Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Morning and Evening Routines

Recently, the idea of daily practice was brought up again, in one of my groups.  This is something that comes up fairly regularly in many different places, and something that I've responded to in various degrees of thoroughness many times over the years.  But I thought I'd make a proper write up about my morning and evening routines!

My evening routine started amazingly enough, back in grade school.  I was part of the Signet program, which was an advanced program where once a week we were bused to another school and we got to take fun courses (like sign language or horses).  One of the courses I took was Tai Chi.  This was where I got my introduction to quite a lot of things:  breathing practice, meditation, visualization.

One of the practices we learned was one of relaxation.  You would first go through and tense and then relax all the major muscles of the body.  Then you would go back through and use visualization to further relax them.  I always saw it as painting my body, with a thick, cool paint.  As this was a relaxation technique, I started doing it at night, when I was in bed, right before I went to sleep.

I did this on and off, for many years, and this basic relaxation technique went through many incarnations.  For a while I used a similar brushing visualization, that was more detailed, and would focus on all the major joints and connections in the body as well as the larger areas.

When I was in high school, I read a book (called Life 101 if I remember correctly), that talked about creating a mental sanctuary.  This was a place, in your head, that had many rooms.  There was a media room, with a big projection screen, where you could load up a recording of any experience you had been through and replay it.  There was a medical room, that was filled with whatever kind of medicines, staff or machines you felt you needed to heal your body.  There was a personal room, that was a place you could go to relax and feel safe.  There was an outfit room, which had all kinds of clothes, so you could 'step into' any kind of personality or role you might need that day.  And there was a doorway through which you could invite anyone you wanted, and have conversations or work out issues with them.

I built up my own mental sanctuary, though I think of it as an astral temple, and personalized all my rooms.  This was a place that I went to every night.  I often would visualize being in my medical room while doing my relaxation exercises.  This also led to me working with affirmations in the form of potions.  I had things that I would want to call into my life, so I created potions (in my medical room) that would fit.  I sometimes struggle falling asleep, so I wanted to have an affirmation about falling asleep and waking up refreshed. 

The reason I decided to go with a potion image was that it incorporated many senses.  As I was creating them myself, I could add ingredients (no matter how fantastical) that fit my needs.  So my sleep potion included milk, moonbeams and chamomile.  Each potion I made had a purpose, had ingredients, had a scent, a look and a mouth feel.  I later added special bottles to keep them in, which were all different as well.  Every night I would say my affirmation, see the bottle, smell the potion, and then drink it, tasting and feeling it.

I recently swapped up from the potion idea to a clothing one.  Many of my affirmations have become like shielding during the day, so I think of them in terms of armor that I might wear to protect myself. 

As my night time routine grew, I also started to develop a morning routine.  It started with just Sun Salutation, but I soon added some simple Tai Chi stretches and meditation, as well as prayers.

Right now my morning routine starts by Greeting the Day.  This is a prayer based off of an old Norse prayer, and I saw a modified version (it is of course translated into English, so some of the words are different I believe) that I liked.  This is what I say:

"Hale Dagr, Hale sons of Dagr
To Nott and her daughters Hale,
With loving eyes gaze upon us
and here sitting grant us weal.
Hale to the Reign and Hale the the Alfar
and Hale to the bounteous mother Jorth and Nerthus
Words and Wisdom grant us
And praiseworthy deeds
And healing hands, while we live."

The word hale not only indicates a greeting, but also a wish of health and wellness, which I think is lovely.  So I greet the day (Dagr) and night (Nott), and ask they look upon us with love and blessings of health.  I left it in the plural, because I think of my morning prayers as speaking for my household.  Then you greet the gods (Reign and Alfar, though Alfar could also include elves and/or fae), and the earth (Jorth and Nerthus).  I like the feel of this prayer, and the fact that it speaks to my Norse leanings.  I say it while looking out my back window, at the field behind my apartment.  It gives me a moment of connection with nature and what is going on in the world that day (weather/season wise).

After that, I do my Tai Chi stretches.  I do one called Lifting the Sky alternating with one that I call Following the Moon (I couldn't find a link to this one, but your hands form a circle like the moon, and you lift them up to the sky, then open your arms wide, sweeping them down until you are touching your toes.  Then put your hands together to make the moon again and reach up to the sky).  After three repetitions of those, I do my Sun Salutations.  I used to do these three times each side, but found it generated too much heat (I don't like to start my day off sweaty, as I'm an evening shower person), so I do it twice, leading once with each leg.  These stretches help me shake off any tightness from sleep and wake up.

Every morning I draw a Futhark Rune, and this I use in my meditation that I do after my Sun Salutation.  I sit in half lotus (because that is my most comfortable sitting position), and take a deep breath.  I start by breathing into the chakra of the day, greeting the deity of the day, and asking to see the wisdom of the rune I drew throughout my day.  I read about working with a different chakra each day a while ago, and that really resonated with me.  I thought about it for a while, and liked how they lined up if I started with Sunday at the base and ended with Saturday at the crown.  This not only fit my understanding of daily energies, but also how my life flows.  So my daily associations are:  Sunday-root-Sunna (Sun), Monday-sacral-Mani (moon), Tuesday-solar plexus-Tyr, Wednesday-heart-Odin, Thursday-throat-Thor, Friday-third eye-Freyja, Saturday-crown-Loki.

Then I do a short loving kindness meditation.  When I do this, I breath up through my spine to my crown along the back of my body, then exhale down through the front of my body into the solar plexus area.  This is a breathing form I learned to help not only regulate personal energy but build up your total energy as well.  I always find it very soothing.  I repeat, "I am full of loving kindness, I am well.  I am peaceful and at ease, I am happy."  This is my favorite version of the loving kindness statement, and I think it really speaks to things I want in my life.  I repeat this three times (three is my own personal power number, and has been special to me since I was a child).

Next come my affirmations and shielding.  With each section I visualize putting on the piece of clothing, and calling upon it to bring the things I am speaking about into my life.  "May my feet take me where I need to go, and protect me from harm along the way."  I am not a fan of shoes, so my foot clothing is a long bandage, wrapped around the arch of each foot, then crossing over and around up the ankle and then tied (sort of like the ties on ballet shoes).  "May my pockets be always full,"  My lower body clothing isn't always the same (and amusingly don't always have pockets), but are often shorts or a wrap skirt.  "May my allure be firmly in my control."  I have always had a strong view of my own sexuality, but sometimes I have trouble with lines being blurred and not being able to create the boundaries I this affirmation is about being the master of my own body and my sexuality (and not being the victim of it).  This affirmation goes with a wrap shirt. 

"May I have the strength to do what is necessary, and the courage to do what is right."  This affirmation actually goes with two daggers, which I see as tattoos on my arms.  The left one (for what is necessary) is a black dagger, and the right one (for what is right) is pure silver.  These represent the hard choices we have to make.  I think there are a lot of things in life that we have to do because they are necessary, but they aren't always pleasant and they may have repercussions...but we do them anyways because we have to.  On the other end of the spectrum, the 'right' action, the moral choice, the choice we can live with ourselves when we make it has it's own struggles.  So I have two reminders to be strong and brave and make the right choices.  "May my hands act upon my will."  My hand clothing is another bandage wrap (like you might use for martial arts) or lace up finger-less gloves.  I have a thing about my fingers being free (I am a very touch-heavy person).  This affirmation is a reminder to act with intent, so I am not taking actions that are thoughtless.

"My guardians are always at my back."  This one is another weapon, a sword this time.  I have always been a tool-loving person, and a blade-gal, so it never surprised me that my protections include multiple blades.  This one becomes a tattoo on my back, with the hilt up at my neck, running down my spine.  It is a reminder that I am never alone.  I have lots of people who have my back, both human people and spirit people.  "I am always of the shadows, and only show what needs to be seen."  I've been a people watcher all my life, it's something that I love doing.  People fascinate me, and many times I am quite content to stick to the sidelines and observe.  But I also think of my path as being shadow based:  not quite light and not dark, but somewhere in the misty middle.  I think that life is complicated and things aren't always as clear cut as they appear.  I have many sides to me, and I become who I need to be in the moment.  This affirmation goes with a hooded cloak.  "My mind questions all that is."  This affirmation is tied to a simple silver circlet.  I am always looking to learn, and I think that when we stop asking questions we stop thinking for ourselves.  It is through the asking, the seeking, that we find the truth.

The last part of my morning routine is a modification of an incantation know as the "Sith Galdor" from an eleventh-century manuscript.  I changed the wording from God to Odin, as I felt it more suited the piece and my own practice.

"With this sphere, I gird me round
By Odin's grace may I be bound
Against sore stitch, against sore bite
Against all horrors that haunt the night
'Gainst dread that folk fear everywhere
and loathy things that here would fare
Sig-galdur I chant; a sig-rod is my stay
Word-sig and work-sig ward today
No nightmare do my spirit harm
No foes oppress nor fear alarm
Nor wight nor weather threaten me
From danger defended I will be
I bid great Odin victory give
Guarded so, safe shall I live."

As I say this I either do or visualize specific movements.  The first line I trace a clockwise circle around myself, and on the second line I open my arms wide to the sky and then cross them over my chest.  During the third and fourth lines, I turn to each of the four directions in turn and trace a Sowilo rune (like a jagged S or lightning sign, it's the rune associated with Sig in the chant).  I repeat those sets of movements twice more, and finish with a final circle and arms open then crossed.  This incantation to me protects against so many things, and it is my regular daily protection.  In the same book I read about this (Trance-portation) two shorter centering chants are given for practice, and I really liked them, so they have sort of stayed in my practice long after I was done trying them out.

"North and South,
East and West,
In the center,
I find my rest."

"Before me,
Beside me,
Behind me,
Beside me,
Above me,
Below me,
Within me,

I absolutely love both of those, they are simple and just feel right to me.  After that, I often sit and just breathe for a few moments, or say any other affirmations I'm working with.  And that is my morning routine...which really isn't as long as it sounds, I swear!

At night, I have a different routine.  It starts with checking the doors.  I have a chant I say at the front and back doors (our only two that lead outside), but I also physically check to make sure they are locked.  At the back door I say:

"Night has fallen, Day is flown
Holy Frigga, bless our home
With joy and laughter, love and song,
Frigga keep our family strong."

The back door is by the kitchen, and I feel Frigga would be most at home here, and in many ways it is the heart of the house, so I feel this part fit this door.  At the front door I say:

"Night has fallen, Day is flown
Holy Hammer, ward our home
From trolls and thurses- Thunor keep
Our family safe that we may sleep."

Thurses are giants, and Thunor is another name for Thor.  To me, the front door needs a stronger protection, so I like this one here.  After warding the doors, I'll brush my teeth, and head to bed.  If I am alone, I will light a candle on my bedroom altar and do my prayers, but if hubby is home, I do them later.  For me, prayer is a deeply personal and private thing.  It's not that hubby wouldn't give me privacy, but more that I just feel like it needs to be something that is just between me and Odin (he is who I pray to at night).  So it feels right to do prayers out loud when I am alone, and in my  head when I am not.

My prayers to Odin are not a rehearsed thing.  I rarely ask for anything other than strength for a difficult task ahead or guidance about something I might be unsure about.  Most of my prayers are me talking:  about how my day went, about things that are coming up or about anything else that might be on my mind.  I struggled with prayer for a long time, and part of it was that I didn't feel my relationship with the deities I worked with really fit well with petition prayers or adoration prayers or any of the other types of prayer I was familiar with.  Instead, I fell to conversation.  To me, my relationship with Odin is more like that of father/daughter than anything else, so I talk to him, and I share my life with him.  I always end my prayers with some silence, some time to just be open.  A good friend of mine once said that when we pray we should leave as much time for silence as we spent talking:  to let the gods speak back.  That thought really stuck with me.

Once I am in bed, I start by recalling my energy.  This was something I read about a while back, and I feel it is especially important for me as I am highly emphatic, and often end up spreading myself pretty thin if I'm not careful.  So I call back all my loose energy, not only energy that I have sent to other people or places, but energy that is invested in random projects, things unfinished or whatever else it may be tied up with.  For this I say, "I cut all cords that tie me down."  The image of cutting cords works for me. 

I follow it up with, "I release all energy that is not mine."  The mental image for this is my own energetic body, but looking for bits of energy that don't match the rest.  My favorite analogy is that of a puzzle...with pieces that don't belong.  I see my own energy as a black and silver smoke, with the smell of rain and a match that was just extinguished.  So I look for energy that doesn't match and let it go back to whomever it came from.  I think we pick up energy all the time, from things we touch or things we interact with (even digitally).  And holding on to energy that isn't ours can make us feel unbalanced or lead to feelings and issues that aren't ours.

The last step of this process is recalling my own energy.  "And recall all energy that belongs to me."  This is one of the reasons why I use the cutting cord analogy.  By both releasing the extra energy (which also makes room for my own), and recalling mine, I am really shepherding my energetic body and thoughts.  I don't like the idea of leaving bits of myself all over, so I call them back.  If I think of a puzzle with mismatched parts for the releasing section, for recalling I think of filling up any places that are still empty.

This three-fold process serves as centering for me, and I follow it with a quick chakra balancing.  In the morning I focus on just one, whatever the chakra of the day is, but at night, I run through them all quickly.  I use a very simple mantra for each, one inhale and one exhale.  I start at the root and work my way up to the crown.  "I am, I feel, I do, I love, I express, I perceive, I comprehend."

After that I do a sort of reverse shielding.  I think that I need different things at night, the things I protect against during the day are not needed at night.  So I work my way through the protections I put up in the morning and take them off.  At night, I start at my head and work my way down to my feet.

"My mind is calm and at piece."  I take off the circlet.  If there is one thing that tends to keep me from sleep it is when my mind gets caught up in thinking about something.  It could be a worry, it could be excitement about something that is happening the next day, or just an idea that I had that leads to lots of crazy thought.  So if I can get my mind quiet and calm, that leads to a more peaceful night.  "I take down any masks I put up during the day."  I see myself taking off a mask (like a harlequin mask), and the hooded cloak.  I think that we all wear different masks in different situations.  But at night, I don't need them. "My guardians watch over me while I sleep."  I actually don't remove the sword, but I touch it as a reminder that it is always there.

"My hands lay down their burdens and rest."  This is a reminder that my work is done for the day, and that it is time to sleep.  I take off the gloves.  "May my will," I touch the left knife tattoo, "and my honor," I touch the right tattoo, "be at peace."  I cross my arms so the tattoos touch.  This is a reminder that both halves of me need to work together.  "May my body be rested and innocent as a child's."  I think there is something really special about watching a child sleep.  They seem to be completely out, and almost always wake with boundless energy, so that is how I want to sleep too.  I also want to embrace that innocent body sense that children have, before they have woken to the idea of sexuality.  Night seems the right time to call this forth, especially as I remove the shirt.

"May I not be concerned with monetary or physical problems."  This affirmation is tied to my pants, as that is where my pockets are, and the physical problem part often refers to body problems in my mind.  Money is definitely one of the things I think about a lot, and this just reminds me that I don't need to stress out about it.  Worry doesn't help solve things, and letting my thoughts dwell on problems just creates more problems.  "May my feet rest along their path."  As I take off the foot wrappings, I remind myself again, that the work of the day is done and it's time to stop and rest.

This is where I will pray, if I haven't done so already.  The last thing I do at night is pick some kind of little story to play with.  This is something I started doing in car rides, where I would make up a situation and just let it play out, with myself as one of the characters in the story.  At night, I may do that, or I may play with a story I'm working on writing.  It's just a little pre-dream play (sometimes the stories do end up transitioning right into dreams), that lets me drift off easily.  I find it works better for me than trying to clear my mind.  It gives me a soft mental focus, something easy to play around with, something fun, that distracts me from any deep thinking (which typically keeps me awake).

Again, my night time routine isn't nearly as long to do as it is to explain, Whew!  But what I really love about it is that it is completely portable and discrete.  I've done a version of it for over two decades now, and it is my one constant practice that I do everywhere.  The only times I skip it are when I am so exhausted that I literally fall asleep as soon as I hit the bed...and even then, I almost always get the first bit done.  It gives me a great sense of comfort to have that continual practice, even if many of the details have changed many times over the years.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Revisiting the past

I've said before that I'm not much of a record keeper.  I don't typically spend hours and hours recording every magical or spiritual thing I do.  However, I am a decent journaler, and I have been trying to record more of my (non-daily) divination spreads.

But I think there is a lot of value in coming back to things we have done before, whether it is an old practice, a memory, a journal entry or a book we have read before.  It doesn't matter how well I think I know a thing, when I go back to it, I always walk away with new insights.

I think part of that is that I am not the same person today that I was when I experienced the thing in the past.  I have grown and changed, and so my personal perspective is different.  I'm quite literally looking at it with new eyes, and making new connections because different things may be important to me today.  I may have gone through experiences and learned things that make different parts of a thing more meaningful. 

I also think that we see what we are meant to see, in this moment.  So I may not be ready to understand everything the first time through, and only by coming back to something can I uncover those other layers.

This is particularly true for me with books.  I can read a book a dozen times (and I have some books that I have definitely read dozens of times) and each time I read it, I will have different insights and takeaways.  I also find that often information has to settle a bit for me to really start to internalize it.  So at first read I may get just the basic bones of an idea, but on the next time through I can start to flesh it out, and really work it into my understanding of the world.

With personal journals, I think there is a different mechanic at work.  When I am writing, I am not always thinking about what things mean.  I am trying to express what is inside, and trying to get all those hard thoughts into words.  But when I go back and read what I have written, I can think about it and consider what the words I wrote mean.  Especially if a decent amount of time has passed, I can get greater insight into my own mind and experiences and see things that I couldn't at the time, because I was caught up with my focus somewhere else.

This is one thing that I think is especially true when it comes to divination readings.  Sometimes we need that perspective, we need to look at things in hindsight in order to make sense of them.  When we are in the middle of something, we just can't see the whole picture, even with some help from our tools.  Interpreting a reading in the moment gives very important information, and can be a great help in deciding what to do, but looking back on that same reading after the event in question has come to pass, helps us see the greater patterns that will help us when facing similar situations down the road.

When working with memories, I think we encounter another really interesting phenomenon.  We tend to remember memories as they felt 'in the moment' that they happened.  So we remember them from the perspective of our younger self.  Certain memories may haunt us because we didn't have the tools with which to understand and deal with the situation when it happened, and without deliberately looking back and working through the memory, we continue to be trapped by that emotional response that was set when the event happened.

One way to start breaking through that wall is to write down the memory, exactly as you remember it, with all the thoughts and feelings that you can remember feeling at the time.  Really try to capture the moment as it happened, without any judgement or editing.  Then, let it sit for a while.  Try not to think about it until you feel ready to go back in and work with the memory.  When you are ready, read what you have written, but not as if it were your memory, but the experience of someone else. 

Write down your reaction to the event, from your current perspective.  Try to be more factual at first, writing down why you think things unfolded the way they did.  If you have learned more about the situation since it happened, write that down too.  Then think about how you might talk to the person this happened to if they were your closest friend.  Think about how you would talk to them if they were a child...and then if they were an adult.  Write down your thoughts and advice.

This is a process you can keep working on, reading what you have written and writing new reactions and responses, until you start to find your own peace with the situation and memory.  You may find yourself writing about how that experience has molded your behavior or personality.  It may be things you like (even if the actual event wasn't so pleasant) or it may be things you want to change (and are going to work through their roots so you can start to modify them).  Each time you go back to that memory, you will work in it a little bit more and uncover new things.

When it comes to old practices, I love going back to things I used to do and working with them again.  Sometimes it is a short term thing.  I'll remember that I used to cast circle a certain way, when I was learning, so I'll go back to the method I used and play with it, using my current level of knowledge to explore the old practice.  I may find that it is too simple for me, or that perhaps my path has taken me along a different way of experiencing the world and the old practice just doesn't fit with my beliefs any more.  It is still fun and informative to go back and work with it for a little while.

Other times, I'll go back to something that was sort of basic and work through it from a more experienced perspective.  My practice of grounding has changed and evolved so many times over the years, but going back to the basic sitting meditation, reaching into the ground and connecting with the earth while reaching upward and also connecting with the sky.  It was something that I have struggled with at times, because of the way it is often described.  And yet, whenever I go back and work with that particular method of grounding, I am able to see different aspects of that practice, as well as things I can work with in my own grounding practice.

There are things that we just can't figure out, unless we go back to things.  We may have to read a book many times before we understand one of the points in it.  We may find ourselves in a lovely spiral with a practice, where we keep doing it, and it starts to feel so familiar that we don't have to think about it and then all of a sudden we have a breakthrough and it's like a whole new experience even though outwardly it is the same.  We may wrestle with a memory, trying to escape it's grasp, knowing that we will need to spend a lot of time working with it until we can start to untangle it's effects in our life.  Never be afraid to go back and work through something never know what you will uncover!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Working with Tricksters

April Fool's day has become a sort of phenomenon of pulling pranks and creating havoc.  Some people keep very much in (what I feel) is the spirit of the day and aim for jokes that will put a smile on people's faces.  Others, however have taken it as a day to do mean or dangerous tricks with the intention of laughing at other people's misery.

Along those same lines, I think that tricksters, whether they are deities, spirits or people, have a similar variance.  Some act out of pure joy and laughter while others are definitely malicious and take delight in causing pain.  There are also some that are like the court fool:  they use laughter and jokes as a way to point out flaws and still keep the atmosphere light.  Some tricksters use their deceptions as a way to open our eyes to the truth of what is going on, and some trick you into doing things that ultimately benefit you, but that you might not have done if you knew what was going on.

The danger with tricksters is that they are tricksters.  I don't think there is any true safety or stability when working with them.  When you find yourself in their company expect chaos of some kind.  While this can definitely be stressful, it also keeps you alert and on your toes.  Working with tricksters will never be boring.

And I think that there is great value in working with tricksters.  I am not really a fan of the concept that all divinity is nothing but light and love and wonderful things.  I firmly believe that the divine comes in all flavors.  Some are not so kind.  Expecting all tricksters to have your best interest in mind is a great way to end up getting hurt.

But I also don't think they are inherently evil or anything like that.  I have heard a great many cautions against tricksters, and most of them suggest total avoidance.  But, if you feel called to a trickster, you may have great lessons to learn.  You may uncover parts of yourself that will bring you great joy.  You may enjoy the thrill of the unexpected that they bring into your life.  And if a trickster is seeking you out, running away or trying to ignore it might cause it to escalate.

My personal advice is to trust your instincts, be wary and keep your eyes open and be ready to act.  I think that we can often feel when someone has our interests in heart.  That being said, just because someone has good intentions doesn't mean that things will always turn out well.  And, just because the ultimate result is something that makes you stronger, doesn't mean the road won't be bumpy or that you won't get knocked around along the way.

And don't believe all the stories you hear, about any given trickster.  Stories are great, and definitely worth listening to and thinking about.  But remember that all stories have many points of view, and the person telling the story is only sharing one of them.  Take both the good and the bad with a grain of salt, especially with tricksters, as I often feel we don't quite get their true motivations.  The stories can give you an idea of what to expect however.  They can show you some of the ways that trickster has interacted with others, and help you decide if that is someone you would be willing to work with, and how far you are willing to go.

While my primary deities are not tricksters, I do work with tricksters on a regular basis.  I also feel that they have had a lot of influence at different parts of my life.  I am not always comfortable with the idea of change, and I definitely feel that tricksters embrace change.  There is often a wildness to them, a sense that you can't truly predict what they are going to do.

The funny thing is, that I used to be a lot more attuned to the flux.  I loved doing crazy things, not really planning, and running by the seat of my pants.  There are still parts of me that do, but I also feel that having a family has changed me.  My life has developed more rhythms and when they are disrupted, I feel out of control, and not in a good way.

And yet, I am still called to the tricksters I work with.  Sometimes I feel like I am being coaxed out of my little cocoon and other times I am being kicked out.  The more I fight against the push, the more stressful it becomes, and the harder the whole situation turns out to be.  The more I can relax into it, allow the currents to carry me, and remain open to what happens, the easier it tends to be.

I find it very helpful to keep a curious mind.  I often feel like there is a sense of excitement, almost a delight, that is thinking, "OOOh, I wonder what will happen if I do this...", and that it doesn't matter how many logical answers you give, you won't truly know until you try.  I also feel like sometimes we look at an outcome, and we see it the same way we have always been taught to see it, and what we really need is to stand on our head and look at things in a completely different way.

Working with tricksters can be crazy, silly, frustrating, terrifying, fun and/or rewarding.  The one thing it isn't is boring.  It is one of those things that I think sometimes requires complete commitment.  If you are going to do something, the truly do it.  Once you make the choice to do that crazy thing you are being temped with...embrace it!  Ride the wave, enjoy the ride, and see where it takes you.  You can always be sensible after...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From Work to Play

There are a lot of things in life that we have to do, and many of them aren't the most fun.  Some things are completely out of our control.  We may have health concerns that require us to do things in order to care for ourselves, or we may have family that needs taking care of.  Our job may not be something we enjoy, but might be necessary to put food on our table or keep a roof over our head. 

And even when it comes to the things we want to do or enjoy doing, there are often aspects or tasks that we know we need to do, but may not particularly want to do.  If we play a sport, we know that practice will make us better, but it might be tedious.  Or we may need to do strength training or cardio so we can perform better.  We may love our family, but that doesn't mean that we necessary like changing diapers or cleaning the house.  And sometimes, we are just tired or not really in the mood to do the things we might ordinarily enjoy, but we know we need to do them anyways.

When we aren't enjoying the task at hand, it often becomes so much worse than it actually is.  We begin to dread doing it before we even start, and we drag our heels or try to distract ourselves.  We may fuss and fight the whole way, making the actual process harder than it needs to be.

I have been doing a 30 day manifesting challenge with Connie Benedict, and the topic of the quality of our actions came up.  The idea being that if an action isn't fun, then it might be an indication that the result of that action might not be in our best interest.  I think that when we set an eye on a goal, we should feel excited and jazzed up about working on it.  Now this doesn't mean that every step along the way will be fun and amazing, but if every step feels horrible, then perhaps you might want to rethink your goal.

So what do you do when you know you need to do something, are absolutely excited about the end goal, but one or two steps along the way just aren't your thing?  I know from personal experience, the more I can make any action or experience fun, the easier it will be.  And often the more I will get out of it as well.

One of the easiest ways to find the fun is to try different ways of doing something.  I love yoga, but I have found that some yoga videos I really can't get into.  Other people make holding those hard poses much easier simply by their own energy and personality.  I also know that I really dislike cardio workouts, but I have found some (like zumba) that I can get into (because they incorporate dance).  Perhaps you want to get in more exercise, but hate working out.  You may decide to start playing a sport, or take your dog to the park for regular walks.  Finding the versions of an activity that I actually enjoy turns what was something I dreaded to something that I actually start to look forward to.

Of course some actions are harder to twist than others.  I go with my mother-in-law to her doctors appointments (because she can't drive the the further away ones, and likes to have someone with her so that there are two people listening to the doctors and so she doesn't forget to tell them things).  Doctors visits are really never fun, and she can be quite impatient (understandably so when the doctors keep her waiting way beyond her appointment time). 

What helps me with these times is changing my perspective.  I try to not think about it as doing her a favor so much as showing her I care.  I like my mother-in-law, and I enjoy spending time with her (under normal circumstances).  So I tend the conversations, and try to keep her talking about things that are interesting to her instead of dwelling on the appointment or the fact that we are still waiting.  By making my focus on her instead of me, I find the time more enjoyable and I am not thinking about what we are doing, simply spending time with her.

I also use the time to practice my own patience (which serves me well also with hubby, who has inherited his mother's impatience).  When I think about focusing on my own calm, the time becomes practice time for me, time to challenge myself at remaining calm and keeping my own inner peace, no matter what the people around me are doing (doubly important because I pick up on other's emotions, so twitchy people tend to make me twitchy unless I work at keeping my own tranquility).

I also think that changing perspective can be used to turn tedious tasks into games.  As I was thinking about this topic, I kept thinking about kids movies where chores are changed with a little imagination.  I've actually seen programs for adults that present things like health goals (working out, eating healthy, and doing other self-care actions) into a fantasy game (like you might play on the computer).  You designate each of the things you are doing as a complimentary action in the game. 

So, for example, if you are wanting to work out three times a week for a month, you may draw (or print out) twelve monsters, and post the sheet on your fridge.  Each time you work out, it is the equivalent of slaying one of your 'foes'.  And at the end, when they are all defeated (and you have done your twelve workouts that month), you celebrate the victory.  If you are on your own, this might mean giving yourself a reward (like many quest givers in games give you a reward for completing their task), like a new pair of workout clothes or a day at the spa.

You can incorporate this idea with visualization to make distasteful tasks something else as well.  If you have to spend time at work with someone you don't care for, try changing how you perceive them.  You might visualize that they are your best friend, or someone you don't know but would like to.  One thing that works for me is to start coming up with stories about someone.  If they are always grumpy, tell yourself the story about what makes them grumpy.  Make the stories a little crazy.  So maybe they woke up that morning and their cat had eaten holes in all their boxes of cereal, so the kitchen was covered with a mix of cereal pieces.  And all their socks had disappeared, so they had to go look for them, and they found them all stacked in a pile in the bathtub.

It sounds a little strange, and it is, but what it does is get your mind focused on something else, something that (hopefully) is more enjoyable, than the current situations.  I also like to use this kind of visualization technique for things like long plane rides or other periods of waiting.  I may not have control over when things happen, but I can choose to make the wait time something that I have fun with instead of just staring at my watch.

I also find that if I can change my environment, that will often help me find joy in routine things.  I am not someone who likes cleaning (at all!), but I have more fun with it now.  I have a bright shiny red broom (because I had the choice of a black one or this pretty shiny red one, and of course I picked the red one!), and I tied bells onto the end of the handle, so that every time I sweep, bells sound.  Sound is cleansing, and that was one reason why I did it, but listening to the bells jingle as I sweep just makes me smile.  It's silly, but it makes me want to sweep so I can make the bells ring.

Scent is another way to change your environment.  When I am working on lots of writing (like during November when I try for 2k words a day), I do my best to make sure my desk is as pleasant as possible.  I may light a scented candle, or use an oil diffuser, or just put on perfume.  I pick scents that are soothing or invigorating, depending on what I feel like I need that day.  Just stopping and taking a deep breath, brings up the emotions that are triggered by the scent I chose.  It takes me out of the moment I'm in and lets me refresh myself and get back to the thing I am working on.

I also find that joy carries over.  If I am doing something that I really am not enjoying, I may find myself at a point where I need to just walk away from it.  I often go outside and just bask in the sunlight and take in nature.  Deep breaths and just letting go of any tension or frustration until I feel energized and happy again.  Then, I find that when I go back inside and start working on whatever it is, I am revitalized and the work seems to go faster.

It is important to know what brings you joy too.  Music is a huge thing for me.  There is always music, and if I need to pump myself up, I can swap up a song to something that makes me want to dance and take a little dance break.  I love music when doing things that I enjoy but have tedious bits, like cooking.  I like to cook, but sometimes watching a pot or mixing dough can drag on (and make your arm tired too!)  If I have music playing, I can be singing and dancing along, and minding my cooking doesn't seem like a chore anymore.

It definitely takes trial and error, but there is a lot of value in learning how to turn ordinary tasks into something more fun.  When you start to pick up on how to apply the things you love to the things you need to do, you can create an enjoyable experience wherever you are and whatever you have to do.  So, whenever you are faced with a task that you aren't looking forward to, try to figure out a way to bring the fun into it.  You might be surprised at what you end up with!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Building your symbol library

I do a lot of work with symbols, and I find them to be not only really versatile but also with a depth of meaning that can be built up in layers.  But symbols have their weakness, and many times the more simple the symbol, the harder it can be to use them in ways that go beyond the obvious.

Symbols are mainly used in two ways:  they can be used in magic or writing to represent an idea or concept and they can be used as messages from the divine that we interpret.  The more fluent we are with the symbol, the more information we can gain from it when it pops up in our life (whether out in our daily life or as part of a divination system).  And the more different ways we can use the symbol in our practice and spell work.

Take for example the money symbol:  $.  When we see it, we think of money, often specifically of dollar bills.  If we were to start seeing this symbol repeatedly in our daily life, we may jump to the idea that money will be coming our way.  But money can also represent things like:  power, freedom, responsibility or fun.  And if we look at the symbol itself, we could see it as a snake and staff, a crossed through S or a broken infinity symbol.

The more you work with the symbols you use, the more different ways you can understand them.  I am a huge believer in the power of stories.  For me, learning the stories behind things help me remember them much easier.  So when I work with learning symbols, I am always looking for the story.  I want to know why a thing means what it means.  I want to learn all the interesting facts about a symbol.

One of the first proper symbol sets I worked with was the Futhark Runes.  I actually learned them as an alphabet first, which I used for a lot of my early magical writing.  But then I started to learn the meanings of each of the runes, and they became a sort of magical shorthand.  Instead of spelling out the things I wanted to represent with runes, I would find runes that represented the ideas I wanted to call upon, and I would use those runes in my work.  At this point, my understanding of the runes was very rudimentary, I had a keyword for each one and that was about it.

It was many years before I began a true inquiry into the runes and their deeper meaning.  And once I did, I was hooked.  I started looking at some of the larger lists of correspondences for each rune, and some of them confused me.  I didn't understand, for example, why Fehu was known as 'Cattle' but represented wealth, or how Gebo represented both 'Gift' and exchange.  I also had a really hard time remembering the different rune names and which one meant which thing.

And that was because I was looking at their meanings as simply lists of ideas.  I wasn't connecting the ideas to the rune, and I definitely wasn't finding stories about the ideas.  Once I started looking at the shape of the rune symbol, and actually sitting down and journaling about what the shape looked like to me, what it might mean, and how that fit with the accepted meaning of the rune, that is when things started to come together.

Another thing that was really helpful to me was finding a couple of different sources where people shared their own stories about the runes.  Being able to read a short guided meditation about the rune, or read legends and folklore that was related to the runes helped me see the connections, so that now when I look at one of the rune symbols, I start thinking of different stories and ideas that are connected to them.  I still look things up, but now I am more likely to turn to my own notes and journal pages than a published book or website, because I have built up my own connections and reflections on the runes.

Last year I started working with the WomanRunes which is another rune system, though one that takes a more feminine perspective.  But much like the runes, the symbols themselves are quite simple, and they each have a basic keyword that they are associated with.  I really enjoyed them from the start, I like that there are some really great ideas represented with these runes (like Labor or Laughter).  But again, much like with the Futhark Runes, they really came alive for me once I had gone deep with them.  I took an immersion class, where I spent time with each rune, exploring them from my own perspective with journal and art prompts.  And even now, when I see other people share their experiences with the WomanRunes, I grow my understanding even more.

I just ordered a batch of charms, which I am using as the base for a Trinket oracle (which may actually stay a charm oracle, I kind of like the uniformity of having them all be charms).  I bought my batch blind and random (though I did request more nature/animal charms, and the seller was amazing in fulfilling that), so I am in the process of becoming familiar with the charms and what they might mean to me.  Some of the charms are simple and obvious.  There is a little spiral, the word 'love' and a bicycle.  But there are also several varieties of leaves and trees.  So I see a good bit of research in my future (which I am excited about....yes I'm one of those people who likes researching new things!)

But even with initial impressions, there are several charms that stand out.  There is an elephant charm, but it has sort of crazy eyes and big circles on it's body.  I immediately connected it with the pink elephants from that charm could be the energy of elephant for me, but it could also be imagination/creativity, or even a small touch of insanity.  There is a mouse charm, and if you look really closely he's holding a tiny cookie.  So now it's not just a mouse, but also represents an endless cycle (or toddler logic..)

Each charm will have it's own stories, it is up to me to uncover them.  And then, when I work with them, to figure out which story fits the situation.  Because I am a firm believer that symbols can have multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings.  Just because a symbol is connected with both life and death doesn't mean that it means both at the same time.  I don't think that anything in life is absolutely one dimensional, we just need to look harder to find the other perspectives of some things.

This past Yule a friend gave me a fascinating little game called Brainspin.  It comes with all these symbol cards, and the point of the game is to come up with as many things that the symbol on a card could represent in a limited amount of time.  It is really fun to play, not only to challenge yourself to break free from your first impressions (which is REALLY hard...especially since you know your on a time limit), but also to see what kind of connection other people come up with for the same symbol

But the process is a very useful tool.  You can apply the same principle to other symbols!  Give yourself a minute, and pick one symbol (whether it is a shape symbol like these ones or the runes or an item symbol like a turtle or an apple).  And then write down every thing that comes to your mind when you think/look at it.  Any connection you can come up with.  Perhaps Algiz looks like a chicken foot to you, or that 8 looks like a snowman.  A turtle could make you think of computer programing (wow am I showing my age....) or it could remind you of soup.

If you really want to go deeper, after you are done brainstorming, go through your list and journal about each thing.  Write about how it is connected to your original symbol, and what that might mean when you work with or receive the symbol. 

I also find this journaling process really good for coming to a deeper and more personal understanding of traditional symbol meanings.  Sometimes, when I am having trouble making connections with a traditional meaning, I'll sit down and work it out on paper.  I may write out a couple of different ways that the meaning and the symbol could be connected.  It might mean that I have to put myself in someone else's shoes, and pretend that I am someone who sees the connection and am trying to explain it to someone else (me!) who doesn't quite get it.

What is really interesting about this process, is even if you don't ever make the connections yourself, even if the traditional meaning never clicks for you, by writing about it, you are more likely to remember it.  If you just want to remember traditional meanings, sometimes you can take the 'ridiculous story' approach.  To do this, come up with the craziest explanation for why something means what it does that you can imagine.  Seriously the stranger and more outlandish the better.  This is the power of stories, and why learning stories behind things helps forge stronger connections.  Because stories are interesting, and the more interesting the story, the more likely you are to remember it.

So, whether you are picking up a new symbol (or set of symbols!) or just wanting to deepen your connection with the symbols you already work with, remember to seek out the stories!  Delve into the stories that are out there, but don't be afraid to make your own stories.  The more stories you have connected to a symbol, the more it will become a deep and meaningful addition to your toolbox, and the easier it will be to use it in different situations.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Working with eggs!

I've been doing some research for this month's Witchy Children story (my reward for Patrons who pledge $5 a month over at my Patreon site....check it out and consider pledging if you enjoy my work!)  It doesn't matter what I'm writing, whether it is fiction or not, I like to start from a factual standpoint, and then get creative.

So I've been doing a lot of reading about eggs (and chickens...but this post is about eggs), not only how they have been used magically, but how they form and develop.  This kind of thing  fascinates me.

I've worked with eggs and egg parts before, and thought I knew a decent amount about eggs, and yet as I was writing, I'd come up with a thought and realize I wasn't sure about it, so I'd have to go look it up.  Just like many modern city dwellers, we buy our eggs from the grocery store, so use unfertilized white (and washed) eggs.

There is an urban myth that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs, but the color of a chicken's egg is actually determined by it's breed, and no color is innately healthier than the others.  Not only that, but all chicken eggs start out white, and the color occurs because of pigments that get added as the egg travels through the chicken on it's way to being laid.  I found it really neat that green/olive eggs come from a mix of blue and brown egg laying breeds.

Egg shells are the thing I use most in my work.  I started saving egg shells many years ago after coming across a recipe for egg shell chalk.  The recipe I use is pretty simple:  the shells from 5 eggs (about 1 Tbsp worth of ground shell), 1 tsp flour and one tsp hot water.  You can add food coloring and ground herbs as well (just try to keep the consistency similar to the base recipe).  Mix all the ingredients together and then roll into a stick and let dry (or press into whatever shape you want).

I love magical chalk.  You can use it to draw symbols or to mark boundaries.  Depending on what you add to your chalk base, you can adjust the properties of the chalk, making it more tuned to different energies.  I make a basic cleansing chalk with sage and salt.  You could also make small sculptures from this chalk recipe, like you would salt dough, but with the added qualities of protection or healing from the egg shell.

Since I started making the egg shell chalk, I have been saving my egg shells when I cook with eggs.  I simply rinse them out in the sink (pulling out as much of the inner membrane as I can), and then let them dry.  I rough crunch them (just breaking them up with my hand) and keep them in a small container until I am ready to grind them.  Then I use my mortar and pestle and grind them into a find powder and keep them in a final jar.  You can also toast them in the oven if you want a bit of fire in your powder (be careful not to burn them, the smell is not pleasant!)

You don't have to throw out that membrane either!  It can be used fresh for healing, as it has antimicrobial properties and aids in healing small scrapes and cuts.  Put the wet side down onto the cut, and let it dry on your skin.  You can even use it to help draw out splinters or small pieces of glass that might have gotten stuck in your skin.  The method is the same, put the wet side down on top of the thing you want drawn out (some even use this for pimples/blackheads), and let it dry.  As it dries, it should help pull out the intruder!

Because of these properties, I also started saving the membranes when I save my egg shells.  I wash the membrane (to get all the actual egg off of it) if I am going to save it, and let it dry really well.  Then I can use it for healing spells or to remove unwanted things in my life.

When I first read about using an egg for cleansing, by drawing out bad energies from the body, it was in a fictional story.  The character doing the cleansing was in a pinch, and grabbed a hard boiled egg from the breakfast table, running it over the body of the person who was cursed, to draw the curse into the egg.  It mentioned that afterwards, you could break the egg into a glass of water to divine more about what is going on (which didn't work as the egg was cooked!)  But this practice is based off of a Mesoamerican healing technique.

A similar method is to keep an egg by your bed for seven days, then break it into a river or bury it (to take the negativity away from you).  This sort of cleansing can be extended beyond people, using the egg as a vessel to draw out negative energies from pets or even from places.  If you want to break the egg and interpret the insides, pour the egg into water and read the shapes it forms (much like you might read tea leaves).  I would definitely recommend disposing of the egg, treating it like something you are banishing, so that any negative energy that it has absorbed will not linger.

Eggs can easily be used for divination as well.  You can absolutely break an egg into a bowl of water and interpret it for other inquiries (not just as part of a cleansing).  Another way eggs were historically read was to paint or color them and then heat them and read the cracks on the shell (if your egg doesn't naturally form cracks in the shell, charge it with your question and then smack it on a hard surface!) 

A group I worked with many years ago had a really nice practice during their Ostara ritual, where they had a bowl of hard boiled eggs, and it was passed around, and everyone present drew some kind of symbol or word on the egg in white crayon (so it was invisible).  Later in the ritual, everyone drew an egg at random from the bowl.  We dyed the eggs, so the symbols appeared, which would then be something for you to consider or something that would be coming into your life (and we ate the eggs to further take that energy into ourselves).

Hard boiled eggs spin very well, so you could even draw a circle with different outcomes around the edge, then spin your egg to find the answers (either draw a mark on one end of the egg, or read where the smaller side of the egg points).

There is a really pretty Chinese food called Tea Eggs.  You start with a hard boiled egg, and crack the shell but don't peel it.  After letting the egg cool a little, you simmer it for about twenty minutes in a mixture of tea and/or spices (common spices include:  soy sauce, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, cloves and peppercorns).  This creates a dark brown liquid that will stain the eggs, and the cracked shell creates a pretty pattern.  The eggs are left to steep in the cool liquid in the fridge for an additional couple of hours (or longer).  This could easily be adapted, picking the tea and spices based on what magical intention you wish to infuse your eggs with.  You could also interpret the shapes made by the cracks on the shell as part of your working!

Because of the color and shape of the egg yolk, they are often associated with the sun.  We see remnants of this in how we order fried eggs:  sunny side up or sunny side down.  You can use the yolk as part of any working to do with the sun, or eat eggs as part of a Sabbat celebration to welcome the sun back during Yule (or to honor the height of solar energy at Midsummer)

In some cultures, the egg was seen as a model of the world, or creation.  You can find all four elements in the egg.  The shell is earth, and the yolk is fire (because of the connection with the sun).  The white of the egg represents water.  The membrane is air, since as the egg matures it creates an air pocket inside the egg (on the larger side of the egg, between the white and the shell...which is why hard boiled eggs often have that depression on their 'bottom')  Also:  food safety tip!  As an egg gets older, that air section gets bigger, which creates buoyancy in an egg.  A very fresh egg will lay on it's side in a glass of water.  The older the egg gets, the more the bottom of the egg will start to lift towards the surface.  When the egg floats, it may no longer be safe to eat.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Breaking Routine

I am very much a creature of habit.  I have my routines, be they daily, weekly or monthly, and they give me structure and support.  It is easy to fall back on routine, to do things the same way over and over.  Once I have done things enough times to form a routine, I can more or less do them in my sleep, without paying a lot of attention to them.

This is both good and bad.  The plus side is that tedious things become easier, as I don't have to pay attention, or even really decide to do them.  It's Wednesday, therefor the house will get cleaned.  It's no longer an option, it just is.  The down side is that everything sort of starts to blur together.  Things that I may want to enjoy or actually focus on are harder to tune into as they have become rote.  Even though the basic structure of my nightly routine has been the same for decades, I often swap up the details to keep it fresh and to really help me not just 'go through the motions'.

With my own mostly free schedule, I find it very easy for days to blend into each other.  Even though my days do vary (because hubby and son have their own schedules that I work around), the vast majority of my days are similar enough that I can loose track of the larger picture if I don't pay attention.

For me, this can be very demoralizing.  When every day is the same, even things that should be enjoyable start to be less captivating.  This is one place where I find the cycles of the moon and the year to be very helpful.  While I definitely plan most of my daily life around a weekly cycle (I have set days for different things), those cycles are almost too short to really stand out.  However, the monthly moon cycle and the month and a half for Sabbats is a nice time frame to break up the routine.

Each of these cycles of time can be used to shift your focus just a little.  Moon cycles give me a nice framework to use, an easy way to break up a larger project into smaller steps and to work those steps into the energies of the moon phases.  I think the moon cycle is much easier to use for this type of focused goal work.

The Sabbats on the other hand have a more celebratory feel to them.  It sort of reminds me of when I was a little kid (oh who am I kidding I still do this), and would eagerly count the days until Christmas.  It wasn't always about presents, we always had holiday food as well as other regular rituals like the nativity story and decorating the tree, that I would eagerly look forward to.  Sabbats have that same holiday energy, that sense of specialness that breaks them out of the everyday.

I think it is also easier to prioritize time for things we are really excited about and looking forward to.  By cultivating this sense of special sacredness for the days we mark as holy, we are building up that childhood wonder that made everything fantastic.  This is something that can be hard for us to grasp in the middle of all the tedious things that we may have to do day in and day out.

But when you tap into that sense of pure joy and happiness, it's like it fills you up.  It pushes out all the junk that may have built up inside of you, all the things that make life a little less shiny.  It's like putting on rose colored glasses, and seeing the world through a rainbow.

And I think that is something really powerful, something that is worth working on tapping into on a regular basis.  The analytical part of my brain has always loved the regularity of the Sabbats (I do like my symmetry), but they are one of the parts of my practice that I strive very hard to not make work.  I don't think I should feel like celebrating the Sabbats is something I 'must' do (or else risk not being a good Pagan!).  In fact, I think that kind of rote observation is sort of counterproductive.

How you celebrate is entirely up to you!  You may be one who loves a big ceremony, with lots of people.  Or you might really just want to sit with a meaningful book and a glass of your favorite tea and spend some quiet time alone.  You may want to have a regular ritual structure or you may want to wing it.  You may follow the same cycle year after year or you might do something different each time.

The point is that the how is not important...the why is.  I think it is important to break free from our routines from time to time.  It's like hitting the reset button.  I have a lot of devices that start to have problems if they aren't reset from time to time, and I think that I run into the same issues.  The more times I have done something the same way, without change or a break, the more likely I am to start making mistakes, because I just don't care any more. 

I can always tell when I need to make some changes, because things don't seem as interesting as they used to.  When everything starts to feel dull and representative, I know I need to shake things up.  I may love my routines, but they don't always serve me.  I don't ever completely scrap them, but I will  change them, or break them for a little while, just long enough to feel refreshed, so that I can go back to my regular patterns with a fresh perspective.