Friday, July 25, 2014

PBP- Week 30: Old versus New

This is another one of those topics that I think a lot of people go overboard on. There is this concept that anything old is good and that newer things can't be as good as ancient things (or that everything new is just something that our ancestors knew and we are just rediscovering).

Don't get me wrong, I think that there is a lot to be learned by looking back. My father used to quote me often that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. I would add in that those who don't study history are doomed to have to walk the whole path over.

But there is also no reason to discount the things we see in our regular, everyday, modern life. I have seen a bunch of posts on Facebook that are lists of quotations from ancient cultures about how to live a good life. They are truly good bits of advice, and pretty timeless. They are also all things that pretty much anyone would say if they were asked to describe how to be a good person.

It isn't that we don't have wisdom today, it's more that we don't live in a world that expects us to think for ourselves. We are constantly bombarded with other people's thoughts, words and ideas. We are given all these things we should act on, because they contain 'wisdom' but we are not taught to develop that wisdom on our own.

I also find it somewhat disconcerting that so many ancient cultures and peoples are viewed through extremely rose-colored glasses. We look only at the bits that we find desirable, and brush over (or flat out ignore) any parts we don't like or that don't fit with our modern sensibilities. Times change, and what was once acceptable is no longer. We don't go around marrying off our children to strangers, killing our neighbors because they insulted us or sacrificing surrogates so that our kings can continue their reign.

When we paint these pictures of ancient cultures as idyllic utopian societies, we are doing a huge disservice to ourselves. It sets our modern life up to impossible standards, which leads us to feel a much higher dissatisfaction with our own lives. They can never stand up to this fairy tale image we hold of other times and cultures. How can we be happy compared to that?

It's not an all or nothing thing. We can look back, be honest with ourselves, and see both the good an bad in the past. We can look at the good and take away things that will enrich our lives. We can look at the bad and learn from the lessons. We can also use that same honesty to look at our own lives and time. It can be very easy to overlook the good in our lives because media is always trying to focus on the things that are horrible. But when we are brutally honest, there are so many wonderful things in our lives, that even when things are going poorly, we still have so much bounty.

Friday, July 18, 2014

PBP: Week 29- Origami

I have been doing origami since I was in grade school.  My dad was army, and we lived Hong Kong for a while, and that is where I remember learning.  Origami satisfies a lot of parts of me.  I love the creation of it, taking a flat piece of paper and creating a three dimensional sculpture.  It also appeals to the past of me that likes things precise, as I can take more time to make each fold exact.

There are a lot of really beautiful papers made for origami.  Proper origami paper is thinner than many other papers, and can make some of the more intricate patterns easier to do.  But, if you don't have any, don't fret!  You can use any kind of paper, just cut into a square.  In fact you can pick your paper to match your purpose.  Magazine pictures make great paper.  You can also draw your own paper.  Don't worry if you don't feel like you are an artist, you can let your inner child out!  Just grab your crayons and let your emotions guide you.

I have used origami in my practice many times.  There are so many different things that you can make, that you can tailor it to almost any purpose.  Many patterns have hidden pockets in it, so you can tuck in tiny charms or herbs.  You can also write on the inside and have your message hidden away.

Most origami is fairly small when finished, which makes it great to use as charms or to tuck away hidden.  I have made Sabbat trees out of origami, then decorated them for each season, with charms for things I was working on.  I really loves working with the trees, and loved having them out and changing throughout the year.

I've also done origami with paper that I was going to burn as another layer of symbolism.  They make good altar items, you can make new ones as needed.

If you have never tried origami, don't be intimidated by some of the complex patterns you see.  There are a small number of basic folds, and once you matter those folds, you can start trying more complicated patterns.  Many times you can find free demonstrations at the library or other places and try out new patterns.

Friday, July 11, 2014

PBP: Week 28- Nudity

Skyclad used to be a pretty common catchphrase, whenever you talked about ritual, especially group ritual. While there are plenty of groups that still host skyclad rituals, it no longer seems to be the standard, especially for public or open rituals.

When I was first learning, there were a lot of reasons given for practicing nude.  Some I feel have some validity, and some have no truth for me.  I don't think that there is any need to be nice.  It can definitely add to an experience, but depending on your own relationship with your body, it can detract more than it can add.

One reason sometimes given for working skyclad, that I really can't get behind is one I don't often see given today, but was often stated when I was first learning.  The idea was that energy was somehow hindered by the clothing, and performing any magic while clothed would make you less effective.  To me this concept just doesn't make sense.  If my clothes can stop the floor of energy, then wouldn't my target need to be naked as well?  And walls would be all the warding we would need to protect us from any outside forces.

I have also heard that makes working helps us to make ourselves vulnerable and open.  When working alone, this can be a valuable thing, and often easier than doing group work nude.  But even alone, we can sometimes struggle with feelings of self-doubt or negative thoughts.  If we are working towards bringing beauty into our lives or developing self-love, then these thoughts can definitely hinder our work.  On the other hand, if you want to work on loving yourself exactly as you are, it can be very powerful to work naked, taking extra care to cherish yourself, as you would a loved one.

In a group, working nude can be equalizing and a form of bonding, but it can also be traumatizing, especially if anyone has had experiences of abuse or violence that they are not ready to move through yet.  I firmly believe that ritual space should be safe and comfortable for everyone, and nudity just isn't something everyone can embrace.  There is a huge difference between pushing yourself towards growth and being pushed in a way you aren't ready for.  Only you can determine which is which, and being brave and honest enough to tell the difference between the two is a part of the journey.

One reason that I am on the fence about, is the idea that being nude helps you to step out of your everyday life and into the sacred.  That standing nude before our deities strips us of our pretences that we normally hide behind.  I think you can reach the same goal in many ways.  Ritual clothing is very traditional, and can be as simple or ornate as you require.  I think some rituals might benefit more from simple dress, while others are a great reason to dress up and embrace all the beautiful things that make us feel especially magical.  I also think you can step into the sacred just fine in the same blue jeans and T-shirt you wore to the grocery store, though you might find at first that this takes a little longer.

I use nudity in my own practice sometimes.  Most of the time I am not alone, and with a teenage son in the house, clothing is not optional outside the bedroom or bathroom.  But I do find being nude to be powerful, sometimes humbling, sometimes empowering.  Some days, I pamper myself and this can be refreshing.  Some days I am very aware of the state of my body, and it helps me to stick to my goals.  Sometimes being nude leaves me feeling very small and vulnerable.

I think that trying different states of dress in your private practice is very informative.  As a society, we don't spend a lot of time naked, so really being in our body while unclothed can move us in unexpected ways.  After you have tried different things on your own, you can decide if group work skyclad is something you would be interested in.  If it isn't that is fine too!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Witchcraft Today: 60 years on. (book review)

I read the original Witchcraft Today many years ago.  When I was first learning, that was one of the books that was always listed by other authors as more or less required reading.  I think that 60 years in stands up to that reputation.

I loved that the book opened with a 'behind the scenes of Witchcraft Today'.  As I haven't read it in so long, I don't remember much, and yet I feel like I was right back in that time period, when I was first learning and not only was everything new to me, but there just wasn't that much easy to come by information (not like there is today).  It brought back a lot of memories.

I found many of the essays in the first section to be teasers, in the best possible way!  I am a scholar by nature, and one of my greatest joys is learning new things.  These essays let me peek into so many different paths and gave me just enough information that I knew exactly what I wanted to find out more about.  Many of them had a list of references, both books and websites that I know I will be looking for in the future.

I am not going to talk in depth about all of the essays.  Some touched me in very different ways.  Some of the ideas expressed spoke to me on a deep personal level.  Others were not things that I felt drawn to myself, but we're things that people I know practice and so learning more about them gives me insight into the people I know, which I always cherish.  I will talk about a few things that really jumped out at me though.

The essays on Alexandrian, Seax, and Eclectic practices remind me a lot not only of my own progression, but also the evolution I see in the community at large.  When I first started learning, the traditional coven structure was set forth as pretty much the desired path.  Sometimes solitary paths weren't even made out as viable.  For a long time I had this idea of coven membership in my head, and even in my solitary practice I mimics the coven dynamic as much as I could.

I think gender plays such a huge role in our identities, and the way we interact with others.  Both the Dianic and male witchcraft give different outlooks on how our gender roles may affect not only pie personal practice, but also the path we choose to call our own.  Both men and women have their own struggles, and the more we can learn to understand and honor each other, the stronger we will be as a community.

The essay on Hekatean practices illustrated for me the way that witchcraft as a whole changes to become what the people need at the time.  I don't see such (and I hate to use the word) 'trendy' practices as an example of people just following along with whatever is popular at the time, but more that society and the current era creates similar needs in us.  But even though we may work with the same deities, often our personal interactions are very different.

I think one of my favorite essays was on where witchcraft is going in the future.  I think we are at a very exciting time in history.  So many things are changing, and I can just imagine where we will be in just ten years from now.  I started on my path just about twenty years ago now, and looking back I can see how the global experience affected my own path.  We are breaking free into the public eye, and I have great dreams of seeing true public acceptance in my lifetime.

I don't want to ruin anyone's experience of the personal stories in part two.  I found myself moved by the life experiences that were shared.  Even though I now have many wonderful people who I share my practice with, both in persons and online, I always love hearing about other people's journey.  For many years I was completely isolated, and when I would struggle, it left me feeling so alone.  I would have really loved having a book like this at those times.

I really enjoyed this book.  It brought me on a journey from the past, through the many facets of the present, and into the future that might be.  I saw myself reflected in the stories I read.  So many doors into other people's worlds were opened and I felt welcomed and invited in.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the many ways different people practice and connect with the divine.

The book can be found on Amazon.

Friday, July 4, 2014

PBP: Week 27- Nature (versus Technology)

I sort of touched on some of this in my Green Living post, but I really think that many Pagan's overlook a huge part of our world by putting such a focus on the Natural. I very much agree that there is something very magical about the wild, untamed places, and that for many of us (myself included) who live and spend most of their time in a city, taking a trip to someplace untouched by human hands (or even just more green and growing) can cause a huge mental shift.

It can definitely be easier to work in these places. The energy of them lends itself to a lot of wonderful workings. The separation from our daily life helps us to transition into sacred mental space. The isolation helps keep out distractions and interruptions.

If I think all of this, why then do I feel that we are missing out by putting so much focus on the natural world? Because most of my life is spent indoors, with machines and modern conveniences. If I were to exclude these things from my practice, I would rarely get to walk my path, and would probably not be very far along indeed.

I think that there is a learning curve involved here. When I first started, it was definitely easier to work in natural places and with natural things. But I also had to decide pretty early on to break from the “all tools must be made from natural products” if I wanted to have working tools. It always struck me as odd that the magical community finds some modern things okay and some aren't. Glass chalices and metal blades have always been okay, but plastic is avoided like the plague.

I also believe that as a magical community, we have grown to be more inclusive. Our path isn't modeled after other religions as much as it used to be. We don't typically reserve our workings to the holy days. Our faith is with us always, and that is why it makes sense to me that we should work with the things that are part of our daily lives.

I definitely feel that the modern things in my life resonate at a different level than natural ones. Some I don't mesh well with at all. The background hum of a lot of appliances makes me tense (though is much more tolerable if I can put on some music to drown it out).

I have heard a lot of negative ideas about modern things in the magical community. As I mentioned, it was a pretty popular thought for a while that plastic was a magical null: that it resisted energy and thus was horrible to use in ritual. However, for some things, that natural resistance might be useful. If you were wanting to shield, that property would fit right in. I have also heard a lot of people say that electricity and energy don't mix. I know a lot of people who have trouble with electronic devices (down to watches that will stop running if worn too long). I have always felt that electricity is a form of energy, and that it was the two forms of energy interacting that caused the problems. I am always very aware of the electronics around me when I am working with energy, especially since I tend to project through my hands (and I love my computer and other gadgets so I would be very put out if I accidentally fried one of them).

Things are changing though. I have seen a lot more magical and modern crossovers in the past years. It is no longer shocking to hear people talk about magical workings done with or on their phone (and really if you spend a lot of time away from your house, it is a good bed that your phone will be with you, so why not learn to work with it). I spend the bulk of my day on the computer, and definitely have explored ways to work with it in my practice. I am also quite the avid gamer, and it always makes me smile to see how other people have embraced meshing magic and faith with their games (I have seen some lovely in-game altar set ups, and have made a few myself). I even met a virtual coven who held their rituals in a game (which gave a lot more ambiance to a virtual ritual than the ones that I have attended in chat rooms).