Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Games for learning

I have been working on a story for my Patreon site (for anyone interested, it is the seasonal magical story at the $5 Patron level and will be posted tomorrow!) which features a group of Witchy Children who decided to use a game to help them practice their herb studies.  I have always been a big fan of using games to learn things.  When I was little, my parents used games to reinforce things like math (Monopoly is great for math) as well as educational video games.  And when my son was little, I found games that used math to help him practice as well.

But game learning isn't limited to traditional skills!  There are all kinds of games that can be used to practice any skill you can think of.  With apps, you can often find games that will help you learn or practice knowledge based skills.  I have seen board games that teach everything from herb usage to general trivia to the ten commandments.

The world really opens up though when you start thinking about creating your own games.  Then, you can tailor your game to whatever subject you like, and the people who are going to be playing.  You can always use a traditional game as a template and then adapt it to suit your needs.

A basic game that would be great as a template is trivial pursuit.  You can draw up a game board, with all the different colored squares, use any tokens for the main game pieces, and just have colored cards to represent the categories you have successfully answered a question in.  You can have as many categories as you want, and require as many pieces from each category. 

For example, you might decide you want to have these categories:  'stones and gems', 'herbology', 'deities', 'magical tools', 'astrology' and 'famous Pagans'.  You can come up with trivia questions for each category, and if you are playing with other people, you can each come up with questions for all of the categories...not only does this help share the work, but it creates a greater variety of questions! 

Another game that makes for a great template is scategories.  The basic idea is that you have lists of ten or so categories.  Each round of play, you randomly pick a letter, and all your answers must begin with that letter (everyone shares the same letter).  You have a limited amount of time to come up with answers for each category.  You get a point for every answer that you have that no one else put down (so if two people list 'apple' as a 'thing in nature with a star' then neither would get a point).  Coming up with categories is a lot of fun, you can try things like:  'things used in ritual', 'things you never want to hear said in ritual', 'things used in a protection spell', 'things in your magical cupboard', 'holidays', 'things associated with Aphrodite', or 'magical components that are red'.  Really the sky is the limit!  And it is really fun to see what other people come up with!

You could come up with your own version of Taboo, where you have a card with a target word on it, let's say the target word is Samhain.  Then there will follow a list of words or phrases that are 'taboo' can't say them:  Sabbat, Halloween, Day of the Dead, Jack-o-lantern, Pumpkin, October, All Hallows, Trick-or-treat, Costume.  The idea is to then describe the target word without saying any of the taboo words, and to get one of the other players to guess the target word.

Breaking free from the game board, I love 'what if' games.  You can play them in so many ways!  A fun one for a group is to come up with a list of random items.  It could be stuff you might have in your car, in your pockets, at a fast food restaurant or out in the woods.  Then the challenge is to use those items...and only those craft a spell towards a particular goal.  So, for example, if you had some chewing gum, a paper clip, a rubber band, three dimes and a penny, a receipt from the gas station and a piece of clear quarts in your pocket and you needed to cast a spell to make it to work on time, what would you do?

Another approach to this kind of game is to pick one focus and name at least one correspondence from as many different categories as you can.  So if you picked the focus of love, can you name a stone, flower, herb, deity, holiday, color, scent, metal, animal that is associated with it?  You can do this for any focus, though it works especially well for Deities and concepts (like healing, protection or peace)

You could also try the alphabet game, where you pick one letter of the alphabet and try to come up with one word for each letter that matches your category.  You can do the alphabet of deities, of stones, of herbs....and finding X's for all of them might trip you up!

An interesting take on oracle/tarot is to either use one deck or have everyone bring their own.  The goal is to tell a story based on what the cards show.  One player will start, by flipping over one card, and then saying one sentence about the card.  The next person will then flip over their card and add a second sentence.  Continue around, with each person flipping a card and adding to the story.

A competitive version would be that the first person flips a card and describes a situation.  Then the second person flips their card and has to use their card to counteract the original one in some way.  So if the first person had the fool card and said, "A young man leaves the house to start a great adventure," and the second person drew Strength, they might say, "But he came upon a great lion that roared at him menacingly."  Continue on until one person can't come up with a counter to the previous card.

What I love most about learning games is that they turn study into sacred play.  Especially in a group situation, you are encouraged to think outside the box, under a time limit or remember things that you may not have fully memorized.  But simply by playing, you will become more familiar with the topics of your game.  You will start to remember things more (especially if something really memorable happened while you were playing) and you will have a good time doing it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Celebrating alone

I have been functionally solitary for my entire path.  While I have, and definitely enjoyed, working with others, the majority of what I do is done alone.  I firmly believe that you can have a full and complete practice while solitary, but many rituals, especially life transitions and Sabbats are portrayed as group celebrations.  It can sometimes feel like you are missing something by celebrating alone.

There is a definitely difference to participating in a group ritual, and even a difference between a small, intimate group ritual and a large ritual with many people.  Rituals with close friends feel different than rituals with strangers.  While I haven't been to any huge rituals (I would say that the largest I have attended was just around twenty people), I have been to a decent variety over the years.

I have always felt that one of the best things about being a solitary practitioner is that you can do whatever works best for you!  You don't have to worry about catering to everyone's needs, making rituals that work for people of different paths or practices, or even about doing things in front of other people.  You can dress how you like, speak in whatever way is comfortable and use tools that may be too private for use with others.

But you can still create a celebratory atmosphere!  And if you desire, you can blur some of the lines between solitary practice and group work, using technology, if you are unable to physically be with others but still want to ritual together.

It can be sort of tempting to go simpler, when you are working by yourself.  Pulling out the stops is definitely work!  It's sort of like eating alone....if I am the only one in the house, I am more likely to grab whatever food is handy and eat while doing something else, than to actually sit down and take time out for a meal...and I am highly unlikely to pull out candles and set a nice table for myself.  Which, when you stop and think about it, is sort of a shame.  You may not make a big deal out of things every time you do them alone, but it is definitely worth taking time for special rituals over the course of a year, even if you only do ritual alone.

When I am planning a full ritual for myself, the first thing I think about is the theme:  what is the ritual about.  I honor the Sabbats, and to me they are a great time for celebratory ritual.  I don't always do work at a Sabbat ritual.  It is more about honoring the time of the year and the energy I associate with that particular festival.  If I have work that aligns with it, I can definitely add it in, but I may just take some time to enjoy the ritual process.

The theme will dictate all the other facets of the ritual you plan.  Beltane has a completely different energy and theme than Samhain.  If you aren't sure, read up on the ritual you want to create!  I love reading other people's rituals, though I don't often use them exactly as they are.  But by reading a ritual someone else has put together, you can get a feel for not only the theme of the ritual but also the flow of it, which can be helpful if you are just starting out.

Once I have a feel for the theme of the ritual I want to do, I think about space:  where am I going to do my ritual.  I often have constraints on my ritual space.  When hubby is sleeping, I don't have access to the bedroom.  If hubby and/or son are home and awake, I prefer not to use the living room...I like my privacy and to be able to create the atmosphere I like.  We don't have an outdoor space that is private, so ritual outdoors is not really an option.

What I can do is alter a space to create an atmosphere.  I like doing rituals in the bedroom, as we have a large dresser that I can use as a working space.  But I also have a couple of large cloths (tablecloth's and blankets with different patterns) that I can lay out on the living room floor to create atmosphere.  I have quite a collection of candles in different colors, so I will pick ones that match.  I have also been collecting candle holders and decorative bowls/plates for ritual use (I love looking at second hand stores for holiday/seasonal themed items...or shopping the post holiday sales!)

If you, like me, are doing your ritual indoors, it can be lovely to have flowers or other natural elements inside.  You can have them in a vase, or lay them out on your altar space, or create the boundary of your circle with them!  When you are done with your indoor ritual, you could also take the flowers outside and create a mandala offering with them!

Music is another great tool to creating a festive atmosphere.  There are some very beautiful Pagan singers and amazing chant tracks that can add a lot of power to your ritual.  But you aren't limited to purely Pagan sounds!  You can go with nature sounds, from rain to animals to thunderstorms.  Or, you could pick songs that remind you of the seasons (great for Yule), or songs that remind you of your theme (there is nothing wrong with using pop music in ritual).  You may find that you are drawn to a particular mood with your music.  Some rituals may call for more somber or mellow music, while others are perfectly suited for upbeat dancing songs!

One feature that is common at a lot of group rituals is the feast.  This may be a part of the actual ritual, in the form of offerings or the sharing of 'cakes and ale' (which doesn't actually have to be cake and alcohol, but is typically some kind of bread-stuff and some kind of drink) or the feast may be part of the social aspect and take place after the ritual is over.  Either way, there is no reason not to include food and drink in your solitary rituals.

If you like baking, there are many recipes that can be used for a ritual offering.  Both cookies and breads have so many varieties, you can easily find one that matches your theme.  You can also go for more of a full feast, and cook a meal to honor the theme of the ritual.  And don't forget the drink!  If you do drink alcohol, that is a very traditional offering, but if you don't, then consider juice or tea...or just pick your favorite, indulgent drink!  The main thing for me, with ritual food, is that it needs to either be something that is significant to the ritual I am doing, the deities invoked, or a special food for me.  I don't just pick whatever is in my cabinet or whatever leftovers in the fridge need eaten up (unless that seems ritually significant!)

And don't forget to dress!  When I was starting out, the idea of skyclad was very prevalent.  It was mentioned in about every book, especially for group work.  But it is something that many people aren't comfortable with, especially in a group with people you don't know well.  On your own, it can take on a whole new meaning.  Many of us (myself included) aren't always accepting of our own bodies, and spending time unclothed in sacred space can help bring that feeling of sacredness into our own body. 

You absolutely don't have to go that route if you don't want to though!  You could also dress up:  put on your favorite outfit, or create a look to go with your theme.  Add jewelry, do makeup if you are so inclined, a dab of your favorite scent.  Treat it like the special occasion it is!  I love dressing up for ritual, even if I am by myself.  It helps me step out of my ordinary life and really mark it as an occasion (particularly as I don't 'dress up' that often in my regular life).

You can even add symbols, designs or words drawn on your body.  Use makeup pencils or liquid eyeliner to do fine lines.  You can do larger areas with bold face paint (like the kind that is all over at Halloween).  You can do a full mask or just small areas.  There are no limits!  Decorating the body can be both deeply spiritual and great fun.

And, you don't have to be fully alone!  There are many ways to connect electronically, and share ritual space that way.  You can connect with one or more people over the phone and share your ritual through sound.  Or you can set up a camera or use video on your phone to connect visually as well.  Even rituals done through text, in a chat room or messenger, can be quite moving, especially if everyone has created their own ritual space ahead of time and follows along with actions as you go.

For me, many rituals are meant to be celebrations, and just because we walk our path alone, doesn't mean we can't celebrate!  Find ways that speak to you, do things that make ritual special, pull out all the stops and create amazing ritual space JUST for yourself! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


By my nature I'm a fighter.  When things get tough, my first reaction is to dig in my heels and tough it out.  But I am learning that there is strength in surrender, and that sometimes giving in is exactly what you need to move forward.  And surrendering isn't always the easy way out!

Surrender comes in many forms.  It could be as simple as acceptance of what is.  It could be allowing your sense of self to step back for a minute, surrendering to the flow.  It can be trusting in other people, and allowing them to do things that you would normally do.  It can be faith...your belief that there is something out there greater than you that will guide you if you only let it.

One of the most obvious ways I see the power of surrender is physically.  I just started a new workout challenge, and my legs are pretty tight today.  I was doing some stretching (which I love, and for me is one way in which I access a deep breathing meditative state), and my leg muscles were fighting the stretch.  My first response was to tighten everything up and muscle my way into the stretch.  But then I made the conscious effort to do the opposite.  To relax the muscles of my leg, to breath into the stretch and to continue to focus on keeping the muscles loose and relaxed.  It feels like a step backwards at first, but then with each breath I end up moving slightly further into my stretch.

I think this is very representative of what happens when we fight other aspects of our growth.  When we are breaking through a new boundary, we are working ourselves in new ways.  We might end up over-extended and need to settle into our new perspective.  It can be scary and feel uncomfortable, so we want to struggle against it.  This might mean we are resisting the new experience or we are trying to force our way deeper into it.  Either way, this creates a lot of unnecessary tension in our self. 

This is where trust comes in.  We trust in our own path, in our own progress, and we trust that we have laid in the proper foundations to let us climb to where we want to be.  When you are climbing up a ladder, you keep your eyes focused on the top, on where you want to go.  You don't look down at the base of the ladder, to make sure it's secure.  You set that up ahead of time!  You just keep your eyes on the prize and put one foot after another on the rungs of the ladder and climb.

Surrender is also a key skill when we are getting swept away.  Life has this way of putting you in the middle of the storm sometimes.  We all have those days where everything you do seems to go wrong.  Murphy days, where everything that can go wrong the worst possible way!  We get frustrated and angry and start to snap at everything.  Our actions get less focused and refined and we may start slamming doors or using way more force than is necessary, because we just want things to turn our right!

It's much like getting caught in a current.  The water is dragging you somewhere you don't want to go, and the natural reaction is to turn around and start swimming in the opposite direction.  But fighting the current will only tire you out, and depending on how fast the water is moving, you might not be able to make any progress at all!  What you need to do is try to guide yourself instead, swim across the current, or look to see where the current is taking you and if there is a safe place you can shelter from it.

What this equates to is taking a step out of the situation.  When I start to feel this kind of situation brewing, I will close my eyes (to cut out as much stimuli as I can) and take a deep breath (or ten!) and try to bring myself into a state of calm and then project that calm outward.  Even if the world around me is still crazy, just trying to remain calm helps me to remain afloat and to not continue to feed into that destructive energy.

Trusting other people to do things for you can be very challenging for some of us, especially if you are very particular about how you like things done.  But sometimes we all need a little help, and you have to surrender and place yourself in someone else's hands.  This may mean letting go of having things exactly as you might like them.  My husband and I have very different ways of looking at some things.  I like to plan things out ahead of time, while he tends to play things more by ear.  We both compromise a little and meet in the middle.

This can be especially difficult when we are unable to do something for ourselves, for whatever reason.  Then, we have no choice but to trust someone else, and that can make us fight the help, even if the only way we can struggle against it is verbally.  Society has sort of trained us to pretend everything is okay, when it isn't, to be strong and to push through when we are ill, or injured or exhausted.  Asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness, and it really isn't!  There is nothing wrong with turning to other people and getting assistance. 

Recognizing how hard this is can be part of the process of allowing other people in.  Acknowledge that letting people help you is hard for you, even if you only admit it to yourself.  Perhaps consider journaling about why you feel getting help diminishes you as a person.  Or why you don't want to let other people do things for you (even just nice things like giving you a gift or a compliment).  It can also be helpful (and really nice!) to ask other people why they want to do things for you....realizing that they are acting out of love or caring and not pity may help you be more open to accepting.

And finally, I think that we can sometimes struggle with great anxiety about our choices.  Whether they are big or little, life changing or superficial, we may have times where we find ourselves unsure of which way to go.  In these times, we can tap into that divine spark within, to the part of us that is something more than our thoughts and our sense of self.  You may think of this as God, a particular deity, your higher self, instincts, guardian angel...however you comprehend it, you can ask for guidance.  You are stepping out of your self in a way, and allowing this other energy to influence your choice.  For me, it's like creating a space within myself.  I don't do anything besides create this space, almost like stepping out of my own mind for a minute.  But when I do I am always filled with a sense of peace.  I may not know for certain what choice is right, but I am reassured that whatever choice I make, I will be okay.

Surrender is hard, it isn't just rolling over and letting other people trample all over you.  It is about trust and faith and acceptance.  It is about knowing when to fight and when to go with the flow.  Practicing surrender will create peace in your life and allow you to face difficult situations with a clear mind and confidence!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Trusting your Gut

While I am a huge fan of both research and of hearing how other people do things, I ultimately believe that we each need to find our own way.  We all have a unique perspective, and this means we will have a personal expression of all aspects of our path, from how we relate to the divine to how we practice in our daily life.

And one skill that I have found vital to this (and just handy in general) is intuition.  Learning how to feel into a situation instead of only relying on your logical brain helps you sort out what works for you from what other people tell you works for them.

Like many other people, I started out my practice by reading books.  I didn't know what to do or how to do it, so I read about how other people do it.  I am quite lucky that I learn well from books, but still I found things that just didn't click with me...but that was how all the books said to do it so I figured I was doing it wrong.  It wasn't until many years later that I started to really trust my instincts and go with my gut and figure out how to do things on my own.

Intuition is a deeper sense of knowing.  I equate it a lot to clairsentience, or psychic knowing.  This is how a lot of my visualizations come to me, not always through sight or sound or touch, but through just knowing.  I think this is why a lot of people discount it, because it is a sort of strange sensation.  We aren't used to grasping the essence of a thing without a lot of our sensory descriptors or verbal qualifications.

When it comes to intuition, we often know things without understanding why, or have an impulse to do something that comes out of the blue.  We are taught, from when we are a little child, to question the why of things, to think things through and to have reasons for doing things.  Intuition sort of flies in the face of this.

But it is exactly those signs you want to look for, when learning to trust your intuition.  When you get an impulse, as long as it's not dangerous, go for it!  We don't always need to know why we want to do a thing, just wanting it is enough.  The more you start to trust your intuition and do things without having a logical justification, the more you will notice these impulses.

There are a lot of other tips for tapping into that intuition when it's not jumping in front of your face and waving it's arms.  The simplest is to think about what your options are, and to focus on how each one makes you feel.  Ignore, for a moment, all the logical thoughts and comparisons.  If you are trying to figure out what job to go after, don't think about the money (beyond making sure that they all will pay your bills!) or what other people may think, but imagine yourself doing the job and see how it makes you feel.  Sometimes, what is best for us is not what comes out best on paper, but what makes our life better!

Sometimes it can be hard to recognize the difference between what your brain is saying and what your gut is saying.  I have always separated head and gut along the conscious and subconscious mind brain thinks things while my gut feels them.  If I can easily explain something with words, then it is probably coming from my brain, my logic, my thinking self.  However, if I struggle to explain something or if I relate to it more with an emotion or sensation in my body, then I feel it is more instinctual.

Some people will get very different sensations when their intuition is kicking in.  They may feel a warmth in their body, or an electric tingling in certain areas.  If their intuition is drawing them to something, it may feel comforting or like 'home'.  On the other hand, if they are being led away from something dangerous, they may feel an uncomfortable prickling or just a general sense of malaise. 

Now, this is one place where it gets tricky for me.  I get anxious about things, especially choices and new experience.  So sometimes, I will get negative body reactions when I am faced with something that pushes me out of my comfort zone.  These can be very similar to the things I feel when my intuition is pointing me away from something.  But it's not actually my intuition saying that the thing I am contemplating is bad, just my own fears trying to hold me back.

Two things really work for me to sort out if it is fear or intuition.  Firstly, I think about what the worst that could happen would be.  Most of the time, this highlights whether or not it is fear (when I get anxious about silly little things, or about how other people may react to me).  The interesting thing is that by walking myself mentally down this worst case road, the anxious feelings will start to decrease when it is just fear.  The second thing I do is take a deep breath.  Just that breath, while thinking about doing the thing I am worried abut, will get rid of most of my anxious feelings (sometimes it takes several breaths).  If I do both of those things and still have a bad feeling about something, then I trust my intuition and start looking for other options.

There is a neat body trick to try for checking in with your intuition.  This can be done solo or with someone else.  If you are working with someone else, you can hold one arm straight out to your side.  You will try to hold it up, and the other person will try to push it down.  Each time you do it, think about a different option.  Your body will respond with more strength to the option that your intuition feels is best for you.  If you are alone, you can touch the tip of your pinky and thumb of your non-dominant hand together, then using your other hand, try to push the fingers apart with your thumb and pointer.  Try to use the same amount of pressure to push your fingers apart while thinking about your different choices.  The one that you are most intuitively aligned to will keep your fingers together, while other choices it will be easy to separate them.

So how does all this apply to walking your own path?  I think that we are often faced with the situation where we read or hear something that seems to be common knowledge or generally accepted, and it just doesn't sit well with us.  Sometimes this is because we are breaking free from old patterns (like the associations with the words 'witch' or 'heathen'), but sometimes it is because our intuition is trying to tell us that we need to look elsewhere. 

I think it is of great use to ask other people for their opinions.  Often this can be a form of insight, and it helps our intuition have lots of place to point us!  But it can also be limiting if we feel that we can not trust what our gut is saying.  We may find ourselves trying to walk in someone else's shoes and being constantly frustrated because it is so hard to walk the path!

When something feels wrong or uncomfortable to you, look into that feeling!  The feeling is a message, you just have to figure out what it is trying to say to you.  Sometimes it is fear trying to keep you in your old, small box.  Sometimes it is a sign of danger.  Sometimes it is just that the fit isn't quite right for you.  Learning to know how your intuition speaks to you and to trust it helps you figure out which message you are receiving and how to move forward!