Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Magical responsibility

In the wake of all that is going on with the world, the idea that we, as Pagans and Witches, have a responsibility to create change in the world, keeps coming up.  And, for many people, this idea of bearing responsibility for change carries a lot of weight and brings up a lot of issues.

I think that the first thing we need to talk about, when we discuss creating real change in the world, is the idea of free will and how that applies to magic.  As I have said before, I am not a follower of Harm None, but it is still quoted so often in our community, I feel like I need to touch on this.

When you think about it, the main idea of the tenant of Harm None is to not use magic for 'bad' reasons.  But sometimes the choice isn't between good and bad it's between bad and worse.  If we don't act, out of fear of harming someone, do we allow greater harm to come to us or someone we might have protected? 

Where I think Harm None really falls apart is when it is taken to the "never cast a spell on someone else without their permission because you are infringing on their free will!!!!"  In many ways, this is just one more way to shame and threaten people into being complacent and letting other people hurt them because they don't want to be loud or to fight back.  

I feel like there is a very big difference between doing a spell to make someone break their leg because you are mad that they said your friend looked prettier than you did and doing a spell to get other people to understand a different perspective or even doing a spell to stop people from attacking and hurting others.

There is a trend, in many new-age circles, to keep our magic self-centered, to only work for one's self, for self-improvement.  And even then, we are expected to keep our magics internal, to work on our inner issues, to not directly work to effect our physical world (because somehow that is interfering with other people's free will or creating harm to them).

And I have to say a little something about this.  Because magic is something that is available to everyone.  It isn't some kind of innate power that only some people have, that gives them a undefendable advantage over people who don't have it.  It's not a form of privilege that you are born with.  It is a skill that we work on, an ability that we cultivate and an action we can take...that anyone can take.

Trying to limit our magic usage to internal-only uses is like trying to tell someone, "It doesn't matter how many hours you spent working on learning how to play the violin, you can't ever play in public because someone else might feel bad that they can't play...and you definitely can't audition for a job by playing your best, because that's not fair to people who haven't practiced."  It sounds a little ridiculous, doesn't it, when you put it in those terms.

Now, I titled this blog Magical responsibility, because I do feel that we have a responsibility to others and to the world.  None of us live in a bubble, and no matter how self-centric your viewpoint is, helping other people is just good business.  Every person on this earth (honestly, every thing and being on this earth...and in the universe), relies on the success of other beings to survive.

And as a society, the greater issues, the ones that we are struggling with right now...effect us all.  We have a vested interest in how these things unfold and resolve.  Now, I'm not going to tell you what you should think or feel or what causes you should get behind, because that's not my place.  But I do think that, whatever you feel strongly about, you have a responsibility to try to make the world a better place.

One of my favorite memes lately was in relation to the protests, and it put things in an RPG slant.  It pointed out that not everyone can physically attend a protest, but there are many ways to help the cause.  You might be doing support stuff, helping with supplies or logistics.  You might be emotional fuel, keeping up the spirits of those who are going out and doing the physical stuff.  You might be doing the scholarly thing, doing research and finding ways to share the information.  But if you care, there is something you can do.

And magic is one of those things.  There are tons of ways to help magically, and direct casting is only one of them.  Maybe you want to research ways that magic can help, different approaches (like using spells to create greater understanding and empathy instead of directly going after the end goal).  Or you might want to signal boost, and share spellwork and coordinated casting events. 

We are in this world, in this lifetime, and I think we owe it to ourselves (not to mention to our descendants), to make the most of it.  When we see something that we feel is wrong, it is in our best interests to look for ways we can make it better.  Sometimes this is as simple as picking up a piece of trash and throwing it away, or sometimes we feel this is our mission in this life and we tackle getting more people to be aware of how trash impacts our planet and finding new ways to handle the trash we do create.

As it has been said recently, silence is loud.  Doing nothing is a choice and an action.  Not getting involved is making a stand, and avoiding thinking about the hard topics is a decision to support what is going on.  If you don't act, you are helping to create the world we live in today.  So if you don't like parts of our something to change it!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Different isn't wrong

There is a very serious flaw in the way most of us were taught.  Think back to when you were in school....the teacher would assign a lesson, you would learn it, then you would be expected to demonstrate that you knew what was taught.  There was almost never any room for variance or perspective.  It was a fact-oriented education, we were taught facts and we were expected to be able to recite them.

Even in the more creative realms, there were 'right' and 'wrong' ways of expressing yourself.  There was a generally agreed upon meaning for just about everything, and if you didn't produce something that lined up with that understanding, you were graded poorly, because you 'obviously didn't understand the lesson.'

And this concept of learning persists in how we approach our spiritual learning.  There are so many different places where this idea of right and wrong exists, and we often aren't aware of it.  Sometimes we end up sabotaging ourselves because our experiences aren't what we expected, and so we tell ourselves we must have done it wrong.  We discount what actually happened because we had our sights set on the 'correct' outcome.

But while there are some things that do exist within these failure or success parameters (you either light the wick of the candle or you don't), so many more have many, many different ways of working (a circle can be cast in countless different ways).

Our brains want things to fall into nice, neat little boxes.  We want to think that all red berries are dangerous and that when we meditate 'successfully' we will be filled with peace and tranquility.  But for most of life there is no simple answer, no one true meaning, no ultimate correct way of doing something.

And this makes us feel unsure.  If we can't have some objective way to measure our success, then how do we know things are working?  If there is no ultimate meaning to a symbol, how do we know we are interpreting it right?  How do we validate our experiences without a yardstick to measure by?

I was lucky enough to have gone to a school that expected us to not just recite back facts, but to think about them and to explain those thoughts.  I had parents that had discussions with me, and I have always liked looking at things from other perspectives (and trying to imagine those perspectives were my own).  So, for me, it only seemed natural that different people, with different backgrounds, would experience things differently...and that was okay.

And yet, I still held myself to expectations of what 'should be'.  I struggled for many years with thinking I wasn't connecting because I don't have movie-quality visions.  I thought I wasn't grounding because the imagery didn't work for me.  I didn't feel like I was getting divinatory messages because it feels like thinking to me.

A somewhat mundane, and yet also somewhat perfect example is hair.  There are a lot of myths that involve long (and often unbound) hair.  Hair can be a vehicle through which we express ourselves (think of how many teens do drastic things to their hair).  And in magical circles, long hair is almost always the 'mystical' ideal.  There are many different explanations for why more hair equals more power or why cutting one's hair is bad.  But for me, I find it is the exact opposite.  Not only do I feel more myself with short hair, but it physically bothers me to have long hair.  And not just that it's so heavy it makes my head hurt, but also longer hair makes my thoughts sluggish.

It's not something I can logically explain, but I've lived it and it's real to me.  These are the experiences that I have and my truth, and it just doesn't make sense for me to subscribe to someone else's model of long hair meaning more power...because it doesn't work that way for me.  Whenever my hair gets too long, I feel wrong and bad, and every time I cut it I feel amazing.

And this works in other areas too.  Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way.  If I am thinking about whether or not my rune interpretations are right or wrong, I start to doubt myself.  I feel like an imposter, like someone who is trying to recall this book or that book or like I need to list my sources.  But I work with the runes every day and have for years.  I might not have academic, historic knowledge of them, but I know them.  And I can sit and talk about how they speak to me...if I stop worrying about being right and just talk.

I think it is an important skill to work on, and something that we may struggle with for a long time.  Because we are all new at everything at some point in time, and we do feel like we may need help and instruction.  It can be hard to leave those feelings behind, especially if we are self-taught and not going through some kind of certification process with tests and levels we can point to and say, "look, see, I passed this, someone else thinks I can do this."

Maybe it's not even a matter of being objectively capable.  Maybe it's more a matter of claiming our own experiences.  Of recognizing that our perspective matters, and even if it goes against everything that everyone else knows, it is still our perspective and that no one can take that away from us.  Maybe it just comes down to accepting and voicing your truth, no matter what form it takes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Divine Masculine....expanded

I looked back, and I actually wrote about the Divine Masculine last year.  With Father's Day coming up, my mind returns to this idea of not only the Divine Masculine, but how we relate to the idea of masculinity in our greater world and in our faith.

I think that we are starting to look at ideas like male and female in a different light, or more specifically in a broader spectrum.  Many of the qualities that were typically associated with being 'masculine' are now being looked at as less then idea...and we are realizing they aren't really tied to masculinity at all.  Things like strength, aggression, assertiveness...these are qualities that anyone can have and the lack of them doesn't make a person less masculine.

Things become a bit more convoluted when we consider the Divine Masculine though.  The Divine Masculine is an archetype, it isn't a specific person, or deity.  It is one half of the coin of Divinity, if you think about the sides as Masculine and Feminine as an archetypal duality.  The thing is, that this two-sided-coin way of looking at the world is one that we are starting to outgrow.  We realize that the world is more than just two sides, there is the edge, the rim, the interior and the 'not-coin' parts of the coin.

And yet, a lot of our practices still involve the twin ideas of Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine (even if you also work with other deity-forms and accept other expressions of gender), and I think this is because our dual-divinity is based on the creative is literally a divine reflection of our biological procreation process.

When we think about the Divine Masculine and Feminine, in a Pagan context, we are looking at the procreative powers of the natural world, the way that new things are made, and for most of nature this involves a male and a female.  We see the Divine Masculine as the archetype of all the male's of all species and types, in all the world, and the same for the Divine Female.  It is only through the two combined that creation (of new life) happens..for most of life on this planet.

But we don't always acknowledge this fact...that our concept of dual-divinity is based on this biological process.  We try to link similar qualities to the physical act, so the Feminine is the vessel, the one that holds and nurtures life, while the male is the protector and the spark that ignites new life in the female.  This is spirituality imitating nature, and it's all well and good until you really start to look.

There are lots of examples the break this mold, where the females are the hunters and protectors or where a couple-bonding doesn't occur, or where the males tend the babies/eggs.  As with most things, I think we are conditioned to accept information that we are given, and not really think about it..but it is through looking with our own eyes, uncovering our own truths and really thinking about the deeper meanings, that we come to our own experiences of how things are and what things mean.

We acknowledge the fact that our deities are not biological beings and don't always follow the same rules as we humans do.  And yet, we still want to humanize them in many ways, and the way we look at the Divine Masculine (and Feminine) illustrates this perfectly.

If you think, you can probably name off a handful of Gods who fit this very traditional role of Divine Masculine.  They are the warriors, the fathers, the strong.  But I bet you can also name off quite a few who are less traditionally 'masculine'.  These are often the tricksters, the poets, the dreamers, the artists...and yet they are Gods and we accept them as such. 

We see ourselves as reflections of the divine, that divinity lives in us.  And it doesn't just match up Masculine to male and Feminine to female.  We each hold both within us, and we can express either in any given moment. 

Looking back to the myths and stories of the Gods, we can see how different traits are beneficial in different situations.  If we are racing towards battle, with swords in hand, then being able to spin a compelling story with your words isn't that useful...but strength of arm and fierceness of spirit is.  But after the battle, when you are telling the children what happened, so they can take your experience and learn and grow from it, then being able to craft a story that will be remembered and that captures the essence of the experience is much more needed than knowing how to swing your sword.

The Divine Masculine is a part of all that is, but we may not be seeing it clearly.  Our understanding of the world is changing.  The way we treat each other in society is changing.  Right now, a lot is in flux.  And it may be time to revisit our understanding of the Divine Masculine and Feminine.  To look at how they manifest in our world and in our Selves, and to decide how we want to relate to them.  If we are working with outdated expressions and understandings, then it may be time to look deeper, to question what we know and why we have accepted it as truth...and to figure out where we are going in the future. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Celebrating the ordinary

To say we are living in interesting times would be an understatement, but I think we are opening our eyes and finally recognizing all the amazing, ordinary things that we have in our lives, the things we take for granted.  Now that we are faced with not having access to all the things we rely upon, we have realized just how precious they are to us.

When we think about our ancestors, we think about things like Sabbat celebrations and holidays, the big, elaborate festivals that celebrate big events.  But if you read and think about what these actually celebrated, they were often very basic, everyday things.  They celebrated the rising of the sun each morning, because it wasn't certain in their world view.  They celebrated the turning of the seasons because it meant seeing another year.  They celebrated births and birthdays as accomplishments because life was fleeing and a child who lived to see their first birthday was a miracle.

I feel like we have lost a lot of this awareness of the specialness of everyday occurrences.  We may appreciate the beauty of a sunrise, but we don't typically celebrate the fact that the sun rose and a new day has started.

Many people are being faced with the idea that life is fleeting, perhaps for the very first time.  This pandemic has shown that it can effect people of all ages, all states of health, all socioeconomic levels. Some people are facing the idea that they might die, not in some far away tomorrow, but that they might be sick, right now, without even knowing it, and that they might not live to see the end of the year.  This is a very new thing and it has made a lot of people recognize how ephemeral life really is.

Because, of course, life has never been certain.  There are no guarantees.  Live can change in an instant, and it can change forever.  And while this brings fear, this also often brings a strange new joy for many people.  Colors seem brighter, simple things bring them more pleasure, they are learning to appreciate the things they have instead of only wishing for what they don't have.

And this can be hard to do, in times of scarcity and restriction.  We don't have access to a lot of things that we normally would.  But what remains is still amazing and wonderful!  Here I am, sitting in my home, typing out words that will be shared online for anyone from around the world to read.  I can pick up my phone and call friends that I might not be able to see.  I can video chat with family.  I can go outside and feel the sun on my face and the earth beneath my feet.

Taking time to celebrate these ordinary things can help us keep our spirits high and are perspective firmly grounded.  When we start to get scared, or concerned about what is going on in the world (and who wouldn't be...there is crazy stuff going on!), when we need a break from all of that, we can turn to something as simple as drinking a glass of water, and appreciating the clean, cool liquid.  We can turn on a favorite show and give thanks for the ability to stream content whenever we want (or watch a recording over and over).

One daily ritual I have kept for years is to greet the day.  I say a modified prayer that greets deities and asks for blessings.  It's a way for me to start each day with a bit of gratitude and a bit of thanks giving.  Even though the words don't specifically focus on gratitude, for me, it feels like a gratitude practice.  I look out the window and see what the day has to offer, and I feel grateful to be able to do that.  I am grateful for my gods for the day they have provided, whether it is bright and sunny or overcast and rainy.  I am grateful for my health and for my ability to help others (two of the things I ask for in my prayer).  I am grateful for the earth I live on and all she has to offer.

 I often thank the things I use everyday, like my computer and my house.  I talk to my cats and I tell them how much I love that they cuddle with me or how cute they are.  I reach out to touch my husband, as he's sleeping, just because I am grateful he is there (snores and all!).  

Another practice that works really well for me is to stop and give thanks for things when they stop working.  It's based on the idea that we don't always think about things until they aren't there, and normally when something breaks on us, we get upset and angry.  But instead of focusing on the feelings of loss, I think that there is something really powerful in taking that moment to appreciate what we are missing.  When internet goes out, instead of fussing and getting worked up, I try to send out a prayer of thanks for the connection and freedom the internet gives me (and how our internet is normally very reliable!).

One great return of this kind of practice is it brings you out of that 'lack of' mindset and sets you back on appreciating what you have (even though you don't have it right at that's sort of an oxymoronic practice, but hey it works!).  It resets your mind back to a place of contentment and gratitude.  It's a bit of "this too shall pass," and focusing on the positive makes the negatives that much easier to bear.

So, even as the world is struggling and changing and life as we know it may never be the same, we can choose to celebrate the small moments, the ordinary moments.  Take the time to be happy the sun rose at night or that the night brings darkness for rest and sleep.  Appreciate the food and drink you have, and all the little, silly, strange, amazing things that you love, whether it is a feather you found, a tv show that makes you laugh, a loved one or a stain on the ceiling that looks a bit like a flower.  If it makes your life better, celebrate it, and through these celebrations you capture moments of peace.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Blending Faith and Fandom

Stories have always been retold and different versions have evolved, as the teller puts their own spin on the story.  For anyone who has had a relative tell 'their version' of a fairy tale, this is a familiar experience.  But we are seeing very modern versions of many of the old myths and legends, and for some people this creates problems.

Sometimes, the new versions vary greatly, changing so many details that the stories are only alike in name, but other times only a few details have been altered and the essence of the story remains true.  As modern Pagans, we are often faced with many versions of the stories and deities we work with, both historically (as the stories change and evolve), but also in our modern world, in the form of books and movies.

I am sure I am not alone in my love for the modern tales, and if you include a witch, Pagan deity or ancient myth in a book/movie/show, I will want to watch it.  I love consuming fiction that centers on things I am passionate about.

But I also find that sometimes these stories begin to flavor my own understanding and relationship with the deities and stories.  Often, this serves to personify the stories, as seeing a character acted out on screen means I begin to associate their image with the character, and hearing their words spoken (or reading them in several books, as actual dialogue), means I hear their 'voice' (tone of voice, mannerisms, etc).  They become real in a different way to me.

And I think part of this is that we have lost so much of the old stories.  We are hearing the academic retellings, the stories pared down to their essential facts and the most commonly shared details.  We aren't hearing the campfire versions of the stories, with all the embellishments that a good story teller would add.

So the 'official' tales, the ones we read in mythology books or the descriptions we get of deities are more clinical, leaving a void behind.  The modern versions, in their full technocolor drama bring those flat characters to life.

I feel like there is a tendency to fixate on either the first version of a story we hear of the one we feel is the most 'official'...and sadly official often translates to generic.  This often reminds me of the evolution of fairy tales, and how many of the early versions are quite different from the ones we grew up hearing.  The darker aspects have been edited out for a modern audience, as we tend to shelter our kids from the harsh realities of the world much longer now. 

But the different versions of the same fairy tale can highlight different parts of the same story.  They let you experience it from different perspectives, and it makes you think about what is really going on...and why it's important (and sometimes why it was changed).  I think the same kind of thought process is really useful, when looking at our deities and myths.

I've said it before, and I know I'll say it again, but we don't live in the same world our ancestors do.  And I personally don't believe our deities are static.  The deities I work with aren't stuck back in the middle ages or the height of their cultural dominance...because if they were they wouldn't be of much help to me (nor I to them).  In order for the deities I work with to be relevant, they have to had adapted to modern life.

We don't always think this through, but most of us work off of this idea.  We bless our phones or ask for help with internet situations, or maybe in getting that job interview...but if you stop and think, pretty much all of those things would be utterly meaningless to people who actively worshiped our deities in their historically active period. 

So modern retellings make sense, because not only do we need to feel like our deities understand us, we need to understand them.  Just as aspects of our life might not be immediately accessible to someone of a different time period, aspects of their life aren't always friendly to a modern mind.

There are LOTS of traditional myths that are pretty bad when held up to modern morality.  Even just looking at the ages of characters in stories, some of the tales become problematic.  We really are different from our ancestors, and so the way in which we relate to our deities and myths should be different as well.

And this isn't something that is either on or off.  This is a whole range of inclusion that you have to navigate and see what works for you and what doesn't.  You might love watching movies that feature deities you work with, but you don't see them as anything other than entertainment.  Or you may see them as modern myths, as a new lens through which you can find another aspect of a well-known deity.  You might love ancient art and wish to use only historical images in your magical work, or you may fall in love with modern artist's takes on how deities look.  You might enjoy using mass marketed statues (toys!) or you may not.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum of fandom and modern retelling, it is always good to remember that the storyteller is sharing their perspective.  These are not things that can be objectively proven with facts and records.  These are living, breathing stories, and they are flavored by both the teller and the observer.  Your relationship with them will depend as much on you as on the versions you are exposed to.  And even when you discover a version that doesn't click for you, it can be helpful to ask yourself why it doesn't work.  It is these thoughts and questions that bring us deeper into our relationship with our deities, and the myths that represent them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Looking back on hard times

"Where were you when..." is one of those questions that lingers.  It's what we ask when a life defining moment happens.  It's what we connect over, as these big experiences change us forever.  And these moments can be personal or they can be global. 

On a personal level, events could be like how you found out you were going to have a baby or how you found out that Santa (or the Tooth Fairy...or any other childhood figure) wasn't 'real'.  People bond over these shared experiences, even though we each go through them differently and at different times.

On a larger scale, perhaps a big storm hit the town you lived in, and everyone talks about the 'winter of (*insert year here)" where people were without power for days or buildings were destroyed.  This creates a bonding effect with the people you see everyday in your life, your neighbors and the folks you run into at the store.  It also can become a dividing line between natives and 'outsiders'....people who might have moved to town after the event happened and don't have that shared experience to reminisce over.

Then, you reach the national level, and we come to more 'once in a lifetime' type of events.  I thought that, for me, it would be 911.  That was definitely a "where were you when you heard about the towers?" moment.  And these type of events become rallying flags that the country gathers behind.  It drew us together, it helped us set aside our differences for a while.  People were inspired by the volunteers and heroes who worked tirelessly to try to rescue as many survivors as possible.  People called loved ones or even vague acquaintances they knew who might have been in the area, wanting to know they were safe.

And now, we have reached the global scale.  This (hopefully!) is the once in a lifetime event, the defining moment of every generation that lived through it.  And it has the added uncertainty of not being a human threat.  There is no adversary we can attack, no leader to vanquish, no one to capture to put an end to this.  It is both bringing people together and driving them apart as fear captures people in different ways.

But the thing about defining moments is we don't have control over what is happening to us...what we do have control over is how we respond.  And every one's situation, even in this shared global event, is different.  We all have different personal situations and different resources and different needs.  We will all walk through this obstacle differently, but we will all face it.

In the moment, everything feels bigger.  The silences and the waiting feel longer, the tragedies hit us harder, the restrictions feel more suffocating.  And as time goes on, we start to adjust.  Things that felt insurmountable a month ago have become commonplace.  We have begun to figure out how to make due with what we have, to sort out new ways to solve problems with different tools. 

We don't know what the future will hold, but we do know that when that future comes, we will look back on these times and these are stories that will matter.  For the most part, our daily lives and activities will pass unnoticed.  What we do, on a particular day, isn't normally going to make the history books.  What makes times like this so remarkable is that the everyday stuff, the unremarkable things we do....have become noteworthy.

Think back to any historical event you read about.  Sure, they always highlight the big moments:  when the battle turned, when the cure was found, when the building collapsed.  But they also looked at all the ordinary moments, they made a note of what daily routines were like, what kinds of foods people ate, what new methods were employed.

It can be hard, while in the middle of it, to make sense of all that is going on.  But knowing that one day we will be looking back on these times, can help us keep our perspective.  We will get through this, one way or another.  And sometimes we just need that lifeline, the knowledge that all the little things matter.

Faith and spiritual practice are often tested, in these extreme times.  And you may find that your mundane struggles have eclipsed your regular practice.  This is absolutely normal and it doesn't mean that you are any less dedicated!  You may need some space, you may need to devote your mental energy to getting through the day, and you just don't have anything left.  Or you might find that you need more spiritual connection...this is also normal!  You may find that instead of relaxing with a hobby, you are drawn to more introspection, more journaling, more prayer.

You may fluctuate between the two, going days without feeling any kind of spiritual spark, and then feeling the need to dive deep for a while.  Listen to what your soul needs, and honor what you are feeling.  You might feel called to do more work for others, to seek out people who are wanting help...or you might need to withdraw some of your energy and focus on your own issues for a bit.

The biggest thing to remember, is these are extra-ordinary times....they are outside the realm of normal.  So normal rules and expectations don't apply.  Don't feel like you need to hold yourself to your 'regular' activities.  Give yourself the flexibility to do what feels that in the future, you can look back and say, "Yes, I lived through that time, and it was hard, but here's how I made it..."

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

One small step at a time...

Anytime you start something new, it can feel intimidating.  You have this idea about what a practice should be, and you look at the people who are at the top of their game, the experts, the public figures.  You see these beautiful pictures of elaborate setups and fancy tools, you read descriptions of complex rituals, daily rituals and the cycle of the year, and it feels like you don't even know where to start.

I recently read something that talked about how most of us aren't extraordinary, and yet we hold ourselves up to that standard.  We look at experts and professionals, and those are the people we compare ourselves to...and this is a really bad practice!  Most of us don't have the luxury of our spiritual practice being our livelihood.  And especially when you are starting out, you don't have those years of experience under your belt. 

There is also this fear of doing things wrong, of making mistakes...of failing.  And often with both magic and spirituality, there is a deeper fear of a serious consequence that will come from a minor mistake.  We read these horror stories about someone who messed up the wording in a money spell and a beloved relative died and left them money (which really is a horrible story to tell beginner witches...I really dislike fear-based prohibitions). 

Media doesn't help either.  We watch movies about magic where 'the dark side' is always tempting magic users, trying to get them to do bad things.  Or where someone makes an innocent mistake (like forgetting to leave an offering to a deity), and now they have a vengeful God out to get them.  And while most of us know that movies and such are fiction, that idea still lives in our head, that we might anger one of the beings we work with if we mess up, and we worry if we would be forgiven.

It has actually been my experience that walking a spiritual (and magical!) path is very forgiving.  Sure, there are mistakes you can make, and there are consequences for those mistakes...but typically speaking, the results of your actions are in line with what you actually did.  I don't feel like we need to fear catastrophic backlash from what I would call 'learning mistakes'.

When you learn, you make mistakes, that's just part of it.  If we didn't make mistakes, we wouldn't need to learn....and often it is our mistakes that teach us. It is through trying something, noticing how it didn't work and what the consequences are, that we figure out what works and what doesn't.

We also seem to have this idea that if we can't do something fully and completely, we shouldn't do it.  We are prone to wanting to wait until we 'know everything' to start working.  And while some people are great at book learning and doing the mental work first, others learn through experience, and trying to memorize the meanings of every card in a tarot deck before they ever actually work with their cards is an exercise in frustration.

I think that every practice we want to build can be learned from the ground up.  It can be broken into very simple and small steps, and sometimes that is all you can manage...and that's okay!  I love the idea of accessible practice, that you can do what feels right to you.

Since I was talking about tarot (and this applies to pretty much any divinatory practice), lets think about learning tarot for a minute.  There is this image of a professional tarot reader, who pulls a deck out of a wooden box, where it is kept wrapped in silk.  They shuffle perfectly, and lay the cards out, murmuring appropriately at different cards.  Then they weave together all the cards in the layout, uncovering these mystical 'truths' about the client, who is amazed at how perfectly the reading matches their situation, and all the hidden details it reveals, things they never told the reader!

And this is the image in our head, when we think about reading tarot.  We may feel unworthy at working with our cards until we know all the meanings for every card (and let me just say that you can't know 'all' the meanings).  We may feel frustrated that we don't see anything when we look at a card.

We may not always feel like we have the time or energy to do a full, big reading...and that's just fine!  You can pull a single card, and start seeing what pops out at you.  And sometimes nothing will, or the thing that comes through might not make any sense (this is often where making notes of your readings helps...but if that's not your thing, that's fine too...I don't keep records of most of the readings I do). 

Even more than that, you should feel comfortable just handling your deck.  Maybe you don't feel up to interpreting the cards, you just want to spend some time enjoying the pictures.  I love looking at the art of my decks.  The more time you spend with your cards, the more familiar they will become to you.  You will notice more...because you have taken the time to really look.  And sometimes, you may just want that physical connection.  Maybe you want to shuffle your deck, or just have it near you.

These same micro-actions can be used to get more familiar with other parts of our practice.  Whatever it is you want to do....start doing it! If you want to honor the Sabbats, there are a ton of ways to do that, not all of them requiring any type of circle or ritual at all.  You might see pictures of people online who are dedicating a whole day to celebrating the Sabbat, who have a big community group who gather together and make larger than life effigies or other ritual observances, and you flounder trying to figure out what you can do.

Things can be scaled back.  If you don't have a group (or room) for a 50 foot Maypole, you can make a smaller one with a stick and some ribbons.  If you don't have time to cook a themed feast, maybe you can find one food that reminds you of the season.  You might watch a seasonal movie or find some great pictures to look at.

The thing about practice is that it starts really small.  I love the analogy of body building as practice.  We look at some of the world class body builders, and they can lift crazy amounts of weight.  It seems super human, and yet at one point, they were all just like everyone else.  They didn't just start tying to lift their max weight, they started where we all do...trying to lift something slightly heavier than what was easy.  And it doesn't matter how much you can lift when you start, or how long it takes you to graduate to the next level of 'heavy' along the way.  If you keep practicing, you will get better.

That is how I view spiritual practice.  And sometimes it feels like you aren't making any progress....because while you are in the middle of it, slow progress feels like nothing.  But just keeping at your practice is progress!  Doing little things becomes habit, and over time you look back and realize that the initial action, maybe it was just putting on a meaningful piece of jewelry every day, has led to a morning prayer, a shielding practice, a gratitude practice or any number of other things.

It doesn't matter how tiny the action is, or how removed it may seem from your 'goal' practice.  If it brings you joy or makes you feel a bit more in it!  Let your path be paved with a million tiny actions, because they all add up.  And by continuing to come back to these small actions, you will find that the larger ones become that much easier.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Magic in a crisis

The ethics of magic is something that many people struggle with.  The "Harm None" phrase gets quoted often, but even if you follow it, there is a lot of room for interpretation.  Harm is a much more vague term than you might think, and sometimes we don't have a clear understanding of what is harmful to us (or others). 

Many people prefer to simply stay away from doing magic that effects other people without their permission.  The idea of infringing on another person's free will is one that doesn't sit well with many. 

And yet, all of life is a give and take.  If we want to eat to live, we must take from another (whether it is an animal or plant).  Now we have rules about how we can take things.  Typically we take by giving, we offer up something, like money, to pay for the thing we are gaining.  But we might also offer our time or barter goods for other goods.

Most people try to find ways to be as fair as possible to everyone involved.  After all, if everyone walks away happy, the next interaction will likely go even better! 

But sometimes, you have no choice.  Someone is determined to try to take away from others, and they aren't willing to listen.  Or you are dealing with something (like a natural disaster) that you can't negotiate with.

Let's think about the natural phenomenon first.  If a big storm is hitting, we want to protect what is important to us.  We may cast spells to help keep our family and property safe.  But we might also decide we want to try to help the greater population as well, and expand our spell to protect other people.  This might have the effect of lessening the storm.

Now, weather magic can be tricky.  It's one of those things where we don't always know everything, and we may not think about how changing the weather could effect future weather.  Will the storm not hitting mean the area suffers from lack of water?  Will the storm have cleared out some old growth to make way for new growth? 

If we simply try to make the storm dissipate, we are more likely to create some kind of imbalance than if we were to work towards allowing the storm to rage around us...but not damage property or hurt people and animals.

Right now, we are faced with a different kind of disaster, although still a natural one.  The virus that is spreading across the globe is a natural, living thing that only wants to survive and propagate...kind of like people.  I think that this is kind of like when any one species becomes too dominant, has too much of a current advantage.  But even to take it on a more personal level, I as a person have the right to want to survive.  And if this means I have to fight another being, then I have that right.  It's why we protect our homes from people who might want to come in and do us harm, or even steal our things.  We are within our rights to defend ourselves, and sometimes if the attacker will not yield, that can mean with any force necessary.

This is one of those decisions that each person must make on their own.  It's a bit like the decision to eat meat or not.  Many people don't feel right eating meat and many people don't feel wrong eating meat.  It really comes down to what you can live with.  If your desire to not harm others is so great you would rather allow people to take your things than cause them harm, then that is your choice to make.  We all have to figure out where we stand on these things and live a life that matches.

My personal viewpoint is somewhere in the middle.  I'm more than happy to let things live, but once you start making my life miserable, I will act.  I kill bugs (especially those that bite me), and I eat meat, and I will defend my home and family.

You might be asking what this has to do with anything.  Well right now, if you consider the global situation, we have a lot of people who are out doing things that are putting everyone at risk.  It sort of reminds me of the witches who banded together to fight against the horrors of WWII.  There was a threat to the way of life, a big enemy, and witches worked together to use magic to fight against it.

I feel we are at a place like that now.  And it's not just about the people who are resisting the restrictions put in place to keep everyone healthy.  We are fighting the virus itself, we are fighting the emotional strain it has put on us, we are fighting the financial disaster that is looming.  This is the time to really think about how you want to be using your magic to effect the world. 

Let me start off by saying that if you feel it is not your place, or that your practice isn't aligned towards this sort of thing, that is absolutely fine.  It is YOUR choice...but let it be an informed choice.  There are many, many ways we can effect the world at large, and they don't have to be controlling or confrontational.

I always think about the kindness ripples, about how tiny acts of kindness, simple things like smiling at a stranger when you see them, can spread much farther than you think.  I fully believe magic works the same way.  When I work to bless someone I know, I can make their life a bit better.  That in turn can help them do something for someone else.  One small blessing can reach people I have never met.  And I think we need all the small blessings we can get right now.

I was thinking about smiling at strangers the last time I went to the grocery store.  We are required to wear a mask now, so I was thinking about how any one would know I was smiling.  But of course a smile is more than just a face gesture.  It is a little act of magic, a little sharing of your kindness and uplifting energy.  And you can make it even more deliberate.  For those that are wearing masks, they can be blessed, not only to help ward off any sickness...but to spread joy and feelings of safety.

There is so much fear and worry going around right now, and for many people a mask is a symbol of that.  It is a physical representation of a reaction to something scary.  It is a way to distance yourself from other people, that you don't know are sick or well.  But, we can work to change their energy!  We can charge our masks to be symbols of protection and care.  Instead of seeing a mask and thinking we are living in a scary time, we can see a mask and think, "There is one more person who is doing what they can to help protect others."   Masks can become a flag of community, something that ties us together in our desire to stand as one.

And, like the witches of WWII, we can also join together and work towards finding a cure and treatment, towards wining the fight with this virus.  We can cast our protections on not only our loved ones, but the vulnerable, the caregivers, the essential workers...everyone who is putting themselves out there.

We can cast our spells to open people's eyes, to bring a renewed focus on finding a solution instead of looking for ways to place blame.  We can cast our spells to bring real change, to use this horrible situation to make the world a better place for everyone, to show people that the things they thought were impossible are not only doable, but desirable.

They say change starts with an idea, and we can take that idea and start sending it out into the world.  Think about what is going on and what outcomes you would want, not only for yourself but for the world.  Look for ways that fit your practice, to send those ideas, those dreams out there...and let's build a new world!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Solitary Birthdays...

As time passes, more and more people are passing their birthday, in a time where we can't gather.  I had mine a few days ago, and while we don't normally do anything big, my friends always do something special for my birthday, and I definitely missed that.

But I think there is this trend of making birthdays about other people celebrating us...which is awesome!  Everyone deserves a day where they are the center of attention, where they get waited on and tended to and are made to feel special and amazing.

Where I think we tend to fall a little flat is that we rely on other people to give us these feelings, and we don't do special things for ourselves.  We wait for others to buy us presents, we hope that they will do things to pamper us, we are excited about treats that we will be offered.

There is a stigma on doing nice things for yourself, and this is especially true on one's birthday....and it makes my heart sad.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with treating yourself, especially on your birthday! 

Birthday's aren't just about making it through another year, they are a recognition of our life, of all the pain and joy we have experienced.  They are a marker of who we are, and how we are growing and changing.  Think back to when you were little, and every year you would hear about how big you are growing or how much more mature you look.  People would talk about all the fantastic things you can do now, or the amazing stuff you learned that past year.

We need to bring that back!  Make birthdays a true celebration of all that has gone on in this year of your life...and all the years previous (because they all work together to make you who you are).  And the person who should be most excited, most proud, most wanting to shower you in gifts and special you.

Take this day to be self-centered (as in centered on your Self).  Take some time to reflect on just how far you have come, and anything you have accomplished during the year.  Sometimes these things are tricky and hide, and look like disasters, but when you peek beneath the surface you realize that the hard times are where you showed your strength.  You made it through, and just by surviving those hard times, you are amazing!

One great thing to do, for your birthday is a tarot spread.  There are many online you can find that provide a combination of looking back and celebrating as well as a glimpse forward into the future of what the coming year will bring.  Taking time to stop, reflect and honor what your year has held is a powerful way to acknowledge yourself and all you bring into the world.

The past few years, I have also become a believer in buying myself a present.  There is something subtly different in the mentality from just picking up something 'because I want it' and designating something a present.  By naming it a present, you are imbuing it with energy, specifically you are saying that you are worth it.  It is a simple (and fun!) way to remind yourself that you are worthy...just by existing. 

Gifting yourself should follow the rules you use for gifting other people.  Buy something you truly want, not something that you 'need'.  This is not the time to replace your ratty towels or get new work shoes (unless those things really make you happy, then definitely indulge!).  It is the perfect time to declare to yourself that the thing you've had your eye on, your 'guilty pleasure' item is perfectly legitimate and there is no reason to hope someone else will get it for you when you can just get it for yourself!

We often feel like we shouldn't like certain things.  Some things are considered 'less than' other things.  If you are an adult, and you like teen novels or trashy romances, those are often viewed as less worthy than deep, intellectual works or 'classics'.  If you like anything that might be considered a 'toy', whether it is a collectable figure, a video game, a stuffed animal...these are seen as childish. 

But here's the thing....the stuff that really lights you up is ABSOLUTELY worth it!  If a little squishy, bright pink pig just makes your day, why wouldn't you want it in your life!  We never know what the future might bring, and life is too short to not allow yourself the things that make you happy.  So find something that you want, something that you know will make your days better, and plan on gifting it to yourself.  (Yes, plan, sometimes you may need to save up to get that thing you really like...that's perfectly fine!)

And while we're speaking of stuff that brings you joy, just keep repeating, "It's my day!"  If you have a food you it!  Maybe it's something you really like and  no one else in your family cares for it...get it anyways (bonus, if you are the only one who likes it, then you get it all to yourself).  Let yourself have one day where you aren't constantly thinking about what other people want or like, and enjoy the things you love.

I started this post talking about celebrating alone, because many people can't gather with their extended family and friends right now.  But whether or not you normally celebrate with other people, these are things that I strongly feel everyone should do...and do proudly.

It always makes me sad when I see someone post about how they took themselves out to dinner on their birthday and got cake but ate it alone.  Or that they went to see a movie they were super excited about, but no one wanted to see it with them so they had to go by themselves.  Or they 'just spent a quiet night at home reading.' on their birthday.  And it doesn't make me sad because they were makes me sad because society tells us that these things are undesirable.  We are taught that if other people aren't seeing and reacting to what you are doing, it's not 'real'.

And I think that's just a really harmful way of looking at things!  Whether you are 'stuck' doing things alone now, or choosing to do things alone later (when you are also able to celebrate with others), I feel it is important to honor ourselves.  Our worth isn't determined by other people, and by only honoring our self-worth through the eyes of others, we are telling our Self that what we think and feel is somehow less.

So find ways to celebrate your birthday alone!  Figure out what those deep desires of your heart are, and find ways to bring them to life.  Buy yourself a gift, and treat yourself to luxuries that you normally forgo.  Take some time to reflect on the awesomeness that is You.  And know you are absolutely, totally, and forever worth it!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Finding your practice where you are

With Beltane just around the corner, many Pagans are struggling to figure out how to celebrate without access to the people and places they normally turn to.  While many Pagans are somewhat solitary, and do practice at home, many others are used to being able to gather with others for festivals, or to be able to go to parks or other wild places.  We may even be finding that the stores we normally would get supplies and inspiration from are not open for us to browse and connect with others.

I think Beltane especially is challenging because it focuses on interaction, on fertility and romance.  Many of the descriptions of this Sabbat revolve around celebrating as a community, things like Maypole dances, that require space and people.  With the blooming of flowers, there is also a big involvement of nature, and even if there are natural spaces you can be out in, the world may not feel safe to you right now, which changes how you feel about going out and celebrating.

My personal practice has always been centered around using what I have.  I don't like the phrase 'making do' because it implies that you are somehow settling, like what you are doing is less than other ways of doing things.  There is absolutely a measure of not having your first choice of things, but I am a dreamer, if you ask me what my 'ideal' tools are or ritual location, my mind goes to crazy (but fun!) places. 

There is power in spending the time and money to get the specialty ingredients, in finding and going to that perfect spot, in gathering all the people together and weaving their energies...but there is also power in taking the simple, everyday things, the things that are already around you, and elevating them through ritual and intention.

It can be easy to fall into the mindset of "but I don't have..." or "but I can't..."  Having those thoughts doesn't make you a bad Pagan or a bad person!  It can feel overwhelming to try to figure out how to adapt established rituals and practices, but once you start looking for the essence of a thing, it becomes easier.

That is how I approach any type of adaptation, whether I am modifying something to fit modern life, taking a group practice and making it solitaire friendly, adapting a highly cultural practice to something more my speed or finding ways to practice with what I have on hand.  It's all about seeing what the meaning is behind something, and finding other ways to express it.

Beltane focuses on love and fertility, is often tied to the fae folk, and can represent the start of summer.  Many of the common practices support these themes, but they aren't the only way to celebrate them.

If you look at something like the Maypole, you have a lot of symbolism regarding sex and fertility.  The long pole capped with a ring or acorn, ribbons entwined together as people weave in and around each other, these all emphasize the interaction between male and female and mimic the sex act.  But this very biological act can also represent the greater creative process, where the right and left brains work together to bring a dream into reality.

Besides erecting an enormous pole in our yard and dancing around it, we can harness the Maypole energy in other ways.  We might tie a colored ribbon to a stick and dance with it in our living room.  Or we may make a Maypole inspired wand, weaving the ribbons along the length of the wand.  We might paint or draw the Maypole.  Or we could take a visualized journey and dance the Maypole there.

You might also want to break away from the Maypole image all together, and instead think about what the Maypole represents, and how you might express those energies and ideas.  If you are wanting love or fertility in your life, what can you do to call those to you?  If you are wanting to birth a creative project, how can you work towards manifesting that?

This process of breaking down a practice into it's essential parts, then rebuilding them back up into a different practice can be tricky to learn, but once you get the hang of it, the things you can do in your practice are limitless.  It no longer matters what you have or don't have, because you can find ways to work in new ways.

Sometimes this allows you to boil things down to their bare bones, and instead of a long, elaborate ritual, you now have a few very simple acts that are full of personal meaning and reflection.  But it can also allow you to tailor your entire ritual to the things that are important to you.  You can create exactly the practice you want, using things that feel potent to you, calling upon deities you connect with, and using imagery that really works for you.

It's like the difference between wearing someone else's hand-me-down clothes, which you may like the style of, but they never really fit you right, or maybe they are a bit worn around the edges, or the color just isn't right for you...and wearing an outfit you design, down to the last detail, fitted perfectly to you.

I've done rituals with offerings of crackers and cranberry juice, with crayon drawn pictures and a candle I found at the thrift store.  What brings the power is my acknowledgement of what each part means.  Once you find those connections, once you start figuring out what clicks for you, nothing can stop you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Made stronger by adversity!

I'm not typically one to rally behind the "Remember the burning times," banner, but the emotional resilience represented by this mindset is a useful one.  There are times in all of our lives where we are constrained, where we are set upon by circumstances beyond our control, where we are not able to live our idea life.  And how we deal with these times is a reflection on our own character and strength.

We are living in unusual times.  We are facing things that haven't been seen in living memory, and I might even go so far as to say the extent of the situation is beyond that which has been seen before.  Because of our modern conveniences, the pandemic we are facing is racing across the globe at an accelerated rate.

Our history shows that this isn't the first such wave of disease we have faced as a species, but travel times have changed dramatically.  The spread of such a pandemic is much faster and more complete than any other that I have ever heard about, and it is both far reaching and quick.

And this leaves us changing how we live our lives...which makes some people loose their common sense and fight blindly against what they feel to be a personal attack on their freedoms.  I find it sort of sadly amusing that the people who are upset the most by any perceived loss are those who had the most to start with.

As a group, Pagans and witches are used to not having the same freedoms as other faiths and practices.  We are looked down upon, often without a proper understanding of what we believe and do.  We are treated as if we aren't a legitimate thing, and many people don't feel safe admitting what they do out of fear of how ignorant people will respond.

Right now gathering of all sorts are prohibited in most of the world.  This is a huge change for many religions, and I think it is admirable how so many religious leaders are making the necessary adjustments, finding new ways to reach out to their people, and encouraging everyone to both keep their faith and keep safe.

And while many of us are well versed in practicing in our homes, some groups and covens are struggling to find the best ways to navigate this change as well.  As a practice-based faith, we are in the unique situation where a circle or ritual involves participation, and especially in a learning capacity this creates a lot of challenges that more traditional preaching-based services just don't have to deal with.

Even if you normally practice at home, there are just so many changes going on right now, there are things you may have to change or find a way to do without.  With specialty stores being shut down, getting supplies might be an issue for you.  Even normal grocery stores are experiencing shortages and some items may be in short supply.  Many stores have managed to shift to an online presence but some smaller stores may have had to close their doors.

Many people prefer to find their sacred spaces out in nature, and many natural places aren't as easily accessible.  People around the world are finding their movements restricted, and they feel under the microscope when they do go out, not a sensation that is conductive to spiritual practice.  So, even though we may be going out alone, to a secluded place, it might not be viable for us right now.

The thing is, your faith resides in your heart.  And no matter what is going on in the world around you, people of all religions and spiritual practices have found ways to keep that flame burning.  There is an inclination to feel oppressed by your circumstances, but there is also room to rise above them.

And this is a highly emotional and stressful time, so some changes may feel impossible.  It may feel like all you can do is hang on, you may be struggling to simply make it through the day.  That is completely valid! 

The thing is...your faith is yours.  Yours to own and yours to create.  And some days that might look like simply holding space in your heart for your beliefs.  It may be clinging to the hope that things will get better.  It may be saying prayers in the dark with tears streaming down your face.  It might be lighting a candle so there is a little spark of light in your world. 

Or, you may find that devotion gives you something to hold onto.  When the world feels crazy, you may be bringing more rituals into your life.  You might be adding devotions and making offerings.  You might be working with deities you hadn't before, because now they are a presence in your life.

And you might find yourself with extra time to finally work on that project you have been wanting to do.  You might be crafting new tools, working with new divination styles, reading that pile of books that you hadn't quite gotten around to yet.

What your practice looks like, in extreme circumstances, will be as unique as you are!  What is important is that you find the ways that work for you, that you don't make excuses...because excuses and legitimate reasons are quite different!  That you look for ways to make things work instead of just listing off all the things you can't do that you wish you could.

What we do in times of scarcity shows us where our strength lies.  It shows us what the absolute core of our practice is.  It highlights the ways in which we are stronger than we thought, and gives us resources to draw upon when we might fear there are none.

And this is what we need, in these trying times!  We need to light the beacons of hope and faith and keep our personal practices strong, in whatever way fits our life.  We need to support each other, and help where we can, because everyone needs a little assistance sometimes.  And we need to keep strong in our belief that we can, and will, make it through, because that is what keeps us moving forward.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Finding space no matter the circumstances

As Pagans, we often say our home is our temple, because we don't have an outside Church building we attend.  Instead, our sacred spaces are those we personally create or find.  We might be blessed enough to have a whole room, or to have land on which we have sought out special places of our very own.  Or, we might use the spaces we have, making temporary sacred spaces as we need them.  We may have wandered the land around us, looking for those magical places that fill us with wonder and awe, in our local parks or wilderness areas.

But we don't always have access to all the places we might want to have.  Currently, many people are confined to their homes, with their entire family, and may find themselves feeling disconnected, because the ways they are used to practicing or connecting aren't available to them.

It can be hard to adjust and adapt, but it can also be necessary.  The things we do that have meaning to us, our spiritual actions, are necessary!  When you talk about being well and healthy, most people aren't just talking about our physical health anymore.  It has become common to consider out mental, emotional and spiritual health as well, because all of those things are vital to our overall well-being.

And it can be easy to overlook the spiritual, especially when there is a lot going on.  We get caught up in handling all the other more obvious things that need our attention, and before you know it, a week has passed, and then a month, and you haven't connected.

It can also be extra hard when you are sharing space with people who may not share your personal beliefs.  Finding not only space, but time, when you can slow down and connect, can be a struggle.  It can feel strange to talk about, or we may be self-conscious about what we are asking for.

Often, our fears are bigger than the reality, and though we may feel awkward asking for space, the people we are sharing our space with respect and care about us, and even when they don't quite get what we are doing, they are willing to work with us, because it is important to us. 

When asking for space, or working out what you need with the people you are sharing your space with, it is important to remember to not only be clear about what you actually need (what is important to you), but also to be mindful about how your request will effect the other people you are sharing space with.

If you have limited physical space, you may not be able to ask for a large area, or a dedicated space.  You might need to compromise, to find ways to make the space you have work for you.  Sometimes this might mean claiming a space for a specific period of time.  I sometimes retreat to the bedroom, and claim the room for an hour as I do a ritual or Sabbat.  You may want to make a sign to hang on the door, a way to remind your family that you are doing something sacred and unless it's an emergency, you are requesting to be left alone.

You can also create a sacred space just by having a few items to make an ordinary space sacred.  A comfy pillow to sit on or lean against, a candle, something lovely to drink and eat, a blanket...these things can turn a regular space into something special, and if you use them every time you step into your sacred space, even your spot on the couch can become something special, and a retreat from the world for a little while.

With children, sometimes this becomes a longer conversation, with everyone involved.  You might want to talk with your kids about boundaries and personal time and space.  You might even get them involved, and have them make a sign for their door, for when they want a bit of privacy.  And you might remind them that even though you may want some private time, you aren't going to be gone forever, and if they can learn to respect your private times, then after that you can spend time together.  It may work better for your family to give them specific rewards, especially when you first start setting up your alone time.  For example, you could explain that you are going to be having some personal time, tell them how long (and make sure you stick to it!) you wish to be left undisturbed, and then after that, plan on doing something fun together. 

If your alone time requires someone else to watch the kids, then you will want to discuss that with them as well.  Again, this is a great time to offer some give and take.  If you are asking for an hour of private, undisturbed time, then you can offer to keep the kids busy while the other person gets to do something they want to do uninterrupted. 

I also find that you don't need to be completely specific about what you are doing with your time, especially if the people you are sharing your space with have different spiritual leanings.  My husband is an atheist, so I don't go into a ton of detail about what my rituals involve (I would be happy to talk with him about it if he asked, but he doesn't have any personal interest), so normally I will just say I am going to do a ritual and leave it at that (or going to meditate or what not). 

But I know some people don't even have that luxury, and sometimes you have to be more creative with your requests.  In my family, reading is something that is requested, so is walking, so when I am visiting family and I need some space, I will often retreat to the room I am staying in with a book in my lap, or a journal, or I may go take a walk.  I may not read the book I am sitting with, it is just there to give me a reason to sit alone for a bit.

And sometimes, that little bit of space and time is all we need.  We may just want to sit and have a moment in prayer or to send some energy to someone we know is struggling.  Sometimes, we don't have any specific need, we just want to take a moment and acknowledge the sacred.  But we need to take that moment and find a way to create that space, even when we are stuck in the house, with more people than usual!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Working from a distance

With so many people staying Safe at Home, the need for distance work is at it's highest.  However, even under normal circumstances, we may feel called to do work for or with people who aren't near to us.  Being able to work from a distance may take a little more focus and sometimes preparation, but it is a highly useful skill to practice.

One of the great benefits of energy work of all kinds (and this of course includes spellwork) is that distance (and even time) isn't really a factor.  It doesn't take longer for my spell to manifest whether I am casting on myself or someone on the opposite side of the globe.  It doesn't matter how many walls, mountains or oceans are between us.  My focus and intention are the key factor, not the circumstances of the physical world.

Now, when it comes to distance work, there are basically two types:  working on someone/something or working with others.  Chances are, many of us have done distance work on a target that isn't within touching distance before.  Working with people who are far away has it's own unique challenges, but it can definitely be done!

Let's talk about working with people at a distance first.  Most of the struggles here come down to communication.  As I mentioned earlier, focus is highly important, so you want to make sure everyone is focused on the same thing.  Now, this doesn't mean that everyone has to do exactly the same actions at the same time.  You can create very powerful workings where everyone is doing things in their own way, as long as the intention is clear and everyone is working towards the same goal.

This is the easiest way to do distance work with others.  You define the goal of your working, and everyone can do their work individually.  It can be helpful to give an example or framework that people can follow, if they aren't that familiar with creating their own rituals and spells.

It is also quite common to have a few shared correspondences, things that everyone will incorporate into their working.  This makes it easier to connect together, and access that synergy that is created when multiple people work together (the sum is greater than the parts!).  Often time is one of these things, whether it is a universal time (aka everyone will do their spell at 12 UTC) or local time (everyone will do their spell as the sun sets, wherever they are).  Another great way to have this shared connection is to have one item that everyone will use (like a key or a forked stick) or to have a shared statement (it might be the main spoken part of everyone's spell, having everyone say the same words can be very powerful).

This isn't to say that you can't work collectively while each doing your own thing, it's just typically harder to find that connection without those shared elements.  One thing you can do to help create that sense of community is to have everyone share a bit (on social media or through a shared group text or email) about what they plan on doing and when, and then again sharing what they did and their experiences after. 

Time is a funny thing, and you can weave together events that happen at different times through reflection.  By having that communication, the timing becomes less important, and it's like weaving a ribbon between everyone's individual works to create a huge tapestry.

Now, if you aren't working with others but are wanting to work on a target that is farther away, the main thing you need to do is create that connection between what you are doing and your target.  While many people are already familiar with doing this for some things, they may struggle to make those connections for other workings.

When you think about work like healing or doing a reading for someone, there is often an interplay of energy between the two people involved.  You are sensing and reacting to their energy and that helps you do the work you are doing.  This can be harder for people to do, if they don't have the other person right there with them.

Many people are discovering new ways to connect with others from further away right now.  We are reaching out through video chats and online, and even though many people prefer to keep technology out of their practiced, these can be great tools for establishing that connection with the person you are working on.  If you find the technology too distracting, you can always reach out and connect before you start your actual work (kind of like taking a minute to chat with the person before you start, if you were in person) and then again afterwards.

But other people may find that being on video with the other person really helps them keep that connection going.  Just like working with them in person, you can ask questions or direct them to do things and then get their feedback on what they are experiencing.  Technology doesn't have to be excluded from our practice, and though it may feel awkward at first, you may also find that things feel smoother and more natural the more you do them.

If, however, this idea really bothers you, there are still more ways to create that connection with your subject.  Having a photograph is a classic way of focusing your intention, and if you don't have a photograph you can write their name on a piece of paper and use that.  You can also use an object that belonged to them (things like a lock of hair are very traditional here), or even an object that reminds you of them (if your friend is obsessed with rubber ducks, for example, you might use a rubber duck to represent them). 

The thing about doing this is the more personal the object you use, the easier it is to connect with a subject.  Remember, our emotions create very strong energetic resonance, and the more resonance you have, the easier it is to do what you want to do. 

At the end of the day, you can use sheer force of will and direct focus (just thinking about the subject you are working on) to have a successful spell, but using these other tools will make the whole process that much easier.  Just because we are separated from each other, doesn't mean we can't work on and with one another! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Plague is not a punishment!

I have seen a lot of really upsetting sentiments, in the past few weeks, that all circle around spirituality.  We want to understand things, especially in this time of great uncertainty, but in general, when we are faced with something so unknowable, like death, we struggle to find ways to make the world make sense.

Often this means people trying to assign meaning to an event, even if that meaning is along the lines of "spirit works in mysterious ways."  Out of all the different ways of understanding the unknowable, this is probably one of the least upsetting to me.  It implies that the divine has a reason for making things happen, including disastrous things, which also implies that the devastation was deliberate.  This is the part I have a problem with.

It's not that I feel like divinity can't have reasons for creating destruction, but it's the idea that we are using this as a justification, we are telling people who are going through something horrible that they should be okay with it...because there is some super secret reason behind it, some better purpose that means that their loved one dying or the utter loss of their way of life is somehow beneficial.

This has a side effect of bringing out the 'why me' sentiments.  If there was some greater plan, why do I need to be the one to suffer the loss?  Why did this person who I love have to be the one to take the hit?  And often, these can lead to subtle feelings of unworthiness, where you start to wonder if perhaps there is something wrong with you or you did something wrong, and that is why it happened to you.  If you had only been a bit better, a bit more holy, a bit more whatever, then maybe it wouldn't have happened to you.

The worse example of this is the idea that anytime some big disaster happens, it is a punishment.  That the sickness that is sweeping the world or the hurricane is happening because we are 'bad' people.  What I find particularly despicable about this kind of mentality is it often is accusatory.  Not everyone has been bad, but 'you people' (whatever group is being targeted by the ones who are taking a stand at morality) did or did not do things 'right'.

Normally this is followed by examples of what we need to do to be better people, and reminders that we need to start doing these things now, but also continue them in the future to ward off repeat disasters.  This can sometimes be a motivating force, it can create better habits in people...but it can also lead to shaming and moral judgement, especially when one group tries to push their own moral agenda onto other people (who may have very different ideas about what is right and wrong).

A sort of deceiving way that this can manifest is when the event itself is seen as somewhat neutral, but we the people somehow have power to entreat the divine (or nature) to 'fix' the problem.  This falls into the 'hopes and prayers' category, which I find really distasteful.  You see it quite often when people fall ill and you get these weird prayer chain letters asking for people to pray for total strangers.  Then what happens if the person doesn't recover?  Is it because not enough people prayed for them?

I have seen all of these statements in regards to the pandemic that we are faced with right now, and not only in the greater world but in the Pagan world as well.  I've seen people say that the virus was sent to send a message to people about their impact on the earth and nature, and to look at social distancing and how now that people aren't out and about all the time, things like pollution are clearing up and wild animals are returning to populated areas.  I've seen people even state that maybe humans are the actual virus (and how messed up is that mentality?).

I have even seen witches be called to cast spells to repel the virus.....because nature wants us to all be healthy and happy, so we just need to go out there and do our witching because Mother Earth doesn't want babies to die!!!  (sorry about the crazy in that last sentence, this was one viewpoint I just...I just can't)  This particular online discussion turned into a kind of debate between many of the different (and all kind of destructive) mentalities, from "Nature sent this as a way to stop us nasty humans for a bit so she can heal!" to "Nature would never want to kill babies, she is not cruel like that," to "This is all a man-made virus, and people do lab experiments on poor little animals and that is why all this is happening, because we messed around too much with Nature."

Now, I am an animist, I believe that things have spirits, and that the earth herself has a spirit.  And, I tend to view non-physical beings in much the same way that I view people...some are good, some are bad, and there is a whole rainbow in between.  People have good days and they have bad days, and sometimes we react to things without really thinking.

Here's the thing though.  Just because someone has a reason for their action, doesn't mean that I have to accept that reason.  If I know someone who thinks that I'm being cruel to my cats because I keep them indoors and don't let them live free....I don't have to let them come into my house and release my cats into the wild.  From an animistic point of view, just because nature may feel like we are overstepping our bounds, doesn't mean that I can't fight to protect myself, because I feel my life (and the lives of those I care about) has value.

And I think that assigning human morality to things like natural disasters (from weather to sickness to animal attacks) is a slippery slope.  It creates this world view where we need to do things to appease nature so she doesn't smack us down...instead of doing things because we value the earth and all the beings on her. 

Our motivation matters, and I really don't like fear based actions.  If the only reason you are doing something is because you are afraid of the punishment, then the second you think no one is watching, you stop doing it.  That's when you start making excuses like, "It's okay if I dump my trash here on the side of the road, I'm just one person, what difference would it make?" 

It also makes it tempting to shift the blame, to tell people that these horrible things are happening because THEY didn't do things the right way.  Have you ever noticed that most of the time when the blame is getting shifted around, it's always to other people?  Even when it's worded as 'we' or people in general, if you actually read, the person speaking is never taking blame for whatever actions they say is causing things.

The other real danger with making these kind of moral motivations to disasters is they almost always downplay the actual, immediate actions you can take to protect yourself.  The people who are shifting blame aren't reminding people to wash their hands and social distance, they are saying we shouldn't do animal testing or drive so many cars.  When hurricanes are coming, you shouldn't just pray, you need to also prepare your house (or evacuate)....whatever necessary precautions you need to take to protect yourself and loved ones.

We live in a crazy, chaotic world, and sometimes horrible things happen.  Making disasters moral repercussions is dangerous on many levels.  It downplays actual, practical advice and actions people can take to protect themselves and limit the damage going forward.  It means people are doing things for the wrong reasons, which makes them more likely to not actually do what they should be doing.  And it makes people feel like they are somehow at fault, for either doing or not doing something, because someone else is telling them that they were to blame.

Whatever the motivations of nature, when disaster hits, we need to stay focused on what we can do, and not on assigning blame.  Look for what you can do, right now, in this moment, to not only keep yourself safe, but to help protect everyone on the planet, because we are all in this together.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Dealing with dark times...

There is no denying it, life has taken a drastic turn for many people around the globe.  The world we have known and lived in all our lives has changed, and pretty much everyone is having to adjust.  Our daily routines have been altered and many people are struggling with new restrictions on top of fear and uncertainty.

And this is a time when our spiritual beliefs and practices really shine.  As Pagans and witches I think we are blessed to have many tools at our disposal for dealing with tough times, and doing it mostly on our own.  We may get together for gatherings or rituals, be we also practice on our own, and we practice in our home.  Our connection to the things we believe in and work with isn't diminished by isolation and being home bound.

There is so much we can do, that is helpful in these times, and making time for practice is something that is even more important than usual.  No matter what you are struggling with, there are things you can do to help yourself, and by helping yourself you in turn help those around you.  Being able to keep your calm and presence in a time like this is something that ripples outward and the benefits reach beyond even what you are aware of.

There is so much information flying around, and so many things to worry about, and one thing I am finding extremely helpful right now is journaling.  I am an anxious person, and there are always a million thoughts in my head.  The not-so-helpful ones fly about and keep coming back until I am just thinking them over and over.  Getting them outside my head gives me a measure of peace. 

But I don't necessarily want to be sharing all my crazy thoughts with the world.  Crazy breeds crazy, and while it is good to vent with other people from time to time (and healthy!), doing nothing but sharing fears and worries means that you are just passing them back and forth....when you get rid of yours, you give them to someone else, and you take some from another person.

With my journal, I have given myself permission to not only write down what is going on and how I feel about it, but also every crazy, worried, anxious, fearful thought in my head.  I write them out and put them to rest in my journal.  And I have found that when I do this, I don't feel as big a need to share those thoughts with other people.

What I do share with other people is hope.  I think that it is really vital for people who have hope to share it.  I love divination, I love tarot decks, and normally I'm all about the dark and spooky.  For me, the darkness is comforting.  But I also have a few very encouraging, "all light" kind of decks.  So, I've been using those as a way to share a bit of hope and light with people. 

It's different from regular divination.  I'm not asking for information or an update on what's going on.   Instead, I'm specifically asking for something to inspire me for the day.  You can absolutely do this with a regular deck, but I feel like some of the less positive cards can be hard for people to see as truly good (this really isn't about finding silver linings to the bad, it's about seeing something that is pure and beautiful and wonderful).  If you don't have a deck that is positive focused, you can absolutely sort out the best and most amazing cards from one of your normal decks and use it to pull an inspiration card!

This is also a great time to turn to meditation.  There are SO many different types of meditation, and they all bring benefits, especially when you are stressed and cooped up.  One of the big things to remember with meditation, is it's the journey that is important, not the destination.  If you sit to meditate, and your mind is racing all over, and you have a kid begging for a snack or your spouse trying to talk to you, you are still getting benefits! 

One of my favorite ways to meditate is to embrace the chaos.  I normally sit and meditate in the morning, and often there were distractions.  There would be people talking to me, or videos playing, all kinds of things to pull my attention away.  Instead of trying to distance myself from it all, I would focus on different things.  I would become aware of the sounds I was hearing, letting my attention notice all he different things.  Think of it like cataloguing the noises.

If you have little ones home, and want to include them in the meditation (which can be very helpful for everyone's calm!), then focusing on the breath is a great way to help them.  Depending on how old they are, you can have them feel how breathing in feels versus breathing out.  When I was first learning, my teacher (in grade school) said to think of the mind like a garden.  When I breathed out, I should picture weeds (the bad thoughts) getting blown away, and when I breathed in, I pictured the flowers (the good thoughts) unfolding.  You can also do this with just colors, so have them think of a color that represents unpleasant thoughts and one for their happy thoughts.  When they breath out, they can imagine it like breathing out a cloud of colored mist (in the bad color), and then when they breathe in, they can see the good colored mist filling their whole body.

I feel like this is a great time to embrace a gratitude and prayer practice.  When we are experiencing hard times, it can be easy to focus on the negatives.  We feel constrained, so we think about all the things we can't do.  We worry that we won't have enough supplies or that people we care about will get sick.  Making a daily (or more!) practice of laying out an offering, and giving thanks, can help bring us back into a place of gratitude.

The offerings you lay out can be as simple as your words.  You might pour a glass of clean water and offer it to the spirits of the land you live on, thanking them for giving you a safe place to stay.  You might offer up service, taking time to clean something in your house, thanking your home for protecting you and your family.

What I find most important is really naming things you are grateful for.  Be specific!  Give thanks for the food you do have, for the time to spend with family, for the internet through which you can still talk to people.  Try to name as many things as you possibly can.  If you have children and they are upset about the things they can't do, get them involved too.  Make it a game, to see who can name the most things to be thankful for! 

Protection work is very useful now as well.  We are reminded to take extra precautions and clean more thoroughly, and when we clean we can cleanse.  Whenever someone in my house is sick or feeling upset, I always feel a need to cleanse, to get that energy moving and cleared out of the house.  As we practice things like social distancing, we can also practice more energetic protections, helping to guard our house and family against stress and worry.  If you have people who still need to go out for their job, having protections in place to help them leave those stresses outside can be very helpful.

When I cleanse, I like to clear a room first, so I'll often bring in some incense and bless the room, casting out the old energy, and filling the room with an appropriate energy, based on what room it is (so bedrooms is often calm and rest, living room is joy and peace, dining room and kitchen is nourishment, bathroom is cleansing).  Then I'll ward the doors and windows, to help keep undesired energy from coming in.

Along with journaling to get thoughts out of your head, banishing them is another thing that you can do.  Begin by either writing or drawing out what you are feeling.  I like drawing, because it's not like drawing a picture of something.  You just grab crayons, colored pencils or paint and put color on the page.  You might scribble or you might draw things, either way works!  If you want to write, don't worry about your handwriting or try to think too hard, just write as fast as you can, whatever comes to doesn't have to make sense.  Think of it as purging out your emotions on the page.  Then you can tear it up, burn it, bury it....get rid of it! 

Even though it feels like times are dark, there is a lot we can do to nurture the light in our lives....and to shine light for other people, so they can become their own light too.  Pay attention to where your thoughts are going, and practice ways to direct them to where you want them to be.  Take little actions, to protect yourself and your family.  And keep hope alive, for that is how we fight against the darkness!