Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Sabbats: more than a moment in time

When is the actual date of the Sabbat?  What do I do if I can't do my ritual on that day?  Do I need to stay up all night or get up at dawn?  What if I only have five minutes?  Oh, no, I forgot, what do I do now?

We have a fixation on dates and times and deadlines in the modern world.  We have this concept that things have a 'right and proper' time, and that in order to honor them properly, we have to do it at that specific moment, or we aren't proper Pagans! 

And sure, there are some Sabbats that have a moment, a specific turning point or time which is the exact moment (equinoxes and solstices).  These Sabbats have a moment of most/least sun or perfect balance. 

Something can also be said for giving something more weight, more importance, by putting forth the effort to do things at a particular time or day. 

However, it's not worth beating ourselves up for!  It's not an all or nothing thing, in my book.  If you can make the specific time and day, and you feel it would be a form of dedication for you, then by all means, do it!  If, however, you really can not manage it, or it would make your ritual feel less like a devotion and more like an obligation, perhaps consider doing it at a time when you would feel the spirit of the celebration better.

I also think of the Sabbats like tides.  Sure, there are specific times for high and low tide, but we also accept that high tide refers to times when the water is higher than average (and the inverse for low tide).  While each Sabbat has specific things it represents, they are also markers of the changing seasons, being either the middle of or start of each of the four seasons.

And, they are definitely symbolic!  Most places in the world don't experience a clear division of the year into four distinct seasons.  The changing of seasons in your area might not line up with the Sabbat dates at all!  You might really only experience two or three proper seasons, or you may have seasons that last for very short periods of time.  If you are near the equator, you might not have a lot of seasonal change at all.

But as spiritual representations of the 'seasons' not only of the earth as a whole, but of our lives and of the year, we can celebrate the essence of the Sabbat, and benefit from the observation, even if we aren't celebrating on the specific day associated with the Sabbat.

In some ways, it makes more sense to spread out our celebrations out.  It helps us stay away from only experiencing our spirituality on specific 'holy' days, and instead bringing our spirituality into our daily life.  By doing smaller bits of ritual and Sabbat activities over the course of several days (or more!), we are working with that energy longer, and keeping our awareness on this time of year and what it means. 

I think it also allows us to take it in easier, allowing our minds time to digest what we are doing and internalize it instead of being overwhelmed.  It also helps us to fully focus on the one part we are doing right now, instead of trying to think ahead and make sure we are 'doing it all'. 

And specifically, in regards to hitting those exact times, if they interfere with our family life, our professional life or our health, I don't feel that I need to make those kind of sacrifices in order to practice my faith.  If a ritual suggests staying up all night, and I have to work the next day, that's not going to be good for me at all!  If the Sabbat happens at 5:23 on a Friday, but my son has an Orchestra performance, I am not going to miss his performance to hit that time mark.

I am very loose in my observance of time and ritual.  For me, it works much better to do rituals at a time when I can devote myself fully to them.  When I don't feel like I need to rush and finish, where I am not going to be interrupted or busy thinking about something else.

Sometimes this means I don't celebrate a Sabbat for several days after the 'actual' date.  Sometimes, this means I push it back even further, when something comes up, and the time I had planned to do my ritual is not longer serviceable.  I have made my peace with this, and have accepted that this doesn't make me any less of a devoted Pagan!

But I am recently also coming to the understanding that my Sabbat observations do not need to be done all at once!  This is sort of a big mental shift for me.  I grew up reading about these lovely, big group rituals, with pagentry, memorized parts, acted out plays (with costumes and props...) and cakes and ale.  Virtually every ritual was put forth as this big production, and getting set up, doing the actual ritual and then the after ritual celebration (not to mention journaling about it after all of that), would take hours, even on your own.

I still love the idea of these grand rituals, but realistically speaking, if I needed to do this for every Sabbat, I probably would only manage a few a year. 

Yet, there is nothing to stop me from breaking up my ritual into different parts on different days!  Or even doing multiple, smaller rituals, so that I can do all the things I wanted to do to honor that Sabbat, over the course of several days.

One of the easiest things to start with is setting up or decorating your altar.  I love the idea of changing my altar decorations to match the Sabbat. Not only does it help keep me grounded in the energy of the time (because my main altar is in the bedroom, I walk past it several times every day, and at the very least I see it in the morning when I wake and at night before I go to bed, so it is constantly being brought into my mind), but it brings me joy to break out my decorations and see what I am going to use to honor the season.

Often, altar decorating is listed as ritual preparation.  When you are ready to do a ritual, you gather up all your supplies, decorate your altar with the appropriate representations, do your purification and dive right into the ritual.  Why not have set your altar up ahead of time, especially if you are going to be leaving your seasonal decorations up after your ritual is over (and even if you are only using some items for one specific ritual, you can still set up your altar ahead of time, if it's better for you).

I also like to refresh my mind on the Sabbat and what it means.  While I am pretty familiar with them, I have a decent amount of notes, which often explore aspects or variations on the Sabbats, that I am not as familiar with.  Even if I am not planning on using any of those less common associations this year, I like reading them over.  I also enjoy reading articles about the Sabbat or resources that other people have shared online, again irregardless if it is something I think I will ever do myself, I enjoy seeing how other people experience the Sabbat.

Doing this over the course of the week leading up to the Sabbat not only allows me to let that information really sink in, so it's fresh in my mind when I do my own observations, but if I read something that inspires me, it gives me time to figure out how to add it into my own ritual, if I desire!  Plus, steeping myself in all the lore and information surrounding the Sabbat, really puts me in the proper mindset to honor and celebrate it!

I love Sabbat related crafts and activities.  And this is another thing that often takes up a big chunk of time!  Sometimes with times that you aren't actively doing something (waiting for things to dry, or simmer or heat/cool).  I have started looking at any involved crafts, and instead of actually doing the crafting as part of my ritual, I craft before and then bless my finished product, or I bless my ingredients and then craft after. 

This lets me tie it all together still, but in more manageable time chunks.  It also has the added benefit of allowing me to do messy craft things in the appropriate places, but do my ritual in a place that feels more special.  I'm not opposed to kitchen (or outdoor) rituals, but I also like being able to step away from it all, and create a private sanctuary...which isn't as easy for me to do in mess-friendly places (excepting the bathroom).

I think it is a bit of a change from how things have been done, but I think it offers a lot of flexibility in a world where many of us have so many responsibilities and different aspects of our lives that we are trying to weave together and make work.  When the whole community banded together, it made sense and worked to have one whole evening or day to celebrate, or to time your celebration to harness the exact moment of change, but since we don't live in that world anymore, we need to adapt and make our celebrations work for us.  And if that means you spread it out, there is no shame in that! 

If you find that trying to work a traditional Sabbat observance into your life is stressing you out, why not try breaking it up and doing different parts at different times?  Make it manageable, make it personal and make it work for you!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Being open to truth, not just expectations

People are, by their nature, shaped by their experiences.  And not just the experiences we have personally lived through.  We are creatures of story, and when we hear other people's stories, we are changed by them.  We are moved by tragedy and by hope and by love and fear.  These emotional responses build up expectations.  That the next time we are faced with a similar situation, the outcome will be the same.

And yet, this is often not the case!  Not only do we tend to internalize one bad experience, and then make the assumption that it will always be a bad experience, but we also take statistics to heart:  if something is bad for 99% of people, then it is ultimately bad and we should make it go away.

But we are seriously limiting our experiences and understanding by allowing our expectations to shape our reality!  When we go into a situation expecting a given outcome, we are more likely to create the very thing we may be fearing.  This is the basis of all law of attraction, affirmations and vision work.  When we see it in our head, our subconscious will either work to make it real or interpret the results that we get in such a way that we feel like what we thought would happen actually did (even when it didn't).

This is cutting us off from a whole world of outcomes!  Life is tricksy, and what has happened in the past isn't always going to happen.  Hope is built around the idea that things can change for the better, and that we always have a chance to shoot for the stars and reach what we are aiming for!  There is no reason to chain ourselves down and stop our own progress by creating illusory walls that keep us confined to 'the way things have always been.'

We should obviously be wary and use our past experiences to guide us to make safe and smart choices, but there is a very fine line between doing this and limiting ourselves.  It often comes back to our self-talk.  If we acknowledge the risks, prepare for them, and make sure we have our bases covered...but then remind ourselves that "This time could be different!" we have made a step in the right direction.  If we simply put on our rose colored glasses, ignore the past, and charge blindly forward, chanting loudly, "This time it will be different..." we are setting ourselves up for a different kind of failure.

But we also need to keep in mind that just because something isn't good for a lot of people, doesn't make the thing itself bad.  That would be like saying that if most people are allergic to peanuts, they must be poison and we should stop all people from eating them, even the people who aren't allergic!  This sounds ridiculous, when worded this way, but I run into this very argument time and time again. 

Sometimes, it's not even the thing at the base that is the actual problem, but the systems and situations that have grown up around it.  Take, for example, the problem with people being addicted to prescription pain medications.  In many places, this is a real and serious problem.  Not only is it dangerous to the person addicted, but it can ripple out and cause many other problems.  But most people realize that it isn't the actual pain medications themselves that are the problem.  And that those very same medications can make someone else's life tolerable, when used correctly!

One very common area where this type of generalization appears is when talking about religion.  There are many fanatical religious groups who give their root religion a very bad name.  Many people lump them all in together...when talking about other people's religions!  How many times have you seen someone call all Muslim's terrorists lately?  And then, in the same breath declare that you Westboro isn't a 'real Christian' church, and shouldn't be associated with Christianity.  Or, they look at the many prominent Christians who are pushing to enact laws based solely on their own religion (and directly limiting other people's religious and personal choices), and say "Look, see, obviously organized religion is bad and no one should practice it!"

I am not saying that we should allow free reign to people (or groups) on the off chance that they aren't going to abuse the power they are given.  Of course we want to protect innocent people from the machinations of those in power, when they are intent upon preying on those who can't protect themselves.  But we also shouldn't judge things by their titles and names, but by their actions instead.

Right now, we are in a time of pretty serious political unrest.  There are accusations on all sides that the other side is corrupt and 'out to get us'.  And there is so much misinformation flying around, it can be hard to see what is actually going on, especially if you consider that false information is being deliberately spread to distract and obscure what is actually going on.  But I think we owe it to ourselves, to each other, and to future generations, to take the time to really seek out the truth, to look and see the bigger picture (instead of watching the flashy distractions) and to determine what is the heart of the matter.

When we look closer, we often find that what we thought was real, isn't.  We may be closer or further from the truth, but we won't know until we really look.  And in order to see what is there, we have to accept the full spectrum of possibilities.  We can't go into it thinking that all politicians are corrupt, or we may not see the good that some people are doing.  We can't think that Christianity is all about making everyone else conform to their ideals, or we won't see the many charitable and kind acts that many Christians do.

Generalizations can be useful, but only to a point.  They are like a temporary shield, that protects us long enough for us to find out the truth of the situation.  If you approach every dog you meet with caution, until you see whether it is friendly or not, your chance of getting bitten is much lower than if you just run up and try to play with every dog you meet.  But if you run away from every dog, because you got bit once when you were a child, you may never experience that singular affection that dogs are capable of sharing with us!

We want to label things, by nature, because it makes it nice and tidy in our heads.  If we can put everything into a nice little box, with a name, and description, we don't have to think.  We don't have to examine and interpret.  We can just look and say, "Oh, that's a woman, they are meek and can cook, and wear pink and are good with children."  When we see a woman who doesn't fit into our nice little box, our mind rebels against it.  We start to come up with weird justifications, ways of explaining why she isn't a 'real' woman, just because we don't want to change the labels on our boxes.  We don't want to have a box that just says, "Woman:  qualities may vary!" because that is scary to us.  If we can't define something, we don't know how it will behave, and that level of unknown is very uncomfortable.

Learning to be open to the truth means accepting the randomness.  It means allowing things to vary from the 'norm' and still be in the same box or label!  It means adjusting our definitions of things as we go, as we learn more about a specific thing, as we understand how it's particular essence manifests.

But it is so rewarding, because we have opened up a whole world of amazing, different, wonderful things!  Things that we wouldn't have seen or accepted if we needed everything to fit in our standard sized boxes.  So, start looking at the world around you.  Seek out the things that don't quite match your expectations, and instead of looking the other way, or repeating that same old description that you have always used, see what is truly there!  Allow yourself to experience the full spectrum of existence and you will find that instead of becoming distressed when something is outside of your previous expectations, you will be filled with wonder.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Adult Ostara hunt!

When I think of Ostara, I think of eggs.  And when I think of eggs, I think of both decorating them and hunting for them.  Egg hunts are traditional for many families, and something I always loved as a kid.  And even as a not-so-young-kid, I remember one year where we did a traditional egg hunt, but then also flopped it around, and the kids hid eggs for the adults (and older kids) to find. 

Eggs are a symbol of fertility, of bringing an idea into the world and of protection.  The act of hiding and then hunting for eggs can become a sacred quest, a search for the things we are going to nurture and protect, for the things that are going to bless our lives in the coming months! 

When thinking about creating an egg hunt for adults, the first thing that comes to my mind is who will hide the eggs.  Unless you have someone who really doesn't want to go out looking for eggs, you can divide your hunt area into sections, and have one hider designated for each section.  Split the eggs to be hidden among the hiders, and each will hide eggs in their section only.  Then, when it is time to hunt, each hider searches for eggs in any section they didn't hide in.  Even with only two people hiding eggs, each hider should be able to participate in the hunting as well!

Or, you could have someone go out and hide all the eggs, and then when each person hunts, they bring some of their eggs as 'tribute' to the hider.  This method is kind of fun, because the hunter gets to pick what to gift the hider with.  And, if you know you are doing this method before the hunt is scheduled, you can let people know, and hunters can bring their own little thank you gift for the hider!  Encourage small, handmade or natural gifts:  wildflowers, small interesting stones or shells, knotwork jewelry.

Having a singular hider who then takes tribute can also be worked into part of your Sabbat ritual, if you wish.  You could hide the eggs and do the hunt before casting circle, and then have the hider greet each person as they enter the circle, accepting their offering of tribute in return for a blessing (or cleansing!).  Or you could have the hider accept the offerings as part of the main section of ritual, perhaps taking on the role of a deity, like Eostra.

There are plenty of fun options for using real eggs or fake eggs as well, or even a mixture!  Real eggs can be hidden and then consumed after being found, to take in the blessings of the egg.  Using real eggs, you can decorate them to be symbolic of what blessing will be received upon consumption.  These can be decorated with dyes, paints, stickers or other markings.  One method I mentioned in a previous blog, is to mark each egg with a white crayon, to make a symbol or word that remains hidden.  In this case, you would leave the eggs white (though already marked) when you hide them, and after they are found, you could have a dying station, to reveal the hidden message.

It can be fun (and beautiful) to dye eggs with natural dyes.  This can also layer in symbolic meaning, so that the things you use to dye your eggs impart their energy and blessings onto the egg being consumed.  If you are doing a smaller hunt, you can also set aside a number of eggs for the community, turning these eggs into your favorite egg dish:  deviled eggs, egg salad, potato/pasta salad.  Then enjoy them as a group, so that everyone gets to take part in all the blessings!

There are some really lovely options for eggs made of stone or wood.  These might be carved or wood-burnt with designs, or they could be plain.  These eggs can become house or altar decorations.  These can be more pricey, so you may have only a few of these special eggs hidden, for lucky people to find!  If you have only a few of these special eggs, you might ask people to only take one of the special ones, if they happen to find multiples (if they prefer the second special egg they find, they can swap it for the first one, keeping the second and putting the first where the second was found).

Plastic eggs bring their own charms.  The nice thing about plastic eggs is you can put all kinds of things inside them, from the traditional sweet treats to small charms or tokens and even messages.  One neat thing is to make exchange eggs.  Each person can write as short message, something they are working on and would like extra help with.  You con't have to be very specific, it could be "send energy for my health" or "help me bring love into my life."  You can sign your name or leave them anonymous.  When you add an aid message, you will also include a blessing, some token that you have blessed and are offering in exchange for the aid you are requesting.  When someone else finds the egg, they agree to send you energy to help with your work in return for the blessing you have gifted them!

Another really interesting egg hunt theme is to make blessing bags with what you find.  So each egg might contain a bit of herbs, a small stone, a bit of cloth with essential oils dripped on it, or anything else you might put into a spell bag.  It can be helpful to include a small piece of paper, explaining what the ingredient is, especially if you have people attending who are newer (or who are like me...very forgetful!).  Have an assortment of small bags, for people to combine all their hunted components, and at the end of the hunt, people can see what they received, and create a blessing bag!  Sometimes, what we need, we might not think of, and it can be really fun to see what kinds of blessings we might receive, when we aren't asking for specific things.

Egg hunts can be fun and magical, and they don't need to be restricted to children!  Adding an egg hunt to your gathering or ritual can be a new way to experience and celebrate this holiday with your group or family.  Get everyone involved, every step along the way, to create a memory that you will all cherish!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Forced Change

While there are a lot of ways in which we might embrace change, we are also often very resistant to it.  We fuss and fight and do our best to stay in our little bubble of safety.  And when we are thrust out of it, even when we are being pushed towards something we have already acknowledged as a goal, we are very uncomfortable and try to avoid the inevitable, instead of embracing it.

I saw a cartoon a while back (which I searched and searched for, but couldn't find), that showed a seed underground.  It's shell starts to crack, and the seed starts freaking out, saying things like, "What is happening?" or "What's going on?"  Then, the seedling pushes through the surface of the earth and is out in the air, and it looks around and says, "Hmmm..."  The seedling always looks a bit miffed to me, like it was expecting something horrible, and instead the situation was pleasant, and it wasn't quite sure how to respond to that.

I think we are often like that little seed.  We are so comfortable in our shell, and when it starts to crack, we may try to shore it up, to fix it and to stay all balled up and tight in our tiny little space.  But sometimes, you can't fight life, and we end up cracking and growing and pushing through to a whole new existence, and while we were in the process it was terrifying and we were sure it was going to be horrible, but then we realize it's really not so bad (and possibly even a good thing).

The problem with staying in our shell is there is no space to grow or stretch.  It's like being stuck in a rut, no matter how hard you try to get moving, your wheels just keep spinning and you go nowhere.

I've been feeling like this a lot lately.  So much of my life feels like a never-ending cycle sometimes.  It can feel like I finish one thing, only to have to turn around and start on the next one immediately!  Done eating dinner, need to figure out what to cook tomorrow.  Finished a blog post, well another one next week.  Set my daily many are the same as yesterdays? 

I am a creature of habit and routine, because it works for me.  Knowing I clean on Thursdays and Sundays means I don't have to think about it, I just know that if it is one of those days, I'll clean the house.  Same for many of the other things I do on a regular basis.  And of course, things like writing my blog are only semi-repetitive.  Sure, I write a post every Wednesday, but each post is different.

And I truly enjoy doing most of the things I do routinely!  I don't want to give them up.  I just sometimes need something to shake things up, to give me something completely random and new to explore for a bit, so that I can go back to my everyday routine with renewed vigor.

Depending on what my rut is, I turn to different things to break free.  If I have a lot of desk-work to do in a day, I may break it up by slipping in things that get me up and doing something else for a bit, like going outside to check the mail (letting the wind refresh me), or washing some dishes (using the water to ground out!).  If it is a bigger rut, like becoming frustrated with my weekly or monthly patterns, I may need to change one of them.  Sometimes, simply changing when or how you do something makes it feel less repetitive (even if you are still doing it as often, just on a different day).

And sometimes, change happens whether you intend it or not!  I have been talking about getting a new desk for a while now.  It started as a sort of side comment, nothing serious.  I've had my desk for almost 20 years, and it's a huge thing.  Strangely, for being a huge thing, I don't have a lot of actual, usable desk surface.  Between my computer (which lives on my desk top for dust reasons), my monitor (on a stack of books so it is the right height...which means I loose that whole part of my desk), keyboard and mouse (I have a full sized desktop, not a laptop, so it takes up a bit of room), and a towel to rest my arm on (with all the left-arm issues I've had, I find that a dish towel, folded into about a six inch square helps avoid the worst of them, especially when I have a lot of computer work to do), there just isn't much space left.  I really can't even have a notebook comfortably out to write in.

We've been looking, sort of half-heartedly, for years at new desks.  I have a lot of notebooks that I want to keep handy, so my desk really needs to have some sort of storage..or I need a storage solution that keeps the things I have on my desk now somewhat handy.  And that is actually harder to find than you might imagine!  Especially as so many people are choosing laptops now, or only use their desktop for gaming (and thus only have a computer on their desk and don't need it to do anything else).

But, this year, hubby told me to find my new desk, and after much (frustrating) web-searching, I did.  I don't think it will have as much book storage as I might like, but I think it will provide me a much better working environment for my computer work.  It has a few features I am really looking forward to, like an adjustable shelf for my monitor (so I can store small books or my keyboard underneath it!) and pegs for hanging things like headphones. 

My desk is ordered and incoming, and now I am faced with a big change!  My computer desk is where I live, it is where I spend the vast majority of my day, and this desk has been with me for pretty much all my adult life.  It has been where I wrote all my blog posts (minus the few I wrote on vacation on my tablet hehe), where I have done all my work for Patreon, and where I have played most of my gaming career. 

And while I am excited about the new desk, I am also dreading the loss of my old one.  Little fears keep popping up in my head.  What if I can't find storage for all my stuff, and it becomes a big hassle for me to find things?  What if my computer doesn't fit the way I think it will?  Will my cats knock everything off of it?  What if I just don't like the new one?

But I keep reminding myself, that this change will be good.  One of the things I like about big, forced change like this is that not only does it shake up your system but it does force you to change.  I have been saying I will rearrange my desk for a while.  I have been planning to organize this one cubby in my desk that accumulates stuff (right now there is some desk stuff in it, along with:  incense, a bag of organza bags, jewelry, hair things, a tool for assembling my desk chair, craft tools, colored pencils (which I honestly forgot about until just now!), chocolate, and who knows what else.

The new desk will force me to figure out what all is tucked away in my desk and find a proper home for it.  It will force me to clean all the dust monsters (they are way too big to be dust bunnies...) out from behind where all the cords live.  It will make me get rid of all the outdated CD games that probably aren't even playable on modern computers (and half of which I own digitally anyways, so don't need the disks for).  It will make me really think about what I need and where I need it.

And all of this will may my days smoother.  Because the place where I spend my time will be streamlined and updated...which, if we're being honest, was not something I was going to do on my own anytime soon. 

It is so easy to get locked into doing things the way you always have.  It is easy to assign things a 'place' that never changes, no matter how inconvenient that place turns out to be.  Sometimes we need a good kick in the pants to get us to change, and once we have we wonder how we managed at all before!

We can wait for life to give us that push (or shove...), but we can also create that push!  We can choose to make big change in our lives, to force ourselves to change, even when we are resistant.  I know that if I suggest moving furniture to hubby, he will start thinking of ways to rearrange our house, which forces me to change.  I can create that change, but then I have to live with it (and do the work accompanying it)! 

Another way to force change on yourself is to physically remove the things that you are used to having.  If you have that old outfit, that is really not suitable to being worn, but you keep it around 'just to wear around the house' (but let's be honest, you wear it to the grocery store, or over to your friend's house)....toss it!  If you have dishes you just don't like, but are keeping to have spares, find a friend who needs some dishes and see if they want them.

Enlist your friends and family.  If you always cook and eat the same foods, challenge your family to teach you their favorite recipes or take you to a restaurant you have never been to before.  If you always practice your spirituality alone, invite some like minded people over for a small circle or study group, or sign up (and go to) a festival!  If you always use an Athame to cast circle, but want to try it with a broom or wand, box your Athame up and put it somewhere safe (but out of reach....or perhaps ask a trusted friend to hold onto it for you for a bit), so you can't just reach for your regular tools.

Forced change really works because there is no way to go back.  There is such a release when you realize you have reached the point of no return.  It is one reason why I like destroying things that I think I might want to 'save' (or hoard)...because then I can't change my mind and keep them, 'just in case.' 

So, if you are feeling stuck, or trapped, consider forcing some change into your life.  Get yourself moving, and look around and see places (start small, or be brave and plunge right in!) where you can create that forced change.