Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Looking back on hard times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

One small step at a time...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Magic in a crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Solitary Birthdays...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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