Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tools of Earth

This was the last of the four base element tools that I found.  I have seen some beautiful carved and burnt wooden pentacles that would make lovely earth tools.  Mine is a simple silver-tone coaster.  It doesn't have a pentacle on it at all, but it is flat and round.  I use it mainly as a blessing spot, sort of a small energy nexus on my altar.  If I am making offerings or putting energy into something, it goes on my pentacle.  I guess maybe I should call it a shield.

The first time I read about using a shield for an earth tool I thought it was a bit fantasy roleplaying....not that I have a problem with that, it just seemed a bit contrived to me.  But the more I thought about it, the pentacle is a shield, just not the kind that stops swords (unless they are magic swords!).  The pentacle symbol and tool are often used interchangeably (though most of my pentacle jewelry is blessed towards five elemental balance not just earth).  It is very commonly used as a symbol of protection or warding, much like the magic circle actually. 

I was going to talk about the pentacle symbol and my thoughts on it's meaning in another post, but it kind of fits here, so here we go.  If you think about the pentacle shape, you have the pentagon in the middle, surrounded by the 5 triangles pointing out and finally enclosed in a circle.  I see energy as moving through the pentacle in mainly two ways, in or out.  The star becomes a focus for either sending energy out along the points from the middle or drawing energy in to the center.  Either can be used for shielding or charging, depending on how you want to work things.  If you envision the pentacle as a shield, a 'hit' could be drawn inward and absorbed (neutralized) or spread outward and dissipated.  For blessing or spellwork, you can draw energy in through the points to charge the item in the center or draw energy in through the center (and the item) and then send it out along the pentacle points to do it's work.

When I was writing about water tools, I almost included my mortar and pestle, because a lot of times they are associated with water.  I know people who use them as they would a cauldron.  I don't really.  Mine is an earth tool.  The process of grinding something down to me is a very earth process.  But also, I rarely use it for liquid processes, normally it is dry grinding and mixing only.

I know a lot of people use crystals as earth symbols, and I do sometimes.  I have a small collection I inherited from another witch as well as rocks I have collected over the years (some from as long ago as grade school).  Some I use as symbols of other elements.  I have favorites I use to cast circles with (not just as quarter markers, I actually normally use 12 to mark a circle).  I'm not sure I would consider my stones tools of earth though, because I do use them for such a variety of things.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I am a Bokononist!

As the sentence of the Books of Bokonon states:  "All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies."  Recently I was reminded of Bokononism, which I first experienced in high school.  Bokononism is a religion that was created by a character in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s book Cat's Cradle.  In the book, a man named Johnson was shipwrecked on a fictional Caribbean island.  In the island's local language, Johnson was pronounced Bokonon.  Seeing the state of the people, Bokonon and his fellow shipwreckee decided to take over and make everyone's better, and to do so they created Bokononism.  The basis of which is the premise that Bokononism (and it's texts) are formed entirely of lies, but if you through belief and adherence to these lies, you can be happy.

One of my longstanding statements is that Truth (with a capital T) is absolutely unknowable, and not only is it unknowable, but it is absolutely useless.  My truth, what is real to me, could be very different from what is real to you.  If there is an absolute reality, knowing it is impossible, and can not benefit my life in any way.  It is through seeking my own truth that I find my path.  I think this could very easily be translated into Bokononism's concept of foma-  harmless untruths.

"Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy."  One of the reasons Bokonon based his religion on lies was that the truth that was apparent on the island when he landed was horrible.  The people were starving and poor, and all they could see around them was misery.  By building up this religion of lies, he gave them hope.  Picking and choosing your lies is a very tricky thing.  Looking back at the concept of foma, it's not just about lies. 

Harmless untruths could be considered white lies.  We live in a society where many people prefer to be told little white lies than be told the truth.  People don't want to be told they are overweight, that they don't have model looks or that they aren't wealthy.  Deep inside they know the reality of these things, and yet with a few foma, things aren't quite the same. 

I think that one of the key attributes people forget when thinking of foma is 'healthy'.  Live by the foma that make you healthy.  I am not a slender model.  By the scale (which I don't even own), I need to drop quite a few pounds to be in the healthy range.  But when I think of myself I don't think obese.  My foma is not that I think I am skinny, but that I live like I am skinny.  Think of it a bit like 'fake it until you make it'.  I might not be a dancer anymore, but I still dance.

Bokononism has quite a cache of unique terms.  Zah-mah-ki-bo is inevitable destiny.  I think that a lot of Bokononism revolves around this concept.  Not in the sense of having no control of your life, but rather that there are currents in your life that lead you places.  You might have the choice of how you get to those places, but sometimes you will notice that you seem to be drifting in a particular way.  Maybe you wanted to be an artist all your life, but every time you work to pursue your goal, you get nudged in another direction.  Now, of course, this doesn't mean you can't be an artist, but it is very worth while to see where the winds of your life are leading you.  Maybe there are things you need to do first that will make your artistic life even better. 

Human beings want to understand.  We want to quantify things.  We want to be able to point a finger and say, "there! that is the reason for all this stuff that is going on."  We don't like feeling helpless.  We want to feel like we are advanced and that we have evolved to a point where we can control the world around us.  We want to feel superior. 

And so we fight our zah-mah-ki-bo.  We stubbornly beat ourselves against the same dead end, trying the same failing strategies to get through the brick wall.  We are blinded by what we see as truth and can't use our foma to create a door through to the other side.  It's not a matter of thinking outside the box but one of realizing that the box is just walls we made up to protect ourselves from the chaos that is life.

The best and most powerful thing about foma is they are mutable.  I can change my foma as needed.  I create the world I want to live in by believing in it, not by trying to find a way to live with the cards that are dealt to me.  A Bokononist who is about to commit suicide says, "Now I will destroy the whole world."  And in a very real sense they are.  When I die, the whole world will die with me....or at least that will be my perspective, and ultimately that is the only reality there is.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Water tools

I've always wanted a cast iron cauldron, and someday I'll get one.  Though it is the most iconic water tool in some ways, I don't really associate the cauldron with water, probably because I would burn things in it more than I would use it to hold liquids.  I do have a small ceramic cauldron, only an inch or so in diameter.  I forget where I got it from, but when I want to offer water or other liquid in a ritual, I often use it.  It's a good size for solitary practice.

I also have two chalices.  Both I got from kitchen goods stores.  The first is a dark red crystal wine glass, so dark it looks black unless you hold it directly up to a light.  The second I probably wouldn't have gotten if I didn't have the first.  It's a very pale pink at the top, a champagne flute, and the stem is a pale green and they fade into each other in the middle.  It's not my typical style, but when I saw it I thought it would make a nice contrast to the other, so I would have one for darker aspects and one for lighter.

I don't always make offerings for solitary rituals (excepting Sabbats) so I don't always use a chalice in workings.  I used to use them more, but I used to use more elaborate circle castings all the time.  The kind where you use the Athame to mix salt into blessed water and consecrate the circle.  I think when I was starting out, I needed more ritual all the time, and now I break out the fancy ritual for special occasions, but it isn't necessary for every circle.  Perhaps it is a confidence thing, but I don't feel I need the salt and water to purify space, I am more than capable of doing it all on my own.  Of course, if I am working something big, or just want that extra zing, I'll go that extra mile.

I have a couple of things I consider tools of water that don't typically get mentioned.  The first is a bottle that I store blessed water in.  It is one of those green glass beer bottles, the ones with the fancy ceramic stopper hinged to the top with metal.  I fill it with water and then bless it myself.  Normally it lives on my altar, and is my representation of water.

I also do a lot of water work in the bathtub.  Though I haven't consecrated the tub itself, I typically bless the water and sprinkle it with salt.  I have also used herbs in the tub as needed (if you don't want bits of herbs floating about, use a teabag of appropriate tea or make your own with a coffee filter tied together).  The tub is absolutely my go-to when I am emotionally out of wack and can't seem to pull myself back together. 

Friday, October 12, 2012


I was watching the Paralympic closing Ceremony, and it was absolutely lovely (for those who haven't seen it, go see!  It's druidy).  The main speaker reads from a book and I was thinking about that.  There is a big push in a lot of circles to memorize everything said in ritual (or speak from the heart...but either way it's sans book).  There is a lot of reasoning for this, but I think that a proper speaker can make a read passage wonderful.

I'm a memorizer.  Have been since gradeschool when I had to memorize poems (which I can still recite:  Jaberwocky and Stopping by Woods).  Once something is locked in my brain it becomes a part of me.  I like the fact I don't have to run and find the book I saw something in to reference it.  When it comes to lyrical or poetic pieces, I love being able to just ramble them off without a lot of thought.

I recently got into chanting, and that is so much fun.  I think that chanting really illustrates the power of memorization.  You don't want to have to think about what comes next in a chant.  To really get into it and feel the chant, it has to become a part of you, something you just are and can do.  The words flow out of you and you don't have to pay attention to them, they just are.

My memorization process is essentially two-fold.  There is an initial period of learning.  In terms of a spoken thing, I say/chant/sing it while looking at the lyrics.  I do this typically as many times in a row as I have time for.  I don't try to remember what comes next, I just read the words as they come and try to keep the flow going.  Sometimes I'll put songs on repeat on my computer so I listen to a grouping over and over for several days.  Step two is a bit counter-intuative, but has been part of my learning process since high school (or at least that is when I figured out it was part of my learning process).  I walk away.  I go on and do something else and don't try to think about it for a while.  Almost always, after a couple of days, I can recite whatever it is just fine and a lot more naturally than I could before that resting period.

It's a little different for information, though the immersion-rest cycle is similar.  When I start trying to learn something new, something that I know I'll want to remember without having to go look it up, I go through an intensely obsessive period where I read everything I can get my hands on.  I'll have multiple tabs open on my computer so I can compare different pieces to each other or look up stuff that one resource references.  Writing is an important part of my learning process too.  I find I learn and remember better if I work on making my own copy of the information, putting it into my own words or combining different ideas into a cohesive whole.  The more involved I can get my brain, the better.

What I struggle with is seeing a project through to the end.  My attention span is quite spastic, so sometimes in the middle of working on something, I'll get drawn in an entirely new direction.  I'll end up on a whole other project before I realize I've left the first one, and it can be years before I get back to what I started.  What I find though is that I often retain a lot more than I thought I would, sometimes I'll get asked something or try to explain something and realize that I have a broader understanding than I would have said I had.

But back to memorization.  One of my favorite quotes is from Indiana Jones:  "I wrote them down (in my diary) so I wouldn't HAVE to remember them."  There are some parts of my practice that I feel are key.  Concepts that are so integral to the workings of everything else that if I didn't have them memorized I wouldn't be practicing anything, just doing random motions that had no meaning.  The elements and their correspondences (in general) are one of these things.  I never have to look in my books to remember what colors go with which quarter, or what the elements represent.  If I go obscure enough, then yes I do have to look stuff up (I doubt I could tell you what choir of angel is associated with east of the top of my head).  But that is why I write down stuff that interests that when I want to find it again, I have it.

When I first started practicing, I had some pretty hefty Wiccan (in the mass published sense) influences.  The charge of the Goddess, the story of the decent of the Goddess, the great rite...these all have wonderful spoken bits, but weren't things I used often enough to memorize.  The Wiccan book of  Law is waaaay too long to bother with (though I did hand copy all ten pages of it).  I have copies of various Sabbat rituals with full spoken texts that I think are pretty, and if I were ever to perform those particular rituals, I might memorize the bits I was supposed to say.  

The one drawback I find to memorization is that things that become rote...become rote.  It is really easy to slip into automatic drive and say the words and go through the motions without engaging the deeper mind.  I did some work with the LBRP (lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram), and I don't know if it was the daily repetition, the resonating of the letters, the angelic imagery or what, but I found it hard to really commit to it.  I would catch myself, saying the words and doing the gestures and whole sections would have passed and I didn't really remember more than that I had done them.

So, to memorize or not to memorize....I guess for me it depends on what I'm doing.  Some things I am definitely drawn to memorize and not have to look up.  I am always looking for new sources of information and impressions on runes because divination is definitely in the "don't want to have to look up" category.  It just kinda blocks me if I have to go looking through a book to find out what something means.  Chants are definitely in the memorization category (as are songs).  Most of everything else falls into the "whatever my whim leads me to do", sometimes I'll feel the need to memorize stuff, sometimes I'll feel the need to just copy it down and not really internalize it....and sometimes I'll think I'm just copying it and will find it cropping up enough that one day I realize I remember it without having to go look it up.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wands + Staffs

Mainly I am going to talk about wands, and just briefly talk about staffs.  I don't actually have a staff, though I have plans in the works to carve one.  It won't be what some think about when they think staff, more like what I would call a rod, but much more substantial than a wand.  One of the books I read a long while back modeled their staffs this way, instead of being an "almost as tall as you walking stick type" it was "thick enough to circle your fingers around and about three feet long".  I kind of like the idea of an inbetween tool, because really a full sized staff is quite unwieldy in most places I would do magic.  Someday I would like to have one, just because I think it would be fun to decorate, but then I would probably do it up like a ladder between the worlds more than a traditional staff.

But wands.  I have two right now.  One is the very first wand I ever had, and I made it in college.  I have always liked working with wood, for me sanding is an experience all in it's own.  So I was walking around my college campus (University of Hawaii), and they were trimming trees.  I don't know what kind of tree it was even.  There was just this pile of tree trimmings, and there was a stick in it that called to me, so I nabbed it and took it back to my dorm room.  The one thing I do remember is there were large seed pods also (but I just looked at a photo file of seed pods of Hawaii and none jumped out at me so that isn't going to be much help).  After a period of drying, I peeled off the bark, rounded off the ends and gave it a sand.  Voila, my wand.  It is simple to the extreme, no oil, no finish, just sanded wood. 

Around the same time, I was wandering through another part of the campus and they were trimming the bamboo.  I found a piece of bamboo trimmings that were just about the diameter of my pinky finger, with the sections about a foot or so long.  If you've never worked with bamboo, it has sections that are sealed off and hollow inside.  I had been thinking of making something for a friend of mine (who was also Pagan), and this I thought would make the perfect base.  I cut it off just outside of two of the section joints, so I had a full sealed section in the middle.  He was born in the month of May (as am I), and I had a bag full of non-gem quality emeralds, so I used some string to fix one to one end.  There was a lovely American Indian store near where my Great-grandmother lived, and I had previously picked up some leather lacing and mock eagle feathers (they were turkey actually, but quite large and fluffy and white).  I also had a pair of earrings with little wood tubes and stones dangling on wires.  I wrapped the whole length with the leather, fixed the feathers on the end opposite the emerald and added the dangley bits from one of the earrings with the feathers (I kept the other earring, intending to make a matching wand for myself).  It came out spectacular looking and was well received.  For some reason I never found another piece of bamboo that I liked to make it's pair.

Then last year, I was wandering one of the parks around here looking for wood pieces for some carving work I want to do (and still want to do but haven't gotten beyond the sketching phase).  I had some pieces drying and was sort of working on trimming them up to prep for working them.  One of them had a neat little bend part way down, almost like a handle (not a severe angle, maybe about ten degrees or so, just a little bend).  But I thought it would be a neat feature for a wand and decided to finally get around to making my own fancier wand.

I carved a little depression into the tip of the wand to hold the emerald bit I wanted to use.  Using leather lacing, I strapped it in as tight as I could.  That is one of the things I like about the leather, you can stretch it and get quite a good tie on things, and it molds around indents in stones and the like.  I was still using leather lacing I had gotten over 15 years prior, and ended up with less lacing than I would have liked.  The first one I had made used all tan lacing, but this time I had a bit of white suede lacing I ended up using to weave a latice like pattern, so you can see the bark through in places.  It was finished with the feathers and dangles, which gives it a bit of a rattle on the back end, which I like.

Ultimately though, I'm just not a wand person.  I've rarely used my wands, much preferring to work with my Athame.  It takes a conscious decision for me to work with my wands, no matter how lovely I think they are.  I don't know if it is a weight thing, they feel like air in the hand.  One thing I do like about the wand though, is it is a very public friendly tool. 

Actually I will mention one other tool I use in a wand like manner (though not exclusively).  I have a rosewood fan, the kind that opens and closes and is made of various slats of wood.  I have found it makes a pretty good wand, and I like the double association with the fan and air.  I read of using a fan magically in a book on Chinese dragon magic, and the fan was used as a tool in a shielding exercise, fanning the air around the body for purification, so my fan doubles as a kind of pentacle (in the pentacle=shield sense..will talk about that when I talk about pentacles!).  I also like the fact that it is scented.  Air for me is strongly associated with scent (fire-sight, water-taste, earth-touch, spirit-sound).

In some ways, I think about tools in a somewhat backward sense.  I don't think of a wand as it's own specific tool, separate in function from the staff or blade, but rather that the wand is a tool of air where for me the blade is a tool of fire.  The wand isn't the only tool of air, my fan is also a tool of air, so even though I use them in different ways, they are blended in my head as versions of the same tool:  the air tool.  I consider smudging feathers another version of the air tool.  Actually, when I really think about it I sometimes consider my incense burner a tool of air, but I think I'll talk about that in it's own post, as incense is a big enough topic I can talk about it separately.

Strangely, I don't have a magical broom yet, though I do sweep magically with my regular broom.  I definitely consider the broom to be a tool of air.  My air tools work differently than fire tools.  No matter how little it weighs, a blade has a weight in my hand.  Even the completely non-sharp ones have a focus on them of capacity for harm that just isn't there with my air tools.  I'd say it was that they are just so light in the hand, but the broom isn't, in fact it is definitely heavier than some of my blades, and yet it moves in a different way.  My air tools dance in my hand, they follow those capricious wind motions, like when you try to ride the currents of air that pass by your window when you are in a car.  Out of all my tools, my air tools have the most movement to them.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Warrior soul

Not giving up on the tools, just switching it up a bit, figure I'll toss a few other thoughts out in between so it doesn't get stale.  This was something that was wandering about in my brain and recently demanding attention.

I've thought and written about this before, being a warrior.  I think there is this tendency, especially among some of the Pagan groups, to assume that we are all pacifist, love-all, tranquil seekers of warm fuzzy feelings.  Some of it is part of the ongoing PR project to convince mainstream peoples that we are not all child/animal sacrificing monsters out to corrupt their virginal daughters.  But part of it is this deep set belief that to be enlightened, we must be above all this human stuff.  That the image of a gaunt, bald man wearing a toga with a little half smile on his face sitting in lotus position on the top of a mountain is the ideal we should all be working towards.

It's not that I have anything against peace or tranquility.  I rather like them both and get quite cranky if I don't have moments of still and silence in my life.  But I also know that there is a huge part of my core that is built around the warrior mentality.  My natural inclinations aren't to roll over and turn the other cheek.  I don't think that everything can be worked out through talking and logical reasoning.  And it's not because I don't think that there are reasonable solutions out's that you don't always have the luxury of dealing with rational people.  If I am dealing with a religious fanatic who thinks I am going to burn in Hell AND that my very presence puts his family at risk of eternal damnation....well there is no talking to them.

I don't go looking for trouble.  I would much rather find a nice way to make everyone happy than to go pissing in beehives (because while you definitely rile up the bees, you also get stung in uncomfortable places).  But if you back me up against a wall I will fight back, I will be ruthless, I will expect to be hurt so it won't surprise me when I am, and I will not feel guilty about it afterwards.

Peace comes at a price.  All these people who are protesting the war and making a big stink about our soldiers are blinded by their own hypocrisy.  We are a country BECAUSE we stood up, took up arms and fought for what we believed in.  If we didn't maintain an army, someone by now would have come in and taken us over and we wouldn't be the country we are today.  The cops step in to prevent the criminal element from running amok.  I can leave my door unlocked at night if I want and not be totally paranoid that someone is going to try to come in and take my stuff or hurt my family.  There are parts of the world where that can't be said.

Not everyone is set up to be a warrior.  Heck, not everyone is set up to be a soldier, and I think there is a difference between a warrior and a soldier.  A soldier fights for someone else.  That isn't to say that they don't believe in what they fight for (good soldiers won't fight for someone who believes in something contrary to their own beliefs).  But they work within the structure and follow instructions.  A warrior fights because something inside them says they need to.  They follow their own path.  It might sometimes lead them to working with others, but when they get pulled in a different direction, they go.  Soldiers have a much higher honor code than warriors, but warriors will go places that most soldiers wont.

We need warriors and soldiers both, in our mundane and magical lives.  Not everyone wants to be on the front lines, and not everyone should have to be.  The world we live in today doesn't let everyone step out of the broom closet.  Not without risking things they might not be able to stand to loose.  No one should feel bullied into taking actions that would harm their family.

But on the other hand, don't tell me I'm a horrible person because I won't back down.  Don't tell me I should fight fire with flowers or that there is always a way 'in the light' to overcome all.  There are things that don't back down, people that really want nothing except to cause as much damage as they can and just times in life where there are no good options.  I don't fault anyone for their choices, but don't judge me for mine until you have been where I have been and been faced with what I have seen.  It's very easy to preach peace and love if you have never been in a serious situation.