Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Working with fire


As we approach the Summer Solstice, we may find ourselves drawn towards the fire more.  It is the height of the light half of the year, and the time in which we stand most fully in the light.  The Solstice is strongly associated with fire, and it may be a part of your ritual.

But Sabbats are definitely not the only time we can work with fire.  Many of us call fire into our circle when we call the quarters.  It has historically been considered one of the four core elements that make up all of creation.

A lot of practices involve fire in some form or another.  Whether we are burning a candle or working with a bonfire, burning something away or igniting our passions, we are working with fire.

The simplest and most basic way to work with fire is physically.  We literally light something on fire.  This is the basis of many banishing spells (where we write down what we want to banish and then burn the paper it was written on), candle spells (where it is through being burnt the magic is released), or a ritual bonfire (where the fire stands in as a symbol of the sacred).

When working physically with fire, one of the most important things to be mindful of is safety.  Fire is the most dangerous of the elements to work with, the one most likely to injure us or cause damage to the world around it.  Even a candle, if not treated properly, can burn down a house.  Always make sure you are treating the fire with respect, and never leave fire unattended.  I can't leave a candle burning if I'm not in the room with it, we have slightly oblivious kitties, and I have walked in to see one sitting with the candle behind her...her tail fur getting singed by the fire!  Along these same lines, wearing long flowing cloaks or trailing sleeves around fire is a hazard if you aren't paying close attention.

Flame aside, you also need to be aware of the secondary effect of fire:   heat.  When you burn things, even in a fire-proof container (like a cauldron), you need to make sure it is sitting on something that is heat proof.  Many people use glass jars to burn candles in (to help keep things safe from the flame), but you want to make sure the glass is suited for the high heat.  I've had glass crack and break before, because it got too hot.  And, of course, make sure that you are protecting your hands when you need to handle things that have been close to the flame (and make sure things have cooled down enough before you touch them).

If you are burning paper, you want to make sure you have a safe place to let it burn out completely.  Stone or metal tend to be good containers for things that will flare up but not burn for long (like loose pieces of paper).  I love to burn bay leaves, but these flare up super quick, and so I have to be very careful where I burn them (I tend to burn them over the sink, so they can fall into the metal sink and I can use water to put out any lingering embers).

If you are outside, wind is also a concern.  Not only might it spread sparks, but smoke can be a significant irritant to people!  Nothing is worse than standing downwind of a roaring (and smoking) campfire....it makes your eyes water, and clogs up your throat...not something that is helpful when you are trying to do a ritual!

For a campfire, you also want to make sure that you either have a good fire pit dug or you have cleared enough space around where you are setting your fire, so that it can't catch grass on fire.  At the height of summer, this may not seem like a big issue, but fire is tricky and it is always better to be safe.  Having a big bucket of water on hand is a good precaution to have as well.

As Pagans, we can also work with the spiritual aspects of fire, in a way that doesn't require actual flames.  I know this is a big concern for a lot of younger people, especially those who are living in dormitory situations where they may not be allowed to burn candles. The element of fire can be called up in many different ways.

Stones are a great way to represent fire, and hold the energy of fire.  You might want to find a stone that looks like fire to you, one that captures the colors of the flame or one that has the flicker and flash of a fire.  You might use stones that were forged in fire (I have some lava stones for this purpose), or ones that were touched by fire (stones that perhaps were part of the boundary of a campfire and are a bit scorched, or stones you put under where the fire would be built, to soak up the fire energy).  I have a plain, palm sized river stone that I have dedicated to fire, as a healing tool.  There was nothing particularly special about the stone before I started working with it, but I have been using the same stone as a fire stand in for over twenty years now, and it has built up it's own resonance.

In this digital age, you can also use images of fire.  When I was in the dorm, I had pictures of all four elements that were tacked up on my wall, to represent the circle and it's quarters.  If you like working with guardians, you might have a picture of a dragon or some other fire beast to represent fire.  There are moving images of fire (or candles) that you can use in place of the actual thing, for meditations (many simple meditations involve staring at a flame).

When we talk of the fire within us, we often think of anger or other extreme emotions, that often rob us of our ability to think clearly (of our air), or connect emotionally (our water) or even be concerned with our physical well being (our earth).  These can be very powerful emotions, passions that drive us to great and amazing actions, but just like when working with actual fire, we need to learn how to handle them or we will end up burning ourselves (or others).

There are so many ways to work with fire, and so much that fire can teach us.  Working with fire can be vastly rewarding, but you may need to take extra precautions, to make sure you (and those around you) are safe.  If you are planing to work with fire, it is always a good idea to make sure you spend a bit of extra time, before you start, thinking about the best way to stay safe, so that when you get caught up in the heat of the moment, you are well prepared.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Indoor Paganism


When many people think of Paganism, they think of nature worship.  They envision Stonehenge or ancient peoples gathered outside beneath the stars.  They think of working with trees and the cycle of the seasons.  They think of the outdoors.

And there are many people who feel the call to connect with nature, to feed their spiritual selves by going out of their homes and sinking their bare feet in the grass.  But, there are just as many people who may are called to this path who keep the majority of their practice inside, either through need or desire.

I love nature, I really do...but I don't always get along with nature.  I am apparently very tasty to critters, and pretty much can guarantee that I'll get bit by something if I go outside (sometimes I get bit just going to check the mail!).  I suffer from allergies.  I burn fairly easily (and by the time I put on sunscreen and bug repellent, I'm hot and sticky, before I even get in the sun!)

I also often don't have the means to really have privacy outside.  We live in a small apartment, and we don't have any actual yard.  We have neighbors who are often outside (both front and back), and quite curious, so if I am doing anything outside, there is a good chance that someone will ask what I'm doing.

I think that if I had a private back yard, I'd do more outside, but even with all the space and privacy in the world, the core of my practice would be inside.  At my heart, I'm a child of the modern world.  My home is the center of my practice, and that means doing things inside.

There is a bit of a sense of, not quite shame, but almost, when you practice indoors.  This idea that you 'should' be doing stuff outside.  That if you were dedicated enough you'd find a place where you can go and do things in nature.  That 'all witches' should be growing their own herbs and making their own incenses.

Honestly...that's all bunk, and it doesn't do the community any good to put different styles of practice down.  All it does is make newer people, ones who may not have learned how to adapt yet, feel like they are doing things wrong, like they just aren't good enough to walk this path. 

There are many, many ways to practice, and being nature oriented is only one of them.  It isn't intrinsically better or worse than any other way of doing things. 

The thing is, we have access to all this technology, and many younger people grew up using it.  They may be more comfortable finding modern ways to approach things than they would be out in the woods.  I feel that Paganism and witchcraft both are living, breathing, growing, evolving practices, and just because something was done a certain way in the past, doesn't mean that is the best way to do things...simply what was.

Our ancestors were, by necessity, tied in closer to the land and to nature.  Their daily lives depended on the weather, on the crops, on the plants and animals that surrounded them.  Today, many of us are blessed to not be that dependent.  We can drive to the grocery store and get produce in the middle of winter.  Our homes are warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and protected from insects and wild animals.  We don't have to make sure our crops grow to know we will make it through another year.

We may experience nature and natural things through more artificial means.  We might use essential oils or even manufactured scents to fill our home with the smell of flowers or evergreens.  Instead of hunting down an animal to observe and learn from we might watch a nature documentary or read a book about them.  We watch the weather channel or check our phones to see what the weekend will be like instead of studying the signs ourselves.

One thing to remember is that our focus is different today.  Our ancestors knew a lot more about many natural things, but we spend our time learning different skills.  Instead of knowing when to harvest the plants, we might know how to fill out a spreadsheet.  We have so much information at our fingertips, we don't need to memorize everything (and we know how to read and write, so we can keep our own notes). 

You might even find that you are more open to trying things if you don't feel like you are obligated to do them.  Tasks become fun again, they become an adventure, when they are optional.  You may have dreaded the idea of having to go outside to gaze at the moon every month, but now you find yourself stepping out into the dark and staring up at the sky in wonder (knowing that next month, you can check in with the app on your phone).  Or not...either is fine, as long as it works for you!

The majority of my practice is done inside.  I use digital means, or artificial ones without shame, because they allow me to do things that I wouldn't be able to do otherwise.  We don't have anywhere to grow things inside, and our cats like to eat plants I bring in, so I enjoy flowers preserved in jars or dried, or images on my screens. 

And I find, that sometimes I do need to be outside...for small periods of time.  I might spend that extra moment soaking up the sun when I take out the trash, or stop and gaze at the moon after coming home late at night.  I also find that when I do have occasion to practice outside, like at a public ritual, I can enjoy it...because I know that I don't have to do it all the time.  I don't feel guilty about doing my personal rituals at home, in the bedroom...because if I didn't do them inside, they wouldn't get done.

Whether you feel called to practice in nature or not is your choice, it is your path.  You may seek out ways to be in nature occasionally, or you may never feel the call to do so.  You might explore nature through modern means....or not.  It is perfectly acceptable to practice inside, in the world that you know and live in.  Just find what moves you, and do that.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Honing your practice


When we talk about building a practice, we almost always are talking about adding new things to our practice.  We want to add more daily magic, we want to mediate more, build a regular divination practice, work with the Sabbats, work with the moon, study herbs and stones and animals.  The list is long and really impractical if you never remove things.

Paganism has strong ties to both the ebb and the flow.  We work through all the cycles of the moon, from growth to release.  We work the wheel of the year from planting to harvest.  But we often skip this part of honing our personal practice:  the part where you deliberately let go of practices.

There are lots of reasons why we stop doing a practice.  Sometimes it was a learning exercise, and we feel we have mastered it.  Sometimes we get too busy, and even though we'd like to continue working with something, we simply don't have the time.  And other times, we just forget, and it's not until months later that we realize that we haven't been keeping up with something.  All these things are natural, but we would prefer to make our practice deliberate, and that means deliberately taking stock and seeing what needs to be kept and what needs to be let go of.

When we first start out, we often have more time.  We are super excited to be learning, and we can take on a bigger load.  Over time, we hold onto the practices that really resonate with us, and we build up a repertoire of personal practice.  We have things we naturally do everyday, without thought, things that are just a part of our lives now and we feel lost when we don't do them.  Our available time fills up, and one day we realize that we just don't have any more time left to give, no matter how enticing that new practice is.

This is where we need to make time to stop and take stock.  Sometimes, we feel an obligation to do things, or to do things a certain way.  We may feel like we have to observe the Sabbats or the moon phases, and that we need to do full ritual (along with the associated ritual prep and journal work afterward), and we find that this takes up a big chunk of our available time.

In life, it's rarely the choice between good or bad, it's normally a choice between good and better or between bad and worse.  When we look at our practice, we can examine what really fills us up.  And we can weigh different things to build the practice that works best for us.  Sometimes we have to ask ourselves the really hard questions.  Would thirty minutes of meditation a day fit my life better than sitting down and checking in with a divination method?  Can I cut back on my formal rituals and do lighter things sometimes so that I have time to study new subjects?  Will I feel more fulfilled by spending time working in my garden or by singing (or can I sing while working in my garden!)?

When we stop and make this process deliberate, when we really take the time and are honest with ourselves about what we need in our live and what really helps us, this is when we create the best possible path for us...in that moment.  This is an ever-changing and evolving thing!  You may find that a practice that wasn't quite fitting you a year ago is exactly what you need now.  Or that the thing that had top priority last time you checked in, isn't quite working as well now. 

It is totally okay to change, as often as needed.  The great thing about walking your own path and being in charge of your practice is that you can make it what you want, and you can alter it as needed.  The bad thing about this level of personal responsibility is that if your path isn't working, then you have to step up and fix it...no one else is going to do it for you.

Sometimes this process will be one of elimination.  You will have to try different ways of doing things, and look back and see what worked best.  This is one place where journaling really shines.  If you are looking at how you do rituals, and you journal about your experiences, you can then go back and see how you responded to each way of doing things.  When journaling like this, you definitely want to write a bit before, directly after, and then maybe a day or two after that.  This allows you to recall more of the whole process.

It might be that you find the setup really tiresome, and so you can think of ways to streamline the process so that you can get to your actual ritual quicker.  Or it might work better for you to draw out your setup, doing it over the course of several days, so it is only a few simple things each day and you don't have to do it all at once.  It might also be that the actual ritual itself tires you out.  You may find that you are drained after doing a full ritual, and you have to figure out what parts of ritual take the most out of you.  Finding different ways to approach these bits might help you find alternates that work better for you.

One very important thing to remember is that this is YOUR practice.  It doesn't matter what a book says, what your friends say, what the Pagans on line say.  You need to find the practice that fits for you.  If you can't mediate for thirty minutes a day (and I don't....), but you want to mediate more...then you will need to look for ways to add that in.  Perhaps you can mediate for a short period every morning (this is what I do), and then pick one day a week to carve out a longer period to meditate.  Perhaps you don't like meditation at all and want to find some other restorative practice that works for you. 

There is no absolute right and wrong way to practice.  If you want to do full rituals for the Sabbats, great!  Figure out how to do that in a way that fits your life.  If you want to honor them but don't feel the need for a proper ritual, think of other ways to bring that awareness into your life.  Maybe you will find a book of seasonal poems and pick one that fits to read and reflect on.  I set my desktop and phone backgrounds to match the season.  You might dress up your altar (or you might leave it...either way!), seeking out something new to add to your setup each year.

Divination is another place that can have a lot of variance.  It is a very common suggestion to do a daily draw, often of just one card, when you are first learning.  This is a really helpful practice when becoming familiar with how to relate to your cards (also great for connecting with a new deck).  Many people enjoy doing this just to tap into the energy of the day or get a peek ahead.  Other common practices include working divination before doing spellwork, at the Sabbats, during the moon cycle, as a weekly forecast, and of course when you have a specific question.  Lots of people record their draws, either online (in a social media post) or in a journal.

I love divination, but I often find the record keeping part draws me out.  I really dislike trying to post on social media (hence why I almost never do).  Even jotting bits down in a journal makes the practice feel heavy for me.  So, for the most part, I don't journal my readings.  I do a daily draw (of sorts, I use rune dice and the WomanRunes deck, so one card and one rune picked).  And I enjoy doing a simple spread for the new moon.  I don't typically do a reading before doing spellwork.  But of course, you will have to decide for yourself what works for you.

I am also a huge fan of study.  I love learning new things, and I'm pretty interested in just about anything and everything that is related to spirituality or magic.  I absolutely do not have time to actually study all of that.  Sometimes I find myself in the position of needing to edit my study.  I might really dive into the things that I am called deeply to, and then look for intro style books (or just talk to people) for subjects that aren't really my thing.  For me, the distinction comes down to:  is this something I actually want to DO or is it just something I'm curious about.  I am curious about a lot of practices outside my faith, but many of them are not my style at all, and not something I will be adding to my personal practice.  So, I can get an overview (often to see if I can take a main idea or detail and incorporate it into something I do), but then I don't need to read a whole bunch on it.

Ultimately, the goal is to refine your practice.  To keep it sharp and focused.  You want to be doing the things that call to you and to find the best representation of them in your life.  You will want to seek out the things that you do 'just because' or the things that other people have told you that you should be doing (but you really don't get invested in them when you do them), and start figuring out how to let them go.  You might need to find alternative practices, or you might need to do work to let go of those outside influences.  But when you have a finely honed practice, it will be smooth and easy (yes it will still often be work, but the work will be enjoyable!), and it will be something that builds you up instead of leaving you more tired than when you started.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The power of flowers


Humans have been using flowers for a variety of purposes from the dawn of time.  From food, to medicine, beauty to communication, flowers have always been a part of our lives and probably always will be.

There are as many different ways to use flowers in your practice as there are flowers in the world, which is to say that the possibilities are endless!  This gives us an extreme amount of flexibility in how we may choose to incorporate flowers into our work.

There are many systems already in place, that we can study, to learn about different meanings of different flowers.  One very common system is that of the doctrine of signatures, or more simply put:  things that look like other things can help them.  So, eyebright, which was thought to look like your eyes was used for remedies to help eye issues.  Many plants were named after what they were thought to be good for (like Lungwort or Liverwort).  But it wasn't just the shape of plants that drew these associations, they could be connected to things based on where they grew (wet environments helped with wet diseases), color (red flowers to help with blood issues), texture (hairy/furry plants to help ward off colds), scent (strong scented plants to ward off evil).  Even the types of animals they resemble or that eat them can be an association.

Along these same lines you find the Bach flower remedies, a set of tinctures derived from flowers that seek to remedy negative emotions and thus heal a person.  One interesting thing about Bach flower remedies is that they are often felt to be able to used symbolically, so you don't even need the actual tincture to use their energy, you can visualize the flower and call up it's energy to enact your healing.

Of course, there are tons of medicinal uses of flowers, and a walk down the herbal supplement isle of your grocery store will give you a good starting point for looking into flowers that are safe to ingest.  Another great place to look for edible flowers is the tea section.  Teas are an age old medicine, not only for the body but for the soul as well.  Many teas and supplements now are clearly labeled with the healing properties they grant, whether those are bodily (things that might help with digestion for example) or emotional (teas to calm nerves). 

Like many things, flowers can mean different things to different people.  We build up strong associations with flowers just through our everyday lives, and sometimes the reactions we have to a specific flower might surprise you.  I have always both loved and pulled away from roses, because I think they are beautiful, they smell lovely and rich, they are so soft to touch...but my middle name is Rose, and they are such a romantic stereotype, I didn't always like admitting I liked them.  Many people think of dandelions as a nuisance or weed, but they remind me of the simple joys of childhood (because by far and beyond they were the most common flower around..they were everywhere!  And who doesn't like blowing dandelion puffs???).

The language of flowers, or floriography, was a secret way of communicating by sending bouquets of flowers, where each flower had a specific meaning.  While it was used in many areas of the world, the most codified system is probably from Victorian England, where it was considered a civilized way to say things that might not otherwise be said.  I was fascinated with this idea when I was little, I loved the idea that you could gather up a selection of flowers and send someone a secret message.

We still use flowers to communicate, though not in quite such a detailed manner.  The type of flowers you might bring a date say a lot about what you feel towards them.  We give flowers when someone is sick, or to express mourning at a funeral.  Some flowers have developed strong associations based on how they are used, like the poppy flower, which has become a symbol for remembering military personnel who have died in war.  I have a stone that I painted with white, red and purple poppies for Memorial day (red for the soldiers, white for innocent casualties and purple for animals, all who died due to war), that cycles onto my altar.

Flowers can be used fresh or preserved.  One of the simplest ways to preserve a flower is to hang it upside down, and let it dry.  The petals can be removed, and used in all manner of things (be aware, if you are planning on ingesting them in any way, make sure the flower wasn't exposed to dangerous pesticides!), from tinctures to incense or simply used in spell work.  Flower petals can be crushed into a paste and turned into beads (roses work especially well for these, as the oils in the petals linger in the dried beads).  You can also add flower petals (fresh or dried) into salt dough to make seasonal sculptures or offering stones.

One of the things that I like best about flowers is that you can find them everywhere.  Even if you live in a crowded city, if you watch the cracks in the sidewalk or those little patches of dirt that are scattered here and there, you will find flowers.  They can be tiny, almost lost in the leaves, or they can dominate a field.  Many trees will be covered with flowers before they even start to grow leaves. 

Flowers are a simple and easy way to bring color and beauty into our homes.  We can keep cut flowers in a vase or cup on ourcounter top and bring a bit of freshness and nature into our indoor environment.  They hold strong emotional ties, and may remind us of simple delights, romantic encounters or pure love.

Play with flowers, and see the ways in which they speak to you.  Explore their world, and watch them open before your eyes.  Seek the wonder they hold, and uncover the magic of flowers.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Living with non-believers


We live in a very diverse world, but the three big book religions still tend to dominate many areas.  While many of us have found our own tribes, and have access to others who believe like we do, it is still very common for us to live with people who don't share our beliefs, whether they have a religion of their own or are simply not religious.

For the purposes of this blog post, I'll be using the term 'non-believers' to indicate someone who does not follow a Pagan/witchy path.  I am not meaning this in any way to be derogatory, simply that it is someone who doesn't believe the same basic things that we do.  Having a difference of something that is, for many people, a deep core value, brings struggles, and the key to any good relationship, whether it is a romantic, familial or friendship (or simply a roommate) is a mix of communication, boundaries and compromise, and finding ways to live with people who are different from us brings struggles, but isn't insurmountable!

My husband (and my son...who is now mostly off in college, but comes home for holidays and the summer) is an Atheist.  My parent's are casual Christians, as are my in-laws.  I live in the bible belt, so a good chunk of the random people I meet on the street are strongly Christian. 

I often feel very blessed because I have good relationships with the non-believers in my life.  Hubby absolutely doesn't 'get' most of what I do...but he fully supports me irregardless.  He always makes sure that I can go to festivals or rituals if I want to (and we are at all able to get me there).  He buys me tarot decks, while good naturedly teasing me about why I need so many.  He buys me Pagan books (I keep a nice little Amazon wishlist so he knows which ones I'm looking for). 

He is also really good at giving me space when I need it around the house.  I meditate in the morning, out in the living room, and I expect interruptions there (it's actually part of my meditation practice, to be able to stay focused no matter what is going on around me), but if I want a deeper meditation, or to do a ritual, I can let him know I'm going to be doing stuff in the bedroom (where my main altar is), and he'll respect my privacy.

This isn't to say we didn't have our bumps along the way.  Hubby is pretty blunt about what the thinks and believes, and he finds a lot of religion (not just what I believe) to be sort of ridiculous.  It just doesn't compute in his head, why people believe the things they do.  Sometimes he'll say things, then realize that what he's saying could be applied to me, and he'll immediately apologize. 

But really, I don't take these things to heart.  I know what he thinks and believes, and I know he may not understand what I think and believe, and maybe sometimes he thinks I'm a little silly...but he still loves me and respects me as a person (and aren't we all allowed to be silly every now and then?) 

When I was younger, and I lived at home, I had to be more careful with what I did and what I left out in my room.  My parent's don't get what I believe either, though they never told me that I couldn't do or believe things, just that they 'highly recommended' that I think about things.  I think the dynamic is definitely different when you are a child living at home (even if you are an 'adult'...if you live at home and aren't paying your full share of the bills, you are still functionally a child in the power dynamic in the household).

I kept my practices more secret back then, not only to avoid the inevitable lectures, but also to avoid causing my parent's stress.  I didn't need to be loud about what I did.  I could do what I needed to do in the privacy of my room, and my parents definitely respected a closed door. 

Often though, younger people who are just starting out are struggling with figuring out what they believe, while at the same time perhaps breaking away from the religious beliefs and practices that they were raised with.  Many families go to church together, and kids are expected to attend.

Sometimes this leaves young people in the position of having to either keep quiet about their growing personal beliefs or outright defying their parents.  While my family didn't go to church regularly when I was little, when I was in high school and college, my dad wanted to go to church, so we started going.  I was a practicing Pagan at this point, but I didn't mind going to church.

For me, I was able to sit back and strip away the Christian terminology and listen for the good life lessons that were being taught at services.  I was lucky in that my dad preferred churches that taught how to be a good person and weren't focused on the shame and punishment aspect of things (we toured a lot of different churches before he found one he liked and we stuck with).

When you are in a situation where you are living with a roommate/housemate, that tends to be a completely different dynamic too.  It is more like a business partnership sometimes, while other times you are living with friends.  When you aren't close friends with the people you are living with, then it can be helpful to set distinct boundaries, to have solid house rules that everyone agrees with.  Especially if you are of different faiths, it can help to have rules about how the common areas will be treated. 

You may need to restrict your practice to your bedroom.  I shared a house with two other girls for a while, and while both knew about what I believed and practiced, I did keep my rituals and things in my own room.  This was partially an act of respect (not expecting them to not use the living room while I was doing a ritual), and partially out of privacy (I expected things in my room to be left alone, and if I had my door shut, I had the expectation of not being randomly bothered).

I also shared a room in college with a roommate.  This was even more tricky, because we literally had a tiny box that we were sharing, there was no real privacy.  My roommate was quiet, and I'm pretty sure she was Christian, but we mostly kept to ourselves.  I had some witchy pictures up on my corkboard (each of the beds had a corkboard on the wall beside them), and I actually set up my 'altar' that way (I had a picture for each of the four elements, with a God and Goddess picture in the center...so it was like a virtual altar on my corkboard!)  I kept my witchy books in one of the drawers under my bed, and I tended to go do my rituals outside on campus somewhere (we had a fair amount of places that were pretty private on campus, where someone sitting and murmoring to themselves would go unnoticed)

I haven't personally lived with anyone who was devoutly something non-Pagan.  But I have had friends over the years who were very outspokenly Christian.  I would be fine living with someone who was strongly faith oriented, as long as they were willing to respect boundaries.  Which means if they wanted to have their faith stuff (crosses, statues, pictures) in the common areas, then they would have to be okay with me doing the same.  And they couldn't be constantly telling me I was going to Hell or trying to convert me.

And sometimes, people can't respect the boundaries you set up.  They aren't willing to allow other people space to believe what they believe or practice their own faith.  Every one of us needs to decide what we are willing to put up with, and where to draw the line.  And this may change based on what your situation is.  At some points in your life, you may have to adjust and submit to less than idea situations, because you have no other place to go.  But other times, you may need to put your foot down, even when it makes you uncomfortable, because allowing someone else to impact your living situation is even more unbearable.

At the end of the day, living with anyone is a compromise, and sharing space with someone who does things differently that you leads to conversations and give and take.  If all involved are willing to respect each other, to find ways to coexist and look for ways to be mindful of what the others believe, then you can have a harmonious home, even if you are living with non-believers.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Healing your ancestral line


A big focus in many people's spiritual practice is working on healing old trauma in their lives.  Working with our Shadows, and finding ways to work through issues that may have developed in our childhood.  But another place that many people are starting to look, for the roots of things that are manifesting in their life today, is back to their ancestors.

There is a lot of stuff that has happened in the past that can ripple forward and effect us now.  We are still seeing the effect of wars and atrocities that happened generations ago.  And especially if we are tuned into it, we can feel the hurt that was sustained so long ago.

The interesting thing is that we are poised in a position where we can do something about this.  We can turn towards the past, and look and see what things might need healed, both in our direct ancestral lines, but also in the lines of the human race in general, because if you go back far enough, we are all related, and irregardless, we are all connected like threads on a giant spiderweb.

I find that it is best to start close to home.  I know that my parents have effected me in many ways, some of which I am still unraveling.  There are things that I have learned that happened to them, when they were little, that influenced how they approached things, which in turn influenced how I learned to think about things.

By working to heal things in my parents' past, I can help not only improve their lives, but improve the relationship we have, and my own attitudes towards some things.  Think about it like trying to keep your garden clear of weeds.  If I only work on the things that have happened to me, I am clipping off the leaves of the weeds...it might keep them from having seeds and spreading further, but those leaves will keep growing back, until you work on digging them out by the roots.

This same work can be extended backwards, through your family tree.  Part of the reason for starting close to you is that the further back you go, the more growth there is on the issues.  It is the difference between trying to dig up a huge tree, or trimming the branches, then chopping down the trunk in sections, and finally digging up the root system. 

There can be a lot of old trauma in your family line.  Our ancestors lived in very different times, and things that they did, either because society encouraged it or because they literally didn't know any better, can make us uncomfortable.  We look back and have a hard time connecting to our ancestors, because these issues are coming between us.

If we work to clear out the trouble issues, to heal those old wounds, we can develop a better relationship with our ancestors.  It gives us access to wisdom that might have been blocked from us.  It also helps create peace in our lives, and I believe, in our ancestors.

I like working with visualization for this.  Taking a journey to not only experience what our ancestors lived through (because how can you work on healing an issue, if you don't know what the issue was...from as many sides as possible), but to work with them on moving through and past it, gives us the ability to change how the past ripples forward.

The really powerful side to this is that you can absolutely work on things that go back generations, things from centuries ago that are still effecting us.  There is so much in our history that we see echoes of today, so many things that continue to effect us, long after they should be done and buried.  We need to take a look into the past, and not just see what happened so we don't repeat the same mistakes, but to actually heal the transgressions of the past so that they don't continue to haunt us.

I feel like a big part of the healing process comes from being able to see what is going on.  And sometimes, in order to do this, we have to be able to take a step back, to be able to look objectively, and not be caught up in the middle of the emotions that are being brought up.  This is often why such trauma exists in the first place:  because the people involved were too emotionally invested and weren't able to think clearly and calmly so that they could start to set the healing in motion.

As we look back, we need to allow the emotions that arise to flow around us, to pass over us, but to not stick to us.  Sometimes this takes a bit of time, like becoming accustomed to the cold waters of the ocean.  If we just jump in, it's so cold we freeze, and we aren't able to act.  But if we dip a toe in, let it get used to the water, and then go a bit further, we can slowly adjust, and then be free to act instead of being locked in place, overwhelmed by your emotional reactions to things.

We can't blame all of our personal reactions on the traumas of the past, but it is wise to acknowledge when things that are long gone are still effecting us.  We can break this chain of hurt by working on healing, not only our own lives, so that our descendants don't inherit our issues, but also by looking back and seeing what we can do to help heal the wounds that hurt us all. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Loving yourself like you love others


There is so much guilt tied up in loving yourself, and more specifically ACTING like you love yourself.  Self-love has become this big new catch phrase, but there is still a lot of guilt tied up in how to practice self-love. 

I've talked about self-care before, and though I often refer to my self-care activities as self-love, I do think there is a subtle difference.  When we practice self-care, that is the physical aspect of acting on our self-love.  Self-love is the emotional side, the part of you that actually feels the love for yourself.  Sometimes, this prompts self-care (because when you love something you care for it), and sometimes you have to work it from the other angle (you practice self-care in order to help learn to love yourself).

Self-love is something many people struggle with, for many reasons.  You might have grown up being told you weren't good enough, or you may have had a bad relationship where your partner, the person who is supposed to love you, told you that you weren't worthy of love.  Or, you might just struggle with confidence and worth, and no matter how many times other people tell you how wonderful you are, you can't quite feel it yourself.

The really ironic thing is that many people who struggle with self-love are very kind, caring and devoted people.  They love everyone except themselves.  Or they may even love themselves, but they don't put themselves first...they love everyone else first, and then love themselves with what's left.

Love isn't really like time.  There isn't a finite amount of it.  You can absolutely love yourself along with everyone else in your life....and even total strangers!  It may take work to shift things in your brain, and that may take prioritizing your self-love at times.  You may also need to rethink your boundaries, because if you truly love yourself, you don't always sacrifice yourself to make other people happy.

One twist that I find particularly useful is to think of the relationship with your Self as if your Self were someone else (and yes, Self with a capital S....it does help to differentiate the Self as a being worthy of love!).  This also helps force you out of taking your Self for granted.

Because if you really think about it, if you treated your other loved ones the way you treat your Self, would your relationships suffer?  We are often ready to help others we care about at the drop of a hat.  They need something, we go running.  We see something we think they would like, we buy it for them, even if there isn't a gift-giving holiday coming up...we just do it because we love them.  We tell them we love them, we show them how much we care, we demonstrate how we appreciate what they do for us.

How many of those things do we do for ourselves?  How often do we really treat our Self as if we were someone important, someone who deserved nice things, someone who needed to be told how amazing we were, someone who should be thanked for all that we do in this world.

We are taught to put the needs of others over our own.  And I find this such a bad way of thinking.  I much prefer to think about putting the needs of others over the wants of my Self (but even there, you have to be very mindful of boundaries!)  But if you were to think about your life and all that you do, as if you were someone else, someone who cared very deeply about your Self...would you feel like your Self was over worked?  Would you try to suggest that your Self take a break, or ask for help? 

It can be really hard to ask other people when we need help.   We may not want to inconvenience them, or we may be afraid of being thought of as weak or needy.  But we need to learn to look at the things we are doing with a mindful eye for how much we are taking on.  If we see our Self becoming overwhelmed, we need to look for ways to adjust so that we can have some breathing room.

One place I have struggled with for a long time is in regards to buying my Self stuff.  Whether I have had virtually no spending money or a decent amount, when I buy things for myself, I feel guilty.  I used to hide things that I had bought, little stuff, things that I literally bought with pocket change (like if I went to the thrift store and found a little candle holder for fifty cents....then I'd feel guilty and hide it, like I shouldn't have bought it).  I have found that the more transparent I am about the things I buy, the more I learn to let go of that guilt.  I make it a point now, to share the things I buy for myself with my hubby, and with my friends, not only to help me come to peace with the buying of the thing...but because the things I buy bring me joy and I want to share that with the people in my life.  By being trapped by guilt over the purchases, I was literally robbing myself of the joy that I was trying to achieve!

There are a million ways to show that you love someone.  We practice acts of love throughout the day, doing small things for the people in our lives, just because.  We are kind to strangers because we have love in our hearts for all people.  And it is time to reclaim some of that love for our Self.  It is time to treat our Self as if we were important, and worthy of love, because we are.  It is time to enter into a relationship with our Self, so that we can build up the love that we have, and so that we know how loved we truly are.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Seeing your true reflection


I think one of the biggest struggles we can have is seeing ourselves as we truly are:  not as we want to be, not as we fear we are, not as other people see us...but the actual truth of our being.  This is what I feel is at the heart of shadow work, but also really at the heart of all spiritual and magical practice, because it is through knowing our true Selves that we can grow and achieve what we want in this world.

Learning to see your true reflection is something that takes a lot of work.  It is something that you will keep coming back to, like staring into a foggy mirror, trying to see what is actually there, and not just the distorted and shrouded image.  Every time you work to see that reflection, you might clear up a tiny bit, or you might trick yourself into believing that part of the false image is actually true.

There is so much feedback in the world about who we are.  There are many stereotypes and images that we may get labeled as, and it might be hard to pull ourselves away from those preconceived notions.  If we are a mother, then we must be motherly, right?  If we like to read, we must be scholarly.  If we are athletic, can we also be smart?

Sometimes, these broad categories are the easiest to pull ourselves out of.  It is easy to recognize that not every mother treats motherhood the same way.  But if we are a true outlier, if we really don't share a lot of the same characteristics as others with the same label, we may start to doubt, to question ourselves.  Am I really a mother if I don't feel that bond with my children that other mother's talk about? 

The great thing is that you are the only one who can tell you what you really are and what you are not.  The hard thing is that leaves it up to you to define the parts of yourself, and to see what traits help you fulfill the different roles in your life.

I think one of the hardest reflections to see through is our own hopes and fears.  We may want, so desperately in our heart, to be a certain way, so much so that we have actually convinced ourselves that we are what we want to be.  And yet, things keep popping up, examples of how we really aren't what we thought we are.  We may be tempted to ignore these little reminders, to write them off as random coincidences, or as other people's misguided perceptions.  But we really owe it to ourselves to listen to these little cues as they are given to us, because only by first realizing that we aren't what we thought we were, can we truly become what we want to be.

The same, in inverse, applies to our fears.  If we are afraid we are a certain way, we may trick ourselves into acting as if we are.  It's the dark side of 'fake it until you make it.'  Our fear creates the undesired behaviors because we have bought into the idea that we aren't better than the version of ourselves that we fear is true.  It can be hard to break through this fear, but sometimes it helps to talk to a friend, to get some outside perspective on what you are going through.  Sometimes, we can't see the triumphs we have gained, because we are so deep in the trouble, that it consumes us.

The danger with asking for outside help is that other people don't see our true selves, they really can't.  Each person we interact with, every person who is aware of our existence, knows us as a version of our self.  Even if we think we are sharing everything we can with another person, they will still filter their experience of us through their own history, and so they will see something a bit different.  But more importantly, we tend to show different people different sides of ourselves.  We may be a slightly different person with our family than we are with our friends.  This is absolutely natural!

The key here is to use other people's perceptions of you to check your own sense of Self.  It's almost like fact checking by seeing how other people act around you, and seeing if their reactions line up with your understanding of yourself.  In this way, they become the mirrors in which you search for your truest reflection.

Ultimately, none of these individual reflections is a true image of your inner Self.  It is only through combining them all and looking through the reflections and seeing the whole image that exists behind the mirror, that we can come to an understanding of our Self.  And our Self is both eternal (and beyond words and full comprehension) and ever changing, so our search for Self is a constantly evolving process, where we check our reflections in order to better express the Self that lies underneath.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Leaning into aversion


Some people think that we shouldn't read cards for ourselves, because there is a tendency to interpret the cards as we want them to be, and not as they are.  But I feel that this is a danger we face, whether we are the one doing the reading or not.

If you are pretty familiar with your cards, you probably have a good sense of what kinds of messages they give you.  So, when a card comes up that is saying something you don't want to hear, you might try to interpret it in a way that supports what you wish were true.  But this is the same as when someone else tells you what a card or reading means...you may argue with their interpretations, either out loud or deep inside. 

We instinctively want to protect ourselves from things that push us outside of our comfort zone.  When we have an idea, or are set in our ways, we don't always want to change.  Or, on the opposite side, we may be very excited by whatever the new shiny is, and we don't want to hear that it might not be as cool as we think it is.

But, instead of staying clear of situations where we might be faced with these self-delusions (because that is what they are:  ways in which our mind is trying to convince us that what we think is the truth...ways in which it is trying to delude us), we can learn to become aware of them, and to use them to see more clearly what is actually going on.

I have always liked new things.  I definitely get satisfaction from acquiring new-to-me stuff.  Luckily, I am not a price/brand consumer...I like what I like and I get the same joy from a ten cent purchase as I do from a hundred dollar one (often more from the ten cent, because there is the added joy of finding a bargain!).  The one place where I often fall prey is 'limited time' offers.  If I want a thing, and I am told that it won't be available forever, I will find myself wanting it even more.  Worse, sometimes, I want things simply because they are limited (it's that old starvation mode kicking in:  if I don't get it now, I will never get it, and maybe someday I'll think I need it).

There is a lot of new technology that encourages this limited edition mentality.  Kickstarter is the one I use the most, and many Kickstarter projects are either exclusive (you can only get them if you back the project) or include exclusive bonuses (you get extra stuff if you back the project).  I find myself craving things that I might not have been interested in, if I had just seen them at a shop somewhere.

Sometimes I can just ask myself questions and sort it out:  would I want this if I knew it would always be available, do I want this more than I want similar products that are out in the market (and might be cheaper), do I only want this because it is exclusive (or includes exclusive bonuses)?  But other times, I really find myself torn...I keep coming back to a project and it seems really alluring to me, and even though logically I know it's pricey, that desire is still there.

There have been quite a few oracle/tarot decks that I've looked at on Kickstarter.  And recently one in particular that I kept thinking, not only "This is beautiful!" but also "This is a really good deal..."  And yet, it was also pretty pricey (because it had several add-on packs of cards that were still a good deal, but made the total jump up quite a bit). 

So, I pulled out a deck, to do a reading, and see where my head was at.  Within a few cards, I knew it was going to be one of those readings where I was going to be trying to trick myself into thinking a certain way.  I lay cards for both options (buy the deck and don't buy the deck), and if I had been reading for someone else, I definitely would have suggested they not buy the deck.  But my mind kept trying to twist the cards around, trying to make my initial impressions of warning and discontent with reasons why those cards might mean something else.

Here's where it gets tricky.  Sometimes, those surface meanings are just smoke screens, and we have to seek out the deeper (often contradictory) meanings in order to find out the truth of the situation.  This is where I have learned to trust my emotions.  When I look at a card, and that first, obvious meaning hits...how do I feel about it?  If it is my mind trying to trick me, normally I get a sense of almost snide obviousness.  "Of course that card couldn't POSSIBLY mean what it looks like it means....let me see what else it could mean...oh yes, this is a thing it could mean."

But, when I look at the card and the obvious meaning just feels off, and slightly confusing, like I don't quite understand it (even though it is, as I said, obvious), then I find that to be an indication that I need to look for those deeper meanings, and really see what else is going on in the card.

I also find that the need to draw more cards, even though I have gotten a clear message about what I should be doing, is an indication that I'm trying to talk myself into or out of something.  Again, I can need more cards because something is truly unclear, but normally when this happens, I'm looking at the spread and several cards just aren't giving me much.  I need more cards to give me the context to understand the cards I have drawn.

When my mind is trying to trick me, I look at the cards I've laid out, and the message is screaming at me, but my mind is telling me, "No, that can't possibly be it.  Draw some more cards, ask again, try wording it different."  Basically, my mind is saying, "Keep drawing cards until you find the ones that say what I want you to hear."

What I find really interesting is that since I know what to look for, the signs that my mind is trying to mislead me become messages themselves.  In the reading I was doing about whether I should back the Kickstarter deck or just wait and possibly buy a similar deck (this was an animal themed deck) that was already in print (I have one that is on my 'to buy' list already...plus others I have been contemplating), I kept wanting to avoid the cards that were telling me to wait, and to keep drawing cards, trying to find some way to justify buying the deck.  And the more I felt my mind skitter away from cards, trying to not look at them, and just wanting to lay more and more cards, the more I knew with certainty that I didn't actually want this deck.

It's not perfect, I still find myself second-guessing, and when I see the reminder pop up about the deck (since it's in it's last hours, I get email reminders), I feel that urge, the need to run and back it before it goes away.  But the anxiousness of not being sure isn't there.  I can let that urge go, because I am confidant in my interpretation of the cards....partially because of all the tricks my mind tried to play on me, to get me to interpret the cards in the way it wanted..instead of actually seeing what was there.

Reading cards is definitely an art.  Each card has layers and layers of meaning.  And the reader (whether it is you or someone else) adds their perspective, as well as the person for whom the cards are being read (and the relationship between the two).  Navigating all of that nuance is what make reading such a personal act.  And sometimes it's not even about the cards or what comes up.  My reading yesterday could have had pretty much any cards show up, and I would have still come to the same conclusion...because I know how to read myself reading the cards...because I know how to lean into the aversions.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Acquiring tools


If there is one thing that I think holds many people back, when it comes to starting a personal practice, it's tools.  There are a lot of conflicting ideas about what you need, and how you need to acquire things.  I have heard some really damaging stories about how things should come to you, as well as some really good reminders.  I think it can be really confusing and intimidating to try to figure out what information is real and what isn't.

One of the first things I remember reading is that, "It is best if you make all your tools, yourself, by hand."  I full agree that there is a power, a specialness to things you have made yourself that really isn't attainable any other way.  And sometimes, it is this really amazing thing, that you put your blood sweat and tears into.  It takes ages, and sacrifices along the way, but at the end, you have something that really resonates with you.

But other times, it's more like when a little kid brings you a scribble on a piece of paper, or a lumpy bit of clay, and they tell you it's something they made just for you.  It might not be recognizable, and it might not be properly functional...but it still has a special energy that gives it power.

I am blessed to be moderately crafty.  I can make things that mostly look like what I want them to.  I am stubborn and can keep at things until they get done, even if it takes forever.  I find it personally rewarding to make and use simple things, and for me, putting in the work is part of working with a tool.

But, I know this isn't the case for everyone.  And there are some things that I just haven't had the opportunity to do...like working with a forge to make a blade.  I would love to try my hand at blacksmithing.  I hope to someday have that chance.

I have actually read books that say that 'if you are really dedicated, you will forge your own blade.'  There is actually a whole category of advice like this, that starts with 'if you are really dedicated':  you will drive 4 hours to meet with your coven every month, you will get up at dawn or stay up till midnight for rituals, you will meditate for 2 hours every day...or any other of a list of things that honestly aren't feasible for many people.

The thing with this kind of totalitarian statement is it really doesn't speak to everyone.  Some people might be fully able to do all of those things, but choose not to, and for them it is a measure of dedication that they do not want to take that kind of effort.  But for others, some or all of those things might be completely out of reasonable reach.  Sure, they could make that drive...but then they would have to take off work and might be risking their job or in order to get/stay up that late/early they endanger their health.

It is really up to each of us to be honest with ourselves, to know when we are not doing things because we don't feel like it and when it's really honoring our self-care to set boundaries and create a workable balance in our lives that works for us.

Another suggestion that I see people get worked up over quite frequently is the idea that tarot decks should never be bought for one's self, but should be gifted.  This one is quite old as well, and I remember hearing it back when I was first starting two decades ago.

Again, this is both true and not true.  A gifted deck, that was picked by someone who knows what you like (either because you told them, or because they just know you well enough) has the added energy of being an expression of your relationship with the person who gifted it to you.  So, as long as your relationship stays good, it adds that energy every time you work with the deck.  Of course, if things in the relationship should turn sour, then that energy will be associated with the deck as well.

But, someone could gift you a deck that just doesn't mesh with you.  Whether they didn't have quite as good a handle on what you might work well with or if a deck just caught you by surprise (one that you thought you would love, but you find you struggle to work with).  Then, the gift association actually works against you, because you may feel guilt for not liking the deck as much as you think you should.

I have decks that were gifted to me, and decks that I've bought myself.  I find that the deck itself is more important.  There are decks that I just don't think I could work with, no matter how meaningful of a gift it is.  And there are decks that just speak to me, and even if they were given to me by someone I despise, I suspect I would still have no issues working with them (after a good cleansing or two!)

It's definitely something I don't think is worth getting worked up over!  If you feel strongly you need to be gifted a deck...trust your intuition.  But if you are merely worried that some mystic rule out there says you shouldn't buy a deck for yourself, don't let it hold you back.

Another thought I've seen is that it is dangerous to use items that have been used by people before you.  Whether the other people used the item for magical work or not, simply the connections they built up with an item is something that many people are concerned about.

Now, I might not take a knife that I knew was used in activities that were directly against what I believe in spiritual, as my ritual blade.  But I am pretty comfortable working with a knife that my grandfather used as a pocketknife.  I have bought lots of things at thrift stores, and I love the idea that this item that I am using for a spiritual purpose has lived a full life before, and possibly has been loved by someone else, and cherished.

I do tend to cleanse things that I bring home, or at least cut any direct ties to other people who may have owned or used it before me.  I also wash everything (cleanse and clean!), because used items often feel slightly sticky to me...even when they aren't.

There is a similar but almost opposite idea bout pricey, fancy tools.  This is one place where some people feel very strongly.  One group follows the idea that you get what you pay for.  And on some level there is a value to this.  A finely crafted tool carries an air about it that can make you feel more confidant.  If it is made under specific conditions, or blessed in it's creation, or something like that, it will start off more magically potent than a mass produced similar item you pick up at the chain store on the corner.  But you can always build up that same potency yourself, through working with the item.

The other side of this is that 'the power resides within you, and you don't even need tools.'  Which ultimately is true.  You are the power, and the tool is just that...a tool.  It enhances what you do.  Everyone has natural abilities, and spiritual practice is no different.  Some things just come easier for some people, while other people have to work harder.  Some people start off with a disadvantage.

Take eyesight as an example.  I wear glasses every day.  If I don't things are blurry.  My husband doesn't wear glasses.  The glasses are a tool, and technically I can see without them.  But it is much easier for me to see if I'm wearing them.  Both hubby and I can use a telescope to see further, using the lenses in it.  When I was in high school, I loved wearing cosmetic glasses (I had a pair with yellow tinted lenses, no prescription, I just thought they looked cool).

Spiritual tools work in the same way.  You may love to use them because of how they feel, or they may let you do work that would be much harder for you to do without the tool.  I love tools, I collect them.  I drool over fancy, beautifully worked tools online that are way out of my price range.  I am also pretty comfortable working with nothing at all.

Ultimately it comes down to this:  do what works for you.  Don't let anyone else tell you what YOUR practice should look like.  If you want to use tools...do it!  If you want to make them yourself, rock on!  If you want to buy from a skilled crafter, support that artist!  If you want some vintage thing you found at a yard sale for your altar...get it!  If you like to use whatever is around you, even if it's a plastic knife you found on a park bench, there's nothing wrong with that!  It's not about meeting some kind of standard or living up to some standard.  It is about what works for you, in your practice.  So find your tools, the ones that call to you, and acquire them in ways that you are comfortable with, and all is good.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Serious Practice


I recently read an article that talked about Emoji spells.  It's something that is trending right now, apparently, where someone will use Emoji as symbols representing their intent, and then post it online (often with the instructions of "like to charge, share to cast") where other people can see them and/or join in.

This has really ruffled some feathers, because many people see it as being juvenile, or as almost mocking a practice (spell casting) that many people have worked very hard to get accepted as a serious religious and spiritual practice. 

I think it's very important to be serious about your magic and your religion.  In your intent, in the heart from which you cast your spells.  There is LOTS of room, however, for whimsy and fun, even in a serious and heart-felt practice.

I really get bothered, when people get judgemental about how other people practice.  Don't get me wrong, I do understand the struggle for acceptance, the fight that many people have gone through to not have outsiders (as in people who aren't practicing Pagans/witches) look at what we do with a sense of derision (or asking if we believe in Harry Potter or some other obviously fictional source). 

But I also feel very strongly that what delights you has power, and many of the roots of our practice, of the bones of what we do, are steeped in symbology....and symbology is nothing but the use of symbols....and Emoji are symbols (I saw a really funny meme that pointed out that early writing, like hieroglyphics was picture-words, and now we have cycled back around to picture words with Emoji...it made me laugh).

What I think bothers people most, about the idea of using something like Emoji in spells, is that they are basically cartoons....very childlike.  And tend to be more popular with younger crowds (or at least those that are young at heart).  In some ways, it is like the abbreviated speech patterns that evolved as online communication outpaced people's typing skills (we used to call it l33t speech...honestly, I forget what it's being called now...but typing with poor grammar, using alternate spellings or replacing whole words with letters, like U for you). 

What makes symbols powerful is that they can have multiple meanings, and they bypass the language centers of our brain.  Really, what makes them more useful magically than just writing words is that they are whimsical...and child-like.  Emoji are nothing more than digital symbols, and the use of them in magic seems perfectly logical to me (and my sometimes non-logical brain).

I also think that the whole culture of Paganism and witchcraft is changing.  When I was in high school, we talked about how witchcraft was becoming popular...the 'in' thing to do.  But it was still very much a rebellious thing....kids jumped on the witchcraft bandwagon because it was seen as being strange and a way to stand out (which I always thought was hilarious, that people would look for the trend in how to be an individual).

Now, however, being spiritual, using crystals, burning incense, using affirmations...these are all becoming fairly mainstream.  And even when someone is actually Pagan, that isn't always seen as a negative thing from the general public...especially not online.

There are Pagan sites everywhere.  You can find dozens of witchy groups on social media.  Even mainstream media talks about Pagans without always going into a long winded explanation of what they think we are.  You say Pagan or witch to someone on the street and chances are they will know that this is something people do, as a practice today...and they probably will have a decent idea of some of the things that we do (even if they don't agree with them).

Books you read today, no longer have the admonishments about keeping silent that books used to have.  Not just a reminder that sometimes it isn't safe to admit what you do or believe in, but the "don't talk about spells you are casting," as well.  I have seen lots of people sharing their full process, or posting videos of spells they are doing online.  The spell casting community is flourishing.

We have seen the call to cast put out when big political situations have reared their ugly head.  When the justice system has failed, witches have taken up their tools and banded together, posting suggested spells online as well as organizing times to cast, so we can all work together towards a collective goal.

It should come as no surprise that things like Emoji spells have become popular.  The mixing of sacred and digital has been going on for ages.  Many Pagans I know tie their faith and practice into their digital life.  They may be part of an online group, or they may have witchy backgrounds on their phone to help them keep in touch with the seasonal cycles.  They might use a meditation app on their phone, or have a tarot app for doing on the go readings.  They might keep a digital BOS, or have all their witchy dates plugged into their calendar so they get update reminders.  It's not that far of a step to get to Emoji spells.

The only thing I can think of that really makes Emoji spells stand out is that they are so very whimsical...so not serious.  I feel like this makes people uncomfortable.  I remember, back when I was in high school, there was a separate word for someone who liked the witchy ascetic or mystery, but didn't actually practice witchcraft (and no, it wasn't goth LOL).  I feel like this echos back to that, that people are afraid that these new, more digitally entwined witches are just playing around with it, and that they aren't serious.

But the distinction here, as I mentioned earlier, should be intent.  You can be a 'proper' Pagan/witch (whatever proper means...) and still use whimsical, fun, silly tools and methods.  Chaos workers often face this kind of derision, as their methods are very out of the box. 

I actually see a lot of this type of variance in tarot/oracle decks.  You can find decks themed from very traditional, to very pop culture.  I have seen a ton of Anime themed decks, decks themed after tv shows or famous people.  There are decks that are very cute and cartoony, decks that are dark and gore filled, decks that are flowery and ethereal...and people are drawn to the type of deck that fits them best!

I think we all have an aesthetic, a way that our path manifests for us.  And for some, this means more traditional, more culturally rooted practices.  For others, this means mysterious and secretive (people in their lives may not even know they are a Pagan at all).  And for others, this may mean their tools are based off their favorite Anime and they cast spells with Emoji.

As a Pagan community, I think it is important to remember that you can't judge a witch by their spells, by their tools or by their clothes.  Honestly, I don't think we need to judge each other at all.  The world is big enough for us all, and just because someone else does something in a way that you would never consider, doesn't make their way wrong...just different.  Diversity helps us all, it lets our world be a beautiful mosaic of individual paths, with a billion ways of doing the same thing. 

So, by all means, keep your practice serious.  Keep your heart true, and your faith strong, and be dedicated with your intent.  But if you want to add some whimsy into your practice....feel free!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Women Warriors


I had this idea about writing about woman warriors in the aftermath of Women's day, as well as in light of a lot of things that are going on in the world today...and as I was looking for a picture to use, another reason immediately became apparent:    women warriors are held to completely different standards!

Search for a picture of a 'woman warrior' and the vast majority will be model skinny women, in skimpy clothing, holding weapons in a sexy pose.  Now, I like sexy women warriors.  I've always been pro sexy armors and clothing for women in video games (but I'm also for sexy clothing and armors for male characters...and for conservative options for both...variety!).  This comes from my own personal perspective and desires:  I view sexuality as a strength, and I like portraying myself in a sexy way (even in virtual space).

But I do find that the idea of women warriors ends up a bit skewed, because it's like a woman who is a warrior isn't a 'real' fighter, she's just there to look pretty.  ((random aside:  there was an absolutely brilliant trend on social media a while back about female scientists and how they were 'distracting in the workplace' and the flood of responses of pictures of female scientists in their 'distractingly sexy' work wear was just awesome))

I think a part of it is that we tie so many things into the concept of gender and being a warrior is seen as a very masculine thing.  It confuses people that women can be warriors, and if you put them in regular (aka: realistic) armor, it confuses people even more.  I've actually heard people say "but then how do you know they are a woman?" which I find sort of hilarious.  It reminds me of the scene in Lord of the Rings, where the Eowyn kills the witch king (because 'no man can kill him')...and of course no one knew she was a woman in her armor...but she was still every bit as effective!  Her being a woman had absolutely no bearing on her being a warrior.

Myths and legends have tons of stories about women warriors.  And it makes me sad now that little girls (and little boys) growing up today don't have these kinds of stories of female strength to look up to.  We have taken the women warriors out of the stories, and left them with only very specific ideas about what a woman can and should be.

But women warriors are more than just fighters.  One woman who comes immediately to mind, when I think of women warriors is Malala.  She fights with words and actions, but not as a literal fighter.  There are so many women warriors in our world, who fight with the tools at hand.  And we talk of them as survivors (which they often are), but they truly are warriors.

There is a fallacy in the idea that being a warrior means being violent.  Even when you are a literal fighter, knowing how and when to fight is part of being a warrior....as well as knowing when not to fight.  There are many different ways to approach a confrontation, and a warrior doesn't always rush in weapon first (that is a berserker....big difference!)

I have always found it sort of strange that being a fighter as a man is considered the peak of manliness, but when a woman does the same things she is accused of being overly emotional or hysterical.  Even if she was only defending herself from worse violence.

And that, to me, is the saddest thing about this.  That we are a place in history where anyone needs to train as a warrior in order to just live their own life.  I keep thinking that we should be more civilized than this.  But the world proves otherwise.  There are many places where people, both men and women, know that just by being who they are, their lives are in danger anytime they leave their house (or even at home).  And stereotypically, women are at a higher risk, and are less likely to have been taught to fight back.

We need to reclaim the image of the woman warrior!  We need to find her stories, and tell them loud and proud.  We need to teach our daughters to be warriors, and to fight for what they know in their heart of hearts to be true.  We need to teach our sons also to be warriors, and to fight for justice for all.  We need to see women warriors in all their faces, whether they fight with words, with silence or with their words.  And we need to respect other women warriors, even if they fight in a way that we don't...because their battles are their own, and you can never know what someone has truly been through.

The more we build women warriors up, the more supported they will be, when they fight.  The less people they will have to face.  The more backup they will have.  Every time a woman warrior steps up, another person sees her, sees her strength and her power, and the harder it is for those who pray on the weak to find targets.  And this is the way we change how things work in this world.  By recognizing the woman warriors and all the work they are doing in this world.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sabbat Gods that aren't yours...


Like many Pagans, I enjoy celebrating the eight Sabbats throughout the year.  There are many, many ways to honor the Sabbats, whether you want to focus on the physical changes in the world outside your window, the symbolic seasons as they fall neatly into this eight-sectioned wheel, one of the mythic cycles (the Oak and Holly King, the Lord and Lady's story, etc...) or the psychological cycle of creation, destruction and resting.

But as you start reading about the different Sabbats, one thing you may encounter early on is the strong associations with many of the individual Sabbats and particular deities.  Yule is associated with Odin, La Befana, the Oak and Holly Kings.  Imbolc is Brigid's day.  Ostara connects to Eostre, Persephone/Demeter and Freyja.  Beltane belongs to the Horned God or Greenman.  Litha is claimed by any number of Sun deities (take your pick!).  Lughnasahd takes it's name from Lugh, and Mabon...is Mabon!  Samhain represents death and the underworld deities:  Hel, Hecate, Baba Yaga, the Morrigan.

Looking at this list of deities, they come from many different paths and traditions, many different pantheons.  And many practicing Pagans focus on a single pantheon, or draw mainly from a particular pantheon (with select other deities making an appearance in their practice).  It is also perfectly valid to be a practicing Pagan/Witch and not work with deities at all!

Which leaves many people in a bit of a predicament.  They want to honor and celebrate the Sabbats, but there is this strong connection to a deity that they may not personally work with.  Of course, you can work around this, either by focusing on the non-deity specific cycles, or by looking within your own pantheon and gods and finding the ones that really speak to you for each Sabbat.

But many people also celebrate Sabbats as their main time to connect to the greater Pagan community.  Public (or semi-private) rituals may work with the more well known Sabbat connections and deities, and you might be faced with the choice of working outside your own deities or not attending the ritual.

I personally really enjoy taking part in rituals where I am introduced to practices and deities that aren't mine.  I love when the people I know share their practices with me, and introduce me to deities that I may not be familiar with.  I often think of it like being taken to someone's favorite restaurant.  It might not be food that I have ever had before, but for one night I can try something new.  I may never go back to it, or it may become one of my new favorite places.  Even if I find it really not to my taste, I can sit and enjoy the company (and politely decline to eat lol).

This gets a bit trickier if you are doing your own rituals, and you want to work with deities that you only work with around Sabbats.  It can feel a little strange and possibly uncomfortable, like you are inviting a stranger into your house.  But I think that this can be a really interesting experience too.

I don't personally work with Lugh, Mabon or Eostre outside of Sabbats, but I do call on them for my Sabbat rituals.  Brigid is slowly making her way into my larger practice, though I wouldn't consider her one of my primary deities.  The really nice thing I find, about keeping my Sabbat practice focused on particular deities, even if they aren't ones I work with during the rest of the year, is that each year that I come back to them, I find my connection a little bit deeper.  Kind of like a distant uncle that you only see at the once a year family reunion, but each time you see him, you learn one more thing about him, and slowly he becomes more than just 'Uncle Joe'.

I very much connect to deities through their stories, and I connect to Sabbat energy through stories as well, so for me, looking into the myths of the season works very well.  It allows me to connect the deities to the celebration.  It gives me structure for my own rituals, as well as insight into how I might work with the deities in the stories, even if it is for only one night.

I think sometimes we feel like we need to completely understand a deity before working with them, but this isn't my experience.  I have worked with deities that I know very little about.  I find that it is through working with them that I come to know them.  But, the less I know about a deity, whether it is through book research, hearing stories from people I know or my own personal experiences, more I give and the less I ask for.  Most of the time, my Sabbat rituals don't involve personal work at all, at least not in the 'help me with X problem' kind.  My celebrations focus more on "this is where I'm at right now, and here is what I want to honor about this place."

I've said it before, but I'll say it again, because it bears repeating.  I don't feel like there is a 'wrong' way to practice, only what doesn't work for you.  So, as you approach Sabbat celebrations, don't be afraid to reach out to a deity you might not have worked with before.  Make an offering and be open to the experience, and over the years, you may find that you develop a relationship, even if you only work on it one day a year.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Luck Magic


When we talk about luck magic, certain things come to mind:  four leaf clovers, horseshoes, wishing on a star.  And yet, when you really think about it, all magic is luck magic! 

What is luck?  Luck is when things line up in your favor, when a random occurrence turns out for the best, or conversely, when everything seems to go wrong.  And these are the things we use magic to effect.  We want to nudge the odds, so that things aren't quite so random, so that more of the balls fall in our court than against us, and so that the things that we want to happen..do.

If you think of luck as someone picking your name out of a bag, under normal circumstances, you have equal chances as everyone else.  If there are 10 names in the bag, you have a one in 10 chance that it will be your name that is pulled.  But we alter our luck all the time!

Most things in life aren't truly equal.  If the example above was a job opening, then the different people have different qualities:  their papers might feel different in the bag.  If one of the people has been championed by multiple people already working their, they may have multiple pieces of paper in the bag.

To me, this is what luck magic is:  changing the odds into our favor.  It's also what we do every time we do magic.  Whether we are sending our attention to particular aspects, which may make our name shine more....or just giving attention to the goal (putting more names in the draw), when we work magic, we are making our desired outcome more likely.

Many 101 books remind people that no matter how powerful a spell you cast, you still have to do the work.  You have to put your name in the bag.  You can cast a hundred job spells, but if you don't put any applications in, there is nothing for your spell to enhance.  I'm not saying it's impossible....there is always that one in a million chance that some random series of things will let your dream job fall into your lap...but really, do we want to work that hard?

If you think of your spellwork and your actions as working in tandem, the idea is to stack the deck as much in your favor as you can.  You want as many cards in the deck to have your name on them, and you want those cards to stand out.  You go out and do the work, both mundane and physical, in order to create the odds you desire. 

I've often thought of myself as lucky.  I am good at winning contests, and I have been since I was a child.  I still am.  But I also enter a TON of giveaways.  And the ones I really want, I think about, a lot.  I send my energy towards them.  I think about what it would feel like to have them.  I visualize myself with them.  I figure out how to share stuff on Instagram (seriously, everything nowadays requires Instagram....and it confuses me no end!)

I definitely don't win everything I put my name into.  Not even close.  But I also try to be mindful about what I enter, so I'm not spreading my energy about.  I think about whether or not the things I'm after are really things I want (or if they might be better for someone else).  That way, when I do commit myself, I can do it fully.

I think all of magic works this way.  The more we invest ourselves into our magic, the more powerful it is.  The same spell can have a very different effect, depending on who is casting it and why.  One person blowing out a candle can make a wish and change their life.  While another person can't wish their way into a new pair of shoes.  Because the first person has a deep, emotional need, while the other person has an idle want.

To me, this is why luck magic, why wishing, why spell work of all kinds works:  because we believe in it.  You have to accept the power of magic, of the mind, otherwise you are just thinking thoughts.  If you pick up a four leaf clover, and think, "Oh, it's my lucky day!" then you are putting yourself in a place where you are expecting good things to happen.  If, on the other hand, you think, "Pft, who believes in luck anyways, it's all a bunch of nonsense, you just watch, I bet nothing good happens to me," then you're actively ignoring all that could be happening to you.

The crazy thing is, both those people could have the exact same day...but depending on your outlook, it will change how you experience it.  The person looking for luck, will see every good thing as a blessing.  They will look for the good in the bad things that happens to them, and they will be happy.  The person who is wanting to prove luck doesn't exist will watch for every thing that could be twisted into a negative experience.  They will ignore the good stuff, especially anything that is small scale, and at the end of the day will grumpily feel justified in declaring that luck is fake.

But it's like a pond, with your outlook being the stone that ripples outward.  When you are in a good mood, when you are looking for good things, you act as if everything is possible.  You reach out to people, and you are open to new things.  This changes how your life unfolds.  This is luck....it isn't just random things that happen, it isn't whether the penny falls heads or tails, it's what you do when you catch the penny.

They say luck is what you make of it, but I say you make your own luck.  Spell work is deliberate changing of our luck.  It is choosing which threads go into the weave instead of taking whatever we happen to find.  It is deciding what we want to cook, finding a recipe, gathering ingredients and following the steps (including waiting while it simmers!), and not just eating whatever is in the cupboard.  This is the way we create the life we want to live!  And the more adept you get at culling your luck, the better and smoother the journey is...because you are at the steering wheel instead of being dragged along behind wild horses!