Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Animal spirits

I am, and always have been, a huge lover of animals.  One of my favorite things to read about as a child was animals.  I was endlessly fascinated by their habits, how they experienced the world, and the interesting things that made each one unique.  I was especially enamored by wild animals, and read every wild animal rescue book I could find.  I had dreams about raising baby critters or becoming a vet or someone who saved injured animals.

But, my dad was allergic to things with fur and feathers, so I didn't grow up with a family pet.  I did have a mouse when I was in high school, and hubby and I both love cats, so we now have three lovely kitties.  We have also had a few cats, who have passed over throughout the years.

I never liked the traditional concept of ghosts:  being trapped souls that were stuck here on earth.  I do think such a thing is possible, but I definitely don't think it's the fate of all that pass (not even in a fleeting manner).  Which brings up a tricky point:  how do you work with ancestors or the spirits of those gone by without interfering with their afterlife?

It's something I have thought about many times, and something that we talked about recently at our local meetup.  My personal opinion is that our souls are like holograms:  every bit contains the whole.  When we are in a body, alive, we have that piece of our Self, but we don't really have access to the whole of it.  We are quite limited in our scope of both senses and understanding.  When we are not tethered to a body, we can be so much more.  When we die, we loose those limitations.  Our soul can experience whatever comes after, and still leave echoes that the living can connect with.  These echo's still contain the essence of the soul, and so in a way ARE the person (or animal!) we knew, but they aren't the whole of them.

I think the connections we form with animals are different than the ones we form with people.  I definitely don't think of them as subservient in the traditional sense, but I do feel like there is a purity there that is hard to find in people, even the people we are closest too.

When we lost our most recent cat, we had her cremated.  She was the cat I have had the deepest connection to, and it is comforting to me to have her still here with us, in a way.  And while I appreciated the spirit of the note that the cremation company sent with her remains, I dislike the actual idea of it. 

There was a lovely little card that told a story (supposedly based on a Norse legend...but the only connection I saw was that they mentioned a rainbow bridge), about how our beloved pets will wait for us at the end of the rainbow bridge, and when we die, they will join us and go on to heaven with us (it was a strange mix of Christian and other mythology).  While the sentiment is lovely, I think the idea of our beloved pets existing in some kind of limbo, just waiting for us to die so they can move on is sort of creepy.

I do feel her spirit here in the house sometimes.  And I find it really interesting that our next oldest cat (who was the only one we had left when Kali passed), has picked up some of Kali's behaviors.  Kali used to always lay on my chest at night, when I went to bed, and Shadow never did.  Right towards the end, Shadow started sleeping up by my pillow, and after Kali was gone, she started coming to lay on my chest for a while before going back to her spot by my pillow.

There are many cultures that recognize the spirits of animals, whether it is the spirit of a specific animal (like my Kali) or the animal in general (the spirit of Wolf).  Some recognize our deep connection to a particular animal, through the idea of an animal totem or a part of our spirit that takes the form of an animal.  Working with these animal spirits, whether we see them as internal or external, we can find new ways of experiencing the world.

Animals see things so very differently, both physically and psychologically.  I remember reading about the difference between skull structure and eye placement in prey versus predator animals.  In predators, the eyes are on the front of the skull, giving them greater focus on details, particularly right in front of them.  But in prey animals, the eyes are on the sides of the skull, giving them almost 360 degree vision, great peripheral vision and movement detection, but some have blind spots directly in front of them.

From a mental standpoint, things are much simpler in animal terms.  We humans tend to complicate things and overthink them.  We are less likely to be able to sink into the moment, we are always either thinking about things that have already happened or things that we worry/hope will happen.

As I was thinking about this blog post last night, I had this image in my head, of all the cats we have had that are no longer with us, roaming about my house.  To me, this is a comforting thought, that I have made my home welcome enough that their spirits want to linger.  I don't think of it as them being trapped, in the same way that when I call spirits to my circle, it is an invitation, not an order.

Many times we talk about familiars, but I think that one thing that many people overlook is the possibility for a familiar to be one that is no longer physically in this world.  If a familiar's job is to help the witch, then a spirit familiar would be just as capable!  I also think that spirits of our pets can make excellent guardians of the home, as they experienced the love and affection of the family while they were alive, and have a vested interest in protecting it already.

So, as we celebrate Samhain, and connect with our ancestors, let's not forget our animal friends who have also gone from this world.  Remember them, make a place for them in your heart and in your home, and see what happens!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Should Witches (and/or Pagans) celebrate Halloween?

Halloween has become a holiday that is known across the globe, though not every country celebrates it in any form.  When people think of Halloween, they think of scary movies, dressing up in costumes and children trick-or-treating.  There is a general frivolity that is associated with this holiday, more so than probably any other holiday.  It is very much about having a good time.

And yet, as Pagans and Witches, we celebrate Samhain at this time of year.  An observation of the thinning of the veil, a time to honor our ancestors.  We not only recognize those who are long gone, but also those who have crossed over in the past year.  It can be a very solemn time, and for many can be a time to mourn those we have lost.

At this time of year, I always see discussion about whether or not partaking in Halloween traditions makes our observance of Samhain somehow less.  And I get that we are still fighting to be taken seriously, and that, for many people, they look at Halloween and wonder how anyone could have serious religious associations with such a light hearted holiday.

But what I think a lot of people forget is that there are LOTS of other, mainstream religious holidays, that have quite frivolous secular holidays at the same time...and no one worries about observing both of those.  Sure, around Christmas, if you live in a very Christian area, you will see some amount of "put Christ back in Christmas", but I very rarely see people saying that if you put up stockings for Santa than you obviously aren't 'really Christian'.  And the same goes for Easter, I've never seen an attack on Easter baskets and egg hunts because it might mean that you aren't serious about the religious holiday.

So why do we feel that celebrating Halloween might somehow diminish our Samhain observation?  I think that sometimes we get so caught up in how other people might perceive or judge us, that we forget that often the best way to show people that we are serious and legitimate in what we do is to practice in the way that is meaningful to us and let that sincerity show through!

And I also think that it is an unfortunate assumption that 'serious' religious practice has to be somber and lacking any type of levity or fun.  Especially in a faith like Paganism, where we have gods of all sorts, and deities who embody fun, partying or laughter are common.  Looking at Samhain as an ancestor or passing over holiday, we also should consider that many cultures don't mourn their dead in the traditional way, but do celebrate and send them off with great parties!

Our ancestors were people, and some of them probably would get a great kick out of a rowdy party in their honor.  How we honor our dead is a very personal thing, and how I honor each of my ancestors might vary depending on who they were and my relationship with them.  I don't feel that death needs to always be treated like a horrible and sad thing.  I have watched people I care very deeply for waste away, and in the end, death was a kindness.  No matter how much I will miss them, or how much I wish they could have stayed in this world, I would not wish the life they had at the end to linger.  And I hope that they find joy and laughter and happiness in whatever comes after for them.

Our practice is what works for us.  And there is no reason to limit yourself and your practice based on what other people might think.  In fact, I feel that just gives what you do a feeling of falseness that many people can pick up on.  Do what is true for you!

I also think it really crazy that just because the two holidays land on the same day and share some similar iconology, that we feel we have to pick one or the other.  I see no reason why, as a Witch and Pagan, I can't attend a Samhain ritual and go to a Halloween dress up party!  And, if the group I am hosting ritual with is willing, why those two can't even be combined.

I love Halloween.  I love all the silly witch things, even the very stereotypical 'green skin hag with warts and a big crooked nose' ones.  I love skull everything (even the neon pink ones that really aren't my style).  I always get excited about the possibility of new clothes, and probably do the bulk of my clothes shopping around Halloween (and that's not just the old goth inside me...).  I scour stores for their post-Halloween sales, looking for interesting decorations that might be used throughout the year or on altars.

One of the things I love most about Halloween is that I think it helps break some of the barriers and fears about Witches and the Occult.  Sure, some people still take it as an 'evil' holiday, and warn innocent children about the dangers that might lurk about (when really, kids just want to dress up and get candy).  But so many more are open to things around this time, in the spirit of fun, that they might not ordinarily be.

Halloween was always the time to break out the Ouija boards, to talk about seances and ghost stories, and to play games like light as a feather.  It was a time when all things spooky and supernatural were accepted.  And sometimes those experiences translated into a better understanding of what we do and believe throughout the rest of the year. 

Dressing up has always been something I loved (and I still think it would be a wonderful world if we could all wear whatever we wanted every day...costume or not).  And for Halloween, I can embrace my inner child, dress however I want...and not feel judged.  I trick-or-treated until high school...not for the candy, just to dress up.  I loved taking my son out trick-or-treating, because I could dress up!  The other thing I love about dressing for Halloween is that it's not about the accuracy of your costume, it's about the spirit of it.  I can use plastic props or draw things on old clothes with markers and still have a fun costume...and it's all good!

And on a final note, I think that sometimes we need to have a good laugh at ourselves and at how people view us.  It helps take the sting out, helps to let us let go of resentment at being judged or not being taken seriously.  Life is too short to be serious all the time.  If you enjoy something, embrace it!  If you love Halloween....celebrate it!  And invite me!!!!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Creative costuming for everyday magic

One of the things I have always loved about Halloween is that it is a time of year dedicated to creating characters and dressing up.  As a writer and an RPG gamer, creating characters is a big part of what I do!  I love making up characters, giving them unique personalities and fully fleshed backgrounds.  And a big part of creating characters, for me, is knowing what they look like, including what they are wearing.

This, of course, makes dressing up for Halloween a ton of fun.  You can literally step into someone else, and be them for a night!  But there is a lot more potential for this when you think about applying it to other areas of your life.

I have written before about stepping into different personas in order to enhance different areas of your life, and how you can pick clothing or jewelry to enhance qualities you want to bring to your day.  But if you go beyond just picking clothes that evoke different emotions, you can build up characters that you then step into when you need to.

There are a lot of situations that I don't feel fully comfortable in.  Sometimes, it's a matter of wanting to be more of what other people expect of me, such as when I visit family.  Other times, it's just that I am not strong in certain social situations, and the anxiety creeps in, like when I have to talk to a group of unfamiliar people.

Some of these situations I can handle by just building up my shields and enhancing with clothing or jewelry that makes me feel stronger or more capable.  Much like putting on armor helps protect you, certain things I wear make me feel 'more' of different things.  But sometimes I need even more than that.

I think about creating characters for everyday use like playing 'what if' with my own history.  Who would I be IF I were comfortable in this situation?  Who would I be IF I were the type of person who matched my family?  Who would I be IF I was skilled at that thing that I feel like I struggle with?

If I start with that question, I can build up a character, who is me, but who is also subtly different....a tweaked version of my self who can handle whatever it is that I struggle with.  It's the combination of sameness and difference that makes this really effective.  I am not stepping completely outside of myself, so I don't feel as awkward.  Sort of like wearing someone else's clothing, the closer it is to something you might actually wear yourself, the less uncomfortable it will feel to wear them.

I think that our outlook (both clothing and how we carry ourselves) plays a huge role in how other people perceive us.  When we dress differently, or speak in a different manner, we may be treated differently.  This is especially true if people don't know you as well.  So changing your clothes really can make you a new person!

Not only that, but clothing that isn't necessarily part of your regular wardrobe is a signal to yourself to keep in character.  Much like how a costume helps an actor (and the audience) buy into the character they are playing, you can use your own wardrobe as a dressing room for costumes to help you step into the characters you need to portray.

Characters can be subtle.  One of the situations that I don't typically feel comfortable in is school events, where I am with other parents.  Hubby and I aren't typical parents, whatever that means.  It is quite possible everyone feels this way, but I definitely feel like I don't fit in with other somewhat polished adults.  My personal style of dress runs more towards witchy tee-shirts (which actually fit in this month!...but I wear them year round...) than blouses, and definitely leggings or shorts over any kind of skirt or dress.  So I always feel like the oddly dressed teen in a group of adults.

Just putting on my more dressy clothes could make me feel out of sorts, but I have worked at developing a character of 'me who is a responsible parent'.  The type of parent who doesn't forget engagements and might volunteer for things (which I pretty much will never do for school...I don't think I can take other people's kids in that kind of frequency).  The type of parent who knows other parents (I know exactly one other parent at my son's school.  I know way more of his friends than I know parents).  The type of parent who doesn't find most of the 'school spirit' as lame as her son finds it (seriously...pajama high October....who comes up with this stuff?).

But I can dress for the role, and become that type of person, for a few  hours, when I need to.  And a big part of it is practice.  It is building up that character, and having an image of her, fully fleshed in my head.  It's knowing how she would feel when she is sitting in the auditorium waiting for that school performance (probably not wishing she could be home playing video games..).  It's knowing that she would be perfectly comfortable talking to the people sitting next to her, or asking that question she needs the answer to (instead of wondering if she is the only one who doesn't know the thing).

And your costume doesn't have to be an exaggerated thing!  In fact, I find that the more subtle the better.  It is also a very personal thing.  I pick clothing that I feel looks polished, but that also makes me feel polished, even if it's to pay attention to what color my socks are.  I choose jewelry that looks nice, and that may have symbols that represent professionalism or competence to me.  It doesn't matter if anyone one else knows what the different things mean, what matter is that they help me stay in the character I have chosen.

It can be hard to work on new characters, especially for situations that you feel the most anxiety or fear about.  Troubling situations can break you out of a character, and put you back in the throes of that emotion that you are trying to overcome.  But, if you can start yourself thinking about the character, and you keep asking yourself 'what would that character do now?' and 'how would they feel about this?', it can actually help distract you from the overwhelming emotions and help you get yourself back on track.

When working with characters like this, practice definitely makes, if not perfect, then at least better.  The more you work with a particular character, the more you will be able to call upon them when you need to.  You may find, that eventually, you don't even need any costuming to be able to embody a particular character, it is just always there, at your disposal, when you need it.  And, eventually, you may find that you have taken on some of the qualities of the character that you didn't feel you had before!  You may end up not needing that character at all, because you have become more confidant or more capable in the situations you needed it for.

So take a note from children...playing dress up and make-believe can not only be fun, but also useful!  When you don't feel that you can handle a situation, become someone who can!  Practice with your different characters, play with them, see what they would do in different places or when talking to different people.  This can be a fun and rewarding exercise.  And don't forget your costume!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Every Day Magic (Book Review)

365 Magical Ways to Observe the Cycle of the Year

I was really excited to start reading this book, and I wasn't disappointed! There is something really captivating about books of days. I am endlessly fascinated by holy days and sacred time from all cultures. I find that even when it is a celebration I am unfamiliar with or for deities I have never worked with, I learn so much by reading about how different people honor and celebrate the sacred.

One of the things I love best about books of days is that they give a framework for developing your personal practice. By having entries for every day (the best ones do, and this one is one of those), no matter what day it is, you can turn to your book of days and find inspiration for your spiritual life.

Not only does Every Day Magic have daily entries, each month starts with a brief description of the moon that falls in the month and the astrological signs that rule the month. This gives a great overview of the energies that will be experienced throughout the month. I appreciate their addition into this book, as I feel it helps tie together the theme of each month.

One of the advantages of having many different contributors is that you get to see how different cultures celebrate the same (or similar) holidays. New year is a great example, as the start of the year is marked at different points in time depending on where you are from. This book includes not only information about the New Year in January, but also in March (for the Aztec calendar and Elvish) and also in October (with the Celtic New Year).

I personally like the inclusion of Elvish celebrations (based on Tolkien's writings), though this may be unappealing to some. I think that the mythology created by fiction writers can be fully formed and deeply moving. Sometimes, it has the advantage of being more complete (as the author can fill out all the details, where a historical account may have things that have been lost to time).

Some days have more general, seasonal ideas. These ideas may be sparked by something in nature that is happening at this time (like a plant blooming) or it may have cultural roots (like a modern holiday). But not only do these entries tell you what might be going on in the world, they also include a simple activity to bring that energy into your own life.

I really love all the little activities. It may be something super simple, like wearing a particular color, or it may be a little ritual or spell you can do to bring blessings to your life. I find this makes this book really approachable. Unlike some books of days, where they tell you a brief tidbit about something that is tied to the day, but don't give examples of practical things you can do, in your own life, to honor that day.

Sprinkled throughout the book are also quite a few recipes, both for food and for magical blends (like incense or baths). I found it really interesting that many of the recipes were written as vegan recipes, so could be used by a wide range of people. I got a little bit of a chuckle, as a non-vegan, I would probably adjust the recipe using ingredients I typically have on hand...a bit of a role reversal!

There are also days that feature a poem as the day's offering. Sometimes the poems include a thought prompt as part of the poem itself, but even those that don't could easily be used as a jumping point for a journal entry or as part of a ritual. The poems ranged from lovely and elegant to tongue-in-cheek, which I loved.

And of course there is information on a handful of deities, either tied to a feast day in their honor or just an entry devoted to them. This is a great way to get to know deities you might not have worked with before, or spend more time with ones you already know. I love having special days, throughout the year, where different deities are honored, and having those included in the book of days is a lovely addition.

All in all, this is probably one of my favorite book of days that I've read, for it's variety and ease of use. I think the entries are well written, to spark your interest in so many different areas. If you are busy, it won't take long to read the entry for that day, but if you have more time, you could easily use the entry as a starting point and do more research or expand upon the suggested activity and use it as inspiration for your own workings.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The ghosts of your past selves

One of the tarot decks I picked up last year is called the Ghost Tarot.  And the images are lovely, with ghostly figures playing a big role, but the book clarifies that ghosts can be seen as the memories of the past, of emotions or experiences as much as people.  And I think that is a really interesting perspective.

Thinking about Samhain and getting in touch with ancestors, made me think about my own inner ghosts.  The parts of me that I have out grown or have moved beyond.  We all have ghosts of our former selves, the people who we were at different places in our lives.  There is a lot of talk about our inner child, but we may have many child selves, stuck like insects in amber, frozen at the moment of their purest experience.  Each one can effect us in different ways, and may continue to 'haunt' us if we haven't fully resolved the issues that surround them.

But I don't think our ghosts are always forged in bad experiences.  We may have ghosts of our self when we were at peak moments, those special times where everything is perfect, and in that moment we loose a part of our Self because that person who is fully immersed in the bliss can't accept what happens when the moment passes.  Reaching out to these ghosts lets us tap into that pure innocence and absolute belief that everything is wonderful. 

Past self ghosts remind me a little of archetypes, and yet they aren't really the same thing.  The maiden archetype may encompass the ghost of our teenage self, but our ghost is a specific being.  While anyone can connect with the maiden archetype, and we may even see her in the guise of our teenage self, she isn't who we were, at that time in our life.  Our ghosts are unique to us, because they ARE us, at a point in our past.  Trying to interact with them as if they were an archetype can lead to frustration, because our ghosts have particular needs and desires.

If you think about the definition of a ghost as a spirit who has unfinished business, that can be helpful in figuring out how to work with your own ghosts.  Think about the person you were, when you were the ghost.  What lies unfinished from that point in your life?  What can you work on to help bring peace to this ghost?  I don't think our ghost selves ever truly leave us, but I do think they can be appeased so they don't haunt us.

It's also interesting to think about ghosts of future selves.  I think we can easily create ghosts of what we fear may happen to us in the future.  If we are struggling to find love, we may summon a ghost of our future self where we never found 'the one', and were forever alone.  This ghost can create even more insecurity as it will constantly remind you that you could grow up and become the ghost you fear. 

I see this a lot in my own life, in the fear of 'becoming my mother'.  Don't get me wrong, I love my mother, but she isn't me, and I don't want to be her.  But there are moments where I feel the presence of 'her as me' in my life, where I see ways in which I am acting more like her than like me. 

Another ghost we may find is that of the forgotten one.  There may be times in your life that you don't find remarkable, and the ghost self who lived those times may feel neglected.  I feel like all of our life, even the less memorable parts, shape us into who we are.  There may be whole years where you feel like you didn't accomplish anything, or that you just went about your daily business trying to 'get by'.  It is well worth seeking out those ghosts and spending time with them.  Find out what they have brought to your life and how you can honor them.

I think that most of the traditional ways of dealing with ghosts can be used for our past self ghosts.  If you are being seriously haunted by a past self, then you can absolutely set protections to keep their influence limited.  But I see protections as a bandage:  they  may help in the moment (which can be very necessary!), but ultimately you need to deal with the ghost and find a way to come to terms with it, or you will be forever casting protections trying to keep it at bay (while it constantly tries to get your attention).

The method I like most for working with past self ghosts is kind of like a seance.  I think that what causes our ghosts to interfere in our lives is their unfinished business, and the best way to help them resolve their issues (and thus help our lives move forward with their help instead of their hindrance) is to spend time getting to know them.  This might mean doing dream work, letting the ghost 'possess' you in your dreams (or meditations) and stepping back into that phase of your life and seeing what is important to your ghost self.

You can also sit and talk with them.  Depending on what methods work best for you, this might mean a meditation where you see them sitting next to you and you have a conversation.  Or you might use oracle cards or some other divination method to let them answer you.  It may help to have the full ritual structure, with a circle cast, especially if the ghost is particularly troublesome.  Some Ceremonial workings with spirits involve summoning them into a particular space (traditionally a triangle from what I understand).  This way the spirit (or ghost in this case) is limited in how they can effect your space.  If you are working with a ghost that is bringing up issues in your life, be sure to send them away once you are done working with them!

Once you start building relationships with your ghosts, you can start to work with them, like other spirit allies.  The peaceful ghosts my be the easiest to work with, but remember that the other ghosts are forged in hardship, so when a similar situation comes around, they may be very well suited to help you deal with it.  If you are comfortable with it (and them), consider letting them take charge during such situations, or at least asking for their advice.

Our ghosts may have been us, at different points in our lives, but they are not who we are today.  And yet, they will always be connected to us, and we will always carry a little bit of them inside of us.  Being able to work with your ghosts can help you solve problems that they would otherwise bring to your life, and it gives you a new set of allies to work with, and new tools for sorting out issues in your life.  No matter how intense the memory might be, it is worth facing our fears and getting in touch with our inner ghosts, so that we can get to know them and embrace them instead of running away.