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.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Living with non-believers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Healing your ancestral line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Loving yourself like you love others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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