Friday, December 26, 2014

PBP- Week 52: Zeitgeist

I have been in love with the word zeitgeist since I was in middle school and heard it for the first time: the spirit of an age. I think that a lot can be learned by tapping into different zeitgeist, not only for use in our present lives, but also for understanding the era in which the zeitgeist was born.

One thing I see a lot, is that people will look back at the past and try to judge actions by modern standards. And on the one hand that is important, because we need to look to the past and see what actions were taken that we no longer find acceptable. This is how we draw upon the past for lessons, how we move forward with conscience. But I think it is also important to try to look at the actions of a time in the eyes of that time. To understand how the person acting might have thought. Sometimes this gives us a huge insight into how people came to the conclusions they did.

Why is this important? Because we are always making new mistakes. We can use the lessons learned in the past, apply them to a new situation and try to see how future generations might look back and view us.

But more than that, zeitgeist refers to the spirit of a time. So one aspect of the zeitgeist of WWII would be terror and conflict. It is the prevailing attitude, the energy that connects all beings in a time. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes subtle. And I think that part of what defines and age is it's zeitgeist. When the zeitgeist changes, the age changes. This, to me, is more definitive than a date or event.

So what makes up the zeitgeist of our current age? When I look around, I see a lot of change. I think the energy of today is that of radical change. The earth is changing, we have seen a lot of violent changes in the form of natural disasters. We see a lot of social changes, issues that have been simmering on the back burner for a long time are being brought into the light, are being rediscussed and re-evaluated.

I also think we are changing our spiritual viewpoint. So many things that are accepted in spiritual communities are being shared with the world and welcomed with open arms. It warms my heart to read about hospitals offering energy healing to their patients. To hear things like aromatherapy, meditation and visualization being discussed as valid and valuable.

I think we are getting ready to enter a new age, a new zeitgeist. I think that all this change is going to need time to settle, and that we will burst through into a new place and then spend some time getting used to it. I am hopeful and hold in my heart the vision of acceptance and peace that I think is within our reach. I believe that we can build this energy, that we can create the new zeitgeist and break free from the fear and judgment that is so prevalent in this time of change.

This is my last post of the 2014 Pagan Blog Project. It is the ending of the age of this endeavor for me. I found so much of myself by doing this, and I hope that anyone who has read any of my blogs has enjoyed the bit of me I have shared. It was definitely something that pushed me to think of myself in new ways, to bare parts of my self that I tend to keep inside, and to bite the bullet and post my thoughts and be true to my own heart.

But as one thing ends, another must begin, so next year, the posts will continue, and I'll share more about that soon. I wish everyone bright blessings, and much love, and may you find all that you seek in life!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

PBP: Week 51- Zippers

Almost the end of the year, and though this post ended up late again, I am really happy with the whole process. I think it was a wonderful thing to do, and even though the official Pagan Blog Project might be ending, one of the forums I am a member of is doing our own version in the coming year!

But the topic: zippers. I love to craft stuff, and always pick up little free crafting idea pamphlets when they have them at the store. I was going through some the other day and saw some crafts for zippers, and it got me thinking.

We have zippers on so many things these days: clothing, bags, shoes. Most of us use zippers multiple times a day, and probably never think about it (or how much easier a zipper is to use verses anything besides maybe velcro). Many zippers have a hole in the pull tab, so it is very easy to add a charm to them. Even if they don't you can use a bit of nail polish or marker to add a symbol. Every time you use that zipper you will then be activating the symbol or charm.

A zipper works by weaving together the two sides of a thing so that it becomes a continuous whole. This makes them great for bringing together two things that may be connected but not working in harmony. You can take a bit of thread and stitch in your desires in the small area between the actual zipper and the thing it is attached to (or even tuck the stitches in the extra fabric where the zipper is sewn on).

If working with something like a coat zipper, why not add some protection? When you put the coat on and zip it up, you benefit from the energy you worked into it. If the zipper is on a purse, wallet or other pocket type thing, you can add security, so that the things you put inside will be safe every time you zip it up.

I have a purse that has a bunch of pockets on the outside that are closed with zippers, as well as a zipper to keep the main bag closed. It came with little faux leather pull tabs tied onto the zipper pulls, but I replaced the main one with a knotwork pull with stones attached to the ends. I have also made some jewelry style pulls with lobster claw hooks that could be used as zipper pulls. There are lots of wonderful supplies in the jewelry making selection. Many charms (for charm bracelets) come with the little clips so you can just hook them straight on. I have some like that on my backpack zippers.

Even beyond zippers that are already attached to things, you can use zippers in your workings. You can buy zippers at a craft store, and often you can find them at stores that have any kind of sewing section. They can be used whole, cut to different lengths, or separated into halves. There are a lot of beautiful zipper crafts that could easily be adapted to hold a spell or be the focus of a working (especially if you are wanting to gift it to the recipient).

Zippers would make a great tool for working on strengthening relationships. Dedicate each side of the zipper to one person in the relationship. You can sew on charms or representations of the qualities that they bring to the partnership or even the things they need fulfilled in their life. The zipper pull can carry symbols of harmony or communication. Start the spell with the zipper fully unzipped, and as you work, zip it up. If you want to really bind it well, you can sew the zipper shut after it is zipped up.

They also can work to help sever unhealthy relationships. Again, you would set up each side to represent a person, this time focusing on the things they need on their own, or the things they are loosing to the relationship. The zipper pull could be dedicated to being healthy, to happiness or even simply to separation. For this one, start with the zipper closed, and then unzip it. If you don't want to completely remove the people from each other's lives, you can leave it connected at the bottom, or if you want them gone you can separate the two pieces entirely.

You could also combine the two and do a spell to both strengthen and separate. For example, lets say you have a pretty rocky relationship with your in-laws. You don't really like them as people, but you want to get along with them better when you are around them. You could set the zipper up with the parts you don't want to associate with at the top, and the parts you want to get along with on the bottom. Leave the pull in between the two, and charge it with balance or harmony. Likewise, if you have someone that you used to be in a closer relationship with but want to create some separation but still have some connection with, for example an ex-partner who is the parent of your children. You can set the top part of the zipper for the things you want to release from your relationship and the bottom for things you want to strengthen. The pull can be dedicated to transition or peace. Then unzip the zipper to the middle.

You aren't limited to relationships between people either. You can use a zipper to bring together qualities, to merge energies into a project or separate yourself from a past trauma. The threads on the zipper itself can represent steps on a ladder, taking you from the very beginning of a project when nothing is established, all the way through to the end when it is complete. The phrase 'zip your lip' refers to keeping silent, so you can use a zipper to keep a secret or to open up lines of communication and uncover information.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Pagan Portals- The Awen Alone

 (link to Amazon page)

I have always had a fascination with Druidry, since I was little, but my personal spirituality has never explored the practice deeply. I was very excited to read this book, and it didn't let me down. I think that Joanna did a wonderful job of opening the door to Druidry and making it approachable.

The book opens with a short 'day in my life' story, which I think was fabulous. I really enjoyed the simple and down to earth way that she describes her activities. The many times, throughout the day, when she stops and takes just a moment to honor her path, really makes it visible how anyone could add these moments into their own life, no matter how much time they feel like they have. I always love people who can make spiritual practices relatable to our busy, modern, lives.

One of the first things that she addresses is the debate between solitary and group work. I think she sums up the major points quite nicely, and her ultimate message is that both have their strengths, and you need to do what works for you. Sometimes that can be group work, but it can also be solitary work, and that just because you don't have a group to work with doesn't mean you can't build a solid practice for yourself.

Joanna talks for a little bit about the history of Druids and the definition of Druidry. Then she explains Awen. Awen is one of those concepts that always felt a bit cerebral to me. Perhaps it was because I hadn't studied it extensively, but her explanations made it real to me. I had always understood Awen to be inspiration, and kind of a artistic type of thing, like I might be inspired to write something or create art. But she expands on the definition of inspiration, that it can literally be transcribed as 'to breathe in'. This brings a whole new level to the concept of Awen for me. Breathing in is a quite physical way of internalizing something, and I never feel like I have really learned a thing until I have internalized it. I also like the idea that we are constantly exposing ourselves to Awen, to inspiration, to spirituality. With every breath we take.

She then brings this breath idea around, that through the breathing in and breathing out, we are creating a conversation with the world around us. And there is definitely an exchange going on every second of ever day. I think we often take this exchange for granted, and that we aren't always aware of what we are taking and what we are giving back. I think there is a lot of value in bringing our focus back to the breath, back to the moment and back to the ways in which we are conversing with the world around us.

Though she does talk about deities in Druidry, she doesn't go into specifics. Rather, she explores the different ways we may experience the divine, with a special focus on seeing divinity in the natural world.

One topic I really enjoyed was her take on ancestors. I have thought (and written) before a lot about the difference between ancestors of the blood and those of the spirit: those we are related to through our genetics and those we feel a spiritual connection to. I am always glad to see others write about things like ancestors of the spirit, because I think it is a powerful concept that deserves attention. But she added in another type of ancestor that was new to me.

Joanna calls them ancestors of the future. She uses this term both to refer to us, those of us practicing right now, as well as future generations to come. But the thought is very similar, and it is a good one. When thinking of myself as an ancestor of the future, I definitely want to leave behind a legacy that future generations will be proud of. Not only in the way I treat the world, but the thoughts and ideas I leave behind. I also think that giving consideration to future generations and what they might need, can lead us to living more consciously in this lifetime.

One final ancestor type is ancestors of place. I know a lot of Pagan's work to connect with spirits and deities local to the area they live in, even if those spirits are somewhat outside of their preferred path. But I think it is a good idea to add in ancestors of place. I definitely like the idea of reading up on where you live, connecting with the generations that lived there before and keeping up a good relationship with those who have passed in the area.

She looks at the yearly cycle both in the eight major festivals as well as the four seasons. I loved that she connected different types of ancestors to different parts of the year. I think she gave a very good outline of things that you can do throughout the year to better connect with the energies of the time and the world around you. She also includes suggestions for prayer, meditation and an ongoing inner pathworking that you can work your way through.

Joanna covers many of the basic techniques such as meditation, ritual casting, altar setup, prayer and pathworking. I think that her instructions are simple enough that someone brand new could follow them easily. But she offers her own take on them, so even if you are already familiar with them, you may find new ways to deepen your own practice.

I found this book to be very inspirational. Even though I live in a fairly rural area, most of my day is not spent out in nature. I always struggle with books that only give suggestions that include long walks in deep woods or being otherwise alone and secluded in a natural setting. Though the focus of this book was on connecting with nature, I felt that Joanna did a really fantastic job of making that connection something that everyone could feel was within their grasp. I also think that she gave lot of consideration to how most people find time to be hard to come by. Many of her activities are easily done in small chunks of time, and are not intimidating if you have a busy life with little spare time.

If you feel spiritually connected to nature, even if you aren't particularly drawn to Druidry, I think you would enjoy this book. If you are interested in Druidry, but haven't read much about it, or are intimidated by more indepth books, I think this is an excellent starting point that will give you a foundation to work from as you go forward.

Friday, December 12, 2014

PBP: Week 50- Yin Yang

I'm not a big fan of absolute binary systems. I don't think things can be divided into black or white. I do like the concept of yin and yang however. I love the idea that within one extreme, at the height of one power, there is a tiny dot of it's opposite. And that the transition from one to the other isn't a line in the sand but a graceful curve. Each quality fades into the other.

I think the other thing I like about the yin yang idea is that the qualities aren't seen in opposition, but complimentary. It isn't the fight of light and dark, but how the light plays with the dark and how the shadows are formed.

There are a lot of areas in life that we have looked at in absolute binaries for many years, and are just starting to see in shades of gray. To take the most basic, one of the first things most children learn is that there are boys and girls. And society is beginning to acknowledge that the boy or girl absolute might not be accurate. Not only are traditionally assigned masculine and feminine traits not always exhibited by all boys and all girls, but we are seeing more and more people coming forward who don't feel that they fit as either a boy or a girl, but somewhere in between.

In the magical community, for a long time there was a black and white division. People talked about white magic as things that were helpful and healing and black magic as things that hurt or controlled. When I first started it was very much an either or thing, and it was very slanted toward black. If you talked to a random person, they would assure you that most Pagans were white workers, that we worked for the good of all and were healers. And yet, if you probed a bit, they would tell you that a good witch never did harm. Yes, NEVER. If you ever considered taking an action that would cause harm, even if it was for a greater cause or to protect a loved one, then you were no longer a white witch. Same for control or any number of other no-no's. By those standards I highly doubt the majority of witches were white...especially considering how many teens there were that were interested.

For a while, people talked about gray witches, and this concept still is used today. If I had to qualify myself, this is what I would consider myself. I dwell quite firmly in the shadows. More often, however, now you hear that 'there is no color to magic, it is neutral, what makes the difference is how you use it.” I do think this has some validity, but I also think it opens the door for all kinds of abuse. It becomes much easier to justify taking darker actions by saying you were doing it for a good reason. At the end of the day, it is you who has to live with the consequences, so you do what you can tolerate. Or you do something and live to regret it and it becomes a lesson of where the line is that you will no longer cross.

But to bring it back to yin and yang, I think that there is a lot of value in looking for that speck of other that is inside of us. If you consider yourself to be a thing, then explore the things that you don't consider yourself to be and really look for what qualities you might have inside of you.

Sometimes you end up coming full circle too. When I was younger, I got this crazy idea that I wanted to be a nurse. I really don't remember why I thought this was a good idea, but it was what I ended up telling my in-laws that I wanted to be when we first met. I had spent some time doing care-giving work, taking care of my great-grandmother. And while I loved her dearly, I hated the actual work.

I don't really consider myself a caregiver. I can (and do) care about people, but sick people trigger me in weird ways, and I spend way more time that I am comfortable with just keeping myself from freaking out, which means I don't really feel I am giving the other person my all. It makes me feel hollow and sort of inhuman, which I also don't like. And then I feel helpless. Because I may be able to help others, but there are limits on what I can do. I can't wave my wand and make pain or illness disappear (as much as I may wish I could).

And yet, there must be a part of me that wants to be a caregiver, because I keep finding myself in the position to care for others. And not just being forced into it, but offering to do things before I am asked, or asking if I can help knowing that if I just keep my mouth shut I won't get asked to help.

I don't know what the answer is yet, but I know it's in that tiny part of me that is the flip side of the majority. It is the dot in the middle of the swirl, and if I can just find it, I can see what it means to me.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

PBP: Week 49- Year and a day

When I first started (and why do so many of my thoughts start out this way....makes me feel old!), the degree system and the whole year and a day thing was huge. Every book mentioned it, and I know a lot of the people I was learning with (we were all solitary and learning from books and whatever other sources from the internet we could get our hands on) felt that practicing for a year and a day was more or less required if you wanted to consider yourself a witch.

The word used then was dedicant. For that first year (and a day!) you weren't considered a practitioner, you were learning. And the thought was that it would take you that long to learn enough to make an educated decision about whether or not this was something you wanted to continue to pursue or not.

I think this decision making process has a lot of value. Firstly, it gave you a body of knowledge that related to the path you were wanting to take. This core information was the foundation on which further practice was built. But it really did serve to give you an idea about the things you would learn about and do in the future. If it didn't work for you in the dedicant period, if you weren't feeling it or if you just couldn't shake the idea you should be doing something else, then it probably wasn't for you.

I think it gave people a graceful period of time, especially when working with a new group, where they could say that they had given it an honest go, but that it just wasn't right for them. It also gave you a grace period, where you were still a dedicant, and therefor weren't expected to know things. I think that offered a lot of peace of mind to people. They were still learning, and everyone who knew that understood that.

Most systems had their own list of things you should know by the end of your year and a day. And by know, they meant 'be familiar with the basic structure and comfortable doing the actions required', not that you should have mastered it. While many systems had differences, there were some things that were common to almost all. Things like: casting a circle, knowing the Sabbats, some form of divination, elemental correspondences, working with candles, working with incense, deity knowledge, grounding and centering, shielding.

I rarely see the year and a day thing mentioned anymore. Most 101 books still include the basic information, but it's just labeled beginner now. The term dedicant has fallen out of use, and that is understandable, because it was most commonly used to refer to people joining a particular group, and many of the 101 books now assume you are going to be solitary (or at least not joining a specific group if you are learning from a book).

But I think that the idea of spending a year (or more) and really buckling down the basics has a lot of value. Where I think it can really shine is if you were to spend that year figuring out what you thought the core practices were for you.

If you look at the year and day as an outline for future practice, you will have a framework for the the type of practices you will do throughout your year. Many of us celebrate a yearly cycle of holidays, whether it is the eight Sabbats or some other set of holidays that have meaning for you. Though this cycle may evolve as your practice does, having a starting point of times throughout a calendar year that you wish to honor helps give you landmarks throughout the year.

From there, you can examine other cycles you might wish to honor. Many people honor the cycles of the moon and sun. I was introduced to the idea of Esbats as meetings of a coven once a month, but I have also heard them referred to as rituals to honor the moon cycle. These smaller cycles can give a lot of structure to a regular practice, but some people find them too restrictive.

Typically, for rituals like the ones mentioned above, a circle is cast and a more formal ritual structure is used. Figuring out what your ritual structure will be is a necessary step in building a practice. I started out using a much more formal ritual structure than I use for most rituals today. Even though I don't use the same structure now, I definitely think that working with the more formal structure has influenced my practice and I am glad that I started out with something more formal. For some people, working the other way is better, and they start out with a very simple ritual structure and then build it up as their practice evolves. Whichever way you feel comfortable with, explore a couple of different types of rituals and then practice with the one you find most appealing.

I think an important thing that is often overlooked in a lot of 101 books today is why we do the things we do. Spending time researching and thinking about the things you add to your practice makes it something that is a part of you instead of just something that you do. I found it really helpful to put my thoughts on paper, as if I were writing up a topic for a school project. I also found that discussing things with others helps me a lot. Whatever way you find works for you, really put some thought into why you like and choose to continue doing the things you do.

Ethics are something that also seem to fall by the wayside. There are a lot of ethical catch phrases out there, like “harm none” and the “threefold law”. Knowing what you find acceptable and unacceptable is very important. If you don't think about it ahead of time, you may find yourself in situations that you aren't prepared for. It is much easier to do things that you aren't really comfortable with if you haven't spent time figuring out what you think is okay. There are lots to consider when it comes to ethics.

Do you think it is okay to take money for practicing on someone else's behalf? What about teaching? Is it okay to use magic on someone without their permission? What about healing? Is eating meat a problem for you? How important is green living? These are just a few topics that many people feel very strongly about, and sorting out how you feel about them gives you a starting point for figuring out how to live your life in a way that makes you happy on all levels.

One final thought about the year and a day. Learning is it's own cycle, and every year we have the opportunity to continue to grow and develop our practice. My own practice changes every year as I learn new things, meet new people who inspire me, and find new ways of thinking about the world. My core practice changes as well. I am constantly looking at what I do and seeing if it is the best thing for me. I am very much someone who both clings and changes. I will hold a practice tightly to me, for years and years, but the moment it stops working I will search for a new way of doing things until I find something that fits. I can walk away from things I have done for decades without looking back. And sometimes I do cycle back around and pick up old practices. Everything changes, and trying to hold onto something just because it is how you have always done things can mean you are stifling your own practice.