Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

This has been a pretty crazy, busy, productive year for me!  I have done some pretty amazing things, if I do say so myself, and most importantly to me, I stuck to my plans and completed the things I set out to do.  For those of you that have been with me all year, at the start of the year I made a commitment to a couple of things. 

Firstly was sticking to writing a blog post every week.  In some ways, blogging is the thing that has been with me the longest, as a regular practice.  When I first started blogging, I was mostly writing to myself.  I would blog, but I wasn't sharing my posts much.  I sort of figured if someone stumbled across them, that was great, but I was still quite shy about my writing and about my ideas, so I rarely shared my blog posts.

Then, I joined my first Blog project, and that helped me blog regularly.  That was the first year I did a weekly blog post, and I shared my blog with the others in the project, but again, rarely outside of that.  It still felt sort of raw and new, and I had a lot of fear about what other people would think about what I was writing.

The next year, the Pagan Blog project shut down, and I tried to do keep up the blogging with others on one of the forums I am part of, but that sort of dwindled out after a couple of months, and I didn't keep the commitment to myself to keep up the blogs, so last year I didn't blog much at all.

But this year, I decided that I needed to hold myself accountable, and that I needed to be more proactive in sharing my blog.  It was a big jump for me, to share my blog....especially to share it publicly and not just in Pagan groups.  But I was challenged to put myself out more in July as part of one of the retreats I participated in, so I took the plunge and shared my blog with different groups, and had a great response!

Sharing my blog with more people definitely helps keep me motivated to write, and to keep up with my own schedule.  When I started my Patreon to help start turning my writing into something more than a hobby, it doubly encouraged me to keep up the writing.  I absolutely love it when people respond to my blog sharing posts with comments about how they liked what I have written.

The second big project I did this year was my moon phase posts.  I had this idea, at the end of last year, that I could work with each phase of each moon, looking at the meaning of the full moons (where each full moon represents a different energy), and then applying that energy to each of the phases.  I planned on keeping my own journal and working through them, but also decided I would share what I had uncovered, and thus my year long project was born.

It was hugely rewarding, I learned a TON, and most of the time I looked forward to writing the posts.  It was way more involved than I thought it would be.  It doesn't seem like it at first, but moon phases pass really quickly.  I hadn't really thought about the fact that I would be writing something every 3-5 days, along with the blog posts (and sometimes those lined up and I ended up writing two things on the same day, which could be challenging).  But now that it has come to an end, I am so grateful that I did it.

It was really interesting to see how each cycle manifested differently because of the energy of the full moon.  I was worried at first that it would get repetitive, and yet as I journaled each phase, I came to new places in looking at each phase.  I found new ways to think about the different energies, and how you might use those energies in your personal practice to enhance your life. 

Another big, but short, project that I have done now for a decade is NaNo.  50k words in a month, sounds huge, and the first couple of years it was.  Each year brings new challenges, and I've done different subjects on different years.  This year's made me change the way I thought about NaNo, and definitely the way I wrote.  I was writing for a purpose, and it wasn't to create a story per say.  I was writing to create background for a roleplaying game I will be running in the future, so I was coming up with back history for all the characters that my players might encounter.

This was a lot of fun, but again, a lot of work.  On top of all the other things I was doing, by the time all was said and done, I had written almost 80k words in November...and was just a little frazzled.  Then of course, December brings holidays, gifts, and other commitments.

One commitment that I hadn't planned on was writing for Wyld.  I thoroughly enjoy being a part of it, and I feel that writing articles for a Zine (or the mini-articles for inbetween issues) is a very different sort of writing from blogging or writing fiction.  Also, having hard deadlines, for people that aren't just me, adds a bit more pressure, but also more motivation to not only do things on time, but early if I can manage to help make things easier on them.

I wrote at the beginning of the year about how I was using a calendar to plan my days, and I absolutely would not have been able to make all my commitments without it.  It is interesting to flip back through now and see how different months have different levels of scheduling.  I also like that I can look back through and see what I was up to throughout the year.

This next year will bring new projects and new challenges.  The first thing I'm doing differently is my calendar.  This year I just got a simple monthly view desk calendar.  So I had a little box for each day, and I used it to jot down tasks for the day.  But each day only got a tiny little box, and sometimes that wasn't enough.  I did use a digital app to help remind me about things I did every week, like the blog, weekly planning for an online group and a photo sharing project I did this year.  And I had a moon dial to help track the moon phases and my own cycles.

Ultimately though this meant that I had things noted down in several different areas.  I want it all in one spot, and with enough room to help track all the things I am doing, plus more room for big projects (like a yearly book tracker and exercise goals).  So next year I am using a composition book, and giving Bullet Journaling a try.

The symbols and system really appeal to me, and I will be adapting a few things.  I will be adding my moondial right into the book, probably before each calendar month (as I realized that often the moon dial will straddle calendar months).  I also bought a cheap calendar that I can use to have foldout month-view pages (for larger projects).  Then I will be doing weekly spreads to give myself more room for daily tasks.  Everything will go in this book, so I have it all in one place, and I will be checking in with my book at least every morning and night.  This will let me do gratitude and planning, keep my daily draws all in one place...and add in weekly/monthly divination as I feel necessary.

Because that is my other big project for the year.  This year it was moon phases, but next year I am doing divination.  I have some interesting ideas saved for tarot journaling, and I want to delve deeper into working with my collection of decks and other divination tools (I am a huge symbol fan, so have several rune sets and other symbol based divinations).  I like the idea of doing regular planning spreads and having those right in my calendar book so I can reference and reflect upon them easily.  But I will also have a divination journal where I can gather up all my other observations and things.

Then, I signed up for a year long art-journaling project, with weekly prompts.  I am pretty excited about this, I started working on my smashbook yesterday, the container I will use to work in.  It's something that is new to me, and a bit outside of my comfort zone.  But I want to do more art, I enjoy playing with paint and doing artistic things, and I think that the structure of being part of a group that is doing it will help me add more art into my life.

 And of course, I will be continuing to blog and to write for my Patreon.  So there will be a lot going on in the coming year!  Several of the groups I am in have talked about picking a Word of the Year, sort of like a focus for the coming year (instead of resolutions), and after some thought I have settled on Harmony.  Not only do I have a lot of different things going on that I want to blend together into a workable whole, but I often feel like there is a lot going on around me and I need to be that island of calm so that I don't get stressed out.  Harmony fits both, and has some additional musical inclinations, which is great as well!

I am excited about the coming year, and I hope you all are too!  I'd love to hear what everyone else is up to.  Was this year a good one for you?  Do you have big plans for next year?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Surviving family over the Holidays

For many Pagans, this holiday season is a source of tension with your extended family.  If you aren't out yet about your beliefs, this can be a time of having to hide the things you do and believe.  If you are out, your family may not be completely accepting and you may have to deal with unwanted preaching.  Even if your family is not opposed to your religious views, spending time with your family can feel draining, especially if you don't get along with everyone.

But there are a lot of ways to help make family events more tolerable!  I often consider myself lucky, that I get along pretty well with my family and my in-laws, but we aren't the same type of people, which means I often edit out a lot of my daily life when talking with them.  This can feel very frustrating, as some of the things that I am quite passionate about and spend a lot of time on, like my blog and now my Patreon, are things that I don't talk with my family about.

I am am only partially out with my family.  I had the talk about my beliefs with my parents back in college, but we don't really talk about it now.  I don't consider it anyone else's business, so I tend to just not bring it up at family things.  I will talk about spiritual things, though most of the time those don't come up in conversation at family gatherings.

I also try not to talk too much about the computer games I play.  My side of the family definitely think that many of the games I play aren't something people should spend a lot of time on.  My in-laws just don't get into that kind of thing, so it's not something we talk about either.

Which leaves me in a very strange place, conversationally.  If you take out my spirituality and my gaming hobbies, I'm left with no good answers for the inevitable "What have you been doing?" question.  So I always try to plan ahead, to have some decent answers that I can talk with people about, that won't lead to lectures.  Most of the time this means talking about books I am reading, or fiction that I am writing.

One thing I also find that works very well for me is to frame my activities in language that my family can understand.  So I may tell them about the art I have been working on, and not mention that it was part of a guided meditation.  If I am reading about Norse deities, I can tell them about the mythology book I am reading.  This allows me to not only talk about the things that I am doing and am passionate about, but it gives them a way to join into the discussion without feeling  like they are talking about something they don't approve of.

Its a fine line.  I know that some people feel this is being dishonest to myself.  But I don't think that it is.  I don't want my family to feel uncomfortable.  If I tell them I did a spell for healing, that would not be something they understand, but if I say I prayed for them, that is relateable.  It's all about finding the common ground and being able to talk about things in a way that doesn't trigger any assumptions or misconceptions people may have (about witchcraft or the like).

I also find that it helps me a lot to let myself drop into 'family mode'.  From the outside, it may look like I am a vastly different person.  Not only might I not talk about certain things, but I also often dress differently and use different language (excluding vulgar language and slang) around family.  It's how I was raised, and even though I don't find these things to be a problem in my personal life, I know my family doesn't approve, and so I drop them when I am with family.

In some ways it takes me back to a younger time in my life.  It does tap into the person I was when I lived at home.  But it is a piece of me, just a piece that isn't normally dominant.  When I am around my family, I let that part of me come to the front.  It makes everything more enjoyable.

For short periods, I can step into this part of me with no problem, but if I am going to be around family for long periods, like over the holidays or summer vacation, then I often do need to have little things to help me not feel like I am loosing the other parts of myself.  In many ways, my family is mild and as I like to say G-rated (while my regular life is definitely at least an R-rating!)

One way I often express myself is through the clothes I wear.  I like to dress in ways that make me feel powerful, and for me this often manifests as a bit edgy or sexy.  However, many of the items I really like aren't things that my family deems proper.  My mother especially has a lot of rules about what appropriate clothing is. On the other side of the family, my in-laws have large boisterous dogs, so I don't like wearing anything too delicate or that I would be devastated if it were damaged.

My favorite way to dress when around family is to wear things they have gifted me.  There are some things that I have gotten that I think are nice, even if they aren't my personal style.  But they make great clothes to wear when with family, because not only does it let them know I appreciated their gift, but it also means I can avoid any judgement about what I am wearing.

Jewelry is another thing I love to wear to express my spirituality.  The majority of my jewelry represents some aspect of my faith.  Some are pretty standard and obvious.  I have several pentacles in different forms, and one necklace that I adore that has not only a pentacle, but also a tiny dagger, chalice and broom. 

When I am picking what to wear around family, I think not only about what qualities I might need to call upon, but also what the jewelry might be perceived as.  I have a necklace with a smoky quartz and peace symbol that I often wear around family, so that I can embrace that peaceful place inside me.  I also favor my yin-yang, for balance.  I do have a pentacle ring I have worn every day for years now.  While it is obviously a pentacle, it is also just a star...and that is what I've said before when someone commented about it, "I like stars."  Sometimes just having a response ready so you aren't caught off guard helps you to not only feel more comfortable but also handle any questions with ease.

If I am going to be spending a long time with family, I make sure I have something to do.  For me, this typically means bringing a book or my tablet (with books on it!), because reading is a very acceptable thing with my family.  This is mainly for when I will be spending several days visiting, as I try not to read or be using my tablet when I'm socializing, but if I am going to be spending more than a few hours with family, I know I'll need an escape at some point. 

The final thing I often do too, is make a deal with myself, that after it is all over, I'll take some time, just for me, to do something special and help myself re-balance.  Even when everything goes well, family time can be draining.  Holidays add even more stress, so it feels like there is always so much going on.  And then all I want to do is curl up and read or play a game or take a I do!  I know that it takes a lot out of me, and so I plan on filling myself back up so I'm not just cranky afterwards.

Family is great, and I do love spending time with them.  But I do it in a way that works for me, that encourages things to go smoothly.  For me, I have a better time when I can avoid confrontation, and just share things with my family that we all enjoy.  The more I can slip into that mindset, the better a time I will have, and the less stress I will feel when it is all over.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Season's Greetings!

There is a lot of fuss about what you say to other people, around the holidays.  And it's not just Christians with the 'war on Christmas' argument either.  I've seen people of all religions, including Pagan, get bent out of shape when someone wished them the 'wrong' holiday greeting.  I think it's a bit crazy, for a lot of different reasons.

Most of us don't go around with our religious status plastered across our chest.  The people I pass on the street most likely have no idea of what my beliefs are, or of what holidays I celebrate.  Sure, I wear a pentacle ring, just like many people wear a cross necklace, so it is possible to have some idea, but even with those clues, you can't know for certain what someone's specific religion or holidays are.

Where I think the crazy kicks in is that people make assumptions.  Many people assume that everyone else is the same religion as they are, and therefor should celebrate the same holidays.  While others assume that people should magically know that they celebrate different holidays and what those are.

Not only are these assumptions pretty wild, but in a lot of ways they are very self-centered.  If you assume everyone else is the same as you, and get offended when they aren't, you aren't allowing for other people to have their own individuality.  You are starting with the assumption that not only is your way right but that everyone else should do things the way you do. 

If, on the other hand, you expect other people to honor your own holidays (especially if you are one of those who gets offended if someone wishes you Merry Christmas, even though that is still the social standard), you are expecting people to prioritize your own beliefs over their own.  Or expecting them to somehow not only memorize all the different holidays but also mystically know which one you are honoring.

And beyond all of this, I think people forget why we wish other people Happy Holidays (or whatever specific holy day you are celebrating).  We are spreading cheer, offering our well wishes, and generally hoping things are going good for other people.  We are, quite literally, blessing other people.

Yet, it seems that this is something to be offended by.  Sometimes I think it is a good idea to take a step back from the language and look at what the words actually mean.  I have never had anyone wish me Merry Christmas with the intent of converting me to Christianity.  I take the words as the good wishes that they are meant to be, and don't get flustered that someone didn't wish me a Blessed Yule.

This way of thinking about the meaning behind words is something that can be used throughout the year, not just around the holidays.  There are so many different things we say with words that we can choose to take offense over or we can choose to accept the heart of what the words represent. 

One that immediately comes to mind is when someone says, "I'll pray for you."  Chances are, whoever is praying will pray to the deity they work with (whether it is God or Zeus or Gaia), and not to the deities that I work with.  I don't feel this is something I should be upset by!  If someone cares enough to pray for me, I am touched that they are thinking about me that way. 

To even take the extreme case, if someone knows that I am not a Christian and says instead, "I'll pray for your soul," I prefer to think that they believe they are wanting the best for me.  To me, this sort of comes back to the idea that other people can't make me feel things, they can only do what they are going to do and I can choose to let it upset me or not.  Sure, it would be nice if everyone in the world not only accepted other faiths but honored other people's rights to practice those faiths in peace.  But that isn't the world we live in (yet!), and so I'll live in the world we have now.

I can get all upset by other people's words, and work myself up into a lather.  I can start ranting at the person in the grocery store for wishing me a Merry Christmas, or at the one who lectures me for saying "Happy Holidays" instead.  I can fume inside and let my anger at the attitudes and actions of others eat me up.  But at the end of the day, I am the one who is suffering.  I am the one who is upset and no longer happy.

My own celebrations aren't made any less because someone wished me a Merry Christmas instead of Blessed Yule.  My Solstice isn't diminished because it wasn't named.  My holidays aren't validated by other people's acknowledgement of them.  I do what I do and that works for me.

I prefer to just accept the wishes sent my way, and let go of any objections to the greetings I give.  Sometimes I wish people Season's Greetings or Happy Holidays.  Sometimes I say Merry Christmas.  I don't always think it through.  Most of the time, I just repeat back what someone else said to me.  I smile and think happy thoughts at people because it makes me feel better! 

I feel the holidays should be a time of joy, of family, of happiness and of laughter.  These are the things that I call upon, and these are the things I wish to others.  So to everyone out there, may your holidays (whichever you celebrate!) be full of love and light, family and friends, joy and laughter!

Seasons Greetings and Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gift Giving

Everyone loves to receive gifts, and many of us love to give them as well.  I adore being able to gift the people I care about with things that I think they will like.  I both buy and craft things.  I like to make things for the holidays, but I also sometimes see something for sale and just know I'd love to get it for a particular person.

What I think is most important is thinking about what the recipient might want.  It really doesn't matter if I like the thing I'm gifting.  Hubby and I have very different tastes, so I try not to think like myself at all when picking what to give him (and I try to get him to make an extensive wish list too!) 

Gift-giving lets you really extend your blessings onto others.  Not only are you giving them a thing, whether it is a simple card to wish them Happy Holidays, or that thing they have always wanted, or something you made them with your own two hands, but you are also gifting them with emotions, with caring, with energy and with your thoughts.

I have given my share of practical gifts over the years.  I try not to only give practical stuff...even to my mom who's list was almost always stuff that wasn't really 'fun' but more 'needed'.  My son pretty much always gets clothes at Christmas, and as a boy, some of them are pretty plain (boy pants are more ore less just pants), but we try to make sure he has shirts that reflect things he is interested in. 

You can take a practical gift to the next level by really personalizing it.  My mom-in-law gets her hubby socks every year, because he needs nice thick work socks to keep his feet warm and dry.  But instead of just giving them to him, she makes it the gift from their dogs, which definitely makes it more fun to receive!

And while I don't care for totally utilitarian gifts, I do prefer my gifts to enhance a person's life.  I think most of us have lots of things on our shelves and walls already, I know I do, so something that just looks pretty isn't as fun to give as something that looks pretty and also brings something into a person's life.  One of the great things about magical friends is that there are tons of useful items that are also beautiful and vice versa! 

A lot of time, finding the right gift comes from listening.  Not just listening to what people say they might like, but listening to what they struggle with in their daily life.  These are the things I like to pay attention to and try to solve, when I think about gift giving.  My husband works long hours on his feet, and he is always sore when he comes home.  So I am constantly thinking about things I can do or find for him that might help.  One year I found a couple foot massage tools, and I have gifted him coupons for massages (which were also fun to decorate and make special).

But I really love making things for people.  When I was in grade school, we weren't allowed to give our teachers any Christmas gifts that we hadn't made, so mom and I baked pumpkin-gingerbread loaves every year to give.  What I find really powerful about making things for people is that the whole process of making a thing is time that I can be empowering what I am making!  Mixing things in the kitchen, I am always adding love and comfort.  I want people to eat things I have made and feel happy!

I do something similar when I am making non-edible things for people.  I want my gifts to carry my blessings to the person I am giving it to.  So I will think about all the lovely things I want them to receive in their life as I am making things for them.  Sometimes I will chant as I craft, picking chants to help reinforce my intentions.  Other times, especially for long projects that will take many hours, I may watch a favorite show or movie.  It's always something that speaks to me of magic, of community and of finding your own happiness.

I like to have sacred space when I am crafting for others as well.  Having candles lit with intention and burning incense help remind me that what I am doing is special.  I'm not just making something, but I'm making something for someone as a symbol of what they mean to me.  It is a way of showing, without words, how important they are to me, how they have made my own life better by being a part of it.  That, to me, is the heart of gifting.

And even if you think you have nothing, if you don't have money to buy a gift and don't feel like you are crafty, there are other things you can gift.  One of my favorite Christmas songs is Little Drummer Boy.  I think it really captures the essence of a gift:  you give what you have.  The little drummer boy had nothing, so he played a song as his gift.  Some of the most touching gifts I have received haven't looked like much, but they were special because I knew that the person gifting me was sharing what they had.  Art, whether it is song, poetry, writing or painting are all very personal gifts that you can share.

Gifts of service can be excellent gifts.  If you have friends who have children, you may offer to watch them one night so they can have a date night (or offer to take the kids so the parents can have a quiet restful night!)  You might gift someone with help around the house or in the yard.  Your gift may be to help them edit that book they've been working on, or to be their workout buddy (even if you dread working out!)  

Even though I infuse gifts that I am making with intention as I am creating them, I also like to bless things after they are finished (or if I bought something).  Most things that I give to people have spent time on one of my altars.  I may take gifts out into the sun or moon light and bless them outside.  I definitely hold them in my hands and dedicate them to the person who will be receiving them.  If I am sending a package through the mail, I also add a bit of protection to make sure it arrives at it's destination safely and on time!

Wrapping is the last thing I typically do, and my last chance to add a bit of extra care to a gift.  I actually enjoy wrapping (must be the origami folder in me *grin).  Even those funny shaped gifts that don't seem to want to get wrapped.  The wrapping is the first thing someone sees in your gift and I love for it to be pretty.  While I'm wrapping, I like to think about how the recipient will feel when they open the gift.  If you tie on ribbon, you can add a little knotwork blessing as well!

Ultimately, I feel that giving someone a gift, no matter the time of year or the occasion, is just a little way to show them how you feel.  It's an opportunity to communicate those deeper emotions, to give them a little piece of you and to demonstrate that you see them!  Giving other people gifts is definitely a huge part of what I love about the Holidays.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pushing your boundaries

For those that know me, it's been a busy month...if you don't know me well (yet!), then here's a quick look at what I've been up to this month.  November means NaNo to me:  National Novel Writing Month.  The goal is to write 50k words during the month of November.  I knew that I wanted to do it again this year, on top of all the other stuff I was doing.  So still planned on writing a blog post every Wednesday.  And this year I've been doing moon phase posts, so every 3-5 days I have been posting about the current phase of the moon over at Wyld Garden.  Then, I'm still working on getting my Patreon going, and making sure I do all the things there for Patrons.  Right now that means a short story every month, containing magic and seasonal influences.  I also post a vote there for next month's blog topics, and a piece from something else that I have written previously but never released.  And, because my Witchy Children (the seasonal short story I write for Patreon) story from October featured chants, I recorded them and posted all of them on Patreon this month:  eight chants I wrote and then talked about!  And still working on Wyld, the eZine I am helping produce with some friends.  Although we are currently between major issues, we have been releasing smaller articles, so I had an article to write for that too.

And that's just the writing!  I had family commitments, which meant I was away from home for a good chunk of five days this month.  And on a personal level, I enjoy playing an MMO, and right now the group I play with has been working pretty hard on getting ready for the next big raid (a boss fight that requires ten players to group up together), so we were trying to put in extra hours getting geared up for that.

I knew it was going to be a lot.  I've only been doing the Patreon stuff for three months now, so I am still sorting out the best way to plan all of that out.  Mainly it is the short story that I need to make sure I am keeping up with, not only getting the ideas to write about, but also scheduling it in so I'm not trying to write it all in the last week.  I really want those stories to be well thought out, so I not only want to have them written, but I try to read over them several times before I release them and make any changes I feel necessary.

I've done NaNo for ten years now, and completed it every year...which is a pretty big accomplishment for me.  I always set my daily goal high.  I aim for 2k words a day, which is about 400 words higher than the average needed to finish.  But I also know that things come up, that some days I just can't get into the writing, and so it gives me five days of doing nothing.  I also know from experience that on a good day I can write the 2k in about an hour...and on a slow day it could take me several hours. 

This year I had a particularly slow start.  I had way more prep done on my story this year, which I think made me a little overconfident.  I also know that I write best in the morning, but ended up doing some game stuff on several mornings in the first couple of weeks, and then dithering away the rest of my day.  Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that I didn't work extra on the other days to catch up.

Around the middle of the month, I felt way behind.  I was about 5k words behind schedule, hadn't really done much on my short story, though I had finished my Wyld article.  The worst part though was it just felt like there was so much waiting to be done.  I was starting to drag my feet and not want to write at all.

I know this feeling.  I fight this feeling all the time!  Typically I use music to bust me out of it.  I'll find some kind of music that gets me in the mood to move, and I'll dance for a bit.  Really anything that is upbeat and pumped up!  It changes my energy, and gets me motivated.

When I was down to just one week left, I still had 15k words to write, half my short story...and Thanksgiving!  I rarely write on Thanksgiving, we are always doing family stuff.  I knew I really had to dig my heals in and focus.

Stubbornness sometimes saves me.  And an intense desire not to fail, even if I'm the only one who would know.  NaNo is a perfect example of this.  Sure, I shared my progress online, and my friends and family know I'm doing it.  But I'm the only one who knows if I'm actually doing it!  I could easily have added all these other words I wrote this month into my count (and I did consider this at one point....when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed).  I could have used a previous year's work to cross the finish line.  Or I could have easily just stopped talking about it and given up.

But what I love about NaNo is it pushes me.  It makes me strive for things that seem too much, that are more than I've done before, or that challenge me in different ways.  Every year that I've done it, I've learned new things about my writing.  This year was my hardest year in terms of volume.  With all the other things I worked on this year, I wrote more in the month than any other year ever.  Not counting this blog post, I wrote 26k words for things that weren't NaNo...that's almost as if I did an extra half a NaNo!

Doing things like NaNo helps push my shows me just how much I can do when I put my mind to it.  I wouldn't want to write like this all year round.  I really have to structure my life a lot more to get things done.  I didn't do some things that I would have liked to do (leisure things), and I definitely wrote a lot of days that I didn't feel like writing.

But the feeling I get when I submit those last words, the final blog post of the month, and check all the tasks off in my calendar, that makes it all worth it.  Looking forward, I have a lot more confidence about being able to manage everything I want to do.  And, after such an intense period of time, a normal workload feels easy!

I think this is true of any area of your life where you push yourself hard.  Athletes do this when training, they push hard and do more in training than they need to do in a competition.  Their body becomes used to the training, so when they compete, they can push themselves hard and it may still feel easier than if they only trained doing exactly what they needed to do.  Students do the same thing studying for tests in school.  When they are applying the knowledge later, in a job or just in life, they don't need to do that intense focus on the information.  They may brush up on it as needed, but that's it.

I think this same thing often applies spiritually.  When we are learning a new discipline, we often immerse ourselves into it.  This is sort of what I'm doing with my moon work this year.  At the end of last year, I did a pretty deep study of the moon phases in general.  I had worked with them before, and had studied them before too, but not at this level of depth.  For a whole cycle, I read and journaled about the current phase, reading multiple articles and sources and then writing my own reflection.  And then, for the whole year, I've been taking that general moon phase knowledge and applying it to the particular full moon energy, which has been incredible...and a lot of work!  But I know that I am absorbing so much, and will be able to turn to this year, my journal and the things I have learned in the future..without needing to do all the work over!

If we don't challenge ourselves to push our boundaries, we never expand, we never grow.  Boundaries are there for a reason, and they definitely serve to protect us.  We want to stretch them, but not break them.  When we break our boundaries, then we open ourselves up to harm.  This means different things in different areas of your life.  Breaking a physical boundary could mean pushing yourself too hard physically and often leads to an injury.  Breaking an emotional boundary may happen when you ignore your emotional warning signs and invest yourself with things that aren't healthy for you.  Breaking a spiritual boundary could be working with things that aren't right for you (especially if you feel pressured into it by other people) or it could mean burning yourself out by doing too much too soon.  Much like physical muscles, our spiritual muscles need to be stretched so they don't get damaged.

Finding that edge where you are pushing your boundaries hard but not breaking them involves paying serious attention to your mental, physical and emotional health.  Stopping or backing off when you feel like you are ready to break is NOT a sign of weakness.  Knowing where your hard limits are is what lets you push your boundaries...because you know just how far you can stretch them and when to let the pressure off.

It can sometimes be frustrating because we often don't see the results while we are neck deep in whatever we are working on.  Many times, we have to get to the end to see how far we have come.  The true scope of our progress doesn't hit us until we are finished.  But we also sometimes need that rest time at the end to really let things sink in. 

Another thing that is important is to not be afraid to try something just because you are afraid to fail.  If you only do things that you know you can do, you aren't pushing yourself.  New things are uncomfortable because we are quite literally outside our comfort zone.  Think about it like a balloon.  If you are sitting inside the balloon, this is the place where you are at right now.  It is your comfort zone, the things in life you feel safe doing.  But if you see something interesting just outside your balloon, you can move towards it.  The balloon will stretch and you can move into a space that you haven't been before.  The balloon is still around you, but it's a bit thinner where you are at because it's growing to accommodate your movement.  If you move too far, it will pop and you won't have the protection of the balloon anymore.  But if you stand in this new space fore a while, it's like adding a bit more air, and your balloon finds a new balance.  Now, the space that was outside your balloon is inside of it and your boundaries have changed.

We naturally are drawn to things that challenge us.  We hear about something new and we may want to try it.  And we also instinctively know when we need to rest.  We just need to tune into those feelings, listen to ourselves when we are feeling tired or like we need a bit of a mental break.  And then, when we are refreshed, we can turn our attention to the next new thing!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sacred Feasting

Here in America, we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, which in many ways I think of as our biggest feast day.  We gather together on other holy days to feast and celebrate, but Thanksgiving is pretty much all about the feast.  We celebrate and honor the things we are grateful for, all the blessings in our lives, but we do this through sharing food and community with each other.

I think there is something very special about a shared meal.  Food brings people together in ways that go much deeper than just filling our bellies.  For many of us, food has deep emotional ties, especially special feast foods:  foods that we may only really eat at a particular time or holy day.

So what makes a meal a sacred feast?  I feel that they key factor is recognizing the moment.  We can feast at a lot of different events.  We feast for birthdays, weddings, funerals and births.  We feast to celebrate accomplishments or to recognize life events.  We feast on holy days.  They key is that we view the meal as a special thing, not just a part of our regular daily routine.

When I was little, we typically ate dinner in the dining room.  We would sit and talk about our day as we ate.  Today, mealtime is often either a rushed thing, or spent watching a show.  I see a lot of families that may be physically together but each lost in their own world, often distracted by their phones or devices.

On a family level, many of us still celebrate family with feasting on holidays, or just a special family dinner.  Family dinners I think are great bonding times.  We set aside that time to sit and eat with each other, to connect and catch up with what has been going on in our lives.

Planning a sacred feast isn't as intimidating as it may sound!  The first thing you will want to think about is who you will be feasting with.  A sacred feast can be shared with family, with friends, with our beloved dead, with pets, with strangers...or even on your own!  I think we tend to associate the word feast with either family or a big formal celebration, but you can make any meal sacred if you slow down and set the intention for it.  Each sacred feast has it's own energy, and while the energy of a feast by yourself is quite different than one that is held at a family reunion, it can be just as moving.

Once you know who will be there, you can start thinking about what you will be celebrating.  There may be a special day you are honoring, and if there is, think about what that day means.  It is easy to forget the true essence of a holiday because we celebrate it every year.  We think about Christmas dinner, but do we stop and think about what that dinner means to us?  The things that have happened in the past year may influence how we approach the holiday feast.  Our focus may have shifted, and we may want to plan our feast to honor the emotions you are feeling and not just the general theme of the holiday.

There might not be a specific day tied to your feast.  You may just want to gather friends or family together because you haven't seen them in a while.  One thing that can be really fun for this kind of feast is to have a theme!  It could be a food theme, like all finger foods or childhood favorites, or it could be a theme based off of a favorite tv show or game.  You may want to invite people to dress up to match the theme, or bring some kind of decoration to help set the mood.

While food can be a huge part of a feast, I don't feel special food is necessary to make a meal a sacred feast.  If your means are limited, you can feast with whatever food you have!  But, many of us have special dishes that we love to make for feasts.  Many holidays have 'traditional' foods that are often included in the feasting, like turkey and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.  Your family can also have their own traditional foods.  We typically have deviled eggs at every holiday.

There is a saying that the best food is made with love, and I truly believe this.  When we make food, especially for people who are important to us, we infuse the food with our emotions.  But even if you don't know the people you are cooking for, you can charge the food with your good intentions!  When I cook, I want the people who eat my food to be blessed, to feel happy and comforted.  It doesn't matter if I know them or not.

Sometimes the host of the feast will provide all the food, but often guests will bring dishes to contribute to the feast.  I love potluck feasts.  I think it not only adds to the connection as you get to try all the other people's dishes, but it helps spread out the work which means that everyone gets to enjoy the feast instead of having a couple of people feel like they have to do everything.

Atmosphere is also important for a sacred feast.  You don't have to make things super fancy, although you absolutely can if you feel like it!  But I think a very important thing is that people who are feasting should be focused on the feast.   It is a time to celebrate with each other (or alone!) and if people are distracted, trying to check their social media or watching the television, they aren't actually participating in the feast.

I think the one exception to this is when the purpose of the feast is tied into the entertainment.  For example, if you are wanting to get together with your friends and watch the big football game, that can still be a sacred feast!  Just make sure to have time before and/or after the game to connect with each other!  Many families have a favorite movie that they like to watch at holidays.  You may find that you enjoy your feasting better if you save the movie for after you eat.  Or, plan on having either snacks before or desert after, when people can talk and spend time together.

One of the things I absolutely loved doing when I was little was setting a fancy table.  We had a set of actual silverware, and I was allowed to put it out...if I was willing to polish it before and after, which was something I was happy to do.  Setting out the silver always made things feel so special and fancy to me.  You don't need silver though to set a special table!  There are lots of ways to add a little sense of celebration to your table.

Candles are always a lovely way to dress up a table, and you can often find ones that fit whatever theme you like, even if you are just picking out the right color.  Adding some kind of flowers or other natural arrangement can be both simple and beautiful.  If you have glass bowls or vases, you can fill them with fruit, decorative stones, or nuts to make a centerpiece.  I love putting garlands in containers, it adds sparkle and makes things look very festive.

We don't need to save sacred feasting for only big occasions either.  Date night is a perfect sacred feast.  You can make a meal a sacred feast when you go out to dinner or if you stay in.  Sometimes I will make myself a sacred feast when I am home alone, when I just need to take a little time for myself, some self-care.  I'll pick some food that feels just right that day, and use a special plate or cup.  I always think that when hubby and son go out together, just the two of them, that they have their own version of a sacred boys night feast!

So as we come into the full holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Year's, let's remember to slow down and make the most of our sacred feasting!  Think about what the people you are eating with mean to you.  Think about what the occasion brings up for you.  Think about how the food makes you feel.  Take time to honor these things, to recognize how important they are to you and to acknowledge the blessings they bring into your life.  Don't just eat, Feast!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Working together to Create Global Change

The nature of Paganism has changed since I started practicing.  When I was first learning, the goal was always to join a local group.  Even books that were aimed at solitaries often talked about attending group rituals or festivals and starting study groups.  But today, the internet allows us to have a full practice on our own and still work with others virtually.

Many groups now offer virtual rituals, either  through live video chat, group phone calls or chat rooms.  But we can also join together energetically and create amazing movements that create change for the things we don't like about how the world works.

This is not a new idea.  At other pivotal points in history, people have joined together to bring awareness to issues and to direct their joined energy toward the outcome they desired.  This joining may take the form of prayer, moments of silence, simultaneous candle lighting and meditation or spell casting. 

Banding together lets us combine our efforts and boosts each of our contributions.  When we work alone it is easier to feel so small, as if we are trying to move an ocean with an eye dropper.  But when we know others are working towards the same goals and that all our work will combine, we no longer feel like we have to do it all by ourselves.  If we can do even a single thing, spare a single thought or pause for just one breath, we can contribute!

Change doesn't come easily, but sometimes all it takes to get the ball rolling is for one person to lead the way.  I think that the global temperament is often like a pot of water.  The heat gets raised slowly, and we become accustomed to it.  We can look back and say things were better before, but there is not always a big change that causes things to boil.  In fact, you can super heat water and it won't boil until there is a tiny speck of something else, some outside particulate, and then the water erupts!

I feel like the water temperature of the world has been rising for a while now.  Sure, there are a lot of things that have become better, and many ways in which we have been moving forward as a global community.  But there have also been a lot of ways in which we have taken huge steps backwards.  Atrocities still happen, and it is very easy to think that as a single person, there isn't much you can do, especially when things are happening across the world.

And yet even when we see things happening right around us, in our own country, our own state, our own city, our own neighborhood....we may still feel like there isn't much we can do.  And if we only stand alone, there is a limit to what we can effect.

As a single person, I can lift so much, shout so loud, take up so much space.  I am easy to overlook as a single person.  What makes people powerful is the number of other people they can effect.  So if I am just one person, my sphere of influence appears quite limited.

But what if I start talking.  I talk about the things that upset me, the things that I feel are wrong with the world, the things I can't tolerate any longer.  And I talk to all the people I know.  That still isn't that many, even with the wonders of the internet!  But if every person I talk to then talks to all the people they know, and so on and so forth, pretty soon my words have reached a huge audience.  I am no longer one person, I am now the start of a revolution.

Revolution can be a scary word to many people, but being a part of a revolution doesn't mean that you need to attend protests or overthrow the system.  Thought can be extremely revolutionary!  It all starts with an idea.  When you change the way people think, you change how they act.  When thoughts become unbearable to people, they no longer do things that make those thoughts reality.  And that is when true change happens.

We all have gifts and we all have resources.  Each of us has things we are good at!  These are the things you must do, the things you offer to any revolution you participate in.  Your gifts may be subtle or they may be loud.  You may not think you have gifts, but you do!

Your gifts may be that you can inspire others to acknowledge their own inner feelings of unhappiness with the way things are.  Your gifts might be the ability to organize people with similar ideas towards a common action.  Your gifts may be to figure out the best actions to take at this moment in time.  Your gifts might be to help keep people thinking clearly, so they are acting in their best interests and not just becoming an angry mob.  Your gifts might be to silently bear witness, to watch and acknowledge those around you.  Your gifts might be to sooth those who are too heartbroken to do anything.

When you find a cause that you believe in, something that makes you want to change the world in order to make your vision of what could be into reality, that is your revolution.  When when we meet others that belong to our revolution, these are our sisters and our brothers, our revolutionary family.  Together we can pool our gifts, clasp hands and hearts and focus our intentions towards creating change.

So seek out your family, find people who have reached the end of their rope, and work together.  Though you may be far apart, you may never meet or speak in real time, we have the tools to organize, to share our outrage, our hurt, and our visions of a better future. Discover your gifts and let them shine.  Do your part to bring about the world you want to live in!

Smudge Sticks!

Smudge sticks are considered a staple by people of many different spiritual paths. While Sage smudge sticks are often considered more traditional, there are lots of lovely options out there that include other herbs. Smudge sticks are used to cleanse and purify an area, as well as lending their lovely aroma.

I recently had the opportunity to use two smudge sticks made by “New Age Imports,” a California based company, and both smudge sticks are labeled as made in the USA. They smelled lovely, even through the packaging, and even better once they were opened.

These are quite large smudge sticks, both were just over nine inches long and around an inch and a half in diameter. They are bound very well, not too tight, so that they still burn nicely, but not so loose that the string is falling off.

As you can see, the herbs were still green in color, though definitely dried, leaving them pliable and not crumbly at all. There were a few loose bits that fell off the Lavender bundle when I first took it out of the packaging, but not much at all, and once I started using it I didn't have trouble with pieces falling off.

These smudge sticks smell just as amazing once lit, and produced a nice amount of smoke, as I tried to capture here in this picture! I had no problems keeping it smoldering as I was working with the smudge sticks. 

It is a good idea to use a dish or other fireproof container to catch any ash or cinders anytime you are smudging somewhere that a stray spark could cause a fire hazard.

I also pulled some of the leaves out, and burnt them loose, which worked out nicely. I did have to relight them a few times, but they could easily be sprinkled over a charcoal disk or onto a fire!

I like letting mine go out on their own, so I set them over a dish and they continued to burn for several minutes. Before I lit them again, I just used my fingers to crumble some of the excess ash off the tip, and had no problems relighting them.  You can also extinguish your smudge stick by pressing it into a bowl of sand (be sure to shake the sand out before reusing!) or by pressing it against a stone or other hard, fireproof surface.

The aroma of the smudge filled my house and was noticeable for several hours! Both my husband and son enjoyed the scent, and I loved how it made the house smell and feel clean and fresh.

 If you have never tried a smudge stick before, I highly recommend giving these a go!   Not only can they be used around the house, they are wonderful for using before a ritual.  We smudged everyone at the start of our recent Day of the Dead ritual.  It is a wonderful method for cleansing people before they enter circle.  Many people like to smudge their magical tools regularly as well.

Whether your are smudging a person, a place or an object, you simply light your smudge stick so that it is smoldering nicely then fan the smoke over the thing you are cleansing.  You can use your hand, a fan or a feather to direct the smoke where you want it to go. 

I got my smudge sticks from my local store, Green Earth Stones I love going in there, the owner Kathryn is very friendly and always willing to help. I highly recommend anyone in the Bowling Green Kentucky area stop by and check it out, there are often events and classes held right in the shop.  To find out what events are happening or to see newly released items, be sure to follow them on their Facebook page.  If you aren't in the area, you can also order from the Green Earth website, which has a great variety of products.  

These are the specific smudge sticks I used.  Mugwort JUMBO (Black Sage) Smudge stick and Lavender Smudge stick JUMBO

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Practicing gratitude

I had this topic planned for sometime this month, but in light of the turmoil surrounding the presidential election, it seems extra pertinent. 

Gratitude is one of those things that helps us focus on what is bright and wonderful in our lives.  It brings joy by forcing us to thing about the good things.  It is like lighting a candle in the dark, it can help brighten the area around you.  And the more candles you spark, the more light and warmth you surround yourself with!

It is really easy to be grateful when things are wonderful, but sometimes we don't really let that gratitude sink in.  When someone gifts us with a lovely thing, we may feel that burst of joy and say thank you and in that moment we are fully in a state of gratitude.  But sometimes, that state fades quickly, and it's not that we aren't still grateful or that we don't still love our gift, but it is hard to maintain that kind of emotional high.

It is also very hard sometimes to even think about being grateful when things are rough.  But, not only are those the times where we can gain the most out of a gratitude practice, it is also when the smallest moments of gratitude can make the most difference.

The wonderful thing about gratitude is that it can start small and snowball into something much bigger.  On our darkest days, we may struggle to find anything to be grateful for.  We may have to dial it back so far, that we end up with gratitude like:  I am grateful that I woke up this morning, I am grateful that I am not a hateful person, or I am grateful for friends to cry with.  We may not feel like we can be grateful for the bigger things.

And we may feel this somehow makes us a lesser person...but it absolutely does NOT!  Gratitude is something that spawns deep within, and there are times where we don't feel grateful for things that our brain tells us we should be.  Gratitude is a feeling, it isn't a fact....and if you don't feel it, then you don't feel it!  You may have to dig deep, or get creative with where you look for the gratitude within you.  But it is so very worth it to find those tiny sparks when we are feeling most down.

Gratitude is very personal.  What one person is grateful for might be something that upsets another person.  Or what makes you giddy inside might seem sort of silly to someone else.  Be true to yourself!  Let your gratitude shine out and allow yourself to acknowledge all the tiny (or huge) things that bring you joy!

Every single second we can spend thinking about what we are grateful for is one second that we are NOT thinking about stressful, fearful or angry thoughts.  It is one second of peace and calm in what may be a whirlwind of crazy.  It is one more cry for MORE of what we want in life!  The more we can spend time thinking about, focusing on and calling for the good things, the more we will find them around us.

Never beat yourself up if you are having a horrible day (or week...or year...or life)!  Stop, and find one thing, just one little thing that you like.  Even if it can't bring a smile to your face, even if you are in a place where you just want to curl into a ball and hide from everything, look for that one thing that makes everything a little less bad.  Because sometimes, that is all you can grab onto.  Some days you can't get to good or happy, all you can manage is 'not quite as bad'.  But it is so very vital to find any hope, any light, any joy.

I am grateful for every day and every breath I take.  I am grateful for a husband who may not always agree with me, but still supports my right to argue with him about anything and everything...and underneath it all supports my thinking, feeling and doing things that make me happy.  I am grateful for a son who is growing into his own man, and who has always been loving and respectful towards us.  I am grateful for crayons and scribbled drawings, for color and sparkly markers that turn my fingers rainbow colors when I use them.  I am grateful for song, for chanting, for music.  I am grateful for stories that carry me away when I need to be somewhere that is not here.  I am grateful for flickering flames that mesmerize me.  I am grateful for friends and family who make me feel needed and who miss me when we are apart.

Make yourself a gratitude practice.  There are a million ways to start practicing gratitude..try different ones and see which ones you like and which ones work for you!  When you wake up in the morning, before you even get out of bed, take a deep breath and be grateful for breath and for waking and for a brand new day.  When you drink your coffee, or tea or water, think about your day and the things that you are grateful for that are coming up for you.  When you sit down for a meal, say a prayer of gratitude for the food you are eating, for the plants and animals that sustain you, for the people you eat with, and for the people who are not with you at that meal but still important to you.  When you get ready for bed, think about all the things that happened that day that you are grateful for.  When you lay down and close your eyes, be grateful for rest and sleep and the ending of one day so that a new day can begin.

Start a gratitude journal!  Set aside time every day to write down things that you are grateful for.  Make a goal to write one or three or ten things that you are grateful for.  Whenever you are feeling sad, write down something that makes you happy.  When you feel angry, write down something that makes you calm.  When you are frustrated, write down something that makes you laugh.

Make a collage of things that you are grateful for!  Flip through old magazines and find pictures of things that make your life better, whether they are directly part of your life or not!  I may not interact with wolves, but they are something that has impacted my life in great ways over the years....they would go on my gratitude collage!  A gratitude collage is a great way to honor cycles of time, you can make them at the end of a moon cycle, at Sabbats or for each year.  It can be a lot of fun to then go back and look at these slices of time and see what you were grateful for!

You can also take your gratitude practice and use it to build community!  Write letters to people who have touched your heart, letting them know how much they meant to you.  Share something you are grateful with on social media and ask your friends to post something they are grateful for in return.  Start a gratitude chain:  pick a friend to post something specific about them that you are grateful for, and then have them pick someone and so on!  Or offer to do a gratitude exchange:  let your friends post something about you that they are grateful for in exchange for your comment on something about them that you are grateful for.

The more we stop and notice what we are grateful for, the easier it becomes to honor the wonderful things in our lives.  The more we start to feel that gratitude spread throughout the moments of our days and our lives.  When we are full of gratitude, we can share that gratitude with those around us...we become a beacon of light that shines into the darkness of the world.  The more we search for things to be grateful for, the more we start to notice all the things around us that we have to be grateful for! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Daylight Savings Time

Daylight Savings Time is one of those things that many people are frustrated by.  To many of us, myself included, it seems like an unnecessary hassle, and feels like it creates more trouble that it is worth.  There are many beliefs about DST, from how it came to be to why we continue to do it.  Some people are fans, and I have seen many different arguments for the benefits of keeping with the system.

Most of the time it is farmers that are attributed with the creation of DST, the idea being that farmers would want the extra daylight time.  However, many farmers throughout the years have actively opposed DST.  Shifting how we track time limits farmers in the morning, when many are working to bring their wares to market.  And since animals don't respond to DST, that further complicates things for them.

Two of the earliest people credited with suggesting daylight savings times did so because of their hobbies.  One collected insects as a hobby, and desired extra daylight hours after work in which to pursue his interests.  The other enjoyed morning rides and golfing, and was dismayed to see his countrymen sleeping through the early summer light and hated cutting his golf rounds short at dusk.

But one of the main reasons we observe DST today was because of WWI.  Germany led the way, adopting the practice as a way to conserve coal during wartime.  Many countries followed suit, and though the practice was abandoned during times of peace, it would be reinstated during times of war. 

Some countries have never used DST, and some have used it in the past but do not use it today.  Not all countries adjust their clocks at the same time.  This year, for example, Europe changed their clocks a week before the US.  And while the US changes clocks at 2am local time (so each time zone changes at a different time UTC), Europe changes at the same 'base' time (which means each time zone changes at a different local time).

This of course leads to a lot of confusion.  Not only does each individual need to remember to change their clocks (if they live in a place that observes DST), the time conversion globally fluctuations during this time of the year, making it way more complex to organize things with people who don't live near you.

But under it all, there exists the potential for a unique magical opportunity.  When I was first starting out, I was fascinated by the 'year and a day' concept of time.  It was one of those things that was often quoted in regards to a course of study.  The standard for a degree (back when everyone talked about the three degrees) was to study for a year and a day....and that was after spending a year and a day researching and learning to see if the path was right for you to begin with.

I wondered why the day was tacked on, and then I came across the 'time outside of time' concept.  One of the sources I read listed December 23, as a day of Time beyond Time...and the 'day' in the year and a day.  In some older calendar calculations (particularly Egyptian), in the desire to have months with regular and equal days, the extra days were considered special feast days and not counted as part of the regular year.

While we don't get a full day for DST, twice a year we end up with an hour that is not counted normally.  In the fall, when clocks 'fall back', this means we get an extra hour.  In the spring, when clocks 'spring forward' we loose an hour, skipping it entirely.  This creates a really interesting potential for using this time to do magical work.

In the fall, when we have our extra hour, this is a perfect time to do rituals or workings for increase.  It would be especially good for things that you want to do but never seem to find the time to do.  Another option is to use this extra time to call other bounty into your life....other luxuries or extras you would like to have more of!

In the spring, consider 'scheduling' things you dislike in this missing hour.  You can do this anytime before the time changes and the hours is lost.  You can create an entry in your calendar or datebook and write down the things you want to loose in that time slot.  Or you can make an appointment card or notice on a separate piece of paper, and list all the things you want to skip on it.  This is also a good time to work on things you would like to pass by quicker, as that hour will slip by in an instant!

You can also use the whole time between when DST starts in the spring and when it ends in the fall to honor blessings in your life that you are 'saving'.  Summer months are often quite busy, and we may not take time to notice all the wonderful things in our lives.  And, during the winter months, we may feel starved of all these 'light' things that feel very far away. 

Why not create a Light jar!  Take some kind of container and keep colorful scraps of paper nearby.  When you feel blessed by something, write it on a piece of paper and put it in your Light jar.  You can fill it with as many papers as you like!  If you aren't familiar with this kind of gratitude practice, you may want to set aside a time once a week (or more often!) to sit and think of everything that has made your life brighter and more joyous...and add those to the jar.  You can absolutely add more inbetween, but having those set times helps you stop and take notice and not let the time pass you by.

Then, when DST ends, you can spend the rest of the year, until it starts back up again, using your set aside day to spend time with your 'saved light', reflecting on it and soaking it up!  You could keep your light notes in the jar, or make a collage out of them.  They could become part of a piece of art you display or they may sit in a box on your altar, ready to be sifted through as you need.  You may want to draw one piece of light every day, or whenever you are feeling particularly down.

DST also gives us the opportunity to be closer or further away in time to other people we know.  I've lived in places that observe DST and places that maintain 'standard' time throughout the year.  So sometimes the time difference between me and my family or friends would be more or less than other times.  Or, in the case of DST occurring on different dates, that will give you time between changes when you may be closer or further away in time.  This can give us opportunities to connect with people we may feel distant to...or set up space from people we may feel smothered by.

One of the main times we think about time difference is when calling people in different time zones, so a phone is a perfect symbol to use when working with time and people.  You can take a picture of a phone and on the back of it, write down all the ways you would like to connect with a distant friend.  For someone you want to maintain distance from, use a picture of an answering machine or a missed call message. 

And finally, don't forget that you can do workings to help the actual change occur smoothly.  Plan a ritual for either the night before the change or the morning after (I like to observe the changes in the morning after), to acknowledge the change.  You can ask for a blessing to make your day go smoothly and not be slowed down by the time change, or by people who forgot!  You can also plan your ritual several days before the change, to help prepare.

DST may feel like a hassle, but it can be a very interesting and unusual tool.  We can harness this deliberate alteration of how we perceive time and make it work in our favor, instead of feeling frustrated by it's imposition on our lives.  And sometimes, it is helpful to just take a step back and notice how this thing we have created (time zones, DST, hours, days....time!) can create so much chaos....and ultimately is nothing more than an idea!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Magical Pumpkin Carving...and More!

When we think of Halloween, often one of the first things that comes to mind is the Jack-O-Lantern.  It is one of the iconic symbols of the season, and often a fond memory we have from childhood.  I have loved Halloween for as long as I can remember, and carving pumpkins is one of the things that I always looked forward to.

When I was little, we often went to an orchard to pick our own pumpkins.  There is definitely something magical about walking the field and choosing the 'perfect' pumpkin.  I was blessed with parents that had very different outlooks, so I saw things from two different perspectives.  My dad and I carved pumpkins, while Mom painted hers (and then we cooked it!).  Dad loved getting pumpkins with knobby ones, strangely shaped ones or pumpkins with odd looking skin.  Mom liked hers medium sized, smooth skin and pretty perfect looking.  I leaned toward the odd myself.

Once we got the pumpkins home, we would carve (or paint) them!  The first step was always cutting the top open and scooping out the seeds.  Which, if you've never done it, is quite the sensory experience.  The 'guts' of a pumpkin are quite aptly named, a bit slimy, very stringy...and full of seeds.  We always saved the seeds, rinsed them and roasted them for a snack.  If the flesh of the pumpkin was very thick, we would thin it a little (saving what we carved out to cook and blend and keep in the freezer or cube up and add to soup).

We always did faces on our Jack-O-Lanterns.  They might be funny or scary, strange or normal, but it was always a face.  I've seen some amazing other things carved on pumpkins though, from intricate scenes to fancy patterns.  The great thing about a Jack-O-Lantern is that you can make it whatever you want.

Which is why I think they have so much potential!  Not only can you carve up whatever you desire into the pumpkin, you can display it, out in the open, for pretty much the entire month of October..and no one will look at you differently!

Carving gives you lots of room for adding in extras.  If you want to create a Jack-O-Lantern as a magical creation, you can do all kinds of things to tune it to whatever focus you want.  One of the first things you can do is pick your carving medium.  You are absolutely not limited to pumpkins!  Many early lanterns were actually carved in turnips, so think outside the box.  You can carve almost any root vegetable, though of course the smaller ones may be more challenging.  There are tons of decorative pumpkins and squash varieties in the store at this month, and many have very unique shapes that can spark all kinds of creative carving ideas.

But you can also carve fruit!  Apples can make really interesting faces as they dry and shrink.  Oranges can be carved out like pumpkins.  Many of these foods you can also use as cute serving containers for other foods!  Carve faces into bell-peppers and stuff them (or fill them with dip).  Carve apples and fill them with granola and make apple-crisp-lanterns!  Carve your oranges with patterns, stick in some gloves and float them in your punch or hot cider!

While the bulk of carved lanterns involved taking the top off and then carving a face, you can definitely do it different ways.  You might cut the whole bottom off and make a carved dome to place over a candle.  You could take off both the top and bottom, and carve the ring that could even get fancy and put it on a spinning base to give it movement!

Many people only carve one side of the pumpkin and that is fine, but you can certainly carve things all the way around...especially if you are doing magical carving.  You may want a different symbol for each element or direction, or a different energy facing out than you have facing your house.  You could carve the front for what is seen and the back for what is hidden. 

And, you don't have to stick to regular carving!  If you only carve through the skin, but not the flesh beneath, it gives a different kind of look once you are lit.  And, because the flesh is absorbent, you can dye this skinned area with either food coloring or some other pigment and end up with a very colorful design!  If you add regular paint to your pumpkin skin, you can make a different day and night look (the paint will be mostly unseen at night).  You can even carve patterns in the skin, and then paint a different picture over it to have a colored night time image that is almost invisible during the day!

You can go even more hidden by etching symbols or words into the flesh on the inside.  Use a sharp skewer, the tip of a blade or even a pencil to mark the flesh of the pumpkin.  This is a great place to add more personal details or to elaborate on what the symbols you have carved mean.  If you have specific things you want to draw in or keep out, you can name them.

Once you have carved what you want, you can decide if you want to include other things in your lantern.  You can add herbs or stones, small tokens, or anything else that feels appropriate.  You may want to lay out a small grid inside or just scatter them.  Harder things can be pressed into the pumpkin, or you can even carve little shelves in the flesh for your additions.  You can anoint the inside of your carving with appropriate oil (and then stick herbs to the oil).

Finally, you should pick and bless your candle.  Like any other candle magic, choose a color and shape that matches your focus.  Even though the shape of the candle may not be seen, it will still work (and depending on how you carved, it may peek out for an interesting effect).  As you light the candle each night, say a blessing or chant to activate your lantern.

After Halloween is over, you may want to gather up some of the wax remaining and any stones or big herbs that you added in and make a small sachet with the lantern remains.  You could peel a bit of the pumpkin skin to dry and add to it.  You could also have saved some of the seeds to dry and add in.  Or you could release the whole thing, knowing that it had done it's work!

Have fun with this!  Whether you choose to decorate for the joy of it or to add magic to your decorations, enjoy the season, carve pumpkins (or other things!) that feel right to you, and embrace the magic of this time of year!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Making Masks

In my recent moon post about the Full Hunter's Moon, I talked about using masks in ritual, and I thought it would be a good idea to blog about the mask making process.  Masks have been used for many purposes around the world throughout history.  Masks can be simple or ornate, they can be disposable or keepsakes.  Masks can cover your entire head, your entire face, just your eyes or just your mouth.

One of the simplest and most disposable types of masks is one that is drawn on paper.  You can take a large sheet of paper and trace out a shape that will be the form of your mask, and then draw on the paper to decorate it.  Use a bit of string to tie it on, and voila, you have a mask!  This type of mask is great to use as part of a de-masking ceremony, where you make a mask representing a 'face' that you want to shed.  When making this kind of mask, you can pencil in words or write a whole letter underneath, and then scribble or draw over it.  You can use symbols to decorate it or just stick to representing the emotions it represents with color.  Making the mask can be part of your ritual, or you can make it ahead of time (or during a separate ritual), and then start the de-masking ritual already wearing it.  As you take the mask off, you can tell it why you no longer wish to wear it, why it was hurting you, or how it was holding you back.  Then you can burn or bury it.

A slightly more sturdy mask can be made through the process of paper mache.  Add some water to regular white glue to make a thinner paste, and then use this to glue strips of paper onto a form.  Alternatively, you can make your glue from flour and water, which would allow you to use biodegradable materials and leave your mask out in nature as an offering.  The form can be a pre-made mask form, a mannequin head, your own face or even just a rounded bowl.  There are lots of step-by-step guides that will walk you through the process of forming the mask directly on a face, if you wish to try that out.

You can get really creative while making up your basic mask form.  You can add ground herbs to the glue mixture to enhance the basic mask.  There are lots of options for the paper part too.  You can use tissue paper, newspaper, magazines, wrapping paper, and even dryer lint (soak the lint in the glue mixture and press the excess liquid out of it then press it onto the form).  You can write messages on your paper strips, or just key words that you want built into your mask.  Once you have a few paper layers down, you can start adding in other things:  leaves, flower petals, even small stone chips. 

You can really tailor your mask making materials down to the last detail.  Perhaps you want to make a mask to release conventional perceptions of beauty, and you use only magazine pictures of models (or only pictures of more realistic, everyday people!)  For an animal or plant mask you can use pictures on the outer layer to create a photo-montage mask.  A mask for your muse might be made of printout sheets of your own writing (or old journal pages).  Why not make a birthday blessing mask out of wrapping from gifts you received!

The top layer of your mask will be the main part you see, so this is where you can really go wild.  Add feathers or glitter or accent charms!  Punch holes around the edge and add ribbon trim or dangling bits of yarn with objects tied onto them.  Use tinfoil to mold small beads in any shape you can imagine, and paint them (or use nailpolish) to create colorful additions.

You can also make masks with a fabric base, especially if you enjoy sewing.  You can buy felt or fleece pieces that don't require hemming, and use a glue-gun to attach things.  Fabric masks can be painted on or drawn on with permanent markers.  But, you can also use other fabrics, hem them and embroider designs.  This is a great way to turn old clothing or blankets into something memorable, especially if you can make a mask to represent the memory.  You could add quilted places, with spellwork or components tucked into the patches themselves.  Long fabric tubes can become decorations or hair, and things can be added inside of them as well.  

And remember, masks can be highly symbolic.  Making a mask for wolf may have a moon over the forehead and wolf tracks along one cheek or you may just find yourself drawing lines and shapes that 'feel' right and ending up with a geometric pattern in black and grey.

You can make masks for all kinds of purposes.  You might want a set of masks for the seasons, with flowers, green leaves, autumn foliage and bare branches as decorations (or one mask with all seasons represented!)  You may want to do a divine feminine and masculine mask, or have one separated down the middle for male/female.  You can make masks for your animal guides or plants that you connect deeply with.  Masks for deities you work with.  Make masks to represent qualities you want to develop or people who you want to be more like.

You could use masks to help you discover more about yourself as well.  Make masks to represent parts of yourself that you aren't that familiar with, or those that make you uncomfortable.  You can either wear the mask in ritual and spend time really feeling what those parts of yourself represent, or you can meet the mask in ritual by holding it in front of you and speaking to it as if it were someone else instead of just a part of you.

Masks can also be used as protection.  You can make guardian masks, that you can use when you need to take on those qualities, and leave them hung around your house as their own protection in between.  Medical masks can be enhanced and decorated for healing rituals or to ward off sickness.  You can make anonymous masks (all white or all black) to help you keep your identity hidden or to avoid someone who is seeking you out to cause trouble.

Masks don't have to be a static thing either, they can evolve with you over time.  You may make a mask to represent the current year on New Year's, and then every month, every full moon or every Sabbat, you take some time to meditate on your year and add to your mask.  You could have a mask that you work with regularly, and every time you plan on using it, you check and see if you want to change it in any way.  Especially for masks that represent qualities you want to embrace, you may find your needs changing over time, so you might want to adjust your mask accordingly.  If you have a mask dedicated to a deity you work with, you may find bits over the years that you want to add to it as a form of devotion.

Masks are very powerful and versatile tools.  They give you the ability to create what you may need, to step into a role that isn't normally yours or to shed parts of yourself that you want to release.  They can help us to face parts of ourselves that we don't understand so that we can begin to honor all of ourselves.  They let you express what you want to explore in visual and symbolic terms.  You don't need any particular artistic skills to make a mask, just play with what you feel is right!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Working with bones

There is a definite stigma with bones, an association with death, and as a society I feel we have lost our connection with that which has gone beyond.  There is a rising number of young people who don't know where their food comes from, who dislike the idea of seeing meat that looks 'like an animal' (as opposed to a packaged, ready to use piece of meat from the supermarket).

I was raised with a very open attitude towards food, and in some ways death.  Whole animals were not uncommon, in fact they were often considered a treat.  We ate almost every part of an animal, and that idea is something that I hope I have continued on with my son (who is a very adventurous eater, and hasn't shown signs of being bothered by eating non-standard cuts of meat).  I don't feel like I was raised to be disgusted by death either.  Open casket funerals were something I remember, as well as Graveyard Day (a Chinese custom of sharing food at the grave and burning paper offerings).

Bones have always fascinated me.  I think they have a unique beauty, and the fact that they were once a living being makes them even more special to me.  I feel that by honoring and using bones, I am showing my respect for the animal that used to inhabit them.  Especially an animal that may have become my food, but also bones that were 'found' or bought.

I have bones that I acquired when I was a child, around grade school age.  I had a grandmother who was very interested in all things desert, and at that time, rattlesnake stuff was very popular.  I have a rattlesnake vertebrae that came with a snakeskin bracelet I bought as a souvenir.  I also have a skull that we think was either cat or rat.  My grandfather found it, he used to find all kinds of things in the woods and bring them back to his storage houses and clean them up.  I loved the skull and he let me have it.  It takes a place of pride on my Samhain altar each year, and lives on my bookshelf the rest of the time.

Since then I have added to my bone collection.  My current athame has a bone handle, which I was so very pleased to find.  As soon as I saw it I knew that I wanted it.  I spent years carving runes into bone staves for my very own rune set.  I occasionally save bones that I like from our dinner table. 

There are a few good lessons I've learned about working with bones along the way.  It is much easier to clean them when any clinging bits are not dried, so soaking them in water helps soften the meat so you can clean it off.  An old, stiff toothbrush works really well for small bits.  I know that if I am making chicken soup, the bones pull away from the meat really easily after cooking (and if you want to split them for any reason, it is much easier when they are soft like this).  But, actually boiling the bones pulls the fat and marrow out from the center and gives them an oily feel.  I did this with a lamb bone before I read up and found out that it is recommended to clean them several times in simmering, but not boiling water.

There are other ways to clean bones as well.  One way, with larger bones, is to put them in some kind of wire cage (where the holes are smaller than the bones) and leave them outside so insects will clean them.  There are also chemicals you can use to help clean bones (though bleach is not recommended)...I haven't done any of this, so I can't say what works well or not.  You definitely don't want to use vinegar on your bones as soaking them in vinegar will leech out the calcium and make them rubbery...unless that is your intention!

I also learned a lot while carving my runes in bone.  I had some old bone staves that I was using, and they were very hard.  I also had some dental tools which is what I was using to carve.  It was very tedious work, basically using the metal tools to scrape my lines over and over until they achieved some level of depth.  There was a delicate level of force too hard, and it was easy to loose control of the tool and scrape where you didn't intend to (or stab your leg or hand!) but don't press hard enough and you don't leave any mark at all.

What I found very helpful was to wet the area of the bone I was working on slightly.  I used saliva though you could definitely use water if you don't feel comfortable with saliva (I feel the extra connection between me and the bone rune staves was a desirable thing though).  I would wet the area and let it sit for a minute or so, then scrape with my tool.  I also would use a pencil to darken in the area so I could easily see the marks I was making.

One other warning I found, while reading up on bone carving, is that the bone dust is very harmful to your lungs, so you always want to make sure to work in a well ventilated area and/or wear a mask.  This is especially important if you are carving actual figures or items, but is a good idea to do even if you are just etching symbols into bone.

Many small bones are easy to come by, especially if you are a meat eater.  These smaller bones can be excellent for bone staves, divination sets, small tokens or charms, inclusion into spell bags or use in jewelry.  But you may also want larger pieces, either to carve into statues or pendants or to make tools out of. 

You can sometimes find larger bones at the grocery, I have seen sections about five inches long sold for soup, and leg-in roasts or large hams also have larger bones in them that you can clean and use.  If you are lucky enough to have an actual butcher near you, it is possible to speak with them about getting or buying bones.  Another source of bones is the pet store, where they sell bones for dogs to chew on.  Some of these may need more cleaning as they may have smoked meat on the bone still.  And you can find a lot of bones now on-line, sometimes in lots, often already cleaned.

There are a lot of ways to use bones, and once cleaned, they shouldn't have an odor.  Becoming more familiar with bones, especially in the foods we eat (again, I am a meat eater!) helps bring us closer to our food sources and helps bridge that disconnect that many people feel when it comes to the food they eat.  Even if you don't eat meat, you may find a unique connection with animals by working with bones.  I think that it can be a profound experience, and help us find that spiritual reverence our ancestors had with the animals they shared this world with.