Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fetch

I know it's been ages since I wrote, especially considering the original goal of two posts per letter (one a week), plus a monthly topic.  But for some reason, this year, I can't keep my focus, so I am way behind.

In thinking of the letter F and topics associated with F words, I though about a couple of things from Friendship and Fellowship to Fimbulwinter.  But one that I thought of I kept coming back to and that is the Fetch.

I remember reading about the Fetch (or Fylgja in Old Norse), and it was described as the part of your soul that manifested in other realms as an animal.  Other sources have suggested that your Fetch can be a human of the opposite gender than your physical form or even a symbolic form (like a shape).  I have also heard it referred to as some kind of totem or even as a representation of previous actions you have taken (sort of a reflection of your past). 

I really resonate with the idea of the Fetch.  I think that we tend to think of our soul-stuff like we think of gender:  binary and static.  And yet (if you've read my previous posts) you probably know I don't think of gender like that, and likewise I don't think of my soul as being 'human' per say.  I think that whatever it is that makes me who I am, that underlying 'Self' (with a capital S!) isn't human at all.  It is some thing that transcends my humanity, and it just is.  So it makes a lot of sense to me that my soul would manifest in ways that aren't human.

The source I originally read about the Fetch in (which sadly I can't remember where I read about it, I am thinking it was a website of some sort), had a ritual where you used Journeying to travel to an astral realm to meet your Fetch.  I really liked the idea that the Fetch was a part of you, but also was outside of you.  The ritual didn't have you become your Fetch, but called it to your view so you could meet it.  The further suggestion was that as you became more aware of your Fetch and strengthened your connection to it that it could act as guardian or be sent to do things for you.

It sort of reminds me of many of the things that Familiars are associated with.  Another concept I always loved the idea of.  But I think with the Fetch there is a depth that is unattainable through other magical means because it is a part of you and not a servant or companion in the traditional sense. 

Being a part of you also means that there is a lot of inner work that can be done by exploring your connection to your Fetch.  And much like the stereotypes about everyone having powerful, predatory Totems (you will run into at least 50 people claiming wolf or hawk as a totem before you talk to someone who recognizes ant or mouse), you will need to be really honest with your self when you approach your Fetch.  Let it be what it is, and don't try to force it to be what you think it is. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Honey in the River (book review)

Honey in the River(link to Amazon page)

This book wasn't exactly what I thought it was going to be, and yet it was captivating in it's own way. From the description, I expected more of a look at polygamy and how it worked. Instead, this book shows a darker side: what happens when a polygamous relationship isn't built on honesty and trust.

Honey in the River reads in many ways like a soap opera. There is a lot of drama and heartbreak. Marsha opens herself up and shares all the highs and lows she went through during this time. I definitely found myself both wishing for things to work out for her and shaking my head at the things she and the other people involved were doing.

One thing that I think she does an excellent job of portraying is that the blame doesn't all fall with the other person. Marsha lays blame where it should fall, and takes up her own faults as well. At the beginning she wasn't as aware of this, but by the end of the tale, she definitely is owning her own actions and choices and realizing that she was just as culpable as he was. But at the same time, she was firm in stating, both to herself and others, that he was to blame as well.

I also think she did a good job showing how Oba (the man she was involved with) convinced himself that what he was doing was okay, and how he may not have been fully aware that he was being hurtful. My perception of Oba is that he had many child like mental qualities and was seeing the world from his own self-appointed victim status.

While I definitely don't think that the majority of spiritual figures are like this, there have been enough news stories about charismatic leaders who led their flock astray that I think this book offers a powerful warning. It shows the ways in which someone can be both very alluring and utterly deceitful at the same time. It also shows how easy it is to fall back into the same rhythms, even when you may know that what happened in the past wasn't desirable.

I also really enjoyed the stories Marsha told of the Orishas. There are myths sprinkled throughout the books, stories told about the Orishas that speak to what is going on in her life. And even more than that, both Oba and Marsha talk about the influence the Orishas have in their lives, and how they may be feeling and acting upon those influences. I found this to be a very lovely example of how to integrate spirituality into your everyday life.

But even here, there are warning signs to look for. Oba used the Orishas as excuses for several different things, including cheating behind his legal wife's back. He also used his cultural origins as further reasons why it was all right for him to do the things he did. Both excuses are, in my opinion, perversions of what they should be. I fully support embracing your culture and your spirituality, but I think that when you try to use these things to trick or coerce others into doing what you want, you are disgracing both yourself and your traditions and culture.

Ultimately, Honey in the River was a fantastic read, a very moving story, and a great teaching story, both about Ifa and about the potential dangers that can be found even in spiritual circles. I have quite a few highlighted passages about the Orishas and about other spiritual thoughts. I think I'll finish up with a quote that I think is both great and also sums up the theme of the book quite nicely: “Needing to be happy all the time is addiction. We need to be present with difficult emotions as well as joy. Otherwise, the joy is false.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Einherjar

My dad was in the Army when I was little, and I grew up a "military brat".  We moved around a lot.  I got to see lots of interesting places, but changed schools a lot.  It also meant that I was raised with a pretty high opinion of soldiers, the military and a deep respect for the men and women who fight for the freedoms I enjoy every day.  When I was little, I wanted to grow up and follow in my father's footsteps, and when given the opportunity, I joined the JROTC in high school.  After 4 years, I realized that kind of structure was not something that I was well suited to live with, and I didn't end up walking further down that path.

But I still hold soldiers in high esteem.  They sacrifice so much, even when they come home safely...or don't get deployed to a combat zone at all.  Being raised in a military family, I understood some of that, from the eyes of the family of a soldier.  My father wasn't always home, and while a part of me enjoyed moving to new places, it was always hard socially.  Long time friends weren't something I had growing up, and it was hard to keep up long distance relationships when you're in grade school.

To me, it only makes sense to continue to honor the soldiers after they have passed from this life.  Einherjar are the dead warriors chosen by Odin to reside in Valhalla and to join him in the battle of Ragnarok.  But I also think that the ranks of the Einherjar include other types of people who have passed but were fighters in life.

This is very much my own UPG (unverified personal gnosis....aka my personal beliefs).  I feel that what makes someone a fighter isn't so much about dying in battle, but the spirit with which you life your life.  A firefighter who risks his life everyday going into burning buildings to save people has that spirit.  So does a mother who fights tooth and nail to defend her children...or to care for them when they are sick or injured.

In the US, we have two days to honor our soldiers:  Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.  Memorial day focus' on the soldiers who have passed on already, while Veteran's day honors those who are still alive (as well as those who have died).  Many Norse practitioners celebrate Einherjar day, choosing either Memorial day or Veteran's day to honor the Einherjar and feast in their honor.  I love the practice of making this honoring a part of my own traditions, and I actually think doing both is a viable alternative.

I have talked about beloved dead before, and I don't think that celebrating the Einherjar is the same as many of the other feasts and rituals for working with the dead simply because the focus of honoring the Einherjar is on their sacrifice.  More than just remembering and honoring them as people, I am honoring the choices they made in life, the things they gave up, to make the lives of those around them better.

I honor the Einherjar as a way of showing my gratitude for all thing things they did.  Many of the people I may remember or honor never knew me.  They may have been part of a different era, on the other side of the world, or they may have been family.  But they all stood up for what they believed in, and that example is one that should be remembered.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

March and the changing seasons

So technically not March anymore..but still!

This month's topic was on how the seasons change.  I tend to feel very restless at this point in the year.  This year especially, I think the on and off heavy winter weather left me feeling very trapped in.  I am really enjoying the warmer days, the change to go outside and not feel like I am just rushing to get back inside (and not freeze!).  It always seems like the air is easier to breathe after winter...it doesn't burn as you inhale.

I also am rather enjoying the days being brighter.  It's light when I wake up (at 6:30 on weekdays...ugh) and it's light still after dinner.  And in part this is due to Daylight savings time..which I abhor.  The world is getting more global now, and it's hard enough to figure out all those different time zones, but add in DST and it becomes a real mess.  Not all countries change their clocks on the same days.  It's about a month offset, I think, from when we changed to when Europe changed.  I play online games with a very global set of people, and trying to organize anything for this month is an absolute mess.

And even within the US, there are some cities that don't participate in DST.  Honolulu is one.  Indianapolis used to be another, but I've been informed they have been doing DST for a few years now.  I personally think it would be less confusing to keep time the same and just have businesses perhaps run summer and winter hours.  Or just deal with the fact that the amount of daylight changes in the year.  Or finally realize that we have so many things that run on varying shifts (like factories that run 3 shifts and are open 24 hours....or stores/fast food that are open 24 hours) that we should start running more 24 hour things.  Imagine a world where you could go to your bank at 8p if you needed to...on a Sunday!  And now think of the number of jobs that would be created by doing this....

But enough about DST.  Another thing I really look forward to around this time of year is better produce.  Sadly, our stores never have good produce, but it's slightly less sad in the spring and summer.  Things could actually look decent instead of mostly yellow tomatoes and some wilted lettuce.

Of course, this also makes me a bit wistful.  As my husband likes to tease me, I am not very good at growing things (he says I have a black thumb!).  The one thing I have managed is some chives I planted probably 5 years ago....we swear they are like zombies, they come back every year, and have been covered in a foot of snow at times, and still they come back.  They are quite green right now!  Soon they will sprout these little lavender flowers (they look like clover flowers, but purple).  And the flowers are edible!  You can make a pretty vinegar with them, just wash them really good, and toss them into some white vinegar and you end up with a purple/pink chive vinegar.  They can also be tossed onto salads for a bit of chive flavor.

I wanted to grow herbs, both for cooking and magic.  In fact that's where the chives came from.  I got some little starter peat disks and several herbs:  parsley, rosemary, sage (I actually forget what all I got....I think there were six different things).  The peat disks were horrid.  They had this mesh around them once they were all expanded from watering, and that made everything rootbound.  I think the mesh was supposed to dissolve away, but it never did.  The chives were the only thing that lived past the first month, although everything sprouted.  I may try my hand again sometime...without the peat disks.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Drinking at ritual

It seems like a lot of public opinion about Heathen rituals is that they are just excuses to get drunk.  Given that many Heathen rituals do involved ritualized drinking, and more consumption than the sip of wine offered at other Pagan rituals, it is easy to see where this stereotype originates from. 

While I have no doubts that some groups use ritual as a reason to get sloshed (just as some neo-wicca groups use ritual as a reason to have orgies or partner-swap), I don't think that all groups do this.  I don't even feel like most groups treat drinking in ritual like this. 

I've read quite a few accounts of Symbel, which includes ritualized toasting with alcohol.  While it can get extensive, with many rounds of toasts (and if you have quite a few people, this could definitely lead to being tipsy), if you do less rounds or have a smaller group, it is definitely possible to participate without being wasted.  And I would be willing to bet that some groups allow non-alcoholic drinks (just like some Pagan groups have switched to sparkling juice or other beverages instead of wine).

I'm not a teetotaler.  I quite like to drink, and I enjoy the feeling of being tipsy.  I don't really enjoy being falling down drunk (and I definitely don't like loosing bits of time or being hungover in the morning).  For me, it's all about finding that pleasantly drunk place.. and staying there.  But even than, for me, is too much for ritual.

I've been at rituals, not Heathen ones but Pagan rituals, where there was alcohol, and where people partook enough that they were pretty drunk before the ritual even began.  I personally don't feel this to be the right way to approach ritual.  When I go to ritual, it is with the intent of connecting to something higher.  I don't feel that being drunk helps with this, in fact I find it to be more of a hindrance (I'm way more easily distracted and less focused when drunk).  Now, after the ritual, if there is a feast and socializing, I'm fine with getting freer with the alcohol.

Where I really have a problem with other people drinking at ritual is when their drinking effects the other people at ritual.  That is just as disrespectful in my eyes as bringing someone who thinks that Pagan ritual is a ridiculous idea and constantly feels the need to point this out to everyone there. 

Back to the idea of Symbel.  Perhaps it is because I am not part of an actual Heathen group, and have never participated in one, but the feeling I get from Symbel is not the traditional worship type of ritual, but more a group bonding type of ritual.  It seems like the focus is on sharing of the self, toasting (to recognize and honor) deities, heroes and ancestors that are important to you, and setting intentions for the future.  In this light, even if the drinking got a bit heavy handed (and as the rounds went on, it has that potential), I don't see it as being as disruptive as the same level of drinking at a traditional ritual. 

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what we feel is right in regards to intoxication at ritual.  And part of that decision should be the beliefs of the people you participate in ritual with.  As with any group gathering, sometimes your ideals will not mesh with those of the greater group.  If you are working with a group that prefers to take rituals to a place of drunken debauchery, and that is not something you feel is appropriate, you might need to look for a group that you fit better with.  Likewise, if you enjoy being a bit drunk at your celebrations, but your group doesn't seem to approve, you might want to talk with them.  You may not even realize that other people are uncomfortable with your level of intoxication.  Sometimes discussion can help clear the table, and compromise can be reached.  Sometimes you may need to seek out others who better fit with your own preferences.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: Breaking the Mother Goose Code

Breaking the Mother Goose Code(link to amazon page)

I have been a fan of fairy tales since I was little. I'm not a huge collector, but I do have a small collection of tales, and I always thought it was both fascinating and strange how violent some were in different versions (and how tame the modern mainstream versions are). I was very excited to start reading Breaking the Mother Goose Code, as I have always thought of fairy tales as teaching stories, and learning more about what they taught, especially in a Pagan light, called to me.

I found a lot of new ideas in this book. I thought it was really interesting how Jeri starts by examining the image of Mother Goose herself. She details her journey of looking for and comparing different pictures of Mother Goose and how the depictions changed over the years. I had never really thought about the figure of Mother Goose much, and was fascinated to read about the many faces she wore. Jeri then goes on to try to uncover which Goddesses might be hidden behind the name Mother Goose. It was a very interesting read to follow these breadcrumb trails and to see the ways that different deities in different areas of the world might have been linked to fairy tales.

Being that her name is Mother Goose, Jeri also looks at the folklore and magic surrounding geese, ducks and swans (as they are often used interchangeably). Not only did I learn a lot about different deities with goose legs (which I hadn't been aware of!), but also the really interesting swan pits, and theories about what they might have been for. The image pained in my head, of women building and caring for these pits, while trying to bring new life into the world, is a beautiful and hauntingly sad one.

Where I really got drawn in was in her analysis of the tales themselves. Jeri looks at the structure of the tales, how most of them seem to follow a archetypal framework. I thought the connection to shamanic trance journeying was an interesting way to look at it. I also really enjoyed her connection between the progression of the main character of the story and the learning process that a magical practitioner might go through.

Another really interesting perspective detailed in this book is that fairy tales might be used as actual spells. By taking key passages, especially if they rhyme, as well as items that featured in the tale, one might use the story as the framework from which to enact a spell aligned with the focus of the story. I can definitely see how fairy tales could inspire this type of reconstructed working.

A lot of information was presented in this book. It is obvious that Jeri did an enormous amount of research, and she shared many of the things she found with her readers. She asks a lot of questions, and encourages the reader to continue asking questions. I am definitely going to be thinking about fairy tales in a different way after reading this book, and I look forward to revisiting some of my favorite tales through this new perspective.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Project Self-love

((Trigger alert!  There will be talk about self-harm at some point in this post.  I don't normally do trigger alerts, however I know that this is a very hard thing for many people struggling with it and I would hate to set back anyone's hard earned progress in self-control.  So if you feel you might be triggered by talk of self-harm, or if it squicks you out or if you just don't want to know that about me...don't read the stuff in ITALICS))

**edited to chance the font so the italics would actually show up

There is a movement, mainly in YouTube, on baring all and bringing attention to the body shaming issues that are running rampant in our society, especially on line.  It was started by NatetheK who inspired a good friend of mine, TheFabledPhoenix.  He then inspired two of my other good friends:  Papa O and GreyerJane (she has a part 2 to her post with pictures).

I think this is a hugely powerful thing.  There is so much dishonesty in the media about what people look like.  I have seen so many articles and reveal-all's showing how all the models are Photoshopped to look the way they do in the media.  The images we are bombarded with day in and day out are these unrealistic 'perfect' fake illusions, and this seeps into our brains and effects the way we think about ourselves and each other.

I think that a lot of the body-shaming comes from people who are insecure in their own selves.  If you feel good about your body, you don't go around telling other people they are disgusting.  You might express your concerns about loved one's health or happiness, but you would do it in a loving and supportive way.  The comments that you see in body-shaming are designed to shift focus away from the speaker and on to anything else that will divert them from their own feelings about themselves.

I am not a picture person, never have been.  It isn't so much a body image thing for me, not really.  I will talk about the things I feel about my body here in a bit.  But I just wanted to touch on the photo thing real quick.  I have never looked at a photo of myself and really felt it was me.  My mental image of self doesn't typically match the wrapping.  Sometimes it's an age thing (my mental age is so not the same as my body-age).  Sometimes it's a gender thing.  I'm fine being seen in person, I just don't like pictures.

So I'm going to paint some word pictures here!  To start with, I live in a 36 year old female body (and I still have to count the years to remember how old I am).  I stand 5 foot 10 inches tall, and the last time I weighed myself I was 230 pounds (I am probably about the same, my clothes mostly still fit the same as they did then).  I am not particularly body shy, though I do keep my private bits private (though I still can't understand why we think wearing a string bikini is just fine, but showing non-see through underwear is bad).

I am overweight.  I know this.  For a long time I didn't want to accept it.  I carry my weight well, and have always gone in around the waist, so I told myself that because I did I couldn't be fat.  But I definitely have extra weight around the hips and butt area...as well as up the waist.  It's just spread out so you don't see it as easily.  I can even tell that I've thickened all around my body because things like watches and rings that I wore in high school don't fit anymore.

I have a son, and I have stretch marks.  I have some shame about them, but not really for what you might think.  I never him (or my husband!) for 'ruining' my body.  Rather, I saw them as a mark of how ill-prepared I was to be a mother.  I didn't do the things I knew I should have done to take care of myself while pregnant.  I didn't put on lotion every day.  I don't know if it would have made a difference, but I do know that I regret not doing it.

I think that my self-image was set fairly young.  I took dance lessons in middle school, and I remember thinking that parts of my body were too big (I want to say thighs or butt, but honestly I don't remember).  And at that time, I was still more or less thin as a board, so I don't know if I was just comparing myself to other stick thin ballerinas or if I was fighting the maturation of my own body.

In high school, I started being aware of sex and boys and all of that, and it definitely effected how I viewed my body.  I was always a tom boy, and I had way more male friends than female.  I didn't do the makeup thing, rarely did the dress thing, and was much more likely to be barefoot than wear heels.  But I liked skimpy clothes.  I liked the feeling of power and the sense of attraction I felt when people looked.  I don't necessarily think it was healthy now, looking back, but it is what it is.  In a lot of ways, it set my mind's thoughts on personal interaction and sexuality, and I sometimes struggle with interpreting interpersonal relationships without that sexual lens (which definitely has gotten me in trouble over the years).  I am still very socially awkward in my own head, and a lot of social interactions leave me frozen inside.

I don't have a problem with casual touch.  I actual am a sort of touchy feely person.  But my mind will race over 'how do I respond appropriately?!?' and I will sort of freeze up and it gets very strange in my head sometimes.  I definitely don't want people to not touch me (okay, there are some people that I don't like touching me...but that is the exception, not the rule), I just muddle through it and take comfort in the fact that all the wierdness is going on in my head and no one else knows about it.

I also started to hit my first dark times in high school.  It's strange, I had a happy childhood.  My parents were strict at times, but definitely loving, and home life was good.  We were well off, and while I was probably borderline spoiled, I did have limits and rules I had to follow.  I was expected to be a good girl.  And it always felt horribly wrong to me.

I felt like I didn't belong in that life, like it was too good for me.  And I knew I had it good, and my brain knew there was nothing wrong with me, that I was a good person, so that made it sort of worse, because then I felt like I was being ungrateful for the life I had.  Perhaps it was just my form of teen angst.  I also have always been empathetic, and as a tom boy, I hated when things hit me so hard.  I hated crying, I hated feeling weak and 'girly'.  I would rather be angry than hurt.

When I was little, I always hated having scabs.  I would pick at them, even if it hurt, until the hard bits were gone.  I often made it worse, blood was common, and to this day, if I am not actively doing something, I may find my hands running over my arms or face, feeling for anything that isn't just smooth skin.

I remember when the first time I thought about hurting myself physically.  Two of the boys I knew were playing around, mock-fighting with some plastic knives from the cafeteria.  One of them slashed at the other, and we were all kind of shocked that he actually cut him enough to draw blood.  I don't know why my brain made the jump, but I know that was where I started.

Cutting with a plastic knife isn't easy and it isn't quick.  It is more of a sawing than a cutting.  And at first it wasn't deep, it was more like scratching at your arm with your nails, over and over.  It became a reminder to me, that I was strong, that I could do something like this, feel the pain, and function.  It was a security blanket, a bandage for the emotional stuff that I was struggling to deal with.  Physical pain was easy for me.  If I could make it hurt on the outside, I could ignore the inside.

At some point I graduated from plastic to metal.  We had serrated kitchen knives, and though they were sharper, it is still hard to cut with a serrated knife.  I liked that.  It was work, it was ritual, it was repetition.  It was slow and it took willpower.  And it lasted.  I would wear the marks for days before they would heal.  I cut the side of my wrist (not the part with the veins!  I swear I wasn't suicidal, just after the pain/endorphins).  I wore a bandana or other thick bracelet to cover it.  

I branched out after that though.  I got dumb.  I was trying to find places that I liked that were less obvious.  I have done the hip bones (where pants rub), and only once across the palm of my hands.  That one scared me.  You actually have to cut deep to bleed there, and I remember reading a book where a girl was accidentally cut across those tendons and almost lost the use of her hand.  I never cut there again.

After I got married, I tried to hide my cutting better, because of course my husband would see more of my body than even my parents.  I would just scratch at my arms with the tip of a blade, barely enough to leave a mark, but it would make it red and I would create patterns all up my arm.  Sometimes they were visible the next day, but often they would be gone completely by morning.

I also discovered razor blades.  This was a different thing entirely.  There was no build up, the pain was instant and it was precise.  I drew lines on my fingers, and designs other places.  I transformed some of what I was doing into deliberate spiritual practice:  creating sigils like a spiral on my shoulder.  And still it was something that I rarely talked about, because there is so much stigma on it.

I don't think that cutting is something that I will ever grow out of.  It is a part of me.  And I don't feel like it is something that I need to set aside.  I am very careful, and have been for many years.  I may have my roots in depression and anger, but it is no longer about that for me.  I don't cut as often, but I haven't set it aside entirely.  And I don't hide my scars.

Those aren't the only scars I have either.  I actually like my scars.  I have on on my arm from ballet class, when I got clipped by a high kick from another dancer.  She had a safety pin on her shoe, and it had come open and made a gash on my arm.  I have one on my elbow from where I tripped over my umbrella walking up some stairs.  I have some on my hand from where I got bit by a puppy while breaking up a fight when I worked at a pet store.  My scars tell stories of my life.  Some are dumb, some are interesting, but they are all me.

My body is not all that I am, but I am my body.  It is who I am, it is who I show the world, and I am not ashamed by it.  I know what power it holds, and I know what it is capable of.  I know it's strengths and I know what it is weak to.  Recently I've been exposed to the idea of treating one's body as an animal (or child..the subconscious mind, it responds to sensations but not so much words).   So I have been talking to my body, which is an interesting process.  I also love the mental trick of always thinking of your body as a temple:  how do you dress your temple, what do you put into it?

I could talk about body related stuff for hours and hours, but I think I'm going to wrap this up here.  All I can say is that I am happy with my body and if anyone else isn't, they can keep their opinion to themselves.