Friday, February 28, 2014

PBP- Week 9: Evolution of Practice

Change is a part of life, everything changes. I am not the same person today that I was yesterday and I definitely am not the same person I was when I started my path. And yet, in a lot of ways, we treat parts of our practice as if change isn't present.

Sure, most of us do have evolution in our personal path. We keep learning, and we keep growing, and as we uncover new information or ideas, we work them into our practice. But some things are so very ingrained that they don't seem to change.

One of the things I struggled with for a long time was grounding, and not because I couldn't ground (because I was actually grounding in my own way), but because I wasn't resonating with the 'basic' grounding that was put forth in just about every book and website: visualizing yourself as a tree. I can do it now, and have had some very moving experiences with it, but as a basic, everyday grounding practice it just doesn't work for me. And yet it seemed to be the only way to ground (if you believed the things you read, and at the time I was learning, reading was my main source of knowledge), and so I came to believe I just was horrid at grounding.

I think there is a lot of value in the 'tried and true'. Being able to read about practices that have worked for people for decades (if not generations!) is invaluable, especially to those of us who learned in a very solitary manner.

But I also think it is vital to keep up with the times, in so much as the mentality of today is very different than it was a decade ago, and certainly different than it was a century ago. Things that were commonplace and standard then, may not be as viable now. And things that are at the core of our daily lives today might not have existed then. So why do we have this tendency to take inspiration for our regular practice from times gone past?

As I have mentioned before, I think we place a big value on tradition. We want to connect with our ancestors, with our past and with the people who paved the way for our modern practice. We want to tap into that energy that has been built up over the years. And that is definitely something good! I love finding old rituals or practices and there is a distinct difference I feel when doing something that is rooted in ancient times as opposed to more modern practices. But my life has room for both, and I think we are missing something by not looking to the present (and the future) in our practice.

Sometimes I feel like we, as a Pagan community, have embraced the past as if it were trapped in amber: locked in stasis at the time of it's heyday and being this golden ideal we should try to attain. I don't believe that my deities or my practice is stuck in some time loop. How can we expect our deities to respond to our modern day concerns (when we have computer troubles or fret over being able to pay our phone bills) if we only envision them still as hunters or gatherers.

A friend of mine recently asked about this, about whether we view our deities as being creatures of their time or if they have transcended and can be seen in a more modern way. Do you ever see your deities in modern garb? Do they utilize technology? I feel that some do and some don't. But those that I feel don't step into the modern light, I don't approach with modern troubles. My grandparents are not that tech savvy, and while I love them dearly, and there are many things that I would gladly seek their advice on, if I can't figure out how to do something on the internet, I won't be emailing them to find out what they think I should do.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think we need to stop drawing this line in the sand between old and new. If your practice is based on recreating ancient practices and that works for you, I am very happy for you. If my practice incorporates my modern life, and it works for me, I hope you would be happy for me in the same way.

I think some have forgotten (or never heard) one of the things that I love most about Paganism: we do what works for us! Each of us has things that will work for us, and they may not be the same things that work for others....and that is okay. It is more than okay, it is wonderful. We have the freedom to be who we are, to do what we love and to not feel like we have to do things a certain way because 'that is how they are done'.

Friday, February 21, 2014

PBP: Week 8- Drawing and other artsy stuff

There are a lot of spells and rituals that involve drawing (or sewing or otherwise physically creating a representation of something). I am blessed to be artistically inclined, although I haven't had formal lessons in ages, I do consider myself pretty artsy. Most of the time I can make pictures of things that make me happy, and while I don't think I am quite on a professional level, I don't stress out when I have to draw or craft something.

But I know that a lot of people don't share this gift. I know my son always says he is horrible at art, and even for school projects hates having to do anything that involves drawing (even when the quality of the art isn't in any way being judged). It doesn't matter how many times I reassure him that it is the effort that matters and that his pictures are fine, he still feels frustrated when he tries to draw something, especially if he is trying to copy a symbol from somewhere.

When it comes to using artistic skills in workings, I feel very strongly that the quality of the work itself is not important. What is important is the intent, focus and emotion put into the crafting. The purpose of creating a symbol to represent something is to activate the child self, the younger self, the subconscious mind. This part of you doesn't care about perfect, it sees perfection because it sees the essence of a thing, not the specifics. So if you make an apple out of clay and it looks more like a lumpy ball, your child self sees the apple anyways, because it believes!

I think it is vital to approach sacred art in a playful manner. Let your inner toddler out! Don't worry about making a mess, about coloring inside the lines or even about making things the right color! If you want to create harmony in your house, and feel that lavender makes you feel good, draw your family and color them lavender!

Think about it this way: if you were handed a picture by a kid, who told you they made it 'just for you' and asked you if you liked it....most likely you would tell them it was great and wonderful and you absolutely loved it! If it looked like a pile of green spaghetti but they told you it was a picture of their mommy, you would tell them it was beautiful. Treat your inner child with the same indulgent love! Embrace the pure joy of creation, the letting go of expectations and of letting your mind's eye create.

Put away the fancy pens and break out the crayons. Grab some paint but no brushes and use your fingers. Stop trying to fix your 'mistakes' and just roll with them. Draw stick figures with no legs or make dolls with no faces. If you can't draw hands, don't!

But most importantly, have fun with it. Sing while you create. Name your creations, talk to them, and tell them what they mean to you and what you want them to do.

If you are having trouble getting started, go and grab a piece of plain white paper (or lined paper, or whatever kind of paper you have, you can even take an old bill or magazine). Grab some brightly colored markers or crayons....nothing fine tipped or fancy, just something that makes color. Don't draw anything, just scribble. Pick colors based on how you feel. Let your lines show your mood. Try this on different days, when you are feeling differently. Look back at your pictures and see what they make you feel.

Friday, February 14, 2014

PBP- Week 7: Decision making Divination

My apologies if this is disjointed or otherwise random...been feeling a bit off all week, and put off writing it, so putting down thoughts as best I can today!

My personal view of divination is that when we approach the cards, runes or scrying medium, we are opening ourselves up to the divinity within, and focusing on letting it speak to us. Finding that stillness, and learning to interpret the impressions we get is part of the process of learning do divine, just as becoming familiar with the tools we wish to use. One thing I see often said is that it is very hard (some people say impossible) to use divination to answer your own questions.

I definitely don't think this is the case. I use divination all the time for myself. What I do think is that I listen differently when I am reading for myself. I think it is a lot easier to keep a fully open mind when divining for someone else. I am not as invested in the outcome, sometimes I don't even fully know what is weighing on their mind, and I am rarely aware of what their innermost fears and hopes are. This makes it a lot easier to remain impartial, to interpret the information as it comes and not be swayed by personal opinions.

When reading for yourself, I feel like it takes a different focus. I have heard from a lot of different people that you can't get an honest reading because your subconscious mind is influencing the information you receive. But I think this can give a whole new layer of meaning to a reading when you take it into account. I sort of think of it like looking in a mirror. I can look in the mirror and describe myself factually: brown hair, glasses, mole on my nose. I can also look at the mirror and describe what I feel: tired or joyful, sad or angry.

The trick is taking a step back and really thinking about which type of description you are making. When I read for myself, I take a lot of time to think about why certain meanings are coming through. Sometimes I can just feel that it is something outside of my self. Typically these are the readings where something surprises me, or feels completely random. I also find that when I get these unusual interpretations, they also come with the feeling that anything else is just wrong.

On the other hand, sometimes I get meanings that are definitely influenced by my mind, either conscious or subconscious. Sometimes I will logic myself into these meanings (sort of like how you may talk yourself into something by coming up with reason after reason as to why it is true). Sometimes it will be something I know I was thinking about before I looked at the cards, or something that I know I was hoping for or fearing might happen.

When this happens, I find it very helpful to not only examine why my mind is picking these particular things to think about (from the vast number of possible outcomes), but also how they make me feel. Much like looking in a mirror, my mood and general thoughts will influence where I look on a particular day. I find this type of self-reflection very useful in sorting my mind out when thinking about a tricky problem or trying to figure out what I think would be best for me to do. I let the divination become a tool that my own mind can use to speak to me.

I think that divination tools have so many uses, that trying to restrict them to just one thing is not harnessing their full potential. I highly recommend to anyone who has not done readings for themselves to try it, and to see what kinds of personal insight comes up. Sometimes it's not about finding unbiased information....sometimes it is about listening to where the bias' come from.

Friday, February 7, 2014

PBP- Week 6: Coins

It is pretty common for old spells, especially ones for wealth and prosperity, to include as an ingredient a silver coin. Sometimes in modern books, it will say that a dime can be used in place of this silver coin (as modern coinage, at least in the united states, doesn't actually contain silver anymore). I think there is a tendency to overlook modern things as possible tools of magic, and yet coinage is not only readily available, it also has tons of layers of symbolism that make it very usable.

First and foremost, coins are money. While we often think of them as inconsequential (especially with the modern tendency to do everything electronically), when you are low on cash, you start adding up all those nickels and dimes (and pennies!) and you find they suddenly are much more vital than you otherwise thought. A penny is no longer just an inconvenience (one more thing to toss in your wallet/purse when you don't want to dig through your pockets for exact change....and you always have one less than you need anyways!), but one tiny step towards whatever you are working on...and isn't that a great thing to have when working magic?

American coinage has the phrases “In God we Trust” and “E Pluribus Unim” (which means “out of many, one”). These sentiments can be used in conjunction with the coins to harness these ideals. Consider 'donating' a coin anytime you are putting your faith in the Gods...trusting them to do what is best for you. You can say your blessing or prayer to the coin and leave it somewhere, trusting that it will find it's way to someone else who might need a blessing as well. E Pluribus Unim can help with bringing a group of people together to work towards a common goal. Or you could use it as a focus charm, when you are trying to narrow a huge range of choices or ideas down to just one.

Money is nothing more than a symbol itself...a symbol of the power to get the things we need and want. A penny is the smallest denomination, great for representing a small step towards a greater goal. We encounter pennies all the time: lost on the ground, found in our pockets (or the couch), given as change. If we set ourselves a trigger of “when I encounter a penny I will (insert goal action here)”, think about how many times we will be reminded to work on our goal! Not only that, but if the penny is one you can take, why not set aside a place to keep them. Decorate a jar with images of your goal or working. Whenever you have a penny, focus on your intent and put it in the jar. When the jar is full you can use it to further your goal...or donate it to a cause in honor of your goal (as gratitude).

On the front of the Penny, is Abraham Lincoln. The current reverse is a shield (which has 13 stripes on it). There are quite a few other designs that can be found on the back of the penny: the Lincoln memorial, scenes from Lincoln's life and two wheat heads. Originally made from pure copper, modern pennies are made from copper plated zinc (and amusingly enough cost almost two cents to manufacture). So there are a lot of ways you can go with the penny. Lincoln is probably most famous for outlawing slavery. He also led the country through the Civil war. He is a great symbol for equality and fairness. Wheat is still (for many) a staple food: bread and water being quite iconic of the bare minimum sustenance to survive. This makes the penny (the smallest form of currency) ideal as a representation of always having the basics.

The face of the nickel features Thomas Jefferson, and it's reverse is Montecello (Jefferson's home). In 2005 and 2006, two additional reverses (for each year) were printed in honor of the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's Expedition. These were: an adaptation of an Indian Peace Medal (two hands shaking crossed by two pipes), a keelboat (like the one used for the expedition), a buffalo and a picture of the coastline featuring a quite from one of Clark's journal entries “Ocean in view! O! The Joy!” The five cent coin was originally made of silver and was a 'half-dime' but today the nickel is made of a copper-nickel alloy. The actual cost to manufacture a nickel ranges from three to eleven cents (based on the current metal prices). Jefferson is most well known as the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. While there is a lot of controversy involving many of these things, I think that the essence of the ideals they represent can still be harnessed through the nickel. Expansion and exploration, joy of discovery, peace and compromise and independence to name a few. Thinking even further outside of the box, you could use the keelboat to represent a safe (or productive) journey, the coastline to represent the ocean or beach...or even a sense of relaxation.

The front of the dime is a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the reverse features a torch flanked by an olive branch and an oak branch. Other versions of the dime featured Lady Liberty, and one which (while still representing Liberty) is commonly referred to as the Mercury dime (because she is shown wearing a winged Phrygian cap, a symbol of freedom and liberty, with the wings intended to symbolize freedom of thought). The dime was originally made of silver (and made to equal one tenth of a dollars worth of silver, hence it's small size), but today is made of a core of copper plated with Cupronickel (more on this stuff in a bit). I find Lady Liberty a fascinating subject. Sometimes called Columbia, viewed by many as a 'modern' goddess, a creation of America and a feminine personification of the United States itself, I find her to be a very powerful symbol. FDR was the only president to serve more than eight years (and he actually served four terms as president). He is widely know for energizing the country after the Great Depression, refusing to accept defeat at the hands of Polio and setting the United States up as a world power. FDR makes a great symbol of both perseverance and keeping a bright outlook. The reverse also holds very common and powerful symbols: the torch for illumination and the olive branch for peace. The oak branch was intended to be a symbol of strength, and the oak is a very sacred tree in many traditions.

The quarter bears a bust of George Washington on the front and the presidential coat of arms on the back. There have been a lot of alternate quarters in recent years. The bicentennial quarter features a drummer with a torch surrounded by 13 stars. There was a set of quarters with a reverse printed for each of the 50 states, ones for the District of Columbia and the US territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands), and ones featuring a national park or site from each state/DC/territory. The amount of images and symbols that can be found here are astounding. Not only are there often iconic images, many of these quarters feature sayings that can be quite useful as well. Quarters were originally silver, but are currently Cupronickel over a copper core. Washington was, of course, the first president, and is easily linked with foundations, creation and building something out of nothing (also could be used as a symbol for breaking free from another's rule). One of the greatest folklore stories about Washington was how he chopped down the cherry tree and when questioned about it replied that he 'could not tell a lie' and thus is an icon of truthfulness and personal responsibility. The eagle on the reverse is a powerful symbol for many people, often representing strength, leadership and connection to the divine.

Cupronickel (used in many coins, specifically the dime and quarter), has it's roots in alchemy. It is typiacally 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel with trace amounts of manganese and/or iron. It is highly seawater corrosion. Cupronickel was known to the Romans as 'white gold', and to the Chinese as 'white copper', as even though it is primarily copper, it is silver in color. The Greeks called it orichalcum, and made the first coins out of it, around 180 BCE. The Chinese were able to produce it due to deposits of natural ore containing some of the requisite components, and used it like they would gold: for decoration and enhancement. As they began to export it, the western world sought to figure out how to make it, and alchemists strove to discover it's makeup. It was highly desirable as it shared many qualities with silver, and could be used to create cheaper items that would pass as silver. It is interesting that the roots of Cupronickel lead us right to where we are today: finding a way to have something that looks nice but is cheaper to create.

The origin of the alloy leads us to some very interesting options however. There are quite a lot of parallels to the alchemical pursuit of turning lead into gold: the transmutation of the self from base to noble. The resistance to saltwater corrosion lends it to protection, especially from natural elements or disaster.

In addition to the few coins I've talked about there are other coins that can be studied and used magically. And of course, one needn't limit themselves to coins from their own country. Foreign coins provide links to other cultures and a whole new group of symbols! But one thing I do know...coins offer up a buffet of uses and are readily available. There is no need to only use them as silver substitutes.