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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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!