One of us is the most beautiful of social butterflies. The other is not. The extroverted one walks into a party and jumps right into the center, while the introverted one finds a nice corner to settle into. We are a good balance for each other in this way. The introvert reminds the extrovert to ground and slow down. The extrovert exposes the introvert to new and different experiences, encouraging the introvert to break out of their shell.

We see this every day in our personal relationship, but we also see this played out in our Pagan community. Covens tend to have a mix of extroverts and introverts. Ritual teams and festival organizers, pagan presenters, and festival attendees all have people that fall somewhere on the introvert/extrovert spectrum.

Spectrum is a good word for it too. For sure, there are plenty of people that are clearly and easily identified as being at one end or the other, but research suggests that more folks than you might think fall somewhere in the middle of the scale. This third category of personalities, folks squarely in the middle are called ambiverts.

So rather than falling into the conversation of who has it worse or why being one way is better than another, we started asking ourselves how do both ways (all ways) serve our magic and our relationship.

Gwion – Okay, no surprise here for those of you that know me. I’m the extrovert. I am animated and gregarious. I’ll talk to anyone about anything and I find that opens the doors for lots of unique experiences that we might normally miss. We’ve been invited to places and events just because I showed some interest in what other people were passionate about. When it comes to the Pagan world, I’m often willing to step in and step up in ways that Phoenix might feel less comfortable doing. Actually, to be really clear about that, I’m willing to step in first. My default comfort zone is to get in the middle of something and then see what’s going on. Phoenix tends to step in and up too, she’s just more cautious about it. In community spaces, I think it’s important to recognize that some people will jump in right away and begin planning, start doing, taking on roles, and while that’s admirable sometimes, it is equally valuable for those folks to sit on their hands and listen to what others have to say. Even if that takes a while for those other folks to speak up.

Phoenix – This subject frustrates me to no end. Yes, I am an introvert, but that doesn’t mean I hide away from taking on public roles, stepping into the center stage, or putting myself out there. I do like having these roles, but I can only handle being in the center or being in large groups of people for so long. The bottom line of this issue really comes down to how introverts and extroverts replenish. Extroverts get recharged when they are with other people. Too much time alone isn’t good for extroverted people. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like to have time alone or they aren’t happy to spend time by themselves, but when they are feeling overwhelmed being with other people can help settle them into a more comfortable place. On the other hand, introverts prefer to recharge on their own, by themselves. Too much time in a large group can become overwhelming and they need to take time away to recover from expending all that energy. And let’s be clear these are not hard and fast rules, the lines blur and bend and change.

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Gwion – One place it gets sticky for us is when we start associating and overlaying other words on top of extrovert. These words tend to be judgemental – “Egocentric”, “show off”, and “shiny” are often used to describe extroverts and have definitely been used to describe me at certain points in my life. These words make the assumption that extroverts are only out for themselves and are shallow. I’ve worked hard to show Phoenix that being extroverted doesn’t equate with just seeking attention for attention’s sake. In public Priestessing and community work, there’s often a method to my madness. If my actions can empower others to take a risk, or show that occasionally being foolish and silly won’t cause the sky to fall in, and to show vulnerability and then remain open to the consequences of that,  it can help create space for others to try something new or difficult. One excruciatingly hard lesson I’ve learned is the important distinction between saying, or being seen to be saying,  “Look at me. Follow me” as opposed to “How can we all participate in this together”

Phoenix – Introverts in public covens or public ritual planners often find that they don’t get recognition for the work that they do because those jobs aren’t always obvious. Folks who do a lot of the ‘behind the scenes’ work rarely get seen for their hard work. It’s like what happens in popular bands. Everyone knows who the lead singer is, they remember the front man, they are the one that everyone is watching, right? Most people don’t know who the drummer is, or what he even looks like, and what would a band be without a drummer?! Extroverts will often jump in and volunteer without really thinking it through, while introverts need a little more time to make decisions. The meatiest public ritual roles can feel eaten up by extroverts before an introvert has even made up their mind on how they feel about it.

Gwion – As I’ve matured as a partner, a Priestess and a person, I find that I’m less inclined to to extreme extrovertism. Now I use my energy more wisely and tend to be “on 24/7”  much less than I used to be. When I do choose to put myself out there, I find it takes me more time to recharge and that re-calibrating tends to require more silence and alone time. In that way, I think I’m becoming more Ambiverted. I’d also say that my daily practice and my understanding of the Iron Pentacle magic has greatly contributed to this. (more on Iron Pentacle in an upcoming blog!)

Phoenix – Over the years I’ve learned to become more extroverted by watching how the extroverts do it. I’m more willing to take risks and speak up without totally thinking it through. Sometimes this is amazing and sometimes I freak out later. But when overwhelmed I would rather stay home and read a book than go out to a party and I can’t imagining that changing much. And just like with all things, knowing how to be balanced and pay attention to the extremes will help create more harmony in group process and relationships.

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When dealing with group process or public ritual planning, knowing where your cohorts might be on the introvert/extrovert scale can be really beneficial in navigating the waters. Helping to bring introverts out (or make sure their voices are heard) and encouraging extroverts to make space for others will make your groups, covens, planning committees all the more stronger.


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All images courtesy of shutterstock.com.

 

 

I don’t have a happy greeting to give to the world today.

Yesterday afternoon, less than two miles away from my own home, five people were wounded and a sixth was killed. The shooting occurred at the East Valley Institute of Technology (which I used to attend), and the suspect was captured just over four hours later. His name is Ryan Elliot Giroux.

 

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Ryan Elliot Giroux in an undated picture from the Arizona Department of Corrections. (Image source NBC)

 

He’s been identified as a member of a local skinhead group called “Hammerskin Nation”.

 

I’ve written about our communities struggles with these kinds of people before. Multiple times. I made the point that we can’t pretend that racists don’t exist among us. We can’t be afraid to deny them their religious justifications and force them to acknowledge what they’re really doing. We need to expose these people for what they are and show the world that they do NOT represent us.

I caught a lot of flak for those articles, and lost some readers over my views on the subject.

You know what?

I don’t care.

I don’t care if people disagree with my stance on racism in Heathenry, because people like Ryan Giroux EXIST. Organizations like “Hammerskin Nation,” which pervert our Lore and twist it into something they can use to support their crazed agenda, EXIST. Not just in some detached, far off kind of way. They live on my front door step; in the neighborhood where my daughter will live and grow up. There are people who use our faith as a justification for this kind of insanity, and it will be a warm day in Hel before I stand idly by and LET THEM.

I will be posting regular updates on the situation both here and on Huginn’s Heathen Hof. As soon as a relief fund is set up for the victims, I will be posting it in both locations. It is my sincerest hope that our community will speak out against this through our actions. If we don’t stand against these people, then we allow them to define us; our silence allows their madness to dishonor us all.

More information will be shared as it emerges.

May the gods watch over those who have been harmed, and bring them swift justice.

 

On this blog I usually post about social issues that catch my interest, but for this one I thought I would make it more personal. Each year I do a ritual working called the Elemental Balancing Ritual. I do it once a year and then do the daily work thereafter. It’s internally focused, for the most part; the idea being that I do the work to create balance with an element I’m working with. It’s hard work, for it involves facing and working through my own issues, and yet it is rewarding work because I feel that it has, on the whole, led to a more balanced and holistic approach to life.

a pier reaching out over a still lake
Courtesy of mackieklew on morguefile.com.

This year, I’m working with the element of stillness. The previous two years I worked with the element of movement, and at this point I’m not sure if stillness will be two years or if it’ll only be one year. The reason for that is because the elements pick me. When I first started this work it was the other way around; I picked the element. But a few years into it, I started having experiences part way through and those experiences were ones where the next element would show up and make it clear that I needed to work with it.

My journey was partially inspired by my work with movement. As I worked with movement, I came to appreciate its intricacies as an element, not only in how I and others physically move, but also how movement shows up in thoughts, emotions, and in spiritual work. Stillness might be considered the opposite of movement, but I actually see them as complementary of each other, one leading to the other and back again. While I was working with movement as an element, stillness came up quite a bit, in both my personal practice and in the lessons I learned. Not surprisingly, movement comes up quite a bit in stillness work as well.

Stillness is important to me.  It helps me experience some deeper layers of my being, but also connect to the world in a more meaningful way. Stillness teaches you to be and to experience instead of trying to offer your own input all the time. As a a writer, I can tell you it can be very hard to go to a place where you aren’t offering input, but it can also be liberating, because in stilling yourself you’re learning an essential skill all of us continually need to learn: how to be receptive to what is around us.

My journey to stillness isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s a journey which calls on me to be vulnerable with myself and others, which doesn’t come easily to me, but I seem to be doing anyway. Sometimes it calls on me to be aware of just how many thoughts I have buzzing away in my head, keeping me from being still. And, sometimes I just hit this place where everything is still, where I’m relaxed into a state of stillness and everything seems to gel together into some wholeness that really can only be experienced by doing this work. I can’t tell you what I’ll experience on a given day, but I take whatever it is and let it speak to me and express itself.

So how is this work relevant to the concept of this blog? I think its relevant because in doing this work, and all the other related work I’ve done with the Elemental Balancing Ritual, I’ve found that it doesn’t just apply to changing myself but also changing my relationship with the world and my role in it. When I started this work a long time ago, I wasn’t someone who really cared that much about other people or about the issues that those people might face. I was just living my life, doing whatever I needed to do to get by. But the nature of any internal work is that it does change you and not just you in relationship to you, but you in relationship to everything else! You can’t do this work and not be changed by it. You also can’t be someone who is just changed. You must become part of the change you’ve brought on yourself by doing the internal work.


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a book cover
The Cover of
Gifts of the Visitation
by Denise Bossert

[ Editor’s Note:  This review is one among many regarding Gifts of the Visitation here at Patheos; read more here. ]

Although I’ve never been a Catholic, there are certain things about the faith that have appealed to me over the years. The solemn sense of ritual and ceremony, the Mystery at the heart of the faith, and, most especially, the Marys.  Mary the mother particularly appeals to me in her goddess-like guise as one of the many faces of the Queen of Heaven, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I never thought of her life before her elevation to the face of the divine feminine for many Catholics (and other Christians) around the world.

I love digging into the history behind mythology, but until I picked up Gifts of the Visitation by Denise Bossert, I’d never really paid Mary the woman much attention. In it, Bossert explores a series of nine character traits that both Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) embodied during their pregnancies. These nine spiritual gifts can speak to people of any faith, but what really struck me about the text was the way Bossert seems to have connected with the young Mary.

What must it have been like, as a very young, unmarried woman in a rule-driven desert society, to not only accept the challenge of carrying a divine child, but to do so without fear of any cultural retributions she might face? Bossert has considered this question at length, and it forms much of the backdrop of the gifts she discusses in this book; spontaneity, courage, joy, readiness, humility, adventure, hospitality, wonder and awe, and thanksgiving. As Bossert points out, Mary was practically a child herself when her role in the Biblical story began, and the laws of her culture (not to mention the emotions of her family and her betrothed) might have led her into some tense (if not outright dangerous) situations as her pregnancy started to show.

My respect for Mary has grown tremendously after reading this text, and I feel that the Mary I’ve always acknowledged as another of the many archetypal faces of the Goddess has grown flesh and blood for me now; she’s more than a woman who took on the guise of Queen of Heaven. Like the other strong matriarchs, maidens, and crones within the pages of the Old and New Testament, Mary is relatable and human when you dig beneath the surface of the myth.


Gifts of the Visitation: Nine Spiritual Encounters with Mary and Elizabeth is available from Ave Maria Press and Amazon and can be purchased for Kindle and Nook.
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a grail on a blue background bordered in gold
Grail in Blue, by Shauna Aura Knight

Ostara has never been one of my favorite sabbats. Not as far as the Pagan/Wiccan celebrations and wheel of the year a goes. However, in the past days I’ve experienced the “Wisconsin heat wave” of 50-60 degree temperatures, and I can’t help but feel the thrill of spring rushing through my blood.

I can’t help but wonder, why is it that the actual sensation of springtime returning is so rejuvenating and exciting, but the idea of hosting an Ostara ritual gives me pause?  Imbolc, Beltane, Samhain, even Lughnassadh call to me more. I also have historically had a difficult time getting many attendees to come out for an Ostara ritaul. Both Ostara and Lughnassadh rituals seem to happen at a time when people are busy. At least, if I’m judging this by ritual attendance in the Chicago-land area for pubic rituals.

And, perhaps I’m jaded by past experiences of Ostara rituals. I’ve attended (or heard about) my share of rituals incorporating Easter egg hunts and other rituals that seem to just lightly touch on how spring is a joyous time and we should celebrate. Perhaps what irks me is that many of these rituals focus on the idea of the season rather than the season itself.

I’ve lived in the northern Midwest for most of my life and I’ve also dealt with seasonal depression, so that first scent of spring is such a relief to me. I can feel that quickening life force within me, and I know that the cold of the winter is going to lose its grip.

Years ago when I was sucked into the pit of a far worse depression, I began looking to the Grail myths for wisdom. I remembered that once, I’d been full of life force and creativity and drive. Once, I’d had limitless energy to write for days, to paint until my eyes were dry and tired. Once, I could write all night, every night, for weeks. Once, I could juggle multiple web design and graphic design projects and have enough focus to complete all of them. Once, I could stay up for days, inspired and on fire for running an event like a conference, or doing tech theater for a play.

Where had my drive gone? Where had my fire gone? Why couldn’t I access my inspiration?

Depression, for me, is a complete exhaustion. A numbness. A knowing that I should care about doing something, and yet, not being able to bring myself to do it because I’m so tired. It’s staring at a computer screen and knowing that I have a graphic design project due, and yet having no idea what to do for the design, or wanting to work on writing but not being able to think clearly enough to do it. Depression goes past writer’s block; my own experience of it is a bone-deep exhaustion and a humiliating kind of brain fog. Worse, depression also seemed to somehow deaden not just my emotions, but that bridge of communion with the divine.

And of course, being unable to get things done just leads to more anxiety, which leads to shame and self loathing, which leads to further exhaustion. It’s not a spiral I’d wish on anyone.

The Grail Quest became my primary metaphor for my desperate attempt to recover that inspiration that used to burn through me.

Over the years, I’ve made a lot of changes in my life that have helped me to manage my depression symptoms. The axiom “Know Thyself” has been a big help in this. But each year, the lengthening nights and cold weather still brings on the exhaustion and retraction that I dread. Even when I’m really inspired for a book I’m writing or a painting I’m working on, the older I get, the less I seem able to cope with the colder weather.

My own quest for the Grail of my personal inspiration became, in many ways, an intense amount of navel-gazing into how I function, what works for me and what doesn’t. Some of understanding myself got as granular as what food I eat. Much to my dismay, I discovered that a lot of my eating choices lead to that tired, exhausted feeling. I also observed myself in social situations and learned more about what it means to be an introvert, and how I have to look at social time almost like spending money. When I overextend socially, I need to recuperate alone.

Sometimes knowing myself is also holding an awareness of influences I can’t change, such as the seasonal shift, the longer nights, and the colder weather.

In past years, I’ve dreaded one aspect of winter, and that’s “Pagan Conference Season.” For the past several years I’ve presented at ConVocation in Detroit, which is a lot of social engagement for an introvert with seasonal depression in the depths of winter. Three years ago I began teaching at Pantheacon, which essentially means I’m on the road for twelve days solid. This year I’m also teaching at Paganicon. If there’s a recipe for a post-event depressive episode, this would be it.

Yet, for the past two years, I’ve experienced a surge of energy after returning from Pantheacon and ConVocation. Last year when I came home, I wrote an entire novel in a week. This year I was similarly energized and productive. After years of working with the personal axiom that after an event, I’d be exhausted and need recoup time, I had to sit and think about  things. What was different?

Certainly the modifications I’ve made to my diet have helped. Reducing the foods that make me sleepy/tired/cranky has had a huge impact. And certainly my body is feeling the seasonal shift as the days grow longer, even if the weather is still cold. I think one of the biggest impacts for me is that I’m really doing work that I love when I teach, and I’ve also finally built the kinds of friendships at these events to the point where the events are less of a social drain. For me, the more I’m a stranger/outsider, the more nervous a social event makes me feel.

And perhaps, to a certain extent, creativity can be like a train…moving slowly at first until it builds up speed, and then it’s carried forth by its own momentum. Once I managed to crack open the vault of inspiration and drink of those waters again, they began to self-replicate. These days, I have more ideas than I have time to complete the projects. I have books to finish, paintings to work on, and not enough time to do them all.

What I do know is that the rush of inspiration I feel when I’m starting a new project, the rush when I’m immersed in a painting that’s working out, the rush when I’m writing 8,000 words a night in one of my fiction novels…all of these feel very much like that first breath spring warmth.

Thus, I’m trying to renegotiate my relationship with Ostara. I think I’m going to stop worrying about Ostara as a sabbat, and instead just focus on the energies of spring. Or perhaps renaming the holiday for myself. “First Breath of Spring” sounds good to me, whether that happens in early March or not til April.

What invigorates you? What exhausts you? What do you notice about yourself and how what you do, what you eat, and what you experience impacts your energy, your life force, your creativity and inspiration? How can you invite in that breath of spring?


Seeking the Grail is published on monthly on the third Monday. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

I’m making vague plans (most of my plans are vague until the last minute) to invite a few people over for the equinox for a small ritual and a meditation session. When I mentioned this to a friend, she inquired, “What does a Zen Pagan Atheist ritual look like?”

Which is a pretty good question and one I’m still figuring out the answer to. I don’t have a liturgy, but I do have some principles and some preferences.

I devoted a chapter of Why Buddha Touched the Earth to a general theory of magical ritual. Here, a ritual is understood as a set of actions performed with intent to manipulate mental symbols in such a way as to create some desired change in our state of mind. That change in our mental state may be a precursor to a desired change in the physical world, but the work starts within.

In order to create the ritual environment, intent is clearly established and non-ordinary time and space are invoked by some demarcation of boundaries. The ritual itself involves raising power–which may be conceived of as either an external power invited in, or an inner quality invited to come forth–by setting up some excitement or tension through non-ordinary behavior; directing that power so as to effect the intended change; and then resolving back to “normal” reality so that the change can be fixed upon it, not limited to the ritual space.

But, I didn’t say anything in that chapter about what I prefer. It’s like writing about music theory without telling you whether I prefer rock or Bach. (For the record, I like J.S. okay–you can sometimes find me hanging out listening to Classical Revolution Baltimore–but honestly you’re more likely to find me rocking out.)

So here are some notes on a few things I do or don’t like in ritual. These aren’t intended to be “this is right, this is wrong”, but an expression of personal taste. If ritual is “poetry in the realm of acts”, as Ross Nichols said, there’s nothing wrong with preferring a sonnet or free verse or a haiku, and maybe these will get you thinking about what you and those you work with prefer or don’t care for in your rituals.

Invite and Ask

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a reflexive contrarian. So when you tell me during your ritual, “Now, you each come up to the altar and do such-and-such,” you step on one of my buttons. Who are you to tell me what to do? Didn’t I get into this Pagan thing to escape religious authority?

It’s a small change, but “Now, my friends, I invite you to come up to the altar and do such and such” creates a very different response. Oh, an invitation? I like to be invited to do things. I got invited to the party! Hooray!

Sometimes it can be even better (to me) to say “Now, I ask you to come up to the altar and do such and such.” Hey, this person is asking for my help to accomplish this ritual. I’m significant in this!

Keep people moving

I was raised Catholic, and while I’m feeling much better now, I’m willing to give the Church some credit where it’s due. Many people have joked over the years about Catholic aerobics — sit, stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel — but it gets the blood moving and breaks the long Mass up into more digestible pieces. Even Zen folks, renowned for sitting in stillness, mix it up with walking mediation.

And that goes double for outdoor rituals when it’s chilly out! Please, let us move around and warm up a little, even if it’s just walking around the circle from quarter to quarter.

Challenge Accepted

Certainly one of the most transformative rituals I’ve ever been through was my promotion to shodan, black belt. It was transformative because it was hard, culminating in several dozen (I lost count) rounds of sparring against people who had already achieved that level. It was both a test and an initiation. I was sore for a week.

Of course fighting is not part of ritual. (Generally. I did see a great Holly King / Oak King fight staged with flaming weapons one time…) but, challenge should be. That which we easily obtain, we value little.

Mark Green led a very nice little Atheopagan ritual at Pantheacon, which involved invoking the spirit of compassion to assist us with letting go of some past failing, some incident we were dragging around with us. That was a challenge because it meant taking out some past disappointment and looking at it, doing some hard spiritual work. (Honestly, I’d rather strap on my sparring pads and go fight!)

Keep It Simple

When I was in Japan years ago, I made it a point to go to Mount Kurama. I was quite excited to visit a sacred mountain that was both the birthplace of reiki and a place where the great karate master Gogen Yamaguchi had spent much time training and mediating. But when I got to the mail temple I was disappointed. It was a dark candlelit space with various gold ornaments and with deep resonant chanting, and it should have felt like a Place of Mystery…but somehow, my impression was that it was trying too hard.

a handmade ema (prayer card) on a tree in a forest
Handmade ema on Mt. Kurama. Photo by the author.

So I continued my hike up the mountain. And I ended up (by following a pretty lady hiking in flip-flops, who then disappeared, one of those occurrences I keep in my “weird stuff” file) turning off into a sacred grove of trees. Pretty much just the trees, with a small shrine, rather plain, off to one side; on the other, log benches for sitting or services or whatever. Hanging on a tree, a handmade (probably by a child) ema, a prayer-card.

The contrast with the gaudiness of the temple was striking. This was the right way to do it. Overblown production values suggest (to me) a lack of substance.

And related to that…

Leave Space for Co-creation

Suppose I was leading a healing ritual. And, suppose that as part of the ritual, I asked you to visualize light flowing from the sky, down through your body, and into the person we wish healed. I invite you to visualize this light, this healing light that’s going to do this person so much good, this golden light…

Golden light? Shoot. It looked blue to you.

Sometimes, providing less detail is more effective and can draw people more deeply into a work by encouraging them to fill in the blanks.

From a writing perspective, Ursula Le Guin’s amazing story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is a master class in this. In order to make her point about social justice (which, by the way, seems more and more relevant every day), she must portray an almost-perfect utopia.  But, she knows that what is perfect to one reader is annoying to another. So, she says, “Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all.” Of course this is not all the description she gives, she sketches in the lines to guide the reader’s fancy in creating — perhaps co-creating is a more accurate word — the utopia.

So when she knocks the pins out from under it, the effect is that much stronger than if she had set it up all herself.

Of course in ritual we’re not (generally) trying to set participants up for a fall in that manner, but I think the lesson holds: let the “readers” of your ritual have a little space to be co-creators, and they might end up more connected to it.


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My next scheduled events are the Free Spirit Gathering in June and Starwood in July.

If you do Facebook, you might choose to join a group on “Zen Paganism” I’ve set up there. And don’t forget to “like” Patheos Pagan over there, too.

You like strawberry cheesecake.They like strawberry cheesecake. They think Spring is the coolest time of year and so do you. You are a Pagan and they’ve always been Pagan, and you even practice in the same tradition. The organic cherry on top of the Pagan Sundae is that you and they have made a life together. Walking the same religious/spiritual Pagan path is awesome. Or is it?

a plate of strawberry cheesecake

Although our routes and approaches to Paganism were quite different, we’ve ended up walking a similar path.We’ve been initiated into two of the same traditions. We often teach magical studies, not always together mind you, but our work does overlap from time to time and the core tenets are the same. We find ourselves at rituals together, sometimes holding Priestessing roles. More often than not, this is just fantastic. There’s a richness and depth that develops when partners share a common language. Communication, especially of esoterica, or tradition-specific lore, becomes much easier when everyone involved has the same cauldron of understanding to draw upon for reference.

However, it’s also challenging because at times we are put into the position of being competitors. It can be hard to be supportive of your partner’s accomplishments when those accomplishments represent the same thing as your failure. We cross this bridge over and over again. Sometimes we have to face the ugly feelings of envy or jealousy when one of us is offered an opportunity and the other isn’t. It is because of these moments that we’ve had to learn different ways to cooperate, communicate, and support each other.

a woman walking a path in a forestWhat can partners, friends, or covens members do to avoid the challenges of being on the same path and having their nearest and dearest as their competition? Here’s some of our thoughts.

Phoenix: It is important for me to remember that no matter what, we are a team. Before we ever starting dating we were business colleagues and often paired together for special assignments.. We work extremely well together and enjoy being on projects, ritual teams, or teaching classes. When I notice that I’m feeling jealous or when I’ve lost out on an opportunity to my partner, I remember that I am on his team and he’s on mine, we help each other move forward on the path. I also ask myself why am I feeling envious of my partner’s accomplishments? What does this have to do with my own self worth? Someone else’s success has nothing to do why my own. There is plenty of success to go around in this world, plenty of opportunities. And because Gwion is particularly talented there are many chances for me to look at my own shadow and the motivations for why I do things.

Gwion: I find it important to have a separate identity – I’m not talking about a double life or anything like that! I mean, that it’s important for me to be valued as an individual person with my own worth and my own body of work to stand on, outside of my relationship with Phoenix or a coven or a group. For a while, I was in a really active coven. We went everywhere together and folks began to refer to us as a pack. While it was true that we were often found in the same places, we each had our own experiences of the rituals, camps, conferences and festivals we attended. Our closeness was incredible for our group magic, but that same constant proximity gave rise to rumours and jealousies and tensions within our larger community. As we each grew in the Craft and developed our own unique skills, based on the hard work each of us was undertaking, we were seen less and less as one solid, giant magical conglomeration and more as, well, you know, individuals. So while I love to be Mr. Phoenix and laugh when folks call us “Gwinix” or “Pheon”, I work diligently to honour the very separate person I am and the distinct people that we are.

Phoenix: Making time for each other is a requirement. We are both busy with our careers, our community, and our family. When we don’t make time for Phoenix and Gwion to be alone, we tend to be more irritable, more easily frustrated, and rough around our relationship edges. Making time for each other sounds so totally simple, and I suppose in reality it is, but we have so much going on that it isn’t always possible. Our agreement is that Saturday’s are our days, but even this isn’t always possible and sometimes scheduling on “our” day happens (not without it’s resentments of course). Having “couple only” time is necessary for the health of our relationship and it doesn’t take long before we both start to feel off when we aren’t making time for ourselves.

Gwion: Reveling in the other’s success is a real key for me – Phoenix is a published writer. She’s been asked to teach the Craft in Australia. She’s created “The Goddess Gatherings” and has grown that into something wonderful and uniquely of her making. These are all places where she shines brightly. I’ve had a few successes myself and folks from that “pack” coven I mentioned have also contributed something of themselves to the greater Pagan community. I’m not going to tell you it is always easy, and there’s plenty of shadow material there, but I do find it incredibly important to revel in the successes of others. If I can step back and view their work for what it is without overlaying what I might know (or think I know) of their process, then I can appreciate it all the more. Watching beloveds engage with the Mysteries reminds me of the profound depth they bring to rituals. Relentlessly supporting them as they step out into those scary places and watching them face back fears and tears and self-doubt has to be part of my practice. I trust that if I am supportive of others, I’ll learn how to hold myself dear when I have my moments of doubt and fear and the “I can’t do this” voices in my head are all too loud.

people raising their arms in triumph silhouetted by the setting sun

So those are out thoughts. What works for you? How do you and your partner, partners, covens or groups navigate these waters?


“The Witches Next Door” is published on alternate Tuesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail.  And, you can like our Facebook page at The Witches Next Door. For more great articles visit Patheos Pagan on Facebook and like that page too . All you gotta do is click on those links.

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Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!

Today we will be continuing with part 4 of our newest series: “Pagan Life Lessons”. This series is a bit of a break from our usual (community centric) content. We are a people of stories, and how those stories influence our values and spirituality is an important part of who we are.

For those of you who may have missed the first three articles in this series check them out:

Each of us can find our own lessons to be learned from the old ways; these are just a few ways that those stories have helped to improve the quality of my life.

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Our community can be very opinionated. Everybody who has ever bothered to peruse the Pagan Blogosphere (or seen more than two Pagans try to have a conversation) knows that our community is constantly arguing with itself. In matters of religion, it’s easy to become stuck in a specific line of thinking. When someone calls into question an idea which we hold dear, it’s normal to feel defensive. That’s perfectly natural (and completely understandable), but it’s important to know how to choose our battles. The knee-jerk reaction that causes us to shut down and play defense can also keep us from taking in important new information.

Never be afraid to change your mind in light of new information; that’s wisdom, not weakness.

This lesson is not only found in our myths and legends but also in the modern history of our movement. Let me present a scenario that just about every Pagan with reconstructionist leanings has encountered.

<Queue Film Noir Narrator Voice>

It’s mid October and the Pagan community is gearing up for the busy season. You find yourself at your computer, digging through dusty digital archives for information on how best to organize the festivities. It’s your turn to host this year, and you are NOT going to be shown up by Luis again.

Stupid, smug Luis with all his… books…

You’ve got a big blue book that says how all of this should go down, but you want to do your homework and make sure you’ve got “sources”. So here you are, sitting in front of your computer in a chair that smells like bourbon and cigar smoke at 2AM, researching all the rituals in your book and…

All of it’s BS. Everything.

The ritual, the “ancient prayer”, the funny looking headgear, everything you loved about the “October” section of your favorite tome has exactly ZERO basis in history.

It’s going to be a long night…

</Queue Film Noir Narrator Voice>

So normally this is where I would include some life altering anecdote in which this ideal affected my spirituality. I’ve got a few of those, but honestly our own history as a community has provided more than enough examples of why this is an invaluable skill.

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Don’t believe me? Raymond Buckland’s “Complete Book of Witchcraft” lists a horned “viking helmet” as proper ritual attire for a priest. For those of you who weren’t around in the 80’s, this was an incredibly influential book at that time. With new discoveries and more research, however, many of our ideas and practices had to adapt in light of new information. Of course, plenty of us decided to ignore that evidence and keep right on going with their priestly-hat-making rituals.

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Now far be it from me to say you can’t wear whatever you like during your holiday festivities. You go! Get DOWN with yo’ pointy-hatted-self! Just don’t try to say it’s a historically accurate representation of… well… ANYTHING. The point here is that people have a bad habit of clinging to whatever information they receive first and rejecting anything that conflicts with that narrative.

Want to see that instinct in action? Grab a four year old child and introduce them to Barney the Dinosaur singing “Peanut Butter and Jelly” (1995). A week later, introduce the same child to “Peanut Butter” by The Marathons (1961). That child will (probably quite indignantly) claim that The Marathons stole that song from Barney, and WILL FIGHT TOOTH AND NAIL if you try to correct them.

People hate admitting their wrong, and will often go to great lengths to deny anything that would force them to do so. This goes for big topics like religion and politics as well as the little things in life like debating the pros and cons of disposable vs. reusable diapers or the best way to arrange things in the dishwasher. We hate to lose and will often gladly make our own lives harder just so that we don’t have to admit defeat. Part of what the Lore teaches us is that we need to be open to new ideas.

I’ve written before about Odin being a god of questions. The Allfather’s story teaches us the value of viewing new discoveries as a victory, rather than a challenge. When I discover that something I previously believed is incorrect, I have learned something. I have bettered myself in some small way. Being willing to let go of outdated assumptions doesn’t make us weak willed, it makes us open to wisdom.


Wyrd Words is published on alternate Thursdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

an interracial handshake
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Over the last year or so, the Pagan community has engaged in hard conversations dealing with issues including consent culture, sex positivity, and racism. These are important conversations, but they are also hard; in part because of what they make each person realize about themselves and in part because we look at our community–and where we fit into it differently–as a result of them.  Actually, I could probably list many other reasons these types of conversations are hard, but really the point is that while these conversations are hard, they are also necessary.

Recently, I attended two conventions where such conversations were occurring, either as a result of being scheduled for the programming, or occurring unofficially (i.e. off program) because people wanted to discuss these topics. As I listened, and occasionally chimed in with my own perspectives, what struck me about the conversations is how much people hungered for them and also hungered to take action on these issues. In one sense, I think this is because, as a community overall, we have had to take a hard look at ourselves this past year and recognize that the Pagan community isn’t necessarily more enlightened or better than any other community. And, if that seems like an odd observation to make, I’ll situate it in my personal experience.  When I came into the Pagan community so long ago, there was a part of me that wanted to believe that somehow we were more spiritually enlightened, and that this lead to enlightenment in other areas of life. If that seems like a naive perspective…it is; so was I when I felt that way. I was starstruck at the time and also disillusioned about the previous spiritual path I’d been on.

Over time, the scales came off my eyes. I saw that I wasn’t automatically a more enlightened person for becoming a Pagan and neither were  any of the other people I met. And in a sense, I feel that part of what our community is dealing with now is a similar realization. The scales have come off the eyes (if they were ever there in the first place), and there is a real need for these hard conversations we are having around social justice issues, as they relate to the Pagan community, the world at large, and also our own positions in relationship to those issues. We need the conversations we are having so our community can continue to grow. More importantly we need them so that all people who identify as Pagan can feel respected and included in our community. And, no, these conversations aren’t comfortable or easy to have. Nor should they be. These conversations we have on issues of consent, race, gender, spirituality, or whatever else should challenge and push us out out of respective bubbles. They should force us to face the issues head on.

Conversation isn’t enough, but its a start. And, what it provides for each person involved is a chance to collaborate and work with other people. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to take a good hard look at yourself in relationship to those issues and understand your responses to what comes up during the conversations. Something I do, when such conversations is occur, is spend a lot of time listening, both to what is being said and to my internal reactions. Paying attention to both can be revealing because it shows me where my own prejudices are in relationship to whatever the topic is. Those prejudices may be unconscious, but they are there. Whether or not I overtly act on them, I nonetheless need to own them and uncover them, if only to myself, so that I can change them. That’s where change begins: with ourselves, our attitudes, beliefs, and internal values. Once we face those and own them, then we can start to work toward change with other people, because we are no longer burying our heads in the sand.

At one of the conventions, I admitted at one point that I am ignorant. It’s true. I am ignorant. And, the only way I know to change that is to continue having these conversations, continue being in a place of discomfort in order to learn and to face my ignorance. No these conversations aren’t easy. But, they are necessary, and if we keep having them, then the issues we face as a community will be ones we can work on together proactively instead of just reacting to them when they occur. Let’s keeping having the conversations within ourselves and with each other. Let’s face these issues head on. Will it be easy? No. Will our community be better for it? Yes, though there will be growing pains as there always is when such issues are faced. Still, if we choose to face them head on as a community, we will all be better for the conversations we have and the work we do.


Socially Responsible Magic is published on alternate Wednesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

snow-from-shutterstockWinter has hit with vengeance this year, even down south where I now make my home. Although I spent the first quarter of a century of my life in Michigan, I rapidly adjusted to the southern idea of winter: a sprinkling of pretty snow once or twice, sunny days, and crisp air more suited to spring or fall than winter. However, the winters have gradually been shifting, and this year finds me in the second week of an almost shut-down city. The snow and ice just keep coming, and schools and stores have been closing in an effort to keep people home and safe.

I don’t mind the enforced confinement the way I usually would; in fact, I’ve welcomed the time at home with my family, cocooned into our safe little nest with nowhere to go and very little to do. It’s been cold, especially when the power went out the other day, but it’s also been wildly liberating. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I feel myself truly syncing up with the winter season, slowing down, conserving energy, and resting. Yes, I’m keeping my eye out for signs of spring, but I’m also quietly content to just snuggle in and be still.

My magic is always quieter in the winter, too, and this year is no exception. Other than a few quick candle spells, my altar is sitting, still and waiting, for me to return to a more regular practice. Instead of feeling guilty for my hiatus, I’m working to embrace the magical stillness in the same way that I’ve embraced the thick blanket of snow and ice outside the window. Times of enforced quiet can be powerful moments of healing and calm, and I don’t want to rush this one. When the earth warms up again, I have no doubt that I’ll once more resume my frantic pace, but for right now, I have discovered the powerful magic of stillness, and I will sit in this space as long as I am able.

Admittedly, the fact that the sun is still shining most days has made it a lot easier for me to embrace this chilly winter than the gloomy season I remember from my northern childhood!

What lessons have you found this winter?


The Busy Witch is published on alternate Tuesdays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!
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