Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Apples!


With Mabon fresh upon us, it is the season for apples!  Apples are a staple fruit, one almost all of us are familiar with from childhood.  Chances are you had apples for snacks, they are a sweet treat, very portable, and can be found pretty much year round.

Apples also have a very strong presence in myth and legend.  However, it is good to remember that the word 'apple' was a sort of generic term used for hundreds of years as a catch all for fruit (and possibly other things like nuts).  So some of the tales about apples might actually have referred to other fruits!

Even in our modern world, there are traditions about apples.  When I was a child, it was a common practice to twist the stem off of an apple, to find out what letter started the name of the person you would marry.  Another similar tradition was to cut the peel off of an apple in one long strip, and drop it to the floor and see what letter (or other shape) was made...which would represent your true love.

One charming fact about apples is that if you cut them across the middle from top to bottom, you will see the star formed by the seeds.  This can make for very lovely decorations, if you slice the apple from top to bottom and then dry the slices.  Or, if you are wanting to make an offering, cutting the apple to show the star can help reinforce the sacredness of the act.

Another very seasonal craft you can do with apples is making shrunken apple heads.  You start by peeling the apple (you can leave a little at the top for 'hair), and then starting to carve out a face.  The fun thing about this craft is that the face will shrink as the apple dries, so not only do you not need to be a perfect artist, but each one comes out with really interesting character.  Once your face is carved, you can soak the apple in a salt and lemon juice mixture (to help prevent mold during the drying process) and either dry them in your oven on a low temperature or hang them to dry. 

For Mabon, you might like to use apples as candle holders.  This can be done quite simply by cutting out a bit at the top of the apple to sink your candle in.  You can also cut the apples in half, and make a hole for the candle, and then use them as floating candles!

Apples have a strong connection to love, and are associated with many deities that we might approach for love work.  In addition to the divination examples given above, you might use apples to enhance your love life by using apple cider to toast your relationship (great for anniversaries!)  You can also use an apple to hold wishes for your love life.  Cut an apple in half, and carve your name into one side and the person you love on the other side.  Write down your wish on a piece of paper, and anoint it with honey.  Sandwich the paper in-between the two halves of the apple, and sew the apple back together, and then bury it.  (Note:  I've talked about the issues with love spells before, but there are many ways to work love magic without trying to force someone else to do something.  Always think your spellwork through, and only do things you are willing to live with!)

Apples also have a strong connection to health, as the phrase, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," indicates.  Apples are great to use in health and well-being spells.  If you are wanting to eat healthier, try cutting and blessing an apple, mindfully eating each section and reminding yourself that eating better doesn't have to be a chore!  If you prefer something crunchy to munch on, you can peel your apple (use the flesh of the apple for eating, or baking), and then dust the inside of the skin with a bit of cinnamon or ginger (and a touch of sugar if you like), and then bake in the oven until crispy.  If you want to  magic these up even more, take a pin and inscribe your wishes on them before baking!

Apple seeds always remind me of two things:  Johnny Appleseed and poison.  I would use apple seeds for rituals of bounty and plenty, but I would also use them to ward things off.  This, to me, is one of the things that makes magic so much an art and less of a science.  Depending on the rest of the ingredients you are using, and your intent, you can use the same item to do very different work!  If you want to bless your land, or share your bounty and make the world a better place, save your apple seeds, and plant them.  As you plant each, imagine the tree growing big and strong, loaded with apples, enough for everyone to eat.  On the other hand, if you are wanting to remove something, you can tap into the poison inside of them, and utilize them in banishing or removal spells (cyanide, which can be found in the seeds, has been used as an insecticide and as rat poison).

Apples also have connections to both the fairy realm and the underworld.  The wood of an apple tree, used as a wand, is great for love or enchantment.  Apple wood is also burnt as incense, and can be used to help with visions or crossing over to other realms.

This is the perfect time of year to explore the many uses of apples, whether you are wanting to eat them or work with them (or both!).  Even though the apple is a familiar sight for many of us, there are still plenty of mysteries to be found within. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Divine Masculine


I feel like there has been a bit of a shift in Pagan realms, when it comes to our recognition of deity.  When I was learning, 20 years ago, almost everything you read talked about the Lord and the Lady, the Goddess and the God.  There was a duality in deity, and for the most part, everyone worked with both the masculine and the feminine.

Now, of course this caused some issues for many people.  Some people were struggling to find their way after breaking with the religion they were raised in, often a Book religion (one of the three big ones:  Christianity, Judaism and Islam).  So they often had trouble separating the new Pagan concept of masculine divinity with the God of their childhood religion.  Others struggled with the strict duality that was often promoted, sometimes because of their own gender identity or their sexual orientation (a lot of early Paganism was depicted as pretty sex centered, and there were many parts of rituals that mimicked or outright used sex as part of the ritual, in very male/female terms). 

Early on, there were groups that were devoted to just the divine feminine.  Dianic traditions honored the Goddess alone, and many groups were restricted to female only (though some allowed men, but women were definitely given higher status).  Today, there are many women's spirituality groups that work with the divine feminine in any or all of her forms, often to the exclusion of the masculine expression of deity (or the feminine is seen as superior).

Even within groups that worked 'evenly' with both masculine and feminine, if you looked closer there was a distinct difference in how the feminine and masculine were treated, both in the realm of the divine and within the circle.  Even though "the Priest and Priestess" were considered equal....the High Priestess was always the ultimate power in the group.  The Priestess would lead, and the Priest would follow.

When it came to deity, the Goddess was the driving force behind...pretty much everything.  Most of the Sabbats were strongly focused on her, with Yule sometimes being the main exception (I think mostly because of our connections with Santa Clause!).  Even though a lot of traditional mythology has pantheons ruled by the Gods, within the circle, they were almost an afterthought, and Goddess ruled supreme.

I had my own breaking away moments.  While I wasn't deeply invested in religion as a child, we attended church a few times, so the form of divinity I was most familiar with was that of God.  When I found out there was Goddess as well, I was enamored.  This was also the time when my dad was wanting to go back to church, so as I was discovering Paganism, I was sitting in church once a week and hearing about God and Jesus.  It made connecting with Gods a bit harder for me.

And yet, Odin was always the one who spoke most clearly to me.  I found myself really being drawn to a handful of different gods, and not as many goddesses.  In fact, for a few years I rarely worked with specific goddesses at all, my practice was centered on Odin, with other deities taking a back seat.

I know that it can be hard for male Pagans sometimes.  So much witchy and Pagan stuff is aimed at women.  I know dozens and dozens of chants for the Goddess...and only a few for the God (I don't count ones that do both). 

I also think there is some expectation that people will bond closer with a deity that matches their own gender.  That women will naturally want to work with Goddesses, and men will turn to Gods.

One thing that I know can be an issue for many is the way that Gods are portrayed in mythology.  There are a lot of myths that involve some very sketchy behaviors (if not outright rape).  And while I do think that some of this is people telling stories that make sense for their day, it brings up some real questions, especially if you are someone who views their deities as 'bugs in amber' (the idea that deities are kind of stuck as they were at the height of their influence...the ones who don't think that deities modernize with humanity).

An interesting thing I have noticed too, is that sexual boundaries seem to be more likely to be crossed, when thinking about male deities.  This was something that cropped up when 'patron' deities were really huge, and the idea that everyone had one (or two, sometimes people would have a male and female patron deity) deity that their practice revolved around.  And the relationship was sometimes described as that of a lover or spouse (of course there is a whole god-spouse practice, but that is a somewhat different thing). 

With female deities, there are so many that are focused on roles other than lover, and their stories focus on those other roles, but with male deities, often their stories are steeped in sex, and so even if they are a war deity, there is this undercurrent of sexuality (and many deities both masculine and feminine are portrayed as being very attractive). 

I think there is a lot of discussion still to be had, on the topic of divinity and masculinity within the Pagan community.  I think that in some ways we have taken great strides, most modern groups that embrace both men and women have a much more equal hierarchy, within the divinity honored as well as within the group structure itself.  Male Pagans are much more likely to be welcomed to groups, and I rarely see men being excluded or questioned as to their intent.  It doesn't confuse people that there are male Pagans. 

I do think we still have a ways to go though.  I think we are reaching a point where we are able to have these discussions, where we have been 'established' as a non-God-centric belief structure for long enough that many of us are no longer trying to escape the beliefs of our childhood and instead are secure in our own thoughts and experiences.  And the more was bring such issues to light, the more we can work our way through these issues that still remain.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Home away from home


For many Pagans, the bulk of our spiritual life is centered on our home.  Some faiths have temples or churches that are the heart of the spiritual life, but not so much for us.  Even those that work with dedicated covens, groves or groups often have a robust personal practice at home.

Our home houses our shrines and altars, our books, our journals, our tools and our supplies.  Even for those that have a fairly minimalist practice (maybe you don't do a lot of tool heavy work), if you sit down and actually list the 'stuff' that you use in the course of your practice (don't forget the oils, herbs, stones, tarot decks...all that stuff!), you would find that it's a pretty big list.

I am a huge collector of stuff.  I love having variety.  I'm also a touch person, so I like having actual, physical stuff to touch (though I am quite capable of visualizing everything I need...if I can I like to have touchable stuff).  The things I use in my spiritual practice are literally spread around the house.  I actually have spiritual stuff in every room of the house (including the bathroom, laundry room and son's room).  If I were to pile it up in the middle of a room somewhere I bet the pile would be almost as tall as me (probably taller...I have a lot of books!).

And just like many Pagans have their practice centered at home, we almost all take it with us wherever we go to.  We might have sacred items at our desk at work, in our purse (or wallet, or work bag), in our car, on our person (jewelry is a great way to keep items with you at all times!).  And for short excursions most people have figured out the best way to handle things that come up, either by using what they have at hand or waiting until they get home.

But there are times in many of our lives where we are going to be away from home for an extended period of time.  We might be living in a dorm for college, we might be in the military or we might be on a vacation.  Whatever the reason, being away from your home for more than a day brings special challenges.

Firstly, you are pretty much guaranteed that you can't bring all your stuff.  This can be really stressful for some people, especially if their practice is very tool-based or if they vary their practice a lot.  I own about 20 tarot decks, and it's not practical to take them with me when I travel.  Sometimes, in cases like this, you can pick a deck that is more universal, one that you can use for virtually any need (so I might take my Everyday Witches tarot, but probably not the Oracle of the Shapeshifters, which tends to fit specific types of readings better than general ones). 

When it comes to herbs and oils and other stuff like that, the same theory applies.  Think of the things you do daily, your regular everyday needs, and try to find the fewest things that will fulfill those needs.  If it is a shorter trip (like a week's vacation) you might be able to make do with one all purpose oil, but if it's a longer stay (like living in a dorm), you might be able to take more (hopefully your dorm will have more storage space than your vacation suitcase!).

I always think of emergency supplies too.  Salt is something that tends to go in my travel kits, whether it is a few chunks of rock salt or some salt packets from a restaurant (which are a great way to keep your salt when traveling!).  I also like those short incense sticks, they are about 4 inches or so, great for being on the go, as they take up less space and don't take as long to burn.

When it comes to generalizing your supplies, some things are easier than others.  Clear quartz works great for me as an all purpose stone, because it acts as an amplifier for me.  Instead of holding it's own flavor of energy, it's like a magnifying glass, so if I spark the energy I want to send, I can use it to multiply what I am making.  I love hematite for my all purpose protection stone.   Between the two, I have both sides covered!

If I am looking at living with limited supplies, white candles are a must.  Again, they are just an all purpose thing.  You can charge them with the color you want through visualization, by placing them on a piece of paper of the appropriate color or by using colored markers to draw symbols on them.  Instead of needing all the different colors, you can use white ones to handle all your needs.

As I mentioned, I'm a tool person.  I have a selection of tools and I love being able to pick and choose.  But, in a pinch, I am an Athame girl.  If I could have one tool, to do all my stuff with, it would be a blade.  So when I am paring down my tools, I might just pack one, and knowing what your personal 'one tool' is helps a lot.

Now, sometimes you can't use the things you would want because of where you are going.  Even though I am a blade girl, sometimes you just can't take a blade with you.  I don't carry blades with me when I travel by plane.  I knew guys in the military who had issues keeping their Athame in their barracks room (they were allowed one, but it was kept in the armory and they could check it out when they wanted to use it...not so convenient).  When I lived in the dorm, I had a letter opener I used as an Athame, because it didn't have an edge or really a point, but it worked for me.  Sometimes you have to find adaptations because of outside circumstances.

Open flames are another thing that you might have to work around.  When you are not in your own home, there may be restrictions on things like open flames and incense.  You might want to look into electronic candles or use a scented mist instead of burning incense.  Every location has it's own specifications, so you will have to look up what your restrictions are and then find something that will work.

One thing that I think is a huge boon to practicing away from home, especially for extended periods is technology.  I have several  tarot apps on my phone, so I have options when I am away from home, even if I don't have a physical deck with me at all.  I have tons of books on my kindle, so those are always with me too.  I love being able to take a library in my pocket, because sometimes you just need to look something up (the internet is great for this too...).

When I lived in the dorm, another thing I made great use of is pictures.  I printed out pictures of things, laminated them and hung them on my walls.  I had pictures of deities, of elements, of candles..all kinds of stuff.  Now, I like to keep stuff like that on my phone.  Before I travel, I'll take pictures of my altar, so that I can carry it with me.  Having devotional pictures of your deities is another great thing to keep on your phone!

Another thing to be mindful of, when you are away from home, is you may be lacking in privacy.  In a dorm or barracks not only do you often have a roommate, but your stuff is subject to inspection.  You might have someone coming in and looking through your things, possibly checking for stuff you aren't supposed to have.  This can be really distressing to some people, if they have private things that they might not want other people poking around in.  The same often goes for vacation, where your bags might get searched (and if you are visiting with family, you might have nosy family members or young cousins who are poking about in your things lol).  Sometimes I make the choice to leave something at home simply because I don't want someone else to see/touch it.

The lack of privacy may also mean that you might not feel comfortable doing things the way you did when you were home.  This is something you will want to consider before you leave home, while you are figuring out what stuff to bring and what to leave home.  If you know you will be sharing a room, you might want to plan for a way to keep your sacred things private.  When I had a roommate, I kept my stuff in a box (that could be locked if I felt the need), and also made it easy to transport (if I wanted to grab my box and go, I could find someplace private to do rituals). 

There are many ways to keep sacred space less obvious, and again this is something you can think about before you leave home.  I have many things in my house that speak to me of sacred things, and a good number of them are not overtly Pagan or witchy.  If you like making things, this is a great way to display almost anything, because it is something you made, and that just makes sense to people.  Many crystals can be displayed in a way that is decorative, and no one need know that it is more than that to you.

Ultimately, being at home away from home means thinking through what you really need, and what the situation will be where you will be staying.  It involves flexibility, but also looking into the core of what you do and deciding what you can do without.  The beauty of many of our practices is we have the freedom to adjust as we need, and we can find ways to work within almost any situation.  Being away from home for an extended period of time doesn't mean that you can't maintain your practice, you just may need to think about things a little differently.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Finding your own time


When you start to look into building a spiritual practice, there is suddenly a time for everything.  Moon cycles, planetary alignments, Sabbats....everything happens in it's own time and we are expected to bend and adjust to make our own timing match.

And sometimes it is worth the effort, if the timing is something you can manage, even if it takes a little extra work.  Being able to tap into those energies, at their peak, can be incredible.  But if you can't, that doesn't make you a failure, or mean you can't do things!

When we look in the past, at the things our ancestors did, everything was on natural time, because that was all their was.  They timed things by the movement of celestial bodies.  It wasn't just scholars and spiritual people who knew the moon phases and the equinoxes, but everyone did because those were the cycles that life unfolded in.  You celebrated on the dates, at the specific times, because everyone was, it was just a part of life.

Now, we have schedules upon schedules, and sometimes no matter how much you might like it to, things just don't line up.  You may want to do a ritual at midnight, but you have to get up at 5am the next day for work, and that puts your job and your health at risk.  You might want to do an indepth reading for the new moon, but you have a million appointments that day that you just can't move.  You have family or friends who need to see you on certain days, and so you know you have to set those times aside, because you care about them and want to spend time with them.

I normally write my blogs every Wednesday, but this week my parents are coming for a visit.  I know that we will be out and doing things and visiting, and when Wednesday comes around, I might not have time to sit and write (or the mental energy to come up with anything).  So, because keeping up my blog is one of my spiritual practices, I am sitting down to write it ahead of time (on Thursday the week before actually, so for me, it's two blogs in a row!)

Sometimes, things like this happen.  I've been on vacation during Sabbats before.  That leaves me with basically three choices:  do nothing, do some kind of limited or visualized ritual, or observe the Sabbat either before or after my trip.  I don't have a hard and fast way I do things, each time I decide what I need in that moment.  I prefer not to skip them entirely, but let's be honest, sometimes life just gets in the way, and there is no sense in beating yourself up for being so overwhelmed that you don't have time to get everything done.

I am much more liberal in other timing aspects of my practice.  I have charts and charts of the right day (and hour!) to do different spells and rituals in.  And I do try to time some things with the appropriate days.  For example, I picked Wednesday to blog because it's Odin's day, and for me, making a regular blogging practice is a form of devotion. 

I almost never time spells based on what their focus is.  If I need to do some self-love work, I don't wait until Friday to do it, I do it as needed.  I don't typically do divination on Monday.  I used to, but I find that, for me, it just bogs things down and makes it more likely that I won't actually do anything at all.  If I put things off, things don't get done.

One place I have found that really works for me is moon cycles.  I like having that repetition in my life.  I work with an eight phase moon cycle, and that breaks down to three days for each of the set phases (new, first quarter, full and last quarter), and between 3-6 for the inbetween phases (crescent, gibbous, disseminating, balsamic).  Three days is normally enough time for me to manage to schedule something, but if I'm off, I just roll with it.  I do a small divination spread for the month during the new moon, that gives me guidance on what I need to do, and I try to work with the other phases as they come up, doing little things to help my focus along.

I have also found that trying to do ALL of my Sabbat work in one day just doesn't work.  I like to set my computer and phone desktops to something seasonal, change my altar, do some kind of observance, and journal about it.  If I try to smoosh all that into one day, I feel like it's too much, and I put it off and then I am frustrated because I've not done anything.  However, if I spread it out, if I change up my backgrounds sometime that week, set my altar up a few days ahead of time, and then do my ritual (I mostly journal the same day, but if I'm really crunched for time, I'll journal later), then things just flow better.  I have also found that keeping my altar set from one Sabbat to the next helps me not only stay in the energy of the current season, but it's less fuss than setting the altar just for the ritual then reverting it to a 'base' setup.

And, if you work with others, sometimes this timing negotiation becomes even more complex.  Hosting ritual on the actual full moon or the day of the Sabbat might be impossible, just due to people's work schedules, kids, and travel needs.  It is pretty common for groups to have a set day to meet, one that works best for all involved, and to celebrate on whatever meetup day is closest.

My local group does a yearly Day of the Dead (Samhain) ritual, and it is almost never on October 31.  It might be a full week off....but it is our tradition and it works for us.  I have never felt like it 'wasn't the right time' to celebrate, it always feels properly magical!

Ultimately, you have to do things in the time that is right for you.  You may find that putting in the effort to find even just five minutes on the appropriate day really helps you feel that sense of sacred...or you may find that it just stresses you out and brings you out of the moment.  Don't hold yourself up to impossible standards, just allow your practice to unfold in the way it needs to.  Things will take how long they take, and they will happen when they happen, and sometimes that is exactly the right time.