Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Reality is enough!


So, I recently finished up reading a pretty disappointing witchy book.  It was written as a novel, but shrouded in this mystery where it was being sold as a 'true story'.  The book itself was full of all kinds of crazy Mary Sue instances (for those unfamiliar, a Mary Sue character is one who is the super, perfect character, the one with all the powers and no flaws). 

But I'm not actually here to talk about the book, rather to point out how the book is a reflection of the Pagan community, the faces we show to the public.  Everyone feels like they have to have this perfect practice.  It's social media disease, we only share the carefully staged photographs that show us from the right angle with filtered lighting.  We don't talk about the flaws or the struggles.

The problem is, that this becomes very daunting for new people.  They listen to other people, and they have this larger than life image of what being Pagan is all about.  They think they need all the tools (or no tools!), they need to have these amazing rituals, these incredible connections with their deity, this practice that perfectly weaves into their mundane life and these mystical experiences that are as real to them as the world around them.

But how many people actually have all of those?  I'd wager that no one does, not all the time.  Some people may have one or two, or they may experience them all sometimes, but the reality is that most of us are fumbling along, having real struggles with our practice.

Because let's admit it:  being Pagan is amazing, but in our modern world it is also hard.  We are at a place in time where SO many people are struggling.  We are struggling financially, we are struggling emotionally, we are struggling socially.  We may be finding out who we are, or we may be fighting to have other people recognize who we know ourselves to be.  We are just trying to make it through this day, this week, this year, this life.

And then, on top of that, you want to add in a spiritual practice that wasn't built for this time.  Many practices that we have adopted as Pagans have had to be transmuted because we simply don't do things the way people used to. 

Things like the phases of the moon or the turning of the seasons had real, everyday effects on people in the past.  Things that we may not even think of being connected, because we haven't lived them.  We don't appreciate how much light the moon gives at night because our world is lit by streetlights and car headlights.  City glow turns our nights into eternal twilight.  We aren't struggling to get everything to fit in the limited daylight of winter, because we can simply turn on the lamp when the sun goes down (and everything is open at the same hours year round).

I think a big part of what creates this issue, this need to portray ourselves and our practices as 'more' is that sometimes what is there isn't flashy, it isn't obviously impressive.  But it is real, and real things have a weight that many of these ephemeral experiences don't.

I am sure that most people dream of having full sensory interactions with the Gods they work with.  You read about that person who had a dream vision where they got to meat their deity, they felt their touch, heard their words, smelled the scents associated with them.  I am one of those people who never had the full blown experience.  And it can leave you in a place where you might be left wondering if you are even doing anything at all.

But I think that there is something really impressive about doing the work, without knowing if our work is being received in the way it is offered.  To me, this is the work of faith, to continue to hold our own faith, and to trust, without receiving that vision or experience, that our actions matter.  Because they do matter, and just getting up every day and keeping your faith is work in and of itself.

And I also think that the people who do receive those visions have their own struggles and challenges.  We may think that it would be fantastic to get that kind of feedback, but it might leave you wondering about your own sanity, or perhaps dreaming of peace (depending on how chatty your deities are!) 

I personally feel that Paganism is a very down to earth (pun intended!) practice.  It takes your every day life and works your spirituality into it.  And our day to day lives involve both ups and downs.  It's human nature to not want to share your struggles, to only talk about when things are going well, but I think that is something that we are learning to overcome. 

Admitting when you are in a low place not only allows others to recognize their own struggles in yours, but lets them help you, something which many people find great fulfillment in.  Talking about the mistakes you have made, or the times when you haven't been able to do things the way you want opens up a conversation, about how other people might be struggling with the same things, or what people have tried that helped them get through a similar situation.  The more we talk about when things aren't going amazing, the bigger our knowledge pool grows, allowing more and more people to find ways to make things work, instead of just feeling inadequate with where they are.

Ultimately the goal is to make things workable for you, in your life.  And that may mean letting go of some of these idealized visions of what practice is.  I truly believe that when you stop and look at what you are accomplishing, even if your work hasn't yet realized results, the reality of what is absolutely outshines the image you may be trying to project into the world. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Simple tools


We live in a world that is shaped by our society.  We are bombarded with messages all day, every day, about what we should be, feel, think and do.  We are shown images of things we should want, products we should buy....because money fuels the world we live in.

And, don't get me wrong, there are amazing, wonderful products out there, things that I love and things that I want...and things that I will buy.  I am a sucker for a beautiful deck of cards, for sparkly dice, for shiny tools and nice smelling stuff.

But, what we can sometimes forget is all those things are luxuries...they are great if you have access to them (and if you have the means to get them, then by all means, get the stuff that makes your heart sing!), but if we can't, that shouldn't stop us from honoring our spirituality and practicing our craft.

There is so much we can do with stuff that is everywhere, with things that we find or make, that cost us nothing (or at the very least are much less expensive).  The beauty of it is, the more you invest in your spiritual tools, the more you imbue even the simplest of objects with power and meaning.

I have been making simple tools pretty much since I started.  And often, as my money situation changed, I would upgrade tools, though I still use many of my simple ones.  My very first rune 'set' was simple flashcards.  I wrote the names and meanings of runes on bits of paper (ordinary printer paper that I tore into squares).  Later, I made another simple set by finding small rocks outside and using a bottle of old nail polish to mark the runes on them (you can also use permanent marker, I've done that for other symbols).  I made an ogham set with craft sticks (like the kind they use for popsicles...and you could totally clean and use popsicle sticks...or go find sticks outside)!

My very first wand, which I still have and use, is a stick that I found at my college, while they were trimming trees.  I let it dry, and stripped the bark off, sanded the ends, and there you go:  wand!  Driftwood also makes great wands, the water often does the sanding for you.  If you want to dress it up a little, I've wrapped sticks with yarn or thread, which gives a pop of color and a bit of grip.  You can add in feathers you have found or bits of fur.  I like to bind stones to the tips of my wands, and I tend to use leather strips...but you can totally glue them in place, adding other decorative elements where they join, if you like.

Letter openers make great athames, especially if you are somewhere that a blade might not be acceptable.  I used a pocket knife for ages as my ritual blade (because I wanted one that could cut things as needed), and those are really reasonable to find.  Old kitchen knives can be transformed into ritual blades, and can often be found really cheap at thrift stores or garage sales.  I actually made a 'blade' for one of my art classes with some poster board, cutting out the pieces and gluing them together (I finished it with clear packing tape...it didn't have an edge, but it was pretty neat looking).

For a pentacle, my first was a simple silver (looking) coaster.  I have made pentacles out of salt dough (which is a fantastic medium for crafting all kinds of things, especially statues!)  You could take wire and make a pentacle as well, weaving the circle outline first, then bending the wire to form the star inside.

You can go even more simple, and paint or draw symbols on rocks to represent your tools.  Think about what the purpose of the tools is:  what does it represent, how does it function for you, what do you need from it?  Search out rocks that feel right, and decorate (or don't!) them to suit you.  I have a crystal point that I use to direct energy, but I could easily use a similarly shaped found rock.  I also have a large, oval shaped river rock that I use as a healing focus, and representation of fire.

Another, really portable option, is to find images of the tools you need and print them out.  For durability, you can laminate or simply seal them with clear tape.  In college, I had images that I had printed for all four elements, as well as a God and Goddess image, so I could carry a full circle in my wallet!  I had a friend who simply used a tarot deck this way, using different cards to represent things he needed (he was military, and often couldn't have the tools he wanted at hand).

I have also made sacred tool images in an art journal.  I painted some, but I also used collage, so no matter what your personal artistic comfort level, you can create pages to represent different parts of your practice.  I made an altar page, a cauldron (which was painted with chalkboard paint so I could add things to it and erase them as needed), a grounding page (that was a really fun one...with outlines of my hands, so literally I can put my hands on the book and ground myself).  You could also make pages dedicated to deities you work with (like shrines!).  If you draw out runes or other divination symbols, you can grab a handful of pebbles and cast them on the page to see what runes the rocks land on.

The possibilities for tools are as endless as your imagination.  If you can make the connection in your mind, you can use something as a tool.  Never feel like you are limited because you can't afford all the fancy tools, because there are tools all around you!  And sometimes, the ones you find or make yourself become the ones that you use the most.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Drying flowers


People have been drying flowers as a way to preserve them for pretty much as long as they have been using them.  Flowers are dried for medicine, cooking, art or memory.  And there are many methods for drying flowers!

I love dried flowers, I have always had this desire to dry and preserve flowers that I have received, whether I am keeping them whole or breaking them into parts.  I still have flowers I dried back in high school!

How you dry your flowers very much depends on what you want to do with them.  When I am preserving something as a memory, I tend to want to keep it whole.  If I am preserving flowers to display, keeping them whole is an option, but for me a bigger consideration is preserving the color.  And then if I am wanting to use them magically, I tend to break them apart.

One of the first ways I learned to preserve flowers was by pressing.  Pressing flowers is pretty simple, but also works best with simple flowers that don't have a lot of bulk to them.  It is much easier to press a violet than it is to press a hydrangea.  The less bulk there is, the easier it will be to press them.  I also find that it helps to have petals that lay fully flat. 

I love to press flowers in the pages of journals, though you can use any book.  But pressing a flower directly in the pages of your book will often leave an imprint of the flower on the pages, which can be a fun way to add a bit of color to a journal.  You can also press the flower between writing paper or in a card slipped into a stack of books.  It may be helpful to add a weight on top of the books to help press your flower.  You can also press leaves and other greenery.

When you are laying out your flowers to press, arrange the petals in the way you would like them to be pressed. You may need to close your book carefully to keep the flower arranged the way you wanted.

Once you have gotten familiar with pressing single flowers, you can also press multiple flowers into a single arrangement.  This can be great for using in artwork or even for spellwork.  If you leave a stem on your pressed flowers, it makes them easy to hold if you want to burn them for ritual reasons.

If you want to dry flowers whole, you can always just leave them in a vase without water, but I find they wilt and droop when you do this (which can be an interesting look, if you want some thematic Samhain decorations!).  My favorite way to dry whole flowers is by hanging, and I like to hang them individually.  If I want to keep long stems (either for burning or to put them back in a vase later), I will dry them with the stems on, but if I just want the flower part, I'll trim the stem close to the flower. 

Then, I will take a needle and sturdy thread and string them through the stem (if they have very thin stems you can string them right through the base of the flower itself, which should be thicker).  You can  string a whole lot of flowers this way, and hang them from a rack or curtain rod to dry.  Drying whole flowers like this takes a bit of time, so be prepared to let them hang until they are fully dry before storing them (or you risk them growing moldy).

You can also tie up bundles of flowers to dry, much like you would a sage bundle.  With flowers, you would arrange them in a pleasing manner, then wrap your cord tightly around the stems (remember, wind tightly, they will loose bulk as they dry). 

There is a really pretty way of making flower crowns, that can be worn fresh or dried, that I learned while in Hawaii.  You start with a braid of raffia or cording of some sort (you can use ribbon if you like!).  Then, you will want a selection of flowers, with at least about a half inch of stem left on them.  Taking your cord, place one flower where you want your crown to start and wrap it a time or two with the cord.  Then pick another flower, adding it in and continuing to wrap.  You can make your crown as full or sparse as you like, placing each flower along the way with intention (you can make these tuned to a particular purpose as well, the process of making them is very focusing).

This actually reminds me of another way to string and dry flowers...the way they are often strung for leis.  You will run your needle right through the center of the flower (it's easiest to pierce the middle of the flower itself, and then guide your needle right through the stem on it's way out).  These leis can be worn fresh or hung to dry (and once dry you can easily snip the string to pull off the individual flowers).

I also like drying just the petals of flowers, and I did this with a bunch of roses from my mother-in-law's garden, when I was keeping an eye on it for her.  She wanted me to snip the roses when they started wilting, so that they would keep blooming, and I just couldn't toss out all those roses!  So I brought bags of them home with me.

Of course there were many petals that were chewed on by bugs or that might have spider webs on them...and there were quite a few insect hitchhikers that came along with the roses, so I took the bag outside, and dumped it out on my back porch.  One by one, I pulled the roses apart, saving the nice looking petals, and collecting them in a big bowl. 

I placed the bowl on my kitchen table, and left it until the petals were completely dry, giving them a gentle toss (with my hands, I just mixed them around a little so the same ones weren't always on the bottom) a few times a day.  I used the anti-splatter cover we have in our microwave to keep our kitties from scattering them everywhere while they dried!

Once you have your plant parts dried, you will want to store them in clean, dry containers.  You will also want to keep them out of the light, so they don't loose their color.  One nice trick is to save those silica gel packets you get in things and tuck them in your storage containers.  I have a few in the tub I keep my rose petals in.  They help absorb any moisture that might find it's way in.

Drying flowers is easy, and there are so many ways to go about it, and so many things to do with your flowers once they are dry.  I highly recommend giving it a try, and you may find that you love it just as much as I do!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Energy is boundless


Okay, I'm going to do my best to not get super preachy...but there are a few thoughts out there that really bug me and I wanted to talk a little about that today.  Energy isn't a physical thing!  It's not bound by the rules and laws of the world that we are used to dealing with. 

So, this may seem obvious, I mean of course energy is non-tangible...it's like smoke right?  But it's really not, in the sense that smoke is still a physical thing.  It follows many of the same rules as other things we interact with, the rules of our reality that we grew up with.

We think of smoke as being untouchable...because we can wave our hand around in it, and our hand passes right through.  There is no resistance, there is often no sensation.  Smoke is there, and then it isn't, it dissipates and we can't see it anymore.

But if you trap the smoke in a bottle and seal it up...it stays contained.  The smoke can't pass through the bottle, and this is a common perception of how energy works for many people.  They see the physical things of our world as having stopping power.

This brings up a whole slew of concerns, especially for people who are just starting out.  It doesn't help that some of these concepts continue to be passed along, taught from one person to the next, as if they were TRUTH. 

One I remember reading about very early on, that seems to have almost died out now, is that you should do your magic skyclad (naked) because clothing interferes with the energy you are working with.  Like somehow my teeshirt and jeans will stop the magic from flowing out of me and to where I want it to go.

Firstly, most people don't go walking around fully wrapped up in clothes, and even if you did, even if you wanted to do magic with a full onsie on, lying on your bed with your blankets pulled over your head and tucked around you....you could!

I always thought it was a bit crazy that people had no issue blindly believing that clothes stopped energy, but that I could cast a healing spell on someone miles away without a problem (and that energy would presumably go right through my walls and through any walls in the way...).

Speaking of walls, one I still hear a TON that makes me twitch a little is the idea that you need to open a window when cleansing to let the bad energy (or demons....I've seen plenty of people say 'to let the demons out' *sigh) escape when you sage.

Okay, yes the house traps the smoke from the sage (or incense) in your house...but again, smoke isn't energy.  Now, this may seem like a bit of a contradiction, because aren't the walls of our house keeping all that bad energy inside in the first place?  Why isn't it drifting away like smoke would?

I feel like there are a couple of factors here.  Firstly, a lot of energy is sort of clingy.  It doesn't move on it's own, so if left to it's own devices, it stays put.  This is why many systems of energy work look at the flow of energy in a place.  Because certain things will move the energy.  Often it's us, as we move through our house, we draw energy along with us, we break it up and shift it.

Of course we can also create areas that are sort of magnetized to hold energy.  If we constantly sit in one place in our house when we are sad, we build up a resonance there for sadness, and if we don't take care of it, that spot will start to collect sadness.

So what actually happens when we cleanse a space?  Whatever tools we are using, we are focusing our intent on shifting the energy in our house.  We might see it as driving the stagnant energy out, replacing it with better energy (like we do with sage or incense) or we might see it as transmuting the energy from something less desirable to something we want (often done through visualizations involving light).

One thing I find particularly perplexing about this 'must open a window!' perspective of energy having to conform to physical laws is it is very inconsistent.  Some people will strongly affirm that if you are saging you must open a window, but you can use sound or a light visualization just fine to cleanse your house.  Why would the sacred smoke (and your intentions) be unable to shift the energy if sound/light could.  Technically your walls block all three of the physical tools you are using (yes windows allow light in and some sound passes through, and our houses aren't airtight or we'd all suffocate..but you get my meaning!)

Windows bring up another odd belief about energies, and this one ties into the moon.  Many people like to charge things (stones, tools, water) by the light of the moon (full moon usually).  They take their stuff and put it outside, where the moon light can fall upon it).  But they fret about whether or not they can put it on a windowsill inside, or keep their things in a container outside (to protect them from weather or critters..or people)...as if the glass would stop the energy from reaching their things.

Another, very specific thing that I've heard people worry about, is if there are clouds in the sky or if a certain astrological phenomenon (mostly eclipses) are not visible in your area, can you still work with those energies.  I kind of feel like if the energy of the moon can reach me across ALL that space...a few clouds aren't going to stop it.

All of these examples boil down to people wanting to understand energy, but missing the mark just a little.  By nature, we want to compare things to other things that we understand.  So energy gets explained as being 'like smoke' or 'like light' or 'like electricity'.  This is enforced as we visualize, and those are three very common images that people hold in their minds, when they 'see' energy.

But energy operates by different rules than the physical world.  It exists not only around us, but inside us.  Your aura isn't an energy field that surrounds your body...but one that exudes FROM your body...it shares the same space and more!  When we charge an item, we aren't wrapping it in energy, we are filling it with energy.

When we cast circles, we are creating a boundary of energy...designed to help hold and control the energy we are working with.  When we direct energy, we are moving it, and we can move it through any number of physical things!

Thinking about energy in physical terms limits your ability to work with it because you are creating boundaries that don't exist.  If you believe that your walls will stop the bad energy from getting out, then you are actually setting the intention that bad energy should linger (because you don't believe it can escape, you are basically creating your own barrier to keep it in). 

If you can start to break down these ingrained beliefs, you can start working with energy in new ways.  You can be more flexible, and work around the physical world, rather than being bound by it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sacred, but temporary


People from around the world, and throughout time, have set up sacred spaces.  We have temples, churches and shrines that dot the globe, places where people can come together and honor their spiritual path.  Often, these spaces are beautiful buildings, with art to uplift and inspire.  They may be maintained by the spiritual leaders or by the community as a whole. 

Ancient peoples had sacred places as well, and alongside temples and more traditional buildings, they erected stone monuments and circles, many of which still stand today.  They marked off natural places of significance, so that they could gather and honor the things that were important to them.

But, as modern Pagans, we often don't have such spaces of our own.  We may attend services by other groups, and we may enjoy the spaces they share with us, but there are not very many dedicated Pagan churches or temples.

Now, many modern Pagans are also solitary.  While many belief systems are focused on working together as a group, and thus really need a communal gathering place, many Pagans have, and always will be, solitary. 

This leaves us with an interesting choice.  We can create sacred spaces within our own home, whether it is a whole room dedicated to our spiritual path, a permanent altar set up somewhere, or even just spiritual art hung around our house in dedication.

But we may also not have that freedom, even in our own homes.  Perhaps we are young or we live with people who don't share our beliefs.  Perhaps we live in some kind of communal living situation with rules about such things (like a dormitory or barracks).  Or maybe we just don't want our spiritual lives out where anyone can see.

Whatever your reasons, there are many ways to utilize temporary sacred spaces, and they can be just as powerful as more permanent ones!

When I was first starting out, I didn't have permanent sacred space in my own home, not even in my room.  All my spiritual things were hidden away in a small wooden box.  When I wanted to do something, I took my things out, did what I set out to do, and then packed them all away again. 

For home use, this worked out just fine.  Everything was together, and it was actually pretty easy to set up what I wanted and break it down again.  My tools were very selective, and the bare bones of what I needed (I think I had a small pocket knife, a lighter, a dish and pin to hold stuff I was burning, and that might have been it).

As my practice grew, I acquired more tools, and wanted more things when I set up sacred space.  I turned an old tool box into my sacred carry box.  It had places for candles, for stones, for my blade and bell, for a wand and pentacle.  One great advantage to having all my tools in a carry box like this was that I could take it out of my house, to the woods or beach or wherever I wanted to go, and I knew that if I grabbed the toolbox, I would have everything I needed.

There is something really neat about going out into the world, even if you are going to a private place (like a rented cabin) and setting up sacred space.  Calling on the sacred in a place you have never been, and you are likely to never be again, taps into that power of between, the transitiveness of life itself.  It helps keep you mindful of the fact that this moment is like no other moment, and we should cherish each experience as it's own thing, not just as a repetition of things we have done before and will do again.

There are some things you need to keep in mind, if you are setting up temporary sacred space.  First and foremost, you want to make sure you have all the things you need.  Because you have to bring in all your tools each time, it can be easy to forget things, especially if you are doing something that requires special tools or components...stuff that you don't normally use.  Having an outline or list of supplies is very helpful, so you can check and make sure you have everything you need.

One thing I found very helpful to bring, as well as my toolbox, was a large blanket, one that was going to be about the size of the sacred space I was wanting to set up.  It helped me keep a visual of the outline of my space (though depending on where you are setting it up you can also trace the outline in the sand/dirt or with chalk, or use candles to mark the boundaries), but it also helped me make sure that I gathered up all my bits when I was done.  The blanket was the last thing I packed up, so it was easy to see if there was stuff left on top or not.

Temporary sacred space can be as elaborate or as simple as you want it to be.  You may want to bring a lot of things, and make this beautiful space to have your moment in.  Or you might decide to gather natural objects, and make a space that can be returned to nature (or left as a bit of art for other to enjoy).  You may want nothing more than a candle, your journal, or even just yourself.

Marking space sacred ultimately is a matter of intent, and when we create temporary sacred spaces, we are deciding to honor the sacredness of not only this particular space, but also this particular moment.  The act of setting up the space is part of our practice, as is the act of cleaning up afterwards.  And when we leave, we hold that moment, forever in our hearts, even though the physical space is returned to the state we found it in (or better).

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Advanced practice


This is something that has come up a couple of times, in different groups I am in.  The predominance of 101 and beginner information, not only in published books, but also in online groups.  Many websites focus on basic stuff, books rehash the same old information, and many groups seem to share the same standard info-graphics.

So where is the advanced stuff?  Sure, there are more advanced books, but many of what gets recommended as advanced books are actually just basic books for specific subjects (so instead of being a Paganism 101 book it's a Norse mythology 101 book).  I've actually heard authors complaining because publishers don't want things that are more advanced, they only seem to want the general stuff, and actually told the author to take the more specific stuff out of the book so it would be more marketable.

And I do think there is some amount of truth to the idea that people who are just starting out tend to dive in with both feet.  They want all the information, and will buy a half-dozen books (before realizing that they all mostly say the same stuff...). 

Where it gets tricky is that a lot of the advanced stuff is just the basic stuff, but deeper.  It's taking what you have learned, working with it enough that you are comfortable with it, and then seeing how you can take it further.  It's actually breaking away from what you learn from other sources and figuring out how to pave your own path.


This makes advanced practice sometimes really hard for people, depending on their circumstances and how they learn.  Many people are book learners, they like to see words in print, to be able to read them over and over, to take notes and organize their thoughts on the page.  The struggle for these people is often weeding through the vast amounts of basic stuff for those few kernels of fresh thoughts.  Or trying to read adjacent material (like history textbooks) to piece together things that aren't typically talked about (like how an ancient culture might have approached a coming of age ceremony).

Other people need to be able to sit with someone and ask questions.  It's often the interplay between teacher and student that helps them.  This can be hard if there isn't anyone in your area who practices.  Some people need to just work it out for themselves, they actually do best if they aren't trying to read from a book or learn from someone else, and the biggest struggle they may face is breaking free from all the books and people telling them 'this is the way you need to do this".

Speaking of which, I think there is always that part of us, no matter how experienced we are, that isn't fully sure of ourselves.  We all have doubts, and having those doubts doesn't make you any less of an experienced practitioner!  I think it's what you do with those doubts that is more important.  A beginner might feel worried about doing things right, and so they hold off.  They try to find some outside source that tells them that what they are doing is right and proper and that yes they should do it.  A more advanced person will examine their doubts, see if there are honest concerns that need to be addressed (like safety issues), and once those have been handled, they will trust their own knowledge and experience and move forward.

Not everything you do, even as an advanced practitioner, will end in success.  But when you fail, you learn from it!  You stop and examine what happened, you seek out the places where your endeavor went astray, and you figure out ways to stop it from doing the same thing in the future (even if you aren't sure of those ways...it's still something new to try out!). 

I also feel that practice often follows a bell curve.  You start out knowing nothing, you dive in and submerge yourself in something, and slowly you start to swim.  But then, you might take a break, because we all need rest.  You might go and do something else for a while.  Eventually you end up where you are comfortable, and you can swim without much effort.  And many people stop here, and if that is what you want, that is fine!  But to take things to the next level, you need to push yourself.  You need to take that deep breath and dive.  You need to try to see if you can swim further, or faster or with less effort.

And I think that is where many advanced practitioners circle back (pun intended!) to the basic practices.  Many will revisit meditation or circle casting, after having done it for ages, and study it AS IF IT WERE NEW!  They will take all the information they have learned along the way, both about themselves and their path, what works for them and what doesn't, and they will apply it to those basic lessons.  And each time you do this, your understanding of a practice becomes more complex, more multi-faceted, and more personal. 

This is where I think the community is lacking.  I think we have a million sharable resources for the beginner stuff.  And every day, in my social media groups, I see posters and lists of correspondences, spells and motivational quotes.  These are shared over and over....and people like them or comment that they agree.  Sometimes people will ask if something is true, and often the response is a simple, "If you believe it, and it works for you, then yes it is true."

And all that is great and fine, but I think we, as a Witchy and Pagan community, as a global collective of people who are wanting to be spiritual and to improve ourselves, I think we need to stop just hitting the like button and start actually sharing!

Not sharing the post (though, definitely feel free to share stuff that you resonate with), but actually stopping, taking a moment to share YOUR experiences.  "Yes, you can charge your stones under and eclipse moon.  I did this last eclipse, and here is what happened...."  "Sure, you can cleanse your house with something other than sage, I use...."  "You know, everyone posts that tree meditation for grounding, but that never really worked for me.  Instead, I do...."

These are the ways we can all help each other advance!  By talking about what works and doesn't, by sharing our thoughts and experiences...by actually sharing what we do (no you don't have to write out the full details of every spell/ritual you do and post it online...but surely there are some things you are comfortable sharing!)

Sometimes this means being really honest about things we may not be fully comfortable with, things we may feel others might judge us for.  I don't do workings every moon cycle (not actual formal, full moon stuffs).  I was doing really good with my personal Sabbat rituals...but missed Midsummer (life got busy, and then whoosh it was gone).  We aren't all perfect, and our practices might not be perfect...but if you do anything, talk about it!  If you are struggling right now, and you aren't managing to do stuff (but you wish you could)...talk about that too.  Because there are probably a dozen different people feeling bad because they feel like they should be doing more..and when one person talks about it, everyone feels more comfortable talking about it.

Books often paint this picture of 'advanced practice' as something that is frankly unrealistic for most people.  Being advanced doesn't mean you have a three hour long ritual for every Sabbat that includes a full meal, crafts and seasonal spellwork.  It doesn't mean you own all the crystals and herbs and are brewing up all your own cleaning and bath products.  It doesn't mean that you mediate for half your day.  You may do some of those things, or you may do none of those things.  Advanced practice means that you have advanced beyond looking for other people to tell you what you should be doing and how to do it, and you have started making those decisions for yourself.  You determine what your advanced practice is, and the more people we can get talking about it, the more everyone benefits!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Making tools your own!


There are a lot of things we use in our practice, tools that help us to get into the right mind frame, focus our energies, record our thoughts, tap into the unknown, or any number of other things.  And there are a LOT of traditions and superstitions about many of these.

Things I have heard over the years:  Your Book of Shadows needs to be hand written!  You should make your own tools (including learning to forge your own blade).  You should be gifted tarot decks, not buy them.  You should never haggle over the price of a tool.  Your deck should be wrapped in silk and stored in a box.  Your crystals should be laid out to bask in the moonlight every full moon.  You should grow your own herbs.

Many of these traditions have good roots.  I know that writing the BoS by hand accomplishes two things:  firstly, hand writing things reinforces memory, and secondly, if someone malicious were to get a hold of your book, it won't have bits written by other people in it (so you can't incriminate someone else).  Other traditions I think made more sense in other times.  When people did more things themselves, it was no big deal to whittle your own wand and make your own clay cup (and even possibly work with the blacksmith to forge your own blade), but that's not always practical anymore.

One of the trends I am seeing lately that I am a big fan of is personal modifications.  I have seen a lot of scrapbook style Book of Shadows, and they are gorgeous!  The great thing about many of the ones I have seen is they don't require really any personal artistic talent, just access to a printer and crafting supplies.  You can find neat pages online, or even just art that fits the information you have, print out both your information and the art, and start cutting and pasting, adding in bits of additional fancy tape or ribbons, found feathers or dried plants, and you end up with something amazing!

If you feel more adventurous, you can totally add your own illustrations or art.  I took part in an intentional creativity project several years ago, where we made our own art books (in the picture above), and then had different projects throughout the year, each with it's own intention (it was magical art!) and process.  It was a lot of fun, and most of the projects didn't require a lot of artistic skill (either there was a really good tutorial, or it was more 'put color on the page to represent your anger' type of thing).

I recently joined a group that is dedicated to tarot (and divination) card alteration...and it's really cool.  I have a friend who removes a lot of the borders on her cards, and they look great.  Some of the people in this group also edge their decks (they color the cut edges to match or contrast the deck), and they look so pretty!

I think there is this fear, with magical tools, that if we do anything to them, we are somehow disrespecting them.  It's kind of like how we are taught to not write in books as children.  But if you look at historical books, some of them have notes, or doodles...and it's really special.  It's a glimpse into the mind of the person who read that book all those years ago. 

This is how I think about making alterations to my tools.  Firstly, they are MY tools, and as long as I own them (the same way I might write in my own books, but never one I have borrowed from someone else), then changing them in any way I see fit is fine.  Secondly, I want them to fit my practice, so if there is something that I don't like about a tool or something I think that might work better, then why not adjust it!

Sometimes we definitely have to take a deep breath and let go of some things.  I haven't actually altered a deck yet...because I have sort of a thing about patterns.  Of the decks I have, most of them have an offset face (because of the border plus the name at the bottom), but a centered back that goes pretty much to the edge...so if I were to trim the border off the front, the back would now be offset...and I think that would bother me. 

I know that not having the titles on cards bothers a lot of people (especially if they read based on traditional meanings, so they need to know which card is which).  For me, this isn't an issue, because I read based on image, not based on the traditional meanings.  But, I've seen people who cut the titles off their card mark the names right on the card with a pen! 

And some people may find the slight roughness, a bit of uneven cutting, or some ink bleeding (because many times when people edge decks, the ink bleeds a bit...or more) makes it look worse, but I kind of like it.  It's like the little imperfections that show up on pretty much every hand made thing.  To me, these speak of the love and energy that went into modifying or creating the thing.

A slightly off-topic thing that some people worry about, with modifications, is the resale value.  And yes, if you are planning on selling your books or decks (or other tools), and they are out of print or hard to come by, then modifying them can alter their value (almost always for the worse).  Again, personally, this is a non-factor for me.  For most things, once I own them, they belong to me.  I very rarely use things that I plan on rehoming later (and I never buy things as collector's items...just don't have the room/money!).  And frankly, if I am giving someone something that I used and altered, and they are unhappy with the alterations, they don't have to take it!

One thing that comes up also sometimes, when talking about alterations, is do the alterations change the original meaning of the thing....and does this become disrespectful.  This might apply if you are removing cards out of a deck (or altering the art on the cards), or if you find a statue you like, but want to alter it in some way (possibly changing which deity it represents).

I think this is something we each need to find our own comfort level on.  I personally don't tend to buy things that are original artworks, so when I buy a mass-produced or replica thing, I don't feel bad changing it up, even if I'm making some kind of extreme change.  I don't think I would alter original artwork...that I think would bother me (not saying it's wrong, I just think I wouldn't like to do it).  I don't have a problem altering statues (again, the mass-produced kind), to make them different.  I think that if I were changing the deity a statue represented, I might do a ritual to thank the original deity and to exchange that representation with the one I wanted.

There are a lot of ways we can alter our tools to make them our own.  Some of the alterations we may do might require us to do some soul searching, and decide if it is something we are comfortable with.  But there is also a lot of space for creativity, for taking something basic, or older, or simple and making something fabulous out of it!  Check in with your tools, see what might not quite be perfect for you....and figure out if there is something you can do to make it a better fit.  What you create might surprise you!