Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ethical spirit work


I was originally going to title this "Ethical ancestor work," but I think the topic needed expanded a little.  We often talk, in the Pagan community, about not taking our Gods for granted, about not only coming to them with requests and seeking help.  And while I have seen the topic of watching the tone in which we speak to spirits discussed, it is much rarer to see a discussion about making sure all our relationships are balanced and go both ways.

I think that things are getting a bit better, when it comes to ancestor work.  We are seeing a much bigger presence of ancestor altars and work in the Pagan community, something which wasn't talked about much a decade ago.  I think that honoring our ancestors is something that was much more prevalent in many ancient cultures, and somewhere along the lines it got a bit lost.  I sometimes wonder if this is tied into our expansion across the globe (sometimes abrupt and not under the best circumstances). 

It was much easier to keep deep roots to your ancestors when you lived where they lived, when you knew where they were buried, when everyone in your community knew them as well.  Today, many people don't know their family tree much beyond their grandparents, and they don't live where their family lived.  There is a loss of that line of continuity, and sometimes that makes connecting with our ancestors harder.

Some cultures still carry the idea of caring for our ancestors beyond the grave.  This was a concept I grew up with, making offerings and gifts to the dead so that they would be taken care of.  I don't remember any sense of asking for things in return, it was all about honoring and remembering them, and seeing to their needs.

I do think that many of us call upon our ancestors for advice or strength.  There are several chants I know of that speak of the 'strength of our ancestors' and the idea that we are built on the strength of generations is one that is known to many people. 

I think these two concepts (caring for the dead and drawing upon their strength) need to go hand in hand.  We shouldn't ask for help from ancestors who don't know us.  It's all nice and pretty to imagine that they all float around in the afterlife, watching over us, but if you really think about it, that's a horrible afterlife.  I wouldn't want my ancestors to be stuck just watching what their descendants were getting up to.  This assumption that their afterlife is centered around us is just super self-serving (not to mention that the further back you go, the more descendants they would have to watch over...my grandmother has five grandkids, go back a few more generations and you are talking of hundreds of people)

I think of ancestor work much like deity work.  You build a relationship, and depending on the strength and closeness of that relationship, that limits what you can ask for help with.  You may have one or two ancestors you feel really drawn to, that you want to really bond with, but you may have others that you would like to honor in a less personal way. 

Keeping an ancestor altar is a great way to not only build up those specific relationships you are wanting to work on, but also to honor your ancestors in general.  You might have pictures of the ones you mostly work with, or things that were important to them.  I have a few items that belong to my father's mother, and those often find their way to my sacred spaces.

An ancestor altar also allows you to make general offerings, to all your ancestors.  Whether we know (or like) them or not, we are literally formed from them.  Without them, we would not be.  We can make offerings on our ancestor altar to recognize that ancestral line, even if we don't know all their names.

Now, I said at the start that I wanted to talk about not only ancestors, but also spirits.  Many Pagans, myself included work with a variety of spirits.  I call on the elements, I work with plant and animal spirits, I honor the spirit of my house and the land I live on.  And there can be a tendency to think of some of these relationships from a human-centric perspective.

A while back, there was a movement in the Pagan community, to change the language we use when we call the elements to our circles.  I have been using the phrase 'call the elements' and that was one phrase used, but "I summon you" was also another.  There is an implication of order, as if I am forcing the spirits to come to my circle and do my bidding.  A lot of the phrasing now is along the lines of invitation and request.

Pagans who work with the elements often invoke them for many different reasons, from casting circle and helping with spells to empowering change within ourselves.  Now, not all Pagans view the elements as spiritual beings, some work with the elements as flavors of energy...that is to say they aren't actual spirits, but more like electricity, a force that follows certain rules.

I split the difference.  I think that there is elemental energy, but I also feel like that energy has a presence, and I do work with beings that belong to the specific elements.  Whichever way you view the elements, much can be said for deepening your understanding of them.

If you view them as spirits, then it stands to reason that they would benefit from building a relationship, just like a deity or ancestor.  And if you view them as pure energy, then the more you work with them, the better you understand how that energy works, and the more capable you will be of working with it.

I really like working with the elements, and finding ways to tap into that elemental energy.  I play with fire (sometimes literally, sometimes in safer ways like by burning candles or gazing at a bonfire).  I pay attention to the difference between rain and bath water.  I taste air at different times in the year.  I touch the earth and feel the weight of my body.

All of these things help me recognize the elemental energy, but they also help me connect to the spirits involved.  I feel the spirit of the individual flame, and of the different types of water.  I find wind spirits in gusts and whirlwinds.  I seek out earth spirits in the plants and rocks and special places near my house.  And I leave them offerings (like most gift-giving, I try to think about what the other being might want or need).

Working with spirits of all kinds is really no different than working with people.  Some you will feel an instant bond to, and the relationship will be fun and easy and strong.  Others you may be forced to work with, and it's a struggle to find ways to smooth out the rough patches, but it's so worth it when you do.  Each relationship has it's own levels of give and take, it's own depth of sharing.  If you tip the balance too much, the relationship struggles.  But building these relationships bring all kinds of benefits to your life, sometimes in very surprising ways!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Witchpectations


When I say the word witch, everyone has images that comes to mind, normally both in terms of the appearance of the witch, but also their practice.  We often have conflicting images:  what society tells us versus what we aspire towards.

No matter what your aesthetic, you probably have some kind of 'this is what a witch looks like'.  Perhaps your witch is an edgy goth, with pointed hat and dozens of necklaces.  Maybe your witch is a hippy type, with flowing layered skirts and lots of prayer beads.  Or your witch might be more subtle, wearing jeans and a tee-shirt that has something astrological on it, with a few key jewelry pieces that aren't obviously witchy (but have meaning to those know know to look).

I love witchy jewelry.  I collect it, and I adore finding new pieces that I love.  I don't wear it nearly as much as I wish I did, mostly for practical reasons.  I am at the computer all day, so most bracelets get in my way after a short period of time.  I rub my face...a lot...so wearing rings on my pointers is pretty well out, and I already wear a ring on both ring fingers....adding rings to my middle/pinky means they rub against each other.  I think it looks awesome to have rings all over my fingers, but I find that it annoys me really quickly.  And I mostly forget to put on necklaces in the morning, especially since I stay home most days, it's something that is easily lost in my life.

For many people, their job requires them to dress a certain way, and that often means they can't wear what they might like to.  Even on their days off, we have to think about what other people might say, and being judged as being evil or dangerous is a very real concern for people.  Even if you don't get put into the 'bad' box, too much spiritual/mystical stuff makes some people wonder if you are sane.  It seems amusing, but this is the kind of thing that has been brought up in custody cases or when a promotion at work is considered.  No one wants to be thought of as a flake.

This may all seem sort of superficial, but we express our identity through our dress.  When we have these longings, it makes us feel like maybe we aren't being true to ourselves.  Every time we think about wearing something, but then decide not to because we are worried about what other people might think of us, we wonder if we maybe aren't as dedicated as we thought we were. 

But the often more devastating expectations are associated with our practice, with the kind of witchy stuff we do.  There is just SO much out there, so many things that are associated with being witchy.

Firstly you have your cyclic stuff.  There are yearly seasonal rhythms, moon cycles, daily repetitions.  And each of these often have whole practices centered around them.  These things all take time and effort.  Working through the cycles of the year may seem like you only have to do something 'once every month and a half' but really you are doing prep work and after work.  Sometimes ritual days are absolute all day (or all night) affairs, which means that you need to shift the rest of your life around them.

Working with the moon cycles sounds super witchy as well.  Simply tracking the moon cycle takes time every day, and adding in things like setting intentions, doing workings, blessing moon water, cleansing crystals, banishing, reflecting...it's a lot.  If you work with a full 8 phase cycle, it means doing something every three to four days.  Even working just the big four means planning on doing things about every week...on a specific day often at a specific time.

I sometimes wonder where these expectations originated.  I can't imagine our ancestors followed all of these cycles (especially not all at once).  I also can't imagine our more recent predecessors (in the new age Wicca movement), when the focus was on working within a coven structure, managing to schedule group work for each and every occasion.

There are some suggestions that these weren't practices for every day witches, but rather for 'professional' witches:  people who made their entire living through being witchy.  Kind of like how some religious folk live their entire life doing rituals and observations...but they don't have to work a job and often don't have a family.  Most of us aren't this lucky!

There is this belief that if we were a proper witch we would find a way to weave all these things together.  I think this is the old "you can have a career and be a good wife and mother!!!" myth.  We are human people, and we only have so much time and energy.....and some of us may have more or less of both of these than other people.  I think you can weave your witchy life into your mundane life, but both sides have to be willing to give a little.

I would love to do full seasonal observances all year long.  I really enjoy ritual, and I like to pull out all the tools, all the bells and whistles and do long and involved rituals.  I absolutely don't have time for it...and I have time.  But functionally, I can't regularly set out whole days to do nothing but witchy stuff, because in the back of my head there is always some part of my brain that is reminding me of all the stuff I am not doing at that moment.  I can't really sink into the ritual, and I would much rather do a shorter ritual and really commit myself to it, than do a longer ritual but not really be present.

This compromise also shows up when it comes to witchy space.  I love the super witchy aesthetic:  with big wooden furniture, rows and rows of bottles containing any herb I might need, collections of crystals, huge elaborately illustrated books, space to keep all my tools organized, seasonal decorations...the whole nine yards.  I definitely don't have space (or money) for this!

Especially for people, like me, who live with others who don't share all our beliefs, it simply isn't always possible for our house to represent our witchy practice in all ways.  My hubby is very cool about a lot of things.  I have witchy spaces all over.  He likes a lot of the witchy stuff, from a decorating standpoint, so that is a big bonus.  But whereas I might organize more with a mind towards energy flow, he looks at pure living functionality.  There are things I wouldn't mind doing personally that would drive him up the wall..and that isn't something I want to do.

And then there is witchy study.  Witchcraft is definitely a study heavy practice.  There is a LOT we can be drawn to, that can make it's way into our practice, and that really requires time and dedication to master.  Things like: tarot, runes, astrology, crystals, herbs, deities, holidays, meditation, mythology...really there are any number of spiritual studies that one can engage in, and they all take focus.

I would love to be conversant or have a solid, regular practice in all of those things I listed (and more!)...I'm really bad at a few of them.  I know maybe a handful of herbs (most of which are also used for cooking), and I know my sun sign.  But in the hierarchy of "things I'm interested in" these are pretty low on the list.  There is interest, but if I have only one hour, I will almost always choose to read more on tarot than I would astrology.  If I have an extra couple of bucks at the witchy store, I will buy a crystal before I buy herbs. 

And sometimes, this does make me feel like I'm less of a witch.  Some things are just SO pervasive.  Herbs are a big one for me.  Almost every spell lists herbs.  They are many witches 'go-to'...but they just aren't my thing.  Same for astrology.  I know tons of witches who are constantly talking about how this person is such a perfect example of this sign...and I'm hard pressed to remember my husband and son's signs.

It's a constant struggle, to decide how to spend our time and focus.  There are so many expectations out there, many of which we build up in ourselves.  And we convince ourselves we aren't as good if we aren't doing/having/knowing all this stuff.  But really, the great thing about witchy practice is it is highly personal.  YOU are the master of what you need to know and what you need to focus on.  YOU decide what you should study, what you should buy, what you should set time aside for. 

So keep a solid hold on your witchpectations.  Don't let your brain bully you into belittling the stuff you do.  Know that every time you work on something witchy, you are practicing your craft.  And if, at the end of the day, you didn't get to do every witchy thing you wanted to...that's okay.  There is no measure of proper witchiness.  You do what you can do, and that in and of itself, makes you a witch.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Making Scary accessable!

We are fast approaching Samhain, and in full on Halloween season (I swear, once that calendar tipped to October, my Facebook feed was swarmed with Halloween themed memes!), and for many of us it is a time to delight in the dark and spooky.  But for others, these things are scary or disturbing, and not comfortable to work with.

There are many reasons why we find things scary.  We may have false-impressions, and associate benign things with their scarier cousins (like how daddy-long-legged spiders and black widows are sometimes treated the same), or we may have strong memories of something (like watching a scary movie as a child and now that one thing is seared into your brain), or it may just be an unconscious fear (something we shy away from, but aren't sure why).

There are levels of fear as well, both healthy and harmful.  The way we react to fear is often tied into our level of fear.  If we aren't very scared of something, we may get a surge of adrenaline, but if we are absolutely terrified of a thing it could freeze us in place, or cause us to loose our mind in panic...neither of which is a useful reaction!  We might also be lacking a fear response to a reasonable fear, and this could cause us to be reckless (like how little children haven't learned yet that the stove is hot, so they touch it and get burned).

For many of us, working through fear is part of our practice, and we want to come to know our fears so that they help us instead of hindering us.  If you are at an extreme level of fear, you may need to ease into the work, or work with a support system (people you trust to keep you safe when you aren't able to think properly).  How we work through fear is a very individual thing.  Some people need to ease into it, facing their fear in tiny ways until they can manage that and then going a bit further, while others find that it takes a big shock to open their eyes.

Fear is something that children often struggle with, and sometimes they are forced to deal with big issues (like sickness or death) that are extra scary to them because they don't have the experience or frame of reference to mitigate the fear factor.  But, there are lots of ways to soften ideas, so they are more palatable to children, and often these same methods work really well for adults trying to work through a deep fear.

Symbols are great, because symbols allow us to deal indirectly with things.  Take the skull picture at the top.  This is several layers of symbols all in one!  The skull itself represents death, something that can be quite scary for lots of people.  This skull has been rendered in a cartoon form, so it is stylized and less 'real'.  Think about the number of kids cartoons that have skulls or skeletons in them.  A child can watch the cartoon and not get freaked out, but if they saw a realistic skull in a tv show they might have nightmares about it.  On top of being a cartoon, this skull is decorated in the sugar skull fashion:  with bright colors and flowers and other pretty imagery.  This makes it even less disturbing, and is a pretty common tool for helping people deal with things that are scary to them.  You can go even further, and make skulls out of sugar, decorating them with bright colored frosting (or make skull shaped cookies and decorate them with frosting), and now the once scary image is associated with something delightful!

As a Pagan, I work with my shadow side regularly.  I have always been someone who goes poking around in the dark, who makes friends with their fears.  I learned early on that other people didn't always like to do this!  When I am working on my own, I can do things in whatever way I want, but I also work with a group, and when working with a group, you have to consider the comfort level of all involved.

Now, this isn't to say you can't do deep work with a group, but if you are going to be dealing with topics that might be fearful or disturbing to people, you need to let them know!  Samhain is coming up, and my local group does a Day of the Dead ritual.  My friends and I run the ritual, and we also have an ancestor table set up, where people can bring representations of their dead loved ones, who will be honored.

Being Samhain, death is a big topic.  It is a bigger (for us!) ritual, so we don't always know all the people attending super well, so we don't do a lot of really intense stuff, but we often share memories and talk about our dead.  It can be highly emotional!  We do let people know the rough idea of what will go on, so if it's not something they are comfortable with, they don't get an unpleasant surprise.

This year, we are opening up the afternoon as a child-friendly time (previous years it's been adult only).  So we have been brainstorming ideas that still touch on the main concept (of honoring our beloved dead), but in ways that aren't going to traumatize the littles.  So less skulls and more butterflies (who are seen by some cultures as messengers to the dead).

Even as someone who likes the scary stuff, I enjoy working with other versions of things.  I find that by looking at both the serious and the more symbolic side of things I get a more complex image of it.  By searching out the humor, that layers on even more meaning.  If you only look at something one way, you miss out on so much!

Live has a lot of big, scary stuff going on.  And sometimes we can't avoid it, no matter how much we like.  Things happen and we are left struggling to figure out how to make it through.  Learning how to make scary stuff more digestible is a skill that will serve you well, not only in your own practice, but also when working with others.  Sometimes you need to approach things sideways, and when you do you find you end up much closer than you could get trying to push straight through. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Apples!


With Mabon fresh upon us, it is the season for apples!  Apples are a staple fruit, one almost all of us are familiar with from childhood.  Chances are you had apples for snacks, they are a sweet treat, very portable, and can be found pretty much year round.

Apples also have a very strong presence in myth and legend.  However, it is good to remember that the word 'apple' was a sort of generic term used for hundreds of years as a catch all for fruit (and possibly other things like nuts).  So some of the tales about apples might actually have referred to other fruits!

Even in our modern world, there are traditions about apples.  When I was a child, it was a common practice to twist the stem off of an apple, to find out what letter started the name of the person you would marry.  Another similar tradition was to cut the peel off of an apple in one long strip, and drop it to the floor and see what letter (or other shape) was made...which would represent your true love.

One charming fact about apples is that if you cut them across the middle from top to bottom, you will see the star formed by the seeds.  This can make for very lovely decorations, if you slice the apple from top to bottom and then dry the slices.  Or, if you are wanting to make an offering, cutting the apple to show the star can help reinforce the sacredness of the act.

Another very seasonal craft you can do with apples is making shrunken apple heads.  You start by peeling the apple (you can leave a little at the top for 'hair), and then starting to carve out a face.  The fun thing about this craft is that the face will shrink as the apple dries, so not only do you not need to be a perfect artist, but each one comes out with really interesting character.  Once your face is carved, you can soak the apple in a salt and lemon juice mixture (to help prevent mold during the drying process) and either dry them in your oven on a low temperature or hang them to dry. 

For Mabon, you might like to use apples as candle holders.  This can be done quite simply by cutting out a bit at the top of the apple to sink your candle in.  You can also cut the apples in half, and make a hole for the candle, and then use them as floating candles!

Apples have a strong connection to love, and are associated with many deities that we might approach for love work.  In addition to the divination examples given above, you might use apples to enhance your love life by using apple cider to toast your relationship (great for anniversaries!)  You can also use an apple to hold wishes for your love life.  Cut an apple in half, and carve your name into one side and the person you love on the other side.  Write down your wish on a piece of paper, and anoint it with honey.  Sandwich the paper in-between the two halves of the apple, and sew the apple back together, and then bury it.  (Note:  I've talked about the issues with love spells before, but there are many ways to work love magic without trying to force someone else to do something.  Always think your spellwork through, and only do things you are willing to live with!)

Apples also have a strong connection to health, as the phrase, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," indicates.  Apples are great to use in health and well-being spells.  If you are wanting to eat healthier, try cutting and blessing an apple, mindfully eating each section and reminding yourself that eating better doesn't have to be a chore!  If you prefer something crunchy to munch on, you can peel your apple (use the flesh of the apple for eating, or baking), and then dust the inside of the skin with a bit of cinnamon or ginger (and a touch of sugar if you like), and then bake in the oven until crispy.  If you want to  magic these up even more, take a pin and inscribe your wishes on them before baking!

Apple seeds always remind me of two things:  Johnny Appleseed and poison.  I would use apple seeds for rituals of bounty and plenty, but I would also use them to ward things off.  This, to me, is one of the things that makes magic so much an art and less of a science.  Depending on the rest of the ingredients you are using, and your intent, you can use the same item to do very different work!  If you want to bless your land, or share your bounty and make the world a better place, save your apple seeds, and plant them.  As you plant each, imagine the tree growing big and strong, loaded with apples, enough for everyone to eat.  On the other hand, if you are wanting to remove something, you can tap into the poison inside of them, and utilize them in banishing or removal spells (cyanide, which can be found in the seeds, has been used as an insecticide and as rat poison).

Apples also have connections to both the fairy realm and the underworld.  The wood of an apple tree, used as a wand, is great for love or enchantment.  Apple wood is also burnt as incense, and can be used to help with visions or crossing over to other realms.

This is the perfect time of year to explore the many uses of apples, whether you are wanting to eat them or work with them (or both!).  Even though the apple is a familiar sight for many of us, there are still plenty of mysteries to be found within. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Divine Masculine


I feel like there has been a bit of a shift in Pagan realms, when it comes to our recognition of deity.  When I was learning, 20 years ago, almost everything you read talked about the Lord and the Lady, the Goddess and the God.  There was a duality in deity, and for the most part, everyone worked with both the masculine and the feminine.

Now, of course this caused some issues for many people.  Some people were struggling to find their way after breaking with the religion they were raised in, often a Book religion (one of the three big ones:  Christianity, Judaism and Islam).  So they often had trouble separating the new Pagan concept of masculine divinity with the God of their childhood religion.  Others struggled with the strict duality that was often promoted, sometimes because of their own gender identity or their sexual orientation (a lot of early Paganism was depicted as pretty sex centered, and there were many parts of rituals that mimicked or outright used sex as part of the ritual, in very male/female terms). 

Early on, there were groups that were devoted to just the divine feminine.  Dianic traditions honored the Goddess alone, and many groups were restricted to female only (though some allowed men, but women were definitely given higher status).  Today, there are many women's spirituality groups that work with the divine feminine in any or all of her forms, often to the exclusion of the masculine expression of deity (or the feminine is seen as superior).

Even within groups that worked 'evenly' with both masculine and feminine, if you looked closer there was a distinct difference in how the feminine and masculine were treated, both in the realm of the divine and within the circle.  Even though "the Priest and Priestess" were considered equal....the High Priestess was always the ultimate power in the group.  The Priestess would lead, and the Priest would follow.

When it came to deity, the Goddess was the driving force behind...pretty much everything.  Most of the Sabbats were strongly focused on her, with Yule sometimes being the main exception (I think mostly because of our connections with Santa Clause!).  Even though a lot of traditional mythology has pantheons ruled by the Gods, within the circle, they were almost an afterthought, and Goddess ruled supreme.

I had my own breaking away moments.  While I wasn't deeply invested in religion as a child, we attended church a few times, so the form of divinity I was most familiar with was that of God.  When I found out there was Goddess as well, I was enamored.  This was also the time when my dad was wanting to go back to church, so as I was discovering Paganism, I was sitting in church once a week and hearing about God and Jesus.  It made connecting with Gods a bit harder for me.

And yet, Odin was always the one who spoke most clearly to me.  I found myself really being drawn to a handful of different gods, and not as many goddesses.  In fact, for a few years I rarely worked with specific goddesses at all, my practice was centered on Odin, with other deities taking a back seat.

I know that it can be hard for male Pagans sometimes.  So much witchy and Pagan stuff is aimed at women.  I know dozens and dozens of chants for the Goddess...and only a few for the God (I don't count ones that do both). 

I also think there is some expectation that people will bond closer with a deity that matches their own gender.  That women will naturally want to work with Goddesses, and men will turn to Gods.

One thing that I know can be an issue for many is the way that Gods are portrayed in mythology.  There are a lot of myths that involve some very sketchy behaviors (if not outright rape).  And while I do think that some of this is people telling stories that make sense for their day, it brings up some real questions, especially if you are someone who views their deities as 'bugs in amber' (the idea that deities are kind of stuck as they were at the height of their influence...the ones who don't think that deities modernize with humanity).

An interesting thing I have noticed too, is that sexual boundaries seem to be more likely to be crossed, when thinking about male deities.  This was something that cropped up when 'patron' deities were really huge, and the idea that everyone had one (or two, sometimes people would have a male and female patron deity) deity that their practice revolved around.  And the relationship was sometimes described as that of a lover or spouse (of course there is a whole god-spouse practice, but that is a somewhat different thing). 

With female deities, there are so many that are focused on roles other than lover, and their stories focus on those other roles, but with male deities, often their stories are steeped in sex, and so even if they are a war deity, there is this undercurrent of sexuality (and many deities both masculine and feminine are portrayed as being very attractive). 

I think there is a lot of discussion still to be had, on the topic of divinity and masculinity within the Pagan community.  I think that in some ways we have taken great strides, most modern groups that embrace both men and women have a much more equal hierarchy, within the divinity honored as well as within the group structure itself.  Male Pagans are much more likely to be welcomed to groups, and I rarely see men being excluded or questioned as to their intent.  It doesn't confuse people that there are male Pagans. 

I do think we still have a ways to go though.  I think we are reaching a point where we are able to have these discussions, where we have been 'established' as a non-God-centric belief structure for long enough that many of us are no longer trying to escape the beliefs of our childhood and instead are secure in our own thoughts and experiences.  And the more was bring such issues to light, the more we can work our way through these issues that still remain.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Home away from home


For many Pagans, the bulk of our spiritual life is centered on our home.  Some faiths have temples or churches that are the heart of the spiritual life, but not so much for us.  Even those that work with dedicated covens, groves or groups often have a robust personal practice at home.

Our home houses our shrines and altars, our books, our journals, our tools and our supplies.  Even for those that have a fairly minimalist practice (maybe you don't do a lot of tool heavy work), if you sit down and actually list the 'stuff' that you use in the course of your practice (don't forget the oils, herbs, stones, tarot decks...all that stuff!), you would find that it's a pretty big list.

I am a huge collector of stuff.  I love having variety.  I'm also a touch person, so I like having actual, physical stuff to touch (though I am quite capable of visualizing everything I need...if I can I like to have touchable stuff).  The things I use in my spiritual practice are literally spread around the house.  I actually have spiritual stuff in every room of the house (including the bathroom, laundry room and son's room).  If I were to pile it up in the middle of a room somewhere I bet the pile would be almost as tall as me (probably taller...I have a lot of books!).

And just like many Pagans have their practice centered at home, we almost all take it with us wherever we go to.  We might have sacred items at our desk at work, in our purse (or wallet, or work bag), in our car, on our person (jewelry is a great way to keep items with you at all times!).  And for short excursions most people have figured out the best way to handle things that come up, either by using what they have at hand or waiting until they get home.

But there are times in many of our lives where we are going to be away from home for an extended period of time.  We might be living in a dorm for college, we might be in the military or we might be on a vacation.  Whatever the reason, being away from your home for more than a day brings special challenges.

Firstly, you are pretty much guaranteed that you can't bring all your stuff.  This can be really stressful for some people, especially if their practice is very tool-based or if they vary their practice a lot.  I own about 20 tarot decks, and it's not practical to take them with me when I travel.  Sometimes, in cases like this, you can pick a deck that is more universal, one that you can use for virtually any need (so I might take my Everyday Witches tarot, but probably not the Oracle of the Shapeshifters, which tends to fit specific types of readings better than general ones). 

When it comes to herbs and oils and other stuff like that, the same theory applies.  Think of the things you do daily, your regular everyday needs, and try to find the fewest things that will fulfill those needs.  If it is a shorter trip (like a week's vacation) you might be able to make do with one all purpose oil, but if it's a longer stay (like living in a dorm), you might be able to take more (hopefully your dorm will have more storage space than your vacation suitcase!).

I always think of emergency supplies too.  Salt is something that tends to go in my travel kits, whether it is a few chunks of rock salt or some salt packets from a restaurant (which are a great way to keep your salt when traveling!).  I also like those short incense sticks, they are about 4 inches or so, great for being on the go, as they take up less space and don't take as long to burn.

When it comes to generalizing your supplies, some things are easier than others.  Clear quartz works great for me as an all purpose stone, because it acts as an amplifier for me.  Instead of holding it's own flavor of energy, it's like a magnifying glass, so if I spark the energy I want to send, I can use it to multiply what I am making.  I love hematite for my all purpose protection stone.   Between the two, I have both sides covered!

If I am looking at living with limited supplies, white candles are a must.  Again, they are just an all purpose thing.  You can charge them with the color you want through visualization, by placing them on a piece of paper of the appropriate color or by using colored markers to draw symbols on them.  Instead of needing all the different colors, you can use white ones to handle all your needs.

As I mentioned, I'm a tool person.  I have a selection of tools and I love being able to pick and choose.  But, in a pinch, I am an Athame girl.  If I could have one tool, to do all my stuff with, it would be a blade.  So when I am paring down my tools, I might just pack one, and knowing what your personal 'one tool' is helps a lot.

Now, sometimes you can't use the things you would want because of where you are going.  Even though I am a blade girl, sometimes you just can't take a blade with you.  I don't carry blades with me when I travel by plane.  I knew guys in the military who had issues keeping their Athame in their barracks room (they were allowed one, but it was kept in the armory and they could check it out when they wanted to use it...not so convenient).  When I lived in the dorm, I had a letter opener I used as an Athame, because it didn't have an edge or really a point, but it worked for me.  Sometimes you have to find adaptations because of outside circumstances.

Open flames are another thing that you might have to work around.  When you are not in your own home, there may be restrictions on things like open flames and incense.  You might want to look into electronic candles or use a scented mist instead of burning incense.  Every location has it's own specifications, so you will have to look up what your restrictions are and then find something that will work.

One thing that I think is a huge boon to practicing away from home, especially for extended periods is technology.  I have several  tarot apps on my phone, so I have options when I am away from home, even if I don't have a physical deck with me at all.  I have tons of books on my kindle, so those are always with me too.  I love being able to take a library in my pocket, because sometimes you just need to look something up (the internet is great for this too...).

When I lived in the dorm, another thing I made great use of is pictures.  I printed out pictures of things, laminated them and hung them on my walls.  I had pictures of deities, of elements, of candles..all kinds of stuff.  Now, I like to keep stuff like that on my phone.  Before I travel, I'll take pictures of my altar, so that I can carry it with me.  Having devotional pictures of your deities is another great thing to keep on your phone!

Another thing to be mindful of, when you are away from home, is you may be lacking in privacy.  In a dorm or barracks not only do you often have a roommate, but your stuff is subject to inspection.  You might have someone coming in and looking through your things, possibly checking for stuff you aren't supposed to have.  This can be really distressing to some people, if they have private things that they might not want other people poking around in.  The same often goes for vacation, where your bags might get searched (and if you are visiting with family, you might have nosy family members or young cousins who are poking about in your things lol).  Sometimes I make the choice to leave something at home simply because I don't want someone else to see/touch it.

The lack of privacy may also mean that you might not feel comfortable doing things the way you did when you were home.  This is something you will want to consider before you leave home, while you are figuring out what stuff to bring and what to leave home.  If you know you will be sharing a room, you might want to plan for a way to keep your sacred things private.  When I had a roommate, I kept my stuff in a box (that could be locked if I felt the need), and also made it easy to transport (if I wanted to grab my box and go, I could find someplace private to do rituals). 

There are many ways to keep sacred space less obvious, and again this is something you can think about before you leave home.  I have many things in my house that speak to me of sacred things, and a good number of them are not overtly Pagan or witchy.  If you like making things, this is a great way to display almost anything, because it is something you made, and that just makes sense to people.  Many crystals can be displayed in a way that is decorative, and no one need know that it is more than that to you.

Ultimately, being at home away from home means thinking through what you really need, and what the situation will be where you will be staying.  It involves flexibility, but also looking into the core of what you do and deciding what you can do without.  The beauty of many of our practices is we have the freedom to adjust as we need, and we can find ways to work within almost any situation.  Being away from home for an extended period of time doesn't mean that you can't maintain your practice, you just may need to think about things a little differently.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Finding your own time


When you start to look into building a spiritual practice, there is suddenly a time for everything.  Moon cycles, planetary alignments, Sabbats....everything happens in it's own time and we are expected to bend and adjust to make our own timing match.

And sometimes it is worth the effort, if the timing is something you can manage, even if it takes a little extra work.  Being able to tap into those energies, at their peak, can be incredible.  But if you can't, that doesn't make you a failure, or mean you can't do things!

When we look in the past, at the things our ancestors did, everything was on natural time, because that was all their was.  They timed things by the movement of celestial bodies.  It wasn't just scholars and spiritual people who knew the moon phases and the equinoxes, but everyone did because those were the cycles that life unfolded in.  You celebrated on the dates, at the specific times, because everyone was, it was just a part of life.

Now, we have schedules upon schedules, and sometimes no matter how much you might like it to, things just don't line up.  You may want to do a ritual at midnight, but you have to get up at 5am the next day for work, and that puts your job and your health at risk.  You might want to do an indepth reading for the new moon, but you have a million appointments that day that you just can't move.  You have family or friends who need to see you on certain days, and so you know you have to set those times aside, because you care about them and want to spend time with them.

I normally write my blogs every Wednesday, but this week my parents are coming for a visit.  I know that we will be out and doing things and visiting, and when Wednesday comes around, I might not have time to sit and write (or the mental energy to come up with anything).  So, because keeping up my blog is one of my spiritual practices, I am sitting down to write it ahead of time (on Thursday the week before actually, so for me, it's two blogs in a row!)

Sometimes, things like this happen.  I've been on vacation during Sabbats before.  That leaves me with basically three choices:  do nothing, do some kind of limited or visualized ritual, or observe the Sabbat either before or after my trip.  I don't have a hard and fast way I do things, each time I decide what I need in that moment.  I prefer not to skip them entirely, but let's be honest, sometimes life just gets in the way, and there is no sense in beating yourself up for being so overwhelmed that you don't have time to get everything done.

I am much more liberal in other timing aspects of my practice.  I have charts and charts of the right day (and hour!) to do different spells and rituals in.  And I do try to time some things with the appropriate days.  For example, I picked Wednesday to blog because it's Odin's day, and for me, making a regular blogging practice is a form of devotion. 

I almost never time spells based on what their focus is.  If I need to do some self-love work, I don't wait until Friday to do it, I do it as needed.  I don't typically do divination on Monday.  I used to, but I find that, for me, it just bogs things down and makes it more likely that I won't actually do anything at all.  If I put things off, things don't get done.

One place I have found that really works for me is moon cycles.  I like having that repetition in my life.  I work with an eight phase moon cycle, and that breaks down to three days for each of the set phases (new, first quarter, full and last quarter), and between 3-6 for the inbetween phases (crescent, gibbous, disseminating, balsamic).  Three days is normally enough time for me to manage to schedule something, but if I'm off, I just roll with it.  I do a small divination spread for the month during the new moon, that gives me guidance on what I need to do, and I try to work with the other phases as they come up, doing little things to help my focus along.

I have also found that trying to do ALL of my Sabbat work in one day just doesn't work.  I like to set my computer and phone desktops to something seasonal, change my altar, do some kind of observance, and journal about it.  If I try to smoosh all that into one day, I feel like it's too much, and I put it off and then I am frustrated because I've not done anything.  However, if I spread it out, if I change up my backgrounds sometime that week, set my altar up a few days ahead of time, and then do my ritual (I mostly journal the same day, but if I'm really crunched for time, I'll journal later), then things just flow better.  I have also found that keeping my altar set from one Sabbat to the next helps me not only stay in the energy of the current season, but it's less fuss than setting the altar just for the ritual then reverting it to a 'base' setup.

And, if you work with others, sometimes this timing negotiation becomes even more complex.  Hosting ritual on the actual full moon or the day of the Sabbat might be impossible, just due to people's work schedules, kids, and travel needs.  It is pretty common for groups to have a set day to meet, one that works best for all involved, and to celebrate on whatever meetup day is closest.

My local group does a yearly Day of the Dead (Samhain) ritual, and it is almost never on October 31.  It might be a full week off....but it is our tradition and it works for us.  I have never felt like it 'wasn't the right time' to celebrate, it always feels properly magical!

Ultimately, you have to do things in the time that is right for you.  You may find that putting in the effort to find even just five minutes on the appropriate day really helps you feel that sense of sacred...or you may find that it just stresses you out and brings you out of the moment.  Don't hold yourself up to impossible standards, just allow your practice to unfold in the way it needs to.  Things will take how long they take, and they will happen when they happen, and sometimes that is exactly the right time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Ugly is sacred too


It is very easy to see the sacred in the beauty of the world.  When things are calm and peaceful and everything is going smoothly, we can slip right into this connection with the sacredness that we strive for.  But even though it can be a struggle, there is a lot of value in searching for the sacred in all moments, including the hard and ugly ones.  And not only that, it is in those rough times that we often need that connection the most.

There are so many sayings that speak to this mentality, about trying to find the good in all situations.  I love the quote by Mr. Roger's mother, to "look for the helpers," in times of tragedy.  When things are going wrong, it's easy to get caught up in all the misery, to stop seeing the good and to focus only on the bad, but when we stop and look for the helpers, we see those people who are trying to fix things, to help and to do what they can.  Looking for the helpers also gets us moving in that direction, because once we see them, we start moving in their direction.  When you see someone helping, you are motivated to help them.  You may have frozen, been unable to think of what you could do to help, but you see someone rushing in, and you find yourself doing what you can to make their work easier.

Another good turn of phrase is that there is always a lesson in every hardship.  This can often help us reframe what is happening, especially if it is painful or overwhelming.  If you have lost your job, it gives you the opportunity to look for one that might suit you better.  If you hurt yourself, you may be forced to take things slower as you heal, and you may find new ways to relax and have fun.  This is a great strategy for looking at your flaws as well.  You might be a procrastinator, but it has taught you how to really focus when under pressure (and you can still work on procrastinating less, and keep the things your flaws have taught you).

These methods both are still looking for the bright spots in the darkness, but sometimes you need to look at the horrid bits themselves and see the way that they are sacred.  There are lots of creepy crawly things that many people shy away from, that are necessary to life.  We may not like to be dirty, but dirt is the fuel for the plants that give us food and oxygen.

A lot of spiritual people work with correspondences and allies.  Animal allies are one that come up a lot.  And most people want to work with wolf, or eagle, or butterfly.  Some of the scary ones are popular too, like spider and shark.  But how many times have you heard someone pipe in with, "I want to work with slug," or mosquito, or warthog.  The uglier or slimier a critter, the less likely people are to want to work with them.  But some of the ugliest creatures have really amazing skills and features, often directly tied to the thing that makes them ugly!  If we put aside our initial squeamishness, we may find these beings to be utterly fascinating, and that they have powers that we would want to know more about or be able to call upon.

An interesting note about this is that once you start to be curious, once you start to see the unique nature of these ugly things, they don't seem quite as ugly, scary or fearsome as they once did.  You may never find them truly beautiful, but you develop an appreciation for them.  You recognize their sacred nature, the things that make them special in their own way.

I think this is particularly relevant for many Pagans because the deities we work with may have traits or areas of influence that are traditionally considered gruesome.  This is especially true for deities that are aligned with the dead.  Many of us honor the dead, and we work with deities that deal with the dead, and so we might be faced with aspects of death that other people shy away from. 

The more we work with things we are uncomfortable with, the more we become accustomed to them.  This is true whether you choose to work with them, or if they are thrust upon you.  Someone who suddenly finds themselves in a war zone will be faced with horrible sights and choices, but the longer they are there, the more they learn to deal with what is there, and the less things send them into a state of shock.  Parents go through a similar integration period, as they are suddenly up close and personal with every bodily fluid (and more!)

One thing I've found that helps, especially when dealing with things you may find personally gross, is to think about their purpose.  Very few things in life serve no purpose.  Some might be simple byproducts, waste products, but even those are typically rejected by the host so that they can carry away toxins or other undesirable things.  The beauty of our world is that those waste products, the things that one organism finds toxic, are needed by other organisms.  This is the basis of the cycle of life, and it truly weaves throughout every aspect of the world around us.

But we tend to skim over the bits that we don't like, and we don't think about what their place in the world is.  If there were no more waste products, the whole system breaks down.  We need those ugly bits to build the beautiful things that we desire.

There is a whole, big, complex world out there.  Each thing in this world effects dozens of others, in ways that are often surprising.  If we only look for the lovely and beautiful things, we cut ourselves off from a whole lot of miraculous things, simply because we can't see beyond the surface to the greater role they play in the dance of life.  When we start looking for how the pieces fit together, we find that there is so much more to everything, and that some of the most powerful and amazing processes are quite ugly on the surface.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Reality is enough!


So, I recently finished up reading a pretty disappointing witchy book.  It was written as a novel, but shrouded in this mystery where it was being sold as a 'true story'.  The book itself was full of all kinds of crazy Mary Sue instances (for those unfamiliar, a Mary Sue character is one who is the super, perfect character, the one with all the powers and no flaws). 

But I'm not actually here to talk about the book, rather to point out how the book is a reflection of the Pagan community, the faces we show to the public.  Everyone feels like they have to have this perfect practice.  It's social media disease, we only share the carefully staged photographs that show us from the right angle with filtered lighting.  We don't talk about the flaws or the struggles.

The problem is, that this becomes very daunting for new people.  They listen to other people, and they have this larger than life image of what being Pagan is all about.  They think they need all the tools (or no tools!), they need to have these amazing rituals, these incredible connections with their deity, this practice that perfectly weaves into their mundane life and these mystical experiences that are as real to them as the world around them.

But how many people actually have all of those?  I'd wager that no one does, not all the time.  Some people may have one or two, or they may experience them all sometimes, but the reality is that most of us are fumbling along, having real struggles with our practice.

Because let's admit it:  being Pagan is amazing, but in our modern world it is also hard.  We are at a place in time where SO many people are struggling.  We are struggling financially, we are struggling emotionally, we are struggling socially.  We may be finding out who we are, or we may be fighting to have other people recognize who we know ourselves to be.  We are just trying to make it through this day, this week, this year, this life.

And then, on top of that, you want to add in a spiritual practice that wasn't built for this time.  Many practices that we have adopted as Pagans have had to be transmuted because we simply don't do things the way people used to. 

Things like the phases of the moon or the turning of the seasons had real, everyday effects on people in the past.  Things that we may not even think of being connected, because we haven't lived them.  We don't appreciate how much light the moon gives at night because our world is lit by streetlights and car headlights.  City glow turns our nights into eternal twilight.  We aren't struggling to get everything to fit in the limited daylight of winter, because we can simply turn on the lamp when the sun goes down (and everything is open at the same hours year round).

I think a big part of what creates this issue, this need to portray ourselves and our practices as 'more' is that sometimes what is there isn't flashy, it isn't obviously impressive.  But it is real, and real things have a weight that many of these ephemeral experiences don't.

I am sure that most people dream of having full sensory interactions with the Gods they work with.  You read about that person who had a dream vision where they got to meat their deity, they felt their touch, heard their words, smelled the scents associated with them.  I am one of those people who never had the full blown experience.  And it can leave you in a place where you might be left wondering if you are even doing anything at all.

But I think that there is something really impressive about doing the work, without knowing if our work is being received in the way it is offered.  To me, this is the work of faith, to continue to hold our own faith, and to trust, without receiving that vision or experience, that our actions matter.  Because they do matter, and just getting up every day and keeping your faith is work in and of itself.

And I also think that the people who do receive those visions have their own struggles and challenges.  We may think that it would be fantastic to get that kind of feedback, but it might leave you wondering about your own sanity, or perhaps dreaming of peace (depending on how chatty your deities are!) 

I personally feel that Paganism is a very down to earth (pun intended!) practice.  It takes your every day life and works your spirituality into it.  And our day to day lives involve both ups and downs.  It's human nature to not want to share your struggles, to only talk about when things are going well, but I think that is something that we are learning to overcome. 

Admitting when you are in a low place not only allows others to recognize their own struggles in yours, but lets them help you, something which many people find great fulfillment in.  Talking about the mistakes you have made, or the times when you haven't been able to do things the way you want opens up a conversation, about how other people might be struggling with the same things, or what people have tried that helped them get through a similar situation.  The more we talk about when things aren't going amazing, the bigger our knowledge pool grows, allowing more and more people to find ways to make things work, instead of just feeling inadequate with where they are.

Ultimately the goal is to make things workable for you, in your life.  And that may mean letting go of some of these idealized visions of what practice is.  I truly believe that when you stop and look at what you are accomplishing, even if your work hasn't yet realized results, the reality of what is absolutely outshines the image you may be trying to project into the world. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Simple tools


We live in a world that is shaped by our society.  We are bombarded with messages all day, every day, about what we should be, feel, think and do.  We are shown images of things we should want, products we should buy....because money fuels the world we live in.

And, don't get me wrong, there are amazing, wonderful products out there, things that I love and things that I want...and things that I will buy.  I am a sucker for a beautiful deck of cards, for sparkly dice, for shiny tools and nice smelling stuff.

But, what we can sometimes forget is all those things are luxuries...they are great if you have access to them (and if you have the means to get them, then by all means, get the stuff that makes your heart sing!), but if we can't, that shouldn't stop us from honoring our spirituality and practicing our craft.

There is so much we can do with stuff that is everywhere, with things that we find or make, that cost us nothing (or at the very least are much less expensive).  The beauty of it is, the more you invest in your spiritual tools, the more you imbue even the simplest of objects with power and meaning.

I have been making simple tools pretty much since I started.  And often, as my money situation changed, I would upgrade tools, though I still use many of my simple ones.  My very first rune 'set' was simple flashcards.  I wrote the names and meanings of runes on bits of paper (ordinary printer paper that I tore into squares).  Later, I made another simple set by finding small rocks outside and using a bottle of old nail polish to mark the runes on them (you can also use permanent marker, I've done that for other symbols).  I made an ogham set with craft sticks (like the kind they use for popsicles...and you could totally clean and use popsicle sticks...or go find sticks outside)!

My very first wand, which I still have and use, is a stick that I found at my college, while they were trimming trees.  I let it dry, and stripped the bark off, sanded the ends, and there you go:  wand!  Driftwood also makes great wands, the water often does the sanding for you.  If you want to dress it up a little, I've wrapped sticks with yarn or thread, which gives a pop of color and a bit of grip.  You can add in feathers you have found or bits of fur.  I like to bind stones to the tips of my wands, and I tend to use leather strips...but you can totally glue them in place, adding other decorative elements where they join, if you like.

Letter openers make great athames, especially if you are somewhere that a blade might not be acceptable.  I used a pocket knife for ages as my ritual blade (because I wanted one that could cut things as needed), and those are really reasonable to find.  Old kitchen knives can be transformed into ritual blades, and can often be found really cheap at thrift stores or garage sales.  I actually made a 'blade' for one of my art classes with some poster board, cutting out the pieces and gluing them together (I finished it with clear packing tape...it didn't have an edge, but it was pretty neat looking).

For a pentacle, my first was a simple silver (looking) coaster.  I have made pentacles out of salt dough (which is a fantastic medium for crafting all kinds of things, especially statues!)  You could take wire and make a pentacle as well, weaving the circle outline first, then bending the wire to form the star inside.

You can go even more simple, and paint or draw symbols on rocks to represent your tools.  Think about what the purpose of the tools is:  what does it represent, how does it function for you, what do you need from it?  Search out rocks that feel right, and decorate (or don't!) them to suit you.  I have a crystal point that I use to direct energy, but I could easily use a similarly shaped found rock.  I also have a large, oval shaped river rock that I use as a healing focus, and representation of fire.

Another, really portable option, is to find images of the tools you need and print them out.  For durability, you can laminate or simply seal them with clear tape.  In college, I had images that I had printed for all four elements, as well as a God and Goddess image, so I could carry a full circle in my wallet!  I had a friend who simply used a tarot deck this way, using different cards to represent things he needed (he was military, and often couldn't have the tools he wanted at hand).

I have also made sacred tool images in an art journal.  I painted some, but I also used collage, so no matter what your personal artistic comfort level, you can create pages to represent different parts of your practice.  I made an altar page, a cauldron (which was painted with chalkboard paint so I could add things to it and erase them as needed), a grounding page (that was a really fun one...with outlines of my hands, so literally I can put my hands on the book and ground myself).  You could also make pages dedicated to deities you work with (like shrines!).  If you draw out runes or other divination symbols, you can grab a handful of pebbles and cast them on the page to see what runes the rocks land on.

The possibilities for tools are as endless as your imagination.  If you can make the connection in your mind, you can use something as a tool.  Never feel like you are limited because you can't afford all the fancy tools, because there are tools all around you!  And sometimes, the ones you find or make yourself become the ones that you use the most.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Drying flowers


People have been drying flowers as a way to preserve them for pretty much as long as they have been using them.  Flowers are dried for medicine, cooking, art or memory.  And there are many methods for drying flowers!

I love dried flowers, I have always had this desire to dry and preserve flowers that I have received, whether I am keeping them whole or breaking them into parts.  I still have flowers I dried back in high school!

How you dry your flowers very much depends on what you want to do with them.  When I am preserving something as a memory, I tend to want to keep it whole.  If I am preserving flowers to display, keeping them whole is an option, but for me a bigger consideration is preserving the color.  And then if I am wanting to use them magically, I tend to break them apart.

One of the first ways I learned to preserve flowers was by pressing.  Pressing flowers is pretty simple, but also works best with simple flowers that don't have a lot of bulk to them.  It is much easier to press a violet than it is to press a hydrangea.  The less bulk there is, the easier it will be to press them.  I also find that it helps to have petals that lay fully flat. 

I love to press flowers in the pages of journals, though you can use any book.  But pressing a flower directly in the pages of your book will often leave an imprint of the flower on the pages, which can be a fun way to add a bit of color to a journal.  You can also press the flower between writing paper or in a card slipped into a stack of books.  It may be helpful to add a weight on top of the books to help press your flower.  You can also press leaves and other greenery.

When you are laying out your flowers to press, arrange the petals in the way you would like them to be pressed. You may need to close your book carefully to keep the flower arranged the way you wanted.

Once you have gotten familiar with pressing single flowers, you can also press multiple flowers into a single arrangement.  This can be great for using in artwork or even for spellwork.  If you leave a stem on your pressed flowers, it makes them easy to hold if you want to burn them for ritual reasons.

If you want to dry flowers whole, you can always just leave them in a vase without water, but I find they wilt and droop when you do this (which can be an interesting look, if you want some thematic Samhain decorations!).  My favorite way to dry whole flowers is by hanging, and I like to hang them individually.  If I want to keep long stems (either for burning or to put them back in a vase later), I will dry them with the stems on, but if I just want the flower part, I'll trim the stem close to the flower. 

Then, I will take a needle and sturdy thread and string them through the stem (if they have very thin stems you can string them right through the base of the flower itself, which should be thicker).  You can  string a whole lot of flowers this way, and hang them from a rack or curtain rod to dry.  Drying whole flowers like this takes a bit of time, so be prepared to let them hang until they are fully dry before storing them (or you risk them growing moldy).

You can also tie up bundles of flowers to dry, much like you would a sage bundle.  With flowers, you would arrange them in a pleasing manner, then wrap your cord tightly around the stems (remember, wind tightly, they will loose bulk as they dry). 

There is a really pretty way of making flower crowns, that can be worn fresh or dried, that I learned while in Hawaii.  You start with a braid of raffia or cording of some sort (you can use ribbon if you like!).  Then, you will want a selection of flowers, with at least about a half inch of stem left on them.  Taking your cord, place one flower where you want your crown to start and wrap it a time or two with the cord.  Then pick another flower, adding it in and continuing to wrap.  You can make your crown as full or sparse as you like, placing each flower along the way with intention (you can make these tuned to a particular purpose as well, the process of making them is very focusing).

This actually reminds me of another way to string and dry flowers...the way they are often strung for leis.  You will run your needle right through the center of the flower (it's easiest to pierce the middle of the flower itself, and then guide your needle right through the stem on it's way out).  These leis can be worn fresh or hung to dry (and once dry you can easily snip the string to pull off the individual flowers).

I also like drying just the petals of flowers, and I did this with a bunch of roses from my mother-in-law's garden, when I was keeping an eye on it for her.  She wanted me to snip the roses when they started wilting, so that they would keep blooming, and I just couldn't toss out all those roses!  So I brought bags of them home with me.

Of course there were many petals that were chewed on by bugs or that might have spider webs on them...and there were quite a few insect hitchhikers that came along with the roses, so I took the bag outside, and dumped it out on my back porch.  One by one, I pulled the roses apart, saving the nice looking petals, and collecting them in a big bowl. 

I placed the bowl on my kitchen table, and left it until the petals were completely dry, giving them a gentle toss (with my hands, I just mixed them around a little so the same ones weren't always on the bottom) a few times a day.  I used the anti-splatter cover we have in our microwave to keep our kitties from scattering them everywhere while they dried!

Once you have your plant parts dried, you will want to store them in clean, dry containers.  You will also want to keep them out of the light, so they don't loose their color.  One nice trick is to save those silica gel packets you get in things and tuck them in your storage containers.  I have a few in the tub I keep my rose petals in.  They help absorb any moisture that might find it's way in.

Drying flowers is easy, and there are so many ways to go about it, and so many things to do with your flowers once they are dry.  I highly recommend giving it a try, and you may find that you love it just as much as I do!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Energy is boundless


Okay, I'm going to do my best to not get super preachy...but there are a few thoughts out there that really bug me and I wanted to talk a little about that today.  Energy isn't a physical thing!  It's not bound by the rules and laws of the world that we are used to dealing with. 

So, this may seem obvious, I mean of course energy is non-tangible...it's like smoke right?  But it's really not, in the sense that smoke is still a physical thing.  It follows many of the same rules as other things we interact with, the rules of our reality that we grew up with.

We think of smoke as being untouchable...because we can wave our hand around in it, and our hand passes right through.  There is no resistance, there is often no sensation.  Smoke is there, and then it isn't, it dissipates and we can't see it anymore.

But if you trap the smoke in a bottle and seal it up...it stays contained.  The smoke can't pass through the bottle, and this is a common perception of how energy works for many people.  They see the physical things of our world as having stopping power.

This brings up a whole slew of concerns, especially for people who are just starting out.  It doesn't help that some of these concepts continue to be passed along, taught from one person to the next, as if they were TRUTH. 

One I remember reading about very early on, that seems to have almost died out now, is that you should do your magic skyclad (naked) because clothing interferes with the energy you are working with.  Like somehow my teeshirt and jeans will stop the magic from flowing out of me and to where I want it to go.

Firstly, most people don't go walking around fully wrapped up in clothes, and even if you did, even if you wanted to do magic with a full onsie on, lying on your bed with your blankets pulled over your head and tucked around you....you could!

I always thought it was a bit crazy that people had no issue blindly believing that clothes stopped energy, but that I could cast a healing spell on someone miles away without a problem (and that energy would presumably go right through my walls and through any walls in the way...).

Speaking of walls, one I still hear a TON that makes me twitch a little is the idea that you need to open a window when cleansing to let the bad energy (or demons....I've seen plenty of people say 'to let the demons out' *sigh) escape when you sage.

Okay, yes the house traps the smoke from the sage (or incense) in your house...but again, smoke isn't energy.  Now, this may seem like a bit of a contradiction, because aren't the walls of our house keeping all that bad energy inside in the first place?  Why isn't it drifting away like smoke would?

I feel like there are a couple of factors here.  Firstly, a lot of energy is sort of clingy.  It doesn't move on it's own, so if left to it's own devices, it stays put.  This is why many systems of energy work look at the flow of energy in a place.  Because certain things will move the energy.  Often it's us, as we move through our house, we draw energy along with us, we break it up and shift it.

Of course we can also create areas that are sort of magnetized to hold energy.  If we constantly sit in one place in our house when we are sad, we build up a resonance there for sadness, and if we don't take care of it, that spot will start to collect sadness.

So what actually happens when we cleanse a space?  Whatever tools we are using, we are focusing our intent on shifting the energy in our house.  We might see it as driving the stagnant energy out, replacing it with better energy (like we do with sage or incense) or we might see it as transmuting the energy from something less desirable to something we want (often done through visualizations involving light).

One thing I find particularly perplexing about this 'must open a window!' perspective of energy having to conform to physical laws is it is very inconsistent.  Some people will strongly affirm that if you are saging you must open a window, but you can use sound or a light visualization just fine to cleanse your house.  Why would the sacred smoke (and your intentions) be unable to shift the energy if sound/light could.  Technically your walls block all three of the physical tools you are using (yes windows allow light in and some sound passes through, and our houses aren't airtight or we'd all suffocate..but you get my meaning!)

Windows bring up another odd belief about energies, and this one ties into the moon.  Many people like to charge things (stones, tools, water) by the light of the moon (full moon usually).  They take their stuff and put it outside, where the moon light can fall upon it).  But they fret about whether or not they can put it on a windowsill inside, or keep their things in a container outside (to protect them from weather or critters..or people)...as if the glass would stop the energy from reaching their things.

Another, very specific thing that I've heard people worry about, is if there are clouds in the sky or if a certain astrological phenomenon (mostly eclipses) are not visible in your area, can you still work with those energies.  I kind of feel like if the energy of the moon can reach me across ALL that space...a few clouds aren't going to stop it.

All of these examples boil down to people wanting to understand energy, but missing the mark just a little.  By nature, we want to compare things to other things that we understand.  So energy gets explained as being 'like smoke' or 'like light' or 'like electricity'.  This is enforced as we visualize, and those are three very common images that people hold in their minds, when they 'see' energy.

But energy operates by different rules than the physical world.  It exists not only around us, but inside us.  Your aura isn't an energy field that surrounds your body...but one that exudes FROM your body...it shares the same space and more!  When we charge an item, we aren't wrapping it in energy, we are filling it with energy.

When we cast circles, we are creating a boundary of energy...designed to help hold and control the energy we are working with.  When we direct energy, we are moving it, and we can move it through any number of physical things!

Thinking about energy in physical terms limits your ability to work with it because you are creating boundaries that don't exist.  If you believe that your walls will stop the bad energy from getting out, then you are actually setting the intention that bad energy should linger (because you don't believe it can escape, you are basically creating your own barrier to keep it in). 

If you can start to break down these ingrained beliefs, you can start working with energy in new ways.  You can be more flexible, and work around the physical world, rather than being bound by it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sacred, but temporary


People from around the world, and throughout time, have set up sacred spaces.  We have temples, churches and shrines that dot the globe, places where people can come together and honor their spiritual path.  Often, these spaces are beautiful buildings, with art to uplift and inspire.  They may be maintained by the spiritual leaders or by the community as a whole. 

Ancient peoples had sacred places as well, and alongside temples and more traditional buildings, they erected stone monuments and circles, many of which still stand today.  They marked off natural places of significance, so that they could gather and honor the things that were important to them.

But, as modern Pagans, we often don't have such spaces of our own.  We may attend services by other groups, and we may enjoy the spaces they share with us, but there are not very many dedicated Pagan churches or temples.

Now, many modern Pagans are also solitary.  While many belief systems are focused on working together as a group, and thus really need a communal gathering place, many Pagans have, and always will be, solitary. 

This leaves us with an interesting choice.  We can create sacred spaces within our own home, whether it is a whole room dedicated to our spiritual path, a permanent altar set up somewhere, or even just spiritual art hung around our house in dedication.

But we may also not have that freedom, even in our own homes.  Perhaps we are young or we live with people who don't share our beliefs.  Perhaps we live in some kind of communal living situation with rules about such things (like a dormitory or barracks).  Or maybe we just don't want our spiritual lives out where anyone can see.

Whatever your reasons, there are many ways to utilize temporary sacred spaces, and they can be just as powerful as more permanent ones!

When I was first starting out, I didn't have permanent sacred space in my own home, not even in my room.  All my spiritual things were hidden away in a small wooden box.  When I wanted to do something, I took my things out, did what I set out to do, and then packed them all away again. 

For home use, this worked out just fine.  Everything was together, and it was actually pretty easy to set up what I wanted and break it down again.  My tools were very selective, and the bare bones of what I needed (I think I had a small pocket knife, a lighter, a dish and pin to hold stuff I was burning, and that might have been it).

As my practice grew, I acquired more tools, and wanted more things when I set up sacred space.  I turned an old tool box into my sacred carry box.  It had places for candles, for stones, for my blade and bell, for a wand and pentacle.  One great advantage to having all my tools in a carry box like this was that I could take it out of my house, to the woods or beach or wherever I wanted to go, and I knew that if I grabbed the toolbox, I would have everything I needed.

There is something really neat about going out into the world, even if you are going to a private place (like a rented cabin) and setting up sacred space.  Calling on the sacred in a place you have never been, and you are likely to never be again, taps into that power of between, the transitiveness of life itself.  It helps keep you mindful of the fact that this moment is like no other moment, and we should cherish each experience as it's own thing, not just as a repetition of things we have done before and will do again.

There are some things you need to keep in mind, if you are setting up temporary sacred space.  First and foremost, you want to make sure you have all the things you need.  Because you have to bring in all your tools each time, it can be easy to forget things, especially if you are doing something that requires special tools or components...stuff that you don't normally use.  Having an outline or list of supplies is very helpful, so you can check and make sure you have everything you need.

One thing I found very helpful to bring, as well as my toolbox, was a large blanket, one that was going to be about the size of the sacred space I was wanting to set up.  It helped me keep a visual of the outline of my space (though depending on where you are setting it up you can also trace the outline in the sand/dirt or with chalk, or use candles to mark the boundaries), but it also helped me make sure that I gathered up all my bits when I was done.  The blanket was the last thing I packed up, so it was easy to see if there was stuff left on top or not.

Temporary sacred space can be as elaborate or as simple as you want it to be.  You may want to bring a lot of things, and make this beautiful space to have your moment in.  Or you might decide to gather natural objects, and make a space that can be returned to nature (or left as a bit of art for other to enjoy).  You may want nothing more than a candle, your journal, or even just yourself.

Marking space sacred ultimately is a matter of intent, and when we create temporary sacred spaces, we are deciding to honor the sacredness of not only this particular space, but also this particular moment.  The act of setting up the space is part of our practice, as is the act of cleaning up afterwards.  And when we leave, we hold that moment, forever in our hearts, even though the physical space is returned to the state we found it in (or better).

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Advanced practice


This is something that has come up a couple of times, in different groups I am in.  The predominance of 101 and beginner information, not only in published books, but also in online groups.  Many websites focus on basic stuff, books rehash the same old information, and many groups seem to share the same standard info-graphics.

So where is the advanced stuff?  Sure, there are more advanced books, but many of what gets recommended as advanced books are actually just basic books for specific subjects (so instead of being a Paganism 101 book it's a Norse mythology 101 book).  I've actually heard authors complaining because publishers don't want things that are more advanced, they only seem to want the general stuff, and actually told the author to take the more specific stuff out of the book so it would be more marketable.

And I do think there is some amount of truth to the idea that people who are just starting out tend to dive in with both feet.  They want all the information, and will buy a half-dozen books (before realizing that they all mostly say the same stuff...). 

Where it gets tricky is that a lot of the advanced stuff is just the basic stuff, but deeper.  It's taking what you have learned, working with it enough that you are comfortable with it, and then seeing how you can take it further.  It's actually breaking away from what you learn from other sources and figuring out how to pave your own path.


This makes advanced practice sometimes really hard for people, depending on their circumstances and how they learn.  Many people are book learners, they like to see words in print, to be able to read them over and over, to take notes and organize their thoughts on the page.  The struggle for these people is often weeding through the vast amounts of basic stuff for those few kernels of fresh thoughts.  Or trying to read adjacent material (like history textbooks) to piece together things that aren't typically talked about (like how an ancient culture might have approached a coming of age ceremony).

Other people need to be able to sit with someone and ask questions.  It's often the interplay between teacher and student that helps them.  This can be hard if there isn't anyone in your area who practices.  Some people need to just work it out for themselves, they actually do best if they aren't trying to read from a book or learn from someone else, and the biggest struggle they may face is breaking free from all the books and people telling them 'this is the way you need to do this".

Speaking of which, I think there is always that part of us, no matter how experienced we are, that isn't fully sure of ourselves.  We all have doubts, and having those doubts doesn't make you any less of an experienced practitioner!  I think it's what you do with those doubts that is more important.  A beginner might feel worried about doing things right, and so they hold off.  They try to find some outside source that tells them that what they are doing is right and proper and that yes they should do it.  A more advanced person will examine their doubts, see if there are honest concerns that need to be addressed (like safety issues), and once those have been handled, they will trust their own knowledge and experience and move forward.

Not everything you do, even as an advanced practitioner, will end in success.  But when you fail, you learn from it!  You stop and examine what happened, you seek out the places where your endeavor went astray, and you figure out ways to stop it from doing the same thing in the future (even if you aren't sure of those ways...it's still something new to try out!). 

I also feel that practice often follows a bell curve.  You start out knowing nothing, you dive in and submerge yourself in something, and slowly you start to swim.  But then, you might take a break, because we all need rest.  You might go and do something else for a while.  Eventually you end up where you are comfortable, and you can swim without much effort.  And many people stop here, and if that is what you want, that is fine!  But to take things to the next level, you need to push yourself.  You need to take that deep breath and dive.  You need to try to see if you can swim further, or faster or with less effort.

And I think that is where many advanced practitioners circle back (pun intended!) to the basic practices.  Many will revisit meditation or circle casting, after having done it for ages, and study it AS IF IT WERE NEW!  They will take all the information they have learned along the way, both about themselves and their path, what works for them and what doesn't, and they will apply it to those basic lessons.  And each time you do this, your understanding of a practice becomes more complex, more multi-faceted, and more personal. 

This is where I think the community is lacking.  I think we have a million sharable resources for the beginner stuff.  And every day, in my social media groups, I see posters and lists of correspondences, spells and motivational quotes.  These are shared over and over....and people like them or comment that they agree.  Sometimes people will ask if something is true, and often the response is a simple, "If you believe it, and it works for you, then yes it is true."

And all that is great and fine, but I think we, as a Witchy and Pagan community, as a global collective of people who are wanting to be spiritual and to improve ourselves, I think we need to stop just hitting the like button and start actually sharing!

Not sharing the post (though, definitely feel free to share stuff that you resonate with), but actually stopping, taking a moment to share YOUR experiences.  "Yes, you can charge your stones under and eclipse moon.  I did this last eclipse, and here is what happened...."  "Sure, you can cleanse your house with something other than sage, I use...."  "You know, everyone posts that tree meditation for grounding, but that never really worked for me.  Instead, I do...."

These are the ways we can all help each other advance!  By talking about what works and doesn't, by sharing our thoughts and experiences...by actually sharing what we do (no you don't have to write out the full details of every spell/ritual you do and post it online...but surely there are some things you are comfortable sharing!)

Sometimes this means being really honest about things we may not be fully comfortable with, things we may feel others might judge us for.  I don't do workings every moon cycle (not actual formal, full moon stuffs).  I was doing really good with my personal Sabbat rituals...but missed Midsummer (life got busy, and then whoosh it was gone).  We aren't all perfect, and our practices might not be perfect...but if you do anything, talk about it!  If you are struggling right now, and you aren't managing to do stuff (but you wish you could)...talk about that too.  Because there are probably a dozen different people feeling bad because they feel like they should be doing more..and when one person talks about it, everyone feels more comfortable talking about it.

Books often paint this picture of 'advanced practice' as something that is frankly unrealistic for most people.  Being advanced doesn't mean you have a three hour long ritual for every Sabbat that includes a full meal, crafts and seasonal spellwork.  It doesn't mean you own all the crystals and herbs and are brewing up all your own cleaning and bath products.  It doesn't mean that you mediate for half your day.  You may do some of those things, or you may do none of those things.  Advanced practice means that you have advanced beyond looking for other people to tell you what you should be doing and how to do it, and you have started making those decisions for yourself.  You determine what your advanced practice is, and the more people we can get talking about it, the more everyone benefits!