Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Reality is enough!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Simple tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Drying flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Energy is boundless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sacred, but temporary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Advanced practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Making tools your own!

There are a lot of things we use in our practice, tools that help us to get into the right mind frame, focus our energies, record our thoughts, tap into the unknown, or any number of other things.  And there are a LOT of traditions and superstitions about many of these.

Things I have heard over the years:  Your Book of Shadows needs to be hand written!  You should make your own tools (including learning to forge your own blade).  You should be gifted tarot decks, not buy them.  You should never haggle over the price of a tool.  Your deck should be wrapped in silk and stored in a box.  Your crystals should be laid out to bask in the moonlight every full moon.  You should grow your own herbs.

Many of these traditions have good roots.  I know that writing the BoS by hand accomplishes two things:  firstly, hand writing things reinforces memory, and secondly, if someone malicious were to get a hold of your book, it won't have bits written by other people in it (so you can't incriminate someone else).  Other traditions I think made more sense in other times.  When people did more things themselves, it was no big deal to whittle your own wand and make your own clay cup (and even possibly work with the blacksmith to forge your own blade), but that's not always practical anymore.

One of the trends I am seeing lately that I am a big fan of is personal modifications.  I have seen a lot of scrapbook style Book of Shadows, and they are gorgeous!  The great thing about many of the ones I have seen is they don't require really any personal artistic talent, just access to a printer and crafting supplies.  You can find neat pages online, or even just art that fits the information you have, print out both your information and the art, and start cutting and pasting, adding in bits of additional fancy tape or ribbons, found feathers or dried plants, and you end up with something amazing!

If you feel more adventurous, you can totally add your own illustrations or art.  I took part in an intentional creativity project several years ago, where we made our own art books (in the picture above), and then had different projects throughout the year, each with it's own intention (it was magical art!) and process.  It was a lot of fun, and most of the projects didn't require a lot of artistic skill (either there was a really good tutorial, or it was more 'put color on the page to represent your anger' type of thing).

I recently joined a group that is dedicated to tarot (and divination) card alteration...and it's really cool.  I have a friend who removes a lot of the borders on her cards, and they look great.  Some of the people in this group also edge their decks (they color the cut edges to match or contrast the deck), and they look so pretty!

I think there is this fear, with magical tools, that if we do anything to them, we are somehow disrespecting them.  It's kind of like how we are taught to not write in books as children.  But if you look at historical books, some of them have notes, or doodles...and it's really special.  It's a glimpse into the mind of the person who read that book all those years ago. 

This is how I think about making alterations to my tools.  Firstly, they are MY tools, and as long as I own them (the same way I might write in my own books, but never one I have borrowed from someone else), then changing them in any way I see fit is fine.  Secondly, I want them to fit my practice, so if there is something that I don't like about a tool or something I think that might work better, then why not adjust it!

Sometimes we definitely have to take a deep breath and let go of some things.  I haven't actually altered a deck yet...because I have sort of a thing about patterns.  Of the decks I have, most of them have an offset face (because of the border plus the name at the bottom), but a centered back that goes pretty much to the if I were to trim the border off the front, the back would now be offset...and I think that would bother me. 

I know that not having the titles on cards bothers a lot of people (especially if they read based on traditional meanings, so they need to know which card is which).  For me, this isn't an issue, because I read based on image, not based on the traditional meanings.  But, I've seen people who cut the titles off their card mark the names right on the card with a pen! 

And some people may find the slight roughness, a bit of uneven cutting, or some ink bleeding (because many times when people edge decks, the ink bleeds a bit...or more) makes it look worse, but I kind of like it.  It's like the little imperfections that show up on pretty much every hand made thing.  To me, these speak of the love and energy that went into modifying or creating the thing.

A slightly off-topic thing that some people worry about, with modifications, is the resale value.  And yes, if you are planning on selling your books or decks (or other tools), and they are out of print or hard to come by, then modifying them can alter their value (almost always for the worse).  Again, personally, this is a non-factor for me.  For most things, once I own them, they belong to me.  I very rarely use things that I plan on rehoming later (and I never buy things as collector's items...just don't have the room/money!).  And frankly, if I am giving someone something that I used and altered, and they are unhappy with the alterations, they don't have to take it!

One thing that comes up also sometimes, when talking about alterations, is do the alterations change the original meaning of the thing....and does this become disrespectful.  This might apply if you are removing cards out of a deck (or altering the art on the cards), or if you find a statue you like, but want to alter it in some way (possibly changing which deity it represents).

I think this is something we each need to find our own comfort level on.  I personally don't tend to buy things that are original artworks, so when I buy a mass-produced or replica thing, I don't feel bad changing it up, even if I'm making some kind of extreme change.  I don't think I would alter original artwork...that I think would bother me (not saying it's wrong, I just think I wouldn't like to do it).  I don't have a problem altering statues (again, the mass-produced kind), to make them different.  I think that if I were changing the deity a statue represented, I might do a ritual to thank the original deity and to exchange that representation with the one I wanted.

There are a lot of ways we can alter our tools to make them our own.  Some of the alterations we may do might require us to do some soul searching, and decide if it is something we are comfortable with.  But there is also a lot of space for creativity, for taking something basic, or older, or simple and making something fabulous out of it!  Check in with your tools, see what might not quite be perfect for you....and figure out if there is something you can do to make it a better fit.  What you create might surprise you!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Firework magic!

Where I live, if it's within about a month of the 4th of July, fireworks are fair game.  Day, night, weekend, doesn't matter, and the sound of mini-explosions will be heard.  The intensity definitely ramps up the closer we are to the actual holiday, but the little booms and starbursts are to be expected for quite a while at this time of year.

The first couple of times I hear fireworks each year, I forget what they are.  I think it's a car backfiring, or a gun (both of which are not super unusual around here), and it's not normally until a few days have passed and I start to notice the regularity of the sounds that I remember it's fireworks.

I have always loved fireworks, both the big, spectacular displays that you get at formal events (or Disneyland), and the small ones that you buy for use at home.  Even sparklers bring me joy!  There is something about the bright flashing lights, bright colors, sounds and smells that I just enjoy.

I think that fireworks are often one of our earliest big magic moments.  When we are little, and we look up at the sky, and these huge stars of light burst into being, it feels like absolute magic.  We don't know the science behind them, we just know that they are beautiful and fascinating.

This is something we can tap into, using fireworks in our magic, either in actual physical form, or through the visualization of them.  There are lots of different forms of fireworks, but they are all (semi)controlled fire or explosions.  They are things that are prepared ahead of time, have some sort of trigger, often a delay, and then there is an initial explosion, followed by a cascading effect.

Let's consider using actual fireworks first.  There is a lot of power in the explosion, as well as a bit of time to keep focused attention as you are waiting for the fuse to burn down.  You can pick a firework that matches your intention, something that contains colors or a pattern that fits what you are working on.  Not all are large or flashy.  There is one that I was always fascinated by, that creates this snake of ash, which would be great for things that you want to grow.  Some shoot up into the sky, which would be perfect for anything you want to send out into the greater world.  There are ones that spin around on the ground, which would be fantastic for creating momentum.

Then you charge it like you would any other ritual item.  I wouldn't anoint it with oil, but you can draw sigils or write power words on the side.  You can place (non-flammable) items to be charged underneath the fireworks (or build a frame to support the fireworks over the items you are charging, so they are safe and protected, but still right there when the fireworks explode). 

Hold the firework between your hands and charge it with your intent.  Whisper your desires into it.  Then, make sure everything is safe, and light it.  As the fuse burns, feel your focus grow and then when the first explosion happens, let it go!  If you have something that has multiple cascading effects, then keep sending energy as long as it is going off.

You also don't have to be in charge of the fireworks yourself.  If you are going to a fireworks display, and you know the theme, you can prepare intentions to seed the show with.  If you have a focus item, you can hold it in your hand, as you watch the show.  If you have words to say, you can whisper them as the fireworks go off.

There is a meme that has been popping up lately, where sparklers are called 'angry incense', and I love it.  But in many ways, sparklers are similar to incense, with light and sparks instead of scent.  Sparklers are great for risting (drawing symbols in the air).  You can write your intention on a piece of paper and tie it to the handle.

You can also use fireworks as a model for how your spells unfold.  If you look at the picture of the sparkler above, it's sort of fractal in nature:  each spark bursts and sends off new sparks, some of which burst and send off even more sparks.  For a lot of spells and intentions, just sending them out to do their work, like a single mote floating through the air, is perfectly fine.  For others, using the model of a bank of fog, billowing out and surrounding everything works better.  But for some, imagining the unfolding of fireworks works best.

I also think of this model as a multiplier of the initial push.  You start with just one spark, but that divides and turns into three, each of which divides and turns into five.  Within a very short period of time, you have a thousand tiny motes of magic!

I also think that fireworks are good background for meditation.  When I would see fireworks, I always found it easy to loose myself in the moment, to sink into a space where I was calm and content.  It brought back the easy joys of childhood, where worry and strife don't linger.

Sometimes, I would visualize myself flying through the air, dodging in and about the fireworks (I watched a lot of fireworks at Disneyland, so Tinkerbell was right there, flying through them!)  Disney does a lot of good things with their fireworks shows, they all have a theme and music and words to guide you on a journey, and this is something you can do yourself as well.

You can find fireworks videos online, and some programs even let you design your own fireworks displays!  These are particularly cool as you have full control over the look of the fireworks, can add in music, and can create your own fireworks event for either meditation or spell work!

There is a lot that you can do with fireworks, and it is a fun thing to explore.  Call upon your inner child and stare at the sparks in wonder, and see what magic you can create!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Working your opposites

We often think about working with opposing forces at liminal times, such as the equinox, when the forces are more in a state of balance.  But there is also great power in working with the opposites of the things that we are very strong in...or working with an energy at the height of it's opposition.

We are smack dab in the middle of summer, and most people are working with the fire, with summer energy, with light.  We feel these energies strongly right now, and it is natural to work with them.  Whether we are personally strongly connected to these energies or not, we are surrounded by them, and so it's easier to call them up.

But it is well worth the effort to work with the opposing energies as well.  What can we learn about winter, while we are in the middle of summer?  Sometimes we do this because we find a particular energy so foreign, and so overwhelming, it's only comfortable for us to work with it when it's at it's weakest. 

I am not really a sun person (though I am a fire person!), and for a long time I didn't like to even stand outside and soak in the sun during the summer.  But I could stand and turn my face to the sun and appreciate it's energy in the middle of winter.  It was tolerable to me then.  I was surrounded by colder and darker things, and so a bit of sun was something I could manage.  By allowing myself to reach out, at these times, when the sun energy was weaker, I definitely started to build more of a connection to it. 

Sometimes, we reach out to an opposing energy because we need a bit more of it to balance out the dominant energy.  During the summer, when it's so hot outside that it makes breathing hard, and so bright that it's hard to see clearly, I like to go outside at night.  The heat has mellowed and the light is gone.  I can tap into that softer summer energy because I am using the night and the dark and the (relatively) cooler temperatures to counteract the strong sun energy.

Many of us find really solid connections with a particular element, and might struggle with it's opposite.  We may find that the traits that are aligned with our opposite element are ones that elude us, or ones that we manifest in a shadowed way.  We may want to call more of those traits into our lives, or move them from being shadowed and back into the light.  We might also want to use them to dim the power of the dominant energies within ourselves.

As I mentioned, I like fire.  I definitely struggle with water.  I blocked my own emotions for many years, not willing to connect with them.  I am also a natural empath, so emotions are a distinct weakness for me (both my own and other people's).  I struggle with emotions every day.  When I am feeling overwhelmed, I often have to break contact (I literally look away, or get up and move away from whatever is overwhelming me).  I also find anger is the one emotion that I feel I have the most control over.  I can hold my anger, and I can put it anger doesn't control me (the way that other emotions can).  I can use my mastery of anger to help me deal with other emotions (that aren't as easy for me).

Working opposite energies also creates a fullness that can be very useful magically speaking.  When I was learning, back when everything was covens and working partners, that was one of the reasons given to the male/female suggested pairings.  It was to be able to use the masculine and feminine energy together.  I personally think that there are many ways to use these types of yin/yang combinations, and focusing so entirely on such a biological distinction is limiting.

When I think about pairings of opposites, I do often think of my husband.  We are very different in many ways...and it works.  I think that living with someone who was too similar to myself would quickly be problematic.  It is nice to know that I can lean on him when I struggle with something, and that often it's because the things I struggle with are easy for him (and the things that he doesn't do quite as well, I'm often better at). 

Of course, having vastly different perspectives and approaches also means that sometimes we have spectacular fights.  This is another place where working with your opposites is helpful!  As has been said many times, if you can put yourself in the other person's perspective, that is a huge first step in working out an issue.  So, even though I don't respond to things the way he does, I have learned to step out of myself and into his viewpoint, to see things as he might think of them, and then to re-examine the issue we are having...but from the opposite side. 

Going back to using opposites in magic, many spells and rituals take a one sided approach, but I think we loose a lot this way.  It's like trying to shove stuff in a bag without first taking out the stuff that was in there.  When we work, we are often calling something into our lives or trying to release it.  But nature abhors a vacuum, and so we can use this to work both sides of the magic.

If you are trying to call something into your life, spend some time thinking about what you might need to release to make room for what you want.  You might be surprised by what comes up!  For example, if you are wanting to move into a house, you might need to do some work to let go of the memories you have at your current place, or you might need to release old insecurities about no longer having the safety net of a landlord who will fix things for you when they break.  Sometimes, if we don't do the work to clear out these things first, they will hold us back from what we want to receive.

On the flip side of the coin, if you are wanting to get rid of or release something, you might have to look at the good things that were brought into your life by it and work on updating your connections to those.  You might want to leave a toxic friendship, but maybe they are the only person who is willing to drop everything and babysit when you find out you have to work the next day.  In order to actually cut them out of your life, you might have to call in a solution to that you don't keep literally calling them back because you need them. 

The wonderful thing about working with opposites is that they bring a level of complexity to any situation.  Working with just one thing gives you a very flat approach.  When you bring in the opposite energies, now you have this push and pull that creates a tension...and movement.  It looks at things from both sides, and lets you see things you might have missed.  It allows you to work an issue from both sides, giving you extra power with which to create the life you want.  And it gives you more tools to work on your inner growth.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A gathering of Solitaries

The Pagan world is constantly changing and evolving.  Twenty years ago, not only were the vast majority of book that were published on Paganism as a modern practice somewhat homogeneous (it was all neo-Wicca, fairly standard stuff), they were all pretty much geared towards group work.  You cast a circle with one person to call each quarter, one each for the lord and lady, and then a high priestess to officiate (plus whoever else was going to be present).  Many spells were geared towards groups, having roles for multiple people.  There was very little that was published that was aimed at solitary practitioners.

Today, there is a large body of work that focuses on a solitary practice.  And not only that, but the practices are specific and varied.  Talk to any two Pagans and you will probably find they have very different ways of doing things, even if they are both casting circles and working on a healing spell.

Life has, in many ways, become more busy as well.  The same amount of work no longer covers the bills, so people have to work longer and harder to make ends meet.  Many families can't afford to be single income, and even a two-income nuclear family isn't always viable.  Your online presence is also a factor for many people, and it has made it both easier and harder to connect as a group.

There are lots of challenges to meeting others to work or celebrate together, but there are many benefits as well.  The wonderful thing is that we have definitely grown beyond the idea that a coven is the only way for a group to meet.  That isn't to say that there aren't successful covens out there, or that many people don't find group work to be their primary Pagan experience.  But if you are one of the many people who prefer solitary work most of the time, there are other options for you.

One thing I love about group work is the ability to not only experience different ways of doing things, but to be able to blend together different paths and methods.  It isn't something that I would want to do all the time.  I am definitely a solitary person by preference, not just by circumstance.  My practice is familiar to me, and like a well loved blanket, it brings a sense of home and security that I can't find anywhere else.

But, working with others is like going out to a fancy new restaurant.  You try dishes that you may have never even heard of.  And sometimes it is this amazing experience, and you go home and try to figure out a way to make the recipe whenever you want, but other times it's just not to your taste.  Sometimes you find things that you know you will small doses and only after some time has passed, and that is just fine!

The thing that is important to remember is that just because you like being solitary doesn't mean you can't also like group work.  The two aren't mutually exclusive.  And you can like different things depending on whether you are working alone or working in a group.  You can also like different things depending on the group you are working with.

I have several groups here that I work with on a semi-regular basis.  One is further away, one is closer knit, and one is newer.  And I definitely have different comfort levels with each one.  The closest one, is with my best friends, which lends a level of familiarity.  I am less socially awkward with them, and even things that would normally be uncomfortable for me are okay...because there is a deep level of trust.  I know that no matter what happens, they have my back and they won't judge me.

The larger local group is people that I interact with frequently online, but may only see once or twice a year in person.  Our group work is also, by necessity, less personal in many ways.  We definitely all add our own flavor (we often take volunteers to call quarters and cast circle, so there may be many paths represented), and there is normally an opportunity to share...but it is a larger group (typically between 10-20 people), so there is less time for each person to talk in ritual.

The newer group, is not only newer to me, but I feel like the group itself, and many of the people in it, are newer to their path.  There is a freshness to this group, and a different kind of energy.  I like working with people who are new, that doesn't bother me at all, but I also feel like sometimes you want to make sure you are explaining things more, or starting out where they are (and not trying to get too complicated or deep).

I have never been a part of a group that does regular work together (by this I mean one that meets once a month or more frequently).  But some of the people I do ritual with I have known for years now, and have worked with many times over those years.  There is a familiarity to working with the same people all the time.  For me, this is much more comfortable than going to a brand new group (like attending a public festival and joining that ritual where I might not know anyone).

We all look for different things from ritual and from our practice, and we might look for different things from solitary and group work.  There is nothing wrong with having different parts of your practice speak to different parts of your Self.  You may love working on your own, but sometimes you just want to socialize with other people that understand the things that are important to you.  Or, you may be struggling with an issue and want to talk shop.  Perhaps you just had a breakthrough and want to share your success.  Or you feel like you need a little extra help with something you are working on.  All of these are good and valid reasons to work with a group!

So, whether you want to keep most of your practice solitary and just work with others a few times a year, or if you want to have a regular group that you work with, grouping up isn't something that follows strict rules.  Find the groups that speak to you, even if you are a solitary!  Seek out your people, in whatever form they may take.  And find the ways that let your group work enhance your practice, instead of feeling like you have to be a formal part of a group to work with others.

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) 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 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 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.