Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Dealing with dark times...


There is no denying it, life has taken a drastic turn for many people around the globe.  The world we have known and lived in all our lives has changed, and pretty much everyone is having to adjust.  Our daily routines have been altered and many people are struggling with new restrictions on top of fear and uncertainty.

And this is a time when our spiritual beliefs and practices really shine.  As Pagans and witches I think we are blessed to have many tools at our disposal for dealing with tough times, and doing it mostly on our own.  We may get together for gatherings or rituals, be we also practice on our own, and we practice in our home.  Our connection to the things we believe in and work with isn't diminished by isolation and being home bound.

There is so much we can do, that is helpful in these times, and making time for practice is something that is even more important than usual.  No matter what you are struggling with, there are things you can do to help yourself, and by helping yourself you in turn help those around you.  Being able to keep your calm and presence in a time like this is something that ripples outward and the benefits reach beyond even what you are aware of.

There is so much information flying around, and so many things to worry about, and one thing I am finding extremely helpful right now is journaling.  I am an anxious person, and there are always a million thoughts in my head.  The not-so-helpful ones fly about and keep coming back until I am just thinking them over and over.  Getting them outside my head gives me a measure of peace. 

But I don't necessarily want to be sharing all my crazy thoughts with the world.  Crazy breeds crazy, and while it is good to vent with other people from time to time (and healthy!), doing nothing but sharing fears and worries means that you are just passing them back and forth....when you get rid of yours, you give them to someone else, and you take some from another person.

With my journal, I have given myself permission to not only write down what is going on and how I feel about it, but also every crazy, worried, anxious, fearful thought in my head.  I write them out and put them to rest in my journal.  And I have found that when I do this, I don't feel as big a need to share those thoughts with other people.

What I do share with other people is hope.  I think that it is really vital for people who have hope to share it.  I love divination, I love tarot decks, and normally I'm all about the dark and spooky.  For me, the darkness is comforting.  But I also have a few very encouraging, "all light" kind of decks.  So, I've been using those as a way to share a bit of hope and light with people. 

It's different from regular divination.  I'm not asking for information or an update on what's going on.   Instead, I'm specifically asking for something to inspire me for the day.  You can absolutely do this with a regular deck, but I feel like some of the less positive cards can be hard for people to see as truly good (this really isn't about finding silver linings to the bad, it's about seeing something that is pure and beautiful and wonderful).  If you don't have a deck that is positive focused, you can absolutely sort out the best and most amazing cards from one of your normal decks and use it to pull an inspiration card!

This is also a great time to turn to meditation.  There are SO many different types of meditation, and they all bring benefits, especially when you are stressed and cooped up.  One of the big things to remember with meditation, is it's the journey that is important, not the destination.  If you sit to meditate, and your mind is racing all over, and you have a kid begging for a snack or your spouse trying to talk to you, you are still getting benefits! 

One of my favorite ways to meditate is to embrace the chaos.  I normally sit and meditate in the morning, and often there were distractions.  There would be people talking to me, or videos playing, all kinds of things to pull my attention away.  Instead of trying to distance myself from it all, I would focus on different things.  I would become aware of the sounds I was hearing, letting my attention notice all he different things.  Think of it like cataloguing the noises.

If you have little ones home, and want to include them in the meditation (which can be very helpful for everyone's calm!), then focusing on the breath is a great way to help them.  Depending on how old they are, you can have them feel how breathing in feels versus breathing out.  When I was first learning, my teacher (in grade school) said to think of the mind like a garden.  When I breathed out, I should picture weeds (the bad thoughts) getting blown away, and when I breathed in, I pictured the flowers (the good thoughts) unfolding.  You can also do this with just colors, so have them think of a color that represents unpleasant thoughts and one for their happy thoughts.  When they breath out, they can imagine it like breathing out a cloud of colored mist (in the bad color), and then when they breathe in, they can see the good colored mist filling their whole body.

I feel like this is a great time to embrace a gratitude and prayer practice.  When we are experiencing hard times, it can be easy to focus on the negatives.  We feel constrained, so we think about all the things we can't do.  We worry that we won't have enough supplies or that people we care about will get sick.  Making a daily (or more!) practice of laying out an offering, and giving thanks, can help bring us back into a place of gratitude.

The offerings you lay out can be as simple as your words.  You might pour a glass of clean water and offer it to the spirits of the land you live on, thanking them for giving you a safe place to stay.  You might offer up service, taking time to clean something in your house, thanking your home for protecting you and your family.

What I find most important is really naming things you are grateful for.  Be specific!  Give thanks for the food you do have, for the time to spend with family, for the internet through which you can still talk to people.  Try to name as many things as you possibly can.  If you have children and they are upset about the things they can't do, get them involved too.  Make it a game, to see who can name the most things to be thankful for! 

Protection work is very useful now as well.  We are reminded to take extra precautions and clean more thoroughly, and when we clean we can cleanse.  Whenever someone in my house is sick or feeling upset, I always feel a need to cleanse, to get that energy moving and cleared out of the house.  As we practice things like social distancing, we can also practice more energetic protections, helping to guard our house and family against stress and worry.  If you have people who still need to go out for their job, having protections in place to help them leave those stresses outside can be very helpful.

When I cleanse, I like to clear a room first, so I'll often bring in some incense and bless the room, casting out the old energy, and filling the room with an appropriate energy, based on what room it is (so bedrooms is often calm and rest, living room is joy and peace, dining room and kitchen is nourishment, bathroom is cleansing).  Then I'll ward the doors and windows, to help keep undesired energy from coming in.

Along with journaling to get thoughts out of your head, banishing them is another thing that you can do.  Begin by either writing or drawing out what you are feeling.  I like drawing, because it's not like drawing a picture of something.  You just grab crayons, colored pencils or paint and put color on the page.  You might scribble or you might draw things, either way works!  If you want to write, don't worry about your handwriting or try to think too hard, just write as fast as you can, whatever comes to mind...it doesn't have to make sense.  Think of it as purging out your emotions on the page.  Then you can tear it up, burn it, bury it....get rid of it! 

Even though it feels like times are dark, there is a lot we can do to nurture the light in our lives....and to shine light for other people, so they can become their own light too.  Pay attention to where your thoughts are going, and practice ways to direct them to where you want them to be.  Take little actions, to protect yourself and your family.  And keep hope alive, for that is how we fight against the darkness!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Fakelore


I first came upon the term fakelore when looking at information about All Snakes Day.  One of the articles I read listed the part of the story of Saint Patrick, where he 'drove all the snakes from Ireland' as fakelore.  It was an interesting word, so I did a bit of digging. 

Fakelore is when someone creates a story and presents it as if it were actual folklore.  So, there is deliberate deception going on here.  It isn't the same as when someone creates a modern or alternative retelling of a folklore story (and presents it as their own creation or interpretation of the lore).  Fakelore is specifically when someone creates something and tells everyone it's an actual, historical story or truth. 

In a lot of ways, Fakelore reminds me of Cultural Appropriation (or at least my take on it).  I think that sharing and experiencing cultures you are not from is a wonderful thing.  I love seeing how other people do things.  Appropriation comes in when you try to take something that isn't offered or claim that someone else's practice is actually yours, and that's not cool.

Likewise, I adore retellings of lore!  I love interesting twists on it.  Give me all your stories about Gods in Space or Genderbent folklore or that one obscure event that didn't have much lore and you've written an Epic Story about it!  I find all of these really cool and creative and I love when people do this.

What isn't cool is when people have their own interpretations of lore and try to convince everyone else it's historically accurate.  And sometimes UPG ends up very close to this line...when it doesn't just cross right over it.

UPG is tricky.  By it's nature, UPG is experiences that are true...to you.  I won't discount anyone's personal experiences with things, but I also don't think that my visions and experiences with my Gods are the Truth and don't apply to everyone.  I have my perspective, and it is definitely skewed from where I am standing. 

The problem I find is that some people take their UPG and try to claim that "This is the way things actually were, back in the day!!!  I had this vision, so I KNOW....this is what really went down."  And I think this is problematic on many levels.  Firstly, in today's day of self-publishing, it is very easy for someone to write a book or publish a website and put their UPG out in the world....presenting it as actual lore.

And sadly a lot of people don't do their due diligence, they don't look at sources and they just take any printed (or web-published) word at face value.  And these types of fakelore end up becoming a kind of urban legend.  They worm their way into the accepted lore and become very real to many people.

The thing is, these stories and experiences can have actual value, as long as we remember that they are created and not historic.  If you think about most folklore, it may be based on some physical occurrences, but folklore is literally the stories of the people of the day.  So the stories we create today, are our own version of folklore.  And stories can have tremendous impact in how we understand and relate to our world.

To go back to the idea of driving the snakes from Ireland for a moment, the reason this isn't fakelore is because it is more of a parable.  It was a symbolic story where the 'snakes' were representations of Pagans, and so it was a church story told to illustrate how powerful the church is.  A local hero, Saint Patrick, was given the victory, and his story was built to show how Christianity was dominant.

What I find really interesting about modern folklore is that it's like hearing about your best friend from their parent or from someone who knew them as a child.  We all have different sides, and sometimes the picture you get when hearing some of these alternative perspectives really makes you think.  It lets you see  the person in a new way.

The thing to keep in mind is that the teller always has their slant.  If I was mean to someone as a child, maybe even unintentionally, they may start to think that I am a horrible person, and their memories of me will always be in the worst light.  If someone had a crush on me, their stories might be completely rose-colored.  If someone were to listen to both of those stories, they might not be able to reconcile either of them with their experiences of me.

And sometimes that can be really interesting to think about as well.  I have read some very different takes on lore, where people have vastly different experiences than I do with certain deities.  A deity that I find very scholarly is described as a testosterone driven violence fiend.  Or one that I think is a bit of a dodgy personality someone else thinks is a perfect father figure. 

When the stories differ so greatly, I personally find it actually helps me remember things better.  I remember both versions because the contrast between them is so great.  So reading many perspectives of the same story helps me cement different details into my mind.  I can feel which ones resonate with me, and which don't.  It also lets me understand where other people are coming from, so when they talk about a story and take a different approach to it than I do, I have references to compare to.

Stories are such great tools for expanding our awareness, and whether they are historically rooted or not, they can bring great value to our practice.  But let's be honest, let's see fakelore for what it is, and appreciate it for what it brings us instead of thinking less of it because it wasn't written 'back in the day'.  And if you have a new twist on folklore you want to share, or some UPG, own it!  Be proud of your experiences, your perspective, and don't try to claim it is anything other than what it is....yours.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Fighting fear




 We are poised at an interesting place in history, where social media has become the biggest source of news for many people.  And in the shadow of the looming pandemic, this has become a terrifying place in a lot of ways, because the messages we are seeing are focused on creating a state of fear and heightening danger.  The world feels very small and scary all at the same time.

There is a lot going on, and I am absolutely not trying to downplay the seriousness of the virus that is spreading across the globe.  However, I think that our modern news outlets haven't quite adjusted properly to the new state of global connectedness.  They are treating this as any other situation, and reporting the news the way they always do, and I believe it's creating more of a panic than expected.

 I remember a lot of other scares, ones that were both more local and more worldwide.  I remember watching the news on TV for the Oklahoma City bombing.  This was the first time where I became aware of how much our news focuses on shock factor and fear mongering.  I watched the news for three days, and the same headline, the same video footage, the same story was repeated over and over again.  It would be doled out in five minute doses, rehashing the things they had already told you, but if you "stayed tuned, more updates would come."  Around the third day I just stopped watching, because nothing new was actually coming.

I remember with SARS, not only were they repeating the same old (out of proportion) news, but they were also giving some really bad advice.  The one that sticks in my mind was suggesting that people go to the store, buy plastic sheeting and duct tape, and seal off all their windows (and doors) in their house....to protect them.  Which is really crazy advice, to the point of ridiculousness...except that it gave people things to do and kept them home (where they weren't going to fall prey to mob mentality and run rampage).


I am seeing some similar crazy ideas this time around, and now it is complicated by not only news outlets reporting sensational headlines (because it's all about getting those sales, getting those clicks, they need you to follow their link or watch their show), but also we have social media influences who are saying things that people are taking as Truth.  Insane things like how drinking bleach or doing cocaine will protect you from the virus (don't do either....they don't work....just don't).

But our internet culture means that if someone 'famous' (even internet famous, anyone with lots of followers) posts something, it will get shared countless times in minutes, and will be everywhere.  People are already scared because they are reading all these scary headlines on 'news' sites that they feel they can trust, and now they are hearing about something they can do, and even though it sounds crazy, it makes them feel in control.

It is more important than ever to take a step back, to take a breath, to really examine what we are reading and hearing and try to weed the truth out of the rumors and headlines.  The pandemic is real, there is a virus spreading, but many of the statistics and 'facts' that are being spread just aren't accurate. 

A very real danger is that headlines are being quoted without the full article being read.  Headlines are designed to be click-bait.  They are pretty much the definition of click-bait.  They are created to be SO sensational that you have to know more.  But the problem today is that many people don't actually read the articles (some of which really disprove their own headline...or are obviously so devoid of facts that they are easy to discount), they just click like and share.

I think another issue we have, in our modern world of excess, is we seem to think that if one is good then a hundred must be better.  We take decent advice and we turn it into something so overdone that it becomes dangerous.

We see places that are in the middle of a full blown outbreak, and we see people wearing masks, so everyone runs out and buys boxes and boxes of masks.  A self-quarantine of two to three weeks is suggested IF you are symptomatic, and people run out and buy cases of 'staples' like toilet paper and bottled water.  People are reminded to wash their hands, and people buy so many cleaners that stores run out.

But amidst all of this panic, people forget that overreacting can actually make you more susceptible.  Letting yourself get worked up, super anxious or full of fear, causes excess stress which weakens your immune system. 

Fear and anxiety are definitely parts of our shadow that we often find ourselves faced with.  There are always new fears and new worries to tackle, and it can be hard to not be concerned, especially as so much is still unknown.  But at some point you have to do what you can and then take the rest on faith.

Of course, everyone should take reasonable precautions!  But also do your research, and see what is helpful and what is over doing it.  And these things are different based on your personal circumstances.  Where you live, who you live with, your medical history...all these things effect how careful you need to be. 

Now is a perfect time to spend some extra time working on your fears.  One thing I've loved seeing recently are all the handwashing memes, where it gives 'alternative things to say/sing while you wash your hands for 20 seconds'.  There is a really great quote, from Dune, called the Fear Litany, which I really like and find useful.  I have also loved seeing quotes from movies as well as several lists of song lyrics that can be used. 

What I find particularly magical about this is it is a combination of both a practical thing (the physical washing of your hands), and a mental reminder (a chant to focus your thoughts as you wash).  A good number of the ones I have seen have been focused on being strong, on not giving in to fear and panic, and they really do work well to fight against the panic many people are feeling.

I also think it's a good time to be reminded that many of the things we are doing now, in the middle of this pandemic, are things we should be doing all the time.  We should be washing our hands and taking care of ourselves so that we are healthy and strong.  We should be mindful when we feel we might be sick, about trying our best to not spread that to other people (whether that means staying home if we are able, wearing a mask, not touching things or what have you).

So, before you get caught up in all the social media hype, look into things.  Read articles and watch videos (from actual doctors or health organizations, don't take your medical advice from influencers!), and think about what suggestions are reasonable and what aren't (remember, don't drink bleach or do cocaine!).  Shore up on your self-care, and think about what you might be doing now that you would benefit from during non-emergency times as well. 

It is often things like this, global experiences, that make us realize how small the world is.  We are all in this together, and the best way to make it through it is by doing what is good for us but also what is good for everyone.  Because this is a definite reminder that other people's well-being effects yours!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Reframe: More light!


A lot of us, myself included, tend to think about Daylight Savings time as just another hassle...an antiquated practice that doesn't fit with our modern lifestyle.  We are no longer as bound by the sun, we have lights that keep our cities lit up into the wee hours of the morning when the sun rises, and darkness doesn't constrain us. 

And it can be tedious to remember what day the clocks change.  We adjust our lives and we don't really see the benefit.  Those first few days are often a bit of a shock, as the clock tells us it's a certain time, but our brain tells us that "Yesterday it was dark at this time, but today it is light...something's not right here!"

Practically speaking, we may miss the benefits of daylight savings time, but I think we can reframe this practice to be something that fits better with our acknowledgement of the seasons and the turning wheel.  Ultimately, Daylight Savings time was about recentering our days on the light, so that in our daily lives we saw more light.

Sure, there were many logistical and financial reasons for the change, but on a very primal level it was about keeping the light in the center of our days.  We are in spring time now, so we are leaving the darker part of the year and really opening up and embracing brighter days, and I think that Daylight Savings is a great moment to stop and recognize the power of light in our lives.

Many people are effected by the lowered light in the winter.  Not only is the sun not up as much, but it is often cold (and possibly weathery), so people stay inside more and are more bundled up.  We aren't getting as much sunlight, and this has physical, biological effects on us.  Many people also struggle emotionally with the lowered light, and winter can be a dark place because of it, on many levels.

Our ancestors were very concerned with the amount of light, and the question of whether or not the sun would rise in the morning was of vital importance to them.  Of course, for all of us, if the sun didn't rise in the morning that would be catastrophic, but we now know that such an event is unlikely.  We don't watch the sun go down at night and worry about whether or not there will be a dawn.  For us, even though the amount of sunlight in a day may fluctuate, we take for granted that it will be there.

Choosing to think about Daylight Savings time in a different way allows us to focus on the positive, instead of the negative.  So many people are in a funk for the week surrounding Daylight Savings time, because they are building it up to such a huge thing in their head, then continuing to let it effect them for days after the change has taken place.

If we instead think about it as a way to invite more light into our lives, it becomes and opportunity to not only reframe this one particular event, but also to start looking for other places in our lives where we might be looking at the negative side of things. 

It is easy to get caught up in the negative things that influence us.  They disrupt our lives, they make things harder, and they throw us off balance.  But if we allow these occurrences to overwhelm us, to throw us into a negative emotional spiral, we loose control.  We no longer are able to think clearly, and we are now stuck in this emotional response loop, where we tend to react with a knee-jerk emotional lashing out, which almost never has the desired effect, and in fact normally sinks us deeper into an undesired situation.  It's the kind of thing that feeds on itself and just makes things worse.

But, we can choose to reframe, to deliberately look for the light in any situation, to seek out what is working instead of focusing on what isn't.  Sometimes, to find the light, we have to take a step away, we have to take a breath, and we have to go inside ourselves instead of staying stuck in the outside situation.  It takes work, and practice, but when we are able to do it, we can respond to things in a thoughtful, calm manner.  The light that we found helps us keep our perspective and stay balanced.

It may seem like a little thing, but starting with Daylight Savings time and thinking about it not as a disruption of our life or a hassle, but instead a celebration of the returning light, helps us start to build those habits of reframing.  We may also choose to take this day to seek out other places where we can look for the light, to actively work on being better.

So, before you start grumbling about changing your clocks, take a breath, and embrace more light in our days, and use that light to find more places to seek the positive!  Look for the reframe, whenever you can, and step out of those negative feedback spirals. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Time correction


Time, as an exact thing, is a human creation.  Nature and the world around us has timing, but it doesn't have time.  Time helps us communicate and work together, and in order to all be on the same page we need to have a common language and system for measuring time.  But, in order to make it neat and tidy, we have found that, once every four years, we need to make an adjustment, we need to correct our time.

On a Leap Year, we add a whole new day, we fix the error in our timing, in order to bring everything back into sync.  This is a great time to bring other areas of our lives into sync, but also an energy we can tap into during the rest of the year.

There are so many different cycles we live through, whether it is the week, month, moon, seasonal, work week, school year...our life is a never-ending series of cycles.  And sometimes things will throw those off kilter.  I remember when I was in school, whenever we had to miss a day, the whole rest of the week felt like scrambling.  Today, I have my personal life set so I do certain things on certain days, and when I have to adjust that I feel very off-balance.

Setting our time back into sync can be as simple as making a conscious effort to either add or remove days.  When we add days, it's like Leap year, we are taking the day and setting it outside of time.  Often, we treat holidays like this.  They become these little capsules of time that don't follow the normal rules.

Think about holidays as a child....you often got fancy foods, you might have a different bedtime, or you might be allowed to skip your chores.  As adults, we often continue these trends.  When we get an extra day off, like for a holiday, we relish that time, and all bets are off.  We set it aside and really just give ourselves that gift of time.  It becomes time to catch up...not on things we 'should' be doing, but on things we wish we had time for.

I don't know how many times I have wished for extra hours in the day, and I am sure I am not alone.  We have so much we want to do, and often the fun things are pushed to the back of the list.  We say we'll get around to them when we have time, or when everything else is done.  And that time never comes.

So sometimes, we may need to make a conscious choice to give ourselves a day.  And then treat that day like a holiday from our regular duties.  Of course you will still want to make sure everyone is fed and the absolutely necessary stuff gets taken care of, but think about ways in which you can make even those duties fun.  You have to eat dinner, but you can make fun snacky foods or maybe get takeout, or pick your favorite frozen meal so you don't have to cook.  By setting the day 'outside of time' you are acknowledging that it is special and that it's okay to goof off.  And sometimes, that is exactly what we need.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, sometimes we need to make the mental adjustment to remove days.  My days are normally pretty free, but I do have days where I'm just not home.  I might have a lot of errands to run, or maybe I am going to an event.  Pretty much, if I am only going to be home for a few hours, I consider the day a null.  I find a way to reassign or just flat out cancel the normal stuff I would do, so I don't feel compelled to cram all the normal stuff into those few hours.

Some things are easy to put off.  I clean twice a week, but we can get by with once a week.  So if I can't clean the day before/after, then I just nix one of the cleanings (or do a partial, I might run a vacuum but not sweep or dust).  I have a decent little list of daily stuff that I do, and on null days most of that list gets scrapped. 

The big thing here is to do it deliberately, and to go into the day knowing it's going to be a null day.  Getting behind, being rushed, and then realizing you just simply can't do a thing isn't the same.  Because you will be thinking about it and it will be weighing on you.

 I also find that time correction may become necessary for regular routines, when things happen.  When we build up a habit, we want to keep that momentum running.  We might feel guilty for taking days off, or for breaking our own rules.  But sometimes, taking breaks can be what helps us keep going in the long run.

The immediate answer that comes to mind is cheat days on a diet.  Now there are two ways to approach cheat days, one is healthy, the other...not so much.  If you plan on a cheat day, and you treat it simply as a day 'outside of time' so your normal rules don't apply, then you can enjoy that day without guilt.  This is a great thing to do if you maybe have a friend's party to go to or your partner is taking you out for a special occasion.  You may not want to be thinking about the diet, you just want to enjoy the night, to appreciate that special time. 

The bad way is when you make a mistake (because we all do), and you cave into your impulses and you get that piece of cake...then say "Oh, well, since I'm now on a cheat day I might as well have half a dozen donuts, some cookies and this whole bag of chips...it's okay, it's a cheat day."  Because you didn't plan on the cheat day, and it wasn't done deliberately it becomes a guilty thing.  Plus you are over indulging, and almost trying to make up for all the restrictions you normally follow.  It's like if you were trying to set aside a dollar every day to save up for a big purchase you wanted, but you keep giving in to temptation and saying "Oh, it's just one purchase..." but buying something that costs more than you saved all week...you never actually save up enough for what you wanted.

 Letting go of days (or taking days off) can be very hard, so you might want to create a specific ritual to help you get in the right mindset (and not let these correction days get out of hand).  I do morning planning, so when I know I have a day that needs adjusting from  my normal routine, I can literally put that down in my planner, and schedule the off day.  Also, if it is something I know about ahead of time, I can plan around it...but even if it's a last minute thing, I can use my planner to shift tasks that absolutely need done, so that I can actually relax into the day.

But even if you don't have a regular planning practice, you can create a ritual or change something specific at the start of the day, to make it a conscious choice.  If you are taking a day off, maybe you don't even get dressed, but stay all day in your pajamas.  If it is a day you have to let go of, perhaps you plan on grabbing coffee and breakfast on your way to your first thing, instead of having to take even more time to do it at home (or you prepare something the night before, so all you have to do is grab it and go).

I personally love the phrase 'time out of time'.  I think of ritual time that way, as it doesn't quite fit in the normal flow of time.  I consider off days to be time out of time, as if they aren't quite real, and being able to step into that mindset may require a bit of ritual.  Consider lighting a candle and taking your watch (or phone if you really want to be ambitious!) and setting it on your altar...for the rest of the day. 

Calling upon the energy of Leap Day can also help you make that mental shift, so that you are able to adjust the time in your head.  And that is the most important thing.  Once you get your head in the right place, the rest will follow.  So, as we approach Leap Day this Leap Year, think about places in your life where you might need to correct your time...and plan on doing it!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Party with meaning!


Who doesn't love a good party?  Pretty much every group I've been  a part of, that does any kind of communal gathering, enjoys having a good time.  It's part of the reason why we gather.  And our Sabbats and celebrations are often a cause to gather, to have good food, to share company, to sing and dance, and to have a good time....pretty much a party!

And I'm all about getting my party on!  But I think we need to make sure that the meaning of what we are celebrating doesn't get lost.  One of the biggest parties around is Mardi Gras.  It's famous across the globe and people travel from all over to take part.  But I bet most people who join in the celebrations don't know what they are celebrating...they are just there for the party.

There are a few stereotypes about Pagans that are related to mindless partying.  In the early days (especially when talking about Wiccan covens), the rumor was it was all just an excuse to have an orgy.  With Heathen groups, it's that everything is all about getting drunk (and possibly playing with weapons).  With some of the earth-centric religions, some people think it's just an excuse to get high.

And I think all of those are really dangerous stereotypes.  I have no problem with sex, alcohol, or the drugs most commonly used for religious reasons, but if people think that our whole religion is based on using faith as a reason to be able to overindulge, that is a problem.  We are already fighting for legitimacy with people who don't want to accept what we do, and if they think it's all a smoke screen for socially unacceptable behavior, that just makes the struggle for acceptance that much harder.

But I also think it's dangerous on the inside.  If we start letting the party aspects of gatherings take over, and we loose the ritual aspect, we are cheating ourselves out of a deeper connection, both with ourselves and our faith.  It's like people who go to a religious service, but spend the whole time on their phone or daydreaming instead of taking part...why even go?

Historically speaking, a lot of festivals had a very party vibe, but they were partying with a purpose.  The night might start with a reminder of why the festival was taking place, and then people would actually start the celebrating.  I think this is a really good way to approach celebrations.

Having a clear line between the ritual part of an evening and the social part is also a nice way to handle things.  If you are having a gathering for a specific purpose, but also know that people will hang out and socialize afterwards, then making that boundary clear helps keep everyone in the right headspace.  I definitely prefer if drinking doesn't start until after the ritual (if the ritual involves drinking, that is fine, but don't be chugging down beers while waiting for ritual to start).

I also feel like if people get too deep into the party mindset, it can be hard to pull back out of that.  Joking, laughing and making irreverent comments is awesome when just hanging out, but not very appropriate for most rituals.  I don't feel like ritual needs to be super serious, but there is a weight to it that needs to be respected.  Being deliberately sarcastic can make the experience awkward for other people.

I find that making an announcement, about the start of ritual, is very helpful, as is having a transition activity.  We tend to smudge and bless people as they enter circle.  This not only helps everyone get in the right mindset, it also controls how people enter the circle.  It turns it from a mob moving to a procession.  Sometimes we will chant as we enter circle, which can help as well, especially when it's an easy chant to follow along, it gives people something to do and focus on while they wait on everyone to be in circle, so there isn't restlessness and a temptation to start chatting. 

Likewise, at the end of ritual, we normally make a clear statement that ritual is over and the feast and celebration is to begin.  Food is a great way to bridge the gap after ritual.  It gets everyone moving, gives them something to talk about (especially great if not everyone knows everyone else), and even allows for more shy people to ease into conversations (because they can be busy with the eating and just listen in for a bit without feeling out of place).

Normally, celebrations take off after everyone has eaten.  People are refreshed and ready to dive into conversations or break out the instruments and chant or dance.  Having shared food brings people together and often the conversations follow the theme of the ritual.  We will socialize, but there is that connection, remembering what the reason was for the gathering.

And I think that's the real important part.  You can have a wonderful party, you can relax and get wild, and still honor the root of the celebration.  Having that time for a more pointed and serious ritual at the start helps set the mood.  It flavors the rest of the gathering, and without effort people are drawn back to that theme. 

Many times, we gather because we are more solitary in our daily practices.  The coven structure isn't the predominant form of Paganism anymore, but we still crave to be with people who honor similar things.  We crave that connection, and through celebrations we can get together and enjoy both a beautiful moment of ritual and then the camaraderie of like-minded people.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Mental care is self care!


So, it's become sort of a tradition of mine, to broaden the definition of love as we approach Valentine's day.  I have talked about self care before, but I specifically want to talk about mental health in regards to self care and Paganism.

Firstly though, I want to acknowledge that everyone goes through mental issues, whether they are small and temporary or huge and permanent.  Whether they are diagnosed, self-diagnosed or unknown.  Mental health, in many ways, is like physical health, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and maintaining your mental health is a journey.  Your journey might include trained professionals, regular practice, friends, family, support groups or you may be traveling alone, but we all travel this road.

I have seen people say that you shouldn't practice if you aren't healthy, especially mentally, and this is one of the most harmful things that I think someone could say.  I want to talk about this from two different sides, the spiritual and the magical.

On the spiritual side, I think that our faith and religious practices often are a great boon to our mental health.  When we are struggling, we often turn to things outside ourselves for strength.  Knowing that the universe (the Gods, Spirit, Divinity...however you recognize it) is rooting for you can see you through very dark times. 

I also think that we often find a special community through our faith.  We find others who share the same beliefs (either in part or in whole), and they understand us in ways that other people can't.  We speak a common language, and when you need words of encouragement, they know what to say to help you. 

Now, many Pagans faith practice includes things that might be hard to do if you are in a dark or hard place.  And because we often practice alone (in the sense that we aren't going to a church and attending a service hosted by someone else, but are often in charge of our own rituals and practices), this can become a struggle where we feel like we are not being 'good' Pagans or that maybe we are letting our Gods down.

I personally feel that the Gods know when we are unable to do things versus when we are just being lazy and not wanting to put for the effort.  I also think that making allowances and doing what we are able to do takes a special kind of strength, and this is something that is recognized.  We may have to adjust our expectations, and find new ways of doing things, but we are not bad Pagans because we can't practice the way everyone else does (honestly there is no standard to be held up against, everyone's practice is what works for them, so you do you!)

On a magical side, there is some reasoning behind the concept that you shouldn't practice when you aren't well...however the flip side to that is sometimes the best time to practice is when you are in the thick of something.  Also, if you are struggling with a chronic condition, you may judge your days in different shades, and 'functioning' may be one of your better days. 

I personally find that, for me, when I am feeling particularly bad, giving myself something to do helps.  I will almost always choose 'easy' things, stuff that is more light and simple, but also fun.  Chanting is a big one for me, chanting is something I turn to when I am feeling poorly, and it helps a lot that I can pick chants that counteract what I am feeling!  But also something simple like checking in with my altar, maybe moving some stuff around, picking a new backdrop for my computer..things that don't take a lot of effort, but have meaning.  Sometimes it's as simple as taking a moment to sit and stare at the sky.

I also talk mostly about solitary practice, but if you work with a group or are attending a group function, and you have an issue that you are worried about or are struggling with, please mention it!  Depending on how well you know the group, you might want to bring one of the organizers aside, or you might speak in more vague terms.  It might even be as simple as asking if there is a quiet place where you can get a minute alone if necessary.  Or asking if certain topics are going to be explored that you aren't comfortable with (many people struggle deeply with certain things, and some rituals might be problematic...knowing ahead of time so you can decide if you need to opt out can be very helpful).

Sometimes, we still treat mental health issues as if they aren't as valid as physical ones (and we still sometimes don't treat physical issues with as much care as they deserve), but I think this is a conversation that needs to happen.  It is important for our Pagan spaces to be safe spaces, and this means for mental health as well as physical health.  I think that, as Pagans, we have so many lovely tools for working with our mental health, both on our own and in groups, and it is important to respect the process that people are going through, your Self especially!

No one knows your mind and mental state as well as you do.  Never let anyone shame you for feeling the way you do, or for doing things in a way that works for you.  And as we celebrate love this Valentine's Day, remember to shine some of that love back at yourself, wherever you may be and however you may be feeling on any given day....you are worthy and you are loved!