Monday, August 5, 2013

Fusion Witchcraft

I was chatting today with some friends on Facebook, and mentioned that I have taken to calling my path fusion witchcraft.  My path is very eclectic, in what I feel is a good way.  I am interested in, read about and learn from many sources.  I kind of blend things together so that they work for me.

There is kind of a belittling going on in the magical community towards eclectics.  It has become almost a dirty word, like someone who doesn't have the fortitude to pick a path and stick with it, or someone who mashes bits and pieces of different traditions together without any thought just because they felt like it.  I don't consider this to be what I do at all.  If I were to find a tradition that fully encapsulated who I am, what I believe and what I want to do, I would be willing to do what was needed to be a member of that tradition.  But I have yet to find a tradition that doesn't have parts that I just can't get behind.

What I find particularly insulting is the belief that a lot of people seem to spout on about:  that people who combine practices are being disrespectful to the original sources/peoples who held a practice originally.  Particularly irritating is the fact that often the people getting all riled up about the perceived insult aren't even a part of the original source.  But I promise you, any practices that I partake in, anything that becomes a part of my path, for a moment or forever, are taken up in the spirit of reverence and honor.  The fact that anyone can accuse another's religious practices as insulting...well I find that kind of offensive.

But back to fusion...making the comment that I practice fusion witchcraft got me to thinking about cooking.  Fusion cooking is considered a wonderful thing, and rightly so.  You take flavors, ingredients, techniques and recipes from different cultures and use them together to create new and wonderful things.  I don't see fusion chefs trying to claim their French-Japanese creations are 'authentic historical French (or Japanese) recipes', and I don't see people complaining because these new fusion creations aren't traditional.

I think this is a great way to approach witchcraft (assuming you are not wanting to be a member of a particular tradition).  Every culture in the world has their own way of doing things.  They have techniques (where a chef might learn how to stir fry, a witch might learn how to cast a circle).  They have ingredients (some things just aren't available in some areas, and some things are so available they get used in pretty much everything).  They have recipes (we just call them spells *grin).  They have cultural flavors (much like India is known curry and Ceremonial Magic is known for elaborate rituals and symbols).  Many times you can recognize a practice, just by the things that are used, the words that are said or the general style.

Most people break into a magical practice in one of two ways:  they read a 101 book or they read a book of spells.  Learning from a 101 book is like taking a cooking class:  it will typically teach you the methods of cooking, like how to chop, boil and bake.  There might be some recipes you work with, but the focus is on learning the skills that you will need to be able to read and execute any recipe.  Learning from a book of spells is like picking up a cookbook and just starting to make recipes.  If you do what the recipe says, you will typically end up with a good result, but you won't know enough of the basic skills to be able to fix any problems that might come up....or be able to come up with your own recipes.

What happens given time and much practice is that you start to build your skills and recipes both.  And in order to become a good cook, I think you need to work with a lot of both.  Eventually, you will start to branch out on your own, and create your own dishes.  A good dish can come about by absolute accident, but you are more likely to have good success by trusting your skills and thinking about other recipes you have made, and then using that information to blend together things that would taste good and use techniques that work well with those ingredients.  Often a whole new dish can be created just by changing a few key ingredients in a recipe.

When I started out, I had a book of spells.  I worked other people's spells for a long time, finding ones that did what I wanted to accomplish and working through them.  But often I found that I didn't have the right ingredients, or part of the wording felt clunky to me, or it worked with a deity I was unfamiliar with.  Through reading 101 books, I started learning the hows and whys of things:  how circles are cast, why tools are used, what different stones mean.

I think that when I first started working on my own creations, that is when I feel I really became a witch (as opposed to just being a person who did spells...kind of like the difference between feeling you are a cook and feeling like you are someone who cooks food).  Now, when I learn about different practices, I think about it like expanding my toolbox.  Maybe this culture has a new tool that I have never used, and by learning about how they use it I can see how it might be useful in my path.  Perhaps they have a local plant or animal that plays a huge role in their beliefs that I can learn to work with.

 Another thing I find really powerful about approaching different traditions with the intent of learning about them and how they might be incorporated into your personal path is that you find yourself automatically trying to see how practices are similar to things you already know.  Much you might explain that a malasada is kind of like a donut, you could compare the LBRP to circle casting.  While it is definitely helpful in my personal practice, I also find it really useful in talking with other people about their paths.  Common language helps dialogue happen.

I think fusion witchcraft has huge potential, and that if people can shift their thinking to be inclusive instead of exclusive, we can open up a whole new page and create something beautiful.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Quantum mechanics

Okay, first....don't run away!  For years, I have agreed with the concept of multiple dimensions, which I thought was string theory (I actually have no clue why I thought this was string theory).  But the idea of there being an infinite number of realities, all existing at once, with every possibility existing in at least one of them, is something that has flavored my magical practice from the beginning. 

I am also a fan of the show The Big Bang Theory (yes, I have been a nerd of some sort since grade school!), where they definitely talk about different theories and what not.  And recently, I was reading Witch Crafting (by Phyllis Curott), and it touches on the ideas of magic being supported by some of the current scientific theories.

So, when I went to the library, I decided to do some reading up, and got The Grand Design (by Stephan Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow).  I had sort of put off reading it, expecting it to be quite dry (even though it was supposed to be a non-scientists explanation of stuff), and when I finally sat down to read it I was pleasantly surprised.  It was definitely interesting and not too hard to digest.

Anyways (I swear my rambling will start heading somewhere soon....), the book mainly talks about how the standard concepts of 'how stuff works' doesn't really function so well when you start getting into tiny particles.  While things like our laws of gravity and magnetism work great on an everyday scale (stuff you don't need a microscope to look at), when you start getting towards an atomic level, stuff behaves differently.

That is the basis of Quantum mechanics:  finding out how tiny stuff works. What I found really interesting is that a lot of Quantum mechanics could easily be applied to energy (which is also comprised of tiny bits!). 

One of the goals of scientists for pretty much forever was to find the Grand Unified Theory:  the one theory that explained everything.  However, it is looking like that isn't technically possible.  The book (The Grand Design) explained it like this:  existence is kind of like the earth.  If you try to draw a (flat) map of the entire globe, you really can't because as you get to different areas it gets skewed out of proportion.  What you can do is draw a lot of little maps, each of a different section of the globe.  As these maps get laid out next to each other, you can see how they fit together, and each is accurate for their own area.

This kind of reminds me of a lot of discussions I see about "the right way to do stuff" in the magical community.  There are a lot of people who feel like their way explains everything, but sometimes they really have to stretch to explain things that aren't outside of their field of expertise.  And especially when it comes to why some things work one way for one person but another way for another is almost impossible to explain trying to use the 'one rule' theory.

Another idea that I really liked was that of Model Dependent Realism.  This states that there may be an Ultimate Reality, but it is kind of pointless to worry about it.  What is important is whether the models we use to explain stuff actually agrees with the observations we are other words, do our theories work.  If I have a theory on how energy works, and you have a theory on how energy works...and both of us have never had a personal experience that negates our own theory, then it is pointless for us to sit and argue over who's way is better.  They both work, and so they are both equally real.  Not only that, but your theory might not be real for me because it just won't work for me....but that doesn't make it any less real to you.

This has been a big thing in my practice.  I definitely have things that work well for me that aren't traditional ways of doing things.  There are 'standard' ways of doing things that just don't work well for me.  If I were to try to do things in a traditional way, I wouldn't be very effective at all.  Instead I try things, observe what happens, and then adjust as necessary.  If it works, then it works, and I run  with it.  If it doesn't work, I try to figure out why not and what I can do to make it work.

Now here is where it starts to get a bit tricky.  On a quantum level (remember, this means tiny stuff), if a particle is moving from point A to point B, it doesn't just take one path.  It is not like if I were to roll a ball across the floor.  When talking about tiny things, they are understood to take all possible paths, all at once, to get from point A to point B.  Okay, that is a bit confusing, but I think it has HUGE magical potential.  If I were wanting to accomplish something magically, where I am now becomes point A, and the result I want is point B.  If I think of energy in quantum terms, to get from where I am to where I want to be, that energy can move in an infinite number of ways.  Which way it actually moves is based on how probable that particular path is out of the infinite number of choices.

In fact, when you observe a quantum particle, anywhere along the path from point A to point B, you actually change what happens.  So, if I am not looking, the particle moves in every way possible.  However, if I watch one particular path, and I see the particle on that path, it is no longer moving on all the other paths.  Think about this magically for a minute.  Lets say my point A is me not having a job, and my point B is having a job.  There are a lot of ways that I can get from point A to point B.  But if I work magic, and use energy, I start to effect the outcome.  Now lets say I use a spell to get a job, and while doing it my mind is thinking about me wearing a uniform.  That is me, observing the path of me in a job with a uniform.  I have just nudged the energy in that way.  It is now more likely that any job I get will involve a uniform.  The more 'paths' (or specific qualities) you observe, the more probable those outcomes become.  Not only that but the more you observe (focus), the more you are nudging the energy towards those paths.

What I find really interesting is that when dealing with quantum particles, you don't have to do the observation while the movement is taking place.  If one were to observe light particles that have been moving for thousands of years, how you observe them today actually effects the paths they took to get here....for all those thousands of years.  Now think about how this could effect your understanding of energy.

Not only energy however, this also effects history.  Instead of viewing history as a definite path, it is now a spread of paths.  The present is the known fact, and much like we look at the future in terms of "this will most likely happen if nothing changes" and "this might happen if I do this", we can look at the past in terms of the multitude of ways we could have taken to get to where we are now.  This also ties back into the theory of having multiple universes (or dimensions).  Each possible past exists on another level, in another universe.  I believe we can tap into these alternate universes just as we can our own.  This can be especially useful in working through past traumas, or even working with past opportunities we were unable to make the most of.  It definitely effects my thoughts on pathworking.

I always love when science or commonly accepted ideas mesh with my own magical perspective, and I was not disappointed to find that a lot of scientific thought is very much inline with my own understanding of how energy works, how the world works, and the possibilities of the universe.  It was mentioned in the book that no one is sure in M-theory what exactly the M stands could be 'master', 'mystery' or 'miracle'.  I think it could also be Magic!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Thoughts on gratitude and expressing thanks

I recently re-read one of my favorite series (the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs), and there are fae in the books.  One of the things that is mentioned quite a few times is the prohibition against saying thank you to the fae.  Gratitude could be expressed, but you couldn't actually thank the fae (or they would be able to use your thanks as a means of controlling you).

This is a pretty common belief about the fae, and it got me thinking about why it would be bad to thank them.  Another common belief about the fae is they can't lie.  Put them together, and I think you have an interesting reason why a verbal thank you would be undesirable, while showing gratitude was okay.

Think about how many times in a day you say little things (like thank you, I'm sorry, it's okay...) without really meaning them.  I do it all the time.  Sometimes I do feel like I may have inconvenienced someone else, like when I say I'm sorry as I move my shopping cart from where I left it blocking an isle.  Sometimes it's a knee jerk reaction in social situations, like when I am standing still and someone else bumps into me, and 'excuse me' has already left my mouth without my even thinking about it. 

I'm not always truthful in these little bits of politeness.  Sometimes, when I say that it's okay in public, I am thinking quite nasty thoughts because it really was kind of rude whatever the other person did....but I am not going to make a fuss because it's just not worth it to get all worked up about it, so I apologize or accept an apology, rant in my mind, then move on. 

But back to gratitude and thanks.  I think we tend to say the words thank you without much meaning behind them.  And worse, I think we sometimes say them as if just saying the words is enough to show how grateful we are.  And sure, sometimes just words are enough.  If we drop a pen at the bank, and a stranger picks it up and hands it to us, a thank you is probably sufficient.  If our neighbor comes over to our house everyday for a week to take care of our pets while we are out of town on vacation, does a mere thank you really cover it?

Words are important, they really are.  Think about a day where you were just having a really rough day, and everything was going badly.  If you happen to hold the door open so the lady with three fussy kids can get through, even though her hands are full, and she looks at you and says makes you feel better, even if it is just for that moment.

But actions are important too.  Sometimes even more important than words.  If we can show how grateful we are, it leaves a bigger impression.  Instead of just saying thanks for someone who has gone out of their way or inconvenienced themselves to do something for you, find a way to show your gratitude by doing something for them in return.  The more personal the better, the more thought you put into it, the more the recipient will understand how much you care.   The simplest action, if well thought through, can mean more than the most elaborate procedure that doesn't fit the situation. 

And if you do use words, consider expressing your gratitude just saying 'thank you'.  If you tell someone what their actions meant to you or how they made you feel, it will mean so much more than just saying thanks.

If we believe that fae are creatures of truth and trickery both, that they may be bound by their words and yet free to twist them to deceive, it only makes sense that they might distrust thanks.  Add in the concept of owing a debt when someone does something for you and you acknowledge it and you begin to see how the stricture against thanking a fae would prevent you from being bound to pay them back in whatever way they saw fit. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Rethinking Cycles

Every one of us has countless cycles in our lives.  We have the sun, going through a daily and yearly cycle.  The moon has a nightly and monthly cycle.  We have a seasonal cycle, the weekly cycle, our life cycle.

But we also have cycles that many of us go through and don't really think of, and especially don't think of magically.  We have our daily routine, revolving around our job or responsibilities.  This routine is modified by our weekly routine.  We may have days we are busy (work/week days) and days where we have more restful activities.  We may have social obligations on a regular basis (getting together with friends on a Friday night or taking the kids to sports every Wednesday).  If we have children we often have a yearly routine that is molded by summer's off and holidays.

Being a stay at home mom, I tend to think of my days as being somewhat wide open.  Sure I have things to do, but I get to pick when I do them...don't I?  Apparently I'm not that quick on the uptake, because it hit me last night that as much as I do adapt to my ever changing schedule, I've not really embraced it and I definitely haven't worked magically with it.

My son is in middle school, so he is reaching an age of independence.  He gets himself up and off to school.  He sometimes stays after school and doesn't get home until dinner time.  He makes his own breakfast. 

My husband has a very crazy work schedule.  He works 12 hour shifts about three days a week (depending on overtime)...but every 6 weeks he swaps from being on days to working nights.

So what does all this have to do with my personal practice?  Up until yesterday, I didn't really think about it.  I just adjusted things.  Dinner times were moved about depending on when everyone was home.  Even my own sleep schedule differs depending on my husband's work times. 

Each cycle has it's ups and downs.  I know that I benefit from both the busy times and the alone times.  When my husband is on days, I tend to have alone time during the mornings when he works..and almost none on days he is off.  When he is on nights, I get my alone time after my son has gone to bed, and then in the mornings when my husband is sleeping.  During the school year, these times are greater because my son is also gone (or sleeping), but during the summer or extended breaks, my alone times are vastly reduced.

Many times I have tried to build a regular daily practice.  Not that I don't have a daily practice...but the kind of daily practice that a lot of authors and public figures talk about.  Specific times during the day when particular actions are taken.  And every time I try to get into this type of schedule, it fails.  And this is because, for my life and it's cycles, I can't have one set schedule.

It is forcing me to rethink my days.  And I realized that the 6 week day/night flop reflects in some ways the Sabbat cycle.  ((I really can't believe I never made the 6 week connection before))  I kind of like the idea of thinking about this part of my life in a sun/moon focus instead of day/night.  I know that I think and create better when I can be up (and alone) at night.  But I also know that if I need to get things done, especially anything that involves the outside world, that the earlier in the day I can get going, the better (which is doubly frustrating because I am so NOT a morning person...and hardly anything in our town is open before 10am, so early starts don't work so well).

I think that our everyday cycles are just as important as the natural and mystical ones.  If our hearts and souls need to dance within the cycles of the moon and the earth, I think in some ways our bodies need to dance within our mundane cycles.  If we can't get them all to work in harmony, we end up stressed and frazzled.  It is a complex thing, trying to get all of the aspects of our life to work a watch with a million tiny gears.  And trying to assemble a working watch with our own individual parts, by looking at other people's watches just doesn't work.  We have to look at our own pieces, at how they interact, and sort out how to bring them together so the gears don't grind.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Modern Paganism: Still life or interpretive dance?

There is a pretty big precedent in the Pagan community to put a heavy emphasis on the historical authenticity and accuracy of practices.  It often seems like the theory is that if we can keep the line unbroken, if we can practice in the same way as our ancestors, that our practice will somehow be more successful. 

But we aren't our ancestors.  We live in different times, and we have vastly different everyday realities.  Things that were commonplace in years past are not always relevant.  Trying to recreate an ancient practice can lead to frustration and the feeling that you will never get it right, and that until you do get it right, you can't have a working practice.

Let me say this now though:  I don't have any problem with anyone who finds value in recreating ancient practices.  I think that examining the way things were done in the past can bring great value, and if it calls to you to bring those methods into your personal practice, then more power to you.  However, it doesn't work for me, and I don't agree with the idea that just because something is older that it is more valid. 

For me, my personal practice needs to be a living, breathing thing.  It changes, not only as I learn more and expand my horizons, but also it changes as I do, so that it can meet needs that I have developed as I have grown into myself.  It doesn't always step me away from my daily life, but sometimes steps me more deeply into it.

I love the duality of my faith and practices.  It can simultaneously support bring more mystery and wonder into my life, helping me to see the fantastical aspects of the things around me and to take time for that child part of myself, for sacred play and for ecstatic creation.  But it can also help me ground my daily life in spirituality, to focus on the here and now, and protect myself from the stresses and strains of modern life.

I think there is a big gap in a lot of modern Pagan practice.  While there is a lot of information out there on basic areas that are definitely still a part of our lives (love, family, health, personal growth), there is a whole lot that is rarely discussed.  Things like keeping our cars running, protecting our computers from viruses and keeping our identities safe.  We have tools as part of our daily lives that our ancestors didn' that can be incorporated into our spiritual like in the same manner that they incorporated their tools.  If we can use a blade, cup and incense in our practice, why not a blender, coffee pot and air freshener? 

I believe we are at a turning point.  Paganism has been gaining ground and acceptance.  There are still holdouts for sure, people who can't see beyond the blinders of the past and don't understand that our beliefs are just as valid (and life-affirming) as theirs, but we are seeing Paganism depicted in social culture in a positive light more and more often.  I feel we have uncovered so much of the past that it is starting to blend together.  We don't need more 101 books that explain how things are traditionally done...those books are out there for those who are starting out and want the basics.

The question is:  where do we go from here?  Do we continue to look to the past and try to paint all those tiny details in?  Or do we take everything we know about Paganism, everything we know about ourselves, everything we know about our world in this moment....toss it into the air and see what patterns form all around us?  I believe the way forward is through exploring where our religion takes us today going forward into tomorrow.  I am excited to see how it will evolve and what it might become.  My faith isn't static, my religion isn't static and I think that is what makes it wonderful.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Back to the routine

I never truly appreciate how important my regular routine is...until it is interrupted.  The holidays always seem to hit me hard, what with school vacations and all the activities, it seems like an entire month that I can not really get in the rhythm of things. 

It's nothing specific, we don't really do huge things for the holidays, but it is a million little things, some of which don't even make sense.  I am one of those people who likes to sleep, and Hubby tries to let me sleep in whenever he can, so around the holidays, especially when I don't need to wake up to see our son off to school, I get to laze around in bed and get up when I feel like it...which normally means lunch time.  Granted, I tend to stay up later too, but it just seems like the later I sleep in, the less I get done in a day (which is absolutely horrid for me because I am so NOT a morning person!).

And I think I need to develop more selfish tendencies, because when the boys are home (both the older and younger one hehe), I end up timing my day around them instead of just doing the things I want/need to do.  So things like exercise and meditation get pushed around and sometimes neglected.  I think a part of my brain is just wired to 'serve' mode, and if there are other people here, I tend to rotate towards them...and I need to really work on making sure I am taking the time I need.

Luckily, things tend to quiet down after the first of the year.  Son goes back to school, Hubby's work stops doing weird holiday closings (which leaves him home for longer stretches), there is no big influx of things to buy (which of course brings on money stresses)...and things can return to normal.

Many years ago, I stumbled across this spell online, sadly I don't remember where I found it.  It is called the "Back to the Routine" spell, and it is charming.  Here is what I have written down:

"After the winter holidays you may wish to consider your routines.  They're the brick and mortar of life, the things you do on a daily basis.  For a spell to encourage you to get back into your routine, you need a white candle and a plain ring.  Hold the ring, imagining an ordinary day.  Light the candle and say:

Day in and day out;  laugh, cry, whisper, shout
This is what I do;  show me now what is true.

Meditate on what routine means to you and how they improve your magical practice.  Blow out the candle and wear/carry the ring.  During the day, think about what routines you appreciate and which you want to change/give up.  Honor routines for giving your life some necessary structure."

What I think really works here is not only looking at what routines give your life, but also what routines might need improvement.  It is a chance to stop, reflect and change things in your life.  Routines are great tools, they may be hard to get into, but once they are set they follow their own momentum.