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 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 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'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!