Friday, January 31, 2014

PBP- Week 5: Calendars

I am fascinated by Calendars, which I find slightly ironic because I am horrible with time. Seriously, it is not uncommon for me to forget which day of the week it is (and there is no way I can tell you the actual date without looking at a calendar, computer or my phone). But I love the structure of a calendar, the fact that it comes with all kinds of partitions and ways to organize. I love patterns, making patterns and exploring them!

There are a ton of calendars that can be applied to my practice. To start at the most basic, there is the Wheel of the Year. When I started learning that was a huge part of pretty much every Pagan and Witchcraft book. I still have to pause a moment now when people tell me they don't follow the Wheel. I am fine with it, really I am, but the Wheel is one of the pivots of my own practice, so I have to step outside myself and remember that my path isn't everyone's path.

One of the things I love about the Wheel is that it is a never-ending cycle. The Wheel turns, and comes around to where you started (and you can start anywhere on the Wheel!) and then keeps turning. One of my first calendar creating experiments was to make a circular Wheel calendar. I'm a pretty visual person, so having a list of 8 days to remember just wasn't working for me. I drew out my circle, marked the spokes, and started filling in different attributes and what not. It made it a lot easier for me to not only really place each of the days on the yearly seasonal cycle, but to see the interaction between the days.

After the Wheel of the Year, I think the lunar cycle is the next most common way of marking time. There are a lot of spells and rituals that suggest being done at a particular phase of the moon. Many practices are repeated on a particular phase over several cycles of the moon. It used to be said that covens would meet on Full moons for regular Esbats (which is not something I see as much talk of now). What I find wonderful about the cycle of the moon is that it is a fairly short cycle. You can work through an entire cycle in just under a month, so it is a good starting point for a lot of things.

In the last couple of years, the names for each of the full moons has become very popular, and while I did encounter a lovely progression of moons over a decade ago, they have become more readily available too. What I love about the progression (marking each full moon in it's place in the year, and not just seeing each full moon as a 'full moon' and nothing more), is that it echoes the Wheel cycle, but often with a different focus. Generally I see the Wheel as focusing on more of a grand, outward scale, while the moon progression is more inward and personal.

I took French as my language in school, and so was pretty familiar with the days of the week being named after planets, and it was pretty early on that I learned the deities that the English days of the week are associated with. Having Norse leanings, it fits quite well with my personal inclinations. Again, like the cycle of the moon, the weekly cycle gives you a very short cycle of different energies to work with. I think it is a great way to start thinking about how to approach problems from different angles. So if it is a Friday (generally associated with love: Venus and Freyja/Frigga), but you were having conflicts with a co-worker, you might tailor your working to harness that more gentle energy and work towards peace as opposed to creating more conflict.

Even within a day, there is the cycle of morning, noon, evening and night. Everyone has their own awareness of the energy of a day and how it changes. I am a night person, so for me, mornings aren't full of energy (or at least not full of energy that resonates well with me), so I have to adjust my own self so that I start my day in a way that lets me be functional (and not just want to crawl back into bed!). Likewise, I have to make extra sure that at night I am winding down, and not winding up.

I know some systems break it down even further, with correspondences for every hour of the day, but I find that to be just too much. I have at least one chart like that written down (because I love charts, symbols and Named things, and this chart had it all), but never used it.

I should also mention there are a lot of cycles that revolve around astrology. Astrology is one of those things that I find interesting, but really haven't studied enough to be fluent in it. One of the calendars I check every day shows prevalent astrological features, but beyond noting them, I really haven't done that much work with them. Most people know at least one of their astrological signs, even those who aren't in any way, shape or form Pagan.

But back to calendars and my practice. With all these different systems, it can be pretty confusing to get it all sorted out into one working system. I actually tried to make a working calendar that tracked the moon progression, moon cycle and wheel of the year. It involved rings that could rotate behind a front plate with slots cut out (so you would only see the current place on each cycle). It was kind of unwieldy, and to me, it lost some of it's impact because I couldn't see the connections as easily.

I still haven't figured out the best way to do a working calendar for my personal practice. What I do know is that I will keep working on it. I want to be able to (easily) track the days that are important to me and my practice. As my practice has progressed, more days have been come important. Some have phased out (I have several “Book of Days” type of books/websites that list all kinds of festivals or days, and some that seemed very interesting at the start of my path no longer appeal to me). I think that keeping the calendar vital is very important. To me, even something like the wheel of the year, which has been a part of my practice for pushing two decades, is new again each year as I add more knowledge and the meaning for me changes.

Friday, January 24, 2014

PBP- Week 4: Business and Bragging

There seems to be a split in the Pagan community when it comes to the concept of accepting money for Pagan related services. Some people are of the opinion that it isn't right to accept money for any type of service, be it healing, teaching, or spellcasting. Others think that accepting a fair wage is just fine. There are some that come in the middle, either finding it acceptable to take enough payment to cover costs or finding it acceptable to receive gifts or trade but not to formally set a price on skills.

Personally, I think that it is all a mater of degree. I have no problem with anyone charging for their services. I guess in my mind it comes down to the reasons why you charge. If I charge for anything it is not because I want to milk the most out of someone that I can, or take advantage of them (as many very public psychics and 'curse lifters' are accused of), but rather because I value my own skills. I feel that my time is worth something.

Now this isn't to say that I wouldn't help someone who was in true need just because they couldn't pay...although in my mind everyone can 'pay' in some way, even if their payment is an invitation to dinner, or a truly heartfelt hug and thanks.

But I don't feel that it is unreasonable to even make a small profit off of providing services. We have only a certain amount of time in each day. If we choose to spend our time using our skills, whatever they may be, then that time can not be spent doing some kind of mundane job. I don't think it cheapens my practice or beliefs in any way to accept or require payment for the things I do.

Actually, I find it kind of ridiculous that some find it acceptable to take trades but not money. If I do a reading for someone and they give me a chicken in return, or if they give me money and I go and buy a chicken, the result is the same: I provided a service and ended up with a chicken. Money itself isn't evil or corrupt, and accepting money instead of goods doesn't somehow make the transaction dirty.

I think a lot of where people start crossing the line is when they start trying for recognition. When you feel you are worth more because of who you are, and it becomes less about the service and more about your (perceived) name and station. I do feel that paying more for a more experienced practitioner is one thing. In a way, you are paying for the benefit of the years they have put into their practice, into training the very skills you are seeking. It is like paying more to have a plumber with ten years experience come to fix your pipes instead of your neighbor who watched a video on how to fix pipes....I would definitely pay the plumber more (although for something simple, I might hire my neighbor).

This is also where I feel that bragging becomes a problem in the Pagan world. I have been solitary for the bulk of my practice, so I understand how it feels to have walked a lonely path and to crave that peer recognition for what you have done. I feel very strongly that feedback (both for success and failure) is important, and sometimes that outside perspective is hard to come by when walking alone. Also, when something wonderful or new and shiny happens in my practice, sometimes I just want to share it...and share it with people who understand where I am coming from.

But I think we have all met someone (especially online) who is constantly talking about the things they have done and how it makes them better than the 'average' (whatever that is). The way I look at it, the minute I start comparing my stuff to someone else's stuff in any sort of judgmental way, I am loosing the focus of my path. It is one thing to recognize that you may be better or worse at a skill than someone else, but that doesn't make you a better or worse person.

Sometimes I feel that the argument about money for services all comes down to bragging. The people who charge excessive amounts do it either from greed or desire to be known. The people who I have talked to that are against charging anything always feel like they are putting their nose up in the air (like they are better because they only do things out of the goodness of their heart). And often they seem to fall into the braggart category as well, talking about all the ways they donate their service and what not.

I still maintain that a person who is truly acting from the heart and offering their services, won't spend a lot of time talking about it. If they charge, they won't go about bragging about how much they made that month, if they don't charge, they might not mention they did anything at all. It's like donating money to a cause and then feeling the need to tell every stranger you meet on the street how much you donated.

Friday, January 17, 2014

PBP: Week 3- Bathing

Random information: my husband likes long hair, and I prefer my hair shorter, and so we compromise, I get to dye it if I grow it out. Okay, it's kind of an in joke, he would let me do whatever I like, though he will definitely complain louder the shorter my hair gets. I don't like the longer hair, mainly because it is a hassle. I love that when I have short hair I can pretty much towel it off and it is dry, I don't have to 'do' anything with it, it doesn't get in my face (or give me a headache when I put it up). I do miss having the ability to fidget with it, or to try fancy things (for me fancy is braiding it!) when it is short, but if it were just me I'd keep it short. However I know hubby loves it long, so right now it's just past my shoulders. I'm thinking about dying it blue!

But back to the topic at hand, one of the things that I groan at with longer hair is that it takes more time every day to maintain. Brushing, washing, drying...I have to schedule my bathing around how long it will take my hair to dry. So I must shower at least 2 hours before I want to sleep, preferably more. Yes, I do own a hairdryer, but I hate using it and only do when it is absolutely necessary. And just the process of washing it takes longer. And I noticed, while I was washing up one day, that I sometimes sort of dread shower time, because it feels like such a monotony.

Which gave me a moment of weirdness. I view bathing as one of the best ways to prep for ritual. A ritual bath really does put me in the right headspace, as well as getting rid of random stuff from regular life that may be going around in my head. I am also a big fan of baths in general, and anytime I find myself feeling really ragged or off balance, I turn to a soak in the tub to restore my equilibrium. Even showering (though not as good in my book as a bath) can be a big aid. A really hot shower is my go-to for headaches that just won't go away.

So why is it that the shower isn't looked upon more as a daily personal ritual? I have done some work with daily showering before, and it is definitely something I would like to work more with. I have read a lot of lovely bath and shower cleansing visualizations, and don't see why they should be reserved for just ritual prep.

Every day we pick up junk from the world around us: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. We know that it is important to wash off the dirt, so why not take that time where we are already focused on cleansing to really give the rest of our self the same service.

Water is definitely where I turn for cleansing. One of the first things I do when I come home after being out of the house is wash my hands. Sometimes I know I have touched things that might be physically dirty (especially at the grocery store or thrift stores), but even when I haven't I still feel like I need to run them under water and wash away anything I might have come into contact with. I wash my face upon rising and before I go to bed, in as icy cold water as I can get to come out of the tap. In the morning it definitely invigorates me and gets me going, but at night it serves to wash away the cares of the day and go to sleep with a clean slate.

When we stand under the water in the shower, we can easily envision any negativity that might be clinging to us being sucked down the drain. Take that time to go over your day, and think about what happened to you. If you got into a fight with someone at work, or got cut off and yelled at by some random person while driving, think about it and focus on how it makes you feel. Be with those feelings for a moment, and try to see where on your body they are clinging. And then let them be washed away by the water. If they are particularly stubborn, you can scrub them away as you soap up.

Another thing I like to do is to charge my soap (and shampoo/conditioner). Whatever I feel I may need in the next day, or just blessings I might want in my life. While holding the soap in your hands, focus on the energy you want to bring into your life. Or you can use the soap as a form of shielding (which I do a lot, especially when I know I am going to be in a lot of public places the next day), infusing it with a protective energy. As you wash, feel the energy soaking into your body, and covering every inch of you.

Finally, take a moment to just stand under the water and breath. Sometimes I like to duck my head under the shower and let it fall on me like rain. Sometimes I prefer to have it hit the back of my neck. Take several deep breaths and let yourself really be in this moment of stillness and relaxation. I am a big fan of stillness, sometimes it seems like my life is just busy moment after busy moment (and how frustrating is that when you look back at your 'busy' day and realize you did a lot of movement but didn't get a lot done!). Taking some time every day to just enjoy the moment can be very rejuvenating.

Friday, January 10, 2014

PBP- Week 2: Absolution

One of the things that I find somewhat aggravating is people who will talk your ear off about how devout they are in their faith, and yet much of their practice is all talk and no substance. Especially when it comes to following the tenants or rules of their belief. I know that everyone has different levels of what works for them when it comes to faith. For some, simple belief is enough, they feel it in their hearts and that fulfills them. I am fine with this! But if you are going to tell me that you follow certain rules, then follow them.

How does absolution relate? One of the things that I find absolutely ridiculous is using a concept like absolution of sin as an excuse for why it is okay to break the rules. I have seen a lot of people do this with the concept of Confession. They think that they can do whatever they want, go to confession, do a minimal penance, and all those things they did are now magically erased.

I am fully okay with people making mistakes. I make mistakes all the time. Sometimes, I find myself even thinking “wow, I shouldn't be doing this” WHILE I am doing something, and yet don't manage to pull myself to a stop. It is a failing I am aware of, one I am working on improving on, and one I know I have a long way to go to master.

Life isn't simple. Sometimes we are faced with bad choices. Not just a hard choice between what we might want (like that piece of cheesecake) and what we know is right (like sticking to the diet so we can drop those excess pounds we don't want to have), but a really bad choice (like the choice between seriously hurting someone else or letting them seriously hurt you). And sometimes we have to make selfish choices. Sometimes it is the right thing to tell our loved ones that we can't do the things they want us to do because we need time for ourselves (and yes, needing relaxing 'me' time is a necessity, even if all I do with it is take a bath or watch tv).

And sometimes we choose to make bad decisions. I think there is a fine line of distinction here. Choosing poorly, but with knowledge is different, in my book, then trying to justify a bad choice with excuses. If I decide to have that extra drink, knowing full well it will put me over my limit, that is a bad choice. If I make it knowing that it might lead me to making other stupid choices because I am now drunk, it is still a choice to take that drink (or the several drinks that took me to the limit in the first place). I am still the one making this choice. The minute I pick up my glass, I am loosing my right to come back the next day and expect people to forgive me for whatever dumb stuff I did drunk “because I couldn't help myself, I was drunk”.

No one is required to forgive you for anything you do. People who care about you will probably forgive you for quite a lot...the more they care for you, the more forgiving they can be. Most people do have a line though, that no matter how much they care about you, they just can't forgive certain things.

Now, in my path, there is no priest who will absolve me of my sins (well and sins aren't exactly part of my path either). I don't feel that my gods are keeping some kind of tally sheet and giving or taking away points for things I do (and does that ever sound like a Hogwarts house point analogy...). I answer to myself. I hold myself up to certain standards. And when I don't meet those standards, it is me who meets out the punishment (often in feelings of inadequacy or shame).

So how does absolution fit into this path? Well in the reverse way that it often fits into other paths. I don't feel that I need less absolution, sometimes I feel I need more. My innate tendencies are to really dwell on my mistakes. When I trip or stumble, I will rehash the event in my mind, over and over. It can be very hard for me to let go of things.

I definitely feel this is because I hold myself to a higher standard, not because I feel I am better than anyone else, but rather because I often know exactly why I failed. When someone else makes a mistake, I never know for certain if it was because they were having a bad day, because they just didn't feel like putting forth more effort or if they truly tried their utmost and just couldn't manage. With myself, I know what happened, and if it was in any way my fault, it can be hard to forgive myself and let go of those past failings.

And I think letting go of mistakes is very important. It is hard to move forward, when you are constantly looking back, and even harder when every time you look back you remind yourself of how you failed.

So how do you make absolution a part of your life without making it a convenient excuse for everything? I believe this comes through mindful attention, honest assessment and heartfelt expression.

We must pay attention to what we do. Most of the ways in which I regularly fail are when I act without thinking first. Habits can be truly deadly to proper living. You must also be mindful to be aware of when you have faltered.

This leads right into assessment. Sometimes, things truly are out of your control, but many times we like to turn a blind eye to our own involvement. I don't accept “I didn't think about it,” as an excuse from myself. But the other half of honest assessment is to really look at how involved you truly were. It is very easy to start laying the blame heavily on yourself, and sometimes it wasn't all (or at all) our fault.

The final piece is to acknowledge what was done. This can be as simple as admitting to yourself what you did, or it can mean talking to other people who were also effected. It can involve actions to help correct what happened, or simply to try to show others that your mistake isn't how you truly feel. The key here is that they really have to be from the heart...empty gestures are exactly that: empty.

Sometimes we all need a little absolution, but seek it from the right source and in the right way.

Friday, January 3, 2014

PBP- Week 1- Ancestry

I thought this would be a good way to start the year (and project!) looking back at my roots. Family is important to me, and knowing where I come from gives me the base of identity that helps me face every day. However, I take a pretty broad view on Family and ancestry both.

Biologically, I am half Chinese, half Caucasian (a pretty good mix of European ancestry). My grandfather (on the Caucasian side) was interested in ancestry, and so I have seen some of the extensive family trees, and in fact wrote down what I thought were particularly interesting names when I went to visit him.

But I also lived for many years in Hawaii, where the idea of a Calabash family is common. Your Calabash family is people who are close to your heart, but not related to you in any way (by blood or marriage). I definitely have people who have become part of my family that aren't related in any traditional way.

A term I have heard used before, and that I love, is spiritual ancestry. I definitely feel a spiritual connection to places and cultures that I don't have strong blood ties to. I don't feel these connections are any less solid than the ones that I am blood tied to.

For me, ancestry is a map that leads us to our roots. We can follow it back, person by person, or influence by influence and see where our current attitudes and values trace back to. It can help us understand why certain things move us so powerfully or perhaps why we have a tendency to do particular things.

What I don't accept is using ancestry as an excuse for why you lack or fail in some way. Of course, there are physical limitations. If your whole family is under five foot tall, then sure, that is a reason why you might need a stool to get something off a top shelf (but not a reason why you should let the top shelf get the better of you!). However, saying that because I am part Chinese I can't drive well.....that is just prejudiced and lazy.

I also don't accept using ancestry as a way to exclude people. I definitely thing there are things that are much easier to understand if you were raised in a particular community. There are cultural qualities that may seem strange from an outside perspective. But this is very much an experience thing, and not a blood thing. Even though I am half Chinese, I wasn't raised in the Chinese culture, and much of my experiences with Chinese beliefs are from an outsiders perspective. I do understand that even if you grew up smack dab in the middle of a cultural hotspot, if you aren't a member of that culture, you may still be 'on the outside' when it comes to certain cultural concepts, but again, this is not a physical thing that is keeping you from it but a societal thing.

I get a bit cranky when people tell me that I can't develop a relationship with particular gods because my ancestors aren't directly linked to them (or even worse, because not enough of my ancestors are directly linked to them). I personally think that is between me and the gods. If they want to work with me, they will. If I want to work with them, I will work on building those relationships.

As far as practices go, I have seen horrible accusations made as well. People have flat out said that trying to take up a practice of a culture you are not a member of is the same as rape. I think this is completely out of line. I do think that you can take up practices in an disrespectful manner, and that some people do try to 'take advantage' of other cultures because they want to seem cooler or they think it will make them special in some way. But I think if the reasons in your heart are pure, and you honestly are drawn to a practice and you respect it and the peoples who created and practice it, then there is nothing wrong with looking for inspiration from outside your own blood. For me it's all about intent.

I pretty much let my heart lead me. I find myself drawn to explore my physical roots. I look into Chinese belief and practices. I look towards the European paths. My main practice is pretty heavily Norse influenced, and while I do have some roots in the area, they aren't the deepest ones, but that is where I am drawn most strongly. A part of my heart was stolen by Hawaii when I lived there, to me it bears a huge part of what I consider Home. I have never had a problem with the deities I work with, or my ancestors, feeling betrayed or lessened because I have interests in a variety of areas.

So, ultimately, I think that my conceptualization of ancestry is pretty broad. I have different kinds of ties to different places, and I do my best to honor them from my heart and soul. And I feel that if I keep that perspective, if I approach from a respectful mindset, then seeking to follow those threads that connect me will only make my practice stronger.

PBP- Pagan Blog Project- Introduction

Well, as things go, I meant to get this up here a few days ago, but never got around to it!  I am going to be participating in this years Pagan Blog Project.  If you haven't heard of it, there is a little link on the right side of my blog that will take you to their main page.

The gist of it is that each week on Friday I will post a blog entry, working through the alphabet, with two weeks on each letter.  I can use any topic I like dealing with that letter.

I will also try to be more active in general, so any post that is for the Pagan Blog Project will have PBP in the title as well as the tag:  Pagan Blog Project.  Anything that doesn't have those will just be random thoughts and musings.

I hope you all enjoy!