I have posts I want to make, and I have gotten out of the habit of making them. So I'm going to see if I can use this Pagan Blog Project thing as an excuse to try to rebuild my habits. What the hell, hey? And maybe in and among that I'll get around to other things that I was meaning to stick in the blog.
One of the things that I have as my standard advice to people who are undergoing stressy situations (good or bad) is "Breathe."
And it's actually way more useful than it sounds. The reminder to breathe often catches people in a twisted-up bodystate, one in which it's impossible to take a deep breath, in which there's a choking back of the capacity to inhale. And that place is one that keeps the physicality of stress in place, when taking a moment to uncoil, to take a breath, can release that tension.
The first person I trained with was a hardass about posture, which was really being a hardass about breathing. She wanted her students to be able to take a full, deep breath at any time, and to this day if I hear her voice my shoulders go back from their usual techno-hunch. But she would point out - not just that a body unable to efficiently process oxygen was not going to support spiritual or magical practices - but that breathing is a part of how people draw in life-energy. That magical work is made of power drawn in on the breath, transformed within, and then - again - spoken, using the breath. Breath is a part of the continuity that situates people in the world.
When I was early on in my Egyptian studies, I noticed that the word 'heka' - the word for magic - was written with an H hieroglyph and the symbol for the ka. Where the ka is the vital soul, the soul most bound to the body, the soul that passes from the ancestors on to the children (the soul that I refer to when I say "Hug your children so they have souls"), the soul whose name has ties to food, to sex, and to magic. And I folk-etymologied that H-ka to say, "Ah. Magic is the breath of the soul." It turns out that by actual Egyptology standards I'm closer to right than not - the standard literalistic rendition is something like 'activation of the ka', and given how tightly words are bound to magic in Kemetic procedure the notion that activating the soul is linked to speech, to breath, is not precisely farfetched. (And pun and soundplay is a theological obligation anyway, so even if it's not true, it makes sense as a folk etymology, which makes it religiously valid!)
The creator in some of the more popular Egyptian cosmogonies, Amun, is associated primarily with air. His is an invisible power, without which there is no life. To breathe is to receive life from the hands of Amun. For this and various other reasons, it was easy for Him to be seen as a universal god, personally interested in and aware of even the most ordinary peasant. The power of breath was an intimate connection with the animating power of the progenitor of all things.
I was reading a book recently that addresses, among many other things, some mystical symbolism regarding birth and rebirth (My Heart, My Mother, by Alison Roberts). There is a lot of discussion of the mingling of fire elements (represented by solar discs, crucibles, and so on) and water elements (boats, streams of semen) in the process of engendering life - but there is also a critical phase in which the wind moves the process along, in which this life-giving breath, this vital energy, the power to be and enact, joins the process of fire and moisture and converts it into breathing, moving life. I wrote, as part of my current training, addressing an unborn deity, and making reference to the texts Robert quotes:
- Among the unwearying stars
The crucible glows with life
You wait, resting, in the fluid dark
As breath ignites the waters.