Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Evolution of practice

It is really interesting to me, to look back, and see how my own personal path as well as the greater Pagan community at large, has changed over the years since I first started practicing (which has been just over two decades ago now).  Of course my own path has evolved as I learned more and figured out what I wanted out of my spirituality.  What was important when I was starting out isn't as vital to me any more, and I am interested in things that I barely even knew existed at the start.  And the general perception of things has changed as well.  101 books tend to tell the same things, but if you look at a 101 book from a decade (or two!) ago, and compare it to one from today, you would find a lot of differences.

I think one of the biggest differences between now and then is that when I was first learning, there was a much bigger focus put on group work and tradition.  The standard thought was that you look for a coven or group to join.  Being solitary was very much outside the box.  More books were focused on explaining the culture and practice from a scholarly standpoint than were aimed at being how-to guides for new practitioners.  It was a pretty common concept that in order to learn, you had to find a teacher.

Now, there are tons of resources out there for people wishing to learn on their own.  There are books and websites that will walk you through a progression from just learning about what Paganism or Witchcraft is through building your own personal practice.  Many involve almost no inter-personal interaction, although there are quite a few on-line schools that offer ranges of involvement with teachers or tutors.

I think the perception on traditions has changed significantly as well.  I remember Wicca being the catch-all word for anyone walking a religious Pagan path.  Wicca and witchcraft and Pagan were used almost interchangeably.  In many cases, specific regional paths (like Celtic, Norse or Egyptian) were not their own practice, but merely the flavor you choose to add to the basic method.  No matter what deities you worked with, the assumption was that you did pretty much the same things in circle, in your daily practice and with your group.

Now, the differences between traditions of Paganism are quite distinct.  Asatru is very different from Voodoo, and most Pagan's today realize that they would have very different ritual actions and practices.  And this applies not only to group work, but also to one's personal practice.  If you talk to two solitary practitioner's today, there is a good chance they will approach their paths in distinctly different ways.

I think that the walls between Paganism and other occult practices are also thinning.  There is a lot more crossover that I have seen between Paganism and Ceremonial Magic or Chaos Magic.  When I started, I did a fair amount of reading on Psionics boards and from other Occult sources because they explained things very differently.  Today, I am finding many of those same explanations, practices and theories are known to a much broader audience of Pagan's, many of whom haven't explored these other Occult areas.

I think the biggest change though is that group work is no longer considered the default way of practicing.  In forums and on-line, I meet way more people who are solitary, and have always been solitary.  While there are definitely groups out there, many group situations are more open now.  Instead of having rituals hosted in closed groups, there are a lot of open rituals for solitary practitioners to attend.  And, there are amazing options on-line for people who are unable to attend group rituals in person.  I have been to some really great on-line rituals, both life and recorded replays (to allow people from very different time zone's to experience the rituals).

Practice is changing and evolving.  I think that there is less of a stigma on people using technology in their practice today than there was a decade ago.  When I was starting out, the idea of having a virtual Book of Shadows was not very accepted, but today, many Pagan's keep a digital BOS (or have a copy of their BOS digitally for convenience even if they also keep a paper one).  Printed or commercially available sheets to put in your BOS are also a much bigger thing today, which is appealing for many people who like how pretty they are.

My personal practice has definitely become a lot less complicated.  When I was starting, I did a full circle casting for just about everything.  My rituals would often include tools for all the elements, several different candles, stones, herbs, incense, bells, cords...more or less my whole toolkit.  I had a lot of memorized ritual words, not only for casting the circle and calling the quarters, but also for the main part of the ritual.  It wasn't uncommon for me to find a ritual I liked in a book or online, then work on memorizing it, even if it was quite long.

Today, I am much more likely to work almost entirely off the cuff.  Part of that is being more familiar and comfortable with my path.  I don't need to have the full ritual to enter sacred head space.  I understand more deeply how the circle and elements interact with my self, and I can invoke them with words of my own creation in the moment.  I still love my tools, and enjoy working with them, but I don't need them to work.  I am comfortable working when I am away from home, without my tools or books, creating what I need instead of hoping I had a memorized spell that would fit.

And that is something that I see in the greater community as well.  When I was starting, there was a much bigger focus on learning established spells.  Not only were there whole books of spells, but the sort of accepted idea was that a circle casting that had been used by groups for years would work better than one you made up.  There was a bigger focus on tradition, on learning spells that were passed down from other practitioners.  Today, the focus is on learning how to craft your own spells.  It is often said today that a spell you make yourself will be more powerful than any you can read in a book because it will be tailored to your own specifics.

I am very encouraged by how I have seen the evolution of practice over the course of my own path.  I think that the published works have a ways to go still, but more and more books are coming out that are really exciting to me.  I love reading books that not only express an author's personal perspective, but where the author explains their thoughts behind why they do things the way they do instead of just publishing a 'here is how I do things' manual.  I think the reasons behind the methods are a major boost in people discovering their own ways of doing things, of being able to see things from someone else's perspective, and sometimes to realize that though things may look very different on the surface, the core of the action comes from the same space.

Looking towards the future, I am very interested in seeing how the community develops.  I think we have great potential to really create a wonderful, multi-faceted community of individuals.  And I am very excited to see new ways in which people are drawing together different practices and coming up with whole new ways of doing things.  I have talked to a lot of people who have wonderful fusion practices, blending together multiple ways into a really nifty new way of doing things.  And I think that when we start seeing these types of practices being shared with the world that it will open whole new doorways to how we view and approach our practices.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Preventative versus Reactive Magic

When do you do magic?  Is it something that is a part of your regular daily routine, or is it something you only do when you identify a problem (or need) that you want to address?

A lot of modern sources portray magic as a tool that is used to fix things.  If you are lonely, use a love spell to find a partner.  If you are being attacked, use protection spells to defend yourself.  If you can't pay your bills, do money magic to boost your income.  If you are sick, do magic for healing.

But very few offer suggested for regular practices to keep things running smoothly.  The main one that is suggested is grounding/centering, but rarely much beyond that.  Sometimes there will be a moon related working for a general blessing over you and yours, but even then, it is less emphasized compared to other spell work. 

I don't think this has always been the case.  If you think about what we know about the purpose of early religious practices, there was a much bigger emphasis on working to keep things going as they were intended to.  In fact, I believe that the great celebrations (like the Sabbats) were intended to be sort of yearly maintenance to keep the universe running smoothly.

Also, many cultures spoke of household gods or spirits and regular (often daily) offerings made to them.  Not just when you needed something, but a regular thanks and recognition of life progressing as it should.

Recently I have been reminded of the value of proper maintenance work.  I read an article on the Roman deity of plumbing and how she would get offerings made to her to ensure that the plumbing continued to function well (and if anyone has ever had plumbing issues, you know this is a pretty big deal!)  Also, our electric company recently swapped to a new billing system which requires more, regular attention to when and how we use our power (to avoid outrageous bills). 

There is so much in our modern life that we have to be grateful for.  We have regular access to food, year round.  We have transportation that gets us to our destination quickly and hassle free.  We have homes that protect us from the elements.  We have clothing to keep us warm (and stylish)!  We have countless forms of entertainment at our fingertips.

And we are quick to ask for help when anything goes wrong with these things!  I have seen spells for about every problem imaginable.  But I could probably count on one hand the number of 'keep everything running smoothly' spells or rituals I have seen.

We know it is a good idea to keep our energy body cleansed, balanced and recharged.  Many of us do regular work to likewise cleanse and bless our living space.  But why not take it a step further.

Take some time to think about the things in your every day life that you would be miserable without.  What do you do everyday that when you can't do it, you just don't feel as good.  I had a tooth pulled yesterday, and it has made me very mindful of eating (as I can't just shovel food in my mouth today, I have to be careful how I eat and what I eat).  Any day where I don't get my proper amount of sleep I am halfway useless the next day.

How can you honor these energies in your life?  I loved reading about the Roman goddess of the Sewers.  It made me want to do more research on other deities that might be helpful to honor around the house.  It also made me think about incorporating more maintenance work into my schedule.   I already try to approach the house cleaning as spiritual work, not only to clean our house energetically but to honor the spirit of our house by working to make it an enjoyable environment.  I definitely respect, talk to, and honor our car, as I know how much ease it brings to our life.

Not only do I think that this type of maintenance work will help life run smoother, but when something does happen, you will already have a relationship with the beings involved, so getting the problem resolved will come easier.  It is like having a regular store you shop in every week, where you talk to the employees and they know you well.  You will get much better service there than from the place you just walked into for the first time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The balance of Charging for your work

Recently, it has been repeatedly brought to my consciousness that I have some serious issues in regards to money.  I know a lot of this stems from my early years.  My parents were well off, we never wanted for things, and often more than enough to buy the things we desired.  I would classify my childhood as upper-middle class.

I was given an allowance, to help me understand the importance of money and how to handle it, but instead of being given cash, I was given a virtual checkbook.  Each month I could add my allowance total to it, and as I wanted things, and chose to spend my money on them, I would deduct the amount from my checkbook and my parents would buy them for me.  Much like when we played Monopoly, they would readily fix any errors I made in my favor, but I was responsible for making sure I wasn't short changing myself.

On paper it sounds like a good system, but in reality it didn't turn out that way.  I remember many times where I wanted something little, like candy, and either didn't feel like asking if I could get it or I would ask and somehow my mom wouldn't have the money on her (though if we were at a store with candy, it was probably the Grocery store, so I don't know how that actually worked, it's just what I remember happening).  So I sort of had this knowledge that I had money, it just wasn't much use to me.

I went to college, but didn't graduate.  I lived with some roommates for a while around this time, but didn't have a proper job, so my parents were still paying my bills.  I met my (now) husband, and moved with him across the ocean and the continent (from Hawaii to Indianapolis), and we have been together ever since.  So I really never lived on my own, nor have I ever been truly responsible for my own living situation.

Don't get me wrong, I have had full time jobs.  Before our son was born I worked, and when he was very young I worked as well.  But my husband was always there as a sort of safety net, and he always was the larger income (due to his previous job experience and training as an electrician).  I was more or less stuck with entry level jobs, sometimes not even able to find full time work.

We've always had joint money, never had any kind of his and hers accounts.  And we've had some very rough times over the years (though we are definitely doing better now).  There were a lot of times, especially when our son was young, where there was no extra money.  I think those days are sort of seared into my brain.

I think I've sort of become accustomed to not having money (or I guess I should say not having expendable cash).  It is pretty common for me to not have any cash in my wallet.  And while we do have bank accounts and debit cards, I am very much in the habit of not buying personal things with the debit card unless I have talked to my husband.  Definitely something that has it's roots in the times where there might not be money in the account after bills are paid.

A part of me is so used to not having cash that I don't often think in terms of money.  If I have a skill or information to share, my first thought is never to charge for it.  I don't think there is anything wrong with charging for things at all.  Rather I am still working through personal issues about my own worth.  I have a very hard time evaluating what I would be worth, and to me, it is less stressful to just share what I have or know than to think about what I might charge for it.

Recently I have realized that I get sort of offended by some people and how they approach charging for things.  It's not so much the money, per say, though I do think that some price points are seriously out of line.  But it's a free world, and if you want to charge $500 dollars for an hour of coaching, more power to you.  It is your choice to do so, and your client's choice to pay what you are charging.

I have serious issue, however, with anyone trying to guilt me into paying their price for something when I have already said several times I am not able to afford it.  I know a lot of people have stepped out of their comfort zones, committed to paying a fee that they couldn't afford at the time, and then worked hard to be able to make all of their bills and pay it off.  Perhaps I am just not self-confidant enough to do that, or perhaps I still carry the weight of not being able to pay bills because the money just wasn't there.  Either way, the moment you start telling me I should go behind my husband's back and pay you more money than we spend on rent in a month, is the moment I am over it.

I don't think that a husband and wife (or anyone in any kind of financial partnership, whether they are roommates, dating, or in a business together) should be making these kind of big decisions without consulting their partner.  If a decision might actually bankrupt you, lead you to having no roof over your head (or no food on the table), then it is my personal opinion that you should be having a discussion about it. 

And it's not always about the amount of money or how it is being earned.  Sometimes, what bothers me is the way in which someone asks.  I have been blessed to be able to attend some absolutely lovely (and free) on-line retreats, rituals and lectures.  I am very thankful for the people who put these on, and know that many of them also have related businesses and that these free offerings are one way in which they get new clients.  However, sometimes I think the timing is just not right to bring up money.

One that stands out in my mind was a virtual Sabbat ritual.  To me, the Sabbats are religious services...holy time.  To have someone try to sell a book during one really shocked me.  It would be like someone offering to pray for you, and then half-way through their prayer to start to explain the many reasons why you should hire them to cut your lawn.  It felt sort of sacrilege and definitely put a pal on the atmosphere for me.  If they had just waited until the end of the video, or perhaps sent a follow-up email about the book, I would have had no issue at all.

The final thing that bugs me, in regards to money and services, is when someone more or less lies to you, dangling the free carrot in front of you and uses it as an excuse to pitch to you.  I remember when I was little, my parents used to attend 'free' weekends at different time-share companies.  We would get a free stay at the time-share, in return for attending several hours worth of sales-pitches.  I always loved them, because the places were always nice.  I didn't mind the sales-pitch, because I knew that it was the price of the stay. 

As an adult, I've gone through similar experiences (on a much smaller scale).  I love free stuff, and am happy to listen to you give me a sales-pitch to get a free paring knife.  What I don't like is when you tell me you are giving me a free video or lecture, and then not actually sharing anything except the sales pitch and perhaps a few one-liners that don't actually teach anything (well not without buying whatever it is they are selling). 

I recently listened to an hour long lecture that was supposed to share tips on how to achieve your ideal weight.  The speaker spent the first 20 minutes talking about the topic, but not really saying a lot, almost like they were leading into the subject.  Then, still hinting that more information was to come, they spent 40 minutes selling their program (which apparently was where all the actual tips and information was).

I took notes (and I tend to be pretty wordy when it comes to notes...I always like to write down everything and anything that could be useful).  I have maybe 10 lines of notes, and some of that is just different wording of the same thought.  I could probably sum it up in two or three sentences.

Again, it wasn't that I minded getting a sales pitch.  What I minded was the bait and switch where they promised to share what they had learned, and then instead just tried to sell a product.

Most of the time, sales is not just about making the sale.  You want your customer to be happy with what they got for their money.  You want them to want to come back, to want to share your service or product with their friends. 

I think this is especially true in the magical community.  So much is built upon reputation and personal interaction.  The more connections you build, the better you will do, whether you are trying to make a little extra on the side, simply expand your skills and offer your services, or make enough to pay your bills while serving your community.  I don't think there is anything wrong at all with someone earning their living through their craft, or through teaching, or counseling or however else you may answer your personal calling.  But I think we owe it to ourselves and each other to approach money and charging for things with integrity.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Pain and healing

There are a lot of thoughts about magic and healing.  I have often seen it stated that you shouldn't do anything magical when you are under the weather or hurt except for self-healing work.  But as one of my friends pointed out, if you have a chronic condition, you either learn to work with your own body and energy levels or you don't work.

For me, I think it is always hard to do work when I am hurting or sick.  Not so much because I can't do the work, but rather I just get so caught up in that miserable head space that it doesn't even occur to me to do something about it!  It is definitely something that I am working on.

I'm also a very 'work through the pain' kind of person.  When I am sick or sore, my first instinct is to just grin and bear it, to continue on doing what I was going to do anyways, or even to push myself harder (just to prove I can...I'm kind of stubborn about that).

Today was a pretty good example.  I had pain in my neck and shoulders as well as some kind of sinus thing and all that led to a solidly throbbing headache.  Which I promptly tried to ignore.  Then I took some pain medicine (just over the counter stuff).  Finally, I decided to try to stretch out the body and work with yoga and directed healing breathing to help with the headache.  And a hot shower (more on that in a bit)!  And now, hours later, the neck/shoulders still ache (but are better), but my head isn't killing me anymore (though everything still looks too bright).

So, I figured I'd talk about some of the things I do when things hurt.  I am definitely in the 'do what works for you' camp.  I think we all respond differently to things, and what works for me might not work for you at all.  But, in case it does, I thought I'd share!

I'll start with headaches, as I think that is my most common complaint.  I used to try to track my pains, but it was sort of depressing, so I stopped.  It is not uncommon for me to have headaches multiple days a week, or ones that last for several days.  Often they radiate out from my sinuses, but both front and back of the head are also pretty common.

I am definitely not against over the counter medicine.  I tend to try to avoid it for 'little' pain (and I classify anything that doesn't actually stop me from doing what I had planned on doing as little), but I am slowly learning that little pain often blossoms into big pain and that doing something to stop it before it gets too much is so much better.

Massage is definitely one of the first things I do, for a headache.  I'll rub the back of my neck, my temples, the bridge of my nose or the base of my skull...wherever it hurts.  Sometimes, that is enough to help lessen the pain.  I also like to get my hands really cold before I do the massage, so run them under cold water or hold a cup of ice, so that I can apply cold as I rub.

I also find that a pressure point in the very center of each palm often helps.  I always press the right hand (using my left hand) first, as my left hand is weaker, and if I press that point first, it can't press as hard.  This is one of those points that is on a nerve, so I do feel a little pain, which always pushes away the head pain while I am pressing, and often will reduce the pain even after I am done pressing. 

I also love a hot shower, for headaches.  Especially those with sinus or neck strain.  As hot as I can stand (which is pretty hot), I will start the water off hot, and then nudge it hotter as I get used to it.  If I am going to take a pain medicine, I often take it right before the shower, so that it can be working as the heat is working too.  If I am having any sinus pain, I will put my face in the water, holding my hands over my nose so that I can breathe in carefully through my nose without inhaling water, but still getting all that hot, humid air as well as the direct hot water right on my nose.

I really like stones for pain as well.  I have a few that I love.  One, I recently picked up is Brecciated Jasper.  The one I have is carved as a worry stone, so it has a nice flat side that I can hold against someplace that is hurting.  My oldest stone for healing is just a round 'river' stone (the kind you can get for landscaping), almost palm sized.  I read a long time ago about how the Pow-wow (the Pennsylvania Dutch, not American Indian) tradition used a stone to represent fire and for healing, and I loved the idea.  I find that the cold stone held up against someplace in pain feels incredible.

We are still in cold season, and colds are definitely something I treat with food.  If I start getting a runny nose or sore throat, my first reaction is to start putting garlic, ginger and cayenne in about anything I can put it into.  I almost always make myself soup with all three.  I also sprinkle powdered garlic and cayenne on other foods.  For a sore throat I am a huge fan of honey and apple cider vinegar.  I like mine strong, so I go with at least three teaspoons each mixed into a glass of water.  I also find this is great for digestion.  When my throat is sore, I also always crave beer..something about the yeast.

When I am congested, I often like to have a hot bath.  It is also nice to have scented steam, so I will add tea bags or loose herbs to the bath.  I actually like baths for all kinds of healing.  I will add olive oil to treat dry skin (though it does always make me think of pasta!), or lavender for a relaxing soak during menstruation (the heat definitely helps me with any cramps).

As I mentioned earlier, I have a pretty solid stubborn streak.  I like to push myself, and often end up sore after exercising.  I have a knee that gives me trouble, and am sort of klutzy so it is pretty common for me to have bruises and scrapes that I might not know how I got.

I'm a little bit paradoxical when it comes to actual injuries.  Most of the time I try to stretch an injury out.  If it is serious enough that I feel the need to wear a brace or avoid a certain action, then I will definitely do that.  Sometimes I use the brace as a reminder to be gentle on that part of my body.  But even when using a brace, I will reach a point where I need to use the injured part.  My body responds really well to mindful exercise.  Even when my knee is at it's worse, walking or doing exercises that work the muscles around it end up helping more than trying to keep off of it.  It's a sort of funny distinction, and sometimes it can be hard to figure out which way I should be going:  rest or work!

For bruises, I definitely believe in massaging them.  I find that rubbing a bruise helps break it up and bring healing to the area so that it goes away quicker.  For small cuts (things that don't require stitches of course), I apply pressure to stop any bleeding, but I dislike wearing bandages.  If I am going to be doing something particularly messy, then I will, but otherwise I much prefer to let them breathe.

I am very hands-on with injuries.  Anytime things hurt, I will use my hands in some way to direct healing to the area.  I often do this by massage (especially for achy muscles), but also just by laying a hand or fingertip over the area.

I also love chanting, so if I can think of an appropriate chant, I will use one.  Fire chants for chills, water chants for fever, air chants for respiratory and earth for body aches.  There is a Braucherei chant that really resonates with me that I use all the time, mostly for headaches. 

"Across a red plain I see a red wood,
and in the red wood I see a red church,
and in the red church I see a red altar,
and on the red altar I see a red book,
and on the red book I see a red knife,
and with the red knife I cut out the pain."

I believe, when I read this, that it suggested using a red handled knife as a focus for any healing work with that charm, and that it should be repeated 9 times (9 is a power number in Braucherei).  While I do have a red handled knife (its a Swiss army knife, which I think is great for a healing focus with the red handle and little shield and cross icon), often I'll just put my first two fingers on my temples (or wherever the pain is) and repeat it three times (as three is one of my power numbers).  Braucherei has many interesting healing chants, but this one really stuck with me.

A final thing I almost always do when anyone in my house has been sick.  Once they are well, I will burn incense and carry it and a candle around to all the rooms to banish any remaining sickness or stagnant energy and to restore health and balance to the house.  It doesn't feel clean until I do.

I'll end with a suggestion that someone I knew made several years back.  We were talking about healing in a forum, and about how we often don't feel up to serious energy work while ill.  And one of the ladies said she charges candles for healing and keeps them in her supplies, so that when she is under the weather, she has candles that she personally charged to burn even though she might not have energy in the moment to add to them.  I always thought that was a really lovely idea (even though I haven't actually done it yet).  I think it could be easily expanded to small personal healing kits, with pre-charged candles, incense, stones or whatever else you think you might need.