Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Home Harvest

When I was first starting out, it was pretty much a given thing that if you were walking some kind of Pagan path, you would celebrate the Sabbats.  Not many people were questioning how well these agricultural celebrations fit our modern lives.  There was an awareness of Northern versus Southern hemispheres, but beyond that little was done to adjust the Sabbats to your local climate or seasons, it was just expected that you would celebrate whatever Sabbat the calendar said to celebrate and do 'seasonal' activities and workings to fit the season that particular Sabbat focused on.

But many Pagans are now starting to leave behind the wheel of the year celebrations, either in part or entirely.  They might have adapted the suggested eight festivals into less, moved them about to fit their local weather patterns or chosen to celebrate more cultural aligned festivals instead (picking the festivals of their chosen path or their personal cultural identity).

I still feel drawn to the structure of the wheel of the year, but I do find that there are struggles there for me.  I am not a grower of things, in fact I have a pretty bad track record of things I've tried to grow.  For all that I live in a fairly rural area, our produce really isn't that great, even during times when I think it should be.  And with the modern shipping industry and big chain grocery stores, I see many fruits and vegetables year round, so that makes it even harder to feel the changing of the wheel through the harvest.

As it is harvest time now in the wheel, I have been thinking about harvest lately.  And to me, harvest is not only about reaping the benefits of the hard work you have put in previously, but it is also about shoring up for the hard times to come.  When the crop harvests are brought in, they aren't all used up immediately.  They are stored and used to make it through not only the lean times of winter, but also through the growing season...pretty much until the next harvest time.

It is a time to look around and see where our bounty is, but also to let go of the old to make room for the new.  While you can absolutely do this for any area of your home and life, I think it is a great time to look at our pantries and do a clearing out.  If you are anything like me, things get bought and stored...and forgotten about.  I often treat my pantry (and freezer) like my closet.  My favorite things get used often, but there are lots of other things that get lost in the back or out of the way places.

I also have a bit of hoarder in me.  I like to save things 'just in case'.  Especially with stable shelf foods, it makes me feel very secure to know I have lots of food in the cupboard, and if some kind of emergency were to happen, whether it was a financial one or a logistical one (snowstorm, power outage) my family would still have food to eat.

Personally, I also like to save nice things 'for special occasions'.  I catch myself buying things that are treats, and then not wanting to open them.  Sometimes this means that special things will be past their prime because I was so reluctant to indulge.

While I do try to get rid of things I find that are no longer viable, I also find it very useful to do a big pantry purge, and this is a great time to do that!  I will go through my cupboards and look for things that are seriously out of date.  It always surprises me when I find canned goods that are past date, because the dates on most of those are several years, but they end up shoved in the back of the cupboard and forgotten about.

When I'm doing this, I also try to really be honest about whether or not I'll actually USE that thing I found on sale or got on a whim.  It's kind of like the closet question (get rid of anything you haven't worn in a year), if I have actually thought about making a food but decided against it because it just didn't sound good, I will probably let it go.

Of course one of the main reasons to do this time of a clearing out is to get rid of food that you won't eat (or that might not be good anymore).  But another reason is to open up options.  If my cupboards look full, I don't always think about what needs restocked.  And if they look full because there is a bunch of things I don't want to eat, then I find that my choices are actually much more limited than I thought they would be.

Clearing out my cabinets also is a great time for me to clean and organize things.  Over the years, the foods we keep in stock has changed, and we may have started off using an entire shelf for one type of food that we now barely buy, while another food may be spilling out of it's designated area.  By weeding out the stuff we aren't going to keep, we can truly take stock of what we have and where we should keep it.

Thinking about how food habits change, I also find this is a really great time to take stock of what foods we have been eating more and less of.  Sometimes, I'll not be paying attention to what we have been using, and will just shop like I normally do, buying things we 'typically' use, and when I go to put them away, I'll find that I have way more than I thought I did.  Or I'll assume that we have something in our pantry, and then realize when I go to cook dinner, that we are actually out of it and I'll have to scramble to substitute something else!

Part of this process of going through the cupboards lends itself perfectly to paying attention to the bounty in your life and giving thanks for it.  Even when my cupboards have been very bare, we were able to keep some food in them.  I am thankful that there has always been something that I can feed my family, even if it was a simple, cheap meal.  But when I find myself with extras, I give thanks for that as well.

I try not to let foods go bad, because it makes me feel wasteful.  I know that sometimes things are out of my control (especially with produce that starts to spoil within days of purchase...boy does that make me angry!), but when it is just things that we bought and then never bothered to use, I find myself more resolved to only buy foods that I will use, no matter how good a deal something might be. And if I have food that is good but just something that I wouldn't use, I try to donate it to someone who might be able to use it. 

This is also a great time to take stock and clear out your magical cabinet.  While many magical stores are shelf-stable, some may need to be checked on.  I have had some materials I have collected that I didn't store properly and they needed to be tossed.  I tend to just stick new things I acquire in my magical bookshelf or my end table, and it is always good to go through and actually organize things.  Not only does it make it easier to find the specific things I want, it helps me see what I have.

I have a bit of a different standard for my magical tools and supplies.  There are some books and other tools that I rarely (if ever) use.  But some I will never get rid of, either because they have strange sentimental value to me or because they are something I would never inflict on someone else (I have a couple of pretty horrid 101 type books that I keep for that reason).  But I also do often find that I've picked up things that either I intended to pass along when I got them or that I got just because I thought they were kind of neat and I never figured out a good use for them (or they just weren't a good fit for me).

I love taking these things to magical gatherings and putting them up for trade or sale.  I like knowing that they are going to someone who would use them and love them.  I have traded oracle decks before, as well as different tools and books.

And of course, our magical cupboards can experience the same flux of supplies that our kitchen cupboards go through.  Especially with commonly used ingredients...for me that is most often candles and incense.  I am always looking for good sales on these things, or for new types of incense that I might like...or interesting birthday candles (I love the little tiny ones for simple everyday workings, and they come in all kinds of fun shapes and colors now!)  But I do sometimes find that I've recently bought a bunch and now I have a dozen packets of candles waiting to be used.

Harvest can mean a lot of different things.  It is easy to loose track of the bounty that exists in our lives, when we don't stop to really see what is around us.  Time passes in the blink of an eye, and we look up and realize that we have things we haven't used for years.  Take the time to pause and appreciate what you have.  Take stock and let go of the things that don't serve you.  And honor the harvest, in whatever form it manifests in your life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

My eclipse experience!

I didn't actually have big plans for the eclipse originally.  I tend to get caught up in my daily life, and all the regular stuff, that sometimes I forget about these big events.  I remember an eclipse when I was in grade school, though looking at the dates, it must have been an annular (where the moon is smaller than the sun) and not a total eclipse, because I would have only been 1 year old at the last total eclipse! 

But what I remember is the wonder and fascination.  I vaguely remember some kind of glasses, though I also sort of remember the pinhole box thing, so I don't actually know how we viewed it, but we did stuff for the eclipse at school.  I was really surprised that so many schools closed for the eclipse.  My son's high school didn't, however he brought a form home that we could sign that would allow him to stay home, 'officially' so that we could watch the eclipse from a better viewing location.  He went to school, but said that very few people did.

Because I didn't have big plans, I didn't actually have glasses or really any kind of set idea about what I wanted to do.  Then I saw someone post pictures of painted rocks they made in honor of the eclipse.  I love painted rocks, and really work with rocks a lot (both actual crystals as well as ordinary rocks), and knew I just had to try my hand at it.  And then my art journaling group had the eclipse as this week's prompt, so now I was doing eclipse stuff!

On the morning of the eclipse, I decided to start with my rocks.  I had some of those plain black rocks that are sold for decorations (I got mine from the dollar store, though you can also find them at the hardware store or craft stores).  I use these for all kinds of purposes, but I love to paint them.  Normally I use nail polish (I love the durability and I have tons of bottles in all kinds of colors and glitter options), but I think because I saw painted rocks and was thinking of my art journal I went with proper paint this time.

The first step I have to do when painting these kind of rocks is wash them really good with hot water and soap.  They always have a sort of waxy coating on them, and it doesn't completely come off, but it gets better.  I assume the coating is to make them look sort of shiny like polished river rocks, but it's not kind when you want paint (or polish) to stick to them.  Then I cut little circles out of a post-it to use as a blocking stencil.

My thought was that the rocks were black enough I could paint the halo, using the post-it to keep the center unpainted, which would make it look like the eclipse.  Post-its are sticky enough to keep in place, but easy to peel off (because trying to peel off actual tape without messing up your paint edge doesn't work well).  What I forgot the first time through was that I have to take the stencil off as soon as I am done painting.  If I let it dry with the stencil in place, the paint peels off with it.

Of course, I painted both the gold and silver parts of the halo, and used a hair drier to set the paint and then tried to peel the stencil off....only to peel off the paint with it!  I knew I'd have to redo them, so I figured I'd try my hand at painting the detail before I did, so I knew if it would work or if I'd just have to leave them plain (because I could see that just the metallic halo looked pretty cool on it's own).  I used the stencil to mark out the edge for a tiny yellow crescent, and then added a white starburst.  I tried to add a bit of white haze too (as the one I saw had it and it looked neat), but I couldn't get mine to look right, and I thought it looked nice without it so that's what I decided to do.

A bit of nail polish remover took the paint off my rocks, and I started again, this time painting and removing the stencil right away.  I actually got brave and painted the crescent on one of my rocks free-hand (and wasn't that hands shake with tiny detail work, so frustrating).  But I was super happy with how my rocks turned out!  They have been sitting on my desk altar now, and it's fun to be able to look up and see the shiny metallic halo, and I absolutely love how the crescent and star effect came out. 

Once my stones were painted, I wrote in my art journal for a bit, working through the prompts about the eclipse.  I am really loving the process of journaling and then painting (or collaging) over my journal entry.  I have so many ideas about things to art journal in the future!  I had thought I might actually get my page painted before the eclipse, but by the time I got my stones to where I wanted them, and had painted on the Gesso (to help cover the writing and give the paper in my journal extra weight), I knew I wouldn't have time to paint the page properly, so I decided to paint it later.

I was not in the path of totality, but we were at a .99 magnitude (over 1 is considered a we were close), and I had looked up the times, ours hit at 1:30, but stretched for just under 3 hours around that time.  I knew I wanted to charge my eclipse stones outside in the eclipse light, so hunted about for a place to set them.  I am always nervous setting things outside unattended (and I knew I wouldn't be outside for the full time of the eclipse) because we do have neighbors and little kids, and these were shiny painted rocks!  But there was no good place out back on our tiny patio, so I set them out front on one of the columns near our door where they got the full light.

I went out myself about five minutes before the peak of the eclipse.  Most of our neighbors had gathered in the front, and there were quite a few kids.  I knew I wanted to sit and just enjoy the experience, so I went out back, toting my art journal with me.  I didn't have glasses, but I also know that I can do quick glimpses at the sun (I don't recommend this....I'm not always smart with myself lol), so I sat out with my journal open to my eclipse page on my lap and let the sun wash over me.

I'd look up for one blink, then close my eyes.  I could see the afterimage of the eclipse with my eyes closed, and it was really interesting to watch it change as time passed.  I could see the sky getting darker and more blue.  Colors seemed to be changing, and the temperature dropped.  It had been really hot and muggy, and now it was sort of cool and pleasant.  As I was looking around, it was just different enough to make it feel like I was looking at the world through a strangers eyes, or that the world around me was subtly different from the one I was used to.  It was a fascinating feeling.

I was leaning backward, looking at the more-blue-than-usual grass, and had another moment of slight disorientation.  Something about the way I was leaning and the angle of the hill of grass behind me, made it feel like the world was curved.  I lay back, so I could see nothing but sky and arched my head so I was looking at the sky below me and the curved horizon of grass above me.  It was a total inversion of the world, and crazy cool. 

I lay there, for the rest of the eclipse, watching the sky get darker.  The sun itself was no longer directly in my view, but off to the side, so I could stare at the sky easily.  And I thought:  about taking this moment to pause, about just existing in that space.  It was something I had written as my intention for the day (I set an intention each morning as part of my calendar work), and today it was to pause.

I realized I don't often just stop and let myself BE.  I do often zone out, or tune into something like music or a show, but I haven't been spending as much time tuning inward, sitting with my breath and the earth and the sky...and I missed it!

For me, this really encapsulated the eclipse.  I my not have planned ahead, but I did decide that I wanted those moments, that time right at the eclipse, to just be, and to be me.  I didn't care about what the neighbors were doing, if they were to come out back and see me and wonder.  In that moment, none of that mattered to me.  I found my peace and stillness and I cherished it.

My last moment of wonder with the eclipse came as I was walking down to get the mail.  We were still in the eclipse window, and I noticed the light filtering through the big tree onto the driveway.  I had seen instructions for viewing the eclipse through small holes (like a strainer or the holes in your blinds) by looking at the shadows it created, but I thought it was particularly lovely to see these crescents of light where there would normally be just random patterns.  I think there is something really special with noticing these kind of magical, natural moments.  Things we normally don't even register, but something happens to make them different, and all of a sudden it is this unique crazy thing and when we stop and take notice, it changes us.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Finding your Flow

Today is the start of the school year, which means my whole day changes.  In some ways, I have more structure when my son is in school, as I get up earlier and go to bed earlier.  But in other ways I have more freedom, as I can do things during the day whenever I want, without worrying about what other people are doing.

I definitely think that freedom is a two edged sword.  Having lots of time means that I am always tempted to do things that I enjoy first...and then get sucked into them and never get around to the stuff I actually need to do.  The more structure I can build myself, the better my days tend to go, and the more I get done.

One thing that is always very evident, especially when I first get back on a more regular schedule is that I am very productive in the mornings.  I can get a lot done before lunch, and during the summer, when I often stay up late and sleep in, I get so much less done, because I'm just in a different mental state late at night.

I am a night person, in that I love nights and feel more comfortable at night.  But while I am awake and alert at night, it is a different kind of awareness.  For productive things, I am often better off settling in and getting them done early in the day.  It is a strange thing, because I am SO not a morning person!

And this is one of those things where the phrase 'know thyself' becomes very important.  I can ignore the fact that I am productive in the morning and try to push myself to work at night, where I am more comfortable.  But even though I may not enjoy getting up and doing things in the morning, I accomplish so much, and it leaves my evenings free for me to do the fun stuff (that I do very well in the night time). 

I read an article a while back on ebb and flow in regards to personal energy.  It really stuck with me.  I think we all have our own personal cycles, whether we are women or men, at all phases in our lives.  We also often just have 'good' or 'bad' days.  Some days, I am very ON, and it feels like everything is easy and I can just get a ton done.  Other days, it's like pulling teeth to even get basic stuff done (like cooking myself lunch).

It is tempting, even on days where I am on a roll, just to play around and do things on my 'want' list instead of my 'need' list.  Especially if I have had a string of days where I was just not feeling up to doing a lot.  Those down days drag on, and make you feel like nothing is much fun.  When I feel more energetic, I want to do fun things!

But I know that I also have things that I do on a regular basis that are so much easier when I work on them when I'm in a flow state.  And sometimes I may not have that many great days, so I really need to capitalize on them.

It is hard sometimes, to push yourself to work when all you want to do is enjoy the day.  This is one place where my thinking mind really helps me.  If I put of my work, and play, there is always that voice in the back of my head, nagging me and giving me guilt for not doing the work I should be doing.  At the end of the day, when I look back over what I have done, I feel less happy if I didn't get productive stuff done when I could have.

If, on the other hand, I get my work done, I feel so much better.  And then, on days where I just don't feel like I can do things, I don't feel guilty about not working, because I know that trying to push through those hard days often leaves me more worn out (and doesn't lead to actually getting much done...I may fiddle about and pretend to work for hours, but actually end up just avoiding doing work).

Part of knowing yourself and your rhythms is knowing how often you have good days and bad days.  If you know about what you need to get done, you can decide how much absolutely needs to get done on any given day.  I always have a timeline in the back of my head, with the things I have going on, when they need to be finished by, and how much I feel I can do on both a good and bad day.

Having worked on writing regularly for several years now, and having done many years of NaNo (which is such an intense writing project, it really pushes my limits and helps me grow as a writer), I definitely know how much I can do when push comes to shove.  Even when I don't 'feel' like writing, I can often get some things done.  I may do more research or background building, just jotting down notes to myself for when I am ready to actually write what I need to write.

It can definitely be hard, to use your good days and productive times, to do things that may not be the most fun, but need to get done.  Sometimes, I think it's more a matter of reminding myself that things will be so much harder if I put them off until I am right up on a deadline.  I know that I can push through and force myself to finish, but that I will also probably be a little miserable doing it.  If I can remember this, when I'm feeling good and productive, it can help entice me to buckle down and work when the working is easy.

No matter how much I want to do something, there are always bits of the work that are more tedious.  I love to write, I really do.  But some times it feels like never ending work!  There is always more to work on, another project to get written, and works that I want to edit and finish up (which are definitely piling up!) 

There are a lot of spiritual books that suggest doing certain practices at specific times of the day.  And while I do think that there is often a reason for the times they suggest, I also think that if those times don't work for you personally, it can be detrimental to try to force yourself to do them as suggested.  You may feel frustrated and never really pick up on the practice, because it just was the wrong time.

As much as I love night time, doing things (like journaling) right before bed just doesn't work for me.  And doing it right when I wake up doesn't work either...I'm definitely not enough of a morning person to roll out of bed and be able to come up with anything coherent right away.  But after a little time, to eat and drink some coffee and wake up, then I find I am in a good place for thoughtfulness.

It can be hard not to get frustrated, especially if you tend to have more hard days than easy ones.  But it is never hopeless!  Start keeping track of not just how you feel, but how different activities flow throughout your days.  You may find that there are times where you are much more capable at deep mental tasks while other times are more suited for more physical things that don't require much thinking.  By paying attention and learning to match the things you need (or want!) to do with how you feel and what kind of energy you have, you will be able to accomplish so much more, with ease!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bread Making

There is something really special about baking bread.  At it's most basic, bread is some kind of flour and water which is then baked.  But there are so many wonderful variations of bread, and so many ways in which we can not only bake it but also use it once it is baked.  Bread can be part of a feast, it's consumption can be part of a ritual or it's creation can be magic!

Whether we bake our own bread, use a mix or buy breads, they are often part of my magical path.  When I was first learning, I had 'cakes and ale' at pretty much any ritual I did, even just for myself.  If I could, I tried to get some nice pastry, to offer up and partake in as part of my rituals, along with a special (often alcoholic) drink.  But sometimes it was a few crackers and some water.  What was important to me is that it was food and drink, and the food typically was a bread like thing.

Often breads are created in specific shapes, and those shapes bear special meaning.  Hot Cross Buns were the first special bread I ever knew of (because of the nursery rhyme), but breads (and cookies, which are definitely like breads!) can be made into all kinds of fancy shapes.  They can look like other foods (like grains or vegetables), people (like gingerbread men), structures (like gingerbread houses) or animals (I made some very cute bunny rolls several years back for an Ostara ritual...sadly I can't find a picture of them).

You can also make simple shapes and press or carve symbols into them.  I have done this with both salt dough and cookies.  Runes or other symbols could be used to infuse the dough with the energy of the symbol.  These could be used as offerings, or consumed (if the dough is edible) to bring that energy into yourself.  Symbols abound, and when you start looking for them, you will find them, as I did when I drew the spiral WomanRune, then realized that my breakfast that day was in the spiral shape! 

I love working with and playing with salt dough.  It is a really simple and easy way to create symbols of things you want to work with, or basic statues.  As it can be nothing more than salt, flour and water, it can be used as leave out offerings that won't be harmful (for an offering that doesn't need to last, you can actually omit the salt and just make a basic dough with flour and water...the salt helps keep it together if you want to keep your creations around).  Basic shapes, such as this pentacle are fairly simple to make, by just rolling the dough into long strands and pressing them into the shapes you want.  

While an unfinished piece like that may eventually weaken and crumble, you can make your pieces last longer by sealing them.  You can use craft or hardware sealants, anything that will keep moisture out of them.  You can paint them before you seal them if you want them to have more color.  I sealed these ones with nail polish, the small Odin statue (which was a blast to make) is sealed with just clear nail polish, while the snakes I played with different colors (I really like the shimmer in some of the colors on the snakes).  The cat I kept a plain dark, since it is less detailed, I kind of liked just having it be monochromatic.  And the wolf head actually isn't salt dough, but clay (but since he was another small figure I've made for my altars, he was in this picture).

What I find really fun with dough is that you can add all kinds of things to them.  I have modified my salt dough with both coffee grounds and cornmeal.  It was definitely an experiment to get the consistency of the dough right, but I loved how they came out.  This is the cornmeal dough, which I made into small offering stones.  I cut most of them with tiny 'cookie cutters' that were originally meant for kids' playdough.  I used the same molds to press shapes into different ones.  And I made some spirals and simple round 'bun' shapes with X cut into them.

The ones I made with coffee grounds reminded me a little of concrete, because the grounds gave them a much rougher texture.  Salt dough, even without being sealed, will last for a very long time as long as you don't get it wet.  I made this set two (or three) years ago, and it is still hard and hasn't changed.  And they still smell a little like coffee!  I was having a hard time cutting the designs into this dough (because of the texture) so used a toothpick to poke the patterns in.  I thought it was neat that the outside got so light as it baked, but where I had poked the dough down, it stayed dark (and the bottoms, where they were resting on the pan stayed dark as well).

And whether you are making salt dough for ritual use or bread dough for eating, you can pick additives based on your purpose.  I love to add herbs to my dough when I am baking, and my pantry is full of choices.  Actually most of my magical herbs are kitchen herbs, so picking from the pantry isn't a new thing for me. 

The bread making process has plenty of places to add a little extra magic.  I often give herbs (and sometimes salt) a bit of a grind in my mortar and pestle, especially if the herbs are quite large and I don't want such big chunks.  Grinding as well as kneading are times that I find perfect to chant and focus on infusing my work with my intentions.  If you are working with a dough that has to rise, you can use that time to charge the dough, either by placing your bowl on a sigil or other symbol, or covering it with a cloth that is appropriate (which could be laid over the cloth or paper you have covering the dough).

Bread is just such a versatile medium with which to work.  If you haven't tried your hand at it, I highly recommend it!  There are many simple recipes that you can try, and a basic salt dough can take just minutes to whip up (as it doesn't have any leavening, so no need to rise).  There is something really special about the transformation from ingredients to dough to finished product (whether that is a bread or a statue).

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Back to School

Even though I don't go to school myself, my son is still in high school, so our year still revolves around the school year.  Summer is drastically different in our daily life than school days, as neither of us are naturally morning people, so when given the chance we stay up late and sleep in.

But even though I'm not a morning person, I am definitely more productive early in the morning.  Sometimes I can get things done at night, but I'm more likely to really get the nose to the grindstone before lunch time.  So in the summer, when I pretty much don't wake up until lunch time, less things get done.

That means that when my son goes back to school, it often calls me back to my own studies.  I am very much a scholar at heart, I always enjoy learning things, and can't even imagine not having books to read or subjects to study.  It is one of the things I love about Paganism:  that there is this call to uncover more, to learn more and to continue to grow.

There is a fine balance that comes with study.  Our brains need some amount of time to absorb information.  If we just keep trying to add more stuff, without ever taking breaks, it is very easy to burn out. 

I get this with new projects.  When I get interested in something, it is very easy for me to obsess about it.  If I start learning about a new thing, I can dive in deep, spending hours a day just trying to find out as much about it as I can. 

This sometimes leads me to becoming burnt out on a subject.  I'll have spent a week in intense study, have read everything I can get my hands on and made copious amounts of notes...and then I'll just be so sick of it I can't even bring myself to finish up what I was working on.

Often, when I hit this point, I have to walk away from a subject, and sometimes that will lead to HUGE gaps where I don't really work on that subject at all.  I did this with chakras.  I spent days reading about and making notes on the root chakra, but I couldn't bring myself to go beyond it.  I still have my notebook with pages of notes and pictures involving the root chakra...and nothing more.

But more often, I end up taking a break and coming back to my study.  I have done this with runes many times over the years.  Typically when I find a new book or website that explores the runes in a new way, I'll dive in and spend some time looking at things from this new perspective.  But then, once I've consumed all the new information, I'll let things set and not really work with them for a while.

When I do come back to my studies, I find that not only am I mentally refreshed and eager to start learning again, but that I have really internalized things that I have learned.  I will find myself pleasantly surprised to realize that I can recall things without trying or really having to think about them.  The information is now a part of me, and not just something I took notes on.

The really interesting thing is seeing which subjects come 'naturally' to me and which I am most resistant to.  I have never really been good with time or dates, so things like astrology is a huge struggle for me.  I still couldn't tell you what sign someone is if you told me their birth date (without looking it up).  And this even extends to me not being as familiar with the qualities of each sign (it's like the fact that there is a date involved means that I just block all associated information).

On the other hand, stories work very well for me.  When I know the story behind a thing, I can remember it.  And I start to work more information into the story, so that thinking of the story makes me recall even more.

This is why it's so very important in my own studies for me to look into the why's of things.  Learning legends and myths or how a belief evolved is vital to my being able to recall the actual information later.  Stories make things real to me. 

And I think that is a very important thing to know, no matter what your learning style is.  We all learn slightly differently, and figuring out the way you learn best means you won't have to work as hard to learn things.  This may mean trying different styles of working with information until you find what works best for you.

When I am first learning something I prefer to have a written record of it.  This way, I can spend as much time as I need with the information, quickly and easily reference points that I might want to compare and skim through things that are repetitive.  Once I have a basic grasp on a concept, I might enjoy a video of it, especially if it is something that is very visual (like a how-to on making an object or actually doing a ritual), but I really dislike trying to understand the basics from a video. 

I know some people who are the exact opposite.  For them, videos are much more relatable and trying to figure out information from a block of text is tedious.  This is why I think it is very important to know how you personally absorb information best and to find ways to work within that.

Sometimes this means that you have to translate one type of information into another.  If the only source I have for a subject is a video, I may need to make my own notes off of it, then study my notes to actually figure things out.  If you learn best through hands on learning, and you can't find a workshop for the thing  you want to learn, perhaps you can try making a study group and finding other people who want to learn as well, and you can all try it out together.

I think that sometimes people have bad experiences with school as a child, and they think it means they aren't good at learning things.  But I think that most of those bad experiences are based on trying to learn in a format that doesn't work for you.  Instead of thinking about the things you struggle to learn, think about the things that are easy for you to learn and figure out a way to use that knowledge to your advantage!

If you have always had a really easy time picking up sports, you may be a physical learning, needing to actually do things to learn them.  If you struggled memorizing poems but had no problem picking up new song lyrics, you might be an audio learner (or it could be the music that is key for you).  If you are always frustrated with doing things for the first time but once you figure it out you never forget how to do it, you may be a repetitive learner (also sometimes known as muscle memory).

So when you are struggling to learn something you need or want to learn....take a moment to consider why it is so hard!  Perhaps you need to just take a break and let it all sink in.  Perhaps you need to adjust your study method so that it fits your learning style better.  Perhaps you need to look at the information from a different angle.  But instead of getting frustrated and beating your head against a brick wall (or book!) try something different and see if that helps!