Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Focus your year!

Four years ago, I did a Year of Gratitude with my local Pagan Group.  Each week I posted a category, and encouraged everyone to share something in that category that they were grateful for.  It was something I had seen posted (though I did adapt the categories a bit), and I thought was really fun.

That year of Gratitude started a new thing with me.  In the following years, I have done a "Year of" in my local group.  After the Year of Gratitude, there was a Year of Photo Sharing (again, I'd post a category, and everyone could take a picture that represented that to share with the group).  Then there was a Year of You (all the categories were stuff about yourself, so we could get to know each other better), and this year was the Year of Magic (since it's a Pagan group, all the topics were about our personal practice, spirituality and magic).

Three years ago, I also started doing my own personal Year of, which became what my focus for the year was.  I started with a Year of Moons, and it was probably the most structured Year I have done.  I wanted to explore the moon cycles, and the energy of each specific full moon.  I look at the moon cycle in an 8 phase model, so I wrote a post for every phase of every moon that entire year.  I hadn't really thought about the fact that this meant writing something every 3-5 days!

I made it through the Year of Moons and I was really floored by how much I had learned.  So, the next year I decided to do a Year of Divination.  I scaled back a little, but I was still doing two daily draws, a weekly card, a New Moon spread, and I did two year-long spreads at the start of the year.  And a few random divination related additions through the year (that was when I started writing Tarot shorts, where I would draw a card and then write a little short story inspired by it).  I added to my divination collection this year, not only decks, but two charm oracles, a Witch rune set and working with dice divination.

This past year was my Year of Magic.  I wanted to focus on the yearly cycle, so I revisited the moon work I had done in my Year of Moons, and I added in daily magical work (even if that work was just to meditation or share a magical meme), as well as dedicated Sabbat work for each of the eight Sabbats.

Normally, around the start of the year, I talk about yearly goals, but this year I really wanted to share this "Year of" practice, because I feel like it operates differently than a goal.  When you set a goal, you are picking something concrete you want to accomplish:  a mile-marker you want to reach.  With a "Year of" focus, I was instead picking where I wanted to keep my focus throughout the year. 

I was definitely inspired by the word of the year practice (I just made my word the focus of action as well as feeling).  And there were definitely goals associated with each year, specific practices that I wanted to do a specific times.  But more importantly, there were things that I wanted to keep in the forefront of my life, for the entire year.

A Year of anything feels both huge and little at the same time.  I definitely acknowledge the magnitude of dedicating myself to one thing for a year.  If I were to add up all the stuff I do in a Year, and set it as a results-based goal, it sounds super huge, and intimidating.  My Year of Moons was 96 posts...brand new stuff that I was thinking about and then writing about...and it was needing to write a new post every few days.  My Year of Divination was 62 readings plus daily draws.  My Year of Magic was planning and working through two different cycles, in 3-5 day chunks, plus 40 dedicated journal reflections (on each month, on each moon, and twice for each Sabbat), plus daily magical planing and work.

But looking at it one step at a time, one day at a time, I could focus on a small bit, and those little bits added up to something amazing.  Often, when I work on studying a big subject, I'll jump in with both feet, and I'll submerge myself in the topic.  I'll spend days reading and taking notes...and I'll burn out.  I'll set it aside, and realize, years later, that I never went back to it.

With the Year of projects, because it was scripted, I would do only so much at a time.  I didn't work ahead, because that wasn't part of my process.  I focused on the step I was on, and that was it.  I didn't think about all that was to come, or even think much on all that I had already done.  Each day I just thought about my focus, about what I needed to do that day (or the few following if it was a planning day), and I broke it down into the one thing I needed to work on.  I broke things even smaller than I would normally, and it just worked.

This year, I am going to be doing a Year of Runes.  I have been working with runes on and off for decades.  I have always been fascinated with them, and I have worked through several books before, each time taking my understanding just a bit deeper.  This Year, I have a book that outlines a year-long study, focusing on each rune for a two-week period.  There are suggestions for activities, but I can also take that time to revisit what I have already learned, to meditate, to experience the galdr and other ways of taking in the rune. 

As I like to twine things together, I'll probably use the rune I am working on as my focus for my community Year of.  I haven't decided yet what exactly that will be (this year really did sneak up on me...), but I was considering revisiting the Year of Gratitude, so I may work with that (picking the categories by the current rune).

The Year of method can be applied to whatever focus you want!  You can have a Year of Self-Care, a Year of Meditation, a Year of Journaling or a Year of Peace.  You can plan daily activities, weekly activities, or just tune in with your focus in the morning when you wake up and at night before you go to sleep.  You might place your focus word somewhere that you will see it every day, so that it can be a reminder of where you want your head to be.  You might plan to check in with yourself a few times throughout the year, to see how you are keeping up with it.

Make it your own!  Build a Year that works for you, with your life, that gives you the things you want from it.  But pick a dream, your dream, the thing you want to experience over the course of the year.  Pick how you want to live your life, and then make this Year the year that you choose how your life unfolds. 

Life is sneaky.  It has twists and turns, and it throws unexpected things your way.  You may set up the best plans, but then something happens and you realize that what you had planned just won't work.  The great thing about a Year of is that it is a focus, so you can just keep your eyes on your focus and look for small ways to work towards it.  Even if all you do is repeat "This is my Year of..." to yourself, you are sinking that idea into your brain.  You will be surprised how often you will see it reflected back at you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Celebrating outside your tradition

It's that time of the year....when the arguments about what we should or shouldn't say begin again.  Firstly, I think it's a silly thing to argue over.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you celebrate Christmas, and you wish me a Merry Christmas, that is awesome!  If you celebrate Yule, and you wish me a Blessed Yule...that is also awesome!  Wish me a Happy whatever you celebrate, and I'll be pleased...because I understand where your wishes come from.

This is something that I think people forget, when they get hung up on the words that are said.  The message behind the words is the person is wishing you well.  They want good things for you, and are expressing this to you.  And they are most likely saying it in the words of their personal other words, they are saying it in a way that is meaningful to them.

We live in an information age, and yet so many people have a serious lack of understanding about things that don't directly effect them.  If you aren't Jewish (or don't have close Jewish friends or family), then it is pretty likely that all you know about the Jewish faith and practices are what you have seen on tv....and we all know how accurate tv is!  The same can be said for every faith and every celebration. 

Sure, sometimes news gets things right, and you may have a basic idea about what something means, but the chances of that are really small, and unless you are watching really good documentaries on celebrations and faiths, you are really only getting the tip of the iceberg.  To go deeper, you may need experience.

Now, I'm not talking about any kind of cultural appropriation.  I'm not suggesting that you try to sneak into any kind of private rituals or ceremonies.  But many religions have services that are open to the public and welcome guests who are respectful and open to new experiences.

I was blessed with a father who took me to a wide selection of churches.  I also attended church with some friends a few times in high school (along with the teen bible study class).  It was never my faith, but I enjoyed most of the services I attended.  Even the ones I wasn't so fond of (one of which I mainly disliked because the Pastor was yelling into a scratchy microphone that was deafening and horrible sounding....literally gave me a headache), I found that if I listened for the underlying message, I walked out with some food for thought.

But more than that, I learned about what other people thought and believed.  I got to see how they practiced their faith, and what things were important to them.  I grew closer to my friends who practiced that faith, and I was better able to talk to them about things because I had some shared language with them.

In the Pagan realm, there are so many different traditions and practices, and I am again blessed with a group that has many people walking many paths, and we share what we do when we get together.  I have been a part of rituals that are very different from what I do in my personal practice, and it is always fascinating.

I especially love being invited to holiday celebrations that I may not be very familiar with.  Traditions are endlessly fascinating to me, and I adore seeing how other people celebrate and what ritual actions they do.  Whether it is a blessing said over a meal, a way of exchanging gifts or well wishes, or certain foods that represent different qualities, I love learning about how people around the world and throughout time have celebrated.

I think that respect is a key factor here.  I haven't met anyone yet who hasn't been open to respectful questions.  And part of respecting other people is also respecting their limits.  So if you ask about something, and get told that is something that isn't something that is talked about (or isn't something that is shared outside of a particular group), you don't push.

But most groups have quite a lot they are happy to share.  The more you can listen with an open heart and mind, the more you will gain from the experience.  When someone shares something with me, I never think about which way is better or worse, but I do something think about how similar or different practices are.  In my mind, both are interesting.  It is really fascinating how many similarities there are, when we stop trying to make this better than that.  But finding something truly new means you get to try something new (or at least think about something new)!

And this is something else you may have to remember:  you may be allowed to watch some things but not participate in them.  For example, if I am in a Catholic church, I don't take part in communion (I have in the past, when I was a child, but I don't anymore).  I feel like it is for the people who follow that faith, and unless specifically invited to join in, I just remain seated during that part of a service.

At other times, you may alter a practice, but it is polite to do it privately.  When I attended church services, I would say my own prayers sometimes, but it was always silent.  I would never try to talk over the other people praying, to make sure my voice was heard.  That just isn't right, in my mind.  But I don't have any problem with saying my own, silent, prayers to the deities I work with, when prayer time is called for.

People are scared of what they don't understand.  The more we can come together, as a global community, share our celebrations and our beliefs, the more we can understand our fellow men and the less scary other practices will be.  We expand our knowledge, our vocabulary, and when we meet new people, we have words to communicate our understanding of them, which helps bridge gaps that can otherwise form into disagreements based purely on misunderstanding.

We need to start looking for ways to come together, not ways to drive each other apart.  We can't afford to keep picking fights with people because they look different, talk different, act different.  We need to try to see where they are coming from, and a great way to start doing that is to look at what people celebrate.  Celebrations are joyous events, and often mark important things.  Knowing the roots of a celebration shows you what is meaningful to people, and how they express that.

So, if you are invited to a celebration, especially one that you don't really understand, don't automatically say no!  Give it a chance, especially if it is being hosted by someone you would like to be closer to (or in a faith/culture shared by someone you care about).  Ignorance is something that can be fixed, and exploring other tradition's celebrations is a fun way to combat it!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent Holidays!

When we think of Sabbats, or of other holidays, we often think of them as a single day.  Some people get even more specific, and think of them as a particular time within a day (especially for Solstices and Equinoxes, where there is a moment at the tip of the fulcrum).  But the idea of celebrating a Solstice on a particular day (often marked from either sundown the previous day or sunup the day of) is something that is ingrained deeply in many people. 

And yet, this is a very common question and concern that pops up for many people:  is it okay to honor the Sabbat on another day?  There are so many reasons why holding to a strict time for a holiday might now work well for someone.  Perhaps they have to work that day, or they have family stuff going on.  If it is for a group ritual, not everyone might be able to make a day.  Middle of the week might mean there is a conflict with children, or you may need to get up early the next day for work.  You might be sick, or just not have energy that day.

Now, group work is a bit more complicated, because for most people, finding time to meet with their group is hard enough, but extending a celebration over several days is virtually impossible.  So, for group work, holding one ritual, on a day that is most convenient for the group as a whole is the best thing. 

But for your personal practice, there is nothing that says you have to do all your holiday activities on just one day!  In fact, I'm finding that only spending one day on a holiday leaves me feeling like I am not fully appreciating all it has to offer.  It serves to separate that celebration, and makes it feel disconnected, like "Oh, I'm going to honor this thing, and now I'm done."

If I think back to my childhood, taking Christmas for example, while we did most of our big Christmas celebrations on Christmas morning (opening gifts), we started doing Christmas stuff pretty much when Thansgiving was over. 

There was a lot to do, and I wouldn't consider us huge celebrators of Christmas.  I don't remember us having Christmas parties, though we did attend a few church services (normally we'd get invited to someone's church nativity play, so we'd go, watch the kids act out the Christmas story and sing carols).  But we listened to Christmas music, decorated the tree and house (which was at least one day's worth of activity!), and we always read the advent story.

I loved the advent!  Even when it wasn't a chocolate advent (but of course those were the best!), but we had a reusable advent calendar, with little windows that we could open every day, and a book to read alongside it.  I enjoyed that daily build up.  I felt like it heightened my appreciation of the season.

And we always baked cookies, to leave out for Santa.  We would open one present on Christmas eve, and then the rest in the morning.  I always had rules for how early I was allowed to wake up my parents (and that's a rule we kept with our son....7am was when Christmas started lol).  We would open presents, have a nice breakfast and enjoy the day.

Looking at the Wheel of the Year as an ongoing cycle, I really think the perspective of one Sabbat naturally turning to the next makes more sense than having eight points around the wheel that we recognize, but kind of ignore the whole rest of the wheel.  I also think that extending our holidays, spreading out our activities over a span of time, not only deepens our connection with them, but it lets us do more in little makes our celebrations more manageable, even when we are busy.

My practice has evolved a lot over the years.  When I was starting out, most of my ritual work was done in purely temporary space.  I had an altar that was always set up, but it was more of a small bit of sacred space.  When I wanted to observe a Sabbat, I would break out all my stuff, go to the largest chunk of floor space we had (so the living room), lay out a blanket and then set up my circle and altar for that specific ritual.  So my Sabbat altar was only up for the ritual itself.

Somewhere along the way, I started adding seasonal bits to my main altar.  But I wasn't very organized about it.  I didn't always remember to change my altar to match the Sabbats (and I didn't have things for all of them...actually I still don't, though I make do with what I have). 

Then, this past year, it was part of my year long goal to not only honor every Sabbat, but to keep up with my altar and changing it every Sabbat as well.  Being the first year that I've actually done this, I had altar set up as part of my 'right around the Sabbat' practices.  Typically I'd swap altar decorations a few days before the Sabbat.

So, while this did help give my actual rituals less set up, it didn't have the flow that I wanted.  I think next year I'm going to swap my altar a week or two after the Sabbat, so that I have a more fluid changeover.  The same for my computer/phone backgrounds (I've been noticing this a lot this computer is still set for Samhain, and it feels sort of weird and disjointed).

Since I've been thinking about extending holidays, I've encountered some really lovely ideas for putting this into practice.  And I think a lot of people still like having that proper Sabbat ritual (even if it is a day or two shifted to fit your life), but taking some of the preparations and other activities and spreading them out in the weeks before and after.

Crafting is one thing that I think can definitely be spaced out.  Many Sabbat rituals include both recipes for seasonal foods, but also ideas for things you can make and include in your ritual:  decorative brooms, wreaths, dollies, wands...the list is endless.  But you don't have to actually wait until your ritual to make your crafts!  You can take a day or days, earlier in the season, to work on making things to use or bless in your ritual. 

If you are doing solitary rituals, like I do, you may not do ritual food for Sabbats (I don't).  But that doesn't mean you have to miss out!  Most ritual foods honor the things that are in season, or the spirit of the season, so why not look to Sabbat recipes for meal inspiration throughout the Sabbat season!  This is especially great if you need to bring a dish to a gathering.  And since many Sabbat recipes aren't obvious, you can bring these dishes to any gathering, not just a witchy one!

I love dressing for ritual, but this is another thing I don't do in my regular practice.  Most of the time, it's just me, and I don't have a lot of ritual clothing, so I do ritual in whatever I'm wearing.  Even for group ritual, I may try to dress to match the season, but sometimes weather or other concerns will be more pressing.  I will wear what I need to in order to stay warm, or to be protected from sun and bugs, and then try to dress around that.

I do try to add seasonal touches with jewelry though.  I love jewelry, and I have pieces that speak (to me) to the different seasons, and so I'll often pick seasonal jewelry to wear, which really helps me to stay in the spirit of the season.  I also like to match my nail-polish to the season, so I will pick colors based on what part of the year we are in.

To take a note from the advent calendar, you can create your own advent calendar for any of the Sabbats!  You might find lovely quotes or images that really speak to you about the Sabbat, and make a beautiful calendar that lets you open up a window each day.  Or, perhaps you have a list of activities you want to do, and you can write them on slips of paper, and tuck each one in an envelope, so you get to surprise yourself with which activity you will be doing on a given day.  You may even include small gifts for yourself, things you have found that embody the season.

Breaking free from the idea that a Sabbat is a single moment in time can really expand your experience of the Wheel of the Year.  It can help you to weave your practice into your life, and to find ways that work best for you.  It can spread out the celebration, so you don't feel stressed or like you can't find time to do what you want to do.  And it can make you more mindful of what is going on, both in the world around you, and within yourself.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Creating Cozy

I love winter, I always have.  I think part of my enchantment with the season was my love for snow as a child.  It changed the world.  There was something really magical about waking up and seeing familiar places transformed.  This delight has never left me.

I have always loved the cold to.  Now, don't get me wrong, I kind of hate being cold, that bone-deep chill that doesn't seem to go away.  I chill easily (and overheat easily....I'm all kinds of wacky with temperature lol), and it takes me forever to warm back up once I get cold.  But I think that is why I love cold weather...because the process of warming up is so much fun!

When you are cold, and you surround yourself with something warm, it's absolutely magical.  I don't think there is any feeling like it.  No matter how refreshing standing in front of the air conditioner is when it's a million degrees, that is relief, not cozy.  Bundling up and feeling warm after being cold is something entirely different. 

I'm a blanket gal, but I am sort of picky about blankets.  I like blankets that are big, there is nothing worse than trying to snuggle under a blanket and not being able to get both your shoulders and feet under (which at 5'10 is a very real struggle!).  I like soft blankets, I want it to feel nice against my skin (and I've found that soft is often warmer...).  As nifty as those color changing sequins are that are all the rage right now, the blankets with them make me cringe. 

And when I say I'm a blanket person, I have blankets everywhere.  There are three on my side of the bed, two in the living room, one on my computer desk chair.  And when I'm really cold (which happens a few times a month), all of those will get piled on the bed or I can't sleep.

This time of year is steeped in cold, and because of that, we spend less time outside.  There is less light in the day, and we are out in it even less than we could be.  It is a stressful time for many people, with family obligations, gift-giving and busy schedules.  It is a time that many people struggle with feeling down.

The thing with cozy is that it embodies the feeling of home.  That happy, safe, loved sensation, where everything is right in the world.  And we can create this feeling by infusing more coziness into our lives.

Cozy can mean different things to different people.  Take clothing for example.  Many people think of big, warm sweaters as being cozy, and I do as well.  I love finding sweaters that swallow me up, that dangle past my fingertips, and well past my waist.  But I also find fuzzy leggings cozy.  It's the stretchiness, which is like being surrounded by a hug.  Kind of like those thunder jackets they sell for pets.  It's a fine line, it has to be tight enough that you can feel it, but not so tight that it starts pinching. 

I love spicy food, but only certain spicy foods are cozy to me.  Chili is one of them.  I love having chili in the winter, when it's cold.  Soups are also cozy, but they have to be hearty.  Chicken and dumplings, with a nice thick broth, or beef marrow with barley...yum!

Hot drinks are great for calling up cozy.  Many of us have favorite hot drinks from childhood, whether it was hot chocolate with marshmallows or spiced apple cider.  As adults, we may add tea or coffee to that list.  I actually loved instant chicken noodle soup (the kind with almost no chicken or noodles, that comes dried in a packet).

That soup was my favorite when I wasn't feeling well, and I think that's another time we naturally seek out cozy things.  Whether it is a physical illness or an emotional one, when we aren't feeling our best, we want to sink into a big puddle of cozy.

One thing that really makes me feel cozy is watching a favorite movie.  This is a tradition for many families over the holidays, and it brings up so much nostalgia and memories.  But your cozy shows might just be a personal favorite, that you've watched so often that you know all the words, but it always makes you happy.

I have books that fill this need as well, and I know that when I'm feeling certain ways, I can turn to them.  I can loose myself, for a while, in their pages, and it's easy and will make me feel better.

We can also share cozy!  Snuggling with a child, a loved one, a friend or a pet...these can all be wonderful ways to embrace being cozy.  I love when our cats come and lay on me.  There is something super peaceful about having a little warm, fuzzy, purring body draped bonelessly across your lap.  It makes me feel calm and loved, knowing they feel that safe with me.

I don't always wait until I'm feeling down to turn to cozy.  Sometimes, I just feel like spending an evening doing something nice and indulgent.  I'll pick out some favorite snacks, pull up a show or movie on the tv, grab a blanket and nest.  Which is quite literally now, because our living room furniture is giant bean bag chairs (which is awesome!).

You know you've embraced the cozy when you don't want to get up.  But it's not just being lazy or dreading doing whatever you need to do once you get up, instead it's that sensation of being so content right where you are that you don't want things to change.

Coziness is one of the reasons I loved winter as a child.  It gave me an excuse to come in, cheeks and hands cold, take off all my cold (and often wet) cloths, put on something warm and dry, get something hot to drink and snuggle in front of the tv with a blanket.  I still love that transition, from cold to cozy. 

So, when the weather is biting and your feeling frazzled with all the holiday rush, take some time to find your own cozy!  Use it as a reward, and keep the image of cozy in your mind, as you go about your tasks, knowing that when you get done, cozy is waiting for you.  Sink into cozy, and let it renew you.