Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Gifts of love


'Tis the season of gifting, and if you believe what you see on all the media, then the bigger the better...how can you show you care if you don't get everyone everything their heart desires.  But that's the rub isn't it...we often want things because they are shiny or new or we see someone else have them.  Want is often driven by greed, by envy, by emptiness...or any other number of emotions that aren't our truest heart desires.

I am very guilty of a lot of these.  I struggle with a feeling of emptiness, and I want to fill that void.  I desire things, and I see other people getting things and that makes me want them too.  I find myself looking more towards things I 'want' than things I have.  And I struggle with both wanting to have all the things, and wanting to be able to 'prove' I care about people by getting them more things, and bigger and better things.

But we all also know that some gifts are precious beyond words.  When a child gives you this special rock they found, and their heart is in their eyes, and they are just so excited and they want YOU to have it...and you look down and it's an ordinary pebble, but you take it anyways, and they are so giddy with joy that you just have to tell them how amazing it is and how it's perfect.  And something happens because you look at that rock differently.  If you had seen it on the street, you wouldn't have even noticed it, but now it carries all those emotions, that pure joy and love and selfless caring.

And really, that is what gift giving is all about.  It's about taking what's in your heart and giving that to someone else.  How that love is wrapped, what shape it takes, that is all less important than the emotions that are driving you.  And that is the best way to receive gifts as well.  When we stop focusing so much on the packaging and instead we tune into the message...that is when we share true gifts.

I really identify with the concept of love languages.  It is a book I was exposed to in high school, and it makes SO much sense in my brain.  It was something I struggled with a TON as a child, because my mother's love language isn't gifts, it's service.  To mom, nothing is a better gift than doing something for her (and as her daughter, sometimes that meant doing something to improve my life).  Her Christmas list would always include things like, "A clean house" or "A straight A report card." 

When I was younger, that used to frustrate me no end.  I wanted something I could buy or make and wrap and put under the tree.  The gifts she wanted didn't feel like gifts to me (let's be honest...they felt like work lol).  But looking back, I can see now how those things would be a demonstration of my love for my mother, of the ways in which I was thinking of her and doing things (that admittedly were work, and not always pleasant), because I knew they would make her happy.

We all probably know people who we think are hard to buy gifts for, and sometimes that's because they don't speak the love language of gifts.  They may want service, like my mother did, or they may want quality time, or conversation, or touch, or words.  If you spend a little time thinking about the person you want to give a gift to, you can normally figure out what their love language is...by thinking about the times you have seen them really light up.

And people don't only speak one love language!  Sometimes people like gifts but they also like quality time.  Or they want words of love and service.  I love gifts, but I also love quality time...I like conversation and service.

I think we also all probably can list of a handful of people who give us things we may not like (often physical gifts).  I think every family has that one aunt/uncle who picks really strange gifts, or someone who gives really practical (but often un-fun gifts).  When we just focus on the items we are receiving, it can be a struggle, but when we think about why that person might have picked that gift, it becomes easier to be grateful and to really enjoy what we get.

Another factor that I think often gets people in trouble is expectations.  We see all these stories online or in the news, about these amazing gifts or things that people are doing for the holidays.  And often we can't help but be a bit envious.  It would absolutely be nice to be able to get that expensive thing or have the time to go on that incredible vacation, or have the kind of relationship with our family where we could spend all day with them and be happy about it.

It can be especially hard if you are struggling, and for many people the holidays are especially hard.  We put so much emphasis on our blood relations, who can be really horrible sometimes.  Many people have families that are so different from them, and so intolerant and flat out hateful that they don't feel safe with them. 

This is where I think that it is really important for everyone to have their own support system.  We all have unique needs, and finding people (and things, and activities) that build us up when we are struggling, that is a true gift on it's own.  We often look to the bright and shiny times when we think of gifts, but the ones that really matter the most are the ones that stick with us when times are not so good.  When we are in the darkest, hardest, most painful place, the smallest act of support can be the biggest gift.  These are the things we cling to, our life line, when everything else is lost to us.

I find that sometimes, the best gifts are ones that aren't fully understood.  It is easy to gift someone when you get them, when you are into all the stuff they are into, when you both love the same things.  It is harder to gift someone that you don't quite get.  When you have a friend, who you know loves this one thing...and you think it's a little silly, or a bit strange, or just confusing.  But it doesn't really matter how you feel about the thing, it's how they feel.  And trust me, if you gift someone something that they know you don't feel the same way about....it means that much more, because they know you did it just for them.  This is extra true when it involves your involvement....like offering to watch their favorite movie with them, or taking them to that new restaurant that they know terrifies you.

Sometimes, we have obligatory gifts to give, ones that we feel social pressure to give, even thought we may personally not care for the person at all.  Maybe you have that work guy you feel obligated to get a gift towards, but he has been super annoying to you all year.  Tap into the connection you have, working at the same place, and remember that maybe the two of you just don't mesh personality wise.  Perhaps you have to get gifts for family members who have been hurtful to you in the past, and you choose to gift them in honor of the rest of your family, who want you to find a way to get along.

I'm not saying that you have to go above and beyond for every single person you gift to...but remember gifts go both ways, and if you give someone something from a spiteful place in your heart, that is what you will be feeling.  If you can find that small bit of love, somewhere, even if it's just "I am so glad that I only have to see you at work/holidays!" if you gift them something with an honest desire to give them a bit of joy, you will walk away knowing you did a good thing. 

So, as we make our way through this gifting season, remember that every gift you give should be an expression of your heart, of the love you feel towards the person you are gifting.  I'm not talking about romantic love (thought it could be that), or familial love (though it could also be that), but more that deeper love that we feel towards other beings.  Give the gift you feel the person receiving it wants, and receive with an open heart.  Accept the joy of the gifting, without letting price tags or envy sour your experiences.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Weather out of season


While not universal, many Pagans honor a seasonal cycle, we take note of the way the world changes throughout the year, and we often use this as a guide to our own changes.  But even if we don't follow the wheel of the year, when the outside world conflicts with our concept of what 'should be' it can leave us feeling off and ungrounded.

Like most people, I grew up with very clear cut ideas of the seasons.  Christmas was in winter and the time of snow.  Summer break was hot and sunny.  Spring was mild and green, and fall was breezy and brilliant colors fading to monocrhome.  As an adult, I learned that depending on where you lived, that wasn't always true (having lived in Hawaii, where you really don't get proper seasons....just 'less warm than usual' and 'extra-rainy')

But nature is a wild and uncontrolled thing, and even if you live somewhere with four semi-regular seasons, there will always be times where the weather outside does something wacky and you are getting snow after the flowers have started to bloom or wearing shorts a week before Christmas.

When the weather is off, it's like the whole world is out of kilter.  Things just feel off.  We may struggle to deal with the changes, or to tap into the energy of the season in the way that we normally would.  We may find ourselves with lower energy or fighting harder to stay healthy (especially with serious temperature changes).

I love the idea of seasons as tides, and I think it's a great analogy for the actual energy of a season.  When the tides are in, there are still waves.  At any particular point, the water might be higher or lower, but if you watch over time, the whole edge moves up or down.

I do feel there are ways to keep in closer touch with the overall seasonal tides.  I find that if I include more seasonal decorations inside, in places where I will see them often, it helps me keep touch with that energy.  This is one reason why I decorate my altar for the Sabbat (and leave it up), but I also use my devices (desktop, tablets, phone) to help.  I will set my backdrops and themes to reflect the season, and it helps me stay in that mood.

I actually love nail polish for this too.  I'll paint my nails based on the energies I am wanting to feel, and it's often seasonally inspired.  Winter is blues and whites and silvers (sometimes red and green), while spring is pastels.  I see my hands throughout the day, and it always brings me back to how I want to feel.

I think that seasonal eating is also helpful.  I'm not a big stickler for 'traditional' foods, and our holiday meals are often more "what do we really feel like eating" rather than "what is symbolic of this holiday", but I do find that I am drawn to more seasonal styles of food and cooking throughout the year.  Winter is stews and chili, summer is salads, spring is often grilling.  Again, it's a tide thing, and while we can and do eat all these foods all year long, we eat more of them in their season.

It's interesting, but the more we build up rituals for seasons, the more they become part of our seasonal experience.  I put snowflake window decals on the back window for winter, and sometimes that is more of a 'now it feels like winter!' cue for me than the actual weather (which is often very not-snowy....sadly...I love snow).  And when I am done with winter for the year and ready for spring, I take them down.

In a way, it's my modern take on the old rituals to help make the sun rise and keep the wheel turning.  I don't literally think that my taking the snow decals off my winter stops it from snowing anymore (it definitely doesn't lol), but it is my way of honoring and celebrating the season, and one of the ways I send energy back to the earth.  It's a little bit of 'fake it until you make it' and when I'm ready for a change, I'll change my world so that it calls what I want to me.

This is also one place where I think making note of the Sabbats (even if you don't celebrate them in the technical sense) gives us a framework of seasons, with the 'start of' and 'midpoint' of each season being marked.  My local weather doesn't always mesh up, but that doesn't bother me so much (especially as I am very much an indoor person, so the outside weather has less effect on me...my year is sort of temperature controlled as far as my day to day life is concerned).

Being modern Pagans also puts us often finding the weaving between our natural rhythms and the secular holidays, many of which have a seasonal 'feel' to them.  So we are caught up in seasonal celebrations no matter what the weather is like.  It often surprises me when Valentines rolls around, which I tend to associate with spring...and it's still freezing out (it does make for interesting compromises between date clothes and weather appropriate attire!) 

Knowing how to adjust, so that the changes in weather doesn't take us out of our seasonal experience, allows us to tap into that energy.  Whether you have a regular seasonal practice or not, highlighting the current seasonal energy puts you in tune with the world at large.  You may find yourself drawn to different types of activities, and you can focus that pull to work for you, instead of against you.  It puts you back in the drivers seat, no matter what is going on outside.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Winter resting


Human beings tend to want to try to push the limits of technology.  We want to tinker with stuff, improve it, make it better.  We are constantly looking to expand what we can do and reduce the effort it takes to do it.  We want convenience, everything at our fingertips, all year long.

In many ways, we have lost touch of the cycles of nature that still have a huge impact on our biological systems.  We work shifts around the clock, even though we know that sleeping when it is dark out is better for us.  We find ways to grow produce in the off season, even though it doesn't taste quite as good, or we import it from far away, knowing we will have to pick it before it is ripe to be able to transport it.

As we enter into the depths of winter, the days grow shorter and we are called to rest.  The whole earth is resting.  Plants have died back, pulling their energies inward until the next growing season.  Animals have already laid up their stores for the winter, and when the cold and bad weather hits, they head to their dens to wait it out.

But we humans just keep trying to keep going, we want everything to move at the same, steady pace.  We don't care that there is less daylight, we have set working hours.  We don't care that there may be weather, we have days we must work. 

And even more than that, we are in the peak holiday season.  From Halloween to Valentines, it feels like one holiday after another, but especially around the end of December, so many people are celebrating.  Everyone is hosting parties, for work, for friends, for family.  There are gifts to be bought, and everything is busy, busy, busy.

In the time in which we yearn to slow down, to cuddle up and tell stories, we are pushed harder than almost any other time of year.  Our calendars are full to busting, we have list upon list of things that 'need' done, and we feel compelled to top last year, or that guy on social media or that braggart at work. 

In many societies, winter was a time of deep restoration.  You might literally be snowed in, unable to go and do your normal things.  People explored creative passions, having the time to really dive deep and spend days working on their newest project.  Little ones gathered around their elders, eager to hear stories.  Fires were lit, to cook, to warm, to cheer up the darkness. 

We are starting to see the imbalance in our lives, and to reach for the things we yearn for, deep inside.  I think this is one reason why things like Hygge are so popular.  We have lost that sense of 'home' that we used to have.

I remember winters, as a child.  It was all about playing in the snow until I couldn't feel my face and fingers.  I'd come inside, my boots would be soaking (and possibly my clothes as well), and I'd change into something dry and warm.  Mom would make me a hot drink, and I'd cuddle up and watch a show or read a book.  I loved it when we lit a fire in the fireplace.

I think this is still why I love stormy days.  It's dark and foreboding outside, but I am often drawn to cuddle on days like that.  I'll curl up with a book or show, a blanket and as many cats as will sit with me, and just enjoy the fact of not needing to DO anything.

I think this type of resting is necessary, especially if we are working on our spiritual growth.  When we take up a practice, it often includes a lot of things that we need to learn, and practices we need to observe.  It may even involve restful practices like meditation, but still the focus is on sitting for a certain amount of time or making it through a particular visualization.  We are constantly trying to be more than we were, and this is a great thing.

But it is also important to set aside time to let it all go.  To follow whatever whim may come into your head, whether it is to play with a new art supply, dance barefoot in the back lawn (or living room), or just lay on the floor and stop thinking.

I remember, when I was little, taking a tai chi class, and they were talking about why meditation was so important.  They talked about our sleep time, and how the physical body really doesn't need sleep.  The reason we need sleep is because our minds need to rest.  And meditation allows you to focus that 'off' time, and reap a greater benefit in less time.

But I also think that when we stop pushing, when we just allow ourselves to be, to drift into whatever strikes our fancy, we come up with crazy ideas, things we may never have stumbled upon by trying.  It's like dreams, how we make wacky connections and create these whole worlds where things aren't quite the way they normally are.

Winter is a great time to spend time dreaming.  To invite your dreams into your waking hours.  I love having a few hours to just sit and let my mind drift.  I don't quite nap, but I'm not really awake either.  I'm just floating between thoughts, playing with my own mind.

When you first start to work with this kind of practice, it may feel like you are wasting time.  You may think that you don't have time, especially if you are busy.  And I really hate that line about meditation (you know the one:  everyone should mediate for 30 minutes, unless you are busy then you should meditate for an hour), because I think it's fundamentally flawed.  Not everyone has the luxury of having an hour every day to meditate. 

What I do think is that sometimes we need to prioritize resting, and we can look at our lives and see where we may be able to snip a bit of time.  I can spend a lot of time roaming about online, or playing games, so when I feel called to rest, I know I can carve that time out and still get my main stuff done.  I can't tell you where your time might come from, or how much you will be able to set aside.

But I do know that I feel more right with the world when I take time and rest.  I am better able to face things that challenge me, and I recover quickly when I'm pushed to my limits.  Resting is also something that you get better at.  I can fall into quiet in a few breaths, and that allows me to sneak moments here and there, even when I'm really busy. 

If you haven't worked with a resting practice, I highly recommend trying it out, especially on these cold winter days, where the sky is grey and weather may be happening.  Set aside some time, in between the parties and the gatherings, before you head out to buy gifts or after you come home from a busy day.  Allow yourself just a moment, if that's all you have.  But slow down, come to a stop, and see what happens next.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Time release magic


Most of the time, when we work our magic, we are doing a single-release style of magic.  We light a candle and call energy towards a single focus and send it out.  We take the ritual action and make the magic and it's done.

But, there are also lots of things that we do that function as time-release magic.  Making a spell bag, that you carry on you, is a sort of time release magic.  It's not a one and done, the magic continues as long as the bag stays charged and is carried.  7-day candles are another great example, and one many people are familiar with. 

Both freezing and unfreezing spells are also time-release.  If you set up something to be frozen, that takes time, it is a more gradual effect (and also ongoing, as long as the object remains frozen).  When you unfreeze something, it also takes time, slowly releasing the thing from your spell.  The advantage to both of these is that there is a period of acclimation, and not only does it give the target some time to adjust, it also makes it harder to resist (we are less likely to notice gradual changes and fight back).

We may approach our seasonal observations as a sort of time release spell, especially if we have one large goal that we are working on, throughout the year.  At each Sabbat, we might take an inspired action, something that will build upon what we've done previously.  Or we may work through a moon cycle, to dream up, work on and appreciate a goal.

One project I have done, that I really enjoyed was making a Sabbat wishing tree.  You start, at Yule by picking a nut (in the shell) to serve as your seed, and anointing, recognizing it as a blank slate.  And then you make a wire tree form, with the nut forming part of the ground that the roots wrap around.  At Imbolc you make your wishes, picking three to five things you want to work on over the year.  You can make tiny spell bundles for each, or write your wishes on ribbons, or make small representations of them (I did origami, you could also do salt dough effigies).  Hang these from your tree.

At Ostara you add green leaves to your tree, and as you add each leaf, you think about your wishes growing, and what you can do to help them mature.  At Beltane you add tiny buds to each branch, representing your wishes starting to come to fruition, and at Litha you replace those buds will fully matured flowers.  By now, your wishes should have started manifesting.  At Lughnasadh, you replace the flowers with dried flower buds or withered flowers, bless each bud, thanking them for the harvests you have received.  At Mabon you take the withered flowers off and lay them at the base of the tree, again thanking each for bringing their bounty into your life, and at Samhain, you remove the leaves from the tree, adding them to the withered flowers.  Remove your wishes and burn them, saving the ashes to nourish next year's tree.  On subsequent years, you can take the nut from last year and plant it outside, along with any leaves or flower bits (that are safe to bury).

I find workings like this to be a really great way to break up big goals into smaller steps, and still have a well defined working, that allows you to not only see progress but celebrate every step of the way.

Another lovely Sabbat themed idea I've seen is a gift, where you wrap a present for each Sabbat in reverse order, in one big ball.  So you would wrap  a Samhain gift, then several layers of paper, then a Mabon gift, etc....until you get to Yule.  When you gift it to someone, they unwrap until they get to that Sabbat's gift, which they then enjoy.  You can add extra blessings into the wrappings, writing inspirational quotes on them or turning them into wishing papers (with blessings/wishes written on them, that the person can burn to release the blessing).  Gifting like this takes the magic of caring about someone and stretches it out throughout the whole year, it is something that you can do to remind someone they are cared about, not just during traditional gifting seasons.

Now, some might say this isn't really magic, but I think that gifting is a form of magic.  All gifting is an exchange, whether you think you are receiving something in return or not.  And when you give from your heart, you are putting your energy into it.  You are blessing the person receiving your gift, with the intent that they find joy in what they are being gifted.  This is a wonderful form of blessing and love magic, because love isn't always about romance or sex, sometimes it is about caring about someone and wanting them to feel special.

Both those Sabbat ideas are sort of a building process.  You start with one thing, and over time you build on it.  I also like countdown type magic, where you pick a final date that is a significant observance (like a holiday), and you do something each day to mark that there is one less day until the event.  There are many celebrations that light one candle a day to mark the passage of time, but you could also do this in reverse, so on the first day, you set out and bless all the candles, one for each day of the observance, but then you only burn one completely (you might want to light them all briefly and extinguish them one by one, saying something about how you are saving them for later, until only one is lit, and then let that one burn out completely). 

You could also do this with blessed food or drink.  Make sure you pick foods that will hold up well, like chocolate pieces (which can be inscribed with symbols or words to represent what you are taking in), or fruits or nuts (many of which can also be inscribed on the rind/peel or shell).  This type of magic works really well when you want to take on several attributes of a thing (for example if you were wanting to deepen your relationship with an animal spirit, you might find some food that reminds you of the animal, and bless each piece with a different trait that animal has, so you can then consume and take into yourself those traits, one by one).  It is also good if you are building yourself up for an event that you feel you need help in several areas (you might brew up a special tea, and then bless a sugar cube for each day leading up to your event, each cube marked with a symbol you feel you need, like bravery or calm nerves, and then every day you can pour the tea over the sugar cube and drink it, focusing on feeling the thing represented by the sugar cube).

Some knot spells are also considered time release magic.  You charge a string, call up your intentions, and bind them in each knot as you tie it.  Then, whenever you want to draw on your intention, you untie a knot and release that part of the spell.  The energy is held in the string, ready to use, until you need it.  You can untie more knots if your need is stronger.

The advantage to this kind of spell is that you can set it up ahead of time, and it is ready when you need it.  You might charge a cord with grounding calm, so that when you untie a knot it loosens the hold of anxiety on you.  Or you might charge a cord with healing, so that untying a not helps sooth a headache or speed recovery from a cold.  These are all things that you might not feel well enough to work on while you are in the midst of them, so having the magic set up ahead of time, to be released at a later date, is very handy.

And finally, time release magic is great for things you want to be ongoing.  I see most forms of protection as a time release thing.  You want the protections to keep working, to continue sending out protective energy.  You aren't just releasing a flash of protection, like sending out a single pulse of light, rather you want to turn the light on and keep the darkness at bay.  With spells like this, there is often a need to refresh your spell.  You might want to recharge your protections every month, or if you feel they are being used up more quickly you might do them weekly or even daily.

I do daily protection not only on myself, in the form of shielding and blessing, but also on my house.  I say chants and affirmations every day to reinforce these protections so that they stay 'on' and continue to lend their protection throughout my day.

Time release magic allows you to stretch out your workings, so they aren't just a flash in the pan.  They become an ongoing thing, either maintaining their effect or building up or counting down to an event.  They allow us to work on bigger projects without needing to do the work all at once.  They give you options, the versatility to choose how, and when, you want your magic to take effect.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Southern Cunning (book review)

Southern Cunning

by Aaron Oberon (link to Amazon page)

This was a strangely fascinating book for me. I knew, going into it, that it wasn't what I typically practice, however it is a topic that is very popular in my area, and I know several people who are into this type of folkloric witchcraft. I always enjoy reading more about paths that are different to mine, especially paths that are walked by people I know, so I was looking forward to reading it.

I definitely found things, right from the start, that challenged me. Much of the language references Christian symbols, and they aren't really a part of my practice or my childhood. The stories that are talked about, the phrases that are used, they aren't part of my vocabulary.

I also found the continual references to “The Silver Bullet” left me feeling like I was missing some of the meaning. Most of the times, when it talked about stories from that collection, it explained the most important bits, and yet I was still left wondering how much more I would get from it if I had read that book as well.

Some of the language and words used were stumbling blocks for me. Witches are talked about as they are in some stories, as evil, harmful things. There is a lot of references to the Devil, and focuses on cursing and working with spirits. There is actually a really good bit, right at the end, that talks about the terminology of the Witch Father, and explains the concept further from the point of view of the author. I think that anyone who might be struggling with the phrasing may want to skip ahead, read that chapter, then go back and read the rest of the book.

One thing I really loved was the focus on the local area. Being not only in tune with your local spirits, but also the land itself. The acknowledgment that each area has it's own flavor was wonderful. I think it's a really practical and workable approach, and it helps people start where they are, and find symbols and things that speak to them, in the world around them, instead of trying to find universal symbols or things that simply might not exist in their area.

Many areas that talk about tools and things used in one's practice followed along this same train of thought. There is a big focus on using what is around you, and using what works for you. I loved this very personalized approach. There are some really great suggestions for tools that are talked about in this book, and I definitely came away with some ideas to incorporate in my own practice.

Even though I don't use the Bible personally, I found the sections that talked about the ways in which the bible could be used to be really interesting. There was a lot of really down to roots folk magic in this section, and it's something that I definitely see in my area, things that people might do because they grew up doing it. And that is something that I think we all sort of cling to: the rituals of our youth. I think this section could easily be translated to seeking out the influences you have from your own family and culture growing up, and using those in your practice, because they are steeped in your own personal memories and experiences.

There is a lot of information on working with spirits in a very direct and personal manner. While a lot of witches interact with spirits as part of their practice, this book covers interactions that many don't engage in: spirits as teachers and spirits as familiars. These are long-term relationships that are built up and need to be maintained. I think the book does an excellent job of illustrating just how tricky this can be, and how much work might be required to cultivate good relationships with spirits.

One point I particularly liked was the idea that the land might not always be friendly to you. I think that, as Pagans, we sometimes have the opinion that nature (spirits, animals and to a lesser extent deities) are, by default, going to be well disposed towards us, and this book brings up the point that humans have done some pretty awful things, and so spirits we interact with might not look at us kindly.

Another interesting topic that is broached is that of UPG: unverified personal gnosis. This is the idea that we can have individual experiences that my not line up with the common experience...in other words, my interactions with a thing might be different than yours. This is something that I think a lot of people struggle with, as we want things to line up nicely, but they don't always. There is always some level of wondering as to the accuracy of our experiences, but ultimately, if it works for you then it works.

There are some really great sections on journeying, through the mode of flying. It's a very folkloric take on a more common practice, and the information given is wonderful and rich. I appreciated the warnings given, when talking about witch grease (which is similar to flying ointment), and how even though a specific recipe is not given, the process is explained and done in such a way that if you follow the suggestions you will create a personal recipe that is safe.

All in all, this was a really interesting book that covered a lot of very down to earth practices focused on working with what you have in the place that you are in. Some of the terminology might be problematic for some people (I seriously recommend reading the Witch Father section first), but if you can get beyond that, there is some really great information here. Best of all, the book does a lot of explaining how to figure out what might work for you, instead of laying out information for you to take or leave.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

When holidays go bad...


For the most part, holidays are intended to be celebrations, happy and joyous times where we gather together and have a good time.  There are some that are more somber, days of remembrance more than celebrations, but even those have started becoming reasons to party for many people. 

Many people are also learning that what they thought they knew about holidays, and the roots that they grew from, just isn't accurate.  Some of the holidays that we use to celebrate noble ideals, are actually built on lies and misinformation. 

Part of the problem is that many holidays, and the traditions we associate with them, are ingrained in us from childhood.  When we were little, we didn't understand all of what a holiday meant, and we definitely didn't know that there might be more sinister aspects to them.  All we knew is that holidays meant parties at school, special activities (no regular classes!) and the best holidays meant no school at all.  We were taught super clean, upbeat versions of what the holidays meant, and of course these focused on the positive, and so that is what we associated holidays with.

Thanksgiving is a great example.  There is a commonly told story of how the Pilgrims and Indians sat down to a happy dinner together, how the Indians shared the bounty of their harvest, and helped the Pilgrims make it through the harsh winters.

As many people are now aware, the actual history just didn't go that way.  The interactions between the Pilgrims and Indians was not the idyllic story we were told in grade school, and the fact that most of Thanksgiving imagery reinforces this farce makes celebrating it problematic for many people.

Now, I'm not going to go into a whole thing on the true story of Thanksgiving.  My point is more on how do we deal with the potential issue of holidays that have troubled pasts?  I don't think we need to stop celebrating Thanksgiving, but I do think that we also shouldn't just keep sweeping the truth under the rug. 

Thanksgiving today is not about Pilgrims and Indians.  Once you are out of school, you don't talk about that at Thanksgiving dinner.  Thanksgiving today is about family, food, and often Football.  It is a time to express gratitude, that is something that I think remained, but even that is something that is falling by the wayside.  Many people have rocky relationships with their extended family, which makes big family dinners less than pleasant, and when you add in the fact that a lot of us have moved away from the place we lived as a child, and our families are spread across the country (if not globe), even the basic big family dinner is fading away.

I think we all need to find our own peace with the holidays we celebrate, in any fashion.  I do think we need to talk about the origins of the things we do, and think about how we are teaching these traditions to future generations. 

If history has taught us anything it is that times and attitudes change.  Things that were acceptable in the past, are no longer tolerated, and so holiday origins and activities that might have been okay in some other place and time might need to be reevaluated. 

I do think that holidays can evolve though.  We have seen this!  If you look at how a holiday was celebrated a hundred years ago, many people would be surprised.  We tend to think that how things were when we were little is how they have always been, but every generation adds their own small change to things, and over the years this adds up.  Not to mention that sometimes, big global issues will cause changes (like when there is a war or natural disaster, and people have to adjust).

I think the best thing we can do, is to explore our holidays.  Look at how they started, and look at how we have celebrated them over the years.  Don't take holidays on blind faith, and don't rely upon your memories of childhood (tinged with childhood's natural blinders) for what they mean. 

But I also feel like we can explore the themes behind the holidays, we can find new ways of expressing them...ways that work for our current time and culture.  We are poised in a place where techology is progressing so fast, and people are teetering on the brink of either embracing the new and rushing forward with both arms open and pulling back, clutching the old ways and refusing to change.  Progress, however is somewhat inevitable, and it is highly likely that things will keep ticking forward, no matter how we personally feel about them.

Taking time to sit and really delve into our relationship with a holiday and how it fits in our lives allows us to pull back the blinders and find healthy ways to honor the meaning of them.  For Thanksgiving this may mean spending more time thinking about our relationships with our family, possibly expanding our definition of family (blood isn't the only family you have, in my book).  It may mean thinking about how we can open our eyes to the ways in which we remember history, and how we tend to accept the accounts of the 'winners' of any situation....and maybe even seek out the stories of those who lost, so we can have a more complete picture of what actually went on.

I think that examining history gives us the power to choose how we move forward, instead of just following along the path that has been charted for us.  And reclaiming our holidays so that they are truly meaningful to us, in ways that empower our lives and give us tools to honoring the things that are important to us, is a way to use the lessons of history to grow, instead of being trapped by it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Secular versus Religious holidays


We are firmly in what I think of as the Holiday season.  Even though, as a Pagan, I celebrate a holiday every month and a half, this time from Halloween until Valentines, just feels like the whole world is rushing from one holiday to the next.

Everything is holiday themed, and not only that, we experience holiday creep.  I understand why many people might not spend as much time on Halloween (okay I understand it in theory *grin), but there is this desire to start pushing the next holiday before the last one has even finished.  The fact that we have Christmas things being highlighted in stores in October is crazy to me.

Now, when I think of secular versus religious holidays, I am mostly thinking about the mass marketed versions of holidays compared to the actual traditions we hold dear and practice.  Even when I was little, Christmas at home was different from Christmas in the greater world.  My childhood memories of Christmas aren't as much about the gifts (yes, I was a child, I loved gifts...but gifts were only a small part of Christmas), but the whole process.

I loved it from the moment we broke out the boxes of decorations.  We always put up a tree, but we also had a nativity, we had a (reusable) advent calendar we did every year (and if I was lucky I got a chocolate advent as well!), we hung garlands all over the house.  We put lights in the windows and on the bushes out front. 

And it was a process.  We put on holiday music and sang while we decorated.  We baked cookies and bread to give as gifts.  We had eggnog and lit fires in the fireplace.  We gathered with family to celebrate and eat and spend time together.

Outside the house, it was all consumerism.  Buy this stuff, then buy this other stuff.  In the greater world, nothing about Christmas was actually about the holiday itself, it was all just trying to get you to buy things.  And that is a pretty common theme with a lot of secular holidays.  We push all these things that are being sold, even for holidays that don't traditionally require stuff.

I feel like we sometimes forget what holidays are even about.  We are so busy handling all the stuff, we neglect the actual heart of the holiday.  Thanksgiving isn't about family time anymore or giving thanks, it's about all the sales (for Christmas).  Veterans day isn't about remembering and honoring our soldiers but about buying ribbons (which sometimes don't even benefit soldiers, there are a lot of horrible scams out there that prey on people's desire to fit in and do good).  Valentines isn't about spending time with your loved one but buying stuff to 'prove' how much you love them.

And sometimes it can be hard to juggle all of this!  Thanksgiving comes at the end of the three harvest festivals for Pagans, so we have already celebrated the harvest and given thanks.  But many of us still do Thanksgiving with our non-Pagan families.  Instead of taking it as a literal time to give thanks for the bounty of the season, we can take the time to focus on our gratitude for the family we have (whether it is our blood family or our chosen family, or both!). 

We almost always do something for Thanksgiving, even if it's just a meal we planned ahead of time.  It's not always a huge deal (this year we are making chili, yum!), and depending on work schedules we may not do much more than eat.  If we have time, we do like to do family stuff on holidays, like play board games or watch movies together...really just spending time doing the things we like to do.

And to me, that is what a lot of secular holidays are about.  They may have roots in other things, but they are often community builders in some way.  They remind us to think about our loved ones, to remember our soldiers, to honor our dead, to acknowledge the people who came before us and made our country into what it is.  Each and every holiday calls us to focus on one particular community, and to appreciate it.

Community is what binds us together.  Holidays help us keep those community connections, they help build strong societies that care about each other.  Without holidays, we might forget the sacrifices that have been made in the past and continue to be made every day.  It is very easy to get caught up in our own lives, to think only about what directly effects us, and to not remember that there are a million things and people that are working day and night (and have worked throughout our history) to give us the life we have today.

With religious holidays, we place a greater importance on looking at why we are celebrating, and I think that bringing that emphasis back into secular holidays will make them have more impact.  New Years shouldn't just be a day to justify getting drunk, but celebrating a new start, a brand new year, a new chance to create the life we want to live.  Valentines shouldn't be a day to make up for the rest of the year or buy your way into your loved one's graces, but a celebration of the emotions that bond you together.

Over the years, we have lost the soul of our holidays, but we can bring them back.  If we look into the origins of the holidays, if we think about what they mean, not only when they were first celebrated, but the evolution of that meaning in our current day and age.  Some holidays have changed, and have taken on new meanings. 

Keeping that meaning in mind, we can then start bringing that message into our celebrations.  We can search out ways to honor those energies and experiences in our lives, to reach out and support the people who are being recognized, and to infuse our activities with power, instead of just buying a themed decoration and then tossing it without a thought when the holiday is over, already looking towards what we need to buy for the next one.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Difficult dead


Now is the time of remembering for many of us.  We let our minds drift back to those who came before, and we honor them.  But sometimes we are left with a tricky situation.  We may have ancestors who participated in activities we find distasteful (or downright reprehensible).  It might have been someone we knew who has passed on, someone we didn't have a good relationship with.  Or it might have been someone from long ago, when people and society operated according to different rules than we find acceptable today.

As pagans, our relationship with the dead is often an active one.  We don't just lay flowers on a grave, we invite them to our table.  We converse with them and lay out offerings.  There is a sense of exchange, a sense of knowing.  And this can bring up a lot of issues.

Firstly, many people struggle with the ethics of approaching dead who may not share our faith and beliefs.  Especially the more recent dead, who may have had very strong ideas about Paganism or witchcraft.  Should we reach out or should we leave them alone?  It is my personal opinion that creating the space for that connection to form isn't a bad thing.  If you get no response, or feel a pulling away, then don't pursue it, but you may be surprised.  I think that the dead have a very different perspective on things than they did when they were alive.

When it comes to dead who you had a bad relationship with in life, I think this is something each person has to deal with on their own terms.  Each relationship is different, and we all have different ways of dealing with things.  What works for one person, might not work for another.  I would say though, that no one should be obligated to work with a spirit that they don't feel comfortable with.  It kind of reminds me of the abuser/victim dynamic.  It doesn't matter what therapy or reformation the abuser is going through, they can't force contact or reconciliation with their victims.  It should always be the victims choice how the relationships progresses.  If you abuse someone and they never want to meet you, let you apologize or forgive you, that is their right.  It doesn't matter how much the dead may want to make amends, sometimes it's not something you want, and you have the right to not engage with them.

Going back a bit further, we often hear stories of our not-so-far-gone relatives (but ones we didn't know personally).  You know the stories, about how great-great-grandpa used to own slaves or beat up gay people.  Here we are starting to get into a different kind of tricky.  Society plays a huge role in how we behave, and when you are raised to believe that certain things are okay, you may not know better.  Or, you may, in your heart of hearts, feel bad doing something, but be afraid for your own safety (or that of your family) if you stand up to the status quo. 

For me, the distinction comes back around to intent, and this becomes much harder to know at first glance.  I have relatives that have said or done things that just wouldn't be done today.  Some I know absolutely had no ill will in their hearts.  They used words that are unacceptable today, because that was what they were raised with.  If I were to have overheard a conversation, I might not know this however.  I might think that they were a prejudiced person, and might judge them accordingly.

I think that, on some level, I want to explore my lineage, to know who my people are.  I want to find out if my kin did things out of ignorance, if they did the best they could in a hard time, or if they used the rules of society to lash out and be cruel.  To take a modern day example, there are people who use the internet as a mask, and because it is 'anonymous' they delight in causing pain and strife...just because they can.  In many ways, to me, people's motivations are more telling then their actions.

Many Pagans work outside of their own blood lines as well.  We may call on spirits who's lives inspire us, or who's words and works have changed how we think.  When I am really touched by someone, I often want to know more about them.  I read about their life, and sometimes troubling things come up.

It is really easy to discount someone because  of one aspect of their life.  But I think that people are complex beings and not only can we make mistakes (which we may greatly regret later in life, I know I have plenty of those), but we can be very right in some areas and very wrong in others. 

This reminds me a lot in "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."  If someone leaves behind a legacy that has real value, but they also did some horrible things, we don't have to completely turn away from them.  We can accept the good they did, learn from it, and also learn from the bad they did (seeing how other people have messed up can often save us from our own mistakes). 

If someone had a big enough impact to us, we may want to honor them for it, but we feel like we can't because of the bad things they did.  Some of this, I think, comes back to whether or not you feel like the dead are static or evolving.  If they are nothing more than echoes through time, if they are flies trapped in amber, then what we do doesn't effect them.  We can honor them, or not, and it won't change who they are.  But if you believe that they exist in a way that can include growth and change, then how we interact with them becomes important.

I tend to think of spirits like I do people.  If I know someone who is really amazing at a thing, but kind of a horrible person, I may express my admiration for the thing they are good at, but I would also be honest about the stuff that I don't approve of.  I think we can approach our dead the same way.  We can honor them for the great works they did, but not endorse the horrible behavior (whether it was influenced by soceity or not).

I think this particular line of thought is especially relevant to soldiers in historical wars.  We, as a species, have been fighting each other for pretty much all of recorded history.  And typically speaking, each side has thought they were in the right. 

Sometimes this belief was founded in ignorance.  They didn't know that those barbarians from another land were thinking, feeling people.  They had grown up hearing these horrible stories, and they were fearful for the people they cared about.  Sometimes they were deliberately misled by their rulers, who had ulterior motives for wanting a conflict.  But, in a day and age where information was extremely limited, you only knew what you were told, and if you were told these were bad people, or not even people at all, you really didn't know any better (and even today, with all the false news out there, it isn't that big of a mental leap to see how people can believe really crazy things...because the people in charge are telling them it's true).

I remember reading stories written about war times, when I was in school.  And always the characters were young and mostly afraid.  They had many, many different reasons for being a part of the war.  Sometimes they were forced, conscripted, drafted, enslaved, whatever words you want to use, they had the choice of fight or die.  Sometimes they fought to protect the things they cared about (whether it was their home, their family, their country or their ideals).  And sometimes, they fought because it was just expected and they weren't strong enough to do otherwise.

I feel like there is room to work with the dead, in these cases, without supporting the war they fought in.  This is why it makes me so mad when graves are desecrated.  I don't care what side of the war someone fought on, I wouldn't mess with their graves.  I also think that, when we as modern people, refuse to humanize the people of the past, when we judge them as monsters because we are holding them to modern standards, we are creating space for the same horrors to keep happening.

I think we need to spend more time seeing the people in people, not seeing them only as their worst actions.  And perhaps, some of this healing can come from working with the difficult dead.  We never need to turn a blind eye to the atrocities of the past, but understanding why honest, goodhearted people did horrible things can help us learn how to avoid those same mistakes.  And learning to recognize the difference between someone who went along with society and someone who used the viewpoint of their day as an excuse to be cruel or mean lets us see those same distinctions in the people around us.

So take a long hard look at your difficult dead.  Don't shy away from them simply because of what is on the surface.  But don't let the dead bully you either.  It will always be your choice who to work with and who to keep away.  Just because you are Pagan, doesn't mean you need to honor all of your ancestors.  And remember, you can acknowledge the good that someone did without condoning the bad. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Letting go without loosing yourself.


We are entering the season of retreat, of letting go, of  hibernation.  This month there is a lot of remembrance going on, between Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving, we may be spending more time reminiscing.  The world around us is loosing it's color, and often the skies are gray. 

If you follow the cycles of the year, we are looking at culling, at what we are releasing as we get ready for the time of rest and look towards the fresh start of the new year.  Often, this time of year is a mess of family events and holiday planning, and we can feel completely overwhelmed.

Letting go can be extraordinarily healthy.  We can't cling to every thing we have picked up or become over the years, because life is constantly thrusting new things on us, and eventually we have to let some go.  We have to set boundaries and say no to things, sometimes not because we don't want to, but because we don't have the capacity to do them on top of all the other things we need or want to do.  But sometimes we have to say no because something truly doesn't serve us, even if it has been a big part of our identity for a long time.

Letting go can be really hard.  The longer you have held onto something, the harder it is to let go.  We are sometimes forced to let go of things that we consider a part of us, a piece of the puzzle that makes us who we are.  And when we no longer have that piece, we feel hollow, as if we are missing a part of ourselves.  We may struggle with our sense of self and have to figure out new ways to embrace our lives.

In the best of worlds, we control our transitions and boundaries.  We are the ones in the driver's seat, we are the ones deciding what and when we let go.  This allows us to prepare, to take on that transition in our own way, whether we prefer a slow adjustment or a quick walking away.  We can mentally prepare, and do some of the work ahead of time, so that when we let go, we have tempered ourselves to the process and it's not so much of a shock to our system.

But other times, we have no choice, and we are just pushed into things and we have to do our best to adjust.  This can be really disorienting, even if we knew that a change was on the horizon, but more so when it takes us completely by surprise.  The rug gets pulled out from beneath us, and even if we manage to keep our feet, we have to fight to regain our balance.

Our most primal instinct is to try to rebuild ourselves, to clutch all the pieces remaining and to try to keep on going as we had before.  But we no longer have the same pieces, and we may find ourselves torn between the impulse to pretend everything is fine, and to go on with pieces missing, where we are slowly leaking every day, and someday something will happen that will shatter us completely, or to just drop everything and fall apart, because if we can't be the same person, then we don't know who we are.

But there is always a new piece, a new thing that you can use to rebuild yourself.  You might already have it, sitting right there at your feet.  If you are leaving a relationship, you can now embrace your single life.  If you are changing jobs, there may be a new job or there may be more time to explore your hobbies while you look for a new one.  Sometimes we really have to look for that piece, especially when loss hits us hard. 

When we loose someone near and dear to us, especially someone that fundamentally changes how we refer to ourselves (a spouse, a parent, a child), we may feel like we can no longer claim the titles of daughter/son, wife/husband, mother/father.  For some people, moving on requires accepting that and embracing the new status.  They never forget, but they find their joy through new freedoms and experiences.  For others, they find their piece by keeping those ties and adjusting to the new way they manifest. 

When these kinds of changes hit us, often we withdraw.  It is so intensely personal that we feel like no one can understand what we are going through.  And on some level that is correct.  No one can tell you what YOU are feeling about a change or loss, but on another level people who are going through a similar loss can empathize, they can talk about what they are struggling with, and even if your struggles are different, you feel a little less alone because you know that someone else is facing something similar.

I find that getting things out of my head is really key.  For me, most of the time, it is enough to get the words and emotions out on paper.  I can journal or write things out and that forces me to get them on paper in words.  Or I can do some kind of related art project for things that I feel are not well expressed in words.  Sometimes I need to talk about it, with other people.  I don't always need people to give me advice or even share what I am going through, sometimes it is enough to get the words out and be heard.

I think one really key point is to keep coming back to the question "Who am I"?  We often want to define this in terms of our relationships to other people, or what we can do/accomplish.  We use words and titles like mother or artist or friend or salesperson, and those aren't always things we are, they are things we do. 

I am a mother, but what does that really mean?  We often see the reminders that it isn't biology that makes you a parent, so what does?  I see my motherhood as wanting to guide my son to be a good person, to protect him from harm and yet allow him room to grow into his own person, I want to do things that show that I care, and to make sure that he knows he is loved.  And while our relationship is changing, as he is stepping more and more into the adult world, many of these things will never change. 

I am having to learn how to step back and allow him to make his own choices and mistakes, and to be there in a less active way.  I am still there, and if he has questions or needs advice, I am happy to help.  But more and more I am focused on giving him tools to help himself rather than giving him answers or doing things for him. 

When I sit and think about who I am, I will always be a mother, but mother is not an active role in my life.  Caring is and always will be, and for me, at the heart of mothering is caring.  I see myself 'mothering' other people in my life, because I care for them and want them to be well and happy.  And caring is something that is a core part of myself, so even though I am loosing the part of me that is the daily ins and outs of being a Mother, I will always take care of the people in my life, because that is who I am.

Interestingly, the other place that loosing the daily routine of being a Mother hits my life is in the daily routine part.  With a child, there are some fairly specific patterns that are in place.  There are school times and bed times and holidays and weekends, and the child forms the rhythms of your life, and you build around them (because often, as a parent, you have little say in some of these times).  As a no longer parent (even though son is still at home for the time being), my days have become a lot more freeform.  I can sleep and wake when I want, I can eat (mostly lol) when I want, and I can organize my days however I see fit. 

This has been a bit of an adjustment for me, because I do well with structure, and left to my own devices I tend to do things in huge clumps.  I might get busy working on something and forget to eat.  I will definitely be up at 3am.  I do keep hubby's work schedule in mind, but other than that I have so much freedom that it sometimes comes back to bite me.  I have had to become more strict with my own planning so that I don't completely forget the stuff I have to do.

No matter what type of letting go you are doing, coming back to your sense of Self, to the question of "Who am I?" allows you to have that anchor that keeps you grounded.  It gives you that core that you can build around.  The stronger your sense of Self, the more you look inside and whittle away all the titles and descriptors and get to the essence of YOU, the more you are able to flow with change, to let go and still keep strong in who you are. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Proper Pronunciation...



I am a Chinese-American who has always had a love for words and other languages.  Even as a child, I adored learning new words in different languages, and the way other languages sound was just magical to me.  I didn't grow up bilingual, though both my parents spoke bits of Chinese (dad for work...I think he knew more than mom did), and we lived in Hong Kong for a while, so I was hearing languages other than English long before I became Pagan.

And one thing that I saw early on was that pronunciation could be very tricky!  Chinese has a lot of tones that we just don't have in English.  Sometimes dad would say a word to teach me, and I thought I was repeating it back, but he'd say I had the tone wrong.  I also saw how people who were native to a language often had a different flow when speaking it than someone who learned it later in life.  It's kind of like accents, you can have to people saying the exact same words and depending on their accent it can sound completely different.

In the Pagan realm there are a LOT of words in other languages.  Not only are there deity names, but there are also concept words and other terminology, that could be tricky to pronounce.  Sometimes there isn't a lot of information on how things are pronounced (or you really have to dig for pronunciations).

There are a couple of really common ones that are pretty tricksy.  Samhain is definitely one of them.  I don't remember seeing the pronunciation for Samhain for years after I learned the word.  I still say it 'sam-hain' in my head (and anytime I need to write it, because if I say it 'sow-en' in my head, I tend to spell it wrong lol).  But technically speaking, there are several different ways of pronouncing Samhain, depending on which dialect of Gaelic you are using to pronounce it.

Another one that tended to trip people up was Athame.  I have heard several different pronunciations (mostly they seem to differ on where to stress the syllables, though some people toss an L sound in there for...reasons).

Now, Athame has the interesting issue of being a modern word coined for magical use, where as many other words are historical/regional.  For many people, nailing the correct pronunciation is a matter of respect, especially when it comes to deity names.  After all, if you are going to be worshiping a deity, you probably want to pronounce their name right (even if you aren't working with them directly, if you are using their name, you want to be able to pronounce it).

A look at anyone who was given an ethnic name shows you just how hard this can be.  I love the quote by actress Uzo Aduba's mom, "If they can learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka."  But the point is a potent one...how many ethnic names get butchered because we struggle saying words that aren't native to us?  If we look back in history, people's names were literally (and legally) changed, because they were too hard for officials to say and write.

The flip side of this is that there are some sounds and sound combinations that really seem to be near impossible to master if you weren't raised with them.  There is a trill in some of the Spanish words that is hard to even explain how to do.  Other languages have similar effects, either sounds that are swallowed, nasal qualities, tonal differences or a dozen other things that come naturally if you grew up hearing the language, but if you didn't you might not even easily be able to detect the difference between including the sound and not including it.
The other thing that can be really hard, is that many of us are learning from literary (written) sources, or from people who learned from literary sources.  So we see the word written down, we pronounce it according to our native language rules, and then when we share that word with someone else, we say it the way we have sounded it out.  Words have been passed from teacher to teacher, and no one has actually heard them pronounced the way they should be.

Once you have learned a word it is much harder to unlearn it.  Especially if it was a strange word, and you practiced saying it (the way you thought it was meant to be said), and now you have drilled it into your brain...only to find out that it actually should be pronounced a different way.

I view pronunciation like many things....effort trumps results.  If I have a word that is hard, and I am doing my best to try to pronounce it properly, as I understand it, that to me is what is important.  If someone shares new information, and I now have to unlearn a word, that may take some time, and I may make mistakes, but if I keep pushing towards it (do you know how long it too me to be able to say Samhain out loud without just feeling silly...and to even remember that I needed to think about how to say it and not just say it the way I saw it spelled), then eventually I will start to train myself in the new way.

When there are multiple versions, then I think there are two ways to approach it.  Let's take the example of Gaelic words.  If your path focus revolves heavily around Gaelic things, then you may want to pick one particular dialect of Gaelic and work on keeping your pronunciations consistent.  But if you mainly deal with Egyptian things, and just use a few Gaelic based words in your practice, then you might find the pronunciations that you like best, the ones that sound right to you, and use those, even if they are from different dialects.

I view practicing pronunciations as an act of devotion.  Names are especially important to me.  I don't want to mispronounce anyone's name (person or deity), so I will work harder to learn how to say a deities name than I would, for example, to learn how to say the word for energy or life force.

I work with a lot of Norse names, and there are many that I still feel sort of weird saying out loud, especially when speaking to other people.  It's strange, because I can say them in my head, and they sound perfectly fine, but I can't get that sound out of my mouth!  Uruz, Raido, Algiz, these are rune names I struggle with.

I practice saying the names of things in other languages out loud.  Sometimes this means literally repeating them over and over, just trying to wrap my tongue and brain around a sound.

There are deity names I also struggle with.  There is a lovely lady on YouTube who gives the Icelandic pronunciation of many of the Norse deity names, and I need to watch her video probably a million more times, because I can hear that she is saying the names differently than I say them, but I can't quite figure out how to mimic what she is saying (yet!)

Whenever I think about pronunciation, I think of people who are not native English speakers, many of whom often apologize for their English, when many times it is perfectly understandable and quite good (way better than my "any language other than English" would be!)  I would never get upset at someone who was trying to speak my language, and really working at it, no matter how 'bad' their pronunciation was.

At the end of the day, I think that it all comes back to honor and respect.  If you are struggling with a pronunciation, do you just give up and tell yourself 'meh it's close enough, that's fine, it doesn't matter' or do you keep striving to get better?  I have never felt like my stumbling over words has been received poorly by any deity I work with, but I also keep trying to get better.  If I keep my heart in the right place, then I am okay with the sounds that come out of my mouth.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Paying for spiritual services


Money is always a hot topic, and I've talked about it from the seller side before, but I wanted to take a look at things from the other side, that of the person purchasing products or services.  There are a lot of options out there, if you want to buy Pagan/witchy products or pay someone to provide a service for you, and there are just as many potential issues that people might fret about.

I think the heart of the matter still comes back to this idea that paying for stuff is somehow bad.  Especially in a highly self-motivated practice, there is this sense that we can do everything!  We are our own Priest/ess and there is a big emphasis on handmade stuff versus mass produced (which is a WHOLE other issue, but the bottom line is don't feel bad about doing what works for you!). 

The funny thing is that I think that a lot of our issues with paying for stuff comes from the modern era.  We look back on the past with rose-colored glasses and think "oh, people in the past could do ALL this stuff, why can't I?"

Well firstly, we do a lot of things that our ancestors couldn't/didn't, so we can do just as much, it's just different stuff.  Secondly, just because almost everyone could make their own soap, cook from scratch, butcher animals...doesn't mean that there weren't also professionals. 

This is why professions first started.  When someone devotes a lot of time and effort into learning something, they become better at it.  While every household might have basic knowledge of common herbal cures and fixes, the herbalist would know a lot more (and probably have bigger stores of herbs on hand, or know where to find the rare ones that they didn't keep in stock).  So, if you needed a tea to calm you down, you might be able to mix that up no problem, but you might not know what to fix for a mother going through a difficult birth.

When you buy the services or products of a specialist, you are exchanging your money for their experience.  It's really not about the product.  You are buying their time.  We all have limited time, and it is simply not possible to be an expert at everything.  Plus, you might not have interest in all of the things, and it is perfectly legitimate to pay someone else to do the stuff you don't care for, so that you have more time to do the stuff you are passionate about.

With spirituality, there is an added layer of guilt.  If I were a 'good' witch, surely I would make my own herbal blends?  I would write all my own spells and bless my crystals and craft my own tools...right?  To a certain extent, I agree with this...in theory.  I think that someone who is drawn to witchcraft will want to understand how things work, they will want to do as much as possible.  This is the difference between people who practice witchcraft and those who just want to pay a witch to do stuff for them (which is also fine, if you don't want to be the witch, but you believe and are willing to pay other people to witch for you!)

There are lots of witchy stuff I adore doing.  I personally love crafting spells, figuring out the wording, and finding the stuff, and creating the ritual.  I have the time to dedicate to it.  But time is my main resource, and there are lots of people who just don't have time to always do all the prepwork.  Now lots of people will say stuff like, "If it's important enough to you, then you will find the time." 

I think that's bunk.  It's a way to shame people.  It's your craft, and you do it the way that works for you.  Many people just aren't word people.  They struggle to express themselves in words (let alone getting rhyme and rhythm going)...but they may feel that is important to them.  There is nothing wrong with working with someone else, explaining what you are looking for, and then having them actually come up with the words for you.  Or looking through books to find a wording that works for you (I love using song lyrics for this, when I find words that just touch me).

I also think that buying spell kits is perfectly legit, whether you want to do them exactly as suggested or just use them as a starting point.  Again, you may not have the means to keep a fully stocked witchy cupboard.  Knowing you want to cast a healing spell, you can buy a healing spell kit, and have a neat little bundle of ingredients as well as a suggestion for what to do.  You might love what you are given and use it just the way it is, or you may want to add (or take away) a few things and change some stuff up.  It's your magic, you can adjust it as you like (once you buy the spell kit, it's yours, don't feel bad about changing it!)

And, if time or energy is what you are lacking, I also don't see anything wrong with paying someone else to actually cast the spell for you.  Or even if you perhaps feel very strongly about this particular thing but don't feel up to casting it (maybe you really want love in your life, but you aren't comfortable with your own experience level and are afraid you will call things you didn't intend).  If you are sick, you may not have the energy to cast healing spells on your own behalf.  And if you are already strapped for time, but want to cast a spell to help your career advance (perhaps so you will be able to take more time for yourself), then maybe you just need to pay someone to do the ritual for you.

I think it's funny that we create this moral line between mundane and magical.  Most people don't think anything about doing mundane things that involve paying other people to do stuff, even if it's stuff they could do themselves.  I can bake.  I can even bake from absolute scratch.  I often buy cake mixes (because they are quick, easy and reliable), and we even buy cake from the store, fully made.  Sometimes, I just don't want to make stuff, I just want it already done.

Now, I do think there are things that we need to do ourselves, but even then we can often get help.  Think of therapy for a moment.  If I am struggling with some inner issues, then obviously I need to be involved in the work.  There are lots of things other people can do to help me (like doing things for me if that particular thing causes me too much anxiety), but at the end of the day, if I want to work on handling my anxiety, I have to do the work.  I can see all the therapists in the world, and they can give me the best advice ever, but unless I start working on my inner worlds, I will never truly master my anxiety.  But it will be much easier if I go see a therapist, who has been trained in these particular issues, than to do it on my own.

One thing I find really perplexing about this idea of 'we should do our own work' is that there is a simultaneous thread of 'you need to invest in yourself'.  There are a million things out there in the world that are shoved in our faces and we are told that if we don't buy them, we obviously aren't serious about our craft.  It might be lessons or coaching or fancy tools or supplies.

Now, it might seem contradictory, as I just spent how long talking about why it can be perfectly fine to buy things or hire people, but I also think that sometimes we don't need to pay other people to do stuff for us.

Just like we all have different levels of time and energy, we also have different levels of money.  What might be pocket change to one person might be a serious investment to another.  Where I have a problem is when someone is trying to guilt me into paying money that I don't want to spend....especially if you are trying to get me to spend outside of my means (but honestly, the minute you try to guilt me into something I'm over it).

I've seen some crazy (to me) pricing out there.  Hundreds of dollars for a couple hour class in something, or for a fancy spell kit, or for a tarot reading.  Now, to me, a hundred dollars is a LOT.  If it's not a lot to you, that's great, and these things might absolutely be things that are perfectly reasonable to you! 

There seem to be two types of people who sell more pricey stuff (or services).  One group just focuses on what they are selling...they talk about how much work it takes (and handmade stuff takes work!) or the benefits other people have found in it..they sell by making their product sound amazing.  Then there are people who sell through fear.  They talk about how horrible your life will be without their service/product or how much you will suffer if you don't get it.  This is absolutely preying on people, and it's really not cool.

And a lot of people fall for the fear tactics, because those techniques play into our own fears and insecurities about being good enough.  Funny thing though....I am much more likely to pay more if you talk about how amazing your stuff is (or better yet if someone else talks about how amazing your stuff is).  If you are a great person, and you have pricey stuff, I'm more interested in buying from you because I want to support you (I will always be more inclined to buy from someone who I like or who does nice things for other people).

There is a lot to think about, when it comes to paying for spiritual services, and it's all pretty personal stuff.  There is no single right or wrong answer, when it comes to what you should or should not be paying for.  That is something for you to determine.  What is right for one person might feel completely wrong for someone else.  I am a big believer in doing what feels right, and sometimes we have to dig deep, to get through all those emotions and feelings that are dumped on us from outside, to really find how we feel about something.  And sometimes that surprises you!  But it is so worth it.

There are amazing crafters and spiritual workers out there, many of whom use their skills and experience to make a living (or to make their life more comfortable and fun).  Buying products or services from other people can be a real blessing in your own path.  But doing things on your own brings a different kind of satisfaction, even if sometimes what you do isn't quite as polished as what a professional might do.  It's all about finding that balance, and doing the things that you are passionate about, and offsetting that by buying things that you either don't have as much interest in or that you aren't able to do on your own.  Remember, whatever you decide is right for you is valid!  Don't let other people tell you what you should, or should not, be doing in your own path!

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.