Druid Thoughts: Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On

This is a bit of a book plug, but it’s also an interesting moment in our history and an opportunity to reflect on just how far we’ve come. Sixty years ago, Gerald Gardner unleashed Witchcraft Today, bringing the idea of witchcraft into public awareness and replacing fairy tale clichés with a vibrant, modern, and living tradition.

A great many questions remain about whether the tradition Gardner represented was really that traditional (Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon is the book for this). However, whether you find yourself convinced or dubious about Wiccan history pre-Gardener, there’s no doubt that this sixty year anniversary is a very big deal.

In the last 60 years, witchcraft has spread across the globe and has expanded and diversified. Published in June 2014, Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On reflects on the breadth and diversity that has emerged in the various branches of witchcraft. So much has changed for Pagans in this time frame – we’ve become more socially acceptable, gained some legal protection, and grown massively as a community.

While witchcraft is not my path, it is no less a moment of community history for me. Gardner’s status as a semi-mythic figure to those of us who are younger–a ground breaker, a person whose story outlives his mortal life, and who seems destined to be a legend–is worthy of note.

The anthology features a number of writers including Philip Hestleton, Rachel Patterson, Harmonia Saille, and David Salisbury. Topics include Gardner, Alexandrian Witchcraft, Seax, Eclectic, Dianic, Hedge and Nature traditions.

moon-books.net
978-1-78279-168-3 Paperback (187PP) $14.95 | £8.99 June 2014


Druid Thoughts is published on occasional Wednesdays on Agora. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

The Dance of Pagan Recovery: One Last Dance

Friends, this will be my last “Dance of Pagan Recovery” column.

It’s been my pleasure to write on this subject, but it’s time to close this chapter and begin another.  Next week, I will begin a new blog for Patheos Pagan entitled The Urban Pagan Homestead:  Earthy Adventures of a Dirt-Heart Witch (here — currently under construction). The offerings there will include practical tips on chicken-rearing, recipes for ginger-beer, rituals for the small gods, and much more.  I look forward to those conversations!

Before I go, I offer you this ongoing ritual for Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom.

What you need:

  • Three Candles of size large enough to write on with a pin
    • White
    • Red
    • Yellow
  • Pin or other carving tool
  • Charcoal incense burner
  • Copal
  • Dragon’s Blood
  • Frankincense
  • Muslin or flannel bag
  • Angelica Root
  • High John the Conquerer Root
  • Solomon’s Seal Root

What you do:

Begin with the White Candle, the Copal, and the Angelica Root. Light the Copal and take a moment to let the smoke soothe the space.  On the White Candle, carve your name 3X, alternating with the word “Serenity.”  I usually turn the candle sideways so I am writing along the length of it, from base to wick. As you are writing, call up images of what Serenity looks like, a time that you’ve felt at peace.  Place the Candle in or on some kind of fire-proof holder and put the Angelica root in front of it.  Chant the word “Serenity” over the root, while holding in mind the image of calm.  Do this for 15 or 20 minutes.  Put the root in the bag and carry it with you.  Do this every day for 3 days.

On the 4th day, gather the Red Candle, the Dragon’s Blood and the High John Root.  Light the Dragon’s Blood and let the smoke invigorate the space.  On the Red Candle, carve your name 3X, alternating with the word “Courage.”  While writing, call up images of your Courage, your strong action in the face of adversity.  Again, place the Candle in a safe burning place and put the High John root in front of it. Chant the word “Courage” over the root, holding in mind the image of bravery.  Do this for 15 or 20 minutes.  Put the root in the bag with the Angelica and carry it with you.  Do this for 3 days.

On the 4th day, gather the Yellow Candle, the Frankincense, and the Solomon’s Seal.   Light the Frankincense and let the smoke clarify the air.  On the Yellow Candle, carve your name 3X, alternating with the word “Wisdom.”  While writing, call up images of your Wisdom, smart choices you’ve made from your learning and experience.  Again, place the Candle in a safe place and put the Solomon’s Seal in front of it.  Chant the word “Wisdom” over the root, holding in mind the image of your good judgment.  Again, do this for 15 or 20 minutes.  Put the root in the bag with the others and carry it with you.

Repeat for as long as you like!  Replace the candles as needed.  You can punch this up by adding appropriate oils or doing it at particular times of the moon.  I prefer simpler spells, unless it’s a crisis situation.

May this working serve your work, your play and your healing.

Blessed be!

Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft: Family Coven and Chronic Illness

I suffer from a genetic disorder that often wreaks havoc in my life. I go from a vivacious woman who has boundless energy to a woman who can feel the fatigue in her bones, her muscles, her veins. I have been in the midst of this battle in the last few months. I lost my little part-time job, and I have sat down to write several times feeling unabashed epic failure.

Neurocardiogenic Syncope with Dysautonomia is a rare condition that causes automatic body systems to malfunction. When life is going well for me, I can ignore the discomfort or push through the wall of fatigue. When I cycle through a phase like the one I am in at this moment, everything in my life comes to a grinding halt. I fall off Facebook first because it is the easiest to give up and then slowly I fall off of more and more.

There are so many projects that need to be done – so many things I want to be doing, and none of them are conducive to bouts of serious or chronic illness. Quite frankly, it is very depressing.

I know I am not the only earth-based practitioner who experiences disability or chronic illness and disorder. I suspect what distresses me the most is the distress of other earth-based practitioners similarly afflicted… especially those, like myself, who have taken oaths to lead, teach, or in other ways direct those around them.

When I am too tired to do much of anything else, I worry about my family coveners who aren’t getting my hands-on attention. I worry about the Full Moon activities that may or may not happen, or the upcoming Sabbat. I worry about letting people down because I have made commitments that are now interrupted by my body’s temper tantrum, which I am unable to control. I watch as life continues to whiz by without me actually being a part of it, and I worry that it is moving so fast that I will never find the speed to jump back into it.

Like most who suffer from bouts of chronic and/or recurring illness, I cannot help but think. When my body breaks down, my mind doesn’t follow. It is alert and analyzing everything that is (or is not) going on around me. I cannot help but blame myself for the condition I am in. I cannot help but worry that I have soiled my reputation and made myself out to be an inconsistent twit who can’t handle anything. I am always looking back to when I wasn’t this way and trying to figure out how to get back to being that person.

To Family Coveners and Friends with Loved Ones Like Me

If your loved one suffers from a chronic condition and is also a leader, when you see them faltering, step up! Surely the loved one has given you enough tools and resources to plan the next full moon or the next Sabbat. My family coven has stepped up and planned both. They are working on Litha and the Full Moon and asking me to just attend. Show up and let your group do the work.

Consider going over your loved one’s house and doing light house work. It is amazing what a little vacuuming and dusting will do for the spirits of the chronically ill.

I wouldn’t encourage you to cook anything, however, because many who are chronically ill also suffer from food allergies. Go over and sit with your friend, sister, or high priestess. Just sit and talk quietly. It is a chance for you to serve as you have been served. Seize the opportunity before the bout of illness diminishes and they are back to serving you.

Family Coveners who live with a chronically ill person can serve their Family Coven by having weekly and daily chores dived up among all the members, including the person who is sick. When they are well, they can step up and do those chores, and when they aren’t the family coven can trade off their chores. This pre-planning allows the suffering person space to rejoin the Family Coven actively when they are able.

Family Coveners who do not live with their chronically ill loved one could make a health poppet and deliver it to them or come and sage the house, spiritually driving the illness from the living space.

If you do not live close enough to lend a physical hand – then call them, text them, facebook them, tweet at them. Let them know that they are not forgotten. Their sudden illness and fatigue doesn’t diminish who they are to you. Allow that chronic or reoccurring illness is a condition of the body, not the heart and soul of a person. Your love for them shouldn’t change if they aren’t constantly bolstering you or being there for you. You could be there for them and give them a sense of worth that will carry them to wellness faster.

To Those Who Suffer from Reoccurring or Chronic Illness

This time around, I have viewed my bout of illness differently. Maybe it was working at the organic farm, with so many around me openly talking about diet and wellness and their own personal battles with both. I have found that to consistently stay well, I am going to have to change.

That is a daunting thing to realize. It can be easier to sit and complain or simply fade into the background of life. There is a certain comfort in having a body that doesn’t work right all the time. It is the excuse you can use for failure. It becomes the thing that you have to constantly overcome. It pitches your mind, heart, and soul against your body, and the incongruity becomes the place you live, unable move forward and complete the tasks the goddesses and gods have given you.

When the dysautonomia hits me hard, I spend days nauseated, vomiting, and having other intestinal issues. This time, I decided to tackle that problem first. I gave up gluten and then soy, and then had a blood test to check for any other allergies I may have been living with without knowing it.

As I have forged ahead without gluten, about a week and a half after giving it up I am no longer vomiting, experiencing nausea or having any other serious intestinal trouble. My husband priest, Tony has pointed out that I have also given up a significant amount of sugar, since most foods with gluten also have sugar in them. I am experiencing a little of what addicts face. When I am tired, I crave cakes and cookies like you wouldn’t believe. I vividly see wonderfully dressed sugary concoctions in my mind’s eye – just out of my reach like a siren calling sailors to their deaths.

To battle this, I replace this vision with one of me huddled over a toilet throwing up sugary confection in as much detail as I can master while chanting, “Gluten. Gluten. Gluten.” If I see my son eating something particularly yummy that I might have been willing to eat not so long ago, I will say to him, “Gluten.” He rolls his eyes and then I enumerate all the things that have been linked to gluten: ADHD, acne, digestive issues. I am trying to bring my mind and spirit in line with what a healthy body does. “Gluten” is bad for me. It makes me ill, and my mind would do my body some great favors by being reminded of that.

The other thing I have done is given myself a break. I was born this way. My genetics predisposed me to suffer these problems, and if I am doing anything toward the goal of wellness, including avoiding gluten, then I am succeeding. I try to not scold myself for letting daily things fall away. I become hypervigilant to stay in the moment I am in and not live too far out in the future or dwell too much on the past. I have found that what would normally be months of convalescing and fatigue have been cut short. After only four weeks I am already beginning to feel better, and several of my projects have continued to move forward. At a slower pace, perhaps, but move forward nonetheless.

If you too are suffering with chronic illness, know that you are not alone. And if you are the friend or loved one of someone who is suffering, perhaps this article will help you find ways to offer them what they need.

Heathen Woman: Spirituality in Heathenry

In reconstructing heathen practices, historical evidence (albeit sometimes limited) about ancient Northern traditions is paramount to today’s heathens. Through the surviving written accounts documenting heathen cultures, we are privy to information about how we can recreate heathenry in a way that is historically honest. However, this is sometimes done at the expense of the spirituality that was integral to the elder heathens – at times, almost entirely excluding the gods. Presumably, this is because spiritual experience cannot be scientifically or academically validated, and it therefore becomes an area that doesn’t receive a lot of modern discussion. Perhaps it is also because spiritual experience is highly individualistic, varied, and speculative, which makes it hard to quantify. While it’s vitally important to modern heathens to know how ancient traditions were practiced, exploring why those traditions were so important — in other words, examining the spiritual component — holds just as much relevance to understanding heathenry.

Why is examining ancient spirituality relevant when discussing the physical elements of reconstruction in heathenry? If we go through the motions of historically-based practice without actively communing with the gods, we become mere students of anthropology instead of engaged people of heathen beliefs and practice. Further, we lose the less tangible connections to the gods that have nothing to do with a limited physical self. We can build a Ve, construct a hof, and have the best-looking sacred hedge on the block – but if those are constructed with nothing more than historical recreation in mind, those practices fall short of their original purpose for ancient people, which was an attempt at spiritual connection to the gods.

This purpose is referenced in the saga of Hakon the Good, which contains a fairly complete description of a sacrifice and blót. Not only are we able to reasonably reconstruct a blót outline from that saga, but we are also given the spiritual reasoning for it. As the cup is filled in that particular blót, the names of Odin, Thor, and Frey are called upon to aid the community. The people described as taking part in the blót in the saga of Hakon the Good are portrayed as reaching out to authorities that lay outside of the casual physical realm. Similar instances can be found in other sagas as well. In rites of passage for modern heathens, specific gods and goddesses are still called upon for protection and prosperity. This demonstrates a system of belief in heathenry that has carried over from ancient days. Science may now be able to explain many things that were once attributed to the powers of the gods, but one thing it cannot do is invalidate belief in that which lies outside of ourselves. Without spiritual belief, all that is left is a half-hearted recognition of the gods that does not acknowledge their significance. Maintaining spiritual health, and ensuring that spirituality is part of our practice, is vital to a comprehensive approach to heathenry.

If we look further in the Lore, we can see how spirituality is explored – even by the gods. In the Nine Herbs Charm, found in the Lacnunga manuscript, Odin is called upon for aid in healing. Additionally, in a shamanic role, Odin reaches into a void and brings forth the runes, which are a representation of divine mysteries. We see two ideas about the spiritual in the physical world here. One is that spirituality is an energetic force requiring the focus of individual belief. Had Odin not trusted there was something of value that lay just out of reach, then he wouldn’t have taken the initiatory nine-night journey to recover the runes. Odin’s commitment to pursuing the quest for the runes suggests that ancient Norse concepts included spiritual exploration outside of what can be physically proven. Ancient heathens were clearly a people who were concerned not just with a good harvest or victory in warfare, but also with the sacred. Their traditions incorporated practices demonstrating their trust in the gods; for example, runes carved on stones and weapons were thought to imbue objects with the power of the gods (which we also see in the consumption of the meat of sacrificed animals and other practices during a blót).

In Germania, Tacitus describes three classes of humanity that were thought by the ancients to have been descendents of Mannus, a chief deity. We can logically conclude, through historical context, that the ancient heathens felt there was a deep connection between human beings and the gods. Tacitus also references the spiritual power thought to be held by women in Histories: “[…] by ancient usage the Germans attributed to many of their women prophetic powers and, as the superstition grew in strength, even actual divinity.” Though years may passed since that time, we are no less human than the ancients, and our trust in and communication with the gods is no less important.

We cannot always identify what is sacred by documented historical tradition alone. To fully appreciate heathenry, we must engage both history and spirituality to develop heathen ideals and practices.


Heathen Woman is published on alternate Fridays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

Wyrd Words: Practical Advice from the Hávamál (Part 3) – Odin’s Guide to the Internet

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

One of my readers recently contacted me via Facebook and asked me how we could possibly hope to use Iron Age Lore to explain entirely modern phenomena. She said, and I quote (with permission): “Plenty of these verses are about things that are still a part of our lives today, but what about things that are unique to modern readers? The Havamal isn’t gonna have any advice about things that didn’t exist when it was written. Like the Internet!”

O, ye of little faith. To thee I say:

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PRESENTING: “Odin’s Guide to the Internet”

(Five easy tips for navigating Social Media)

We’re all fairly familiar with Odin’s usual areas of expertise: Knowledge, Wisdom, Poetry, with the occasional dabble in Death and War… You know, pretty standard stuff. Slightly less well known is the Allfather’s impressive degree of Social Media Savvy. Watch as Odin helps us navigate the treacherous waters of the Inter-Webs, via the Hávamál!

#5- Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

The web is a vast and dangerous place, filled with fantastical treasures. Some of these wonders, however, come with a curse. The curtain of anonymity is a powerful magical tool. Once donned, even the meekest hermit can become a fierce and courageous Couch Warrior. The curtain allows one to attack other Social Media adventurers without fear of consequences or reprisal. Immune to harm from the normal societal rules, otherwise decent people can transform into ANGRY-CAPS-LOCK-BERSERKERS. The danger of “The Curtain” is hidden in its addictive nature. The more one uses it, the harder it becomes to remove it without suddenly suffering the social consequences that the wearer has been avoiding.

I once gave my clothes
to two wooden scarecrows.
They thought that
they were warriors
when they had clothes.
The naked man is ashamed.

(Translated: It’s easy to feel like a “Warrior” when you’re dressed like one. It’s when that costume comes off that we see who’s a warrior and who’s a scarecrow.)

#4- Beware The “Internet Expert”

Odin warns us of many different dangers that lurk in the murky waters of Social Media and YouTube comment boards. Some of these are monsters that we’re meant to avoid, while others are monstrosities we’re meant to avoid BECOMING. The “Internet Expert”  is a beast of the latter category.

These odious creatures were once just like you and I, before they fell into one of the many traps of the internet. Locked in desperate Facebook arguments, they were all alone with quickly dulling facts, their supply of citations dwindling. Thus these Couch Warriors turned to the last tools in their arsenal:

B.S. and Puffery.
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These tools might even allow them some temporary victories among the trolling hordes of the web, but not without a cost. Sooner or later the stench becomes impossible to ignore, and someone is bound to call them out on their tactics. This is the formative moment of the “Internet Expert” that Odin warns us about. Once they’ve been discovered, the would-be-expert has two choices: Come back to the light, or risk transforming into a full blown Troll…

The traveler should keep their wits sharp.
The unwise should stay at home.
Those who know nothing
and sit among the wise
will become a laughing-stock.

(Translation: If you don’t know what you’re talking about, DON’T try to fake it. Trust me, people will know. You’re not going to look clever, all you’re going to do is make a fool out of yourself.)

#3- Don’t Be a Troll

These lesser cousins of Ymir’s brood live beneath network bridges, surviving on a diet of internet memes, negative attention, and “yo’ mama” jokes.  Some of them were once perfectly civil human beings who got caught in the mire and muck of YouTube comments. Others seem to have been born into the dark recesses of Facebook, their beady eyes scanning the scrolling lines of text for an opportunity to FEED.

 photo internet-troll_zps954570eb.jpg
(http://www.hashslush.com/google-takes-step-forward-youtube-trolls-takes-one-back/)

If there’s one thing Odin knows about, it’s dealing with Trolls. In his wisdom, Odin reminds us how to identify these dangerous denizens of the net via the Hávamál. Thus we can learn to avoid the malodorous beasts and recognize the signs if we ourselves start down the path of the Troll.

Only a foolish man
mocks everyone
while failing to see
the faults in himself

(Translation: Learn to recognize the signs! Don’t be a Troll. Eventually somebody is going to have a Mjölnir with your name on it.)

#2- Don’t FEED the Trolls Either!
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Trolls give rise to more Trolls, and engaging with them has risks. These creatures cause enough trouble on their own, but the greatest danger lies in their contagious touch! Where one troll finds a feast, others will come. Then, as brave Couch Warriors attempt to fight them off, many will end up being pulled into mire, cursed to join the ranks of the Trolls. These creatures feed off of strife, and trying to fight them off will only present them with a more enticing feast. The Hávamál teaches us about these dangers, reminding us that sometimes it’s better to walk away and let the creatures starve.

 

 

You must not dispute even three words
with a man less worthy than you:

often the better man is defeated
when the worse man attacks.

(Translated: Don’t engage the Trolls, you’ll only get dragged down with them…)

#1- Never Argue With an Idiot.

So after all of these wonderful tips from the Hávamál on how to survive the internet, what is Odin’s #1 piece of advice? What is the ultimate secret to the Allfather’s Social Media savvy?

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I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
Never argue with an idiot.

No translation needed, that was pretty darn direct!

This ultimate solution must have come from the bottom of Mimir’s well itself, because it’s also the answer to ALL of the other problems mentioned here. You can while away the hours of your day trying to correct stupid people on the internet, but a fool will never thank you for your trouble. All you’re going to get in return is grief.

The ANGRY-CAPS-LOCK-BERSERKERS aren’t going to listen to your reasoned explanation. Just say your piece and walk away.

The “Internet Expert” is convinced they know it all. Just drop your source, and walk away.

If you follow this one SIMPLE rule, most Trolls will never catch your scent. Those that do will find no drama to feed on, and will eventually move along to more tempting targets.

This lone verse, Stanza 122, holds the key to the internet itself!

Now, brave explorers of the internet, do you still believe the Lore can’t teach us about life in the modern age?

This concludes Odin’s Guide to the Internet 

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Missed Parts 1&2? Check them out!

10 Pieces of Practical Advice from the Hávamál (Part 1)

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10 Pieces of Practical Advice from the Hávamál (Part 2): How to Party Like a Viking!

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

What Is Socially Responsible Magic?

 

I’m a magical experimenter. To me, experimentation with magic isn’t just developing new techniques or finding ways to connect magic to cultural studies or neuroscience (though those are fascinating subjects in themselves). Experimentation with magic also explores the role of magic in out society, and asks how magic stays relevant with the changing times. To that end, one of the facets of magic I’m interested in is how magic is used in a socially responsible manner for the good of society, or at least for the good of the communities that believe in and integrate magic into their spiritual and religious practices performatively.

Lately I’ve been thinking about so-called high magic and low magic, or what is also known as theurgy and thaumaturgy. Theurgy is considered high magic, magic done to commune with the divine, work with the spirit world and mediate those spiritual forces into this world. Thaumaturgy is considered low magic, practical magic, magic done to achieve specific results and typically done to benefit the magician in a material way. With each type of magic, I’ve been thinking about some questions and in this blog I hope to explore those questions at some length, not only in this entry, but future entries as well.

So what is socially responsible magic? Socially responsible magic is magic done to actively contribute to a community’s well being, to the benefit of all the people in the community, as opposed to the benefit of one or a few people. At the same time, such magic necessarily must have some type of measurable outcome, as opposed to merely being a symbolic gesture on the part of the community. What this means is that the magical work must be more than a feel-good solution. Socially responsible magic is magic done to change the community or world in a way that actually has an effect. Those are tough criteria to meet, and I don’t know that a lot of magical work really meets that criteria.

For example, a friend and I recently discussed the following scenario. An oil rig has a broken pipe that starts spilling oil into the ocean. A Pagan group decides to do a ritual with the purpose being to use magic to “fix” the broken pipe. The question that arises is: Has the magic they’ve done really contributed to fixing that broken pipe? If so, how? And if there is no way to determine whether the magic has practically aided in the resolution of fixing that broken pipe, what then has the magic accomplished? Has it made the people in that ritual feel like they’ve done something about the situation (in other words is it a feel-good solution)? And final question here: How have those people contributed in other ways to resolving that issue, either financially or through some type of volunteer work? How are they taking the spiritual values from the ritual and embodying those values in their own relationships with nature?

These were questions my friend and I came up with, and we didn’t have easy answers. I don’t think there are easy answers to such questions, but I also think we need to ask such questions, when it comes to purportedly choosing to do spiritual practices for the benefit of nature, community, etc. I ask those questions, not to disprove the efficacy of magic, being a magician myself, but rather because I want to improve the efficacy of magic, while also examining how magic can contribute to society.

This brings me to a related subject, namely practical magic and why it is performed. Typically practical magic is done when you have a problem in your life that you want to fix, or when you want to manifest a specific result into your life. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of practical magic acts are done for the benefit of the magician as opposed to the benefit of other people or the benefit of the community. While there is nothing wrong with doing practical magic to solve a problem or make your life a bit easier, I think it’s worthwhile to explore how practical magic could be done for the benefit of other people, or for the benefit of the community.

Beyond all of that though, I want to explore what it means to be a responsible member of society… not just Pagan society, but mainstream society. As someone who is a business owner and participates in mainstream organizations such as chambers of commerce and related business associations, I find it fascinating to see how those organizations focus on contributing to the overall communities they are apart of. In turn, this has caused me to look at my role as a Pagan and how I represent Paganism in the mainstream communities I interact in, as well as how I can take some of what I’ve learned in those organizations back into the Pagan community and apply it in a way that is beneficial to that community.

The questions I’ve asked don’t have easy answers (at least they haven’t for me). But I’m looking forward to sharing this journey with you and hearing some of your thoughts and perspectives on this topic, as we explore them together in future entries in this blog.


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

The Busy Witch: Magic on the Move

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and while I’ve always had a bit of wanderlust, my travels this spring have been different than any I’ve ever undertaken before: I’ve been traveling to promote my books. It’s been heady, amazing, overwhelming work, and I am so grateful that I have this opportunity to learn what it feels like to live as an author rather than a writer.

As anyone who works magic knows, there’s power in naming, and the difference between two seeming synonyms can be vast indeed.

10376858_776017179098796_5717262519682265168_nMy travels have taken me to New York, a city I’ve always loved, and back to my childhood home of Michigan, as well. I’ve learned what it’s like to sign books at bookstores, speak at conferences, and ride the rush of overwhelming joy and enthusiasm at teen book festivals.

And now, I’m about to make a very different kind of magic. I’m going back to school.

I’ll be spending the summer immersed in an intense, academic program focused on writing for children and teens. Although my nonfiction work (such as this column, and my recent book from Weiser) tends to be geared at an older crowd, my fiction predominately focuses on younger audiences, and I am so grateful for this chance to deepen my understanding of the craft.

Because I’m going to be making a different kind of magic this summer, I’m taking a brief hiatus from this blog, but I’ll return in August with more of The Busy Witch. Until then, you can always check out my older posts, and keep in touch with me via social media.

I’ll be back in August, with stories to tell and magic to share, but until then, keep weaving words, crafting magic, and looking for the unexpected in everyday.

Bright blessings and Namaste!


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Seekers and Guides: Changing Consciousness According to Will

 

10394866_565405553576139_242459479028585113_n“Magic is the art of changing consciousness according to Will.”

– Dion Fortune

As Witches, we tend to learn a lot of valuable skills about changing consciousness in the study of the Craft.  But we often have a very nebulous idea of “consciousness” and “Will.”  We find it easy enough to embrace the concept of using smudging to focus on a ritual, using the flames of a candle to concentrate on scrying and inducing a vision, or using a guided meditation to direct the group Will.  Many of us even understand the differing levels of consciousness (gamma, beta, alpha, theta and delta) and what sorts of magickal works can be done at those levels.  But most of us don’t consider the broader implications.  Can we apply these valuable tools to everyday life?

Grounding

I am sure that you have come to ritual with the weight of the world still on your shoulders.  Maybe traffic was backed up on the freeway.  Maybe your boss grilled you at work.  Maybe your teenager was just doing something strangle-worthy right before you left the house.  Whatever the case may be, you were rattled when you showed up for the Esbat.  So your coven did a smudge and a grounding meditation before you entered into ritual space, and you were able to shed that stress and leave it behind you so that you were able to get on with the magickal work.

It’s amazing how we never seem to correlate this kind of activity with dealing with the everyday world.  I know a lot of Pagans of various stripes who practice this kind of meditative exercise in a ritual space; but then never think to apply it to real life!  Perhaps a grounding meditation is a good idea in the car once you’ve left work before you start driving on the freeway.

It’s also incredibly helpful in emergencies.  You never know when you might suddenly be in a crisis situation.  When my husband was suddenly in a life-threatening car accident, we were both at work, and he drove taxi while I was dispatching.  When I realized that he wasn’t answering me because he was smashed up on the side of the road, I felt panic threatening to overtake me.  I grounded, centered, and I took the tiny pentacle and beeswax tea light that I always carried out of my purse; scattered a packet of salt around me; and said a prayer.  Then I sat down, phoned my boss to tell her that I needed someone to cover so I could go to the hospital, and went right on answering the phone and dispatching the taxis until my relief arrived.  Inside I was screaming in terror; but I was able to go right on and do what had to be done.  Some of that weird stuff we do like meditating in snowstorms and firewalking and things like that – these taught me how to keep my head in the biggest crisis of my life.

Even saying that people do this (and I have, and I’m sure I’m not alone) has anyone considered doing this when engaged in an argument with their spouse?  Have you ever said, “I need a minute, honey,” and gone into another room to smudge before resuming the discussion?

The time-honored trick of inducing a meditative state is just as effective at changing mood as it is focus.  In my household, we’ve been applying these hard-won skills of meditation and grounding to our household discussions.  The first step is becoming aware of our feelings, and the second step is making an effort to change our mind-set if it is unhelpful.  This is having numerous positive effects on our communication and on household harmony.

Changing Mood

If you can change mood in one way, why not another?  Witchcraft does more than just grounding exercises to change our mood.  We dance, chant and make love to “raise energy” (read: improve enthusiasm and induce feelings of empowerment and positivity).  Okay, so this might sound a little far-fetched, but suppose we chant to empower our day at work?  (People used to do this all the time; work songs were once commonplace, the most commonly-known forms today probably being calypso music and sea shanties.)  How about dancing to build up enthusiasm for an athletic event?  Or maybe we could dance at a major rite of passage to empower the ritual?

Or perhaps we need to think about things more clearly.  Did your mother ever suggest you have a cup of tea before engaging in a potentially stressful situation?  Caffeine has a measurable effect on our consciousness, producing more focus and alertness, as well as greater feelings of positivity (beta consciousness.) Many of us start the day with coffee or a cigarette before heading into stressful situations such as driving on the freeway or dealing with our bosses, who have the power to give or take away our financial freedom according to their mood.  This is often held up as a symptom of our degenerate and addicted society doing things that are bad for us, but I think it’s a symptom of our stressed society.  It’s amazing how many financially stressed people smoke even though they can’t really afford it; as do people in high-stress jobs that require mental alertness, including dispatchers and air traffic controllers, professional drivers, and even health care professionals who, nominally, should know better.  If you’re trying to quit smoking and you have a lot of stress in your life, perhaps you could try motivating high-energy music, singing a favorite chant, or running around the block as alternative ways to blow off steam.  (I would suggest doing little dances with simple, repetitive movements, but you’re likely to get stared at if you do those in public, so that is perhaps not practical.)

Perfect Love and Perfect Trust

I am sure that sooner or later you will run into a situation in the community in which you will find yourself in conflict with another member of the community.  Sometimes people just don’t get along.  Now sometimes, the conflict does direct damage to the community; but sometimes, it’s just you and this other person that you don’t like.  You swallow your pride, you ground and center, and you go into the opening ritual at the festival anyway.  Perhaps this could be applied to your job, or the next meeting of the local Pagan Pride committee, where you have to deal with that irritating co-worker who likes to tell stories about her asthmatic cat?

As an energy healer, I find that when I am conducting a healing, I must be in synch with my client.  In other words, for just a few moments, I must genuinely love the person I am healing.  I don’t know if my experiences are the same as everyone else’s but I assume they can’t be too unusual; and if I am capable of doing that for just a moment on a Reiki table, can I not do it in order to appreciate the point of view of someone I’m in conflict with?  I’m not saying that you should not use your discernment, nor that you should tolerate abuse, but when two people mutually respect one another but are at a genuine impasse, it can be invaluable.  Empathy can be a practiced skill as opposed to a natural talent.

Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

Speaking of which, that empathic ability can be incredibly helpful in many other situations.  In business, it may help to have an appreciation of someone else’s position to make an investment or a sale.  In war, it can help to anticipate the actions of your foe and find countermeasures, or know when your opponent may be more interested in surrender than fighting.

Visualization

Visualization skills can be of incredible value in helping to solve problems.  If torn between two decisions, you can visualize one scenario and then another to judge your feelings.  My partner visualizes subconscious emotional upset as messengers carrying dispatches from the battlefront to his office.  He takes the message, reads it to learn what the source of the upset is, triages the information (perhaps it’s outdated and the issue has been dealt with; perhaps it can be put aside for a while; perhaps it must be dealt with immediately), thanks the messenger, and gives him a medal.  The messenger then leaves and the subconscious disturbance stops, because his mind is content that the problem is dealt with, or soon will be.

Memorization

This is a spectacularly useful skill that is rarely taught anywhere else in our electronic age!  If you can memorize correspondence tables, you can memorize addresses and phone numbers.  If you can memorize epic poetry or ritual verse, you can memorize the lines to that play that you’re learning in your Acting class. If you can remember the day that the Sun enters Taurus, you can remember your spouse’s birthday! The list goes on.

Self-Hypnosis, Affirmations, and the Power of Positive Thinking

This has been mentioned many times, but it bears repeating.  Olympic athletes and business executives use these techniques to improve their lives, and if they can do it, surely so can we!

The skills needed for the successful practice of Witchcraft are just as applicable in the mundane world.  Indeed, if they weren’t, what purpose would they serve?  If we cannot take the skills gleaned from the Otherworld back into the regular one, we have failed in the quest; just as Joseph Campbell told us.

Next column: Teaching Wiccan Values (Pagan Values Blogject Special)


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Loop of Brighid: The Nine Pure Choice Graces, Part 3 – The Grace of Fortune

The third grace in this series is the grace of fortune. In medieval Europe, Fortune was often allegorized as a capricious goddess named Fortuna, as in the famous song “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” or “Fortune, the Empress of the World” from the Carmina Burana. Fortuna was often portrayed with a great wheel. The symbolism of the wheel was not just that Fortune is random, but that her gifts are always temporary.

What does it mean to have the grace of fortune? If the gifts of fortune are always temporary, then no one can be considered fortunate merely for possessing them briefly. Nor is anyone completely hopeless, because the wheel always keeps turning. Up today, down tomorrow — down today, up tomorrow.

The idea expressed by the wheel of fortune is similar to a line by the medieval Scottish poet William Dunbar: “Our pleasure here is all vainglory, this false world is but transitory.” This is a very medieval way of looking at the world and one that few modern people would find congenial, but it also expresses a spiritual perspective similar to Buddhism. All states of consciousness, whether pleasant or painful, are transitory and fleeting by nature. The wheel of fortune never stops.

The grace of fortune is not the condition of being lucky, but a lighthearted and graceful acceptance of change and loss, a spirit of gratitude without attachment, a conscious embrace of the fact that fortune always changes and will go on changing.

1- Prepare a bowl of the lustral fire using milk, honey and either wine, mead or berry juice. Bless the lustral fire by reciting the “Invocation of the Graces” over it.

2- Sit in front of your bowl of lustral fire. Recite the first verse of the “Invocation of the Graces” while anointing your palms and cheeks with the lustral fire:

I bathe thy palms
In showers of wine,
In the lustral fire,
In the seven elements,
In the juice of the rasps,
In the milk of honey,

And I place the nine pure choice graces
In thy fair fond face,
The grace of form,
The grace of voice,
The grace of fortune,
The grace of goodness,
The grace of wisdom,
The grace of charity,
The grace of choice maidenliness,
The grace of whole-souled loveliness,
The grace of goodly speech.

3- As you recite these words, imagine that it is Brighid Herself who is speaking and purifying you.

4- Sitting before the lustral fire, think of nine ways in which you are currently fortunate and thank Brighid for them one by one. Try to cultivate an awareness and acceptance of the transitory nature of your good fortune, because all things are temporary. Think of nine ways in which you are not currently fortunate. Try to cultivate an awareness and acceptance of the transitory nature of your bad fortune, because all things are temporary.

Clann Bhride: The Children of Brighid

 

 


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The Dance of Pagan Recovery: Turn on the Porch Light!

As sober Pagans, we face some unique challenges.  In other faiths, there’s no question about which God you’re talking about; there’s only one and everybody knows His name. For us, there are many options, many deities that might be offering themselves into relationship with us in one way or another.  Part of our work is to decide whether or how to make that connection.

If we’ve been Pagan longer than we’ve been sober, we probably early on attracted the attention of those spirits who like spirits:  Bacchus, Dionysus, Pan.  These guys love to party like nobody’s business (though that’s not all they’re good for!).  But when we get clean, we’re not sure who’s on our side on the other side.

It is possible to continue to work with the Gods of pleasure, ecstasy and inebriation; the trick is to let them know that if they want us free and happy, we need a different road than that of drink or drug.  Or we might just lose interest in those kinds of relationships.

Obatala Statue in Costa do Sauipe, Bahia

There aren’t many deities that are specifically clean and sober.  In Orisha traditions, Obatala will only drink water, and his children swear off alcohol for life.  In my experience, the Orisha are not offended by sincere and humble expressions of respect and interest. Make a small altar to Obatala and give him gratitude for your clarity when you drink water.  Then there is the Greek Sophrosyne, the spirit of moderation and temperance, qualities which are often lacking in the addict-brain.  In her honor, spend time considering other ways that your energy is hyperbolic and think about how you can reel it in.  Bathe in the beauty of simplicity.

Many spirits might be willing to work with us to keep us on the wagon.  Just because they aren’t known for their sobriety doesn’t mean that they can’t help us to keep our own heads on straight.

In my own practice, I am mostly in contact with small gods, the spirits of the San Lorenzo River and the Wild Plum and the Earthworm.  And when I am hearing them well, they sing to me of strength and perseverance and great wild joy.  I’ve learned to be still and know my place and feel safe through my connections with the land.

For 25 years, I’ve worked and played with Brigid, who requires that I be clear enough to 1) receive her inspirations, 2) handle dangerous tasks carefully, and 3) be ready to serve when I am needed. The tricksy interaction of Fire and Water needs thoughtful attention.  Because I choose to be her hands in this world, and her voice, I want to make sure I’m not muddying the messages and the creations with my own compulsions.

Freya is another who’s given me strength to keep my head up and moving forward.  She appeared in my life suddenly; in a random (ha!) google search, I found  an old image of her. I immediately fell to my knees in great wracking sobs.  Her voice in my head said, “My name is tattooed on your bones… do you see it now?”  And I did and I was crazy-blessed with an ecstasy of remembering. My substances would have paled in comparison to that moment.

You might be surprised by who you find calling you and how they may offer to help. I wasn’t expecting Oshun or Oya to make themselves known to me at different times in my life.  At first, I approached carefully, making a simple altar with 5 yellow roses for Oshun, finding a painted mask for Oya.   There were no grand declarations, but simple gestures. Now they’ve each become an important part of my Family, and their gifts of magick and strength have supported me through many crises.

Who is calling your name?  Whoever it is, you have to choose to answer.  In Feri trad, we say that the first of our Gods is our own Godself, and that is our primary allegiance.  It is in the trust of the God that is Us that our destiny is shaped.  So first we listen to our own deepest wisdom (pro tip:  if it’s telling you to indulge, it’s not your deepest wisdom) to know what is right for us.  Then we extend our listening out to who else might be there.  Victor Anderson was known to say, “Don’t just open the door!  Turn on the porch light and see who’s there!” Know who you’re dealing with.

If we want to work with powerful gods, we have to recognize the power inherent in our choice to step away from our addictions.  There’s a big difference between the weakness of “I can’t drink” and the courage of “I choose not to feed the monster.”  Our health, safety and sanity is our gift to the gods, to all beings, and to our own sweet selves.


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