For the past several months, I have been (slowly) learning a musical instrument, as well as learning to read sheet music – the ocarina, specifically.
This is not my first attempt at learning a musical instrument; over the years, I have attempted to learn the ukulele, the guitar, the violin, the piano, and possibly others that I am forgetting. Each time, I have thrown myself into practice with the kind of enthusiasm and determination that would make a drill sergeant look like a big baby. Even on work days, I would dedicate upwards of an hour (though honestly, more often 2 or 3) to practice, then spend more time reviewing my notes from previous practice sessions, making notes from THIS practice session, and reading any new book I had found on the topic. I would also spend a very large amount of time googling anything relating to the instrument of the time, and preparing meticulous notes on what I discovered.
….I did not learn to successfully play any of these other instruments. Though I would always initially make fantastic progress, eventually my exhaustion would kick in, and I would begin to resent the very thing I wanted so badly to learn in the first place. Further, in those days, I tended to be quite hard on myself; instead of congratulating myself on learning to play a new chord well, I would berate myself for how long it took to get there. Every step forward met with a sarcastic slow-clap from my mind. And that is the worst kind of clapping.
There is so much I have learned, albeit mostly subconsciously until now, from trying again now with learning an instrument that applies to my spiritual practice that I am somewhat amazed and definitely delighted. Some of these will seem obvious, particularly to both professional musicians and other witches/goddess-worshippers, but I suspect this information could be useful for some, and I think is important to keep in mind.
Recently, as I think I might have mentioned on here, I have been trying to incorporate more play (not as in specifically playing a musical instrument, I mean a playful attitude, and playful ritual ideas and structure) into my religious practice; this has been a very uphill struggle. I come from a background that discourages play, particularly in the spiritual side of life – the joy of God, growing up, was a somber, serious thing; proper reverance could not be felt or shown with ecstatic laughter, after all. Even at home, I grew up being taught that the best kind of child, and later woman, was the quiet one – the one who didn’t attract to much attention, or distract from more important matters. I carried this behavior with me throughout my adult life, never questioning it much.
So imagine my surprise, and panic, would I began receiving more and more guidance from the Mother that I NEEDED more play – to be more light-hearted, less serious, less quiet; that ecstatic laughter would do very nicely, and be quite reverent, thank you. This began some time ago – dreams of silliness, cards showing up when I asked for help on why I’ve been struggling depicting sacred play, books sent my way reminding me of the importance of the child within. My child within died in childhood – recessitating her seemed both pointless and impossible.
For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the term “sacred play” (as I was until relatively recently), I could direct you to Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, where she helpfully explains that our inner child (referred to by her as our “Young Self”) is the part of us that is less effected by the troubles of our everyday lives. This part of us communicates through symbols and feelings, and so runs deeper then our everyday consciousness (known in the same book as the “Talking Self”). This part is the part we try to reach through both standard religious rituals you find in a Church, as well as through the rituals of witches everywhere who draw down the moon to feel the power of the Goddess. The priest turning wine into the blood of Christ makes no sense to the Talking Self – the Young Self accepts this symbolism and the magick of the Lord easily. Likewise to the Goddess-worshipping witch using poetry and visualization and gesture to draw the moon within; the Talking Self knows the moon to be a satellite body of the earth hurling around us in orbit. The Young Self understands and accepts this without question – the Young Self accepts magick.
Books like Starhawk’s, as well as others, explain this, these rituals we do, as sacred play – through ritual we engage the Young Self, bring it out to play, and so undergo a profound religious experience. And no religion places a higher value on sacred play then the religion of the Goddess; as I said above, I COULD direct you to Starhawk’s book (and in fact, I recently added it to my “books I like” page), but instead I will simply present to you the one prayer that crosses most, if not all, traditions of the modern-day Goddess religion. This one prayer, though often modified with love (in fact, the version I’m giving below is my modification, based on the versions both by Starhawk and Diane Stein) symbolizes and encapsulates everything I believe, and everything the Goddess represents to Her children:
The Charge of the Goddess
Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who of old was called Yemaja, Astarte, Ix Chel, Kali, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Diana, Corn Woman, Brigid, and many other names:
“Whenever you have need of anything, once in the month, and better when the moon is full, you shall gather in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me, who is Queen of all Peoples. You shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that you are free you shall be naked in your rites. Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in My presence; for Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit, and Mine also is joy on earth. For my law is love unto all beings. Mine is the secret that opens the door of youth, and Mine is the cup of wine of life, the Cauldron of Cerridwen, the womb of immortality. I give knowledge of the spirit eternal and beyond death I give peace and freedom and reunion with those gone before. Nor do I demand any sacrifice for behold – I am the mother of all things, and my love is poured freely upon the earth.”
Hear now the words of the Star Goddess, the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, whose body encircles and is the universe:
“I who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars and the mysteries of the waters, I call upon your soul to arise and come unto Me. For I am the soul of nature that gives life to all creation. From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return. Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices for behold – all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverance within you. And you who seek to know Me, know that your seeking and yearning will avail you nothing unless you know My secret – for if that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.”
…So how does all this relate to me busting out an “Ode to Joy” on the ocarina? Well for starters, I chose the ocarina as the instrument I wanted to try this time not because it seemed easy to learn (like I did the ukulele) though it is; I didn’t choose it because I thought there would be a ton of easily available music for it (like I did the guitar). I didn’t choose it because it sounds beautiful to hear other people play it (like I did the violin). These are all very mature, sensible reasons, and had no bearing on my choice.
I chose it because as a little kid I played a Zelda game with a ocarina in it, and my Young Self thought learning to play the actual instrument now, as a adult, was the most fun thing in the world. Going to buy one, I fought discouragement from my brain, screaming “This isn’t an instrument! It’s a toy! No one will respect you for learning to play this!”. I ignored it. Just as I ignore the hateful old voice in me that screams that I’m meditating wrong, not going deep enough, or going too deep. I ignore when it tells me that my dance during ritual looks stupid; I am a terrible dancer, according to this voice. I ignore it when it tells me that I can’t work magick, I can’t do anything, and that I am wasting my time, am worthless.
I dance, meditate, work magick, and practice my ocarina anyway. The voice screams louder now – “Ok, fine, you want to try to learn a instrument again? Fine, you’ll fail again though; you couldn’t keep up the practice before for the others, and you won’t now.”
That’s fine – I don’t practice like before anyway; this is for fun, for joy, nothing else. I practice for max 20 minutes a day, keep no notes, Google nothing, and if I’m working that day and too tired? That’s fine. It sits on my coffee table, my little black ocarina and Hal Leonard book, waiting for tomorrow. I pick it up with love, practice in pure fun and pretend I am naturally gifted, and set it down again in gratitude. My meditations and rituals are similar – judgement, fear, and self-hatred rise up and I ignore them; I pretend I dance for the Goddess, pretend I whirl about in the energies of Her world, and so I do.
I now know seven songs on the ocarina. Are they mostly simple? Sure. Do I play them with the perfection of a seasoned veteran? Nope. Do I love it dearly? Absolutely. This is farther than I have gotten in any other instrument and I have no desire to stop. I smile when I pick it up, and smile when I cast my circle, to work magick in the presence of the Mother. I laugh in ecstatic reverance. I play pretend with my Young Self. All is well.
*Unrelated note! I’ve been adding more and more books to the book list page! I will be (eventually) working on a links page as well!*