Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Finding your practice where you are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Made stronger by adversity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Finding space no matter the circumstances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Working from a distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Plague is not a punishment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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