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!