Personal Transformation and Sacrifice

One of the most obvious and most challenging aspects of fire is the notion of transformation. Fire has the power to change everything it touches. It can burn wood, melt metal and rock, transform liquid into gas. When we invoke fire into our circles and into our lives, we are invoking the power of transformation—the ability to burn away that which we no longer need, as well as the ability to mold those aspects of ourselves that are beneficial, but perhaps raw and unrefined. When we invite power to have its way over us, we allow ourselves to melt, to bend, to change. We shed that which is an unneeded or detrimental part of our history, and from our ashes we are reborn, just like the phoenix of myth, a creature of fire.

Transformation, however, does not come without a price. Though we may recognize that certain characteristics are undesirable, and though we may truly be ready to change who we are or how we behave, we may not always understand the complete ramifications of what that means. Transformation is change that requires sacrifice. It is change that requires us to dig into ourselves and recognize everything we are willing to part with, because only through parting with certain aspects of ourselves will we ever be able to truly be transformed. This is the story that Inanna tells us, as she travels into the underworld. She must shed herself and stand naked before her shadow self, the queen of the underworld, before she is allowed to be reborn.

A friend and I were having a quiet conversation over a cup of tea. The weather was getting cool, the leaves were falling off the trees, and the excitement that accompanies the onset of fall was settling in my stomach. Thoughts of my upcoming Samhain ritual scurried through my head-what would I wear, what would I ask for, what would I uncover. I turned to my girlfriend and asked her, "What sacrifices are you making this year?"

She snorted and shook her head. "I don't do that anymore," she said, matter-of-factly. "I don't see the point in giving up anything. I can have what I want without making any kind of concessions."

by Amber Laine Fisher

I took a moment to think about what she said, and though I was struck by the naïveté of the statement, it occurred to me that I probably shouldn't be so surprised at the sentiment. Many pagans operate under similar false notions—that acquiring anything worth having comes freely, without any kind of obligation to nurture or make room for it. Many of us are willing to accept that sometimes we have give up one thing to gain something we want more—not giving in to a momentary pleasure in order to keep on track of our greater desire is a common occurrence. But what we fail to realize many times, is that even the things we wish to expunge from our lives require some sort of sacrifice if we're really willing to dig it out and toss it aside.

Every part of ourselves—even the parts we don't necessarily like—rely upon another piece of ourselves to remain in tact. Our kindness relies on our ability to love. Our strength relies on our ability to be patient. Our devotion relies on an ability to commit. The good things we carry about, the positive attributes that make us who we are, act in a complex network with every other aspect of ourselves, such that when we want to rid ourselves of something or change something, we cannot merely reach inside ourselves, dig out the dirty, and cast it aside. Webs must be broken-threads must be untangled. Doing these things, changing and discarding, require that we make sacrifices-that we "give something up" to gain (or lose) that which we need.

We are plagued with many demons that we wish to be rid of. All of us have experienced some aspects of ourselves that we may wish to be rid of. Yet simply praying to be freed from that demon isn't good enough. Someone once told me, "How do you build a muscle but to use it?" When we recognize that we are overly prideful and ask the gods to become humble, we do not merely wake up humble one more morning. That muscle has never been used, and now must be exercised. One way in which that might happen is we may find ourselves in situations suddenly where we make embarrassing choices, or we might come face to face with many people who awe us. Perhaps someone points out our flaws and our mistakes. Perhaps we find ourselves with one foot wedged nicely in the mouth on too many occasions. If we ask for humility, we will probably find ourselves in humiliating circumstances until we get the hint—we are not superior. We are not almighty. We are human and we make mistakes. We are fallible. And eventually it sinks in and we become humble.

Every request to be transformed requires a commitment, a willingness to sacrifice and in turn be sacrificed. We cannot merely ask to be unselfish, for example, and expect for the change to come about without any kind of struggle or turmoil. We must be willing to make certain sacrifices. In selfishness, we don't have to put others' needs first. We don't have to look outside my own comfort zone. We don't have to worry about anyone else but myself. When we rid ourselves of selfishness, we give up the comfort of being committed only to ourselves. We give up a piece of our independence. We give up a certain solace that comes from living life with blinders on. Being open to others' pain, others' needs, infringes on our own sense of peace and freedom, because suddenly, our world is affected by much more than our own immediate concerns. Yet when we decide to rid ourselves of selfishness, we must be willing to give up the little things that in essence allow us to be selfish. It is not enough to ask the gods for change if we are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to accompany that change.

When we make our sacrifices required for our transformation into the people that we want to be, that's a grace1. That's a sacrifice that we make for our gods. Our willingness to dig deep and reach outside of our comfort zones in order to become better people and live more positive lives is a willingness to manifest Divinity in our communities, and everywhere Deity manifests, great changes occur. We sing the truth of this in our circles, especially during initiations and dedications. "She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes." And while this is true, every great change must begin with one small step. Every great change must begin with an individual. Each of us is gifted with the capacity to make our communities and the world a more beautiful, more sacred place. But we have to be willing and able to find the sanctity within ourselves first, even if it means unburying a lot of unsettling garbage.

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It all sounds so simple and so obvious. Even as I write this, I think, "Of course. How could I not have recognized this sooner?" But the truth is, in this day and age, it isn't obvious. It doesn't appear natural that we have to sacrifice something comfortable to get rid of something undesirable. Yet even in practical applications, we know this is true. If we want to lose weight, we have to give up laziness and junk food and excess. If we want to rid ourselves of an abusive lover, we have to give up the comfort of familiarity and stagnation. Doing something, or moving out of a destructive situation, isn't always easy because whether or not we realize it, it takes some sort of sacrifice. Our society doesn't like to talk about sacrifice. Self-help books and crash diet programs wouldn't do nearly so well if they were honest and up front about the sacrifices that go into changing our worlds, paradigms and selves. Yet sacrifice is a frightening concept, perhaps even more so for pagans. For many of us, the notion of sacrifice carries with it the Christ on the cross, or the self-abnegation of Lent. Yet the sacrifice that is required to change one's life isn't sacrifice for the sake of the common good, or for the pleasure of an absent, transcendent God. It is simply understanding that in our networked lives, something has to go when we decide to effect a change. The popular saying is true—There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. If you want it, you have to give something up for it. What are you willing to give up for it?

Samhain is a perfect time for considering such questions, but in truth, the question should be one that we ask ourselves with some regularity. Everything we strive toward, everything we aim for carries with it some kind of price. Fame destroys anonymity. Wealth destroys an unadulterated appreciated of simplicity. Every time we seek to bring something into our lives, or expunge something from ourselves, we need to ask ourselves, "What am I willing to give up for it?" The recognition of a need for sacrifice will help us more swiftly realize our goals, as well as make us more aware of the interconnections of all things— our faults and flaws included.

The notion of transformation is deeply rooted in an initiatory tradition such as ours. Initiation, however, is more than merely a rite performed to embrace an individual into a group (More on this later). An initiation is a beginning, and an initiatory path is a tradition in which the many "little beginnings" that make up life are given a spiritual context. Life is about the journey, and along the way, small (or

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major) things happen which forever change the course of one's life, marking the beginning of a new segment of the journey. Getting married, having a child, fulfilling a dream, choosing a Deity--all of these things can be profound initiatory experiences, and in most spiritual paths, those initiations are very important. Wicca, as a proclaimed initiatory tradition, recognizes these markings as opportune times to recognize Deity in the moment, to envision oneself in relationship to major mythologic themes, and thus better relate to God and the community.

still appropriate. In Christianity, a rite linked with a spiritual truth is a sacrament. In Judaism, a spiritually good deed is a mitzvah. As we have no similar term in Wicca, I propose to use this one. A grace as I choose to use the term is an act performed out of a spiritual conviction to manifest the virtues of the Divine.

When one is initiated into Wicca, whether by a coven, Temple, or the Gods (and ultimately, all spiritual initiations must come from the Gods. The question is really whether there will be any other attendants at the event) he/she takes on the commitment of a life of change and unfamiliarity. An initiatory tradition requires us to look at the self, see what needs changing, and to make those changes. It also means, however, that if we don't do that for ourselves, the Gods will happily do it for us. Stagnation will kill us—we have to be dynamic and evolving. The initiation rite jump starts this process, but a daily communion with the Gods almost ensures that the changes will continue. This is true of any communion with the Gods, not merely interaction that occurs within an initiatory construct. However, in such a construct there are usually rites of passage that coincide with the changes that we make in our lives which mark that we are indeed making a "new beginning". In a way, these rites and rituals are part of the co-creative process—they not only mark the change that we are undergoing but to contribute to it, turning our spiritual eyes toward our mundane life and vice versa. The ritual becomes yet another pact with Deity to live a certain way and to continue to grow and change.

Fire changes us. Fire charges us. Fire allows us the passion and determination to enact change, to conquer the dark, to manifest the sacred and act in grace. When we give ourselves over to the flame, we allow ourselves to glow bright and strong, and leave behind sacred footprints on sacred soil. The transformation brought by fire is life-changing if we do not allow ourselves to be consumed by it. But we must remember the sacrifice required for the change, and be willing to walk through the flames.

1 The idea of the Wiccan graces comes from Dianne Sylvan's book, The Circle Within. I am using the term in a slightly different manner, yet I think it is

The Chakra Checklist

The Chakra Checklist

The chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the back to the top of the head. New Age practices frequently associate each chakra with a particular color.

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