Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Making Masks

In my recent moon post about the Full Hunter's Moon, I talked about using masks in ritual, and I thought it would be a good idea to blog about the mask making process.  Masks have been used for many purposes around the world throughout history.  Masks can be simple or ornate, they can be disposable or keepsakes.  Masks can cover your entire head, your entire face, just your eyes or just your mouth.

One of the simplest and most disposable types of masks is one that is drawn on paper.  You can take a large sheet of paper and trace out a shape that will be the form of your mask, and then draw on the paper to decorate it.  Use a bit of string to tie it on, and voila, you have a mask!  This type of mask is great to use as part of a de-masking ceremony, where you make a mask representing a 'face' that you want to shed.  When making this kind of mask, you can pencil in words or write a whole letter underneath, and then scribble or draw over it.  You can use symbols to decorate it or just stick to representing the emotions it represents with color.  Making the mask can be part of your ritual, or you can make it ahead of time (or during a separate ritual), and then start the de-masking ritual already wearing it.  As you take the mask off, you can tell it why you no longer wish to wear it, why it was hurting you, or how it was holding you back.  Then you can burn or bury it.

A slightly more sturdy mask can be made through the process of paper mache.  Add some water to regular white glue to make a thinner paste, and then use this to glue strips of paper onto a form.  Alternatively, you can make your glue from flour and water, which would allow you to use biodegradable materials and leave your mask out in nature as an offering.  The form can be a pre-made mask form, a mannequin head, your own face or even just a rounded bowl.  There are lots of step-by-step guides that will walk you through the process of forming the mask directly on a face, if you wish to try that out.

You can get really creative while making up your basic mask form.  You can add ground herbs to the glue mixture to enhance the basic mask.  There are lots of options for the paper part too.  You can use tissue paper, newspaper, magazines, wrapping paper, and even dryer lint (soak the lint in the glue mixture and press the excess liquid out of it then press it onto the form).  You can write messages on your paper strips, or just key words that you want built into your mask.  Once you have a few paper layers down, you can start adding in other things:  leaves, flower petals, even small stone chips. 

You can really tailor your mask making materials down to the last detail.  Perhaps you want to make a mask to release conventional perceptions of beauty, and you use only magazine pictures of models (or only pictures of more realistic, everyday people!)  For an animal or plant mask you can use pictures on the outer layer to create a photo-montage mask.  A mask for your muse might be made of printout sheets of your own writing (or old journal pages).  Why not make a birthday blessing mask out of wrapping from gifts you received!

The top layer of your mask will be the main part you see, so this is where you can really go wild.  Add feathers or glitter or accent charms!  Punch holes around the edge and add ribbon trim or dangling bits of yarn with objects tied onto them.  Use tinfoil to mold small beads in any shape you can imagine, and paint them (or use nailpolish) to create colorful additions.

You can also make masks with a fabric base, especially if you enjoy sewing.  You can buy felt or fleece pieces that don't require hemming, and use a glue-gun to attach things.  Fabric masks can be painted on or drawn on with permanent markers.  But, you can also use other fabrics, hem them and embroider designs.  This is a great way to turn old clothing or blankets into something memorable, especially if you can make a mask to represent the memory.  You could add quilted places, with spellwork or components tucked into the patches themselves.  Long fabric tubes can become decorations or hair, and things can be added inside of them as well.  

And remember, masks can be highly symbolic.  Making a mask for wolf may have a moon over the forehead and wolf tracks along one cheek or you may just find yourself drawing lines and shapes that 'feel' right and ending up with a geometric pattern in black and grey.

You can make masks for all kinds of purposes.  You might want a set of masks for the seasons, with flowers, green leaves, autumn foliage and bare branches as decorations (or one mask with all seasons represented!)  You may want to do a divine feminine and masculine mask, or have one separated down the middle for male/female.  You can make masks for your animal guides or plants that you connect deeply with.  Masks for deities you work with.  Make masks to represent qualities you want to develop or people who you want to be more like.

You could use masks to help you discover more about yourself as well.  Make masks to represent parts of yourself that you aren't that familiar with, or those that make you uncomfortable.  You can either wear the mask in ritual and spend time really feeling what those parts of yourself represent, or you can meet the mask in ritual by holding it in front of you and speaking to it as if it were someone else instead of just a part of you.

Masks can also be used as protection.  You can make guardian masks, that you can use when you need to take on those qualities, and leave them hung around your house as their own protection in between.  Medical masks can be enhanced and decorated for healing rituals or to ward off sickness.  You can make anonymous masks (all white or all black) to help you keep your identity hidden or to avoid someone who is seeking you out to cause trouble.

Masks don't have to be a static thing either, they can evolve with you over time.  You may make a mask to represent the current year on New Year's, and then every month, every full moon or every Sabbat, you take some time to meditate on your year and add to your mask.  You could have a mask that you work with regularly, and every time you plan on using it, you check and see if you want to change it in any way.  Especially for masks that represent qualities you want to embrace, you may find your needs changing over time, so you might want to adjust your mask accordingly.  If you have a mask dedicated to a deity you work with, you may find bits over the years that you want to add to it as a form of devotion.

Masks are very powerful and versatile tools.  They give you the ability to create what you may need, to step into a role that isn't normally yours or to shed parts of yourself that you want to release.  They can help us to face parts of ourselves that we don't understand so that we can begin to honor all of ourselves.  They let you express what you want to explore in visual and symbolic terms.  You don't need any particular artistic skills to make a mask, just play with what you feel is right!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Working with bones

There is a definite stigma with bones, an association with death, and as a society I feel we have lost our connection with that which has gone beyond.  There is a rising number of young people who don't know where their food comes from, who dislike the idea of seeing meat that looks 'like an animal' (as opposed to a packaged, ready to use piece of meat from the supermarket).

I was raised with a very open attitude towards food, and in some ways death.  Whole animals were not uncommon, in fact they were often considered a treat.  We ate almost every part of an animal, and that idea is something that I hope I have continued on with my son (who is a very adventurous eater, and hasn't shown signs of being bothered by eating non-standard cuts of meat).  I don't feel like I was raised to be disgusted by death either.  Open casket funerals were something I remember, as well as Graveyard Day (a Chinese custom of sharing food at the grave and burning paper offerings).

Bones have always fascinated me.  I think they have a unique beauty, and the fact that they were once a living being makes them even more special to me.  I feel that by honoring and using bones, I am showing my respect for the animal that used to inhabit them.  Especially an animal that may have become my food, but also bones that were 'found' or bought.

I have bones that I acquired when I was a child, around grade school age.  I had a grandmother who was very interested in all things desert, and at that time, rattlesnake stuff was very popular.  I have a rattlesnake vertebrae that came with a snakeskin bracelet I bought as a souvenir.  I also have a skull that we think was either cat or rat.  My grandfather found it, he used to find all kinds of things in the woods and bring them back to his storage houses and clean them up.  I loved the skull and he let me have it.  It takes a place of pride on my Samhain altar each year, and lives on my bookshelf the rest of the time.

Since then I have added to my bone collection.  My current athame has a bone handle, which I was so very pleased to find.  As soon as I saw it I knew that I wanted it.  I spent years carving runes into bone staves for my very own rune set.  I occasionally save bones that I like from our dinner table. 

There are a few good lessons I've learned about working with bones along the way.  It is much easier to clean them when any clinging bits are not dried, so soaking them in water helps soften the meat so you can clean it off.  An old, stiff toothbrush works really well for small bits.  I know that if I am making chicken soup, the bones pull away from the meat really easily after cooking (and if you want to split them for any reason, it is much easier when they are soft like this).  But, actually boiling the bones pulls the fat and marrow out from the center and gives them an oily feel.  I did this with a lamb bone before I read up and found out that it is recommended to clean them several times in simmering, but not boiling water.

There are other ways to clean bones as well.  One way, with larger bones, is to put them in some kind of wire cage (where the holes are smaller than the bones) and leave them outside so insects will clean them.  There are also chemicals you can use to help clean bones (though bleach is not recommended)...I haven't done any of this, so I can't say what works well or not.  You definitely don't want to use vinegar on your bones as soaking them in vinegar will leech out the calcium and make them rubbery...unless that is your intention!

I also learned a lot while carving my runes in bone.  I had some old bone staves that I was using, and they were very hard.  I also had some dental tools which is what I was using to carve.  It was very tedious work, basically using the metal tools to scrape my lines over and over until they achieved some level of depth.  There was a delicate level of force too hard, and it was easy to loose control of the tool and scrape where you didn't intend to (or stab your leg or hand!) but don't press hard enough and you don't leave any mark at all.

What I found very helpful was to wet the area of the bone I was working on slightly.  I used saliva though you could definitely use water if you don't feel comfortable with saliva (I feel the extra connection between me and the bone rune staves was a desirable thing though).  I would wet the area and let it sit for a minute or so, then scrape with my tool.  I also would use a pencil to darken in the area so I could easily see the marks I was making.

One other warning I found, while reading up on bone carving, is that the bone dust is very harmful to your lungs, so you always want to make sure to work in a well ventilated area and/or wear a mask.  This is especially important if you are carving actual figures or items, but is a good idea to do even if you are just etching symbols into bone.

Many small bones are easy to come by, especially if you are a meat eater.  These smaller bones can be excellent for bone staves, divination sets, small tokens or charms, inclusion into spell bags or use in jewelry.  But you may also want larger pieces, either to carve into statues or pendants or to make tools out of. 

You can sometimes find larger bones at the grocery, I have seen sections about five inches long sold for soup, and leg-in roasts or large hams also have larger bones in them that you can clean and use.  If you are lucky enough to have an actual butcher near you, it is possible to speak with them about getting or buying bones.  Another source of bones is the pet store, where they sell bones for dogs to chew on.  Some of these may need more cleaning as they may have smoked meat on the bone still.  And you can find a lot of bones now on-line, sometimes in lots, often already cleaned.

There are a lot of ways to use bones, and once cleaned, they shouldn't have an odor.  Becoming more familiar with bones, especially in the foods we eat (again, I am a meat eater!) helps bring us closer to our food sources and helps bridge that disconnect that many people feel when it comes to the food they eat.  Even if you don't eat meat, you may find a unique connection with animals by working with bones.  I think that it can be a profound experience, and help us find that spiritual reverence our ancestors had with the animals they shared this world with.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Beyond the Pantheon

We are blessed to live in a day and age where we have access to belief structures from not only across the world but deep into history.  We know about deities and practices to honor them that come from cultures outside our own as well as from our own cultural heritage.  We are not limited to the religion and Gods of our parents, our village or our homeland.

And this leads many of us to connect with a broad spectrum of deities.  Which brings up issues in many peoples mind.  There is a huge argument about cultural appropriation, and I have some very strong opinions about that myself, which I'll try not to harp on too much!  I do believe though that an honest, heart-felt practice that honors deities that you may not be directly connected through by your race or country of origin isn't a bad thing.

Many of us believe that we may life multiple lives, and that some of those other lives may have been in other cultures.  We may feel a pull to a certain deity that seems like it goes beyond simple interest and is something from our deeper or past self.  We may find certain practices hold a sense of familiarity that we can't explain or fill us with a sense of belonging and 'home'.  I am a firm believer that we should follow where our heart leads, and if my heart leads me to a deity that is foreign to me but feels familiar, then I will work to deepen that connection and discover the relationship that exists between us.

That, to me, is ultimately what deity worship is about:  developing a connection between yourself and the deity.  And if a particular deity is calling to me, I don't feel that other people can tell me it's wrong. 

Another issue that sometimes comes up is when someone works with deities from multiple pantheons.  I have seen it suggested before that this isn't something that people should be doing, and this is another point that I disagree with.

I do think that it is a good idea to be mindful about which deities you call upon for a single ritual or honor together in a shrine or altar.  I think about it much like friends and family.  I have lots of both, and I may have good relationships (of varying degrees of closeness) with them all, but they may not get along with each other.  If I were to throw a party and put people I know don't get along in the same bedroom for the night, I should expect some kind of the very least they both will probably be a little cross with me in the morning.

Likewise, I think that when we work with deities, we need to be mindful of their personalities and what they stand for....even when we are working within a particular pantheon!  There are plenty of deities in every pantheon that I can think of that don't necessarily get along, or are focused in different areas and might not work well together.

There may be a tendency to assume that deities that effect the same sphere of influence will get along, but I don't think this is always the case either.  Just because two deities are connected to love doesn't mean that they work the same way, and they may not actually work well together.

On the flip side, just because at first glance two deities might seem opposed in their goals, doesn't mean that they actually are.  A war deity and one of peace might be a great combination to end an ongoing conflict quickly and decisively in order to create a peaceful outcome.

It can be tempting to work with every deity that draws your attention, but this isn't always the best way to approach your practice.  The more you work with a given deity, the deeper you will forge that relationship.  This will not only mean that you will better understand them and how they work, but also how you can work together with them.  The rituals and other work you do will them will be enhanced by the depth of your relationship. 

I don't feel there is any kind of technical limit on how many deities you can work with or honor, but I do recognize the limits on my own time and energy.  I may tip my hat to a whole lot of different deities, both within the Norse pantheon (which is my primary focus) and beyond it, but I haven't created deep relationships with all of them.  Much like the relationships with people in my life, there are some that I work with all the time, some that I work with fairly regularly for specific purposes, and those that I honor in passing or only occasionally.

I don't think I will ever have enough time to develop all the relationships that I might like to.  I have very broad interests and I do think that I will always want to work with more deities that I have time for.  I try not to focus on what I can't have however, and instead focus on spending quality time with the deities I feel truly called toward. 

When I work with deities that I don't have a deeper connection with, it is always from a more formal place of respect.  It sort of reminds me of entering someone's house.  If it is a close friend, I am quite comfortable, and I make myself at home.  If it is someone I know decently well, but perhaps don't visit that often, then I may be a bit more reserved.  If it is a stranger, then I feel like I need to be on my best behavior.  That isn't to say that I am ill behaved in places that I am comfortable, but more that I don't feel like I need to be as proper...I can be more relaxed and more myself.

I do not feel like I need to be a close devotee of every deity I work with, not even of every deity I may have images of in my home.  Some I am quite comfortable with worshiping from afar, in a less frequent manner.  Others are definitely a part of my daily life, and a big part of who I am.  I work with deities from different pantheons, and that works for me.

Ultimately, we each have to discover the way that deities fit into our own lives.  We have to develop the relationships we want and work within the framework we have.  Some people may be perfectly happy to stick to one pantheon, or even just one deity, while others may have a large group of deities that they work with from many pantheons.  The only limits are the ones that you have within your own life....only you can determine if you have enough time and energy to honor the deities in a way you feel is appropriate.  So let your heart lead the way, listen to what the deities you are working with want to tell you, and build the practice that works for you!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Games for learning

I have been working on a story for my Patreon site (for anyone interested, it is the seasonal magical story at the $5 Patron level and will be posted tomorrow!) which features a group of Witchy Children who decided to use a game to help them practice their herb studies.  I have always been a big fan of using games to learn things.  When I was little, my parents used games to reinforce things like math (Monopoly is great for math) as well as educational video games.  And when my son was little, I found games that used math to help him practice as well.

But game learning isn't limited to traditional skills!  There are all kinds of games that can be used to practice any skill you can think of.  With apps, you can often find games that will help you learn or practice knowledge based skills.  I have seen board games that teach everything from herb usage to general trivia to the ten commandments.

The world really opens up though when you start thinking about creating your own games.  Then, you can tailor your game to whatever subject you like, and the people who are going to be playing.  You can always use a traditional game as a template and then adapt it to suit your needs.

A basic game that would be great as a template is trivial pursuit.  You can draw up a game board, with all the different colored squares, use any tokens for the main game pieces, and just have colored cards to represent the categories you have successfully answered a question in.  You can have as many categories as you want, and require as many pieces from each category. 

For example, you might decide you want to have these categories:  'stones and gems', 'herbology', 'deities', 'magical tools', 'astrology' and 'famous Pagans'.  You can come up with trivia questions for each category, and if you are playing with other people, you can each come up with questions for all of the categories...not only does this help share the work, but it creates a greater variety of questions! 

Another game that makes for a great template is scategories.  The basic idea is that you have lists of ten or so categories.  Each round of play, you randomly pick a letter, and all your answers must begin with that letter (everyone shares the same letter).  You have a limited amount of time to come up with answers for each category.  You get a point for every answer that you have that no one else put down (so if two people list 'apple' as a 'thing in nature with a star' then neither would get a point).  Coming up with categories is a lot of fun, you can try things like:  'things used in ritual', 'things you never want to hear said in ritual', 'things used in a protection spell', 'things in your magical cupboard', 'holidays', 'things associated with Aphrodite', or 'magical components that are red'.  Really the sky is the limit!  And it is really fun to see what other people come up with!

You could come up with your own version of Taboo, where you have a card with a target word on it, let's say the target word is Samhain.  Then there will follow a list of words or phrases that are 'taboo' can't say them:  Sabbat, Halloween, Day of the Dead, Jack-o-lantern, Pumpkin, October, All Hallows, Trick-or-treat, Costume.  The idea is to then describe the target word without saying any of the taboo words, and to get one of the other players to guess the target word.

Breaking free from the game board, I love 'what if' games.  You can play them in so many ways!  A fun one for a group is to come up with a list of random items.  It could be stuff you might have in your car, in your pockets, at a fast food restaurant or out in the woods.  Then the challenge is to use those items...and only those craft a spell towards a particular goal.  So, for example, if you had some chewing gum, a paper clip, a rubber band, three dimes and a penny, a receipt from the gas station and a piece of clear quarts in your pocket and you needed to cast a spell to make it to work on time, what would you do?

Another approach to this kind of game is to pick one focus and name at least one correspondence from as many different categories as you can.  So if you picked the focus of love, can you name a stone, flower, herb, deity, holiday, color, scent, metal, animal that is associated with it?  You can do this for any focus, though it works especially well for Deities and concepts (like healing, protection or peace)

You could also try the alphabet game, where you pick one letter of the alphabet and try to come up with one word for each letter that matches your category.  You can do the alphabet of deities, of stones, of herbs....and finding X's for all of them might trip you up!

An interesting take on oracle/tarot is to either use one deck or have everyone bring their own.  The goal is to tell a story based on what the cards show.  One player will start, by flipping over one card, and then saying one sentence about the card.  The next person will then flip over their card and add a second sentence.  Continue around, with each person flipping a card and adding to the story.

A competitive version would be that the first person flips a card and describes a situation.  Then the second person flips their card and has to use their card to counteract the original one in some way.  So if the first person had the fool card and said, "A young man leaves the house to start a great adventure," and the second person drew Strength, they might say, "But he came upon a great lion that roared at him menacingly."  Continue on until one person can't come up with a counter to the previous card.

What I love most about learning games is that they turn study into sacred play.  Especially in a group situation, you are encouraged to think outside the box, under a time limit or remember things that you may not have fully memorized.  But simply by playing, you will become more familiar with the topics of your game.  You will start to remember things more (especially if something really memorable happened while you were playing) and you will have a good time doing it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Celebrating alone

I have been functionally solitary for my entire path.  While I have, and definitely enjoyed, working with others, the majority of what I do is done alone.  I firmly believe that you can have a full and complete practice while solitary, but many rituals, especially life transitions and Sabbats are portrayed as group celebrations.  It can sometimes feel like you are missing something by celebrating alone.

There is a definitely difference to participating in a group ritual, and even a difference between a small, intimate group ritual and a large ritual with many people.  Rituals with close friends feel different than rituals with strangers.  While I haven't been to any huge rituals (I would say that the largest I have attended was just around twenty people), I have been to a decent variety over the years.

I have always felt that one of the best things about being a solitary practitioner is that you can do whatever works best for you!  You don't have to worry about catering to everyone's needs, making rituals that work for people of different paths or practices, or even about doing things in front of other people.  You can dress how you like, speak in whatever way is comfortable and use tools that may be too private for use with others.

But you can still create a celebratory atmosphere!  And if you desire, you can blur some of the lines between solitary practice and group work, using technology, if you are unable to physically be with others but still want to ritual together.

It can be sort of tempting to go simpler, when you are working by yourself.  Pulling out the stops is definitely work!  It's sort of like eating alone....if I am the only one in the house, I am more likely to grab whatever food is handy and eat while doing something else, than to actually sit down and take time out for a meal...and I am highly unlikely to pull out candles and set a nice table for myself.  Which, when you stop and think about it, is sort of a shame.  You may not make a big deal out of things every time you do them alone, but it is definitely worth taking time for special rituals over the course of a year, even if you only do ritual alone.

When I am planning a full ritual for myself, the first thing I think about is the theme:  what is the ritual about.  I honor the Sabbats, and to me they are a great time for celebratory ritual.  I don't always do work at a Sabbat ritual.  It is more about honoring the time of the year and the energy I associate with that particular festival.  If I have work that aligns with it, I can definitely add it in, but I may just take some time to enjoy the ritual process.

The theme will dictate all the other facets of the ritual you plan.  Beltane has a completely different energy and theme than Samhain.  If you aren't sure, read up on the ritual you want to create!  I love reading other people's rituals, though I don't often use them exactly as they are.  But by reading a ritual someone else has put together, you can get a feel for not only the theme of the ritual but also the flow of it, which can be helpful if you are just starting out.

Once I have a feel for the theme of the ritual I want to do, I think about space:  where am I going to do my ritual.  I often have constraints on my ritual space.  When hubby is sleeping, I don't have access to the bedroom.  If hubby and/or son are home and awake, I prefer not to use the living room...I like my privacy and to be able to create the atmosphere I like.  We don't have an outdoor space that is private, so ritual outdoors is not really an option.

What I can do is alter a space to create an atmosphere.  I like doing rituals in the bedroom, as we have a large dresser that I can use as a working space.  But I also have a couple of large cloths (tablecloth's and blankets with different patterns) that I can lay out on the living room floor to create atmosphere.  I have quite a collection of candles in different colors, so I will pick ones that match.  I have also been collecting candle holders and decorative bowls/plates for ritual use (I love looking at second hand stores for holiday/seasonal themed items...or shopping the post holiday sales!)

If you, like me, are doing your ritual indoors, it can be lovely to have flowers or other natural elements inside.  You can have them in a vase, or lay them out on your altar space, or create the boundary of your circle with them!  When you are done with your indoor ritual, you could also take the flowers outside and create a mandala offering with them!

Music is another great tool to creating a festive atmosphere.  There are some very beautiful Pagan singers and amazing chant tracks that can add a lot of power to your ritual.  But you aren't limited to purely Pagan sounds!  You can go with nature sounds, from rain to animals to thunderstorms.  Or, you could pick songs that remind you of the seasons (great for Yule), or songs that remind you of your theme (there is nothing wrong with using pop music in ritual).  You may find that you are drawn to a particular mood with your music.  Some rituals may call for more somber or mellow music, while others are perfectly suited for upbeat dancing songs!

One feature that is common at a lot of group rituals is the feast.  This may be a part of the actual ritual, in the form of offerings or the sharing of 'cakes and ale' (which doesn't actually have to be cake and alcohol, but is typically some kind of bread-stuff and some kind of drink) or the feast may be part of the social aspect and take place after the ritual is over.  Either way, there is no reason not to include food and drink in your solitary rituals.

If you like baking, there are many recipes that can be used for a ritual offering.  Both cookies and breads have so many varieties, you can easily find one that matches your theme.  You can also go for more of a full feast, and cook a meal to honor the theme of the ritual.  And don't forget the drink!  If you do drink alcohol, that is a very traditional offering, but if you don't, then consider juice or tea...or just pick your favorite, indulgent drink!  The main thing for me, with ritual food, is that it needs to either be something that is significant to the ritual I am doing, the deities invoked, or a special food for me.  I don't just pick whatever is in my cabinet or whatever leftovers in the fridge need eaten up (unless that seems ritually significant!)

And don't forget to dress!  When I was starting out, the idea of skyclad was very prevalent.  It was mentioned in about every book, especially for group work.  But it is something that many people aren't comfortable with, especially in a group with people you don't know well.  On your own, it can take on a whole new meaning.  Many of us (myself included) aren't always accepting of our own bodies, and spending time unclothed in sacred space can help bring that feeling of sacredness into our own body. 

You absolutely don't have to go that route if you don't want to though!  You could also dress up:  put on your favorite outfit, or create a look to go with your theme.  Add jewelry, do makeup if you are so inclined, a dab of your favorite scent.  Treat it like the special occasion it is!  I love dressing up for ritual, even if I am by myself.  It helps me step out of my ordinary life and really mark it as an occasion (particularly as I don't 'dress up' that often in my regular life).

You can even add symbols, designs or words drawn on your body.  Use makeup pencils or liquid eyeliner to do fine lines.  You can do larger areas with bold face paint (like the kind that is all over at Halloween).  You can do a full mask or just small areas.  There are no limits!  Decorating the body can be both deeply spiritual and great fun.

And, you don't have to be fully alone!  There are many ways to connect electronically, and share ritual space that way.  You can connect with one or more people over the phone and share your ritual through sound.  Or you can set up a camera or use video on your phone to connect visually as well.  Even rituals done through text, in a chat room or messenger, can be quite moving, especially if everyone has created their own ritual space ahead of time and follows along with actions as you go.

For me, many rituals are meant to be celebrations, and just because we walk our path alone, doesn't mean we can't celebrate!  Find ways that speak to you, do things that make ritual special, pull out all the stops and create amazing ritual space JUST for yourself! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


By my nature I'm a fighter.  When things get tough, my first reaction is to dig in my heels and tough it out.  But I am learning that there is strength in surrender, and that sometimes giving in is exactly what you need to move forward.  And surrendering isn't always the easy way out!

Surrender comes in many forms.  It could be as simple as acceptance of what is.  It could be allowing your sense of self to step back for a minute, surrendering to the flow.  It can be trusting in other people, and allowing them to do things that you would normally do.  It can be faith...your belief that there is something out there greater than you that will guide you if you only let it.

One of the most obvious ways I see the power of surrender is physically.  I just started a new workout challenge, and my legs are pretty tight today.  I was doing some stretching (which I love, and for me is one way in which I access a deep breathing meditative state), and my leg muscles were fighting the stretch.  My first response was to tighten everything up and muscle my way into the stretch.  But then I made the conscious effort to do the opposite.  To relax the muscles of my leg, to breath into the stretch and to continue to focus on keeping the muscles loose and relaxed.  It feels like a step backwards at first, but then with each breath I end up moving slightly further into my stretch.

I think this is very representative of what happens when we fight other aspects of our growth.  When we are breaking through a new boundary, we are working ourselves in new ways.  We might end up over-extended and need to settle into our new perspective.  It can be scary and feel uncomfortable, so we want to struggle against it.  This might mean we are resisting the new experience or we are trying to force our way deeper into it.  Either way, this creates a lot of unnecessary tension in our self. 

This is where trust comes in.  We trust in our own path, in our own progress, and we trust that we have laid in the proper foundations to let us climb to where we want to be.  When you are climbing up a ladder, you keep your eyes focused on the top, on where you want to go.  You don't look down at the base of the ladder, to make sure it's secure.  You set that up ahead of time!  You just keep your eyes on the prize and put one foot after another on the rungs of the ladder and climb.

Surrender is also a key skill when we are getting swept away.  Life has this way of putting you in the middle of the storm sometimes.  We all have those days where everything you do seems to go wrong.  Murphy days, where everything that can go wrong the worst possible way!  We get frustrated and angry and start to snap at everything.  Our actions get less focused and refined and we may start slamming doors or using way more force than is necessary, because we just want things to turn our right!

It's much like getting caught in a current.  The water is dragging you somewhere you don't want to go, and the natural reaction is to turn around and start swimming in the opposite direction.  But fighting the current will only tire you out, and depending on how fast the water is moving, you might not be able to make any progress at all!  What you need to do is try to guide yourself instead, swim across the current, or look to see where the current is taking you and if there is a safe place you can shelter from it.

What this equates to is taking a step out of the situation.  When I start to feel this kind of situation brewing, I will close my eyes (to cut out as much stimuli as I can) and take a deep breath (or ten!) and try to bring myself into a state of calm and then project that calm outward.  Even if the world around me is still crazy, just trying to remain calm helps me to remain afloat and to not continue to feed into that destructive energy.

Trusting other people to do things for you can be very challenging for some of us, especially if you are very particular about how you like things done.  But sometimes we all need a little help, and you have to surrender and place yourself in someone else's hands.  This may mean letting go of having things exactly as you might like them.  My husband and I have very different ways of looking at some things.  I like to plan things out ahead of time, while he tends to play things more by ear.  We both compromise a little and meet in the middle.

This can be especially difficult when we are unable to do something for ourselves, for whatever reason.  Then, we have no choice but to trust someone else, and that can make us fight the help, even if the only way we can struggle against it is verbally.  Society has sort of trained us to pretend everything is okay, when it isn't, to be strong and to push through when we are ill, or injured or exhausted.  Asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness, and it really isn't!  There is nothing wrong with turning to other people and getting assistance. 

Recognizing how hard this is can be part of the process of allowing other people in.  Acknowledge that letting people help you is hard for you, even if you only admit it to yourself.  Perhaps consider journaling about why you feel getting help diminishes you as a person.  Or why you don't want to let other people do things for you (even just nice things like giving you a gift or a compliment).  It can also be helpful (and really nice!) to ask other people why they want to do things for you....realizing that they are acting out of love or caring and not pity may help you be more open to accepting.

And finally, I think that we can sometimes struggle with great anxiety about our choices.  Whether they are big or little, life changing or superficial, we may have times where we find ourselves unsure of which way to go.  In these times, we can tap into that divine spark within, to the part of us that is something more than our thoughts and our sense of self.  You may think of this as God, a particular deity, your higher self, instincts, guardian angel...however you comprehend it, you can ask for guidance.  You are stepping out of your self in a way, and allowing this other energy to influence your choice.  For me, it's like creating a space within myself.  I don't do anything besides create this space, almost like stepping out of my own mind for a minute.  But when I do I am always filled with a sense of peace.  I may not know for certain what choice is right, but I am reassured that whatever choice I make, I will be okay.

Surrender is hard, it isn't just rolling over and letting other people trample all over you.  It is about trust and faith and acceptance.  It is about knowing when to fight and when to go with the flow.  Practicing surrender will create peace in your life and allow you to face difficult situations with a clear mind and confidence!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Trusting your Gut

While I am a huge fan of both research and of hearing how other people do things, I ultimately believe that we each need to find our own way.  We all have a unique perspective, and this means we will have a personal expression of all aspects of our path, from how we relate to the divine to how we practice in our daily life.

And one skill that I have found vital to this (and just handy in general) is intuition.  Learning how to feel into a situation instead of only relying on your logical brain helps you sort out what works for you from what other people tell you works for them.

Like many other people, I started out my practice by reading books.  I didn't know what to do or how to do it, so I read about how other people do it.  I am quite lucky that I learn well from books, but still I found things that just didn't click with me...but that was how all the books said to do it so I figured I was doing it wrong.  It wasn't until many years later that I started to really trust my instincts and go with my gut and figure out how to do things on my own.

Intuition is a deeper sense of knowing.  I equate it a lot to clairsentience, or psychic knowing.  This is how a lot of my visualizations come to me, not always through sight or sound or touch, but through just knowing.  I think this is why a lot of people discount it, because it is a sort of strange sensation.  We aren't used to grasping the essence of a thing without a lot of our sensory descriptors or verbal qualifications.

When it comes to intuition, we often know things without understanding why, or have an impulse to do something that comes out of the blue.  We are taught, from when we are a little child, to question the why of things, to think things through and to have reasons for doing things.  Intuition sort of flies in the face of this.

But it is exactly those signs you want to look for, when learning to trust your intuition.  When you get an impulse, as long as it's not dangerous, go for it!  We don't always need to know why we want to do a thing, just wanting it is enough.  The more you start to trust your intuition and do things without having a logical justification, the more you will notice these impulses.

There are a lot of other tips for tapping into that intuition when it's not jumping in front of your face and waving it's arms.  The simplest is to think about what your options are, and to focus on how each one makes you feel.  Ignore, for a moment, all the logical thoughts and comparisons.  If you are trying to figure out what job to go after, don't think about the money (beyond making sure that they all will pay your bills!) or what other people may think, but imagine yourself doing the job and see how it makes you feel.  Sometimes, what is best for us is not what comes out best on paper, but what makes our life better!

Sometimes it can be hard to recognize the difference between what your brain is saying and what your gut is saying.  I have always separated head and gut along the conscious and subconscious mind brain thinks things while my gut feels them.  If I can easily explain something with words, then it is probably coming from my brain, my logic, my thinking self.  However, if I struggle to explain something or if I relate to it more with an emotion or sensation in my body, then I feel it is more instinctual.

Some people will get very different sensations when their intuition is kicking in.  They may feel a warmth in their body, or an electric tingling in certain areas.  If their intuition is drawing them to something, it may feel comforting or like 'home'.  On the other hand, if they are being led away from something dangerous, they may feel an uncomfortable prickling or just a general sense of malaise. 

Now, this is one place where it gets tricky for me.  I get anxious about things, especially choices and new experience.  So sometimes, I will get negative body reactions when I am faced with something that pushes me out of my comfort zone.  These can be very similar to the things I feel when my intuition is pointing me away from something.  But it's not actually my intuition saying that the thing I am contemplating is bad, just my own fears trying to hold me back.

Two things really work for me to sort out if it is fear or intuition.  Firstly, I think about what the worst that could happen would be.  Most of the time, this highlights whether or not it is fear (when I get anxious about silly little things, or about how other people may react to me).  The interesting thing is that by walking myself mentally down this worst case road, the anxious feelings will start to decrease when it is just fear.  The second thing I do is take a deep breath.  Just that breath, while thinking about doing the thing I am worried abut, will get rid of most of my anxious feelings (sometimes it takes several breaths).  If I do both of those things and still have a bad feeling about something, then I trust my intuition and start looking for other options.

There is a neat body trick to try for checking in with your intuition.  This can be done solo or with someone else.  If you are working with someone else, you can hold one arm straight out to your side.  You will try to hold it up, and the other person will try to push it down.  Each time you do it, think about a different option.  Your body will respond with more strength to the option that your intuition feels is best for you.  If you are alone, you can touch the tip of your pinky and thumb of your non-dominant hand together, then using your other hand, try to push the fingers apart with your thumb and pointer.  Try to use the same amount of pressure to push your fingers apart while thinking about your different choices.  The one that you are most intuitively aligned to will keep your fingers together, while other choices it will be easy to separate them.

So how does all this apply to walking your own path?  I think that we are often faced with the situation where we read or hear something that seems to be common knowledge or generally accepted, and it just doesn't sit well with us.  Sometimes this is because we are breaking free from old patterns (like the associations with the words 'witch' or 'heathen'), but sometimes it is because our intuition is trying to tell us that we need to look elsewhere. 

I think it is of great use to ask other people for their opinions.  Often this can be a form of insight, and it helps our intuition have lots of place to point us!  But it can also be limiting if we feel that we can not trust what our gut is saying.  We may find ourselves trying to walk in someone else's shoes and being constantly frustrated because it is so hard to walk the path!

When something feels wrong or uncomfortable to you, look into that feeling!  The feeling is a message, you just have to figure out what it is trying to say to you.  Sometimes it is fear trying to keep you in your old, small box.  Sometimes it is a sign of danger.  Sometimes it is just that the fit isn't quite right for you.  Learning to know how your intuition speaks to you and to trust it helps you figure out which message you are receiving and how to move forward!