Friday, September 26, 2014

PBP: Week 39- Time

It's been said that time is the only thing we are truly limited by, and while it is definitely true that we can leverage our time, it is also true that we all get exactly the same amount of time in a day, no matter your age, race, financial status, political affiliation or any of the million other categories we shove ourselves into.

And yet time can be subjective too. The old saying, “time flies when you are having fun,” and the alternative idea that when you are bored or doing something you don't enjoy then it seems to last forever. If you are truly focused on something, time ceases to exist, each moment seeming to stretch and stretch and though it feels like you just started, you realize hours have passed.

I am pretty broad in my interests. I find so many things intriguing, that I can enjoy a great many things. This is definitely a two edged sword. On the one hand, I can be happy doing a vast many things. On the other hand, I will never fully explore all the things I find interesting.

Time management is something I don't do particularly well. I have a kind of strange relationship with time. I don't do time well. In my daily life, time has very little meaning. I am a stay at home mom, so I don't have as many time constraints as some might. But I do have things that happen on a schedule. In fact, I tend to schedule more, everyday, than my husband (which drives us both crazy on his days off when we have things to do). Because I tend to loose track of time easily, I find that my days flow better when I lay out the things that happen at specific times alongside the things that I need to get done that day.

So in the morning, I will plan my day with markers: I wake, stretch and meditate, then eat breakfast and drink my coffee. Lunch and dinner happen at specific times. My son comes home from school (or I pick him up on the day he stays after), my husband wakes up (when he is on night shift) or comes home from work (when he is on days). Right now I am helping out my in-laws, so I drive over to their place to take out the dogs. If I have things (like grocery shopping) that have to be done, I figure out when I want to do those as well.

My husband prefers to just do things as he thinks of them. But that doesn't work for me. If I don't set times to do things, I will get caught up in whatever I am doing and time will slip by me and when I look up at the clock, it will be way past when I thought and I will then end up stressed and rushing trying to get everything done in time (and often this is when things don't get done). For me, the planning makes my life easier and at the end of the day when I look back, I feel better about my day. I have also noticed that I often actually get more done when I have a schedule.

The key to organizing my time is prioritizing. This extends to all aspects of my life, not just household and family chores. A couple years ago, my husband got me a Kindle for Christmas (he is Atheist, so we do Christmas at home). I am an absolute book addict, so I was ecstatic! And I quickly found the millions of books that you can get for free. I think I downloaded a couple hundred in the first week. Anything and everything that sounded interesting. And my interest can be peaked not only by things that I find personally interesting, but also by things that might effect my life (such as books written by fundamentalists of other religions, either explaining their world view, or extolling the dangers of my own path).

I quickly ended up with way more books that I could possibly read, even if I was reading every waking moment of my days. I was downloading 5-10 books every day, and rarely reading even one a day. Worse, I felt compelled to actually read them all, even when it was obvious in the first couple of pages that they were kind of horrible. This is something I have always struggled with in books: I don't want to let go of them once I get them. If they are awful, I will still hoard them because I might want to read them one day (or I maintain hope that they will get better later on in the book).

I was talking with my dad one day, about kindle books, and the many things I was interested in reading about. And his response to me was more or less that there may be all these things that peak my interest, but just because it is interesting doesn't mean it's actually worth my time to read it.

At first I was kind of resentful about this. I mean, if I was interested in it, shouldn't I be able to pursue it? But the more I thought about it, the more I started to see it in a different light. There is only so much time, and so if I have an hour of free time, what should I spend it on. There are plenty of things that I find interesting or enjoyable, tons of things I could easily spend an hour on. But if I just pick a random interest out of a hat, I might never have time for the things that are deeply important to me.

It is a winnowing process for me. And it is hard. I don't want to pass things by, and so much is fascinating. I don't want to admit that the book I was so looking forward to reading ends up not being what I thought it would be (this happens a lot to me...the summary sounds incredible, and I end up being disappointed because it doesn't live up to the picture in my head...but I so want the picture in my head I don't want to admit that it isn't going to match up).

But I am learning to let things go. To stop reading books that I don't like. To delete (or sell or give away) books that I found worthless. To really be honest with myself about the likelihood of a re-read. To accept that I will not learn all the skills and abilities that I think would be neat in this lifetime.

And this allows me to turn my focus onto the things that really matter. To do the things that are part of my core being, the essence of who I am. I may still dabble in other things (because sometimes you don't know what something means to you until you try it), but I work really hard on forcing myself to be honest about how important something is to me.

Friday, September 19, 2014

PBP: Week 38- Spell books and Spell-a-day Calendars

My very first Pagan book that I owned was a spell book, I admit it. When I was first starting, I was definitely obsessed with reading new spells. While I did love (and read lots of) theory books or more general how-to type of books, I always wanted to look through every spell book I came across. I still do.

It's not that I don't like writing my own things, as I have always loved making my own spells. I was a huge poetry fan, both more structured and free form, so writing the wording for spells is pretty natural for me. I also love ritual, and finding things to use towards my goal (or finding ways to use what I have towards the goal I want) is endlessly entertaining for me.

I did use the books when I was first starting. But it quickly became frustrating for me. I would find a spell that I wanted to do, and the wording would be clunky or way to long. The one that really amused me was one that was a spell to call upon the Muses and bring inspiration to you. It was an almost page long invocation that 'must' be memorized. I figured it would probably take me less time to get through any type of creative block than it would to remember the whole passage.

Sometimes published spells call for ingredients that I didn't have. Most of the times this was obscure herbs or very specific incense blends. I started practicing in high school, I lived at home and didn't have a lot of disposable income. I didn't have any type of herb supplies, and didn't know of a good place to get them.

But I learned a lot from the spell books. I started adjusting spells: either making up for ingredients I didn't have with my own substitutions, or rewording parts of them so that I felt they flowed better (or so the words matched my personal goals better). And now, I still look to spell books for inspiration. Sometimes I will read a passage or verse that I absolutely fall in love with and know I want to use for something, even if I don't care much for the rest of the spell. Or I'll see an interesting bit of symbolic action or ingredient and think of different ways to use that process in my own workings.

I was thinking a couple months back, about spell-a-day calendars. I have been reading one this whole year, and for each day of the year, there is a spell to honor a particular deity. It is mainly a spoken passage to be read, suggested foods for the day, a chant and a type of offering. Most days it isn't something that I feel moved to do.

But it did make me think. I know one of the hard things for many people when they start is learning to write your own spells and becoming comfortable with actually doing the workings. Having a daily practice of spellwork helps build the skills needed to craft and fine tune spells to any need, as well as building up the skills used in workings and the confidence in your own ability. And yet there are plenty of days where I don't feel a pressing need to do anything specific, so trying to decide what I might use for my spellwork that day leaves me feeling very uninspired.

So why not use a spell book or other resource that is full of spells as a launching point? If you have one that is calendar based, that is particularly easy, you just go to the day's date, and see what is there. If there is a part of it that really appeals to you, take that single part and build your own working based on it. Perhaps you like the theme, but it's not quite right. Personally, I am married, so any 'find a new love' spell wouldn't be something I would do, but I could easily work one into a 'bring new inspiration into your current relationship' or something like that. You might like part of the chant used, but feel that it might address a different problem better. You might feel a strong pull towards a single ingredient, which might lead you into a bit of research into what that ingredient means to you or new ways to use it.

If you just have a book with lots of spells in it (or website, or even your own notes on spells that you have liked), then flip through it. Think of it like a form of book divination: you flip through and pick one without looking, and that will be the thing you need to work on that day. Again, you tinker with it to make it really fit you, but this way you can also spend a bit of time thinking about why the one you picked fits for that day. That introspection can help you tune the spell itself to be really well suited to your needs.

I think that spellwork has a kind of bad reputation in the Pagan community. I have seen a lot of (to me) strange attitudes on casting spells, and sometimes have seen it stated flat out that casting spells 'for personal reasons' is selfish and shouldn't be done. But we all want to be better, and doing things for ourselves is how we grow. I don't think we should all go about casting to mess with people or to take things that don't belong to us, but I also think that if you do it will effect you in ways you probably didn't think about.

Making spellwork a regular practice helps cultivate a deeper way of thinking about casting. When you really start thinking about the workings you do, and why you do them, you examine your motivations and desires. And you may find things you want to work on because you don't like the desires you find. Or you may find that you shy away from doing things for yourself because you don't feel worthy or you think you should be doing things for other people, and so you might want to spend some time working on cherishing your self. I strongly believe that in order to help other people we need to build ourselves up to a place where we are loved and love ourselves, where we are strong and secure in our own being. If we don't start in this place, then the actions we take for others are flavored by our insecurities and doubts.

I don't think that daily casting is a bad thing. I think that by saving it until it is a last resort makes it feel somehow unclean. It's like you are saying that it isn't good enough to use on little stuff, that you only should be focusing on the really important stuff. But if you wait until it is the last thing you try, that's like calling that last person on your friends list to go see a movie with you: that friend knows that you only called them because you didn't have anyone else to call. And eventually, they will stop calling you back when you call.

Spells don't have to be huge, elaborate affairs. We can take moments to acknowledge the magic and wonder of the world, to tap into that power that is both within and around us, and make a conscious choice to work on changing our world for the better. Each time we make the decision to focus like this, to bring our desires into our thoughts and then act on them, we reinforce those desires. We strengthen our will and we build up our belief. We put one more grain of sand into the glass. Each grain may not be much on it's own, but if you put a grain in every day of your life, how big would the glass have to be to hold them all?

Magic is something that we have to hold onto. We have to practice opening our eyes to it. We have to block out all the negative messages the world tells us. The more you tap into magic, through spells, through ritual, through worship and prayer and meditation, the stronger your connection to it will be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Naming the Goddess (book review)

(click the link to go to the Amazon page for the book)
**Note** the e-book is on sale until September 26, 2014!

I have to just say: this book is fabulous! I am not sure I can really say enough good things about it. I typically am not that interested in the deity section of books because most of the time the descriptions are pretty generic. This book was nothing like that.

The book itself is divided into two sections. The first is a series of thirteen essays on a variety of topics dealing with the Goddess. These tend to be more broad, dealing with categories or themes rather than specific deities. The second section looks at a huge selection of specific Goddesses from all over the world.

In the introduction, various ways of looking at the Goddess are discussed. This is something that I see discussed all the time, and I thought it was very appropriate to start the book with an explanation of some of the major ways that people experience the Goddess and her many faces. Even though you may only relate to the Goddess in all of the ways explained, you will probably meet others who experience her in each of these ways, and so having the basic understanding of the major ways that people approach the Goddess makes discussions with others much easier.

Before the first essay is a trio of poems about the Maiden, Mother and Crone. These were breathtaking. I was extremely moved by the emotion and primal experience that was evoked by the words.

I won't say that I agree with the point taken on all of the essays, but I did find something interesting about each of them. Some of them really resonated with me and I agreed wholeheartedly with their standpoint. Others, I felt that I was on the opposite side of the fence. But universally, they made me stop and think about what I felt. And I think that is something really important to do. My path is one that is built on asking questions, both of others and of myself. I think that by examining our thoughts on both deep and emotional topics, we uncover so much more than if we just skim the surface.

The essays touch on some very core issues, not only within the Pagan community but also dealing with femininity. While this might be easier for women to relate to, I do feel that the topics discussed are things that we all should think about. I don't feel that the issues that face women are just for women, and the more men that think and discuss these types of topics, the better off the world will be (likewise, I think that the more women discuss topics that may have been traditionally male will bring benefit to all).

I am not going to talk about each of the essays, but I would like to share some things that really spoke to me. One of the threads I felt throughout the whole book was about experiencing things for yourself, and letting your experiences build your practice instead of letting other people's experience shape your own. I think that we are poised in a unique position, where there is no true 'standard' that we have to adhere to. It is both liberating and daunting. I have had plenty of moments of fear and insecurity about my own perceptions of things, especially in regards to deities. It takes a lot of bravery to speak out about what you have seen and felt, especially when your experiences don't match with the more well known faces of a particular deity (or when you are approached by a deity that you can't find any other references to).

Times change, and several of the essays explored how the changing times effect the Goddess and how we interact with her. Many deities held influence over things that aren't a huge part of our life today, so how do we interact with these Goddesses when such a huge part of them is not something we are familiar with? Likewise, there are things that were considered commonplace and acceptable in the past that we would never consider today, so how do we deal with deities who have take part in these activities? As media and fiction explores myths and legends in film, tv and books, new perceptions of deities are formed. Should we integrate these aspects and if we should, how do we do that?

I think these are all questions that don't have easy answers. They are things that we don't just answer, but that we work through. Much like uncovering deeper meaning inside ourselves, we learn about the Goddess through working with her, and experiencing her in her many forms.

And speaking of many forms, the second half of the book is a treasure trove of Goddess information. I was so very impressed by this part of the book. Each Goddess was shown to us through the eyes of someone who obviously cares deeply about that particular Goddess. It made it less of a catalog and more of a sharing. And being mostly solitary, I value this kind of approach so much. I would rather read a single page of someone's heartfelt words on a Goddess they love than ten pages of scholarly data that has no soul.

Many of the Goddesses shared were ones I was familiar with, and yet even with ones I have worked with personally, I found myself learning things. And the information wasn't only about that specific Goddess. Often, while describing a Goddess, the authors would also describe related information: Gods (or other Goddesses) that had dealings with her, practices she (or her worshipers) performed, holy sites sacred to her or legends involving her.

And it wasn't all just information or facts. The authors also gave seeds of thought or ideas that they felt related to the Goddesses: ideas that sometimes challenge stereotypes that exist in our community. Are all maiden Goddesses beautiful? How much are our perceptions of Goddesses tinted by the Christian beliefs of those who wrote about them during the time period (as many of the written records were put on paper by the victors)? Do Goddesses grow and transform over time?

As much as I loved reading and learning more about Goddesses I was familiar with, I think I enjoyed the ones that were absolutely brand new to me even more. And there were plenty of them! Not only Goddesses from pantheons that I haven't read much about (like Australian Goddesses), but Goddesses who are just now being rediscovered. I can't even imagine how it would feel to be approached by a Goddess who has been lost to the mists of time, and yet there were authors here explaining that very experience.

And that really made me think, not just about these Goddesses who were lost and are being found again, but also about where we are as a global community. I think that there are so many ways in which the Pagan community is growing and expanding every day. It feels like we are constantly pushing the boundaries and coming out of our shells. Things (like our personal relationships and experiences with our deities) that weren't much discussed in print are now getting shared, and this is so wonderful for all of us. I know I can't be the only one who has felt absolutely alone in their practice at times, and I know one of the things I always craved was the personal touch. There were plenty of books out there that gave the steps for ritual, the basic description of a deity or the meaning of a holiday, but not that many where people talked about the things they had done.

I know a lot of this is highly personal, which is why I feel so grateful that these authors shared so much. I took so many notes while reading this book, and know I will be reading it again and again to pick up on things I might have missed. Many of the authors also included further resources in their bio at the end of their article, so there are a lot of websites and other sources I look forward to pursuing.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in deepening their relationship with the Goddess (or with someone who works with the Goddess). If you are wanting to expand your knowledge of Goddesses, this is a great resource that covers a lot of the major myths and legends associated with Goddesses. I think it would make a fabulous book for group study and discussion, or as a starting point for personal research and journaling.

Friday, September 12, 2014

PBP: Week 37- Sacrifice: Candles

Sacrifice is a loaded word for a lot of people. It brings to mind images of blood and death and things that a lot of Pagans are trying to distance themselves from. The Pagan community is working hard to dispel a lot of negative images it maintains, and sacrifice (particularly human and animal) is one of those things that a lot of people think we do.

Sacrifice is a part of our global history. It is a part of the history of almost all religions (I'm seriously drawing a blank here trying to think of one that didn't offer up sacrifices at some point in time). Sacrifices could be human, animal, plant, time, art, or any number of other things that were seen as being pleasing to the gods.

Sacrifice is something a lot of people struggle with. And many of them don't even realize they struggle with it because they shy away from the word sacrifice. If your church requests a tithe, that is a form of sacrifice of money. If you feel you should be doing daily prayer, that is a sacrifice of time. If you give offerings of honey and milk, that is a sacrifice of goods.

What makes sacrifice meaningful isn't that the gods are pleased (although that is definitely a huge part of sacrifice), but that you are giving of yourself. There are levels of giving, and not every sacrifice should be huge. But on the other hand, if you only give the things that it is easy for you to give, then are you truly making a sacrifice?

I think the trend is to associate sacrifice with the huge, grand gestures. And I think there is a place for those. For me, big sacrifices are things that I tend to do at festivals, or if I feel something pivotal is changing in my life. I have never felt that the gods want me to deplete myself, and trying to maintain this high level of sacrifice just isn't viable. Not only that, but if you make the big sacrifices your normal sacrifice, they tend to even out and start to become ordinary.

So on an every day level, there are the smaller sacrifices. Daily offerings and daily prayer and regular observances: these are the things that give a beat to our life, the background music that give structure to the more dramatic sacrifices we give.

What I really want to talk about today is candles. I think that in a lot of ways, we take candles for granted. Pretty much every 101 book talks about candles. Candle magic is one of the first things many of us learned to do. And candles are a very standard part of most forms of practice. Candles can be the focus of a working, or just a way of providing mood lighting.

I think that candles make a perfect representation of small sacrifice for a lot of reasons. They range in sizes, and you can get small ones (like tealights or birthday candles) for very little money, which is good for something you will be using a lot of. If you are strapped for time, you can use birthday candles (which don't take long to burn down) or taper candles (which can be easily lit for just a few minutes at a time without a lot of waste). They come in almost every color imaginable, so can be suited to any purpose. They are easy to carve with minimal tools (you can use a toothpick, pencil, or even your fingernail), and so can be even further fine tuned toward your specific purpose.

Candles are also widely accepted, so even if you are not open about your practices, you can buy and have candles without people looking at you strangely or asking you questions you might not be ready to answer.

And lets look at the process of burning the candle. The candle encompasses all four elements: earth in the solid wax (both before being lit and that which re-solidifies after it is put out), air in the smoke, fire in the flame and water in the melted wax. The act of lighting the candle transforms and consumes it. In the lighting and extinguishing, each of the four elements is both brought into being and destroyed.

I have been fascinated with candles since I was a little girl. When I was in grade school, I was afraid of matches (and lighters). I wanted the candles lit, but I didn't want to light them. My mother told me that we could have candles lit with dinner whenever I wanted, but I had to light them myself. I am so grateful that she did that, because it didn't take me that long to overcome my fear, and my love of both fire and candles started then.

I definitely think there is something innately magical about candles. Perhaps it is the fact that they aren't a part of our modern life. Perhaps it is that they are a much softer light than the electrical ones we are used to. For me, a huge part of it is the smell of them, and not just the scented ones. I use plain white taper candles for my nightly prayer, and they are unscented. They have a feel and smell to them that just screams decadence to me (the ones I am using right now are not cheap candles and you can tell). I also absolutely love the smell of the wick as it is extinguished.

It is easy to take candles for granted. They are cheap, plentiful and often treated like a simple consumable tool: a resource to be used but not as glamorous or important as our other tools. And yet I think that there is something very noble about candles. In order to be a part of their work, they are giving their entire being. They are the epitome of sacrifice, and I think it can only deepen our workings to acknowledge and honor that sacrifice.

Friday, September 5, 2014

PBP- Week 36: Risks and Results

My parents work with a business structure that involves dream building and other visualization exercises. We were talking about it one day, and he made the comment that he thought that one of the things that was holding him back was that their life was too comfortable. He could (and did) desire things, but they were all in the category of 'wants' and not 'needs'.

The model used for business related visualization is very similar to a lot of magical workings. You have a goal (or dream), and you put energy into fully visualizing it. You can use affirmations, pictures, writing or whatever medium you feel most moved to use, but you really have to commit. It has to be something that you feel so deeply that it almost becomes the central focus of your life. This type of focused concentration changes the way the brain sees itself, and you will find yourself moving towards where you want to be, sometimes by very startling coincidences.

That type of focus requires a similar degree of risk. Not always in the physical sense, although often when people want something badly enough, they do put their jobs or home or family on the line to pursue it. But definitely in the mental and emotional sense. When you commit to a dream to this degree it does change who you are inside. You become a new you. And the longer the inner you and the outer you don't match, the more it can eat at you.

But like a lot of things, there is no growth without risk. If you never shed your old skin and become someone new, you will stagnate. Your current skin may feel right, but it may be slowly suffocating you, pinching off bits of you so that they atrophy and wither away or keeping you from reaching new heights.

The big thing about risk (and dreaming) is that it really doesn't work unless you jump in with both feet. You can't really dip your toes into it. You can definitely act carefully and think things through, but there is almost always a point of no return. A cliff that must be jumped from if you want to fly. Change is not only inevitable it is irreversible. Think about it, even if you manage to go back to a place you used to be at, you have changed and that makes it something new. Every breath we take changes us, and there is no going back.

But with this risk comes reward. Whenever we open ourselves up to change and really embrace it, we are stretching our wings a little bit more. Even if we stumble and don't quite reach our goal (and sometimes we do try for things that we aren't ready for), we have still summoned up our courage and made the effort. The next time we set a goal, even for something of a very different nature, it will be a little bit easier. We will remember the times before that we were afraid or nervous or wary and that we were able to move past it. We will remember how hard it was to get moving that very first time, but also how the second time it wasn't quite as hard.

I also think that belief is a big part of the risk/reward cycle. And belief is like a muscle we must build too. Society teaches us to be skeptical. We are raised to look for the why's, to search out the ways in which the mystery can be explained, instead of learning to accept miracles as the wonderful things they are. Belief is what fuels our dreams, belief that we can be and have the things we want. Belief that we are good enough, strong enough, deserving enough. And it can be hard to build that belief. Some times we have to start with little things, tiny things, stuff that seems almost trivial. Perhaps instead of working on a new job, we will work on getting through the next big meeting. But each time we dream a little, we build up our capacity for belief.

Cause and effect is a tricky thing. Science would have us believe that there are distinct events that lead up to an inevitable conclusion. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of science. But what many people miss is that if you go deeper into science, we discover that 2 + 2 doesn't always equal 4. I think one of the greatest (and most convoluted and thought provoking) scientific theories I have read about delved into quantum mechanics and the improbability of the creation of our own universe. That the circumstances for life are so exact that the probability of it happening the way it did is so crazy as to be almost implausible.

So what does this have to do with using visualization to achieve results? Well logically, no matter how much we think about something, it doesn't make a lot of sense for it to actually change the world. And yet, when we do visualize, we often see changes. This is where our belief comes back into play. If we see changes and we spend all our time and effort trying to deconstruct how they came to be, we are not enforcing our beliefs. In fact, we are undermining our own process. If, we instead give gratitude, not only for the results, but for the many people and things that helped us get there (all those pesky coincidences), we focus on the wonder of it all and we build up our belief.

The greater our belief, the more we feel we can risk. The more we risk, the greater our belief gets built. It doesn't matter really how the results happen. We are better and stronger for the process.

So what if you risk and fail? How does that effect our belief? I think there are a lot of ways to look at it. Many people find comfort in the concept that they didn't get one thing because 'it wasn't meant to be'. Often this is based on the idea that a higher power knows better and that what we wished for might not have actually been in our best interests (or that there is something better that we will or have received instead). I often think of it as swimming along a river. I can swim with the same intensity each time, but depending on the state of the river, I may or may not actually get where I am going. If the current is with me, then it is easy, but if the current is against me, then I may not succeed. The current can be anything from the belief or actions of those around me to the laws of physics.

The main key to using failure to reinforce belief is that however you look at it, the reason for the failure is not that the process itself doesn't work, but rather that some unknown (to you) force interacted with your actions to create a different change than you were working towards. It always comes back to belief. Keep your belief in yourself and your process strong and you will see results.