Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Building your symbol library

I do a lot of work with symbols, and I find them to be not only really versatile but also with a depth of meaning that can be built up in layers.  But symbols have their weakness, and many times the more simple the symbol, the harder it can be to use them in ways that go beyond the obvious.

Symbols are mainly used in two ways:  they can be used in magic or writing to represent an idea or concept and they can be used as messages from the divine that we interpret.  The more fluent we are with the symbol, the more information we can gain from it when it pops up in our life (whether out in our daily life or as part of a divination system).  And the more different ways we can use the symbol in our practice and spell work.

Take for example the money symbol:  $.  When we see it, we think of money, often specifically of dollar bills.  If we were to start seeing this symbol repeatedly in our daily life, we may jump to the idea that money will be coming our way.  But money can also represent things like:  power, freedom, responsibility or fun.  And if we look at the symbol itself, we could see it as a snake and staff, a crossed through S or a broken infinity symbol.

The more you work with the symbols you use, the more different ways you can understand them.  I am a huge believer in the power of stories.  For me, learning the stories behind things help me remember them much easier.  So when I work with learning symbols, I am always looking for the story.  I want to know why a thing means what it means.  I want to learn all the interesting facts about a symbol.


One of the first proper symbol sets I worked with was the Futhark Runes.  I actually learned them as an alphabet first, which I used for a lot of my early magical writing.  But then I started to learn the meanings of each of the runes, and they became a sort of magical shorthand.  Instead of spelling out the things I wanted to represent with runes, I would find runes that represented the ideas I wanted to call upon, and I would use those runes in my work.  At this point, my understanding of the runes was very rudimentary, I had a keyword for each one and that was about it.

It was many years before I began a true inquiry into the runes and their deeper meaning.  And once I did, I was hooked.  I started looking at some of the larger lists of correspondences for each rune, and some of them confused me.  I didn't understand, for example, why Fehu was known as 'Cattle' but represented wealth, or how Gebo represented both 'Gift' and exchange.  I also had a really hard time remembering the different rune names and which one meant which thing.

And that was because I was looking at their meanings as simply lists of ideas.  I wasn't connecting the ideas to the rune, and I definitely wasn't finding stories about the ideas.  Once I started looking at the shape of the rune symbol, and actually sitting down and journaling about what the shape looked like to me, what it might mean, and how that fit with the accepted meaning of the rune, that is when things started to come together.

Another thing that was really helpful to me was finding a couple of different sources where people shared their own stories about the runes.  Being able to read a short guided meditation about the rune, or read legends and folklore that was related to the runes helped me see the connections, so that now when I look at one of the rune symbols, I start thinking of different stories and ideas that are connected to them.  I still look things up, but now I am more likely to turn to my own notes and journal pages than a published book or website, because I have built up my own connections and reflections on the runes.

Last year I started working with the WomanRunes which is another rune system, though one that takes a more feminine perspective.  But much like the runes, the symbols themselves are quite simple, and they each have a basic keyword that they are associated with.  I really enjoyed them from the start, I like that there are some really great ideas represented with these runes (like Labor or Laughter).  But again, much like with the Futhark Runes, they really came alive for me once I had gone deep with them.  I took an immersion class, where I spent time with each rune, exploring them from my own perspective with journal and art prompts.  And even now, when I see other people share their experiences with the WomanRunes, I grow my understanding even more.

I just ordered a batch of charms, which I am using as the base for a Trinket oracle (which may actually stay a charm oracle, I kind of like the uniformity of having them all be charms).  I bought my batch blind and random (though I did request more nature/animal charms, and the seller was amazing in fulfilling that), so I am in the process of becoming familiar with the charms and what they might mean to me.  Some of the charms are simple and obvious.  There is a little spiral, the word 'love' and a bicycle.  But there are also several varieties of leaves and trees.  So I see a good bit of research in my future (which I am excited about....yes I'm one of those people who likes researching new things!)

But even with initial impressions, there are several charms that stand out.  There is an elephant charm, but it has sort of crazy eyes and big circles on it's body.  I immediately connected it with the pink elephants from Dumbo...so that charm could be the energy of elephant for me, but it could also be imagination/creativity, or even a small touch of insanity.  There is a mouse charm, and if you look really closely he's holding a tiny cookie.  So now it's not just a mouse, but also represents an endless cycle (or toddler logic..)

Each charm will have it's own stories, it is up to me to uncover them.  And then, when I work with them, to figure out which story fits the situation.  Because I am a firm believer that symbols can have multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings.  Just because a symbol is connected with both life and death doesn't mean that it means both at the same time.  I don't think that anything in life is absolutely one dimensional, we just need to look harder to find the other perspectives of some things.

This past Yule a friend gave me a fascinating little game called Brainspin.  It comes with all these symbol cards, and the point of the game is to come up with as many things that the symbol on a card could represent in a limited amount of time.  It is really fun to play, not only to challenge yourself to break free from your first impressions (which is REALLY hard...especially since you know your on a time limit), but also to see what kind of connection other people come up with for the same symbol

But the process is a very useful tool.  You can apply the same principle to other symbols!  Give yourself a minute, and pick one symbol (whether it is a shape symbol like these ones or the runes or an item symbol like a turtle or an apple).  And then write down every thing that comes to your mind when you think/look at it.  Any connection you can come up with.  Perhaps Algiz looks like a chicken foot to you, or that 8 looks like a snowman.  A turtle could make you think of computer programing (wow am I showing my age....) or it could remind you of soup.

If you really want to go deeper, after you are done brainstorming, go through your list and journal about each thing.  Write about how it is connected to your original symbol, and what that might mean when you work with or receive the symbol. 

I also find this journaling process really good for coming to a deeper and more personal understanding of traditional symbol meanings.  Sometimes, when I am having trouble making connections with a traditional meaning, I'll sit down and work it out on paper.  I may write out a couple of different ways that the meaning and the symbol could be connected.  It might mean that I have to put myself in someone else's shoes, and pretend that I am someone who sees the connection and am trying to explain it to someone else (me!) who doesn't quite get it.

What is really interesting about this process, is even if you don't ever make the connections yourself, even if the traditional meaning never clicks for you, by writing about it, you are more likely to remember it.  If you just want to remember traditional meanings, sometimes you can take the 'ridiculous story' approach.  To do this, come up with the craziest explanation for why something means what it does that you can imagine.  Seriously the stranger and more outlandish the better.  This is the power of stories, and why learning stories behind things helps forge stronger connections.  Because stories are interesting, and the more interesting the story, the more likely you are to remember it.

So, whether you are picking up a new symbol (or set of symbols!) or just wanting to deepen your connection with the symbols you already work with, remember to seek out the stories!  Delve into the stories that are out there, but don't be afraid to make your own stories.  The more stories you have connected to a symbol, the more it will become a deep and meaningful addition to your toolbox, and the easier it will be to use it in different situations.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Working with eggs!

I've been doing some research for this month's Witchy Children story (my reward for Patrons who pledge $5 a month over at my Patreon site....check it out and consider pledging if you enjoy my work!)  It doesn't matter what I'm writing, whether it is fiction or not, I like to start from a factual standpoint, and then get creative.

So I've been doing a lot of reading about eggs (and chickens...but this post is about eggs), not only how they have been used magically, but how they form and develop.  This kind of thing  fascinates me.

I've worked with eggs and egg parts before, and thought I knew a decent amount about eggs, and yet as I was writing, I'd come up with a thought and realize I wasn't sure about it, so I'd have to go look it up.  Just like many modern city dwellers, we buy our eggs from the grocery store, so use unfertilized white (and washed) eggs.

There is an urban myth that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs, but the color of a chicken's egg is actually determined by it's breed, and no color is innately healthier than the others.  Not only that, but all chicken eggs start out white, and the color occurs because of pigments that get added as the egg travels through the chicken on it's way to being laid.  I found it really neat that green/olive eggs come from a mix of blue and brown egg laying breeds.

Egg shells are the thing I use most in my work.  I started saving egg shells many years ago after coming across a recipe for egg shell chalk.  The recipe I use is pretty simple:  the shells from 5 eggs (about 1 Tbsp worth of ground shell), 1 tsp flour and one tsp hot water.  You can add food coloring and ground herbs as well (just try to keep the consistency similar to the base recipe).  Mix all the ingredients together and then roll into a stick and let dry (or press into whatever shape you want).

I love magical chalk.  You can use it to draw symbols or to mark boundaries.  Depending on what you add to your chalk base, you can adjust the properties of the chalk, making it more tuned to different energies.  I make a basic cleansing chalk with sage and salt.  You could also make small sculptures from this chalk recipe, like you would salt dough, but with the added qualities of protection or healing from the egg shell.

Since I started making the egg shell chalk, I have been saving my egg shells when I cook with eggs.  I simply rinse them out in the sink (pulling out as much of the inner membrane as I can), and then let them dry.  I rough crunch them (just breaking them up with my hand) and keep them in a small container until I am ready to grind them.  Then I use my mortar and pestle and grind them into a find powder and keep them in a final jar.  You can also toast them in the oven if you want a bit of fire in your powder (be careful not to burn them, the smell is not pleasant!)

You don't have to throw out that membrane either!  It can be used fresh for healing, as it has antimicrobial properties and aids in healing small scrapes and cuts.  Put the wet side down onto the cut, and let it dry on your skin.  You can even use it to help draw out splinters or small pieces of glass that might have gotten stuck in your skin.  The method is the same, put the wet side down on top of the thing you want drawn out (some even use this for pimples/blackheads), and let it dry.  As it dries, it should help pull out the intruder!

Because of these properties, I also started saving the membranes when I save my egg shells.  I wash the membrane (to get all the actual egg off of it) if I am going to save it, and let it dry really well.  Then I can use it for healing spells or to remove unwanted things in my life.

When I first read about using an egg for cleansing, by drawing out bad energies from the body, it was in a fictional story.  The character doing the cleansing was in a pinch, and grabbed a hard boiled egg from the breakfast table, running it over the body of the person who was cursed, to draw the curse into the egg.  It mentioned that afterwards, you could break the egg into a glass of water to divine more about what is going on (which didn't work as the egg was cooked!)  But this practice is based off of a Mesoamerican healing technique.

A similar method is to keep an egg by your bed for seven days, then break it into a river or bury it (to take the negativity away from you).  This sort of cleansing can be extended beyond people, using the egg as a vessel to draw out negative energies from pets or even from places.  If you want to break the egg and interpret the insides, pour the egg into water and read the shapes it forms (much like you might read tea leaves).  I would definitely recommend disposing of the egg, treating it like something you are banishing, so that any negative energy that it has absorbed will not linger.

Eggs can easily be used for divination as well.  You can absolutely break an egg into a bowl of water and interpret it for other inquiries (not just as part of a cleansing).  Another way eggs were historically read was to paint or color them and then heat them and read the cracks on the shell (if your egg doesn't naturally form cracks in the shell, charge it with your question and then smack it on a hard surface!) 

A group I worked with many years ago had a really nice practice during their Ostara ritual, where they had a bowl of hard boiled eggs, and it was passed around, and everyone present drew some kind of symbol or word on the egg in white crayon (so it was invisible).  Later in the ritual, everyone drew an egg at random from the bowl.  We dyed the eggs, so the symbols appeared, which would then be something for you to consider or something that would be coming into your life (and we ate the eggs to further take that energy into ourselves).

Hard boiled eggs spin very well, so you could even draw a circle with different outcomes around the edge, then spin your egg to find the answers (either draw a mark on one end of the egg, or read where the smaller side of the egg points).

There is a really pretty Chinese food called Tea Eggs.  You start with a hard boiled egg, and crack the shell but don't peel it.  After letting the egg cool a little, you simmer it for about twenty minutes in a mixture of tea and/or spices (common spices include:  soy sauce, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, cloves and peppercorns).  This creates a dark brown liquid that will stain the eggs, and the cracked shell creates a pretty pattern.  The eggs are left to steep in the cool liquid in the fridge for an additional couple of hours (or longer).  This could easily be adapted, picking the tea and spices based on what magical intention you wish to infuse your eggs with.  You could also interpret the shapes made by the cracks on the shell as part of your working!

Because of the color and shape of the egg yolk, they are often associated with the sun.  We see remnants of this in how we order fried eggs:  sunny side up or sunny side down.  You can use the yolk as part of any working to do with the sun, or eat eggs as part of a Sabbat celebration to welcome the sun back during Yule (or to honor the height of solar energy at Midsummer)

In some cultures, the egg was seen as a model of the world, or creation.  You can find all four elements in the egg.  The shell is earth, and the yolk is fire (because of the connection with the sun).  The white of the egg represents water.  The membrane is air, since as the egg matures it creates an air pocket inside the egg (on the larger side of the egg, between the white and the shell...which is why hard boiled eggs often have that depression on their 'bottom')  Also:  food safety tip!  As an egg gets older, that air section gets bigger, which creates buoyancy in an egg.  A very fresh egg will lay on it's side in a glass of water.  The older the egg gets, the more the bottom of the egg will start to lift towards the surface.  When the egg floats, it may no longer be safe to eat.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Breaking Routine

I am very much a creature of habit.  I have my routines, be they daily, weekly or monthly, and they give me structure and support.  It is easy to fall back on routine, to do things the same way over and over.  Once I have done things enough times to form a routine, I can more or less do them in my sleep, without paying a lot of attention to them.

This is both good and bad.  The plus side is that tedious things become easier, as I don't have to pay attention, or even really decide to do them.  It's Wednesday, therefor the house will get cleaned.  It's no longer an option, it just is.  The down side is that everything sort of starts to blur together.  Things that I may want to enjoy or actually focus on are harder to tune into as they have become rote.  Even though the basic structure of my nightly routine has been the same for decades, I often swap up the details to keep it fresh and to really help me not just 'go through the motions'.

With my own mostly free schedule, I find it very easy for days to blend into each other.  Even though my days do vary (because hubby and son have their own schedules that I work around), the vast majority of my days are similar enough that I can loose track of the larger picture if I don't pay attention.

For me, this can be very demoralizing.  When every day is the same, even things that should be enjoyable start to be less captivating.  This is one place where I find the cycles of the moon and the year to be very helpful.  While I definitely plan most of my daily life around a weekly cycle (I have set days for different things), those cycles are almost too short to really stand out.  However, the monthly moon cycle and the month and a half for Sabbats is a nice time frame to break up the routine.

Each of these cycles of time can be used to shift your focus just a little.  Moon cycles give me a nice framework to use, an easy way to break up a larger project into smaller steps and to work those steps into the energies of the moon phases.  I think the moon cycle is much easier to use for this type of focused goal work.

The Sabbats on the other hand have a more celebratory feel to them.  It sort of reminds me of when I was a little kid (oh who am I kidding I still do this), and would eagerly count the days until Christmas.  It wasn't always about presents, we always had holiday food as well as other regular rituals like the nativity story and decorating the tree, that I would eagerly look forward to.  Sabbats have that same holiday energy, that sense of specialness that breaks them out of the everyday.

I think it is also easier to prioritize time for things we are really excited about and looking forward to.  By cultivating this sense of special sacredness for the days we mark as holy, we are building up that childhood wonder that made everything fantastic.  This is something that can be hard for us to grasp in the middle of all the tedious things that we may have to do day in and day out.

But when you tap into that sense of pure joy and happiness, it's like it fills you up.  It pushes out all the junk that may have built up inside of you, all the things that make life a little less shiny.  It's like putting on rose colored glasses, and seeing the world through a rainbow.

And I think that is something really powerful, something that is worth working on tapping into on a regular basis.  The analytical part of my brain has always loved the regularity of the Sabbats (I do like my symmetry), but they are one of the parts of my practice that I strive very hard to not make work.  I don't think I should feel like celebrating the Sabbats is something I 'must' do (or else risk not being a good Pagan!).  In fact, I think that kind of rote observation is sort of counterproductive.

How you celebrate is entirely up to you!  You may be one who loves a big ceremony, with lots of people.  Or you might really just want to sit with a meaningful book and a glass of your favorite tea and spend some quiet time alone.  You may want to have a regular ritual structure or you may want to wing it.  You may follow the same cycle year after year or you might do something different each time.

The point is that the how is not important...the why is.  I think it is important to break free from our routines from time to time.  It's like hitting the reset button.  I have a lot of devices that start to have problems if they aren't reset from time to time, and I think that I run into the same issues.  The more times I have done something the same way, without change or a break, the more likely I am to start making mistakes, because I just don't care any more. 

I can always tell when I need to make some changes, because things don't seem as interesting as they used to.  When everything starts to feel dull and representative, I know I need to shake things up.  I may love my routines, but they don't always serve me.  I don't ever completely scrap them, but I will  change them, or break them for a little while, just long enough to feel refreshed, so that I can go back to my regular patterns with a fresh perspective.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Snakes!

I'm not going to go into whether or not All Snakes Day is a thing or not.  Personally I'm firmly in the camp of, "If it's fun, then celebrate it!" but I also understand the desire to keep one's practice firmly founded in things that have historical basis.

However, I have a personal fondness for snakes.  I have always loved them, ever since I was a little girl.  I can't recall ever finding them disturbing, although I have had a healthy fear (still tinged with admiration and respect) at different times.

Snakes are often seen as a powerful symbol of transformation.  Snakes will shed their skin, and thus may seem to almost be 'made anew' when they do.  It is also a great metaphor for releasing what we have outgrown or old patterns.  Many times, a snake skin will be shed in a single piece, such as this one.

Shed skin such as this can be used as a tool or focus for personal transformation work.  Shedding skin is a natural process and doesn't harm the snake in any way.  If you know someone who has a snake, you can ask them if you can have one of their snake's sheds.  This skin came from our old pet snake, Bane.

You can also use pieces of shed skin as parts of spells to release parts of yourself that you no longer need.  It can be given back to the earth as part of a ritual to say good bye to the old you.


I definitely find snakes beautiful.  There are lots of really incredible looking snakes out there.  Their scale patterns and colors can help them blend in or mark them as dangerous predators.  Some also use their bright coloring as a disguise, pretending to be a poisonous cousin when they themselves are actually harmless.

You can call upon snake as a teacher to help you learn to blend in, so that you can remain unseen.  Or you could work with snake to keep people who would seek to harm you away by appearing more fearsome.  Snake is also a skilled predator, and if you are so inclined, you can seek out snake for advice on how to handle foes who won't leave you alone.

Many snakes produce poison, which they may use to help them catch prey or to defend themselves against predators.  One thing I find interesting about snake poison is that the treatment (antivenom) comes from the venom itself.  More specifically, much like we may get a flu shot to build up our antibodies against the flu, antivenom is produced by introducing non-lethal amounts of venom into a host, which then produces antibodies against it. 

Magically speaking, I think it is a really great example of how a problem can contain it's own solution.  Often, when we are faced with a difficult situation, we look for a solution from the outside.  But sometimes the best solution requires using the problem itself.  Snake reminds us that we should look at all angles for the answer, not just the ones that we usually look at.

Other snakes use constriction as a way to capture their food.  A snake's spine is highly mobile, and much like a slinky, they can turn in about any way you can imagine.  Their body is one long muscle, and they twine themselves around their prey, holding them tight and squeezing.  Even when they aren't trying to constrict, a snake will wrap itself around things to hold on.  Our snake used to love to wrap himself around people's arms and fingers.

To me, constriction involves both patience and persistence.  It involves a level of focus that can be hard to maintain.  Movement often makes things easier, so holding something while applying pressure can be quite difficult.  But there are a lot of things that require this kind of focus, and often spell work calls for a very steady, constant attention and focus of will.

Another aspect of snake I was fascinated with when I was little was how they could unhinge their jaw to swallow their prey whole.  I remember seeing an exhibit on snakes when I was little, with the bones of the jaw unconnected to show how wide they could open.  Not only do they swallow food that is often much bigger than their head, they don't eat daily like most other animals, but eat huge meals and then spend weeks or months digesting them.

Snake is definitely one I would turn to if I feel I have 'bitten off more than I can chew'!  I think we all have the tendency to sometimes take on more than we should, and sometimes it may feel like we are drowning.  If you have ever watched a snake eat it's prey, it's not a quick thing.  They definitely strike quickly, but once their prey is disabled (through poison or constriction), they take their time in swallowing it.  Millimeter by millimeter, they stretch their jaw, working one side and then the other, just a little tiny bit more around their prey, until they are able to swallow it all.  We can approach our own projects in the same way:  bit by bit until it is done!

Snakes senses are quite different from our own.  Many snakes do not see very well, and without external ears much of their perception of sound is based on perceiving vibrations.  But they have an excellent sense of smell, and much like a cat they use an organ called the Jacobson's organ to taste scents.  Their tongue is used to pick up scents from the air and bring them over this organ.

You can work with snake to expand your own perception of the world around you.  Spend some time in meditation with snake, learning to experience the world as snake does.  How will this change of perspective help you in your own life?

Snake has always been a powerful predator to me.  And that is part of why I think I have been drawn to them.  There is a beauty to snake, and snake's world is a fascinating place, once you dip beneath the surface.  Work with snake, and make up your own mind!