoteric lore, wherein the actual concept was one of the Three Selves—low self, middle self, and high self—that correlate to the well-known metaphysical concept of low, middle and higher selves, as well as to modern psychology’s categories of unconscious (subconscious), conscious, and super conscious.

These in their turn are related to parts of the human brain.

The subconscious is a function of the instinctual, reptilian, or primitive brain, which is regarded as oldest part of the brain, controlling a lot of bodily functions of which we are not aware, holding old forgotten memories, and having to do with our very survival by appropriate response to stimuli. When it feels threatened we become fearful, and take steps toward self-preservation.

The conscious is our normal everyday conscious awareness of the world immediately around us. The associated part of the brain is the mammalian brain (often called the limbic system), which has to do with emotions, feelings, and certain bodily functions—all having to do with our ability to navigate our way through daily life. It could be said that the subconscious is actually comprised of communications between the primitive and mammalian parts of the brains.

The super conscious is the transpersonal side of us, the part that can reach beyond the self into the bigger, more abstract picture. The associated part of the brain is the neo-cortex, the most evolved part of our brain, which governs thought, learning, problem solving, speech and creativity—allowing us to stretch beyond our instincts and basic emotions into transpersonal and abstract thought and decision making. This part of us functions best when we feel secure and unafraid.

All of these are part of us. All of these functions take place in our one brain, and to my way of thinking, are part of one, wonderfully complex, wide-ranging human soul. Of course, the brain and soul are not the same thing; the physical brain functions somewhat as a control panel for the functions of the soul—the mechanism which allows the soul to express itself in physicality.

All of this psychology talk may seem very far from Soul and Spirit, but in reality, it isn’t. We are Spirit in Substance—cells in the body of God; we are God experiencing Itself. As individuals, we partake of our divinity by the use of our wonderfully structured brain and body.

These parts of self are well known in the spiritual traditions, and have been given such names as spirit body, astral body, fetch, double, doppelganger, separable soul, and the like. All refer to our ability to send part of our consciousness to the other realms, the non-physical worlds.

There are times, however, when these parts of us become fragmented, and thus out of touch with the other parts of our self and the wholeness of self—so much so that they feel like separate beings, not part of us. Our job then is to reintegrate these parts of self, so we are whole again. Interestingly, this fragmentation can also occur in a wider sense, when we perceive ourselves as completely separate from either our natural environment or the other souls with whom we share the spark and breath of life.

While this reintegration process is often seen as the job of psychology, it is also, and perhaps primarily, the job of spirituality, particularly in the latter instance. The spiritual traditions by definition deal with the beings of the Otherworlds—Gods, Goddesses, ancestors, faeries, and the like—by means of ceremony, rituals, prayer, and offerings. When we become skillful in the application of these techniques, new links to the Otherworld are formed and nurtured, our fragmentation is rewoven into a healthy unity, and our soul begins to be healed.

It is with these different parts of our brain-soul system that we can access the states of consciousness that allow us to travel inward and find that sense of relatedness again.

I feel that the spiritual work of this moment in time is the work of Reunion with all our relations. It is to make those connections with the parts of self, but also, and especially, with the other beings of nature. I include the faeries in this category... but that’s another story for another day!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Ella Young - Elfland's Ambassadress

In this season of Brigid I am reminded of something that happened years ago.

In the early 1990's I was assistant editor of an earth-mysteries magazine called Dragon’s Quest. One day a very interesting article was submitted for possible publication. It was about an author called Ella Young and was titled Carmel Magic. It was written by a man named John Thompson.

Several years prior, while doing some magical work out on the land, I’d experienced some very strong Celtic energies. I found this puzzling, since I live in central, coastal California, and one would expect that I would have picked up on energies of the native cultures of the area rather than those from thousands of miles of continent and ocean away! But nonetheless, there they were. In particular, the energies of the goddess Brigid were very strong.

John’s article solved the mystery for me. Although I knew who Ella Young was, and indeed, owned her Celtic Wonder Tales, I had no idea that she had, in the 1920s, moved to an area quite geographically close to my present location, and had passed on her legacy of Irish magic to her new friends there. I had no idea that she had gathered this group of people around her and taught them about the Old Gods—Brigid, Lugh, Dana, Manannan and the rest—and about the faery folk and the other spirits of the invisible realms. Mystic that she was, she had a strong awareness of presence of these invisible realms and the beings who inhabited them, and taught her new students that nature was sacred and must be protected, and that the plants, the trees, the land, and the ocean all contained unique spirits with whom humans could communicate and from whom they could learn. Thus, she was not only one of the earliest American pagans of the 20th century, she was an early environmentalist as well.

While in Ireland Ella had been part of a magical group called the Fellowship of the Four Jewels. The jewels referred to were the four sacred treasures of the Tuatha De Danaan of Ireland—the Sword of Light of Nuada, the Spear of Lugh, the Cauldron of the Dagda, and the Stone of Fal (also called the Stone of Destiny). These treasures, in actuality, represented the powers of the land of Ireland itself. When Ella came to the USA and connected with the sacred lands in California, she quite naturally modified her focus to the land of California, while still using the magical structures and Celtic deities with whom she had worked before. So the Fellowship of the Four Jewels became the Fellowship of Shasta, with Brigid as its main deity. Ella dearly loved Brigid, whom she looked upon as the Earth Goddess herself, and it was to Brigid that the rites of the four yearly festivals performed by the Fellowship were dedicated.

Whatever work the Fellowship had done through the years of its existence (from 1931 till Ella’s death in 1956, and from 1960 till the death of her successor Gavin Arthur in 1972), it had certainly left its energetic mark within the lands of the central coast of California!

Learning that Ella Young had lived and worked so close to my own area inspired me to search out her autobiography, Flowering Dusk. I also read other works that mentioned her. I was interested to learn that she felt the area around Point Lobos, not far south of where I live, was the center of psychic force for the entire Pacific coast of America. About Point Lobos Ella said, “There are other sacred mountains, other sacred places, but this is the most powerful. But Point Lobos is not ready to make friends with society yet. Mount Shasta is making friends; other great mountains are making friends; but not Point Lobos. That is why people should be careful when they go to Lobos.” She said that when Lobos was ready to make friends, when its force was finally released, great things would happen in America.

She felt the other power spots along the nearby central coast all emanated from the Lobos area, and she often sat beneath the gnarled cypresses of Lobos, teaching her students about the powers and spirits of the earth, including the faeries right there at Point Lobos, and the great deva with beautiful wings who guarded the place. (1)

* * * * * * *

Several months after all this some old friends from Southern California drove up to visit me. They arrived much later than I’d expected, and I asked them what had taken them so long. They said they’d decided to take the coastal route I instead of the freeway. Then they asked me if I knew about that HUGE earth energy power point on the coast north of Big Sur and a bit south of the city of Carmel. They said it felt to them like a powerful dragon was in the land there. It was so strong they felt a need to pull over, park the car, get out, and make it an offering. I knew immediately that this had to be the Point Lobos area, and told them what Ella had said about it.

Some time after that, my family and I were driving down the coast towards Big Sur for a Mother’s Day outing. My husband was driving; I had my nose in a book. Quite suddenly I became aware of a huge surge of power flowing into me. The word “dragon!” popped into my mind as my head automatically jerked around to see where the power was coming from. I found myself looking at some rolling hills quite close to the coast, and they looked for all the world like a dragon lying on its side, asleep. The energy was literally rolling out of those hills. I knew instantly that we must be in the Point Lobos area, and this was later confirmed when we passed a road sign.

Because Ella was an early environmentalist, when she moved to California and was introduced to redwood trees, she quickly formed relationships with them, and soon became very supportive of the Save the Redwoods League.

Ella Young died not long before Lughnasadh, 1956, in her home in Halcyon, CA, near San Luis Obispo. Her ashes were scattered in a redwood grove near St. Helena, in the Napa Valley. She had known her time of death was nigh, and died as she lived—a Druid Priestess.

Much of the proceeds from her literary estate were donated to the Save the Redwoods League.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of Ella Young’s book, start with her Celtic Wonder Tales, which may be found here.

The very first story, The Earthshapers (my favorite), tells of Brigid’s role in the shaping of the earth into a fair and beautiful place.


Brigid’s Blessings to all!

(1) Rosalind Sharpe-Wall, A Wild Coast and Lonely, pp 187-188, Worldwide Publishing/Tetra, San Carlos, CA