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 mind...it 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!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Fakelore


I first came upon the term fakelore when looking at information about All Snakes Day.  One of the articles I read listed the part of the story of Saint Patrick, where he 'drove all the snakes from Ireland' as fakelore.  It was an interesting word, so I did a bit of digging. 

Fakelore is when someone creates a story and presents it as if it were actual folklore.  So, there is deliberate deception going on here.  It isn't the same as when someone creates a modern or alternative retelling of a folklore story (and presents it as their own creation or interpretation of the lore).  Fakelore is specifically when someone creates something and tells everyone it's an actual, historical story or truth. 

In a lot of ways, Fakelore reminds me of Cultural Appropriation (or at least my take on it).  I think that sharing and experiencing cultures you are not from is a wonderful thing.  I love seeing how other people do things.  Appropriation comes in when you try to take something that isn't offered or claim that someone else's practice is actually yours, and that's not cool.

Likewise, I adore retellings of lore!  I love interesting twists on it.  Give me all your stories about Gods in Space or Genderbent folklore or that one obscure event that didn't have much lore and you've written an Epic Story about it!  I find all of these really cool and creative and I love when people do this.

What isn't cool is when people have their own interpretations of lore and try to convince everyone else it's historically accurate.  And sometimes UPG ends up very close to this line...when it doesn't just cross right over it.

UPG is tricky.  By it's nature, UPG is experiences that are true...to you.  I won't discount anyone's personal experiences with things, but I also don't think that my visions and experiences with my Gods are the Truth and don't apply to everyone.  I have my perspective, and it is definitely skewed from where I am standing. 

The problem I find is that some people take their UPG and try to claim that "This is the way things actually were, back in the day!!!  I had this vision, so I KNOW....this is what really went down."  And I think this is problematic on many levels.  Firstly, in today's day of self-publishing, it is very easy for someone to write a book or publish a website and put their UPG out in the world....presenting it as actual lore.

And sadly a lot of people don't do their due diligence, they don't look at sources and they just take any printed (or web-published) word at face value.  And these types of fakelore end up becoming a kind of urban legend.  They worm their way into the accepted lore and become very real to many people.

The thing is, these stories and experiences can have actual value, as long as we remember that they are created and not historic.  If you think about most folklore, it may be based on some physical occurrences, but folklore is literally the stories of the people of the day.  So the stories we create today, are our own version of folklore.  And stories can have tremendous impact in how we understand and relate to our world.

To go back to the idea of driving the snakes from Ireland for a moment, the reason this isn't fakelore is because it is more of a parable.  It was a symbolic story where the 'snakes' were representations of Pagans, and so it was a church story told to illustrate how powerful the church is.  A local hero, Saint Patrick, was given the victory, and his story was built to show how Christianity was dominant.

What I find really interesting about modern folklore is that it's like hearing about your best friend from their parent or from someone who knew them as a child.  We all have different sides, and sometimes the picture you get when hearing some of these alternative perspectives really makes you think.  It lets you see  the person in a new way.

The thing to keep in mind is that the teller always has their slant.  If I was mean to someone as a child, maybe even unintentionally, they may start to think that I am a horrible person, and their memories of me will always be in the worst light.  If someone had a crush on me, their stories might be completely rose-colored.  If someone were to listen to both of those stories, they might not be able to reconcile either of them with their experiences of me.

And sometimes that can be really interesting to think about as well.  I have read some very different takes on lore, where people have vastly different experiences than I do with certain deities.  A deity that I find very scholarly is described as a testosterone driven violence fiend.  Or one that I think is a bit of a dodgy personality someone else thinks is a perfect father figure. 

When the stories differ so greatly, I personally find it actually helps me remember things better.  I remember both versions because the contrast between them is so great.  So reading many perspectives of the same story helps me cement different details into my mind.  I can feel which ones resonate with me, and which don't.  It also lets me understand where other people are coming from, so when they talk about a story and take a different approach to it than I do, I have references to compare to.

Stories are such great tools for expanding our awareness, and whether they are historically rooted or not, they can bring great value to our practice.  But let's be honest, let's see fakelore for what it is, and appreciate it for what it brings us instead of thinking less of it because it wasn't written 'back in the day'.  And if you have a new twist on folklore you want to share, or some UPG, own it!  Be proud of your experiences, your perspective, and don't try to claim it is anything other than what it is....yours.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Fighting fear




 We are poised at an interesting place in history, where social media has become the biggest source of news for many people.  And in the shadow of the looming pandemic, this has become a terrifying place in a lot of ways, because the messages we are seeing are focused on creating a state of fear and heightening danger.  The world feels very small and scary all at the same time.

There is a lot going on, and I am absolutely not trying to downplay the seriousness of the virus that is spreading across the globe.  However, I think that our modern news outlets haven't quite adjusted properly to the new state of global connectedness.  They are treating this as any other situation, and reporting the news the way they always do, and I believe it's creating more of a panic than expected.

 I remember a lot of other scares, ones that were both more local and more worldwide.  I remember watching the news on TV for the Oklahoma City bombing.  This was the first time where I became aware of how much our news focuses on shock factor and fear mongering.  I watched the news for three days, and the same headline, the same video footage, the same story was repeated over and over again.  It would be doled out in five minute doses, rehashing the things they had already told you, but if you "stayed tuned, more updates would come."  Around the third day I just stopped watching, because nothing new was actually coming.

I remember with SARS, not only were they repeating the same old (out of proportion) news, but they were also giving some really bad advice.  The one that sticks in my mind was suggesting that people go to the store, buy plastic sheeting and duct tape, and seal off all their windows (and doors) in their house....to protect them.  Which is really crazy advice, to the point of ridiculousness...except that it gave people things to do and kept them home (where they weren't going to fall prey to mob mentality and run rampage).


I am seeing some similar crazy ideas this time around, and now it is complicated by not only news outlets reporting sensational headlines (because it's all about getting those sales, getting those clicks, they need you to follow their link or watch their show), but also we have social media influences who are saying things that people are taking as Truth.  Insane things like how drinking bleach or doing cocaine will protect you from the virus (don't do either....they don't work....just don't).

But our internet culture means that if someone 'famous' (even internet famous, anyone with lots of followers) posts something, it will get shared countless times in minutes, and will be everywhere.  People are already scared because they are reading all these scary headlines on 'news' sites that they feel they can trust, and now they are hearing about something they can do, and even though it sounds crazy, it makes them feel in control.

It is more important than ever to take a step back, to take a breath, to really examine what we are reading and hearing and try to weed the truth out of the rumors and headlines.  The pandemic is real, there is a virus spreading, but many of the statistics and 'facts' that are being spread just aren't accurate. 

A very real danger is that headlines are being quoted without the full article being read.  Headlines are designed to be click-bait.  They are pretty much the definition of click-bait.  They are created to be SO sensational that you have to know more.  But the problem today is that many people don't actually read the articles (some of which really disprove their own headline...or are obviously so devoid of facts that they are easy to discount), they just click like and share.

I think another issue we have, in our modern world of excess, is we seem to think that if one is good then a hundred must be better.  We take decent advice and we turn it into something so overdone that it becomes dangerous.

We see places that are in the middle of a full blown outbreak, and we see people wearing masks, so everyone runs out and buys boxes and boxes of masks.  A self-quarantine of two to three weeks is suggested IF you are symptomatic, and people run out and buy cases of 'staples' like toilet paper and bottled water.  People are reminded to wash their hands, and people buy so many cleaners that stores run out.

But amidst all of this panic, people forget that overreacting can actually make you more susceptible.  Letting yourself get worked up, super anxious or full of fear, causes excess stress which weakens your immune system. 

Fear and anxiety are definitely parts of our shadow that we often find ourselves faced with.  There are always new fears and new worries to tackle, and it can be hard to not be concerned, especially as so much is still unknown.  But at some point you have to do what you can and then take the rest on faith.

Of course, everyone should take reasonable precautions!  But also do your research, and see what is helpful and what is over doing it.  And these things are different based on your personal circumstances.  Where you live, who you live with, your medical history...all these things effect how careful you need to be. 

Now is a perfect time to spend some extra time working on your fears.  One thing I've loved seeing recently are all the handwashing memes, where it gives 'alternative things to say/sing while you wash your hands for 20 seconds'.  There is a really great quote, from Dune, called the Fear Litany, which I really like and find useful.  I have also loved seeing quotes from movies as well as several lists of song lyrics that can be used. 

What I find particularly magical about this is it is a combination of both a practical thing (the physical washing of your hands), and a mental reminder (a chant to focus your thoughts as you wash).  A good number of the ones I have seen have been focused on being strong, on not giving in to fear and panic, and they really do work well to fight against the panic many people are feeling.

I also think it's a good time to be reminded that many of the things we are doing now, in the middle of this pandemic, are things we should be doing all the time.  We should be washing our hands and taking care of ourselves so that we are healthy and strong.  We should be mindful when we feel we might be sick, about trying our best to not spread that to other people (whether that means staying home if we are able, wearing a mask, not touching things or what have you).

So, before you get caught up in all the social media hype, look into things.  Read articles and watch videos (from actual doctors or health organizations, don't take your medical advice from influencers!), and think about what suggestions are reasonable and what aren't (remember, don't drink bleach or do cocaine!).  Shore up on your self-care, and think about what you might be doing now that you would benefit from during non-emergency times as well. 

It is often things like this, global experiences, that make us realize how small the world is.  We are all in this together, and the best way to make it through it is by doing what is good for us but also what is good for everyone.  Because this is a definite reminder that other people's well-being effects yours!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Reframe: More light!


A lot of us, myself included, tend to think about Daylight Savings time as just another hassle...an antiquated practice that doesn't fit with our modern lifestyle.  We are no longer as bound by the sun, we have lights that keep our cities lit up into the wee hours of the morning when the sun rises, and darkness doesn't constrain us. 

And it can be tedious to remember what day the clocks change.  We adjust our lives and we don't really see the benefit.  Those first few days are often a bit of a shock, as the clock tells us it's a certain time, but our brain tells us that "Yesterday it was dark at this time, but today it is light...something's not right here!"

Practically speaking, we may miss the benefits of daylight savings time, but I think we can reframe this practice to be something that fits better with our acknowledgement of the seasons and the turning wheel.  Ultimately, Daylight Savings time was about recentering our days on the light, so that in our daily lives we saw more light.

Sure, there were many logistical and financial reasons for the change, but on a very primal level it was about keeping the light in the center of our days.  We are in spring time now, so we are leaving the darker part of the year and really opening up and embracing brighter days, and I think that Daylight Savings is a great moment to stop and recognize the power of light in our lives.

Many people are effected by the lowered light in the winter.  Not only is the sun not up as much, but it is often cold (and possibly weathery), so people stay inside more and are more bundled up.  We aren't getting as much sunlight, and this has physical, biological effects on us.  Many people also struggle emotionally with the lowered light, and winter can be a dark place because of it, on many levels.

Our ancestors were very concerned with the amount of light, and the question of whether or not the sun would rise in the morning was of vital importance to them.  Of course, for all of us, if the sun didn't rise in the morning that would be catastrophic, but we now know that such an event is unlikely.  We don't watch the sun go down at night and worry about whether or not there will be a dawn.  For us, even though the amount of sunlight in a day may fluctuate, we take for granted that it will be there.

Choosing to think about Daylight Savings time in a different way allows us to focus on the positive, instead of the negative.  So many people are in a funk for the week surrounding Daylight Savings time, because they are building it up to such a huge thing in their head, then continuing to let it effect them for days after the change has taken place.

If we instead think about it as a way to invite more light into our lives, it becomes and opportunity to not only reframe this one particular event, but also to start looking for other places in our lives where we might be looking at the negative side of things. 

It is easy to get caught up in the negative things that influence us.  They disrupt our lives, they make things harder, and they throw us off balance.  But if we allow these occurrences to overwhelm us, to throw us into a negative emotional spiral, we loose control.  We no longer are able to think clearly, and we are now stuck in this emotional response loop, where we tend to react with a knee-jerk emotional lashing out, which almost never has the desired effect, and in fact normally sinks us deeper into an undesired situation.  It's the kind of thing that feeds on itself and just makes things worse.

But, we can choose to reframe, to deliberately look for the light in any situation, to seek out what is working instead of focusing on what isn't.  Sometimes, to find the light, we have to take a step away, we have to take a breath, and we have to go inside ourselves instead of staying stuck in the outside situation.  It takes work, and practice, but when we are able to do it, we can respond to things in a thoughtful, calm manner.  The light that we found helps us keep our perspective and stay balanced.

It may seem like a little thing, but starting with Daylight Savings time and thinking about it not as a disruption of our life or a hassle, but instead a celebration of the returning light, helps us start to build those habits of reframing.  We may also choose to take this day to seek out other places where we can look for the light, to actively work on being better.

So, before you start grumbling about changing your clocks, take a breath, and embrace more light in our days, and use that light to find more places to seek the positive!  Look for the reframe, whenever you can, and step out of those negative feedback spirals. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Time correction


Time, as an exact thing, is a human creation.  Nature and the world around us has timing, but it doesn't have time.  Time helps us communicate and work together, and in order to all be on the same page we need to have a common language and system for measuring time.  But, in order to make it neat and tidy, we have found that, once every four years, we need to make an adjustment, we need to correct our time.

On a Leap Year, we add a whole new day, we fix the error in our timing, in order to bring everything back into sync.  This is a great time to bring other areas of our lives into sync, but also an energy we can tap into during the rest of the year.

There are so many different cycles we live through, whether it is the week, month, moon, seasonal, work week, school year...our life is a never-ending series of cycles.  And sometimes things will throw those off kilter.  I remember when I was in school, whenever we had to miss a day, the whole rest of the week felt like scrambling.  Today, I have my personal life set so I do certain things on certain days, and when I have to adjust that I feel very off-balance.

Setting our time back into sync can be as simple as making a conscious effort to either add or remove days.  When we add days, it's like Leap year, we are taking the day and setting it outside of time.  Often, we treat holidays like this.  They become these little capsules of time that don't follow the normal rules.

Think about holidays as a child....you often got fancy foods, you might have a different bedtime, or you might be allowed to skip your chores.  As adults, we often continue these trends.  When we get an extra day off, like for a holiday, we relish that time, and all bets are off.  We set it aside and really just give ourselves that gift of time.  It becomes time to catch up...not on things we 'should' be doing, but on things we wish we had time for.

I don't know how many times I have wished for extra hours in the day, and I am sure I am not alone.  We have so much we want to do, and often the fun things are pushed to the back of the list.  We say we'll get around to them when we have time, or when everything else is done.  And that time never comes.

So sometimes, we may need to make a conscious choice to give ourselves a day.  And then treat that day like a holiday from our regular duties.  Of course you will still want to make sure everyone is fed and the absolutely necessary stuff gets taken care of, but think about ways in which you can make even those duties fun.  You have to eat dinner, but you can make fun snacky foods or maybe get takeout, or pick your favorite frozen meal so you don't have to cook.  By setting the day 'outside of time' you are acknowledging that it is special and that it's okay to goof off.  And sometimes, that is exactly what we need.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, sometimes we need to make the mental adjustment to remove days.  My days are normally pretty free, but I do have days where I'm just not home.  I might have a lot of errands to run, or maybe I am going to an event.  Pretty much, if I am only going to be home for a few hours, I consider the day a null.  I find a way to reassign or just flat out cancel the normal stuff I would do, so I don't feel compelled to cram all the normal stuff into those few hours.

Some things are easy to put off.  I clean twice a week, but we can get by with once a week.  So if I can't clean the day before/after, then I just nix one of the cleanings (or do a partial, I might run a vacuum but not sweep or dust).  I have a decent little list of daily stuff that I do, and on null days most of that list gets scrapped. 

The big thing here is to do it deliberately, and to go into the day knowing it's going to be a null day.  Getting behind, being rushed, and then realizing you just simply can't do a thing isn't the same.  Because you will be thinking about it and it will be weighing on you.

 I also find that time correction may become necessary for regular routines, when things happen.  When we build up a habit, we want to keep that momentum running.  We might feel guilty for taking days off, or for breaking our own rules.  But sometimes, taking breaks can be what helps us keep going in the long run.

The immediate answer that comes to mind is cheat days on a diet.  Now there are two ways to approach cheat days, one is healthy, the other...not so much.  If you plan on a cheat day, and you treat it simply as a day 'outside of time' so your normal rules don't apply, then you can enjoy that day without guilt.  This is a great thing to do if you maybe have a friend's party to go to or your partner is taking you out for a special occasion.  You may not want to be thinking about the diet, you just want to enjoy the night, to appreciate that special time. 

The bad way is when you make a mistake (because we all do), and you cave into your impulses and you get that piece of cake...then say "Oh, well, since I'm now on a cheat day I might as well have half a dozen donuts, some cookies and this whole bag of chips...it's okay, it's a cheat day."  Because you didn't plan on the cheat day, and it wasn't done deliberately it becomes a guilty thing.  Plus you are over indulging, and almost trying to make up for all the restrictions you normally follow.  It's like if you were trying to set aside a dollar every day to save up for a big purchase you wanted, but you keep giving in to temptation and saying "Oh, it's just one purchase..." but buying something that costs more than you saved all week...you never actually save up enough for what you wanted.

 Letting go of days (or taking days off) can be very hard, so you might want to create a specific ritual to help you get in the right mindset (and not let these correction days get out of hand).  I do morning planning, so when I know I have a day that needs adjusting from  my normal routine, I can literally put that down in my planner, and schedule the off day.  Also, if it is something I know about ahead of time, I can plan around it...but even if it's a last minute thing, I can use my planner to shift tasks that absolutely need done, so that I can actually relax into the day.

But even if you don't have a regular planning practice, you can create a ritual or change something specific at the start of the day, to make it a conscious choice.  If you are taking a day off, maybe you don't even get dressed, but stay all day in your pajamas.  If it is a day you have to let go of, perhaps you plan on grabbing coffee and breakfast on your way to your first thing, instead of having to take even more time to do it at home (or you prepare something the night before, so all you have to do is grab it and go).

I personally love the phrase 'time out of time'.  I think of ritual time that way, as it doesn't quite fit in the normal flow of time.  I consider off days to be time out of time, as if they aren't quite real, and being able to step into that mindset may require a bit of ritual.  Consider lighting a candle and taking your watch (or phone if you really want to be ambitious!) and setting it on your altar...for the rest of the day. 

Calling upon the energy of Leap Day can also help you make that mental shift, so that you are able to adjust the time in your head.  And that is the most important thing.  Once you get your head in the right place, the rest will follow.  So, as we approach Leap Day this Leap Year, think about places in your life where you might need to correct your time...and plan on doing it!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Party with meaning!


Who doesn't love a good party?  Pretty much every group I've been  a part of, that does any kind of communal gathering, enjoys having a good time.  It's part of the reason why we gather.  And our Sabbats and celebrations are often a cause to gather, to have good food, to share company, to sing and dance, and to have a good time....pretty much a party!

And I'm all about getting my party on!  But I think we need to make sure that the meaning of what we are celebrating doesn't get lost.  One of the biggest parties around is Mardi Gras.  It's famous across the globe and people travel from all over to take part.  But I bet most people who join in the celebrations don't know what they are celebrating...they are just there for the party.

There are a few stereotypes about Pagans that are related to mindless partying.  In the early days (especially when talking about Wiccan covens), the rumor was it was all just an excuse to have an orgy.  With Heathen groups, it's that everything is all about getting drunk (and possibly playing with weapons).  With some of the earth-centric religions, some people think it's just an excuse to get high.

And I think all of those are really dangerous stereotypes.  I have no problem with sex, alcohol, or the drugs most commonly used for religious reasons, but if people think that our whole religion is based on using faith as a reason to be able to overindulge, that is a problem.  We are already fighting for legitimacy with people who don't want to accept what we do, and if they think it's all a smoke screen for socially unacceptable behavior, that just makes the struggle for acceptance that much harder.

But I also think it's dangerous on the inside.  If we start letting the party aspects of gatherings take over, and we loose the ritual aspect, we are cheating ourselves out of a deeper connection, both with ourselves and our faith.  It's like people who go to a religious service, but spend the whole time on their phone or daydreaming instead of taking part...why even go?

Historically speaking, a lot of festivals had a very party vibe, but they were partying with a purpose.  The night might start with a reminder of why the festival was taking place, and then people would actually start the celebrating.  I think this is a really good way to approach celebrations.

Having a clear line between the ritual part of an evening and the social part is also a nice way to handle things.  If you are having a gathering for a specific purpose, but also know that people will hang out and socialize afterwards, then making that boundary clear helps keep everyone in the right headspace.  I definitely prefer if drinking doesn't start until after the ritual (if the ritual involves drinking, that is fine, but don't be chugging down beers while waiting for ritual to start).

I also feel like if people get too deep into the party mindset, it can be hard to pull back out of that.  Joking, laughing and making irreverent comments is awesome when just hanging out, but not very appropriate for most rituals.  I don't feel like ritual needs to be super serious, but there is a weight to it that needs to be respected.  Being deliberately sarcastic can make the experience awkward for other people.

I find that making an announcement, about the start of ritual, is very helpful, as is having a transition activity.  We tend to smudge and bless people as they enter circle.  This not only helps everyone get in the right mindset, it also controls how people enter the circle.  It turns it from a mob moving to a procession.  Sometimes we will chant as we enter circle, which can help as well, especially when it's an easy chant to follow along, it gives people something to do and focus on while they wait on everyone to be in circle, so there isn't restlessness and a temptation to start chatting. 

Likewise, at the end of ritual, we normally make a clear statement that ritual is over and the feast and celebration is to begin.  Food is a great way to bridge the gap after ritual.  It gets everyone moving, gives them something to talk about (especially great if not everyone knows everyone else), and even allows for more shy people to ease into conversations (because they can be busy with the eating and just listen in for a bit without feeling out of place).

Normally, celebrations take off after everyone has eaten.  People are refreshed and ready to dive into conversations or break out the instruments and chant or dance.  Having shared food brings people together and often the conversations follow the theme of the ritual.  We will socialize, but there is that connection, remembering what the reason was for the gathering.

And I think that's the real important part.  You can have a wonderful party, you can relax and get wild, and still honor the root of the celebration.  Having that time for a more pointed and serious ritual at the start helps set the mood.  It flavors the rest of the gathering, and without effort people are drawn back to that theme. 

Many times, we gather because we are more solitary in our daily practices.  The coven structure isn't the predominant form of Paganism anymore, but we still crave to be with people who honor similar things.  We crave that connection, and through celebrations we can get together and enjoy both a beautiful moment of ritual and then the camaraderie of like-minded people.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Mental care is self care!


So, it's become sort of a tradition of mine, to broaden the definition of love as we approach Valentine's day.  I have talked about self care before, but I specifically want to talk about mental health in regards to self care and Paganism.

Firstly though, I want to acknowledge that everyone goes through mental issues, whether they are small and temporary or huge and permanent.  Whether they are diagnosed, self-diagnosed or unknown.  Mental health, in many ways, is like physical health, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and maintaining your mental health is a journey.  Your journey might include trained professionals, regular practice, friends, family, support groups or you may be traveling alone, but we all travel this road.

I have seen people say that you shouldn't practice if you aren't healthy, especially mentally, and this is one of the most harmful things that I think someone could say.  I want to talk about this from two different sides, the spiritual and the magical.

On the spiritual side, I think that our faith and religious practices often are a great boon to our mental health.  When we are struggling, we often turn to things outside ourselves for strength.  Knowing that the universe (the Gods, Spirit, Divinity...however you recognize it) is rooting for you can see you through very dark times. 

I also think that we often find a special community through our faith.  We find others who share the same beliefs (either in part or in whole), and they understand us in ways that other people can't.  We speak a common language, and when you need words of encouragement, they know what to say to help you. 

Now, many Pagans faith practice includes things that might be hard to do if you are in a dark or hard place.  And because we often practice alone (in the sense that we aren't going to a church and attending a service hosted by someone else, but are often in charge of our own rituals and practices), this can become a struggle where we feel like we are not being 'good' Pagans or that maybe we are letting our Gods down.

I personally feel that the Gods know when we are unable to do things versus when we are just being lazy and not wanting to put for the effort.  I also think that making allowances and doing what we are able to do takes a special kind of strength, and this is something that is recognized.  We may have to adjust our expectations, and find new ways of doing things, but we are not bad Pagans because we can't practice the way everyone else does (honestly there is no standard to be held up against, everyone's practice is what works for them, so you do you!)

On a magical side, there is some reasoning behind the concept that you shouldn't practice when you aren't well...however the flip side to that is sometimes the best time to practice is when you are in the thick of something.  Also, if you are struggling with a chronic condition, you may judge your days in different shades, and 'functioning' may be one of your better days. 

I personally find that, for me, when I am feeling particularly bad, giving myself something to do helps.  I will almost always choose 'easy' things, stuff that is more light and simple, but also fun.  Chanting is a big one for me, chanting is something I turn to when I am feeling poorly, and it helps a lot that I can pick chants that counteract what I am feeling!  But also something simple like checking in with my altar, maybe moving some stuff around, picking a new backdrop for my computer..things that don't take a lot of effort, but have meaning.  Sometimes it's as simple as taking a moment to sit and stare at the sky.

I also talk mostly about solitary practice, but if you work with a group or are attending a group function, and you have an issue that you are worried about or are struggling with, please mention it!  Depending on how well you know the group, you might want to bring one of the organizers aside, or you might speak in more vague terms.  It might even be as simple as asking if there is a quiet place where you can get a minute alone if necessary.  Or asking if certain topics are going to be explored that you aren't comfortable with (many people struggle deeply with certain things, and some rituals might be problematic...knowing ahead of time so you can decide if you need to opt out can be very helpful).

Sometimes, we still treat mental health issues as if they aren't as valid as physical ones (and we still sometimes don't treat physical issues with as much care as they deserve), but I think this is a conversation that needs to happen.  It is important for our Pagan spaces to be safe spaces, and this means for mental health as well as physical health.  I think that, as Pagans, we have so many lovely tools for working with our mental health, both on our own and in groups, and it is important to respect the process that people are going through, your Self especially!

No one knows your mind and mental state as well as you do.  Never let anyone shame you for feeling the way you do, or for doing things in a way that works for you.  And as we celebrate love this Valentine's Day, remember to shine some of that love back at yourself, wherever you may be and however you may be feeling on any given day....you are worthy and you are loved!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Is it bad luck...or?



We all go through times where it seems like nothing is working for us.  We drop things, we get hurt, we loose stuff, it rains, there are a million things a day that could go 'wrong', and when too many start to add up, we may wonder, are we just going through some bad luck, or is something else going on here?

It is inevitable that someone will bring up being cursed.  Especially once you accept the existence of magic and spiritual energy, the idea that someone else has created these circumstances in your life isn't that far fetched.  And it is absolutely possible that someone could have cursed you.  But what you really have to ask yourself is how probable is it?

First though, I want to talk about something else that could be seen as a cause for bad luck.  Now, you may or may not know my thoughts on Karma, but many people believe that 'what you do comes back to you' in one form or another.  Sometimes this sentiment is extended through multiple lifetimes, so things that happen to you in this life might be ripples from another life.

Though I am not a fan or follower of this idea, I'm going to play Devil's advocate for a minute here.  Let's say that the things that are happening to you are some kind of energetic reaction, and that sometime (in this life or another) you did something and now that action is swinging back towards you.

Think about this energy as a pendulum.  You pushed it, it swung out, and now it's coming back towards you.  There are several things you can do about it:  you can step aside and avoid it, you can redirect the energy, you can brace and grab the pendulum....or you can be caught totally unaware and get smacked in the back of the head with it.

Now, I tend to think that avoidance is just a temporary measure.  Let's say you dodge out of the way of the pendulum, so it swings past you.  But then, what does a pendulum do?  It reaches the end of it's arc and swings back.  So you will have to keep dodging, keep figuring out some way to avoid that energy until enough time has passed and it is depleted.

A similar thing happens if you redirect it.  You push it in another direction, but it will come right back.  And, because you have simply reacted to an incoming threat, you may not even be paying attention to where you are shoving it, so you might create a new ripple effect by trying to deflect it.

Obviously we don't want to get caught unawares (though that is often how this whole thing starts), so we are left with bracing and grabbing it.  It's kind of like catching a ball, if you are prepared, there is some impact, but you can absorb most of it, and then you have the ball (or pendulum). 

Now, remember, we were talking about Karma, so the base of the idea is that this energy was something you sent out.  Being able to brace and catch it implies owning up to what you did (and possibly taking action to help correct the initial imbalance).

Of course Karma isn't the only reason why you might be having bad luck.  Sometimes we are the direct cause of our 'bad luck', but we can't see it.  It can sometimes be hard to see our own faults, or to see clearly when we are in a bad place.  If we are exhausted, we may be more clumsy than usual, and being that tired also often means we don't think right, so it just seems like we are having a string of bad luck, but really we are so tired we aren't functioning properly.

A very common type of bad luck is relationship bad luck.  I think we have all had a friend who complains constantly that they have the 'worst luck when dating', and they are absolutely convinced that no matter who they go out with it will end badly.  But what they can't see is that they are picking the exact same type of person, and that is what is leading to the bad relationships.  This type of bad luck is often very hard to see from the inside, because your feelings cloud your judgement.  It can be hard to trust your friends over your heart, but when they keep pointing out the same thing, it may be time to listen.

Sometimes our bad luck is a lack of proper planning.  This often happens in regards to money issues.  When someone doesn't plan for the unexpected, but instead spends all their money all the time, then gets hit with something unusual, and they say it's 'just their luck' that it happened a week before payday.  But they don't change anything after that experience, and it happens again and again, and it isn't just luck anymore, it's a failure to adjust and plan.

Now, like I said at the start, it is possible that you are actually cursed.  People come in all kinds, and there are nice people and nasty people.  This is true in the magical community as well.  Just like there are Trolls on the internet who don't care who they hurt, as long as they are hurting someone, there are people who will curse anyone, for any slight.  There are also people who let their emotions run away with them, and will curse you in the height of passion, because they got upset and acted before they stopped to think.

There are lots of ways to protect yourself!  Of course regular cleansing and shielding help a lot, but there are also protections you can cast on your property to help ward off any bad energy sent your way.  A very common method is to place (often bury) something at the four corners of your property, as a form of protection.  This might be protective talismans, witch bottles, crystals or whatever you prefer to use for protection. 

My personal favorite specifically for curses or other malignant, directed energy is mirror protections.  You might bless and charge a mirror to protect you from curses.  I use a small, pocket mirror, and I have placed a protection sigil in it, so the sigil is reflected in the mirror when it's closed (this way it protects from all sides).  You can also visualize the mirror, as a form of shielding.  What I like about the mirror protections is they send energy back at the caster, so it's a bit more aggressive than just shielding or protecting yourself, but I think that if someone is sending things my way, then sending them back is fair game.

One interesting sub-set of actual cursing is accidental cursing.  Energy follows thought and emotions, and if someone is feeling something intensely enough and wishing for harm to come to you, they may be sending that energy your way.  It won't be as focused as if they were doing it on person, but it can still be powerful.  I actually think this kind of cursing happens more than intentional cursing.  You can guard against this type of cursing exactly as you would intentional cursing, and if you like, you can even word your protections to help people see when they are unintentionally sending bad energy out.

It is actually possible to 'curse' yourself as well, and this is a big part of what negative self-talk does.  If you are continually thinking that you are unlucky, you will be seeing and remembering the bad things that happen to you more than any good.  I have talked to people who absolutely believe themselves to have the worst luck ever, and objectively they actually come out on top more often than not.  But because they only focus on the bad times, that is all they remember, and they start to create more bad luck.  Some of this is pure self-sabotage, if you feel like you are doomed to do poorly at something you won't typically try as hard as if you are determined to succeed.  The best way to counteract this type of curse is through paying strict attention to your self-talk, and changing how you view your life.

There is one final thing that I want to talk about, when it comes to strings of bad luck.  Sometimes, they just happen.  It's like the example of flipping a penny.  The odds of flipping a penny heads 100 times in a row are astronomical, but possible.  The thing to remember here, is that if you have flipped the penny 99 times to heads, the next time you flip that penny, the odds of getting heads (on that single flip) are still exactly 50/50.  Sometimes there is absolutely no reason for bad luck except...bad luck!

What it is important to do, if you are experiencing a string of bad luck, is to do your due diligence.  Check to see if there are logical causes for what is happening.  Check to see if there are people who might actually be seeking to cause you harm.  Consider the fact that it might just be bad luck.  Boost your protections if it makes you feel better, but don't live in constant fear that people are cursing you, because while possible, the other options are typically much more likely.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Immigrant spirits



 Many people's paths involve working with spirits, either the spirits of nature, spiritual beings, spirits of the dead or other spirits.  Many of us also have a cultural lean to our practice that flavors the words we use and the beings we call upon.  I consider my path Norse-fusion witchcraft, so while I do absolutely use words and ideas from other areas of the world, my default is Norse.

So I work with landwights and housewights and am slowly expanding my vocabulary and practice to include other spiritual beings.  And some of the time I think about this as my way of of naming local spirits, but other times I wonder if we don't bring spirits with us when we travel...or call them to us if we work with spirits that are not native to where we currently live.

Many types of spirits, especially those that are considered fey, are localized.  Their stories grew in a particular area, and even though cultures across the globe might have 'trickster spirits' or 'house spirits', the particular type of spirit has distinctions, it is different.

To me, this is an extension of how I view deities.  I don't think that Freyja and Cupid are 'the same' just because they are both love deities.  It's a bit less clear with spirits, because most of the time we aren't talking about a single named spirit, but rather a classification of beings.  But just like I wouldn't consider "Irish men" and "Australian men" to be the same...they are both still men, so they kind of are.

This brings to my mind the question of whether or not, when I call out to the 'wights of my land', am I using a foreign name to address local spirits or am I actually calling foreign spirits to come and live with me and inhabit the land I am on?

My personal thought is a bit of both.  First, I think that spirits view physical space differently than we do.  I don't think they travel in the same ways...with the same limitations.  So if I call on a spirit from across the globe, it can come to me regardless of the distance between us. 

But I also think that some spirits are tied to very specific environments.  Think about the idea of a dryad, a tree spirit.  A very common believe about dryads is that they are tied to their tree.  Now there is some debate on whether this is a specific tree, a tree in a specific forest, or a specific type of tree (ash trees or oak trees for example), but that they are not able to stay away from their tree/s for long.  So, if I were somewhere with no trees at all, and I were to call on a dryad, it either may not come or may not be able to stay long.  I think that there are many spirits that have these kind of ties to land features or particular areas of land...or even specific items (and buildings can be an anchor for them).

I also think that some spirits become attached to people, whether it is an individual, a family, a bloodline or a culture.  I think ancestor spirits are most likely to have this kind of attachment.  And I think that some of these types of spirits travel with us when we move.  Especially when a big chunk of people move, the spirits that they work with as a culture will be drawn to move with them.

Modern life gives us really interesting questions to examine, when it comes to spirits.  In America, for example, many people hold a strong cultural connection to other countries, the country of their genetic origins.  They may have immigrated over generations ago, but they still consider themselves German or Chinese or Nigerian.  And I think that the spirits of their people are drawn to where there are large groups of that ethnicity, or places that have become cultural hotspots.  There are more Chinese spirits in Chinatown than there would be in Little Italy.

This got me thinking about feelings of homesickness.  Whether you are away from home or if you feel that 'home' is somewhere other than where you live, sometimes you feel these really intense feelings of missing home.  In a way, it reminds me of when you are talking to someone who is far away....you are feeling that connection which is reminding you of what you don't have right now.  And it makes me wonder if some of our feelings of homesickness is intensified when the spirits of home visit us and remind us of that place that we are missing.

This can also be experienced by an intense connection to a place we've never been.  We might have started developing a relationship with spirits that are connected to that place, and so now we have that connection, and are feeling it.  We may not even be aware of the nature of the spirits we are connecting with, but they have ties to the place, so now we do to.

I don't feel like spirits become invasive in the same way that foreign plants and animals do.  If you bring a plant or animal into a new environment, sometimes they become pests because there are no natural competitors or predators for them.  While I do feel like there can be competition between spirits, especially if, for example, there is only one real lake in the area, and there are already local spirits there, if a foreign lake spirit were to come to the area, there might be some friction.  But most of the time, I think that immigrant spirits maintain their homeland roots, and act as sort of visitors, so you may find it easier to connect with them at the local lake, but they still call their native lake home.

Home spirits I think are very unique.  Many times old homes have spirits themselves, but I tend to think of house spirits as spirits that inhibit a house with you rather than the spirit of the physical house itself.  I think we can bring our house spirits with us when we move, or we can invite new spirits into a house (and banish a pesky old house spirit, especially if the previous tenants were not so pleasant and attracted a troublesome house spirit).  Out of all the spirits I have known, house spirits seem the most malleable, they adjust to the people living in their house, especially if you reach out to them.

 We associate so many spirits with physical features, it can be hard for us to break free from the idea that spirits are locked into one area.  I think that it is well worth exploring the ways in which spirits immigrate and travel, and the ways in which we can work with spirits who have strong ties to places far away from our physical location.  There is a lot to be gained by working with the spirits that inhabit the spaces around you, but I don't think that working with local spirits prevents you from also developing relationships with spirits who originate from further away.  As humans have migrated and spread out over the globe, spirits have followed us.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Magic by any other name...is still magic!




 We recently re-watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a favorite series in my house), and there is a scene where Cordelia is burning some photographs after breaking up with Zander...and it got me thinking.  There are a ton of things that we do that are magical, even if we don't think about or call them that.

Burning or otherwise destroying old photographs, or letters, after a breakup is a classic way of dealing with the heartbreak of the loss.  It is also a great way to banish things we want to be rid of (which might include the memories of what we no longer have, that deep emotional connection that is no longer there). 

What I think is odd is that if someone finds out a teen got dumped and is tearing up all their old love letters and burning pictures, no one thinks it's bad or evil.  But if you mention that you are doing a banishing and burning a picture, suddenly it becomes a thing of fear.

 Another 'ordinary magic' moment comes with wishing.  We wish on all kinds of things:  birthday candles, eyelashes, dandelion fluff, stars.  It's something we teach children, it's something that is completely socially acceptable.  But if you do a ritual action (which all of those things mentioned are ritual actions), and then call it a spell, it suddenly becomes a dangerous thing.

Breaking free from these stereotypes can be difficult for many people.  They grew up hearing scary stories about what witchcraft and magic are, often associating them with demons or Satan or mental health issues, and they bring those associations with them.  They may feel drawn to learn more, but a part of them is also scared.

Looking for the many ways we practice and celebrate magic in our lives can help to lessen those old stories, to make it easier to see that magic isn't what we grew up thinking it was.  When we start to notice the places that magic manifests in our lives, we can see how we are already doing it.

Many people consider themselves semi-superstitious.  They may laugh it off and not be very serious about superstitions, but they will still throw salt over their shoulder or avoid crossing under a ladder (especially when no one is watching).  A lot of superstitions are built on magical theory, even the ones that seem mostly arbitrary.

Think about crossing under a ladder.  There doesn't seem to be any real danger there.  Yes, the ladder (and anything on it) could fall on you, but most of the time that isn't a big threat.  I think this more falls into the category of liminal space.  The area underneath the ladder becomes a temporary doorway...the kind of doorway that is often associated with the fey, and there are many, many warnings about interacting with them.

A lot of superstitions involve ritual actions for luck..or ritual actions to ward off bad luck.  Take knocking on wood.  This is something that many people say and do when they talk about something that 'might' happen, but is undesirable.  They knock on wood (or say "knock on wood") to counteract the 'curse' of even mentioning it.  Kind of like when people groan whenever someone says "This is going great!" because they feel that pointing out the good luck will cause something bad to happen.

Interestingly, again this belief often goes back to fey, spirits or Gods, and the idea that if you talk too highly about something, or point out how well things are going, some malicious (or trickster) spirit will come and change your luck.  There are many cultures that avoid praising people to keep the attention of the Gods away from them.

Another really interesting place where magic seeps into our everyday life is with weather predictions.  There are a TON of signs that people look for, in regards to the weather, and it is a common joke that we know so little about weather that you should listen to what the weatherman says...and expect the opposite.  But weather predictions are a mixture of divination and science. 

In many forms of divination, we are looking for signs and omens, things that tell us something is coming.  We interpret those signs to see what we think might actually happen.  A lot of weather omens are actually based on years of observation.  People would see things happen in the world around them, and notice that when there was a halo around the moon, rain would often follow.  And many of these signs are based on noticing atmospheric changes that do often lead to a specific weather occurrence.  Where the randomness often comes in is that there are so many factors effecting the weather, that just because one indicator is there, doesn't mean something else might change the effect.

One sort of strange place where magic appears is with lucky items....or talismans.  Often, when we first 'discover' a lucky thing, we will have some fortuitous event, and our mind will latch onto an object present at the time.  We associate that boon with that object, and it becomes lucky in our mind.  Where the magic comes in is now we start to ritualize our use of the object.  If we had a particular pencil when we aced a test, we now want to use that pencil for all tests, because it will help us get a good grade.  If we hit a home run while wearing a particular pair of socks, we now want to wear them to every game (and may not want to wash them, to avoid washing the luck out).

As we continue to use the object, anytime something good happens, we reinforce that talisman, and build that energy in it.  Eventually, it does have the effect we believe it to have..because we believe in it and we've invested all this time in building that connection.  This is essentially what we do when we choose to create a talisman, except instead of our subconscious mind picking the item for us, we deliberately choose an item to imbue with a property (such as luck, though you can create talismans for many different things!).

Sometimes adding more magic into our lives isn't a matter of doing more...it's a matter of seeing what is already there.  There is magic all around us, and often in the things we are already doing.  As we become more aware of this, we can tune in and put more deliberate attention on the actions we are doing, which makes the magic work better and quicker.  We can charge our lives and enhance the magic that we are already tapping into!  Just by being aware, and looking for the magic that already exists.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Never Forget


"We will never forget," is a phrase that gets used a lot, both within the Pagan community and without.  Anytime a big tragedy strikes, you will see the words "Never forget" on pictures, calling us to honor and remember those that have lost their lives.  We say we will "Never forget" in regards to the witch trials or other times and places in history when people were killed and tortured out of fear, in the name of witchcraft.  We say we will "Never Forget" you, when we mourn those who are lost to us, no matter how they died.

And yet, we do forget.  It is a natural process of time.  The further back you go, the harder it is to remember.  So much time has passed, and as we get further removed from a situation the emotions soften.  We don't remember the horrors in technocolor gory detail, not the same at all as someone who is living through it.  As generations past, the stories that get told loose something in the details.

Part of this is that so many stories are told by the winners, who will always try to downplay the atrocities that were committed.  Sometimes it is because the survivors are still struggling with what they went through and aren't ready to talk about it, or they don't want to pass that trauma on to others.  And sometimes, there is no one left to tell the stories, and we, in the present, can only wonder what actually happened.

But we have ways to dig into the past, to fill in the blanks and to help rewrite the books that have been spreading lies.  Sometimes we are aware of the greater truths, but we teach softer stories to our children because we don't want to burden them.

Truth should not be a burden, and it is possible to tell true stories and still keep them appropriate for younger audiences.  There are hundreds of teaching stories, around the world in every culture, that use symbols to tell stories in ways little minds can grasp. 

The power in keeping the truth alive comes not only in remembering and honoring those who were lost, but also in keeping the lessons alive.  We can look at the horrible things that happened, and all the signs and steps along the way that led up to these pivotal moments in history, and we can see what to avoid when we are faced with those same choices.

Uncovering the truth isn't always easy.  Sometimes it means doing a lot of research and figuring out what information is accurate by finding records that agree with each other.  Sometimes it means taking the time to find people who have heard the stories or grew up in different times, and really listening to what they have to say.

Part of finding the truth is also learning to let go of the things we expected to be true.  The past isn't some romantic vision, there are good parts but there are also lots of ugly parts.  The same is true about our current times!  For every time and place in the world, there will always be some good and some bad, and you have to be willing to see both in order to get a complete picture of what is going on.

Some of the trouble we get into, with the way we recount history, is that we want to only show one side of the picture.  If we think it was a good time, we only want to share the good, and if it was a bad time we only want to share the bad.  Some people act as if by showing the good in the bad or the bad in the good we are somehow diminishing the overarching themes.

But if we remember the yin yang symbol, we know that all things have both, and being aware of the small porting that doesn't match doesn't invalidate the rest of the experience.  In fact, I think that finding those opposing stories sometimes highlights the horror or the beauty in a memory. 

Acknowledging that bit of the opposite is often a way of honoring the human parts of ourselves.  We recognize that good people can make mistakes and horrible people can have redeeming qualities.  But just as we wouldn't stop loving our parents because they made a bad choice or had a bad habit, we shouldn't forgive people who do atrocities just because they love kittens or took care of an elderly neighbor.

I feel it is our responsibility, as human beings, to be able to remember what has happened, to be able to tell all of the details, to share both sides of the story, and to still be able to see the big picture.  We need to stop using these tiny exemptions as a way to invalidate a whole big thing.  We need to look for ways in which we may be starting to walk the same path as we have, in times past, and decided, with full knowledge, which way is the better way to go.

And we need to remember those who came before us, not as shining paragons of all that is good or horror stories of all that is bad, but as real people, with both flaws and gifts, with things they did well and things they did poorly.  We can look at other people and see ourselves reflected in them, and accept all that we see.

We should never forget, because there is so much value in remembering.  We should never forget because there is no reason to keep making the same mistakes.  We should never forget because it was hard to hold those memories.  And we should never forget because the past is what makes us who we are today.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Sacred laughter


There is a tendency to think of ritual and religious space as a solemn thing.  Perhaps it is something we remember from childhood, where we were told to be respectful in church, and laughter wasn't encouraged.  But we use sacred spaces as ways to honor and experience so many other emotions, like sadness and courage, why should laughter be left out?

I think that sometimes people confuse laughing at things (in a hurtful way) and laughing about things.  When we are little, we laugh about so many things, but rarely are we trying to be mean...even if we are laughing at someone else taking a tumble.  We haven't really connected that experience to the other person being hurt (either physically or emotionally), we just saw something that we thought was silly, and we laughed.

As we grow up, we learn that when we are on the other side of that laughter, it can hurt.  When we are going through something tender or vulnerable or embarrassing and other people laugh at us (whether they are intending to be hurtful or not), it can make us feel even worse than we already felt.  We feel judged, which often makes us defensive.  Even when the person laughing has no ill intent, we may lash out because we are feeling so little in that moment.

I think that some of our reactions to laughter are set as we grow.  When we are feeling all those emotions, going through the changes of maturing and developing, we can't handle what we are experiencing on our own, and we often band together with others who we feel are like us.  We start identifying the world in terms of "Us and Them" and we are already feeling alone and judged, so we fight back by judging others.  We learn to use our laughter as a weapon, and we associate other people laughing as a potentially hurtful thing.

We also are taught that important things should be taken seriously.  The phrase "This is no laughing matter," really illustrates this.  If we are in the middle of something big, and we laugh, people think we aren't committed or that we are making light (or making fun) of what is going on.  We learn to separate our humor, our pure delight, our laughter, from these big, important things, because we are taught that laughter is somehow inappropriate.

But laughter and humor can have really important roles in our lives.  Laughter is a healing thing, and it helps to soothe many of those same ruffled feather that others might want to laugh at.  The interesting twist here is that if we can find that pure laughter inside, then other people laughing has no power over us.  If I am truly filled with mirth at my own situation, then I totally get other people finding the humor in it too.  There is no need to lash out because I am right there with you, laughing.

I also think that laughter has a place in sacred spaces.  Sure, there are always times and places where laughter might not be welcomed, but we have always turned to laughter to soothe our soul.  Almost every situation can benefit from laughter, if it is used in the right way at the right time.

Many people view loss as a solemn affair, especially when it is the loss of a life that was dear to us.  The mourning process can be extremely emotional, and during parts of it we are completely numb to any sense of humor.  The light in our lives has gone out, and the thought that anyone could be happy is an affront.  However, as we start to recover our balance, we start to remember the joy in life, especially the joy in the life that was lost, in our shared time together.  There are cultures that celebrate death through laughter as a way to honor the person who is gone.

There are other losses that hit us hard as well.  Financial losses, physical losses, lost love, these are all things that dim our light as well.  And when we are struggling, it can be hard to find that laughter inside.  I am always reminded of some of the trickster deity stories, where that one figure that no one can quite understand, comes out in the middle of a great tragedy overcome with laughter.  And at first, the people are outraged, but eventually they too come to see the humor of the situation, and things start to turn around.

I think there is great power in laughter, and it can truly be a balm in the darkest of times.  I think this is why we love comedy movies and humorous stories.  We want to surround ourselves in laughter and crazy situations that we can't help but find amusing.  When we are feeling good, we want to hold onto that feeling, and when we are feeling bad we want to try to feel better.

Laughter creates energy, and it can have both great healing and cleansing properties.  People talk about the cleansing power of a good cry, but laughing until you are out of breath gives you that same feeling.  Both are useful, in different situations!  There is a lot of evidence to show that people who are sick but who retain their good humor heal better and quicker. 

From a divine aspect, there are tons of stories that show that the gods have humor.  Some of the capers that gods get up to, in their myths, are downright ridiculous....even the more serious gods.  And there are often trickster deities who function like the Fool, to use humor and laughter to teach and point out the flaws in an established system.  Many pantheons also have deities who are representations of healthy and positive laughter, like the laughing Buddha in the picture.

My sacred practice is about honoring and acknowledging all the parts of myself, from light to shadow, serious to humorous.  Laughter is a part of my life, and therefor also a part of my spirituality.  I look for ways to include humor into my practice, and I challenge you to try it, if it is not a part of yours.  There is power in laughter, and being able to tap into that power wisely and use it to enhance your life and the lives of those around you, is no small thing!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Fresh Start


The turning of the year is traditionally a time to turn a new page and make a fresh start.  Many people make resolutions, they set goals for themselves, and try to bring new energy into their lives. 

I am all for change, but I am a perfect example of why being locked in a 'resolution mindframe' can be harmful.  I don't do a bunch of resolutions, but I pick a focus for the year.  My focus for this year is Health and Body, and one big part of that is the goal of doing something active every day.

Which is all great and good, but I thought of this concept for my year about halfway through last year, and it became an excuse to not start doing more active things, because "next year is going to be focused on that so I can just wait."  That is a pretty toxic way to approach growth and self-care!

There is also a tendency to take resolutions almost in a fatalistic manner.  People make resolutions, but the running joke is most of them don't make it even to the end of the month, let alone all year (or forever). 

Part of this is that people struggle with how to make an change in a way that they will stick to.  Take my goal of being active every day.  I have a baseline pictured in my head, with both low day and high day modifications.  So my base is "do something for about 20 minutes, like Yoga or Zumba".  I have several people on YouTube that I really enjoy, and I know that I can workout with them, not kill myself, and still be pushed. 

But I also know that some days I might not be able to pull a 20 minute workout.  Either it's a day where I'm just not home, or a day where my personal energy is so low that I just can't manage.  So, on low days, I will still be doing something, whether that is a yin yoga/stretching video that is all about being kind to myself and meditating with some deep stretching (which I love and always feels good to me), or figuring out what kind of movement would be okay and doing a little bit of that (there are some standing ab exercises that almost always feel good to me).

On days where I am extra motivated, I might pick a few, short strength building videos/exercises to add on to my baseline 20 minute video.  I hope to be able to do this more as the year goes on (and/or switch to more challenging videos). 

But, if I had set my goal to something like "20 minutes cardio, plus 20 minutes of strength building plus 10 minutes of stretching" I know it just wouldn't happen.  It's too much for my current levels, not only of fitness, but also my mental dedication to fitness.  If the idea of what you need to do for your goals is exhausting, you probably need to reassess, because if you dread doing something, you are less likely to actually do it.

I also think that many people only think of adding to their life when it comes to goal setting.  They don't think about clearing out the old.  There is no sense of making space for these new habits, of letting go of old baggage that is weighing us down, or of just creating room so that we can clearly see what is going on.

I think this is a very important part of taking a fresh start.  Think of children, when they are learning something new.  Very rarely do they have any experience or associations with what they are going to learn.  It is all brand new, and they are excited to learn the new stuff.  As adults, we go into almost every new endeavor with a ton of old ideas and expectations.

I've done the workout thing before.  I can typically do really well for around a month, and sometimes a little longer.  But about then I end up having a day or two that are either really busy or really exhausting, and I fall off my practice.  Once I have stopped for two to three days, it can be harder to get back into it than it was the very first day.  I know that I have this habit, so it's in the back of my mind, reminding me that my history says I won't make it.

By taking time, before I even start, to work on those old, lingering expectations, to clear them out and banish them, I take back my power.  I don't let history repeat, and I set the tone for moving beyond them.  Even by simply acknowledging them, they no longer are able to hide out in the shadows, sabotaging me without my awareness.  And being aware of what is trying to hold you back is very important, because it is so much harder to fight against things you can't see clearly.

It is also a good idea to get all your tools in order.  I have a lot of tools in my toolbox, both physical and mental.  I have laid a framework to help support me, not only by planning out exactly how I want to tackle my physical progress, but also by creating a system of accountability.  For me, this also means telling other people about my goals.  I am in a few groups that support my journey, and where I can reach out for help when I feel my motivation waning.

It also means getting anything that you may need to help you.  I still have a few things I want to get here.  I want to get a new Yoga mat (I have one, but it has some kitty tooth marks in it, and I've been wanting a new one for years now, so I am planning on treating myself).  Often, getting the gear you need also helps motivate you (because you bought the stuff, it's a shame to have it just sit there...wasted).  I have a stock of videos that I can work out with (because that works so much better for me than just me doing stuff on my own, I struggle when I try to do that).  I also have some small weights, for exercises that need them.

Now, all these steps will change, based on what exactly you are working towards, but the basics of them remain the same.  When you have a new project you are starting, take some time to assess and clear out any old baggage or energy or preconceived notions you might have about the process or your success.  Gather your tools, find your support, and give yourself the framework you need to flourish.  By taking time to really make sure you are getting a fresh start, your projects will be built on a strong foundation and be set up for success!