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.