Friday, August 29, 2014

PBP- Week 35: Ritual

In many ways, ritual is one of the cornerstones of most Pagan practice. Perhaps not the ornate, formal and complex rituals that are detailed in many books, but definitely the ritual observance of different events. I think that a lot of people have a particular vision of what ritual is, and I believe that ritual is so much more than is commonly included in it's definition.

Lets start by looking at the fancy book rituals. These were something that really drew me in when I was first learning. I loved the idea of these play-like rituals, where there were costumes, scripts, distinct movements and everything had layers of meaning. I still like this type of ritual, although it is very rarely a part of my practice.

I think these rituals have use. They are great for beginners who are just learning how to do things. They give you a framework and all the details, which is wonderful if you aren't quite sure what your own style is yet. In some ways, it is like a paint by numbers piece. The outline is there, and there is a handy little key to show you which colors go where. You make a nice piece when you are done, and you can typically see why different colors go where they do. The more you do, the more you start to know the colors before you look them up, and the more you think of different patterns you might like to paint or alterations to the outline that you might like better.

Formal rituals are also good for groups, especially groups that may have open invitations or include people who aren't as familiar with ritual structure. I have been to wonderful free-form rituals and have also participated in rituals that floundered because the participants weren't sure what they should be doing (even those who were nominated to do specific actions like calling elements). What structured rituals give is a cohesive, working model with which you can run a ritual. This is especially great if the person hosting the ritual isn't wanting to do all the work themselves or doesn't have a lot of people who are comfortable stepping into different roles without a lot of direction.

But ritual isn't always these grand productions. Ritual is, at it's essence, a set of actions that is done a particular way. It doesn't have to be spiritual or religious at all. Most of us have rituals we do every day that we may not even be aware of. I do the same things, in the same order when I wake up and when I get ready for bed. These are daily rituals for me. If I don't get to do them, I feel sort of disjointed.

What ritual brings to the table is consistency. Whether it is a ritual you do every day (like daily prayer or meditation) or one you only do once a year (like Sabbats), each time you do the ritual, you are adding another bead onto the string. Alone, each ritual has power, but when you look at them all strung together, they become more than the sum of their parts. Each time you do the ritual, you are reminded of the other times you have done it. This adds both weight and meaning to the rituals.

The repetition of ritual behaviors lets us both build upon and fall back on the bones we have set up. Our lives all have times of ebb and times of flow. Some days we may find ourselves particularly inspired or deeply spiritual. At these times it is natural to take the rituals we do and deepen them. We may spend more time on it, or rework parts of it to better suit our needs. We may find ourselves spending hours planning new layers for our rituals or creating art or tools that we will use in them. Other days we may feel particularly drained. While we know that we want to do our rituals, we may not have the energy to really throw ourselves into it. Because of the nature of the ritual, we can let ourselves rely on our past experiences to honor the ritual and often we may find that just making the decision to go through the actions gives us a sense of peace and comfort that helps us through the hard times.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Blacksmith Gods (a book review)

Blacksmith Gods  (link to the Amazon page for the book)

I have been fascinated with blacksmiths since I read a novel about the Aurthurian legends (“In the Shadow of the Oak King” by Courtway Jones). It features blacksmithing as a major theme of the book and really sparked my interest in the subject.

Blacksmith Gods was really interesting to read. I thought it did a great job of not only examining Blacksmithing as a phenomenon, but also looking specifically at how different cultures acknowledged it in their deities.

The book starts off with a general look at blacksmithing, which I think helps put it in perspective. Blacksmithing isn't something that is as common today as it has been in the past. Most of us don't know a professional blacksmith, or even someone who has any experience with smithing. Much of the metal we use in our daily life is mass-produced: stamped out and cut by machines instead of molded into shape by a smith.

And yet, as Pagans, we can be quite strongly drawn to the practice of smithing. I have read quite a lot of books that highly recommend taking a class in smithing or working for a time as an apprentice smith, in order to forge your own blades for magical work. I haven't pursued this myself, although I would love to! I definitely think there is something to be said about making one's own tools, and typically the blade is one of the tools that is the hardest for the average person to create for themselves.

The bulk of the book is divided into sections by location, so deities from a particular area are grouped together. This let me grasp the themes that a culture associated with smithing better. Many of the deity descriptions include stories or legends involving that deity and smithing. I always love reading legends, I think that in many ways it makes things more real for me than just reading a description. Also included are stories about smiths or smithing that don't feature a specific deity. These I think are very powerful for expressing the essence of the smith as a person and great for helping us to get in touch with the heart of what smithing is.

I also really enjoyed the suggestions for how to take a fondness for smithing or blacksmith deities and transform it into part of your practice. I think that sometimes it can be hard, especially for something that you may not be able to actually do as part of your regular life (like blacksmithing) to find a way to honor the practice and work with it in more symbolic terms.

If, like me, you are enchanted by blacksmithing or the image of the smith, this is a wonderful book to read. I was introduced to many new deities, some I had never heard of. I also got to read stories about deities I was already familiar with, deepening my understanding of them.

If you don't know much about blacksmithing, but think it might be interesting, this book is a great starting point that can spark your interest and give you ideas about where you might like to learn more. It will definitely give you a broad base for relating to deities that deal with blacksmithing, and an insight into the mystery that is smithing.

Friday, August 22, 2014

PBP: Week 34- Quickness

I was watching a show the other day on the television that involved a little country town that chose to not embrace technology, so no internet, no cell phone service, no new television shows. That town had a cinnamon festival, and the diner had a cinnamon pie. The people who visited the town absolutely loved the cinnamon pie, and I decided to look it up. The recipe isn't that different from an egg custard pie I used to make all the time (just with cinnamon!), and I am going to try it here someday soon.

But it got me to thinking. All the visitors were so impressed with this pie, and probably because it was actually home made. The modern world puts so much emphasis on things being quick and convenient: instant and disposable. We can go to the store and buy pretty much anything pre-made and ready to heat up. And I do get a lot of these convenience items. Sometimes it's a budget thing. Sadly, package meals are often cheaper than getting 'real' food. Sometimes it's a freshness thing. Living in a pretty small town myself, the fresh produce isn't always good looking, and the 'fresh' fish is just scary. And even though I am a homemaker, sometimes we need food that doesn't take a lot of work (especially if I am not going to be home until right before dinner time).

But I can't really think of anything that comes out of a packet that actually tastes as good as things that are home-made...from scratch. There are a ton of things that aren't that hard to make, at least in terms of ingredients and techniques needed. Bread is one of those things. Home made bread can be very simple, but it is time consuming. It isn't hard, though through doing a lot of bread baking I can definitely say that the difference between making a bread that is good and making one that is great is a matter of either luck or experience!

And I think this is true in the Pagan world as well. A lot of books focus on how easy and basic things are. How you can meditate for just ten minutes a day and reap the benefits. How you can ground and center in mere moments. That shielding can be done with a thought! I've even seen books that bring basic spell casting down to an instant thing: just make this gesture or say this word and send your spell out into the universe.

What a lot of these sources conveniently forget to mention is that, sure you can do a lot of these things in pretty small chunks of time, BUT it takes many, many repetitions to get to the skilled level where you get the results that they claim you get. Like many other things, you are building a skill. When you first start, you may be getting the job done, but it probably takes longer and isn't as polished. Give most people some pieces of wood, a hammer and nails, and they can probably cobble together some sort of table. But it may not be very stable and probably doesn't look too good. Give an experienced carpenter the same tools and I bet their table will be a good sight better. Give both those people some additional tools (chisels, sandpaper, stain), and the beginner might get overwhelmed while the carpenter will probably create something that is functional, durable and beautiful.

I think there is a bit of a bell curve involved in practice. When I first started, I dove in head first. I spent hours doing research, really soaking up anything and everything I could get my hands on (okay, I still kind of do this, just now it's more of a matter of wadding through the repeated information to find something new). My first time with tarot, I spent hours just sitting with my deck, looking at each card in turn and trying to get a feel for them. My early rituals were long and complex (I tried to put in pretty much every correspondence I could, and every step I had read about).

As I progressed, I started to streamline. I didn't offer up cakes and ale every time I cast a circle. I didn't cast a circle every time I wanted to do a spell. Meditations got shorter but more frequent. Instead of setting aside hours to do some sort of guided meditation, I started doing a short meditation every night before bed.

Then, I started to swing back around. I kept the small, regular things as parts of my practice. But I started adding back in the bigger things from time to time. And I found that even doing the longer, more complex rituals, I had more time for the meat of the ritual because I didn't have to work so hard to do the bones of it. Casting a circle isn't something I really have to think about anymore, I don't have to try to remember what comes when or what direction is which. When I sit down to meditate, I rarely have to spend time getting still (I still have my days where I just don't seem to want to quiet, but they are the exception rather than the rule).

I don't think it can really be said often enough, but when picking up a new skill, sit with it a while. It is all fine and good to go deep when you are still in that beginning phase and everything is exciting. In fact, that is one of the best times to really jump in and get yourself drenched (because you have the enthusiasm to soak it all up). But don't just consume the information and then let it all drain away. Just like a sponge, when you are first learning something, you are heavy with all that knowledge. You tossed yourself in the bucket and filled up until you couldn't take in any more, and still you floated about in that pool of information surrounded by it. Eventually, you have to get out of the bucket though. And outside, all that water starts to leak away, evaporate, and drain out of you. Daily practice is like dripping more water into the sponge. It helps keep the information inside of you. And (if you think of the sponge as a living creature), if you keep dripping water in it, the sponge will grow, allowing you to retain more water.

One of the things that always frustrated me about 101 books is that they sort of dump all this information on you, but don't give you a framework within which to explore it. Even something simple like a line or two at the end of each new practice explaining that you should practice grounding every day for several weeks until you can do it easily and without strain. It's kind of like throwing someone off a boat into the ocean, in the dark. They can't see the boat, so don't know which way to swim to get back on it. If you throw them a line, they can pull themselves up it, one hand at a time. It will be slow, but they know which way to go.

Quick isn't always quicker. Slow isn't always better. Everything has it's own time, and learning what your pace is helps you to know what works for you. Someone who works a full time job and has a spouse and/or children has a lot less free time than I do. Someone who is retired with no familial commitments might have more time than I do. Each of us will have different needs from our practice and a different framework to build it on. If you only have ten minutes, then you may expect to work with a practice longer, but ultimately you will have something that you can turn to within the time you have that will serve you well. Some days I think that having extra time can be a detriment (there are plenty of days where I think of twenty things I might like to do...and then piddle around because “I have all day to do whatever I want” and by bed time nothing on my list of things I wanted to do actually got done).

Friday, August 15, 2014

PBP: Week 33- Quotations

I love quotations! I think words are powerful, and sometimes you read (or hear) things that just stick with you. I've been collecting quotations forever. They have their own section in my BOS. I try to write down who said them, but I still have quite a few that don't have sources (I was really bad about sourcing things when I first started, so most of my early notes are unsourced).

But I thought I'd share some of my favorites this week, and talk a bit about why I like them and what they mean for me.

One good thing about being young is that you are too inexperienced to know that you cannot do what you are already doing. This is one that I don't know who said it, but I love the sentiment. I think that the mind is both very powerful and very limiting. I was raised being told that I could be anything I wanted to be, and for that I consider myself very lucky. But when you get right down to it, there are a ton of things that we don't even consider because reality or society tells us they aren't possible. And then someone comes along who either manages to disbelieve the things they have seen in the world around them or are just too young to realize that they aren't supposed to be able to do something. And like many things in nature, once it has been done once, it is easier for it to be done a second time. It's something you see a lot of time with both scientific discovery and world records. The old record will stand for years, but as soon as someone breaks it, several other people either beat the new record or come very close to (and they are way over the old record). This one reminds me too look at things, not just through the eyes of a child (to capture that sense of wonder) but through the mind of a child as that place where all things are truly possible because you haven't learned otherwise.

Whether you think you can, or you can't, you're right. (Henry Ford) Again with the power of the mind and it's self-imposed limits. Belief is such a huge thing, and I think we underestimate it too often. True inner belief is a subtle thing. We can think we believe something and yet deep down still harbor doubts or fears that cripple that belief. This is why I think that things like affirmations, spellwork and visualization are so important. All of them work on reinforcing the things we believe. No matter your level of belief, if you work on building it up, it will help you to succeed at the things you want to do.

Follow success with success, follow failure with change. (Geoffrey Lorenz) There is a fine line between “if at first you don't succeed,” and flogging a dead horse. Anytime I pick up a new discipline, I acknowledge that there will not be brilliant successes straight from the start. The key is learning to recognize when you are banging your head against a wall. They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. I use that as a kind of guideline for learning. If I work with something for a month or so and still am not having any form of improvement, then it is time to analyze myself and see what I can change to make it work for me. We are all different and what works for someone else (or a ton of someone elses) might not work for you.

Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire. (Reggie Leach) Have you noticed I have a thing for success quotes? I have found there are a lot of correlations between magical work and theory and success theory. There are a ton of books out there on how to get ahead in business. Many of them are quite in depth on self-improvement. And a lot that I have read utilize many of the same tools that I use in my magical practice. So much so, in fact, that I often use terms or techniques from these type of business self-improvement books to talk about what I do and believe to people who aren't Pagan. But back to the quote! Sometimes it seems like success is some kind of magical thing that either requires an obscure alignment of the stars or some kind of divine intervention. No matter what you are trying to succeed at in life, the more passionate you are about it, the more you stack the deck in your favor. Of course, it is possible to succeed at something you don't really care about. People do it all the time. But, in most of those cases, the person would have succeeded no matter what they did. It is the other times that concern me: the times where I know it is going to take work and dedication to move forward. And I definitely know that the more passionate I am towards a goal (or process), the more likely I am to not only do the hard work, but to keep at it.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) I think that in a lot of ways we Pagans have an edge in this one. While there are some paths being forged that are well marked enough now that we can follow along if we wish to, we are still in exploration mode. We are all still sort of making our own way, and it is expected that we do so. This is one of those quotes that I don't think is all inclusive. It's not for everyone. If no one took any path's, we'd spend most of our lives redoing mistakes that could easily be avoided. If we had no followers, a lot of the menial things in life wouldn't get done (or we would all be doing our own menial work so nothing besides menial work would get done). I think some people find happiness in following and others in leading. But I think we can all benefit from doing a bit of both. In the vast bulk of my day, I do things that involve following paths. But in the things that I really am drawn into, I forge my own. Often I follow a path for a while (to get the basics, or just to get an idea of what thought is out there). In fact, I think that even when I am pretty much building from the ground up, I like to see what other people are building. I don't always look for methods to use, but rather inspiration to help me create.

Find the attitude that gives you the maximum strength and the maximum dignity, no matter what else is going on. (The Witching Hour- Anne Rice) I have a bit of chaos inclination. I draw inspiration from many sources, including fictional. Especially when it comes to things like quotes, I have no problem pulling from a novel I loved. I believe that attitude is very important. We are faced with so many things in our day, that we really need to have a strong core to act from. The attitude we take on shapes how we respond to the world. What I love about attitude is that it can be pulled on (or off) like a piece of clothing. I don't always take the same attitude when I walk out my door (or when sitting in my house). Some days call for different approaches. By paying attention to the attitude I am adopting, I become more aware of how I am handling myself. The proper attitude lets me deal with things that might otherwise send me over the edge.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important that fear. (Ambrose Redmoon) I think a lot of stuff is said about both fear and courage. I think that fear is healthy, so I have never been one to avoid my fears. I am much more likely to poke them and stick myself right in the middle. Have I mentioned I am stubborn? I don't like the idea that something can control me, and fear is definitely something that controls. For me, often the thing that is more important than the fear is the knowledge that I can handle the fear. I have to prove (to myself) that I can do the things I am afraid to do. Some of my fears are rational, some aren't. Most recently I have found that I am fearful of flying. I have flown pretty much every year for my entire life. When I was little, I loved flying. As I grew, I still enjoyed it (even the mostly horrible airplane food). But within the past decade, I have found myself becoming nervous and paranoid about flying. I haven't had any traumatic episodes involving planes, and there is nothing specific I can point to. I am not even really afraid of crashing or anything particular, I just get really anxious when gearing up for a trip that involves a plane ride. Facing that fear, for me, doesn't just involve getting myself on the plane. Evern since he was born, my son has been with me when I fly. He enjoys flying (other than finding the longer flights boring), and I don't want to influence him in any way with my own fears, so part of me facing my fear is doing it in such a way as to not let on that I am bothered at all. And I think that the act of trying to behave normally helps me to deal with the anxiety, because it focuses my mind on what is important (not building the fear in my son) rather than the fear itself.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, it doesn't go away (Philip K. Dick) I think a lot about the nature of reality. I have kind of a liberal view on what is real. Actually I don't care much for reality, for me things can be 'not real' and still have power. But I love this quote because it is a very practical reminder about the nature of reality and belief.

There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do. (Freyja Stark) There is a truth to this that can be hard to capture. I think that sometimes I feel like there is a rift between who I am on the inside and the life I find myself in on the outside. Parts of it I don't want to change. Trying to reconcile the parts of myself into a cohesive whole is a lot of work! I am a mother and wife to two people who are not on the same path as me. I don't want them to be who they aren't, and so house life is often a compromise. Of course it helps that they can both be quite unobservant, and so don't always notice what I am up to! Sometimes I dream of a world (not within my house so much as on a global scale) where everyone is actually free to practice their beliefs without fear. I think about how different it would be if religious freedom was a real thing. I think we are making huge steps in that direction, but I don't feel we are there yet. And I think that working towards that kind of global acceptance (not just in terms of religion, but in terms of all the differences we still struggle with) can build happiness because it is acting on the beliefs we hold.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. (Kurt Vonnegut) I have written about masks, and about the parts of self that we can step into, which very much fits with this quote. Kind of like, “fake it until you make it,” I think we can step into being someone who we aren't. And we do have to take care that we aren't taking up a persona that doesn't mesh with who we truly are. I don't mean that if you are typically a timid person you shouldn't build a strong and forward persona to call upon when needed, but rather that the further a personality trait is from our innate state of being, the easier it is to get out of control. Strong becomes mean or cold, assertive becomes aggressive, compromising becomes overly passive. We should never step out of a persona regretting our actions. If we do, we should take the time to work through it and adjust so that we are not creating problems for ourselves.

Better to do a good deed at home than to go far away to burn incense. (Chinese proverb) I find it somewhat amusing that this is a Chinese proverb, because in many ways I see the inverse in my family (the Chinese half). Sometimes it feels like my family puts on a face to the world and goes out of their way to be polite and helpful to others, and yet within the family it is more along the lines of nagging and high expectations. Intellectually I know that it is a depth of caring (you expect more from the people you care about because you want more for them), but still. And sometimes there is this concept of taking out the nice dishes for company. Which is all fine and good, I mean I like being a good host and I definitely don't want guests to feel unwelcome in my house. But if you only break out the good stuff for other people, what does that say about the value you place on your own family (or your own self). I think this quote also reminds us that what we do in the privacy of our own home can be more profound than the flashy stuff we do in public. To take an extreme example, if you watch shows about serial killers (which I do), you often see people saying that they never would have guessed that the person was doing these horrible things because they were always polite and nice, or they helped out at the local shelter or what not. It is not always the things we do in public that we should be judged by, but the things we do when no one is watching.

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing exquisitely. I'll end with a quote that I swear is from one of the fanfiction stories I have read (and apologies to the author, but I can't for the life of me remember where I read it). I remember my dad always telling me that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well. And he always meant it in terms of doing things that you have do do but don't enjoy (like chores). And that is definitely a good lesson to learn. Even things that I dislike (I really dislike cleaning the house), I strive to do well for a couple of reasons. Firstly, pride of self: if I am going to do something I feel like I should do it to the best of my ability. Secondly, if I do it right the first time, I might not have to do it again (or at least not as often). In the case of stuff like cleaning, I might not like the process, but I definitely like the results. Thirdly, if I am going to commit my time to something, I'd rather not feel it was a waste of time because I did a shoddy job of it. But I rather like the other version better: “If it's worth doing, it's worth doing exquisitely!” I like flair. I enjoy personality (and not just my own). I think that most things in life are made better because someone really owned it. Sure, you might just be washing the floor, but when you take it that extra step it becomes something more. And if it isn't just a chore, if it is something that you enjoy or want to do, taking that extra step just makes it that much more fabulous! And why not live exquisitely!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When a Pagan Prays (book review)

 (click link to go to the book on Amazon)

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I tend to be a bit rambling, so the fact that “When a Pagan Prays” had it's own share of rambling didn't throw me off. In a lot of ways, it was like following my own train of thought, watching it circle around through different points, coming back to things it felt were important, and then moving on to the next concept.

I was fascinated by the fact it was written by a Druid non-theist. While it is not a path I follow (if you aren't aware, I am more of a Norse heavy Pagan, and definitely a polytheist), I really enjoyed the questioning take on such a topic as prayer. I think that by questioning the most basic concept of prayer (who are we praying to?) it really allowed the book to take the examination of prayer to a much deeper level.

One of the things that really stood out and that I enjoyed a lot were the little examples of prayers that were used throughout the book. They weren't given as things the reader could try, but rather as things the author had prayed to show the standpoint of the part of the book they were included in. I found they gave a lot of character and really made for a sense of connection between reader and author.

I also appreciated the fact that many tough questions were asked, and while they weren't always answered, that was okay too. I think there is a tendency in books to try to come off as an absolute authority, and by leaving some questions unanswered (or with multiple answers given), it let the reader really consider their own answers instead of just being railroaded into the authors opinion.

For example, the question of why prayers don't get answered was brought up several times. I think this is probably one of the most common questions used to argue against prayer (or divinity). And I think it is one of those questions that can't be fully answered in this life. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be asked, and thought about, and debated.

I also really enjoyed the non-theist standpoint of being open that the author took. While it is not my own view, I have always loved thinking about how other people think about things, and for this topic, it worked really well for me. Even as someone who both believes in, prays to and works with specific deities, I have had and sometimes still do have my own questions and doubts. The author's continual questioning made my own questions feel at home.

One of the great things the author does in the book is to give suggestions for how to handle doubts and questions. If she saw something about prayer that didn't work for her, she didn't just avoid it, she looked further into it to try to figure out how it could be made better. One of the first things she struggled with, when starting her own journey into a prayer practice, was who to pray to, and she talked us through the process she went through, not only about how to handle prayer if you are not comfortable talking directly to divinity, but also how she felt about the possibility that something might answer her prayers.

There is plenty of practical ideas about how to approach prayer as well. From the more basic considerations such as where and when to pray, to more complex ideas such as how to formulate the payers we make.

Prayer is examined not only in regards to private practice, but also group work. I have seen public prayer become an argument because people don't always think about how other people might respond to their prayers. Prayer is such a personal thing, especially in a Pagan framework where a gathering might consist of people of very diverse paths. The suggestions given for how to approach group prayer are very well thought out and great guidelines for anyone being asked to pray in a group setting.

While the book is definitely focused on prayer, because prayer is so entwined with concepts of worship, divinity and magic, I found myself thinking about other topics as well as I read. I took notes, and have a lot of things to think about after reading this book.

I would definitely recommend it for anyone wanting to explore the topic of prayer. While the authors Druidry definitely features in the tone and subject of the matter, as a non-Druid, I had no problem following along and benefiting from the topic. I wouldn't call it a how to book, but more like a guidebook to help you create your own path to prayer.

The author ended the book with a very personal story, and I really felt connected to them by the end of the book. Some of my fears and thoughts on prayer were put into the words of the book and I felt a little less isolated for having read it. Prayer is a topic that is often problematic for Pagan's, something not always well talked about or examined, and I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to read this book. There is a quite that I particularly liked that I would like to end with:

“Now I can sit with the grass, and the dirt, and the small things and feel as much like I belong as they do.”

Friday, August 8, 2014

PBP: Week 32- Personal space and privacy

I consider myself a bit of a contradiction. There are many different categories that when I try to think about what I am, I end up not being in the middle, but being on both sides at different times (or even at the same time). I definitely think I am that way when it comes to privacy.

I value my privacy. I have always been a bit of a loner with recluse tendencies. I am a housewife, and we have just one car, so for at least half the week, I am at home, most of the time alone, with no transportation. This works just fine for me. I know lots of people that would hate my life, but I tend to get a little antsy if I don't have some time every day to just be with myself.

But I also love (certain) people. I cherish time that I can get together with friends and hang out. I spend a fair amount of time with my mother in law, and while I enjoy playing many of the computer games that are single player, there are a lot that I enjoy much more if I can play with people I know.

If I don't like you, I don't want you in my personal space, but if you are my friend, I have no problem with casual touching at all. Most of the time, I know what my boundaries are going to be for someone within a few minutes of meeting them.

When it comes to personal sharing, I consider myself very open up to a point. There are things that I feel are private...things that I don't share with anyone. And I do mean with anyone. This is one place where I have a very distinct cut off. I will share 99 percent of myself with anyone who wants to listen. But that one percent is mine and isn't ever coming out. I typically don't ask my friends to keep secrets for me. There are things that I would prefer weren't shared with the general public, but it is less about being worried about my private life being known and more about being respectful of the people in my life who may be uncomfortable with some of the things I am.

This is still something I sort of fight with myself about. I have been more or less out of the broom closet since high school. I am not sure I was ever really hidden except to my parents. And I had the talk with them within a couple of years. But there are still a lot of my beliefs and practices that I feel uncomfortable laying out bare.

Some of it comes back to my belief that some things are just too personal to be shared, even with people you love. My husband and I talk about a good many things. And though he doesn't share my beliefs in really any way whatsoever, we can talk about things that we have very different thoughts on without it becoming a huge conflict between us.

I think privacy is a topic that gets kind of touchy in the Pagan community. Everyone has a different level of personal privacy they are comfortable with, and it can be hard to accept when other people's levels are different. One thing that I struggled with when I was learning was wanting to hear about other people's experiences. It is one thing for me to read instructions for something in a book and quite something else entirely to read about how it went for someone. Being mainly solitary, I didn't always have close pagan friends that I could talk about things with.

And even once I met people (mostly online), personal experiences are often very private things. People might share the mechanics of things they have done: how they set up their shrines, what types of offerings they give on Sabbats, chants they use. But how the ritual made them feel or what their reaction to a working was is much harder to come by.

I know that part of it is that sometimes these are very personal reactions. And sometimes, they can't be explained without sharing intimate life details, which is definitely not something a lot of people are comfortable with, especially over the internet. Sometimes it is that the reactions are not something they can put into words.

I also think that it has become somewhat of a catchphrase in the Pagan community to not give personal experiences because 'your mileage may vary'. Which ironically enough is why I always wanted to read about people's experiences. I know we all approach and respond to things differently. We are influenced by our life, and as my life is probably quite different from yours, we will react differently to the same situation. But there is something very powerful in hearing someone's personal experience.

It brings people together and makes the community more real. Even if your reaction is different from mine, we can discuss those differences and learn about each other. I believed for years I was doing things wrong because I wasn't getting the textbook reactions for practices like grounding. It wasn't until much later, when I started talking to people who were trying to learn and seeking help that I began to realize that I wasn't the only one with those same problems.

No one should feel compelled to share more than they are comfortable with. No matter how much it might help someone else, if it would hurt you, then you shouldn't have to do it. It is your choice how much you feel right in opening up. There are things that I may feel a little uncomfortable sharing, because of personal insecurities, but I am learning how to nudge my boundaries a little so that I can grow. For me, there is a huge difference between sharing something that I feel is a bit embarrassing (which typically I end up sharing and come out of it stronger for having brought it into the light) and sharing something so deeply personal that I feel raw and wounded afterward.

Friday, August 1, 2014

PBP: Week 31- Paperwork

I hate paperwork. It is one thing that I have never really managed to embrace in my practice. Almost every 101 book has a section on the BOS that includes keeping track of rituals and spells you have done. Sort of like your magical diary, but extremely detailed. Even the most bare bones records suggest you write out a complete transcript of the work done (kind of like writing the script for a play: not just the words, but the actions and prep and everything). But quite a lot expand on that, saying that you should really write down anything that might effect the results of your spell: mental/physical state of everyone involved, weather, day/date, astrological info...the list goes on.

The idea is that you can then go back later and see how the different things effected your results and use that information to improve your practice.

It's not just spells and rituals either. I have seen similar instructions for meditation, dreams, energy work, divination, or even just a daily journal.

Just thinking about writing all this stuff down (not to mention the process of going back through later to review and evaluate it all) exhausts me. I think if I were to try to do it, I wouldn't get much done because I would be spending all my time writing about the one thing I had managed to do.

Another problem I have run into with the paperwork side of things is that there is so much going on, that I start forgetting moments as I am writing. And while I am doing whatever practice it is that I am going to record, I am so focused on trying to pay attention to all these crazy details and remember them so I can write them down after, that I am not really focusing on the moment the way I should.

Not to mention that when it comes to things like meditations or dreams, sometimes there are things that I just can't accurately put into words.

A part of me really wishes I could record well though. I love the idea of journaling. I have tried a few different types of journaling practices, and I know that there are more I would like to try. I love the concept of keeping a journal that uses symbols or shorthand (or even color coding) to help keep things organized (and concise).

This might be another one of those places where the two parts of my brain are holding me back by working against each other. One of the things I have read a lot about dream journaling is that you shouldn't try to write the dream out in longhand like a story, but jot down notes, draw symbols or pictures or just write out key words. And you should keep this journal by your bed and do the journaling as soon as you wake up (including in the middle of the night if you wake from a dream).

This completely doesn't work for me. Firstly, I am not the only one sleeping in my bed, and I know my husband would probably make me sleep on the couch if I started turning lights on in the middle of the night to write down my dreams! I'm not that great of a sleeper anyways, so it has been a long journey for me to learn how to go back to sleep when I wake up in the middle of the night, and limiting the amount of light that I am exposed to is a big part of that (I don't even fully open my eyes to go to the bathroom if I need to). I am a pretty solid dreamer, so it is not uncommon for me to have several different dreams over the course of a night.....trying to even make a few notes for each one would make for a very fitful night of sleep.

And I just don't do key words well. I don't feel that I always know what is important in a dream, so I feel compelled to write down every detail I can remember. And as I'm writing down the start of the dream, the end is already fading.

What I find that works best for me is to treat journaling like reflections (and boy wouldn't my high school English teacher get a kick of of that statement). When I was in school, whenever we had to write something for English class, we would then have to write a reflection on our own piece. Typically it would be after we turned the piece in, and the reflection would be our thoughts on what we did well or poorly as well as really any observations we had on our writing process or comments we had gotten from classmates who had read it. I hated writing these.

And yet, if you look through my journals, that is what I write now: reflections. If I attend a ritual, I might right about a part that was particularly moving for me, or a thought I had about how something we did could be adapted to my own path, or something that I might like to read more about. I tend to try to write down any names involved (either of deities, spirits, paths, or practitioners), because I know those are things I tend to forget the quickest, and those are also the easiest place for me to jump into research mode with.

I don't tend to go through my journals with the intent of writing more on past events, though I do sometimes read through them if I am needing a boost. Being primarily solitary, sometimes I need to read about things I have done with others, or even just particularly special moments I have had in my own path. For me, it is like reaching out to like minds, even if the mind is my own. I also sometimes feel like I am at a loss for which way to go or what to work on. By reading over things I have done in the past, I can come up with branches I didn't pursue, or projects that I never finished. I also sometimes write down ideas that come to me if I am currently too busy to work on them, knowing that some day I will come back to it.

My journaling has very little organization. I have books all over: binders with loose leaf papers in them (which tend to be more organized), bound blank books (typically devoted to particular topics), more spiral notebooks than I care to admit (which are the least organized) and files on the computer (and tablet now) which may be little more than a bunch of unrelated sentences, each one pointing me in a different direction.

It is a valuable trade off for me. I would rather end up retracing my steps or taking longer to progress because I might not have kept proper records than loose my interest or pull away from my path because it no longer fills me with joy and instead feels like a job.