Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Dealing with dark times...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


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 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 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 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.