Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bargaining, Beholden and Begging

As a Pagan, I call upon deities for aid, I pray to them when I am in need and I turn to them in times of turmoil.  And yet, I have never felt like it was me in the seat of power.  I think that there is a relationship between myself and any deity I work with, and that relationship flavors every interaction we have.

I think there are right ways to approach the divine.  I have never felt like I was less than, but definitely different than, the deities I work with.  I don't approach them as if I weren't worthy of being in their presence, but I also don't feel we are necessarily on the same level.  It's kind of hard to put into words, but it is like we are operating on entirely different wavelengths.  As a physical being, it is much easier (as far as I know) for me to walk over to my sink and fill a glass of water than it would be for Odin to make water appear in the glass.  I think that as energetic beings, deities are more adept at working on that energetic level that is both more subtle and utterly limitless.

But back to the topic.  There is a big divide in the way people deal with other people.  And by people, I'm really talking about how they deal with every being that isn't themselves:  deities, animals, spirits, humans.  Some people treat every interaction like a bargain.  If I give you this, what will you give me in return (or if I do this for you, what will you do for me)?  A similar approach is to think of everything you have ever done for someone and keeping a sort of mental tally sheet of all the favors they owe you.  Sometimes people play the pity card, and give you all the reasons why they can't do something themselves and why they need you to do it for them.

On the other side are people who do things for other people without a thought for what they might get back.  They make sure that when someone does something for them, they express their gratitude, either by doing something in return or simply by saying thank you.  They never think about relationships as a score sheet.  And they are more likely to just do something themselves than to ask for help (even if they need it).

These aren't hard and fast groupings.  Sometimes we act one way, and sometimes we may act another.  Our head may be telling us to act one way and our heart leading us the other direction.

So what does all this have to do with Paganism?  I think a lot of people see devotional actions to a deity as an act of bargaining.  Perhaps someone will take up a regular practice of honoring a deity or doing works in a deity's name, with the expectation that they get something in return.  And I feel that sometimes Heathen practice leads to this kind of exchange of energy.  That there is a sort of honorable duty to repaying any gift or service.  And yet, I don't feel that other people are obligated to me.  Rather, I see the obligation on my side, that if someone does something that is meaningful for me, that I should find some way to express that.

I definitely don't think of other people as being beholden.  Actually, I don't think of myself being beholden to anyone else either.  I am beholden to myself.  If I say I will do something, then I do feel an obligation to do that thing.  Outside of that, I am my own person and I don't owe anyone anything that I haven't chosen to give.  I have known people who try to use guilt to force others to do things they wouldn't otherwise, and it's not something I feel I need to fall prey to.

And while I do petition my deities for help when I need it, I don't feel it is begging.  I don't ask for things I am not working on myself.  I try very hard, actually, to ask for help when I need it.  I tend to be somewhat stubborn, and dig in my heels and try to do things on my own.  And we all need help sometimes.  Learning to ask for help and support is not something that comes naturally to me. 

I think that the more I build my relationships on honesty, the more solid they will be.  This means that there are people in my life that I don't do much for, because that would imply that I want to deepen the relationship, and I don't.  There are also people in my life that I spend a lot of time and effort on.  These are the ones that I feel are important to me, and part of what brings my life joy is bringing joy into theirs.  This is true of deities I work with.  There are deities that I spend a lot of time and energy working with.  And much like I may lend a hand by doing something that would help out a friend, I see sacred action in the same light.  So I do things that I think the deities I work with would like, just because I want to bring joy into their lives.  It's not always about what you get in return.  Sometimes the actions you do for someone else are a return gift in their own way because you know that you have made their life better.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


This month the theme for the Cauldron Blog Project is doorways.  January is named for Janus, who is God of beginnings and transitions, of doorways and portals, who is often depicted with two faces, one facing forward and one looking to the past.

I was watching a show a while back on the way the mind works, and it was testing people and how well they payed attention to the world around them.  I have seen several examples of this little trick, but this one had a person at a desk (like a check in desk at a hotel), who would be talking with someone, then they would drop a pen, and duck down (so they were completely out view of the person they were talking to).  A completely different person would stand up with the pen and keep up the conversation as if nothing had happened. 

The amazing (and somewhat scary) thing is that most people don't notice the difference, even if something drastic changed (like a man bending down and a woman coming back up).  This happens because of the way our brains register doorways.

The brain thinks about a room as a completely separate place, with it's own set of memories.  When you pass through a portal (in the case of the example, the desk acts as a doorway:  creating a separation between what happened before the person ducked below and afterward), your brain expects things to be different.  It's kind of like a reset button.

It doesn't have to be a physical door either.  Studies have shown that a character walking through a virtual room in a video game has the same effect.

This effect also explains why sometimes we get up to go get something from another room, walk into that room and can't remember what we went in there to get.  The bad news is that even going back to the original room doesn't help us recall what we forgot!

At first glance, this all seems horribly inconvenient.  And yet, there are a ton of ways we can use this knowledge to our advantage.  Firstly, if you know you have something important to remember in another location that you absolutely don't want to forget....write it down!

But consider this approach when it comes to casting circle.  When we cast a circle, we are creating a room within a room.  We acknowledge this when we cut a door in the circle for any reason.  But even the act of casting circle sets the area within apart from the rest of the room.  This has a real impact on our brain.  In a very real way, our brain sees that inside area, our circle, as a different space, not of the room anymore, but it's own room.  The things we do in circle are removed from the things we do at other times, even if we cast that circle in the middle of our living room with nothing more than tracing our finger in the air:  we are still telling our brain that there is a 'room' there.

I have been blessed enough to have participated in several group rituals, and one thing I always love is when there is a doorway to the circle, both on entering and leaving.  I definitely feel that it gives a weight to the ritual, a sense of otherness.  As simple as it is, even just marking the doorway on the ground, helps create that sense of boundary.

We can also take advantage of our tendency to forget things in previous rooms when we do work with our past.  If there is an event you want to distance yourself from, old feelings you want to recover from or resentments you want to let go of, you can use the power of doorways to help separate your current self from those older experiences.  Use doorways in your visualizations.  See yourself in that time and place where the event took place and then walk through the nearest doorway.  You can continue walking through doorways as you feel you need to.

You could also use the doorway visual as a way to help new traumas from taking hold.  When you feel yourself in a situation that you aren't comfortable with or don't want to deal with, visualize a door between you and whatever is bothering you, and then shut it.

On the flip side, if you are doing guided meditations, and are receiving a message, consider having pen and paper handy to jot down a quick note before you return to your waking mind (since many visualizations involve doorways which might close off that information from you once you have passed through them).  Include your journaling as part of the meditation, give yourself a moment or two to draw or write impressions while you are in the moment.  It doesn't have to be a deep reflection, you can wait on that until later, but if you have a word or symbol pop into your mind, don't trust that you will remember it when you come out of the meditation.

Taking inspiration from Janus, doorways don't always have to block things out or look to the past.  Consider doing meditations into your own future, where you go through a doorway into possibilities.  As it is the beginning of a new year, instead of trying to set resolutions to change what we didn't like from the past year, why not take a moment to stand at the doorway to the upcoming year.  Look at the door, see what it looks like.  How do you feel when looking at it?  Then, open the door and step through.  What kinds of things do you see?  Have paper ready and sketch or write about what you see.  Don't think too hard on it, don't try to see what you feel you should see, just let yourself be open and experience what comes to you.  Later on you can go back and look at your notes and see what messages you find in them and how that can influence your coming year.

One of my long standing visualizations includes a room with many doors.  Some of the doors bring things in, some open to other rooms for specific purposes and still others let me out into different worlds.  I have always loved this visualization because it gives me pretty much everything I need in one place.  But I never really though much about how I changed when using the doorways.  If every doorway leads to a whole new world, then every time you step through a doorway, you have the opportunity to be a whole new you.

I think we tap into this more than we realize.  Think about if you have ever paused at a doorway, to gather yourself.  Perhaps you were about to enter into a room and meet a bunch of strangers, and you pause to gather courage.  Or maybe you were still a teenager, and had done something wrong and knew your parents were waiting just inside the house to talk to you about it.  Or you might have even just had a horrible day and you shut the door when you come home and just lean on it for a second, glad to have that doorway between you and the rest of the world.  Whatever the reason, that doorway transformed you.  The you who was on one side became a different you, embodying different qualities.  And though you may have gathered up your intentions before you stepped through, the instant you were in the doorway was when the change happened.

Monday, January 12, 2015


So many possibilities for the letter A!

I tumbled a bunch over in my head, I might write about more of them later, but the one I kept coming back to was the Aesir.  For many Norse oriented peoples, the Aesir are the primary body of deities that are worked with.  In fact, one of the major Norse faiths is called Asatru which means faith or belief in the Aesir.  While other classifications of deities have some following, when you talk about deities that most people will recognize as Norse, the vast majority are Aesir.

I have read a lot of explanations of the difference between the Aesir and Vanir, and the one that resonates most with me is that the Vanir are more intimately tied to nature and hearken from an earlier time in civilization, and the Aesir then are the deities that evolved later to represent the things that people now valued.  I also feel that the focus of a lot of the deities has shifted from a more personal or small clan grouping to a larger community.  So while you might have had Vanir associated with hunting or even fighting, you have Aesir who are tied to battle.

I have heard a lot of people express reservations about many of the Aesir because they perceive them to be harsh or bloodthirsty.  Others find this to be what draws them to the Aesir.  I think that it is somewhat in between.  I do see a harsh side to a lot of the Aesir, but I don't think that is the whole of who they are.  This works very well for me.  I am perfectly happy to live peacefully and to avoid conflict, to turn inward and pursue my own thing and leave others to their own pursuits, however if you confront me, I am not going to fold, I will call on my inner steel and meet your challenge.

One thing I always found somewhat interesting and confusing about the Aesir is that there is a lot of disagreement over who is whom.  There are connections made between Freyja and Frigga or between Odin and Od.  Sometimes Freyja is considered to be the Queen of Asgard and wife of Odin.  When I was first starting out, I viewed Freyja and Odin as being a pair, but the more I have read and experienced, the more I don't see them as a true pairing.  I think a part of this is learning about Frigga, who was not one of the first deities I learned about.  I do, however, feel that Freyja and Odin have a strong relationship that has involved intimacy at times and arguments at other times.  I don't feel they are the main person in each other's lives.

I think it is somewhat strange how many people classify the Aesir.  I have read a lot of explanations of a sort of ruling council of gods, and most times it lists 12 gods and 13 or 14 goddesses.  The gods are mostly what you would expect, though no one seems to know what to do with Loki.  The goddesses are never what I would expect.  Most goddess listings are Frigga and her 12 handmaidens, and these sometimes include Freyja.  However goddesses like Sif aren't included.  In fact there are quite a lot of Norse deities that aren't talked about much at all.

A while back I made a set of prayer cords, to help me connect with the Norse deities that I felt moved to connect with.  This did include some deities that I don't consider to be Aesir, but rather Vanir or other important figures (like Hel).  I was absolutely surprised when I counted up the knots at the end and found myself with fifty knots on my cord.  I am so used to seeing the Norse Deities listed as a scant handful. 

One thing I really appreciate about the Aesir is that they are gods, and many have powers beyond those that we as humans have, and yet, they are very human in many ways.  They experience feelings:  jealousy, anger, love, sadness.  They make mistakes.  They end up in some crazy situations that they have to wiggle their way out of. 

Monday, January 5, 2015


Last year, I started the year off talking about Ancestry, and this year I'm sort of retouching that topic with Ancestors.  I want to go a bit more into specifics this year, and I've encountered a few new to me thoughts on Ancestors that I want to talk about as well.

Technically ancestors are the people of your blood who have come before, so that is where I'll start.  I think we have lost touch with our ancestors in a way that many of our ancestors would find shameful.  I personally don't know much about anyone in my family further back than great-grandparents.  And what I know about my ancestors of blood I know because I met them.  I have heard the odd story here or there, but mainly about people that I did actually meet.

I feel that loss, like I am adrift in an ocean without a map.  I think that we all do, on some level.  There seems to be a great interest these days, to uncovering stories and information about our ancestors, and I think it is in part to fill that need to connect to our own past.

So how do we honor ancestors of blood if we aren't familiar with them?  I start with the ones I did know, the close dead.  Let me share a little about my beloved dead with you.  I love that phrase, by the way:  beloved dead.  I think that it really reminds me that those that have passed beyond are dear to me.

I'll start with my grandfather on my dad's side.  He was a big fan of genealogy, and hand a bunch of books and had traced back some of our ancestors.  It is through him that I know that I have Pictish blood as well as a connection to one of the Pharaoh's of Egypt.  But as nifty as that information was (especially when I was still in high school), I was more fascinated by the fact that my grandfather built the house he and my grandmother lived in.  My dad's mother (she remarried seven times, so I had two grandmother's on my dad's side) loved the desert and all things strange and wonderful.  She used to tell me, when I was little, that we were aliens, and that she and I were from Venus (though she said my dad was from Mars, so I'm not sure how that worked).

On my mother's side, my great-grandmother was what I would picture a Chinese socialite to be, in all the right ways.  I remember dancing at her birthday party, my mother and I did a traditional Chinese fan dance, and there were hundreds of people in attendance.  She always seemed regal to me.  My other great-grandmother on my mom's side was as humble a woman as you could know.  She wouldn't ask us to help her change a lightbulb (even though we were at her house at least once a week for dinner) because she didn't want to bother us.  I lived with her for a while, in her last year, to help around the house.  She used to always offer me cough drops as candy.  I never knew either of my great grandfathers, and my grandparents are still alive.

When my Tai-po (my great grandmother) was starting to decline mentally, I remember my mom suggesting that we should get her to tell us stories of when she was little.  Her parents came over from China (I forget if she was born here or there), and mom said no one really knew what her childhood was like.  But no one ever did get those stories, and they are lost to time, like so many others. I would like to research, to learn about the places my family lived, both in China and in Europe. 

I also think of myself as having ancestors of place.  For a long time, this meant places that had spiritual significance to me, such as Ireland, China, Hawaii, Egypt.  But recently I was reading a book that also talked about honoring the ancestors of the land you live on, not just your country, but your city and neighborhood and quite literally down to the plot of land you live on.  Honoring spirits of the land has always been a part of my practice, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to honor the people who lived here before.  And yet, now that the idea is in my head, it is something that make so much sense that I feel I need to pursue it.

I see ancestors of spirit also in influential people who have touched my life in some way.  Not just the obviously spiritual ones too.  When I was little, I was enthralled reading stories of Helen Keller, Florence Nightingale and Anne Frank.  I do enjoy a well written biography, but mainly if the focus is on the stories (and not on facts and numbers).  I also have quite enough chaote in me to honor ancestors of spirit who never lived in this world:  influential people from works of fiction.  Several of my childhood idols and role models were fictional, and they served just as good examples for how to live a good life as did historical people.

So how does all this tie into the Norse side of my practice?  I see ancestors as a pretty big part of the Norse mindset.  People who died in this life were not seen as finished, there was a distinct concept of living in the afterlife.  Not only that, but in the disir (female relatives who have passed but continue to watch over their bloodline), we see that they have a continued interest in our lives.  Honor of the ancestors is done at Symbel, as well as other times during the year.

As I said, I am not Heathen, and such haven't participated in a Symbel myself, though I have read about them.  One of the things I loved about the ritual was that each person was given a chance to honor an ancestor.  I have had the opportunity to participate in rituals (general Pagan rituals) where this was done, where each person in the circle shared a name of someone who has passed that they wanted to remember and honor, and could share a story about that person if they liked.  These moments are probably among the most moving I have had in ritual.  There is something very powerful with a group of people who may not know each other coming together and sharing their ancestors.  Some of the stories brought me to tears.

When I think of how the Norse might have approached life, I think that a strong tie to their own ancestors was part of what made them who they are.  I think that looking to other people's ancestors also gives you a huge insight into who they are as people.  Our ancestors shape us in ways we might not even be aware of.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Cauldron Blog Project

So, another year, another new thing!  The people who run the Pagan Blog Project have decided to not run it in 2015, and I had originally planned on just keeping on doing it on my blog, because I did have fun with it, was challenged by it, and it kept me on point with getting posts up.

However, one of the forums that I am a member of has decided to do their own version of it, so I am doing that this year!  It's similar but a bit different, so I figured I'd make an introductory post to explain the differences, and then a bit about my vision for how I am going to approach the project this year as well as a bit more about my own path and self.

The Cauldron Blog Project will still support 2 weeks dedicated to each letter, just as the PBP did, but there is no hard and fast number of posts for each letter.  If I want to write just a single post every two weeks that is fine, if I want to write 10, that is also fine!  I plan on aiming for one a week, but will commit to at least one per letter, and will do more if I feel moved to do more.

In addition, we are adding in a monthly theme post, so each month, those of us participating will pick a topic and we will all write a post on the same topic.  I am pretty excited about this one, I love reading other people's thoughts on stuff, and having everyone write the same topic should be great.

I added a little widget thingie on my blog that will link to The Cauldron forum (to the specific thread for this project), and it is a really great forum, so if you wanna check it out, I highly recommend it.

So, in 2014, I just went in head first, with any topic for the posts that popped into my head.  My personal path is pretty eclectic, so my interests range far and wide.  But I definitely consider myself a Norse centric fusion witch.

What does Norse centric fusion witch mean?  Well to start with, I have worked with Odin and Freyja pretty much my entire spiritual life.  When I was just learning, about two decades ago, picking a god and goddess to devote yourself to was pretty standard.  I was reading everything I could get my hands on, and when I read their names out loud, I got physical shivers down my back...and sometimes still do.  They called to me, in a way that no others have (though I have felt moved to work with other deities along the way, just not so strong and so persistent a call).

But I don't consider myself a Heathen or any other flavor of official Norse Pagan.  It's not that I don't find the practices lovely and moving, but more that I feel that I dip into too many other pools, and I don't devote myself to ONLY Norse stuff.  I don't feel like I qualify as a pure Norse practitioner, so I don't like to label myself that way.  I think it only leads to misunderstanding and necessary arguments. 

Norse is at the heart of my practice though, so I do consider myself Norse centric:  it is the flame at my heart and it is the beat underneath everything else.  And a good friend of mine once described his brand of eclecticism as fusion, because even though he draws from multiple sources, the ultimate goal is to have everything blend together and harmonize, not just lots of bits in a bag.  I feel that definition very much, and that is definitely a goal of mine, to have a path that works with all the different things I am drawn to.

And I fully consider myself a witch, have since I first read about the practice of witchcraft.  My religion is Pagan, but my practice is witchcraft.  It is witchcraft flavored with a lot of different things, from chaos to ceremonial to folk traditions, but it is ultimately witchcraft.

So, why explain all of that?  Well this year I am going to focus my letter posts on Norse things, from my perspective.  They will be how I view the world, the deities, the mythology and my path.  They may include fusion ideas, but the heart of every letter post will be Norse.

The monthly topic posts may be Norse centric or they may be more general, it really will depend on what kind of topics come up.

So this is my intro for the year, this is my plan, and for anyone who wants to come along, I hope you enjoy reading my posts as much as I enjoy writing them!