Friday, September 19, 2014

PBP: Week 38- Spell books and Spell-a-day Calendars

My very first Pagan book that I owned was a spell book, I admit it. When I was first starting, I was definitely obsessed with reading new spells. While I did love (and read lots of) theory books or more general how-to type of books, I always wanted to look through every spell book I came across. I still do.

It's not that I don't like writing my own things, as I have always loved making my own spells. I was a huge poetry fan, both more structured and free form, so writing the wording for spells is pretty natural for me. I also love ritual, and finding things to use towards my goal (or finding ways to use what I have towards the goal I want) is endlessly entertaining for me.

I did use the books when I was first starting. But it quickly became frustrating for me. I would find a spell that I wanted to do, and the wording would be clunky or way to long. The one that really amused me was one that was a spell to call upon the Muses and bring inspiration to you. It was an almost page long invocation that 'must' be memorized. I figured it would probably take me less time to get through any type of creative block than it would to remember the whole passage.

Sometimes published spells call for ingredients that I didn't have. Most of the times this was obscure herbs or very specific incense blends. I started practicing in high school, I lived at home and didn't have a lot of disposable income. I didn't have any type of herb supplies, and didn't know of a good place to get them.

But I learned a lot from the spell books. I started adjusting spells: either making up for ingredients I didn't have with my own substitutions, or rewording parts of them so that I felt they flowed better (or so the words matched my personal goals better). And now, I still look to spell books for inspiration. Sometimes I will read a passage or verse that I absolutely fall in love with and know I want to use for something, even if I don't care much for the rest of the spell. Or I'll see an interesting bit of symbolic action or ingredient and think of different ways to use that process in my own workings.

I was thinking a couple months back, about spell-a-day calendars. I have been reading one this whole year, and for each day of the year, there is a spell to honor a particular deity. It is mainly a spoken passage to be read, suggested foods for the day, a chant and a type of offering. Most days it isn't something that I feel moved to do.

But it did make me think. I know one of the hard things for many people when they start is learning to write your own spells and becoming comfortable with actually doing the workings. Having a daily practice of spellwork helps build the skills needed to craft and fine tune spells to any need, as well as building up the skills used in workings and the confidence in your own ability. And yet there are plenty of days where I don't feel a pressing need to do anything specific, so trying to decide what I might use for my spellwork that day leaves me feeling very uninspired.

So why not use a spell book or other resource that is full of spells as a launching point? If you have one that is calendar based, that is particularly easy, you just go to the day's date, and see what is there. If there is a part of it that really appeals to you, take that single part and build your own working based on it. Perhaps you like the theme, but it's not quite right. Personally, I am married, so any 'find a new love' spell wouldn't be something I would do, but I could easily work one into a 'bring new inspiration into your current relationship' or something like that. You might like part of the chant used, but feel that it might address a different problem better. You might feel a strong pull towards a single ingredient, which might lead you into a bit of research into what that ingredient means to you or new ways to use it.

If you just have a book with lots of spells in it (or website, or even your own notes on spells that you have liked), then flip through it. Think of it like a form of book divination: you flip through and pick one without looking, and that will be the thing you need to work on that day. Again, you tinker with it to make it really fit you, but this way you can also spend a bit of time thinking about why the one you picked fits for that day. That introspection can help you tune the spell itself to be really well suited to your needs.

I think that spellwork has a kind of bad reputation in the Pagan community. I have seen a lot of (to me) strange attitudes on casting spells, and sometimes have seen it stated flat out that casting spells 'for personal reasons' is selfish and shouldn't be done. But we all want to be better, and doing things for ourselves is how we grow. I don't think we should all go about casting to mess with people or to take things that don't belong to us, but I also think that if you do it will effect you in ways you probably didn't think about.

Making spellwork a regular practice helps cultivate a deeper way of thinking about casting. When you really start thinking about the workings you do, and why you do them, you examine your motivations and desires. And you may find things you want to work on because you don't like the desires you find. Or you may find that you shy away from doing things for yourself because you don't feel worthy or you think you should be doing things for other people, and so you might want to spend some time working on cherishing your self. I strongly believe that in order to help other people we need to build ourselves up to a place where we are loved and love ourselves, where we are strong and secure in our own being. If we don't start in this place, then the actions we take for others are flavored by our insecurities and doubts.

I don't think that daily casting is a bad thing. I think that by saving it until it is a last resort makes it feel somehow unclean. It's like you are saying that it isn't good enough to use on little stuff, that you only should be focusing on the really important stuff. But if you wait until it is the last thing you try, that's like calling that last person on your friends list to go see a movie with you: that friend knows that you only called them because you didn't have anyone else to call. And eventually, they will stop calling you back when you call.

Spells don't have to be huge, elaborate affairs. We can take moments to acknowledge the magic and wonder of the world, to tap into that power that is both within and around us, and make a conscious choice to work on changing our world for the better. Each time we make the decision to focus like this, to bring our desires into our thoughts and then act on them, we reinforce those desires. We strengthen our will and we build up our belief. We put one more grain of sand into the glass. Each grain may not be much on it's own, but if you put a grain in every day of your life, how big would the glass have to be to hold them all?

Magic is something that we have to hold onto. We have to practice opening our eyes to it. We have to block out all the negative messages the world tells us. The more you tap into magic, through spells, through ritual, through worship and prayer and meditation, the stronger your connection to it will be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Naming the Goddess (book review)

Naming-Goddess-Trevor-Greenfield
(click the link to go to the Amazon page for the book)
**Note** the e-book is on sale until September 26, 2014!

I have to just say: this book is fabulous! I am not sure I can really say enough good things about it. I typically am not that interested in the deity section of books because most of the time the descriptions are pretty generic. This book was nothing like that.

The book itself is divided into two sections. The first is a series of thirteen essays on a variety of topics dealing with the Goddess. These tend to be more broad, dealing with categories or themes rather than specific deities. The second section looks at a huge selection of specific Goddesses from all over the world.

In the introduction, various ways of looking at the Goddess are discussed. This is something that I see discussed all the time, and I thought it was very appropriate to start the book with an explanation of some of the major ways that people experience the Goddess and her many faces. Even though you may only relate to the Goddess in all of the ways explained, you will probably meet others who experience her in each of these ways, and so having the basic understanding of the major ways that people approach the Goddess makes discussions with others much easier.

Before the first essay is a trio of poems about the Maiden, Mother and Crone. These were breathtaking. I was extremely moved by the emotion and primal experience that was evoked by the words.

I won't say that I agree with the point taken on all of the essays, but I did find something interesting about each of them. Some of them really resonated with me and I agreed wholeheartedly with their standpoint. Others, I felt that I was on the opposite side of the fence. But universally, they made me stop and think about what I felt. And I think that is something really important to do. My path is one that is built on asking questions, both of others and of myself. I think that by examining our thoughts on both deep and emotional topics, we uncover so much more than if we just skim the surface.

The essays touch on some very core issues, not only within the Pagan community but also dealing with femininity. While this might be easier for women to relate to, I do feel that the topics discussed are things that we all should think about. I don't feel that the issues that face women are just for women, and the more men that think and discuss these types of topics, the better off the world will be (likewise, I think that the more women discuss topics that may have been traditionally male will bring benefit to all).

I am not going to talk about each of the essays, but I would like to share some things that really spoke to me. One of the threads I felt throughout the whole book was about experiencing things for yourself, and letting your experiences build your practice instead of letting other people's experience shape your own. I think that we are poised in a unique position, where there is no true 'standard' that we have to adhere to. It is both liberating and daunting. I have had plenty of moments of fear and insecurity about my own perceptions of things, especially in regards to deities. It takes a lot of bravery to speak out about what you have seen and felt, especially when your experiences don't match with the more well known faces of a particular deity (or when you are approached by a deity that you can't find any other references to).

Times change, and several of the essays explored how the changing times effect the Goddess and how we interact with her. Many deities held influence over things that aren't a huge part of our life today, so how do we interact with these Goddesses when such a huge part of them is not something we are familiar with? Likewise, there are things that were considered commonplace and acceptable in the past that we would never consider today, so how do we deal with deities who have take part in these activities? As media and fiction explores myths and legends in film, tv and books, new perceptions of deities are formed. Should we integrate these aspects and if we should, how do we do that?

I think these are all questions that don't have easy answers. They are things that we don't just answer, but that we work through. Much like uncovering deeper meaning inside ourselves, we learn about the Goddess through working with her, and experiencing her in her many forms.

And speaking of many forms, the second half of the book is a treasure trove of Goddess information. I was so very impressed by this part of the book. Each Goddess was shown to us through the eyes of someone who obviously cares deeply about that particular Goddess. It made it less of a catalog and more of a sharing. And being mostly solitary, I value this kind of approach so much. I would rather read a single page of someone's heartfelt words on a Goddess they love than ten pages of scholarly data that has no soul.

Many of the Goddesses shared were ones I was familiar with, and yet even with ones I have worked with personally, I found myself learning things. And the information wasn't only about that specific Goddess. Often, while describing a Goddess, the authors would also describe related information: Gods (or other Goddesses) that had dealings with her, practices she (or her worshipers) performed, holy sites sacred to her or legends involving her.

And it wasn't all just information or facts. The authors also gave seeds of thought or ideas that they felt related to the Goddesses: ideas that sometimes challenge stereotypes that exist in our community. Are all maiden Goddesses beautiful? How much are our perceptions of Goddesses tinted by the Christian beliefs of those who wrote about them during the time period (as many of the written records were put on paper by the victors)? Do Goddesses grow and transform over time?

As much as I loved reading and learning more about Goddesses I was familiar with, I think I enjoyed the ones that were absolutely brand new to me even more. And there were plenty of them! Not only Goddesses from pantheons that I haven't read much about (like Australian Goddesses), but Goddesses who are just now being rediscovered. I can't even imagine how it would feel to be approached by a Goddess who has been lost to the mists of time, and yet there were authors here explaining that very experience.

And that really made me think, not just about these Goddesses who were lost and are being found again, but also about where we are as a global community. I think that there are so many ways in which the Pagan community is growing and expanding every day. It feels like we are constantly pushing the boundaries and coming out of our shells. Things (like our personal relationships and experiences with our deities) that weren't much discussed in print are now getting shared, and this is so wonderful for all of us. I know I can't be the only one who has felt absolutely alone in their practice at times, and I know one of the things I always craved was the personal touch. There were plenty of books out there that gave the steps for ritual, the basic description of a deity or the meaning of a holiday, but not that many where people talked about the things they had done.

I know a lot of this is highly personal, which is why I feel so grateful that these authors shared so much. I took so many notes while reading this book, and know I will be reading it again and again to pick up on things I might have missed. Many of the authors also included further resources in their bio at the end of their article, so there are a lot of websites and other sources I look forward to pursuing.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in deepening their relationship with the Goddess (or with someone who works with the Goddess). If you are wanting to expand your knowledge of Goddesses, this is a great resource that covers a lot of the major myths and legends associated with Goddesses. I think it would make a fabulous book for group study and discussion, or as a starting point for personal research and journaling.

Friday, September 12, 2014

PBP: Week 37- Sacrifice: Candles

Sacrifice is a loaded word for a lot of people. It brings to mind images of blood and death and things that a lot of Pagans are trying to distance themselves from. The Pagan community is working hard to dispel a lot of negative images it maintains, and sacrifice (particularly human and animal) is one of those things that a lot of people think we do.

Sacrifice is a part of our global history. It is a part of the history of almost all religions (I'm seriously drawing a blank here trying to think of one that didn't offer up sacrifices at some point in time). Sacrifices could be human, animal, plant, time, art, or any number of other things that were seen as being pleasing to the gods.

Sacrifice is something a lot of people struggle with. And many of them don't even realize they struggle with it because they shy away from the word sacrifice. If your church requests a tithe, that is a form of sacrifice of money. If you feel you should be doing daily prayer, that is a sacrifice of time. If you give offerings of honey and milk, that is a sacrifice of goods.

What makes sacrifice meaningful isn't that the gods are pleased (although that is definitely a huge part of sacrifice), but that you are giving of yourself. There are levels of giving, and not every sacrifice should be huge. But on the other hand, if you only give the things that it is easy for you to give, then are you truly making a sacrifice?

I think the trend is to associate sacrifice with the huge, grand gestures. And I think there is a place for those. For me, big sacrifices are things that I tend to do at festivals, or if I feel something pivotal is changing in my life. I have never felt that the gods want me to deplete myself, and trying to maintain this high level of sacrifice just isn't viable. Not only that, but if you make the big sacrifices your normal sacrifice, they tend to even out and start to become ordinary.

So on an every day level, there are the smaller sacrifices. Daily offerings and daily prayer and regular observances: these are the things that give a beat to our life, the background music that give structure to the more dramatic sacrifices we give.

What I really want to talk about today is candles. I think that in a lot of ways, we take candles for granted. Pretty much every 101 book talks about candles. Candle magic is one of the first things many of us learned to do. And candles are a very standard part of most forms of practice. Candles can be the focus of a working, or just a way of providing mood lighting.

I think that candles make a perfect representation of small sacrifice for a lot of reasons. They range in sizes, and you can get small ones (like tealights or birthday candles) for very little money, which is good for something you will be using a lot of. If you are strapped for time, you can use birthday candles (which don't take long to burn down) or taper candles (which can be easily lit for just a few minutes at a time without a lot of waste). They come in almost every color imaginable, so can be suited to any purpose. They are easy to carve with minimal tools (you can use a toothpick, pencil, or even your fingernail), and so can be even further fine tuned toward your specific purpose.

Candles are also widely accepted, so even if you are not open about your practices, you can buy and have candles without people looking at you strangely or asking you questions you might not be ready to answer.

And lets look at the process of burning the candle. The candle encompasses all four elements: earth in the solid wax (both before being lit and that which re-solidifies after it is put out), air in the smoke, fire in the flame and water in the melted wax. The act of lighting the candle transforms and consumes it. In the lighting and extinguishing, each of the four elements is both brought into being and destroyed.

I have been fascinated with candles since I was a little girl. When I was in grade school, I was afraid of matches (and lighters). I wanted the candles lit, but I didn't want to light them. My mother told me that we could have candles lit with dinner whenever I wanted, but I had to light them myself. I am so grateful that she did that, because it didn't take me that long to overcome my fear, and my love of both fire and candles started then.

I definitely think there is something innately magical about candles. Perhaps it is the fact that they aren't a part of our modern life. Perhaps it is that they are a much softer light than the electrical ones we are used to. For me, a huge part of it is the smell of them, and not just the scented ones. I use plain white taper candles for my nightly prayer, and they are unscented. They have a feel and smell to them that just screams decadence to me (the ones I am using right now are not cheap candles and you can tell). I also absolutely love the smell of the wick as it is extinguished.

It is easy to take candles for granted. They are cheap, plentiful and often treated like a simple consumable tool: a resource to be used but not as glamorous or important as our other tools. And yet I think that there is something very noble about candles. In order to be a part of their work, they are giving their entire being. They are the epitome of sacrifice, and I think it can only deepen our workings to acknowledge and honor that sacrifice.

Friday, September 5, 2014

PBP- Week 36: Risks and Results

My parents work with a business structure that involves dream building and other visualization exercises. We were talking about it one day, and he made the comment that he thought that one of the things that was holding him back was that their life was too comfortable. He could (and did) desire things, but they were all in the category of 'wants' and not 'needs'.

The model used for business related visualization is very similar to a lot of magical workings. You have a goal (or dream), and you put energy into fully visualizing it. You can use affirmations, pictures, writing or whatever medium you feel most moved to use, but you really have to commit. It has to be something that you feel so deeply that it almost becomes the central focus of your life. This type of focused concentration changes the way the brain sees itself, and you will find yourself moving towards where you want to be, sometimes by very startling coincidences.

That type of focus requires a similar degree of risk. Not always in the physical sense, although often when people want something badly enough, they do put their jobs or home or family on the line to pursue it. But definitely in the mental and emotional sense. When you commit to a dream to this degree it does change who you are inside. You become a new you. And the longer the inner you and the outer you don't match, the more it can eat at you.

But like a lot of things, there is no growth without risk. If you never shed your old skin and become someone new, you will stagnate. Your current skin may feel right, but it may be slowly suffocating you, pinching off bits of you so that they atrophy and wither away or keeping you from reaching new heights.

The big thing about risk (and dreaming) is that it really doesn't work unless you jump in with both feet. You can't really dip your toes into it. You can definitely act carefully and think things through, but there is almost always a point of no return. A cliff that must be jumped from if you want to fly. Change is not only inevitable it is irreversible. Think about it, even if you manage to go back to a place you used to be at, you have changed and that makes it something new. Every breath we take changes us, and there is no going back.

But with this risk comes reward. Whenever we open ourselves up to change and really embrace it, we are stretching our wings a little bit more. Even if we stumble and don't quite reach our goal (and sometimes we do try for things that we aren't ready for), we have still summoned up our courage and made the effort. The next time we set a goal, even for something of a very different nature, it will be a little bit easier. We will remember the times before that we were afraid or nervous or wary and that we were able to move past it. We will remember how hard it was to get moving that very first time, but also how the second time it wasn't quite as hard.

I also think that belief is a big part of the risk/reward cycle. And belief is like a muscle we must build too. Society teaches us to be skeptical. We are raised to look for the why's, to search out the ways in which the mystery can be explained, instead of learning to accept miracles as the wonderful things they are. Belief is what fuels our dreams, belief that we can be and have the things we want. Belief that we are good enough, strong enough, deserving enough. And it can be hard to build that belief. Some times we have to start with little things, tiny things, stuff that seems almost trivial. Perhaps instead of working on a new job, we will work on getting through the next big meeting. But each time we dream a little, we build up our capacity for belief.

Cause and effect is a tricky thing. Science would have us believe that there are distinct events that lead up to an inevitable conclusion. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of science. But what many people miss is that if you go deeper into science, we discover that 2 + 2 doesn't always equal 4. I think one of the greatest (and most convoluted and thought provoking) scientific theories I have read about delved into quantum mechanics and the improbability of the creation of our own universe. That the circumstances for life are so exact that the probability of it happening the way it did is so crazy as to be almost implausible.

So what does this have to do with using visualization to achieve results? Well logically, no matter how much we think about something, it doesn't make a lot of sense for it to actually change the world. And yet, when we do visualize, we often see changes. This is where our belief comes back into play. If we see changes and we spend all our time and effort trying to deconstruct how they came to be, we are not enforcing our beliefs. In fact, we are undermining our own process. If, we instead give gratitude, not only for the results, but for the many people and things that helped us get there (all those pesky coincidences), we focus on the wonder of it all and we build up our belief.

The greater our belief, the more we feel we can risk. The more we risk, the greater our belief gets built. It doesn't matter really how the results happen. We are better and stronger for the process.

So what if you risk and fail? How does that effect our belief? I think there are a lot of ways to look at it. Many people find comfort in the concept that they didn't get one thing because 'it wasn't meant to be'. Often this is based on the idea that a higher power knows better and that what we wished for might not have actually been in our best interests (or that there is something better that we will or have received instead). I often think of it as swimming along a river. I can swim with the same intensity each time, but depending on the state of the river, I may or may not actually get where I am going. If the current is with me, then it is easy, but if the current is against me, then I may not succeed. The current can be anything from the belief or actions of those around me to the laws of physics.

The main key to using failure to reinforce belief is that however you look at it, the reason for the failure is not that the process itself doesn't work, but rather that some unknown (to you) force interacted with your actions to create a different change than you were working towards. It always comes back to belief. Keep your belief in yourself and your process strong and you will see results.

Friday, August 29, 2014

PBP- Week 35: Ritual

In many ways, ritual is one of the cornerstones of most Pagan practice. Perhaps not the ornate, formal and complex rituals that are detailed in many books, but definitely the ritual observance of different events. I think that a lot of people have a particular vision of what ritual is, and I believe that ritual is so much more than is commonly included in it's definition.

Lets start by looking at the fancy book rituals. These were something that really drew me in when I was first learning. I loved the idea of these play-like rituals, where there were costumes, scripts, distinct movements and everything had layers of meaning. I still like this type of ritual, although it is very rarely a part of my practice.

I think these rituals have use. They are great for beginners who are just learning how to do things. They give you a framework and all the details, which is wonderful if you aren't quite sure what your own style is yet. In some ways, it is like a paint by numbers piece. The outline is there, and there is a handy little key to show you which colors go where. You make a nice piece when you are done, and you can typically see why different colors go where they do. The more you do, the more you start to know the colors before you look them up, and the more you think of different patterns you might like to paint or alterations to the outline that you might like better.

Formal rituals are also good for groups, especially groups that may have open invitations or include people who aren't as familiar with ritual structure. I have been to wonderful free-form rituals and have also participated in rituals that floundered because the participants weren't sure what they should be doing (even those who were nominated to do specific actions like calling elements). What structured rituals give is a cohesive, working model with which you can run a ritual. This is especially great if the person hosting the ritual isn't wanting to do all the work themselves or doesn't have a lot of people who are comfortable stepping into different roles without a lot of direction.

But ritual isn't always these grand productions. Ritual is, at it's essence, a set of actions that is done a particular way. It doesn't have to be spiritual or religious at all. Most of us have rituals we do every day that we may not even be aware of. I do the same things, in the same order when I wake up and when I get ready for bed. These are daily rituals for me. If I don't get to do them, I feel sort of disjointed.

What ritual brings to the table is consistency. Whether it is a ritual you do every day (like daily prayer or meditation) or one you only do once a year (like Sabbats), each time you do the ritual, you are adding another bead onto the string. Alone, each ritual has power, but when you look at them all strung together, they become more than the sum of their parts. Each time you do the ritual, you are reminded of the other times you have done it. This adds both weight and meaning to the rituals.

The repetition of ritual behaviors lets us both build upon and fall back on the bones we have set up. Our lives all have times of ebb and times of flow. Some days we may find ourselves particularly inspired or deeply spiritual. At these times it is natural to take the rituals we do and deepen them. We may spend more time on it, or rework parts of it to better suit our needs. We may find ourselves spending hours planning new layers for our rituals or creating art or tools that we will use in them. Other days we may feel particularly drained. While we know that we want to do our rituals, we may not have the energy to really throw ourselves into it. Because of the nature of the ritual, we can let ourselves rely on our past experiences to honor the ritual and often we may find that just making the decision to go through the actions gives us a sense of peace and comfort that helps us through the hard times.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Blacksmith Gods (a book review)

Blacksmith Gods  (link to the Amazon page for the book)

I have been fascinated with blacksmiths since I read a novel about the Aurthurian legends (“In the Shadow of the Oak King” by Courtway Jones). It features blacksmithing as a major theme of the book and really sparked my interest in the subject.

Blacksmith Gods was really interesting to read. I thought it did a great job of not only examining Blacksmithing as a phenomenon, but also looking specifically at how different cultures acknowledged it in their deities.

The book starts off with a general look at blacksmithing, which I think helps put it in perspective. Blacksmithing isn't something that is as common today as it has been in the past. Most of us don't know a professional blacksmith, or even someone who has any experience with smithing. Much of the metal we use in our daily life is mass-produced: stamped out and cut by machines instead of molded into shape by a smith.

And yet, as Pagans, we can be quite strongly drawn to the practice of smithing. I have read quite a lot of books that highly recommend taking a class in smithing or working for a time as an apprentice smith, in order to forge your own blades for magical work. I haven't pursued this myself, although I would love to! I definitely think there is something to be said about making one's own tools, and typically the blade is one of the tools that is the hardest for the average person to create for themselves.

The bulk of the book is divided into sections by location, so deities from a particular area are grouped together. This let me grasp the themes that a culture associated with smithing better. Many of the deity descriptions include stories or legends involving that deity and smithing. I always love reading legends, I think that in many ways it makes things more real for me than just reading a description. Also included are stories about smiths or smithing that don't feature a specific deity. These I think are very powerful for expressing the essence of the smith as a person and great for helping us to get in touch with the heart of what smithing is.

I also really enjoyed the suggestions for how to take a fondness for smithing or blacksmith deities and transform it into part of your practice. I think that sometimes it can be hard, especially for something that you may not be able to actually do as part of your regular life (like blacksmithing) to find a way to honor the practice and work with it in more symbolic terms.

If, like me, you are enchanted by blacksmithing or the image of the smith, this is a wonderful book to read. I was introduced to many new deities, some I had never heard of. I also got to read stories about deities I was already familiar with, deepening my understanding of them.

If you don't know much about blacksmithing, but think it might be interesting, this book is a great starting point that can spark your interest and give you ideas about where you might like to learn more. It will definitely give you a broad base for relating to deities that deal with blacksmithing, and an insight into the mystery that is smithing.

Friday, August 22, 2014

PBP: Week 34- Quickness

I was watching a show the other day on the television that involved a little country town that chose to not embrace technology, so no internet, no cell phone service, no new television shows. That town had a cinnamon festival, and the diner had a cinnamon pie. The people who visited the town absolutely loved the cinnamon pie, and I decided to look it up. The recipe isn't that different from an egg custard pie I used to make all the time (just with cinnamon!), and I am going to try it here someday soon.

But it got me to thinking. All the visitors were so impressed with this pie, and probably because it was actually home made. The modern world puts so much emphasis on things being quick and convenient: instant and disposable. We can go to the store and buy pretty much anything pre-made and ready to heat up. And I do get a lot of these convenience items. Sometimes it's a budget thing. Sadly, package meals are often cheaper than getting 'real' food. Sometimes it's a freshness thing. Living in a pretty small town myself, the fresh produce isn't always good looking, and the 'fresh' fish is just scary. And even though I am a homemaker, sometimes we need food that doesn't take a lot of work (especially if I am not going to be home until right before dinner time).

But I can't really think of anything that comes out of a packet that actually tastes as good as things that are home-made...from scratch. There are a ton of things that aren't that hard to make, at least in terms of ingredients and techniques needed. Bread is one of those things. Home made bread can be very simple, but it is time consuming. It isn't hard, though through doing a lot of bread baking I can definitely say that the difference between making a bread that is good and making one that is great is a matter of either luck or experience!

And I think this is true in the Pagan world as well. A lot of books focus on how easy and basic things are. How you can meditate for just ten minutes a day and reap the benefits. How you can ground and center in mere moments. That shielding can be done with a thought! I've even seen books that bring basic spell casting down to an instant thing: just make this gesture or say this word and send your spell out into the universe.

What a lot of these sources conveniently forget to mention is that, sure you can do a lot of these things in pretty small chunks of time, BUT it takes many, many repetitions to get to the skilled level where you get the results that they claim you get. Like many other things, you are building a skill. When you first start, you may be getting the job done, but it probably takes longer and isn't as polished. Give most people some pieces of wood, a hammer and nails, and they can probably cobble together some sort of table. But it may not be very stable and probably doesn't look too good. Give an experienced carpenter the same tools and I bet their table will be a good sight better. Give both those people some additional tools (chisels, sandpaper, stain), and the beginner might get overwhelmed while the carpenter will probably create something that is functional, durable and beautiful.

I think there is a bit of a bell curve involved in practice. When I first started, I dove in head first. I spent hours doing research, really soaking up anything and everything I could get my hands on (okay, I still kind of do this, just now it's more of a matter of wadding through the repeated information to find something new). My first time with tarot, I spent hours just sitting with my deck, looking at each card in turn and trying to get a feel for them. My early rituals were long and complex (I tried to put in pretty much every correspondence I could, and every step I had read about).

As I progressed, I started to streamline. I didn't offer up cakes and ale every time I cast a circle. I didn't cast a circle every time I wanted to do a spell. Meditations got shorter but more frequent. Instead of setting aside hours to do some sort of guided meditation, I started doing a short meditation every night before bed.

Then, I started to swing back around. I kept the small, regular things as parts of my practice. But I started adding back in the bigger things from time to time. And I found that even doing the longer, more complex rituals, I had more time for the meat of the ritual because I didn't have to work so hard to do the bones of it. Casting a circle isn't something I really have to think about anymore, I don't have to try to remember what comes when or what direction is which. When I sit down to meditate, I rarely have to spend time getting still (I still have my days where I just don't seem to want to quiet, but they are the exception rather than the rule).

I don't think it can really be said often enough, but when picking up a new skill, sit with it a while. It is all fine and good to go deep when you are still in that beginning phase and everything is exciting. In fact, that is one of the best times to really jump in and get yourself drenched (because you have the enthusiasm to soak it all up). But don't just consume the information and then let it all drain away. Just like a sponge, when you are first learning something, you are heavy with all that knowledge. You tossed yourself in the bucket and filled up until you couldn't take in any more, and still you floated about in that pool of information surrounded by it. Eventually, you have to get out of the bucket though. And outside, all that water starts to leak away, evaporate, and drain out of you. Daily practice is like dripping more water into the sponge. It helps keep the information inside of you. And (if you think of the sponge as a living creature), if you keep dripping water in it, the sponge will grow, allowing you to retain more water.

One of the things that always frustrated me about 101 books is that they sort of dump all this information on you, but don't give you a framework within which to explore it. Even something simple like a line or two at the end of each new practice explaining that you should practice grounding every day for several weeks until you can do it easily and without strain. It's kind of like throwing someone off a boat into the ocean, in the dark. They can't see the boat, so don't know which way to swim to get back on it. If you throw them a line, they can pull themselves up it, one hand at a time. It will be slow, but they know which way to go.

Quick isn't always quicker. Slow isn't always better. Everything has it's own time, and learning what your pace is helps you to know what works for you. Someone who works a full time job and has a spouse and/or children has a lot less free time than I do. Someone who is retired with no familial commitments might have more time than I do. Each of us will have different needs from our practice and a different framework to build it on. If you only have ten minutes, then you may expect to work with a practice longer, but ultimately you will have something that you can turn to within the time you have that will serve you well. Some days I think that having extra time can be a detriment (there are plenty of days where I think of twenty things I might like to do...and then piddle around because “I have all day to do whatever I want” and by bed time nothing on my list of things I wanted to do actually got done).