What does your practice look like? by Eli Effinger-Weintraub

The Aggie Milky Way, by Doug Klembara

When I wake up, I say, “Good morning, Cosmos; good morning, Milky Way.”

photo by Doug Klembara

After posting the question “What does your spiritual practice look like?” to the Naturalistic Pagans email list, I was drawn to Eli’s response.  I knew immediately we had to publish it.  – B. T. Newberg

I have both practice and practice. I practice the small, daily and seasonal rituals that form the face of pretty much all religions, and I also have more long-term habits that reflect the spine of my personal spiritual beliefs.

Practice

Every morning when I wake up, I say good morning to place. I say:

“Good morning, Cosmos; good morning, Milky Way; good morning, solar system,” and so on down to “good morning, Eli.”

When I get in bed each night, I say my goodnights in reverse.

I say this grace before meals:

“Thank you to the plants and animals whose lives were taken to feed my body; someday, my body will feed your descendants. Thank you to the people who made this food and brought it to me; may we continue to nourish each other in ways that sustain this beautiful and sacred living planet.”

I have other small practices throughout the day, mostly tied to mindfulness and intentionality, the bedrocks of my beliefs.

And practice

Because we started out Wiccan, my wife and I honor the Wiccan Sabbats and Esbats as logical reflections of natural cycles. Our celebrations range from full-out ecstatic ritual, complete with circle-casting, divination, and power raising to simply going for a walk to appreciate what’s in bloom, what the weather’s like, or what the crazed neighborhood squirrels are up to.

I also try, inasmuch as a black-thumbed urbanite can, to live in balance with the living world around me. I choose local, seasonal, organic foods whenever possible. I compost and recycle. I grow a few food plants. In clement weather, I challenge myself to have as many car-free days as possible – and to expand my definition of “clement weather” to include as many days as possible. I donate my time, money, and energy to organizations whose work aligns with my values.

The place where these two types of practice most overlap for me is in cycling. I recently wrote a whole blog post about the spiritual aspects of cycling. It is a reflection of my deepest beliefs about the nature of the sacred and my part in it, and a ritual in itself.

I get all swoony just thinking about it!

Eli Effinger-Weintraub also talks about her practice of naturalistic spellcraft in a recent interview at The Secular Buddhist.

So there you have it.  Now, readers, how about your response?

What does your practice look like?

The author

Eli Effinger-Weintraub

Eli Effinger-Weintraub

Eli Effinger-Weintraub is a naturalistic Pagan rooted in the Twin Cities Watershed. She practices a mongrel brand of Reclaiming-tradition hearthwitchery influenced by Gaia theory, naturalistic pantheism, bioregional animism, Zen Buddhism, and the writings of Carl Sagan. But she tries not to think too deeply about any of that and mostly just rides her bicycle, instead. Eli writes plays, creative nonfiction, and short speculative fiction, often inspired by the visual art of her wife, Leora Effinger-Weintraub. She is also a mercenary copyeditor. Find her online at Back Booth.

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35 Comments on “What does your practice look like? by Eli Effinger-Weintraub

  1. This was very nice to read. Very simple and sincere – sometimes, I think I get too wrapped up in over analyzing my own “practice”.

    What brought this to my mind was when you mention how cycling is so spiritual for you. I view art in very much the same way, so I can totally understand. Sometimes things that don’t seem spiritual at all on the outside are deeply spiritual to the individual wrapped in the experience.

    I’m still in that phase of getting my bearings after a big shift from deistic paganism (Asatru) to naturalistic paganism, so I imagine the over analyzation of my own practices will continue for some time yet (and isn’t entirely a bad thing). However, this reminded me of the importance in letting go and delving into those practices that provide that certain connection that I think many naturalistic pagans seek… be it art, cycling, knitting or simply making a excursion into the wilderness for a weekend.

    Great thoughts!

  2. >Sometimes things that don’t seem spiritual at all on the outside are deeply spiritual to the individual wrapped in the experience.

    Good point, Ryan. Cycling is one of those things for me, too. I don’t do it enough to even call myself a “cyclist” really, but when I do I’m amazed by what it does for my well-being and my connection to nature and the world. Actually, we have a post coming up on spirituality and cycling by Thomas Schenk, so watch for that in the future!

    As for my own response to “What does your practice look like?”…

    I say a few words in my head or aloud before meals, addressing the food directly: “Food and drink, we invite you to become one with us, and accept your invitations to become one with you.”

    As I lie down to sleep at night, I do a deep relaxation meditation, which sometimes takes the form of allowing body and mind to go “back to nature”, submitting entirely to the power of gravity drawing me toward the earth, becoming overgrown with vines, and observing thoughts as nature “thinks them through me.”

    As for ritual, I used to do very elaborate ritual as a member of ADF (Ar nDraiocht Fein), a Neopagan Druid organization that still earns my deep respect. Thanks largely to Isaac Bonewits, their founder, and Ian Corrigan, they’ve worked out an in-depth liturgical theory that produces rituals with amazing psychological resonance.

    As I’ve turned more toward a humanistic and naturalistic path, though, my practice has simplified. I spend more time relating to nature with just my five senses, and when I do ritual in nature it is often a simple address of greeting and gratitude to the local place, possibly accompanied by an offering of water, incense, hair, or saliva. If something is on my mind, bothering me, I often explore that in “dialogue” with the local place, talking to it like a spirit, which very frequently releases powerful insights that are hardly forthcoming when I’m more in standard daily ego-consciousness.

    Indoors, I do ritual at my altar of Isis, with whom I have built up a long and warm relationship. I begin by offering water and a candle, then chanting a pre-set prayer in both ancient Egyptian and modern English translations, followed by a free-form prayer that tends to turn into self-talk, again in “dialogue” with Isis, and again frequently releasing uncommon insights. This is followed by a prayer of gratitude.

    Although I don’t feel these practices have gelled into a coherent system quite yet, they get the job done, and are almost better for their non-systematic nature. All have grown organically with me as my path has evolved over the years, have emotional resonance with me, and remain open to further development in the future. Perhaps that kind of organic development is one of the most important contributors to healthy spirituality?

    The one thing I wish I could say I still do – but don’t – is seasonal rituals. I used to observe all eight Neopagan holidays when I was in ADF, but since then I haven’t yet been able to develop a relationship to them as a naturalistic-type pagan. I’d be interested in hearing how others observe seasonal rituals.

    • “Thanks largely to Isaac Bonewits, their founder, and Ian Corrigan, they’ve worked out an in-depth liturgical theory that produces rituals with amazing psychological resonance.”

      I’d like to learn more about that, is it publicly available anywhere?

      “when I do ritual in nature it is often a simple address of greeting and gratitude to the local place, possibly accompanied by an offering of water, incense, hair, or saliva.”

      Upon reading this I instantly thought of my weekly drum circles (I suppose you could call it a weekly ritual). It is my first year in this small town of 900 people and they revolve around tourism and are very conservative, so it has been a quite summer. But I expect it to pick up again in the fall after tourist season is over, as it was much busier in the late winter and spring when people were not so busy.

      Having run the Sault Community Drum Circle in the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, for a few years, I have been accustomed to many more people and drum circles not so associated with Native culture and spirituality as it was usually seen as a form of recreation in the City. So it is difficult to break those assumptions and make people aware that drumming isn’t something you can box and define to one form of activity. Many people who’ve been to the Sault drum circles where of varying backgrounds and each made it their own experience. Some saw it strictly as spiritual and very ritual-esque, others simply enjoyed the freeform this kind of music had and were artists in their own right. I stand on both ends as It gives me spiritual release and I enjoy the music for what it is, and was honoured to have been in the role I was there.

      Striking a balance between the two can be difficult, as some wanted more ritual, while others didn’t see any spirituality in it, but both enjoyed it. There were times when I had to inform individuals (some I myself admired and even was a student of in my formal education) that the ritualistic elements they were trying to put in were pushing others away from enjoying the circle. They often didn’t understand but respected my request to essentially ‘tone it down’. There was always lots of love along with the misunderstandings, and people felt comfortable to voice their thoughts and concerns.

      Here in my new home, I have yet to form a core group of people, but I know that as I begin to understand the rhythms of this town and Island that I can work with it better and find the people who feel drawn to this type of activity. Until then, I now play for myself and since I don’t need to ensure a balance with a variety of people, I’ve managed to develop my own personal rituals.

      I’ve found that I mix in elements of what I’ve learned and practiced from my Anishinabe and Irish backgrounds. I set all the instruments out, I then put tobacco on the five trees encircling where I play, acknowledging their species in English and Latin names, thanking them for what they each uniquely provide, and acknowledging the direction the stand in relation to where I sit. I do this going clockwise starting in the east. I then play my native flute to ‘open the circle’. From there I play the instruments and rhythms that feel right. To close the circle, I play the ‘build up song’ on my large djembe (it essentially is just hitting the base real slowly and exponentially speeding up until you can’t go any faster and stop with a final BAM), then have a last flute song. Once the top piece of the flute is removed, the circle is officially closed.

      Normally I don’t do these things in the group, it is only when I am by myself. Except for the build up song – everyone has fun with that.

      “Although I don’t feel these practices have gelled into a coherent system quite yet, they get the job done, and are almost better for their non-systematic nature. All have grown organically with me as my path has evolved over the years, have emotional resonance with me, and remain open to further development in the future. Perhaps that kind of organic development is one of the most important contributors to healthy spirituality?”

      Same Here, and I completely agree with your last statement.

      “The one thing I wish I could say I still do – but don’t – is seasonal rituals….I’d be interested in hearing how others observe seasonal rituals.”

      I have a zillion note on this very subject, I have a few poems and songs plus some activities that are in the works. I expect that I’ll only get around to posting them on the site come winter. I have been very unexpectedly busy this summer and have fallen behind on many of my summer goals. I’ll let you know them once they are all finalized and hope to get some feed back from you and others during that process.

      • >I’ll let you know them once they are all finalized and hope to get some feed back from you and others during that process.

        Sure thing.

      • >“Thanks largely to Isaac Bonewits, their founder, and Ian Corrigan, they’ve worked out an in-depth liturgical theory that produces rituals with amazing psychological resonance.”

        I’d like to learn more about that, is it publicly available anywhere?

        Hmm… Let’s see, publicly available stuff… Isaac’s Neopagan Rites looks like it would contain the essentials, judging from the table of contents. The liturgy has also evolved a lot since Isaac, so I’m not sure if it would reflect all the refinements contributed by great folks like Ian, Ceisiwr Serith, and Kirk Thomas. A few years ago I published a liturgical manual intended to bring it down to earth for new ADF members, and that would have all of it in an easy-to-understand reference form. So far it has only been available online to ADF members, but I’m in the process of exploring print-on-demand options to bring it to hard paper form. Let me know if that would interest you and maybe I could hook you up with a pdf copy. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the comments, Ryan. I started out in Wicca and Wiccaesque traditions, so I understand that tension. I’m also a playwright and erstwhile actress, so sometimes I need the high drama of a full scale ritual. The rest of the time, though, I prefer simpler actions that allow me to integrate my reverence into the acts of ordinary life–which, of course, is anything but ordinary!

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  5. You already know what I do. So I’ll not mention any spoilers here.

    From reading the post from Eli, I like the approach – especially the morning and bedtime greetings & goodnights 🙂 But I personally can’t bring myself to thank an animal for its life to feed mine. How would you feel if you were attacked by a bear and upon your last breath, the bear (hypothetically) telepathically thanked you for your life? I would respond quite vehemently against the implication that I was willingly laying down my life to feed theirs. If I would not like that done to myself, than I cannot bring myself to do that to other beings. It comes off as disingenuous in my opinion. But I understand the reasoning and myself feel at a loss sometimes when it comes to celebrating food, but can’t find the right words to convey that because of what I’ve mentioned.

    Just me thinking ‘out loud’. Anyone else feel similar when it comes to celebrating food?

    • >But I personally can’t bring myself to thank an animal for its life to feed mine. How would you feel if you were attacked by a bear and upon your last breath, the bear (hypothetically) telepathically thanked you for your life? I would respond quite vehemently against the implication that I was willingly laying down my life to feed theirs. If I would not like that done to myself, than I cannot bring myself to do that to other beings. It comes off as disingenuous in my opinion.

      Hmm… I see what you’re saying, but I respectfully disagree. That seems like a reason not to eat meat at all, rather than a reason not to express gratitude to the animal (or plant, or mineral, or whatever I’m eating/drinking).

      I don’t think it is disingenuous. Perhaps it is my own idiosyncrasy, but I *would* actually like to be eaten after I die. Hopefully not in the violent manner you describe (preferably I’d be already dead!), but eaten somehow. It completes the circle of life. Whether my body is eaten by worms, animals, or just “consumed” by plants after decomposing into its various minerals, being eaten seems the perfect way to give back to nature.

      But really, my idiosyncrasies are beside the point. Ultimately, neither animals nor plants nor humans have any real choice about being eaten or not. It’s a process that is above individual desire.

      A mystery of nature is that *there is no intention in nature*, or almost none. Only in species intelligent enough to form multi-step plans toward a goal (which means humans and perhaps a rare few others) does it begin to make sense to talk of intention. So animals neither intend nor do not intend to give themselves up as food. Rather, it is through participation in the larger process of the ecosystem, the “circle of life” to put it in poetic terms, that we all participate in the food chain.

      Humans too. We can make it harder for nature to eat us. We can do our best to avoid being mauled to death by beasts (that one’s not too hard usually). Then we can pump our corpses full of formaldehyde to avoid being eaten by microbes *for a short while.* We can shut our corpses up in caskets, tombs, crypts, but it’s only staving off the inevitable. Our bodies are nutrient bombs for microscopic living beings and unless we fire our bodies off into space, one way or another they’re gonna get what they need from us. Nature eats us up.

      So we don’t choose whether we’re eaten or not. With the mealtime verse, what I’m really doing is accepting my part in a process that is greater than me, accepting it with gratitude. The invitation to become one with the other is a form of giving that is above individual relations, above ego, above the “little self.” It’s a giving of the “Big Self”, which is really nature manifest in all things. The Big Self gives itself to itself, like the self-devouring serpent Ouroboros. I’m a part of that every time I sit down to eat.

      And that is beautiful. Dreadful, terrible, and beautiful.

      Wow, actually I never quite thought it out in such explicit terms till you challenged me. Thanks, Rua. 🙂

      That

      • No prob. I have a tendency to put forward tough questions. Most people get a bit uncomfortable with some of the subjects, but – to me – that makes it all the more important to ask them.

        I have nothing against being grateful for food and highly respect the life cycle we are a part of, as you know. I also would prefer my body to be reused once I am done with it – what would I care anyway, I’m dead. I am also totally in favor of eco-funerals where you allow your body to return to the earth without superficial poisons that slow the process and harm others – heck I’ve a web page on my site all about that. I just never expect an animal to feel obliged to have themselves killed and eaten and wouldn’t want to phrase my gratefulness in a way that suggests that.

        • >I just never expect an animal to feel obliged to have themselves killed and eaten and wouldn’t want to phrase my gratefulness in a way that suggests that.

          Fair enough. 🙂

    • Hi, Rua.

      So, apparently my email decided to just stop informing me of comments, so I just saw this. I know the discussion is far on to other posts, but I wanted to address something your point about thanking animals for their lives.

      I don’t for a minute kid myself that these sacrifices are willing. Then again, neither do I believe that the animal can actually *hear* me, once their lives are gone. It is, for me, more of a reminder that, as others have pointed out, no human can live without the death of other beings. I say this same grace even when my meal officially contains no meat, because I understand that any food preparation process involves the death of *something*: beetles crawling on an ear of corn; germs living on the skin of a tomato…we cannot live but by others’ deaths, and I acknowledge that unfortunate and, in my opinion, unavoidable connection.

      • Aye, it is unavoidable for our species, and I like your honesty in that. I am grateful for the nutrition the bodies of the dead provide me, and that is as far as I go in that regard.

  6. “Although I don’t feel these practices have gelled into a coherent system quite yet, they get the job done, and are almost better for their non-systematic nature. All have grown organically with me as my path has evolved over the years, have emotional resonance with me, and remain open to further development in the future. Perhaps that kind of organic development is one of the most important contributors to healthy spirituality?”

    Nietzsche wrote: “I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity.”

    But William Blake wrote: “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.”

    Both of these quotes resonate for me, but I have not figured out how to reconcile them. I am a natural systematizer. And when I left Christianity I felt a strong need to create a new system for myself, but it did not feel alive to me. Over the years, I have let go a little of the need for a logically coherent system to buttress my practice. And I have found, like you, that the most effective rituals for me have grown quite organically and non-systematically from my experience. Like the very visceral need I sometimes feel to put my hands on the ground and feel the dirt. I have decided to make a ritual of that and try to do it daily while reciting a short poem that helps ground me.

  7. There seems to be a common theme among comments so far: as one moves toward a more naturalistic perspective, rituals/practices tend to get simpler. Is that fair to say? Anyone have an idea of why that might be?

    For example, could it be due to a dearth of naturalistic organizations from which elaborate liturgies may be drawn, or is it more likely something inherent to the naturalistic view? A tendency toward a less baroque, more intuitive relationship?

    • In my opinion, simpler tends to be easier to remember and comes off as a bit more genuine because it doesn’t have to be memorized and could be said with more conscious intent. Not to mention that there really is no need to be long winded to get your point across either.

      One thought that comes to mind is a conversation I had with my husband, who is atheist, on the subject of a pre-meal thanks. We recently went to a pot-luck and they had a Quaker thanks before we ate. Later back at home, I mentioned how I liked the silent aspect of it. He responded that he figured if he did a blatantly atheist thanks, that people would feel offended to essentially be forced to accept his views to be polite. Yet it happens to him all the time, and no one thinks twice about it.

      So I think that the simpler rituals also lesson the time people have to feel awkward if they don’t agree completely with what is being said, or that people are trying to avoid having to say anything that might be offensive or disagreed with, so shorter helps avoid much of that potential.

    • “as one moves toward a more naturalistic perspective, rituals/practices tend to get simpler. Is that fair to say? Anyone have an idea of why that might be?”

      I know I’m way late to the party, but my email notifications pooped out on me, and I want to throw in my 2 cents on this question.

      For me, simpler rituals feel more intimately connected to the object of reverence. If I get on my bike, or go outside to plant some mint, there’s nothing but my chattering monkey mind to get between me and Earth, Sky, All That Is. If I can quiet my thoughts, I can have a direct connection.

      Bigger, more elaborate rituals, of the sort I usually get in public groups, have the pageantry I sometimes crave, but when I’m in them, no matter what capacity, I always have the sense that I’m putting on a show. Maybe its just my nature to be hyper-aware of this, but it always feels more like “playing at” reverence than actually experiencing and communicating it. And there is definitely a time and place for that–it feeds something in my psyche that craves pomp and pageantry–but it doesn’t feed my deep spiritual longings.

  8. I am really enjoying this conversation. Eli, your practice looks almost identical to mine, from the Wicca influence to the Buddhist to the pagan (pantheism). Except I would substitute yoga and swimming for the cycling! It is very refreshing to find a group of people whose practices I can really relate to.

    As far as mindfulness goes, I practice insight meditation daily but also, if I can remember, I make it a mindfulness practice to just notice where I am in the world. Like at the doctor’s office the other day instead of being in my head or reading a book I just sat there and took in the details of my surroundings. Amazing how intricate things reveal themselves to be if you just pay attention. The windows, the chairs, the sky outside, the pictures on the walls, the carpet. It was all so interesting. Doing this practice makes me notice just how disconnected I often am from what’s around me.

    My husband and I did a spontaneous ritual yesterday, for a tree on our property that was mostly knocked down in the hurricane. It was our favorite tree, we called it the ‘majestic maple’ so we were sad to see it go down. Without going into details, our intent was to help it heal if possible, and to just communicate somehow that we were with it.

    As far as giving thanks to the animals before a meal, I feel this is the best way to participate in one of those mysteries of nature — the question of why life must feed upon death. It is just the way it is. And so I try to remember each day that at some point, other entities will be feeding on me when I die. I love that.

    Rua Lupa thanks for recommending this site via wildhunt and I look forward to hearing more about folks’ practices in future posts.

  9. Question: Have any of you actively killed your own food?

    I was raised on a hobby farm and ‘butchering season’ was not uncommon terminology where I grew up. If you didn’t farm, you at least hunted, or a family member hunted. It is never glorified and is taken very seriously by those who needed the nutrition. When you shoot a wild animal, or slice the throat of a raised animal. You don’t feel thankful in my experience, nor has anyone I’ve ever known who has done that. You feel bad for taking that life. You snuffed it out, why? Because you require that nutrition. That nutrition is the point, not the life of the animal that once lived. I know that I’ll be part of that process too, and know that what ever will ‘feed’ upon me, is not thankful to me or my life directly, but is thankful for the nutrition my body provides for its life. So I suppose I’d say that I am thankful about being able to have the body of the animal I am about it eat, but am not going to thank the ‘spirit’ of the animal for its body. I mean, its bad enough that I actively took a part in its demise, not expecting me to hurt it because I raised it from a chick or duckling. I feel that I should own up to that.

    • Like Lynn, I’ve fished for my own food. But not animals.

      I do, however, have hunters in the extended family as well as on my fiance’s side, including a game warden. The impression I get when I talk with those hunters, which is not necessarily verbalized by them but which comes in the tone of their words, is not they necessarily feel gratitude nor guilt, but rather connection. I’m sure some hunters may be all about the sport of it, but those I know are more sober and reverent about it. I have never felt inclined to hunt personally, but I can understand the sense of connection involved in participating so viscerally in the circle of life and death.

      • Precisely. Especially with bow hunters, from what I’ve found. It is a grand experience to be an active part of that cycle. I recommend trying it sometime, even if ‘unsuccessful’ it is invigorating.

        • I realized just now I sound flip-flopping in my opinions, I speak more on the side of butchering animals you’ve raised when I refer to the feeling bad – because you’ve raised it and it trusts you.

          Unlike hunting, your potential food doesn’t trust you and is more involved in the natural cycle than domestic animals. You feel more engaged and predatory – instincts kick in and that part is thrilling.

      • “I’ve fished for my own food. But not animals”

        That’s funny, I thought fish were animals too. 😀

        I expect you meant mammals and birds by that?

  10. Any animal that I eat is not just a piece of nutrition. I also recognize that it had some kind of consciousness or life force. Giving thanks is just a way — for me — to acknowledge that a sentient being had to die so that I could live. I guess some would say that’s just a self-serving rationalization, to make oneself feel better about the whole bloody matter, but I don’t think so. Ultimately, it’s an act of respect towards the thing I had to kill/pay someone to kill for me. Which is my way of owning up to it.

    Sure you feel badly for taking that life, but what is the choice? To not eat at all and to die? Accepting the reality that something has to die for me to live was a big step in acknowledging the sacredness of all beings in the universe, not just vertebrates or mammals that I personally relate to because they more resemble humans.

    Accepting 1) the reality of this circle (that we must kill to live, and then someday be killed so some other entity can live), and 2) any bad feelings participating in this circle might engender, are the source of the humility and thankfulness I feel when I give thanks before a meal. For me this was a HUGE step in what I feel is a more mature and authentic spirituality, compared to the “all is love and light” ethos and false purity trap that a lot of people fall into. Nature, which we’re a part of, is beautiful, powerful and vicious. Creation and destruction, Shiva’s dance.

    I don’t distinguish between the life of an animal vs. a vegetable or piece of fruit in terms “it being wrong to kill it, ” which is why I’m no longer vegetarian after being one for many years.

    I have not personally killed a chicken or a cow, but I have fished for my food. To me that’s the same thing.

    • “this was a HUGE step in what I feel is a more mature and authentic spirituality, compared to the “all is love and light” ethos and false purity trap that a lot of people fall into. Nature, which we’re a part of, is beautiful, powerful and vicious. Creation and destruction, Shiva’s dance.”

      I like that.

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