Friday, July 25, 2014

PBP- Week 30: Old versus New

This is another one of those topics that I think a lot of people go overboard on. There is this concept that anything old is good and that newer things can't be as good as ancient things (or that everything new is just something that our ancestors knew and we are just rediscovering).

Don't get me wrong, I think that there is a lot to be learned by looking back. My father used to quote me often that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. I would add in that those who don't study history are doomed to have to walk the whole path over.

But there is also no reason to discount the things we see in our regular, everyday, modern life. I have seen a bunch of posts on Facebook that are lists of quotations from ancient cultures about how to live a good life. They are truly good bits of advice, and pretty timeless. They are also all things that pretty much anyone would say if they were asked to describe how to be a good person.

It isn't that we don't have wisdom today, it's more that we don't live in a world that expects us to think for ourselves. We are constantly bombarded with other people's thoughts, words and ideas. We are given all these things we should act on, because they contain 'wisdom' but we are not taught to develop that wisdom on our own.

I also find it somewhat disconcerting that so many ancient cultures and peoples are viewed through extremely rose-colored glasses. We look only at the bits that we find desirable, and brush over (or flat out ignore) any parts we don't like or that don't fit with our modern sensibilities. Times change, and what was once acceptable is no longer. We don't go around marrying off our children to strangers, killing our neighbors because they insulted us or sacrificing surrogates so that our kings can continue their reign.

When we paint these pictures of ancient cultures as idyllic utopian societies, we are doing a huge disservice to ourselves. It sets our modern life up to impossible standards, which leads us to feel a much higher dissatisfaction with our own lives. They can never stand up to this fairy tale image we hold of other times and cultures. How can we be happy compared to that?

It's not an all or nothing thing. We can look back, be honest with ourselves, and see both the good an bad in the past. We can look at the good and take away things that will enrich our lives. We can look at the bad and learn from the lessons. We can also use that same honesty to look at our own lives and time. It can be very easy to overlook the good in our lives because media is always trying to focus on the things that are horrible. But when we are brutally honest, there are so many wonderful things in our lives, that even when things are going poorly, we still have so much bounty.

Friday, July 18, 2014

PBP: Week 29- Origami

I have been doing origami since I was in grade school.  My dad was army, and we lived Hong Kong for a while, and that is where I remember learning.  Origami satisfies a lot of parts of me.  I love the creation of it, taking a flat piece of paper and creating a three dimensional sculpture.  It also appeals to the past of me that likes things precise, as I can take more time to make each fold exact.

There are a lot of really beautiful papers made for origami.  Proper origami paper is thinner than many other papers, and can make some of the more intricate patterns easier to do.  But, if you don't have any, don't fret!  You can use any kind of paper, just cut into a square.  In fact you can pick your paper to match your purpose.  Magazine pictures make great paper.  You can also draw your own paper.  Don't worry if you don't feel like you are an artist, you can let your inner child out!  Just grab your crayons and let your emotions guide you.

I have used origami in my practice many times.  There are so many different things that you can make, that you can tailor it to almost any purpose.  Many patterns have hidden pockets in it, so you can tuck in tiny charms or herbs.  You can also write on the inside and have your message hidden away.

Most origami is fairly small when finished, which makes it great to use as charms or to tuck away hidden.  I have made Sabbat trees out of origami, then decorated them for each season, with charms for things I was working on.  I really loves working with the trees, and loved having them out and changing throughout the year.

I've also done origami with paper that I was going to burn as another layer of symbolism.  They make good altar items, you can make new ones as needed.

If you have never tried origami, don't be intimidated by some of the complex patterns you see.  There are a small number of basic folds, and once you matter those folds, you can start trying more complicated patterns.  Many times you can find free demonstrations at the library or other places and try out new patterns.

Friday, July 11, 2014

PBP: Week 28- Nudity

Skyclad used to be a pretty common catchphrase, whenever you talked about ritual, especially group ritual. While there are plenty of groups that still host skyclad rituals, it no longer seems to be the standard, especially for public or open rituals.

When I was first learning, there were a lot of reasons given for practicing nude.  Some I feel have some validity, and some have no truth for me.  I don't think that there is any need to be nice.  It can definitely add to an experience, but depending on your own relationship with your body, it can detract more than it can add.

One reason sometimes given for working skyclad, that I really can't get behind is one I don't often see given today, but was often stated when I was first learning.  The idea was that energy was somehow hindered by the clothing, and performing any magic while clothed would make you less effective.  To me this concept just doesn't make sense.  If my clothes can stop the floor of energy, then wouldn't my target need to be naked as well?  And walls would be all the warding we would need to protect us from any outside forces.

I have also heard that makes working helps us to make ourselves vulnerable and open.  When working alone, this can be a valuable thing, and often easier than doing group work nude.  But even alone, we can sometimes struggle with feelings of self-doubt or negative thoughts.  If we are working towards bringing beauty into our lives or developing self-love, then these thoughts can definitely hinder our work.  On the other hand, if you want to work on loving yourself exactly as you are, it can be very powerful to work naked, taking extra care to cherish yourself, as you would a loved one.

In a group, working nude can be equalizing and a form of bonding, but it can also be traumatizing, especially if anyone has had experiences of abuse or violence that they are not ready to move through yet.  I firmly believe that ritual space should be safe and comfortable for everyone, and nudity just isn't something everyone can embrace.  There is a huge difference between pushing yourself towards growth and being pushed in a way you aren't ready for.  Only you can determine which is which, and being brave and honest enough to tell the difference between the two is a part of the journey.

One reason that I am on the fence about, is the idea that being nude helps you to step out of your everyday life and into the sacred.  That standing nude before our deities strips us of our pretences that we normally hide behind.  I think you can reach the same goal in many ways.  Ritual clothing is very traditional, and can be as simple or ornate as you require.  I think some rituals might benefit more from simple dress, while others are a great reason to dress up and embrace all the beautiful things that make us feel especially magical.  I also think you can step into the sacred just fine in the same blue jeans and T-shirt you wore to the grocery store, though you might find at first that this takes a little longer.

I use nudity in my own practice sometimes.  Most of the time I am not alone, and with a teenage son in the house, clothing is not optional outside the bedroom or bathroom.  But I do find being nude to be powerful, sometimes humbling, sometimes empowering.  Some days, I pamper myself and this can be refreshing.  Some days I am very aware of the state of my body, and it helps me to stick to my goals.  Sometimes being nude leaves me feeling very small and vulnerable.

I think that trying different states of dress in your private practice is very informative.  As a society, we don't spend a lot of time naked, so really being in our body while unclothed can move us in unexpected ways.  After you have tried different things on your own, you can decide if group work skyclad is something you would be interested in.  If it isn't that is fine too!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Witchcraft Today: 60 years on. (book review)

I read the original Witchcraft Today many years ago.  When I was first learning, that was one of the books that was always listed by other authors as more or less required reading.  I think that 60 years in stands up to that reputation.

I loved that the book opened with a 'behind the scenes of Witchcraft Today'.  As I haven't read it in so long, I don't remember much, and yet I feel like I was right back in that time period, when I was first learning and not only was everything new to me, but there just wasn't that much easy to come by information (not like there is today).  It brought back a lot of memories.

I found many of the essays in the first section to be teasers, in the best possible way!  I am a scholar by nature, and one of my greatest joys is learning new things.  These essays let me peek into so many different paths and gave me just enough information that I knew exactly what I wanted to find out more about.  Many of them had a list of references, both books and websites that I know I will be looking for in the future.

I am not going to talk in depth about all of the essays.  Some touched me in very different ways.  Some of the ideas expressed spoke to me on a deep personal level.  Others were not things that I felt drawn to myself, but we're things that people I know practice and so learning more about them gives me insight into the people I know, which I always cherish.  I will talk about a few things that really jumped out at me though.

The essays on Alexandrian, Seax, and Eclectic practices remind me a lot not only of my own progression, but also the evolution I see in the community at large.  When I first started learning, the traditional coven structure was set forth as pretty much the desired path.  Sometimes solitary paths weren't even made out as viable.  For a long time I had this idea of coven membership in my head, and even in my solitary practice I mimics the coven dynamic as much as I could.

I think gender plays such a huge role in our identities, and the way we interact with others.  Both the Dianic and male witchcraft give different outlooks on how our gender roles may affect not only pie personal practice, but also the path we choose to call our own.  Both men and women have their own struggles, and the more we can learn to understand and honor each other, the stronger we will be as a community.

The essay on Hekatean practices illustrated for me the way that witchcraft as a whole changes to become what the people need at the time.  I don't see such (and I hate to use the word) 'trendy' practices as an example of people just following along with whatever is popular at the time, but more that society and the current era creates similar needs in us.  But even though we may work with the same deities, often our personal interactions are very different.

I think one of my favorite essays was on where witchcraft is going in the future.  I think we are at a very exciting time in history.  So many things are changing, and I can just imagine where we will be in just ten years from now.  I started on my path just about twenty years ago now, and looking back I can see how the global experience affected my own path.  We are breaking free into the public eye, and I have great dreams of seeing true public acceptance in my lifetime.

I don't want to ruin anyone's experience of the personal stories in part two.  I found myself moved by the life experiences that were shared.  Even though I now have many wonderful people who I share my practice with, both in persons and online, I always love hearing about other people's journey.  For many years I was completely isolated, and when I would struggle, it left me feeling so alone.  I would have really loved having a book like this at those times.

I really enjoyed this book.  It brought me on a journey from the past, through the many facets of the present, and into the future that might be.  I saw myself reflected in the stories I read.  So many doors into other people's worlds were opened and I felt welcomed and invited in.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the many ways different people practice and connect with the divine.

The book can be found on Amazon.

Friday, July 4, 2014

PBP: Week 27- Nature (versus Technology)

I sort of touched on some of this in my Green Living post, but I really think that many Pagan's overlook a huge part of our world by putting such a focus on the Natural. I very much agree that there is something very magical about the wild, untamed places, and that for many of us (myself included) who live and spend most of their time in a city, taking a trip to someplace untouched by human hands (or even just more green and growing) can cause a huge mental shift.

It can definitely be easier to work in these places. The energy of them lends itself to a lot of wonderful workings. The separation from our daily life helps us to transition into sacred mental space. The isolation helps keep out distractions and interruptions.

If I think all of this, why then do I feel that we are missing out by putting so much focus on the natural world? Because most of my life is spent indoors, with machines and modern conveniences. If I were to exclude these things from my practice, I would rarely get to walk my path, and would probably not be very far along indeed.

I think that there is a learning curve involved here. When I first started, it was definitely easier to work in natural places and with natural things. But I also had to decide pretty early on to break from the “all tools must be made from natural products” if I wanted to have working tools. It always struck me as odd that the magical community finds some modern things okay and some aren't. Glass chalices and metal blades have always been okay, but plastic is avoided like the plague.

I also believe that as a magical community, we have grown to be more inclusive. Our path isn't modeled after other religions as much as it used to be. We don't typically reserve our workings to the holy days. Our faith is with us always, and that is why it makes sense to me that we should work with the things that are part of our daily lives.

I definitely feel that the modern things in my life resonate at a different level than natural ones. Some I don't mesh well with at all. The background hum of a lot of appliances makes me tense (though is much more tolerable if I can put on some music to drown it out).

I have heard a lot of negative ideas about modern things in the magical community. As I mentioned, it was a pretty popular thought for a while that plastic was a magical null: that it resisted energy and thus was horrible to use in ritual. However, for some things, that natural resistance might be useful. If you were wanting to shield, that property would fit right in. I have also heard a lot of people say that electricity and energy don't mix. I know a lot of people who have trouble with electronic devices (down to watches that will stop running if worn too long). I have always felt that electricity is a form of energy, and that it was the two forms of energy interacting that caused the problems. I am always very aware of the electronics around me when I am working with energy, especially since I tend to project through my hands (and I love my computer and other gadgets so I would be very put out if I accidentally fried one of them).

Things are changing though. I have seen a lot more magical and modern crossovers in the past years. It is no longer shocking to hear people talk about magical workings done with or on their phone (and really if you spend a lot of time away from your house, it is a good bed that your phone will be with you, so why not learn to work with it). I spend the bulk of my day on the computer, and definitely have explored ways to work with it in my practice. I am also quite the avid gamer, and it always makes me smile to see how other people have embraced meshing magic and faith with their games (I have seen some lovely in-game altar set ups, and have made a few myself). I even met a virtual coven who held their rituals in a game (which gave a lot more ambiance to a virtual ritual than the ones that I have attended in chat rooms).

Friday, June 27, 2014

PBP- Week 26: Multiple Gods with the same focus

One of the big debates in the Pagan world is about the nature of Gods. When I was learning, the prevalent explanation for deities was that divinity itself was nameless, formless and pretty much unknowable, however it expressed itself in the form of individual divinities (as well as in the rest of reality). In this view, different deities are like the different masks that divinity would wear, though the unseen face behind all the masks was eternal and unchangeable.

But this view doesn't really work for some people. In a way, it is sort of like saying that all human beings are the same person because underneath our differences we are all humans. Sure, we are all people, but you and I are not the same person at all. I do feel that there is divine nature in all things, but that doesn't make all things one (on more than a philosophical level). Likewise, I don't feel that all Goddesses are the same anymore than I believe all women are the same.

I was thinking a while back, however, about deities that are considered to be influential in the same field. It is pretty common to find lists of deities for various purposes: love, justice, peace, thunder, moon, sun, plants, animals...the list goes on. I have never felt all the deities in a particular list are the same (and it somewhat irks me when people pull deities from very different pantheons and try to treat them as if they are the same when they only share a few characteristics).

I don't work exclusively within a single pantheon. There are deities that I work with that come from very different backgrounds. So when I am thinking of calling upon a deity to work towards a goal, sometimes there are multiple deities that come to mind. There are many moon deities, sometimes even multiple deities strongly associated with the moon from within a single pantheon. So when I work with the moon, should I pick one deity to work with? And if I do, how do I decide which one of the many moon deities I have worked with to work with on any particular occasion.

Sometimes there are distinctions. For example, love deities come in many forms. I would work with a different deity when working towards love with my husband than I would for love with my son. But sometimes I work in a purely honorific way: such as a ritual to show gratitude for the sun for it's presence in my life. In such a case, I would want to include all solar deities. I see this sort of like working with my ancestors: sometimes I may want to work with a single ancestor and sometimes I want to work with all my ancestors. In the same way, I can work with the Sun, and through the symbol (the sun itself), honor and work with all solar deities.

Another thought that came to my mind was if deities would be offended if I worked with one of them over another. Would Thor be upset if I worked with Grandfather Thunder? This is a bit more tricky in my mind, and much more individualized. I think we all have different relationships with deities, and even with different deities. It is up to me, when I work with deities, to figure out what type of relationship I have with them and what allowances they will give me. Some deities might have restrictions that I am not able (or willing) to work with (like requiring exclusivity), and it would be unwise and pretty rude of me to try to cultivate a relationship with that deity while ignoring their restrictions.

Our minds are complex and wonderful things. When multiple things are associated with one purpose, it can be almost impossible not to think at least a little about all of them. We might not even be aware of the direction our thoughts are taking, and yet still we give that mental nod to all things that are connected in our minds. Even when picking just one deity to work with, we still honor the others by connecting them to the work through our mental maps.

Friday, June 20, 2014

PBP: Week 25- Masks

Masks are powerful. There is a lot of work done using masks. From animal masks we don to take on the aspect of the animal to very realistic masks we might use on Halloween to look like a specific person. But wait, that last one isn't a magical practice, is it? I think it is. I think we use masks in way more ways than we think, and that when we recognize all the ways we use (and can use) masks, we open up a whole new arena to work within.

What is a mask? A mask is something worn on the face to disguise or make us look like something else. Masks can either hide, reveal or change the self we project to the world. Most people, when they interact with another person, focus on the face. Our face is the portal through which we shine out for the world to see. When we mask, we alter the image we project, and often this changes the way others deal with us. But masks touch us more than skin deep. They often change the way we act as we adapt to fit the mask we wear.

Masks can hide by covering up features. They can cover imperfections, like when we put on makeup to cover up a scar or blemish. They can cover insecurity, like when keep our mouth closed when we smile because we feel our teeth are unattractive. They can give us a sense of anonymity, covering up our entire being, when we veil or wear Harlequin style mask. We can use this knowledge to chose to keep hidden things we feel are private. It can also be empowering to work on revealing things we normally mask. Some things are easier to leave unmasked with strangers and others with those closest to us. Even spending time alone and completely unmasked and dealing with our bare selves (by spending time meditating with our own reflection, focusing on the parts we normally avoid or mask) can bring a lot of compassion back towards ourselves (which can be the one person in our life we may be the harshest towards).

Masks can also reveal things that may not be obvious. We all have many pieces in side of us. Most of us have different parts that hide or reveal depending on who we are with. I expose different parts of my self when with family versus friends. Learning to call up specific parts of our selves at need is a very powerful tool to have at our disposal. Likewise, learning to set aside masks we have donned for our own protection can help us grow beyond past trauma's and defenses.

Masks can transform us into things we don't feel we are (or things we want to cultivate more of). I believe we have a tiny bit of everything within us, so even when I am working with something I feel I have almost no innate capability for, I am confident that there is the tiniest spark of it somewhere inside me, I just have to find it and call it out. But masking can help us to build up these tiny pieces by creating a bigger place to express them from.

Most of us would not want to walk around wearing a physical mask all the time, and luckily we don't have to. We can build and don energetic masks that will work just as well. When we start it might be helpful to build a physical mask and practice using it. We can use these physical masks in rituals designed to help us take on the traits they represent. If you have people who would be interested in masking rituals, you can get a group together and everyone can build (or bring) a mask, and you can interact with others and get feedback on what they felt from you. The more you work with a mask, the more you learn how to call up those pieces within you. As you get more familiar with them, you may find that you don't need the physical mask anymore to call up the energy within you.

You can also tie the mask into another (less obvious) item while you are learning to work with it. If you do not feel you are confident enough to express yourself in a job interview and are working with a mask to be able to show that you are a good and talented worker, you probably don't want to wear the mask to the interview. However you can tie that energy into a piece of jewelry or an outfit, and use the other items to draw upon the energy of the mask. When you are working with the mask at home, make sure you wear the other item that you will be wearing for your interview so that the two become energetically bound. Make a ritual about putting them on and taking them off (put the mask on last and take it off first). Then, when you dress for the interview, instead of putting the mask on you, place it on your altar or another place of power (in front of a mirror, on the pillow of your bed, hanging from your clothes closet).