Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Gifts of love

'Tis the season of gifting, and if you believe what you see on all the media, then the bigger the can you show you care if you don't get everyone everything their heart desires.  But that's the rub isn't it...we often want things because they are shiny or new or we see someone else have them.  Want is often driven by greed, by envy, by emptiness...or any other number of emotions that aren't our truest heart desires.

I am very guilty of a lot of these.  I struggle with a feeling of emptiness, and I want to fill that void.  I desire things, and I see other people getting things and that makes me want them too.  I find myself looking more towards things I 'want' than things I have.  And I struggle with both wanting to have all the things, and wanting to be able to 'prove' I care about people by getting them more things, and bigger and better things.

But we all also know that some gifts are precious beyond words.  When a child gives you this special rock they found, and their heart is in their eyes, and they are just so excited and they want YOU to have it...and you look down and it's an ordinary pebble, but you take it anyways, and they are so giddy with joy that you just have to tell them how amazing it is and how it's perfect.  And something happens because you look at that rock differently.  If you had seen it on the street, you wouldn't have even noticed it, but now it carries all those emotions, that pure joy and love and selfless caring.

And really, that is what gift giving is all about.  It's about taking what's in your heart and giving that to someone else.  How that love is wrapped, what shape it takes, that is all less important than the emotions that are driving you.  And that is the best way to receive gifts as well.  When we stop focusing so much on the packaging and instead we tune into the message...that is when we share true gifts.

I really identify with the concept of love languages.  It is a book I was exposed to in high school, and it makes SO much sense in my brain.  It was something I struggled with a TON as a child, because my mother's love language isn't gifts, it's service.  To mom, nothing is a better gift than doing something for her (and as her daughter, sometimes that meant doing something to improve my life).  Her Christmas list would always include things like, "A clean house" or "A straight A report card." 

When I was younger, that used to frustrate me no end.  I wanted something I could buy or make and wrap and put under the tree.  The gifts she wanted didn't feel like gifts to me (let's be honest...they felt like work lol).  But looking back, I can see now how those things would be a demonstration of my love for my mother, of the ways in which I was thinking of her and doing things (that admittedly were work, and not always pleasant), because I knew they would make her happy.

We all probably know people who we think are hard to buy gifts for, and sometimes that's because they don't speak the love language of gifts.  They may want service, like my mother did, or they may want quality time, or conversation, or touch, or words.  If you spend a little time thinking about the person you want to give a gift to, you can normally figure out what their love language thinking about the times you have seen them really light up.

And people don't only speak one love language!  Sometimes people like gifts but they also like quality time.  Or they want words of love and service.  I love gifts, but I also love quality time...I like conversation and service.

I think we also all probably can list of a handful of people who give us things we may not like (often physical gifts).  I think every family has that one aunt/uncle who picks really strange gifts, or someone who gives really practical (but often un-fun gifts).  When we just focus on the items we are receiving, it can be a struggle, but when we think about why that person might have picked that gift, it becomes easier to be grateful and to really enjoy what we get.

Another factor that I think often gets people in trouble is expectations.  We see all these stories online or in the news, about these amazing gifts or things that people are doing for the holidays.  And often we can't help but be a bit envious.  It would absolutely be nice to be able to get that expensive thing or have the time to go on that incredible vacation, or have the kind of relationship with our family where we could spend all day with them and be happy about it.

It can be especially hard if you are struggling, and for many people the holidays are especially hard.  We put so much emphasis on our blood relations, who can be really horrible sometimes.  Many people have families that are so different from them, and so intolerant and flat out hateful that they don't feel safe with them. 

This is where I think that it is really important for everyone to have their own support system.  We all have unique needs, and finding people (and things, and activities) that build us up when we are struggling, that is a true gift on it's own.  We often look to the bright and shiny times when we think of gifts, but the ones that really matter the most are the ones that stick with us when times are not so good.  When we are in the darkest, hardest, most painful place, the smallest act of support can be the biggest gift.  These are the things we cling to, our life line, when everything else is lost to us.

I find that sometimes, the best gifts are ones that aren't fully understood.  It is easy to gift someone when you get them, when you are into all the stuff they are into, when you both love the same things.  It is harder to gift someone that you don't quite get.  When you have a friend, who you know loves this one thing...and you think it's a little silly, or a bit strange, or just confusing.  But it doesn't really matter how you feel about the thing, it's how they feel.  And trust me, if you gift someone something that they know you don't feel the same way means that much more, because they know you did it just for them.  This is extra true when it involves your offering to watch their favorite movie with them, or taking them to that new restaurant that they know terrifies you.

Sometimes, we have obligatory gifts to give, ones that we feel social pressure to give, even thought we may personally not care for the person at all.  Maybe you have that work guy you feel obligated to get a gift towards, but he has been super annoying to you all year.  Tap into the connection you have, working at the same place, and remember that maybe the two of you just don't mesh personality wise.  Perhaps you have to get gifts for family members who have been hurtful to you in the past, and you choose to gift them in honor of the rest of your family, who want you to find a way to get along.

I'm not saying that you have to go above and beyond for every single person you gift to...but remember gifts go both ways, and if you give someone something from a spiteful place in your heart, that is what you will be feeling.  If you can find that small bit of love, somewhere, even if it's just "I am so glad that I only have to see you at work/holidays!" if you gift them something with an honest desire to give them a bit of joy, you will walk away knowing you did a good thing. 

So, as we make our way through this gifting season, remember that every gift you give should be an expression of your heart, of the love you feel towards the person you are gifting.  I'm not talking about romantic love (thought it could be that), or familial love (though it could also be that), but more that deeper love that we feel towards other beings.  Give the gift you feel the person receiving it wants, and receive with an open heart.  Accept the joy of the gifting, without letting price tags or envy sour your experiences.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Weather out of season

While not universal, many Pagans honor a seasonal cycle, we take note of the way the world changes throughout the year, and we often use this as a guide to our own changes.  But even if we don't follow the wheel of the year, when the outside world conflicts with our concept of what 'should be' it can leave us feeling off and ungrounded.

Like most people, I grew up with very clear cut ideas of the seasons.  Christmas was in winter and the time of snow.  Summer break was hot and sunny.  Spring was mild and green, and fall was breezy and brilliant colors fading to monocrhome.  As an adult, I learned that depending on where you lived, that wasn't always true (having lived in Hawaii, where you really don't get proper seasons....just 'less warm than usual' and 'extra-rainy')

But nature is a wild and uncontrolled thing, and even if you live somewhere with four semi-regular seasons, there will always be times where the weather outside does something wacky and you are getting snow after the flowers have started to bloom or wearing shorts a week before Christmas.

When the weather is off, it's like the whole world is out of kilter.  Things just feel off.  We may struggle to deal with the changes, or to tap into the energy of the season in the way that we normally would.  We may find ourselves with lower energy or fighting harder to stay healthy (especially with serious temperature changes).

I love the idea of seasons as tides, and I think it's a great analogy for the actual energy of a season.  When the tides are in, there are still waves.  At any particular point, the water might be higher or lower, but if you watch over time, the whole edge moves up or down.

I do feel there are ways to keep in closer touch with the overall seasonal tides.  I find that if I include more seasonal decorations inside, in places where I will see them often, it helps me keep touch with that energy.  This is one reason why I decorate my altar for the Sabbat (and leave it up), but I also use my devices (desktop, tablets, phone) to help.  I will set my backdrops and themes to reflect the season, and it helps me stay in that mood.

I actually love nail polish for this too.  I'll paint my nails based on the energies I am wanting to feel, and it's often seasonally inspired.  Winter is blues and whites and silvers (sometimes red and green), while spring is pastels.  I see my hands throughout the day, and it always brings me back to how I want to feel.

I think that seasonal eating is also helpful.  I'm not a big stickler for 'traditional' foods, and our holiday meals are often more "what do we really feel like eating" rather than "what is symbolic of this holiday", but I do find that I am drawn to more seasonal styles of food and cooking throughout the year.  Winter is stews and chili, summer is salads, spring is often grilling.  Again, it's a tide thing, and while we can and do eat all these foods all year long, we eat more of them in their season.

It's interesting, but the more we build up rituals for seasons, the more they become part of our seasonal experience.  I put snowflake window decals on the back window for winter, and sometimes that is more of a 'now it feels like winter!' cue for me than the actual weather (which is often very not-snowy....sadly...I love snow).  And when I am done with winter for the year and ready for spring, I take them down.

In a way, it's my modern take on the old rituals to help make the sun rise and keep the wheel turning.  I don't literally think that my taking the snow decals off my winter stops it from snowing anymore (it definitely doesn't lol), but it is my way of honoring and celebrating the season, and one of the ways I send energy back to the earth.  It's a little bit of 'fake it until you make it' and when I'm ready for a change, I'll change my world so that it calls what I want to me.

This is also one place where I think making note of the Sabbats (even if you don't celebrate them in the technical sense) gives us a framework of seasons, with the 'start of' and 'midpoint' of each season being marked.  My local weather doesn't always mesh up, but that doesn't bother me so much (especially as I am very much an indoor person, so the outside weather has less effect on year is sort of temperature controlled as far as my day to day life is concerned).

Being modern Pagans also puts us often finding the weaving between our natural rhythms and the secular holidays, many of which have a seasonal 'feel' to them.  So we are caught up in seasonal celebrations no matter what the weather is like.  It often surprises me when Valentines rolls around, which I tend to associate with spring...and it's still freezing out (it does make for interesting compromises between date clothes and weather appropriate attire!) 

Knowing how to adjust, so that the changes in weather doesn't take us out of our seasonal experience, allows us to tap into that energy.  Whether you have a regular seasonal practice or not, highlighting the current seasonal energy puts you in tune with the world at large.  You may find yourself drawn to different types of activities, and you can focus that pull to work for you, instead of against you.  It puts you back in the drivers seat, no matter what is going on outside.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Winter resting

Human beings tend to want to try to push the limits of technology.  We want to tinker with stuff, improve it, make it better.  We are constantly looking to expand what we can do and reduce the effort it takes to do it.  We want convenience, everything at our fingertips, all year long.

In many ways, we have lost touch of the cycles of nature that still have a huge impact on our biological systems.  We work shifts around the clock, even though we know that sleeping when it is dark out is better for us.  We find ways to grow produce in the off season, even though it doesn't taste quite as good, or we import it from far away, knowing we will have to pick it before it is ripe to be able to transport it.

As we enter into the depths of winter, the days grow shorter and we are called to rest.  The whole earth is resting.  Plants have died back, pulling their energies inward until the next growing season.  Animals have already laid up their stores for the winter, and when the cold and bad weather hits, they head to their dens to wait it out.

But we humans just keep trying to keep going, we want everything to move at the same, steady pace.  We don't care that there is less daylight, we have set working hours.  We don't care that there may be weather, we have days we must work. 

And even more than that, we are in the peak holiday season.  From Halloween to Valentines, it feels like one holiday after another, but especially around the end of December, so many people are celebrating.  Everyone is hosting parties, for work, for friends, for family.  There are gifts to be bought, and everything is busy, busy, busy.

In the time in which we yearn to slow down, to cuddle up and tell stories, we are pushed harder than almost any other time of year.  Our calendars are full to busting, we have list upon list of things that 'need' done, and we feel compelled to top last year, or that guy on social media or that braggart at work. 

In many societies, winter was a time of deep restoration.  You might literally be snowed in, unable to go and do your normal things.  People explored creative passions, having the time to really dive deep and spend days working on their newest project.  Little ones gathered around their elders, eager to hear stories.  Fires were lit, to cook, to warm, to cheer up the darkness. 

We are starting to see the imbalance in our lives, and to reach for the things we yearn for, deep inside.  I think this is one reason why things like Hygge are so popular.  We have lost that sense of 'home' that we used to have.

I remember winters, as a child.  It was all about playing in the snow until I couldn't feel my face and fingers.  I'd come inside, my boots would be soaking (and possibly my clothes as well), and I'd change into something dry and warm.  Mom would make me a hot drink, and I'd cuddle up and watch a show or read a book.  I loved it when we lit a fire in the fireplace.

I think this is still why I love stormy days.  It's dark and foreboding outside, but I am often drawn to cuddle on days like that.  I'll curl up with a book or show, a blanket and as many cats as will sit with me, and just enjoy the fact of not needing to DO anything.

I think this type of resting is necessary, especially if we are working on our spiritual growth.  When we take up a practice, it often includes a lot of things that we need to learn, and practices we need to observe.  It may even involve restful practices like meditation, but still the focus is on sitting for a certain amount of time or making it through a particular visualization.  We are constantly trying to be more than we were, and this is a great thing.

But it is also important to set aside time to let it all go.  To follow whatever whim may come into your head, whether it is to play with a new art supply, dance barefoot in the back lawn (or living room), or just lay on the floor and stop thinking.

I remember, when I was little, taking a tai chi class, and they were talking about why meditation was so important.  They talked about our sleep time, and how the physical body really doesn't need sleep.  The reason we need sleep is because our minds need to rest.  And meditation allows you to focus that 'off' time, and reap a greater benefit in less time.

But I also think that when we stop pushing, when we just allow ourselves to be, to drift into whatever strikes our fancy, we come up with crazy ideas, things we may never have stumbled upon by trying.  It's like dreams, how we make wacky connections and create these whole worlds where things aren't quite the way they normally are.

Winter is a great time to spend time dreaming.  To invite your dreams into your waking hours.  I love having a few hours to just sit and let my mind drift.  I don't quite nap, but I'm not really awake either.  I'm just floating between thoughts, playing with my own mind.

When you first start to work with this kind of practice, it may feel like you are wasting time.  You may think that you don't have time, especially if you are busy.  And I really hate that line about meditation (you know the one:  everyone should mediate for 30 minutes, unless you are busy then you should meditate for an hour), because I think it's fundamentally flawed.  Not everyone has the luxury of having an hour every day to meditate. 

What I do think is that sometimes we need to prioritize resting, and we can look at our lives and see where we may be able to snip a bit of time.  I can spend a lot of time roaming about online, or playing games, so when I feel called to rest, I know I can carve that time out and still get my main stuff done.  I can't tell you where your time might come from, or how much you will be able to set aside.

But I do know that I feel more right with the world when I take time and rest.  I am better able to face things that challenge me, and I recover quickly when I'm pushed to my limits.  Resting is also something that you get better at.  I can fall into quiet in a few breaths, and that allows me to sneak moments here and there, even when I'm really busy. 

If you haven't worked with a resting practice, I highly recommend trying it out, especially on these cold winter days, where the sky is grey and weather may be happening.  Set aside some time, in between the parties and the gatherings, before you head out to buy gifts or after you come home from a busy day.  Allow yourself just a moment, if that's all you have.  But slow down, come to a stop, and see what happens next.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Time release magic

Most of the time, when we work our magic, we are doing a single-release style of magic.  We light a candle and call energy towards a single focus and send it out.  We take the ritual action and make the magic and it's done.

But, there are also lots of things that we do that function as time-release magic.  Making a spell bag, that you carry on you, is a sort of time release magic.  It's not a one and done, the magic continues as long as the bag stays charged and is carried.  7-day candles are another great example, and one many people are familiar with. 

Both freezing and unfreezing spells are also time-release.  If you set up something to be frozen, that takes time, it is a more gradual effect (and also ongoing, as long as the object remains frozen).  When you unfreeze something, it also takes time, slowly releasing the thing from your spell.  The advantage to both of these is that there is a period of acclimation, and not only does it give the target some time to adjust, it also makes it harder to resist (we are less likely to notice gradual changes and fight back).

We may approach our seasonal observations as a sort of time release spell, especially if we have one large goal that we are working on, throughout the year.  At each Sabbat, we might take an inspired action, something that will build upon what we've done previously.  Or we may work through a moon cycle, to dream up, work on and appreciate a goal.

One project I have done, that I really enjoyed was making a Sabbat wishing tree.  You start, at Yule by picking a nut (in the shell) to serve as your seed, and anointing, recognizing it as a blank slate.  And then you make a wire tree form, with the nut forming part of the ground that the roots wrap around.  At Imbolc you make your wishes, picking three to five things you want to work on over the year.  You can make tiny spell bundles for each, or write your wishes on ribbons, or make small representations of them (I did origami, you could also do salt dough effigies).  Hang these from your tree.

At Ostara you add green leaves to your tree, and as you add each leaf, you think about your wishes growing, and what you can do to help them mature.  At Beltane you add tiny buds to each branch, representing your wishes starting to come to fruition, and at Litha you replace those buds will fully matured flowers.  By now, your wishes should have started manifesting.  At Lughnasadh, you replace the flowers with dried flower buds or withered flowers, bless each bud, thanking them for the harvests you have received.  At Mabon you take the withered flowers off and lay them at the base of the tree, again thanking each for bringing their bounty into your life, and at Samhain, you remove the leaves from the tree, adding them to the withered flowers.  Remove your wishes and burn them, saving the ashes to nourish next year's tree.  On subsequent years, you can take the nut from last year and plant it outside, along with any leaves or flower bits (that are safe to bury).

I find workings like this to be a really great way to break up big goals into smaller steps, and still have a well defined working, that allows you to not only see progress but celebrate every step of the way.

Another lovely Sabbat themed idea I've seen is a gift, where you wrap a present for each Sabbat in reverse order, in one big ball.  So you would wrap  a Samhain gift, then several layers of paper, then a Mabon gift, etc....until you get to Yule.  When you gift it to someone, they unwrap until they get to that Sabbat's gift, which they then enjoy.  You can add extra blessings into the wrappings, writing inspirational quotes on them or turning them into wishing papers (with blessings/wishes written on them, that the person can burn to release the blessing).  Gifting like this takes the magic of caring about someone and stretches it out throughout the whole year, it is something that you can do to remind someone they are cared about, not just during traditional gifting seasons.

Now, some might say this isn't really magic, but I think that gifting is a form of magic.  All gifting is an exchange, whether you think you are receiving something in return or not.  And when you give from your heart, you are putting your energy into it.  You are blessing the person receiving your gift, with the intent that they find joy in what they are being gifted.  This is a wonderful form of blessing and love magic, because love isn't always about romance or sex, sometimes it is about caring about someone and wanting them to feel special.

Both those Sabbat ideas are sort of a building process.  You start with one thing, and over time you build on it.  I also like countdown type magic, where you pick a final date that is a significant observance (like a holiday), and you do something each day to mark that there is one less day until the event.  There are many celebrations that light one candle a day to mark the passage of time, but you could also do this in reverse, so on the first day, you set out and bless all the candles, one for each day of the observance, but then you only burn one completely (you might want to light them all briefly and extinguish them one by one, saying something about how you are saving them for later, until only one is lit, and then let that one burn out completely). 

You could also do this with blessed food or drink.  Make sure you pick foods that will hold up well, like chocolate pieces (which can be inscribed with symbols or words to represent what you are taking in), or fruits or nuts (many of which can also be inscribed on the rind/peel or shell).  This type of magic works really well when you want to take on several attributes of a thing (for example if you were wanting to deepen your relationship with an animal spirit, you might find some food that reminds you of the animal, and bless each piece with a different trait that animal has, so you can then consume and take into yourself those traits, one by one).  It is also good if you are building yourself up for an event that you feel you need help in several areas (you might brew up a special tea, and then bless a sugar cube for each day leading up to your event, each cube marked with a symbol you feel you need, like bravery or calm nerves, and then every day you can pour the tea over the sugar cube and drink it, focusing on feeling the thing represented by the sugar cube).

Some knot spells are also considered time release magic.  You charge a string, call up your intentions, and bind them in each knot as you tie it.  Then, whenever you want to draw on your intention, you untie a knot and release that part of the spell.  The energy is held in the string, ready to use, until you need it.  You can untie more knots if your need is stronger.

The advantage to this kind of spell is that you can set it up ahead of time, and it is ready when you need it.  You might charge a cord with grounding calm, so that when you untie a knot it loosens the hold of anxiety on you.  Or you might charge a cord with healing, so that untying a not helps sooth a headache or speed recovery from a cold.  These are all things that you might not feel well enough to work on while you are in the midst of them, so having the magic set up ahead of time, to be released at a later date, is very handy.

And finally, time release magic is great for things you want to be ongoing.  I see most forms of protection as a time release thing.  You want the protections to keep working, to continue sending out protective energy.  You aren't just releasing a flash of protection, like sending out a single pulse of light, rather you want to turn the light on and keep the darkness at bay.  With spells like this, there is often a need to refresh your spell.  You might want to recharge your protections every month, or if you feel they are being used up more quickly you might do them weekly or even daily.

I do daily protection not only on myself, in the form of shielding and blessing, but also on my house.  I say chants and affirmations every day to reinforce these protections so that they stay 'on' and continue to lend their protection throughout my day.

Time release magic allows you to stretch out your workings, so they aren't just a flash in the pan.  They become an ongoing thing, either maintaining their effect or building up or counting down to an event.  They allow us to work on bigger projects without needing to do the work all at once.  They give you options, the versatility to choose how, and when, you want your magic to take effect.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Southern Cunning (book review)

Southern Cunning

by Aaron Oberon (link to Amazon page)

This was a strangely fascinating book for me. I knew, going into it, that it wasn't what I typically practice, however it is a topic that is very popular in my area, and I know several people who are into this type of folkloric witchcraft. I always enjoy reading more about paths that are different to mine, especially paths that are walked by people I know, so I was looking forward to reading it.

I definitely found things, right from the start, that challenged me. Much of the language references Christian symbols, and they aren't really a part of my practice or my childhood. The stories that are talked about, the phrases that are used, they aren't part of my vocabulary.

I also found the continual references to “The Silver Bullet” left me feeling like I was missing some of the meaning. Most of the times, when it talked about stories from that collection, it explained the most important bits, and yet I was still left wondering how much more I would get from it if I had read that book as well.

Some of the language and words used were stumbling blocks for me. Witches are talked about as they are in some stories, as evil, harmful things. There is a lot of references to the Devil, and focuses on cursing and working with spirits. There is actually a really good bit, right at the end, that talks about the terminology of the Witch Father, and explains the concept further from the point of view of the author. I think that anyone who might be struggling with the phrasing may want to skip ahead, read that chapter, then go back and read the rest of the book.

One thing I really loved was the focus on the local area. Being not only in tune with your local spirits, but also the land itself. The acknowledgment that each area has it's own flavor was wonderful. I think it's a really practical and workable approach, and it helps people start where they are, and find symbols and things that speak to them, in the world around them, instead of trying to find universal symbols or things that simply might not exist in their area.

Many areas that talk about tools and things used in one's practice followed along this same train of thought. There is a big focus on using what is around you, and using what works for you. I loved this very personalized approach. There are some really great suggestions for tools that are talked about in this book, and I definitely came away with some ideas to incorporate in my own practice.

Even though I don't use the Bible personally, I found the sections that talked about the ways in which the bible could be used to be really interesting. There was a lot of really down to roots folk magic in this section, and it's something that I definitely see in my area, things that people might do because they grew up doing it. And that is something that I think we all sort of cling to: the rituals of our youth. I think this section could easily be translated to seeking out the influences you have from your own family and culture growing up, and using those in your practice, because they are steeped in your own personal memories and experiences.

There is a lot of information on working with spirits in a very direct and personal manner. While a lot of witches interact with spirits as part of their practice, this book covers interactions that many don't engage in: spirits as teachers and spirits as familiars. These are long-term relationships that are built up and need to be maintained. I think the book does an excellent job of illustrating just how tricky this can be, and how much work might be required to cultivate good relationships with spirits.

One point I particularly liked was the idea that the land might not always be friendly to you. I think that, as Pagans, we sometimes have the opinion that nature (spirits, animals and to a lesser extent deities) are, by default, going to be well disposed towards us, and this book brings up the point that humans have done some pretty awful things, and so spirits we interact with might not look at us kindly.

Another interesting topic that is broached is that of UPG: unverified personal gnosis. This is the idea that we can have individual experiences that my not line up with the common other words, my interactions with a thing might be different than yours. This is something that I think a lot of people struggle with, as we want things to line up nicely, but they don't always. There is always some level of wondering as to the accuracy of our experiences, but ultimately, if it works for you then it works.

There are some really great sections on journeying, through the mode of flying. It's a very folkloric take on a more common practice, and the information given is wonderful and rich. I appreciated the warnings given, when talking about witch grease (which is similar to flying ointment), and how even though a specific recipe is not given, the process is explained and done in such a way that if you follow the suggestions you will create a personal recipe that is safe.

All in all, this was a really interesting book that covered a lot of very down to earth practices focused on working with what you have in the place that you are in. Some of the terminology might be problematic for some people (I seriously recommend reading the Witch Father section first), but if you can get beyond that, there is some really great information here. Best of all, the book does a lot of explaining how to figure out what might work for you, instead of laying out information for you to take or leave.